Monday, March 17, 2008

Calling on All those in the Federal Vision

I have a serious question for any of our readers who are familiar with or are part of the Federal Vision movement. But before I ask my question, let me give a little back ground to my question.I was personally present at Steve Wilkins’s second examination by the Louisiana Presbytery. The audio of this re-examination can be found here.At this examination there was one point that Wilkins came to time and time again that really does not sit well with me. It is his idea that non-elected (in the decretal sense) covenant members really have salvific benefits in a sense. In other words, Wilkins holds that a person who is in hell at the last day really had justification, forgiveness of sins and other graces of this nature in a sense.

Now to my question, how can this be the case (Wilkins’s view) given the historic Reformed understanding of justification? The Reformed view of justification seems that it cannot be given in any sense and then lost. How can the judgment from the highest court in the universe of not guilty because of Jesus Christ ever be undone or lost, in any sense?

For the record, this is a serious question. I am looking to see how those in the FV make this “square.” As of yet I have not read or heard of this being discussed and I would like to see the FV’s rational for this point.

64 comments:

  1. I personally find it hard to take seriously a man in a clerical collar...

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  2. Sorry, perhaps that wasn't a helpful post. In all seriousness, the idea that the non-elect are in any way united with Christ is, to my mind, to not understand union with Christ.

    It seems odd that so much ink is spilled about the other issues, which are important, but this central error is allowed to continue. I have only one question for the FV people: do you think that anyone can be united to Christ and lose that union? If you answer yes, even if you want to qualify it with "non-elect-covenant-members," you have failed to understand union, justification, election, perseverance, etc.

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  3. Define "union", "justification," etc.

    That's not a pedantic question, it is sincere. When the Reformed "tradition" (or, at least, the Westminster Standards) speak of "justification," for instance, they clearly define it as a complete forgiveness for all sins that can never be taken away. Well, if that is your definition, then certainly that sort of justification cannot be lost.

    But the question is not simply how do the Westminster Standards use the word "justification," but how is that word used in Scripture? It is possible that Scripture uses the word with a wider range of meaning than the Confession does.

    Also, please note that this is not a cover for "liberalism." Nobody is contradicing the Westminster Standards b/c the different senses of justification are not contradictory.

    Wilkins's idea of "covenantal justification" is something like this: A person who is baptized and professes faith in Christ is a member of the Church, which is God's kingdom in its earthly and historical manifestation. This is the community of salvation, the only place where salvation is normally found. They are in a covenantal relationship with the Creator of the universe, and as such they have been "set apart" as a special people. They receive blessings and favor from God in virtue of their church membership (all the typical "means of grace" the Reformed speak of: preaching, sacraments, fellowship with other believers, etc.) Thus, they have received a change in status in God's courtroom (they are no longer looked at as typical pagans or nonbelievers). This status change is totally gracious; God gives it to them without any regard for anything good or worthy in themselves. So, this is a "justification."

    But the Westminster Standards use "justification" to mean something like this: A permanent change in status in God's courtroom where a person is forgiven for all sins.

    These two notions of "justification" are perfectly compatible with one another. You can be justified in Wilkins' sense, but not justified in the Westminster sense. That is what FV proponents teach is true for all people who live their lives within the Church but, b/c they are not elect, end up lost for eternity. They received real blessings, were truly set apart as God's special people, and yet they did not come into the fullness of God's salvation (b/c they lacked faith).

    I'm just trying to sketch it out quickly. There is always a lot more that can be said, of course. And of course FVers disagree among themselves as to exactly how "strong" of an experience the temporary covenant members actually enjoy. (The silly term that they've developed among themselves is between "pale ales" and "dark ales". Doug Wilson is a "pale ale" FVer. He actually denies that temp cov members are temporarily justified, but he would agree with everything I said above. He just doesn't think that should be called "justification.")

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  4. Isn't this a dramatically confusing approach: telling your church members, "because you are a part of this community and you profess faith in Jesus, you are justified! The issue of eternal security and knowing if you're saved is not something you have to be haunted by anymore." The church member says, "Oh good, now I know I'm not going to hell." To be honest, we have to respond with, "Weeeelllll.... Not so much. I mean you're justified in a different sense than you're used to thinking of. You're justified in a covenental sense, but you could still go to hell."

    If I was the church member, I'd say, "then what the point of saying I'm justified at all?"

    It seems like this federal vision approach was introduced because a lot of pastors were having issues with their church members and assurance of salvation (at least, that was my impression when I listened to the first Auburn Avenue Pastors' Conference when this all started), but this seems to do nothing but make the water even muddier.

    My 2 cents.

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  5. Adam,

    "Isn't this a dramatically confusing approach: telling your church members, "because you are a part of this community and you profess faith in Jesus, you are justified! The issue of eternal security and knowing if you're saved is not something you have to be haunted by anymore.""

    Sure, if that was how it was presented, but that is not how it's presented (at least, I've never seen or heard it presented that way from any of the well known FV people). Nobody says that the issue of knowing whether you are "saved" is no longer there. As Doug Wilson has said, if a guy is getting ready to leave his wife and three kids, then turn up the heat! But the point of the FV approach is that there is an aspect of being one of God's people that is objective. An aspect, not the whole enchilada.

    The objective aspect of being God's people is what theologians have traditionally called the "covenant." If you are a member of the visible Church, then you are objectively one of God's people, a part of God's new creation, a member of the conquering army that is making all things new, the only place where any salvation can ordinarily be found, etc. This gives you something to "hang your hat on," as far as assurance goes. You can know that God really has done something special for you, that He really has given you His special favor. He has brought you into His Church (i.e., the covenant community), and this is an objective blessing in and of itself.

    But that doesn't mean you are automatically going to Heaven, that you are automatically saved to the uttermost, or anything like that. And no FVer, ever, not ever, has said that that is the case.

    Where's the assurance, then? The assurance is for those vexed consciences who fall into a fairly common problem in historical Reformed theology, which is knowing whether you have genuinely received the favor of God at all. The classic "Puritan" problem of assurance of being elect flows largely from the problem of salvation being all-or-nothing. There is only one kind of person who is "saved" in any sense, there is only one kind of special grace that God gives to people, and that grace is permanent by its very nature. Which means that if you have it you can never lose it, and you lose it then you never really had it. It's all or nothing. Which torments certain kinds of souls who now, b/c they lack a sense of assurance in the present, don't know whether they are really one of God's people or not. There is nothing you can say to them on the "Puritan" scheme. After all, the heart is deceitful and wicked above all things, so they really might be self-deceived. And there is no earlier moment of their lives that they can cling to as a 'sign' of God's genuine favor upon them, because if they aren't saved then there is no such moment by definition (Remember, true special grace is permanent by defintiion, so if you really are a reprobate then you NEVER got any special grace from God, and so any earlier experience you might have thought you had of that grace is just more self-deception on your part).

    What FV (and it is not unique to FV, they are getting their views from others in the Reformed tradition) does is provide these vexed consciences with an actual point of "contact" between themselves and God's favor: the objecive covenant community of the Church. To be in the Church is to be a person to whom special promises have been made, it is to be a person who has received special favor from God. Etc. So you don't have to look deep inside your own heart and see if there's REALLY any genuine grace there. There is, or you wouldn't be a baptized member of the covenant community.

    But, this doesn't mean that you are saved to the uttermost, that you are necessarily going to Heaven when you die, etc. People in covenant with God can fall away. Some folks might still have a problem with assurance, then, but it is a different sort of problem of assurance. The problem has now moved from "Have I EVER been in the grace of God?" to "How can I know that my current experience of God's grace is the kind of experience that will persevere?" But notice a couple of things about this new problem:

    1. The more traditional "Puritan" approach has that problem too. So the FVers haven't brought in anything new here. On standard Puritan accounts, it is always possible to be self-deceived about your present status, and so that means you wouldn't know for sure that you are going to persevere. The Westminster Confession says it is possible to be absolutely assured you are one of the elect, and I'm not denying that either. But it's only a possibility, not a guarantee. Many people in the history of the Reformed faith have not had this assurance; the Holy Spirit in His inscrutable wisdom has not opted to dwell with them in quite that strong of a way. And for those folks, the question of "will I persevere?" is very real. So again FVers are "breaking even" on this point.

    2. FVers have a good answer to this problem too (though of course there is no "magic" answer that will make every single person who struggles with assurane feel better; this is a pastoral situation more than anything and each case needs special care). The "way" you fall way from the faith, the "way" you show yourself to have only a non-persevering covenant membership kind of salvation, is by failing to trust in Christ. In other words, salvation to the uttermost happens only through faith. When a person is excommunicated (by the Church on earth or by Jesus Himself at the last day), it is because they do not have faith. They do not trust in their covenant Lord alone to provide them with all they need. This is not about keeping your salvation by doing good works, which is another way that the FV position is often mis-represented. It's about clinging to Christ by faith. If you cling to Him, then you will be saved to the uttermost. If you end up falling away and being lost, then it's becuase you didn't have faith. So, dear Christian whose conscience is vexed, you have a very simple "existential" choice before you. Believe! Trust in Christ! There is no such thing as a person who trusts in Christ but then gets damned at the last day. So, cling to Christ, attend to His word, enjoy the fellowship you have with other believers, eat His meal (communion), etc. Do these things as a person whose faith is working through love. Stick with Jesus, and you can never be lost. Abandon Him, and you can.

    If, to this, a person still worried "but how can I know that I'm not going to abandon Him later?" this question itself shows that they haven't been paying attention. Assurance of salvation does not come from knowing that we have some special quality within us (i.e., the real, super-duper persevering kind of faith). Assurance comes from Christ. It comes from looking outside of ourselves to Christ. If a person tells me they are worried that they are going to abandon Christ at a future time, then I ask them, "Why are you worried about that? What is the basis of your concern? Do you WANT to abandon Christ? Are you telling me, right now, that you don't want to be under Christ's protection?"

    "Well, no."

    "Okay, then why are you worried? Is there some scandalous sin, some double life, that you're living right now that I don't know about?"

    "Well, no."

    "Okay, then, why are you worried exactly? Trust in Christ, and all will be well!"

    Trusting in Christ is not an issue of making sure that YOU have the proper kind of trust. It's an issue of looking outside of yourself to another (to Christ), because you know that he's the only one who can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. That's what it means to trust in Him, and constantly worrying about whether your trust is of the "right" quality is always an existential dead end. But it's a dead end that has haunted a good number of folks in our Reformed tradition, and the FV is motivated by trying to make it better.

    But making it better is not about a one-line bumper sticker answer. Assurance is still a complicated issue, and so the FV answer is fairly complicated. It has to be. But it can be boiled down into fairly simple terms: all who are in the covenant are "saved" in the sense that they are genuine recipients of God's special favor. But they are not guaranteed to go to Heaven. They must "remain" in the covenant by having faith in Christ throughout their entire life. This is not a matter of human works, for it is God who totally by His grace gives a person the faith they must have. (Standard monergistic Calvinism 101) But any person who is currently in the covnenat can know that he really IS one of God's special chosen people, that He really HAS been made a recipient of God's special favor, that God has kindly regarded his helpless estate, that he is no longer a part of the old world of sin and death but has been brought into a new world (the kindgom of God, manifested in earthly history through the Church). This is a genuine reality that he can bank on. But it doesn't mean he is automatically going to Heaven. He must trust himself to Christ completely. But he now has some basis for doing this, since he knows that Christ really is already with Him in some sense. The "Puritan" who struggled with this issue didn't even have that: they had no prior experience of any kind that they could point to as a sign that they were genuinely united to Christ even in a covenantal way, since God's grace is all-or-nothing. If you aren't sure whether you are in God's special favor in the first place, then you also aren't sure about any of your previous experiences of that favor. You have NOTHING to go on: you are completely isolated in principle as an individual from God's salvation. It is like an impossible math problem that you'll never be able to figure out. The chalkboard with all the scribbling on it is 'out there' away from you. You want to somehow get it inside of you, but you can't. You are either in already, but you just don't know it. Or it's not in, and it will never be in.

    On the FV model, people show themselves to be unfaithful through scandalous unrepenetant sin (allowing for "surprises" at the last day, but the general paradigm is not built around surprises). If you are a member in good standing of the Church, then that in and of itself is a testimony to your eternal status. Because you KNOW that you have been claimed by Christ through your baptism, that you have been brought under His wing of protection and promise, and you are trusting in Him to take you "all the way." There may be some hypocrites in the Church who really don't care about Jesus at all and just try to live a life of outward conformity to God's law so that they never commit any scandalous sins that would bring attention to themselves. These are the Last Day "surprises." But a sincere covenant member who genuinely wants to be with Jesus forever but just doesn't know if he will be can receive a helpful way of thinking about these things from the "FV" persepctive that I don't think is available on the more "standard" Reformed perspective.

    sorry that was so long!

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  6. Xon,

    "But the question is not simply how do the Westminster Standards use the word "justification," but how is that word used in Scripture? It is possible that Scripture uses the word with a wider range of meaning than the Confession does."

    Where in Scripture does one of the biblical author’s use justification in this wider sense?

    Also,

    "They receive blessings and favor from God in virtue of their church membership (all the typical "means of grace" the Reformed speak of: preaching, sacraments, fellowship with other believers, etc.) Thus, they have received a change in status in God's courtroom (they are no longer looked at as typical pagans or nonbelievers). This status change is totally gracious; God gives it to them without any regard for anything good or worthy in themselves. So, this is a 'justification.'"

    I would agree that the people [professing members of the visible church who end up not being saved because they didn’t have faith in Christ] who receive these “blessings and favor of God” by virtue of their church membership are “no longer looked at typical pagans or nonbelievers.” However, according to Scripture, they are seen as worse than typical pagans or nonbelievers. They “cannot be restored to repentance” (Heb. 6:6). They have “evil and unbelieving hearts” which have been “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13). They are “those who were disobedient” (Heb. 3:18). They have “trampled under foot the Son of God” and they have “regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which [they were] set apart” and they have “insulted the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29). They have fallen into the hands of the living God which is a terrible thing.

    If we are using the covenant community of Israel as an example of your type of justification, then we must take into account what God called those people who were blessed with the covenant community (the means of grace) but failed to enter into the rest because of their lack of faith. He called them “stiff-necked” not elect (See Exodus 32:9; 33:3,5; 34:9; 2 Chronicles 30:8; Acts 7:51).

    If we want to use Judas as an example, what does Jesus say about him? For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by who the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.

    “This status change” is not totally gracious if they are not the elect (in the Westminster idea of “elect”) who have faith. This is the means by which God brings their utter destruction. So it is not helpful to speak of these people as justified in some sense. It is all the more helpful to stress the terrible consequences of not having faith even if you are a part of the covenant community.

    Also,

    "You can know that God really has done something special for you, that He really has given you His special favor. He has brought you into His Church (i.e., the covenant community), and this is an objective blessing in and of itself."

    Has God show special favor (i.e. salvific grace) to you if he has brought you into the visible church and yet has not given you the faith to believe?

    Yes … there are temporal blessings, which we should stress (especially to covenant children), but not to the point of underplaying the responsibilities. Not all Israel is Israel. And not all the visible church are the church.

    As Adam said above, we are more pastorally-confusing to have these two senses of justification which in my opinion is not scriptural.

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  7. xon,

    "It's about clinging to Christ by faith. If you cling to Him, then you will be saved to the uttermost. If you end up falling away and being lost, then it's becuase you didn't have faith."

    Then what's all the hoopla about an "objective covenant"? If someone believes, then they are saved. Are you implying there are progressive levels of belief, the highest of which saves? I'm just not sure what benefit there is in complicating the issue.

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  8. Xon,

    Thanks for the lengthy reply. I really appreciate that you're taking your time to make things clear for me on this issue.

    After reading your response, though, I am only becoming more convinced that the issue of assurance is still the same for everyone, whether FV or not. Now, the Puritan answer is not necessarily a claim to a simplistic answer, but as you said, neither is the FV, as it turns out. We're all in a very similar situation when it comes to assurance, so why make things so complicated and introduce this newer, more qualified approach when salvific assurance is not objectively guaranteed anyway (which is why - as I see it - the FV and Puritan assurance really boil down to the same thing)?

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  9. Xon,

    Thank for posting!!!

    You said, "But the question is not simply how do the Westminster Standards use the word "justification," but how is that word used in Scripture?"

    Could you please provide a biblical reference that uses the term justification in the sense you defined it (i.e. in the sense you defined for Wilkins)?

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  10. Adam,

    I think your comments are spot on. I have not thought about the issue in that light before and i think you have nailed it on the head!

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  11. Brandon,

    I do think there are different levels of faith. The parable of the Sower seems to make that clear, doesn't it? There is a faith that does not last. the Reformed tradition is divided on this issue. Some say that temporary faith is not really faith at all (no doubt the dominant tradition today), but historically that position was not nearly so dominant. Many in the tradition have said that there is a genuine faith that doesn't last which non-regenerate people can experience.

    The "hoopla" about the objective covenant is that (among other things; but we are focusing on assurance here) it provides a vexed conscience with a basis for assurance in real, objective fact. You are someone whom God looks upon with favor. It is not a question between am I elect, and thus "in" irrevocably, or am I non-elect, and thus completely and totally out? It is a fact that you are "in" the earthly kingdom (which is the only kingdom anyone can be in during their earthly life). You are in God's covenant people; that means He has set you aside, and made special promises to you. Believe!

    Brad,

    Of course, anyone in the covenant who does not have saving faith is, in the end, one who comes under even worse judgment than a pagan. Right-o! But that's not the issue: the issue is, is there a time when they are a genuine recipient of God's blessing.

    This is anecdotal I realize, but this isn't my first rodeo in discussing these things, and one difference that seems to come up b/w FV sympathetic people and their critics is the question of whether or not God's decree of someone's final destiny precludes Him from dealing with that person in a favorable (beyond common grace) way before that decree comes to its complete fruition. For instance, if God decrees Bob to go to Hell, can He still be "nice" to Bob for a while, bring genuine blessings to Bob during his earthly life, etc.? Or does God have to always look at Bob as "that guy who I've already predestined to go to Hell" in such a way that colors everything else? I would say the former. I get the impression that many critics of FV would say the latter?

    A little story: if a juvenile (Joe) is caught red-handed committing a crime, and the judge decides to put him in an experimental program where juveniles get to live in the lap of luxury in a mansion, but then at a later time Joe commits another crime and gets thrown into the pen for hard time...did Joe enjoy real blessings while in the mansion, or not?

    It seems to me that it is nearly self-evident, but at least highly reasonable, to say that Joe does indeed enjoy temporary blessings while in the mansion. The fact that, in the end, his life's story is a tragic one that ends up with him in prison does not retroactively make the mansion not a mansion. But ultimately the reason he got such a harsh punishment was because he rejected the blessings of the mansion. Do you disagree (I've had anti-FVers disagree with me on this very story before, but I don't want to put words in your mouth)?

    As to verses which use "justification" to speak of something broader than "elect people being forgiven for all their sins in an irrevocable way," we have at least a few examples. Matthew 18 speaks of the unforgiving servant as having his own forgiveness revoked. (Forgiveness, of course, is a closely related concept to justification.) This also touches on the earlier post here about what FVers mean by wanting to speak biblical language. You read Matthew 18, and it sure LOOKS like it is possible to be forgiven, and then not forgiven any more. Now, what do we do with this? Do we explain it away as not being "real" forgiveness because of some systematic theological consideration external to the text? Or do we say that, whether we fullly understand it or not, the Lord has spoken so we must submit to His wisdom? (Note: I'm not against systematic theology. I just think we need to be careful that it does not lead us to deny a clear statement of Scripture. I also have no problem with giving a passage of Scripture that is unclear a "second look" on the basis of other passages. But this passage actually is rather clear, isn't it? To overturn the clear reading, it seems to me we would have to have some other teaching of Scripture which represents an outright contradiction. Then, to resolve the tension, we might have to come up with an alternative reading of Matthew 18. But I'm not aware of any contradiction.)

    I don't want to go on and on, despite how it appears. :-) An essay that is no longer online (the author wants to refine it, but is also a very busy fellow) put it like this:

    ". . . most of the various NT passages dealing with apostasy and the
    like attribute to the apostate the temporary possession of
    many of those things that only the elect receive in their fullness
    and with perseverance. To wit:

    -- prophesying, casting out demons, and working wonders in the name
    of Christ (Matt 7:22)
    -- receiving the word with joy (Matt 13:20)
    -- forgiveness of sins (Matt 18:27)
    -- possessing the kingdom of God (Matt 21:43)
    -- sharing in God's riches (Matt 25:14ff)
    -- belief (Lk 8:13)
    -- new life from the seed of the Word (Lk 8:6-8, 11, 13-15)
    -- bearing fruit, but not to maturity (Lk 8:14)
    -- being a branch in Christ for a time (Jn 15:1-10)
    -- believing the Gospel (Acts 8:13ff)
    -- eating and drinking of Christ (1Co 10:1-13)
    -- possessing the grace of liberty in Christ (Gal 5:1-4)
    -- having an inheritance and reward (Col 2:18; 3:24-25)
    -- God and the gift of the Holy Spirit (1Th 4:7-8)
    -- faith (1Ti 1:18-20)
    -- being partakers of Christ (Heb 3:12-14)
    -- enlightenment (Heb 6:4)
    -- partaking of the heavenly gift (Christ? initial salvation? Heb 6:4)
    -- sharing in the Holy Spirit (Heb 6:4)
    -- partaking of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come
    (Heb 6:5)
    -- repentance (Heb 6:6)
    -- having Christ's work of the cross applied to one once (Heb 6:6)
    -- drinking in the "rain of God" (the grace of baptism? Heb 6:7)
    -- having knowledge of the truth (Heb 10:26)
    -- being sanctified by the blood of Christ (Heb 10:29)
    -- the grace of God (Heb 12:15)
    -- a birthright giving one title to the inheritance (Heb 12:16-17)
    -- being part of the heavenly Jerusalem, sprinkled by Jesus' blood
    (Heb12:22-25)
    -- being cleansed from old sins (2Pe 1:9)
    -- being bought by the Lord (2Pe 2:1)
    -- having escaped the pollutions of this world (2Pe 2:20)
    -- knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2Pe 2:20)
    -- knowing the way of righteousness (2Pe 2:21)
    -- being in the love of God (Jude 21)
    -- the seven letters to the seven churches also allude to a wide
    range of covenant blessings which those who later apostatize possess
    for a time (Rev 2-3)"

    Finally, Adam,

    "We're all in a very similar situation when it comes to assurance, so why make things so complicated and introduce this newer, more qualified approach when salvific assurance is not objectively guaranteed anyway (which is why - as I see it - the FV and Puritan assurance really boil down to the same thing)?"

    Okay, but I'm saying we're not in the same situation on the two acocunts. Not exactly. Again, the difference is that on the "Puritan" account a person has no way to know whehter they are connected to God's grace at all, ever. If you're non-elect, then you have nothing, and everything you might think you have experienced is really just your own self-deception. It is hard to get any sort of assurance going on from that position, because there's nowhere to "hang your hat." FV offers and objective basis for a real favored status with God, which you is then improved upon through saving faith. But when we exhort a vexed soul to have faith, we can actually point them to a real historical and objective basis for that faith: the fact that they have been set apart by God through baptism and their membership in the visible church. On the "Puritan" account, these are all just "external" blessings, and indicative of nothing.

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  12. Xon,

    I suppose I'm the kind of guy who wants to boil things down to their elements. You know; black or white, heaven or hell, life or death... This is why I say that if you can't assure people with certainty that they are going to heaven, then giving them this empty and potentially deadly assurance that they're "hanging their hat" in the right place is almost totally useless.

    On the Puritan scheme, those in the community enjoy the same blessings that you discussed; but now because they belong to a Christian community, they have a group of people to spur them along and encourage them to fight to make their "calling and election sure." Not to mention the declaration of God's Word. This is a very great benefit, and there are many others (as you said, especially for children in these homes).

    Some people are not the types to fear and wonder about their destiny... they aren't the all or nothing types. But some are, as you said. I would be one of those people who - not necessarily lacking assurance (I simply look to Jesus rather than getting morbidly introspective) - want to know in the epistemological sense that I'm going to heaven. Neither the Puritan nor the FV system offer this, in the end, and so it seems like there is really no added benefit to changing my perspective on this when the default Reformed position is not only much less controversial, but also more historically grounded (at least it seems to me).

    Ultimately, the decision should be grounded in Scripture, and I am satisfied with the discussions that have taken place on that level as well, but I also want a theological system that actually makes sense and is as unnecessarily complicated as is possible.

    Thanks again, Xon, for all the attention you're putting in to responding to my concerns. You're a class-act.

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  13. Xon,

    Again thanks for the post. I am glad you are taking the time to interact with us on these subjects!!!

    On to the points you made…

    I agree completely that “Bob” can have real blessings in this life, even ones that other non-covenant members do not have. The real question, however, is can “Bob” have in a real sense salvific blessings? To this question the Reformed have gave a resounding, NO! And to which you are saying yes. This is the point of dispute. This is why the Reformed community is up in arms over these issues. It seems at times that this is nothing more that semi-Pelagianism warmed over. How can “Bob” have forgiveness of sins in any sense and then lose it? The same with justification or regeneration? I see who this is not semi-Pelagianism but at the end of the day are we really say something vastly different? I do not think so, but other brothers in Christ do.

