Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Mind Matters

Apart from saturating one’s mind with the persons and works of God, how does one expect to live his life in accordance with who God is and what he has done for us in Christ? Certainly one with less understanding can be more sanctified than another with more, but how is grace bestowed an excuse for theological complacency?

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Clark on Gaffin, Insufferable

Recently I paid a visit to Professor R. Scott Clark’s site in an effort to set straight a misrepresentation of Dr. Richard Gaffin’s view of water baptism. Below is the thread. My last response, which is included in the thread below, has been deleted from Professor Clark’s site. Dr. Gaffin did not weigh in. The first post labeled “Gaffin:” is I believe an accurate quote of his, supplied by a Christian named Sean.

The reason I am posting the thread is the Escondido crowd is quite influential. Obviously they influence their students. Should their students end up in pulpits they will influence the church even exponentially. So, why not play a small part in putting out a word of caution on their insupportable assertions?

I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the courage and integrity of WTS in Philadelphia. Our prayers are with you as you navigate through the roads ahead.

Gaffin: “Baptism signifies and seals a transition in the experience of the recipient, a transition from being (existentially) apart from Christ to being (existentially) joined to him. Galatians 3:27 is even more graphic: “Those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” . . .Consequently, the transition described in [Ephesians 2] verses 5f. as being an object of God’s wrath(v.3) to experiencing his love (v.4). takes place at the point of being joined (existentially) to Christ [50_51].”

Sean: The way of salvation proposed by Gaffin in R&R is through the water of baptism and existential union with Christ – not by mere belief alone in truth of Scripture and the message of the Gospel.

Ron to Sean:

Dear Sean,

Dr. Gaffin clearly notes that he’s speaking of what baptism signifies and seals in the experience of the believer. [Actually, he's speaking of that which baptism signifies and seals in the experience of all persons who receive water, as they are God's signs and seals regardless of their efficacy. Being God's signs and seals and not man's testimony of what God has actually done, the sign and seal need not convey the reality of actual conversion.] He goes to greater pains than the apostle to flesh out that he’s not speaking of a Romish working of the works, or anything of the sort. Even a cursory reading of his writing bears this out. You’re willing to read the apostle in light of the Westminster standards (and rightly so), where it states: “There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other” Yet for some reason you are unwilling to render to Dr. Gaffin the same measure of charity, even when he actually prefaces his statement by referring to signs and seals.

I see this sort of thing quite often from you Sean. I hope you will wrestle with whether you don’t have the acumen to deal fairly with your opponents, or whether you are willing to bear false witness intentionally.


Dr. Clark to Ron:

Hi Ron,

I don’t think it’s quite fair to ask us to treat Paul and Dick Gaffin in the same way. In the case of Scripture we’re interpreting ad hoc letters and drawing inferences etc. In the case of any contemporary theologian we’re reading a text in the light of 2000 years of Christian reflection on Scripture. Further, in the case of a confessional Reformed theologian we’re dealing with a person writing in an established tradition with an established set of categories and a fixed vocabulary for addressing basic questions such as union with Christ and justification. Further, in the case that Dick defended Norm for most of thirty years we’re entitled to read what he says in that light and all the more when he is not absolutely clear about the doctrine of the standing or falling of the church. For example, as late as 2003 Dick was still speaking (I don’t know what he says today) of a two-stage justification or an already and not yet aspect to justification. This is just wrong. There is no “not yet” aspect to justification. There is a “not-yet” aspect to our vindication, indeed, our vindication at the judgment is entirely “not yet.” Had Dick not pressed justification into the “already/not yet” scheme, we could have avoided misunderstanding.

The older Reformed theologians did not speak of a “not yet” aspect to justification because they understood that was what the entire Reformation was about! Rome said, justification has been initiated but not consummated. I realize Dick meant something else by it but we already had language for the distinction he was trying to make.

So, reading Paul is one thing, reading Dick Gaffin is another.

