In light of Anne Rice’s announcement that she “has left Christianity,” I re-read an old Trinity Foundation article analyzing the reasoning behind the Whitehorse Inn’s decision to interview Rice and give her an entire program to talk about her “return to Christianity” from atheism (even though she returned to Roman Catholicism, not Christianity). The Whitehorse Inn: Nonsense on Tap
Anyways, I read the following quote and it amazes me how many people I have come across that don’t understand this. Some people actually think that Romans 1 is talking about trees and stars.
Furthermore, Christ lights, John 1:9 says, echoing Romans 1 and 2, the mind of every man who comes into the world. This is the Biblical doctrine of general revelation. It is a denial of the pagan Aristotelian-Thomist-evidentialist-empiricist theory. The mind of every man, who is the image of God, is informed by the mind of Christ. So even if he is blind and cannot see the heavens, he has an innate idea of God. This information is innate, not learned by sensation. It makes man the image of God, and it makes all men inexcusable. It is these innate ideas that all sinners suppress in their zeal to escape God. One of the ways philosophers and theologians suppress these innate ideas is by inventing “proofs” for the existence of God derived from observation. (The pagan Aristotle is the godfather of all such proofs.) The gods they so “prove” are not the God of the Bible; they are idols – inventions of their sinful minds. If the Thomistic proofs for the existence of God were valid, they would disprove Christianity, for the gods they prove are not the God of the Bible. They are an illustration of the philosophers’ desire to escape the God of the Bible.
The Bible does not begin with any proof of the existence of God; it begins with God. Nor does the Bible contain any argument attempting to prove the existence of God from what Rosenthal calls “general revelation.” Such a proof is logically impossible and theologically reprehensible. Truth cannot be derived form anything non-propositional. Unless one starts with truth, with propositional revelation, one can never arrive at any truth. Unless one starts with Scripture, God will remain merely a suppressed idea.
I recently read W. Gary Campton’s new book “From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism.” You can find my first post on it here. Crampton does a great job of very clearly communicating a wide range of issues in this important debate.
One of the key issues in Reformed arguments over baptism is properly understanding the New Covenant; both the nature of the New Covenant as well as the scope of its effect in redemptive history.
Regarding the nature of the New Covenant, Crampton argues
The fact is that in the Old Covenant era, unbelieving Jews by right (de jure) were part of the nation of Israel. But in the New Covenant community it is different. As the author of Hebrews, citing Jeremiah 31:31-34, writes, the New Covenant is “not like the covenant” God made with the Old Testament fathers (8:9). In the New Covenant they “shall all know Me from the least of them to the greatest of them” (8:11). In the New Testament era, says Jesus, “they shall all be taught by God” (John 6:45; compare Isaiah 54:13). As state by John Owen, it is the “church of the elect believers,” consisting of both “Jews and Gentiles, with whom this [New] Covenant is made and established, and unto whom the grace is actually communicated”:
“For all those with whom this [New] Covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing unto His name. (Owen, Hebrews Commentary V1:118)
Regarding the scope of the effect of the New Covenant, Crampton states:
This is not to say that persons under the Old Covenant administration did not “know the Lord.” Clearly, there were many who did. There were numerous persons who had their sins forgiven (Psalm 32:1-2), the law of God written on their hearts (Psalm 40:8; 119:11; Isaiah 51:7), and who had professed saving faith in the Messiah to come (John 8:56; Hebrews 11:24-26).* But the great majority of the Old Covenant community did not possess such faith (1 Cor 10:1-11), and membership was not restricted to those who “know the Lord.” The Old Covenant was a breakable covenant, whereas the New Covenant is not (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12).
*[footnote] In this sense, as Calvin pointed out, all persons who are saved, both Old and New Covenants (the elect), are saved under the New Covenant; that is, Christ is the only Savior of all the elect (Hebrews 10:5-18; 12:10) (Institutes II: 11:10).
This last footnote from Crampton is extremely important and I wish he had spilled more ink elaborating on it. Crampton quotes both Calvin and Owen in these few pages. Calvin and Owen both say that anyone who has ever been elect has been saved by the New Covenant. However, they provide two very different reasons for this. And I think Owen’s reason is what allows him to say the New Covenant is made of the elect alone, while Calvin does not.
Calvin was careful to insist that “all these [differences between the Old and New Testaments/Covenants] pertain to the manner of dispensation rather than to the substance.” (II:11:1)
This is very specific language used during the time when discussing covenant theology. Most argued that the substance of the covenants remained the same, but only their outward appearance and administration/”manner of dispensation” were different. However, this is precisely what Crampton implies against in his footnote when he says “that is, Christ is the only Savior of all of the elect.” Per my reading, Crampton essentially said the Old Covenant elect must have been saved “under the New Covenant” because the substance of the New Covenant is altogether different from the Old (ie it had a different mediator/Christ is the Great High Priest of the New Covenant, not the Old).
Regarding the difference in substance between the two, John Owen noted:
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. (comments on Hebrews 8:6-13)
“No man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect.” (ibid)
This very difference in substance is what Calvin actually denied, not affirmed. Calvin said the opposite of Owen:
The Old Testament fathers had Christ as pledge (mediator) of their covenant… The Old Testament or Covenant that the Lord had made with the Israelites had not been limited to earthly things, but contained a promise of spiritual and eternal life. (2.10.23)
The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same. Yet they differ in the mode of dispensation. (2.10.2)
Owen said the Old Covenant elect were saved by the promsie, and that the promise was separate from the Old Covenant. Calvin also said they were saved by the promise, but he said the promise was the very substance of the Old Covenant, not separate from it. Also, Owen said Christ’s mediation was limited to the New Covenant, while Calvin said Christ was mediator of the Old Covenant. You may be tempted to brush this aside as useless splitting of hairs, but this is a very nuanced debate and thus we must be very nuanced in our discussion of it – because it does have very serious ramifications.
