Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Temporary Justification I - Election and Dort

Xon Hostetter has laid out a direct challenge with clear terms: to show that the Federal Vision is not Reformed, one must demonstrate (a) that there is a clear contradiction between FV and the Westminster Standards, and (b) that this contradiction amounts to an exception to the system of doctrine rather than some minor issue in the Confession.

Rather than accept the challenge as stated, I have decided to approach it this way: in these posts, I aim to show that one particular tenet of the Federal Vision is in conflict with the Canons of Dort and the Scriptures. I will not make any judgment as to the severity of this conflict; I merely wish to satisfy myself that the conflict is real rather than apparent.

The tenet in question is what Xon and I have agreed to call "Temporary Justification", or "TJ."

TJ: Some people receive a temporary judicial verdict (or status) of 'forgiven' from God, yet not permanently.

Over the next few posts, I hope to show that TJ is in conflict with the Canons of Dort and also the Scriptures.

Federal Vision statements that explicate TJ

Steve Wilkins speaking of the entire (visible) Corinthian church:

Through Paul's ministry, they have been "born" through the gospel (4:15...). Christ has been sacrificed for them (5:17). They have been washed (or baptized) which has brought about sanctification and justification in the name of Christ, by the Spirit of God (6:9-11). ("The Federal Vision", 59)

and again:
Paul emphasizes that Christ died for "our" sins (including those of his hearers; 15:3). Paul declares these things to be true of the members of the church in Corinth...All this was true of each of the members, but, like Israel, they were required to persevere in faith. If they departed from Christ, they would perish like Israel of old. All their privileges and blessings would become like so many anchors to sink them into the lake of fire. ("The Federal Vision", 60)
Rich Lusk speaking of those who are within the church but "not destined to receive final salvation":
These non-elect covenant members are actually brought to Christ, united to Him and the Church in baptism, receive various gracious operations of the Holy Spirit, and may even be said to be loved by God for a time. They become members of Christ's kingdom, stones in God's living house, and children in God's family...But, sooner or later, in the wise counsel of God, these individuals fail to bear fruit and fall away. They do not persevere in the various graces they have received; their faith withers and dies. In some sense, they were really joined to the elect people, really sanctified by Christ's blood, and really recipients of new life given by the Holy Spirit. ("The Federal Vision", 288).
Rich Lusk on Covenant Members:
We can truly derive comfort and encouragement from our covenant membership. God loves everyone in the covenant. Period. You don’t have to wonder if God loves you or your baptized children. There is no reason to doubt God’s love for you. You can tell your fellow, struggling Christian, “You’re forgiven! Christ paid for your sins!” This is far more helpful than only being able to tell someone, “Well, Christ died for his elect, and hopefully you’re one of them!” Rich Lusk, Covenant and Election FAQS

and again:
But reprobate covenant members may temporarily experience a quasi-salvation. They were, in some sense, bought by Christ (1 Pt. 2), forgiven (Mt. 18), renewed (Mk. 4), etc., and lost these things. Rich Lusk, Covenant and Election FAQS
Tim Gallant, speaking on the relationship between faith and covenant-keeping:
3. Faith is the sole instrument which maintains union with Christ.

i. Covenant-keeping is mandated in Scripture. The Bible warns strongly against "drawing back to perdition" (cf. Heb. 10:39). Those who persevere to the end will be saved. For this reason, God has appointed excommunication as censure against covenant-breaking, and Paul warns that those who attempt to be justified by law have "become estranged from Christ" and "fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4).

ii. However, this is not "maintenance of salvation by way of works." While it is true that various sins often occasion covenant-breaking, yet Scripture does teach us to view covenant-keeping as a matter of faith. In the text cited above (3.i), the writer says: "we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39). While we know that, in their covenant-breaking, the children of Israel in the wilderness committed various sins such as fornication and idolatry, yet Hebrews 3 repeatedly parallels their disobedience and rebellion with unbelief. They could not enter the land of rest "because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:19). Thus the warning to Christians is to beware lest there be "an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;" this is paralleled with becoming "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).

iii. This faith-centeredness of covenant-keeping is not surprising, particularly since Christ Himself is identified as the new covenant (Is. 42:6; 49:8). Covenant-breaking is thus termed as spurning Christ's sanctifying blood (Heb. 10:29), as turning away from Him who called us in the grace of Christ (Gal. 1:6), and as becoming estranged from Christ (Gal. 5:4). Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17); hence, properly understood, the doctrine of union with Christ does not undermine sola fide, but reinforces it.

iv. Since Christ is the new covenant, and it is in union with Him that justification and all other gifts of salvation are to be found (see e.g. Col. 1:21-23), God's Word calls upon us to remain in Christ by faith, and not to rest upon a one-time event in our past as the act of faith which saved us. "For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end" (Heb. 3:14). Paul said that the Galatians "ran well" (Gal. 5:7) and had "begun in the Spirit" (Gal. 3:3), but he does not allow them to be complacent regarding the present due to that good beginning; he rather warns them that they must stand fast in the liberty given by Christ (Gal. 5:1), through the Spirit eagerly waiting for the hope of righteousness by faith (Gal. 5:5). Because justification is a gift of union with Christ, repudiation of Christ is an unbelieving repudiation of justification. Hence Scripture calls upon us to a living faith, a faith that clings to Christ from beginning to end.
Tim Gallant, Affirmations on Justification and Covenant-Keeping"

From these, it can be seen that some advocates of the Federal Vision assert the following:

J1: Justification can be acquired, then lost.
J2: People can have their sins washed away, yet ultimately be lost.
J3: Christ died for people who will be lost.

