Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Temporary Justification II -- Election and Dort

Previous Parts: Part I

So far, I've argued that the FV notion of "Temporary Justification" is in real (not apparent) conflict with the Canons of Dort, Article I.

With Xon's help, this thesis has been shaped a bit (see below). Now, the second piece of the argument will be advanced:

That TJ is Contrary to the Second Canon of Dort

Update on where we are:

(1) It appears that TJ needs to be modified as follows:

TJ: Some people acquire the verdict of 'forgiven' that they then lose.

click for Xon's comments

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.

(2) One way of sharpening the FV position is that the Elect Covenant Members and the Non-Elect Covenant Members have the same experiences on the "front end" of salvation. The difference is that God, at some point, withdraws His hand from the NECM, resulting in a falling away. In this way, the FV continues to affirm monergism while at the same time allowing that (covenantal) salvation can be lost.

click for Xon's comments

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.)

(3) At this point, JRC has made the audacious claim that this point surrenders monergism. Clearly, JRC's definition of monergism is different from XH's!

(4) And now, XH has also offered the hypothesis that "All blessings, special or common, come from Christ" -- specifically (apparently) from His death on the cross.

click for Xon's comments

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.)

So this leads us to the Second Canon of Dort. First, it is important to note that Dort sees Jesus' death operating to save the elect both from eternal punishment and temporal:
God is not only supremely merciful, but also supremely just. His justice requires (as he has revealed himself in the Word) that the sins we have committed against his infinite majesty be punished with both temporal and eternal punishments, of soul as well as body. We cannot escape these punishments unless satisfaction is given to God's justice. -- Article 1: The Punishment Which God's Justice Requires

Since, however, we ourselves cannot give this satisfaction or deliver ourselves from God's anger, God in his boundless mercy has given us as a guarantee his only begotten Son, who was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might give satisfaction for us. -- Article 2: The Satisfaction Made by Christ

Second, we note that Dort republishes the free offer of the Gospel expressed in John 3 and 6:
Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel. -- Article 5: The Mandate to Proclaim the Gospel to All

The picture created by Dort is that all who believe "shall not perish"; that is, they receive a promise from God of eternal (rather than temporary) life. That this promise is intended decretally is confirmed:
But all who genuinely believe and are delivered and saved by Christ's death from their sins and from destruction receive this favor solely from God's grace--which he owes to no one--given to them in Christ from eternity. -- Article 7: Faith God's Gift

And finally, we note the proposition of "limited atonement":
For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son's costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God's will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit's other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death); that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle. -- Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ's Death

Now, the following conclusions can be drawn about the theology of Dort with respect to NECMs:

(1) The "those and only those" language prevents, in the eyes of Dort, attributing "saving faith", "the Holy Spirit's other saving gifts", and "cleansing by his blood" to any but those whom he faithfully preserves to the very end.

(2) We thus see again the Bifurcation Principle of Dort at work: that Dort drives a wedge between the decretally elect and the decretally non-elect, and restricts certain language to be reserved for the elect alone.

(3) This reservation of language is not simply an arbitrary normative rule ("We don't say things like that around here!"), but rather reflects exegetical readings of certain texts.

Specifically, Dort is connecting the language of John 3 and 6, Romans 8, Ephesians 2, and so on to the content of their teaching.

Hence, even if we came up with entirely new terms, such as "Temporary Non-attribution of sins", Dort would still reject an exegesis that found support for such terms in the texts of those passages.

So now, Xon, what of your hypothesis of Universal Death: "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."? This proposition is very reminiscent of "Chuck" Hodge's words:

[Christ's death] is the ground on which salvation is offered to every creature under heaven who hears the gospel; but it gives no authority for a like offer to apostate angels. It moreover secures to the whole race at large, and to all classes of men, innumerable blessings, both providential and religious. It was, of course, designed to produce these effects; and, therefore, He died to secure them. In view of the effects which the death of Christ produces on the relation of all mankind to God, it has in all ages been customary with Augustinians to say that Christ died 'suffcienter proomnibus, efficaciter tantum pro electi—' sufficiently for all, efficaciously only for the elect. There is a sense, therefore, in which He died for all, and there is a sense in which He died for the elect alone.--Charles Hodge, "For Whom Did Christ Die?"

