Monday, April 06, 2015

Sacred Bond: Contra Engelsma (Part 4)

God cannot allow the sinner, or even the mere human, though he be sinless Adam, to merit. Merit puts God in the sinner’s, or the mere human’s, debt. This would be for God to “ungod” Himself [David Engelsma, PRTJ 46:1 (Nov 2012): 121].

To this, I will just point to my short post on the topic of covenant merit. If we are talking about covenant merit, which even the authors of Moses and Merit profess to hold, then Engelsma's concern with the use of "merit" is totally misplaced.

All humans have a grace of God in common. All humans alike are bound to God and to each other in a divine covenant of grace. God is bound, in His covenant, graciously, to the likes of Nero, Duke Alva, Hitler, Stalin, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Dawkins, and all those today whose rebellion against Him has reached the pitch of changing “the truth of God into a lie, and worship[ing] and serv[ing] the creature more than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).

The authors put the blessing of God in the houses of all these wicked persons, where it may contend (successfully, the authors think) with the curse that God Himself has placed in these houses (see Prov. 3:33). (Ibid.)

"Common grace", at least the orthodox version of it, is not redemptive or salvific. Therefore, to say that a teaching of common grace is to bind rebellious sinners to God "graciously" unto salvation is a gross misrepresentation of what Brown and Keele mean by "common grace." If we can use the word "grace" to talk about non-redemptive grace before the Fall, then why is it that we cannot speak of non-redemptive "common grace" after the Fall? If one wants to restrict grace for the process of salvation, then one cannot claim that there is grace before the Fall, for Adam does not need to be saved before he fell.

In conclusion, Engelsma misrepresents Brown and Keele in their book Sacred Bond, he engages in all manner of redefinitions of words and concepts, and in so doing massacres the English language. He also shows his ignorance of what those who do not hold to his sectarian version of Covenant Theology actually believe in. It is fine if one disagrees with orthodox Reformed Covenant Theology, but it is not acceptable that one misrepresents one's opponents and recasts them in one's idea of what constitutes error without even showing understanding of what they hold to. Unfortunately, from my personal interaction with PRCA people, this is sadly what I have come to expect.

Sacred Bond: Contra Engelsma (Part 3)

In their exposition of the covenant, the authors of Sacred Bond show no awareness of the covenant heresy and its root. If they are aware, as one cannot imagine they are not, they have learned absolutely nothing from the heresy and its dreadful effects in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, including their own. [David Engelsma, PRTJ 46:1 (Nov 2012): 119]

I am sure that, in a book that seeks to introduce the basics of Covenant Theology to simple believers, an assault on Federal Vision is absolutely unnecessary. Is Engelsma suggesting that someone new to the Reformed faith for example MUST be immediately taught how bad Federal Vision is?

The biblical covenant confessed and explained by Brown and Keele is conditional from stem to stern, from source to fulfillment. (Ibid.)

The problem with Engelsma is that that he is totally unable to see that he must hold to some form of condition in even his "unconditional covenant." If Christ did not die on the Christ, can there be a Covenant of Grace for the Elect? Engelsma to be orthodox should say no. But if the death of Christ on the Cross is necessary for the implementation of the Covenant of Grace, then the death of Christ on the Cross is a condition for the Covenant of Grace. Or to put it more theologically, one condition for the Covenant of Grace is that Christ must merit salvation. To put it another way, Christ must fulfill the law and merit righteousness, and that is the main condition of the Covenant of Grace.

Engelsma, as with many PRCA theologians, are totally unable to see that conditions cannot be eradicated, unless one becomes a universalist. Anything that must happen, or that restricts the application of redemption, is a condition. The question to differentiate between orthodoxy and heresy is not whether there are conditions, but where and how and by whom the conditions are fulfilled. But if one has only one covenant (which the PRCA holds to), then one is even more restricted as to how the conditions are to be configured, and just by fiat denying there are conditions is manifestly inconsistent if one says that believing in Christ is necessary to be saved.

In this explanation of the “covenant of redemption,” the authors pay no heed to any number of Reformed theologians, including Herman Bavinck and Herman Hoeksema, that the main Scriptural proof adduced for the explanation—Zechariah 6:12, 13—does not at all refer to a bargain of Father and Son in the Godhead ... (Ibid.)