It is not difficult to see that J1-J3 are logically equivalent to TJ.

Differences in the term "elect"

The term "elect" is tricky when reading Federal Vision writers. Federal Vision proponents affirm the Westminster Confession as a system, the Canons of Dort, and monergism. Thus, they will rush to say that no one who is truly predestined to be saved can actually be lost. These, they call the "decretally elect." TJ is not true of any of them.

However, the decretally elect are a subset of a larger group, the "covenantally elect." These are all those whom God has chosen to be a part of the Church as it exists within history. Those who apostasize thus show themselves to be non-elect (decretally). It is the non-decretally-elect-but-covenantally-elect (or to borrow Rich Lusk's term, the "non-elect covenant member", or NECM) who experiences TJ.

So from a covenantal perspective, one can "lose one's salvation"; from a decretal perspective, never. (see Rich Lusk on this: Covenant and Election FAQs). Or better, an NECM will ultimately lose whatever blessings (including justification) God has given him, by means of his apostasy.

Because these statements about temporary justification therefore apply only to NECMs, the Federal Vision has circumscribed their adherence to the Confession in this way: the term "elect" in the Confession refers to their "decretally elect", but Scripture uses the term more broadly, to (at times) include covenantal election. Thus, they claim that their theology is consistent with the Confession (in that they affirm the same things as the Confession with regard to the decretally elect), but more thoroughly Biblical than the Confession (in that they are bringing to light more accurate nuances of Scriptural texts).

So it would not do, for instance, to show that what the Confession says about the elect is different -- in fact, in stark contrast -- with what the Federal Vision says about the elect. For the terms "elect" are simply being used differently.

And the same difficulty applies, I believe, with comparing statements from Dort to statements from Federal Vision writers concerning "the elect." It is acknowledged by all that Dort's use of the word "elect" clearly means "decretally elect."

That TJ is contrary to the First Canon of Dort

But now, it's worth considering what the First Canon of Dort has to say about the non-(decretally-)elect.

First, we note that Dort drives a wide wedge between the elect and the non-elect:
God's anger remains on those who do not believe this gospel. But those who do accept it and embrace Jesus the Savior with a true and living faith are delivered through him from God's anger and from destruction, and receive the gift of eternal life. -- Article 4: A Twofold Response to the Gospel

Second, we note that the non-elect are non-believers:
The fact that some receive from God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems from his eternal decision. For all his works are known to God from eternity (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen. And in this especially is disclosed to us his act--unfathomable, and as merciful as it is just--of distinguishing between people equally lost. This is the well-known decision of election and reprobation revealed in God's Word. This decision the wicked, impure, and unstable distort to their own ruin, but it provides holy and godly souls with comfort beyond words. -- Article 6: God's Eternal Decision

Third, as a matter of linguistics, we note that Dort did not admit of various types of election:
This election is not of many kinds; it is one and the same election for all who were to be saved in the Old and the New Testament. For Scripture declares that there is a single good pleasure, purpose, and plan of God's will, by which he chose us from eternity both to grace and to glory, both to salvation and to the way of salvation, which he prepared in advance for us to walk in. -- Article 8: A Single Decision of Election

The Canon then moves on to contradict the errors of those...
Who teach that God's election to eternal life is of many kinds: one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite; and the latter in turn either incomplete, revocable, nonperemptory (or conditional), or else complete, irrevocable, and peremptory (or absolute). Likewise, who teach that there is one election to faith and another to salvation, so that there can be an election to justifying faith apart from a peremptory election to salvation. For this is an invention of the human brain, devised apart from the Scriptures, which distorts the teaching concerning election and breaks up this golden chain of salvation: Those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified (Rom. 8:30).

Who teach that not every election to salvation is unchangeable, but that some of the chosen can perish and do in fact perish eternally, with no decision of God to prevent it. By this gross error they make God changeable, destroy the comfort of the godly concerning the steadfastness of their election, and contradict the Holy Scriptures, which teach that the elect cannot be led astray (Matt. 24:24), that Christ does not lose those given to him by the Father (John 6:39), and that those whom God predestined, called, and justified, he also glorifies (Rom. 8:30).

So here's the contradiction, simply put: Whereas under Dort, all who are non-elect are called "non-believers" and are stipulated to be under God's wrath, under the FV, some who are not decretally elect are stipulated to be believers, under God's favor, and justified, temporarily.

Put more simply,

BF: The Canons of Dort bifurcate people into two groups; the "elect" and the "non-elect." The former enjoy justification, perseverance, and eternal life; the latter do not.

or in set notation, (each x): E(x) <=> justification, perseverance, and eternal life and ~E(x) <=> ~justification, ~perseverance, and ~eternal life.

In particular, Dort explicitly states that the wrath of God remains on the non-elect.

This clearly contradicts TJ, which holds that for some x, ~E(x) permits justification (for a time) and that God thus loves such individuals, not in the manner of common grace, but as adopted children.

