Outline John Owen on the Christian Life

Ferguson, Sinclair.  John Owen on the Christian Life.  Banner of Truth.

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The Plan of Salvation

  1. Doctrine of the Covenant
    1. The Covenant of Works. The reward of eternal life succeeds strict justice, since it is in the nature of a promise.  Further, there is a grace of promise, even if the covenant is not itself gracious.
    2. Covenant of grace: the conditions in the covenant of grace devolve on the mediator (JO: 11.210).
    3. Covenant of Redemption:
    4. Covenant of Sinai: sometimes referred to as Old Covenant. Owen is aware of the tensions in saying that all covenants are administrations of the Covenant of Grace.
      1. Under the covenant of grace, yet in some way there were principles of the Covenant of Works (JO: 19:389).
      2. Sinai can’t simply be Covenant of Grace because of the sharp contrasts between “a better covenant.”
  2. Union with Christ: the work of grace–”same instant wherein anyone is united unto Christ, and by the same act whereby he is so united, he is really and habitually purified and sanctified” (JO: 3.517).

    Effectual calling takes place in Christ, is an act of God the Father (JO: 20: 498), and binds the believer by the indwelling of the spirit (JO: 21:147). Effectual calling produces a change in both status (justification) and life (sanctification), yet it does not idenitfy the two.

Grace Reigns through Righteousness

  1. The effects of sin.
  2. Regeneration.
    1. Owen seems to favor “physical” language of regeneration (JO: 4.166; 10. 459; 11: 443, 448; 567). Physical is seen as the antithesis of moral.
    2. Even in effectual calling, the will is not compelled or destroyed. The will is passive in the first act, but in the moment of conversion it acts itself freely (Ferguson 44).
      1. Conversion is “wrought in us by God” (Phil. 2.13).
  3. Structure of sanctification.  The work of grace produces the exercise of duty (Ferguson 55). Owen gives a long definition in JO 3.369-370.
    1. In one sense it is an immediate work on believers, since it flows from regeneration and from our Head, yet it is also a process (56).
    2. The Lord Jesus is the Head from whom all gifts flow, yet the Spirit is the efficient cause who communicates them to us (Ferguson 58).

Fellowship with God

Theme: God communicates himself unto us with our returnal unto him of that which he requireth and accepteth, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him (JO 2.8).

  1. Communion with the Father.
  2. Communion with the Son.
  3. Communion with the Holy Spirit.
  4. Indwelling. It is real and personal.
    1. Sealing.
    2. Anointing. We receive our anointing immediately from Christ in this way: Jesus communicates the Holy Spirit unto us (JO 4.393).
    3. Earnest.

The Assurance of Salvation

Several things in the Christian life mitigate against assurance: Our conscience, God’s law, and our natural sense of justice.

  1. (2) Practical rules for Assurance.
    1. Christ is the ultimate judge of our spiritual condition. He who bears witness to our condition has the same Spirit with us (Ferguson 108).
    2. Sometimes patient waiting is required (JO 6.554).
    3. Self-examination, especially of sins of youth.  Nonetheless, the foundation of assurance is Christ, not our self-examination so don’t spend too much time on this.  The foundation is Christ alone. The building is holiness.
    4. Don’t let complaints against yourself take away from vigorous actings of grace.
  2. Hindrances to assurance.
    1. Desire for extraordinary assurances.  We should seek the regular workings of the Spirit.  He does give extraordinary assurance, but we should be careful seeking that while burdened with doubts and anxieties.
  3. Sealing of the Holy Spirit
    1. Calvin taught that the Spirit of God is himself the seal (Comm. 2 Cor. 1.21ff).
    2. Perkins: Sealing of the promise to the believer in experience (Ferguson 117). This means the seal is an activity. However, this lead to a between regeneration and a subsequent activity of the Spirit in addition to his indwelling.
    3. Sibbes: We first seal God’s truth by our believing, and then God seals the Spirit on us (118).With later Puritans this comes very close to seeing 2 or 3 different classes of Christians.
    4. Goodwin: “An immediate assurance of the Holy Ghost, by a heavenly and divine light, of a divine authority…” (Goodwin, Works I:233).
    5. Owen: “No special act of the Spirit, but only in an especial effect of his communication unto us” (JO 4:400). He seals the believer by his personal indwelling, but there are no rules as to how/when the believer may recognize it.

Conflict with Sin

  1. Sin’s dominion ended. Owen makes a distinction between the dominion of sin and the influence of sin.
  2. Sin’s dominion is more than a force; it has the character of law.
  3. How do we know whether sin has dominion or not?