    As for Matthew 18, this is the only text that I remember Wilkins using in his re-examination. The problem with this is that it is a parable. Any good introduction to hermeneutics or the New Testament will make it plan that to interpret a parable one is to find the single point of the parable. In other word, every sentence in the parable is not to be analyzed to find its own meaning, rather all the points are meant to drive home one single point. The point of the parable in Matthew 18 is not people can lose their forgiveness. Surely you would agree with this. The point is that those of us who have been forgiven are to forgive. This is the clear point of the passage, the other parts of the “story” are to drive home this one point, and are not to be read as standing on there own.

    In your list of Bible passages these are the only relevant ones, because they are the only ones that are salvific and that is the point under dispute:

    -- forgiveness of sins (Matt 18:27)
    I discussed this one above.
    -- new life from the seed of the Word (Lk 8:6-8, 11, 13-15)
    This text is again a parable and it does not say that those who fall away have “new life.” It does speak of those who fall away as “growing up” for a time. But is this in the eyes of God or the eyes of man? I think the context makes it clear that this is before the eyes of men and thus it is saying that it will appear to us that some grow up and fall away.
    -- having an inheritance and reward (Col 2:18; 3:24-25)
    I do not see how Col 2:18 is at all support for this point. You will need to help me here.
    And Col 3:24-25 says nothing about people falling from their inheritance. In fact by the very nature of an inheritance it is something that you do not have here and now. It is something that you will receive in the future, so I am unclear how this can be had now by non-elect covenant members who fall away.
    -- repentance (Heb 6:6)
    Hebrews 6:6 say nothing about repentance. I think you may mean Hebrews 6:4?? This passage does not say that they lose repentance; rather it says that they cannot be brought back to repentance. Why can they not be brought back to repentance? One answer could be because they never had it in the first place. You cannot bring a person back to a place they have never been.
    -- having Christ's work of the cross applied to one once (Heb 6:6)
    This is reading a lot into this text!!!
    -- being sanctified by the blood of Christ (Heb 10:29)
    Sanctified in what way? The way the elect are? Surly not. Rather we know that to be sanctified simply means set apart. This passage is saying that non-elect covenant members are really set apart for God. This is why they have a harsher judgment. But it is not saying that they have salvific blessings. This would be a great passage to uses in reference to Reformed Baptists!

    These are all the citations I saw that refer to salvific benefits. If I missed one that you would like me to comment on I would do so gladly.

    One final remark is in order about your passages, as I was going over this list one thing kept coming to my mind, ‘these are all the same passages I have to explain to my Arminian friends.’ Again, this is why the Reformed community is up in arms about this movement. It seems like we are letting semi-Pelagianism in the back door. The only difference is we add the term, ‘in a sense.’ The semi-Pelagianism will say that a person can have ‘full’ justification (for lack of a better term) and lose it; while the FVers say that a person can have ‘in a sense’ justification and lose it. I fail to see a dramatic difference.

    As to a positive response to your view, Romans 8 seems quite clear that all who are justified will be glorified. Paul does not use the term justified in a sense here. Rather he says that all who are justified will be glorified. This is the way the Bible uses the term justification.

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  14. "if you can't assure people with certainty that they are going to heaven, then giving them this empty and potentially deadly assurance that they're "hanging their hat" in the right place is almost totally useless"

    Adam, I think the point is that FV'ers seek to assure people with God's certainty. You are right that I can't tell someone whether or not they are going to endure to the end or not but I can tell them of God's certainty. People need to be concerned if they are hypocrits or if the cares of the world are choking out the seed of the word. But people who trust in Christ don't need to be concerned with whether or not they might be reprobate in the end and that God only loves them "in a sense". We make our calling and election sure by trusting in Christ. If you have faith (or "simply look to Christ") then you are united to Christ. And in Christ God declares that you are His son. That's real certainty.

    In the "Puritan scheme" you not only wonder if you will endure but you have to wonder if God is really for you in the grand scheme of things.

    Also Steve, I personally find it hard to take seriously a man in a used-car salesman uniform (i.e. coat and tie). Sorry couldn't resist.

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  15. I appreciate the kind words. These conversations can be helpful, and y'all are demonstrating that wonderfully.

    Yes, Faris, precisely. Thanks for the assist. :-)

    Josh, I'm neither a skilled exegete nor a rube when it comes to Biblical interpretation. Still, I'm not sure how much headway we would make going through the passages one by one. I'll focus on a couple now, especially Matthew 18.

    But first, Hebrews uses "sanctification" in a sense other than the way that the Westminster Confession uses it. You acknowledge this when you say:

    "Sanctified in what way? The way the elect are? Surly not. Rather we know that to be sanctified simply means set apart. This passage is saying that non-elect covenant members are really set apart for God. This is why they have a harsher judgment. But it is not saying that they have salvific blessings. This would be a great passage to uses in reference to Reformed Baptists!"

    Okay, so we have here an "ordo salutis" term ("sanctification") that is used in the Bible in a way that is different than the way it is used in the Westminster Standards. And we all are recognizing that.

    FVers think--and they might be wrong about this--that the Scriptures indicate a similar variety of usages of other "ordo" terms, like "justification" or "forgiveness" (not a term in the "ordo" proper, but closely related to a stage of the ordo). Now, certainly we need to have a discussion about the exegesis, as the Word is our only ultimate authority. But I want to make a logical point here (and my own training is in philosophy, so I do this from time to time..:-))

    Here's the logical point: you would not defrock a minister if he said that he affirmed the Westminster Confession's teaching on sanctification (i.e., that all elect people who are justified are also sanctified), but also says that he thinks there is a "sanctification" that is received by non-elect covenant members. In this particular case, you believe that too, so clearly there is no problem. But it illustrates a logical issue: it is perfectly consistent to hold to different senses of a word that is used in the Confession without thereby contradicting the Confession.

    A lot of arguments against Steve Wilkins have been that he contradicts the Confession, but he has always insisted that he doesn't. He affirms all the ordo salutis talk in the confession as something that ONLY happens for elect people. If you peel away the words, and get to the concpets, the Confession speaks rightly about the elect. But Wilkins also thinks that many of these "ordo salutis" words can be used (are used in Scripture) in ways that are different from the way they are used in the Confession. But this is not a contradiction of the Confession, as our own agreement on the matter of "sanctification" demonstrates. The FV discussion, in my opinion, has been haunted by this sort of fundamental mistake from the critics from the beginning.

    Now, that is not to say that Wilkins (or anyone else) gets a pass for anything he wants to say about "justification," "forgiveness," etc. Certainly, he still needs to ground his view in the Scriptures. But, the very fact that he uses these words with a wider range of meaning than they are used in the Confession does not constitute a contradiction of the Confession. Right?

    Now, as to whether a person can be temporarily forgiven, you write:

    "As for Matthew 18, this is the only text that I remember Wilkins using in his re-examination. The problem with this is that it is a parable. Any good introduction to hermeneutics or the New Testament will make it plan that to interpret a parable one is to find the single point of the parable. In other word, every sentence in the parable is not to be analyzed to find its own meaning, rather all the points are meant to drive home one single point."

    Okay...but. First of all, "good introductions" to hermeneutics might not be the best guides. Who says that a parable only has one point? Is this based on some observation of Near Eastern literature? Some other pericope of Scripture?

    When Jesus's disciples come to him to ask him to explain the parable of the Sower, he does not break it down into ONE point: every kind of seed (or, more properly, every kind of soil) has an analogue. Now, what some interpreters do with this is to say that the Sower story is actually an Allegory, not a Parable. But this is just arbitrary categorization. Who is to say, then, that the Story of the Unforgiving Servant is not also an Allegory?

    But, despite this, I am sympathetic with your concern that we not "overread" parables. I just think it is too facile to say they have only "one" point. That isn't always true.

    But, even further, if we take a "one point" approach to the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (PUS), it seems to me that the "one point" has to involve the total narrative of what happens to the servant in question. "One point" doesn't mean that we can isolate one particular part of his story (i.e., he was supposed to be forgiving) while ignoring that which is integrally connected to it (i.e., the part of the story that tells us what happened when he didn't do what he was supposed to do).

    The PUS tells us that, BECAUSE he didn't forgive like he was supposed to, his own debt was de-forgiven. These two elements are of a piece, they together constitute the story of the parable. This is not about reaching for symbolism in other elements of the story, like if I over-allegorized on the meaning of him being thrown in "jail." ("Hmm...jail is a place where criminals are trapped, so see the unwillingness to forgive puts you in a trap of your own making...") Why on earth would Jesus tell a parable to illustrate the "one point" that we ought to be forgiving, by including all that stuff about the unforgiving guy getting unforgiven? That part of the story is totally unnecessary if Jesus's "one point" is just to focus on the need to be forgiving. (He could have told a story about a guy who didn't forgive, and then died grumpy and alone, but still out of debt. Or something)

    The "one point" of the PUS is precisely that, if you don't forgive, your own forgiveness can be revoked. That is not overcomplicating the interpretation, it is insisting that we read the entire parable and not cut off our interpretation before it gets to the end.

    "The point of the parable in Matthew 18 is not people can lose their forgiveness. Surely you would agree with this. The point is that those of us who have been forgiven are to forgive. This is the clear point of the passage, the other parts of the “story” are to drive home this one point, and are not to be read as standing on there own."

    So, as is now clear, I don't agree here. I DO think the point of the parable involved a revocation of forgiveness for him who was unforgiving. (Of course, this is not some universal principle for all such cases: clearly we all have our own struggles with being forgiving of others and God continues to forgive us. But there is a sense in which this is a danger. There are people who get forgiven by God, but whose hearts remain hard towards others and who thereby do not remain forgiven forever.)

    You say that the other elements of the story sever to reinforce the one point, but how do they do that without being true in some sense? The REASON we see that the unforgiving servant made a grave mistake is BECAUSE his own forgiveness is taken away from him. You can't separate the consequence from the offense, as though the parable only meant to highlight the latter and the former was just a random story element pulled out for dramatic effect. This strikes me as special pleading with the text.

    Now, is this "forgiveness" that the Unforgiving servant received of the same quality as the forgiveness received by the elect? I don't think so. But it is real. I don't see any way around that. An alleged "rule" for interpreting parables cannot do the exegetical work of skipping that bit of the story. :-)

    Which brings us to the first part of your latest comment:

    "I agree completely that “Bob” can have real blessings in this life, even ones that other non-covenant members do not have. The real question, however, is can “Bob” have in a real sense salvific blessings? To this question the Reformed have gave a resounding, NO! And to which you are saying yes. This is the point of dispute. This is why the Reformed community is up in arms over these issues."

    But is this just a dispute over words, or substance? What do you mean by "salvific"? If I said everything I have said here, but I just backed off from calling it covenantal "salvation," then would that make my position okay? It just seems to me that there is a lot of knee-jerking over words in this dispute. Clearly, what FVers say about the "covenantal salvation" is such that it is not the same kind of thing enjoyed by the elect. But it is a real "salvation," given a basic definition of the term. So it is resonable and Scriptural to speak that way, and we just have to stop being so worried about how other people are going to react. Right? :-)

    "It seems at times that this is nothing more that semi-Pelagianism warmed over."

    Well, even if the FV view is an error, semi-Pelagiansim is not the right label for it. Semi-Pelaginaism is a position about the relationship between God's and man's contributions to salvation: man plays a (very small part) in accepting that which God graciously offers but does not "gurantee". This is not the FV position. At all. FV is thoroughly and uncompromisingly monergistic: everything in salvation is 100% the work of God, done purely from grace and not with regard to anything within the creature.

    But your concern that a possibility of losing forgiveness is somehow not kosher is well-taken. However, I don't think it's so bad as you are worried about. I think (and here I'm on my own skinny branches, not speaking for other FVers in any way) that really there is a fallacious logical move deep in the Reformed tradition that has created this "tension" for ourselves where there really doesn't need to be any such thing.

    We think, on the one hand, that God sovereignly predestined everything that comes to pass, especially who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. We then also think, for some reason (this is the fallacious move), that this renders historical ebb-and-flow of individual lives and interactions secondary to what is "really" going on. We think that if God predestines Saul to fall away from covenant Israel and to be a faithless king, that God must be sitting there thinking bad thoughts about Saul when he is anointed king. But then the "Arminians" and other "free-willers" read the passage in I Samuel where Saul becomes king, and it sure LOOKS to them like God was showing genuine favor on Saul: like God was up in Heaven smiling down on Saul right then, and that Saul had every right to feel like God was smiling on him. And so they reject predestination and opt for the "historical" reality of Saul being favored. But we don't have to choose. (That was just a rough-and-ready example, mind you.)

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  16. Faris,

    "In the 'Puritan scheme' you not only wonder if you will endure but you have to wonder if God is really for you in the grand scheme of things."

    I see what you're saying, but I take it that you think, ultimately, that FV side of things actually fixes this or sees things differently. Think about it: God is on my side. I'm in his church, I have been baptized, and I fellowship with his people. However, as far as I'm concerned, the idea that God is "on my side" when I could still ultimately not persevere leaves me in the same place as the Puritan scheme. I don't think of that as a bad thing, as that's where I am in my own life; just taking it one day at a time and trusting Christ to save me, just as I have from day one. I am just fine with that, and don't see the FV view as an improvement, since it really offers no more guarantee than there is in my present situation/view. I know you may insist otherwise, but it seems empty to tell someone God is on their side in any ultimate sense when that idea still excludes the ultimate divine favor (eternity with Him in heaven).

    I appreciate the interaction, by the way, Faris.

    Xon,

    "But, the very fact that he uses these words with a wider range of meaning than they are used in the Confession does not constitute a contradiction of the Confession. Right?"

    Well, I have to say that this may be technically right in a philosophical/logical sense, but to say something different from what the confession says is the same as not agreeing with the confession. This would include a broadening of terms, because you wouldn't be using them in the same way. (But the whole "lining up with the confession" argument for me is quite secondary, so I digress...) Consider: you tell me you are Owen Wilson's brother. How would you feel if I went to a friend and said, "Xon is a relative of Owen Wilson." Now, technically that's true; but the relationship is much more intimate than just relative (in fact, if I heard that I would assume he was a distant cousin or something far less intimate). The point is, when the terms and meanings of terms change, so do the ideas. And if the ideas have changed, then the idea being presented is perverted and different from the original. If it's important that Wilkins follow the confession, then he should probably use the same ideas that the confession uses as well or else write his own confession.

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  17. Xon,

    You must be on spring break as I am, otherwise there is not way we could spend this much time on a blog. :)

    You have time and time again made the assertion that justification is used in the Bible in a different sense than that of the Confession, i.e. that the Bible speaks of non-elect covenant members as justified, but you have, as yet, to show this. Please do so, or explain why we should use it in this way, even when the Bible does not and the Confession does not.

    Further, I would not say in casual conversation that a person in hell was sanctified. This is confusing and leads to more harm than good. Yes, I realize the Bible speaks this way, but it also speaks about people being baptized for the dead (for one example). We ought to be clear when we speak about the Bible and not muddy the water.

    In addition, I do not think using words in different senses than the Confession is the problem with Wilkins. The problem is that these different senses he uses are un-biblical and un-confessional. This is the problem. The Confession does not make room for the non-elect to be justified, in any sense!

    Now on to Matthew 18, I have a few thoughts:

    First, on the face of it, it seems very risky to go against the whole of Reformed theology on the basis of one section of one parable. This is, best as I can tell, the only text used to say that people can lose their forgiveness.

    Second, the PUS has the part about the man being unforgiven (which if you think about the nature of God’s forgiveness cannot be done) is added not to show that we can be unforgiven, but rather it is to show that people who do not forgive will not be forgiven. In other word, if a person’s life does not match their profession they have no reason to believe in their profession. This idea is taught thought the New Testament. It seems that the uses of the analogy of faith would do us good here.

    As of the “Bob” comment:

    You are a philosophy major, thus you know words are not just words, rather words have meaning. The problem is not with the use of the word ‘salvific,’ or ‘salvation’ the problem is you are applying terms (words) to people that are misleading at best and heretical at worst. If we want to clarify things we should do it by taking steps forward in Reformed history, not backwards.

    How can we call something “real salvation” if it does not save anyone?

    You said, “So it is resonable and Scriptural to speak that way, and we just have to stop being so worried about how other people are going to react.”

    It may be reasonable (I do not think so, but I will grant that it is) but you have yet to show that it is scriptural. This is the whole argument. The FV says that something is biblical and we are just supposed to agree. I interacted with all of the relevant Bible situations and found the FV very wanting biblical. The argument is to be about the Bible, but I fear I rarely see solid biblical exegesis being done by those in the FV over key texts in this debate. It seems that for the FV view to stand, a strong case needs to be made for it exegetical, since it is going against much of Reformed theology, and against the key passages that are used to show it to be false (Romans 8, the Golden Chain, for one example). Now, I do not expect you to do this, after all your skills are in other areas, but I do not see anyone in the FV doing in-depth exegesis. In fact, I am unaware of a single New Testament scholar that is in the FV. That, to me, is a bit telling.

    You said, “FV is thoroughly and uncompromisingly monergistic: everything in salvation is 100% the work of God, done purely from grace and not with regard to anything within the creature.”

    This is only true of the elect. What about the other guys who lose their salvation? That was not monergistic, is it.

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  18. Actually, I am furiously finishing up my dissertation. Writing the last chapter, as we speak. But the way I write is that I blurt out a bunch of productivity for a while, then I need a break. But a "break" for me still requires thinking. Thus, I roam blogs. :-)

    Adam,

    "I see what you're saying, but I take it that you think, ultimately, that FV side of things actually fixes this or sees things differently. Think about it: God is on my side. I'm in his church, I have been baptized, and I fellowship with his people. However, as far as I'm concerned, the idea that God is "on my side" when I could still ultimately not persevere leaves me in the same place as the Puritan scheme. I don't think of that as a bad thing, as that's where I am in my own life; just taking it one day at a time and trusting Christ to save me, just as I have from day one. I am just fine with that, and don't see the FV view as an improvement, since it really offers no more guarantee than there is in my present situation/view. I know you may insist otherwise, but it seems empty to tell someone God is on their side in any ultimate sense when that idea still excludes the ultimate divine favor (eternity with Him in heaven)."

    I think there are 2 differences, though.

    1. There are certain kinds of people who are comforted/assured by the "you are right now one of God's people" answer. That doesn't work for everybody, so there are still some folks perhaps who are in the "same" boat on either account (b/c they are worried about their FUTURE state, etc.). But it is a genuine source of assurance for some people, and a source that is not available on the "typical" Reformed answer.

    2. FV downplays (for most people) this need to constantly "look inside" and see if you are "really" in the faith. Taking it a day at a time, staying focused outside of yourself on Christ, seems to fit much more "naturally" in the FV picture than on the more common contemporary Reformed picture. That picture so emphasizes the difference between visible and invisible church, the fact that some people think they are saved but end up being lost, etc., that it in large part CREATES these tormented consciences in the first place.

    Just look at Jonathan Edwards, who I adore in countless ways (I'm doing my dissertation on him, in fact), for an example of this sort of thing. The very idea of a minister writing a treatise in which he distinguishes between umpteen signs of "true" vs. "false" faith, "true" vs. "false" love or affection for God, is exactly what the FV is trying to get us away from.

    Which, again, does not mean that the FV is advocating nominalism or easy-believism. FV doesn't teach people that once they are God's people through the covenant that they should never worry about being lost. Rather, it teaches them that they should not obsess over being lost unless there is some "objective" indication that they have something to worry about. Some scandalous sin which they are hiding (they should come clean and confess and repent...which doesn't mean they stop the sin and never do it again, but it means they acknowledge it to be sin and they turn to Christ for forgiveness and strength), some open sin which they are not hiding. An abandonment of the faith for another faith, etc. These are the things that should cause a person to "worry," and the Church (when acting properly as salt and light) helps them worry about it by initiating biblical discipline against them. But this idea that the Church is full of people who sincerely trust God and want to worship Him, but are actually self-deceived hypocrites, makes God sound like a grumpy miser. He brings people into His covenant community, and He delivers them through to the end. That is the "normal" procedure the Church should expect and should teach its people to expect.

    "Well, I have to say that this may be technically right in a philosophical/logical sense, but to say something different from what the confession says is the same as not agreeing with the confession."

    With all due respect, no way, man. :-) Unless you are using "different from" to mean "contradictory with"? But there are other ways to use words differently without contradicting each other.

    Again, it all comes down to understanding how someone is using the term. For instance, you say:

    "This would include a broadening of terms, because you wouldn't be using them in the same way. (But the whole "lining up with the confession" argument for me is quite secondary, so I digress...) Consider: you tell me you are Owen Wilson's brother. How would you feel if I went to a friend and said, "Xon is a relative of Owen Wilson." Now, technically that's true; but the relationship is much more intimate than just relative (in fact, if I heard that I would assume he was a distant cousin or something far less intimate)."

    Context, context, context. It all depends on what a person expects "relative" to mean in the context of your conversation. I wouldn't automatically assume that "relative" means distant cousin, for example. It would just depend. Plus, especially with a celebrity, what makes an "impression" is simply that you are connected to them at all. So, it would all depend on what you were trying to communicate. Are you trying to simply say that Xon has an uncommon connection to Owen Wilson? Then saying I'm a "relative" does that quite nicely.

    Your position is more problematic than you realize, I think (and I'll not try to go all "philosophy of language" on you, b/c I hate when people try to pull rank. Still, I do have some background studies in this area.) Open up a dictionary and pick any word at random. It will almost certainly have more than one allowable meaning. Are you saying that any time two people use a word differently that they are "disagreeing" with each other? That just isn't true.

    Some words even have a contradictory range of meaning, and you can still use them differently without disagreeing. Take these two statements:

    Bob: The U.S. has a long history of sanctioning Christian observance on Sundays.

    Tom: The U.S. does not have a history of sanctioning Christian observance on Sundays.

    Now, what does "sanctioning" mean in these two statements? If it means the same thing in both statements, then there is a contradiction between Bob and Tom. But, what if Bob is using "sanctioning" to mean "support through law", and he is thinking of things like Sunday "blue" laws, and so forth. And what if Tom is using "sanctioning" to mean "punish through law." The U.S. does not have a history of officially trying to punish Christian observance through law, so Tom is right. But, the U.S. does have a history of blue laws that try to support and encourage Sabbath observance, so Bob is right, too. They are both correct; therefore, their statements cannot be contradictory.

    This is not just a "technical" of a "philosophical" issue. It is simply how language works, in a very 'common sense' way.

    If you think two statements are in contradiction to one another, then you have to "translate" any ambiguous terms in each statement into the intended conceptual meaning, and then see if the statements are contradictory. But the simple use of the same word in different ways does not show this.

    How can it? Remember, we have already agreed that "sanctified" is used in different senses in some passages of Scripture than how it used in the Westminster Confession. In the Confession it refers to the an elect person being set apart for complete (progressive) transformation into the image of Christ "after" they are justified (the "after" is logical, not temporal, of course). In certain passages of Scripture, though (Hebrews 10, I Cor. 7), it refers to people who have been 'set apart" by God but who are not necessarily going to Heaven. Now, are these two meanings of the word "contradictory"? Not at all. Anybody who is "set apart" for a special purpose by God is "sanctified." But there is also a step on the ordo salutis called "sanctification," and this is an "extra special" kind of "setting apart" that only happens to elect people. One kind of sanctification happens to all covenant members; one happens only to the elect. One kind of sanctification is more generic, involving only being set apart for a special purpose by God; the other is more specific, involving being set apart to be saved to the uttermost and to be completely transformed into the image of Christ. One can be temporary; the other has to be permanent. Etc. These are different uses of the word: the word has a different referent on each usage. But there is nothing problematic or contradictory about this, and in fact we have already agreed that it works just fine with the word "sanctified."

    "The point is, when the terms and meanings of terms change, so do the ideas."

    Not necessarily. Sometimes the ideas change without changing the words (b/c the same word can be used in different ways). Other times, the meaning is the same even though the words change.

    "And if the ideas have changed, then the idea being presented is perverted and different from the original. If it's important that Wilkins follow the confession, then he should probably use the same ideas that the confession uses as well or else write his own confession."

    So when Wilkins reads 1 Cor. 7 and it says that the children of even one believing parent are "holy" (sanctified), he either needs to pretend that verse doesn't exist or he has to 'write his own confession?" This can't be what you are suggesting? I ask sincerely.

    Josh,

    "Further, I would not say in casual conversation that a person in hell was sanctified. This is confusing and leads to more harm than good. Yes, I realize the Bible speaks this way, but it also speaks about people being baptized for the dead (for one example). We ought to be clear when we speak about the Bible and not muddy the water."

    A person in Hell who was in the covenant during their earthly life was, for a time, sanctified. The Scriptures use the word this way, the Church historically has had no problem speaking this way, and even some Reformed people have spoken this way. How does it "muddy" the waters to say what Scripture says? If you mean that the Scriptures are themselves inherently confusing, then that seems to contradict the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, no? If you are just saying that we need to interpret "less clear" in light of "more clear," then I agree, with enthusiasm. But why do you think the claim that all covenant members are "sanctified" is unclear? It seems pretty clear to me. When it is explained as I have explained it, it clearly does not contradict any traditional Reformed doctrine. So at this point, are we only worried that people might misunderstand? Even after it is explained? Shouldn't we have more faith in people's ability to undrstand the Scripture's teaching.

