Friday, November 5, 2010

The Baptized Body by Peter Leithart

I originally posted these on another blog as three separate parts, but I'm combining them here as one post.

I’m currently reading Peter Leithart’s book, The Baptized Body. In the opening chapter, there is much to commend. Let me choose three examples.

First, baptism has socio-political implications. In other words, when I am baptized, my allegiances, my citizenship, and my responsibilities as a citizen are fundamentally altered. Baptism doesn’t only affect me, it doesn’t only affect the Church, but it affects the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world—and not only eschatologically, but as soon as it occurs.

Second, baptism is a basis for instruction, not an end of instruction. Baptists, who deny infants the rite of baptism, take the view that baptism is something that comes after faith has been demonstrated as the result of instruction into who is the object of that faith (Jesus Christ), His work, and how that work applies to the recipient. But if faith is something that is not only instantaneous, but also progressive, why should the sign be kept from those under the lordship of faith-filled parents? Parents who pass on language expect their children to speak as they speak as they grow into this instruction. Parents who pass on basic household instructions expect children to eventually learn and do what they are told. The symbols used to communicate realities that children are only just learning to understand are not withheld, but rather inform the meaning parents seek to give. Somehow the passing on of the faith becomes radically different from all other instruction, but there is no justification for this dramatic shift. But baptism, as a symbol of the faith in Christ and all that it entails by way of blessings and responsibilities is part of the way a child learns what faith is—it is not the end of instruction, but a basis for it.

Third, sacraments do work and require work. By work I don’t mean that they are “good works” in some forensic sense. Rather, they are participatory rather than entirely introspective or contemplative. The meeting of minds is a central aspect (as I’ve stated in a previous post here), but it is not the only aspect, and the mental aspect is supported by, and even accomplished through the interaction with or participation in the work/effort/action of baptism and communion. Objectively, though not always efficaciously, baptism and communion cleanse the believer of sin, confer upon the believer the rights and privileges of Christ, including the responsibilities of covenant fidelity, and draw the believer into communion with Christ and His Body. We can say objectively, because that is what God has purposed the signs to signify, and how He has instructed us to regard them and those partaking of them. That some will partake powerlessly, faithlessly, subversively does not invalidate the sign or its meaning—for a general purpose need not entail a universal application (I can say, “My class is full of good students,” even while there are a few who are “bad students.” The fullness does not imply totality in each particular, but generality across the class).

Despite these excellent points, there are unfortunately stinkers too. Two points in particular stick out. One is relatively minor, but is cropping up as a pattern (in three readings of Leithart now)—I don’t like the way Leithart discards long-standing terminology on the basis of contemporary misuses or misunderstandings. Provocation is not always perceptive. The other quibble is more grievous, and is based in poor definition, and poor attention to logical implication.

First is the disjunction between means and ends. Leithart avoids the term “ends,” but it seems apparent from his description and examples that what he opposes to means are the things means are supposed to be getting us toward, helping to accomplish, etc. He says, for example, “Is the sentence ‘food is a means of nourishment’ any more precise than ‘food nourishes’?” or “Is sex a ‘means of making love’ or is it ‘making love’?” He supposes that these sentences are tautologies, which they are, but then he takes the additional step of arguing that this invalidates the precision of “means” as a term of description: “In each case, sticking ‘means’ into the sentence gives the impression of insight and precision, but without much payoff.” But just because one may omit the word in several cases of expression does not imply that it loses precision in all cases of expression.

Suppose I confess the faith to an unbeliever, and as a result of my confession the unbeliever repents and believes. By Leithart’s logic, saying, “My confession saved this unbeliever” is as precise as saying, “My confession was a means of saving this unbeliever.” The first is true, but confusing insofar as it leaves unexpressed the other means that were necessary for the event to have been accomplished. By including “means” I communicate that more than my confession contributed to the unbeliever’s salvation. And this is precisely the type of precision that the Westminster Confession is aiming at in using the phrase “means of grace.” There are several means of grace—ways in which God graces us—none of which in itself is the sum and total of God’s particular grace to His people. Baptism graces. Communion graces. The Word graces. And all of these by God’s determination and power. The emphasis upon “means” is to point back to the “primary cause” who confers, and who also does not confer.