Commenting on the same passage as Owen, Hebrews 8:6-13, Calvin reaches a very different conclusion:
Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law compares with the covenant of the gospel, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of the argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to find the truth. Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulfillment, by which is is finally confirmed and ratified, is Christ. [Here Calvin magically combines the two distinct covenants under discussion in the passage into one covenant]. While such confirmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental properties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it [as opposed to the substance of it]. Yet because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of other sacraments. To sum up then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of confirming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacrifices.
Because nothing substantial underlies this unless we go beyond it, the apostle contends that it ought to be terminated and abrogated, to give place to Christ, the Sponsor and Mediator of a better covenant [cf. Heb 7:22]; whereby he imparts eternal sanctifications once and for all to the elect, blotting out their transgressions, which remained under the law. Or, if you prefer, understand it thus: the Old Testament of the Lord was that covenant [the eternal covenant] wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews; it was temporary because it remained, as it were, in suspense until it might rest upon a firm and substantial confirmation. It became new and eternal only after it was consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. Hence Christ in the Supper calls the cup that he gives to his disciples “the cup of the New Testament in my blood” [Luke 22:20]. By this he means that the Testament of God attained its truth when sealed by his blood, and thereby becomes new and eternal.
Wow. Look at how radically different Calvin’s conclusion is from Owen’s when commenting on the same passage of Scripture. Calvin strips Scripture of its plain teaching and insists that “Old Covenant” in Hebrews 8 actually means “Old Covenant Ceremonies” because the Old Covenant is really the same covenant as the New Covenant, they just look different. According to Calvin, they are both the same eternal covenant. The Old “becomes” the New. They are the same.
This is drastically different from Owen’s more biblically faithful conclusion that these are two separate covenants, and that only one of them saves. “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.”
This difference between Owen and Calvin is important, because it is precisely (in my opinion) why Crampton can rely upon Owen to provide the excellent quote about the New Covenant being made of elect, regenerate members only.
Below is the section from Calvin that Crampton cites – and I think it makes much more sense if interpreted along Owen’s view of the covenants. Remember that Calvin believes the Old and New Covenants are actually the same covenant, they just look different:
The three latter comparisons to which we have referred are of the law and the gospel. In them the law is signified by the name “Old Testament,” the gospel by “New Testament.” The first extends more widely, for it includes within itself also the promises published before the law. Augustine, however, said that these should not be reckoned under the name “Old Testament.” This was very sensible. He meant the same thing as we are teaching: for he was referring to those statements of Jeremiah and Paul wherein the Old Testament is distinguished from the word of grace and mercy. In the same passage he very aptly adds the following: “the children of the promise [Rom 9:8], reborn of God, who have obeyed the commands by faith working through love [Gal 5:6], have belonged to the New Covenant since the world began. This they did, not in hope of carnal, earthly, and temporal things, but in hope of spiritual, heavenly, and eternal benefits. For they believed especially in the Mediator; and they did not doubt that through him the Spirit was given to them that they might do good, and that they were pardoned whenever they sinned.” It is that very point which I intend to affirm: all the saints whom Scripture mentions as being particularly chosen of God from the beginning of the world have shared with us the same blessing unto eternal salvation. This, then, is the difference between our analysis and his: ours distinguishes between the clarity of the gospel and the obscurer dispensation of the Word that had preceded it, according to that statement of Christ, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the Kingdom of God is proclaimed” [Luke 16:16]; Augustine’s division simply separates the weakness of the law from the firmness of the gospel.
We must also note this about the holy patriarchs: they so lived under the Old Covenant as not to remain there but ever to aspire to the New, and thus embraced a real share in it.
If you look at what Augustine said in its original context, you can see that Augustine actually shared Owen’s view of the covenants, not Calvin’s. Augustine said:
In that testament [covenant], however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised… But then the happy persons, who even in that early age were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament [covenant];
In my reading, Calvin does not quite take it as far as Crampton would imply, though close. Calvin attempts to save himself from contradiction by saying he does not agree with Augustine’s statements absolutely, but only insofar as they apply to the administration/appearance of things (“ours distinguishes between the clarity of the gospel and the obscurer dispensation…”). In other words, Calvin appears to be saying that the Old Covenant elect looked through the shadows of the Old Covenant to see the more clearly revealed gospel of the New Covenant, and thus shared in this clearer gospel dispensation, for Calvin continues:
The apostle condemns as blind and accursed those who, content with present shadows, did not stretch their minds to Christ.
In the footnote, Crampton’s point (per my reading) is that OT saints must have been saved by the New Covenant because Christ is mediator and priest of the New Covenant – but Calvin disagrees. I believe there is warrant for claiming Calvin meant something different from Crampton because Crampton’s comment “that is, Christ is the only Savior of all of the elect” and his reference to Hebrews 10:5-18; 12:10, are not found in the Calvin reference he provides.
In sum: Calvin said Christ is the mediator of both the Old and the New because they are the same. But Owen disagreed with Calvin, saying that Moses was the mediator of the Old while Christ is the mediator of the New.