Ron to Dr. Clark:

Dear Scott,

I don’t see the relevance of Dr. Gaffin’s support of Norman Shepherd or his already-not-yet paradigm as it pertains to justification since we were to be considering Dr. Gaffin’s words as they pertain to Galatians 3:27 and Ephesians 2:5. All Dr. Gaffin (following Murray) has noted in that particular snippet supplied by Sean is that in the application of redemption, signed and sealed in baptism, a real transition occurs from being a child of wrath to that of recipient of love and grace in Christ. That reality occurs through the existential union in Christ as opposed to at the cross (or in the eternal election-identity one has in Christ). It would seem that Sean would have us believe that Dr. Gaffin attributes the elect’s existential union to a magical working-of-the-works, which you will be hard pressed to find in any of Dr. Gaffin’s writings given his unequivocal repudiation of Romish baptism. Consequently, your appeal to Dr. Gaffin’s support of Shepherd and a two-stage paradigm of justification fails to support Sean’s claim regarding Dr. Gaffin’s alleged view of water baptism.

Having said all that, I am not here to support Dr. Gaffin’s view of justification, even as it is put forth in his most recent essay Justification and Eschatology. In fact, I find much of what Dr. Gaffin wrote unclear, if not troubling. Notwithstanding, I’m not about to give up union-with-Christ language (as some are so quick to do); nor will I allow it to eclipse the Reformed theology of imputation, alien righteousness and the final open-vindication of our justification (by grace through faith), which I think Dr. Gaffin is also jealous to guard.

Some of my problems with Dr. Gaffin are:

1. Dr. Gaffin denies that a person is partially justified according to a process of justification. (That much is good.) Yet he affirms that justification unfolds in two steps. I see that as taking away with one hand that which is granted with the other. The two-stages would seem like a process that is merely separated by the time that extends from conversion to the Day of Judgment. I would have less of a problem if he fleshed out a significant difference between the two justifications, like if he noted that the second does not include the forgiveness of sins. If he’s done that, I’ve missed it.

2. Dr. Gaffin asserts that one is not justified [openly] in the first justification anymore than he is resurrected bodily at that time. But is the reason this is so due to God not yet gathering all mankind before him, or is it because we have not yet been glorified in the body? I sense from Dr. Gaffin’s writings that it’s because men have not been changed ontologically, which if so would mean that our justification is incomplete (implying process) due to a change that must still occur in us, a problem indeed. If one’s reasoning were that we await a second justification before a watching world, then I could more easily attribute that (second) justification to that of a public vindication. That, however, is not Dr. Gaffin’s view as I understand it because he clearly affirms a forensic aspect to the second justification similar to that of the first.

With those concerns in view, I wish that men would begin to substitute “justification” with “forgiveness of sins and considered righteous before God for Christ’s sake” in every theological discussion of this sort. I think it might then become exceedingly glaring that if we’re justified (i.e. forgiven, etc.) now, then there can be no justification of that sort to come later. For how can one be irrevocably forgiven and declared righteous once and for all, and then once again?

As wisdom is vindicated in her children, so will our forgiveness be vindicated by our deeds wrought in Christ by the Spirit on the last day. To call that “justification” in a discussion such as this is equivocal at best. I’m concerned that Dr. Gaffin means a bit more than that.

To bring this full circle, I hope you can appreciate my narrow concern as put forth in my first post. I don’t think it is helpful (let alone truthful) to impugn Dr. Gaffin’s doctrine of baptism when his writings on that matter have been clearly Reformed and uncontroversial.


Dr. Clark to Ron:

Hi Ron,

As I’ve said many times (e.g. on the PB) I see no warrant for speaking of a two-stage justification or already/not-yet aspects to justification. As far as I know the only aspects are already and forever. The distinction is between justification which includes both the forgiveness of sins (the negative) and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (the positive). I think Paul says something about “having been justified…”

Glorification is not justification but a consequence of it. What we should say is “vindication” relative to the judgment.

