Tuesday, March 31, 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

Friday, March 27, 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.

Tuesday, March 24, 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.

Sunday, March 22, 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.

Bavinck and sensate "knowledge"

It could therefore almost be called a fresh discovery when Francis Bacon returned to sense perception as the only source of knowledge. Only it was not a new discovery, but a necessary rejuvenation of science, for science always has to go back to the sources. Truth must not be drawn from books but from the real world. [Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1: 226]

Empiricism, however, is compelled to deny the name of "science" to all sciences except the exact sciences. But this restriction is impossible for two reasons. First, because aside from the purely formal sciences (logic, mathematics, mechanics, astronomy, chemistry), and then only in a certain sense, there can be no science without a philosophical element. In every science, inventiveness, intuition, imagination, in a word, genius ... play a most important role. And second, because then the name of "science" can finally be reserved only for a few subsidiary disciplines, and precisely the knowledge that is most important to human beings and that in their research is their primary interest is banished from the domain of science. ...

In addition to this, the world of nonmaterial things, the world of values, of good and evil, law and custom, religion and morality, or all that inspires love and hatred in our hearts, lifts us up and comforts us or crushes and grieves us, that whole magnificent invisible world is as much a reality to us as the "real world" that we perceive with our senses. Its impact on our lives and on the history of humankind is still much greater than that of the visible things about us. ... [Bavinck, 1:221]

The Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck promotes the uses of the sense for the gaining of knowledge. He critiqued empiricism, in the sense that it excludes philosophical elements from knowledge. Besides that criticism however, his epistemology focuses on empirical data which are grasped and organized by the intellect philosophically.

Bavinck's critique of empiricism however is strange. He claims that empiricism should be rejected because (1) aside from the "purely formal sciences," all sciences require philosophical elements, (2) things such as "inventiveness, intuition, imagination," "genius" play a most important role in science, (3) if empiricism were true, only a few subsidiary disciplines would qualify as sciences, while the most important disciplines would not qualify as science, and (4) the impact of nonmaterial things are much great than that of the visible things to us. But all this sounds really self-serving, as in "if empiricism is true, my discipline would be worthless" means that therefore I must reject empiricism because "my discipline" cannot be seen as worthless.

With regards to reason number 3, the counter can be made that yes, all other "disciplines" are in fact not most or even more important disciplines but only the empirical sciences are in fact the only sciences. After all, the empiricist does not accept the fact that these disciplines are in fact important at all. Thus with regards to reason number 1, the empirical sciences do not require philosophical elements in their normal operations. Reason number 2 is irrelevant because the entire focus of the scientific method is that all subjectivity be rendered irrelevant for the truth claims of the empirical sciences. Yes, we do know now about the influence of paradigms upon the empirical sciences, but the notion of paradigms is a second-order claim about the nature of science, not a first-order claim with regards to the use of "genius." In response to reason number 4, that itself is disputed by empirical naturalists. The existence of nonmaterial things can be said to be an artefact of material realities, emerging from them.

Bavinck's arguments against Empiricism are singularly unconvincing. When Bavinck claims that "sense perception" is to be the main reservoir for our knowledge (not foundation), there is simply no reason why anyone taking Bavinck's position on the senses should reject Empiricism. For if the senses are the reservoir for knowledge, then Empiricism AND only the empirical sciences are knowledge. That is the position of much of the modern world with its trumpeting of the triumphs of science over "superstition." And if one concedes that the senses are to be our reservoir, our source for knowledge, how exactly does one observe God? That is why "religious studies" today are basically studies of myths and mythopoetry, for that is what "religion" is seen to be in an empirical scientific paradigm!

Bavinck's version of Realism therefore cannot hold. Those who talk so much about the "senses" and sensate knowledge cannot hope to escape the problems of empiricism. For if the senses are the reservoir for knowledge, then there cannot be a God, for God is not perceived by or revealed through the senses but only through the Holy Spirit. Yes, they might claim that philosophical elements are necessary for the use and interpretation of sense data, but the emergentist view explains the emergence of philosophical elements rather well.