There are some possible avenues that a Federal Vision theologian might take to resolve this contradiction. First, he might stipulate that "justification" in Dort is something different from "justification" according to the Federal Vision. The difficulty with this road is that Lusk's quote above fleshes out justification in exactly the way Dort does: "You're forgiven! Christ paid for your sins!" So this avenue is blocked.

Or, a Federal Vision theologian might stipulate that Dort is speaking only of the decretally elect from an eschatological perspective, and that the historical experiences of the non-elect covenant members ("NECMs") are simply not in view. However, article 6 blocks this road: "The fact that some receive from God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems from his eternal decision. For all his works are known to God from eternity (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen." We note here that the historical experiences of the NE are precisely what is in view! That experience is described as "left in wickedness and hardness of heart."

Thus, it appears that all avenues are blocked, and we must (regretfully) conclude that the Federal Vision is in real conflict with the First Canon of Dort.

In retrospect, what emerges is that the doctrine of election in Dort was richer than most simple presentations of "TULIP" typically explicate. Election speaks not only to the condition of the elect, but also to that of the non-elect.

In the next post, I will consider the conflict between TJ and the Second Canon of Dort.

JRC

24 comments:

Xon said...

Hi, Jeff,

I appreciate this intricate and energetic attempt to meet my challenge. Don't sweat the fact you are limiting yourself to the first major plank. It is certainly important, for without it there is no controversy of substance whatsoever.

I may respond a bit here, or do something at my own blog with cross links. I'm not sure what will be better. In any case, it will take me a little time. For now let me just try to get some clarity as we know. Iron sharpening iron, and all that. Good deal?

I think J1 needs to be more clearly stated. You have it as:

J1: Justification can be acquired, then lost.

But clearly, as Rich Lusk's quote shows, what we are talking about is some sort of 'quasi-justification'. Something that is not necessarily the same as what we usually think of as 'justification,' but close enough that the it makes sense to use the word. This is what I tried to describe in TJ: a judicial verdict that brings about a positive change in status, but only temporarily. And you have modified TJ slightly here into "a judicial verdict of 'forgiven' from God." And that's an okay modification to make, especially since you seem to have some FV quotes to back up the word 'forgiveness' being used.

But anyway my point is just that we need to be extra clear as to what we are talking about when we say 'justification' in J1. FVers are not saying that 'justification' in the full sense described in the Westminster Standards can be acquited, then lost. So I think we need to build some sort of qualification into J1. Perhaps we should continue to use the description given in TJ, so something like this results:

J1: There is a verdict of 'forgiven' that can be acquired, then lost.

The point is that FVers do not deny that there is also a verdict of 'forgiven' which can never be lost. So we have to be sure to speak of these things in a way that makes it clear that we are not discussing 'justification' full stop, as though there is one such thing as 'justification' and now we are debating whether it can be lost or not. We are really discussing two things that are subject to both similarities and differences. Similar enough to both be called 'justification.' But different enough that one is permanent and one is temporary.

Mark said...

Jeff, I don't agree with your case at all, but I am commenting to assure you that my recent post on "election" was written before I ever saw this. I did not have you in mind at all (nor would I include you in it still).

Jeff Cagle said...

Hi Mark,

Can you link to it?

Thanks,
Jeff Cagle

Jeff Cagle said...

Xon, that's a fair qualification to make. It was certainly in the back of my mind as I was thinking it through that there might be two senses of "justification" going on here. (I address it, briefly, in the post).

But here's where I finally landed: if we divide up each and every term in the Confession into decretal and covenantal senses ("decretal justification" cannot be lost; "covenantal justification" is only quasi-justification and can be lost, etc) ... then at the end of the day, the Federal Vision vanishes!

Because it turns out that those branches in Christ that didn't persevere only had "quasi-" or "covenantal" salvation, and thus were only "quasi-" in Christ. And that appears to me to be precisely what the FV wants to avoid.

So the real challenge for the FV seems to me to be to hold onto the notion that the NECMs experience the "real thing", while simultaneously account for the fact that the "real thing" is lost by them.

I think this will come out when I consider Scriptures related to apostasy.

Grace and peace,
Jeff C

Jeff Cagle said...

Ah. Never mind -- found it:

http://www.hornes.org/mark/2007/11/28/election/

Mark said...

"But here's where I finally landed: if we divide up each and every term in the Confession into decretal and covenantal senses ("decretal justification" cannot be lost; "covenantal justification" is only quasi-justification and can be lost, etc) ... then at the end of the day, the Federal Vision vanishes!"

Um, yes. That's because the FV is just Reformed Theology

Federal = Reformed

Vision = Theology

Your insight is more astute than you know.

Xon said...

Because it turns out that those branches in Christ that didn't persevere only had "quasi-" or "covenantal" salvation, and thus were only "quasi-" in Christ. And that appears to me to be precisely what the FV wants to avoid.

Echoing what Mark said, I don't think the FV wants to avoid this in quite the way that you think. They want to avoid saying that non-elect people have no connection to Christ whatsoever (which some opponenets of FV have tried to say), or that people are supposed to sit down and discern what kind of connection they actually have as some sort of spiritual exercise, rather than simply clinging to the promises by faith. They want to avoid "if you're elect" preaching in favor of "God is with YOU" preaching. And the fact that 'quasi' salvation is similar to 'proper' salvation is sufficient to establish this agenda.

