Thursday, June 23, 2011

Contra the Joint FV Profession: Compiled

I have compiled and improved on the series analyzing the Joint FV Profession, with a new conclusion. The position paper can be seen here now.

Here is the added conclusion:

The FV manner of doing theology is dialectical as follows:

  • Utilizing a one-dimensional hermeneutic — As a perceived rejection of Platonism, all manner of talking about church, covenant etc cannot have two ways of speaking about the matter
  • Yet on the other hand, the FV (illegitimately) relegate to “mystery” all irrational expressions that come about through the use of their one dimensional hermeneutics, as being the expression of finitum non capax infinitum.
  • This causes the creation of dialectics: 1) The Kierkegaardian dialectic between decree and covenant, election and reprobation, and 2) The Hegelian dialectic between the visible and invisible church

The FV as a pseudo-Reformed dialectical theology is totally irrational and unbiblical. It embraces irrationality with regards to God-given revelation, yet at the same time rationalistically speculate with regards to the doctrine of God in His intra-trinitarian relationships. It denies the visible/invisible church distinction, the Law/Gospel distinction, Justification by Faith Alone, and the Covenant of Works. Indeed, the FV is a form of Monocovenantal legalism to be avoided at all costs. Amen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jim Mason, Radiometric Dating and Scientific Methodology

A recent article in the Creation magazine sees Jonathan Sarfati interviewing nuclear physicist Dr. Jim Mason. As his speciality is in nuclear physics, Dr. Mason commented on the field of radiometric dating and its fallacy.

Probably the strongest ‘evidence’ for the long ages required by evolution is right in Dr Mason’s field of expertise: radiometric dating. But he explained that it doesn’t actually measure age at all. Rather, it measures the ratio of the radioactive ‘parent’ element to the stable ‘daughter’ element in, say, a sample of rock today. And the age must be inferred by using these measurements in a calculation, and this relies on several unverifiable assumptions; e.g.:

“ … that there was no daughter element present when the rock was formed—i.e. the daughter element is entirely due to decay of the parent in the sample; that no amount of either parent or daughter has leached into or out of the rock since its formation; and that decay rate has not changed over time. If any of these assumptions are incorrect, it can dramatically change the calculation of the age. Since it is impossible to know for sure whether any of these have happened, it is not reasonable to trust the calculated age as accurate.”

Dr Mason points out:

“In cases where the actual age of the rock is known, radiometric dating techniques typically give wildly erroneous ages. For example, rock formed in a lava flow from Mt. St. Helens in 1986 was radiometrically dated as 2.6 million years old! If, every time you read a newspaper report concerning an incident about which you had first-hand knowledge, you found that the newspaper report was totally wrong, how many of these would you read before you began to suspect that all the reporting was wrong?”

Furthermore, he shows that the long-agers’ favourite dating method, carbon dating, supports a much younger age. That’s because radioactive carbon is so short-lived it should not be present in anything over 100,000 years old, yet it is found in coal and diamonds allegedly many millions of years old ... .

Further evidence for a young age from nuclear physics comes from large amounts of helium found in tiny zircon crystals extracted from rocks that are allegedly 1.5 billion years old. The amount of uranium and lead present in the crystals indicated that the helium was the result of radioactive decay of the uranium. However, in the supposed 1.5 billion years of the rock’s existence, essentially all the helium that would have been produced by this decay should have diffused out of the crystals. Using the amount of helium actually present in the crystals and the rate of diffusion of helium through these crystals as measured by an independent laboratory, the age of the crystals, and therefore the rock from which they came was only about 5,700±2,000 years! This implies that the decay rate was much faster in the past—undermining a key assumption of radiometric dating.


In all experiments, we have three variables to keep in mind:

  1. Initial conditions
  2. Process(es)
  3. Final conditions

Science works through the evaluation of one variable while knowing or presupposing the other two. In operational science, science while logically fallacious gives working knowledge that serves to help us understand how to rule and govern the world for the common good. We can observe and manipulate the initial and final conditions and come up with suitable laws which approximate the real laws governing the process(es) involved in scientific experimentation and industrial technological application.

Such however is not the case when it comes to historical science (e.g. radiometric dating), which either assumes the initial conditions, the process(es) involved or both. Some of such assumptions in radiometric dating are exposed by Dr Mason in this interview as follows:

Initial Conditions:

  • No daughter element(s) present initially in the rock specimen(s)
  • No amount of either daughter or parent element has leeched out of said specimen


  • Decay rate has not changed over time

Such are the main problems with science especially when it deals with historical enquiries. Historical science is fraught with all manner of unspoken and unthought of assumptions which may or may not be correct, and which are supplied by the paradigm(s) of science that scientists work in - in this case a certain naturalistic paradigm.

