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Every Man Did What Was Right In His Own Eyes

February 18, 2010 19 comments

libertarian reader

The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Writings from Lao Tzu to Milton Friedman is a collection of essays from a variety of sources on a variety of topics related to libertarianism. The first chapter in the book is “1 Samuel 8” and it provides a rather striking example of eisegesis, anarcho-capitalist style.

The most important book in the development of Western civilization was the Bible, which of course just means “the Book” in Greek. Until recent times it was the touchstone for almost all debate on morality and government. One of its most resonant passages for the study of government was the story of God’s warning to the people of Israel when they wanted a king to rule them. Until then, as Judges 21:25 reports, “there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” and there were judges to settle disputes. But in I Samuel, the Jews asked for a king, and God told Samuel what it would be like to have a king. This story reminded Europeans for centuries that the state was not divinely inspired. Thomas Paine, Lord Acton, and other liberals cited it frequently.

Anyone who has read Judges and 1 Samuel is immediately struck by David Boaz’ statements. It’s clear he never read that section of the Bible and instead relied on Thomas Paine to tell him what it meant. Judges 21:25 is not a commendation of the situation in Israel, it is a condemnation. The Israelites had a law, a divinely imposed law, and yet they ignored it and did what was right in their own eyes. Contrary to Boaz, that is not a good thing. (Furthermore, the state, the sword, is divinely imposed – Gen 9:5-6; Rom 13:1-7; see Political Philosophy: Biblical Answers)

What John Robbins points out in his lecture on political philosophy is something Boaz misses: both totalitarianism and anarchy are lawlessness. In one a king does whatever is right in his own eyes, in the other everyone else does what is right in their own eyes. What is lost in both is the rule of law. Robbins notes in his essay “Rebuilding American Freedom in the Twenty-First Century” (we’re not off to a good start):

Americans sometimes foolishly overlook crime as a threat to freedom, thinking that the only threat comes from government. It doesn’t. Our neighbors may also be threats to our freedom. In fact, lawless governments and lawless individuals aid each other. The criminal and the dictator are twins distinguished only by the amount of power at the disposal of each. Each becomes the others’ excuse for more and more lawlessness, less and less freedom. The loser in such a contest is the rule of law. Freedom, we must keep in mind, is now lawlessness, but the result of effective application of moral law to both ruled and rulers.

Israel’s problem was one of lawlessness. They turned away from the law God gave them and did what was right in their own eyes. They also turned away from God as their sovereign king and demanded a king of their own. Boaz sees virtue in one of these two things where the Bible sees sin in both. When we abandon the rule of law, what we are left with is lawlessness:

1 Samuel 8:1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”

John Owen’s Commentary on the Old and New Covenants (Outline)

February 15, 2010 26 comments

In talking with a number of well read people, I have been surprised how many of them are completely unaware of John Owen’s contribution to covenant theology. I had one person ridicule baptists for rejecting “Reformed orthodoxy” in the Westminster Standards because of our view of covenant theology. He then informed me he would “stick with Witsius, Owen, Petto, and Colquhoun.” This man was completely unaware that John Owen rejected the “Reformed orthodoxy” of the Westminster Standards.

Owen rejected the formulation of the Westminster Confession (one covenant, two administrations) and held that the new and the old were two distinct covenants with two different mediators and everything else that follows. I believe he provides a valuable contribution to current debate over covenant theology and everyone who is interested should read him. However, I also know not everyone has time to read through his 150 pages on Hebrews 8:6-13, so I have created a summary outline of Owen’s argumentation. I created it in a collapsible format to make it easier to follow the progress of his arguments. Hopefully this will interest people in reading Owen, which will hopefully lead to a better understanding of covenant theology for us all.

Please let me know if you see any typos, errors, or poor summaries/misrepresentations of Owen in the outline by commenting on this post below.

Owen on Hebrews 8:6-13 (Collapsible Outline)

Here are a couple of quotes to give you a taste:

The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new… The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove that there is not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that there are substantially distinct covenants and that this is intended in this discourse of the apostle…

…Having noted these things, we may consider that the Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant…Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended. We must do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, and with great pretence of reason, for it is the sole foundation of all who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, ’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation is the same under both, then indeed they are the same for the substance of them is but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue of it, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, while they were under the old covenant.