That there is an agreement between the members of the Godhead does not imply that there is any form of bargaining involved. That is a strawman and misrepresentation, as well as a massacre of the English language, to say that agreements must imply the presence of bargaining.

...they go on to describe the new covenant with believers and their children, which is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, as conditional: “Its [the new covenant’s] condition is, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’” (Ibid., 120)

If someone does not have faith, can he be saved? No. If someone has faith, is he saved? Yes. So, according to the basic definition of syllogistic logic, faith is both a necessary and sufficient condition for salvation.

The problem with Engelsma is what happens when you have people who don't see that basic logic necessitates saying that faith is a condition. It is just like Engelsma's problems with definitions. One cannot define something in a way that restricts its meaning based upon one's ideology. To restrict meaning, one uses modifiers to modify the basic words. In the case of faith, we call it an "instrumental condition," because it is through faith that we are saved, not on the basis of faith.

As though the Canons of Dordt had never exposed the Arminian heresy as teaching that faith is the new covenant condition of salvation, rather than obedience to the law in the old covenant (Canons, 2, Rejection of Errors: 4)... (Ibid.)

The error rejected in Canons of Dort section 2, rejection of errors 4 is the error that God "graciously looks upon this [faith] as worthy of the reward of eternal life." In other words, the Arminian error is that faith is the ground of justification, not the instrument. God looks upon faith and by congruent merit credited that imperfect faith for righteousness. This is far from the position taken by Brown and Keele that faith is the instrumental condition for salvation, and thus Engelsma misrepresents what they, and the Reformed tradition, teaches.

Sacred Bond: Contra Engelsma (Part 2)

A promise is neither a sacred bond nor an agreement, but something quite different from both. Theologically, the concept of covenant promise (by God) contradicts the concept of covenant as mutual agreement. [David Engelsma, PRTJ 46:1 (Nov 2012): 118]

On the contrary, a promise IS a bond and an agreement. A promise given by party A to party B establishes an agreement whereby Party A promises to do X to Party B, and thus Party B can hold Party A to his promise and ask him to fulfill it. It is a bond precisely because the two parties are now tied in a relationship whereby Party A has obliged himself to honor his word. Agreements are agreements, not necessarily "mutual agreements," which is why "mutual agreements" require the adjective "mutual" to modify the noun "agreements."

Similarly, it is contradictory to assert, on the one hand, that “the covenant of redemption was not a ‘plan B’ to fix the mess Adam made, but the original blueprint for the work of Christ” and, in the same breath, to assert that God’s plan regarding Christ was “to remedy the disastrous results of the first Adam’s failure to fulfill the covenant of works in the garden of Eden and bring humankind to glory” (Ibid.)

Here, Engelsma err in failing to see the difference in view between the historia salutis and the ordo salutis, God's revealed will and His secret will. In God's eternal plan and secret will, Adam was destined to fall, though it was Adam's own fault and doing. But in redemptive history, Adam could in fact merit eternal life through fulfilling the conditions of the Covenant of Work. Therefore, in the outworking of redemptive history, Christ was to "remedy the disastrous results of the first Adam's failure." And that is the whole point of the typology in Romans 5 contrasting Adam and Christ, which is that where Adam failed, Christ succeeded. Christ indeed remedied the disastrous results of the first Adam's failure, which one should have no problem with even if one disputes whether Adam can merit anything.

The authors suppose that they relieve this contradiction by distinguishing eternal benefits from temporal blessings and the heavenly Canaan from the earthly. But the fact remains that on their view the Sinaitic covenant was not wholly an administration of the covenant of grace. (Ibid., 118)

Form is not substance. To claim that there is a formal republication of the Covenant of Works does not mean that the substance of the Sinaitic Covenant is in part of the covenant of works. This is a misrepresentation by Engelsma, who shows no indication that he understands anything regarding Formal Republication.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sacred Bond: Contra Engelsma (Part 1)

One of the works referenced in the book Moses and Merit is a review of the book Sacred Bond by Micheal G. Brown and Zach Keele. Brown is the pastor of Christ URC in Santee and Keele is my pastor at Escondido OPC. I have heard rumors of this review by David Engelsma, but this was my first time reading the review by myself, which can be found in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal [PRTJ 46:1) (Nov 2012): 117-22 ] (here). I wasn't expecting a lot from that review, and sure enough, it did not disappoint me in the misrepresentations and falsehoods it perpetuates.