You may be thoroughly confused by now – which is why I wish Crampton had elaborated on this footnote 🙂 However, I think this is an important topic worth pressing and clarifying further. Hopefully I was able to do that to an extent. I welcome all comments, critiques, and corrections.
A common objection to the idea that the Old Covenant elect were actually members of the New Covenant is the idea that the New Covenant was not inaugurated until Christ’s sacrifice. To that, I have previously answered as follows:
I don’t think that we need to break the bounds of cause-and-effect in time.
The OT saints looked forward to the formal inauguration of the NC in the death of Christ as their Mediator, and thus were made partakers of, heirs of, or members of the New Covenant.
How is that possible if the NC was not inaugurated until Christ’s death?
(1) I think we need to acknowledge that the OT saints did not consider their Mediator, their Redeemer, as having already come and accomplished their redemption. For them it was yet future. Thus the cause-and-effect in time aspect is still in force for them.
(2) I think the reason this is possible is because the New Covenant is founded upon that eternal transaction (LBC 7.3) between the Father and the Son (I would equate what is commonly called the Covenant of Redemption with the New Covenant). The Father promised to give the Son a people of His choosing upon the condition of the Son dying on their behalf. And Christ promised to do so. Titus 1:2 says “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” (cf. Heb 6:17-18)
The Son promising to do something is enough to make it a reality. Thus OT saints could look forward to their Savior who had not yet come, yet benefit by that coming and dying because it was a certainty. It was a legal certainty they could bank on because it was sworn by the Son. This is consistent with what one may read from someone like Berkhof in regards to Christ as surety:
The position of Christ in the covenant of redemption is twofold. In the first place He is Surety (Gr. egguos), a word that is used only in Heb 7:22. The derivation of this word is uncertain, and therefore cannot aid us in establishing its meaning. But the meaning is not doubtful. A surety is one who engages to become responsible for it that the legal obligations of another will be met. In the covenant of redemption Christ undertook to atone for the sins of His people by bearing the necessary punishment, and to meet the demands of the law for them. And by taking the place of delinquent man He became the last Adam, and is as such also the Head of the covenant, the Representative of all those whom the Father has given Him… [An uncondintional] surety takes upon himself unconditionally to pay for another, thus relieving the guilty party of his responsibility at once.
-Systematic Theology p. 267 (Banner of Truth)
Commenting on Heb 8, Owen puts it this way:
This is the meaning of the word “established”, say we; but it is, “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.” All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, are all given for a statute, law, and ordinance to the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood.
Note O. Palmer Robertson’s comment regarding the Mosaic Covenant:
“Interestingly, the prophet does not refer (Jer 31) specifically to the formal inauguration of the covenant that occurred at Sinai. Instead, he refers to the covenant established on the day in which the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt. This lack of preciseness does not mean that Jeremiah did not have the Mosaic covenant itself in mind when he developed this contrast. He speaks too specifically of a law written in the heart, implying a contrast with law written in stone. His allusion to the Mosaic covenant by reference to the exodus from Egypt simply conforms to a repeated pattern found in Scripture with respect to the covenants. Historical events associated intimately with the covenant often precede the formal inauguration of the covenantal relationship. According to E. W. Hengstenberg:
‘The substance of the covenant evidently precedes the outward conclusion of the covenant, and forms the foundation of it. The conclusion of the covenant does not first form the relation, but is merely a solemn acknowledgment of a relation already existing.’”
(Christ of the Covenants, pp 280-281)
I was trying to find a theme with a little more width to it. Started to feel a little claustrophobic with the old one. We’ll see how this goes. I’m thinking I won’t like it after a couple days
I just read through W. Gary Campton’s new book “From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism.” It is not the end-all-be-all of books on the subject (it is not intended to be – he provides extensive footnotes to dig deeper), but it is a very lucid walk through the subject focusing specifically on the WCF from a well qualified former paedobaptist who has published many books, such as What Calvin Says, Sola Scriptura, and Meet Jonathan Edwards. At the very least no one can object that he just doesn’t understand covenantal, reformed theology and needs to take a Covenant 101 class.
I’ll be posting several interesting points that I came across in the book, but wanted to start with the basic thrust of the book: The Westminster Confession of Faith is contradictory in what it teaches about baptism.
It is a fairly straightforward thesis:
- WCF 27.1 says a sacrament is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. A sign which “represents Christ and His benefits”, and a seal which “confirms our interest in Him.” WLC Q162 likewise says “A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ in his church, to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace, the benefits of his mediation;”
- WCF 28.1 says “Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his Church until the end of the world.”
- WLC Q31 says “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.”
- “Hence, when the WCF 28.4 goes on to say that ‘not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized,” it contradicts its own definition of baptism. Sections 28:1 and 28:4 of the Confession do not comport.