As to baptism I’ve written a good deal about it and I can’t accept Dick’s language. See the pamphlet on baptism and the article on baptism or the Exposition of the Nine Points.
Baptism is a sign and seal but creates no more existential union with Christ than circumcision did. Esau was a member of the visible covenant community. That’s all.

Murray could and did err. By his own testimony he set out to revise Reformed covenant theology. It was an experiment that didn’t work. We’re all fallible. Having rejected the visible/invisible distinction or the internal/external distinction folks are bound to get into all sorts of unnecessary tangles.

Ron to Dr: Clark

“Baptism is a sign and seal but creates no more existential union with Christ than circumcision did. Esau was a member of the visible covenant community. That’s all.”

Dear Scott,

Dr. Gaffin never stated nor implied that baptism creates existential union. He merely stated that “baptism signifies and seals a transition in the experience of the recipient.” [Whether the recipient is a believer or not is of no consequence since the sign and seal is God's testimony to the world, the church and the converted.] It was Sean and now you who wish to impose upon Dr. Gaffin a theology that would have the existential experience indexed to the washing of water. That rendering is not supportable by any of Dr. Gaffin’s writings. If it was, then one could find it on the Trinity Foundation website! :)

As for your remarks on Murray, we’re not talking about whether the Mosaic covenant was purely an administration of the one Covenant of Grace (a position I affirm and you don’t). My reference to Murray had to do with his view that a transition occurs when one who is eternally identified in Christ as elect becomes united to Christ existentially. That existential union is signed and sealed in baptism, which is not the same thing as saying that it is created by baptism - the doctrine you dare to impugn Dr. Gaffin with.

Moreover, it is simply absurd to think that Gaffin or Murray somehow missed the visible / invisible church distinction. Clearly they understand / understood that the one covenant of grace was established with the single Seed of Abraham (Christ as the second Adam), and in him with all the elect. Genesis 17; Galatians 3; WLC, Q&A31 Whereas it is to be administered to those who profess the true religion along with their households.

I’m pleased to let this matter rest, Scott. It’s clear to me after two tries that you are not going to engage my point. I’m not even sure you have understood it.

In His grace,


Dr. Clark to Ron:


Murray explicitly rejected the visible/invisible distinction. Check it out. It’s in his collected writings. I don’t know what Dick thinks about it. We’ve never discussed it, but Murray’s criticism of it helped create the pre-conditions for the FV nonsense.

Baptism is a sign and seal of what is true of those who believe. Why make it more complicated?

Ron to Dr. Clark:

Dear Dr. Clark, (please forgive me for not extending you that courtesy before)

When I said you can have the last word, I was speaking of your willingness to impugn Dr. Gaffin with a view of water baptism to which he does not subscribe. Now you’ve claimed a source for Murray’s alleged misunderstanding and total rejection of the visible-invisible church distinction.

Murray understood the theological distinction all to well, which is why he made the practical observations he did. My Brother - did you actually read Murray’s article in Volume One, or did you just read the title of chapter 31 and assume his meaning in haste? I sincerely have to wonder given what you’ve now said, which by the way pales insignificant in my estimation to the allegations levied against Dr. Gaffin regarding water baptism.

With respect to Murray, he was merely jealous to guard against the abuses that readily come with the view toward an invisible church, such as what he called the overlooking and suppression of corporate responsibility, noting that “[Invisible] is a term that is liable to be loaded with misconceptions… and tends to support the abuses incident thereto…” Indeed, Murray noted that “there are those aspects pertaining to the church that may be characterized as invisible. But it is to ‘the church’ those aspects pertain…” Accordingly, Murray recognized the term “invisible” – he just was careful to regulate the term within the context of the Christian’s responsibility to, and the grace found within, the institutional visible-church. In a word, Murray was guarding against the putting asunder of that which God had joined in his word, the invisible aspects of the church to Christ’s visible institution. Murray was merely dealing with a problem of his day, which is only more evident in ours.

