The Trinity Foundation has been adding e-books to their collection for $5/ea. You can get some great titles there like John Robbins’ Freedom and Capitalism, as well as Gordon Clark’s The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God. I recommend them all.
I am now able to sleep at night: Pascal Denault has written the book I’ve been looking for.
Someone has finally put in print an analysis of what 17th century particular baptists believed about covenant theology. As amazing as it sounds, no other book has done this. Of the now numerous books published on baptist covenant theology, none of them have done what Denault has done. None of them endeavored to explain what the editors and signers of the 1689 London Baptist Confession meant when they modified Chapter 7 of the LBCF. Some have written how they personally interpret Chapter 7, but not necessarily how the London baptists did. Many reformed baptists have labored hard to reconcile their credobaptism with covenant theology, but for the most part they went back to the drawing board to do so, rather than standing on the shoulders of those who came before.
But, I don’t blame them. It’s not like you can find these primary sources on Amazon, or even in your library. For the most part, they’re just not in print. Reformed Baptist Academic Press did a great service in publishing Nehemiah Coxe’s treatise on covenant theology, but before that it wasn’t available in print. And still most of the other writings are not available. Denault notes: “I spent weeks communing with seventeenth-century theologians through their writings; sometimes reading them with a magnifying glass when only the original edition existed.”
The result is a unique combination of historical survey and modern polemic against presbyterian covenant theology. The value of returning to the source of 1689 confessional covenantalism is that it is decidedly different from the covenant theology of modern reformed baptists. Only two modern books articulate the same view: Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw in the Theology of Infant Baptism and A.W. Pink’s Divine Covenants (for the most part).
The most prevalent view amongst reformed baptists today is a modified version of presbyterian federalism. This is the one covenant, two administrations view. Denault notes “the Presbyterian paradigm of the Covenant of Grace consists in seeing only one covenant administered respectively by the Old and New Covenants. This notion was definitively rooted in Presbyterian theology when it was integrated into the standards of Westminster: “This covenant [the Covenant of Grace] was differently administered in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel [...]” (39). Most reformed baptists agree with this view. In his Exposition of the 1689 LBCF, Sam Waldron notes “The truth is that the way or scheme of salvation has been one and the same in all ages of the world. In the revelation of this scheme of salvation all the divine covenants were involved. They were its historical administrations.” But they disagree with presbyterians over what constitutes the difference in administration between the old and the new. They will say that the old covenant eternally saved some of it’s members, but the new covenant eternally saves all of it’s members – and this is the newness of the new covenant. As James White argues:
The point is that for Niell [his paedobaptist interlocutor], the “counter-point” to which he is responding is an either/or situation: either the elements of the New Covenant described in Heb. 8:10 were completely absent in the Old Covenant (as he understands the citations he presents to assert) or they were present and hence cannot be definitional of what is ‘new’ in the New Covenant. But it is just here that the position of Reformed Baptists in general, and that seen in our exegesis, must be allowed to speak to the issue. We must agree that considered individually, each of the elements of the New Covenant listed in Heb. 8:10-12 can be found, in particular individuals in the Old Covenant… So, if some in the Old Covenant experienced these divine works of grace, but most did not, what then is to be concluded? That the newness of the New Covenant is seen in the extensiveness of the expression of God’s grace to all in it… Hence, when we read, “God’s law, the transcript of his holiness and his expectations for his people, was already on the hearts of his people, and so is not new in the new covenant,” 11 we respond by saying it is not the mere existence of the gracious act of God writing His law on the heart that is new, but it is the extensiveness of that work that is new. While some in the Old Covenant experienced this, all in the New Covenant do so… The newness of the New Covenant, as we have seen exegetically, is that all of these divine actions are true for all of those in it.
As White alludes, his position is representative of “Reformed Baptists in general”. The new and the old covenant do not differ in substance – they both renewed hearts, forgave sins, and saved eternally. They only differ in administration – some received this blessing in the old covenant, but all receive this blessing in the new covenant. But as Denault demonstrates, this view is not representative of seventeenth-century baptists.
Coxe summarizes the Baptist distinction as follows: “the Old Covenant and the new differ in substance and not only in the manner of the administration.”… his federalism can practically be considered as the standard of Calvinist Baptists [of the seventeenth-century]. (18) … Consequently, none of them endorsed the theology of one Covenant of Grace under two administrations (58). [Note: apparently 1 or 2 Calvinist Baptists did endorse the two administration theology]
Instead of the one covenant under two administrations view, seventeenth-century baptists held to “one covenant revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant” (61).
“[Chapter 7] is the most discordant passage of the confessions of faith. Knowing that the Baptists made every effort to follow the Westminster standards as much as possible when they wrote their confession of faith, the originality of their formulation of the Covenant of Grace is highlight significant. It is obvious that the authors of the 1689 completely avoided any formulation reminiscent of the “one covenant under two administrations” model that we find in the other two confessions of faith. This absence must be interpreted as a rejection of the theology behind this formulation and not as an omission or an attempt at originality.” (60-61)
The Baptists believed that before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of grace was not formally given, but only announced and promised (revealed). This distinction is fundamental to the federalism of the 1689 (62)… The Baptists considered that the New Covenant and it alone was the Covenant of Grace. In Baptist theology we find an equivalency between the Covenant of Grace and the New Covenant (63)…The Baptist understanding rested on another fundamental distinction: one between the phase where the Covenant of Grace was revealed and the phase where it was concluded. The revealed phase corresponded to the period preceding the death of Christ and the concluded phase corresponding to the time that followed. Therefore, Baptists considered that no other covenant, besides the New Covenant, was the Covenant of Grace.