Crampton comments on at least 2 different ways paedobaptists have attempted to get around this contradiction. First:
Having seen the problem, Cunningham (wrongly) attempted to solve it by claiming that the baptism of adults has a different meaning than the baptism of infants. Only the baptism of professing adults “embodies and brings out the full idea of the ordinance.” This was also the solution of James Bannerman, who likewise recognized the dilemma presented in the Standards. He wrote:
“The proper and true type of baptism, as a sacrament in the church of Christ, is the baptism of adults, and not the baptism of infants… It is abundantly obvious that adult baptism is the rule, and infant baptism the exceptional case… And it is an error… to make baptism applicable in the same sense and to the same extent to infants and to adults.” (James Bannerman, The Church of Christ)
Both Cunningham and Bannerman dichotomized the significance of water baptism, and in so doing, differ with the teaching of the Westminster divines who claim that their definition is serviceable to the baptism of both adults and infants. Furthermore, in Ephesians 4:5, the apostle Paul denies the dichotomy presented by Cunningham and Bannerman. The apostle Paul said there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (p.14-15)
Presumably seeing these problems, some paedobaptist theologians teach that the children of believers are in the covenant of grace in an “external aspect” or “external sphere” rather than in an “internal aspect” or “spiritual phase.” In this sense they are “covenant children” and should be baptized (Thornwell, Dabey, Vos). Vos explained it this way:
“There are two phases of the covenant of grace, (a) a legal or external phase, and (b) a vital or spiritual phase. We may think of these two phases as two circles, one within the other – an out and an inner circle, the legal or external sphere of the covenant of grace. But only those truly born again are in the inner circle, the vital or spiritual sphere of the covenant of grace. Some people are born in the external sphere, the outer circle, are non-elect persons and never come to Christ. Every one that is of the elect will, at some time in his life, come into the inner circle, the vital or spiritual sphere.” (Vos, Blue Banner of Faith, 1959, Jan-March issue, 36)
What Vos has done is to redefine the covenant of grace to meet his presupposition that infants of believing parents are in the covenant and should be baptized. The new definition includes the non-elect [contrary to WLC Q31]. This is an oxymoron to be sure. It is simply unreasonable to speak of God’s (saving) “grace” bestowed covenantally upon the non-elect. Rather is must be said that if the covenant of grace, as the Westminster divines properly define it, is with the elect in Christ, there cannot be an external aspect to it. If one is elect, then he is elect, and he will be “inwardly” regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
And if some attempt to argue that Crampton has an axe to grind and is looking for contradiction where there is none (which is an absolutely absurd argument considering Crampton’s background and personal theological journey from paedobaptism to credobaptism), you can find the exact same conclusion regarding contradiction in the Standards reached by paedobaptists Meredith Kline and Mark Karlberg. In his “Federalism and the Westminster Tradition“, Karlberg notes the following:
Baptism as the sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace identifies and secures, according to its proper purpose, the salvation of those chosen in Christ (in the mystery of God’s electing purpose). Hence, not all recipients of the baptismal ordinance receive the saving benefits of Christ’s atonement. Baptism, like circumcision previously, enunciates the dual sanctions of the covenant, blessing for obedience and curse of disobedience. In all cases Christian baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the covenant family of God, the church visible. It does not guarantee salvation for all who receive the sign. The fruits of justification (and regeneration which precedes justification) are manifested in converted lives – lives evidencing true repentance, faith and obedience. Here we must distinguish properly the benefits of the Covenant of Redemption to the elect and the wider (common grace) benefits of the Covenant of Grace to the unregenerate who find themselves included within the covenant family in its historical formulation.
[footnote]There are three leading covenants in the Bible – the Covenant of Redemption, the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace. The question is often raised: Is the new covenant made with Christ and the elect, Christ being the mediator of the historical covenant? How are we to view the new covenant in Christ’s blood, the fulfillment in history of the eternal Covenant of Redemption? First it must be said that the administration of the historical Covenant of Grace is not restricted to the elect. (Here is a place were the Federal Visionists, once again, confound matters – alongside many other theological misconceptions and deviations they erroneously draw from Scripture. To be sure, our tradition is partly to blame for current misinterpretations and misformulations.)
The Covenant of Redemption is the “compact” made between the Father and the Son, involving the full participation of the Spirit in the accomplishment and application of Christ’s redeeming work on behalf of the elect, and them alone. The Covenant of Grace in its historical outworking… is broader than election. That is to say, its administration over the course of history includes some nonelect within the visible church (whether new or old economies)…
…Considering the Westminster Larger Catechism (31), it would appear that Meredith G. Kline’s line of interpretation, shared by some of the Puritan divines, did not with the day at the Westminster Assembly – or so it would appear. But here is where matters become much more subtle and complex. As one studies the literature of the period (and in the time leading up to the Assembly), various theological nuances must be acknowledged. The answer to question 31 of the Larger Catechism provides insight into what is the proper purpose of redemptive covenant, namely, election to salvation. However, redemptive covenant, as historically administered over the course of time, is broader than election. Q&A 31 must be read in the light of what is taught in Q&A 61-66. Tension [read: contradiction]? Yes. Need for reformulation and clarification? Yes. Although the Covenant of Redemption is not explicitly identified in the Confession, the substance is taught in chapter 8. In the final analysis, the answer to the Federal Visionists is not exegesis of the Westminster Standards per se, but engagement with Scripture and the confessions, the former being the final arbiter. Theological formulation does not end with these confessional writings, as important as they are in the life and witness of the church and in the history of doctrine.
…And although the author is quite dismissive of Baptist thinking on the subject, perhaps we might give him reason to reconsider – for the sake of unity in truth, and truth in unity (as witness to genuine Reformed catholicity). Indeed, the Reformed Baptist tradition has something substantive to contribute in the ongoing debate (p142)… There is simply no guarantee that the children of godly parents are saved (i.e., numbered among the elect). The household principle that informs the administration of redemptive covenant in its historical outworking is not identical with the principal of sovereign, electing grace. All this to say, redemptive covenant [Covenant of Grace] is broader than election. Denial of this fundamental truth lies at the root of Engelsma’s covenant confusion. (Here is where the Baptist tradition is rightly critical of Reformed teaching – more precisely, one strand of Reformed thinking.)
Just a word about the Reformed confessions: Invariably these contain – here and there – theological inconsistencies and contradictions requiring correction and reformulation. This is not the place to address shortcomings, as I see them. The problem in Engelsma’s argument is that he has been selective in his own reading of confessional Reformed theology. The issues are far more complex and ambiguous than Engelsma would have his readers believe. The reality of this circumstance in the history of Reformed doctrine gives license to Norman Shepherd and others to assert what they understand to be the “true intent” of the framers of the confession – a highly speculative enterprise, to be sure. Better that we content ourselves with what actually lies before us on the written page. And, as Engelsma would fully agree, in the final place it is the teaching of Scripture, not the secondary standards of the church that is decisive… (page 144)
…Engelsma concludes: “There is one, and only one, doctrine of the covenant that magnifies and safeguards the sovereign grace of God in his work of salvation in the sphere of the covenant. This is the teaching that the grace of God in the sphere of the covenant, as everywhere else, is particular. God’s gracious covenant and covenant grace are for the elect alone” (202). Previously we were told to distinguish between (true) membership – in the covenant – and what, ultimately, is hypocritical membership – in the sphere of the covenant. Part of the blame for this confusion of formulation rests with the statement made in the Westminster Larger Catechism: “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed” (quoted on p. 205). Better is the Reformed doctrine of the “Covenant of Redemption,” which recognizes the vital distinction between the eternal covenant between the Father and the Son (in the Spirit) on behalf of the elect and the historical administration of redemptive covenant (the “Covenant of Grace”) made with elect and nonelect. The operation of the “household principle” in the administration of God’s covenant is conclusive. All this to say, even the theology of the Westminster divines can be improved upon in terms of clarity and consistency! (page 147)
I stumbled upon some very succinct notes from Kline articulating the view Karlberg describes above. Comments on the A. A. Hodge One-Covenant Construction of the Redemptive Order consists of brief comments from Kline arguing against the view of the Covenant of Grace articulated in the WCF/WLC. In summary, he notes:
Through its failure to distinguish satisfactorily the two very different arrangements in the redemptive order [CoG and CoR] and the resultant blurring together of contradictory elements, the one-covenant construction of A. A. Hodge (and WCF/WLC) has at least these liabilities:
1. It leads to a definition of the covenant community (church) in Baptistic terms as consisting of believers or the elect, contrary to the Presbyterian doctrine that the church consists of those who profess Christian faith and their children.
2. Arguably (as I suggested at the faculty forum), it has contributed by its formal fusing of the works and grace principles to the confusion of the two and even the repudiation of the works principle in the teachings of Fuller, Shepherd, et. al.
These are precisely the two points of contention with WCF I have striven to work out and articulate on this blog. I do not think Kline’s “solution” of making the Covenant of Redemption a covenant made with the elect to be a viable option, but I will have to save that for another post.
A friend of mine posted a section of Casper Olevianus’ catechism about the final judgment: http://merekyle.blogspot.com/2009/11/caspar-olevianus-on-justification-and.html
Believer’s obedience and good works are still sullied with the stains of the flesh and are imperfect; much that is sinful still clings to their good works. Thus if their works were presented before the judgment seat of God, they would of necessity be liable to the sentence that God has already pronounced in His Word, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them (Gal. 3:13). It is, therefore, easy to see that if we should depend in part on our works, even a little, our consciences could never be at peace or assured that we are justified before God and can stand in His presence. Instead they would be assured of our condemnation.
170 Q: You are not saying, then, that good works are useless?
A: They do not serve to make us right with God, either wholly or in part, but they do serve this purpose: after we have been freely and graciously justified through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we show with good works that we are thankful to God the Lord, so that God might be praised through us. That is the reason we were originally created and then redeemed, as Zachariah teaches in Luke 1:74,75: “That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness that is pleasing to him all the days of our life.”
Good works are also useful because by the example of our good works we win others to Christ and keep those already won from falling away. The longer they are kept close to Christ, the more they are built up.
I’ve been slowly working my way through TLNF one chapter at a time. I’m about half way through. I really enjoy the book. There is a lot of great material – particularly Brenton C Ferry’s Taxonomy and Bryan D Estelle’s chapter on Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14. However, I have been concerned from the outset that the book is handicapped by fear.
While I find much biblical merit for what they say, I have become rather convinced that their position is contrary to the WCF. That doesn’t matter for me, cause I’m just an ignorant 1689 babtist. But it does mean I’m sensitive to how the thesis and arguments of TLNF are muddied because of their desire to remain within the bounds of the WCF.
One example is the almost absolute silence about John Owen. Owen has written perhaps the very best articulation and defense of republication in his commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13. Owen’s argument is thorough (150 pages on those 7 verses) and very convincing. So why not rely upon him in TLNF? Because in the course of his argument he rejected the opinion of the “reformed divines” and WCF 7.6, saying “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.”
So Owen provides an excellent argument for republication, but in a book devoted to republication, he is silenced because he believes republication is contrary to WCF 7.6. So clarity is sacrificed for tradition.
Fesko on Calvin
All this is simply a preface to what I want to comment on. A very lengthy 150 page review of TLNF was published in the Kerux journal. Apparently there is all kinds of history I should be aware of regarding Kerux, as R. Scott Clark’s blog series “Consider the Source” implies (and I’m sure he’s probably right). He asserts quite strongly that no one should waste their time reading the review, saying “After re-reading ONLY the first breathless page of the review I do not and cannot repent of anything I said earlier. Indeed, the review is more poorly written, more amateur, and more shoddy than I remembered. There is so much that is objectionable on the first page of the review alone, I stop there.” And he refers to it as an “ill-begotten waste of time passing itself off as a review.”
Now, to be clear, I agree with the idea of republication – but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from the Kerux review, and it doesn’t mean the Kerux review can’t be right in its critique of TLNF. I approached Patrick Ramsey’s essay in WTJ and his blog posts in the same way, and learned a lot by doing so https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/confusing-law-and-gospel-and-the-wcf/
I was working on another blog post after reading W. Gary Crampton’s “From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism” where he references a passage of Calvin’s Institutes (2.11.10). I read the passage and others around it, which I had read before – but something seemed different from what I had remembered about it. I went back and looked at Fesko’s chapter from TLNF where he references a similar passage (2.11.4) and was immediately struck by how inaccurate Fesko’s representation of Calvin was and how confusing he had made a rather clear statement from Calvin.
Here is what Calvin said:
…For through animal sacrifices it could neither blot out sins nor bring about true sanctification. He therefore concludes that there was in the law “the shadow of good things to come,” not “the living likeness of the things themselves” [Heb 10:1]. Therefore its sole function was to be an introduction to the better hope that is manifested in the gospel [Heb 7:19; and Ps. 110:4; Heb 7:11; 9:9; 10:1].
Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law compares with the covenant of the gospel, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of the argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to find the truth. Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulfillment, by which it is finally confirmed and ratified, is Christ. While such confirmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental properties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it. Yet because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of other sacraments. To sum up then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of confirming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacrifices.
Because nothing substantial underlies this unless we go beyond it, the apostle contends that it ought to be terminated and abrogated, to give place to Christ, the Sponsor and Mediator of a better covenant [cf. Heb 7:22]; whereby he imparts eternal sanctifications once and for all to the elect, blotting out their transgressions, which remained under the law. Or, if you prefer, understand it thus: the Old Testament of the Lord was that covenant wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews; it was temporary because it remained, as it were, in suspense until it might rest upon a firm and substantial confirmation. It became new and eternal only after it was consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. Hence Christ in the Supper calls the cup that he gives to his disciples “the cup of the New Testament in my blood” [Luke 22:20]. By this he means that the Testament of God attained its truth when sealed by his blood, and thereby becomes new and eternal.
So Calvin is talking about the two administrations of the single eternal covenant [of grace]. He calls one administration (Moses) the covenant of the law and he calls the other administration (Christ) the covenant of the gospel. He insists that the difference between the two is only accidental (meaning non-essential appearances), and not in the “substance of the promises.” Finally, he says the covenant of the law and the covenant of the gospel are successive, not concurrent.
Now, is this what we find in Fesko’s summary of Calvin’s teaching on the covenant of law and the covenant of the gospel?
Given Calvin’s explanation of soteriology in the OT, one has a framework in which to understand the place and function of the Mosaic covenant in his theology. Calvin explains that with the dispensation of the Mosaic covenant there are two separate covenants, the foedus legale and the foedus evangelicum, the ministries of Moses and Christ (2.11.4). There is a sense in which Calvin sees these two covenants in an antithetical relationship to one another, as the law functions within the foedus legale only “to enjoin what is right, to forbid what is wicked; to promise a reward to the keepers of righteousness, and threaten transgressors with punishment” (2.11.7). In other words, Calvin is not afraid to say that the Mosaic administration of the law sets forth a covenant governed by a works principle, namely, eternal life through obedience: “We cannot gainsay that the reward of eternal salvation awaits complete obedience to the law, as the Lord has promised” (2.7.3). The problem, however, with this covenant of obedience is, because of man’s sinfulness, “righteousness is taught in vain by the commandments until Christ confers it by free imputation and by the Spirit of regeneration” (2.7.2). Calvin, therefore, sees the Mosaic covenant characterized by the promise of eternal life which can be obtained by Israel’s obedience, yet because of her sin, Israel is unable to fulfill the requirements of the covenant – only Christ was able to do this.
In this sense, then, the foedus legale and the foedus evangelicum are antithetical, in that they both extend the promise of salvation, the former through obedience and the latter through faith in Christ.
Wow. Was that anything close to what we just read from Calvin? No. Fesko misrepresents Calvin to make Calvin say exactly what the entire volume of TLNF is attempting to argue. How convenient. Fesko first twists Calvin’s words regarding a foedus legale and a foedus evangelicum to say they were two different covenants both operating during the Mosaic dispensation. Calvin nowhere says that. He says they are two successive administrations of the one covenant. Fesko then moves out of Calvin’s 2.11.4 passage where Calvin uses the term “covenant of law” and uses quotes where Calvin is talking about the moral law narrowly and apart from the Mosaic covenant. All this in an attempt to make Calvin say the Mosaic covenant operated on a works principle. Note Fesko’s “in other words” because he can’t find any actual words from Calvin to say what he wants Calvin to say.
This was a very disappointing realization for me as I have really enjoyed Fesko’s “Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine” and I must now question everything I have read in that book. The authors of the Kerux review were spot on in their critique of Fesko on this point:
What then, does Fesko say is Calvin’s view of the Mosaic covenant? According to him, “Calvin explains that in the dispensation of the Mosaic covenant there are two separate covenants” (30). What evidence does Fesko provide to support this view? He appeals to Calvin’s linguistic distinction between a foedus legale and a foedus evangelicum, arguing that there is “a sense in which Calvin sees these two covenants in an antithetical relationship to one another” (30). The primary difference, for Fesko, is that the foedus legale “sets forth a covenant governed by a works principle, namely, eternal life through obedience” (30).
However, there is a problem with Fesko’s analysis. The terms foedus legale and foedus evangelicum are almost always (for Calvin) terms used to describe the various administrations of the covenant of grace, not a “separate covenant,” characterized by a “works principle” operative in the Mosaic administration. This is clearly the case in 2.11.4 of the Institutes (which Fesko cites to defend his analysis), where Calvin writes (commenting on Heb. 7-10):
Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law (legale) compares with the covenant of the gospel (evangelicum), the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to ﬁnd the truth.
For Calvin, the foedus legale and foedus evangelicum are not “two separate covenants” as Fesko states, but they are in fact two names for two different administrations of the same covenant. The comparison between the foedus legale and the foedus evangelicum does not refer to the “substance” of the covenants. Rather as Calvin goes on to explain in the same section, the two terms only refer to a twofold way of administering the same covenant:
Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulﬁllment, by which it is ﬁnally conﬁrmed and ratiﬁed, is Christ. While such con- ﬁrmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that conﬁrmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental proper- ties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it. Yet, because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of the other sacraments. To sum up, then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of conﬁrming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacriﬁces (2.11.4).
In 2.11.4, Calvin is not teaching that the Mosaic covenant should be viewed as a “separate covenant” governed by a works-principle. In fact, Calvin makes the opposite point in this very passage, namely, that the Mosaic covenant is essentially a covenant of grace, though differently administered.
Fesko also appeals to Calvin’s Institutes 2.11.7 to support his interpretation of the foedus legale. The reader should note the jump: the ﬁrst quote comes from 2.11.4, while the second comes three sections later. The two are then woven together in a way that makes them appear like a seamless garment. But in 2.11.7, Calvin is not speaking of a “separate covenant” during the Mosaic administration, but rather of “the mere nature of the law” abstracted from that covenant. Calvin is analyzing the words of Hebrews and Jeremiah, whom he says “consider nothing in law, but what properly belongs to it.” As the very next section (2.11.8) clearly demonstrates, Calvin understands Jeremiah to be speaking simply of the moral law itself, not of a “separate covenant” operative in the Mosaic administration: “Indeed, Jeremiah even calls the moral law a weak and fragile covenant [Jer. 31:32].” In other words, Fesko’s error is that he applies what Calvin says about the moral law to a separate covenant in the Mosaic administration. This is very strange, considering that he himself had told us at the start of the article that—“When one explores Calvin’s understanding of the function of the law, he must therefore carefully distinguish whether he has the moral law or the law as the Mosaic covenant in mind” (28). Well said. But when it comes to one of the most crucial points in his reading of Calvin, he chooses to ignore that distinction and applies what Calvin says about the moral law to the Mosaic covenant itself.
The signiﬁcance of this mistake cannot be underestimated. It is the only primary document evidence that Fesko gives to support this key aspect of his thesis. On page 33, he summarizes in six points his thesis regarding Calvin’s view of the Mosaic covenant. To points 1-4, we say “Amen.” But for the reasons outlined above we cannot agree with points 5-6.
(5) The Mosaic administration of the law is speciﬁcally a foedus legale in contrast to the foedus evangelicum, the re- spective ministries of Moses and Christ; and (6) the foedus legale is based upon a works principle but no one is able to fulﬁll its obligations except Christ (33).
What Fesko should have said is that for Calvin, the moral law, narrowly considered, promises eternal life for perfect obedience. To say that the “Mosaic covenant is characterized by a works principle” (32) is only to confuse what Calvin keeps clear. The moral law itself may promise life for perfect obedience, but Calvin does not speak this way about the Mosaic covenant or the foedus legale.
If the Kerux review is a “poorly written, amateur, and shoddy ill-begotten waste of time” then what is TLNF?
Fesko states: “Calvin uses the distinction between form and substance to explain that the Mosaic covenant, as to its substance, is part of the spirituale foedus, but as to its form, its administratio is a foedus legale.” This is accurate, but the problem is that Fesko misrepresents (or perhaps misunderstands) what “substance” means. As already noted, Calvin says precisely the opposite of Fesko. Fesko claims “Calvin is not afraid to say that the Mosaic administration of the law sets forth a covenant governed by a works principle, namely, eternal life through obedience.” And yet Calvin argues the exact opposite, saying “if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments.”
Saying that one covenant promises eternal life upon personal obedience, and the other promises life upon faith in Christ is to say that they differ in substance – according to Calvin (and everyone else who used the term). And this is precisely the point of dispute regarding the entire TLNF volume. Fesko has muddied the waters in an already confusing debate. For the sake of tradition, he has forsaken clarity. I agree with the Kerux review when it says:
Fesko misinterprets and misrepresents Calvin’s position by suppressing the above-mentioned aspects of his teaching. In so doing, Fesko makes Calvin sound more like one of his (and the other authors) favorite contemporary covenant theologians: Meredith G. Kline. In fact, in our opinion, he appears to be doing nothing more than Mark Karlberg did before him: reading a form of Kline’s view onto Calvin. Kline taught that in the Mosaic administration there were two separate covenants: one of works, and one of grace. The former was superimposed upon the underlying substratum of the Abrahamic covenant of grace. Again, Fesko’s interest in vindicating his own view (Kline’s) of the Mosaic covenant seems to have created a roadblock in his efforts for an “accurate contextualized historical theology.”
