Wednesday, December 5, 2007

John 15: The Fruitless Branches

John 15.1-17 recounts a portion of Jesus' final discourse to the apostles. Therein, He speaks of Himself as the vine and them as branches, and He exhorts them to abide in him by love and thus bear much fruit. But He also speaks of branches in Himself who do not bear fruit. These are broken off, cast into the fire, and burned. Calvin in his Commentaries takes the branches that are cast off to be those who apparently within the vine, but are not so in reality. By contrast, Steve Wilkins asserts that the branches cast into the fire were people savingly united to Christ (in a covenantal sense) but who later apostasized.

This post will argue that Calvin's reading fits more nearly with the story that John tells. The branches that are broken off and burned are ones who, like Judas, were in Christ's circle but who never believed.

click to toggle John 15.1-17


John 15.1-17 (ESV):
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.



Calvin says of this passage,
As some men corrupt the grace of God, others suppress it maliciously, and others choke it by carelessness, Christ intends by these words to awaken anxious inquiry, by declaring that all the branches which shall be unfruitful will be cut off from the vine But here comes a question. Can any one who is engrafted into Christ be without fruit? I answer, many are supposed to be in the vine, according to the opinion of men, who actually have no root in the vine Thus, in the writings of the prophets, the Lord calls the people of Israel his vine, because, by outward profession, they had the name of The Church.

-- Calvin, Commentaries, John 15.1-6

However, in "The Federal Vision", Steve Wilkins explicates John 15 in this way:
Jesus here declares that He is the vine and His hearers are branches united to Him. He then exhorts them to continue abiding in Him so that they might bear fruit. If they refuse to abide in Him, they will be fruitless and incur the wrath of the Divine husbandman and, finally, will be cast into the fire. Here, then, we have those who are joined to Christ in a vital union (i.e., a union that could and should be fruitful) and yet who end up cursed and condemned.

Often this passage is interpreted along these lines: There are two kinds of branches. Some branches are not really in Christ "in a saving way," but only in an external sense -- whatever fruit they bear is not genuine and they will eventually be destroyed. Other branches are truly joined to Christ inwardly and savingly, and they bear more and more fruit as they are pruned and cultivated by the Father...

The Calvinist embraces this implausible interpretation because he (understandably) does not want to deny election, effectual calling, or the perseverance of the saints. The exegetical problems one must embrace with this position, however, are nearly insurmountable. If the branches are not truly joined to the vine, how can they be held accountable for their lack of fruit? The distinction of "external" and "internal" union seems to be invented and is not in the text. All can and should be fruitful. The pressure to preserve the Scriptural teaching of God's sovereignty in salvation ought not be allowed to push us to deny these obvious points. But in order to resist this pressure the text must be interpreted as it is intended to be interpreted -- i.e., covenantally.

-- Wilkins, "The Federal Vision", 62-63.

Wilkins' understanding rests in the belief that the phrase "in me" (v.2) refers to vital union with Christ, much as the Pauline phrase "in Christ." Because they have union with Christ, therefore all of the branches have, roughly speaking, equal access to the resources of Christ. It is possible for any of them to bear fruit. They have all been saved, at least in the historical, covenantal sense.

Let us consider now the gospel within which this passage sits. John's gospel is notable for its binary imagery. For John, there is light, and there is darkness (1.4-5,8-9; 3.19-21; ch. 9; 12.35,36,46). The two are at war, but darkness is unable to prevail over the light (1.5).[1]

Likewise, there are those who believe and those who do not believe. The ones who believe receive eternal life and become children of God (1.12, 3.1-21, 4.13-14, 5.24, etc.). Those who do not believe remain under God's wrath (3.36) and subsequently perish.

Further, belief itself is dictated by the decrees of God (6.35-40,44), so that no one can come except by the drawing of Father; and all who do come will not be cast out.

These categories are binary in that there is no middle ground, no third kingdom to which one may belong. We can see the binary categories at work in passages like John 8.31-59, in which Jesus excludes the middle, declaring that those who thought themselves children of Abraham are actually children of Satan as evidenced by the works they do.

But along with the binary categories, John also creates a certain amount of paradox. Jesus comes to "his own", but they do not receive him (1.11). Certain of the Jews "believe" in Jesus, yet they are of Satan (8.31ff.). And most significantly, Judas, one of Jesus' own chosen (6.70), is an unbeliever (6.64). These various paradoxes are resolved as the story develops. Those who were God's own according to the flesh reveal their nature as the Light shines on them. The supposed children of Abraham reveal their true father. Judas reveals himself at the Supper to be Christ's betrayer.

Now as we consider John 15, it is clear that Wilkins' reading is entirely out of place in John's story. Rather than understanding "in me" as synonymous with Paul's phrase, it makes much more sense to read those "in Jesus" as like those who are "his own", who "believe", who "are chosen" -- and yet, from the start, are of the darkness rather than the light.

Certain features within John 15 demand this reading also. The same binary pattern appears here. Branches broken off are branches who bear no fruit at all. By contrast, Jesus declares to the apostles that he has chosen and appointed them to bear fruit that will last. Hence, Jesus allows only two categories: the fruit-bearers and the fruitless. There is no mention of branches who bear some fruit, then cease bearing, as would be required by Wilkins' reading.

Most importantly, directly after the warning concerning branches broken off, Jesus declares, "you are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you." (v. 3) This declaration is a direct allusion to the evening's previous conversation in chapter 13. There, after Jesus has washed the disciples' feet, Peter asks Jesus to wash his entire body, understanding that the washing is symbolic of cleansing from sin. Jesus replies:
The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you. For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "Not all of you are clean." (13.10-11)

After this conversation, the Last Supper occurs, Judas departs, and then Jesus begins a dialogue in chapter 14 that continues into 15 and beyond.

Notable about 15.3 then, are these features:

(1) The juxtaposition of 15.2 and 15.3: "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you." Somehow, Jesus' declaration of cleanliness is intended to clarify or qualify the warning concerning branches.

(2) The linguistic connection between 15.2 and 15.3. The branches that are "pruned" in 15.2 are καθαιρει, cleansed or pruned, in order to become more fruitful. The apostles in 15.3 are declared already clean or pure, καθαροι.[2]

[Note 2007.12.09 -- the original post was incorrect, citing "καθαρει" (a verb that doesn't exist, AFAIK!). The verb καθαιρεω (to prune, clean) in v. 2 is not directly related in meaning to καθαριζω (to purify) which is the root in v. 3. However, the similarity in meaning and sound strongly suggests that Jesus is making a pun here. Hence, the general point still stands, but is not as strong as I previously believed.]