I think this is a micro/macro issue. On the macro level, we can distinguish two different 'paths' one is covenantal only and one is 'decretal' (which includes the covenantal) (even though being in the covenant is also something God decrees....but I think the labels here are still useful). But at the micro level, it all looks the same. People who are only 'covenantally' saved look like they are decretally saved for a while. They don't just LOOK that way, some of them truly experience real works of the Spirit which might, at any given moment, make them MORE blessed than a backsliding elect person. Young king Saul was more 'holy' than Baruch the Average Judahite who was sleeping with a woman other than his wife.

This is not just an 'epistemological' problem of what we humans can know. It's not simply that there is a difference b/w covenantal and decretal 'salvation', but we just can't tell who is who. Part of the reason we can't tell who is who is b/c any given person at any given time, no matter which 'track' they are on, can actaully be more or less 'in God's blessing' at that moment than a person on the opposite track.

And this all comes back to the 'objectivity of the covenant' (the fundamental FV position). The covenant is 'objective' b/c every person in the covenant can truly say that they are blessed by God. Those who struggle with assurance can 'hang their hat' on the fact that God has definitely worked in them and made them His own. True, they might not be decretally elect to eternal salvation, but the only way for them to 'know' that they are is to have faith in God and continue trusting in Christ. And trusting in Christ means simply that you keep trusting in all the earlier things that Christ really has done for you. The normal 'path' for decretally elect people is that they have faith that Christ is revealing Himself to them in their covenantal election.

Jeff Cagle said...

Thanks for the response, Xon. Several things are helpful here:

(1) It's good to know that we aren't talking simply about an epistemological problem.

(2) This para,

They want to avoid saying that non-elect people have no connection to Christ whatsoever (which some opponenets of FV have tried to say), or that people are supposed to sit down and discern what kind of connection they actually have as some sort of spiritual exercise, rather than simply clinging to the promises by faith. They want to avoid "if you're elect" preaching in favor of "God is with YOU" preaching. And the fact that 'quasi' salvation is similar to 'proper' salvation is sufficient to establish this agenda.

is consistent with what I have read. It provides both a helpful framework for understanding what the FV is trying to say, as well as a point of contact in terms of motivation.

For I would agree that we must avoid the "if you are elect" preaching, which is entirely unprofitable (since decretal election is unknowable!).

True story: my mother grew up in a Primitive Baptist Church, a "hyperCalvinist" baptist denomination that spurns all missionary activity, closes communion to members of their church alone, etc.

In 18 years of being a Primitive Baptist, she claims that she never once heard the Gospel preached. Rather, she was frequently encouraged to look inside to see whether God had called her -- to see whether she was elect.

Then she went to college, fell in with the Southern Baptists, heard the Gospel, promptly believed and was saved. :)

So I can entirely sympathize with the motivation to avoid preaching that asks the listener to discern his own election. AFAICT the only possible justification for such preaching is 2 Pet 1.10, "...be eager to make your calling and election sure...", which is a remarkably slender thread on which to base one's preaching habits.

BUT

It seems to me that there might be other ways to avoid such preaching than the FV solution. In my case, I preach straightforwardly: "Believe, and you will be saved. All who come to Jesus are welcomed." To me, such preaching is entirely true, yet makes no false promises.

(3) The objective covenant still looks in conflict with Dort to me:

And this all comes back to the 'objectivity of the covenant' (the fundamental FV position). The covenant is 'objective' b/c every person in the covenant can truly say that they are blessed by God. Those who struggle with assurance can 'hang their hat' on the fact that God has definitely worked in them and made them His own. True, they might not be decretally elect to eternal salvation...

According to Dort, all those not decretally elect are under God's wrath. Here, you say that some of these (the NECMs) are made God's own.

According to Dort, the decretally elect are given the gift of true faith that receives salvation, while the non-elect are left in hardness of heart. But here, you say that NECMs should be encouraged to "continue to trust in Christ" -- yet if they continue to believe in the same way that they currently believe (i.e., not truly), they will eternally perish!

...but the only way for them to 'know' that they are is to have faith in God and continue trusting in Christ.

This, OTOH, is fairly close to how I would describe assurance. As you describe it here, assurance is based on trusting in Christ; yet, I would never encourage someone to "trust in their baptism" -- except in focusing their attention on what baptism means.

So while I have a point of contact with the latter, I still see (1) and (2) as genuine conflicts with Dort concerning the nature of NECMs.

A couple of points that I'm still fuzzy on, therefore:

(1) What does "temporary justification" mean, if not forgiveness of sins?

(2) Also, if someone lost TJ, would that entail rebecoming guilty of sins previously forgiven? That is, does TJ mean that sins up to apostasy are forgiven? Or does it mean that a status of "forgiven" is lost?

(3) Finally, just to beat the drum of Dort Canon 1 again, how can it be that an individual is forgiven of his sins *and* under God's wrath simultaneously?

Jeff Cagle

Mark said...

Finally, just to beat the drum of Dort Canon 1 again, how can it be that an individual is forgiven of his sins *and* under God's wrath simultaneously?

“Are the elect in this life the objects of God’s love only, and never in any sense the objects of His wrath? Is Moses thinking of the reprobate when he says: ‘For we are consumed in thine anger, and in thy wrath we are troubled’? Psa 90.7.”[Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1941), p. 445.]