Now, some might appeal to the sensus divinitatis, or "sense of the divine." But that there is such a sense is itself disputed. More importantly, the biblical view is that the sensus divinitatis is part of God's General Revelation to Man, and therefore it is to be considered revelation, not "sense." Furthermore, it cannot be a "sense" as we understand "sense" because it does not receive data in external stimuli for us to interpret, but rather it is something placed in humans as revelation from God. It is a fixed deposit, not something that grows in opinions and knowledge. And for those who may claim otherwise, the counter-examples can be easily seen in people like me who do not feel it as a "sense" but rather as a fixed deposit of revelation. Surely the sensus divinitatis not only operates in all men, but especially in Christians who acknowledge its existence, so therefore it should not be possible for those who acknowledge it to deny it as a true "sense" if it were in fact one! Also, what are the new opinions and knowledge we are constantly learning using this "sense," if it were in fact a "sense"?

In conclusion, sensate knowledge is not much different from empiricism. For one to hold on to the former while denying the latter is the unstable position of Bavinck's Realism. and it seems to me all other forms of common-sense type realisms. Far better to start with revelation as not just the foundation for knowing God, but also the foundation and reservoir for gaining any knowledge at all.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Is Realism the default?

... Every human, after all, accepts the reliability of the senses and the existence of the external world, not by a logical inference from the effect, in this case the representation in his consciousness, to the cause outside of himself, nor by reasoning from the resistance his will encounters to an objective reality that generates this resistance. Prior to all reflection and reasoning, everyone is in fact fully assured of the real existence of the world.

This certainty is not born out of a syllogism, nor is it supported by proof; it is immediate, originating, spontaneously within us along with perception itself. It is not a product but the foundation and starting point of all other certainty. Every human, even the least knowledgeable, a child already and an animal also, accepts in advance, without any reasoning, the existence of an external world. [Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1: 223]

In his response to Rationalism and Empiricism, the theologian Herman Bavinck embraced some form of Realism, which in our day would be called "Reformed Epistemology." His argument for accepting some things as basically true, viz the reliability of the senses and the existence of the external world, seem valid. After all, is it not true that humans basically "know" these to be true before any reflection and reasoning?

Unfortunately, things aren't always that easy. Yes, it is admitted that humans operate under these beliefs prior to reflection and reasoning. Yet, it is one thing to say that they operate on that level, and another thing to say that they accept these to be true. The former is self-evident, the latter we deny. The fact is that unreflective human beings do not "accept" these to be true, because they have not made a self-conscious epistemic commitment to the truth value of these statements. They operate on that level, but not because of acceptance of the truth of these two claims: that (1) the senses are reliable, and (2) the external world really existed. Being unreflective, they do not have a position on the issue beyond a knee-jerk affirmation if pressed on the issue.

Now, that humans operate as if Realism is true needs to be explained. It could be explained by Realism, or perhaps by other theories. Of course as a Christian, we should affirm Realism, but the question is why we should affirm Realism. The "Reformed Epistemology" view does a disservice here because it jumps directly to Realism, with arguments similar to the ones Bavinck puts forward. But such arguments for realism are not convincing, for reasons like those I have posted.

Christianity teaches Realism, but just because we agree on the conclusion does not mean we agree on the arguments put forward for it. The response which I think is the right one is to say that Christianity teaches Realism because the Scriptures teaches it, not that it is the default view we should adopt.

Friday, March 20, 2015

An informal presentation and discussion concerning the topic of Formal Republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant

Recently, I did an informal presentation (with discussion) on the issue of Formal Republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant, as taught by Herman Witsius but especially Francis Turretin. I recorded the presentation and discussion and the edited version can be heard here.

The references for Witsius and Turretin are as follow:

  • Herman Witsius, Economy of the Covenants, 2: 182-7
  • Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2: 227, 235, 262.

For those who want a fuller idea of where I'm going, here is my thesis:

The material cause of Formal Republication is the literary structure of the covenant and covenant documents. The formal cause of Formal Republication is typology, or relations. The efficient cause of Formal Republication is the will of God in making covenants with His people. The final cause of Formal Republication is pedagogy for our benefit.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Francis Turretin on the topic of Formal Republication within the Mosaic Covenant

