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Monday, December 30, 2013

R.S. Clark on the Free-Offer of the Gospel

R.S. Clark writes here:
Those predestinarians who deny the free offer usually do so because of some form of rationalism, i.e. they’ve set up things so that, unless they can provide a comprehensive explanation of how something works, it can’t be. Thus, because they can’t see how God can both predestine the elect and the reprobate and freely offer salvation to all, they conclude that it cannot be. They reject mystery. In contrast, the mainstream of orthodox Calvinism, including Calvin, has always embraced the mystery and paradox of the free offer. The Synod of Dort (whence the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism”) embraced this mystery: 
Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel (Canons of Dort, 2.5).
I posted on Clark’s site but he elected not to publish my post but rather email me.  I wrote:
What does it mean when a Calvinist says that God desires the salvation of the non-elect? Are we to believe that God desires men to regenerate and unite themselves to Christ? That’s what Arminians believe – that regeneration follows self-willed saving faith. The Calvinist who wants to argue for the free-offer should do so not like the Arminian but rather by arguing that God desires that He Himself would sovereignly regenerate the “reprobate” unto union with Christ and salvation. The question for the Calvinist is not whether God desires the reprobate to turn and live (Arminianism) but whether God desires to turn the reprobate so that he can live. I think the error of the free-offer should become clearer to the Calvinist when cast in that light. Cast in the light of “salvation is of God” – is it reasonable to think that the Holy Spirit desires to turn the reprobate toward himself when the Father did not choose the reprobate in Christ? Moreover, Christ did not die for the reprobate, let alone does he pray that the efficacy of the cross would be applied to the reprobate. Consequently, it is not available for the Holy Spirit to unite the reprobate to the finished work of Christ, lest the Trinity works at cross purposes.
In a word, not only can God not save the reprobate - 2000 years ago He punctuated that inability. For God to desire the salvation of the reprobate is to say that God – today – desires that Jesus would have died for the reprobate 2000 years ago. What can God desire in this regard other than the past be different? Does God live with any sense of regret?
It’s not rationalistic (but it is rational) to abandon a theological viewpoint when it undermines cardinal tenets of one’s theology – as does the free-offer as it stands in relationship to the soteriology of Calvinism and the internal consistency and coherence of the Godhead. No amount of mystery can resolve a blatant contradiction.

In response, Clark informed me by email that Calvinists have taught the free-offer. Correction, he informed me that Calvinists "HAVE" taught the free offer. He even assured me this was true by asserting it was “a fact.” Maybe that sort of thing settles matters in Dr. Clarks's classroom but bald, un-argued assertions don’t get far with me (even if they're shouted and proclaimed as "fact"). Let alone, in this case, Clark’s assertions did not address my post to him, which was not aimed at disputing what I believe to be a dubious account of Reformed history on this matter but rather the theological inconsistency between the free-offer and those tenets of Reformed theology that Clark and all Calvinists do confess.

Clark then added to his rhetoric by talking down to me, which too might gain him an edge in his classroom but not here. He suggested that I might not understand what is meant by the free-offer of the gospel.  
Moreoever, it's remarkable that a professor of theology thinks that this doctrinal statement is not compatible with the denial of the free-offer (and that it actually supports the free-offer): “Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel (Canons of Dort, 2.5).”
What’s equally interesting is that Clark has recently written this on his site:

Rather, when our theologians spoke of the “evangellium oblatum,” i.e., “gospel offered” in preaching, they believed that it entailed a well and sincerely meant revealed divine intention that whoever believes should be saved.
Seems to me that the target just moved, or else Clark doesn't understand what the free-offer entails! Certainly no Reformed person who denies the free-offer would take issue with the sincerity of “whoever believes should be saved.” The point of contention, which Clark the historian has missed, is whether God desires salvation for those not elected unto salvation (and not whether God sincerely desires salvation for all who believe).
As noted elsewhere on this site, my primary concern with WSC is not their error per se but their proud and erroneous insistence that their view is the Reformed one.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Confusion Over The Transcendental Argument For The Existence Of God

Generally speaking TAG is a deductive argument, but it is unlike all other deductive arguments. What sets TAG apart from garden variety deduction is that with the latter we begin with some truths (or inferences) and reason to others – but unlike transcendental arguments that to which we reason is not presupposed as a necessary precondition for the intelligible experience of the original fact of experience (or its denial). For instance, “If causality then God” merely means that causality is a sufficient condition for God and that God is a necessary condition for causality. Which is to say: if causality exists then it is logically necessary that God exists. However, such a premise does not delve into the question of how God and causality relate to each other. It does not tell us whether God exists because of causality or whether causality exists because of God. Causality presupposes God says more than causality is a sufficient condition for God and that God is a necessary condition for causality. If causality presupposes God then God must be logically prior to causality.

The transcendental argument for the existence of God is an argument that has as its conclusion God exists.

Prove A: The Christian God exists.
Step 1 ~A: (Assume the opposite of what we are trying to prove): The Christian God does not exist.
Step 2 (~A--> B): If God does not exist, then there is no intelligible experience since God is the precondition of intelligibility
Step 3 (~B): There is intelligible experience (Contradiction)
Step 4 (~ ~A): It is not the case that God does not exist (Modus Tollens on 2 and 3)
Step 5 (A): --> God does exist (Law of negation.)

Whereas professing atheists are willing to concede the validity of the above argument Christians should happily concede that the argument is not only not fallacious (i.e. valid) but also sound. In other words, although professing atheists and Christians alike agree that the above argument has a valid form – i.e. the conclusion follows from the premises – Christians should agree that since the premises are all true and the form is valid the conclusion is true. But unfortunately Christians don't always grasp this point.