(3) The change from 13.11. With Judas departed from the scene, Jesus no longer qualifies that "not all of you are clean." By this shift in language, He confirms to them that the unclean one, the betrayer, was indeed the one who shared the morsel (13.30) and departed.[3]

(4) The living parable taking place as he speaks. Who is it that has failed to abide in Jesus, and is in the process of being cast away and burned? Judas.

Now, this is not to say that Jesus is speaking only of Judas; certainly, he is making a general pronouncement. But the purpose of that pronouncement is not to "hold them accountable" for bearing fruit. Rather, it is to "make their joy complete." (15.11) How? By encouraging them that they are already appointed to bear much fruit. By telling them how to bear fruit. And by declaring to them that, unlike the branch who failed to abide, they are already clean. Contrary to Wilkins' assertion that "if [his hearers] refuse to abide in Him, they will be fruitless" (62), Jesus has already begun the pruning process so that they will be even more fruitful.

At the same time, he is allowing that there are branches that are, apparently, in him, yet who are not clean. These branches are revealed over time because they fail to bear fruit. As with all of the other binary categories in John, these branches are unfruitful from the beginning.

So while Jesus is not speaking only of Judas, the branch he is using as an example is certainly Judas. And like Judas, the unfruitful branches are "in him", but are never of him.

Consider now the two exegetical questions raised by Steve Wilkins in his analysis:

If the branches are not truly joined to the vine, how can they be held accountable for their lack of fruit?

They are held accountable because they did not believe from the beginning, and the wrath of God remains on them. Must God give equal opportunities to all in order to hold all men accountable?

Contrariwise: If branches bear no fruit at all, how can we say that they have been "vitally joined" to Christ? And, if all branches have been vitally joined, what is the difference between the ones that do bear fruit and the ones who do not? This last question suggests that one must either stipulate a different type of joining for the fruitless branches, or else abandon monergism.

The distinction of "external" and "internal" union seems to be invented and is not in the text.

Granted: the terms "external" and "internal" are not in the text. But the concept that one belongs to God nominally, or to outward appearances, or according to the flesh, without actually being a child of God, is strewn liberally throughout John. Judas is his chief example.

Contrariwise: If Wilkins' exegesis is correct, then we are required to go back and re-read all of the passages in John promising that no believer will be lost or cast out or snatched away from Christ. These passages are no longer absolute, despite appearances. Rather, they are contingent on ... what, exactly? Our efforts? God's willingness to maintain us? The first would be Arminian; the second would accuse Christ of receiving people as His children and then deliberately losing them.

From these considerations, it is clear that Calvin's reading accords with the story that John is telling. His is a story of two kingdoms, a story of those who are saved by belief over against those who appear to believe but reveal their true natures through their fruit.

JRC

1 In John 1.5, "comprehend" is ambiguous both in English and Greek, but the ESV is probably correct here.
2 I am indebted to Jeff Moss for pointing out this connection.
3 In 13.30, the different themes converge: Judas finally reveals his true nature, the clean and the unclean are separated, and it is night.

For Further Reading:

Bob Mattes
Lane Keister -- This post contains a number of comments from John Barach and other FV folk; the approach is more nuanced than Wilkins'.
Rich Lusk
Mark Horne -- not on John 15, but a somewhat different take on obedience and assurance from Wilkins'.

26 comments:

Travis said...

Thanks for your good hard work at exegesis, Jeff. I have a thought.
As Jesus is the true Israel and therefore relating to him as a person is likened to associating with Israel (by faith) as a nation, belief is always key. I do not think it is correct to say that Judas did not believe. Rather, he fell into disbelief. Me thinks, you do protest too much.
Let the language of "cutting off" have the same meaning for being in Jesus just as much as being in Israel.
Did this link work?Sermon

Jeff Cagle said...

Let the language of "cutting off" have the same meaning for being in Jesus just as much as being in Israel.

I would agree! And that's the thing: being in Israel is a matter of election, a matter of having the Spirit, a matter of being "in" by faith.

I do not think it is correct to say that Judas did not believe. Rather, he fell into disbelief.

My reason for seeing Judas as an unbeliever is not to fit my model; it's because John says so:

Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. -- Jhn 6.64.

Me thinks, you do protest too much.

That's possible. The tiffs over "covenant of works" v. "covenant of life", and "merit", and so on, really are not worth getting exercised about. But I see the "objectivity of the covenant" -- as exemplified in Wilkins' analysis -- as something very different, something to be argued against.

Who knows? Maybe I just don't understand what it's all about. It wouldn't be the first time.

But here's what I've noticed so far: several times when I've done fact-checking against the Scriptures or the writings of Calvin, the FV analysis has turned up fishy. This was one of those times. That's cause for alarm.

Thanks for your good hard work at exegesis, Jeff.

Thanks for the encouragement! It's been very rewarding for me to go back to the Scriptures and re-question, why do I read it the way I do, and what other readings are possible?

Did this link work?

NO!! I get this message: "The file you're attempting to access from a free MediaMax account exceeds the single-file limit of 10MB.

To access this file, please ask the account owner to upgrade the account. There are no file size limitations on Premium, Elite, or Professional plans."

Next time, talk less :P Just kidding. If I can download it from somewhere else, I'll happily listen to it.

Grace and peace,
Jeff

Travis said...

Try this

Psalm 119

Travis said...

Certain features within John 15 demand this reading also. The same binary pattern appears here. Branches broken off are branches who bear no fruit at all. By contrast, Jesus declares to the apostles that he has chosen and appointed them to bear fruit that will last.
Yet, this does not insure that they will. Indeed, it is much like Jesus saying in John 4, 6, 7 that those who drink his water will never thirst. Never? I thirst all the time for false water. Is Jesus then a liar? Am I not truly in him?
Hence, Jesus allows only two categories: the fruit-bearers and the fruitless. There is no mention of branches who bear some fruit, then cease bearing, as would be required by Wilkins' reading....
Nit picky. Arguing from silence
(4)...Who is it that has failed to abide in Jesus, and is in the process of being cast away and burned? Judas....
But the purpose of that pronouncement is not to "hold them accountable" for bearing fruit.
Why not? It seems you, too, are arguing from your conclusion. Anytime the Scc use a positive as an example, the negative is assumed to function as a warning and v/v. Indeed the whole parable is a warning to the whole church. Jeff, when you read this passage you, too, are warned that by your being "in Him" you are to produce fruit (indeed, how much is enough and how little is too small?) or be cut off. It is to hold the reader accountable.
Contrariwise: If Wilkins' exegesis is correct, then we are required to go back and re-read all of the passages in John promising that no believer will be lost or cast out or snatched away from Christ. These passages are no longer absolute, despite appearances. Rather, they are contingent on ... what, exactly? Our efforts? God's willingness to maintain us? The first would be Arminian; the second would accuse Christ of receiving people as His children and then deliberately losing them.