Again, just to note the contrast between seventeenth-century baptists and modern reformed baptists, Waldron states
“Each use of the term to refer to a divine covenant in the bible refers to a covenant made by God at some specific historical epoch. None of these covenants may simply be equated with what the [London Baptist] Confession describes as ‘the covenant of grace’… The New Covenant has sometimes been equated with the covenant of grace. As the Confession remarks, ‘the full discovery’ of the covenant of grace ‘was completed in the New Testament.’… If this theological terminology [covenant of grace] is used, however, it must be guarded carefully in two ways. First, the distinction between the divine covenants [ie new covenant] and the covenant of grace must be maintained jealously. (107-110)
I don’t mean to criticize White and Waldron and others who hold their view. I only wish to make it abundantly clear what is being said in Denault’s book. It is easy to read another book on baptist covenant theology and categorize it with the others without realizing it’s uniqueness and it’s disagreement with other reformed baptists. Greg Nichols’ “Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants” has been lauded as a hallmark point for reformed baptists. Derek Thomas notes “Baptists who embrace their historic Calvinistic and Covenantal roots have long since needed a robust and comprehensive treatment of Covenant Theology that includes the nuanced interpretations of the biblical covenants that a baptistic hermeneutic requires. This treatment by Greg Nichols does just that and more.” The oddity is that this treatment that has long been needed, has long existed! And Nichols’ modern treatment is not representative of the older treatment already given. Whereas Denault spends the entire book explaining the meaning of the change in LBCF 7.3, Nichols gives it a paragraph and barely mentions any disagreement. This is fine if Nichols’ main focus is to explain his personal beliefs about covenant theology, but it is lamentable that paedobaptist scholars like Thomas inevitably see it as representing the Calvinistic and Covenantal roots of the 1689.
There is a lot to be learned from seventeenth-century baptists. In particular, Denault’s book helped iron out a few wrinkles in my understanding of baptist covenant theology.
His discussion of the Abrahamic covenant and clarification as to what Coxe said about it was very helpful. He shows how the baptists answered the claims of Petto and others who saw the Abrahamic covenant as unconditional but the Mosaic as conditional (a view echoed by Meredith Kline and Michael Horton). They answered Petto’s primary text for this view (Gal 3:16-17) by appealing to Galatians 4:22-31.
“The Baptists saw two posterities in Abraham, two inheritances and consequently two covenants… Not that the posterity of Abraham was of a mixed nature, but that Abraham had two distinct posterities and that it was necessary to determine the inheritance of each of these posterities on the basis of their respective promises… This understanding was vigorously affirmed amongst all Baptist theologians and characterized their federalism form its origin” (119-120).
But, very helpfully, Denault clarifies that this did not mean they saw two formal covenants with Abraham. They saw only one formal covenant – the covenant of circumcision (Gen 17). The other was seen only as a promise (Gen 12) (a footnote interacts with Jeffrey Johnson’s disagreement on this point, and is very helpful as well).
Denault also does an excellent job of illuminating the precise nature of the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of works, according to the baptists. I have previously objected to John Owen’s remark that the Mosaic Covenant law demanded perfect obedience. I preferred A.W. Pink’s explanation that only outward, national, general conformity to the Mosaic Covenant was required, since it was a national covenant. However, Denault notes that these two views are in harmony:
“In agreement with the Covenant of Works, the Old Covenant demanded a perfect obedience to the Law of God, but contrary to the Covenant of Works, the Old Covenant was based on a sacrificial system for the redemption of sinners… The slightest disobedience to the Law constituted a sin punishable by death (Rom 6:23), but not necessarily a transgression of the Old Covenant. It is necessary to make the distinction between the requirements of the Law of works affirmed under the Old Covenant and the requirements of the Old Covenant itself towards Israel. The maintaining of the Old Covenant depended on the Levitical priesthood (Heb 7:11) and not on absolute obedience… the obedience required was general and national in character. God graciously overlooked the many offenses. However, the covenant would be broken if Israel habitually sinned and were marked nationally as a rebellious people who disregarded God’s Word” (137-138).
There is much to be gained from Denault’s work. It fills a very necessary gap in the existing literature on baptist covenant theology. The work addresses many of the objections and concerns raised by modern paedobaptists against modern Calvinistic baptists. For example, the recently published “Kingdom Through Covenant” defense of “progressive covenantalism” is seen by many as “the” covenantal answer to paedobaptists by modern Calvinistic baptists. But Kingdom Through Covenant really looks very little like the seventeenth-century baptists. And what’s more, these older baptists avoided the pitfalls that Kingdom Through Covenant is precisely being criticized for (see my next post). Sadly, I doubt that Denault’s work will get the attention that Kingdom Through Covenant did, although it deserves to.
Enough already: go read it!