Except that your claim is somewhat stronger: *all* of God's grace flows from Christ. I wonder about this. For example, I've always associated common grace with the "it is good" of the creation.

But no matter; let's take it as it stands. Does it therefore follow that (a) Jesus' death secures a blessing for the NECMs that can reasonably be called justification, and (b) that any passages of Scripture teach this?

That will really have to be taken up in the third post, but for now it suffices to note that the BF perspective of Dort claims certain passages in its support, which would automatically put the Federal Vision at odds if the latter reads those passages in some other way. Foremost in my mind here is Ephesians 1-2, but also the phrase repeated so often in John, "eternal life." So in particular, if Dort reads, say, Romans 8.28ff as affirming the "Golden Chain", but the FV reads it covenantally, then there is a gap between the two systems.

If then enough exegetical decisions "go the other way", then the gap becomes really large, even if the FV might agree with Dort's language wrt the "decretally elect." In the end, after all, the systematic categories are secondary to the Scripture. If Dort and the FV agree on the systematics but disagree on the exegesis, then what real agreement is there?

A related question: the parable of the wheat and the tares suggests that the leniency towards the tares is for the benefit of the wheat, not the tares. This fits with the many OT passages in which Israel's judgment is postponed "for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." It also fits with the notion of final judgment being postponed for the sake of the elect in 2 Peter 3.

Could it be the case that the benefits extending to the NECMs (which I do not wish to deny, thinking of Heb 6) are simply exaggerated versions of common grace rather than lesser versions of special grace?

Finally, an observation. From October 31, 1517 onwards, one of the major thrusts of the Reformation was a repudiation of the notion that one could lose one's salvation (except perhaps in extremis acc. to Luther). The 95 Theses were a revolt against the Indulgences because they preyed upon people's fears of loss of grace, using those fears as a hook to motive compliance with the sacramental system.

Likewise, Arminianism was rejected not so much because of its emphasis on free-will entrance into the kingdom, but because it opened the door to free-will exit from the kingdom (no more than a crack: Remonstrant's Proposition 5). One piece of evidence that this is so is the disproportionate ink spilt on perseverance in Dort, over against the very tentative questioning of perseverance in the propositions of the Remonstrants.

Thus, the perseverance of the (true) saints was seen not simply as an abstract affirmation of decrees -- i.e., all that God wants to maintain, He will maintain -- but rather as a Biblical affirmation of assurance: If you have salvation, you cannot lose it.

The FV accepts this in decretal theory, but in covenantal practice1 it plays up the necessity to persevere rather than the assurance of perseverance.

It is that piece of monergism, the assurance of perseverance, that I believe FV may be abandoning.

In short, the conflict between the FV and Dort 2 is this: Dort 2 appears to restrict the justifying benefit of Christ's death to those who are decretally elect; the FV expands it to (temporarily) include NECMs.



1 I should say, "in rhetoric"; I haven't visited any FV churches. I just feel like I know Christ Church through many issues of Credenda back in the early days before "Federal Vision" was a buzzterm.

1 comment:

Xon said...

Interesting stuff as usual Jeff. Quick thing for now.

"Except that your claim is somewhat stronger: *all* of God's grace flows from Christ. I wonder about this. For example, I've always associated common grace with the "it is good" of the creation."

This is a good point, and I didn't mean to deny it by what I said earlier. I might have overdone it by saying "all". But basically what I am asserting is that all grace post-fall flows from Christ. Post-fall, we are all sinners who deserve no grace from God whatsoever in ourselves. Yet all people receive all kinds of graces anyway...this must be an effect of the cross, right?