It is not of course the case that scientists are trying to delude everyone with what they consider falsehood, or that scientists are all atheists conspiring and explicitly deciding the results they are trying to achieve. But scientists are still men. The learning of science in any of its disciplines will cause one to subconsciously absorb the prevailing paradigm, and thus it is not surprising that scientists tend to think similarly, regardless of how hard they try to be innovative and think outside the box. Scientists seldom attempt to find out the assumptions behind their methodology and thinking, but instead build their research on the shoulders and success of others. There is of course nothing wrong with such an approach per se, but it blinds one to the existence of a shared paradigm providing assumptions that are not even known to have been assumed.

As we have seen, such assumptions have the most importance and significance in historical science, where controls cannot be made. For example, no one can go back millions of years in time to put a rock containing 50% U-238 and 50% U-235 in the same spot as a target rock specimen and then come back to check if the decay rate has historically been constant (assuming that no erosion has happened to the rocks in said period of time). Such handicaps in historical science research causes the role of paradigms to take on a role that borders on the creation and maintenance of elements in a (scientific) meta-narrative, which is why historical science is always subjective and scientists in those fields can see the same facts yet disagree with their interpretation.

So is evolution science? It is just as scientific as creationism, which is to say that both are scientific meta-narratives that seek to interpret the facts we perceive. The rhetoric of scientists who believe in evolution, especially those in the BioLogos Foundation, should not trouble us. It is not surprising that evolutionists think that evolution is fact, given their adopted paradigms. An apologetic method against them is to expose their blind spots due to their paradigms. Their interpretation of facts stems from a positivist philosophy of science, and the methodological naturalism they embrace while helpful in certain areas blinds them to the possibilities of supernaturalism acting in history. We are of course not saying that supernaturalism should be taken into account methodologically, but since what they are attempting is a historical enquiry, therefore such must be taken as a possibility historically.

In conclusion, we do not have to be afraid of evolutionists. Their theory is not a fact but a meta-narrative, a meta-narrative that depends on elements found in their adopted scientific paradigm(s). We can continue to do science without adopting their evolutionary meta-narrative, while recognizing the legitimacy of the shared paradigm in normal operational research to give us working knowledge of the world.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

VFT Book Review: Magnifying God in Christ by Thomas Schreiner

One of the interesting things that WSCal seminary students can do is to write book reviews for our seminary blog. It seems that in the heat of flying back to Singapore I missed out one of the book reviews which I have done and was posted sometime back - on June 7th. Without further to do, here is the link to my review of Thomas R. Schreiner's book Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, here.

An excerpt:

The book by Thomas Schreiner, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, is Schreiner’s summary of his earlier nine hundred page work of the same title, published in 2008. The book takes a panoramic look at the entire New Testament (NT) and seeks to cover various major themes taught in the text of the NT, and in so doing helps the reader come to know and understand the New Testament better.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Contra the Joint FV Profession: The Next Christendom

The Next Christendom

We affirm that Jesus Christ is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. We believe that the Church cannot be a faithful witness to His authority without calling all nations to submit themselves to Him through baptism, accepting their responsibility to obediently learn all that He has commanded us. We affirm therefore that the Christian faith is a public faith, encompassing every realm of human endeavor. The fulfillment of the Great Commission therefore requires the establishment of a global Christendom.

We deny that neutrality is possible in any realm, and this includes the realm of "secular" politics. We believe that the lordship of Jesus Christ has authoritative ramifications for every aspect of human existence, and that growth up into a godly maturity requires us to discover what those ramifications are in order to implement them. Jesus Christ has established a new way of being human, and it is our responsibility to grow up into it. (The Joint FV Statement)

From where has the FV arisen? In his book on the FV, Guy Prentiss Waters states that the FV seems to be derived from theonomy. The goal of the FV is societal transformation, and it seems that that is the tail wagging the dog. As he states:

There are hints among those sympathetic to the FV that their views accompany a discontent with the success of the theonomic project. ... The FV, then, represents a chastened theonomy, an attempt to reconstruct the project of theonomy to accommodate its greater goal of cultural transformation.[1]

Instead of letting theology influence sociology and activism, the FV seems to be a movement that build its theology in service to its sociology — a sociology and missiology in search of a theology.