 

Scripture and Ministry

  1. Scripture. Owen locates Scripture’s authority primarily in God, rather than the autographa (Ferguson 185n 4).  God is the divine original, upon whom Scripture depends.
    1. Inspiration.  
    2. Authority of Scripture.  It is a correlate of the character of God (JO 16.303).
    3. Preservation of Scripture.
    4. Attestation of Scripture. The Scriptures are like light.  They are self-evidencing, but “light” is not “eyes.” Light does not remove men’s blindness.  Faith in Scripture finds its motive cause in Scripture itself, and in its efficient cause in the testimony of the Spirit.
    5. Understanding Scripture.
  2. Ministry.
    1. Gifts and graces.  A spiritual gift is not the same as the grace of the Spirit.  This explains how some “fall away.” Graces are evidences of the Spirit’s personal indwelling.
    2. Extraordinary gifts. Only differ in degree from other gifts.  This is a rather unique cessationist approach.

Sacraments and Prayer

  1. Have both objective and subjective content: they signify and seal (objective) yet the Holy Spirit is involved in each of the means of communication to ratify subjectively the objective message (Ferguson 211).
    1. Baptism. Ferguson calls attention to the quasi-Baptistic views of paedobaptists like Bannerman and Cunningham, who view adult baptism as the norm and infant baptism as the exception (215 n64).
    2. The Lord’s Supper. Our faith is directed to the human nature of Christ (220).
  2. Prayer.

Apostasy and its Prevention

  1. Danger of Apostasy. Those mentioned in Hebrews 6 received the outward benefits of the substance of the covenant.
  2. Apostasy from Gospel Doctrine.
  3. Apostasy from holiness of Gospel precepts.
  4. Apostasy from Gospel Worship.

Perseverance and the Goal

  1. Perseverance
    1. Immutability of the divine nature.
    2. Immutability of the divine purposes.
    3. Principium essendi of the covenant of grace
    4. Promises of God
    5. Mediatorial work of Christ
      1. He became a surety (JO 11:289).
      2. Satisfied requirements of divine justice.
      3. Intercedes for us.
  2. The Goal
    1. Eternal glory.
      1. The mind will be freed from all darkness.
      2. A new light, light of glory, will be implanted.
      3. Our body will be glorified through union with Christ.

 

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Review: Social Justice and the Christian Church (Nash)

This book isn’t quite the violent beat-down of the Sojourners guys that David Chilton’s was, but it’s close. It was a pointed response back then; it is a desperate cry today. As church groups are falling, or about to fall, to Social Justice, Nash’s words are worth hearing.

Ask a social Justice Warrior what Justice is. Do it. It’s quite funny. Nash begins with Aristotle. Not that Aristotle is great, but his discussions are as good as any.

The ancient (and most simple) definition of justice is “giving each one what she is due” (Nash 29). The problem is obvious: there is no way you can take this correct definition and deduce an entire economics program from it.

Universal justice: a person is just in the universal sense if he possesses all of the virtues. The Bible echoes this in Gen. 6:9 and Ezek. 18:5.

Particular justice: a man is just in this sense if he does not grasp for more than what he is due. Nash, following Aristotle, sees three subsets of this justice:

(1) commercial justice: just weights and balances.

(2) remedial justice: some wrong must be made right.

(3) distributive justice: a good or burden is apportioned among human beings (Nash 31).

Formal Principle of Justice: We can summarize Aristotle: equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally. Unfortunately, there is no criterion to help us.

Material Principle of Justice: this is usually seen in needs, deserts, achievement, etc.

Two Contemporary Theories of Justice

Rawls: (a) each person has a right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with others’ basic liberties; (b) justice as fairness

To make his project work Rawls says everyone must assume a “veil of ignorance.” In other words, you have to imagine a society where any rights you give yourself wouldn’t conflict with others’ rights. The problem with this, as Nash notes, is we have no reason to think that anyone would come up with this veil of ignorance. The veil of ignorance idea isn’t bad, per se; we just have no reason for believing it. Anyway, there is no reason to think it is just (42ff).

As other critics have pointed out, any invention in society (like the automobile) has the potential to make 95% of society more affluent, yet it would marginalize a few. Therefore, cars are unjust. But no one will seriously live this way. The automobile would impoverish the horse-and-buggy industry. Should we get rid of automobiles?

The liberal confuses economic merit with moral merit

Justice and the Welfare State

Problem with interventionism: “The liberal’s obsession with the proper distribution of society’s goods blinds him to a crucial truth: that before society can have enough gooods to distribute among the needy, a sufficient quantity of goods must be produced. By focusing all their attention on who gets what, defenders of the welfare state promote policies that severely restrict production” (64).

Justice and the Bible

We can’t confuse Love and Justice. The state is an agent of justice, and states by definition are coercive.

Problems with enacting the Year of Jubilee today:

a) Not all poor would be helped. If you didn’t own land prior, then you aren’t getting any today.

b) Only Israelite slaves are freed. Tough luck to anyone else.

c) Only property outside the city would be affected. Sold property within the walled city would become permanent exchange after a year.

d) Immigrants did not have permanent land rights, so they wouldn’t be helped.

e) Those who were born after the Jubilee but died before it wouldn’t be helped.

Quotes of Liberty

“Social justice, as viewed by statist proponents…is possible only in a society controlled from the top down” (50).