Christians often say that TAG does not achieve its goal because not every worldview is refuted in the argument. Such a claim simply demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the scope of TAG. The above argument is aimed to prove that God exists, which it does. To deny that it does is to reject logic and / or biblical truths. Again, the argument above has a specific conclusion, God exists. The conclusion of the argument is not that if God does not exist, then there could be no intelligible experience. In other words, the above transcendental argument does not aim to prove that God is the precondition for intelligible experience, though that is a premise used in the argument which is why the argument is transcendental. That is where Christians who oppose TAG get tripped up. They don’t appreciate what is being argued.

So what about step 2 of the argument? We can defend the premise of step 2 deductively by appealing to the absolute authority of Scripture. Of course the unbeliever rejects that authority; nonetheless that the unbeliever is dysfunctional does not mean that an appeal to Scripture is fallacious! After all, if a skeptic rejects logic should we then argue apart from logic? Since when does the dullness of an opponent dictate which tools of argumentation may be used? Of course, given the unbeliever’s suppression of the truth the Christian does well to defend step 2 inductively by performing internal critiques of opposing worldviews, which of course can only corroborate the veracity of step 2. It would be fallacious, however, to conclude because of such condescension toward the unbeliever that the conclusion of TAG (God exists) and the justification for its step 2 (God is the precondition of intelligibility) rest upon inductive inference. By the use of induction the Christian is merely acknowledging that the unbeliever refuses to bend the knee to the self-attesting Word from which step 2 can be deduced by sound argumentation. Since unbelievers will not accept the truth claims of the Bible and, therefore, a deductive defense of step 2 the only thing the Christian can do is refute the hypothetical competitors, but that hardly implies that step 2 cannot be proved by deduction.

Finally, it has been noted by some and popularized by Don Collet in the Westminster Theological Journal that the only way a transcendental argument may be formalized is thusly (TAG*):

C presupposes G if and only if both 1 & 2:
1. If C then God exists
2. If ~C then God exists

Given such a construct, we are no longer negating the metaphysicality of causality but rather the truth value of the predication of the metaphysicality of causality. In other words: ~causality (which is chaos) does not presuppose God so for the construct to make sense it must pertain only to prediction about causality. In other words, since non-causality is an impossible entity that defies creation, providence and intelligibility, such a formulation of TAG (TAG*) limits itself to predication only. Does the apologist really want to do that? Do we want to give up arguing that God is the precondition for the intelligible experience of actual causality? I think not. TAG* (as opposed to TAG) is indeed powerful but it does not pertain to anything other than predication; whereas TAG may pertain to predication and the reality that the predication contemplates.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Letham Footnote on Adoption in Christ

"The current tendency, influenced by the pressure of gender-inclusive language, to refer to believers as "sons and daughters" of God is misleading, blurs this vital truth, and has the effect of blunting the church's appreciation of what union with Christ entails. Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father, and is so eternally; that is his name and that is his status. It is not a sexual term, for God is not a sexual being. By referring to Christian believers as "sons," the NT is not, under the influence of patriarchal culture, bypassing half the human race. Instead, it is pointing to our shared status with the Son of the Father, in and by the Holy Spirit. The introduction of talk of "daughters" obscures this point, placed at the hub of the Christian life." Robert Letham, Union with Christ (In Scripture, History and Theology), P&R Publishing, 2011, p. 54, fn 19

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

John Piper on God and Fathers

"The children will have years of exposure to what the universe is like before they know there is a universe. They will experience the kind of authority there is in  the universe and the kind of justice there is in the universe and the kind of love there is in the universe before they meet the God of authority and justice and love who created and rules the universe.
Children are absorbing from dad his strength and leadership and protection and justice and love…
And all this is happening before the child knows anything about God, but it is profoundly all about God. Will the child be able to recognize God for who He really is in His authority and love and justice because mom and dad have together shown the child what God is like?"
I recently read those thoughts, which were attributed to John Piper. I’m informed they came from This Momentary Marriage (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009) 143-144.

It’s hard to believe that anyone who claims to be Reformed could write such things. Thankfully, children have a priori knowledge of God through which they encounter him in every intelligible experience. Unfortunately, the author has not encountered Calvin’s Institutes, Book 1, at least in any lasting, impressionable way, let alone Bavinck, Van Til or Romans 1.

I appreciate the author's desire to see fathers reflect God's character. Notwithstanding, who is the father to teach his son about, a god who can be encountered only after the child is exposed to his earthly father's love (or hate)? Thankfully, children are spared this sort of thinking because they don't read the author, but father's who drink him in are not so fortunate.They are told they must teach the child about God before God can reveal himself to the child. The undiscerning father can get a warped impression of the magnitude of his influence upon the child, which can (i) put undue pressure upon the father (ii) cause the father not to rely upon God to do what only God must do and (iii) cause the father to think that the child has no innate knowledge of the Divine and that the child can only know what God is like through knowing what his father is like.

Regarding iii, by these calculations a child cannot be culpable for his sin because his sin would be against a god who is thought to be (at no fault to the child) imperfect just like his father, which implies no true God at all. Accordingly, No God => No Transgression...And, No Transgression => No Culpability. Moreover, this type of thinking suggests that a child cannot know his father is sinful because the child supposedly has no innate understanding of righteousness by which to assess his father's love.