In the Joint FV Profession, the section speaking on the next Christendom is the third section discussed in the document, preceded only by the section on God and a section promoting the transformationalist postmillenial eschatology. Such an arrangement of topics seem to give credence to Waters' thesis that sociology drives the theology of the FV.

Nevertheless, let us analyze the transformationalist beliefs of the FV according to Scripture. We have already seen the distortion of the FV in their doctrine of God, and in their doctrine of the Church. As we will see, in line with their hyper-realist and one-dimensional hermeneutic, their doctrine of Church and State is similarly one-dimensional.

The section starts with the proposition that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. Certainly that is something all Christians believe in. However, what does this lordship of Christ entail? How is Christ's lordship manifested in life and in the world? The Joint FV Profession states that Christ's lordship requires "the establishment of a global Christendom." However, is that truly the case?

To look deeper, we will examine this section under three headings: The Great Commission, What Christ's incarnation means for us, and the Lordship of Christ.

The Great Commission

The Great Commission is the commission Jesus Christ gave to the believers before He ascended into heaven. The most commonly cited proof-text for it can be found in Mt. 28:18-20.

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mt.28:18 -ESV)

In the Great Commission, our Lord Jesus Christ calls believers to spread the Gospel and make disciples of all the nations. This is normally interpreted to refer to the various individuals from every nation who are saved, discipled, baptized and taught. Nations as entities cannot be in view here because there is no way to baptize a nation as only people can be baptized.

In the Joint FV Profession, we see a hyper-literalistic interpretation of the Great Commission. It is doubtful that the FV has in mind literally baptizing nations as entities, but as a shorthand to describe baptizing every individual in the nation as in the re-creation of Christendom as a political entity. This is however not the teaching of the Great Commission. Whatever one thinks of the transformationalist project, there is no way to find it in the Great Commission itself. The focus on the Great Commission is to "make disciples" and therefore the focus is salvation, not politics. Even if somehow majority or even all of the people in a nation turn to Christ, that does not by itself turn that nation into part of Christendom. Rather, that requires a certain connection between salvation and politics which states that Christians are saved in order to rule the world, an assertion that needs to be proven instead of assumed.

The FV interpretation of the Great Commission depends on a certain view of Christ's lordship and the goal of salvation. As we shall see, in both of these aspects the FV is seriously in error.

The Incarnation of Christ

What is the role of the incarnation of Christ? The biblical answer is that Christ was incarnated in order to became a man so that He could die on the cross for our sins. For God could not die, so Christ must take on a human form and a human nature in order to die. It is not without reason that the Cross is a symbol of Christianity, not the manger.

According to the FV however, Jesus Christ came and established "a new way of being human." This is to put it nicely a Socinian answer to the question of why Christ came. It is true that Jesus Christ being sinless is the perfect human, yet how does Christ define his perfect humanity but by perfect obedience to the law (Rom. 5:19, 2 Cor. 5:20, Mt. 5:17). Furthermore, this manner of perfect obedience to the law the Scriptures made plain that Adam as a type of Christ was to have in the beginning (Rom. 5: 12-21). Therefore, in effect Jesus Christ as the second Adam came and did what Adam was supposed to but failed to do in passing the test in obedience to God.

We have seen that the FV denies the Covenant of Works, and such a denial is consistent with the view that Jesus Christ came and established "a new way of being human." However, the biblical evidence points to Jesus coming to be and do what Adam was supposed to be and do. The FV is totally inconsistent in its affirmation on the one hand of the forensic nature of Christ's death, and on the other hand the Socinian statement that Christ came and established "a new way of being human." Illogicity however runs rampant in the FV, but for those of us who believe that God is rational in His ectypal revelation to us (Jn. 1:1, 14), such irrationality is contrary to the very nature of God and the nature of His revelation.[2]

Christ' incarnation is therefore NOT meant to establish "a new way of being human." That is an error that flirts dangerously with the Eastern Orthodox view of theosis.

The Lordship of Christ

Christ exercised His lordship over the world in two different ways. Christ as the Creator and Ruler of the whole world rules in absolute authority. When Christ rules in His church however, He rules over the affairs in the church regarding spiritual matters. The NT epistles have instructions over the ruling and discipline in the church, but it nowhere prescribes that Christians are to attempt to take over the government to rule in Christ's stead. Rather, Christians are called to pray for all people and kings and all in high positions that we might lead "a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2: 1-2). While Christians are certainly to obey God's law, we are not called to take over the government to impose God's law. Rather, "God judges those outside" (1 Cor. 5:13a). The role of the church has nothing to do with politics, and therefore salvation is not for the purpose of creating a political entity.

The Joint FV Profession denies the two ways in which Christ exercised His lordship. Instead, like the many doctrines we have seen, they flattened out the distinction such that Christ can only exercise His lordship in only one way. Since Christ is the Creator and Ruler of the whole world, Christians must bring the lordship of Christ to bear in every realm in the same way. Again, since neutrality is impossible in every realm, therefore every realm must be brought under the lordship of Christ in the exact same way. There is simply no room in the FV for Christ to exercise His lordship in other ways at all. Why must Christ be thought to not exercise His lordship through providence and natural law through men both regenerate and unregenerate in politics, instead of demanding that Christ must use Christians to bring forth the "next Christendom"?


In conclusion, the FV view of culture and Church-State relations is in error. Their transformationalist agenda has no theological backing. Should Christians participate in politics and try to bring society into greater conformity to God's law? Yes, for we believe that such glorifies God and creates a better society for our fellow human beings. But we do so as citizens just as any other citizen in the nation both regenerate and unregenerate. Christ does not exercise His lordship over the nations now as Judge, but as Sustainer sustaining the present order while drawing the elect unto salvation (2 Peter 3:5-9). Until that last day, it is still called Today - the day of salvation, where everyone is invited to come to the Lord for salvation (Heb. 4:6-8). Today is not the day of judgment, and therefore it is not the day for believers to rule the world.



[1] Guy Prentiss Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 296

[2] Ibid., 263-73.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

NT Wright and the biasness of Anglo Enlightenment "scholarship"

In this video, pseudo-conservative scholar N.T. Wright was interviewed by Peter Enns of the BioLogos Foundation on the topic of Evolution. According to Bishop Wright, evolution is "a very America specific issue." Wright then state that the creation/ evolution controversy stems from the Fundamentalist/ Modernist controversy, which has some relation to the American Civil War and the division between the supposed "liberal" North and the "conservative" South.

As a non-American, this is simply laughable. First of all, the creation/ evolution controversy does not originate from the US alone. Del Ratzsch in his book on the Creation/ Evolution controversy, The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation/ Evolution Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996), traced the Creationist movement to a movement within American Seventh-Day Adventism, but this picture is totally simplistic. One strand of Creationism came about in Australia, and many churches which became known as "Fundamentalist" did not embrace Evolution even at the beginning. To be sure, in the academic and scholarly world, there were few creationists in the beginning of the 20th century, but it is sheer snobbery to think that only those with PhDs have influence in the churches.

Secondly, while there wasn't a Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy in the UK, that is so because of the capitulation of the churches. The only great battle there was fought by Charles Spurgeon and is documented in the Downgrade Controversy. The Fundamentalist/ Modernist controversy happened in the US not as a legacy of the American Civil War but because the churches in the US decided to fight for the faith instead of rolling over and letting the liberals take over the churches like what has happened throughout the world. As a counter-example to the Civil War argument, the last great Old Princeton scholar J.G. Machen was no Southerner but rejected Liberalism nonetheless.

N.T. Wright can be seen to exhibit myopia regarding the actual reasons behind the creation/ evolution debate. Such is hardly surprising and perfectly understandable for those living in their academic ivory towers, removed from the struggles of the "unwashed masses" and from the reality in most of the world. While I cannot speak for everyone, I have found that the creation/ evolution issue to be one of the important topics for Christians, and to put it down entirely to American influence is simplistic. It fascinates me when people assume that Christians who are creationists must have read literature by creationists instead of coming to the position by merely reading the Bible. Although I guess, Wright would probably dismiss the views of peasant farmers and villagers who read the Bible and through reading it believe in 6-day creation as the errant view of the unenlightened not worthy of being mentioned or even discussed.

Somehow I guess the Holy Spirit only reveals His truth through "scholarship." As for the hoi polloi, too bad for them I guess.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Contra the Joint FV Profession: Apostasy and Assurance of Salvation


We affirm that apostasy is a terrifying reality for many baptized Christians. All who are baptized into the triune Name are united with Christ in His covenantal life, and so those who fall from that position of grace are indeed falling from grace. The branches that are cut away from Christ are genuinely cut away from someone, cut out of a living covenant body. The connection that an apostate had to Christ was not merely external.

We deny that any person who is chosen by God for final salvation before the foundation of the world can fall away and be finally lost. The decretally elect cannot apostatize.

One major irritant of the FV is their continual redefinition and equivocation of terms. As they have redefined "trust," so now the redefinition of terms from their normal theological usage continues. In this case, the term is "decretal."

In normal theological discourse, whatever God has decreed that He works out in his relation to the world and the elect. However, in FV parlance, whatever God has decreed is not worked out in relation to the world and the elect but rather worked out for the world and the elect in a secret manner to be somehow manifested at the end of time, as we have seen in the FV relation of decree and covenant. What is happening in the world and in the church bears little if any relation whatsoever to God's decrees, which are probably so mysterious it's a marvel the FVists knew they even exist in the first place.

It is in light of this dialectic that the paragraph on apostasy can make sense, for otherwise we end up with self-contradictory nonsense. For FVists, apostasy is apostasy from the "covenant" but not apostasy from "decretal election." So believers supposedly can be said to be able to truly apostatize and yet to not be able to apostatize. Seeing that those who are decretally elect are those who will persevere, the whole statement is reduced to a meaningless tautology. In Reformed theology, decree and covenant are correlated, so therefore those who are not "decretally elect" are already fixed in the world (just not known by us) and will most certainly not persevere. In FV theology, those who are not "decretally elect" are not fixed except in God's mind and their perseverance is certain only inasmuch as God has decreed them elect.

The implication of this for assurance of salvation is clear. Under the FV, there is absolutely no sure way of knowing that one is eternally saved. One can only continue in being faithful and hope that one dies faithful. There is no comfort at all available from God because it is impossible to know God's decrees before the final judgment. In Reformed theology however, comfort from God is possible because God's Spirit testifies with our spirits that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16), as God's decree is worked out in relation to the world and the elect. Such is of course subjective, but being subjective does not make it false, the FV aversion to anything subjective notwithstanding.

The FV understanding of apostasy gives cold comfort to believers. Believers do not start off from knowing they are saved, but merely knowing that they are saved now and will continue being saved as long as they do not apostatize, which is indeed a "terrifying reality" to them. Much warmer indeed is the Reformed understanding of apostasy that states that those who apostatize were never true believers in the first place. While delusion is always possible, we can know that the Spirit's witness is testimony to our salvation, and that those who apostatize never had the Spirit's witness in the first place. We do good works because we are saved, not that we are faithful in order to continue being saved.

The FV's doctrine of apostasy is dialectical in nature. In light of their other doctrines, assurance of salvation in FV circles is conditional. Sure, the condition may be quite doable since the FV do not demand perfect obedience, but conditional it still is. The error is not lessened at all because of the psychological outlooks of church members who face a less demanding condition for salvation and assurance of salvation.

[to be continued]

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Contra the Joint FV Profession: Justification by Faith Alone, or Faith plus faithfulness?

Justification by Faith Alone

We affirm we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Faith alone is the hand which is given to us by God so that we may receive the offered grace of God. Justification is God's forensic declaration that we are counted as righteous, with our sins forgiven, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.

We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.

- The Joint FV Profession

The FVists formally claim to embrace Justification by Faith Alone. As it can be seen in their statement, they profess belief in Justification by Faith Alone. The question however is whether their profession match the reality. The answer is in the negative.

It can be seen that the Joint FV Profession defines faith according to the commonly accepted categories of knowledge (notitia), assent (assentia) and trust (fiducia). When one looks closely however, it can be seen that the category of 'trust' is further expanded as being a "living trust." Presumably, they believe that there is a possibility of a "dead trust." Such a 'trust' which justifies is "living," "active," and "personally loyal." All of these emphasize the fact that this is something that believers do and continue to do.

From this section alone, we can start to see the FV denial of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Traditionally, faith is something in which believers is given, with the category of 'trust' referring to the disposition that validates the assent to be true. It is receptive in receiving the Gospel which comes about through the "hearing of faith" (Gal. 3:2,5, cf Rom. 10:17). Knowledge and assent are active actions in believing, while trust is passive. It is done as a reflex of true assent, not as an action in itself.

What the FV is trying to smuggle in is this idea of faith as being necessarily resulting in good works, or "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6). That faith is never alone is agreed by all. But the FV not only insists that faith is never alone, but that faith itself includes its attendant fruits in its nascent form, through the redefinition of fiducia as being active faithfulness.