Jeff Cagle said...

I would point to Hebrews 12 and 1 John 4.18 on this. God might discipline us in love, but his wrath towards us is entirely spent on Christ.

So I would answer the first question, "Yes." And the second question, I would say that Moses is speaking of the community as a whole, which we know in general consisted of a whole lot of NECMs.

Jeff Cagle

P.S. Who's Systematic Theology is that?

Jeff Cagle said...

Just to add to the point above: the Old Covenant community has a couple of features that do not apply to us. One of those is being under the Law. And that entails being under wrath.

I'm persuaded by Kline here that the blessings and curses of the Law were amplified within the time and place of the nation of Israel, as a type of the judgment to come.

So it is not disturbing to me to view Moses' statement as inapplicable to us as believers.

Thoughts?

Jeff C

Xon said...

(1) What does "temporary justification" mean, if not forgiveness of sins?

Well, I am open to it involving some kind of forgiveness of sins. I am convinced, valiant attempts at greenbaggins and elsewhere to convince me otherwise notwithstanding, that the parable of the unmerciful servant clinches this one. It is possible to be forgiven, in some sense, and lose that forgiveness.

That said, I'm not necessarily sold out to the idea that 'temporary justification' involves forgiveness. Maybe, maybe not. If you remember my rough definition from an earlier conversation, I said that TJ is "a declaration in God's courtroom that produces a change in status for the better, but which does not last".

A declaration that prodcues a change in status does not have to be 'forgiveness', depending on what we mean.

But all bet hedging aside, my suspicion (and this is I speaking now, and not the Lord) is that temp justification DOES involve some sort of forgiveness. Our problem is that we need to...um...lighten up on our systematic definitions of forgiveness. We hear 'forgiveness' and we think "past present and future sins all wiped away once for all". Obviously if that's what we mean by 'forgiveness', then there can be nothing but permanent forgiveness, and only the elect are going to get it.

But to me, and this is an analogy I've used before (I think it was in part v of my challenge series on my blog...whichever one Lane left a comment on), forgiveness does not have to be all that. Forgiveness can be like when a father catches his dispositionally wicked son doing something bad and then forgives his son for that one act. The whole sin nature hasn't been wiped out, the kid is still a brat who will be judged harshly when it's all said and done. But some of his sins are not held fully against him as they could be. That strikes me as close enough to merit the term 'forgiveness.'

And I don't see why non-elect people couldn't receive this sort of thing.

(2) Also, if someone lost TJ, would that entail rebecoming guilty of sins previously forgiven? That is, does TJ mean that sins up to apostasy are forgiven? Or does it mean that a status of "forgiven" is lost?

I have no problem with the idea of rebecoming guilty of sins previously forgiven, per my comments on the parable of the unmerciful servant above. But that's not to say that I'm planting my flag on that interpretation of what TJ means. Just that I have no problem with it, and it seems biblical to me. I'll listen to whatever arguments anyone has to the contrary.

(3) Finally, just to beat the drum of Dort Canon 1 again, how can it be that an individual is forgiven of his sins *and* under God's wrath simultaneously?

I haven't responded to your all out argument yet, and I still don't really have time to do that. But let me say here that I will be unsurprised if you couldn't show my view to be inconsistent with Dordt in some way or another. I don't think that Dordt has to be believed comprehensively for a person to remain genuinely and orthodoxly Reformed, though. (James Jordan has already pointed out a couple of spots in which Dordt either seems to go way beyond anything the Bible actually says or ends up saying something incoherent. I find his observations on those passages convincing.)

As to the particulars of canon 1 and being siultaneously forgiven and 'under wrath,' I would demur to Mark's comments already given. I would also add my analogy of the somewhat forgiven wicked son. He is still 'under wrath'. The last chapter of his story is going to be a sad one. And God is all-knowing, and so He knows that this person is heading to destruction (not only does He know it; He decreed it). But this does not change the fact that God can 'ligthen up' on the person in the moment (for Jesus' sake), that during his earthly life God can show him genuine favor and blessing, can interact with him, encourage him, send the Spirit to guide him, etc. And somewhere in all that stuff I see room for God 'forgiving' Him in a provisional and temporary way. A way that even feels just like the forgiveness that elect people experience (but that takes us back to the epistemological problem again).

Jeff Cagle said...

If you remember my rough definition from an earlier conversation, I said that TJ is "a declaration in God's courtroom that produces a change in status for the better, but which does not last".

Sorry for taking liberties with the definition. It wasn't an attempt at sleight of hand, I promise. :)

I do think it's important to get some sense of what TJ might mean before we go asserting it or disputing it.

Well, I am open to it involving some kind of forgiveness of sins. I am convinced, valiant attempts at greenbaggins and elsewhere to convince me otherwise notwithstanding, that the parable of the unmerciful servant clinches this one. It is possible to be forgiven, in some sense, and lose that forgiveness.

I'll throw that passage into the mix with the posts on Scripture, then. BTW, would it be more helpful for me to plow ahead and give the other strands of the argument (so as to give a sense of the big picture), or would it be better to chew on this piece for a while?

But some of his sins are not held fully against him as they could be. That strikes me as close enough to merit the term 'forgiveness.' And I don't see why non-elect people couldn't receive this sort of thing.