This fact on non-conference is another reason why “means” language is more precise. Every time one has sex, “lovemaking” is not only objectively portrayed, but subjectively accomplished, if we take the terms to be identical. Water is a bit more fluid (pardon the pun) for it can wash effectively or ineffectively based on how it is applied. Baptism and Communion are objective rites, but they do not confer in and of themselves what they signify (which Leithart acknowledges). Thus, God must act through them, in them, or by them, but “them” not apart from Him. The reprobate who has “bad faith” (though by all appearances he has faith) lacks the new birth wrought by God. This is so by definition, for God does not confer his favor (grace) upon, does not commune with, does not look upon with love the one determined by wrath or hatred from eternity. The appearance of faith is no different than an alien’s appearance of citizenship, or the imposter’s appearance of belonging. Now this is the first chapter, so perhaps Leithart will bring the discussion back around, but as it stands in this section, I don’t see how ridding ourselves of “means” language affords us greater clarity.

I’ve probably spent too much effort to explain what could be said in one sentence: the problem is not with the term “means of grace,” but with the misunderstanding of what it identifies or what is its definition. Leithart wants new terms (or old terms that find new usage), which seems good so long as we don’t discard terms that are still full of use, despite their misuse or misunderstanding.

The second objection I have is Leithart's explanation of God's relation to time.

He begins, “For some, however, God’s transcendence of time effectively cancels out any real interaction or involvement that God might have with creatures in time. Because God has determined and knows that some person will be reprobate, He cannot really, sincerely favor that reprobate in time. Because God has scripted history and fixed the course of events, God never really reacts to our actions. When the Bible says, ‘God changed His mind,’ it is mere anthropomorphism. This is not a satisfying answer. The Bible says God changed His mind, and the Bible is true (Exod. 32:14; Jer. 26:19; Amos 7:3,6). The Bible also says God does not change His mind, and that is also true (1 Sam. 15:29). We should try to affirm both equally well, and not allow one biblical truth to cancel another. Any time our theology makes it difficult or impossible to say what Scripture says, our theology must be mistaken.”

One small note, but important note: God hasn’t determined and known that some person “will be” reprobate, but rather God determines and knows that a person “is” reprobate. One doesn’t become elect or reprobate at some point in history, but is elect or reprobate from eternity, and is revealed before (displayed in front of or toward) creation as elect or reprobate in the Last Day. This is a subtle, but all important distinction, because insofar as we want to have eternal election—God choosing to place his love on certain men prior to and apart from any condition in those men—then we also by implication affirm eternal reprobation (whether supralapsarian or sublapsarian in order). You don’t get one without the other, and therefore all men for all of time are categorized in one of these two ways, never to be confused or alternated.

Second, let’s recognize that in tackling one of the most difficult philosophical topics (time) in addition to the part time plays in one of the most difficult theological topics (God’s relation to time) Leithart fails to define his terms—and not just in this quotation, but anywhere in the section. What is time? What is “changelessness?” We get lots of description, some propositions and supporting claims, but no definitions. It is impossible to resolve the relation of God’s immutability and time without knowing what exactly immutability and time are! Leithart promptly goes to the Bible, which is the right move, but instead of clarifying a single meaning, he identifies two mutually exclusive meanings and says we must have both! God cannot be glorified in logical contradictions, no matter how “mysterious” we want to proclaim them to be. Open that door and we can do all sorts of gymnastics upon the same basis: The Bible says that God’s eyes roam to and fro over the earth; the Bible also says that God is a spirit, which means He has no body; well, the Bible says God has eyes, and God has not eyes, so we must affirm both! Clearly this is absurd, and no one resolves anthropomorphisms of this nature by arguing that “somehow” God has and also has not body parts.

We needn’t resort to affirming contradictions anyhow. The word Leithart identifies as “change” is nacham, and means to repent, regret, be sorry, comfort, console oneself, or be comforted. The key idea here has to do with how God is positioned toward His people. In 1 Sam. 15:29 God is rejecting Saul, and Samuel wants Saul to be clear that God is beyond persuading, i.e. there is no repentance that can bring about restoration—God is not like men, who will be comforted by your efforts to appease him. In Exod. 32:14 Moses is interceding with God to spare the people for His name’s sake. Clearly this is in line with God’s eternal desire, and so here God accepts the mediation of Moses, for it is for God’s purposes to relent from destroying Israel. Has God “changed His mind” or was it that He never intended to wipe Israel off the face of the earth in the first place? Just because the language is put into dramatic form doesn’t imply that we toss out what the Bible elsewhere affirms about God’s eternal willing. Resolving the issue doesn’t require affirming the contradiction, nor does it require a definition of God’s relation to time wherein God is undergoing some change within Himself toward the people whom He is addressing or being addressed. We don’t even need to attempt to distinguish reprobation and election in these passages, but only that God is disposed to impose or relent of wrath on the basis of intercession actual or potential. That God exacts the consequences of sin at one time and does not exact them at another does not entail that God is changing His mind, or changing anything regarding His dispositions toward those upon whom the consequences fall.