Such a redefinition can be seen in the last sentence in this paragraph, where the FVists deny that faith is never alone even at the moment of the effectual call. In other words, when God calls a person effectually and gives him faith (gift), the person logically is already being faithful (work). Consistent with their denial of the Law/Gospel distinction, gift and work are undifferentiated in the FV idea of faith and salvation. The believer according to the FV is faithful co-extensively with his believing, instead of being faithful logically consequent upon his believing. To put it simpler, the believer believes-behaves, not that the believer believes and therefore behaves accordingly.

One implication in pastoral situations is that a believer who is backsliding is logically treated differently in FV circles than in Reformed circles. In Reformed circles, such a believer is treated as a believer who must be warned, rebuked and counseled. In FV circles, such a believer is treated as someone who at that moment has no faith (as he is not faithful) and as a covenant breaker who must be "reminded of their baptism" and warned against continuing being a covenant breaker. The former situation treats the backslider as having faith but having fallen for a moment into sin (until proven otherwise) while the latter treats the backslider as not having faith and thus not as a believer then but as a "covenant breaker."

As we can see, "believers" in FV circles can have their salvation, lose it if they backslide, and regain it if they repent. Such is practically speaking a doctrine of salvation by faith plus works, or Semi-Pelagianism. Sure, such "believers" remain in the church until and if they are excommunicated, but what use is there in being church members, or covenant members, if they have lose their salvation? After all, according to FV ecclesiology, what matters for eternity is not being a church member now in the so-called "historical" or "visible" church, but rather their continuance as a church member into the "eschatological" or "invisible" church. In other words, church membership is useless unto salvation unless they are not excommunicated and cut off from the church, and such continuance is dependent on being faithful in this life, which is another way of saying salvation by faith plus works.

The FV therefore while formally professing Justification by Faith Alone denies it materially by their redefinition of Fiducia and the implications of their doctrine of the Church. The FV thus denies the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone.

Contra the Joint FV Profession: Law/Gospel distinction

Law and Gospel

We affirm that those in rebellion against God are condemned both by His law, which they disobey, and His gospel, which they also disobey. When they have been brought to the point of repentance by the Holy Spirit, we affirm that the gracious nature of all God's words becomes evident to them. At the same time, we affirm that it is appropriate to speak of law and gospel as having a redemptive and historical thrust, with the time of the law being the old covenant era and the time of the gospel being the time when we enter our maturity as God's people. We further affirm that those who are first coming to faith in Christ frequently experience the law as an adversary and the gospel as deliverance from that adversary, meaning that traditional evangelistic applications of law and gospel are certainly scriptural and appropriate.

We deny that law and gospel should be considered as hermeneutics, or treated as such. We believe that any passage, whether indicative or imperative, can be heard by the faithful as good news, and that any passage, whether containing gospel promises or not, will be heard by the rebellious as intolerable demand. The fundamental division is not in the text, but rather in the human heart.

-The Joint FV Profession

The denial of the Gospel by the Federal Vision comes in the form of a totally alien system. A denial of the archetypal/ectypal distinction results in an arrogant presumption to build doctrines upon a certain view of the Trinity, which even if correct is a violation of the regula fide. From this denial of the archetypal/ectypal distinction is added an extremely externalist view of the church with the flattening of the concept of the church, and a divorce of the covenants of God from the decrees of God.

In the light of this essentially Medieval system, the Gospel is redefined, beginning with the denial of the Law/Gospel distinction.

It must be stated that the Joint FV Profession in speaking of the Law and the Gospel does include this statement: "We further affirm that those who are first coming to faith in Christ frequently experience the law as an adversary and the gospel as deliverance from that adversary, meaning that traditional evangelistic applications of law and gospel are certainly scriptural and appropriate." It denies however that Law and Gospel are antithetical to each other, but that what is Gospel to a believer can be Law to an unbeliever and vice versa. Therefore, any Law/Gospel antithesis is merely experiential not ontologically true.

The problem with such a denial of the Law/Gospel distinction is two-fold: Logical and Biblical.