    I just cannot agree with your claim that we can "muddy the water" simply by saying what Scripture says. Yes, if the passage is difficult, then we must systematize with other Scriptures. "Baptized for the dead" is a great example of that: what does it mean? How would the NT church have understood it? Where else does the Bible talk about it? Etc. But as we embark on this discussion, we have to allow the Scriptures to speak to us. We can't "cut off" this passage as though it isn't there. The bible says that there is some sort of way to understnad baptism as being "for the dead" that is appropriate. Now, let's try to figure out what that means, but let's not say that the very phrase is something that cannot be repeated. God forbid, right?

    This is the FV concern about "biblical" vs. "systematic" theology, in a nutshell. Sometimes we (and I have done this many times myself) get so caught up in our systematic definitions of this or that that we start reading every occurrence of a 'systematic theology" word in the Bible as carrying our syst theo meaning. And that is a mistake. We must tread carefully, and let God talk to us the way He wants to talk to us. Our first job is not to rush off to put it all together into a "system", but to listen. Now, when problems pop up for our understanding, especially if some passages seem to contradict others, then it is appropriate to seek a more systematic understanding (although even here I don't think it is ever okay to simply wave off one of the 'problem' passages). Our attitude should be, as Doug Wilson says, that there are no problem passages. If the Bible seems to say A, and then it also seems to say not A, then my first job is to say "Okay, God, you're smarter than I am. There's a mystery here, and I'm believing everything you tell me." Now, of course I don't think there can really be a gross contradiction in the bible like that, but our attitude needs to be like that of children, sitting attentively and excitedly at our Lord's feet receiving our very life from His lips, and not like a systematic theologian in a white lab coat who wants to run off and weigh everything on a scale. Bring out the scales when necessary: that's why God gave us the gift of reason. But it isn't always as necessary as we think it is. (Think of the Calvinist position on divine sovereignty and moral responsibility, for instance. We are compatibilists, even though most philosophers and most fellow Christians think that these two things are contradictory. We as Calvinists are very good on this issue, but we lose our way on other issues sometimes. We need to be more open to a little mystery in Scripture on things besides "free will.")

    "In addition, I do not think using words in different senses than the Confession is the problem with Wilkins. The problem is that these different senses he uses are un-biblical and un-confessional. This is the problem. The Confession does not make room for the non-elect to be justified, in any sense!"

    Okay, this makes it clear that you (Josh) and Adam are taking different angles on this. Which is fine. It just means I have to keep that in mind.

    My response here is "Name that tune." Show me the place in the Confession where it says that the non-elect cannot be justified in any sense. That's a bold claim to make: for it to be true, the Confession would have to make a claim about the word "justification." Again, see my above comments about "translating" words to concepts. Find me something that Wilkins says, and something the Confession says, which when put side by side and interpreted in line with the authorial intent of each are contradictory.

    Now, as to Scriptures, as I said I'm just trying to have a good conversation about a few Scriptures rather than a quick conversation about a bunch. That's not a cop-out, but like I also said I'm not claiming to be the world's best exegete or anything.

    I have listed a number of Scriptural passages, though those are more sepcifically about blessing enjoyed by non-elect covenant members than about the "justification" specficially. For the word "justificatoin," we know it doesn't always have the Westminster Confession's meaning because in Scripture we are told that Jesus was justified! (1 Tim 3:16) Now, that hardly says anything about FV's idea that non-elect cov members are "justified," but it shows that the word does not have only its Confessional meaning (and, also, that different kinds of justification can apply to different people: was Jesus justified in the same way that the elect are justified? Can't be, b/c elect justification involves forgiveness for all sins, but Jesus had no sins).

    Now, speaking of forgiveness of sins, this is a concept related to justification acc. to traditional Reformed theology, so that is why I've chosen Matthew 18 to focus on at this point. (Peter Leithart has written a lot of stuff on justification that I find convincing. As have others. I'm willing to go into more detail, but like I said I think it's better to focus on a few passages than to list out a bunch of them).

    If it is possible to be temporarily forgiven of sins, then it seems only natural to think that you can be termporarily "justified" (though, to be clear, not all FVers embrace this conclusion. Doug Wilson, for instance, doesn't want to say that non-elect covenant membvers are "temporarily justified"). Forgiveness is an inherently foresnic concept relating to one's status before God's justice. So if a person is temporarily forgiven, then he is temporarily justified (he must receive some sort of change in status in virtue of being forgiven, no?). Hence why I think the Matt 18 is an important and relevant passage to this topic of 'temporary justification."

    "First, on the face of it, it seems very risky to go against the whole of Reformed theology on the basis of one section of one parable. This is, best as I can tell, the only text used to say that people can lose their forgiveness."

    A few things here.

    1. All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for that stuff spoken of in 2 Tim 3. If even one verse violates our favorite paradigm, then the problem is not with the verse; it's with our paradigm. Of course, the paradigm might not need a 'major' adjustment. I don't think it needs much of one here: in fact, there have been Reformed theologians who believed in temporary forgiveness (and justification). We've gotten this notion nowadays that this is some sort of fundamental contradiction of the Reformed system, but I don't see how it is. I'm open to having it spelled out for me, though.

    "Second, the PUS has the part about the man being unforgiven (which if you think about the nature of God’s forgiveness cannot be done) is added not to show that we can be unforgiven, but rather it is to show that people who do not forgive will not be forgiven. In other word, if a person’s life does not match their profession they have no reason to believe in their profession. This idea is taught thought the New Testament. It seems that the uses of the analogy of faith would do us good here."

    So, you are saying now (correct me if I'm wrong) that the unforgiving servant was simply never forgiven in the first place? He only "appeared" to be forgiven? See, if I'm right this illustrates my point. You say "if you think about the nature of God’s forgiveness" that being unforgiven "cannot be done." But why do you say that? Where are you getting this axiom from, and why are you letting it operate as an a priori filter for the meaning of this text? Obviously, the servant wasn't unforgiven, b/c nobody can be unforgiven, and so therefore he must have never really been forgiven in the first place. This is a completely artificial reading, it seems to me.

    Now, please don't misunderstand me. If you can show that the "unforgiven" reading of Matthew 18 actively contradicts some other established clear teaching of Scripture, then okay. I need to take a second look at Matt 18. But, in my experience, this is a contradiction that Reformed people often assert but cannot really back up. I grant that this is mysterious, but not that it is a gross Aristotle-style contradiction like "A and non A".

    What if I said this: You know, if you think about the nature of God's anointing of kings, it's not possible to become unanointed. So, Saul was never really anointed king. He must have been self-deceptively pseudo-anointed, but David was the true king all along. The natural question is "Where is this axiom coming from that "the nature of God's anointing" precluded it from being temporary?

    Again, this goes back to my earlier comments about we Reformed people seeing a tension where there isn't one between God predestining all that happens and God genuinely interacting with people in time. In the historical ebb and flow of time, God says "I love you" to someone who has been baptized. In the grand scheme of predestination, God has decided to "hate" that person. But, in the moment, can God say "I love you" and mean it to someone who has been predestined to go to Hell? I think so. Well then, so can He say "You are forgiven" to someone who is ultimately going to Hell. (This forgiveness may mean the forgiveness of a lesser debt, or perhaps forgiveness for particular actual sins but not original sin, etc.) He can tell Saul, "You are my chosen king," even though from all eternity He had chosen Saul to fall away and to be removed from kingship. There just isn't any tension, though it may be mysterious. And since there is no tension, we have no need to "explain away" the clear implication of these passages that some people are forgiven but then lose it.

    "You are a philosophy major, thus you know words are not just words, rather words have meaning. The problem is not with the use of the word ‘salvific,’ or ‘salvation’ the problem is you are applying terms (words) to people that are misleading at best and heretical at worst. If we want to clarify things we should do it by taking steps forward in Reformed history, not backwards."

    This just begs the question, though. Your idea of what is "forward" or "backward" for Reformed theology is precisely the point under dispute. I think it is a great move forward indeed to return to speaking more robustly biblical language about God's covenant, to recognize a wider range of thinking within the Reformed tradition than what has come to be the standard view, etc.

    How am I using "salvatin" in a way that is "misleading at best or heretical at worst"? If it's heretical, then you must know what I mean by the term in order to pronounce my meaning heretical (since you would not condemn me simply for using the word "salvation" in an alternative way.) But this brings us back to "name that tune." I deny that I am using "salvation" in any way that is heretical or misleading. It is only miselading if a person has already decided that "salvation" only refers to "going to Heaven," that not other meaning is possible, etc. If you are willing to hear what I'm saying and how I am using the term (which you have been very willing and gracious to do), then what's misleading about it? This starts to sound like a rhetorical crutch more than a substantive argument (forgive my bluntness, maybe I'm wrong). It is very common and popular to say that FVers are confusing and misleading (which feeds this larger narrative that they have brought all their ecclesiastical problems on themselves b/c if you're gonna go challenging old doctrines, you'd better make extra sure you are clear. Etc.), but it isn't necessarily so. It might be true in some people's case, but it is not a universal issue unless the critic just refuses to listen to what is being said. (Which you have not done; you have been listening to and putting up with me very gracoiusly)

    "How can we call something “real salvation” if it does not save anyone?

    If the kid ends up living in the mansion, then he has been 'saved' from his former life of street crime. The fact that his life story ends on a downer, that he ends up doing hard time in the pen doesn't mean that he wasn't "saved" in the mansion for a while (before he snuck out and committed more crimes).

    "Saved" does not have to refer only to a "final" state of being. It can refer quite naturally to any state that is removed from a prior unpleasant state. If I get pulled out of the water during a storm, and I live for two more months, and then I fall back into the same river two months later, do we take the medal back from the guy who pulled me out two months earlier? AFter all, I wasn't really "saved" from the river since I ended up back in it, right?

    "It may be reasonable (I do not think so, but I will grant that it is) but you have yet to show that it is scriptural. This is the whole argument. The FV says that something is biblical and we are just supposed to agree."

    No, now this is not a charitable reading. This blog post "called on" FV people to come by and explain their position. I am trying to do that. I am not simply asserting that I know what the bible means and you have to agree with me. I am rather explaining how my position works, what the various pieces are. To us FVers, the Bible uses words in these various ways, and these ways while different do not contradict the Confessoinal way, therefore we think we should be able to speak both in the Confessional and the biblical (as we understand it) way. That's how my position holds together in general terms. Of course we can debate the exegesis. Maybe FVers are wrong to read the Bible the way they do.

    But, remember that lots of people (I'd venture to guess that every Reformed pastor has this problem) mess up this or that passage of Scripture. If our view is still compatible with the Confession, then we cannot be heretics. If we are wrong on certain passages of Scripture, then that's a problem, but that's hardly the standard for ministry. Every minister messes up certain passages, presumably. But what is important here is that our overall "system" of thought does not contradict the traditional Reformed system on any point "striking at the vitals of true religion." So, in principle, the question of whether we correctly read the Scriptures to talk about 'temporary justification' is separate from whether our view of "temporary justification" contradicts the Confession or the larger Reformed tradition.

    "I interacted with all of the relevant Bible situations and found the FV very wanting biblical. The argument is to be about the Bible, but I fear I rarely see solid biblical exegesis being done by those in the FV over key texts in this debate. It seems that for the FV view to stand, a strong case needs to be made for it exegetical, since it is going against much of Reformed theology, and against the key passages that are used to show it to be false (Romans 8, the Golden Chain, for one example). Now, I do not expect you to do this, after all your skills are in other areas, but I do not see anyone in the FV doing in-depth exegesis. In fact, I am unaware of a single New Testament scholar that is in the FV. That, to me, is a bit telling."

    I disagree, obviously, that no FVe people do any exegesis. I think Leithart is a good exegete. I think James Jordan is original provocative and also very traditional in a lot of ways. I also think there are lots of "FVish" insights found in other traditions (FV is, in certain ways, a very 'catholic' movement within Reformed theology). "Temporary justification" is often said to be Lutheran, for instance. (At the same time, we have significant differences with Lutheranism). Do you mean a "New Testament" scholar who holds FVish views AND teaches at a Reformed seminary? This is unlikely, I'll admit. But there are some bright cookies who take FVis lines on various passages.

    Anyway, a quick pass at the golden chain in Romans 8. Why is "glorified" in the past tense?

    About monergism, I had said,

    “FV is thoroughly and uncompromisingly monergistic: everything in salvation is 100% the work of God, done purely from grace and not with regard to anything within the creature.”

    To which Josh replied:

    "This is only true of the elect. What about the other guys who lose their salvation? That was not monergistic, is it."

    No, it's true of everyone. Every good thing that happens to everyone is 100% the work of God's grace. The guy who loses his salvation was gracoiusly predestined to enjoy temporary blessings, but then to fall away through unbelief. Just as the pagan was graciously predestined to enjoy "common" grace (rainfall, human reason, civil government, etc.) but never to believe in any sense whatsoever. Monergism is not just about what God does for the elect; it is about what God does for everyone. Moneergism is thoroughly deterministic; it requires the sovereignty of God to extend to all things, including the temporary covenant membership of those who later fall away. It is all grace.

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  19. Hopefully, I can respond more quickly to any future points that are made. I don't mean to be so rude and go on and on...

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  20. Again, Xon, you are giving us way more attention than we deserve, though we definitely appreciate it.

    I wanted to respond to your question at the end first: "So when Wilkins reads 1 Cor. 7 and it says that the children of even one believing parent are 'holy' (sanctified), he either needs to pretend that verse doesn't exist or he has to 'write his own confession?' This can't be what you are suggesting? I ask sincerely."

    Well, if his conclusion differs from the confession he claims to follow, then he needs to change his understanding of the verse to match the confession, change the confession, or write his own; that would be a fair outworking of this. By the way, I am personally not a confession hound. You'll never catch me busting someone for stepping out of line with the confession, but then again, I'm not a clergyman or seminary student.

    I would say that the broadening of the meaning of terms is, at the very least, wrong. It is an acknowledgement that the new idea is not one originally intended, so the meaning of the word as originally wrote becomes pointless, doesn't it? It still retains some meaning, but it is not the same meaning, is it? For those who clutch their confessions tightly to their chests, this seems like it would be a big deal, so I can understand the uproar.

    I would say that the absolutely widespread response to the FV seems to me, on the face, a very clear indicator that these positions are not what the confessions have taught; otherwise everyone would have welcomed the FV's ideas with open arms; I know this is almost a new argument, but I only mean it to be a passing observation.

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  21. Xon,

    I will get right to it… :)

    You said, “How does it "muddy" the waters to say what Scripture says? If you mean that the Scriptures are themselves inherently confusing, then that seems to contradict the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, no?”

    No is right! The doctrine of perspicuity is that all the doctrines of salvation are clearly taught. Here is the way our standards put it, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (WCF 1:7 ) ¬.”

    Further, Peter tells us that Paul’s writings are confusing. “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16).

    Thus, I have no problem going with the Bible and our standards that things in the Bible are confusing and we ought not be, even if that means not saying something the way the Bible does. I will give my same example as last time. The Bible speaks of people being baptized for the dead. I am not just going to through that out in normal and casual conversation.

    A better thing to do with this text is say what it means in modern terms. That is, this passage says that people in hell who were part of the church were set apart for God while on earth. This is what the passage is saying and it does not use our technical theological term ‘sanctified.’

    You said, “Sometimes we (and I have done this many times myself) get so caught up in our systematic definitions of this or that that we start reading every occurrence of a 'systematic theology" word in the Bible as carrying our syst theo meaning.”

    I agree with you fully. That is why I am not reading this use of sanctification with all our baggage and I am being carful not to mislead others by using a word filled with baggage. This seems to make a lot of sense. I am not sure why the FV way is to be preferred? What does it gain us?

    As far as Matthew 18 goes, do you know of any Reformed exegetes who say that this massage teaches a temporary forgiveness of sins, as in can you name them and cite where they say this? The FV was the first time I heard this passage taken in that way.

    You said, “If even one verse violates our favorite paradigm, then the problem is not with the verse; it's with our paradigm.”

    I agree. However, my point is that this verse does not support a temporary forgiveness. Let me put it this way. If a Mormon shows you one verse that seems to say that Jesus is but one of three gods for this planet, it is going to take a lot more that one seeming verse to over turn the rest of the Bibles teaching on this subject. Here are a few verses that this ‘unforgiven’ idea goes against.

    Isaiah 43:25, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

    Speaking of the New Covenant—“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34).”

    We need to keep in mind that this is a story. We are not readings Paul didactic letters. These stories are not meant to be used the way the FV uses them. I read these parables in light of the clear didactic passages in the Bible. The context of this parable must be kept in mind. Jesus tells this parable to answer Peters questions, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus’ answer is, you keep on forgiving him because you have been forgiven. Not, beware Peter you can lose your forgiveness. God wants us to be forgiving people and if we are not then we have no reason to think we are going to be forgiven. This is the meaning of this parable.

    You said, “It is only miselading if a person has already decided that "salvation" only refers to "going to Heaven," that not other meaning is possible, etc.”

    The FV must at best be misleading. Not misleading as in sending people the wrong way, but misleading in the sense of unclear. It seems that, according to the FV, no one understands them, but them. If not even your detractors get you, something must be wring with the way you are presenting your views.

    You said, “If the kid ends up living in the mansion, then he has been 'saved' from his former life of street crime. The fact that his life story ends on a downer, that he ends up doing hard time in the pen doesn't mean that he wasn't "saved" in the mansion for a while (before he snuck out and committed more crimes).”

    This would be right on, if we were not talking about the wrath of God. How can a person be saved from the wrath of God one day and then next day not be? This seems very hard to put in line. And again, I cannot help but see the parallels between your ‘parable’ and what an opponent to the five points would say. They seem almost identical in this case.

    You said, “"Saved" does not have to refer only to a "final" state of being.”

    This is true here on earth, but if we are speaking of the wrath of God saved must mean now and forever.

    You said, “No, now this is not a charitable reading. This blog post "called on" FV people to come by and explain their position. I am trying to do that.”

    My apologies!!! I was not speaking of you here. I was speaking broadly about the movement as a whole. I did not have you in mind at all. I should have been clearer about that and I am sorry for the confusion. Please forgive me.

    You said, “I disagree, obviously, that no FVe people do any exegesis. I think Leithart is a good exegete. I think James Jordan is original provocative and also very traditional in a lot of ways.”

    This is my point. The only two scholars in the FV are both Old Testament guys, who are trying to fight a New Testament battle. This is the point I was trying to make without naming name. Also, I was trying to be very precise in my comments about exegesis. I am unaware of any ‘in-depth’ exegesis on key FV text by anyone in the FV. I could be wrong on this, but I am unaware of it. If I am wrong please point it out to me.

    You said, “Anyway, a quick pass at the golden chain in Romans 8. Why is "glorified" in the past tense?”

    Because to God all the steps are as good as completed, that is why Paul goes on to say, “who can bring a charge against God’s elect.” God has done everything that is needed to bring his people to himself, including our glorification.

    My final comments:

    As to monergism. I think you may be a bit off on your understanding of monergism. This is the view that regeneration is the work of God and God alone. It is not the idea that everything that happens is only done by God. The Confession puts it this way, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (WCF 3:1).” ¬Thus, God uses people to get things done and thus it is not “100%” of God. Salvation is all of God’s grace, but man works. Man is active in his sanctification. Man is not passive in this. Man is however, passive in regeneration and justification. I hope that clears things up. :)

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  22. Quick thing now on monergism, then maybe I can come back later...

    "As to monergism. I think you may be a bit off on your understanding of monergism. This is the view that regeneration is the work of God and God alone. It is not the idea that everything that happens is only done by God. The Confession puts it this way, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (WCF 3:1).” ¬Thus, God uses people to get things done and thus it is not “100%” of God. Salvation is all of God’s grace, but man works. Man is active in his sanctification. Man is not passive in this. Man is however, passive in regeneration and justification. I hope that clears things up. :)"

    I don't disagree with any of this, but it's not what I meant when I said that salvation is 100% God. I mean that the only one who "contributes" the effective "cause" of salvation is God. We contriute nothing of worth or value. God is the only one working in the ultimate (or primary) sense. As the Confession puts it in that passage you cite, human beings act as "secondary" causes. But anyway, my point was not about whether God uses the real actions of people in His plans. Certainly He does. My point was simply that everything that happens is ultimately due to God's perfectly good plan. and all the good things that happen to people, whether rain on a pagan, baptism on a temporary covenant member, or the 10,000th day in Heaven for an elect fellow, are all done of God's grace and not due to anything in the creature that makes them "worthy."

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  23. Josh,

    We just keep going, don't we? :-)

    Re: perspicuity of Scripture, I apologize for being unclear. Of course, Amen, certainly, verily verily, the doctrine of perspicuity applies to matters important for salvation, not to every single thing. I didn't mean to overreach there. But, we are talking about a matters that pertain to salvation: forgiveness of sins and justificaiton.

    "Thus, I have no problem going with the Bible and our standards that things in the Bible are confusing and we ought not be, even if that means not saying something the way the Bible does. I will give my same example as last time. The Bible speaks of people being baptized for the dead. I am not just going to through that out in normal and casual conversation."

    It seems to me you are overdoing the problem here. Some Scriptures are confusing, less clear than others. In those circumstances, we look to those passages that are more clear and we look to "good and necessary consequence" (i.e., systematic theology) to help us sort out the less clear. This is what you do, for instance, with the "baptism for the dead". And I think that's fine, and I have no problme with your interpretation of that passage. What I am really scratching my head over, though, is why you can't go ahead and use the phrase "baptism for the dead", now that you have explained it in light of systematic theological and other biblical considerations? Now that you havce explained what the phrase means, why should we be allergic to using the phrase? I just do not understand this notion that we are supposed to be afraid of using certain phrases or ways of speaking that are found in Scripture, because we are terrified of confusing people. The answer to confusion is to teach clearly on what the passage properly means, not to avoid using its language altogether. Help me out here?

    You [Xon] said, “Sometimes we (and I have done this many times myself) get so caught up in our systematic definitions of this or that that we start reading every occurrence of a 'systematic theology" word in the Bible as carrying our syst theo meaning.”

    I agree with you fully. That is why I am not reading this use of sanctification with all our baggage and I am being carful not to mislead others by using a word filled with baggage. This seems to make a lot of sense. I am not sure why the FV way is to be preferred? What does it gain us?
    "

    If the FV explains what "sanctification" means in its alternative sense, in line with how Scripture uses the term, if this is all carefully explained and it is made clear that the Westminster sense of the term and this alternate biblical sense are not contradictory, then the FV is doing the same thing with "sanctificatioN" that you just did with "baptism for the dead." Refusing to use the word "sanctified" at all, though, is crazy. I'm sorry, just my opinion. At the very least, a minister is going to (presumably) preach on that passage of Scripture some day, and so he'll have to explain the word's extra-confessional meaning at that time. But then, once he's exlained it, what's the matter with a sharp congregation going ahead and using it in its alternative sense? I'm really having trouble understanding the concern here. It sounds like "sibboleth" (or is that "shibboleth") theology: say the right words, or you'll rock the boat. We can do better than this. (Again, help me understand, brother.)

    "As far as Matthew 18 goes, do you know of any Reformed exegetes who say that this massage teaches a temporary forgiveness of sins, as in can you name them and cite where they say this? The FV was the first time I heard this passage taken in that way."

    This question requires me to, like, open up some books, and so I don't like it. I will have to get back to you, as it's been a while since I reviewed this stuff.

    But, one guy I remember reading about in the past on this, who I am able to find online, is John Gill (Puritan dude). Gill does not support my interpretation, but he does recognize the problem with the "typical" interpretation that the servant was not "really" forgiven:

    "but inasmuch as this man was fully and freely pardoned before, how comes it to pass, that full payment of debt is yet insisted on? It is certain, that sin, once pardoned by God, he never punishes for it; for pardon with him is of all sin; he forgives all trespasses, though ever so many, and remits the whole debt, be it ever so large; which act of his grace will never be revoked: it is one of his gifts which are without repentance; it proceeds upon, and comes through a plenary satisfaction for sin made by his own Son, and therefore it would be unjust to punish for it: by this act, sin is covered out of sight; it is blotted out, and entirely done away, and that for ever. Hence some think this man had only the offer of a pardon, and not that itself; but it is not an offer of pardon, that Christ, by his blood, has procured, and is exalted to give, but that itself; and this man had his debt, his whole debt forgiven him: others think, that this was a church forgiveness, who looked upon him, judged him, and received him as one forgiven; but for his cruel usage of a fellow member, delivered him to the tormentors, passed censures on him, and excommunicated him, till he should give full satisfaction, which is more likely: others, this forgiveness was only in his own apprehensions: he presumed, and hoped he was forgiven, when he was not; but then his crime could not have been so aggravated as is: rather, this forgiveness is to be understood of averting calamities and judgments, likely to fall for his iniquities, which is sometimes the sense of this phrase: see 1 Kings 8:34 and so his being delivered to the tormentors may mean, his being distressed with an accusing guilty conscience, an harassing, vexing devil, many misfortunes of life, and temporal calamities. Though after all, this is not strictly to be applied to any particular case or person, but the scope of the parable is to be attended to; which is to enforce mutual forgiveness among men, from having received full and free pardon at the hands of God; and that without the former, there is little reason to expect the latter, as appears from what follows."