The Piper quote above fits quite well with his view of invincible ignorance, which I touch on here.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

More Leithart, Confession and the SJC

It is being argued by some that a tactical error was made by the prosecution, that they argued from the Confession more than Scripture. I think arguing from the Confession was the right move.

Peter Leithart vowed to uphold the system of doctrine taught in the Confession. Accordingly, in many ways it is much more efficient (and effective) to argue from the Confession and not Scripture.
Consider, not all who embrace the Confession use the same verses as proof-texts to demonstrate particular confessional doctrines. Yet those doctrines the Confession teaches are to be upheld regardless how one arrives at them. Yet if one arrives at them in an unsatisfactory manner, it weakens his case. Consequently, tactically speaking it’s safer to reference the clear statements found in the Confession.

What became a slightly more tricky part of the case is that although the WLC Q&A 68 mentions common operations of the Spirit that unbelievers may have, the Confession does not say too much about it; yet the writings of the Federal Vision, including Leithart’s, use this slice of doctrine as a kind of launching pad for their confusion over union with Christ. Their tactic has been to weave into the Federal Vision fabric (i) equivocal statements regarding baptism, (ii) the blurring of the visible and invisible church distinction and (iii) the common operations of the Spirit in the life of unbelievers. Yet even with all that to deal with, the Confession is sufficient to argue against such sophistry because the Confession not only does not affirm what Leithart has written it unambiguously denies his writings on these matters. That’s why I think using the Confession as a primary standard in the case was not only acceptable but even the best course of action.

That brings me full circle. I think it’s disgraceful, this Monday morning quarterbacking regarding what the prosecution did not do. The reason being is that it's most of the same people who are blaming the SJC for not upholding for the prosecution. Yes, the whiners want to have it both ways. They want to find fault with the prosecution's case and with the SJC for not agreeing with the case the prosecution delivered. What's even worse is the SJC is not only being faulted for the outcome of the case, but in the process the committee members are being accused for not being confessional and even worse being dishonest for not siding with the prosecution.

I can only wonder if the SJC would have responded differently to another approach, one that didn’t put Leithart’s beliefs on trial (whether intentionally or unintentionally), but instead ended up prosecuting him for his writings. When Leithart interpreted his writings in a very selective way that was more agreeable with the Confession, it should have been argued that the literal interpretation of his writings do not comport with his exegesis of them. That, of course, would have led to an impasse of sorts, unless something extraordinary happened. Then it might have been established that his writings both presupposed and implied that he thought he had discovered or rediscovered something novel for the church, but given that he really hadn’t it could have been proved that he was, therefore, unaware what Reformed theology has affirmed all along, that the visible church is to be regarded as God’s people. So, either Peter Leithart never understood the Reformed faith to begin with or else his writings were not intended to have been in concert with the Reformed faith in the first place (yet he now interprets them as such.) Again, I only mention this Monday-morning approach to the case because I don’t think the SJC was handed Leithart on a silver platter by any stretch, but they are being accused as though he had been.

Finally, after reading the transcripts I can say that I would not have wanted to have been in Jason’s shoes (or on the stand either). I thought some of Jason’s statements were very good and downright clever at times. I have no hard feelings over how the case was prosecuted and I have nothing but respect for the SJC and all those who poured their hearts into this matter these past several years.

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Saturday, April 06, 2013

How The Leithart Case Might Have Been Argued

Here I first wrote these thoughts (below) on Federal Vision back in June of 2010 on Greenbaggins. I have inserted recent comments in [ ]. Everything else is from June of 2010. Every bit of what is below applies to the Peter Leithart trial, but this sort emphasis and pursuit was for some reason not employed by the prosecution. Rather, witnesses for the prosecution were allowed to get distracted, yielding to hobby horses like the nature of grace and works in the prelapsarian covenant; law-gospel confusion promulgated by Escondido;and the imputation of the "active obedience of Christ" verses Christ's (perfect) righteousness. Now for what might have been basic to the trial, all of which, again, applies to Peter Leithart's theology:

1. FV affirms “that God formally unites a person to Christ and to His covenant people through baptism into the triune Name” and that “Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church”
2. FV affirms “ that through our union with Him we partake of the benefits of His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father.”
From 1 and 2 we can discern that Baptism automatically yields in at least a “formal” sense all the benefits of Christ’s work through a union that automatically is transmitted through the washing of water.
3. Yet FV also denies “that baptism automatically guarantees that the baptized will share in the eschatological Church.”
Those statements might seem to imply that existential union occurs at baptism (by the working of the works) yet that existential union can be lost since baptism does not guarantee a place in the “eschatological Church”.
4.However, FV also denies “the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration—i.e. that an “effectual call” or rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized.”
Accordingly, for me to make sense of all of this (1, 2, 3 and 4), I might be inclined to think that what FV means by 1 and 2 is that through water baptism one is united to the visible Church (this being the “formal” union and engrafting to which they speak), but because baptism does not automatically bring forth the new birth (4), there can be those who only share in the outward administration of the covenant as portrayed in 1 and 2, and consequently not end up saved in this life (4) and the life after (3). [Those sentiments are what Peter Leithart basically affirmed on the stand.] If that is all the FV means, then why not say, as the WLC Q&A 31 teaches, that the CoG was made only with Christ as the second Adam and with all the elect who would be united to him in the new birth? In other words, why not conceive the promise of the covenant of grace as pertaining ONLY to the elect, although administered to the entire visible church? If that is what FV means, then what have they brought to the Reformed church other than confusion (at best)? If that is not what they mean, then what are they trying to say? [The prosecution indicated a sense of this when WCF expert Robert Letham was on the stand. Yet the prosecution never pursued the matter with Leithart, the man on trial.]
I think they mean more because (a) Federal Visionists believe they have more to offer the church beyond the confessions, and (b) they make much to do about the identical union that all have through baptism. One prominent Federal Visionist says that the “same sap” runs through all the branches of the Vine, whether elected unto final salvation or not.