So when Leithart wants us to accept that God changes, but does not change his mind and attempts to support this claim by explaining how God is both “active” and “responsive” in Creation, he isn’t giving us any logically sound definition of time and change upon which to evaluate his claims. Leithart simply does not define what is response or responsiveness. His affirmation that God passes judgment is not proof that God is responsive, for we can identify judgments of God that are not responsive at all, since they precede the existence of the things to which He would be responding—i.e. when God judges men elect or reprobate prior to creating them, he is not responding to something they have done, but is imposing judgment actively, determinately, without response. Leithart affirms that “God does all things according to the council of His will (Eph. 1:11), and yet God also responds to, reacts to, and passes judgment on things that He Himself has performed. He responds to prayers with showers of blessings. He responds to rebellion with flaming wrath. He mourns over the city and the people that refuse to receive Him. God, the changeless God, is a responsive God.” But this isn’t proof of Leithart’s claim, but mere assertion. We can just as easily assert that these judgments and consequences aren’t something God is “doing” in time, but are the entailment of what He “has done” from eternity—namely, decided that at time T, X would occur to Y on the basis of A. There is no compelling demonstration for Leithart’s claim, but insofar as we accept election and reprobation from eternity we prima facie affirm that God does judge, evaluate, and act from eternity in ways that humans experience in time, without the entailment of God somehow changing something about Himself or His doing in time.

Which brings us to the problem of time itself. Augustine defined time as a quality of created things, thus God’s “entry” into time can only be truly expressed in Christ’s human nature in the Incarnation. God’s actions are not “in time,” but rather human experience of God’s acts is durative rather than immediate. If Leithart wants to disagree with Augustine, then he needs to put forth a definition of time. Instead Leithart says, “God is changeless, but we must define changelessness the way the Bible does and in a way consistent with our Trinitarian convictions. We must be careful not to fill the word ‘changeless’ with whatever content we think is appropriate. For instance, one might argue: God is changeless; any action is change; therefore, God doesn’t really act. When the Bible says He acts, it’s speaking ‘anthropomorphically.’ But that’s not the way the Bible defines ‘changelessness.’ Obviously God does act, and all the time; He works from the beginning until now, Jesus says. We can’t conclude from God’s changelessness that God is motionless. In short, we should affirm both sides of this apparent contradiction between God’s changelessness and His responsiveness.” But how can we affirm what has not been defined or identified? What are changelessness and responsiveness? Descriptions of Biblical events aren’t definitions of these terms. Leithart admonishes us to avoid importing our own meaning to a word, but then instead of giving us a Biblical meaning to use, he simply says it is obvious from the descriptions offered by the Bible.

I would think that Dr. Leithart would know that a description is not the same as a definition. Saying, “this object is hard, sharp edged, and gray” does not a rock define. Nor is saying, “God changes His mind, and God does not change His mind” a definition of God’s changelessness and “responsiveness.” It describes two statements made about God from Scripture, but does not distinguish their meaning or their difference from each other. Leithart’s primary problem is that he takes a change in man’s nature or temporal status to indicate a change in God’s relationship to man: “In short, God has planned everything, but part of what He’s planned is a change in His relationship with us. This is not only explicit in various passages of Scripture, where it is said that God changed His mind [a statement Leithart has asserted, but not proven, as my counter-explanation above has demonstrated], but it is evident from the very nature of the gospel. What can we say about a man who is a rogue apostate, living in flagrant disobedience to God, preying on every attractive woman he meets, backbiting his business associates and cheating his business competition? Are we justified in saying that he is the object of God’s wrath? Certainly. What if he converts? Has God’s attitude toward him changed? Certainly. He has moved from wrath to grace; before God regarded him in Adam, but now He regards him in Christ. God had not shown favor; then He does show favor. That’s what conversion means.”