    Gill sees no way to make sense of the story without reading the servant as being genuinely forgiven, but because he believes that forgiveness must be complete and irrevocable, he opts instead to say that the unthankful servant still is forgiven for his sins, but simply is turned over to all sorts of earthly trials and torments (which is an interesting way to go, I suppose).

    My objection to Gill is that the notion that forgiveness must be complete and irrevocable is an assumption not necessitated by Scripture. Since there is no requirement that we construe forgiveness as necessarily complete and irrevocable, we are under no pressure to "get out" of the apparent tension in the text. We can simply say that he was forgiven (as Gill thinks we must), and also that his forgiveness was later revoked.

    Of course, this still leaves plenty of room for a permanent kind of forgiveness that goes only to the elect.

    You said, “If even one verse violates our favorite paradigm, then the problem is not with the verse; it's with our paradigm.”

    I agree. However, my point is that this verse does not support a temporary forgiveness. Let me put it this way. If a Mormon shows you one verse that seems to say that Jesus is but one of three gods for this planet, it is going to take a lot more that one seeming verse to over turn the rest of the Bibles teaching on this subject. Here are a few verses that this ‘unforgiven’ idea goes against.
    "

    This is the way to argue against my view, certainly. If you can show me a contradiction of temporary forgiveness in other Scriptures, then I must relent (or else I must at least admit that things are way more mysterious than at first appeared).

    "Isaiah 43:25, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”"

    Why do you think this verse is speaking to every single forgiven person in the history of the world? Perhaps this is the "stronger" kind of forgiveness, but there is still something "lesser" that temporary covenant members receive.

    "Speaking of the New Covenant—“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34).”"

    Same question as above.

    "We need to keep in mind that this is a story. We are not readings Paul didactic letters. These stories are not meant to be used the way the FV uses them. I read these parables in light of the clear didactic passages in the Bible."

    This is another oft-stated principle of hermeneutics, but I think it's too glib. Didactic passages are not always clear, for one thing. The entire dichotomy seems to me to presuppose a "Greek" mindset in which the intellect is of greater importance than the other aspects of life. Rhetoric and story-telling appeal to more than simply our propositional apprehension in our minds. God has chosen to speak to us with poetry, metaphor, narrative, and symbolism. We choose to say that these things are somehow "less clear" than the "didactic" (straightforward instruction) passages, but where do we get that from?

    In any case, the principle cannot be used to change the plain meaning of the parable unless there is some didactic passage that contradicts my reading of hte parable. I'm not aware of any didactic passage that contradicts the possibility of temporary forgivness.

    "The context of this parable must be kept in mind. Jesus tells this parable to answer Peters questions, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus’ answer is, you keep on forgiving him because you have been forgiven. Not, beware Peter you can lose your forgiveness. God wants us to be forgiving people and if we are not then we have no reason to think we are going to be forgiven. This is the meaning of this parable."

    This is more assertion than argument, though. The context of the parable is about continuing to forgive those who wrong us. Sure. But, again, look at the actual story Jesus tells. We cannot just say "This is a story to reinforce that we should forgive." The details and plot structure of the story are presumably meaningful and significant in their own right. That structure involves a person who is forgiven a large debt, then refuses to forgive a small debt, which angers his forgiving Master so much that he is handed over to torturers (for life, since he can't pay the debt back due to its immense size.)

    And then Jesus even tops the story off by saying "so my Heavenly Father will do to you". !! But somehow there is no possibility of someone losing their forgiveness?

    "You said, “It is only miselading if a person has already decided that "salvation" only refers to "going to Heaven," that not other meaning is possible, etc.”

    The FV must at best be misleading. Not misleading as in sending people the wrong way, but misleading in the sense of unclear. It seems that, according to the FV, no one understands them, but them. If not even your detractors get you, something must be wring with the way you are presenting your views.
    "

    This isn't right, though. History is full of examples of detractors who misunderstood those they criticized. It does happen. This proves nothing either way, except that is fallacious to assume that misunderstanding is the fault of the original speaker for being "unclear."

    That said, though, I will sign up and pay money to every Reformed person who is willing to go on record saying that FV is "misleading" in the sense of being unclear only. If that is FV error, then the entire controversy virtually fizzles into nothing. It is not defrockable to be unclear, per se. If that were the standard, who could stand? I am much more concerned about those who say that FV is a "may God have mercy on their souls" heresy than with those who say "You know, you guys really need to be more clear." :-)

    "You said, “If the kid ends up living in the mansion, then he has been 'saved' from his former life of street crime. The fact that his life story ends on a downer, that he ends up doing hard time in the pen doesn't mean that he wasn't "saved" in the mansion for a while (before he snuck out and committed more crimes).”

    This would be right on, if we were not talking about the wrath of God. How can a person be saved from the wrath of God one day and then next day not be? This seems very hard to put in line. And again, I cannot help but see the parallels between your ‘parable’ and what an opponent to the five points would say. They seem almost identical in this case.
    "

    This seems to confirm my earlier suspicion that you think that God's eternal decree "filters" everything He does in time when interacting with creatures. So, if God ordains final destruction for Bob, then He cannot be said to do anything nice for Bob along the way. I just don't get why this should be so.

    "You said, “"Saved" does not have to refer only to a "final" state of being.”

    This is true here on earth, but if we are speaking of the wrath of God saved must mean now and forever.
    "

    Again, I don't see why this is. For one, God is behind everything that happens in the world, so if a person is saved in a mundane sense (say, pushed out of the way of a tower that was about to fall on him), then that was God "saving" him. He was saved, and God ordains everything that comes to pass; therefore, God saved him (in a temporary earthly sense).

    Are you proposing that God's power is limited? He can only save people in a "forever" way? Why is God not able to give a person temporary deliverance from the full consequences of their sin, if He wants?

    "You said, “No, now this is not a charitable reading. This blog post "called on" FV people to come by and explain their position. I am trying to do that.”

    My apologies!!! I was not speaking of you here. I was speaking broadly about the movement as a whole. I did not have you in mind at all. I should have been clearer about that and I am sorry for the confusion. Please forgive me.
    "

    Nothing to forgive, brah. I jumped the gun myself, it appears. We're on the same page now.

    Enough for now; gotta run!

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  24. "My objection to Gill is that the notion that forgiveness must be complete and irrevocable is an assumption not necessitated by Scripture."

    Whenever I am talking about limited atonement with my arminian friends, I almost always have a discussion about how God does not punish using double jeopardy. I explain to them that people cannot be punished in Hell for sins which are forgiven. From the FV perspective, am I mistaken in this, Xon? I mean, if someone is forgiven for their sins, how can they ever be punished in any sort of penal sense? Upon what basis are they ever judged guilty?

    "Are you proposing that God's power is limited? He can only save people in a 'forever' way?"

    Of course this happens all the time, but we don't come to church to find out how to be saved in a temporal sense. We come to church because we don't want to be at enmity with God anymore. We want an eternal and everlasting peace. When we come to church to be saved, we want to be saved from damnation, not (ultimately) hunger or disease (prosperity gospel being excepted)!

    What I'm really saying, Xon, is that when we come to church and talk about being saved, we mean being saved from God's judgement - from Hell. Now. Does that mean that the meaning of saved can't be expanded to other aspects of existence? Sure. But let's be clear what we're referring to. For example:

    "Brother John is going up to the altar because he wants to be saved." No confusion there; that kid wants to repent of his sins and follow Jesus.

    "Steve is being saved from a sexually promiscuous lifestyle because of the help he is getting here at the church." No confusion there, either. He's not necessarily going to heaven, but clearly he is being saved in the sense the FV wants to expand the meaning of "saved" to. I have no problem with this if it is made clear what the salvation is in reference to.

    However, it gets confusing if you don't state what they're being saved in reference to. "Steve is being saved." This is misleading to say if you mean that he is being saved from sexual promiscuity in the sense I shared above.

    I am sorry, but it flies in the face of common nomenclature to re-spin these words and invest them with different meanings than the average Christian church is using. For example, I don't come running into church and say, "There's been a bloody accident!" Everyone will run outside and look for a car crash. But if I'm in England, they may pause and wonder if I perhaps just spilled a shirley temple on my wife's new dress. It's only fair to speak the language of the people you are speaking to.

    Now, you can redefine the words and explain how you are using the words differently, but in all fairness you should probably do that with any new audience when you are aware there are vast language differences. If you're an itinerant preacher or evangelist, that's a lot of 'splaining to do. Language is important. It should be helpful, not troublesome. That's why I choose not to declare that I am baptizing for the dead when I dunk someone (or sprinkle; I don't really care which method of baptism is used, personally). Why mislead? Why cause confusion? There seems to be no benefit; I know I keep saying this, but there's simply no justifiable reason for it except to perhaps be "edgy" or "novel" or "diffent"; I'm just not seeing any advantage to the approach the FV is putting out there.

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  25. Xon,

    There are many things in your last post that I would love to comment on, but I fear we have strayed (far) from our original path. If there is something in your comments that I must respond to I will do so gladly. I am not trying to back out or dodge all your hard work, believe me it is taking the work of the Holy Spirit to restrain me from responding to your comments (*smiley face*), but I think it best for our readers to get back on topic.

    The point that I would like try to get back on is this: let me grant that the FV understanding of all this is right, what I wanted to know is, what does it mean to have forgiveness for a time or to be justified for a time. In other words, what can be said of the person who is not elected but in the covenant. Granted we do not know who these people are (until the last day), but Systematically, what can be said about them now. To put in yet another way, what is the cash value for "Bob" in being forgiven in the FV sense?

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  26. Adam, you just granted the FV its basic tenets when you said that you have no problem with them using words like "salvation" in these other ways, so long as they explain what they are doing. I don't see what substantive issue there is for us to disagree on, then. Awesome; rock on.

    If you think FVers have deliberately gone around and said things that are meant to be confusing, just to be provocative, then I disagree. But I also have very little interest in arguing about that. At worst, the charge is that some FVers need to re-think their clarity as teachers. Which is a serious issue, if a person is bad enough at teaching clearly, since this is a fundamental gift of the ministry. But, it doesn't make him a heretic, and almost all the rhetoric of the last 6 years is completely overblown in light of this analysis.

    Of course, I didn't hold FV views until I listened to and read various writings from FV people, so to me it's pretty clear. I'm not confused by it, and most of the people who attend FV churches aren't confused by it. But, oops, now I'm contributing to an argument I have no interest in. Pay me no mind. :-)

    None of the FVers I know of are itenrant preachers or evangelists. They have flocks they tend continuosly. They preach for the most part in the standard "Puritan" way, by going through entire books of Scripture and expositing the passages while trying to give thema practical application to the lives of their congregation. Thus, they spend lots of time teaching, explaining, clarifying, returning to similar themes over and over again to show how it all relates together, etc. The "internet wars" for the most part have featured people who are not in these churches getting upset at a possible reading (which is not the only reading, and so the complaint violates the law of charity if you ask me) of things these guys wrote, imputing the worst possible motives and meanings to their words, and then enjoying the sensation of feeling like they are living in dramatic times, a new theology war in which "liberals" or "Socinians" or "semi-Pelagians" or "Arians" have again attacked the pure church and they get to stand up and be counted as warriors for orthodoxy. It's all so fun, so spaghetti western. It usually has very little to do with the actual claims of FV writers, understood in context. But there I go again...

    At least, that's my own suspicion that I can't prove, since I don't want to impute motives either. :-)

    Let me just put it this way. In my own experience, when conversations are had between two gracious parties, both trying to be light and relaxed and not rushing to impute the worst possible spin to each other's words--conversations like we have had here--then generally the whole fire of this controversy dies down big time. Sure, there are points of disagreement: FVers are deliberately trying to "shift" a few things in "standard" Reformed theology, and that should be expected to meet with some opposoition. But nobody is condemning anyone to Hell, and usually people aren't even eager any more to go running anybody out of the PCA or any other American Reformed denomination. I mean, at the end of the day the PCA has plenty of variety in the views of its ministers, and so it's rather hard to see how FV strikes at any "vitals of true religion." Worst case scenario, calm conversation partners I've had will end up saying that FV is sort of like Lutheranism or conservative Anglicanism, or something. It's Reformationish, but just not quite the right flavor for the PCA. No hard feelings, let's just have everybody minister where they can be more comfortable and "fit in." If that was the way the leaders of the anti-FV charge in the PCA put things, I would have much less of a problem. Heck, I'm going CREC for my own ordination anyway, even though my plan had always been to go PCA. I was willing to live with some things for the sake of larger unity (like swallowing my pride on paedocommunion, for instance). But, now that things have unfolded the way they have, I'm pretty pumped about going CREC where I'll be more "at home" anyway. It's not a bad outcome, considred from that angle.

    What grives me though, is the idea that local PCA or OPC churches will discourage members from attending my church if they move to my area, say, and will fill their ears with lies about what I believe. When really on a worst case scenario my view is something like a 92.3% helping of Westminster--much closer to Reformed orthodoxy than to any other historical tradition. I myself pray for the PCA and the OPC and the ministries they have had, and hope that God will continue to grow them in grace and influence for His kingdom. If one of my future congregants moves to a city and the only Reformed church in the area is PCA, I would not hesitate to recommend that they go there. That's what I would tell them to do, in fact. But I fear that most of the polarizing rhetoric in this debate has created a situation where these sentiments are not shared by my brothers in the PCA or OPC. And that bums me out, big time.

    But here on this blog, brothers have been sharpening one another as iron sharpens iron. Thank you all for that.

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  27. Xon,

    It really does seem to me that the differences between our views are significant. But what really is standing out to me is something Josh said much earlier in this discussion. Teachers and spokesmen for the FV are simply not clear when they teach. And even when they think they are, their unqualified mixing of traditional theological words with new meanings confuses alot of people (myself included). This is why I wrote my last post objecting to this loose throwing-around of words like justification or sanctification when we are not using them in the same sense that everyone else in out theological tradition is. Saying people can be justified and then still go to hell sounds - without proper explanation - like a throwback to arminian theology.

    Now, I don't know the motives of the FV leaders, but I remember hearing Wilkins - I think it was Wilkins - say at the first Auburn Ave Pastors Conference that he had no problem using the phrase "baptismal regeneration." Now, with all of the qualifications and explanations and in depth teaching that might go along with that, you might get to the point where a phrase like that could be used in a church. But what happens when an outsider hears something like this? The last six years, that's what. It sounded to my ears (when I was listening to his talk) like someone wants to stir up attention and annoy the Puritans in the crowd. Is it worth it to use this controversial language when your whole denomination is made up of Puritan-lovers? Is it worth the division; worth yourself leaving the PCA; worth Wilkins leaving the PCA? I would say: adamantly not!

    The more we talk, the more I am convinced these are semantics and issues that a little more explanation would make clear.

    The assurance issue: I boil it down to neither the Puritan or the FV giving any perfect assurance they will go to heaven. I know the Puritans will take issue with this, AND the FV will take issue with this analysis, but when it all boils down, I think this is an accurate analysis.

    Justification: you believe that reprobates can be justified, but not in the same way as the elect believers. This makes no sense and seems unnecessarily confusing, but in contrast to arminians we don't believe that reprobate are savingly justified, either.

    These are the only two examples that come to mind - at least in support of my theory that this is just semantics. But if I still don't understand the Federal Vision after all this time, then I will be wrong and this is more than just semantics.

    Think about this: I listened to the first two AAPCs and still don't understand the Federal Vision, what is wrong with this picture? Josh Walker here studies this stuff all day long at school, and he's still claiming the the FV teachers aren't clear. Now, we're just two laymen (for the time being), but shouldn't we be able to get this stuff if it's just "simple biblical language"? I am surprised someone would want to stick to there guns defending the use of strange, confusing, genre-bending words like "justification," "salvation," and "sanctification."

    Xon, these conversations have been very profitable and I really appreciate you taking your time with guys like us. Especially Josh.

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  28. Xon,

    I agree with you that some in the PCA and the OPC have not handle this in the right way, but many have. Guy Waters is an example of a charitable and accurate examination on the FV.

    Also, there are some in the FV that have not acted with charity and respect. James Jordon's comments about Sproul and the PCA are examples of this. I blogged about this here: http://bringthebooks.blogspot.com/2008/01/federal-vision-heats-up.html

    Finally, did you see my last comment? That is the real issue I want to get to.

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  29. Josh, I'm swamped preparing stuff for tomorrow (Easter, and all that). I'll try to get to your good questions that haven't been gotten to yet come Monday or Tuesday.

    As for Guy Waters, we'll have to repsectfully disagree. If you go to my own blog (http://www.afterdarkness.blogspot.com) and check the archives for last February (2007), or go to federal-vision.com you can find where I've interacted with Waters pretty extensively.

    I'm not commenting on his piety or personal morality, mind you. Only his scholarship. He makes TONS of allegations about what FVers believe that aren't right, or that are misleadingly half right. He also is obsessed (in my opinion) with 'trajectory' arguments and "seems to" arguments. In other words, he will say things like "Yes, FV says it affirms such and such, but its emphasis on so-and-so seems to tend in a direction away from it." That whole way of arguing is just silly, if you ask me. Waters is trying to be academic and collegial, perhaps, which is certainly better than a Joe Morecraft-style "God have mercy on their souls" sort of approach. But, you can be academic while still getting your finger on a genuine issue. Most of Waters' arguments that I have seen and heard don't do that: instead they say that FV tends to lean in this problematic direction (to which I say both "so what?" and "Nuh uh," depending on the particular allegation). He judges based on what Lusk doesn't say, for instance. Which is another dead end. If Lusk writes about X, but never mentions Y, that doesn't necessarily mean anything about his view of Y at all. But Waters will construe it as troubling evidence that Lusk must in fact deny Y. He also eisegetes the Reformed standards far more than I think he realizes. He will quote something from the Westminster Standards and I'll think "sounds good to me." Then he will give it a gloss that is not at all obvious in the text of the Standards itself. Then he will base criticisms of FV on his gloss. All the while apparently unaware that he is doing this, as he never makes any effort to justify his gloss. He seems to just honestly think that he has accurately summed up the Standards' position. But really he has smuggled in a few assumptions that are questionable.

    Anyway, I say all this because I've said it before. If you're interested.

    Again, though, Waters is reportedly a nice fellow.

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  30. Well, leave on vacation and this is what you get. Most of the things that caught my eye reading through was already commented on by Josh, Adam and Brad.

    In reading what you have posted, I agree with Josh that you have not proven that Scripture uses the term "justification" in the same way the FV does.

    Sure, sanctification is used in a variety of ways. Sure the author of Hebrews uses the “set apart in time” rather than the "ongoing transformation into the image of Christ" definition of sanctification. So does 1 Peter 1:2. So what?

    Sure, James and Paul use justification in a different sense: Paul talking about our status before God being solely through faith, James about our status before other men on the basis of evident works of faith.

    The question isn't whether we use these particular terms in these particular ways, it is whether the Bible speaks of non-elect-covenant-members being justified in any way. The question is whether or not Scripture speaks of justification in the way that you speak of it.

    Analogies only prove that it is possible for Scripture to use some words in a way which is different than the very specific way the confession uses them (which I doubt many here would have argues anyway). How about the actual word: justify.

    Speaking about benefits which accrue from justification as being evidence of an actual justification is simply to fall back into the Arminian error of separating Christ from his benefits. It is conflating gifts of the Spirit (which even Judas received as he cast out demons, etc) and the grace of God in the Spirit which alone regenerates. The sine qua non is "have you been born again," not "have you been covenantally elected?" All the gifts in the world (or even "special favor") isn't going to amount to hill of beans on the last day if you were not born again.

    As for the charge of synergism, it seems to stick. Not like "gorilla glue," maybe more like a Post-It. It sounds like you are stating that all some (the NECM) need to do is exercise faith. So we need a new category for man: In Adam, In Christ and In The Pew? Are you saying there is some kind of prevenient grace for those in Covenant? God actually gives them the ability to believe if only they will exercise it?

    If not, then all the "blessings" are meaningless. It isn't like sending a criminal to a sumptuous mansion, but like sending a deaf man to an opera or a blind man to a museum. The blessings of God are meant to conform us into the image of his Son. To say that such blessings are given to those who cannot, because they are not elect, ever actually enjoy the end of such benefits is to make a mockery of them.

    Anyway, for what it is worth, you have not convinced me that FV is the way to go. That probably wasn't your aim. However, the more I hear from FV proponents, the more I am convinced that their position is in error and a dangerous error at that.

    Faris: What if I wore a tux?

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  31. "As for the charge of synergism, it seems to stick. Not like "gorilla glue," maybe more like a Post-It. It sounds like you are stating that all some (the NECM) need to do is exercise faith. So we need a new category for man: In Adam, In Christ and In The Pew? Are you saying there is some kind of prevenient grace for those in Covenant? God actually gives them the ability to believe if only they will exercise it?"

    No, absolutely not. Me genoito!

    As I said in an earlier comment:

    "FV is thoroughly and uncompromisingly monergistic: everything in salvation is 100% the work of God, done purely from grace and not with regard to anything within the creature."

    When I say that a person has to believe, I don't mean that any differently than any other Calvinist means it when they say that a person has to believe. If you don't believe, you don't go to Heaven. But the reason pepole believe is because God gives it to them believe. No prevenient grace here; in fact my youth was spent in the Methodist Church, and my undergrad degree is from Asbury College. I've argued with Wesleyans about their imporper notion of prevenient grace 'til I'm blue in the face. Just fyi.

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  32. Also,

    "If not, then all the "blessings" are meaningless. It isn't like sending a criminal to a sumptuous mansion, but like sending a deaf man to an opera or a blind man to a museum. The blessings of God are meant to conform us into the image of his Son. To say that such blessings are given to those who cannot, because they are not elect, ever actually enjoy the end of such benefits is to make a mockery of them."

    The assumption here is that the only people who can receive an "internal" change from God are the elect. But I think the non-elect can receive an internal change. The Holy Spirit is powerful; He can quicken someone's spirit, but only in a temporary and incomplete way (when compared to the robust quickening received by the elect), if He wants.

    As to Scriptures that use "justification," it will be next week before I can get to exegetical argumentation. But my point here so far has been logical in nature, and that point bears repeating.

    Let's just grant for now that there are no verses that in fact teach that non-elect cov members are "justified", in any reasonable sense of the word. But FVers, because they are imperfect, are simply mistaken about this.

    So, FVers believe that there is a "weak" justification that non-elect covenant members receive. Some sort of status-changing declaration from God's courtroom/throne that puts them in a different situation than they were in before. In any case, though, FVers are mistaken about this (let us say): there is in fact no such status-changing declaration for non-elect covenant members.

    Obviously, if someone misinterprets the Bible then that is a big deal and worthy of correction. But, at the same time, we don't defrock ministers just for misreading a passage of Scripture, because we all (presumably) misread something somewhere along the line. So, while per hypothesis it is lamentable that FVers have misread a verse or two, this is hardly anything to get that upset about, per se. Refute their error whenever they publically teach their erroneous interpretation, but bringing some sort of discipline against them seems like overkill.

    In other words, a person needs something MORE than simply "the Scriptures don't support your view" in order to defrock someone. Not because sola scriptura is wrong, but because total depravity is right. In this life, nobody gets it all right, so we give grace to one another on these matters.

    Unless...the person's erroneous reading of Scripture causes them to take a position which strikes at the vitals of true religion. In that case, then the person is confrontable and disciplinable. But, that's just the rub: this is a categorically different issue. Whether a person has an erroneous view of this or that passage of Scripture is categorically different--logically distinct--from whether a person's erroneous view of said passage entails heresy.

    For the heresy question, logically, we don't look at whether their view is in Scritpure (since obviously no heretical view IS going to be in Scripture, by definition). Instead, we simply look at their view against the orthodox standard (in the PCA's case, for instance, the Westminster Standards). If their view "strikes at the vitals" of true religion as taught in those standards, then the person is subject to discipline. But the charge wouldn't be "Steve Wilkins (or whoever) misinterprets Ephesians 1:1 (or whatever)." The charge would instead by "Stever Wilkins departs from Westminster orthodoxy on point x."

    So, the question before the house is (remember, I've granted for the sake of argument that Scripture nowhere teaches the FV covenantal justification view): does covenantal justification as taught by FV, regardless of whether it is Scriptural or not, contradict some vital of the Reformed faith? That is the question, and I think the right answer is highly likely to be negative. (But it is notoriously difficult to prove a negative, of course; which is why I must limit myself to "highly likely").

    It seems to me that the FVers are in the same logical position on justification as all of us here are in on sanctification. We are all agreeing (which is refreshing; I've had people dig in their heels even on this point with me in the past) that there is a sense in which non-elect covenant members are "sanctified" (or "holy"). 1 Cor. 7, for instance, teaches uncontroversially (as far as I know) that any child with at least one believing parent is "holy." So, there we go.

    But, in the Westminster Standards, "sanctification" is defined as something that only happens to the elect who have been justified (and this order is logical, not chronological. Chronologically, definitive sanctification happens at the same time as justification, but progressive sanctification continues thereafter.) So, we are either contradicting the Standards are we aren't. It is clear that we are not, because the meaning of sanctification is different in both cases. When we speak of all covenant children as being "holy/sanctified" (per 1 Cor 7), we are not using the word in the same way that the Standards use the word. Thus there is no contradiction or inconsistency on our part.