Hardly. Have you read Pratt on God's decrees and historical contingencies? You must if you have not. As I have said (to myself) many times, "We must consider everyone elect until their dying breath. We must also consider the possibility of apostasy for all until the same."
There is nothing sure about your salvation if there is the slightest possible event of your apostasy.

Jeff Cagle said...

Thanks for the interaction.

Some thoughts on Pratt:

(1) He distinguishes between several different types of prophecies: bi-polar conditional, uni-polar conditional, and predictions qualified by assurances.

On the extreme end, he says "Predictions qualified by assurances reveal two important features of Old Testament prophecy. On the one hand, these passages make it plain that some predicted events were inevitable. With reference to these declarations, Yahweh would not listen to prayers, turn back, relent, or violate his oaths."

I am reading Jesus' statements, esp. in chs. 6 and 10, as predictions qualified by assurances: "never", "no-one", etc.

(2) It's worth asking whether Jesus' promises would qualify as the types of prophecies Pratt has in mind. He would probably respond to an e-mail if you asked him; he's known as a friendly guy.

Indeed, it is much like Jesus saying in John 4, 6, 7 that those who drink his water will never thirst. Never? I thirst all the time for false water. Is Jesus then a liar? Am I not truly in him?

Well, what do you think? In what way is Jesus giving a promise? In what way would it be fulfilled?

JRC:
Hence, Jesus allows only two categories: the fruit-bearers and the fruitless. There is no mention of branches who bear some fruit, then cease bearing, as would be required by Wilkins' reading....

TMF:
Nit picky. Arguing from silence

Nitpicky it may be, but it's not an argument from silence. I don't mean that "there are no X mentioned; therefore, X doesn't exist."

Rather, I mean "Wilkins' reading requires X; but the passage doesn't talk about X. Therefore, Wilkins' reading is not based on the text itself."

JRC:
But the purpose of that pronouncement is not to "hold them accountable" for bearing fruit...

TMF:
Why not? It seems you, too, are arguing from your conclusion.

Well, because Jesus says in in verse 11 why he's telling them these things: "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

Anytime the Scc use a positive as an example, the negative is assumed to function as a warning and v/v. Indeed the whole parable is a warning to the whole church. Jeff, when you read this passage you, too, are warned that by your being "in Him" you are to produce fruit (indeed, how much is enough and how little is too small?) or be cut off. It is to hold the reader accountable.

I just don't see these things *in the passage.* :(

Considering Jesus' audience, the context in John, the thought patterns revealed in John, and the reassurances given by Christ in the passage, the passage simply doesn't say "Guys, I'm going to hold you accountable!"

Is there a command to abide? Absolutely. Is Christ worried in the least that his apostles will fail to abide? Not at all. That's why they are already "clean", "pruned" branches. They've been bearing fruit. They will continue to bear fruit. And he knows that and assures them of that.

So a question for you: does salvation cause and maintain works, or do works cause and maintain salvation? Or both? Or neither?

Jeff Cagle

Travis said...

So a question for you: does salvation cause and maintain works, or do works cause and maintain salvation? Or both? Or neither?

The former.

I do not think that Jesus is trying to establish an acc'y group but the nature of law is to establish responsibility for maintenance.

Jesus' words of "never" and "no-one" are colloquial, normative. Had he said, "Verily", well then, we might be closer to it.

TmF:
Indeed, it is much like Jesus saying in John 4, 6, 7 that those who drink his water will never thirst. Never? I thirst all the time for false water. Is Jesus then a liar? Am I not truly in him?

JrC
Well, what do you think? In what way is Jesus giving a promise? In what way would it be fulfilled?

TmF
I dunno. This passage always leaves me with a dry taste in my mouth....You?

Xon said...

That Calvin comment on John 15 has been quoted many times in the FV discussion over the last few years, and really I'm at the point now of just being embarrassed for Calvin that it keeps getting brought up. For Calvin comes off as very un-Calvin there. He interprets a passage to be talking about 'appearances' when there is no exegetical support for such a notion. Calvin has trouble reconciling a truly-ingrafted branch being cut off, for apparently a priori theological reasons that have nothing to do with the particular text of John 15, and so he explains it away as being only about 'appearances.'

Calvin was much better in other places. There is simply no logical reason that I can see to feel a 'tension' here in the first place. Where people end up is predestined (everything is predestined) by an all-gracious God, but along the way to their final end of destruction some reprobates are ingrafted into Christ temporarily. They fail to produce fruit in keeping with election to salvation, as we should expect, and so they are cut off.

It is this insistence that 'ingrafted into Christ' means some sort of once-for-all state of blessedness which can only lead to Heaven that causes the tension. But John 15 says nothing that should cause us to define "ingrafted" in that way.

Just my 2 cents. Back to the dissertation.

Jeff Cagle said...

Prayed for you to have focus and diligence yesterday, but I'm glad to see you poking your head out for a little air.

It is this insistence that 'ingrafted into Christ' means some sort of once-for-all state of blessedness which can only lead to Heaven that causes the tension. But John 15 says nothing that should cause us to define "ingrafted" in that way.

:) But that's precisely Calvin's argument, and mine! If we insist on reading "branches in me" as if Jesus is speaking of the Pauline "in Christ", then we end up with a mess: branches that have been justified, forgiven, given a new nature, given the HS as a deposit guaranteeing their inheritance ... and then losing that.

Which is ridiculous, given the sum totality of what Scriptures say about such people.

But if we allow that "branches in me" might mean something lesser -- perhaps an administrative or external "in me", such as Judas possessed -- then the passage works easily *and* fits with the rest of the book.

Jeff C

Xon said...

"But if we allow that "branches in me" might mean something lesser -- perhaps an administrative or external "in me", such as Judas possessed -- then the passage works easily *and* fits with the rest of the book."