I gave my pentecostal neighbor a copy of Walter Chantry’s book “Today’s Gospel” and he in turn gave me a copy of a book he just read and was excited about called “The Circle Maker“. I knew nothing about the author, Mark Batterson, and I didn’t research anything about him before reading, as I didn’t want to bias my reading in any direction. With that said, I found the book to be moderately helpful, but perhaps not in the way Batterson intended, or to the extent he hoped. Let me explain.
Batterson’s basic premise is that we don’t pray bold enough nor big enough for people who believe in an all powerful King of the Universe. He uses an old story of an Israelite named Honi (taken from “The Book of Legends” from the Talmud and Midrash) who prayed for rain during a drought and would not settle for less than what he knew God was capable of. It was a bold prayer, emboldened by his refusal to move from the circle he drew around himself until God answered his prayer. I found this a helpful reminder of a sermon I heard a few years ago from Tim Conway titled “The Art of Pleading With God“. The sermon, and Batterson’s book, urge us beyond timidly running down a list of things we’d like God to do “if its His will.” I agree with Batterson when he notes “Of course, I threw in the obligatory ‘if it be Your will’ at the end. That tagline may sound spiritual, but it was less a submission to God’s will and more a profession of doubt. If you aren’t careful, the will of God can become a cop-out if things don’t turn out the way you want.” However, I found Conway’s (echoing Spurgeon) solution to be much more biblical than Batterson’s.
But first, more of what I appreciated. I think the primary benefit of this book is biographical. In his book “The Pursuit of Holiness”, Jerry Bridges notes that an aid in the pursuit of holiness is finding motivation in the stories of others – be it in Scripture or history. Batterson’s book was helpful in that it showed how a particular person sought God in prayer and how God answered. I found similar encouragement in Wes Lane’s “Amazingly Graced” when he talks about beginning to pray with the boldness of David in the Psalms. What I did not find encouraging was Batterson’s methods or explanation of the success of his prayers. I see this as an example of God answering in spite of us, not because of us – of the Holy Spirit aiding our prayers.
But a few more positives first: “Who you become is determined by how you pray [or how others pray for you].” “Our dreams are as nebulous as cumulus clouds… Keep a prayer journal… The more faith you have, the more specific your prayers will be and the more specific your prayers are, the more glory God receives.” He notes our problems in prayer are often 1) We don’t know what we want 2) We quit too early.
So there is much encouragement in the book, but ultimately I cannot recommend it because the main premise is not biblical and because Batterson demonstrates little desire to root anything he says in Scripture. He spatters some passages throughout his book, but there is no exposition of any passage, not even a passage on prayer. When he does quote a passage, he never tells you what passage it is (unless you look in the back of the book, even though there is no endnote telling you to) and he almost never says anything about what the passage actually says. Most of the time, as other reviewers have noted, Batterson simply draws speculation out of accounts that are not from Scripture, or he completely mis-uses/interprets the passage. After I began reading the book, I noted to my wife that I just can’t think like people like Batterson. I can’t come to a text and come up with the things they do because it is so foreign to the context and meaning of the passage, and I couldn’t understand how he was able to do it.
As I read more of the book, I began to understand how Batterson was able to (mis)interpret the Bible the way he does. I noted at the beginning that this book was recommended to me by a pentecostal neighbor. I mentioned this because Batterson is a pentecostal as well (his church is officially non-denominational but is “closely aligned” with Assemblies of God). A key part of Batterson’s prayer system is his belief that the Holy Spirit gives prophecy and revelation to Christians today. Nearly every example in the book was of someone receiving revelation of what God promised them, if they would only pray. An example is:
“One day, as I was dreaming about the church God wanted to establish on Capitol Hill, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to do a prayer walk. I would often pace and pray in the spare bedroom in our house that doubled as the church office, but this prompting was different. I was reading through the book of Joshua at the time, and one of the promises jumped off the page and into my spirit: ‘I’m giving you every square inch of the land you set your foot on – just as I promised Moses.’ As I read that promise given to Joshua, I felt that God wanted me to stake a claim to the land He had called us to and pray a perimeter all the way around Capitol Hill. I had a Honi-like confidence that just as this promise had been transferred from Moses to Joshua, God would transfer the promise to me if I had enough faith to circle it.”
This is the introduction to a chain of events accounted throughout the rest of the book that ends up with Batterson’s church owning a lot of property in Washington D.C. and growing very large. Despite the apparent success of Batterson’s prayer walk, I hope you noticed the great problem with what he just said. He believes that Joshua 1:3 was a promise to him. And as he tells his readers to do, he circled that promise in the Bible, and then prayed in confidence because it was a promise. Later in the book he explains how he feels justified in doing this:
“Notice that the promise was originally given to Moses. The promise was then transferred to Joshua. In much the same way, all of God’s promises have been transferred to us via Jesus Christ. While promises must be interpreted and applied in an accurate historical and exegetical fashion, there are moments when the Spirit of God quickens our spirit and transfers a promise that He had originally given to someone else. While we have to be careful not to blindly claim promises, I think our greatest challenge is that we don’t circle as many promises as we could or should.”