    It seems to me that the FVers are in the same logical position as this regarding their notion of covenantal "justification." Logically, such a view does not contradict the Standards, and so such a view cannot be charged heretical. It is not heresy to believe something that is consistent with the Standard (and anything that does not contradict the Standards is consisten with the Standards).

    And all this is true even if FVers have badly misread their verses of Scripture. They need to realize their view is in error (b/c it is not Scriptural), but they are not advocating anything contradictory of Reformed orthodoxy.

    Now, if you disagree with my logical assessment (which I expect you will), then the format for a positive demonstration of the contradiction is very simple (which is nice). Here's all you have to do: present two pieces of textual evidence, one from the Westminster Standards and the other from some FV person, such that, when all ambiguous terms are properly interpreted or "translated" into the author's intended meaning, the two propositions are contradictory.

    So, it would go something like this:

    ------------------------
    The Westminster Standards say "yadda yadda". Properly interpreted, this statement clearly entails the following proposition, W1: (And here you simply give the content of the proposition).

    But, Steve Wilkins (or Doug Wilson, or the FV Statement, or Rich Lusk, or Stever Schlissel, or John Barach, or James Jordan, or Peter Leithart, etc.) writes "yadda yoda." Properly interpreted, this statement clearly entails the following proposition, W2: (And here you simply give the content of the proposition).

    But W1 and W2 are incompatible, since {Insert argument that demonstrates incompatibility here).

    -----------------------

    The end. That will do it.

    But simply saying that Wilkins believes in a "temporary justification", and that that view is nowhere taught in Scripture (even if that is true), does not in and of itself demonstrate that Wilkins is inconsistent with the Standards.

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  33. Xon,

    I will comment as I wait patiently for your reply to the 'BIG' question.

    You said, "But, at the same time, we don't defrock ministers just for misreading a passage of Scripture, because we all (presumably) misread something somewhere along the line."

    The problem with this is we do defrock ministers for misreading the Scriptures. That is one of the key ways to get defrocked. Now, the nature of the passage in question and the reading must me examined. let me explain by two contrasting passages:

    1) If a minister in the PCA reads Matthew 24 and does not walk away with the 'right' understanding of need times, we will not defrock them.

    However

    2) If a minister in the PCA reads John 1:1 and says that Jesus is only 'a god' we tell him to pack his bag, GAME OVER!!!

    Now, what is the difference here? It is obvious, the nature of the doctrine being misused. Christology is at the heart of the Christian faith--it is a central, non-secondary doctrine; whereas eschatology is a secondary issue that is not at the heart of our religion.

    Now the question we must ask is this, is justification at the heart of our religion? I think the answer is an emphatic YES!!! Justification is the doctrine which the Church stands of falls on. I am not sure that the FVers would say the same. Would you?

    This is why this issue demands the stern and serious actions of the Reformed Church. When the core of the Christian faith is 'tweaked' we need to stand up and defend the faith once delivered to the saints!

    Further, someone can be defrocked and at the same time not be a heretic. Lutherans are not heretics. They are wrong at points in their theology (as they would say I am wrong), but not heretics. If a PCA pastor holds Lutheran theology, he should become Lutheran, not stay in the PCA and try to change the rest of us. We have doctrinal standards that are not Lutheran in nature. I use Lutherans as an example because you claimed support for this temporary justification in Luther. If Wilkins agrees with Luther on this point, fine, he is not a heretic, but he is not a Presbyterian either! If he agrees with Lutherans on some points and the PCA on others then he needs to find a place he can minister without going against the doctrinal stands of the denomination he is in. If the CREC allows this 'hybrid' of Lutheran and Reformed theology, great. Go minister there (which he did).

    Also...

    You said, "does covenantal justification as taught by FV, regardless of whether it is Scriptural or not, contradict some vital of the Reformed faith?"

    This is the whole problem! What is covenantal justification? What does it mean? We need to give this term, this concept some meat and bones. As long as it is contentless we can never say if it is in accord or out of accord. However, we can say that the Reformed have never spoken this way or used justification this way.

    This is the point that I want to get at, this is my 'big' question. What does covenantal justification mean? What does it entail? What can be said about the person who is covenantaly justified?

    This means we are not "in the same logical position on justification as...on sanctification." I can tell you what I mean by sanctification of the non-elect. Simply, they are set apart from the world. The reason that the Confession uses this term of the elect only is because they are using it is a systematic way. And this is not ture "even if FVers have badly misread their verses of Scripture." The reason we can speak of sanctification of the non-elect is because the Bible does. If we have misread the Bible on this point it would not be legitimate to use this term of the non-elect. Your whole argument, seems to me, to be a non sequitur.

    You said, "But simply saying that Wilkins believes in a "temporary justification", and that that view is nowhere taught in Scripture (even if that is true), does not in and of itself demonstrate that Wilkins is inconsistent with the Standards."

    YES IT DOES!!!! The Standards tell us that we are to teach what is in the Bible, thus, if you grant that this view is not in the Bible then Wilkins is not in accord with the Standards. This is pretty clear to my mind. Now the rub comes when we ask is this view (which at this point is contentless) in the Bible. We will most likely disagree here, but it is hard to say since I do not know what I am disagreeing with.

    Last brief point, is being an unclear teacher/preacher, a good reason to be defrocked? That is a serious question. I do not know what I think about the answer.

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  34. I would also pray that ALL of you who have commented on this thus far have a blessed Easter. We can declare as brothers in Christ that Jesus has risen!!!! This is our only hope in life and in death, Jesus Christ!

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  35. Josh, my example was that we presuppose that the FVers THINK they are teaching in accordance with the Scriptures, but in fact they are wrong. So your paragraph that starts with "YES IT DOES!" doesn't seem right. By your reasoning, as soon as we find anyone whose view of Scripture is wrong (even the realtively 'harmless' example you gave of a person who misreads the end times in Matthew 24), then we can defrock that person since, afterall, the Standards tell us to teach what is in the Scriptures. If any man stood up and said, "I do not believe my view is Scriptural, but I am teaching it anyway," then I agree with you 100% that that person whould be defrocked. But this is not the situation we are discussing here with FV. No FV person says that.

    Everything else in your comment reinforces my point. Maybe we are "talking past each other" here, but you seem to say what I already said. You say yourself that what matters is WHAT a perosn's view is when they misread Scripture, not the brute fact that they misread Scripures. In your example, a person who misreads the nature of the end times from Matt 24 is safe, but a person who misreads John 1 to teach that Jesus is only one god among many is in big trouble. I agree with those illustrations completely, and they reinforce my earlier argument. It is not simply that you misread a passage of Scripture (since we all do that, presumably), but what your misread view actually is. If your misreading causes you to embrace a heresy, then you are in trouble.

    So what is the heresy in the FV view that all covenant members are declared righteous by God in some sense, receive some sort of forgiveness, and receive a genuine change in status for the better while they are in the covenant? Simply saying "It's not in the Bible" is not an adequate response. The question is, How does this particular view contradict a fundamental doctrine of the Standards? If it doesn't contradict a fundamental view, then we should put FV in the same camp as the guy who misreads the end times from matthew 24.

    If you want to lay a heftier charge against FV (not just a mistake on something like the end times, but something that strikes at the very fundamentals of Reformed religion), then you have to make an argument like the one I sketched in my previous comment. I don't see any way around that. (And this is not a trap. If two statements are contradictory, then it is usually fairly easy to put together an argument like the one. You can give me an example if you like and I'll try to do it. I'm not putting some weird standard on you that can't be met.)

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  36. ”So what is the heresy in the FV view that all covenant members are declared righteous by God in some sense, receive some sort of forgiveness, and receive a genuine change in status for the better while they are in the covenant?”

    1. Nowhere in scripture is anyone but the elect spoken of as being declared righteous by God. This is not a “some sense” issue, but an “any sense” issue. All you have done is to redefine justification to include an extra meaning which you yourself agree is not found in scripture.

    2. What sort of forgiveness is given to the non elect covenant member? You state that Matthew 18 proves your position. I concur with Josh's interpretation of this parable and say that it doesn't. At any rate, forgiveness is not a stand alone doctrine. It presupposes many thing which are simply untrue for the reprobate. Perhaps this is my ST talking. But my ST is taken from the Bible, from what it actually says. How can a system that purports to be “more Biblical” fail to speak in ways in which the Bible actually speaks?

    3. What genuine change of status for the better does any non elect covenant member receive? It surely isn't for the better in the long run. In the long run, in the final analysis, he still doesn't believe, he still receives justice, he still goes to hell. In fact, it is a change for the worse as theirs will be the harsher judgment because they tasted the gifts of the Spirit.

    I am sure we will just have to agree to disagree on this. However, by positing a second or third thing for each of these categories, this teaching goes against the agreed upon standard of our denomination. You are using words which the Bible and the confession only use to describe the elect and their status and suggesting that it is fine, even laudable, to use them in regard to the reprobate.

    Even with the best of intentions this is potentially confusing and completely unnecessary. The primary reason for all of these “sort of's” and “some senses” is to allow people to have an objective basis for assurance. But you yourself said that such assurance isn't really any sounder in the FV system than in the Puritan system.

    So it appears that the whole thing is better off scrapped because it doesn't do what it sets out to do and what it does do is confusing.

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  37. Xon,

    Before we continue to talk past each other and talk about whether a given view is or is not out side the bounds of the Confession, it would be best to understand what 'this view' is.

    So, I will ask my big question again. I am not looking for any arguments in support of the view, I simply and clearly want to know what is meant by 'covenantal justification.' What is true of the person who is covenantally justified? How does this justification differ from the justification defined in the WCF?

    We need to fill this term with meaning before we can ask if it is in accord with the Confession and more importantly is it in accord with the Holy Bible.

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  38. Steve,

    "I am sure we will just have to agree to disagree on this. However, by positing a second or third thing for each of these categories, this teaching goes against the agreed upon standard of our denomination."

    Okay, so you say. Now, name that tune. Where does it go against the confessional standard? Quote some FV person, quote the standard, and argue for the contradiction. This is the crux of the logical argument against FV. (The biblical argument I am still putting off b/c exegesis takes more time, at least for my mind, then does logic, and contrary to appearances I don't have a lot of time for that right now.)

    "The primary reason for all of these “sort of's” and “some senses” is to allow people to have an objective basis for assurance. But you yourself said that such assurance isn't really any sounder in the FV system than in the Puritan system"

    Well, no, this isn't what I've said. I have claimed just the opposite, actually: there is a certain kind of assurance (or a certain "angle" to assurance) that FV provides which Puritanism doesn't (and, by the way, I am now regretting my use of the term "Puritan" to characterize the non-FV system. The Puritans provide some of the best source material for a number of FV insights. But, c'est la vie, I'm the one who started it). There are different kinds of people in God's kingdom, and there are different kinds of problems with assurance. There is one kind of problem that FV helps with but for which Puritanism does very little. There are OTHER kinds of assurance for which FV and Puritanism are both in the same boat. I have never conceded that FV and Puritanism are on equal footing as far as assurance goes. FV clearly (to my mind) provides an angle to assurance (for a certain kind of vexed soul) that Puritanism does not. Just so we're clear on what I am arguing here.

    Josh, I'm happy to oblige your question, but I find it kind of odd. In my initial comment in this thread, the whole reason I came on was to help explain the FV view of covenantal justification a bit. There I said (in bold, b/c it is not someone else's words but my own earlier words):

    "Wilkins's idea of "covenantal justification" is something like this: A person who is baptized and professes faith in Christ is a member of the Church, which is God's kingdom in its earthly and historical manifestation. This is the community of salvation, the only place where salvation is normally found. They are in a covenantal relationship with the Creator of the universe, and as such they have been "set apart" as a special people. They receive blessings and favor from God in virtue of their church membership (all the typical "means of grace" the Reformed speak of: preaching, sacraments, fellowship with other believers, etc.) Thus, they have received a change in status in God's courtroom (they are no longer looked at as typical pagans or nonbelievers). This status change is totally gracious; God gives it to them without any regard for anything good or worthy in themselves. So, this is a "justification."

    Now, I suppose you might be asking me to say even more than this. Which is fine, I guess. But it's not as though I haven't already provided something of a definition of what I am talking about. This is not an entirely amorphous concept that I am glossing over with a non-defined word ("justification").

    So, for instance, we can make predictions about what a logical demonstration that the 'FV' view is inconsistent with the Standards would look like. (The fact that we can predict this is another sign that the concept of covenantal justificaiton DOES have some meaning. If it was truly meaningless and undefined, then we wouldn't have any idea how to compare it to another document like the Confession/Standard.)

    For example, if you can find a place where the Confession says that ONLY people who are predestined to go to Heaven (i.e., the "elect") are ever forgiven in any sense, then this would show that covenantal forgivenss is unconfessional. But you have to actually find a positive statement of the Confession that makes that assertion (or which logically entails that assertion).

    I should add, though, that I have been glossing the "FV" view of covenantal forgiveness a bit here. Really, there are two different views I've heard different FV people take. One is that there is such a thing as temporary forgiveness. The other is that there is such a thing as provisional forgiveness. I myself am not necessarily committed to one over the other. I've been trying to present a united front in this conversation and speak consistently of a "temporary" forgiveness, but I personally am just as open to thinking of a forgiveness that is only "provisional." (Just fyi)

    Or, another prediction. If you can show that the Westminster Confession asserts that ONLY elect people (i.e., people predestined to go to Heaven) ever receive a positive change in status before God's throne, then that would show that covenantal justification contradicts the Confession.

    There are clear and objective things which, if demonstrated from the Standards, would be in contradiction to what I have already said about covenantal justification. So it's not an undefined concept. I have already given you something to work with.

    Is there a particular point from the bolded quotation above that I could clarify, though? I'm happy to try to do so, if it will help.

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  39. Steve,

    "3. What genuine change of status for the better does any non elect covenant member receive? It surely isn't for the better in the long run. In the long run, in the final analysis, he still doesn't believe, he still receives justice, he still goes to hell. In fact, it is a change for the worse as theirs will be the harsher judgment because they tasted the gifts of the Spirit."

    Yes. FV agrees with this completely. The non-elect cov member receives no status change for the better in the long run. In fact, in the long run a person who is a covenant member but not elect is worse off than if he had been a rank pagan.

    But, remember, the big claim that FVers are making is that the "long run" does not negate the "short run" of significance. The fact that God decrees someone's final destiny does not mean that He cannot give them genuine favor, smile upon them, give them blessings, change their form of life or their way of looking at the world, put them in a new community where they find love and support and strength, etc. God can do temporary good things for permanently reprobate people. And that, in its most basic essence, is all that FVers are saying when they talk about the "objectivity" of the covenant and the blessings that come with it.

    Also, consider what you yourself just said. You just said that a person who is in the covenant but non-elect will, in the long run, come to an even worse punishment than a person who is a rank unbeliever. I agree with this completely. But look at what this means: how does the non-elect covenant member come to an even worse end? Isn't it because he is punished for turning away from, rejecting, despising a genuine gift that he was given? To say that he gets a worse punishment in the end is to presuppose that he received a genuine blessing for a time, which is WHY he is guilty of a greater sin than someone who never received that blessing at all.

    So, the disagreement between you and I is over the nature of those temporary blessings, not whether or not there are such blessings. But as soon as you agree with me on that, then your "long run" argument no longer has any traction. After all, you yourself have just agreed with me that non-elect covenant members receive genuine blessings temporarily, but not in the long run. That's what I say, too!

    Now, again, we do have a genuine disagreement. I think the temporary blessing involves a kind of "justification" and you don't. but you can't refute my belief about hte particular kind of temporary blessing by pulling out the "long run" card. That card would work just as well against any temporary blessings you believe in, too.

    If God can give temporary blessings even though a person is in the long run damned, then you and I are simply disagreeing on the nature of those temporary blessings, and neither one of us can appeal to the fact that a person is damned as a refutation of the other person's view of temporary blessing.

    If, on the other hand, you want to deny that ANY temporary blessings are possible for a person whom God has decreed to final destruction, then I just think you're being silly. :-)

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  40. Xon,

    You said, “For example, if you can find a place where the Confession says that ONLY people who are predestined to go to Heaven (i.e., the "elect") are ever forgiven in any sense, then this would show that covenantal forgivenss is unconfessional.”

    Here it is:

    3.6 As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ; are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

    This seems pretty clear.

    Further, here is the gist of your argument if I understand you. The Confession does not say explicitly that the FV view is wrong, so we can speak of other sense of justification because the Confession only uses one sense. This argument is fallacies for at least two reasons: 1) it assumes that the divines would have to negate all things they do not believe and 2) it means that the divines would have to foreseen errors in the future to deny them.

    Let me illustrate what I see the FV doing. Let us say a group in the PCA comes out and says that they believe all the Confession does about Jesus. He is God, he is the only mediator and so one, but let us say they want to add another understanding to savior, such that they said that Ron Paul was also a savior, in a sense. Not the savior in the same way Christ was for the elect but kind of however only convenatally. Would this be alright?

    You gave your bold definition of covenantal justification above, but I was looking for this in the FV. In other words, where do the guys in the FV say this? I would like their words, so I can take up your challenge to find where it contradicts the Confession.

    Further, all your definition did is dilute the problem. What does it mean “they have received a change in status in God's courtroom?” What was their old status? What is their new status? How is this status change different between the elect covenant member and the non-elect covenant member? What is the basis of this status change? Is the covenantal righteousness of Jesus imputed to the non-elect covenant member, in a sense? If baptism is needed for covenant membership how can this be true “God gives it to them without any regard for anything good or worthy in themselves?” It seems that they do a good thing in baptism that brought about this new status.

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  41. Xon said, “They [the non-elect] are in a covenantal relationship with the Creator of the universe.”

    Xon, would you please clarify the above statement by answering the questions below?

    Are the non-elect in a covenant relationship with God? Or, are the non-elect in the covenant community of God? Are these issues—“being in a covenant relationship with God” and “being part of the covenant community of God”—the same?

    The reason I ask is because they seem to be different.

    I could agree with the statement that “The non-elect are in a covenantal relationship with the Creator of the universe” if you are talking about Adam being the federal representative of every person in the covenant of works. In Adam the elect and non-elect are in a covenantal relationship with God. Through Adam—we would all agree—sin and death came to elect and non-elect alike because all sinned.

    However, I could not agree with the statement if you are talking about Christ being the federal representative of his people in the covenant of grace. In Christ, only the elect are in a covenantal relationship with God.

    This seems also to be the language of the Confession which contradicts your definition of covenantal justification. The divines state, “Man, by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe” (WCF 7:3). Also, “With whom was the covenant of grace made? The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed” (WLC 31).

    Questions and Answer 31 of the Larger Catechism does not allow for the non-elect to be in a covenant relationship with God during this period of the covenant of grace, but Chapter 25 of the Confession and Questions 60-69 of the Larger catechism advocate and understand that the non-elect are a part of the covenant community of God (the visible church).

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  42. "Used in the broader sense, the covenant of grace is not synonymous with election so that all the elect are in the covenant of grace, but not all in the covenant of grace are elect." (RS Clark, WTS-Cal prof, http://www.wscal.edu/clark/covtheses.php)

    While I have encountered some who have differed on this point, my general experience has been that anti-FVers agree that all baptized people are "in the covenant of grace" in some sense. Our disagrement is over the nature of that sense. Dr. Clark, a vehement enemey of FV, says as much in the citation above.

    Also, the Westminster Standards say this as well:

    "Question 166: Unto whom is Baptism to be administered?

    Answer: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized." (WLC 166, emphasis added)

    So, I think the two concepts are equally distributed: if you are in the covenant community, then you are in covenant with God (and we're talking covenant of grace here).

    Again, Guy Waters also agrees with this, saying that all baptized people are in the covenant of grace, but not everyone is in the covenant "in the same way."

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  43. Josh,

    "Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only." [quote from Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.6]

    This seems pretty clear.
    "

    Well, not really. Remember that earlier, everyone in this conversation (I think) agreed that the Bible uses the word "sanctified"/"holy" in a way that can be applied to the non-elect. But if this passage from the Westminster Confession means what you are saying it means, then we are all in contradiction with the Confession on this point.

    After all, the Confession says "only the elect are sanctified," but we acknowledge that all children with at least one believing parent are sanctified (yet not all those children are elect). So, uh oh!

    Or, we have to ask the question: what does "sanctified" mean in the Confession's statement? This is why I talked about "translating" ambiguous terms into the concepts they are intended to represent by the author that uses them. Re-write that statement from the Confession, translating "sanctified" into it's proper meaning (in the intention of the writer's of the Confession themselves), and THEN let's see if we have a contradiction.

    We won't. The confession's statement:

    WCF1: Only the elect are sanctified.

    is really something more like this:

    WCF1b: Only the elect are set apart by God to be progressively and completely transformed into the image of Christ.

    Now, if you take WC1b, and compare it to the things we have said about all children with at least one believing parent being "sanctified," we quickly see that there is no contradiction. For when we say that all these children are sanctified, we mean something like this:

    Us1: All children with at least one believing parent are set apart by God to be in His covenant community.

    Now, look at WCF1b and Us1. Notice that they do not contradict each other. They are a consistent set. A person can believe both of them, and thus believing Us1 does not contradict WCF 3.6. Which is good news for us!

    The form of my argument on behalf of FV talk of covenantal justification is exactly the same. If what I just said about sanctification works, then FV does not contradict on justfication, either. If FV contradicts on justification, then we are all in contradiction on sanctification.

    To make this a little more clear, we need to translate "justification." WCF 3.6 says that "only the elect are justified." A ha! But don't FVers say that some non-elect people are justified? Well, yes, but the words have to be translated into their intended meanings in order to see whether this is really a contradiction. So, what does "justification" mean in the Confession? Making a quick pass at it (correct me if you think I mess it up), we can translate it something like this:

    WCF 2: Only the elect are brought during their earthly life into God's courtroom and declared righteous in His sight in such a way that all of their sins (past present and future) are forgiven and they are irrevocably united to Christ.

    Now, my gentle suggestion is that if you take WCF2, and you go off into the FV hinterlands searching hither and yon for an FV proponent who says or writes anything that contradicts WCF2, you will never find it. Thus, FVers do not contradict this statement from WCF.

    "Further, here is the gist of your argument if I understand you. The Confession does not say explicitly that the FV view is wrong, so we can speak of other sense of justification because the Confession only uses one sense. This argument is fallacies for at least two reasons: 1) it assumes that the divines would have to negate all things they do not believe and 2) it means that the divines would have to foreseen errors in the future to deny them."

    I think you're misunderstanding the purpose of a Confession. The whole point of a Confession is to set out the boundaries of what must be believed. It is, in other words, an inherently positive document: it tells us the things we must believe. Anything that is not in the document is "fair game." That is exactly what the divines would say if we asked them. To be an orthodox Westminsterian minister, you have to affirm everything in the Confession. You can hold all sorts of wacky views that the Confession simply doesn't address.

    Everything the divines thought was important enough to require from people is in the Confession. That's the whole point of writing a Confession.

    "Let me illustrate what I see the FV doing. Let us say a group in the PCA comes out and says that they believe all the Confession does about Jesus. He is God, he is the only mediator and so one, but let us say they want to add another understanding to savior, such that they said that Ron Paul was also a savior, in a sense. Not the savior in the same way Christ was for the elect but kind of however only convenatally. Would this be alright?"

    Um, may I change the example to make it a bit more plausible? :-) What if somebody says that Charlemagne was a "savior of Europe"? Do you have a problem with that? Are you claiming (out loud, into microphone) that Westminster condemns someone if they say that?

    "You gave your bold definition of covenantal justification above, but I was looking for this in the FV. In other words, where do the guys in the FV say this? I would like their words, so I can take up your challenge to find where it contradicts the Confession."

    Okay. I think what I said is the clear meaning that Wilkins is driving at in his article in the FV book. For one example. It can also be found in a number of his statements at his LA Pres exam. I didn't realize you were wishing to challenge my own interpretation of what FVers say. I would have suggested some quotes a lot earlier. I don't have any of these books with me right now, though.

    "Further, all your definition did is dilute the problem. What does it mean “they have received a change in status in God's courtroom?” What was their old status? What is their new status? How is this status change different between the elect covenant member and the non-elect covenant member? What is the basis of this status change? Is the covenantal righteousness of Jesus imputed to the non-elect covenant member, in a sense? If baptism is needed for covenant membership how can this be true “God gives it to them without any regard for anything good or worthy in themselves?” It seems that they do a good thing in baptism that brought about this new status."

    I'll offer some thoughts on these questions. But before I do that, let me point out that we have to be careful here. If you said that Jesus is Savior, how would you feel if a heresy hunter came up to you with a suspicious look in his eye and a rock in his pocket and said "Oh yeah? What does "savior" mean?" And then you tell him "one who saves His people from their sins?" And he says "Oh yeah? what does "sin" mean? And HOW does He save them?" Etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    It's not that you can't answer these questions; it's that you shouldn't always have to go through a whole inquisition about your position. Now, I came on her voluntarily, and I'm not accusing you of persecuting me. But my point is that first you said my statement wasn't meaningful. I argued that it was. Now you're saying that I just "diluted" the problem, because while my original statement carried meaning you have fifteen follow-up questions about it. Well, that's fine, but at some point everybody is going to have questions that can't be answered very well. This is the "three year old game" we've all played with little people. You know, the one that goes "Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?" Eventually every person will lose that game; they will be out of answers. So, if I try to grill you on your "orthodox" non-FV understanding of these issues, it could happen to you, too.