In this and subsequent posts, I will move through the review article, showing how Engelsma misrepresents Sacred Bond and correcting any errors in Engelsma's review as we go along.


The imprecision and inconsistency concern, chiefly, the definition, or basic description, of the covenant, no minor matter. The title of the book suggests the correct definition and right description: the sacred bond (of communion) between God and His elect people in Jesus Christ. Here and there, throughout the book, the authors renew the description of the title, referring to the covenant as a "relationship" and as "communion."

But the formal, authoritative, and controlling definition identifies the covenant as an “agreement that creates a relationship with legal aspects” (11). The emphasis throughout on conditions and conditionality indicates that the authors meant by “agreement” what the word signifies.

An agreement is not a sacred bond, or relationship. As the definition expresses, at best an agreement can create a relationship. When its mutual stipulations are violated, an agreement can also destroy a relationship. (David Engelsma, 117)

The first error we see is Engelsma's (and the PRCA in general) view that covenant is defined as friendship, as relationship. The problem with this definition is that it is totally ahistorical. We note here that we are dealing with the definition of the word "covenant," which means one has to do things like word studies among others to decipher the meaning of the word as people have used it throughout time, words like ברית and διαθηκη.

The meaning of words are rooted in General Revelation, in the way cultures have used the term. The Hebrew term berith did not descend directly from heaven with the meaning "relationship," but rather it had a meaning even before Sinai. That is why Ancient New-East (ANE) studies are important, not to relativize biblical revelation, but to situate the context in which the people of Israel live and move and have their being. God's revelation to Israel is special, but the language He uses is not part of special revelation, for otherwise no human will be able to understand it. This reliance on General Revelation is even more pronounced in Greek, as the Greek culture has had centuries wherein the term diatheke was used in non-Christian settings before the Jews and then the Christians utilized the term.

The definition of a term is the definition of a term. If one wishes to speak about the term as used in a particular setting, then one should utilize a phrase with modifiers to the basic term. Therefore, in Reformed Covenant Theology, we call the covenant God made with His elect the "Covenant of Grace," not "covenant," because the definition of "covenant" is not the meaning of the "Covenant of Grace." This is just basic word usage, and it is rather embarrassing that one has to mention such basic stuff. One has no right to redefine the meaning of an established word any way one wishes, especially when it has a long-established tradition of usage.

The next problem with Engelsma's approach is that it has a strange view of what constitutes a "sacred bond." In Engelsma's view, an agreement is not a bond, even though as anyone knows, a legal oath to adopt a child does in fact constitute a bond between the two parties. Agreements bounded by oaths are in fact bonds, and since the bond is with God as one party, then it must necessarily be "sacred." Englesma is therefore in error as to what constitutes "sacred bonds" and his relational thrust and how everything must be "personal" should preclude bonds such as adoption and even justification from being considered "bonds," since these are not "personal" enough. That Engelsma does not go there is irrelevant to our point, in that his idea of what constitutes a "bond" is false.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Again, what is Formal Republication?

All we Reformed believers are "republicationists" in the sense that we all believe the moral law of God was reaffirmed — summarized or "republished" if you will — on Mt. Sinai. We have no argument there. The point at issue is whether or not that moral law was reaffirmed/ republished on Mt. Sinai as in some sense the covenant of works made with Adam. (Robert Strimple, "Westminster Confession of Faith: Was the Mosaic Covenant a Republication of the Covenant of Works," Unpublished essay, 4; cited in Andrew M. Elam, Moses and Merit, 79-80)

...Despite its affirmation that the Mosaic covenant is "part of the covenant of grace," the republication formulation of this covenant includes elements that differ in substance from the covenant of grace. In the Republication Paradigm, the Mosaic covenant includes a different set of essential elements on the typological level — the condition of meritorious works in order to earn the reward of temporal life in the promised land. ... This seems to imply that the nature of substance of the Mosaic covenant differs in some degree from other administrations of the covenant of grace. (Moses and Merit, 97)

As I have mentioned, the theory of Formal Republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant can have different interpretations. With all the focus on ontology, it seems that even more misunderstandings have developed, as we see in these two sections.