When I read this, I began to see how Batterson could so egregiously mis-read Scripture. His belief that the Holy Spirit reveals extra-biblical information to Christians today trains him to think extra-biblically. This pattern is repeated throughout the book time and time again. And Batterson encourages Christians to do this by reading through the Bible and circling promises they see, believing they apply to themselves. The most egregious example of this is a story he tells of a couple whose young son becomes mute due to a severe case of autism:
“During those desperate days, they went to visit their pastor for counsel and encouragement. While praying for them, the pastor received a promise from God. He jotted Isaiah 59:21 on a sticky note and handed it to them. ‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the LORD. ‘ My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants – from this time on and forever,’ says the LORD.’ The pastor shut his Bible and said, ‘I guess that settles it. Your child will talk.’”
In my opinion, Batterson’s belief in this extra-biblical “revelation” warps his view of Scripture such that it becomes putty in his hands to mean whatever he “feels” the Holy Spirit is telling him it means. Faithfully interpreting and applying what the Bible actually says takes a back seat to reading through your Bible and circling any time any promise is made to anyone and then “naming it and claiming it” as your own (see another Amazon reviewer’s comments about the prosperity gospel in relation to this book). Batterson explains:
One thing is certain: Our most powerful prayers are hyperlinked to the promises of God. When you know you are praying the promises of God, you can pray with holy confidence. It’s the difference between praying on thin ice and praying on solid ground. It’s the difference between praying tentatively and praying tenaciously. You don’t have to second-guess yourself because you know that God wants you to double-click on His promises.
The fatal flaw of “The Circle Maker” is that it takes this view of the Holy Spirit’s work today and combines it with a misinterpretation/application of 2 Cor 1:15-20. “By the most conservative estimates, there are more than three thousand promises in Scripture. By virtue of what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, every one of them belongs to you. Every one of them has your name on it. The question is: How many of them have you circled?” The proper way to apply 2 Cor 1:15-20 is to take promises like those made to Abraham about the promised land and recognize how they are fulfilled in Christ by His return and the establishment of the New Heavens and the New Earth, and to see how we are blessed in that. Note, we do not take a passage about the promised land, and because of the work of Christ, “claim it” for a piece of real estate we want. God blessed Batterson with property in Washington D.C., but he never promised him that property. Especially not in Joshua 1:3.
Tragically, Batterson’s view ends up defaming God. Near the end of the book, Batterson notes
“When you live by faith, it feels like you are risking your reputation. You’re not. You’re risking God’s reputation. It’s not your faith that is on the line. It’s His faithfulness. Why? Because God is the one who made the promise, and He is the only one who can keep it.”
Batterson admits his method of prayer risks God’s reputation. But because it is built upon unbiblical foundations, it really is a risk to God’s reputation. What does this teach people who mistakenly claimed a promise God never made to them and thus never fulfilled? As of the writing of this book, the couple’s autistic son is still mute. Falsely claiming promises that were never made can do real damage to God’s reputation.
We are much better off diligently studying the Bible to understand it in its proper context and then praying bold prayers that plead with God. The idea of arguing with God in prayer is really a better explanation of what Honi, the old Israelite who prayed for rain, was doing. Batterson could have used this story and written a great book based upon the examples of David’s recorded prayers in the Psalms, as others have done (see the mentioned Conway sermon on sermonaudio.com, or Spurgeon on Job 23:3-4). This would have been edifying to God’s people. Instead, Batterson wrote a book that misguides our faith and truly does risk God’s reputation.
If you had $20 to spend at Monergism Books (I do), what would you spend it on?
- CHURCHES, REVOLUTIONS AND EMPIRES: 1789-1914
- GOD IS RED: THE SECRET STORY OF HOW CHRISTIANITY SURVIVED AND FLOURISHED IN COMMUNIST CHINA
- A NEW TESTAMENT BIBLICAL THEOLOGY: THE UNFOLDING OF THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW
- 2000 YEARS OF CHRIST’S POWER: PART ONE: THE AGE OF THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS
- NEITHER POVERTY NOR RICHES: A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF POSSESSIONS (NSBT)
- THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: A SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY FOR PILGRIMS ON THE WAY
Richard Barcellos directed me to a new booklet on the three-fold division of the law. He notes:
It is quite common in our day to deny the three-fold division of the law – moral, ceremonial, judicial. No one who has read up on the issue denies that Reformed theology teaches this division. It is in Calvin and other 16th-century theologians, in the 17th-century men, and in Reformed confessions and catechisms. The historical-theological question concerning the Reformed tradition on this issue is not disputed. What is disputed, however, is whether or not the division pre-dates the Reformation and, more importantly, whether the Bible itself makes such distinctions. I think the answer to both questions is yes and so does Jonathan F. Bayes in this excellent piece on the three-fold division. It is a very well-written and relatively easy-to-read piece. I recommend it very highly!
I think the end of Bayes’ piece provides some interesting challenges to those who deny any distinction within the law.
I started reading Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality and I really enjoy it. Here is a quote.
The first point which we must make is that it is impossible even to begin living the Christian life, or to know anything of true spirituality, before one is a Christian. And the only way to become a Christian is neither by trying to live some sort of a Christian life nor by hoping for some sort of religious experience, but rather by accepting Christ as Savior. No matter how complicated, educated, or sophisticated we may be, or how simple we may be, we must all come the same way, insofar as becoming a Christian is concerned. As the kings of the earth and the mighty of the earth are born in exactly the same way physically as the simplest man, so the most intellectual person must become a Christian in exactly the same way as the simplest person. This is true for all men, everywhere, through all space and time. There are no exceptions. Jesus said a totally exclusive word: “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.”
