Review: Vos, Redemptive History

Vos, Geerhardus.  Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation.  P&R, 1980.

While a collection of individual essays, in many ways this is a coherent whole of Vos’s larger theology.  We can review the material around several themes: biblical theology, covenant, and eschatology.  While the prose is dense, and Vos does spend quite a bit of time dealing with dead Germans, there are numerous insights of biblical wisdom.

Biblical theology

The first feature of supernatural revelation is its historical progress (7).  God doesn’t communicate the calm light of eternity all at once. God’s self-revelation proceeds in a sequence of words and acts. “By imparting elements of knowledge in a divinely arranged sequence God has pointed out to us the way in which we might gradually grasp and know Him” (7). Revelation is interwoven and conditioned at every point by the redeeming activity of

Eschatology

The two ages are increasingly recognized as answering to two spheres of being which coexist from of old, so that the coming of the new age assumes the character of a revelation and extension of the supernal order of things (28). Contrary to Platonism, where there is an ideal first and a physical (and probably inferior) copy later, Paul’s resurrection thought places the pneumatikon last, not first.

Covenant

His essay on the Covenant in Reformed Theology is worth the price of the book. The covenant idea dominates the work of redemption.  Is this the equivalent of positing a central dogma?  Maybe, but so what if it is?  The question is whether it is correct or not. The work of salvation corresponds to the unfolding of the covenant and proceeds in a covenantal way. The CoR is the pattern for the CoG. Covenantal relation unfolds as the essence of the riches of the ordo. Image of God in man: for the Reformed image is not identified with the moral qualities of the soul.

Nota Bene

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is Vos’s exegesis of Romans 1:3-4, which overturns older manuals.  Vos argues this can’t refer to two existing states in the constitution of the Messiah, but rather to two eschatological modes (104). The two prepositional phrases have adverbial force: they describe the mode of the process. The resurrection is a new status of Sonship.

Problem with the older view: it has to restrict σαρξ to the body, because Spirit is already psychologically conceived and thus takes the place of the immaterial element.  Yet, this is the Apollinarian heresy. Secondly, it is compelled to take the κατα clauses in two different senses.

Conclusion:

Like all of Vos’s work, this is difficult, but it repays careful reading.

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So that was fun

A friend of mine shared my previous blog post on several facebook groups.  Most thought it was entertaining, but it did irritate several groups of people–the very groups in that blog post. A few of my old seminary friends saw it and verified everything I said, and then some.  RTS Jackson was a few years from shutting down.

Others who went there said the Southern Presbyterian element wasn’t as strong as I made it out to be.  Maybe.  Certainly, the racial element was gone, thankfully.  At the same time a lot of professors had left, so there’s that.  But then again maybe the Southern Presbyterian element wasn’t strong simply because it is not a theologically strong school.  They say they want to train pastor-theologians.  That’s a stretch.  Most of the classes are surface-level.  You simply can’t spend a long time on a theologian or a section of theology. They are more interested in churning out preacher-boys.

Someone said I was bitter.  I’m not. I mean, I was from 2007-2011 but not anymore.  I bring it up so that others don’t end up going there and wasting time and money.

One FV “Dark” guy (think old biblical horizons list) saw the post and said it was a waste of time.  There is a streak in some federal vision theology that has a “if ya ain’t with us, yer gin us!”  But that’s a small streak.

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FV, Shepherd, and where the bodies are buried

I’ve put off doing an autobiographical post on my relationship to the Federal Vision for quite a while.  Maybe for several reasons.  Too much blood still on the floor. RTS never distinguished between those who were mentally Baptists (e.g., RTS) and Covenantal, thus making everyone who wasn’t a Southern Presbyterian a Federal Visionist.

I’ll go ahead and put my cards on the table. I don’t consider myself Federal Vision for reasons that will be apparent. I like what Norm Shepherd says on Covenant and Election.  I consider myself a Schilderite.

But this post isn’t just bashing RTS, as fun and necessary as that is.  I’ve forgiven them.  They stole money from me but it was for the best.  But RTS did represent a certain moment in American Presbyterianism that does need to be addressed.

There isn’t a strict logic to this post, but it will follow some general order.  I didn’t write it all at once since I have a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome. A note of interpretation: when I write “FV” in negative connotations, I mean certain young bloggers.  The older FV generation, the “conference speakers,” so to speak, have been the soul of kindness to me.