    But, as things stand, most of your questions are reasonable, so like I said I'll offer some quick answers if it makes things more clear. I asked you to tell me if I needed to clarify anything, so I ain't mad atchya.

    Also, a lot of these questions could have several different answers, and I don't think there is a uniform FV position on most of them. I will just give you my take. Here are your questions again, with my comments interspersed:

    "What does it mean “they have received a change in status in God's courtroom?”"

    It means, at the very least, that God used to "think" about them one way, and now He thinks about them a different way. (And this doesn't deny God's immutability, of course. Unless immutability means that God can't actually interact with the world in a personal way.) "Status" is a fairly straightforward term that refers to a person's sanding or state of being with respect to some particular aspect of their life that is capable of being measured by a standard. So, for instance, a person has moral status (where they are in relation to virtue?), financial status (where are they with their money and economic stability?), social status (where are they with other people, particularly movers and shakers, what kind of influence do they have on others? etc.), legal status (where are they in relation to the written law of the land?). And so on. Everyone has a "status" before God: a particular state of being in terms of how they measure up to God's satisfaction or favor or whathaveyou. To receive a change in this status means that a person is looked at by God a certain way in terms of His favor (i.e., this person has no favor, this person has favor with regard to x, this person has favor with regard to y, this person has favor with regard to everything, etc.), and then at a later time he comes to be looked at by God in a different way in terms of that same favor. (I.e., he goes from "no favor at all" to "favor with regard to x, y, and z.")

    "What was their old status?"

    A condemned sinner in Adam. Corrupted by their inherited sinful nature, commiter of actual sins. Happy to be committing those sins, no interst in following God or even acknowledging that He is Lord and Creator. They are a recipient of certain blessings that God gives to the whole world (rainfall, civil government, friendship with other people, etc.), and these are more than they deserve. But other than this they have no favor with God whatsoever. God looks at them exactly as they ARE, under the covenant of life/works. Their status is exactly what it SHOULD be, based on their own lives.

    "What is their new status?"

    They are now a part of God's kingdom. His real, physical, flesh-and-blood kingdom that exists in the real world (the place God made in order to commune with finite creatures). They are in that kingdom, they are marching off to war in the army. They've been given a uniform. If they go to the PX store, they are allowed to buy things on a discount (even if the general in charge of the base suspects that they are a spy). Sorry, you probably don't want a bad metaphor, right? :-)

    God now loves that person in the sense that He is present with them in a way that He wasn't before: God is present with His church, and they are in His church. God speaks to His church every week through the Word, and they are there to hear that. As this person feels "good" about going to Church and living a life in cooperation with other believers, God "smiles" on this person: God is happy for this person's newfound peace and happiness.

    (So far, I don't even think I'm saying anything an anti-FV needs to disagree with. There is more I could say, but I'm going to leave it here for now.)

    "How is this status change different between the elect covenant member and the non-elect covenant member?"

    That's a good question. And a notoriously hard one to answer definitively, no matter what your theological background. I think we can say that it differs in a number of ways, but they remain fairly vague. Why are they vague? Because life is vague. Welcome to the complex world God made, and welcome to being a finite creature who doesn't understand what all is going on very well. :-) Did an Israelite before the battle of Gilboa know that his king was already a cursed man? Probably not. Did Saul's attendants at the height of his glory and power, before David ever even came on the scene and before Saul had been condemned by Samuel for failing to obey God, could those people have looked at Saul and said "Yup, that guy is clearly not running on the real juice. He's going to fall away eventually." To ask is to answer. At the very least, we have this "epistemological" problem as creatures that keeps us from being able to tell one kind of covenant member from another. So therefore, it is hard for ANYBODY to answer these questions really definitively.

    Now, there is a kind of answer that SEEMS definitive, and that is to use the standard ordo salutis of REformed theology, insist that all those words only go to the elect, and then go merrily on your way. But this answer is too easy, in my opinion, especially given the way Scripture often uses some of these words (just re-summing up my perspective on this).

    So, what's the difference? Well, first there is the most definitive difference that we creatures can actually see, which is based on fruit. The non-elect covenant members do not persevere in the covenant to the end, and the elect ones do. That's a clear difference between them.

    However, I also believe that there is a "qualitative" difference b/w elect and non-elect covenant members. Their difference is not just one of duration. A person who is predestined to go to Hell HAS to be of a different quality than a person who goes to Heaven, because we are in part defined by our relations to others (especially to God) and these two people have different relationships to God. This means that they MUST be different, right now. But we can't really see that difference until the end when one of them falls away.

    After that, it gets much less clear. I generaly speak of it in terms of similar blessings, but a "strong" or "weak" helping of them. God gives His Spirit to wrestle with a person, but the Spirit wrestles some into complete submission and He abandons others after a time. This is the terrifying side of believing in God's decree; no easy answers. The non-elect people brought into the covenant receive favor from God; He looks past some of their failings and smiles upon them in many things and He gives them an understanding of holy things and the Spirit to wrestle with them. God does all this to a much greater intensity for the elect.

    "What is the basis of this status change?"

    The basis of any good thing that happens to anyone is God's pure unmerited grace (favor). Accomplished through Christ. Every person deserves to die this instant, so every breath is a gift of God's grace? But how can God be gracious to sinners and still remain just? It must be through Christ, who "bridges the gap." So the whole world benefits from Christ. Every time it rains, the world should thank Christ for bringing God's grace to them. But of course the elect receive a kind of grace that others will never understand, far beyond "common graces" like rainfall. But all graces, whether rainfall or eternal salvation, come from God's grace on undeserving sinners. It's always grace, made possible by Christ. That's the basis.

    "Is the covenantal righteousness of Jesus imputed to the non-elect covenant member, in a sense?"

    I'm not sure, honestly. It gets more and more complicated the deeper we go. In some sense since everything good that happens is only happening b/c God is being gracious to sinners (see above), and since God can only be gracious to sinners by remembering His Son (see above), then all common grace (even things like rainfall) are only possible through "imputation." In some sense, the whole world is now "in Christ", credited (i.e., imputation) with deserving something it really doesn't. And so God can show grace without compromising His justice.

    But, on the other hand, you ask about the "covenantal righteousness" of Christ being imputed. Well, the covnantal righteousness sounds like you are referring to His complete and full work on the cross, completely identifying with sin and killing it by letting it kill Him and then living anyway because He's just bad like that. This sort of complete and perfect righteousness cannot be imputed to anybody but the elect.

    "If baptism is needed for covenant membership how can this be true “God gives it to them without any regard for anything good or worthy in themselves?”

    God almost always works through means. If someone says you can't get the end without the means, does this make the means a "work" the person does? You have to have faith or else you can't be elect? So does this mean that God elects people BECAUSE they have faith?

    Furthermore, who says that baptism is a human work? Paul says we are baptized "into Christ." I don't know about you, but I'm not capable of taking anybody and putting them into Christ. It seems that God has promised to be present when we do certain things. (What Peter Lilback calls the "binding of God," tracing Calvin). Forget the sacraments if that feels yucky and "Romanish", just think about the church service itself. God says that where two or more are gathered togehter...well, do we believe His promise or not? But then does this mean that when we gather together to worship Him, and He shows up to be present with us in a special way, that He is rewarding our works righteousness? After all, I the great Xon made the decision to get in the car and drive to Church. And if I hadn't gathered, Jesus wouldn't have come to be with me. So, I must be "earning" Jesus' coming. No no no no! Bad dog!

    "It seems that they do a good thing in baptism that brought about this new status.""

    Again, nuh uh. The baptized person doesn't do anything in baptism. Something is done TO them. But to the extent that they actually have to BE baptized to be in the covenant, that's true but it's just the conditionality that God has built into life. As a general rule (notice how the WCF speaks of the Church as the place where salvation is "ordinarily" found: brilliant word, that "ordinarily"), God accomplishes His purposes through means. And sometimes He even tells us what some of those means are. So we then do those means because we trust Him to keep His promises.

    But, of course, we only do the means because God graciously ordained us to do them. Just like we only have faith b/c God gives it to us. The baby only gets baptized because God gave it to the kid. Everything that happens is ordained by God, and every good thing that happens to us out of those things is due to God's undeserved grace. Always. No exceptions. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

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  44. I agree that members of the church who happen to be reprobate share in things which are of benefit to the elect. Are those things of any real benefit to the reprobate? You say yes. Okay, what benefit does the reprobate get from them? What benefit does hearing the word have if one does not also have the Spirit? What benefit is the outward call without the inward? What use was baptism or the Lord's Supper?

    The difference between our positions is that you think that sharing in the things which God has ordained would build up his Church is a benefit to those who are reprobate. I think that such sharing in the gifts God gives to his church is of no benefit to them. In the end, for something to be a benefit to people, it has to be of benefit to them. If it isn't of benefit, then it really isn't a benefit.

    Further, it isn't just that you have added a third definition to “justification” such that what you say about certain people is not unconfessional. The problem is that you have redefined justification such that what the confession says about it can no longer be true. It is no longer true that only the elect are justified, because you have added to that word's definition. We are being Biblical and confessional when we assert that none but the elect are ever justified in any way. You are being unbiblical and unconfessional by redefining the word “justification” to cover the non-elect. We all understand that you have redefined justification, that is the whole point. You ask if we would have an objection to someone saying so-and-so was the savior of Europe. Not in an of itself. But you sure shouldn't say that from a pulpit, regardless of how carefully you have defined it or nuanced it! It would be most, most unwise.

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  45. From Xon:
    "What was their old status?"

    A condemned sinner in Adam.

    "What is their new status?"

    They are now a part of God's kingdom."



    Are you saying that the NECM's are no longer in Adam? Where are they? In some limbo area? You are either in Christ or in Adam. The only way to be in Christ is to be born again. This is why I cannot accept the FV position. You are positing a third category for men, and then saying that you don't at all.

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  46. Xon,

    I would like to give some general reflections from your above post and then make one particular comment.

    My general impression is that the FV really has not worked out much of its thoughts. It wants to fix a problem and tries a 'duct tape' solution and then look back and try to find reason for their duct tape. The whole FV goal is to stop people from asking 'am I elect or not,' but in your whole discussion a person would quite naturally ask this question. 'Am I the one that has weak or strong blessings?'

    Further, it seems like this is still unclear in your mind. And my guess is that it is still unclear in many FVers minds. This is why the people that are interacting with it get so lost.

    There should be no problem with me asking for clarification. In fact, it should be welcomed. I hope people ask me when I am unclear, instead up jumping in feet first to call me names about my theology before they understand me.

    Now to my particular comment.

    You said, "God almost always works through means. If someone says you can't get the end without the means, does this make the means a "work" the person does? You have to have faith or else you can't be elect? So does this mean that God elects people BECAUSE they have faith?"

    This is the point that the 'heresy' whistle gets blown. Up to this point you are the one that has used the word heresy of the FV, I have not.

    But it is this talk right here that cause the Reformed to stand up and stay, no wait a minute. To compare faith with baptism as the same kind of act is to miss the whole Reformation on justification by faith alone. The only point of similarity is that they are both things humans done, after that the similarities stop.

    Baptism is an act done in obedience to God. If is something that is preformed by us. While faith, on the other hand, is the trusting of another person. Faith is the empty hand the receives the give of God. To equate the two is to miss the whole nature of faith and to side with Rome in the Reformation. This is why people get defrocked.

    We do not have to have the means of baptism to be saved!!! SOLA FIDE.

    I think I am now ready for your 'game.' Let me try...

    W1: Xon says that baptism is a means for covenant membership.

    W2: WCF says that covenant membership can be had without baptism.

    Therefore, Xon is out of accord with the Confession.



    p.s. You said, "God says that where two or more are gathered togehter...well, do we believe His promise or not"

    As a side note, this verse is speaking of a specific context. It is speaking only of Church discipline. Thus, to use it as a general rule for all Church services would be wrong.

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  47. Josh and Steve, thank you both for continuing the conversation in a civilized way. Close to a new record here! You are both iron to my, uh, iron.

    Josh,

    "My general impression is that the FV really has not worked out much of its thoughts. It wants to fix a problem and tries a 'duct tape' solution and then look back and try to find reason for their duct tape. The whole FV goal is to stop people from asking 'am I elect or not,' but in your whole discussion a person would quite naturally ask this question. 'Am I the one that has weak or strong blessings?'"

    I like your duct tape analogy, not so much b/c I think it holds for FV, but because I think that's a perfectly acceptable thing to do. If the dam is leaking, and that is unacceptable, then you patch it any way you can. Anything that works to keep it from bursting will do. Then, after the fact, people may want a "scientific" or "philosohpical" or "theological" explanation for WHY the bubble gum (or the duct tape) worked. And so then you try to figure out why. Sounds like a reasonable real-world approach to me...

    But to your substantive point. I disagree that the "whole FV goal is to keep people from asking 'am I elect or not.'" I think the goal is to get a LOT of people to stop asking that question and to simply learn that true faith is looking outside yourself to Christ, which settles the matter. I think FV is trying to take a "wider" view of salvation: that God is not a miser who saves only a tiny handful, but a large multitude (relative terms, I realize). But this does NOT mean that every single person who is in the Church is automatically going to be with God forever, and thus it is appropriate (since there is a distinction in the Church b/w those who are going to Heaven and those who aren't) for SOME people to ask themselves some hard questions. A person who reads some Arius and likes what he hears, for instance. A man who is getting to run off with his secretary and abandon his wife and kids. Etc. But it is not, in general, our job to go around causing seemingly faithful people to question themselves. If someone manifests objectively that they have an issue, then the Church deals with them. But the "expected" story for people is that the Spirit is working with them in fullness and that they are everlastingly God's people. Worrying that some of my parishoners who seem faithful and pious are actually self-deceived hypocrites, and so therefore as their pastor I have to somehow afflict their conscience with doubt so that they will "check themselves", is spiritually reckless and unnecessary. (At least as a general rule).

    (Note: the rest of this comment is unnecessary but possibly helpful to see where we are "coming from." You don't have to read it if you don't want. The last paragraph sums up what I just said above.)

    FV, and I'm thinking especially of the original 2002 Aub Ave Pastor's Conference here, is about a "paradigm shift". It's a highly generalist approach. Like Francis Schaeffer's characterization of western philosophy as contained within Raphael's painting "the School at Athens:" everybody is basically either "Plato" (focusing on oneness and heaven) or "Aristotle" (focusing on manyness and earth). It's an intriguing and helpful way to think about the history of philosohpy, especially if you're first starting out. But, of course, if we try to get "systematic" with it then we're going to have to make some serious qualifications and even corrections. But this doesn't mean that Schaeffer was "unclear" for using a general approach in his writings. There is value in the general appraoch.

    Likewise, for instance, Steve Schlissel condemns "scholasticism" in his 2002 AAPC talks. He speaks out against distinguishing different kinds of faith. Etc. I think this was overdoing it, but I don't say that as a way of throwing Schlissel under the bus and trying to separate myself from the "wackos" in the FV midst. Rather, I don't think Schlissel is a wacko at all: quite the contrary. But his approach is more general and rhetorical, which can be effective and helpful if you are trying to jar people loose from an older way of looking at things that has its own problems.

    But the majority of FV people, ESPECIALLY in the years since the controversy has erupted in the wake of those AAPC talks, have shown themselves willing to make lots of qualifications and clarifications. So it really isn't true that they haven't thought about what they are saying. You really can't hold it against them that, while exchanging polemically with people who were seeking their ministerial heads, they made qualifications and clarified their position. On the one hand, some people accuse FVers of being recalcitrant and refusing to back away from any of their more starkly unqualified statements (which is a charge that could just as easily be thrown at some anti-FVers, it should be noted). But then others see that they DO qualify their position and then use that against them.

    If you qualify, then you are making things complicated and you really haven't thought things out. If you don't qualify, then you are rubbing everybody the wrong way and you really haven't thought things out. This is similar to C.S. Lewis's complaint about atheists: if we present the Gospel simply, then they laugh at our simple religion and they throw up a bunch of "sophisticated" objections. If we then respond to those objections in a careful and detailed way, then they say "Golly, I thought religion was supposed to be simple." Darned if you do, darned if you don't.

    That's just my own very general impression of how this debate sometimes proceeds.

    Anywho, back to the main point at issue, FVers do not (in general) say that we don't want people asking whether they are really eelct or not, whether they have the "stronger" kind of faith or not, etc. There are some people who definitely NEED to be asking those kinds of questions. What we object to, though is making this sort of question a paradigm for undersanding the minister's role as a shepherd or for undersanding the "typical" Christian life (i.e., everyone ought to be looking deep in their hearts to be sure they have the right "kind" of faith, etc.) When the Scriptures tell us to examine ourselves, FVer reject the interpretation that sees this as a call for pious "navel gazing." Rather, these commands are pointing towards a much more objective reality. Am I in scandalous and unrepentant sin? Do I reject the clear testimony handed down by the apostles? Am I sewing discord among the brethren? Etc. It's not, "I think I believe, but do I REALLY TRULY GENUINELY believe?"

    Again, this is about a general shift in our way of "seeing". A paradigm shift. A change in general approach to some of these theological issues. It is not a rejection of Reformed orthodoxy, but a re-presentation of it (and re-presentations happen all the time, in any group of people, from generation to generation. Even the Amish.) Also, because it is a general approach, there are bound to be some 'anomanlies' here and there that contradict the larger theory. This is often the nature of paradigms. It's not like all anti-FVers have the attitude towards self-examination that I described above, for instance. But, again, we are talking about a general approach to the ministry, and this is an important detail: the controversy erupted over a conference that was for PASTORS. FV is about helping already-Reformed pastors rethink how they approach their congregations' spiritual lives. It is not about attacking traditional systematic theology, but as I said re-presenting that theology in a way that fits better with the "existential" realities of people's lives. (So, for instance, we need to "understand election through the lens of the covenant, rather than the covenant through the lens of election." In other words, our general way of thinking about people needs to be that they are IN the covenant, and that being in the covenant is the normal way that the elect reveal themselves over time. God puts you in the covenant, and then through the ministries of the covenant (Word and sacrament) strengthens you and transforms you more and more into the image of Christ until at the last day you are declared to be a "good and faithful servant." People "work out" their salvation by persevering in the covenant (which means having faith in Christ, not works righteousness). This is the way, the means, that God ordinarily uses to save His people. (It's all monergistic). On the other hand, there has been a discernible tendency in the Reformed tradition to do things the opposite way. We start with election and try to think about people in terms of that: so everyone is either elect or not (true). But not everyone in the visible church is elect (also true). And so there are different ways of beign "in" the covenant (ehhhhhh). And so there is something like a "true" covenant and a "false" covenant, or an internal covenant and an external covenant. And now we have every individual church members either in covenant with God, or not (or in the covenant, but only "externally"). And thus many Reformed people end up denying that all members of the visible church are in the covenant of grace. Instead, they restrict the covenant of grace to the elect, even though Westminster itself says that all children with at least one believing parent are "in that respect in the covenant, and therefore to be baptized."

    (Arguably, there is a problem with Westminster itself here, an inconsistency. I don't want to go there, but sometimes anti-FVers push certain passage so hard that they start to look like they contradict other passages of the same document. It's a human document, so this wouldn't surprise me (nobody should expect Westminster to be perfect), but it does create an interesting conundrum for strict subscriptionists. Anyway, another digression)

    An example: Paul says that baptims unites us to Christ, but since you can only be in either "Christ or Adam", with no in between, (so some argue), then clearly this is a "spiritual" baptism that Paul is talking about. Complete, unapologetic eisegesis, in my opinion. Eisegesis motivated by trying to resolve a tension that isn't in the text in the first place.

    But, again, this is all admittedly very general. But that's not a bad thing. It's one of the ways God often brings reformation to His people: through "prophets" who speak into the old system and propose a new system for looking at things. Then other times God prefers to use "philosohpers" who parse things out, make distinctions, proceed with caution, etc. We need both kinds of people. And FV has both kinds of people in its own camp.

    But I'd say the original AAPC was very much on the "prophet" side, and less on the "philosopher" side. Since then, some of the prophets have acted a bit more like philosophers (Wilkins, Wilson have written and spoken many times clarifying and further explaining their positions), and some of the people who were philosophers all along have come into the forefront (Leithart, for instance).

    So, for instance, I have no problem with "scholasticism." I'm all for systematic theolog; it is necessary. But now find a place where any FVers (except maybe for Schlissel in a highly rhetorical moment at the AAPC) every say that they literally reject the enterprise of systematic theology, that they refuse to make any distinctions between temporary and permanent faith, etc. You wont' be able to do it.

    So, finally to sum up, yes: it is appropriate to get SOME people to question whether they have the "right" kind of faith, the "right" kind of covenant membership, etc. But it is not the general way we should be approaching people. Far more common should be teaching people simply to trust that Christ will take care of them, and to expect that He will. This is the way God wants us to live as His covenant people, generally speaking.

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  48. Now, other things...

    "Further, it seems like this is still unclear in your mind. And my guess is that it is still unclear in many FVers minds. This is why the people that are interacting with it get so lost."

    Okay, specifics? This is part of my earlier point: If I answer fifteen follow up questions, then I'm still unclear. You've got to give specifics. Not just more questions, but assertions of your own about where I am being unclear. (Which can be asked as questions rhetorically, of course). I don't feel at all unclear in my mind at all. So perhaps I am unintentionally speaking my mind poorly (though that is often a sign of unclarity, in itself), or perhaps you are misundersanding what I am saying, or perhaps something else. But

    "There should be no problem with me asking for clarification. In fact, it should be welcomed. I hope people ask me when I am unclear, instead up jumping in feet first to call me names about my theology before they understand me."

    Yes, and I was unclear on this point. I have no problem with being asked for clarification, and in fact I invited you to do earlier. At the same time, however, I am just poiting out that the fact that a person can ask you a bunch of follow-up questions does not mean that your original position was actually "unclear." You can ask follow up questions of anything that anybody says. I could do it to you as easily as you can do it to me.

    If I say that Jesus saves, then that is a meaningful statement in its own right. But of course it can always be clarified, and so if someone is genuinely confused as to what I mean by "Jesue" or "saves," then by all means ask for a clarification. But the fact you are asking for a clarification does not mean that I was "unclear." My original statement may have done precisely what it was intended to do, but there are always OTHER questions we can ask. No statement is ever 'clear' if it is expected to speak to everything at the same time.

    As to the context of "where two or more or gathered together", I personally think it is acceptable to give that verse a wider application. But you are right that its direct context is church discipline. But this does not affect my logical point at all, which is that even anti-FVers accept that God can make promises to be with His people in a special way when they do such-and-such. And that if we actually believe God when He promises this, that is a good thing, not "sacerdotalism" or "semi-Pelagianism."

    And the reason I took these points out of order is because the answer I just gave helps contextualize my answer to your "main" point:

    "You said, "God almost always works through means. If someone says you can't get the end without the means, does this make the means a "work" the person does? You have to have faith or else you can't be elect? So does this mean that God elects people BECAUSE they have faith?"

    This is the point that the 'heresy' whistle gets blown. Up to this point you are the one that has used the word heresy of the FV, I have not.

    But it is this talk right here that cause the Reformed to stand up and stay, no wait a minute. To compare faith with baptism as the same kind of act is to miss the whole Reformation on justification by faith alone. The only point of similarity is that they are both things humans done, after that the similarities stop.
    "

    But where do I say, or imply, that baptism and faith are the "same kind of act?" I never said that. I only drew one point of similarity, which is that they are both means to certain ends. Faith is the means to being saved to the uttermost. Baptism is a "means" (though really here I should have just said "condition") for being in the visible church (which is itself a covenantal sort of "salvation"). In that sense, both are conditions of certain blessings.

    But of course conditionality is a tricky thing. At the very least, we have to think of both sufficient and necessary conditionality. So, for instance, faith is both sufficient and necessary for everlasting salvation. If you have faith, then that is "good enough" to bring about the consequent of everlasting salvation. (so faith is sufficient) But also, if you don't have faith, then the consequent of everlasting salvation cannot happen (so faith is necessary). Similarly, baptism is a sufficient condition for membership in the visible church and the covenant of grace. If you are baptized, then you are in the covenant (All baptized are in the covenant). However, the similarity does not hold for necessary conditionality, for baptism is not necessary to be in the covenant of grace (since all the elect are in the covenant of grace, but not all the elect are baptized. The thief on the cross, an elect infant who dies before baptism, etc.) But baptims does "put" you in the covenant of grace. So it is sufficient, but not necessary. (And we should also point out again that the Confession uses the language "ordinary" here to describe the role of the visible church in salvation: Ordinarily people cannot be saved outside of the visible church. So, the ordinary way to be saved is to be baptized into the visible church and then to have faith in Christ within that community.)

    "Baptism is an act done in obedience to God. If is something that is preformed by us. While faith, on the other hand, is the trusting of another person. Faith is the empty hand the receives the give of God. To equate the two is to miss the whole nature of faith and to side with Rome in the Reformation. This is why people get defrocked."

    No offense, but this is...extermely unclear. Where have I "equated" them? I have pointed out one point of similarity. I hope I have now made it abundanly clear that I do not in fact equate them (given what I just said above about sufficient and necessary conditionality).