Something lesser, though, does not equate to "administrative or external". How could someone who is only 'administratively' in Christ even face the question of bearing fruit? What branch is only 'adminisratively' in the tree/vine?

And, actually, let me preempt a possible response to that. I'm not much of a biologist, and I would be unsurprised to find out that there is some species of vine, somewhere, that somehow has foreign branches. But the point, of course, is that this is not the way a vine/branch metaphor would be used. Since Jesus is not literally a vine, anyway. :-)

If you're saying that "in me" means something different than 'all-out' Pauline 'in Christ,' then that's okay (for now). We all can meet somewhere in the middle somewhere.

But again note what Calvin said. He did not say "this is a union with Chirst that falls short of that experienced by the elect." He said "this is only an apparent union, b/c obviously non-elect people cannot really be united to Christ at all."

I still think you are forcing a tension that is not there.

Xon said...

And thanks for the prayers!

Jeff Cagle said...

Something lesser, though, does not equate to "administrative or external".

I agree, and I was putting those out only as options that have been suggested elsewhere.

I don't know how Calvin would answer your objection, but here's my take:

(1) John, as noted in the post, frequently makes use of paradox without using "scare quotes" (not available in Greek anyways) but instead using the device of blunt juxtaposition.

"He came unto his own, but his own did not receive him."

"You are the teacher of Israel, yet you do not understand these things?"

"Have I not chosen you, yet one of you is a devil?"

"I know you are Abraham's descendants...If you were Abraham's children, then you would do the things Abraham did."

"They went out from us, but they did not belong to us."

In this manner, John gets across the idea "Apparently X, but in reality, ~X"

OR

"In some sense X, but in the sense that matters, ~X."

As noted somewhere, one of the functions of Jesus as Light of the World is to expose the reality concerning these things (3.19-21).

I think it's reasonable to see 15.2 in the same way. These branches are apparently, or "in some sense", in Christ, but not really or in the important sense.

(2) Thus, I would not say "there is no sense in which these branches are in Christ" -- and neither would Calvin, I don't think.

Rather, I would say, S1: "the sense in which these branches are in Christ does not include the ability to produce fruit." Calvin calls this a "supposed" sense, "according to the opinion of men." I might call it "according to objective measures."

(3) To deny S1 appears to deny monergism.

(4) The only arguments advanced by Wilkins in favor of S1 are that (a) S1 removes the notion of accountability, and (b) S1 appeals to a distinction not in the text.

(b) is addressed in (1) above: John's penchant for making such distinctions is well-established. (a) is obviously false, in that non-regenerate folk outside the church will clearly be held accountable for sin, despite their inability. So the principle that accountability requires ability is simply wrong (sorry, Kant!).

How could someone who is only 'administratively' in Christ even face the question of bearing fruit? What branch is only 'adminisratively' in the tree/vine?

I've been thinking a fair amount about the "agricultural metaphors" that Jesus uses in all four gospels: root and fruit, four soils, wheat and tares, vine and branches, fig tree, etc.

We might add Romans 11 to the mix, and Hebrews 6. And then for completeness, go back to the OT and cross-correlate.

That would be a book, basically, so I don't think I'll tackle the whole any time soon. But my preliminary thought is this: there is strong strand of thought in a lot of those metaphors that fruit-bearing is a consequence of the root, or type of plant, or soil. The latter is hidden from view. The former is delayed in time, but reveals what is hidden.

So the question of bearing fruit in John 15 is raised *not because* it is possible, from God's perspective, for such branches to bear. Rather, the question is raised because various branches are, by every objective measure, attached to Christ and his body. So *shouldn't* they bear fruit, says the outside observer?

But they don't ... because they can't ... because they aren't "really" attached, or "attached in the sense that matters" -- attached in a sense that is hidden to outside view.

So Calvin's still looking pretty good here, even though I can imagine finding *some* sense in which the fruitless branches are in Christ. Just not any sense in which they are actually consumers of his life-giving sap.

JRC

Jeff Cagle said...

Travis, you're going to shoot me. I clicked on the audio file, got "Buffering..." "...Error opening file."

ARRRGH!

Xon said...

Jeff, I've added numbers to the following citation so as to facilitate logical analysis:

"[1]So the question of bearing fruit in John 15 is raised *not because* it is possible, from God's perspective, for such branches to bear. Rather, the question is raised because various branches are, by every objective measure, attached to Christ and his body. So *shouldn't* they bear fruit, says the outside observer?

[2]But they don't ... [3]because they can't ... [4] because they aren't "really" attached, or "attached in the sense that matters" -- attached in a sense that is hidden to outside view.
"

The problem is that 'from God's perspective', as you say in [1], nothing counterfactual is possible in the way that you are talking about. God ordains all things that come to pass, and anything that does not come to pass was not ordained, and since it wasn't ordained it was impossible for it to happen. "From God's persepctive", all that happens is all that can happen. This is true of everything, not just election/salvation. I had to get up at 8:00 this morning, rather than 7:45, b/c that is the way it happened and last night before I went to bed God had already decreed it to happen that way.

But there is still room for possibility under 'hard' Calvinism. Possible events are events which could have occurred acc. to the nature of the agents involved. I am capable of getting an 'A' on an algebra test. Whether or not I actually do so depends ulimtately on the decrees of God, but it is 'possible' for me to get an 'A' on the test simply b/c I as a reasonably-intelligent human being who has studied algebra and I have all the 'tools' necessary to pull off an 'A.'

But on this notion of possibility, there is nothing in the text to indicate that the fruitless branches were in fact incapable of producing fruit. Sure, in the sense that God did not decree them to do so. But that's true of everything that ever happens which makes Jesus' point rather obtuse. That's true of real, non-metaphorical branches on a real, non-metaphorical tree. All of those branches are capable (acc. to their own natures) to produce fruit, but God decrees that some of them don't.

In the second paragraph I cited above, I agree that [3] is the reason for [2]. But I see no evidence or argument that establishes that [4] is the reason for [3]. They do not bear fruit because they cannot bear fruit; check. But they cannot bear fruit because "they aren't really/in-the-way-that-counts-ly attached to the tree?" I just don't see it.

The fact that John uses juxtapositions to speak ironically does not prove that he is doing so here. For one thing, note the 'quippish' nature of the other examples you gave from John's gospel. Jesus is not 'quipping' here (nothing wrong with that if he was, but he's not). He is using a metaphor, and metaphors don't work nearly as well if the main characteristic that you bring up for purpose of using it in the metaphor is also carrying an 'ironic' 'appearance only' meaning.