However, we recognize only two covenants mutually distinct in species (to wit, the covenant of works, which promises life to the doer; and the covenant of grace, which promises salvation to believers). Although we confess that the Sinaitic covenant as to mode of dispensation was different from both, still as to substance and species we deny that it constituted a third covenant and hold that it was nothing else than a new economy of the covenant of grace. It was really the same with the covenant made with Abraham, but different as to accidents and circumstances (to wit, clothed as to external dispensation with the form of a covenant of works through the harsh promulgation of the law; not indeed with that design, so that a covenant of works might again be demanded with the sinner [for this is impossible], but that a daily recollection and reproaching of the violated covenant of works might be made; thus the Israelites felt their sin and the curse of God besides hanging over them and acknowledged the impossibility of a legal righteousness; driven away from that hope, they so much the more ardently thirsted for the righteousness of redemption and were led along by the hand to Christ), Hence in it there was a mixture of the law and the gospel: the former to strike terror into sinners and press upon them the neck of the stiff-necked (schlerotragelou) people; the latter to lift up and console the conscience contrite and overpowered by a sense of sin.

[Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison Jr.; Phillipsburg, P&R publishing, 1994), 2: 263]

Here we see Francis Turretin teach a formal pedagogical republication of the Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant, as well as the Law/ Gospel distinction.

Monday, March 09, 2015

The problem of identificational repentance

Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. (Dan. 9:3-6)

The teaching of identificational repentance (not to be confused with corporate repentance during Lord's Day service) states that one identifies with the group one is part of, take upon oneself the corporate sins of that group, and repent on the group's behalf for these corporate sins. One of the proof texts for this teaching is found in the narrative of Daniel 9, where the prophet Daniel repented of Israel's sins, which he himself as a righteous person did not commit.

Now, I have no idea where this teaching come from, except that I was introduced to it through the Third Wave Charismatic movement (part of their prayer and intercessory warfare model, e.g. Cindy Jacobs). From the Daniel 9 passage, the context seems to be repentance of sins committed against God (vertical) on behalf of the covenant community (ecclesial, not an ethnicity), so it seems to me suspect to use it for horizontal (human-to-human) sins.

What is really strange about this identificational repentance model is what happens when one is a member of both "camps." For example, who exactly should a black PCA minister ask forgiveness from if we are talking about racism? Which group is he in? While certainly in some sense identificational repentance seems reasonable, e.g. the German churches asking forgiveness for the Holocaust, most times this whole teaching sounds really suspect. I get it that if you are part of a group that has sinned, one might repent on behalf of the group. But beyond the immediate sins, how far should we go in "identifying" with groups to confess their sins?

Articles like these on Ref21 therefore really irritate me. Such smacks to me of assuaging white guilt rather than solving racism. Speaking of which, how often must a group of people apologize before everyone can move on? As for dealing with racism explicit or implicit, why the continual dichotomy as if only whites and African-Americans are present? What about the various Asian groups? Or is Sean Lucas only interested in affirmative action just to *prove* he is not racist (and so practice reverse racism in the process)?

Because of the Third Wave context in which this doctrine was introduced to me, I am rather antipathic to it. I will certainly look more into it as the need arises, yet it already seems from a cursory look at Daniel 9 that it does not seem to teach this doctrine of identificational repentance. The ways this teaching has been utilized so far does not endear me to it, and all the more examples of such repentance are given and seen.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

On Matter and Nature

One of the things Dr. R Scott Clark is adamant about is the real existence of the category called "nature." To be against nature is to go against the God of nature. The LGBTQ+++ experiment is rebellion against nature. To the extent that nature exists, I can concur. But sometimes I wonder how much thought we actually put into understanding nature.

In one of his more recent tweets, Dr. Clark posted his rejection of the understanding that Christ, in His post-resurrection body, either teleported or dematerialized through the door of the locked Upper Room. According to him, such betrays a Gnostic conception of Christ. To the extant that teleporting and dematerializing is understood to dissolve matter into spirit, it is understandable. But the counter to his assertion is to point out our limited understanding of what constitutes "nature" and "natural." After all, we still have no idea what matter exactly is.

E = mc2

In modern times, we have come to understand the many operations of the world. Matter as we have come to understand it seemed to be made up of energy ("quantized materialized energy"). So on the issue of ontology, while we certainly should affirm the goodness of matter, yet how are we to understand what "matter" actually is?