This is terrible theology. It takes what we observe—a man’s transition from death to life—and identifies it as a change in God’s evaluation. But Scripture affirms that God chose us in Christ from before the foundation of the world, which means God has regarded us in Christ while we were sinners. God does not view the elect who have not yet been converted as reprobate, nor is He disposed toward them in wrath. They are called children of wrath because that is the realm in which they are still living, but that isn’t how God regards them, for otherwise it could not be said that He has elected them in Christ from eternity. They are only “in Adam” insofar as their nature has not yet been changed, but from God’s determination, from His evaluation of them (which, by the way, is always from the view of the individual’s end—glorification or condemnation) is from the nature He shall grant them upon conversion. What Leithart has done is taken the classical Arminian view of God’s relationship toward men in salvation and generalized it out to God’s relation to time. For the Arminian, God responds to what He has planned from eternity because He is dependent upon the free will of the individual to accomplish the plan. Leithart avoids the LFW problem, but keeps the dependency of God to be disposed one way or another on the basis of the temporal conditions of the individuals He has created. The Creator is rendered a passive agent. I don’t take this to be what Liethart believes himself to be saying, but rather I affirm it as an implication of what he has said. It is sloppy thinking, and the saddest part is that he doesn’t need it in order to support the arguments regarding the objective aspects of the Covenant identified in my previous post.

Musings on Federal Vision

Musings on Federal Vision

Below is a review of two articles articulating the basics of Federal Vision. The first article is a short one by Peter Leithart, which also has two other short articles that go along with it. The other two articles deal with an "identity" crisis and the question of who gets to defined what "Reformed" is, neither of which are really what I'm concerned about specifically. The other article is a lengthy one, and I've only interacted with the part that deals with articulating what is Federal Vision. The rest of the article I may get to, but for now I'm sticking with the basics of the viewpoint.

Leithart: Systems & sub-systems

1. The issue of time & eternity. Leithart recognizes that God’s eternality and determination imply that God knows the reprobate as such throughout the existence of the reprobate’s life regardless of what sort of circumstances occur within the reprobate’s life, such as a confession of faith, brief evidences of fruit, etc. Yet his qualifications of “hear and believe the gospel for a time,” “really taste the Spirit and the powers of the age to come,” and “real, if rocky, relationship with God in Christ” are left undefined. In what sense can it be said truly that God shows “grace” to the reprobate? Is it really grace, for example, when God provides the reprobate with a taste of His Word such that the reprobate attempts to abide in God’s commandments and so reaps the blessings of the positive consequences of godly behavior—is this grace when we consider that the reprobate’s ultimate rejection of these “graces” means an increase in the outpouring of God’s wrath upon him? Any attempt to put aside the eschatological implications or significance of every aspect of an individual’s existence is not only narrow-sighted, but denies the very point Leithart would grant—that God is determining the ends from the beginning. If God has chosen to categorically hate from eternity those whom He reprobates, then even the apparent blessings of the earthly life of the reprobate are expressions of God’s wrath upon the reprobate in the form of stored up wrath. To argue that this “temporal” view is reprobation “sung in a different key” is actually a “colorful” way of affirming the contradiction that God is gracious and wrathful toward the ones He hates—it is a denial (by implication) of the eternality of God’s dispositions toward men.

2. Leithart says that the “register” of the doctrine of man is different between FV and the Alternative Reformed View (henceforth ARV) while the doctrine itself is the same. The ARV’s “substance” view is opposed to the FV’s “radically relational” view. The problem with this dichotomy is that it can easily be rendered false by a simple proposition. Leithart says that “a substance view would say that human beings are what they are because of God’s purposes and acts,” which in itself does not imply what he says next: “But even there, the person’s connections with other humans does not significantly affect or determine who or what he is.” If God’s purposes and acts determine what is man, then are not God’s “purposes and acts” of placing a man in “radical relation” to other men an expression rather than a denial of the “substance” view as Leithart described it initially? Why should we set up a dichotomy between God’s purposes and actions in the abstract and God’s instantiation of those purposes and acts in history through the various relations of life? I think we can recognize in Leithart’s false dichotomy many contemporary Reformed thinkers, or even contemporary Reformed congregants, but that is not to fault the doctrines themselves, but those who have misunderstood and therefore misapplied them. What is needed is not a new understanding or significance of baptism and communion, but rather an understanding that is consistent with what is already recognized as true—as opposed to the oft-contradictory beliefs and practices of modern Presbyterians (to use an easy example) that do not operate faithfully to the more abstract doctrines, which they affirm. The problem, it seems to me, is not in the formulation of doctrine, but in the understanding of doctrine.

3. I agree with Leithart on the ultimate futility of a natural/supernatural distinction, for it seems to imply that there exists a category in which the supernatural (God) is inactive, which is impossible. However, it is important to recognize that there is a difference in how God acts within redemptive history. Distinctions between God’s special activity and His sustaining activity—distinctions within the economy of God’s activity in history—are necessary and helpful. This is especially true when we consider “grace” in its normal soteriological sense, as opposed to the broad sense in which Leithart seems to wish to use it. If we take “grace” so broadly as to include ALL of God’s activity in Creation with no distinctions, then we have divested grace of all meaning and made it synonymous with all of God’s activity toward man. But this is untenable when we recognize that God acts from a disposition of wrath toward the reprobate and a disposition of love (and therefore grace) toward the elect.

Minich: Within the Bounds of Orthodoxy

1. The Objectivity of God’s Covenant People. We run into the same problem that Leithart exhibits in Minich’s explanation of the FV view of Covenant. If God is eternal and His dispositions are unchanging, then asserts a contradiction to declare that God “loves” or “unites to Himself” to those whom He ultimately “hates” and “divides from Himself.” If we are going to affirm that God’s covenant is only for the elect, and the elect are only those chosen from before the foundation of the world, then the validity of the covenant can only be identified with the elect. Yet this does not imply that there is no sense in which the reprobate may enter into covenant with God, nor that the term “elect” may be applied in different and broader sense (Israel was an “elect” nation, without all its members being “elect” for justification from eternity). The very fact that God holds the nations accountable to the Law is evidence that all men owe God something by law, and the covenant (though not exhaustively defined by legal terms) is essentially a forensic agreement.

Admitting this lays me open to the charge of reducing “covenant” to the same category as “law”—a charge I leveled against Leithart with regard to the term “grace.” The distinction comes in recognizing that covenant also bears a special meaning—and this is where the FV debate really has merit (no pun intended) in raising the question of how Christians who are ultimately reprobate are to be understood within the blessings and cursings of the Covenant of Christ. I think it is helpful to use the analogy of the Law here. Just as all men are obligated to obey God’s Law, not all men are made capable of obedience. What makes a man capable of obedience? As Augustine affirmed, taking his cue from Paul, who took his cue from the OT, it is only by God’s providing the grace to obey that anyone is made able to obey. This grace is given in the vital union with Christ and the gift of the Spirit—a grace that is grounded in individual’s eternal union with Christ on the basis of God’s election of the individual from eternity. So the grounds are from eternity, applied in time through the new birth, and made complete in glorification at the end of the Age.

More distinctions are required, for how is it that some can “taste of the heavenly gift and share in the Holy Spirit” and yet be reprobate? I don’t think that the author of Hebrews is declaring anything other than the objective aspects of being in the community of Christ’s Body and in the presence of His Word in Scripture and the Sacraments. The participation in these tangible marks of Christianity do not necessitate that God has indeed graced the individual as one elect unto Christ from eternity. Yet they are experiences of God’s more explicit self-revelation, just as the Israelites having been given the Law was a special experience not afforded to the Gentile nations. Note well that when Jesus tells his disciples how to identify truth from error in the Church, he does not point to baptism and the covenant meal, but rather to fruit in keeping with repentance. If by apostasy Minich is including not only denials of doctrine but also rejection of the law in the believer’s practice, then perhaps we are in more agreement than disagreement on this point. Still, one must be careful not to overrealize the signs of the Covenant (baptism and communion) as though they confer God’s eternal favor to all who profess to take them by faith. The Church must treat such professions as genuine, and any ecclesiology that tries to identify subjective realities is usurping the authority of the Spirit, but to make the signs identical to what they signify is to both undermine their nature as signs and to involve God in a contradiction in his dispositions toward men. The issue in this section may be the fact that the way terms were defined in the Reformers has shifted dramatically in the present—this makes sense as the present age struggles mightily with making categorical distinctions. The objective nature of the Covenant is where I find the most helpful aspects of the FV, but it is also where one must be the most careful in explaining one’s terms, for just as when evangelicals used the term “salvation” to mean the definitive act of regeneration, whereas the Reformers included justification and sanctification under the same term, so too many Reformed folks today limit the term “election” and “union with Christ” to the indwelling of God’s Spirit unto life, rather than in the fuller sense of the observable or objective standing of those in Covenant with Christ by profession and/or household baptism.