Certainly, that is the thrust of Chronicles. God withholds his punishment of Israel for as long as possible for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

OTOH, I don't see why we would need to see that as a particular blessing to NECMs. It is also true ("in some sense") that God withholds his wrath towards the whole world, not wanting any to perish.

So it may be the case that our "TJ" is not so much a diminished version of salvation as it is an enhanced version of common grace. I think Romans 2.3-5 and 9.22 make this a live option. Both are written with NECMs as the primary referent, but entail all unbelievers consequently. Thus, in those passages, God's kindness towards them is not based on their covenant membership particularly, but on God's forbearance towards sinners generally.

All of this is, of course, highly speculative contingent on a clear sense of what sense of justification we mean when speaking of TJ.

I don't think that Dordt has to be believed comprehensively for a person to remain genuinely and orthodoxly Reformed, though.

I appreciate and affirm that Dort is not Scripture. In the end, someone might say, "so much the worse for Dort!"

But it's going to be a hard sell to most Reformed folk (who appear to hold TULIP as the LCD of Reformedness) to claim that one's position is Biblical, but contrary to Dort.

Our problem is that we need to...um...lighten up on our systematic definitions of forgiveness. We hear 'forgiveness' and we think "past present and future sins all wiped away once for all". Obviously if that's what we mean by 'forgiveness', then there can be nothing but permanent forgiveness, and only the elect are going to get it.

Just to tip my hand a bit for future posts, forgiveness requires the death of Christ on one's behalf. And that would appear to entangle a bifurcated category into the mix. So it may be that "forgiveness" (in order to be Biblical) will have to stay heavy. Let's see where it goes.

Grace and peace,
Jeff Cagle

Xon said...

But any grace that a person recieves from God, be it 'common' or special, can only come on account of Christ. It is Christ who has reconciled the world to God, and this must be true of the whole world, in whatever sense the whole world is indeed reconciled. Many people are not in fact ultimately reconciled to God; they are judged and go to perdition. But these folks, even the rankest unbelievers, nonetheless experience 'common grace,' as we say. But this common grace must have been secured by Christ on the cross, mustn't it? Otherwise how can God show grace (even the merely common kind) to sinners?

So Christ's death is applied to all people, in some sense. Any time a reprobate person receives a temporary blessing from God in his earthly life, that's Christ's death on the cross working to his benefit.

This hits precisely at why I have a problem with Dordt, and it's not b/c I deny any of the TULIP letters. I affirm all of them; but Dordt takes a few of them beyond what they logically entail. All we need the "L" of TULIP to mean, for example, is that Jesus died for the elect only with respect to eternal salvation. But Dordt goes on to say that Christ died for the elect only, period. (I'm paraphrasing, clearly.) This leaves us in quite a fix, as Scripturally nothing is more obvious than that all people benefit in some way from Christ's death. (Just the establishement of a Christian civil order, of western civilization, could be a very modest way in which this is true.)

Another problematic point in Dordt (I'm simply plagiariazing James Jordan on this observation), which is not directly related to the current discussion but still touches on 'FVish' issues. Dordt says that regeneration involves the elect being given an 'incorruptible seed" for a new heart. It speaks as though ONLY the elect are given this 'new heart.' But then it also speaks of the Holy Spirit being sent to preserve the faithful. But why do the faithful need preserving if they already have been given an 'incorruptible' heart?

The tension in Dordt is that it waffles (a few times; I have no systematic objection to this wonderful confession of the Reformed faith) between trying to speak of some 'a priori' differentiation between elect and reprobate other than God's decree, on the one hand, and trying to speak of the biographical experience of the elect and the reprobate, on the other.

The FV position, to me, is a claim that the 'a priori' difference is in the decrees of God. Bob is elect and Sam is reprobate b/c God decreed it that way. But that's pretty much all we can say with certainty, from Scripture about Bob and Sam's 'differences.' Bob and Sam are both baptized, they both are active in their local covenant community, they both seem to receive the Word with great joy, etc. And it's not just that Sam is 'faking' like a hypocrite. This is not just an epistemological problem of we finite humans being unable to tell who the 'genuine' believer is and who the 'fake' is. Sam may not be a 'fake' at all. He may very well genuinely enjoy a relatoinship with God, the wrestling guidance of the Holy Spirit, etc. In fact, at any particular 'cross-section' of their respective lives, Sam may be closer to God than Bob is. The difference between Bob and Sam in the decree of God works itself through time, biographically. Sam eventually apostasizes, loses faith, is excommunicated, etc. Until this happens, things are much more mysterious than we Reformed often want to say. We often want to cram these mysteries into tight categories of "elect over here" and 'reprobates over there," and then simply acknowledge that we don't know which camp Bob or Sam is in. But FVers think (as I read them) that there's something more going on than that in the experience of Sam.

But here comes Dordt, saying that the 'orthodox' position is that only the elect ever receive this 'new heart' called regeneration (which is itself a different usage of 'regeneration' than that of the original reformers, of course). So, presumably, when Bob and Sam both have their initial experience of faith (Bob's pemranent, Sam's temporary), Bob receives this 'new heart' which Sam doesn't get.