I mean, Jesus's followers aren't really branches in any literal sense. So why use a metaphor saying they are, if you don't intend to impute a deep similarity between typical vine/branch relations and the believer/Jesus relationship? To try to call this a use of ironic juxtaposition seems 'too clever by half.' What's the irony of the juxtaposition? That fruitless branches weren't really connected, even though in any normal vine they would be? Then why use that metaphor at all? Believers are like branches, and the fruitless ones get cut out, except that really the fruitless ones aren't branches at all, and really of course no believers are branches at all. But my metaphor still works, just go with me. :-)

At the very least, it seems you bear a stronger burden of proof here than simply pointing to such juxtapositions elsewhere in John's writings. Why think such is the case here, especially when this passage doesn't 'look' like the others.

"Rather, I would say, S1: "the sense in which these branches are in Christ does not include the ability to produce fruit." Calvin calls this a "supposed" sense, "according to the opinion of men." I might call it "according to objective measures."

(3) To deny S1 appears to deny monergism.
"

Woah. How could a denial of S1 amount to a denial of monergism?

It seems like you are reading S1 here in the way I described at the beginning of my comment, where ultimately everything must be up to God's decree. This is true, but at the same time we DO attribute possibility to things in the world, somehow. Don't we? S1 is a claim about a particular thing in the world and whether it has a capability to do other than it in fact does. It answers this question, about this particular thing (fruitless branches), negatively. But if denying S1 amounts to denying monergism, then we would have to affirm an S1-like statement for every occurrence in the universe, and say that every thing that doesn't happen is in fact "impossible." So, it was impossible for me to get up at 7:45 this morning, instead of 8.

Again, in the sense of God's decrees, this is true. But nobody denies it in this sense, either. But clearly there is still room for genuine 'possibility,' despite God's omnisovereign decrees. And that possibility would seem to apply to normal things like branches that don't bear fruit in the 'real world,' and so we should expect it to apply in the situation Jesus describes with a metaphor about branches. The branches, in their nature as branches, are capable of bearing fruit, even though they (by God's decree) do not.

??

Jeff Cagle said...

Some points of agreement:

(1) The fact that John uses paradoxical juxtapositions (I don't want to say "ironic" only because it's not the opposite of what he intends; it's more like the opposite of appearances) does not guarantee that he's doing so here.

(2) "But there is still room for possibility under 'hard' Calvinism. Possible events are events which could have occurred acc. to the nature of the agents involved."

Having said that, I want to offer three thoughts and then call it a night.

First, John's use of paradoxical juxtapositions is not the whole argument; it's just a piece of evidence. It simply establishes that my reading is reasonable within the bounds of John's use of language. For my part, the "you are already clean" language clinches the deal.

Second, monergism is something stronger than the fact that all events are decreed by God. Rather, it reflects the fact that according to the nature of the agents involved, no-one will believe or persevere without God's work in his life. Thus, even speaking in terms of human contingencies, no-one can be saved.

Recall that both the Arminians and the Reformed both believed that God's decrees were fulfilled in time; their difference concerned their accounts of man's ability wrt salvation.

Thus, Dort V (perseverance) is not simply "God isn't going to lose anyone that he hasn't decreed to lose" -- which would be tautologous. Rather, it is "those whom God has changed, he continues to work in so as to cause them to persevere."

So now monergism requires S1 as follows:

* We are by nature unable to produce fruit.
* God therefore intervenes and gives new life and the Holy Spirit to those whom He wishes to save.
* The Holy Spirit is provided as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance; further, Jesus promises to lose none of those who belong to Him.
* If anyone is lost, it cannot be on account of God's unwilligness to make good His deposit.
* Thus, it must be on account of that person's own ability to walk away from God.

Which is a denial of monergism; specifically, it denies that definitive sanctification occurs when one is born again. It makes salvation a combination of the work of God and the work of man.

So this statement,

But if denying S1 amounts to denying monergism, then we would have to affirm an S1-like statement for every occurrence in the universe, and say that every thing that doesn't happen is in fact "impossible."

is definitely not so. I can affirm, at the level of creaturely contingencies, that it is possible for me to finish my grading. It is *not* possible, even on that level, for a man to believe, to persevere, to produce fruit -- unless changed by the Spirit. "Without me, you can do nothing."

The third point has more to do with the Dort discussion, but obviously, those are "intertwined." :) But it might be "fruitful" to raise it here.

You asked over there why God would give an "incorruptible heart" *and* provide moment-by-moment work of the sustaining Spirit. It turns out that those two are simply the human and divine sides of the same coin. So on the one hand, Paul can tell the Ephesians to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. And on the other, he can insist to the Galatians that, having begun by the Spirit, they need to continue in the Spirit, and that the fruit of righteousness *is* the fruit of the Spirit.

That all converges on the understanding that the new nature is not autonomous or static (which would indeed be Deistic), but rather is Spirit-empowered. Hence Romans 8:

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.


Discovering this point was a watershed moment for me personally, but more on that anon.

Jeff

Xon said...

In reverse order, sort of...

"You asked over there why God would give an "incorruptible heart" *and* provide moment-by-moment work of the sustaining Spirit. It turns out that those two are simply the human and divine sides of the same coin. So on the one hand, Paul can tell the Ephesians to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. And on the other, he can insist to the Galatians that, having begun by the Spirit, they need to continue in the Spirit, and that the fruit of righteousness *is* the fruit of the Spirit.

That all converges on the understanding that the new nature is not autonomous or static (which would indeed be Deistic), but rather is Spirit-empowered.
"

I thought you might go there, and I'm glad you did. :-) But this still leaves the 'front end change that only the regenerate get' position with a problem, I think. If this is the definition we are using for 'incorruptible heart'--i.e., it involves a dynamic Spirit-empowered history; our 'new heart' is really the gift of the Holy-Spirit-with-us--then that's fine. But then there is no reason to say that a non-elect person cannot also receive a similar (really darn similar, though perhaps still different in some way, too) gift. Why can the Spirit not be given to both Elect Ed and Reprobate Robert? Why can't it effect a change on both of them which can be called a 'new heart'?

"I can affirm, at the level of creaturely contingencies, that it is possible for me to finish my grading. It is *not* possible, even on that level, for a man to believe, to persevere, to produce fruit -- unless changed by the Spirit. 'Without me, you can do nothing.'"