2. The sacraments. Again, I am very sympathetic to the FV position with regard to the purpose and significance of the sacraments. Baptism is a mark of citizenship in the Kingdom of God, which means that—objectively speaking—one has been freed of one type of legal debt (slavery to sin) to be placed under a new legal debt (slavery to Christ). How am I to know that I am a Christian? Why, because I have been marked by the brand of the King in baptism! It is a call to be what you have been called out to be. That many will ultimately prove imposters is no threat to either the sign or the promise of God, for the promise of God is general not universal, or, it does not extend to every particular individual within a category. That God saves the remnant of Israel is proof that His promise is yes and amen, notwithstanding the fact that His promise is stated generally to “all Israel.” So too the promise of God “to the nations.” God saves all nations generally, not all nations universally. God’s promise is to you and your children and to all who are far off generally, but not universally. The Christian can be confident that God’s promises are for his children, while not shirking the normative means by which God has commanded in order to call our His children from death to life. But if one is to acknowledge and even emphasize the objective nature of the sacraments, then one must also doubly emphasize the evidence of fruit in the life of the believer—for this will be the confirmation that one is abiding in the reality that the signs (baptism and communion) are signifying.

3. The Unity of God’s Gracious Covenant. Minich’s opposition of legal and personal or relational has the odor of false dichotomy. Modern connotations of law are essentially negative and impersonal, but there is no cause to reject the identification of love and law. Rather, the Scripture affirms that love is revealed in law, and law is fulfilled by love. David loved God’s law because he recognized that God’s law is an expression of God’s love for His people. Calvin’s recognition and emphasis upon the primary use of the Law as a guiding light for the believer in the pursuit of godliness is sorely ignored in modern theology. Reconstructionism is, in my opinion, the best understanding of the Law as it relates to God and to man—it is God’s expression of the nature of His relationship to man, and His expectations for how man is to love God. Christ willingly, joyfully submitted to the Father’s commands because these commands were the bonds of love. We all inherently recognize the necessity of boundaries for our relationships because boundaries define what is safe or unsafe, just or unjust, loving or unloving, in how we express ourselves and interact with one another. Boundaries are laws. Thus, to say that the Covenant is legal, but also personal is really bordering on tautology.

Law is pervasive, for law is really the means for defining what relationship exists. The FV gets it right, though, in recognizing that there is no merit in human fidelity to God’s commands. We can speak of Christ meriting favor with God by His fidelity, but even this obscures the fact that Christ’s obedience was really nothing more or less Christ’s being what He was by nature: one with God. We must recognize that although Adam was created “perfect” in the sense that he was sinless and made according to God’s design, this does not mean that Adam was complete in the sense of his being the full expression of the image of God. Christ is the express image of God, and Adam was but the prototype to the real paradigm. Adam is incomplete because he is made positionally righteous, but not ontologically righteous—Adam is not created in sin, but created with the capacity for sinning. Christ is not only born sinless, but is ontologically incapable of sinning by virtue of His being God, who is sinless by nature, and not simply by status. If we take merit to mean simply that there is an entitlement to blessing by virtue of having met the law’s demands we have no problems. The problems arise when we try to identify from when the power to obey arises. Clearly the power to obey must come either by an inherent nature, or by imposition from an external nature. Human nature is not empowered to obey apart from the imposition of God’s own nature—for God alone is incapable of sinning. Thus only the God-man is a human nature inherently empowered to obey. When we have been glorified, we will be partakers of the divine nature completely (this is the best meaning for what the Church Fathers said when they said man’s purpose was “divinization”), whereas now we are partakers partly in the payout, and partly in trust—we await the redemption of our bodies.

4. Christ-centeredness of the Gospel. I don’t see anything particularly different in this section from the previous ones concerning the objectivity of the Covenant and the sacraments. One’s justification is manifest in the fruit one exhibits. If there is not fruit, then one has not been justified. This does not imply that the fruit is what confers justification, but rather that fruit is the necessary consequence of justification. Again, this is a classical Reformed distinction. Where I differ from both FV and most ARV proponents is in my view of justification as eternal. Justification is an act of God, accomplished only by God, and categorized as a disposition of God (God disposes Himself toward me in love in election, and thereby disposes Himself to me in grace and mercy in Christ, which requires God to dispose Himself to me as one who is just—for God will not unite Himself to evil). The legal fact of justification for the elect is eternal, for our inclusion as heirs with Christ is eternal. The historical fact of justification is at the cross, where Jesus pays the penalty for sins, bears the wrath of God to satisfy His righteousness or justice, and secure for the believer the application of soteriological benefits when God calls him forth from death to life in regeneration. Faith, as the instrument of justification, is entirely passive and publishes the declaration of justification to the conscience of the believer, by which he may subsequently publish to the world by confession that “I too am a partaker in the cross of Christ, which secures my righteousness before God.” The believer cannot declare “I am justified because my faith has apprehended” without the object of faith being also asserted, “that is, apprehended that my debt was paid to God by Christ’s propitiation on the cross.” God has already justified the believer in Christ, which is temporally prior to the believer’s apprehension by faith, just as God’s legal decision to punish Christ and so justify us was made in Christ’s agreement to suffer for the elect in eternity—hence the Scripture’s affirmation that Christ was crucified from before the foundation of the world. A friend of mine distinguishes the two aspects of justification as “objective” (eternal justification) and “subjective” (justification as it is apprehended by faith). This same friend says that we are justified by faith alone because we have been given faith by justification alone.

5. Speaking God’s words to God’s people. I find little value in the distinction of the “phenomenological” language of the Scripture and the “language of abstraction.” Scripture speaks in concrete and abstract terms, and the old standard recognition of anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms as God’s condescension to human incapacities is much preferable. The point about theological formulations being limited by their historical context OUGHT to be obvious to anyone who has had a conversation with one person in one situation only to have a conversation on the same matter with someone else in a different situation be quite distinct, while expressing something quite identical in meaning. Unfortunately people don’t like to think contextually and they’d rather just affirm what someone else has said before doing the work of translation into a new situation. Again, the analogy of Law is helpful. Theology is a science for determining universal truths or principles concerning God, Man, and their relations, yet application of general principles is accommodated to the specifics or particulars that alternate or differ from one point in time to another. The command, “thou shalt not commit murder” implied in Ancient Israel that Israelites build fences on their roofs, for people hanging out on roofs needed to be protected from the harm of falling. Insofar as a culture no longer walks about on rooftops for social interaction, they don’t need that application of the law anymore, but will need another—another that Israelites may not have needed. So too some emphases of theology find a different or more acute application during one period and place in time than another, but the truth of the principle remains unchanged. Living “trinitarianly” in downtown metropolis will have different practices than in rural Prairieville, but they’ll both have the same principles. The point is that God’s words to God’s people are flexible and fixed: flexible in the sense that their expression may look different in one time and place than another (Israel describes God as a shepherd, which meant a whole lot more than just tending sheep in the Ancient world, though today that is about all it means), but the principles or “abstract” meanings are what must remain fixed as the expressions are adjusted to new contexts.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m continuing to familiarize myself with ideas, while seeking to avoid falling into the inconsistencies that crop up in how different people express themselves differently. I welcome any corrections, corroborations, or general comments. My biggest problem with FV, as far as I’ve been able to discern its arguments, is in its attempt to attribute grace and union with Christ to the reprobate. It is folly to argue that God can give grace (love) in time to those He hates from eternity, or unite Himself in time to what He has disunited Himself to from eternity. These sort of things pit God against Himself, and add nothing by way of clarity to the relationship between the elect and reprobate within the Church. On the human level, a union with Christ applied to both elect and reprobate alike destroys the possibility of the assurance of salvation for the elect—the doctrine of perseverance is undercut. If the elect are united to Christ and the reprobate are united to Christ, then upon what are the elect able to base their assurance that they are Christ’s truly, and not falsely? The Scriptures are clear that we may know the hope that is within us is certain—that God is our God who loves us eternally, died for us, and will bring us home to Him through all the pains and toils of this present life. Without an assurance of these truths for ourselves, then God’s promise does little to free our consciences of His wrath toward us.