In the first sample from an unpublished essay by Robert Strimple, Dr. Strimple claimed that Formal Republication states that the moral law was republished "as in some sense the covenant of works made with Adam." As someone holding to Formal Republication, I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. The moral law is the moral law, especially in the Decalogue. But I do not hold to a formal republication of the moral law, but a formal republication of the covenant itself. I thus find myself disagreeing with Dr. Strimple's understanding of Formal Republication.

A more significant error comes in the inability of the authors to stop viewing everything in terms of ontology. Thus, they confuse the idea of Formal Republication with essential republication, confusing form and matter, substance and accidents. Now, whether this is due to certain variations of Klinean republication is not for me to say, but it seems to me that the last thing a critic of Formal Republication should do is to accuse its adherents of putting forward a competing substance that it is claimed made up the Mosaic Covenant. Formal republication is republication of the form, not of the substance, and it is thus that the authors erred and misrepresented what they are critiquing.

The problem of "simple justice"?

In the republication view, merit is defined in terms of God's revealed will as specified by the terms of the covenant. Simply stated, merit is whatever God says it is. According to the republication position, the nature of the specified condition is ultimately irrelevant for determining its meritorious or non-meritorious character. The condition may be perfection (as in the covenant with Adam), or it may be something less than perfection (as in the Mosaic covenant). A work is meritorious, therefore simply when God decides to accept it as such through the stated stipulations or conditions of a particular covenantal arrangement. Kline referred to this as simple justice. ... In this redefined view of merit, there is no longer any need or place for the previous distinction made between Adam's covenant merit in contrast to Christ's strict merit. In terms of the definition of merit, Adam and Christ can equally earn the rewards of their respective covenants according to the principle of simple justice.(Andrew M. Elam, Merit and Moses, 67)

In dealing with Kline's view of merit, the authors claim that Kline teaches something called "simple justice," which is a merit that is nominalistic and totally arbitrary. Whatever God says is merit is merit. This sounds wrong, but the issue is: Is this a correct representation of what Klineans hold to?

First of all, it must be mentioned that claiming that both Christ and anyone else (e.g. Adam, Israel) "merit" in the same way is totally in error. Nowhere have the authors given any proof that any Klinean believed that, and one should not argue from silence. If we remember that we are talking about Form, and especially literary forms, then one should be cautious about reading one's preconceived notions into what Klineans write. Just because Kline mentioned the phrase "simple justice" and link Adam with Christ does not imply that the two "merit" in exactly the same way, since a typological relationship might just be referenced here, not some "ontological" equivalence.

"Covenant merit" deals with the logical construction of the covenant condition and reward. In form, it seems very similar to how "simple justice" seems to be construed, except it is a logical construct whereas it is unclear what kind of construct "simple justice" is. As such, on this topic it seems to me that Kline's view of merit require more clarification, yet even apart from that it can be seen that critics of Kline are grasping at straw to make the charges stick.

Man, Creation and Covenant

The Klinean republication view teaches that man was in covenant with God at the very moment of creation. This is an important shift from the traditional viewpoint. Ontological considerations demand that there be at least a logical distinction (rather than a chronological or historical sequence) between God's creating man and his entering into covenant with him. The republication teaching now erases this confessional distinction (which is based upon the "great disproportion" between the Creator and creature) and thereby turns God's providential work of establishing the covenant into an aspect of the work of creation. Thus, we may say that the two distinct acts have been conflated or collapsed into essentially one act in this new view. ... Thus, man's covenantal status seems to "trump" his creaturely status. (Andrew M. Elma et al, Moses and Merit, 61)

One major critique leveled against the "Klinean view of republication" is that Klineans conflate creation and covenant into one act, which results in the erasure of the Creator-creature distinction. Such a critique really sound strange, for even if it were one act, how exactly does one go from "God's act of establishing the covenant as an aspect of the work of creation" to "denial of the Creator-creature distinction"? Do the critics understand the view of covenant held by Klineans? Covenants ARE themselves condenscension; we have no access to the naked God (nudus Deus) and the very point of covenants is that they are condescension from the Creator God to His creatures. As the Westminster Confession of Faith states:

The distance between God and the creature is go great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant (WCF 7.1)

By stating that Man is created in covenant, the Creator-creature distinction is not eliminated but rather established. Only with creatures (and creation) does God relate by means of covenants.