The reason for this is that all men are separated from God because of their true moral guilt. God exists, God has a character, God is a holy God, and when men sin (and we all must acknowledge we have sinned not only by mistake but by intention) they have true moral guilt before the God who exists. That guilt is not just the modern concept of guilt-feelings, a psychological guilty feeling in man. It is a true moral guilt before the infinite-personal, holy God. Only the finished, substitutionary work of Christ upon the cross as the Lamb of God – in history, space, and time – is enough to remove this. Our true guilt, that brazen heaven which stands between us and God, can be removed only upon the basis of the finished work of Christ plus nothing on our part. The Bible’s whole emphasis is that there must be no humanistic note added at any point in accepting the gospel. It is the infinite value of the finished work of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, upon the cross, plus nothing, that is the sole basis for the removal of our guilt. When we thus come, believing God, the Bible says we are declared justified by God; the guilt is gone, and we are returned to fellowship with God – the very thing for which we were created in the first place.
It is worth noting what Schaeffer said in the Preface. After explaining a spiritual crisis he faced long after becoming a Christian, he says:
As I rethought my reasons for being a Christian I saw again that there were totally sufficient reasons to know that the infinite-personal God does exist and that Christianity is true. In going further, I saw something else which made a profound difference in my life. I searched through what the Bible said concerning reality as a Christian. Gradually I saw that the problem was that with all the teaching I had received after I was a Christian, I had heard little about what the Bible says about the meaning of the finished work of Christ for our present lives. Gradually the sun came out and the song came.
What we learn or do not learn will have a direct effect on our lives.
Just like in the movie, it looks like Dr. Jones (aka Marv Meyer) got caught trying to make the switch.
Marv Meyer teaches at Chapman. He considers himself a modern day Indiana Jones of ideas, or at least he dresses like one.
Meyer was one of the translators of the Gospel of Judas. I took his class last fall (Images of Jesus) in which he spent much time spinning webs of fantasy, trying to get students to imagine the possibility that Jesus isn’t so much an historical person, but rather, he is whatever we want him to be. I wrote a Tribute to Marv Meyer while in the class.
It looks like he has been caught red-handed though. Apparently his translation is not so much accurate, as it is inaccurate. Not so much scholarly as it is unscholarly.
Someone decided to actually check his translation of the Gospel of Judas, and here is what she found:
Several of the translation choices made by the society’s scholars fall well outside the commonly accepted practices in the field. For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a “daimon,” which the society’s experts have translated as “spirit.” Actually, the universally accepted word for “spirit” is “pneuma ” — in Gnostic literature “daimon” is always taken to mean “demon.”
Likewise, Judas is not set apart “for” the holy generation, as the National Geographic translation says, he is separated “from” it. He does not receive the mysteries of the kingdom because “it is possible for him to go there.” He receives them because Jesus tells him that he can’t go there, and Jesus doesn’t want Judas to betray him out of ignorance. Jesus wants him informed, so that the demonic Judas can suffer all that he deserves.
Perhaps the most egregious mistake I found was a single alteration made to the original Coptic. According to the National Geographic translation, Judas’s ascent to the holy generation would be cursed. But it’s clear from the transcription that the scholars altered the Coptic original, which eliminated a negative from the original sentence. In fact, the original states that Judas will “not ascend to the holy generation.” To its credit, National Geographic has acknowledged this mistake, albeit far too late to change the public misconception.
Some quotes from Gordon Clark’s “What is Saving Faith?”
*quotes are not continuous even though they may appear to be because of the formatting, sorry
Forward by John W. Robbins:
Perhaps the world is not responding to the churches’ message because the message is garbled. Neither the churches not the world knows exactly what to do to have eternal life.
The head/heart dichotomy is a figment of modern secular psychology, not a doctrine of divine revelation. St. Sigmund, not St. John controls the pulpit in nearly all churches.
As for having a “personal relationship” with Christ, if the phrase means something more than assenting to (believing) true propositions about Jesus, what is that something more? Feeling warm inside? Coffee has the same effect.
To understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone, one must understand the doctrine of faith, as well as the doctrine of justification. Err on either doctrine, and one errs on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Many people, including many teachers in conservative churches and schools, are offended by the simplicity of the Gospel, and add to the statements of Scripture.
Belief is not enough, they say. In order to be saved, one must do more than believe; one must commit, surrender, trust, encounter, relate, or emote.
Faith is assent to a proposition, and saving faith is assent to propositions found in the Bible… Truth is propositional, and one is saved and sanctified only through believing true statements. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God.
The motivation for this study of the nature of faith is the edification of Christians: “Let all things be done for edification.” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Saving faith is a species of faith in general. Faith is not limited to Christian faith. Jewish faith, Islamic faith, and even secular faiths are faith.