    You say that baptism is something "done by us." Yes, done by us in the sense that human beings are the ones performing the actions involved. It is a person who stands in front of the church, who holds the baby (in the case of paedobaptism), says the words, drips the water, etc. But faith is the same way. It is a human person who does the trusting. So in this sense, faith is something "done by us" as well.

    But then you shift from talking about something being "done by us" to talking about "trusting in another person." But who does this trusting? Us, right? Therefore, faith is also something "done by us," in the way you originally described it.

    Furthermore, what makes you think that baptism is NOT a trusting of another person. That is what God tells us to do with regard to baptism? To trust that He is present with us. Or, if you don't like that idea, then we can low ball it like this: Jesus says to make disciples of the nations, baptizing them...So we do what Jesus told us to do, and anytime we do what Jesus tells us to do we are trusting that He knows what He is talking about and that there is a good reason for the command. So, in this sense at least, baptism is an act of trust. We are trusting "another person" (Christ) when we do that which He tells us to do.

    Then in your next sentence you bring in a classic Reformed notion of saving faith as entirely passive (with regard to its instrumentality in our justification...) You say that faith is the "open hand that receives the gift of God." Sure it is, and in this sense it is different from baptism. But I never said the two were exactly the same. I only said that they are both means (or conditions) for certain blessings. They are both things that God has said associate certain blessings when they are done. But all blessings come from God, and so whenever we do these thisg it is not us earning some blessing. Rather it is us doing that which God prepared for us to do (it's all grace). But still it is us humans who do the trusting and do the baptizing in the sense of carrying out the action.

    So you're criticism of my position seems rather confused, and not applicable to what I asserted.

    We do not have to have the means of baptism to be saved!!! SOLA FIDE.

    Absolutely. But, again, where did I ever say that baptism-without-faith saves? I assume you are using "saved" here to refer to "going to Heaven when you die," "receiving everlasting life in union with Christ," or something of that nature. And in that sense of the word "saved" I agree with you COMPLETELY. Nobody is everlastingly saved through baptism without faith. But people are brought into the historical salvation community through baptism. And the ordinary "way" in which people show themselves to be everlastingly saved is by coming into that salvation community and remaining in it by trusting in Christ alone to fulfill the promises He made to them at their baptism.

    "I think I am now ready for your 'game.' Let me try...

    W1: Xon says that baptism is a means for covenant membership.

    W2: WCF says that covenant membership can be had without baptism.

    Therefore, Xon is out of accord with the Confession."


    Quick point of order here. I bring it up not to be pedantic, but only because if we play the 'game' long enough this could cause confusion if left unchecked. Technically, the way you have worded it, W1 is not a proposition about baptism, but a proposition about what Xon says about baptism. Which is not what you want. What you want to do is call the proposition "X1" (because it is a proposition affirmed by Xon) and then keep my name out of it. And the same for W2 (keep WCF out of the proposition itself. The reason it is labeled with a "W" is to indicate that it is a proposition affirmed by WCF). So it should look like this:

    X1: Baptism is a means for covenant membership.

    WCF1: Covenant membership can be had without baptism.

    Therefore, Xon is out of accord with the WCF. (Beause X1 and WCF 1 are inconsistent with one another).

    But you need some further refinements. These propositions, as stated, are not inconsistent. X1 only says that baptism is a means of covenant membership, not "the only" means. And so there it does not contradict WCF1 which says that it is possible to have covenant membership without baptism.

    In other words, X1 is saying that A is sufficient for B. WCF1 is saying that A is not necessary for B. These two propositions are entirely consistent, and an be illustrated in infinite real-world examples. An exact score of '93' is sufficient to get an 'A' on the test. But an exact score of '93' is not necessary to get an 'A' on the test. (You would also get an 'A' with a score of '96', for instance).

    So, you either need to make X1 say that baptims is necessary for covenant membership, or you need to make WCF1 say that baptism is not sufficient for covenant membership.

    But neither of these are plausible. You cannot make X1 say that baptism is necessary for covenant membership, because Xon (I myself!) does not say that and has not said that. (Nor have I said anything, so far as I know, that entails that.)

    But you also cannot make WCF1 say that baptism is not sufficient for covenant membership, because it never says that. In fact, the Larger Catechism clearly seems to say the opposite. WLC 166 says that all children of believing parents are "in that respect in the covenant," and therefore are to be baptized. Now, the Standards are ambiguous here (deliberately, I'd say) as to chronology. Most people read it as saying that FIRST you are in the covenant because you are a child of a believing parent, and so therefore you are baptized to "symbolize" that membership in the covenant which you already possess. But it is also possible to read the Standards as saying that the baptims puts you in the covenant. (In other words, the Standards are making a logical order here: baptized BECAUSE in the covenant through being the child of a believing parent. But this does not necessarily entail a chronological meaning of "because" (i.e., first in the covenant, and then baptized because you are in the covenant already)) But either way, it doesn't matter. The basic point is simply that, logically, being baptized relates to covenant membership as a sufficient condition. Infants of believers are baptized, and infants of believers are in the covenant. Thus, being baptized and being in the covenant are associated, which means that one is sufficient for the other.

    But even if you don't buy THAT argument about what WLC 166 entails, then at best you are back to the drawing board with no statement teaching WCF1 one way or the other. Again, you need WCF1 to be "Baptism is not sufficient for membership in the covenant." This requires a positive statement from the Confession to that effect, or a positive statement to some other effect which entails this effect. If there is no such statement, then the Confession does not assert WCF1, and thus there is no contradiction between X1 and anything in the Confession.

    So, this argument doesn't work, as presented, to show that Xon contraicts the Confession. But, even more, don't forget that you have to do more to defrock someone than simply show that they are out of accord with the Confession on a particular point. The PCA is not a strict subscriptionism denomination, and so disagreeing with the Confession on a particular point is not in and of itself a defrockable offense (so long as the person who disagrees registers their exception with presbytery). So, even if we granted your argument here and said that I am out of accord on this point, then all I should have to do is say, "Thanks, Josh, for showing me a logical consequence of my view that I hadn't noticed before. I will declare my exception on this at the next meeting of presbytery."

    Now, at this point, the matter is either closed or you are going to bring a further complaint. If you bring a further comnplaint, then it must be because you think that my exception is over a matter of fundamental importance: that it "strikes at the vitals of true religion." But you haven't even begun to show that this is so, and on the surface it seems implausible. How on earth does a disagreement over whether of not all baptized people are in the covenant amount to a disagreement over a vital of Reformed orthodoxy?

    You claimed that I bring the "h" word on myself with this assertion, but as we have seen your argument that my view contradicts the Confession doesn't even go through as stated. IF you can fix it to show that I really am out of accord with the Confession on this point, THEN you would still have to offer some sort of argument that the view actually rises to the level of "heresy" or (even worse) "Rome." But so far your association of my view with Rome is based on a highly unclear assertion that I "equate" baptism and faith, which I don't.

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  49. And, by the way, all this "defrocking" talk is entirely academic anyway, as I am not a minister in the PCA nor am I seeking to become one.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Xon,

    I think your assessment of the ‘duct’ tape is way off. We are talking about theology here not a dam. Our theology needs to be thought out and developed. We do not just throw things out and then try to find rational for it. I am actually shocked that you think t his is a good way to do theology, but at the same time I applaud your honesty. I seriously doubt that others in the FV would agree with your assessment on what happened, though I think you are right.

    You said, “and to simply learn that true faith is looking outside yourself to Christ, which settles the matter.”

    Is this not what the “TR’s” have said from day one? How is this not the same exact solution given by “the other guys?”

    You said, “I think FV is trying to take a "wider" view of salvation: that God is not a miser who saves only a tiny handful, but a large multitude (relative terms, I realize).”

    And people in the FV wonder why they get the charge of going leaving five point Calvinism.

    You said, “But it is not, in general, our job to go around causing seemingly faithful people to question themselves.”

    What about the words of Peter, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

    Xon, I final point out what you ask me to. I give you the reason everyone is up in arms and instead of a response, I get a history lesson. I am confused? I take up your challenge and point to what seems to be the heart of the issue and I get an extended review of the history of the FV. I do not mean to be rude, but I do not have time to read the history of the FV. I do have time to discuss these important issue. So, please feel free to respond to the content of my posts, but I am not going to spend the time needed to review and interact with the history of the FV, sorry I am just to busy.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Steve, I've pasted in your most recent comment in its entirety so people don't have to scroll back up through all my nonsense to find it. Here it be:

    "From Xon:
    "What was their old status?"

    A condemned sinner in Adam.

    "What is their new status?"

    They are now a part of God's kingdom."


    Are you saying that the NECM's are no longer in Adam? Where are they? In some limbo area? You are either in Christ or in Adam. The only way to be in Christ is to be born again. This is why I cannot accept the FV position. You are positing a third category for men, and then saying that you don't at all.
    "

    Well, I actually said a lot more about what it means for a non-elect covenant member to be "in Adam" and then later to be "a part of God's kingdom." I think (though I could be wrong, since I'm commenting on my own words) my explanation helped make this clear. This is what I said about the non-elect person being "condemned in Adam:"

    "But other than this they have no favor with God whatsoever. God looks at them exactly as they ARE, under the covenant of life/works. Their status is exactly what it SHOULD be, based on their own lives."

    So, to be a condemned sinner in Adam is to be a person who is kept alive for awhile and given certain common blessings of earhtly life by God, which are themselves undeserved, but other than that is looked at by God with wrath and displeasure. God hates sin, and this person gets looked at with that hatred.

    And I said this about non-elect people being brought into the covenant:

    "They are now a part of God's kingdom....God now loves that person in the sense that He is present with them in a way that He wasn't before: God is present with His church, and they are in His church. God speaks to His church every week through the Word, and they are there to hear that. As this person feels "good" about going to Church and living a life in cooperation with other believers, God "smiles" on this person: God is happy for this person's newfound peace and happiness."

    So, the non-elect covenant member gets a heightened experience of God's presence, God is no longer looking at him in nothing but anger/hatred, etc. This doesn't mean that God is declaring "You shall be My true child and live with Me forever!", but it does mean that God is kindly regarding this person, caring about this person, in a way He didn't before.

    I never used the phrase "in Christ" to describe this, but I am happy to do so now. In some sense, every person who gets any grace at all has to be "in Christ." The whole world has been placed "in Christ" after His resurrection, so there should be no problem with saying this as far as I can see.

    And covenant members are "in Christ" in an even greater way. Paul literally says that we are baptized "into Christ," buried wtih Him raised up with Him, etc. Because most Reformed folks chafe at the notion that a non-elect person is in any way buried and raised with Christ, the fairly standard move is to say that "baptism" here refers to "spirtual" baptism and not to the rite involving water. But why do we think of these as separate? Why not think that the Spirit is always present in water baptism? Because we think that if the Spirit is present at all, then you have to be saved forever and ever amen. Which simply isn't true.

    So I wouldn't call this a "limbo" for these people, neither "in Christ" or "in Adam." I'd say that all covenant members, elect or non-elect, are "in Christ." There may be different sense of being in Christ, but they are all in Christ. They have been baptized into Him, and into His name. But this doesn't mean that they are going to be saved to the uttermost, automatically no doubt about it. But the fact that they do not have full salvation doesn't mean that they are in some "third" category of person.

    If you want to break it down into only two options--in Adam or in Christ, as Scripture does--then you also have to define what these things mean. The clarity gander must be friends with the clarity goose. You seem to be using "in Christ" to mean "going to Heaven." But where does Scripture teach that as the exlusive meaning of the term?

    Again, Paul's words in Romans 6 seem clear to me, baptism is someting that is done "into Christ." And more people than the elect are baptized. If you are going to say that we must read this verse in a "spiritual" way because of some other Scriptures or some other rock solid systematic theological considerations, then bring them forth and let them be counted.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Steve, I've pasted in your most recent comment in its entirety so people don't have to scroll back up through all my nonsense to find it. Here it be:

    "From Xon:
    "What was their old status?"

    A condemned sinner in Adam.

    "What is their new status?"

    They are now a part of God's kingdom."


    Are you saying that the NECM's are no longer in Adam? Where are they? In some limbo area? You are either in Christ or in Adam. The only way to be in Christ is to be born again. This is why I cannot accept the FV position. You are positing a third category for men, and then saying that you don't at all.
    "

    Well, I actually said a lot more about what it means for a non-elect covenant member to be "in Adam" and then later to be "a part of God's kingdom." I think (though I could be wrong, since I'm commenting on my own words) my explanation helped make this clear. This is what I said about the non-elect person being "condemned in Adam:"

    "But other than this they have no favor with God whatsoever. God looks at them exactly as they ARE, under the covenant of life/works. Their status is exactly what it SHOULD be, based on their own lives."

    So, to be a condemned sinner in Adam is to be a person who is kept alive for awhile and given certain common blessings of earhtly life by God, which are themselves undeserved, but other than that is looked at by God with wrath and displeasure. God hates sin, and this person gets looked at with that hatred.

    And I said this about non-elect people being brought into the covenant:

    "They are now a part of God's kingdom....God now loves that person in the sense that He is present with them in a way that He wasn't before: God is present with His church, and they are in His church. God speaks to His church every week through the Word, and they are there to hear that. As this person feels "good" about going to Church and living a life in cooperation with other believers, God "smiles" on this person: God is happy for this person's newfound peace and happiness."

    So, the non-elect covenant member gets a heightened experience of God's presence, God is no longer looking at him in nothing but anger/hatred, etc. This doesn't mean that God is declaring "You shall be My true child and live with Me forever!", but it does mean that God is kindly regarding this person, caring about this person, in a way He didn't before.

    I never used the phrase "in Christ" to describe this, but I am happy to do so now. In some sense, every person who gets any grace at all has to be "in Christ." The whole world has been placed "in Christ" after His resurrection, so there should be no problem with saying this as far as I can see.

    And covenant members are "in Christ" in an even greater way. Paul literally says that we are baptized "into Christ," buried wtih Him raised up with Him, etc. Because most Reformed folks chafe at the notion that a non-elect person is in any way buried and raised with Christ, the fairly standard move is to say that "baptism" here refers to "spirtual" baptism and not to the rite involving water. But why do we think of these as separate? Why not think that the Spirit is always present in water baptism? Because we think that if the Spirit is present at all, then you have to be saved forever and ever amen. Which simply isn't true.

    So I wouldn't call this a "limbo" for these people, neither "in Christ" or "in Adam." I'd say that all covenant members, elect or non-elect, are "in Christ." There may be different sense of being in Christ, but they are all in Christ. They have been baptized into Him, and into His name. But this doesn't mean that they are going to be saved to the uttermost, automatically no doubt about it. But the fact that they do not have full salvation doesn't mean that they are in some "third" category of person.

    If you want to break it down into only two options--in Adam or in Christ, as Scripture does--then you also have to define what these things mean. The clarity gander must be friends with the clarity goose. You seem to be using "in Christ" to mean "going to Heaven." But where does Scripture teach that as the exlusive meaning of the term?

    Again, Paul's words in Romans 6 seem clear to me, baptism is someting that is done "into Christ." And more people than the elect are baptized. If you are going to say that we must read this verse in a "spiritual" way because of some other Scriptures or some other rock solid systematic theological considerations, then bring them forth and let them be counted.

    ReplyDelete
  53. "I think your assessment of the ‘duct’ tape is way off. We are talking about theology here not a dam. Our theology needs to be thought out and developed. We do not just throw things out and then try to find rational for it. I am actually shocked that you think t his is a good way to do theology, but at the same time I applaud your honesty. I seriously doubt that others in the FV would agree with your assessment on what happened, though I think you are right."

    Well I thank you for the intention behind the compliment, but it isn't accurate. I didn't agree with your analogy of FV that they used duct tape in an unreflective way. I said that I disagreed with that, but that since you brought it up I would go ahead and point out that I don't think the "duct tape" method is a bad thing. Again, not if there is something that needs clogged quickly. But this is not what I think happened with FV anyway. But if it did, so what?

    Saying that theology has to be reflective is, on your analogy (and you cannot tell me I can't talk about a dam, when the analogy is to duct tape. If theology is not like a dam, then what FV does is not like duct tape.), only valid if you assume that there is no urgent need requiring immediate patching. But if there is an urgent need requiring patching, then the idea that you first have to come up with some theological justification for patching seems rather silly. But, again, I don't think any of this fits what FV was doing at all. I think FV has been reflective from the start, but sometimes they put their message in more "general" paradimatic terms rather than careful logic-chopped terms. Both ways of speaking are appropriate, depending on the circumstancs. Everything in its season.

    "You said, “and to simply learn that true faith is looking outside yourself to Christ, which settles the matter.”

    Is this not what the “TR’s” have said from day one? How is this not the same exact solution given by “the other guys?”
    "

    Well, like I said earlier, this is a very generalized criticism, so certainly there are some anti-FVers who agree with us on this. But, there is also a discernible tendency among many Refromed people to tell people that they need to look at themselves to make sure they have the right kind of faith. But if you are looking at yourself to see that you have the right kind of faith, then you aren't looking outside of yourself to Christ. Hence, the problem...for some Reformed people and the way they talk about self-examination. FV wants to correct this tendency, which is real even if not every person falls into it.

    ""You said, “I think FV is trying to take a "wider" view of salvation: that God is not a miser who saves only a tiny handful, but a large multitude (relative terms, I realize).”

    And people in the FV wonder why they get the charge of going leaving five point Calvinism.
    "

    Yikes, dude! So when I say that God is going to save a great multitude, you take this (rather sarcastically, too) as a rejection
    of the "L" in TULIP? How? What?

    To trade sarcastic riposte for riposte, and people in the TR camp wonder why people say that Calvinism is monstrous. Because if you even suggest that God wants to save a LOT of people (and notice I didn't say everybody), then you must deny Christ's work of definite atonement. This is just an invalid inference, from top to bottom.

    "You said, “But it is not, in general, our job to go around causing seemingly faithful people to question themselves.”

    "What about the words of Peter, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
    "

    Yes, but why are you reading this as some sort of "internal" examination? Peter gives them the standard they are supposed to measure themselves against: "if you practice these qualities". If they do not love the brethren, if the sew discord, if they return to their vomit by rejecting the true faith, if they run off with their secretary, if they beat the tar out of their kids, if they look at porn on the internet and say "Screw you for judging me" when confronted about it, then they are not practicing "these qualities."

    If they are sincere people who recognize that they cannot save themselves and who cry out to Jesus to do for them what they cannot do for themselves, and if they have not blatant sins for which they are unrepentant, then Peter is not telling them to "look even deeper". At least, that's not how I understand him in this passage.

    "Xon, I final point out what you ask me to. I give you the reason everyone is up in arms and instead of a response, I get a history lesson. I am confused? I take up your challenge and point to what seems to be the heart of the issue and I get an extended review of the history of the FV. I do not mean to be rude, but I do not have time to read the history of the FV. I do have time to discuss these important issue. So, please feel free to respond to the content of my posts, but I am not going to spend the time needed to review and interact with the history of the FV, sorry I am just to busy."

    It's not rude at all, I appreciate your willingness to speak your mind here. So, I promise to offer no more history lessons...IF you don't keep saying that FVers are "confused," haven't reflected enough on what they are saying, and have a history of causing trouble by using words in unclear ways without explaining their meaning. Again, we have to be consistent with each other here. If you don't want me to give a historical defense of the FVers, then you have to not make arguments questioning their historical actions. If you want to argue about the logical and biblical arguments, then by all means let's!

    As to the logical argument, I did respond in a non-histor-lesson way to your claim about the "heart" of the problem. I showed that your argument as it stands is confused and doesn't show a contradiction. So, the ball is in your court to resuscitate your argument aginst my refutation, or to give up on that one and try another (both perfectly reasonable approaches).

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  54. Xon,

    You have illustrated, at least to my satisfaction, one of the huge problems with the FV. That is, when you make a statement that puts you out of accord with the Confession and a person calls you on it, then you back away from that statement and try to 'redefine' your way back into the Confession by saying 'in a sense.' It is as if the FV is mercury. When you press it it runs from your finger.

    You know that if I cannot 'hold your feet to the fire' on a given point I can never say if your view is right, because I can never know what your view is. Whenever I press I am chastised for pressing and when clear statements are made about faith and baptism and you are called on it, you take five steps back from your comment. This method my work as a preacher, but in the world of cyber theology, it does not.

    At this point, I have to let the reader decided for himself. I feel that my original question has been answered and I am done running in circles on this post. Thank you for your time and your comments. I look forward to your thoughts on others posts.

    ReplyDelete
  55. "You have illustrated, at least to my satisfaction, one of the huge problems with the FV. That is, when you make a statement that puts you out of accord with the Confession and a person calls you on it,"

    What statement did I make that puts me out of accord with the Confession that you called me on? Name it, please.

    "then you back away from that statement and try to 'redefine' your way back into the Confession by saying 'in a sense.' It is as if the FV is mercury. When you press it it runs from your finger."

    Well, that's something of an allegation in its own right, Josh. I will apologize immediately and ask forgiveness for doing this if you can show me where in any of my earlier comments I said something which I then "backed away from" or "redefined." My contention is that you have assumed I was saying something I wasn't saying. Sorry, but it's not "redefining" if I say that.

    Your argument construed my position as being that "baptism is the [only] means for entering the covenant," but where did I ever say that? I didn't say it, Josh. I said that baptism is a means for entering the covenant, but you can't show me to be contrary to the Confession for saying that. (Or can you?)

    Furthermore, even if you are right about me, it is completely out of line to then impute what I did here (weaseling my way out of my own words) to "FV" in general. Saying I have now illustrated "a problem" with FV is crazy talk, given that I'm just one person, and hardly a famous FVers at that. Plus, you're not criticizing my argument per se, but my method of being a weasel (allegedly). There is no logical reason to think that other FVers do the same thing, even if you are right about me. Again, without evidence, what are we to make of that claim?

    Bottom line is that I am not weaseling out of anything. You made an effort to show that my position contradicts the Confession, but your argument fails because it (a) misrepresents what my position is (it imputes to me a position I do not hold and never claimed to hold), or (b) misrepresents what the Confession's position is (it imputes to the Confession a positon it never asserts). If I am just "backing away" from my own earlier comments when I say this, then you should easily be able to demonstrate my wascally ways by quoting something I said and then showing how what I said later contradicted it. Of course, the fact that I would clarify my view can't be a problem, since you asked me for clarification. But you're saying that I actively "changed" my position in the wake of your powerful argument against it, and I'm sorry but you'll have to prove that.

    "You know that if I cannot 'hold your feet to the fire' on a given point I can never say if your view is right, because I can never know what your view is. Whenever I press I am chastised for pressing and when clear statements are made about faith and baptism and you are called on it, you take five steps back from your comment."

    This is slander, brother. You owe me either a demonstration of where I did what you allege, or an apology. Sorry, but that's how it is.

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  56. Xon,

    You said, “Furthermore, even if you are right about me, it is completely out of line to then impute what I did here (weaseling my way out of my own words) to "FV" in general. Saying I have now illustrated "a problem" with FV is crazy talk, given that I'm just one person, and hardly a famous FVers at that. Plus, you're not criticizing my argument per se, but my method of being a weasel (allegedly). There is no logical reason to think that other FVers do the same thing, even if you are right about me. Again, without evidence, what are we to make of that claim?”

    Remember earlier when I asked for clarification and you game me your words and I then asked, instead, for the words of a FVer. This is why. When every a problem is shown in the “whole system” people simply say, “Well, I do not speak for everyone,” or “this is just us working out our theology.” If you are not going to be held up as representing the FV, then I would ask that when you answers any question about the FV you would not uses your own words. Feel free to speak for yourself on board questions, but on questions that focus specifically on the FV, please use quotes in the future. Thank you.

    This leads to my second point. I am still waiting for answers to my questions from the horses mouth.

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  57. Okay, Josh, and it's a fair request to get some "horse's mouth" stuff. But remember that what you just responded to is pretty 'peripheral" in this whole discussion. I was offering a pretty contextualized response to a claim that you had made. In other words, at that point, we were pretty deep in "you and me" discourse, not in "come let us discuss FVers together" discourse. I had, right or wrong, come to stand in for FVers in our conversation. And I don't have a problem with that, so long as we're all asking reasonable questions and answering them reasonably. Which we were, mostly.

    But you then tried to pin an argumentative error on my part on all of FV. And it wasn't the sort of thing you could find in an FV book somewhere, even in theory. You accused me of using a blatantly dishonest argumentative tactic in the course of a live conversation. Nobody is going to weasel the way you accused me of weaseling in a book, even if they are a weasel. The kind of thing you accused me is something that happens when talking to a person "face-to-face," (or, as the case may be, "blog comment to blog comment"). In that situation, you pretty much have no choice but to take every person as unique.

    In other words, if you argue with twenty different pro-choicers, every one of them could use completely different "styles" in their arguments. Some might be rigorously logical, others might be all emotion, some might just not be very bright but they try, others might think they are smarter than they are, others might be smart but arrogant, others might be 'moving targets' who play sophistries and never own their own words. To talk to any one of them, and declare that they have illustrated a "problem with pro-choicers in general," is not likely to be a good way to go. Point out the logical fallacies of the person you're talking to, but don't impute those logical fallacties to everyone else.