I’m afraid that the mission, no crusade, of Escondido will not be stopped with reason. I sincerely hope that God will be merciful to those who so carelessly misrepresent saints for whom Christ died.

In the bonds of Christ,

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Evidence, Apologetics & the Resurrection

Induction, the basis for all scientific inference, presupposes the uniformity of nature, which is to say it operates under the principle of the future being like the past; yet the resurrection of Christ from the dead is contra-uniform since it does not comport with past experience. Our experience is that people die and are not raised three days later. Also, we’ve all met plenty of liars and those deceived into embracing false beliefs (even dying for false beliefs!) but we have never observed a single resurrection of the body. Accordingly, the lives and martyrdom of zealots need not lead us to conclude that Christ has risen. Consequently, drawing an inference based upon past experience as it pertains to the question of the empty tomb is not very useful. Evidentialism indeed fails as an apologetic. After all, given only the uniformity of nature coupled with personal experience, a more probable explanation for the empty tomb is a hoax put on by liars rather than a miracle put on by God. The same reasoning applies all the more to the virgin birth I would think.

The fact of the matter is that we do not come to know that our Savior lives by examining the evidence according to some alleged neutral posture, for the facts do not demand the conclusion that Christ has risen. The facts are indeed consistent with the resurrection but the facts do not speak for themselves let alone lead us to the Christian conclusion, which is no conclusion at all but rather a starting point! God speaks in order that we might interpret the facts aright. The fact of the empty tomb, therefore, is not what leads us to the "conclusion" of the resurrection but rather the empty tomb corroborates what we already know from God, that Christ is resurrected.

Similarly, we read in Scripture that a man named Saul who once opposed Christ became the chief apologist for the Christian faith. The way in which one will interpret the transformation of Saul to Paul will be consistent with one’s pre-commitment(s). Christians take the fanaticism of the apostle as corroborating what they already know to be true about the resurrection. The fanaticism of the apostle no more “proves” the resurrection of Christ than does the empty tomb. Moreover, neither the empty tomb nor the life of Paul proves the resurrection any more than it can disprove it by proving that a conspiracy to overthrow ancient Judaism took place evidenced by the hoax of the resurrection. The point is simply this. Naturalists will find their explanation for the apostle’s transformation and the empty tomb elsewhere, outside of the Christian resurrection interpretation. Similarly, the way in which one interprets the facts surrounding Joseph Smith will be according to one’s pre-commitment(s). If one is committed to a closed canon, then the claims of Mormonism will be deemed false.

Of course the tomb is empty, for Christ has risen. Of course the apostle Paul preached the resurrection of Christ with all his heart, soul and strength, for Christ has risen. Of course the Mormon religion is a cult, for Jesus is God and the canon is closed. Do we come to believe these things by evaluating supposed brute particulars in an alleged neutral fashion or are our beliefs already marshaled according to our pre-commitment to God’s word in general and the resurrection in particular? Do the “facts” speak for themselves or has God already exegeted the facts for us?

The reason one believes that Christ has risen from the grave is because God has revealed the truth of the resurrection. In fact, we don’t just believe God’s word on the matter, we actually know God is telling the truth. Yet, unwittingly, often times Christians do not speak the truth with respect to why they believe in the resurrection. Too often Christians will say that they believe in the resurrection because of such evidence, which if true would reduce one’s confidence in God’s say-so to speculation based upon supposed brute facts that (would) readily lend themselves to suspicion (when God’s word is not presupposed as reliable, true and one's ultimate authority). Christians need to lay hold of the fact that the “Word of God” is God’s word, and God cannot lie.

The former days of ignorance are gone; so our belief in the truth couldn’t be more justified since our justification comes from the self-attesting Christ of Scripture working in accordance with the internal witness of the Holy Ghost. We do not come to know Jesus lives by drawing inferences from uninterpreted facts in the light of past experiences but rather by believing with maximal warrant the word of truth. Indeed, we have a more sure word of knowledge.


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