[A key point that remained absent from the prosecution's questioning is that Peter Leithart along with Federal Vision thought they had new insights. After all, Reformed is not enough. Accordingly, if nothing in Leithart's testimony was new to Reformed thought, then either he was not being truthful or he did not understand basic Reformation, confessional-theology in the first place. Either way he his credentials would be suspect. Furthermore, the prosecution applied statements of Leithart's to the invisible church when Leithart claimed they applied to how we are to regard members of the visible church. (Such was even done  as late as yesterday on Greenbaggins by the prosecutor in the case.) Yet the incongruity of the plain meaning of words was not pressed to the point of two possible conclusions, perjury or unclear communication, again both unbecoming of officers in the church.

Yet the real point of contention in the case was the quality of "faith" the reprobate can have even though its "duration" was admittedly not unto glory. Leithart drew a proper distinction, teased out by a lawyer on his side of the case, but the workings of that theology and how it relates to other points of theology was left uncovered by the prosecution. The "common operations of the Spirit," the real crux of the matter, was not thoroughly dealt with. It wasn't even superficially dealth with, which I found odd given that the case boiled down to the manner or degree in which the unbeliever can be united to Christ and participate in kingdom life.]

Case in point – a pastor now associated with Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches candidated at my church prior to our considering and calling our existing pastor. While enjoying a cigar with this man on my porch on the Lord’s Day he preached to our congregation, I challenged him on some of his FV leanings. His position at that time was that there are those who are engrafted into Christ that share in the same operations of the Spirit as the elect. I challenged this man, asking him to elaborate on the elect’s assurance (even infallible assurance) of salvation given his view that some with the same measure of the Spirit can and will fall away from Christ. In other words, if those with the witness of the Spirit can fall away, then how can assurance of final salvation be obtained in this life? His response was concise and without ambiguity. Without pause he said that he took exception to the Confession’s chapter on assurance of grace and salvation. Although we finished the cigar and went back to evening service, I was confident at that very moment that this man would not receive the call. When I emailed the pastor to tell him my verdict and what my recommendation to the search committee and session would be, he responded by saying that he misspoke, went back and re-read the Confession and actually can affirm that men can be assured of their salvation. I was thrilled to hear that he came around on the matter but disheartened that he had such a fragile handle on the matter. That is just ONE reason why I don’t find most Federal Visionsists heretical but rather simply muddled. That man, BTW, was ordained in the OPC and actually at one time had pastored a church in the denomination.

“We affirm that there is only one true Church, and that this Church can legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of visible and invisible."
This is one of the most troubling statements of the FV. [Though even that has been met with disagreement of late at Greenbaggins by two non-FV people citing Berkhof and Hodge. See recent post of mind of days ago, which addresses the matter.] The statement communicates that there is only one church, which can be described in terms of its being visible and invisible. The implication of such a construct is that the invisible church and the visible church are the same church. From that false premise comes much confusion and outright error. To make the point more clearly, consider the following modification of the statement: We affirm that there is only one true God, and that this God can legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of transcendence and immanence. The modified statement, which uses the same construct of the FV statement, clearly communicates that the one transcendent God is the same God as the immanent God. That is true. Transcendence and immanence are simply two aspects of the one God. Is the FV statement true in this way? Is the visible church the same church as invisible church? The FV statement clearly implies that they are one and the same; for it states that there is “only one true Church” that can be described in various ways, like visible and invisible. How can they claim such a theology and also claim to be Reformed?
In contrast to FV theology, now consider Reformed theology: “The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all…The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”
Note the difference. Within Reformed theology the invisible and visible churches are not the same church. The invisible church consists of the elect who will all possess Christ, whereas the visible church consists of those who profess Christ. On that basis alone, the FV may not be considered “Reformed” in any sense of the word.
It is not a matter of whether these men are muddled or ravenous wolves; their doctrines are at best confusing and at worst damnable. I also agree with Lane ["Greenbaggins"] when he intimated that this matter would not beep nearly as much on the reformed radar screen if the proponents of FV confined themselves to one locale, say the CREC. In the end, I do believe the fire has been well contained and that the ones who remain within the confines of the PCA are on a very short leash, under close watch and at best smoldering. They have been given a fair hearing in many quarters and consistently have been found wanting. For that we can all be grateful. June, 2010

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Friday, April 05, 2013

The SJC, Whiners and Moving Targets

There are sundry complaints floating about regarding the SJC's decision regarding the Peter Leithart case. (i) The SJC should have overruled the presbytery’s decision. (ii) By not doing so the PCA condones or will be perceived as condoning Federal Vision. (iii) The BCO needs to be amended.
Those three complaints seem to be a progression of thought. Once it became apparent that the SJC might have exercised good principles in not overturning the Presbytery’s decision the unhappy crowd turned to a pragmatic argument, the ramifications of the SJC’s decision not to overrule the Presbytery’s decision. Now that those assertions are being challenged and debunked, the flavor of the day seems to be the supposed weakness in the BCO.