However, that Klineans only believe that there is only one act is itself not established. For the issue is whether the two, creation and covenants, are distinguishable, not whether they are separable. The many quotes the authors come up with only show that Klineans deny that the two can be separated; it did not say that the two cannot be distinguished. For example, David VanDrunen wrote in the maligned book The Law is Not of Faith that Klineans refuse "to separate the act of creation in the image of God from the establishment of the covenant with Adam" (VanDrunen, "Natural Law," in Bryan D Estelle et al., The Law is Not of Faith, 291). Note that it said "separate," not "distinguish." Is it possible that some Klineans refuse to distinguish between Creation and Covenant? Perhaps, but the point is that the idea that Man is created in covenant does not imply that there is only one act, only that the two acts are so closely tied that they exist together.

Man is created as a covenant creature, although we acknowledge that the formal giving and establishing of covenants occur later after creation. As this is the main charge of the 3 authors, it is clear that they have not adequately represented Kline and Klineans.

Covenant Merit and Ontology?

The doctrine of God's voluntary condescension goes hand in hand with the distinction that developed in Reformed theology between "covenanted" merit and "strict or "proper" merit. Covenant merit is assigned to Adam in the covenant of works, whereas strict merit is assigned to Christ in the covenant of grace. ... This designation of covenant merit reflects the ontological considerations which pertain to Adam's status. It seeks to take into account the Creator-creature distinction and God's act of condescension to enter into covenant with Adam. (Andrew M. Elam et al., Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication, 52-3)

In their book, the three OPC ministers acknowledge the idea of covenant merit in the Reformed tradition especially when applied to Adam in the Covenant of Works. They then proceed to argue that the Klinean idea of merit is a novel, third kind of merit. Without going into Kline's idea of merit yet, what is concerning to me is how they do not seem to understand that they have no reason for holding on to the concept of covenant merit at all.

The three authors here defined merit ontologically. But if merit is only about ontology, then upon what basis can we talk about covenant merit? Upon what basis can Adam merit before God, that a creature can merit from the Creator? They state that it is assigned through God's act of condenscension. That is true in the sense that anything from God to Adam is condescension, but the question is not whether it is condescension but whether it is merit. Ontologically, despite Adam being sinless he is still a creature, so even before the Fall, Adam cannot merit anything from God, if one defines "merit" only ontologically.

If merit is always defined ontologically, then even Adam cannot merit anything from God, not even if one defines it a "covenant" merit distinct from strict merit. That is the argument of those like the PRCA who attack any whiff of merit, and it is valid if one defines merit ontologically. One should not speak of merit even with the idea of condescension, for how can one claim that God owes him anything just because God has condescended to Man?

The focus on ontology therefore cannot be squared with the Reformed tradition's usage of the term "covenant merit." Either one focus on ontology and discard even the notion of covenant merit, or one stop this inordinate focus on ontology.

Covenant Merit Revisited

What exactly is Covenant Merit (meritum ex pacto)? By definition, "covenant merit" must denote a type of merit that functions within a covenant. In other words, the term must be defined as generically as possible, according to its referent ("covenant"), without any specific and arbitrary restriction in its basic definition.

In a covenant, which can be defined simply as an "oath-bound agreement," an agreement between two parties is envisioned. One party sets the condition, or gives a promise, to the other party. If it is a condition, then the other party (X) has to fulfill the conditions to get the promised rewards, failing which there might be sanctions. If it is a promise, then the party promising it has to fulfill the promise, and X can hold him to his word to fulfill it.

For a covenant with conditions, for someone, X, to fulfill the condition indicates that he merits the reward promised. This meriting is a purely logical construct, in the form of fulfilling the condition of the arrangement "If p, then q" where p is the condition, and q the reward. As a purely logical construction, it is solely interested in the logical relation in the argument form known as modus ponens. It is noted that the logical construction is totally uninterested in how p is accomplished. p can be achieved purely by grace, by one's own virtue or a mixture of them, and however p is achieved is absolutely irrelevant to the topic at hand. The question is this, "Is p fulfilled by the party given this covenant obligation?" If so, then the party X has covenant merit before God, and God is obligated to reward the meritorious person X, because He has so promised in His word. After all, that is what "merit" means. One has done something which deserves a reward, and in the logical sense, X in accomplishing p does deserve the reward, not in an ontological sense but in a logical sense.