This move is logically unnecessary (Since Scripture teaches that the Spirit preserves the faithful, there is no need for God to give the elect an 'incorruptible' heart on the 'front end.' God will preserve them moment-by-moment in the faith, and they are just as secure that way. Plus, the giving of an initial 'incorruptible' heart seems an awfully close analogue to Deism, making God an unnecessary appendage to future perseverance.)

(I have to point out now that this is actually the outer reaches of FV space. Jordan's position is controversial even to other FVers. Doug Wilson and he have gone back and forth (amicably) on this topic. FYI.)

Anyway, this logically unnecessary move by Dordt is arguably the root of much of our 'trouble' in the Reformed world. To be clear, I think Reformed theology is the best most faithful orthodox theology out there. So our 'troubles' are relative. But they are real troubles; we are not perfect, and practically the entire history of the United States is a testament to Puritanism gone wrong.

By insisting on a theologically-definable difference between Bob and Sam on the front end other than God's mysterious decree, we end up putting Bob and Sam on two completely separate paths and our theology feels this deep tension to maintain the separation at all times. But Scripture does not speak of things so starkly. Scripture speaks of reprobates 'shipwrecking their faith' and 'trampling on the blood of he who sanctified them,' etc. Calvinists rush in to these passages with a 'logical' explanation of what they must 'really' mean. But this whole effort to 'harmonize' them with predestination is misguided, b/c there is no lack of harmony in the first place. We have somehow let a false assumption slip into our collective Reformed mind: predestination means differently-predestined people must travel entirely different paths, whatever the appearances say to the contrary. This assumption is what leads to gaffes like Calvin's comment on John 15 (when he himself speaks differently in other places), and it leads to this whole struggle in Reformed theology with reading passages that speak of apostasy straightforwardly.

Boy, now I've really taken up too much time. Sorry to ramble on!

Jeff Cagle said...

No, I appreciate the thoughts.

Completely different topic: I'm inspired to try to create "Read More..." and inline expandable text in my posts ('cause they're way too long...), but the Blogger help directions tell me to insert CSS in between the (style) and (/style) tags (can't do angle brackets in my post; let the reader understand)... which don't exist in my HTML.

Did you face this problem? Thoughts?

I'm going to experiment, so don't be surprised if the blog looks weird until I get it right...

Thanks,
Jeff

Xon said...

Jeff,

Unfortuantely I am a programming ignoramus. I know just enough to get by, which makes me dangerous. When I put expandble posts into my blog, it was a pain and it took me a while to figure it out. It was definitely a 'retro-fit.' Now looking back I don't even remember precisely how I did it.

I do think, though, that some CSS editing was involved.

Go to beautifulbeta.blogspot.com I'm sure I got the instructions on how to do it from there.

Jeff Cagle said...

Got it. Thanks!

Jeff

Travis said...

First, we note that Dort drives a wide wedge between the elect and the non-elect:
God's anger remains on those who do not believe this gospel. But those who do accept it and embrace Jesus the Savior with a true and living faith are delivered through him from God's anger and from destruction, and receive the gift of eternal life. -- Article 4: A Twofold Response to the Gospel


Jeff, this has nothing to do with those who have professed faith. These statements are for those outside of the visible church and have no profession of faith. As such, they are non-elect.
Hence, you prove this:
Second, we note that the non-elect are non-believers:
The fact that some receive from God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems from his eternal decision. For all his works are known to God from eternity (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen. And in this especially is disclosed to us his act--unfathomable, and as merciful as it is just--of distinguishing between people equally lost. This is the well-known decision of election and reprobation revealed in God's Word. This decision the wicked, impure, and unstable distort to their own ruin, but it provides holy and godly souls with comfort beyond words. -- Article 6: God's Eternal Decision
Jeff,
Anyone who is in the VC is a believer else they would not be admitted to the font or to the table. This profession (whether false or true) is the only gauge for membership. If true no problem. If false, no one knows this but God since no one would permit a rank pagan from joining himself to Christ’s body. But if false, there is still a real and vital relationship established by this pseudo-profession. This is so because of the nature of covenant. The professor will be held accountable for his conceding the requirements of the covenant: faith = life and death = unbelief. The rule of charitable judgement allows for the professor’s profession of faith to be true. The session does not assume that every profession is false but true. Hence, that person’s relationship to Christ begins by faith, is sealed by baptism, and is perpetuated by faithfulness. If that person perseveres, he is saved. If he does not, he is lost. In your system he is no different than a rank pagan who never gave God a second thought. In the biblical manner he has broken the covenant and will be punished more severely.

The Canon then moves on to contradict the errors of those...
Who teach that God's election to eternal life is of many kinds: one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite; and the latter in turn either incomplete, revocable, nonperemptory (or conditional), or else complete, irrevocable, and peremptory (or absolute). Likewise, who teach that there is one election to faith and another to salvation, so that there can be an election to justifying faith apart from a peremptory election to salvation. For this is an invention of the human brain, devised apart from the Scriptures, which distorts the teaching concerning election and breaks up this golden chain of salvation: Those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified (Rom. 8:30).