No, but once you have received a new nature by the empowering of the Spirit...or, if we prefer, once you have the Spirit's nature at work within you, then it is possible, at the level of 'natural' contingencies, for you to persevere. If the Spirit wrestles with you for your entire life, then you will persevere.

My comments interspersed below in bold:

"So how monergism requires S1 as follows:

* We are by nature unable to produce fruit. Yes
* God therefore intervenes and gives new life and the Holy Spirit to those whom He wishes to save.Yes, but not necessarily only to those.
* The Holy Spirit is provided as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance; further, Jesus promises to lose none of those who belong to Him."Deposit" language can be used for things that don't end up happening. Just a few months ago I had a guy who had to forfeit his 'earnest' money to us on our house b/c he backed out of the contract. Certainly Jesus will lose none of those who belong to Him, though. If you are elect, then Jesus holds on you. If you are not elect, then you do not 'belong to Chirst' in the same way.
* If anyone is lost, it cannot be on account of God's unwilligness to make good His deposit. I'm not sure about this. I wouldn't call it God 'not making good.' God never had any intention of preserving that person to the end. Either the 'deposit' was different for that person than for the elect, or (probably a more natural way of speaking) the deposit is contingent upon remaining faithful. Deposit/earnest are legal/covenantal concepts, and the covenant can have terms. There is no need to insist that the 'deposit' in Eph. 1 refers to an unbreakable contract.
* Thus, it must be on account of that person's own ability to walk away from God.No need to belabor the point, but clearly this conclusion doesn't follow if I have successfully rebuffed the previous points.

Which is a denial of monergism; specifically, it denies that definitive sanctification occurs when one is born again. It makes salvation a combination of the work of God and the work of man.
"

I'm not sure how you are using 'definitive sanctification' here. But I still don't see how denying S1 makes salvation a synergistic affair (a combination of the work of God and the work of man). Nothing happens without God working it to happen, and to Him alone goes all the glory for what happens. It is He that works within us, etc. Perseverance happens because the gift of God (faith) remains (by God's Spirit-wrought work). The creature is not 'contributing' anything to this in any sense that would violate monergism.

Enough for now...

Travis said...

Rather,
I should think you would want to shoot me! Thanks for the perseverance! Oh!

Jeff Cagle said...

Hi Xon,

Thanks for the comments. I want to ask a couple of clarifying questions before giving a full response here. This has been very good for me; I'm having to re-look at the Scriptures and think hard about the warning passages and such.

First question, regarding assurance:

What provides you with some level of confidence, if any, that you are decretally saved? Travis, for example, seems to extravagantly deny that there can be any confidence whatsoever. Is that an FV distinctive, or are you pulling my leg, Travis?

So far, from what I've read, I would draw this distinction:

Under the standard Calvinist model, one's past experiences of God's grace provide cumulative evidence of having been brought into saving union with Christ; all who genuinely are brought into saving union *will* be saved; hence, past experiences provide cumulative evidence of assurance concerning the future.

Under the FV model, past experiences of God's grace flow from being covenantally elect. But there is no guarantee that one who is covenantally elect is also decretally elect; hence, while there is great assurance *at this moment* of being saved (since one is within the church and being faithful in all senses of the word), there is no assurance concerning the future.

Is that a fair read, and if not, whence not?

Second question:

As we know, conditional language is tricky stuff. There are conditionals that express causation:

If someone drops this ball, it will fall.

We might call those "causative", or "inductive", conditionals.

Then there are conditionals that express logical reasoning backwards from effects:

Someone must have dropped the ball if it is falling.

We might call these "effectual" or "deductive" conditionals.

And perhaps in-between, we might identify quasi-causative or ... I can't find the right word .. a "condition that must be met prior to the result being achieved": as in,

You must have a badge to enter the building.

Let's call these quasi-causative conditionals, unless you know a better word.

It appears to be the case that the standard Calvinist model wants to read all of the warnings as effectual:

But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel... -- Col. 1.22-23

means

Continuing in the faith is the result (or the proof) of the fact that you have been reconciled and will be presented holy.

Whereas the FV wants to read some or all of these warnings as causative or quasi-causative; i.e., the above

means

Continuing in the faith is the precondition upon which you will be presented holy and blameless.

Is that a fair assessment?

Thanks,
Jeff Cagle

Travis said...

Jeff,

Here is the hard copy.

http://postdeclarolux.wordpress.com/audio/

Jeff Cagle said...

Ah, finally. Thanks, Travis. Do you want reactions, feedback, critical analysis, ... ?

I'm happy to have it just be for my own edification.

Jeff C

P.S. Did your son really have a seizure?

Travis said...

Good, I'm so happy it worked. Yes, he did. I was very disturbing. Come to think of it, mebbe that's why he's so looooopy now. LOL! Really, he's the next Jim Carrey or whomever, he's wildly ADDx10!
Yes, any and all feedback would be greatly beneficial. Thanks again for your contribution to the FV arena.

Xon said...

"What provides you with some level of confidence, if any, that you are decretally saved? Travis, for example, seems to extravagantly deny that there can be any confidence whatsoever. Is that an FV distinctive, or are you pulling my leg, Travis?"

No, I think if anything the FV distinctive is just the opposite: FV emphasizes assurance, and approaches it in a way that actually can provide certain vexed souls with an assurance that might not be available on more 'Puritanical' models. This was, I think, one of the things that shined forth in the original 2002 AAPC, and it is also something that Leithart has written some good stuff about. (I'll try to track down a blog post of his from a few years ago in which he sends up a hypothetical dialogue between a vexed conscience and a pastor.)

First of all, I agree with the Westsminster Standards that it is possible to know that you are decretally saved. Such assurance is not of the essence of faith, such that you have to have it or you ain't saved, but it is something that is possible.

But, as we all know, the Calvinist tradition--particularly its Puritain strain--has been plagued by this issue. Possible or not, the fact is that a lot of people in Calvinist churches have not had assurance that they were decretally saved. And our Calvinistic systematics contributes to this a lot of times, with the way we divide the 'visible' from teh 'invisible' church or the mere profession of faith from genuinely having faith. I don't deny those distinctions, but many Calvinist sorts have really presented this in a way that is understandably vexing.