On page 426 and following, Price notes that in religious circles belief in is of more importance than belief that. The latter is a more secular concept; and the devout insist that there is a great difference between them. Philosophers, on the other hand, usually think not, and attempt to reduce in to that. However, as Price ntoes, even secularists use belief-in. A blind man believes-in his dog. Englishmen used to believe-in the British Empire. Some parents believe-in a liberal arts education for their children. Women’s lib believes-in killing babies. Can these beliefs-in be reduced to beliefs-that? For example, belief in the Loch Ness monster simply means someone believes that there is such a creature. The Tories of the nineteenth century did not believe in Gladstone; that is, they did not believe that he was a good prime minister.
Somewhere in a discussion on faith, the Romish view of “implicit” faith should be considered. When an Italian or Irish peasant asserts that he believes whatever the Church teaches, though, of course, this knowledge of what the Church teaches embraces no more than one percent of the Tridentine confession, he is said to have implicit faith. Even an educated Catholic, a professor of philosophy in a secular university, did not know the essential element that makes baptism valid. But all such people profess belief in whatever the Church teaches. Protestantism has always rejected this proposition as absurd.
It should be clear that no one can believe what he does not know or understand. Suppose a person who knows no French is told, “Dans ce roman c’est M. DuPres qui est le meurtrier”: Can he believe it? If he could, it would greatly ease the work of foreign missionaries: They could preach to the Chinese or Bantus in English without having to spend years learning the native language. But in reality no one can believe what he does not understand, even if it is expressed in his own mother tongue.
When one author constantly criticizes other authors (as Clark is doing in the book thus far), the reader may be repelled by the negativism. Let it be repeated that contrasting views bring both sides into sharper focus. And not only so, the writer criticized may set forth some very acceptable material.
James 2:20 is a puzzling passage. He speaks there of a dead faith and describes it as a faith unproductive of good works. Precisely what a man of dead faith believes is not too clear. One thing, however, is clear: The word faith here cannot mean “personal trust” in the sense that some popular preachers impose on it in distinction to belief. “Dead trust” would be an unintelligible phrase. Clearly James means a belief of some sort; and the only belief James mentions is the belief in monotheism. Islam therefore would be a dead faith.
Faith “is not only assensus axiomati, an assent to a Gospel-maxim or proposition; you are not justified by that, but by being one with Christ. It was the mistake of the former age to make the promise rather than the person of Christ, to be the formal object of faith…” (Manton) The mention of the person of Christ is pious language. Similar expressions are common today. One slogan is, “No creed but Christ.” Another expression, with variations from person to person, is, Faith is not belief in a proposition, but trust in a person.
Thou this may sound very pious, it is nonetheless destructive of Christianity. Back in the twenties, before the Methodist Church became totally apostate, a liberal in their General Conference opposed theological precision by some phrase centering on Christ, such as, Christ is all we need. A certain pastor, a remnant of the evangelical wing of the church, had the courage to take the floor and ask the pointed question, “Which Christ?”
Belief is the act of assenting to something understood.
Justifying faith is a species of faith, and if one does not know what faith in general is, one cannot know what the faith is that justifies.
Apparently, then, there are two kinds of assent. All faith is assent; but justifying faith is a different variety of assent. What this difference specifically is, Owen does not say. He indeed says the difference does not lie in the object of the faith, the proposition believed, but in the nature, or psychological characteristics of this particular type of assent. We would like to know what this different psychology is.
It is to be feared that some notion of “species of belief” has been confused with “species of believing.”
He objects to identifying the object of faith with Christ’s promise of forgiveness. Instead he maintains that Christ himself is the object of justifying faith. Although this sounds very pious, Owen and others might not have said this, if instead of the term faith they had used the Scriptural word believe. When we believe a man, we believe what he says. Not does it help Owen’s view to insist on the Scriptural phrase, believe in Christ, as something essentially different from believing Christ. As we said before, believing-in a man may indicate a willingness to believe what he will say in the future as well as what he has said in the past.
Some authors and many preachers contrast trust in a person with belief in a proposition. They often disparage “intellectual belief.” They must then disparage all belief, since there is no other kind.
Unfortunately, the confusion as to kinds of faith soon reappears (re: Hodge). Of course, Jewish faith is not Islamic faith, nor is either of these Christian faith. One might also list political faith and a faith in AT&T stock. But this is not a difference in the definition of faith: It is a difference in the object or propositions believed. They are still assents. Many theologians fall into this confusion.
Some people find a great difference between believing a person and believing in him. There is no doubt a difference, but it is quite different from the difference these people think they have in mind. Attentive readers who read their publications will conclude that they very likely have nothing in mind, for they regularly avoid stating what the difference is. Let us use a human example, for if we begin by talking about believing in God, our sense of piety may deceive us. Any ordinary instance will do. I meet a stranger on the plane and we begin to talk. His conversation indicates that he is a chemical engineer. Somewhere along the line he remarks that a certain chemical process does so and so. I believe him; I accept his statement as true. But I do not for that reason believe in him. He may be a scoundrel. Occasionally engineers are. On the way home I sit next to a very good friend of longstanding. He is a lawyer. He tells me about some legal matter. But now I not only believe this one statement: I believe in him because I believe that anything he will tell me in the future, especially if it concerns law, will be true. I believe he always tells the truth and always will. Of course, since he is a sinner, he may make a mistake. But when we believe in God, we believe that he will never make a mistake. To believe in is simply a reference to the future beyond the present single statement.