Who teach that not every election to salvation is unchangeable, but that some of the chosen can perish and do in fact perish eternally, with no decision of God to prevent it. By this gross error they make God changeable, destroy the comfort of the godly concerning the steadfastness of their election, and contradict the Holy Scriptures, which teach that the elect cannot be led astray (Matt. 24:24), that Christ does not lose those given to him by the Father (John 6:39), and that those whom God predestined, called, and justified, he also glorifies (Rom. 8:30).
By this it is clear that Dort as well as WCF do not consider it possible that any can be justified in any way except those who persevere. That is, using Dort’s language, the FV would endorse an election to faith (NECM) and an election to salvation. This, clearly, Dort and the WCF repudiate. This cannot be denied. Any who try to make these documents declare otherwise are inept. But this scheme then, does not do justice to the biblical system. For when the Bible would warn against believers apostatizing, it does not do so in vain. There is a real covenant that will be broken when a professed believer has rebelled like Esau and Cain. It is this real covenant schema that must be accounted for in our confessions.

Without having to quote all of your blocks, your terminology of N-E in biblical parlance applies only to those outside the church. If one is in the church, he is elect.
Is this not your judgement of charity?
Well, yes, but if he does not persevere then he was never truly elect.
Then what, pray tell, was he?
He was never truly elect (i.e. justified, adopted, sanctified, etc . )
But what was he?
Silence

If one is in the church he is elect. One does not admit a professed pagan but only believers. Nor does one doubt the profession of the person coming in by faith without warrant. For instance, if the session knowingly admits an adulterous man who professes faith without repentance there is grievous sin on the session’s part. Or, if a man is a sloth and a liar and comes into the fold unawares and deluded himself of his own infidelity, the session is guiltless but the person is still covenanted with God and God will render to that one justice in due time.

The challenge for you, Jeff, should you choose to accept it, is this. Using Lusk as a stereotype, 1) refute his understanding of “common operations of the Spirit” (i.e. “election to faith”, Hebrews and WCF) against the CoD and
2) illuminate us FV-ers as to the nature of the covenant for the faithful and the apostate.

Travis said...

Rather, she was frequently encouraged to look inside to see whether God had called her -- to see whether she was elect.

Then she went to college, fell in with the Southern Baptists, heard the Gospel, promptly believed and was saved. :)


I think this does too far. One might as well say a RC couldn't be saved in the RCC or the LDS b/c they get it wrong on certain point (however LARGE they may be). Your mom was saved previous. She just had some milktoast (is this meatphor right?) fed to her. But I am GLAD she found(!) her way to a more faithful Gospel preaching denom.

According to Dort, all those not decretally elect are under God's wrath. Here, you say that some of these (the NECMs) are made God's own.

Again, IMHO, I think CoD to refer to the NENCM here. Xon does such a fantastic job in his posts here I don't know why I am commenting.

Just to add to the point above: the Old Covenant community has a couple of features that do not apply to us. One of those is being under the Law. And that entails being under wrath.

Jeff, what does this mean? I would beg to differ with you. You are under law. "Believe, persevere, endure, do not stumble."
How do you mean your quote?

Travis said...

Oh, and you said somewheres that you would not encourage someone to look to his baptism. Pray tell, what is it for, then? JC and Luther would have no problem doing so; indeed, yea and verily, neither would the WCF. For there is in the sign such a sacramental union b/t it and the reality: got baptism? Got Jesus! Hey, that's catchy! Mebbe I'll post on it. OH! I already did.
Blessings Jeff.

Jeff Cagle said...

Travis:

Jeff, this has nothing to do with those who have professed faith. These statements are for those outside of the visible church and have no profession of faith.

I'm sorry, I really don't understand this. If you believe that Article 4 divides people according to the categories of who is inside the church and who is outside, then you will have great difficulty, I believe, in accounting for the fact that Dort then goes on to predicate that those who receive eternal life will persevere.

On your reading, all church members will persevere. That's clearly wrong, I think.

Jeff

Jeff Cagle said...

Anyone who is in the VC is a believer else they would not be admitted to the font or to the table.

This borders on equivocation.

Anyone who is in the visible church (at least, one with properly-functioning church discipline) "is a believer" in this sense: he has professed faith.

But anyone who is a believer in the sense of one who inherits eternal life is likely not to be such a one.

By this it is clear that Dort as well as WCF do not consider it possible that any can be justified in any way except those who persevere. That is, using Dort’s language, the FV would endorse an election to faith (NECM) and an election to salvation. This, clearly, Dort and the WCF repudiate. This cannot be denied. Any who try to make these documents declare otherwise are inept.

Thank you. That was the sole point of this exercise: to demonstrate that there is a real (not apparent) difference between Dort and FV.

But this scheme then, does not do justice to the biblical system.

You're welcome to hold that; a lot of Christians do. But still and all, the FV desires to locate itself within the Reformed tradition.

A contradiction between the FV and the Canons of Dort strongly undermines that claimed connection.

Now, I happen to think you are mistaken -- see the post on Definitive Sanctification to see why -- but I can respect the fact that you disagree.

Jeff

Jeff Cagle said...

The challenge for you, Jeff, should you choose to accept it, is this. Using Lusk as a stereotype, 1) refute his understanding of “common operations of the Spirit” (i.e. “election to faith”, Hebrews and WCF) against the CoD and
2) illuminate us FV-ers as to the nature of the covenant for the faithful and the apostate.


I'll pass on the first, but the second is related to what I've been working on: the relationship between visible and invisible churches. So I'll try to tackle that sometime in January.

Jeff

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