Regarding (i), we must keep in mind that the SJC was not permitted to take into account any evidence other than those things pertaining to the trial itself. Imagine, for instance, the SJC basing a guilty verdict on evidence not argued at the trial. To have done so would have been to find a man guilty without him having an opportunity to defend himself.
Regarding the trial itself two thoughts come to mind regarding Peter Leithart’s testimony. First off, nobody seemed to rejoice that Leithart affirmed Reformed theology under oath. That alone tells me that those going after him (before, at and after the trial) were doing so with a vengeance. It’s a sad day when people would sooner see a man censured than confess orthodoxy. (I saw the same thing with the Kinnaird trial.)

Secondly, a link I was sent included this quote from the Aquila Report.
“Leithart’s tactic in defending himself in trials has been to deny that the language he uses means what everyone for hundreds of years has agreed that it means...”
If that is indeed Leithart’s modus operandi, or at the least his reputation (whether true or not), then why wasn’t it anticipated by the prosecution? Even if not anticipated, if Leithart's testimony was at odds with his writings, then shouldn't he have been pursued at the trial on the basis that if he has not violated the ninth commandment under oath, then he is not fit for the office of teaching elder due to equivocal language on crucial points of theology? Yet that conclusion was not argued at the trial. Given that reality, on what basis could the SJC overturn the verdict? The trial testimony showed Leithart to be Reformed in all his dealings and based upon (i) the SJC was not in a position to try the prosecution's case for them.

Regarding (ii), the PCA does not condone Federal Vision. Their study report was superior and appropriately more nuanced than even the OPC’s, and it spoke out against the theology of Federal Vision. Now I suppose it’s possible for one to sincerely infer that the PCA condones Federal Vision, but I don’t think for a moment that those who are saying such things today really believe it. In any case, let someone bring forth an actual argument that the PCA condones Federal Vision; or that the implication is they do; or that it might be rationally inferred that they do. (One problem is, the ones asserting such things also don’t realize that there were no actual arguments presented to indict Mr. Leithart. Secondly, a movement wasn't on trial, a man because of his theology was.)

Regarding (iii), how is the BCO to be amended without becoming Episcopalian? Do we really want to see Presbyteries rely on the SJC more than it should?

I see all this as a fine providence and outright victory for Presbyterian government. If a man is guilty of something, the presbytery better do its job.

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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Invisible-Visible Church Confusion

I was recently met with resistance over at Greenbaggins (not by Lane) over the notion that the invisible church and the visible church are two "perspectives" on the same church. My position is that the invisible and visible church distinction is not two perspectives on the same church, but rather a tool to help us to consider how to regard the institutional church in light of the fact that "not all Israel is Israel."

First off, some terms are in order. The invisible church is the elect of God throughout all ages. The visible church is defined by the same Westminster Confession of Faith as those who profess the true religion along with their children. The Westminger Larger Catechism expands upon this definition of visible church to include those throughout all ages.

Let's now employ the terms to get a better understanding of things.

Christ died for the church. In that sense the church in view is the invisible church, though the institutional church is to be regarded as those for whom Christ died, the elect. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, which we can assume included non-elect people. Accordingly, Paul wrote to a sampling of the visible church, which he regarded as part of the invisible church - those for whom Christ died (the elect alone).

Now for some polemical thoughts aimed to address some muddled musings that are shared by Federal vision people and non-Federal Vision people alike.

It is logically fallacious to define the church (or any entity for that matter) in contrary terms and then to predicate opposing definitions to the same entity. We may perceive God as holy and also as love and rightly say these are two true perspectives of the same God. The reason being, they are both true of the one God. However, given that the invisible church is comprised of the elect alone and the visible church includes non-elect people, we may not say that the visible and invisible churches are two perspectives of the one church, lest the church may be defined by mutually exclusive propositions. It's called equivocation. In this case the problems results by taking the cliché "one church from two perspectives" literally and not thinking through the implications. Hodge employs this phrase as did Berkhof.

When I argued this point on Greenbaggins I was met with an appeal to "perspective." However, appealing to "perspective" is simply evasive because perspective is only relevant when the subject of predication is comprised of at least both propositional perspectives, which requres they not be contrary. One who perceives God as love and another who perceives God as holy need not be thinking of two different Gods. But to think of the church as that which is comprised of the elect alone and to think of that same definition of church as including non-elect persons is to predicate two contrary definitions to the same church, which is not to think logically (or truthfully) about the same church. Perspective has nothing to do with it.

The simple solution to the question at hand is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith. It discusses the visible church and invisible church not as two different perspectives on the same church, as if the same church can be comprised of contrary propositions. Rather, the visible and invisible distinction is simply one that aids in informing us to treat or regard the visible church as if it were the same as the invisible church. This distinction actually presupposes that the visible church is not the invisible church and it also presupposes that the two concepts are not complimentary perspectives of the same church! Again, if both perspectives are true predicates of the same entity, then the two perspectives cannot be contrary; yet elect alone does not comport with elect plus non-elect.

Now then, if one agrees that sound theology would have us distinguish between the visible and invisible church then he would not be far off from realizing that we are to treat the visible church as if it were the same as the invisible church. The distinction of the visible and invisible church exists to inform us how to regard the visible church - as if it were actually the invisible church, though it is not by definition regardless of "perspective." 

Again we see that analytic philosophy is needed in the church today more than ever because this sort of confusion is not only found in the Federal Vision movement. Indeed, if the non-Federal Vision had a better appreciation of these things Reformed churches would not have been so mystified and captivated by the movement of Federal Vision.

(As a side note, A.A. Hodge's "commentary" on the Confession is no commentary at all. He simply used the Confession as a platform for his theology, much of it good.)

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Sunday, February 03, 2013

10 Point Refutation Of A Common Argument For Infallibility

A common sentiment among Roman Catholic apologists is that discrepancy between Protestant denominations over doctrine implies that the Bible alone is not effective in settling all doctrinal differences. What we need is an infallible magisterium proven by the fact that there is no substantial doctrinal agreement among Protestants.

Ten points:

1. Protestant confessions go beyond the gospel of the Substitutionary Atonement, the essential doctrine all Protestants agree upon.
2. A confession that goes beyond the teaching of the gospel can recognize, as the Westminster standards do, that not all doctrines are equally plain. (WCF 1.7) In fact, Peter called some of Paul’s writings difficult to understand. (2 Peter 3:16) So, it’s not surprising that there are differences among believers. In fact, Scripture teaches that doctrinal differences are necessary in order to show who has God’s approval. (1 Cor. 11:19) It's no wonder that Paul didn't just point to the papacy instead of Scripture, or that the papacy wasn't invoked in Acts 15.

3. It is fallacious to conclude that disagreement implies non-clarity. Otherwise we’d have to conclude that God’s existence is not clear because professing atheists disagree with theists on God’s existence. (Romans 1:18ff)

 4. If we lump Rome in with all the rest of Trinitarian Christianity (and apply the fallacy of “disagreement implies lack of perspicuity”) then the disagreements among the set of all Trinitarians, including Roman Catholics, would imply that all doctrine held by Trinitarians is dubious, even Rome’s
5. How is it that Scripture is clearer to the Roman magisterium than to the Westminster Divines (for instance)? A Roman Catholic’s only appeal is that Rome says so. For as soon as the Roman Catholic reaches for his Bible to prove his point he undermines his conclusion that Scripture is “not an effective final infallible source of doctrine.”Not only do Roman Catholics believe Rome on her say so alone; they are unable to check her claims against Scripture because Scripture is apparently unclear and not effective in settling such matters. (BTW, Mormons have a similar problem.)

6. Why should we believe it is more difficult to reconcile James with Paul than it is to reconcile Vatican ii with Trent? After all, Protestans have no problem reconciling James with Paul, whereas Vatican ii and Trent contradict each other even to many professing Roman Catholics (who typically but not always opt for the new face of Rome.)

7. There is no OT precedent of infallibility (yet there has always been disagreement over Scripture). Given no such precedent, the burden of proof from a logical standpoint is not upon Protestants to disprove infallibility, which has been done ad nauseam by comparing Scripture with Trent etc., but upon Rome to positively prove infallibility. Yet how can one possibly prove Roman Catholicism from Scripture if Scripture is not effective in such matters?!

8. Given the Roman Catholic view of the ineffectiveness of Scripture to settle doctrinal matters, the conclusion of an infallible magisterium rests 100% upon Rome’s claims regarding infallibility. To accept such claims is hazardous and not available to one who has heard, been taught and learned from God. (John 6:45)

9. Epistles written to the church presuppose the perspicuity of Scripture for the laity.

10. Rome cannot provide a syllogism with propositions drawn from Scripture that proves the infallibility of Peter or a succession of infallible popes. 
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Friday, February 01, 2013

Unity & John 17

Roman Catholics and undiscerning Protestants miss the point of Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17. They think that this unity is to be found in a denomination.

This unity for which Jesus prayed takes place when believers are baptized into Christ. The fullest expression of this unity is love. Just as the Father is in the Son, Jesus prayed that the church might too “be in us” so that “the world may believe” that Christ was sent by the Father. The world cannot see the reality of believers "being in us", but it can witness love. So, Jesus is very clear that the witness to the world is love and the source of that witness is union with Christ and in him union with the Holy Trinity: “I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.” Jesus went on to pray: “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." Finally, Jesus closed his prayer with these words: "I have made you[ known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

There we have it. Through union with Christ the love of the Father for the Son may be in those in Christ, just as Christ himself indwells the believer. Yet many Roman Catholics, like Bryan Cross, think that unity entails all believers falling under one “Bishop” at Rome. But quite the contrary is the case. After all, Jesus prayed that his people might be kept from the evil one.

Only love is sufficient to demonstrate the harmonious nature of true unity. Yet, as we are well aware this side of glory, being part of the same denomination is not sufficient to display love, let alone unity.

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Romanist's Fallacious Argument From Silence

 Bryan Cross recently wrote over at Greenbaggins:
"I make the claims and arguments I make about infallibility because I believe them to be true and sound. If you think something I have said is false or unsound, please show it to be false or unsound."
That Rome contradicts Scripture does not persuade Bryan Cross that he is wrong about infallibility. Yet I have a more fundamental problem with Bryan’s remark - namely his fallacious argument from silence.