This it seems to me is the most basic meaning of "covenant merit." Being a logical relational construct, it has no bearings on ontology. Therefore, the denial of merit in the Reformed Confessions are inapplicable in dealing with the idea of "covenant merit."

John Murray and the Covenant of Works

What is important to underscore is that, while Murray preferred the use of different labels, he affirmed the essential parts of substance of the covenant of works and of the covenant of grace, as outlined in the Westminster Standards. In fact, his rejection of the term covenant of works" to describe what he called "the Adamic administration" stemmed, in part, from his desire to preserve its unique character. Since the term "covenant" was (according to Murray) a sovereign administration of grace and promise in a specifically redemptive context, such an idea would be inappropriate in Adam's thoroughly non-redemptive situation. Read in this light, Murray's preference to restrict the term "covenant" to the post-fall situation is actually indicative of his concern to preserve the non-redemptive "legal" character of Adam's original situation. [Andrew M. Elam, Robert C. Van Kooten, Randall A. Bergquist, Moses and Merit: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014), 17]

John Murray, a Reformed theologian and one of the founding generation of the OPC, has become something like a whipping boy in certain circles for the way he construes the Covenant of Works. John Murray denied the terminology of the Covenant of Works, preferring to call it an Adamic administration with works aspects in it. Now, at least some of his critics acknowledge that Murray held to the essential elements of the Covenant of Works, although he denied its terminology. Therefore, the argument put forward by the three presbyters in the OPC Pacific Northwest Presbytery is rather old news. The question however to ask is: Is holding on the elements of the Covenant of Works sufficient for a confession of the truth of the Covenant of Works? I would assert not.

The meaning of words are basic and foundational for understanding and communication. When terms are given new meanings, the same words or phrases will differ in meaning. If the shift of meaning is not made clear, misunderstanding will abound. When we come to Murray's teaching concerning the Covenant of Grace, we see such redefinition occur. Murray redefined the word "Covenant," and he defines "merit" in a way to exclude the concept of "covenantal merit"(meritum ex pacto). For whatever reason Murray does it, by the redefinition in a manner closer towards something that looks more like the "gracious" understanding of God taught by luminaries like Karl Barth and Daniel Fuller, Murray's framing of Covenant Theology is the gateway that allows error to enter, although he himself is orthodox. By the emphasis on grace to the denigration of works, the road towards monocovenantalism is paved, for others will not stop at mere terminology but will go on to be consistent with the shift in terminology.

It is actually not a hard thing to do. If one starts out with the preconceived, aprioristic notion that covenants are always grace, and one does not nuance that view further, it is easy to subsume the works principle under grace, so that works serve the purpose of grace in a flattened one-dimensional manner. The Adamic administration becomes essentially gracious, and therefore the essence of the traditional Reformed doctrine concerning the Covenant of Works is denied. Since there is an undeniable works principle in the Adamic administration, grace cannot be contrary to works in some sense, and thus works is smuggled in through the concept of "faithfulness." According to this view, Federal Vision, the Adamic administration is one of grace, but Adam has to be faithful to God's graciousness in keeping the condition of the covenant. If Adam failed to be faithful to God in this gracious covenant, he would be a covenant breaker and suffer the penalties of the covenant. Likewise, in the New Covenant, believers are under a gracious covenant but they need to continue to be faithful, or suffer the penalties of breaking the covenant.

It is good that Murray affirmed the elements of the Covenant of Works. But that is not sufficient for confessing the full teaching and orthodoxy of the Covenant of Works, as traditionally understood in the Reformed tradition. The move to make everything of grace will always result in the smuggling of works somewhere. Far better it is to acknowledge works as works, instead of calling it somehow part of grace and then subverting the graciousness of grace. So although Murray is orthodox, his manner of reframing the doctrine has opened the way for Norman Shepherd and Federal Vision, who will go on to be more consistent with Murray's terminology while rejecting what he means by it.

NT typology of OT redemptive historical events, and Formal Republication

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. ... For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Heb. 4:1-2, 8-10)

And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matt. 2:14-15)

The usage of the Old Testament in the New Testament is an interesting issue to consider. One manner in which the New Testament uses the Old Testament is by the usage of typology, which can be illustrated in the two passages shown here.