Having shown in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition to the old covenant, so I shall propose several things which relate to the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.

This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works.

No man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect…

The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.

Confusing Law and Gospel (and the WCF)

February 11, 2010 10 comments

Patrick Ramsey recently posted some comments regarding the doctrine of republication and its compatibility with the Westminster Confession of Faith. I have found Ramsey’s comments on this whole issue to be very clearheaded, direct, and helpful. That is not to say I agree with him though. Mark Karlberg, a vehement opponent of neonomians, Richard Gaffin in particular, notes:

Through the penmanship of Patrick Ramsey in the essay “In Defense of Moses: A Confessional Critique of Kline and Karlberg” Gaffin attempts to undermine Kline’s theology, viewing it as contrary to the teaching of Reformed orthodoxy as formulated in the Westminster standards… Ramsey’s critique of Kline and Karlberg and his interpretation of the Reformed tradition regarding the doctrine of the Mosaic covenant are analogous in substance (if not in detail) to that of Gaffin.

Federalism and the Westminster Confession :  Mark Karlberg, p 52

This may or may not be an accurate characterization of Ramsey’s views. I encourage you to read Ramsey’s WTJ article. Here is another short post from Ramsey to give you some perspective on his view: Good Works and Salvation (and he also recently made a post about Romans 2 that I would strongly disagree with regarding our works and the judgment, quoting Thomas Schreiner, but it looks like he removed it.)

Karlberg (as well as Kline) has been very outspoken in his criticism of Westminster Philadelphia. He wrote “The Changing of the Guard” and is a friend of the Trinity Foundation. So why would I say that Ramsey’s comments critiquing Karlberg have been helpful? Well, because I think they’re true. I think Karlberg has a better understanding of the Mosaic covenant (the fact that it was works based), but I think Ramsey has a better understanding of the consequences of Karlberg’s view. Ramsey, in an effort to defend the distinction between law and gospel, has been very clear in arguing that if the Mosaic covenant is based on works, it cannot be an administration of the covenant of grace. In his recent post, he notes:

I understand how a gracious covenant that administers the gospel through types/shadows (land which is a type of the new heavens and new earth is promised and received by faith, etc.) can be an administration of the covenant of grace.

I can also see how a law covenant could serve (or be “subservient” to use an older term) the covenant of grace by exposing sin.

But how can the gospel be administered by a law/works/meritorious covenant? How does “do this and live” administer the gospel: “believe and you shall be saved”?  Undoubtedly, the answer will be by typology.  The problem with this answer is that the law covenant itself does not administer grace to the covenant member.  It simply demonstrates through typology how eternal life is achieved.  It is not itself an administration of grace.  After all, it is a law/works/meritorious covenant.  And only a gracious covenant can administer grace.  A works covenant cannot administer grace.  Hence, it seems to me that to call a law covenant an administration of the covenant of grace is to misuse the language of the Confession and to confuse law and gospel.

To quote Inigo Montoya of the classic movie The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means.”

Ramsey is absolutely right. The law is not of faith. However, his conclusion that the Mosaic covenant is not works based is wrong. The Mosaic covenant is a law/works/meritorious covenant.

How then do we resolve this tension? John Owen did it by removing the Mosaic covenant from the covenant of grace. And he was right to do so.

Critique of Jon Zens’ “Is There A Covenant of Grace?”

February 6, 2010 8 comments

I was recently directed to Jon Zens’ article “Is There a Covenant of Grace?” as an outline and defense of NCT’s rejection of covenant theology.  There is much to appreciate in Zens’ article.  I think the majority of his criticism is very good and needs to be heard, particularly the tensions in covenantal paedobaptism and the lack of sensitivity to the progress of revelation.  However, the article suffers from a couple of key problems.  The first is Zens’ handling of the law.  His comparison between the law of Moses and the law of Christ is inadequate and misleading.  Interacting with this point is beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say the contrast in 2 Cor 3 is between the law written outward on stone and the law written inward on hearts.  The difference is not the content of the law.