Federal Vision, the Good and the Bad

What is the Federal Vision?  I don’t really know. Few do, actually.  Proponents say there isn’t one view.  Critics are impatient with that answer because it seems like FV is evading the issue.  But there isn’t one view. Doug Wilson has nominally rejected the label.  For years Jordan and Leithart were polar opposite from Wilson.  No one has heard of Steve Schlissel in a decade.  It doesn’t make sense to speak of a monolithic FV view.

Let’s take the book Federal Vision.  Look at the essays.  Barach’s essay is Schilder 101.  I have some questions about it but there is nothing “new” to it. Simple, post-Kuyper Dutch theology.  Horne and Lusk rightly (which even critics acknowledge) point to the Baptist nature of the American experience.  Jordan’s essay is controversial.  I grant that.

My Seminary Experience

I was a postmillennial theonomist when I went to seminary.  Yeah, you can see what RTS would have thought about that. To be fair, most of the profs in person were great guys.  Most people actually are decent people in real life.  Really, it wasn’t the profs themselves who were the problem.  It was the adjunct people they got to teach classes. They were usually local pastors.

On the kindest analysis, they were simply incompetent.  Realistically, some were mentally unhinged.  It’s not simply, “Oh, you’re a theonomist, then you are wrong.”  Rather, it was, “Oh, so you don’t fall into my interpretation of a unique slice of Presbyterian taxonomy, then you deny justification by faith alone.”

But enough bashing RTS.  I was involved with several FV guys (who no longer wear the label).  They really wanted me to become Federal Vision.  I didn’t.  I was under the authority of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at the time and I didn’t have any business joining unique movements.  Did I like some of the FV thoughts?  Sure, but I challenged the FV  to show me what ecclesiastical obligation from the OPC that  I had to join FV.

In any case, I was probably more influenced by Norman Shepherd. I was new to covenant theology and NS’s views really made a lot of sense. Further, the OPC dealt more with Shepherd than FV.

But as irritating as some FV  were, the Southern Presbyterians weren’t making it any easier.  I got points taken off in Covenant Theology because I quoted Peter Lillback’s The Binding of God. If you affirmed conditions in the Covenant of Grace, or affirmed other than a strict works principle in the Covenant of Works, watch out.

I remember that Herman Bavinck’s volume 3 of Reformed Dogmatics came out during our week long Christology class (yes, only a week long.  That’s how important knowing about Jesus is.  That’s why Eastern Orthodox eat our lunch on Christology discussions).  I went up to the adjunct, the aforementioned mentally unhinged prof, and said, “Isn’t it great that Bavinck’s volume on Christology came out?”  He gave me an “Are you kidding?” look?  I wonder if he even heard of Bavinck.

It’s not hard to see that FV and American Reformed world would end up with a messy divorce. I don’t think FV always alleviated their critics’ concerns about regeneration.  But even more problematic, there was a strong Baptistic mentality in the Jackson area.  This was about the same time that Reformed Baptists were gaining a presence in American life.  The Gospel Coalition was just hitting the stage.  Mohler was the intellectual voice of conservative Christians.  Therefore, it made more sense to move on that wavelength than to ask how “covenant and liturgy” were related.

I guess it’s good I left RTS when I did.  I never dealt with the Gospel Coalition until I came out of the EO orbit in 2012.  And further, from what I’ve gathered, there are some Critical Race adherents working for RTS now.

Conclusion

One thing the Federal Vision did was make clear the latent division lines in the Reformed world. From the RTS perspective, only a certain amalgam of Scottish and Southern Presbyterian thought counts as acceptable Reformed theology.  Bavinck might get grandfathered in, but he is so close to Kuyper, and Kuyper is basically the evils of theonomy that you are better off not associating with Bavinck.

Van Til was another problem. RTS didn’t like him but they knew it was not wise to anger the OPC (and thus lose precious tuition money–their finances were in a bad shape for a few years). As long as you didn’t actually “do” anything with Van Til, you were okay.

In a weird way, it kind of reflects the Clarkian taxonomy of American Presbyterian life.  The OPC, for them, was bad because it had “Dutch” elements.

I’m not angry with RTS anymore.  They meant it for evil (that is, their stealing $30,000 from me not counting tuition) but God meant it for good.  My only real beef with FV is with certain proponents who have more or less faded from view.  There is a post by a former FV guy that (accurately) says where FV, at least the younger disciples, are weak at.  The older guys–the original four or five–know the source material better than most.  I am going to tag onto what he said and add my own thoughts.