Logically, the denial of the Law/Gospel distinction necessitate that any passage in the Bible can be used as Gospel and any passage in the Bible can be used as Law. The Good News therefore can refer to the proclamation of passages such as Lev. 18:5 which states "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord." Does the Gospel therefore include the view that law-keeping causes a person to merit life before God? Lev. 18:5 is furthermore quoted in Gal. 3:12 as follows:

But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." (Gal 3:12 ESV)

ὁ δὲ νόμος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ πίστεως, ἀλλ᾽ ὁ ποιήσας αὐτὰ ζήσεται ἐν αὐτοῖς. (Gal 3:12 BGT)

καὶ φυλάξεσθε πάντα τὰ προστάγματά μου καὶ πάντα τὰ κρίματά μου καὶ ποιήσετε αὐτά ἃ ποιήσας ἄνθρωπος ζήσεται ἐν αὐτοῖς ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν (Lev 18:5 LXX)

The quotation of Lev. 18:5 in Gal. 3:12 shows that the principle of Lev. 18:5 applies equally in the New Covenant. Those who want to have eternal life must obey the commands of God. Is this really part of the Gospel? Do the FVists really think that the Gospel is a message of keeping the Law or rather "Glawspel" to earn eternal life? Such is Pelagianism and is the logical consequence of denying the Law/Gospel distinction.

It can be argued that perfect obedience is not what Gal. 3:12 has in mind. Here we will turn to the biblical evidence. Gal. 3:12 uses the plural form "them" (in both the Hebrew and the Greek) to denote all the commands and law of God. In the context of Lev. 18, Lev. 18:5 can be said to be a summary of the Law and its requirement. To say that Israel did not die even though she was not perfectly obedient is to interpret the verse backwards. The reason why Israel did not die was because forgiveness of sin is offered (typologically) through the various sin and guilt sacrifices instituted for Israel (Lev. 3-4:7). Even then, no sacrifice for sin is possible for sins like murder (Num. 35:30-34), or deviant sexual immorality (Lev. 18:24-30). Lev. 18:5 and therefore Gal. 3:12 have in mind perfect obedience in order to gain eternal life, as such a person must keep all God's commandments and judgments to live, with sacrifices available to expiate some sins only not all.

The first part of Gal. 3:12 is also very explicit in contrasting the Law and the Gospel. As it is written, the Law is not of Faith. The Law is not partly of faith and partly of works, and it is not of faithfulness. However one wants to translate πίστις, the Law is not "of πίστις." Thus, even if one were to eisegete πίστις as "faithfulness," the Law has nothing to do with "faithfulness." Rather, the context is very clear that the contrast here is between the Gospel which is by faith in verse 11 and the Law which is not of faith in verse 12. The contrast is a strict negation one over the other. Whatever is of faith is not of Law and vice versa.

Much has been said over the so-called New Perspective understanding of "works of the law" and understanding of πίστις as faithfulness. The main issue here however should be on the text of Scripture itself. It is an entirely fruitless endeavor to attempt to say that Judaism is a religion of grace and that Paul was only concerned about "boundary markers" etc. if the entire reconstruction has no connection with the text of Scripture. Paul has made it abundantly clear that the Judaizers' view was "beginning with the Spirit and completing by the flesh" (Gal. 3:3), which sounds very much like the E.P. Sanders' idea of 'covenantal nomism'. Whether one thinks Paul is mistaken in his analysis of the Judaizers' beliefs is one thing (which of course is always interesting when one sees a scholar 2000 years removed claiming to know more about the Judaizers than their contemporary Paul knows about them), what Paul is arguing against is another ball game altogether.

The fact of the matter is that whatever the merits of Paul's concerns over the Judaizers, the epistle to the Galatians is clear that Paul is arguing that the Judaizers' error can be anachronistically labeled 'Semi-Pelagianism' — teaching that one begins the Christian life by faith and completing by works. Paul also teaches that Law and Gospel in antithetical to each other. To say that other passages have a more positive view of the Law does not mean that we tone down the Bible's express teaching here. It is not our job, much less the FVists', to alter the teachings of the Word of God just because it does not fit into their nice monocovenantal scheme. Our theology must change according to the teachings of God's Word, not the other way around. The job of systematicians is to reconcile all of the teachings of God's Word after collecting all of the biblical data relevant to the topic, not to create a Procrustean bed in which biblical data have to fit or be fitted to match.