But Zens’ other problem, and one that is even more foundational to the entire thesis of his article, is that he fails to distinguish different strains of covenant theology. He is guilty of lumping them all together and then dismissing them all by critiquing only one. Zens’ statement

While Dispensationalism stresses the diversity of God’s dealings with men in different eras of history, Covenant Theology has emphasized “one” covenant of grace. The historical covenants are seen as just different administrations of the “covenant of grace.” Are these two approaches the only two alternatives? Historically, during the last hundred years, the answer has been “Yes”

is historically false.  Zens appears to be ignorant of the history of covenant theology, particularly

  1. the version(s) of covenant theology rejected by WCF (see In Defense of Moses)
  2. Owen’s, and thus Savoy’s, explicit rejection of the “two administrations, one covenant” view
  3. the LBC’s adoption and further reform of Savoy’s Ch 7 (see a tabular comparison of these confessions here)

I do not entirely blame Zens for not being aware of the important differences amongst covenant theology.  Many Reformed Baptists seem unaware of the history of their own confession as well.  Because Sam Waldron’s Exposition of the LBC is the only one in print, many look to such a book for an explanation of Ch 7 of the LBC .  However, Waldron personally disagrees with Owen’s formulation of covenant theology (though he does not acknowledge it is Owen he is disagreeing with) and instead adopts a slightly modified version of John Murray’s covenant theology (ie one covenant, various administrations).  Waldron is not the only one who espouses his view and his book is certainly not the only reason other Reformed Baptists hold this view, but I can’t help but think his book, and others written by Reformed Baptists, have led to some confusion regarding historic debate over covenant theology, and the progress that the LBC represents in that debate.

At some later point I hope to write a post interacting with Waldron’s chapter and showing an alternative understanding. But for now I hope to simply demonstrate that the view Zens has critiqued is not the only view of covenant theology and that the “two administrations, one covenant” is not a necessary consequence of covenant theology.

One of the best treatments of this issue, in my opinion, is John Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13 (which has been made available from RBAP, along with Nehemiah Coxe’s work, in the volume “Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ” and is also available online here and here).  Believe it or not, Owen makes some of the same arguments that Zens does.  Owen rejects the “two administrations, one covenant” view as unbiblical. Here is the way he put it:

The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new… The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove that there is not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that there are substantially distinct covenants and that this is intended in this discourse of the apostle…

…Having noted these things, we may consider that the Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant…Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended. We must do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, and with great pretence of reason, for it is the sole foundation of all who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, ’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation is the same under both, then indeed they are the same for the substance of them is but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue of it, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, while they were under the old covenant.

Having shown in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition to the old covenant, so I shall propose several things which relate to the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.

I highly encourage everyone to read Owen’s work. It is a wonderful 150 page exercise in applying deductive reasoning to the axiom of Scripture (btw, logic is something NCT needs to become more acquainted with). I’m in the process of writing an interactive outline of his argumentation that I will hopefully be able to provide online. In my opinion, I see no reason to entertain NCT until its advocates deal honestly and adequately with the history of covenant theology, particularly John Owen.

Linking Owen’s development to the LBC is a helpful forward to the Coxe/Owen volume. In it, James Renihan comments:

The reader will notice that Coxe, in the preface to his Discourse, indicates that he was preparing materials for a subsequent volume to be written on the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant, but was “happily prevented” by the publication of Owen’s volume on Hebrews chapter 8. So far as the Baptist Nehemiah Coxe was concerned, John Owen’s work on this part of Hebrews clearly articulated the things that Coxe himself would have said (and he recognized that Owen said them better as well). This does not mean Coxe endorsed every jot and tittle of Owen’s work, but simply indicates the massive agreement between the two. Owen, for his own part, exegetically demonstrates that the New Covenant is profoundly different from the Old – it is characteristically new. For Coxe (it must be remembered that he is the most likely candidate to have served as editor of the Second London Baptist Confession of 1677/1689 [he died shortly before it was signed]), and confessional Reformed Baptists who agree with his theology, Owen’s emphasis on the newness of the New Covenant is a helpful step forward in the discussion.

see http://www.reformedbaptistinstitute.org/?p=93

So, again, until NCT interacts competently and adequately with John Owen, I see no reason to entertain their rejection of covenant theology.

God the benevolent Scientist

February 2, 2010 6 comments

Modern Two Kingdoms theology has never, ever made sense to me.  In very short summary, the position of Two Kingdom advocates (spearheaded by David VanDrunen) is that there is no such thing as a Christian worldview.  They are emphatic that the Bible is only supposed to be used in the church and that it must not be used in issues of civil government, work, or even family.