To believe in is equivalent to believe that. To believe in Christ Jesus simply means to believe that Jesus died and rose again. In John especially to believe in and to believe that are constantly used interchangeably.
Berkhof cited some references to support his contention. But Romans 3:22 does not support him. It merely mentions, in four words, “faith in Jesus Christ.” The immediately following words are “to all who believe.” What they believe is more explicitly stated in 3:25, which Berkhof also lists. The phrase is “through faith in his blood.” Clearly this is not baldly literal. Blood is a symbol for the atonement. It cannot even be restricted to Christ’s death, for the Pharisees themselves believed that Christ died. What the Pharisees did not believe was the significance of Christ’s death, namely, that he paid the penalty of our sin. Verses 25 and 26 are the best summary of in the New Testament of the core of the Gospel: the doctrine of justification by faith; and this doctrine – a set of propositions – is the object of belief.
“As a psychological phenomenon, faith in the religious sense does not differ from faith in general… Christian faith in the most comprehensive sense is man’s persuasion of the truth of Scripture on the basis of the authority of God.” (Berkhof)
An excerpt from Spurgeon’s “Soul Winner”
Nor is it soul-winning, dear friends, merely to create excitement. Excitement will accompany every great movement. We might justly question whether the movement was earnest and powerful if it was quite as serene as a drawing-room Bible-reading. You cannot very well blast great rocks without the sound of explosions, nor fight a battle and keep everybody as quiet as a mouse. On a dry day, a carriage is not moving much along the road unless there is some noise and dust; friction and stir are the natural result of force in motion. So, when the Spirit of God is abroad, and men’s minds are stirred, there must and will be certain visible signs of the movement, although these must never be confounded with the movement itself. If people imagine that to make a dust is the object aimed at by the rolling of a carriage, they can take a broom, and very soon raise as much dust as fifty coaches; but they will be committing a nuisance rather than conferring a benefit. Excitement is as incidental as the dust, but it is not for one moment to be aimed at. When the woman swept her house, she did it to find her money, and not for the sake of raising a cloud.
Do not aim at sensation and “effect.” Flowing tears and streaming eyes, sobs and outcries, crowded after-meetings and all kinds of confusions may occur, and may be borne with as concomitants of genuine feeling; but pray do not plan their production.
It very often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the excitement is over. They are like certain insects which are the product of an exceedingly warm day, and die when the sun goes down. Certain converts live like salamanders, in the fire; but they expire at a reasonable temperature. I delight not in the religion which needs or creates a hot head. Give me the godliness which flourishes upon Calvary rather than upon Vesuvius. The utmost zeal for Christ is consistent with common-sense and reason: raving, ranting, and fanaticism are products of another zeal which is not according to knowledge. We would prepare men for the chamber of communion, and not for the padded room at Bedlam. No one is more sorry than I that such a caution as this should be needful; but remembering the vagaries of certain wild revivalists, I cannot say less, and I might say a great deal more.
I started reading John Piper’s “Counted Righteous in Christ”
He takes the first chapter to simply explain why he is even bothering dealing with a detailed doctrinal issue when he has so many of duties, as a pastor, to deal with. I found it interesting and worth sharing (only sections listed below, not full excerpt):
GROWING A CHURCH WITHOUT A HEART FOR DOCTRINE
To begin with, the older I get, the less impressed I am with flashy successes and enthusiasms that are not truth-based. Everybody knows that with the right personality, the right music, the right location, and the right schedule you can grow a church without anybody really knowing what doctrinal commitments sustain it, if any. Church-planting specialists generally downplay biblical doctrine in the core values of what makes a church “successful.” the long-term effect of this ethos is a weakening of the church that is concealed as long as the crowds are large, the band is loud, the tragedies are few, and persecution is still at the level of preferences.
But more and more this doctrinally-diluted brew of music, drama, life-trips, and marketing seems out of touch with real life in this world-not to mention the next. It tastes like watered-down greul, not a nourishing meal. It simply isn’t serious enough. It’s too playful and chatty and casual. Its joy just doesn’t feel deep enough or heartbroken or well-rooted. The injustice and persecution and suffering and hellish realities in the world today are so many and so large and so close that I can’t help but think that, deep inside, people are longing for something weighty and massive and rooted and stable and eternal. So it seems to me that the trifling with silly little sketches and breezy welcome-to-the-den styles on Sunday morning are just out of touch with what matters in life.
Of course, it works. Sort of. Because, in the name of felt needs, it resonates with people’s impulse to run from what is most serious and weighty and what makes them most human and noble. Silliness is a stepping-stone to substance. But it’s an odd path. And evidence is not ample that many are willing to move beyond fun and simplicity. So the price of minimizing truth-based joy and maximizing atmosphere-based comfort is high. More and more, it seems to me, the end might be in view. I doubt that a religious ethos with such a feel of entertainment can really survive as Christian for too many more decases. Crises reveal the cracks
WITHOUT PASTORAL STUDY, WE LIVE ON BORROWED FAITH
If Wilberforce is right – I think he is profoundly right – it will be less of a mystery why a pastor with a burden for racial justice and the sanctity of life and the moral transformation of our cultural landscape (Piper) would be gripped by the doctrine of justification by faith. There are deeper and more connections than most of us realize between the grasp of doctrine and the goo dof people and churches and societies. The book of Romans is not prominent in the Bible for nothing. Its massive arguments are to be labored over until understood. And not just by scholars. What a tragedy that this labor is regarded as wasted effort by so many who are giving trusted counsel in the church today.