Prove Bryan's "argument" about infallibility is unsound:

1. There is no OT precedent of infallibility. (From Scripture, which Bryan does not dispute)

2. The burden of proof is that Bryan proves infallibility in the NT church. (From 1 and def. of fallacious argument from silence)

3. Bryan has yet to put forth a proof for NT infallibility, only assertions. (Observation)

4. Bryan's shifting of onus to a demand that one must prove infallibility wrong is nothing more than a fallacious argument from silence and, therefore, to be considered invalid. (From 2 and 3)

5. Invalid arguments are always unsound. (def. of valid and sound arguments)

6. Bryan's argument is unsound. (From 4 and 5)


Bryan has been repeatedly asked to produce an argument that begins with Peter as the "the rock" and concludes with a perpetual, infallible magisterium located in Rome. Maybe one day he'll take up the challenge or else abandon the claim.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sophistry and Confusion is Integral to Romanism

Bryan Cross from "Called to Communion" recently wrote this on Greenbaggins:

"But when a Catholic attempts to reason with a Protestant about, say, the gospel, and the Catholic appeals to the pope and the authority of Trent, etc., he begs the question, because the Protestant does not accept the authority to which the Catholic appeals. And likewise, when a Protestant attempts to reason with a Catholic about the gospel, and the Protestant appeals to his own personal interpretation of Romans 3, that begs the question, because the Catholic doesn’t accept the authority [i.e. personal interpretation] to which the Protestant appeals. That conversation isn’t going anywhere, because both persons are each appealing to paradigm-relative standards. So the conversation will go on for years, even five hundred years, or the communities will just turn their backs on each other and give up (and the back-turning isolation will remain for even five hundred years). To get over that hurdle, both sides have to recognize the paradigmatic nature of the disagreement."
I wrote to Bryan:
"1.  It’s interesting that when a Protestant points to God’s word you call it an appeal 'to his own own personal interpretation…' but when a Roman Catholic appeals to the pope and councils you don’t portray those appeals as reflecting mere opinion of the Roman Catholic, but rather you presuppose that what is inferred by the Roman Catholic is as equally true as the doctrinal pronouncement. In other words, nothing is lost in the translation for the Roman Catholic. And when it comes to the gospel, why there is perspicuity within Rome that cannot be found in Scripture is a curious thing, especially given that Rome was to have based her gospel upon Scripture.
2. You suggest the 'conversation isn’t going anywhere because…' of different authorities to which the Roman Catholic and Protestant appeal. But rarely, if ever, have I seen a Roman Catholic appeal to the pope or Trent to make his case. Rarely does one find a Roman Catholic assert 'the pope has said so and that settles it.' No, the Roman Catholic makes appeals to Scripture because Scripture, so it is claimed, is an authority for Rome, just not her only authority. Indeed, the faithful Catholic won’t interpret Scripture so as to undermine his understanding of Roman Catholic teaching, but notwithstanding he does attempt to reconcile James with Paul by the analogy of Scripture. That’s why I find it rather misleading to index the Catholic-Protestant impasse to a Protestant’s subjective understanding of Scripture versus a Roman Catholic’s appeal to the clear pronouncements of popes and councils. At the very least, doesn’t a Roman Catholic try to justify the very idea of the popes from Scripture? Or is his reasoning so circular that he would dare to justify the papacy from an appeal to the papacy?

Sundry implications
Can Rome produce an infallible tradition not found in Scripture that has its origins with the apostles? Of course not, which leads to the question – If Scripture does not inform the Roman Catholic magisterium about what Scripture has to say, then who or what does? To deny that the popes affirm the analogy of Scripture for the magisterium is to reduce Scripture to brute particulars that have no discernible coherence, which would mean that the magisterium with respect to interpreting Scripture must be making things up as they go along and that any appeal to Scripture is disingenuous at best. Therefore, it’s not so much that Rome denies the intelligibility and lucidity of Scripture. Rather, Rome would have us believe that Scripture is only intelligible and clear to the magisterium. Consequently, individual Roman Catholics should not, as they do, appeal to Scripture to justify the Roman Catholic communion and the church’s need for the popes. Rather, Roman Catholics should be consistent by simply pointing to the authority of the popes to defend the claims of the popes, and once they do that then yes, we will be at an impasse. That, however, would be an admission of being a blind follower of something other than Scripture, which is an embarrassment for Roman Catholics yet a necessary implication of their view of the church and Scripture.

In sum, as soon as a Roman Catholic argues from Scripture he denies the need for an infallible magisterium. Once he points to Rome apart from Scripture, he shows himself to be a blind follower of something in the face of Scripture."

~ End of my response to Bryan ~

Roman Catholics such as Bryan find themselves on the horns of an epistemological dilemma and in turn fall into a form of skepticism. By placing a mediator between God and men they render God’s living word inoperable. If their authority is Rome, then Scripture is rendered useless because any interpretation of any passage of Scripture must await adjudication for one to know what Scripture is saying.  Yet when a Roman Catholic reads Scripture they demonstrate that an infallible magisterium is unnecessary to know the truth. Roman Catholics live in a tension that they cannot reconcile. We all get that I think.

Roman Catholics pay lip service to the authority of Scripture, for given an apparent discrepancy between Scripture and tradition Scripture always loses. Whereas Protestants can become more Reformed and move toward the OPC! :) For instance, Scripture teaches that all miracles appeal to the mind through the senses. Now then, imagine that Jesus looked as though he were sinking in water yet claimed to be walking on it. Or imagine that the Israelites drowned in the Red Sea but that tradition said they crossed over on dry ground and only looked as though they drowned. Should we believe such testimony in the face of contrary truth? So it is with the hocus-pocus of the mass. We are told we must believe, lest we risk hell(!), that the bread and wine has changed into the body and blood of the Lord; yet the elements continue to manifest the physical properties of bread and wine. Not only is there no biblical precedence to accept such obviously false claims, in principle we are warned and commanded not to do so! Yet such blind, irrational faith is required for one to be a good Roman Catholic. Yes, the demands are high, maybe because the stakes are so high. The skepticism created by Romanism begets doctrinal infidelity. No, demands it!
Finally, Scripture has always taught that Scripture itself is to judge the teachers of God’s word. After all, if we were to allow the teachers to judge the Scriptures then the rejection of Christ by the religious leaders of his day would have been justified. There would be no Christianity! So it is with Rome. By placing herself above the Scriptures she too has fallen away - no less than the Jews. Or should we measure damnable heresies by degree? Roman Catholicism actually presents a bigger problem to true believers because she does hold to enough truth to be a more superior tempter.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

John Robbins on 1st Table of The Law

 In Slavery & Christianity, John Robbins penned these words:

“In Romans 13 Paul makes it clear that the proper role of civil government is the enforcement of the so-called second table of the Ten Commandments: Romans 13:9 explicitly mentions adultery, murder, theft, false witness, and covetousness. Civil governments have no power over the mind, and so they have no authority to enforce the first table of the law.”