Preachers will say things like "all of these promises are for you, if you are elect." The all-or-nothing way we think of the ordo salutis makes it almost impossible for a vexed person to find any comfort, b/c he has nothing to 'hang his hat on' that proves that God really does love Him or that God really has done a mighty work upon him. Instead, he just knows that IF God has begun a good work, then he can rest assured that God will complete it. But, on the other hand, it might be that God has not begun a good work at all. And turning to his own experiences of grace won't necessarily help here (again, we're talking about a certain kind of person who struggles with this; I don't deny that other folks have Westminster-style assurance). After all, how does he really know that any of the seemingly good things about his relatoinship with God are genuine? The heart is deceitful and wicked above all things, and so it could be that he is just a self-deceived reprobate. He thinks he has real saving faith, but does he really?

I think some people don't have any problem with this, and some people do.

If the Spirit gives 'internal' assurance that you are decretally elect, then that's fine and dandy. But what if He doesn't? This is where the 'objectivity of the covenant' can be very helpful. The fact that you have been baptized and that you have been a member of the church in goos standing gives you 'something to hang your hat on.' You know that God has come closer to you than He does to rank unbelievers, that God has genuinely blessed you and made you promises that you are His. These are not just hypothetical assurances, for the elect-whowever-they-are. These are 'objectively' true of you b/c God has promised to be present in your baptism and in the preaching of the Word and the weekly (right? right?!) administration of the Supper. When God promises to be present with us, we should believe Him that He really is present.

When a person comes to their pastor and asks how they can know that they are decretally saved, the pastor can tell them that they have been baptized and that God has called them out to be His people. He has promised to save them to the uttermost, and to deliver them from all terrors temporal or eternal.

"But what if I'm not decretally elect? Then all of these promises and temporal blessings just end up becoming curses for me, right?"

"Yes, Vinnie Vexed, but think about what that means. I just told you that God has made you real genuine promises and has given you real blessings through your membership in the covenant community. These are things that you are commanded to believe in. If you do believe in them, then that's faith, and faith is the instrument by which you are saved to the uttermost.

"So, Vinnie, when you ask me 'How do I know I am decretally elect'? on the one hand that's a quesiton I can't answer for you b/c your focus is on the wrong thing. It's not about how we somehow KNOW that we are decretally saved. It's about looking to Christ in faith. The way to know that you are decretally saved is to believe in God's promises. And you do believe those promises, don't you?"

"Well, I think I do, but how do I know if I REALLY do?"

"That's the wrong question. The question is why would you think that you don't REALLY have faith in God's promises? I mean, are you living some scandalous life of sin that I don't know about?"

"No."

"Well, have you been reading a lot of Arian or Mormon theology lately and feeling swayed by it? Do you no longer believe that God exists or something like that?"

"No."

"Well then, are you telling me that you don't think God will do what He says He will do for you?"

"Well, no, of course I believe that God can do what He says He can do."

"Okay, well then what you have just told me is that you have faith in God's promises, and faith is the means by which we are justified, but yet you are still worried that you are not decretally elect?"

"Well, no, okay. But I guess what I am worried about is that I have no guarantee that my faith will last. I mean, there is a temporary faith that some people have, right? How do I know that I'm not one of those?"

"So you are worried that one day you are going to stop trusting in God's promises?"

"Yes, I guess that's what I'm worried about."

"But why are you worried about that? Do you plan on not trusting God in any more?"

"NO, that would be pretty stupid."

"Right. But then what are you worried about? Look, God has said that you are His through baptism and through membership in His covenant people, and that He will be your God forever, and that He will save you to the uttermost. If you believe him, then that's as good as it gets."

That was a bit rambly, but here are the two options in a quick gloss.

"Puritan" Calvinism:

You're either elect or you're not, and so you've either experienced a union with Christ that will last forever or you have never experienced a union with Christ. Unless the Spirit blesses with you 'internal' assurance, that's pretty much it.

"FV":

If you've been baptized and admitted into the covenant community, then you really HAVE been united to Christ in some sense. Now, whether or not you are saved to the uttermost is another question, but the 'way' to be saved to the uttermost is by believing that the promises made when God united you to Christ through baptism are really true. Believe in God, that He meant what He said when He was present in your baptism and in your life in the church. This is the only way to real assurance, as Calvin said, for Christ is the mirror of our election. It is only we look at Him that we truly find assurance.

Sorry, to go on so long, but it's an important question, and I wanted to answer it fairly thoroughly.

Jeff Cagle said...

Tell me what you think about this as a third option.

---
I knew a man who prayed to receive Christ at 11. He was baptized; and then in his teen years "rededicated his life to Christ" three times.

In college, he began to read the Scriptures entire books at a time, and the Sermon on the Mount caused him to doubt his salvation. "If purity of heart is required to see God", he thought, "then I've never been a Christian at all." He came to suspect that he was instead a Pharisee who snuck in under the tent flap into the church. He was miles away from any contact with "Sonship theology"; the "Pharisee" term was not jargon, but a real, if naive, comparison between himself and them.

College life didn't help the state of that man's soul; he had, and lost, and treated badly, a girlfriend.

In the aftermath of the breakup, he found himself in a small Texas town with little to do except care for his grandparents, play guitar, and read the Scriptures. And so he read -- the Old Testament.

He discovered for the first time the God who is the wounded lover in Hosea. He felt chills up his spine when he read Job late at night. He felt the sting of the rebukes of Amos.

And one night, when reading Zechariah 3 about Joshua and Satan accusing him, he thought, "That's me."

In short, he discovered God as a person. And he came to this conclusion: "When I look at myself, I cannot possibly believe that God loves me. But when I look at the cross, I cannot possibly doubt it."

After college, he moved to his first (and only) job and fell in with Presbyterians, those "liberals" who "don't really believe the Bible because they baptize babies."

Shockingly, his Presbyterian friends knew and thought about and earnestly obeyed the Scriptures at least as well as his dispensational and Baptist friends.

And so eventually, after reading Galatians 3 a little more closely and after deciding that the Bible really does present itself as a covenantal story, he became a Presbyterian.

But what about election? What of the nagging thought that he was a Pharisee in the corner of the tent?

"What of it", he decided. Jesus can save Pharisees, too. And so he pegged his assurance on this: "If any man comes to me, I will in no way cast him out." He picked up his chin and declared to his soul, "And if I've never "truly" come before, then I believe today. And tomorrow. And if my faith flags, I look back to the promises offered to me in my baptism and know that they are still true."
---

Now it seems to me that this way of thinking about assurance shares *much* with the Federal Vision version of assurance. The emphasis on the good-faith offer of the gospel; the focus on the promises of Christ -- these are real points of contact that I would want to affirm whole-heartedly.