  • FV guys really don’t know the post-Calvin sources that well.  Well, neither does the average Reformed guy.  Really, who does?  This stuff is only now being translated into English.
  • FV claims catholicity but isn’t really in line with the larger Reformed world.  Maybe.  I am not in the CREC nor am I in NAPARC, so I can’t say.
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Review: Berkouwer, the Work of Christ

Berkouwer follows the movement of the Apostle’s Creed in showing forth the work (economy) of Christ. Berkouwer wants to maintain the unity of the Person and Work of Christ, so he sees the Incarnation as contingent upon man’s fall.

Message of the incarnation:  not the elevatio of human nature but its deliverance and restoration by him whom the father had sent (29).

Christ’s Office

Pivotal point:  Christ’s name, Anointed One, is in analogy with the office-bearers of the Old Testament (62). Contra Rome, there is no need to mediate the munus triplex to us, since Christ doesn’t need a mediator (78).  Christ is fully present in all of his work, so there is no need for a vicarious representative (79). The Mass:  the sacerdotal office replaces the munus triplex. Lost is the historical progression in Christ’s work from humiliation to exaltation.  And for the kingly office, while Rome says Christ is head of the nations, he isn’t really king in his church (85).

Half of the book was a remarkable analysis of key Dutch Reformed positions in the modern age.  The chapters on the Offices of Christ and the Sessio are outstanding.   The other chapters on reconciliation are good, but nothing unique about that.

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Notes on Schilder’s Christ and Culture

by Klaas Schilder, 1890-1952.

Translation of Christus en Cultuur

ISBN 0-88756-008-3

The numbers represent the sections in the book.

(2) The Christian must engage culture because we are prophet, priest, king. It is our task.

(3a) Part of our difficulty is that we deal in abstractions when we speak of “church and culture.”  The cultural ideal cannot be a master key that opens any door we want.

(3c) Whenever we come up with programs like “Christ and x” or “Christ and y,” we almost always devalue both.

(3e) What is culture? Must we go to the world’s culture-philosophers for a definition?

(4) Schilder indirectly critiques Kuyper here.  He notes those who want to promote Christ in “all areas of life.”  He argues that it is a big leap from “law of nature” (the direction of a certain sphere) to the specific sovereign in that sphere.

(6a) Part of the difficulty in “Christianity and culture” is that “Christianity” is an abstraction.

(7) Schilder’s reading of Revelation posits a struggle between the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the serpent.

(8) Jesus is not a “concept” for culture.  He cannot be abstracted from his work and atonement.  We cannot isolate “Jesus” from “Christ.”

(9) The church has often abstracted the four gospels from the larger narrative.

(10) Jesus didn’t give us anything about a theory of the arts.

(11) We gain knowledge of our cultural task from the office of Christ.

(12) Not everything Christ does is meant to be imitated.  His office is his office alone.  We must first see the justice flowing from Christ’s office before we see it imitated in the marketplace.

(13) A Two Adam Christology can help us here.  The first Adam’s task involved the creative unity of cultural work.  Christ, as Second Adam, takes up the first Adam’s office.

(14) thousand years: the dominion of peace in which Christ equips his office-bearers.

Schilder: As the Logos-Mediator-Surety He is the hypostasis, the solid foundation, the original ground, the fulfiller, redeemer, and renewer of culture—a cultural sign which shall therefore be spoken against.

Translation: the debate between Christ and Culture can only happen on Christ’s terms.

(15b)  Covenant: God’s speaking to Adam was of mutual relation of promise and demand. The Second Adam recapitulates the dominion order of the First Adam.

(16) Covenant and Culture: man’s covenantal role is to cultivate the earth.  The world God made must unfold.

(18) Common grace:  it is true that sin is being restrained.  But by similar logic the fullness of Christ’s eschaton is not fully experienced.  Apparently, it is restrained.  If the first restraining is “grace,” then we must–if one is consistent–call the restraining of the blessing “judgment.”

Schilder then advances the argument that “development” and “corruption” belong to nature, not grace.  They are temporal.  And if it is nature, it can’t be grace.  Hence, it can’t be “common grace.”

NB: Schilder comes very close to a nature-grace dialectic.

Key argument: There is indeed “common” grace in culture (grace for more than one person). But there is no universal (or general) grace for all men. Therefore Abraham Kuyper’s construction was wrong. There is indeed also a “common” curse in cultural life (a curse shared by more than one person). But there is no universal (or general) curse. “Common” can sometimes be the same as universal, but it is not necessarily always so. Something can be common to all people, but it can also be common to more than one person, not to all. In the present scheme “common” is intended to mean: shared by many, not by all people. There is a common (not: universal) grace in culture, as far as the redeeming work of Christ is shared by all those who are His—which grace has an effect upon their cultural achievements.