In the first passage from Hebrews, we see that Israel's historical experience of her wilderness longing for rest in the promised land is used to illustrate how believers today are similar in their experience in the "wilderness" of the world longing for rest in the heavenly promised land, the New Heavens and the New Earth. The typology here is made between the experience of Israel and that of Christians.

In the second passage, Matthew cites Hosea 11:1 which speaks of Israel's historical experience of the Exodus from Egypt. Matthew uses that passage and applies it to Christ, who in his infancy was in Egypt for a while before getting out of Egypt ("exodus") to return back to Nazareth. The typology here is between Israel and Christ. Christ is portrayed as the new Israel, such that Israel's exodus experience is recapitulated by Christ's experience of being in Egypt and then getting out of Egypt. We note here that the whole idea is not some form of "ontological" recapitulation (whatever that is supposed to be), but rather that it is a literary painting. Christ's experience is very much different from Israel's actual experience, since Christ was not enslaved in Egypt neither did he get out of Egypt by the express deliverance of God, but these differences are irrelevant, because the purpose of the typology is not to create a total correspondence of Christ to Israel, but rather to show through literary portrayal that Christ is the new Israel.

In the first example, Israel is the type for believers. In the second example, Christ is the antitype of Israel, Israel's fulfillment. But as we look at how the typological relations are formed, we see they are formed from facts and events in redemptive history, which seem to be "spiritualized" to make a point. In other words, it is not in what those events are in and of themselves that is relevant, but rather how these are portrayed to show forth the New Covenant reality for us. To put it in classical philosophical terms, it is the Form or Accident of the experiences that is used, not the Matter or Substance of the OT experiences, that creates these typologies.

This point is very important for the issue of Formal Republication. Much of the misrepresentation of Formal Republication seem to stem from the thinking that Formal Republication teaches or implies that the Mosaic Covenant has in part an essence of the Covenant of Works. But that is to misunderstand what "Form" in "Formal Republication" actually refer to. Formal Republication deals with Form, which is to say literary forms. Therefore, when Matthew cites Hosea 11:1 to say that Jesus is the new Israel, we are not to imagine Israel as being a "Third Adam," for the reason that typology is not ontological but literary. The "is" in the sentence "Jesus is the New Israel" is not a equivalence of being, but an equivalence of relation. Once this is seen, then the fog surrounding the discussion concerning the topic of Formal Republication should be thinner.

Monday, March 30, 2015

More on formal/ material republication

It is my opinion that one reason why there is so much confusion over the issue of formal and material republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant is that the phrases are used in more than one sense. In an effort to add some clarity, I would like to delineate the various manners, as I understand it, in which the phrases "formal republication" and "material republication," as used of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant, can be used.

A republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant is simply to say that some aspect (form or matter) of the Covenant of Works is also found in the Mosaic Covenant which God gave ("published") to Moses especially on Mount Sinai. The trouble here is that even here we have a genitive phrase ("of __"). As anyone who has studied grammar would have known, genitives can be notoriously hard to pin down as to their exact meaning. For example, what does the phrase "love of God" mean? Is it to be taken as the subjective genitive, which is to say "God's love" (God loves X), or is it to be taken as the objective genitive, that is "X's love for God"? Normally, we decipher which sense it is from the context. Unfortunately, things get complicated when we deal with terms as big as "republication" coupled with the adjectives "formal" and "material."

On this particular topic of republication, let us see what happens when we take the phrase "republication of the Covenant of Works" as a subjective genitive. If it is a subjective genitive, then the Covenant of Works is the subject, thus we have the meaning being "the Covenant [of Works] as an oath bond being republished." If such is the case, then to claim a formal republication is to claim that the Mosaic Covenant qua covenant has the same structure or form as the Covenant of Works. To claim a material republication on the other hand is to claim that the Mosaic Covenant is essentially a Covenant of Works. Thus, if one takes the phrase as a subjective genitive, it seems to me that Formal republication in this sense is what most of those who are promoting Formal Republication are claiming, and what I see as the view of Francis Turretin for example. Material republication in this sense however must be rejected as heresy.