The denial of the Law/Gospel distinction by blending them into a monstrosity called "Glawspel" begins the FV error on the Gospel. And as we will continue to see, this extreme "continuity" hermeneutic destroys the Gospel message in the hands of the FVists.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Federal Vision and Joachim of Fiore

If we abandon the Hellenistic ontological division between invisible and visible and adopted a more Hebraic biblical way of thinking and toppled the whole thing on its side, the invisible church is the eschatological church and the visible church is the historical church. Now notice what this now does, if I topple the whole thing on its side and it is now in history, the eschatological church is now the historical church and it is at the culmination of history, all right, and the visible church is that same church at an earlier point in time.

- Douglas Wilson, "Visible and Invisible Church Revisited," 2002 AACPC lecture. In Guy Prentiss Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R publishing, 2006), 121-2

I have been reading Waters' book for some time. This interesting quote from Doug Wilson however is too interesting not to pick up.

As it has been said, the FVists redefine the visible/invisible church distinction and fundamentally deny it.. In this interesting quote from Doug Wilson, we can see where Wilson is running with the attack on this fundamental distinction.

Wilson sees the visible/invisible church distinction as a Platonic scheme of the church. In opposition to this Platonic idea, Wilson decided to adopt the scheme offered by spiritual Franciscan Joachim of Fiore of turning the Platonic scheme on its side. Whereas a Platonic understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction would mean that the invisible church is the idea/form of the church while the visible church is the appearance of the church, Wilson's Joachimite scheme would make the invisible church the eschatological idea which the visible church (apearance) is striving towards.

Neither understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction is the traditional Reformed understanding. We are neither Platonists nor Hegelians. Our understanding of the visible/invisible church distinction is that the visible church is the church as Man sees it while the invisible church is the church as God sees it. They both exist at the same time. They both are on the same plane of existance. The reason why the invisible church is called "invisible" is not because they exist on another realm but because Man is not God. We do not know God's thoughts and decisions, and we cannot decipher the hearts of Man, not even our own. The terminology is an acknowledgment of our finitude, not of the truth of Plato.

The FVists are in serious error on this point. Through rejecting Plato, they turn to Joachim and Hegel. Truly, such is out of the frying pan into the fire.

F4F: Chris Rosebrough's Interview of Phil Johnson

Chris Rosebrough has done an interesting inteview with Phil Johnson over John Piper's interview of Rick Warren here.

Satire: Why I like T.D. Jakes

Satire is based upon this dated post by Tullian Tchividjian.

The Bible makes it clear that God’s people face three enemies: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. This means that T.D. Jakes is NOT our enemy. For those of you who proudly bash Jakes, you should be ashamed of yourselves. I used to take pride in my critique of T.D. Jakes. His books, Woman, Thou Art Loosed and Why? Because You are Anointed have some glaring weaknesses. But they have some strengths too; they are not wholly devoid of truth. Let me be very clear: It is NOT Reformed (much less Christian) to glean truth, beauty, and goodness only from Christians who are Reformed. In fact, because of the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Knox, etc) firm belief that “all truth is God’s truth” we should glory in truth wherever it is found–yes even when it is found in books written by T.D. Jakes

But it’s not T.D. Jakes' books or T.D. Jakes’ church that impress me. It’s T.D. Jakes. I’ve met him and he is a genuinely humble guy (it’s easy to critique a person that you’ve never spent time with). In an Evangelical world where financial and moral integrity are becoming increasingly hard to find amongst its leaders, T.D. Jakes is above reproach. He doesn’t take himself too seriously (we could all learn from him on this point) and he’s actually getting his hands dirty serving the common good of humanity. I’m not bad at theologizing about cultural transformation. But I have a long way to go to catch Jakes when it comes to actually transforming this present world into the world to come. T.D. Jakes is doing more to bring God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” than most of us. He may not be a Calvinist theologically, but he certainly puts many of us Calvinists to shame when it comes to being a Calvinist practically: caring for widows and orphans, helping the poor and sick, and humbly serving those in need. He’s doing more good than harm for the Kingdom and if you love the King, that should make you happy.

I hope that you will be more inclined to pray for Jakes than you are to critique him. Critiquing him (or anybody else, for that matter) is beneficial where and when he misses the mark (either personally or theologically). But if you find more joy and satisfaction in critiquing him where he is wrong than you do in praising God where he is right, than you need to repent. I know, because I had to. Enjoy this helpful article.

Just a small comment: I have no idea that being a Calvinist practically means "caring for widows and orphans, helping the poor and sick, and humbly serving those in need." All the while, I thought being a Calvinist practically means believing in the Gospel of free grace and trusting Christ alone for salvation, and desiring to serve Christ in this world through good works.