It’s often difficult to know where to begin untangling enthymemes due to the nature of unspoken premises. We can add to those difficulties the ambiguity of such phrases as “no power over the mind,” noting that whatever the phrase was intended to mean a consistent use of the phrase - the same meaning throughout the relevant context that is, may be demanded.

Robbins does not seem to be arguing:  “Romans 13 only teaches that government may enforce the second table of the law; therefore, government may only enforce the second table of the law.” That, of course, would be an argument from silence of the fallacious variety and to transfer the word "only" most improperly.
At the very least Robbins appears to be arguing that Romans 13 only teaches that government may enforce the second table of the law and since civil governments cannot extract what is in a man’s mind they cannot possibly enforce the first table of the law, nor can God expect them too.

A few observations are in order:
1. Although the second table reference pertains to all relationships, which would thereby include relationships with individuals who are to wield the sword, in verses 8-10 the persons in view are not qua state persons but merely all individuals without distinction. John Murray is correct that a transition occurs in verse eight of Romans 13, from whence man’s relationship to the state gives way to an imperative pertaining to all relationships. Verse seven brings a line of thought to its conclusion, underscored by the translation “therefore”.  In verses 8-10 the apostle moves on to address love toward neighbor as the fulfillment of the law (hence the reference to second-table law), and love for neighbor has little to do with the state’s responsibility to punish criminals, a prime import of verses 1-7.

2. Robbins seems either to base, or at least corroborate and bolster, the conclusion that civil governments have no authority to enforce the first table of the law upon the premise that civil governments have no power over the mind. Robbins: “Civil governments have no power over the mind, and so they have no authority to enforce the first table of the law.” [Bold emphasis mine.]

Yet if a lack of power over the mind (insert your own definition of what that means) is a sufficient condition to prohibit the enforcement of the first table of the law by civil governments, then either God was wrong to require Israel to enforce such laws, or else power over the mind was some sort of supernatural gift given under the Law that has now ceased in the newer economy.

Moreover, three of the four laws contained in the first table are not typically (and two can't be) confined strictly to the mind but are manifested in observable actions, not unlike second table tansgressions that demand civil sanctions. Therefore, it would be hasty to conclude that sins against the first table cannot be sanctioned because they are only confined to the mind - as if they do not entail observable displays of blasphemy and rebellion which, by the way, can be an immediate source of second table sins. (i.e. Erode the first table and the second goes with it.)

3. Robbins takes the references to second table sins as either establishing or at least corroborating his view that the civil magistrate is to be concerned with the second table. And although it is true that the civil magistrate is to be concerned with the sins contained in the second table, not all sins mentioned in verse 9 are punishable by civil magistrates, like covetousness. Covetousness is a sin of the mind, over which (Robbins informs) the government can have “no power” (again, whatever that means). Accordingly, the references to the sins from the second table cannot successfully be used to argue that sanctions are to be confined to the second table simply because covetousness is not a punishable sin, though its manifistation in action can be.
Robbins does footnote:

“They [civil governments] do have the obligation to obey the so-called first table of the law. God’s law governs all individuals and institutions. There are no exceptions for presidents and kings.  That means, for example, that no one should be permitted to take an oath – either in court or on being inaugurated into office – on any book other than the Bible. Swearing by Allah or Zeus is worse than useless: They are not the truth.”

Robbins does not merely state that no one should take an oath on any book other than the Bible. No, Robbins clearly states that not one should be permitted to take such an oath. But doesn’t that presuppose some form of enforcing the first table of the law, the very thing Robbins says governments may not do?!
Generally speaking, I find it rare to find such inconsistency within such close proximity of itself; yet it's my experience that such is common place when one tries to escape the civil demands of God’s law, whether first or second table. That is not intended to be a slight against John Robbins, to whom I am exceedingly grateful for having faithfully promoted the works of Gordon Clark. Rather, I would simply use Robbins as an illustration of the obvious inconsistency and arbitrariness that results from denying the authority of God's law over civil rulers.

Heidelberg Catechism

Question 100. Is then the profaning of God's name, by swearing and cursing, so heinous a sin, that his wrath is kindled against those who do not endeavour, as much as in them lies, to prevent and forbid such cursing and swearing?

Answer: It undoubtedly is, (a) for there is no sin greater or more provoking to God, than the profaning of his name; and therefore he has commanded this sin to be punished with death. (b)

(a) Prov.29:24 Whoso is partner with a thief hateth his own soul: he heareth cursing, and bewrayeth it not. Lev.5:1 And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity. (b) Lev.24:15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. Lev.24:16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD, shall be put to death.
Westminster Larger Catechism

Question 108: What are the duties required in the second commandment?
Answer: The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one's place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.

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