More pertinent to our discussion is our limited understanding of what constitutes "natural." Now, to a limited extant, some things are self-evidently natural, like the sexual dimorphism of the human race. But besides that, how do we know human nature definitely excludes things like teleportation (not in the "spiritual sense" but the "physics" sense). What about having super-strength (e.g. Hulk), super-healing power (e.g. Wolverine), telekinesis ( the MCU Scarlet Witch), and so on? What exactly "IS" natural anymore? Sure, we can say that it is not part of human nature in general (in our current state). But since we will acknowledge that a person with any of these abilities can be still human, it seems that these are not "against human nature" but are rather accidental to human nature.

So back to the issue, why can't we say that Jesus teleported into, or phased through into, the locked Upper Room where his disciples are meeting? Since having such abilities do not make one non-human, it is not inconceivable if Jesus actually could so such things, even as a man, a man in his new eschatological body.

So, while we do need to affirm the goodness of matter, and the legitimacy of the category of nature, it does not seem to me that we should therefore deny what the text seem to imply, and exclude a priori that teleporation and/or phasing are not the means by which Jesus entered the locked Upper Room.

Anti-2K meltdown

The teaching of Two-Kingdoms theory (2K), often derogatorily termed "R2K" or "Radical Two-Kingdoms," is one view of the relationship between Christ and Culture that is controversial in American Presbyterian and Reformed circles. In light of that, I have posted excerpts from "Mr. Two-Kingdoms" aka Dr. David VanDrunen, on what Two-Kingdoms theory actually teaches on the main points of contention between it and some version of either Neo-Kuyperianism or Christian Reconstructionism.

Sadly, some people are close-minded. They think they know what 2K teaches even better than those who actually believe it. They know a priori that 2K means errors X, Y, Z, and so on, and therefore whatever counter-evidence must fit their narrative of how errant 2K is. Here are some choice responses:

So let me translate what the comment in the first snapshot said: " [puts fingers in ears] I don't care what those who teach 2K actually says they teach. I know it's definitely wrong, and if you claim otherwise, you must be the one who's deceived." As for the second snapshot, this is essentially the content of the responses: "You're an idiot. You must be breaking the 9th commandment, because we know 2K is wrong and therefore anyone who says otherwise is violating the 9th commandment." Don't you just feel the "love"?

I'm really sorry, but if anyone thinks that lies and misrepresentations will convince anyone, you're working for the wrong kingdom, unless of course you are the children of the Devil.

What the 2-Kingdoms doctrine teaches

Second, I wrote this book out of a growing conviction that contemporary conversations about Christianity and culture are on the wrong track and that the perspective presented in these pages, largely overlooked today, offers a biblical corrective that can help to get discussion back on the right track. ...


Unfortunately, other themes popular in the contemporary conversations are problematic. For example, many contemporary voices assert that God is redeeming all legitimate cultural activities and institutions and that Christians are therefore called to transform them accordingly and to build the kingdom of God through this work. ... This redemptive transformation of present human culture begins a process that will culminate in the new creation - the new heaven and the new earth. According to this vision of Christian cultural engagement, our cultural products will adorn the eternal city. ...


This two-kingdoms doctrine strongly affirms that God has made all things, that sin corrupts all aspects of life, that Christians should be active in human culture, that all lawful cultural vocations are honorable, that all people are accountable to God in every activity, and that Christians should seek to live out the implications of their faith in their daily vocations. A Christian, however, does not have to adopt a redemptive vision of culture in order to affirm these important truths. A biblical two-kingdoms doctrine provides another compelling way to do so. According to this doctrine, God is not redeeming the cultural activities and institutions of this world, but is preserving them through the covenant he made with all living creatures through Noah in Genesis 8:20-9:17. God himself rules this "common kingdom," and thus it is not, as some writers describe it, the "kingdom of man." This kingdom is in no sense a realm of moral neutrality or autonomy. ...

[David VanDrunen, Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 12-15]

We note here that the Two Kingdoms doctrine teaches that:

  1. Neo-Kuyperianism is in error
  2. All people, including unbelievers, are accountable to God for their actions
  3. Christians are to live out the implications of their faith in their daily vocation; they are neither to be pietists or quietists
  4. The common kingdom is NOT a neutral "kingdom of man"; it is not autonomous from God's rule and God's moral law.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Theonomy Debate: JD Hall versus Joel McDurmon

Here is a place where you can access the Theonomy debate between JD Hall and Joel McDurmon. Or you can watch it here: