Monday, June 28, 2004

N.T. Wright on Justification and Imputation Part I 

Deep down I know that if I don't start posting something soon, I will never get around to finishing my treatment of N.T. Wright, which has been languishing on my harddrive for a few months now. So I have decided to post the introduction now, rather than waiting until the whole thing is entirely finished. This will, I hope, put enough pressure on me to finish it off. I will be posting the rest of this long article over the course of the next few months. (You will notice that there are a lot of very long endnotes in this article. I felt that these endnotes address important questions and are relevant, but did not feel that they belonged to the body of the text. I will be relegating all of my numerous excursuses to the endnotes.)
Nicholas Thomas Wright, the current Bishop of Durham and former Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, is seen by many to be the leading evangelical proponent of the New Perspective.1 A prolific author and one of the most influential New Testament scholars of our day,2 Wright is both an erudite scholar and a gifted communicator. He has written many books on a popular level, which have facilitated the wide circulation of his thought. Jesus and the Victory of GodHaving gained an appreciative audience in theologically conservative circles through his landmark work in Jesus studies,3 his work on Paul has received an extensive evangelical readership that has been enjoyed by few other proponents of the New Perspective. Wright’s work on Paul4 has provoked debate far beyond the rarified atmosphere of Pauline scholarship. There have been a bewildering variety of evangelical responses to Wright ranging from enthusiastic support to outright denunciation. Many evangelicals have lauded Wright’s work on Paul, seeing it as a welcome movement beyond the rather narrow debates of the Reformation. Others have expressed a more guarded appreciation for it, maintaining that it represents a largely positive development in Reformed circles.5 Such people often claim that Wright’s work can be understood as a furthering of the Reformed tradition of biblical theology, drawing attention to the points of contact between Wright’s work and the work of Reformed scholars like Herman Ridderbos, Richard Gaffin Jr. and Geerhardus Vos.6 On the other hand there have been many negative reactions. Many believe that Wright’s work is catalyzing the ecumenical movement.7 Still others have expressed concern that Wright’s understanding of Paul is leading to a slurring of the shibboleths on the part of many Reformed Christians and to equivocal subscription to the confessional standards.8 In many circles this debate has generated more heat than light, with angry denunciations and charges of heresy. Even more unfortunate has been the manner in which many Reformed writers, like kittens worrying balls of wool, entangle the debate over the New Perspective with many of the intramural debates over the law, the covenant and justification that have been so vexed over the last hundred years in Presbyterian and Reformed circles.9 Within this article I hope to analyze Wright’s understanding of justification in general and his understanding of the imputation of righteousness to the believer in particular, to identify some of the other doctrines that frame these doctrines in his thought and to demonstrate the manner in which he arrives at his understanding. I will attempt to explore some of the charges that have been leveled against Wright’s doctrine. I will seek to identify possible weaknesses in Wright’s approach to the subject and offer some constructive criticism. I will begin by establishing the context for Wright’s understanding of imputation by giving a broad brushstroke picture of his reading of Paul’s doctrine of justification. Having done this, I will more closely examine his treatment of certain key texts that have traditionally been adduced as support for the Reformation doctrine of imputation. Once I have examined these texts I will endeavour to give a description of Wright’s alternative to the doctrine of imputation, drawing on some further data in his writings. I will then seek to explore Wright’s understanding of justification and imputation further, in dialogue with some of his Reformed critics. I will conclude with a brief critical evaluation of Wright on imputation and suggest some ways in which the current debate can be moved forward. Endnotes

1 The New Perspective is a movement that has been greatly misunderstood by many. At the outset it should be observed that New Perspective is far from monolithic; within the movement one will find scholars from across the whole theological spectrum. Furthermore, at its very heart the New Perspective is neither a new perspective on justification, nor even a new perspective on Paul; rather, it is a new perspective on Second Temple Judaism (as Tim Gallant and others have observed). As this essay is concerned with the theology of N.T. Wright, and given the numerous accounts of the nature of the New Perspective, it is probably helpful to paint a broad brushstroke picture of how Wright himself understands the New Perspective. Paul and Palestinian JudaismIt seems clear from Wright’s work that he sees the beginning of the New Perspective movement in the groundbreaking book of E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, published in 1977 (although the phrase ‘The New Perspective on Paul’ was coined by James Dunn in his 1982 Manson Memorial Lecture). Wright writes concerning Sanders’ work:—

His major point, to which all else is subservient, can be quite simply stated. Judaism in Paul’s day was not, as has regularly been supposed, a religion of legalistic works-righteousness. If we imagine that it was, and that Paul was attacking it as if it was, we will do great violence to it and to him. Most Protestant exegetes had read Paul and Judaism as if Judaism was a form of the old heresy Pelagianism, according to which humans must pull themselves up by their moral bootstraps and thereby earn justification, righteousness and salvation. No, said Sanders. Keeping the law within Judaism always functioned within a covenantal scheme. God took the initiative, when he made a covenant with Judaism; God’s grace thus precedes everything that people (specifically, Jews) do in response. The Jew keeps the law out of gratitude, as the proper response to grace — not, in other words, in order to get into the covenant people, but to stay in. Being ‘in’ in the first place was God’s gift. This scheme Sanders famously labelled as ‘covenantal nomism’ (from the Greek nomos, law). Keeping the Jewish law was the human response to God’s covenantal initiative. [What St Paul Really Said (Oxford: Lion, 1997), pp.18-19]
When Wright first came into contact with the work of E.P. Sanders, he had limited knowledge of first-century Judaism [New Perspectives on Paul — 10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference 2003, p.2] but had been studying Paul for some time. Wright describes the development of his convictions about Paul and his first encounter with the work of Sanders in the following manner in his interview with Travis Tamerius:—

The way that I came into this is a bit interesting. I grew up as a somewhat typical middle-Anglican with a strong dash of evangelicalism, or put the other way around, I grew up in a Lutheran evangelicalism which left me with a strong antithesis between law and grace. I found this all profoundly unsatisfying until I met Calvin and Calvinism. I began to think, “Whew...the law is a good thing. It is holy and just and good. It is right and it has been fulfilled, not abrogated, in Christ.” All of that is right. So, if you are faced with a choice between Luther and Calvin, you simply have to choose Calvin. I think a lot of evangelical debates in North America, at the moment, are still right around that axis although they don’t come right out and actually say so. What I then found, and believe me I tried very hard to do this, was that I couldn’t make the Calvinist reading of Galatians actually work. I was reading C.E.B. Cranfield on Romans and trying to see how it would work with Galatians, and it simply doesn’t work. Interestingly, Cranfield hasn’t done a commentary on Galatians. It’s very difficult. But I found then, and this was the mid-seventies before E.P. Sanders was published, before there was such a thing as a “new perspective,” that I came out with this reading of Romans 10:3 which is really the fulcrum for me around which everything else moved: “Being ignorant of the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own.”

In other words, what we have here is a covenant status which is for Jews and Jews only. I have a vivid memory of going home that night, sitting up in bed, reading Galatians through in Greek and thinking, “It works. It really works. This whole thing is going to fly.” And then all sorts of things just followed on from that. I mean Sanders was a great boost but he didn’t start this for me and he hasn’t given direction to what I did or was doing. It was more like Sanders was saying, “Actually first-century Judaism never was like what Luther said it was.”

Wright claims to have arrived at his present position ‘not because [he] learned it from Sanders or Dunn, but because of the struggle to think Paul’s thoughts after him as a matter of obedience to scripture [New Perspectives on Paul, p.2].’ The work of Sanders served to reinforce conclusions that Wright had already arrived at concerning Paul; however, it was exegesis and not a study of first-century religious patterns that first led him to his present reading of Paul. Whilst there has certainly been development in Wright’s doctrine of justification and in his reading of Paul over the years, we must appreciate the fact that Wright’s position on these issues is essentially the same as that which he had just prior to the release of Sanders’ book. Even in the area where Wright most closely follows Sanders, in his treatment of Palestinian Judaism, Wright is quite prepared to speak in a critical fashion about Sanders’ work. Whilst Wright believes that Sanders’ central thesis should be regarded as established, he believes that ‘Sanders’s account of Judaism needs a lot more nuancing [Ibid., p.3].’ He points out that Sanders has a ‘very thin view of religion’ and clearly believes that Sanders’ question ‘How does religion work in terms of getting in and staying?’ is quite an unhelpful way to approach the subject [‘An Interview with N.T. Wright’]. When it comes to Sanders’ reading of Paul, however, Wright is even more critical.
…when he came to Paul Sanders seemed muddled and imprecise. This is partly, I now realise, because he was not dealing with theology (and so seemed confused about basic things like justification and salvation), but rather with religion, and patterns of religion in particular. His agenda, there and elsewhere, included a desire to make Christianity and Judaism less antithetical; in other words, to take a large step away from the anti-Judaism of much Pauline scholarship. I need hardly say that I never embraced either Sanders’s picture of Paul or the relativistic agendas which seemed to be driving it. Indeed, for the next decade much of what I wrote on Paul was in debate and disagreement with Sanders, not least because his proposals lacked the exegetical clarity and rootedness which I regarded and regard as indispensible. For me, the question has always been ‘But does this make sense of the text?’, not ‘But will this fit into some abstract scheme somewhere?’ [New Perspectives on Paul, p.3]
In his 2000 lecture, ‘Coming Home to St Paul? Reading Romans a Hundred Years after Charles Gore’, Wright claimed:—
…neither Davies, nor Sanders, nor their followers, have advanced a satisfactory new picture of Paul as a whole — religion, theology, exegesis, and contemporary application.
Within the New Perspective movement numerous different readings of Paul and approaches to the question of justification exist. Wright frequently speaks of the disagreements that exist between his reading of Paul and that of other leading New Perspective authors such as James Dunn. Whilst it would be a mistake to speak of some monolithic ‘New Perspective on Paul’, it is important that we appreciate the scale of the seachange has taken place in Pauline scholarship over the last thirty years as a result of Sanders’ book. Seyoon Kim writes:—
Since the Reformation, I think no school of thought, not even the Bultmannian School, has exerted a greater influence upon Pauline scholarship than the school of the New Perspective. [Seyoon Kim, Paul and the New Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), p.xiv]
Paul and the New PerspectiveKim sees the New Perspective as ‘in many respects overturning the Reformation interpretation of Paul’s gospel’ [Ibid.] due to its radical reassessment of the origin of Paul’s doctrine of justification. As the Reformers and their heirs generally understood first-century Judaism to be a strong form of Pelagianism, they tended to read Paul and his doctrine of justification against this background. If the New Perspective’s reassessment of the character of first-century Judaism is correct, many of the traditional readings of Paul must be discarded and the origins and nature of Paul’s doctrine of justification must be reassessed. This has led to the development of many new perspectives on Paul, not just one. However, whilst many common Reformation readings of Paul have been rejected by the New Perspective, we should be aware of the fact that there are conservative advocates of the New Perspective who argue that they stand in continuity with the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone. We should also be careful to maintain a degree of distance between the position of the New Perspective and the issue of justification. There is a constant danger of confusing distinct questions. Wright claims that he doesn’t see the meaning of such words as ‘justification’ to be
…a matter of the so-called “new perspective” on Paul, though insights from Sanders, Dunn and others, critically sifted and factored in where appropriated, must make their contribution. [The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X: Acts — 1 Corinthians (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), p.481]
Having some appreciation of Wright’s complicated relationship with and interpretation of the New Perspective will help us as we seek to evaluate his doctrine of justification. Wright’s doctrine of justification is not the New Perspective ‘party line’ (although it is held by many within the movement), nor were its principal elements arrived at following the advent of the New Perspective (although Wright believes that the New Perspective reinforces his position). (return)

2 A list of his publications to November 2003 can be found online. (return)

3 Most especially Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996) (return)

4 Wright’s key works on Paul are The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (London: T&T Clark, 1991), What St Paul Really Said (Oxford: Lion, 1997) and, most recently, his Romans Commentary in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume X: Acts — 1 Corinthians (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002) (return)

5 An example of such a response can be found in Dr. Douglas J. Green’s N.T. Wright — A Westminster Seminary Perspective (return)

6 For example, Daniel Kirk, ‘New Perspective on Reformed Tradition: A Response to Kelly’. Wright himself has spoken of his high regard for this tradition and of his appreciation of the work of Ridderbos and others:—

I suspect that had the views of Cranfield or Ridderbos or other Reformed writers dominated exegesis, with their positive view of the law of Moses, rather than the negative Lutheran one, there might have been no need for the correction—or perhaps over-correction—offered in the New Perspective offered by Ed Sanders and others. [From Wright’s January Series lecture at Calvin College, ‘St. Paul in the Big Picture: The Apostle and the Gospel in the 1st and 21st Century’]

7 This accusation has come from both Protestants (e.g. Dr. Sidney D. Dyer, ‘Tom Wright’s Ecumenical Teaching’) and Catholics (e.g. ‘Art Sippo and the Demise of Catholic Apologetics’). [Ironically, in the second article, R. Sungenis describes Wright as being ‘the very scholar who is still fostering the Reformation concept of forensic imputation as the means of justification’!] (return)

8 An example of questions that have been drawn up in order to address the perceived threat that New Perspective theology poses to Reformed confessionalism can be found following Douglas Kelly’s article ‘New Approaches of Biblical Theology to Justification’. (return)

9 The Call of GraceThere are a couple of points of contact between N.T. Wright’s work and the position of Norman Shepherd [The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2000)]. Nevertheless, these are far outweighed by the significant differences that exist between the two positions, not least the fact that Shepherd does not hold to the New Perspective’s interpretation of the Judaism of Paul’s day. Shepherd also works within the framework established by the Reformation debate to a degree that Wright does not. A closer connection can be observed between the work of Wright and the position advocated by the speakers at the Auburn Avenue Pastors’ Conferences of 2002 and 2003. Whilst Wright was not mentioned in the first conference, Wright’s reading of Paul does lend itself in many respects to the form of covenant theology propounded by the conference speakers. Both Wright and the Auburn Avenue speakers wish to move away from the merit-orientated manner of constructing soteriology and the individualism that is pervasive in much modern evangelicalism. They also share a common emphasis on the Church’s place at the centre of salvation. After the first conference the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States delivered a call to repentance to the speakers and directly connected their teaching with that of the New Perspective on Paul. Since then the two movements have often been confused. However, whilst most of the Auburn Avenue speakers would be open in their appreciation for the work of Wright, it should be recognized that their agenda is clearly distinct from that of Wright in a number of respects, although there has been some convergence between the two movements. The following are some of the key sources for those who wish to explore the relationship between the two movements:— Douglas Wilson, "Reformed" is Not Enough (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2002) Douglas Wilson, ‘N.T. Wright and All That’ (Credenda Agenda 13:3, p.10) Douglas Wilson, ‘A Pauline Take on the New Perspective’ (Credenda Agenda 15:5, pp.5f.) E. Calvin Beisner (Ed.), The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision (Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Knox Theological Seminary, 2003) Steve Wilkins and Duane Garner, The Federal Vision (Athanasius Press, 2004) (return)

Amazing! Scans such as these really serve to bring the evils of abortion home to us.

Friday, June 25, 2004

A number of people have been quoting from Calvin over the last couple of days to demonstrate that he held to some form of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, whilst still opposing Roman Catholic errors on the issue. Do take the time to read Kevin Johnson and Paul Owen on the subject. The following quotation is taken from Calvin's Geneva Catechism and is, in my estimation, a helpful expression of Calvin's view on the subject.

Master. - How many are the sacraments of the Christian Church?

Scholar. - There are only two, whose use is common among all believers.

Master. - What are they?

Scholar. - Baptism and the Holy Supper.

Master. - What likeness or difference is there between them?

Scholar. - Baptism is a kind of entrance into the Church; for we have in it a testimony that we who are otherwise strangers and aliens, are received into the family of God, so as to be counted of his household; on the other hand, the Supper attests that God exhibits himself to us by nourishing our souls.

Master. - That the meaning of both may be more clear to us, let us treat of them separately. First, what is the meaning of Baptism?

Scholar. - It consists of two parts. For, first, Forgiveness of sins; and, secondly, Spiritual regeneration, is figured by it. (Eph. v. 26 ; Rom. vi. 4.)

Master. - What resemblance has water 'with these things, so as to represent them?

Scholar. - Forgiveness of sins is a kind of washing, by which our souls are cleansed from their defilements, just as bodily stains are washed away by water.

Master. - What do you say of Regeneration?

Scholar. - Since the mortification of our nature is its beginning, and our becoming new creatures its end, a figure of death is set before us when the water is poured upon the head, and the figure of a new life when instead of remaining immersed under water, we only enter it for a moment as a kind of grave, out of which we instantly emerge.

Master. - Do you think that the water is a washing of the soul?

Scholar. - By no means; for it were impious to snatch away this honour from the blood of Christ, which was shed in order to wipe away all our stains, and render us pure and unpolluted in the sight of God. (1 Pet. i. 19; 1 John i. 7.) And we receive the fruit of this cleansing when the Holy Spirit sprinkles our consciences with that sacred blood. Of this we have a seal in the Sacrament.

Master. - But do you attribute nothing more to the water than that it is a figure of ablution?

Scholar. - I understand it to be a figure, but still so that the reality is annexed to it; for God does not disappoint us when he promises us his gifts. Accordingly, it is certain that both pardon of sins and newness of life are offered to us in baptism, and received by us.

Master. - Is this grace bestowed on all indiscriminately?

Scholar. - Many precluding its entrance by their depravity, make it void to themselves. Hence the benefit extends to believers only, and yet the Sacrament loses nothing of its nature.

Master. - Whence is Regeneration derived?

Scholar. - From the Death and Resurrection of Christ taken together. His death hath this efficacy, that by means of it our old man is crucified, and the vitiosity of our nature in a manner buried, so as no more to be in vigour in us. Our reformation to a new life, so as to obey the righteousness of God, is the result of the resurrection.

Master. - How are these blessings bestowed upon us by Baptism?

Scholar. - If we do not render the promises there offered unfruitful by rejecting them, we are clothed with Christ, and presented with his Spirit.

Do take the time to read the following article:—
The Gospel: The Return of the King
Within the article Derrick Olliff makes the important point that the gospel is not essentially the offer of personal salvation, but the objective proclamation of Christ's work in ushering in the kingdom of God.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

This, ladies and gentleman, is what happens when making the Bible 'accessible' takes precedence over the gospel itself. From Taylor Marshall's Ecclesia Anglicana. In the comments on the post, Philip Bocock makes a good point:—
...some of that translation is really funny: "take a running jump, Holy Joes, humbugs". ON a serious note, in their attempt to eliminate exclusive language, it seems like they used even more exclusive language than previous translations. Now you have to not only be young, but also british to pick up on all the slang. What the heck is a holy joe? What does running jump mean?? Also, their changing all the saints names will result in only the people reading that translation to have any clue as to who is being referred to. Talk about exclusionary language.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

To me, tragic as the death of the fan was, this seems to be taking things out of all proportion. I have commented on this sort of thing in the past — see my post from February 23.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Debate with a Reformed Baptist 

There has been an ongoing debate in the comments following my earlier post on The Apostles’ Creed and Christian Faith. This reply to David grew to such gigantic proportions that I thought it best to make it into a post. I would appreciate other people’s contributions to this debate. Ideally I would rather not have such a debate. I have a great appreciation for my Reformed Baptist brothers, despite my theological differences from them in a number of areas. I was a Reformed Baptist myself just over two years ago. I still attend a Reformed Baptist church and recognize that I hold much in common with Reformed Baptists. I have benefited, and continue to benefit, immensely from Reformed Baptists. I have learned much from Reformed Baptists and I continue to learn much from Reformed Baptists. I sit under good Reformed Baptist preaching each week and have profited greatly from it. I have been supported by the prayers of Reformed Baptists. I would not be where I am today were it not for Reformed Baptists. I have no desire whatsoever to promote a party mentality on this issue. However, I feel that if we are to retain fellowship it is important to be honest with each other. This honesty must involve a full account of where disagreements exist. Articulation of these differences should not be engaged in for the purpose of bringing about disunity or strife. Rather, clear expression of theological differences is, to my mind, a condition of true fellowship. This is where much of the ecumenical movement fails; people are unwilling to speak truthfully about their differences and purposely disguise their distinctives in order to get on. One of the challenges of true fellowship is that of feeling responsible for each other. If we are not prepared to speak truthfully about the existence of disagreements, error and sin how can we claim to be motivated by the concern for the other person that is fundamental to true fellowship? Problems can only be sorted out when we are honest about them. Sweeping them under the carpet should never be an option. Churches in the ecumenical movement are often unconcerned about erring brothers and are more concerned about everyone getting on with them. There are, of course, appropriate places for expression of such differences. My church leaders are aware of this weblog and permit me to continue for a number of different reasons. However, I do not feel that it is appropriate to publicize either the existence of my weblog or my theological distinctives among the lay members of my church. In criticizing the Baptist position, it should not be presumed that I mean to dismiss it as worthless. I believe that Baptists do have important correctives to certain positions within Reformed churches. Living around people who disagree with your theological perspective has the advantage of making one more aware of one’s blindspots. This is one of the many reasons why the Reformed tradition can benefit from the ministry of Reformed Baptists. We must also recognize that we should not presume to minister to our brethren by seeking to highlight error, unless we ourselves are willing to be ministered to. For this reason, it is important that we take seriously the critiques of our Reformed Baptist brethren; even if we finally choose not to follow them, we should beware of ignoring them. In speaking truthfully about the areas in which I differ from Reformed Baptists, my aim is not to protect my own distinctives and alienate my Reformed Baptist brethren. It is my conviction that theology is learned in dialogue and it has been in dialogue with Reformed Baptists that I have learned much of my theology. This dialogue has not always been characterized by disagreement. However, even when it is characterized by disagreement, I trust that it will be clear that I have a great underlying appreciation and affection for my Reformed Baptist brothers. Mutual upbuilding in the truth should be our goal, not polarization. Nevertheless, we must never forget that mutual upbuilding in the truth always necessitates the frank treatment of differences. Such is the challenge of fellowship. David’s comment will be in blue.
Reformed Baptists and the Reformed Tradition
The historical context of the rise of the Reformed Baptists. The Reformed Baptists are largely, in terms of historical continuity, heirs of the English Puritans. They arose out of the soil of Puritanism, retaining most of their previous theology, but rejecting infant baptism and embracing the doctrine of self-governing local churches. … However, I see from your later post that you appear to view the English Puritans as deviants from the Reformed position and not its heirs?
Yes, I am aware of the deep relationship between the Puritans and the Reformed Baptists. In his essay, The Polemics of Infant Baptism, B.B. Warfield writes:—
All Protestants should easily agree that only Christ’s children have a right to the ordinance of baptism. The cleavage in their ranks enters in only when we enquire how the external Church is to hold itself relatively to the recognition of the children of Christ. If we say that its attitude should be as exclusive as possible, and that it must receive as the children of Christ only those whom it is forced to recognize as such, then we shall inevitably narrow the circle of the subjects of baptism to the lowest limits. If, on the other hand, we say that its attitude should be as inclusive as possible, and that it should receive as the children of Christ all whom, in the judgment of charity, it may fairly recognize as such, then we shall naturally widen the circle of the subjects of baptism to far more ample limits. The former represents, broadly speaking, the Puritan idea of the Church, the latter the general Protestant doctrine. It is on the basis of the Puritan conception of the Church that the Baptists are led to exclude infants from baptism. For, if we are to demand anything like demonstrative evidence of actual participation in Christ before we baptize, no infant, who by reason of years is incapable of affording signs of his union with Christ, can be thought a proper subject of the rite. [emphasis added]
Many other authors have argued that the Puritans departed from the earlier tradition in a number of respects. For myself, I am convinced that, whilst some of these charges are overstated, Puritanism considered as a whole was a serious downgrade movement in the areas of ecclesiology and the sacraments. Of course, Puritanism was not a monolithic movement and there were even those at Westminster who affirmed such doctrines as baptismal regeneration. Nevertheless, the Puritans have been accused by many Reformed people over the last few centuries of having far too deeply imbibed baptistic principles. However, much as I might dislike certain of the tendencies of Puritanism, I still believe that the Westminster divines are clear heirs of the Reformed tradition. Even though they may sometimes have tended in directions that I do not appreciate, the Westminster tradition was an organic outgrowth of the Reformed tradition. They represent the Reformed tradition by true and legitimate descent. The problem is that the history of ‘Reformed’ Baptists is characterized by separation from the established ecclesiastical traditions for the purpose of creating societies governed by their own distinctives. This explodes any claim that Baptists might have to be Reformed. Baptists, even ‘Reformed’ Baptists, have generally rejected the idea that they were historically connected with the Roman Catholic church. Their approach is more one of reconstituting the Church than it is one of reforming the Church. If there is any sort of position that may have a claim to be ‘Reformed Baptist’ it would be the position represented by people such as Karl Barth. Paul Jewett and others have, however, admitted that Barth’s relationship with the Reformed tradition indicates that he was ‘no Baptist’. This is why the issue of Baptism is so crucial. Baptism connected the Reformed movement to the medieval Church that they were claiming to reform. Reformed Baptist ecclesiology, on the other hand, proclaims a church without a navel. C.H. Spurgeon writes:—
We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves.
Whilst Baptists might legitimately point out theological commonalities between themselves and the Reformed churches, they have historically tended to deny any ecclesiastical connection between themselves and the Reformed churches, which nullifies their claim to be ‘Reformed’. To deny the validity of the Baptism of a tradition is really to ecclesiastically cut oneself off from it. The ‘Reformed faith’ is not a series of abstract propositions divorced from an ecclesiastical tradition. This is what Reformed Baptists forget. The confessions of faith, catechisms and canons were produced for the purpose of regulating the doctrine and practice of the Reformed churches. The ecclesiastical tradition logically precedes the dogmatic establishment of the tradition’s faith. Consequently, even Arminius was Reformed in a manner that no ‘Reformed’ Baptist can claim to be. Once this has been recognized it will be appreciated that there can be many divergent strains, each with a valid claim to be in continuity with the Reformed tradition. Furthermore, there are some strains that can quite remove themselves from many of the original forms of the Reformed tradition and yet still claim to be Reformed. When one studies the original confessional documents of virtually all the branches of the Reformed church one will soon realize that many of the churches established by these documents have moved away from them on such issues as the Lord’s Supper. As an illustration one could observe that the United States of America are/is (?) not always entirely faithful to their/its founding documents. However, the USA still stands as heir of that particular political, historical and cultural tradition. This tradition is not a mere static deposit, but is developed over time; some clear continuity is maintained with the past, without forbidding progress beyond it. The Reformed tradition is quite similar. Suppose a group of people who greatly admired the USA and its system of government were to take such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution and build a nation around them. They might decide to change a few things here and there, claiming that certain aspects of the founding documents of America are peripheral and can be dispensed with without compromising the whole. Of course, this would be a voluntary community, so one could only join when one was old enough to understand ‘Americanism’ for oneself. Allowing people to become members prior to rational and volitional assent to the founding documents might lead to the corruption of the pure tradition that they are trying to establish. Would such people be Americans? No, not even if they took to calling themselves the ‘One True America’ or something like that. By the same token Reformed Baptists are not Reformed. Clearly a relationship exists between Reformed Baptists and many within the Reformed tradition. However, this relationship is one of mutual appreciation rather than one of family relationship, a relationship of similarity rather than one of true and legitimate descent. Reformed Baptists do have much to be proud of in their tradition. They have had great preachers like Spurgeon, great writers like Bunyan, great hymn-writers like Gadsby and great missionaries like Carey. In the present day there are many thousands of Reformed Christians who can testify of the manner in which they have been blessed by the ministries of such Reformed Baptists as Al Martin and John Piper. I am one among many who has great appreciation for the work of Reformed Baptist theologians such as Don Carson, Stanley Grenz, Don Garlington, Wayne Grudem and others. Even though the Reformed tradition may appreciate the work of their Reformed Baptist brothers in many respects, it is nonetheless clear that to ascribe the term ‘Reformed’ to Reformed Baptists is quite inappropriate.
The New Perspective and the Reformed Tradition
2. You say that it is ridiculous for me to say that you are “arguing that the ‘Reformed world after the time of Calvin has been reading the New Testament wrongly in fundamental issues’.” Why is that ridiculous? Most advocates of the ‘New Perspective’ on justification which you hold to are quite plain and clear in stating that they believe that the Reformers misread the New Testament and that they were wrong to place justification by faith alone at the heart of the gospel. You don't have to go far in reading Wright or Dunn to find them saying that Luther and Calvin were totally wrong. These writers are quite express in saying that almost all before them have read the New Testament wrongly. However you seem to have taken a quite novel position — that not only is the New Perspective largely the _correct_ reading of the New Testament, but you also hold that it was, after all, the perspective held by the Reformers after all! Historical revisionism?
A few points:
Charles Hodge and the Roman Catholics
3. I have read quite a lot of Hodge, and frankly your quoting of him is very selective. Hodge’s understanding of the gospel and justification is spelled out in his book “The Way of Life”, and is not the same as yours. If you read his commentaries on Romans and 1 Corinthians then you will see that he does not understand saving faith to be something which is compatible with the Roman church’s confession. Hodge’s view that Roman Catholic baptism is “Christian” is hence an idiosyncracy, and not a consistent part of his system as it is for you. For Hodge, it does not tie in with the view of the gospel and of justification which it does for you. This is why you quote Hodge on the question of Roman Catholic baptism, but do not quote him on justification! Historical revisionism of Hodge going on here?
No, I don’t think so. Hodge writes in a manner that directly addresses this question:—
The most common and plausible objections to the admission that the church of Rome is still a part of the visible church are the following. First, it is said that she does not profess the true religion, because though she retains the forms or propositions in which the truth is stated, she vitiates them by her explanation. To which we answer, 1. That in her general creeds, adopted and professed by the people, no explanations are given. The doctrines are asserted in the general terms, just as they were presented and professed before the Romish apostasy. 2. That the explanations, as given by the Council of Trent, are as stated by Theophilus, designedly two-sided and ambiguous; so that while one class of Romanists take them in a sense consistent with their saving efficacy, others take them in a sense which destroys their value. It is notorious that the thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England are taken in a Calvinistic sense by one class of her theologians; in a semi-Pelagian sense by another class; and in a Romish sense by a third. 3. While we admit the truth of the objection as a fact, viz., that the dominant class of theologians do explain away most of the saving doctrines of her ancient creeds, yet we deny that this destroys the argument from the profession of those creeds, in proof that as a society she retains saving truth. Because it is the creeds and not the explanations, that constitute the profession of the people. [emphasis added]
It seems clear that Hodge recognizes that there is enough ambiguity in the Roman Catholic position for one to be honestly subscribe to Roman Catholic doctrine and yet to believe the gospel savingly. I must admit that I find you more than a little audicious to wilfully pit Hodge himself against his clear testimony on this very issue. He does tie in his view of the Roman Catholic church with his view of the gospel and justification. I question what right you have to say that Hodge’s view of the Roman Catholic church is an ‘idiosyncracy’ and not a consistent part of his system when he himself — and he arguably knew his own system of theology better than you do — saw it as totally consistent. Quite apart from this, one must appreciate that Hodge was engaged at the forefront of a debate on the subject of the validity of Roman Catholic baptism in the PCUSA in the 1840s, something that gave him considerable time and cause to think out his position on this matter in great depth. I suggest that you read John Tallach’s booklet, A Plea Against Extremism, which deals with this issue. Tallach writes:—

The view that the R.C. Church forms no part of the Christian Church and that baptism performed within it is to be disregarded as invalid was, for Hodge, a view in conflict with the Scriptures and with the Confession of Faith. It was also “at variance with all previously adopted principles and usage” in the Reformed Church; “in opposition to the principles of the whole Protestant world”.

Hodge believed … that “the cause of Protestantism suffers materially from the undiscriminating denunciations heaped upon the Church of Rome, and from transferring the abhorrence due to her corruptions to her whole complicated system of truth and error.” In fact, ironically, he felt that those who fanatically distanced themselves from everything connected with the R.C. Church were to some extent showing the spirit of Popery themselves.

Hodge was alarmed as he wondered where this movement was leading — the movement begun by those who had got the Assembly of his church to pronounce Romish baptism invalid. He thought that, if applied consistently to other defective churches, these attitudes would lead to the point where “we shall have to unchurch almost the whole Christian world: and the Presbyterians, instead of being the most catholic of churches, admitting the being of the church wherever we see the fruits of the Spirit, would become one of the narrowest and most bigotted of sects.”

My own position is essentially the same as that of Hodge. That is, whilst it is possible to read Roman Catholic theology in a manner that nullifies the saving efficacy of the gospel truths, there are clear and established forms of Roman Catholic theology that do not do so. Roman Catholic theology, although it may generally obscure the gospel in various ways, does not universally efface it. Roman Catholic theology may retain much of the force of sola fide whilst denying the legitimacy of the formulation.
Are Reformed Baptists Reformed? (Part II)
4. Frankly I do not mind if you define the term “Reformed” so as to exclude Baptists. It is just a term, after all.
The term ‘Reformed’ is no more ‘just a term’ than my surname is ‘just a word.’
I can see some justification for your usage; the mainstream Reformers weren’t Baptists. Fair enough. I am happy just to debate if the Bible supports my view or not, and do not need to rely on large quotes of other writers. But I hope you can also agree that the weight of historical consensus does not agree with you. The mainstream Presbyterian tradition has been willing to see that the system of Reformed Baptist theology is generally consistent with their own understanding. You can argue that that tradition has been wrong, but to deny that it is so is revisionism...
I am happy to debate these issues from Scripture too, and started a series discussing the doctrine of Baptism held by Reformed Baptists on my other blog some time ago now. I hope to finish it sometime soon. As regards the historical relationship between Reformed Baptists and the Reformed tradition, it is clear that historically there has been a close relationship. I am quite willing to admit this. However, the same people that have recognized this close relationship have also clearly recognized some very important differences between the Reformed tradition and that of the Reformed Baptists. Some within the Reformed tradition have perceived the relationship between themselves and the Reformed Baptists to be closer than others. However, your claim that ‘the mainstream Presbyterian tradition has been willing to see that the system of Reformed Baptist theology is generally consistent with their own understanding’ is questionable to say the least. First, it is clear that the Presbyterian tradition has historically taken many different forms. Some of these forms are downright hostile to Baptists. It is also easy to observe that many prominent forms of the Reformed Baptist tradition are openly hostile to Reformed practice of infant Baptism, speaking of it in the most pejorative of terms. The existence of any ‘mainstream’ on this issue is a myth. I challenge you to prove the existence of such a ‘mainstream’ all the way back to the earliest Reformed tradition. Second, there are Presbyterian movements that place far more accent upon the doctrines that are not shared by Reformed Baptists and downplay any connection with Reformed Baptists. These movements have an indisputable claim to stand in the Reformed tradition and to claim that these groups somehow do not belong to some mythological ‘mainstream’ is quite ridiculous. Third, whilst some movements within Presbyterianism may have ‘been willing to see that the system of Reformed Baptist theology is generally consistent with their own understanding’, this area of consistency is clearly not universal. Presbyterians of all stripes have tended to see infant Baptism as a very important distinctive, as have Baptists. There has been a considerable appreciation on both sides that, although much may be held in common, the differences that exist are very important ones. Your position depends on arguing for the existence of a general consensus in the Reformed tradition supporting the notion that infant Baptism is not an integral element of Reformed theology. I do not believe that such a consensus exists.
Reformed Baptists and Calvin
“Claiming to be Reformed and yet denying infant Baptism is as misguided as claiming to be Lutheran and yet denying the Real Presence or claiming to be Augustinian and yet denying Augustine's ecclesiology.” This is a play on words. If you mean to fossilise the word “Reformed” in the Institutes of Calvin, then you’re correct. But if we see the English Puritans and the Reformed Baptists as the true heirs of the work which Calvin began, you’re wrong. And I argue you’re wrong.
I don’t mean to ‘fossilise the word “Reformed” in the Institutes of Calvin’. Calvin was a member of a broader theological tradition and had to harmonize his theology with his own Reformed contemporaries in certain respects. However, as I have argued in the past, the Reformed Baptist position is clearly repudiated by Calvin. It is frankly dishonest for Reformed Baptists to represent themselves ‘as the true heirs of the work which Calvin began’ when Calvin spoke in such strong language against their key distinctives. I can imagine that you would be appalled if someone treated your theology in such a cavalier fashion. Calvin did not believe that one could deny infant Baptism and yet leave the rest of his theology intact.
We welcome the core insight of Calvin that the New Covenant is the continuation and fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham. We reject the erroneous inference that in the matter of baptism that the external administration is unchanged.
It is clear that the denial of infant Baptism is only the tip of an iceberg of differences between Reformed Baptist covenant theology and that of Calvin. I have read Calvin in depth and I have also read many key Reformed Baptist apologists These apologists almost invariably draw attention to deeper differences between the Reformed Baptist views of covenant theology and those of the Reformed tradition. Only by describing Reformed Baptist covenant theology in the most general of terms (as you have done above) can one obscure the irreconcilable differences that exist.
We consistently apply Calvin’s better insight in the case of the Lord’s Supper, that it is for believer’s only. By the way, if credobaptism disenfranchises Reformed Baptists from being “Reformed”, then so does paedocommunion, which was not held by Calvin either. You can’t have you cake and eat it — not without historical revisionism! ;-)
Well, first of all, one must recognize that I do not equate Calvin’s position with the ‘Reformed’ position. Calvin is a key representative of the Reformed tradition, but his is not the only position within the tradition. I mention Calvin’s differences with Reformed Baptists so much because they are prone to do violence to Calvin’s theological system when they claim to be ‘Calvinists’, when they are not Calvinists by any stretch of the imagination. Furthermore, one must recognize that paedocommunion has been a position that has been held by some within the Reformed churches in history. Among the early Reformers, the paedocommunion position was held by Wolfgang Musculus without his being denied the title of ‘Reformed’. In recent years, the paedocommunion position has gained a lot of support in many Reformed churches (with legitimate claim to descent from the Reformed tradition) and has been advocated by a number of leading Reformed thinkers. There are a number of Reformed churches that practice paedocommunion. Furthermore, paedocommunionism is not outside the pale of Reformed orthodoxy in the same manner that credobaptism is. It is not explicitly condemned by any major Reformed confession. Consequently it is an issue that Reformed people are open to disagree on.
Just remember that when I say “Reformed” I don’t mean “identical in all things with Calvin”, I mean “heirs of the tradition from Calvin whose successors are the English Puritans and the adherents of the WCF, Savoy Confession or 1689 London Baptist Confession”.
Indeed. I am aware of what you mean by ‘Reformed’ and I am denying that the Reformed Baptists are ‘Reformed’ in that precise sense — namely, ‘heirs of the tradition from Calvin.’ Who entitled them to claim this tradition as their inheritance? It was not bequeathed to them by the Reformed churches. They have taken it to themselves. I am glad that they have benefited from the doctrines that are treasured by the Reformed churches. However, they claimed these doctrines whilst denying that they were the sons of the Reformed ecclesiastical tradition. The ‘navel-less’ ecclesiology of the Reformed Baptists undermines the legitimacy of their claim to be the ‘heirs of the tradition from Calvin.’
Differences on the Supper
7. “The doctrines of the Reformed faith interpenetrate each other and are not discrete, hermetically sealed units. The Reformed faith is like a cake: one cannot remove certain ingredients and add others and still expect to have the same finished article. The system is not just the sum of its parts. Rather, every part of the system is mutually conditioning with every other part.” Yes, but you have removed the doctrine of believers’ only communion, so you are also excluded. I am sure that you will deny with, but whatever argument you have that allows you to argue that Calvin’s view of communion is optional is one that I can use to make his view of baptism optional.
To claim that I am excluded from the Reformed tradition because I have ‘removed the doctrine of believers’ only communion’ is quite ridiculous. [However, I will readily admit (and have done so on this blog in the past) that I am not a true member of the Reformed tradition given the fact that at present I am a member of a Reformed Baptist church.] There are numerous heirs of the Reformed tradition who hold to the practice of infant communion. There has never been an articulated consensus condemning the practice of infant communion within the Reformed tradition. A number of Reformed confessional documents do not exclude paedocommunion. Even in churches that have confessional documents that preclude paedocommunion, the subject has been given serious thought. Many within churches that hold the Westminster confessional documents, for example, take exception to certain of the positions that exclude paedocommunion. The Reformed tradition has generally regarded differences over infant Baptism as far more determinative of Reformed identity than differences over paedocommunion, concerning which there is no dogmatic condemnation. John Murray writes in Christian Baptism:—

Why baptise infants if we do not admit them to the Lord’s table?

At the outset it should be admitted that if paedobaptists are inconsistent in this discrimination, then the relinquishment of infant baptism is not the only way of resolving the inconsistency. It could be resolved by going in the other direction, namely, that of admitting infants to the Lord’s supper. And when all factors entering into this dispute are taken into account, particularly the principle involved in infant baptism, then far less would be at stake in admitting infants to the Lord’s supper than would be at stake in abandoning infant baptism. This will serve to point up the significance of infant baptism in the divine economy of grace. [p.74]

The grounds on which Calvin and others within the Reformed tradition oppose paedocommunion are not the same grounds on which they oppose the position of antipaedobaptists. One position is generally opposed by focusing on the importance of self-examination and the difference between an active and passive sacrament, the other is opposed on the basis of covenant theology itself. Far more serious truths are jeopardized by the denial of infant Baptism than are supposedly denied by supporting the paedocommunion position. I’m frankly surprised that you would relate these two doctrinal questions in the manner that you do.
8. Of course, the Reformed theology was in fact one big enough to hold the views of both Calvin and Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper, and your theology of the ordinances is once totally incompatible with a Zwinglian view. What’s more, your view of the ordinances is essential for your ecclesiology and soteriology, as I’ve understood it. Hence you ought to be more cautious in making Calvin’s theology of the ordinances an essential part of Reformed theology. Otherwise you’re open to the accusation of revising history...
A reading of the early Reformed confessions will soon reveal that it was the Calvinistic doctrine that was most generally received in the Reformed churches. As the Reformed tradition became more clearly articulated in confessional documents the Zwinglian view is seen to be largely elbowed out. It is the Calvinistic doctrine of the Supper that is taught in the confessional documents of most branches of the Reformed tradition. Keith Mathison writes in Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, after having studied a number of the early Reformed confessions:—
The second fact we must note is that of the three views that could conceivably claim to be the Reformed view (the views of Zwingli, Bullinger, or Calvin), Calvin’s doctrine is the most representative in the Reformed confessions of the time. Zwingli’s view is only represented in minor early confessions, and Bullinger’s view, although it does appear in important confessions, such as the Second Helvetic Confession, could be described as more “timidly Calvinistic” than overtly “anti-Calvinistic.”
As Calvin’s doctrine of the Supper is the one that has generally been received by the Reformed churches, it seems fair to see it as pretty important to the Reformed faith and to see a departure from it as pretty serious. Nonetheless, it is certainly not a sine qua non of the Reformed tradition in the manner that infant Baptism is. You are right in recognizing that my view of the sacraments is essential to my ecclesiology and soteriology. There is nothing wrong with this. The Reformed tradition is able to hold mutually incompatible positions on certain issues, provided certain essential things that are held in common are not denied. Just because I believe that the sacraments are essential to ecclesiology and soteriology and Zwinglianism is dangerously mistaken, does not mean that I deny that Zwinglianism is a Reformed position or that I claim that to be Reformed one must share my views concerning the relationship between the sacraments, ecclesiology and soteriology. For example, B.B. Warfield’s notion of an ‘immediate’ salvation is a departure from certain of the general historical positions of Reformed churches and I dislike it intently. However, I will happily grant that Warfield is Reformed, even though our systems of theology are radically different in a number of respects.
The Reformers and the Validity of Roman Catholic Baptism
9. “The Reformers accepted the validity of Roman Catholic Baptism” — but not on the grounds that you do! The Reformers argued that their baptisms in the Roman Catholic church were valid because their later faith and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit cleansed them of their corruptions and original invalidity. However you argue that Roman Catholic Baptism is inherently valid. Hence it’s very misleading of you to enlist the Reformers in support of your argument. Why do you want to portray yourself as being faithful to Reformed theology? If your position is biblical, why does it need all this historical fudging to stand on its own two feet? Who’s revising history?
Witness Calvin in Institutes IV.ii.2:—
Of old, certain peculiar prerogatives of the church remained among the Jews. In like manner, today we do not deprive the papists of those traces of the church which the Lord willed should among them survive the destruction. God had once for all made his covenant with the Jews, but it was not they who preserved the covenant; rather, leaning upon its own strength, it kept itself alive by struggling against their impiety. Therefore—such was the certainty and constancy of God’s goodness—the Lord’s covenant abode there. Their treachery could not obliterate his faithfulness, and circumcision could not be so profaned by their unclean hands as to cease to be the true sign and sacrament of his covenant. Whence the Lord called the children born to them his children [Ezekiel 16:20-21], when these belonged to him only by a special blessing. So it was in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and England after the Lord established his covenant there. When those countries were oppressed by the tyranny of Antichrist, the Lord used two means to keep his covenant inviolable. First, he maintained baptism there, a witness to this covenant; consecrated by his own mouth, it retains its force despite the impiety of men. Secondly, by his own providence he caused other vestiges to remain, that the church might not utterly die. [emphasis added]
This does not seem to be saying that only later faith made Baptism ‘valid’. Indeed, the resting of the validity of Baptism upon faith is a notion the Reformers repeatedly repudiated. Calvin writes in his treatment of Amos 5:25-26:—
Now then we see that the Prophets speak in various ways of Israel: when they regard the people, they say, that they were perfidious, that they were apostates, who had immediately from the beginning departed from the true and legitimate worship of God: but when they commend the grace of God, they say, that the true worship of God shone among them, that though the whole multitude had become perverted, yet the Lord approved of what he had commanded. So it is with Baptism; it is a sacred and immutable testimony of the grace of God, though it were administered by the devil, though all who may partake of it were ungodly and polluted as to their own persons. Baptism ever retains its own character, and is never contaminated by the vices of men. [emphasis added]
In Institutes IV.xv.16, Calvin clearly states his position on this issue:—

Now, suppose what we have determined is true — that a sacrament must not be judged by the hand of the one by whom it is ministered, but as if it were from the very hand of God, from whom it doubtless has come. From this we may then infer that nothing is added to it or taken from it by the worth of him by whose hand it is administered. Among men, if a letter is sent, provided the handwriting and seal are sufficiently recognized, it makes no difference who or of what sort the carrier is. In like manner, it ought to be enough for us to recognize the hand and seal of our Lord in his sacraments, whatever carrier may bring them.

This argument neatly refutes the error of the Donatists, who measured the force and value of the sacrament by the worth of the minister. Such today are our Catabaptists, who deny that we have been duly baptized because we were baptized by impious and idolatrous men under the papal government. They therefore passionately urge rebaptism.

We shall be armed against their follies with a strong enough argument if we think of ourselves as initiated by baptism not into the name of any man, but into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19]; and that baptism is accordingly not of man but of God, no matter who administers it. Ignorant or even contemptuous as those who baptized us were of God and all piety, they did not baptize us into the fellowship of either their ignorance or sacrilege, but into faith in Jesus Christ, because it was not their own name but God’s that they invoked, and they baptized us into no other name. But if it was the baptism of God, it surely had, enclosed in itself, the promise of forgiveness of sins, mortification of the flesh, spiritual vivification, and participation in Christ. Thus it was no hindrance to the Jews to be circumcised by impure and apostate priests; nor was the sign therefore void so that it had to be repeated, but it was a sufficient means by which to return to the real source.

Their objection that baptism ought to be celebrated in the assemblies of the godly does not have the effect of extinguishing the whole force of what is only partially faulty. For when we teach what ought to be done in order that baptism may be pure and free of all defilement, we do not abolish God’s ordinance, however idolaters may corrupt it. For when in ancient times circumcision was corrupted by many superstitions, it did not cease nevertheless to be regarded as a symbol of grace. And when Josiah and Hezekiah called out of all Israel those who had forsaken God [2 Kings, chs. 22; 23; 18], they did not summon them to a second circumcision.

In the next section Calvin goes on to argue that their lack of faith did not nullify the validity of their Baptisms:—
Now our opponents ask us what faith came to us during some years after our baptism. This they do to prove our baptism void, since it is not sanctified to us except when the word of promise is accepted in faith. To this question we reply that we indeed, being blind and unbelieving, for a long time did not grasp the promise that had been given us in baptism; yet that promise, since it was of God, ever remained fixed and firm and trustworthy. Even if all men are liars and faithless, still God does not cease to be trustworthy [Romans 3:3]. Even if all men are lost, still Christ remains salvation. We therefore confess that for that time baptism benefited us not at all, inasmuch as the promise offered us in it — without which baptism is nothing — lay neglected. Now when, by God’s grace, we begin to repent, we accuse our blindness and hardness of heart — we who were for so long ungrateful toward his great goodness. But we believe that the promise itself did not vanish. Rather, we consider that God through baptism promises us forgiveness of sins, and he will doubtless fulfill his promise for all believers. This promise was offered to us in baptism; therefore, let us embrace it by faith. Indeed, on account of our unfaithfulness it lay long buried from us; now, therefore, let us receive it through faith.
In 1559, with his student De Chandieu, Calvin wrote the following statement in the French Confession of Faith:—
…as some trace of the Church is left in the papacy, and the virtue and substance of baptism remain, and as the efficacy of baptism does not depend upon the person who administers it, we confess that those baptized in it do not need a second baptism. But, on account of its corruptions, we cannot present children to be baptized in it without incurring pollution… [emphasis added]
Calvin’s position was also generally received by the Reformed churches. The recognition of the validity of Roman Catholic Baptism is one of the principal reasons why the Reformed churches could be called ‘Reformed’. They saw themselves as historically connected to the Roman Catholic church by their Baptisms, consequently they were involved in reformation not revolution. They were reforming an existing Church and not building a new separate church from scratch. I would appreciate if you would back up your claims that I am misrepresenting the Reformed tradition on this matter by concrete quotation, such as those which I have presented. I believe that these quotes from Calvin totally disprove the notion that he held that Roman Catholic Baptism was invalid prior to conversion. In fact, had he made the validity of Baptism contingent upon faith in such a manner he would have eviscerated his whole Baptismal doctrine, which ascribes a strong objective force to Baptism.
Concluding Comments
10. “To become a Baptist is to cease to be Reformed. One must demonstrate that Reformed Baptists were part of a movement that developed within the Reformed churches and continued within them.” The history of the rise of the Reformed Baptists is exactly that — they developed out of the soil English Puritanism, not Continental Anabaptism. If by “continued within them” you mean that they remained within churches with Presbyterian Church government, then obviously I’d have to say “don’t be silly”.
As I have argued church affiliation is important when establishing a claim to be ‘Reformed’.
11. I’m disappointed that you didn’t actually answer my question about the relationship between the WCF, the Savoy Confession and the 1689 Confession.
I see that there is a considerable formal similarity between the documents. However, as I have already argued this is not sufficient to rule Reformed Baptists into the Reformed tradition, for a range of different reasons.
This exchange is very illuminating for me. It is really opening up for me the revising of history that is necessary to sustain your viewpoint. Though you target Reformed Baptists for disenfrachisement from the Reformed faith, the actuality is that Zwinglians, the English Puritans, Congregationalists, Independents (John Owen!), and today’s mainstream WCF-confessing Presbyterians are all to a greater or lesser extent disenfrachised by your views.
I see no need to revise history. [Incidentally, I do find this accusation a bit rich coming from a Baptist]. However, I do believe that the claims of Reformed Baptists, Congregationalists and Independents to be within the Reformed tradition are quite spurious. Zwinglians and many of the English Puritans are clearly Reformed, even if their distinctives are not always to my liking. ‘Today’s mainstream WCF-confessing Presbyterians’ are undoubtedly Reformed and I have not stated otherwise. Whilst in places they are not always as faithful to aspects of the historic Reformed tradition as they could be, they do have indisputable claim to stand in a fundamental continuity with it and to be legitimate heirs of the tradition. Thank you once again for the discussion. I trust that this lengthy post has served to make my position a bit clearer. Every blessing.
What an insightful article!
Matches Made in Heaven

Monday, June 21, 2004

Is the Inquisition largely a myth? Even in the Christian Brothers secondary school that I attended I was taught about the large-scale horrors of the Inquisition. Admittedly I was also taught that John Calvin was the dictator of Geneva with his own thought-police.

Peter Ramus 

This is a book that I would like to read sometime. I have often wondered about the degree to which the philosophy of Peter Ramus shaped Reformed thought. Some have argued that the influence of Ramist ‘logic’ was a key contributive factor in the delay of the development of biblical theology. In The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons, Rich Lusk writes:—
In fact, careful inquiry into the precise origins of federalism shows it grew out of a rather narrow strand of British Puritanism that deviated considerably from Calvin’s more pastoral, organic approach to biblical theology. While there were certainly political factors in the rise of federalism, William Benton suggests that the key motivating factor was the rise of Ramist rationalism. Peter Ramus (1515-1572) developed an alternative to Aristotelian logic, based on a dichotomizing method that arranged ideas in two’s, e.g., law vs. gospel, nature vs. grace, faith vs. works, reason vs. revelation, wrathful God vs. merciful Christ, covenant of works vs. covenant of grace, etc. The Ramist system rapidly became master rather than servant of the biblical revelation, fragmenting the unity of the Scriptural narrative. Ramism gave the Reformed scholastics an easy method for categorizing biblical texts, but often at the expense of dealing with those texts in their broader canonical and historical contexts. The Bible came to be treated as a collection of propositions rather than an unfolding drama. [p.119]
Ramism is also the target of the ire of the well-known Calvin scholar Ford Lewis Battles in his book, Interpreting John Calvin. Battles writes in a footnote to his discussion of Calvin’s use of dichotomy:—
Even a superficial comparison of Calvin’s use of the dichotomy in elucidating theological truth over against Ramus and his Reformed imitators in England and elsewhere will demonstrate the utter difference of purpose, method, intent, and religious tone of the two. An examination of the adaptation of the Ramean dichotomy by the English Puritans to the teaching of Reformed theology (Ramus devoted only one of his sixty-odd works to theology!) would probably reveal a displacement of the scriptural-historical-experiential dichotomy of Calvin by a philosophical-rhetorical form that could hardly prove a worthy vehicle for Calvinian piety in later generations. [p.179]
Peter Ramus was, of course, greatly appreciated by the Puritans, although I am aware that there were at least a couple of Puritans who disliked Ramus’ dichotomizing approach intensely and wrote strongly against it. What particularly piqued my interest in this subject, however, was coming across the following two passages in Caspar Brandt’s Life of Arminius:—
Of all philosophers … the celebrated Peter Ramus, formerly professor in the University of Paris, pleased him [Arminius] best. So thoroughly did he imbibe his system of philosophising, and method of reasoning, that he might have passed for another Ramus. My impression, however, is, that Arminius acquired the elements of this philosophy under his teacher and guardian, Rudolph Snellius, of whom the distinguished Meursius remarks, that ‘at Marburg he first laid his hands on the logic of Ramus, and was so enraptured with it, that from that day forward he shook himself clear of all the shackles of the Aristotelian philosophy, to the acquisition of which he had formerly devoted three whole years in the colleges at Cologne.’
After going to study theology under Beza in Geneva:—
But Arminius, having rather keenly, and with too great ardour, defended publicly, as well as privately, the philosophy of Ramus, which he had formerly embraced, and impugned that of Aristotle; nay, further, having allowed himself to be prevailed upon, by the request and earnest entreaties of many of the students (of whom Uitenbogaert was one), to teach the logic of Ramus privately, and in his own study, he soon succeeded, by that step, in arraying against himself the fierce jealousy of some of the rectors of the academy at Geneva. Of these, no one resented the attempt so keenly as the professor of philosophy in that academy—a Spaniard by nation, and, moreover, a most strenuous defender of Aristotle. By his influence, erelong, Arminius was publicly, and by name, interdicted the liberty of teaching the Ramean philosophy. Disconcerted by this affair, he resolved to yield somewhat to the exigency, and abandon Geneva for a time.
Ramus’ own efforts to join the faculty at Geneva had been blocked by Beza in 1570. Whilst, as Richard Muller and some others argue, Ramus had far more of an effect on Arminius’ logic than upon his theology, Arminius’ interest in Ramus is still interesting nonetheless. Catherine Pickstock relies on Ong’s critique of Ramus’ philosophy in a number of places in her treatment of Ramus in After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy. She speaks of the manner in which Ramus’ philosophy ‘presupposed that every subject is already and to the same degree “there,” simply waiting to be mapped and divided, and excludes the temporal aspect of knowledge as an “event” which arrives.’ Ramism ‘[construes] knowledge as consisting in discrete items “contained” as objects in distinct and homogenous topoi.’ Ramism sought to map knowledge onto various diagrams and charts — to spatialize thought. By spatializing thought, temporality and personality were both compromised. Temporality was compromised as reality was perceived as an ‘undifferentiated given.’ In the Ramist system, Pickstock claims, memory becomes mere ‘stocktaking’ or ‘enumeration’ of objects — the repeated glance — rather than ‘an act which testifies to the temporality of knowledge and which facilitates the judgement of analogy between instances, ensuring the continuity of the knowing subject.’ Pickstock writes:—
Previously, knowledge had been associated with mythical and iconographical figures such as statues and allegorical illustrations, regarded as derived from a transcendent and constantly arriving source. The “reading” of these devices was as much part of the narrative of that arrival as the artefacts themselves, and was by no means dependent upon a singularly attestable “content.” By contrast, the printed words of Ramist “reading” were connected to one another by lines in simplified binary patterns forming dichotomized charts of methodized noetic material, designed precisely to foreclose any such open-ended interpretation.
It should be clear that a Ramist approach is an approach that is deeply unfriendly to a sacramental view of reality. It should also be clear that a Ramist approach will radically affect one’s reading of Scripture. The Ramist method is ill-equipped to deal with the biblical drama, where an understanding of organic development over time is very important. Also, when interpreting scriptures, it will be more inclined to approach them as a closed and circumscribed revelation. Scriptural knowledge will be categorized in a timeless system that pays little attention to the dynamism of redemptive history and the continuing voice of the Scriptures in the Church. It should also be recognized that by spatializing and detemporalizing knowledge and employing a particular approach of categorization with the Scriptures, the impression is given that the more narrative structure of the Scriptures themselves is somehow chaotic and needs to be reconfigured. The more rationalized form of the catechism, carefully organized according to discrete loci is to be privileged as the ideal means of learning scriptural truth. Ramism also compromised personality. The text was made normative over against the spoken word, rhetoric being denigrated to ‘mere elocutio’. The Ramist approach is suspicious of the spoken word, downplaying spoken dialogue in favour of textual monologue. Furthermore, by the Ramist methodology a supposedly objective reading of reality is produced, a reading that seemingly avoids the ‘flow of reality on the part of the subject.’ The fact that this is produced by a methodology that is really very subjective should be apparent to any who have studied the manner in which Ramist logic is occasionally used in exegesis by some of the Puritans. However, the sheer depersonalized order of the logical structure can easily fool one into thinking that one is dealing with ‘objective exegesis’. The Ramist approach, applied to exegesis, will tend to result in the exegete ‘interrogating’ the text with the Ramean methodology, seeking to categorize its distinct essence. Rather than following the leading of the text itself, the text must submit to the preconceived rhetorical system. When the text is approached in such a manner the text is easily manipulated by the exegete. The text is seen as closed and is largely depersonalized, understood more in terms of objects of knowledge to be cerebrally grasped, than as a living Word. Knowledge of God’s Word is primarily arrived at by applying the Ramist methodology correctly to the passive (dead) text, rather than liturgically dialoguing with the dynamic voice of the Scriptures in the Church. When we seek to evaluate the legacy that has been bequeathed to us by our Reformed forebears it is important to have a knowledge of the manner in which they were influenced by Aristotelianism, Ramism, Scottish Commonsense Realism and other such philosophical movements (just as we are influenced in different ways by the philosophical movements of our own day). If anyone knows any helpful treatments of the effect that Ramist philosophy has had on the development of Reformed preaching, exegesis and theology, I would be very interested to hear about them.
News Update… The last week or so has been pretty eventful one for myself and the family. Here are a few of the things that happened:— Next week my brother Jonathan goes off to spend a few weeks in the Caribbean on the MV Logos II, ostensibly for mission work. Monika will be joining him later on and they will also spend one week in Puerto Rico. Jonathan and Monika are hoping to do some form of missionary work in Latin America in the longer term future. Richard is also away at the moment down south. He should be back soon, but with so many people away at the moment it is great to enjoy a bit more peace (at least whilst Peter is still in school). My great friend Elbert Baas has just set up a new weblog. Elbert has recently moved to Stoke-on-Trent with his wife Annewieke. I got to know Elbert a few years ago. A friend of mine, Dave, was a student nurse at the time and we held Bible studies in the student nurses’ home. There were very few other Christians in the home and so we prayed that some Christians would move in. It wasn’t long before Christians moved in on either side of Dave’s room. After returning to Holland, Elbert decided to come back and study in Stoke again after his marriage. Elbert and I can talk theology for hours. Over the weekend I have spent a lot of time in discussion in the comments after my last post. Do take the time to look at the debate. I would be interested to have other people’s thoughts. This afternoon I hope to get some shopping done and this evening I might watch England play Croatia. In the next few days I hope to finish my posts on Scripture.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Apostles' Creed and Christian Faith 

I have just arrived back after a few days away. The following post is something that I felt like writing on the spur of the moment this evening. It could certainly do with a lot more thought, but it does try to deal with a subject that I have found increasingly concerning lately, for various reasons (a few of these reasons will hopefully become clear as you read this post). These are some of my immediate impressions on the issue.
The [Apostles’] Creed substitutes unexplained statements of historical events for the Gospel of an atoning Christ who is the perfect satisfaction of holy justice for his elect people. A new Christian creed is necessary to replace the truncated, misnamed, and misleading Apostles’ Creed. But there will be opposition from traditionalists, unbelieving church members, and ecumenists. Christians who take Scripture and creeds seriously, desiring a creed that accurately summarizes Scripture, must resist them. The question is: Will the Reformed churches put away the so-called Apostles’ Creed of the Roman Church-State, or will they continue to recite it, obscuring the Gospel and erasing the distinction between a true church and a false? Will they practice the first mark of a true church of Jesus Christ–as defined by Guido de Bres in the Belgic Confession, "the preaching of the pure Gospel"—or will they sink deeper into the mire of "unity first" thinking? Will the Gospel of justification by faith alone be clearly expressed to those whom God brings to their assemblies? Shall it contain the evangel, the Gospel of the Christ who died for the sins of his people, explained according to the authority of the Scriptures, or omit it for the sake of peace, unity, and tradition, as the Apostles’ Creed has done for many centuries?
The statement above, taken from this article, is an extreme example of the suspicion of the Apostles’ Creed that can be observed in many Reformed circles. In Mark Horne’s recent thought-provoking post he quotes William Cunningham:—
I think it is much to be regretted that so very inadequate and defective a summary of the leading principles of Christianity as the Apostles’ Creed—possessed of no authority, and having no extrinsic claims to respect—should have been exalted to such a place of prominence and influence in the worship and services of the church of Christ…
It seems as if people are suspicious of seeing the Apostles’ Creed as the central declaration of Christian faith, because it does not mention the doctrine of justification by faith alone and other doctrines like that. As Douglas Wilson has pointed out, the Apostles’ Creed may not explicitly mention justification by faith alone, but it is all about faith, starting with the words ‘I believe…’. I am also persuaded that the Creed is perfectly right not to mention the doctrine of justification by faith alone, because the object of our faith is not the doctrine of justification by faith alone but the Christ proclaimed in the Creed. We are saved by believing in Him. One can be saved without believing in justification by faith alone. A further concern that many people have is that Roman Catholics can assert the Creed too. Personally I have no problem with the fact that Roman Catholics can subscribe to the Creed. In fact, as long as they continue to seek to hold to the major creeds of the early Church I believe that we have reason to hold out some degree of hope for their future reformation. Near the beginning of the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent we read the following:
Wherefore, that this pious solicitude of the Council may have its beginning and progress by the grace of God, it has before all things determined and decreed to prefix a Confession of Faith, herein following the examples of the Fathers, who in more solemn Councils were wont to set up this shield against all heresies at the commencement of their proceedings; by which alone they sometimes drew over infidels to the faith, routed heretics, and confirmed the faithful. That Creed, therefore, which the Holy Roman Church uses as the first principles in which all who profess the Christian faith necessarily agree, and the firm and only foundation against which the gates of hell shall never prevail, the Council has judged it proper to express in the very words in which it is read in the churches, and which is as follows…[proceeds to quote the Nicene Creed]
Any church that can proclaim the Truth proclaimed by the Nicene Creed to be ‘the firm and only foundation against which the gates of hell shall never prevail’ (notice the implicit exegesis here!) is most certainly a Christian one. Charles Hodge writes:—

That Romanists as a society profess the true religion, meaning thereby the essential doctrines of the gospel, those doctrines which if truly believed will save the soul, is, as we think, plain. 1. Because they believe the Scriptures to be the word of God. 2. They direct that the Scriptures should be understood and received as they were understood by the Christian Fathers. 3. They receive the three general creeds of the church, the Apostle's, the Nicene, and the Athanasian, or as these are summed up in the creed of Pius V. 4. They believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. In one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried. And the third day rose again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. And they believe in one catholic apostolic church. They acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

If this creed were submitted to any intelligent Christian without his knowing whence it came, could he hesitate to say that it was the creed of a Christian church? Could he deny that these are the very terms in which for ages the general faith of Christendom has been expressed? Could he, without renouncing the Bible, say that the sincere belief of these doctrines would not secure eternal life? Can any man take it upon himself in the sight of God, to assert there is not truth enough in the above summary to save the soul? If not, then a society professing that creed professes the true religion in the sense stated above.

The test of true faith is not whether or not Roman Catholics can assert it or not. If the papal churches truly hold the most essential articles of the Christian faith (albeit obscured by error and corruption) then we should rejoice, not begrudge them these truths. The errors in the papal churches are deep and serious. However, there still remains much gospel truth. To my mind, those who deny the sufficiency of the ecumenical creeds as summaries of the Christian gospel are departing in many ways from the general historical Reformed position. Lord’s Day 7 (particularly questions 22 & 23) of the Heidelberg Catechism seems to be pretty clear on this issue:—
Q22: What, then, is necessary for a Christian to believe? A22: All that is promised us in the Gospel, which the articles of our catholic, undoubted Christian faith teach us in summary. Q23: What are these articles? A23: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
In Calvin’s Geneva Catechism we read:—
Master. — Then the foundation and beginning of confidence in God is to know him in Christ? Scholar. — Entirely so. Master. — I should now wish you to tell me in a few words, what the sum of this knowledge is? Scholar. — It is contained in the Confession of Faith, or rather Formula of Confession, which all Christians have in common. It is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, because from the beginning of the Church it was ever received among all the pious, and because it either fell from the lips of the Apostles, or was faithfully gathered out of their writings. Master. — Repeat it. Scholar. — I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried: he descended into hell; the third day he arose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholick Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
In Calvin’s Strasbourg Catechism we find:—
Teacher: My child, are you a Christian in fact as well as in name? Child: Yes, my father. Teacher: How is this known to you? Child: Because I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teacher: What faith and knowledge do you have of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? Child: I have that which the principal articles of our religion signify to us, of which we make profession through individual confession. Teacher: What is this confession? Child: I believe in God the Father almighty, maker...etc.
In Institutes II.xvi.18 Calvin writes:—
Thus far I have followed the order of the Apostles’ Creed because it sums up in a few words the main points of our redemption, and thus may serve as a tablet for us upon which we see distinctly and point by point the things in Christ that we ought to heed. I call it the Apostles’ Creed without concerning myself in the least as to its authorship. With considerable agreement, the old writers certainly attribute it to the apostles, holding it to have been written and published by the apostles in common, or to be a summary of teaching transmitted by their hands and collected in good faith, and thus worthy of that title. I have no doubt that at the very beginning of the church, in the apostolic age, it was received as a public confession by the consent of all — wherever it originated. It seems not to have been privately written by any one person, since as far back as men can remember it was certainly held to be of sacred authority among all the godly. We consider to be beyond controversy the only point that ought to concern us: that the whole history of our faith is summed up in it succinctly and in definite order, and that it contains nothing that is not vouched for by genuine testimonies of Scripture. This being understood, it is pointless to trouble oneself or quarrel with anyone over the author. Unless, perchance, it is not enough for one to have the certain truth of the Holy Spirit, without at the same time knowing either by whose mouth it was spoken or by whose hand it was written.
Calvin then goes on to show that the Creed demonstrates that ‘our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ.’ In Mark’s post he quotes from Francis Turretin who claimed that ‘by the providence of God the principal heads of religion were comprehended in the Apostles’ Creed, the Decalogue, the Lord’s prayer, and the sacraments.’ Mark also quotes the following from Turretin:—
Although the church which was in the papacy before the Reformation did not have among the articles of its faith justification by faith alone, the rejection of all sensible sacrifices beside the sacrifice of Christ and the repudiation of the worship of images and of the invocation of the saints and other articles (concerning which there is controversy between us), it does not follow that believers did not have in the doctrine received for that time the necessary food for salvation. Such articles are not positive and affirming, containing things that are to be believed and done, in which therefore the essence of faith and religion consists, but negatively and excluding the errors which ought to be rejected, which do not pertain to the building up of faith. As no one would put down among nourishments the care of avoiding poisons which could produce death, so the positive articles work salvation properly, while the negative only remove those things which can interfere with salvation.
The point of all these quotes is to demonstrate that there is a pretty good Reformed case for saying that the Christian faith is summed up in the early Church creeds. Consequently, there is also a good case to say that, although they have been dangerously obscured by error and corruption, Roman Catholics do still hold to the essential truths of the gospel. To those who would claim that their beliefs imply a rejection of the orthodox creeds I would give John Owen’s wise advice that it is unjust to insist that your theological opponent holds to a heresy as an implication of other beliefs that he holds when he himself strongly rejects the validity of that implication. As long as Roman Catholics assert the truths of the basic Christian creeds we must recognize them as a Christian Church and content ourselves with highlighting the inconsistency of certain others of their beliefs. It seems to me that many Protestants have a confused notion of what the truths of the gospel really are — for all of our vocal claims to defend these truths. Is the gospel the declaration of the historical salvation accomplished by Israel’s God in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, or is the gospel more a declaration of the mechanics of soteriology? Is the central object of our faith the doctrine of justification by faith alone, or the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit of the biblical story? Robert Jenson writes (something I believe I have quoted before):—

…modern Christianity, i.e., Protestantism, has regularly substituted slogans for narrative, both in teaching and in liturgy. It has supposed that hearers already knew they had a story and even already knew its basic plot, so that all that needed to be done was to point up certain features of the story—that it is "justifying," or "liberating," or whatever. The supposition was always misguided, but sometimes the church got away with it. In the postmodern world, this sort of preaching and teaching and liturgical composition merely expresses the desperation of those who in their meaningless world can believe nothing but vaguely wish they could.

Now the synthetic polemical point: there is one slogan-like phrase that is precisely a maximally compressed version of the one God's particular story. This is the revealed name, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." It is thus no accident at all that in our postmodern situation, the struggle between realistic faith and religious wool-gathering settles into a struggle over this name. The triune name evokes God as the three actors of His one story, and places the three in their actual narrative relation. Substitutes do not and cannot do this; "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier," for example, neither narrates nor specifically names, for creating, redeeming, and sanctifying are timelessly actual aspects of the biblical God's activity, and are moreover things that all putative gods somehow do. In the postmodern situation, we will easily recognize congregations and agencies that know what world they inhabit by their love and fidelity to the triune name; and we will recognize antiquated Protestantism by its uneasiness with the triune name.

John Barach gave a helpful quote from James Jordan recently, on the subject of the Westminster Standards:—
... it is important to realize that to a large extent the Standards were intended for pastors, for ordained clergymen. The writers knew that what laymen need is the Bible, the whole Bible. The Confession set up standards for the guardians of the Church. But there are churches today that are full of people who know the five points of Calvinism, but who cannot tell you the five basic "sacrifices" of the Bible, because these laymen have been indoctrinated primarily in the Westminster Standards rather than in the Bible. That was not the intention of the writers, though of course they expected pastors to teach the content and theology of the Standards along with teaching the Bible.
There is a very real danger for those who have been brought up on the Reformed catechisms and confessions. These confessions always risk drawing attention away from the story of Scripture to certain doctrines that are largely abstracted from the story. Whilst these doctrines certainly have their place, they have tended to overshadow that which is most essential. Nowadays when ‘the gospel’ is mentioned far too many people think of abstracted doctrines about how a person gets to heaven when they die rather than about the story proclaimed by Scripture. I believe that Scripture itself will bear out my assertion that the essential truth of the gospel, which one is saved by believing, has to do with the historical climax of Israel’s story in the story of Jesus Christ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:1f.). I believe that authors like Richard Hays have demonstrated quite powerfully that the debates that took place in the book of Galatians were more about the shape and sequence of the narrative of redemption than they were about some abstract doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’. However, the books of Galatians is one of the many books misused to teach a gospel composed of abstract dogmatic ‘ducks in a row’ rather than a gospel that is rooted in the telling and living out of a particular story. If we truly understood the centrality of the story we would be far more concerned about errors such as dispensationalism, which horribly distorts the Biblical story. However, since most dispensationalists strongly hold to an abstract doctrine of justification by faith alone, we turn a blind eye to their mangling of the gospel. If we truly understood the centrality of the story we would be far more concerned about errors such as Protestant sectarianism, which runs totally counter to the Biblical story. However, since most Protestant sectarians strongly hold to an abstract doctrine of justification by faith alone, we excuse their practical denials of the gospel. If we truly understood the centrality of the story we would be far more concerned about the fact that most Christians barely know the story. But since we are more concerned with an abstract doctrine of justification by faith alone, we turn a blind eye to the paucity of the understanding that most people have of the gospel itself. I don’t believe that acknowledging all of the both weakens the polemic against the errors of the papal churches one iota. Rather it reinforces our arguments considerably. However, at the same time it reveals the degree to which the Protestant churches themselves have been corrupted as regards the gospel. The widespread rejection of the Apostles’ Creed as the summary of our faith deeply concerns me, as I believe that it is a symptom that dangerous error on the subject of the gospel has infected many churches. Should we be concerned when Reformed people begin to claim that the Apostles’ Creed, which their forefathers deemed to contain the essential truths of the Christian faith, is an insufficient declaration of the gospel? I believe that we should be very concerned. We ought to be concerned when we are asked to readjust out understanding of the object of Christian faith. We ought to be concerned when we are asked to make belief in the doctrine of justification by faith alone a sine qua non of true faith. I fear that all of these things can tempt us away from looking to Christ. When what Turretin terms ‘negative’ and ‘excluding’ doctrines are considered to be the essential truths of the Christian faith we should begin to worry. The gospel can be corrupted by addition, just as easily as it can be corrupted by subtraction. I am increasingly aware of the fact that there is a real difference among evangelicals regarding the nature of the gospel. Could any other area of difference be more concerning?

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