But the whole part about the covenant community seems like a real, and possibly problematic, red herring to me. So what (from an assurance perspective) if you are a part of the covenant community! That doesn't give you one iota of confidence that you are decretally elect in addition to your covenantal election. Remember the Pharisees.

One way to put the problem is like this: the FV has had to work so hard at raising a wall between covenantal election and decretal election that, unless there can be "election leakage" across the two types, the possession of one gives no assurance at all of the other.

And further, drawing our attention to the covenant community has the possible problematic feature of drawing our attention away from Christ directly.

This certainly happened with the RCC and EO churches. As you may know, the whole sacramental system, especially of indulgences, originally arose from a pastoral attempt to help provide assurance.

The early church from at least 2nd century on taught that on commission of a mortal sin, one was damned; penance could be provided, ONCE, as a "plank in the shipwreck of faith." This system led to a large amount of despair.

The sacramental system essentially arose as a way to ameliorate the plight of penitent wayward souls. And the result was that the church stole the show from Christ himself. R.W. Southern documents the process as a kind of "inflation"; he even shows graphs that illustrate the exponential growth of indulgence-granting.

I see the same impulse at work, in incipient form, in the FV emphasis on covenant objectivity. The pastoral goal is assurance. The slippery slope is over-realized ecclesiology, an creeping belief that the Church is the real show.

Far better, I think, (and far more historically Reformed and Scriptural) to emphasize the promises of Christ to us as the true basis for our assurance, and not try to entangle them with our participation in the covenant community.

Thoughts?

JRC

Xon said...

My thoughts, in a nutshell, is that what you describe fits much more closely to the 'FV' model than to the more common 'TR' model. But the truth is that this is all just vague characterization on my part, and these issues are complicated enough that I'm sure there are many pastors on all sides who take very different approaches to the question of assurance. So I am not trying to claim some monopoly on assurance for FV. But, speaking from my own experience, it was reading FV stuff that got me to think about assurance more in the way that matches your 'friend' than I had before. So when I hear people wonder whether FV provides assurance, I slap my forehead a little.

"But the whole part about the covenant community seems like a real, and possibly problematic, red herring to me. So what (from an assurance perspective) if you are a part of the covenant community! That doesn't give you one iota of confidence that you are decretally elect in addition to your covenantal election. Remember the Pharisees."

Well, sure, there are lots of different types of struggles with assurance. No one way of approaching the issue will work for every person. Some people will continue to worry even when told that God has shown them genuine grace in the covenant. They will worry that "So what? Where is my guarantee that I will also receive the fuller grace of eternal salvation?" But even here I think the FV response is close to your own very moving description: "What of it", he decided. Jesus can save Pharisees, too. And so he pegged his assurance on this: "If any man comes to me, I will in no way cast him out." He picked up his chin and declared to his soul, "And if I've never "truly" come before, then I believe today. And tomorrow. And if my faith flags, I look back to the promises offered to me in my baptism and know that they are still true."

Notice how you yourself referenced baptism there. So it isn't a red-herring at all. It is a real, tangible moment in history where you can KNOW that God really did make promises to you. If that still isn't enough to assure you, then there's another problem that needs to be addressed and I don't think any particular theological approach has a magic answer to that.

Again, a real tangible moment in history where God really did make promises to YOU. The more common 'TR' view does not have this. You can never KNOW that there was any such moment, since if you are not elect then there is no such moment. God's promises and blessings are for the elect, and the non-elect get nothing except perhaps self-deception that they belong when really they don't. Oh, the wonderful assurances God offers to His elect...if you are elect....which you might not be...

Jeff Cagle said...

The more common 'TR' view does not have this. You can never KNOW that there was any such moment, since if you are not elect then there is no such moment. God's promises and blessings are for the elect, and the non-elect get nothing except perhaps self-deception that they belong when really they don't. Oh, the wonderful assurances God offers to His elect...if you are elect....which you might not be...

Wow. My only contact with this view is (a) the Primitive Baptists that I mentioned in connection with my mom, (b) The Trinity Review, and (c) historical figures like Hermann Hoeksema.

Outside that, I've never heard such taught.

But then again, Maryland is not exactly the buckle on the PCA belt. My pastor is far more Calvinistic than TR, as are most in my Presbytery I think.

I mentioned the baptism on purpose, partly because of the Calvin connection, and partly because I to communicate that the visible church *is* important; the sacraments *are* a means of grace. I just think there's other ways of cutting that cake than the FV way.

Jeff Cagle

Jeff Cagle said...

^^^ Wasn't a great response because of vagueness.

Here's what I meant to say:

* I was trying to offer up a third approach to assurance whose primary component is the promises of Christ as offered in John 6 and preached by the Word and the Sacraments. We might call this the "Free offer approach" (I would prefer the "John 6 approach", but that title might be a bit snooty).

Clearly, the Free Offer approach is different from the Hoeksema approach in that it draws attention away from the "internal witness" of election, which is notoriously unreliable.

But also, the Free Offer approach is different from the FV approach in that it draws attention away from the "covenant assurance" and onto the promises of Christ.

This is important for two reasons. First, in the FV approach, the focus is so "covenantally centered" that folk sitting in the pews who need to be told, Repent and believe the gospel, might not hear the message. We could call that a "revivalist allergy."

More importantly, the FV approach places so much emphasis on baptism as the instrument of cleansing that Rich Lusk makes the claim that the real purpose of preaching in evangelism is to get people to the baptismal font.

That's a clear over-emphasis and change of meaning in the sacraments.

So we might sum up the distinctives of the Free Offer approach in this way:

(1) Objectively based on the promises of Christ instead of subjective feelings, and
(2) Emphasis placed on the Word, with the sacraments as one means (along with preaching, the fellowship of the church, etc.) by which the promise is articulated.

Hopefully, that is clearer.

Jeff Cagle

Xon said...

I did oversimplify there. Most "TR" opponents of FV are not Hoeksema followers. But then again, politics makes strange bedfellows. To hear a lot of TR folks talk in the heat of the debate, they DO sound like they are taking a hyper-Calvinist position. I don't think they mean to, but their zeal to cast out FV causes them to embrace unfortunate things to make their difference with FV more stark.

It has been said multiple times on the blogs and elsewhere that FV errs b/c it makes baptism "a source of assurance." The very idea that baptism can be in any way a source of assurance is suddenly problemtaic?

Your position as articulated here is much more sensible, and frankly I'm not sure how much we have to disagree on. At this point it feels like a difference in emphasis to me more than anything. Which is fine.