    There are exceptions to this, of course. If all pro-choicers use a particular kind of argument (like, say, every pro-choicer you talk to uses the "who know when life begins?" argument), then you CAN start to draw a generalization on the kinds of arguments they like.

    But that's not what happened in our conversation. You weren't accusing me of using a bad argument per se. You were accusing me of backing off from my own words, which is something that you can find people doing in all walks of life and in all theological schools. Again, some people are just better/nicer arguers than othes, and that's true in every theological camp you might encounter.

    Of course, I'm still a bit 'miffed' (I'll get over it) that you accused me of that in the first place, but alas...

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  58. You said, "Of course, I'm still a bit 'miffed' (I'll get over it) that you accused me of that in the first place, but alas..."

    I would like to offer my sincerest apologies on "miffing" you. That was never my intention. So, my deepest apologies, sorry.

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  59. I'm a little late in getting to this, but I have a few comments to make that I don't think have been touched upon too much yet.

    I guess I still don't understand, after all this talk, what is gained over the traditional definition common grace in your construction? I don't think that any of us disagree that there are temporal benefits to being in the visible church, but, as was said earlier, if you're not regenerate these will not be blessings that you will appreciate. If you truly have faith in Jesus Christ, then any assurance given to you should be based on the fact that you have faith in Christ, not on the basis of some common grace. I still don't understand what assurance is actually gained from recognizing that you have received the common grace benefits of being in the visible church. If you have the view that Paul constantly tells us to have, which is living life with our lives on the finish line, then the only assurance you can have is eternal.

    That's another question that I had. Why are you so focused on the life lived in the here and now. What happened to life focused on heaven. What happened to dying being the gain that we have to hope for. If death is gain then why would you want anything that's on earthy. If you have everything in Christ then there is nothing that you can gain or have taken away from you and if you don't have everything in Christ than there is no more that you can lose. Along with this is the fact that the whole construction is terribly anthropocentric. What happened to I determined to know nothing among you save Christ, and Him crucified. If you are giving people some level of assurance based on their church membership then you're preaching something other than the cross.

    The next thing that I wanted to say is that people keep talking about this straw man called the "puritan scheme." XON said in one post "in the 'puritan' account a person has no way to know whether they are connected to God's grace at all ever." I've read a lot of puritans who would not agree with this statement. I don't know how something like "The Bruised Reed" could be lumped into this, or any number of other writers. I'm just not recognizing any of the puritans that I admire in the statements made about the "puritans."

    Next, the passage that you used as your first and foremost example was the sower and the seed. The passage specifically says that the one on rocky ground received the word with joy, but it never says that he had faith, or any type of justification.

    Finally, please define, in a succinct answer, assurance for me. I can't for the life of me, despite all of you attempts understand what assurance there is in not knowing whether or not your are finally saved. So maybe we have a differing view of what is assurance.

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  60. Xon,

    We (and by we I really mean me) are waiting for your exegetical argument you promised us. And we (the same we as before) are waiting for the quotes from the horses mouth.

    My original question was about Wilkins and how the FV deals with the issues he raises. I would like to see what he has to say on these issue.

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  61. Guys, I never promised to give you a more detailed exegetical analysis, did I? (Shuffling back through comments). I promised, if anything, to try to do so. But I also explained the time constraints that make that hard for me, right now, and those constraints are still in place. The point: I'm trying, but I can't make any promises about when I'll be able to get to it.

    Also, Josh, Wilkins actually doesn't do that much exegesis. He is more of a "systematic theology" guy, tying it all together. He glosses Scriptural language to make a few of his points (i.e., "here's some of the things Scripture says about all covenant members:" then he gives a list without much comment) Exegesis is done more by other people. Horne does a good bit of exegesis. Leithart has done exegesis. Tim Gallant (especially regarding paedocommumion) has done tons of exegesis), etc.

    If you want something that looks like "academic" exegesis...i.e., going through a passage in the original Greek, parsing and conjugating all the things that need parsing and conjugating, considering all the historical interpretations, carefully selecting the interpretation that seems best and supporting it with several arguments (while also trying to refute the alternatives with other arguments), then there is very little of that. FV has, in this sense, been more of a pastoral movement than an exegetical one. In fact, even the more respected FVish publications (like Leithart's articles in the WTJ, say), are more "systematic theology" than exegetical in nature. This is somewhat ironic, b/c FVers are always accused of dismissing sys theo in favor of bib theo, but the truth is that most FV argumentation is very systematic and they don't tend to write technical Greek interaction at all. But they don't back off of it, either, when it is necessary. (And so, for instnace, Leithart insists that "baptism" in Romans 6 refers to the rite of baptism, and not to some "internal" spiritual baptism that doesn't necessarily accompany the rite. His argument here is about what the word in Romans 6 means: iow, it is an "exegetical" argument).

    So, if you want to focus on Wilkins's writings, or you want to focus on exegesis, those are two somewhat different things. Just pointing that out.

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  62. In any case, toomuchreality, when you say

    "I guess I still don't understand, after all this talk, what is gained over the traditional definition common grace in your construction?"

    I think you are hitting on precisely the point that we are debating. There is no "traditional definition"--no one unambiguous thing that the Reformed have all said together--of the "common operations" of the Spirit that non-elect covenant members receive. (I assume you're really wanting to talk about these "common operations," rather than about "common grace" per se, though certainly these two are related somehow). The Confession affirms that the non-elect get "common operatoins" of the Spirit, but it never spells out what those are. FV is, in many ways, simply an attempt by Reformed people to explore in more detail from Scripture and sytematic theological considerations what those common operations. It may turn out that they are "closer"--at least existentially--to the benefits received by elect covenant members than we have generally recognized. That is the FV position in a nutshell.

    So to claim that FV is now unhelpfully offering up a "new" definition of what these "common operations" are, as though there is some historically-established definition we're departing from, misses the mark.

    "I don't think that any of us disagree that there are temporal benefits to being in the visible church, but, as was said earlier, if you're not regenerate these will not be blessings that you will appreciate."

    Yes, we agree that there are temporal blessings, but we disagree as to whether those blessings constitute a temporary salvation or not. For instance, when I brought up the "mansion" analogy, some have come back and said that living in the mansion isn't "salvation" in any sense since the kid ends up in prison when it's all over with.

    But if we both agree that there ARE temporal blessings, but we're just disagreeing over the word I use (I am willing to call it "temporary salvation," because it DOES represent a new quality of life not previously enjoyed), then it's hard to see how this is not just a squabble over words and an unnecessary sowing of discord among the brethren. This has been my puzzlmeent throughout this conversation (and a puzzlement that was not at all helped by Josh's "Reformed Baptist" argument in another post). If you are agreeing that all NECMs get certain temporal benefits in virtue of their covenant membership, then what exactly is the problem with me calling those benefits "temporary salvation?"

    Either a. you are simply objecting to the word "salvation" (b/c you think it's potentially confusing, etc.), in which case your point might be well taken (depending on whether it really is necessarily confusing; I certainly don't want to confuse people), but you can hardly call my view heresy on these grounds. Or,

    b. you are saying that the temporary benefits enjoyed by NECMs are in no way salvific. They cannot be described with the word, ever, because there is no reality to which that word can reasonably be thought to apply.

    But (b) strikes me as patently false. Look up the word "salvation." Look up how the word has historically been used. Look up its meaning in Scripture (most important) and in the surrounding culture in which koine Greek (or OT Hebrew) was used, etc. You will find that the word "salvation" does not have to mean what modern revivalists mean by it (i.e. "gettin' saved!"), that it means "going to Heaven when you die." Yes, I agree that if you are going to Heaven when you die that you are saved. You are saved in the most wonderful and uttermost way you can possibly be. And God in His Word tells us that He has predestined a fixed number who will be saved in just that sense. Amen, and amen. But Scripture also speaks of every person in the covenant as being "saved." (i.e., Paul says to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling": who is he talking to there? Only the secret group of the elect within the Church? How do we know that? Where is that in the text (if we demand exegesis and not systematic theology)? So, it seems to me that temporal covenantal blessings can also be thought of as a kind of "salvation."

    So, (a) and (b) are both highly problematic positions to take, if you want accuse the FV "temporary salvation" position of being heresy. And I see no other option but to accept that it is acceptable to speak this way, even if you yourself choose not to do so.

    As to whether the temporal blessings are ever truly "appreciated" by the non-elect, I agree that they are not. All FVers agree that they are not. That is not the issue.

    "If you truly have faith in Jesus Christ, then any assurance given to you should be based on the fact that you have faith in Christ, not on the basis of some common grace."

    This position is (a) just the conundrum that 'Puritanism' leads to: people end up trying to peer into their hearts to see if they have 'true' faith or not. Assurance becomes all about us; (b) not the teaching of the Confession. The Confession says that it is possible to be assured that you are elect, but it never says that that assurance comes only from your ability to determine that you have faith.

    "I still don't understand what assurance is actually gained from recognizing that you have received the common grace benefits of being in the visible church. If you have the view that Paul constantly tells us to have, which is living life with our lives on the finish line, then the only assurance you can have is eternal."

    If you don't see the benefit to assurance that you are beloved and favored by God, in the present, in a way that rank unbelievers are not, then that's fine. I have said all along that there are different kinds of people and different kinds of struggles with assurance. I think a lot of people are helped by what I'm describing, but even if it's only a few, the fact that you can't 'see' the benefit doesn't mean that nobody else sees the benefit.

    As to "living life with our life on the finish line," this is an interesting concept to bring up for Paul says that he himself takes care to keep the finish line in mind "lest I myself not attain it." Hmm...doesn't sound like Paul is saying "I know that I am eternally elect, and thus that I WILL make the finish line, no matter what." Instead, Paul seems to feel that the WAY we realize our eternal election is by running a very temporal race in the here and now. And there are those who are also running that race (God has put them in the race, by His grace), yet who do not reach the finish line. Non-perseverance is the way that the non-elect covenant members SHOW themselves to be non-elect. They do not persevere to the end, which shows that something was "missing" all along. But the fact that something was "missing" all along doesn't mean that they had nothing salvific at all (unless, again, you are simply stipulating that "salvific" means "eternal life", in which case you are right, they had no salvific benefits, and we all agree).

    "That's another question that I had. Why are you so focused on the life lived in the here and now. What happened to life focused on heaven. What happened to dying being the gain that we have to hope for."

    Honestly, I don't know where this criticism is coming from. Of course my life here does me not a whit of good if I don't end up enjoying eternal life "on the other side." Of course, of course, of course! But many people who struggle with assurance are struggling precisely because they are worried that they won't be there at the end. They are worried about where they are going to spend their next life. They don't have any access to the next life right now; they are bodily creatures bound to space and time (and they always will be, by the way). If someone comes to you with this problem, is your only answer that they need to "focus on the gain that is death?" That won't reassure them at all, since the whole point of their struggle is that they don't know whether death is gain for them.

    Furthermore, I will also say that your comments seem to betray a misappropriation of God's redemption as it is directed towards the world. The Christian vision is not that we all die, leave this mortal coil, and then go to this "better place" somewhere else. Rather, the Christian hope is that Heaven is coming here. Heaven and Earth will one day meet, and this world will be transformed into a glorious eternal existence of God and His saints together. And God tells us in His word that this redemption of the whole world (of the cosmos) also began with Christ's resurrection; so we are not just "treading water" right now, waiting for death so God can cherry pick the small number of elect out of this world, and then at some later time He will transform the world magically in an instant and stick all of His elect back on the earth. To the contrary, the earth is being transformed RIGHT NOW. And so this means that those who live their lives within the Church, even only temporarily, are living their lives in the army that God is using to transform the old creation into something new. Christ reigns and is conquering right now, as we speak. He is doing so through His Gospel, which is the weapon given to the Church. Every person who is in the Church (visible) is a part of this cosmological redemption. Even if they individually later fall away because they don't have faith. They were still a part of it for a time. In fact, they will suffer greater condemnation because they rejected it. Non-elect Covenant Members are deserters from God's army, not stowaways who were never really in it anyway but just hid in the baggage train somewhere.

    "If death is gain then why would you want anything that's on earthy. If you have everything in Christ then there is nothing that you can gain or have taken away from you and if you don't have everything in Christ than there is no more that you can lose. Along with this is the fact that the whole construction is terribly anthropocentric. What happened to I determined to know nothing among you save Christ, and Him crucified."

    Well, I guess it's time for some exegesis after all. Paul knows nothing but Christ and Him crucified, which is why Paul understands that all Christians are united together in one body HERE ON EARTH and which is why he is hammering the Corinthians for lording over each other and strutting around like queen bees while rejecting the basic teachings of God's law (like refusing to discipline the man who takes his father's wife). Then Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians how they should be living HERE in the world, during their earhtly life. Don't sue each other in secular courts, for instance. Here's how divorce should work. Here's how to worship in your assemblies (very visible and earthly). Here's how to do the Supper. Etc. This is not some "other" topic disconnected to his earlier claim to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. It all connects together. The simple Gospel--Christ crucified and resurrected--is a the very power of God that makes dumb the wisdom of the world and that undoes the strength of men. It has this effect HERE, in this world, by allowing people to live in unity with one another as one body. This kind of unity is not possible in the world, but Christians should be able to attain it through their unity in Christ. Paul is not saying "Hold on to your hats, it's going to be a wild ride until you die and Jesus gets you outta here!" He is saying "all that is Christ's is yours, and all that is Christ's is God's--therefore, live a certain way NOW, with confidence that God is changing the world through you."

    "If you are giving people some level of assurance based on their church membership then you're preaching something other than the cross."

    Piffle, I say. Assurance is a problem of knowing whether the work Jesus did on the cross really is FOR YOU in the first place. Just pointing them to that cross, as though that in and of itself solves everything, is dense. Now, pointing them to the cross by explaining what it means, by explaining all the wonderful promises God made to us there, and that if we only believe in those promises then they really are for us, therefore believe! All of that is exactly what we should be doing. But there is not a single syllable in anything I've said that contradicts that.

    "The next thing that I wanted to say is that people keep talking about this straw man called the "puritan scheme." XON said in one post "in the 'puritan' account a person has no way to know whether they are connected to God's grace at all ever." I've read a lot of puritans who would not agree with this statement. I don't know how something like "The Bruised Reed" could be lumped into this, or any number of other writers. I'm just not recognizing any of the puritans that I admire in the statements made about the "puritans.""

    I also admire the Puritans. Greatly. It was the Puritans who first introduced the phrase "take them by their baptism" when it comes to disciplining covenant children. The Puritans are awesome, and I hate the way they are slandred today. This is why I later added the qualification that I was just speaking in a quick "short hand" when I talked about the "Puritan" scheme. It doesn't apply to all of them, and in fact I think a lot of FV ideas are found among the Puritans. I wish I had picked a different label all along, but the truth is that the Puritans historically did have a big problem with people knowing whether they were elect or not, and that was my focus in my original comment all the way back up at the top.

    "Next, the passage that you used as your first and foremost example was the sower and the seed. The passage specifically says that the one on rocky ground received the word with joy, but it never says that he had faith, or any type of justification."

    It received the word with joy and grew up for a time. Hmm...Call it whatever you want, it sounds like a temporary experience of something better than what the world is offering, and it was an experience that carried with it the real power for growth (which can only come from God, right?). Thus, I say it presents a "temporary salvation."

    "Finally, please define, in a succinct answer, assurance for me. I can't for the life of me, despite all of you attempts understand what assurance there is in not knowing whether or not your are finally saved. So maybe we have a differing view of what is assurance."

    What, you want me to define "assurance" simpliciter? The dictionary suffices: assurance is confience. Specifically, assurance is confidence about one's own status with regard to something specific. Do the popular kids really like me? Are we going to hold onto this lead we've got at half time? Am I going to be in Heaven? Is God for me right now?

    Notice how those last two questions are logically distinct. FV says that there is value in helping gain assurance of the latter question: is God for me right now? Even if you don't have assurance that you are going to be in Heaven.

    Furthermore, assurance of the latter question CAN provide assurance of the former. If you are confident that God favors you NOW, then you can also be confident that He will never cast you aside (If you ever did fall away, then it would be true that you didn't TRUST in God not to cast you aside. There is no such thing as a person who trusts God to save Him but who is not saved.)

    As opposed to a more common scheme in Reformed theology (call it TR, or whatever), where we have no way of telling people that God is for them right now (except in the "common grace" way that He is for every person on the face of the earth). Thus, if a person like THAT struggles with assurance...we have nothing to tell them except that they need to have faith. But we have no way to help them get 'traction' for that faith. They are worried b/c they don't know if they really have faith in the first place. So now what? We tell them about all of God's wondrous promises...to the elect, which they might not be.

    Other people have assurance they will be in Heaven, which is great for them. Assurance is not a one-size fits all issue.

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  63. Xon

    Here is where you said you would give an exegetical argument, “As to Scriptures that use "justification," it will be next week before I can get to exegetical argumentation.”

    Further, you continue to say things like, “So, (a) and (b) are both highly problematic positions to take, if you want accuse the FV "temporary salvation" position of being heresy. And I see no other option but to accept that it is acceptable to speak this way, even if you yourself choose not to do so.”

    Yet no one here, or anywhere, that I am aware of, has accused the FV of heresy on this point. The point at which the FV gets this term is on issues of faith and justification (the heart of gospel). When the nature of faith is questioned and justification is made to be something other than a once for all judgment by God that we are not guilty. These are the issues that bring about the charge.

    In addition, if you see that the FV is only semantics, then why do it? Why cause so much strife and conflict over semantics. Now, I do not agree with your analysis that the whole FV thing is semantics. I do not think that Steve Wilkins was willing to put his job on the line and lose his flock over semantics. I think both sides see a fundamental difference on these issue. The problem is we cannot agree on what this fundamental difference is, but we can both agree that there is a fundamental difference. This is much more than semantics. Also, I think that calling the FV a semantical difference is dishonoring to both sides of the debate.

    You said, “It was the Puritans who first introduced the phrase "take them by their baptism" when it comes to disciplining covenant children.”

    Or do you mean it was Doug Wilson who showed you that this is in the Puritans?

    You said, “FV says that there is value in helping gain assurance of the latter question: is God for me right now?”

    Can you please explain what value there is in knowing that Lucy is holding the football on the ground now, but not knowing if she will move it when you get there to kick it (a Charlie Brown reference). In other words, what value is it to say to a person God is for you now, but in five minutes he may not be? It seems better to be able to say that God is for you now and forever. Or at least, this is the kind of assurance Paul offers in Romans 8.

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  64. Well Josh, what can I say? It's now "next week," and it is still "before" the time that I am able to get to that other stuff.

    I don't think that FV is only semantics, Josh. I think the criticisms of it offered by many of its opponents are only semantics.

    Even if FV turned out to be saying nothing that all current Reformed people would disagree with (suppose it is all one big huge misunderstanding, which is not what I would say), it still wouldn't be "semnatics" to present traditional Reformed doctrines in an interesting way that allows us to think about our lives in the covenant a bit differently than we are used to. I'm sure we've all had experiences with this before, where you hear something you've always believed put in such a way that it opens your eyes to new things/ a new way of looking at the world/ etc., even though the particular doctrines are things you already believed.

    But, further, I do think that there are some substantive issues of disagreement between FV and TRs (or whatever we want to call critics of FV). But those issues are not that FV "denies Reformed orthodoxy" and its critics don't. To construe the disagreement in that way, the critics have to do a lot more work than they have done up to this point.

    For instance, we disagree as to whether some people have temporary faith. I say yes, you say no, and we both mean something pretty similar by "faith." So we disagree there. Which is fine. But this does not mean that one of us is fit to minister in a Reformed denomination and the other is not. Rather, it just means we have a disagreement. Let's talk about it.

    The FV argument about temporary faith/justification/salvation (and these are all related, arne't they? You say that you don't accuse us of "heresy" over temp salvation, but you do so over temp just and temp faith? I don't follow that distinction at all. How, in your view, can we botch salvation and not be heretics? And by "heretic" here, I only mean with regard to Reformed orthodoxy. I don't mean that you are accusing us of going to Hell; just that you don't think we should be allowed to minister in Reformed denominations), though, is that those who are so dead-set against it need to be careful they don't paint themselves into a corner. Once in that corner, your critique becomes entirely semantic, which is bad for your critique. The context of the debate is mucking things up in part. You guys are trying to argue not only that we misread a certain passage of Scripture, i.e., that we are wrong on position X, but that this is such a fundamental issue that it strikes at the vitals of Reformed orthodoxy. In other words, you guys have an argumentative burden to show that we are wrong in an unordainable way, and that makes you overstate your critique (in my opinion). If you want to say that we misread Matthew 18, that's one thing. But instead you end up saying more: that our view of Matthew 18 (temp forgiveness) constitutes a violation of Reformed orthodoxy. But that isn't true. There is no vital doctrine of Reformed orthodoxy which temp forgiveness contradicts.

    In order to make the charge stick that FV is a serious problem for the Reformed world, you have to do more than simply argue "No, temp forgiveness is in fact not taught in Matthew 18." So you (critics in general) tend to try two different things. One is that you try to pin some really important issue on us: like justification or salvation. You'll say that by advocating temp forgiveness (I'm just using one example of an FV idea here, as you can tell; you may pick whichever you like) we end up denying the Reformed doctrine of justification, or salvation, etc. But I haven't yet heard a single argument from any FV critic that establishes that connection.

    The second move, then, is to say that we are out of bounds simply for using the phrase "temporary forgiveness" at all. It just isn't true, in any sense, and even if it is we are confusing the flock by using it. And so we shouldn't use it. But this argument IS entirely semantic, a debate over words, and it represents an unnecessary division of Christ's body.

    Again, the "challenge" (as I put it on my blog several months ago) to anti-FVers is simple: there is an argument which, if you can make it, will show that FVers deserve to be in serious trouble within their Reformed communions. That argument requires you to take some FV statement and juxtapose it to some fundamental doctrine of Reformed theology (complete with an argument for why the doctrine is fundamental). If you can show in the juxtaposition that the two are in fact incompatible (i.e., that they cannot both be true), then you have caught FV contradicting Reformed orthodoxy (in a fundamental way) and you've got a beef.

    This is an argument that can be made, if FV really is as bas as its critics say. I'm not playing a "trick" or concocting an impossible game. I'm asking critics of FV to simply back up their allegations with more than "the Gospel is at stake," "doctrine by which the Church stands or falls," etc. and to actually provide the evidence that FV contradicts Reformed orthodoxy.

    We could fairly easily demonstrate, for instance, that Calvin's doctrine of the Supper contradicts the Roman doctrine of transsubstantiation. We could find a statement of Calvin's, interpret it correctly, and put it side by side something from Aquinas, also interpreted correctly, and show that they contradict. I am not asking critics of FV to do anything that cannot be done with any other contradiction. But they do have to show the contradiction.

    Now, so far the arguments I have heard (here and elsewhere) have failed. Many of them fail in the same way: by insisting that we not use certain words, in and of themselves. Those arguments are "semantic", but when I point that out that doesn't mean that I am saying that FV is semantic. A problem with the critics is not a problem with the position being critiqued.

    As for your snarky Doug Wilson comment, I'm afraid I don't follow your point. Are you denying that some Puritans spoke of "grabbing them by their baptism" with regard to their children?

    "Can you please explain what value there is in knowing that Lucy is holding the football on the ground now, but not knowing if she will move it when you get there to kick it (a Charlie Brown reference). In other words, what value is it to say to a person God is for you now, but in five minutes he may not be? It seems better to be able to say that God is for you now and forever. Or at least, this is the kind of assurance Paul offers in Romans 8."

    Josh, again you are arguing against a straw man. I AGREE (look back at my first comments in this thread) with you that assurance of forever salvation is better than assurance of present favor. I have never denied this. You are moving the goalposts (speaking of football) by acting as though this is the question we disagree on. Our debate is not "assurance of present favor or assurance of forever favor; whic his better?" We both agree that the latter is better. Where we disagree is on whether assurance of present favor is good and worthwhile at all. But the fact that it is not as good as forever assurance doesn't mean that it is worthless. See the problem with your approach here?

    As to your Charlie Brown analogy, it doesn't hold. Our gracious covenantal Lord is not at all like Lucy. God does not toy with us. He makes us promises: if you believe in Me, then you will always be with Me. (And, because I see another straw man coming, let me reiterate again that I am not denying monergism here. Every Reformed person, ever, has understood that a condition (like belief) is not the same as a meritorious work.) The all-poweful, all-wise creator of Heaven and Earth tells us "I will be your God, and you will be my people." Therefore, He is holding the football and He is going to hold it when we try to kick it. The only reason the ball is not going to get kicked is if we doubt His promise and refuse to try to kick it. But then, that means we didn't have faith, not that God is a vindictive schoolgirl.

    I'm sure you don't mean to imply that God's promises are unreliable. But then your analogy falls apart. Lucy is a liar; God is not. This is why we are called to have faith, to trust, in God as a person. He is a personal being who makes us promises and then delivers on them. Unless, that is, we don't believe the promise. This is the "existential" twist of Calvinism: if you believe the promises, then the promises really ARE for you. If Charlie Brown believes God will keep the ball in place as he approaches, then He will indeed. If you don't believe the promises, then they are not for you, but they would have been if you had only believed. (And whether you believe is, again, up to God's gracious and sovereign foreordination apart from anything in the creature).

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