If one were to take the phrase as an objective genitive, then the Covenant of Works is the object, thus we have the meaning being "the republication of something within the Covenant of Works." Formal Republication in this view is to state that the form of the Law (the covenant material) seen in the Covenant of Works is the same in the Mosaic Covenant, which is to say the law in the Covenant of Works, which was given as a stipulation to be obeyed for the reward of eternal life (the form in which the Law works in the Covenant of Works) functions in the same way in the Mosaic Covenant. On the other hand, Material Republication in this view states that the material of the Law, which is in the Covenant of Works, is found in the Mosaic Covenant. Thus, we see here that, taking the phrase as an objective genitive, we affirm material republication, while formal republication in this sense is heresy.

Due to the different ways in which the genitives can be interpreted, both the phrases "formal republication" and "material republication" can be either orthodox, or heretical. If we take it as the subjective genitive, then we hold to formal republication and reject material republication, while the converse holds true if we take it as the objective genitive. In my opinion, much of the confusion over republication stems from the failure to discern and differentiate between the two ways one can interpret the genitive, resulting in massive confusion as the one attacking formal republication interpret the phrase as an objective genitive, while the defenders of formal republication interpret the phrase as a subjective genitive.

The four views are summarized as follows:

Type of Genitive Manner of republication Meaning Orthodox?
Subjective Formal The outward form of the Mosaic Covenant is the form of the Covenant of Works Contended, should be
Material The Mosaic Covenant is essentially a covenant of works No
Objective Formal The form of the Mosaic Covenant functions just like the form of the Covenant of Works, i.e. to gain eternal life through obeying the law No
Material The substance of the Covenant of Works, the Law, is the same Law published at Sinai under the Mosaic Covenant Yes

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bavinck, historical theology and natural theology

[On the supposed inability of the Reformers to transcend the medieval natural/ supernatural dichotomy concerning revelation] As a result, reason again achieved some measure of authority alongside of faith. It seemed reason did not always have to be guided by faith and was in fact, be it in an ever so small and indifferent area of life, free and independent. With this right being granted to it—at least not seriously contested—reason turned to its own advantage and gradually expanded its domain. First in civil matters, then in science, soon also in philosophy reason elevated itself to a position alongside of and over against faith. Alsted, who published an independent "natural theology" ... Many Reformed theologians followed suit, especially when Cartesian philosophy gained more influence.

As a result of English deism and German rationalism, "natural" or "rational" theology so increased in power and prestige that it rejected revealed religion as totally unnecessary. ... But after it had banished revealed theology, natural theology was itself judged in turn. [Immanuel] Kant asserted in his Critique of Pure Reason that the latter is restricted to phenomena of sense perception and can neither penetrate to the supersensible nor to the supernatural. ... [Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:306]

It seems that Herman Bavinck is asserting that the focus on natural theology (as opposed to a supernatural theology of nature) leads one to (capital "r") Rationalism and the destruction of the faith.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dr. Alan Strange on the topic of Republication

Hope OPC recently hosted a seminar at the Presbytery of the Midwest's 2015 Spring Seminar on the issue of Republication of the Covenant of Works and the Mosaic Economy, by Dr. Alan Strange. It can be heard here.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

On Covenantal merit

According to Dr. Clark, Covenant merit (meritum ex pacto) is just congruent merit (meritum de congruo), which is to say that God rewards imperfect works as if they were fully righteous. However, at the same time, he states that covenant merit has nothing to do with salvation. But since condign and congruent merit are phrases used within the context of salvation or soteriology, then shifting the referent of "merit" from salvation (justification, sanctification, good works) to something that is NOT salvation would it seems imply a radical break between the meaning of covenant merit and congruent merit as-traditionally-defined, even though the concept of credited righteousness is found in both forms of merit.

If the referent has nothing to do with salvation, then covenant merit should not be called congruent merit, although it is certainly analogous to it. If used for the purpose of typology, then it seems to be the case that it is a literary phenomenon more than it is an actual phenomenon. Thus, "covenant merit" is defined as the literary portrayal of a person fulfilling the requirements of the covenants (without regard for the motivation or the empowerment to do so), and thus God is required upon His own word to reward the one who fulfilled the requirements. Thus, while a person does not really, actually, merit anything by doing what God commands, in a literary sense he does "merit" something when he fulfills the conditions of the covenant.