Thousands are living on borrowed faith. We are living off the dividends, as it were, of intellectual and doctrinal investments made by pastors and church leaders from centuries ago. But the “central bank” of the Bible was not meant to fund future generations merely on the investments of the past. They are precious, and I draw on them daily. Everyone does, even those who don’t know it. But without our own investments of energy in the task of understanding, the Bank will close – as it has in many churhces. I had lunch with a pastor not long ago – of one of the most liberal churches in Minnesota (as he describes it) – who remarked that his people would be happy if he took his text from Emily Dickinson.
My daugther, Talitha, is six years old. Recently she and my wife and I were reading through Romans together. This was her choice after we finished Acts. She is learning to read, and I was putting my finger on each word. She stopped me in mid-sentence at the beginning of chapter 5 and asked, “What does ‘justified’ mean?” What do you say to a six-year-old? Do you say, “There are more important things to think about, so just trust Jesus and be a good girl”? Or do you say that it is very complex and even adults are not able to understand it fully, so you can wait and deal with it when you are older? Or do we say that it simply means that Jesus died in our place so that all our sins mgiht be forvien?
Or do we tell a story (which is what I did), made up on the spot, about two accused criminals, one guilty and one not guilty (one did a bad thing, and one did not do it)? The one who did not do the bad things is shown, by all those who saw the crime, to be innocent. So the judge “justifies” him; that is, he tells him he is a law-abiding person and did not do the crime and can go free. But the other accused criminal, who really did the bad thing, is shown to be guilty, because all the people who saw the crime saw him do it. But then, guess what! The judge “justifies” him too and says, “I regard you as a law-abiding citizen with full rights in our country” (not just a forgiven criminal who may not be trusted or fully free in the country). At this point Talitha looks at me puzzled.
She does not know how to put her finger on the problem but senses that something is wrong here. So I say, “That’s a problem, isn’t it? How can person who really did break the law and did the bad thing be told by the judge that he is a law-keeper, a righteous person, with full rights to the freedoms of the country, and doesn’t have to go to jail or be punished?” She shakes her head. Then I go back to Romans 4:5 and show her that God “justifies the ungodly.” Her brow is furrowed. I show her that she has sinned and I have sinned and we are like this second criminal. And when God “justifies” us he knows we are sinners and “ungodly” and “lawbreakers.” And I ask her, “What did God do so that it’s right for him to say to us sinners: you are not guilty, you are law-keepers in my eyes, you are righteous, and you are free to enjoy all tha this country has to offer?”
She knows it has something to do with Jesus and his coming and dying in our place. That much she has learned. But what more do I tell her now? The answer to this question will depend on whether Mom and Dad have been faithfully taught about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Will they tell her that Jesus was the perfect law-keeper and never sinned, but did everything the judge and his country expected of him? And will they tell her that when he lived and died, he not only took her place as a punishment-bearer but also stood in her place as a law-keeper? Will they say that he was punished for her and he obeyed the law for her? And if she will trust Jesus, God the Judge will let Jesus’ punishment and Jesus’ righteousness count for hers. So when God “justifies” her – says that she is forgiven and righteous (even though she was not punished and did not keep the law) – he does it because of Jesus. Jesus is her righteousness, and Jesus is her punishment. Trusting Jesus makes Jesus so much her Lord and Savior that he is her perfect goodness and her perfect punishment.
There are thousands of Christian families in the world who never have conversations like this. Not at six or sixteen. I don’t think we have to look far then for the weakness of the church and the fun-oriented superficiality of many youth ministries and the stunning fall-out rate after high school. But how shall parents teach their children if the message they get week in and week out from the pulpit is that DOCTRINE IS UNIMPORTANT? So, yes, I have a family to care for. And therefore I must understand the central doctrines of my faith – understand them so well that tehy can be translated for all the different ages of my children. As G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “It ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people.”
I mention not only world missions but also local church planting. If I want to see churches planted out from our church and others, why invest so much time and energy in defending and explaining the historic Protestant vision of justification as the imputation of Christ’s Righteousness? I have answered this already, but will say again, I think we have enough churches being planted by means of music, drama, creative scheduling, sprightly narrative, and marketing savvy. And there are too few that are God-centered, truth-treasuring, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, cross-focused, Spirit-dependent, prayer-soaked, soul-winning, justice-pursuing congregations with a wartime mindset ready to lay down their lives for the salvation of the nations and the neighborhoods. There is a blood-earnest joy that sustains a church like this, and it comes only by embracing Chirst-crucified as our righteousness.
I want people and churches and ministries and schools to break free from the modern preoccupation with being made much of as the key to happiness and motivation and mental health and missions and almost everything else. In its place I long to see our joy – and the joy of the nations – rooted in God’s wonderful work of freeing us to make much of Christ forever. There is an almost universal bondage in America to the mindset that we can only feel loved when we are made much of. The truth is, we are loved most deeply when we are helped to be free from that bondage and to find our joy in treasuring Christ and making much of him.