Bottom line:  common grace is common to the elect, not to all.  They share the common grace in culture.

(19) Yet Christ’s person, in taking upon humanity, is connected with culture. There is grace, but it is not a lowest-common denominator common grace.  These gifts are eschatologically tied to Christ’s purpose.

(20) God is holding back both the full manifestation of Satan and the full manifestation of a godly culture.

(21) On Antichrist:  real, future figure.

(24) Conclusion: To establish koinonia in the sunousia, as members of the mystical union of Jesus Christ, that is Christian culture.

(25) “First of all, we must emphasize that, since there is a cultural mandate that existed even prior to sin, abstention from cultural labour is always sin.”

(26) Common grace revisited: our cultural mandate is common command, common calling, not common grace.

(27) Nature, too, has a history.  Christ is guiding that history.  By implication, he is King of the World.

(28) Some conclusions: One’s awareness of his office will always urge him to turn to the revelation of God’s Word, in order to learn again what the norms are.

 

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Review: Berkouwer’s Half Century Theology

This is partly GC Berkouwer’s theological autobiography.  Rather than giving an analytical review, I’ll post my observations:

  1. The book is heavily influenced by Bavinck.  This is significant.  Bavinck’s stature had a kind of stabilizing influence among those otherwise influenced by Barth.
  2. The second chapter apologetics has some helpful reflections on Dooyeweerd.
  3. Harnack was irritated with Barth that he read guys like Cocceius.
  4. The best chapter was on election (Heart of the Church).  Here we seen Berkouwer moving away from traditional Reformed thought. He wanted to avoid positing any kind of “behind the back” of God. God’s actions are not in a dark hinterland, but are revealed in Christ.
  5. Vollenhoven rejected an impersonal human nature (anhypostasia).  An impersonal human nature is not a complete human nature.  Otherwise, it is an instrument of the Logos.

This really isn’t an inspiring read.  20th century theology, especially in its critical manifestations, is one colossal failure of nerve.  The only bright spots–in this volume anyway–are the Dutch Neo-Calvinists.  And Oscar Cullmann.

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Bahnsen on Shepherd on Justification

This is from his tape set on Calvin’s Institutes.  I think it is tape GB449b.

“I think [this] is rather convoluted. Let me very briefly point out, some people will say James can’t mean the word justify in a forensic sense, because then he would contradict Paul. Paul says we are justified by faith, not works. James says we are justified by works. So if they both mean ‘justify’ in the forensic sense, there is a contradiction. Well, I don’t think so, because in Galatians 5:6 Paul teaches exactly what James does. Paul says we are justified by faith working by love. We are justified by working, active, living faith. I think that’s what James is teaching. They mean exactly the same thing. But nevertheless some people have insisted-and this has been a bone of controversy in my denomination even, because a professor at Westminster Seminary insisted James means this in the forensic sense. Now. people who don’t like that say, It is to be taken in the demonstrative sense.

The problem is, the demonstrative sense of the word justify means “to show someone to be righteous,” and that doesn’t relieve the contradiction between James and Paul, because Paul in Romans 4 looks at Abraham as an example of how God justifies the ungodly. James is saying, Look at how God justifies someone demonstrated as godly. The contradiction is not relieved. And so what you really get–and this is crucial, this is a crucial point–modern interpreters who don’t like what I am suggesting and what Professor Shepherd is suggesting end up saying that to justify in James 2 really means “to demonstrate justification,” not to “demonstrate righteousness.” That is, they make the word to justify mean “to justify the fact that I’m justified.” And the word never means that. That’s utterly contrived. It means either “to declare righteous” or “to demonstrate righteous.” It does not mean “to justify that one’s justified.” Am I making myself clear? I’m suggesting that the reason Paul and James are not contrary to one another is because the only kind of faith that will justify us is working faith, and the only kind of justification ever presented in the Bible after the Fall is a justification by working faith, a faith that receives its merit from God and proceeds to work as a regenerated, new person.

I think, as David Bahnsen makes clear, Greg was a defender of Norman Shepherd.  The Morecraft-types simply can’t get around that.   From Greg’s other writings and debate with Catholics, he held to the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, something Shepherd was more reluctant to do. I lean towards Bahnsen.  I agree with Shepherd on covenant and election.  Still working my head around his thoughts on justification.

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