Personally, I think that Kline’s formulation is more biblical than Calvin’s. But we shouldn’t be afraid to say it is different.
P.S. (This does not mean Kerux is correct in everything it says or that R. Scott Clark is wrong in all he said in response to it)
I have been interested in reading John C. Lyden’s book “Film as Religion” ever since I read a summary of it several years ago:
The lights dim, the voices hush and the devotees prepare for a sacred, transformative experience. This scenario does not describe a ritual in a cathedral or temple, but one occurring in another religiously charged space: the cinema. Lyden, a professor of religion in Nebraska, argues that if we define “religion” by its function-what the activity does for the people who participate in it-then movie-going is the religion of our time. Movies provide the collective myths to help us deal with our cultural anxieties and hopes, and catharsis in the form of rewarded heroes and punished villains. (Publisher’s Weekly)
I finally checked out a copy at the library and am going to try to blog through the book (hopefully that will get me to finish it – something I have a hard time doing with books!). I hope you find it interesting and more than that I hope it provokes some discussion on the topic – so let me know what you think.
As you read in the summary, Lyden’s thesis is basically that “there is no absolute distinction between religion and other aspects of culture, and that we have a tendency to label certain sorts of activities as “religious” chiefly because they fall into the patterns that we recognize from religion with which we are familiar.” He continues:
As a result, we have a tendency to limit what we view as religion to that which is recognized as such by us in our own culture. The result is that we can find ourselves shortsighted when we encounter a diverse form of religion – as, for example, the European colonists who came to America did. For a long time, they refused to even grant the name “religion” to the activities in the Native American culture that paralleled those undertaken by Europeans under that name. In time, they came to see that the “otherness” of American beliefs did not disqualify them from performing the same functions for Native Americans that Christianity did for most Europeans, and therefore these beliefs might be considered equally “religious.”… It may be that we experience a similar form of shortsightedness when we encounter aspects of our own culture that we view as opposed to religious values or beliefs. We fail to acknowledge the extent to which modern people base their worldviews and ethics upon sources we do not usually label “religious. (2-3)”
Lyden relies upon Clifford Geertz’ functional definition of religion. “This definition includes the three aspects noted in this book’s title: a “myth” or story that conveys a worldview; a set of values that idealize how that world should be; and a ritual expression that unites the two. (4)” “…I will argue for an understanding of [myth] that does not reduce it to a psychological projection or an illogical hegemony-promoting falsehood, but rather views it as a story that expresses the worldview and values of a community. (4)”
In regards to film as ritual, Lyden notes: “Films offer a vision of the way the world should be (in the view of the film) as well as statements about the way it really is; the ritual of film-going unites the two when we become part of the world projected on screen. We often hope and wish for a world like the one we see in the movies even though we must return to a very different world at the end of the show; in this way, films offer an entry into an ideally constructed world. (4)”
Lyden’s thesis is intriguing. Though he may not put it in these terms, he seems to be basically acknowledging that all of life is theological and that we cannot safely divide our “secular” life from our “religious” life. Everything we do is wrapped up in religion, which is why Paul said “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Furthermore, everyone has a religion. Everyone has a worldview and they seek out things in their life that confirm and support that worldview. We cannot neglect the pervasiveness of “religion” in our “secular” affairs.
I also appreciate his willingness to acknowledge the religious power of film. Film-going is absolutely a ritual and every film preaches a message. It is very disturbing to see how many people, Christians especially, watch movies completely uncritically. They willingly turn their brains off and stuff themselves with popcorn, all the while telling themselves “its just for fun.” That may be the case, and there’s nothing wrong with kicking back and enjoying 2 hours of Star Trek. But if you ignore the fact that you’re listening to a sermon and you get sucked into cheering for the emotional thesis of the film (1: rebellion is a virtue, 2: follow your heart, not your head), then you are neglecting your Christian duty to “test all things; hold fast was is good.”
However, I am leery of Lyden’s thesis being “Film as Religion.” That’s like saying “Writing as Religion.” I don’t think we can make the medium the religion. I know that’s not what Lyden intends, but we’ll see how careful he is about it. Perhaps a better title would be “Hollywood as Religion” because that entails film, a specific manner of film-going, and a particular worldview & message. We’ll see how this is worked out throughout the book.
One other area of concern may be Lyden’s definition of religion. Religion is notoriously difficult to define. In his book Religion, Reason, and Revelation Gordon H. Clark concludes that there is no proper and fitting definition of religion other than “God’s creating Adam in his own image and giving him a special revelation…” as well all distortions of that original religion (which includes just about everything). (Clark argues that because distortion of this religion is the result of sin, and sin is irrational, that there cannot be any logical classification of religion).
I think Lyden’s thesis would still qualify under Clark’s definition, but I am content to go along with Lyden’s definition for the purposes of the book. Wikipedia is generally a good measuring stick to gauge what the world thinks about any given topic, and it provides a definition similar to Lyden’s: “in general a set of beliefs explaining the existence of and giving meaning to the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” That definition works for me and it looks like Lyden’s thesis may be true. We’ll see.