The most absurd part is that they argue everything that is not governed by the Bible, which is everything except church, is to be governed my natural law.  It does not matter if you point out to them that natural law is simply the law of God written on the hearts of all men, the same law that has been clarified for us in the Bible.

When I attempted to point this out to a Two Kingdoms advocate recently at Darryl Hart’s blog, they insisted that natural law provides us with all kinds of information necessary to live life.  Because this person was a plumber, his example was plumbing:

Anyway, Christian plumbing is my turf here, your talking to a 4th generation plumber (I worked on the business end mostly though). I would argue that observation and natural revelation and all true domains of human knowledge are inextricably linked. General revelation functions to point to a Creator who sets up a functional cosmos; it also informs us on how the cosmos functions. All cosmic functions necessarily operate within the laws of nature whether they are moral or amoral. Plumbing is entirely dependent on natural revelation/natural law even though it is amoral. Let me explain…

There are many laws of nature that have to me navigated in even the most simple plumbing process such as soldering copper pipe which has taken mankind a few thousand years to master. It takes a understanding of the metallurgical properties of copper that make it desirable as a potable water delivery system: copper is malleable and resistant to corrosion and relatively abundant and easy to extract (which makes it inexpensive in relation to other non corrosive metals). Soldering itself requires an understanding of welding, which in this case requires the binding of two different metals to form a seal sufficiently tight so as to be impenetrable by water molecules, which again is governed by fundamental laws of chemistry. I could go on to explain how hydro-mechanical principles govern waterflow, but I won’t bore you with more details. I am sure though that nearly every vocational discipline, including the justice system interact so much with natural law that it would be staggering to draw out the processes in entirety.

When I pointed out that the “law” of gravity is something completely different than the law of God, and advised not to confuse the two, I received the following reply:

We must be using different dictionaries. I am really not sure how you can maintain that functionally physical laws and moral laws operate on different planes. They can be violated, but there are consequences. Yes, I do agree that natural law includes the moral code written on the human heart, but that is simply because these exist in a larger cosmic system where God created a good universe that worked just as he designed it to. It is precisely because of this that governments operate off of general revelation even if imperfectly and/or unknowingly. Why else would we have similarities in Hammurabi and Moses, Roman law and American law. Discontinuities are a given, but the commonality of law, and prevasively political nature of human history even in the absence of special revelation testifies to the sufficiency of natural law in the political arena.

I’m not making this stuff up. I suggested we go ahead and look at the dictionary, naively thinking it would help clarify things with this man:

law: 1a: a rule or order that it is advisable or obligatory to observe
synonyms law, rule, regulation, precept, statute, ordinance, canon mean a principle governing action or procedure. law implies imposition by a sovereign authority and the obligation of obedience on the part of all subject to that authority

Precept: 1 : a command or principle intended especially as a general rule of action
2 : an order issued by legally constituted authority to a subordinate official

That is what law means when we talk about the law of God and natural law. Way down in definition 6 is a different definition for things like the “law” of gravity:

6 a : a statement of an order or relation of phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions

synonyms: see in addition hypothesis

God’s law is not God’s law because God saw what would naturally occur if we committed adultery and he wanted to protect us from those natural consequences. It is God’s law because He sovereignly imposed it on those bearing His image as a rule for what ought and ought not to be done.

Furthermore, are you suggesting that the “law” of gravity is just a statement of what ought to be done? Are you suggesting that we should all obey the law of gravity, meaning we should not violate it by floating around? I didn’t think so.

In sum:
one definition is prescriptive, the other is descriptive.

The response?

The prescriptive nature of moral law is something that I believe flows from the descriptive nature of natural law…

…The prescriptive command: “Don’t jump off of a cliff” presupposes (the is) gravity. Assuming a person values his life, the moral implication of the isness of gravity is that one ought not act out in a way where gravity becomes a life-threatening reality. I would argue that the Decalogue extrapolates its prescriptions from the ises of God’s character and from the world he creates.

How else can the psalmist claim that the heavens tell of the glory of God if there is no revelatory value in nature itself that cannot be extracted from even cursory observation?

So the Decalogue is really just a hypothesis about nature. Maybe God should have submitted it to a peer review journal?

See related: Karl Popper and the Emperor’s Clothes