In terms of content and prophetic witness, the book is magnificent. However, much of it is a summary of Rothbard and there really isn’t new content.

Review: Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming

Argument of Book: there exists a religious tribunal distinct from that of the civil magistrate.  This tribunal has the power of excommunication. In fact, Gillespie’s overall argument is quite simple, despite the learned discussions in the book.  Erastianism isn’t necessarily an outward threat to the church by the state (such as the IRS’s domination of the American church). It’s simply the state’s prerogative to control church discipline.Image result for george gillespie

I’m not going to spend too much time reviewing the arguments that the Jewish church had an ecclesial body distinct from the civil magistrate.  That’s not where the battle is being fought today.

Church and State, the Civil Magistrate

There is a distinction between magistracy and ministry; as such, there offices are also distinct (80).  Magistrates and ministers differ in their causes:

  1. The efficient cause: The king of nations hath instituted civil power; the king of saints ecclesial (86).
  2. Material: civil magistracy is punitive.  The magistrate has the sword, the minister the keys.
  3. Formal: the power of magistracy is architectonic and despotic and is immediately subordinate to God.  The ecclesial is diakonike and subordinate to Jesus as King of the Church.
  4. Final: magistracy is only for the glory of God as king of nations.  And while the magistrate ought to be a Christian, he is not participating as Christ’s sub-mediator.

Of the Twofold Kingdom

Jesus has dominion over all things as Son of God, but his special kingdom is the church, of which he is mediator. We are not separating the Person of Christ, but simply making distinctions.  Arguments proving it:

  1. Does Jesus reign over devils by his mediatorial work or by his divine power?  Obviously the latter. Therefore, it is a separate kingdom.
  2. His being the ‘heir of all things,’ receiving the heathen, relates to the church (94).
  3. In Scripture pagan civil governments are recognized as legitimate, even if they aren’t under Christ.

The Christian Magistrate

He may govern “in the church” but he may not govern the church. He governs not qua the church, but qua the commonwealth. For example, the magistrate must not have the power of church censures, but he ought to punish like sins with like punishments.  But he cannot do that if he has church censures, for the heathen must be punished civilly but the believer with church discipline (115).

Christ’s Visible Kingdom

Christ’s visible kingdom, distinct from his invisible one, is proved from Matt. 26.28, which cannot refer to his coming in glory, “for all that were then hearing Christ have tasted death” (137).

Good discussion of “cutting off” (26ff).  Gillespie argues that it usually means “removal from the sanctuary/holy people.”

Sacraments not converting ordinances

Gillespie on conversion: can be distinguished between habitual conversion and subsequent works of grace. Habitual conversion is the first infusion of life and habits of grace.

(1) That which is an instituted sign is not an operating cause whereby it makes that which is signified present where it is not (236).

(2) That which necessarily supposeth conversion and faith is not that which works conversion of and faith.  Smoke presupposes fire but it does not cause fire.

(4) If an ordinance is instituted for believers only (Lord’s Supper), then it isn’t a converting but a sealing ordinance.

(7) Those who come to the Lord’s Wedding Feast must have a wedding garment, but the unconverted do not have this.

(10) The prohibition against eating and drinking unworthily necessarily excludes the unconverted.

Extra: how can it be a pledge of union and communion with Christ when such a one is far off from Christ?

Notes on Heiser’s Supernatural

This is a cliffs-notes version of his longer Unseen Realm.

Key argument: “In at least some cases, God decrees what he wants done but gives his supernatural agents freedom to decide what it means” (23).

Image of God

Genesis says God says “Create in our image” and it says God created in his image.”  Since God is speaking to the Divine council and not the Trinity, this means that the Council and God (and presumably we) have something in common (29). We are to image God’s rule on earth.

Divine Rebellions

The Old Testament never says there was an angelic rebellion (37).  Revelation 12:7-12 is talking about the birth of Christ.  There was another corporate transgression, but it was the beings in Genesis 6. Peter and Jude say that these angels are placed in eternal darkness under chains. If we take 1 Enoch seriously (and Peter and Jude) did, then from these beings came the Nephilim, and when the Nephilim died, their spirits became demons.

The physical descendants of the Nephilim are called the Anakim and the Rephaim (Numb. 13:32-33; Deut. 2:10-11; some of these Rephaim show up in the underworld realm of the dead (Isai. 14:9-11).

Cosmic Geography

Deuteronomy 32 Worldview:  Geography in the Bible is cosmic (52).

  • Daniel 9-10: foreign nations are ruled by divine princes.
  • 1 Sam. 26:19: David fears being in a land of foreign gods.
  • 2 Kgs 5: Namaan takes Israelite dirt back
  • Paul uses a range of terms for divine, hostile beings–thrones, principalities, powers

Nota Bene:

  1. Angels don’t have wings.  Cherubim do, but they are never called angels (Heiser 19).
  2. Any disembodied spirit is an elohim (Gen. 1:1; Deut. 32:17; 1 Samuel 28:13; Heiser 20).
  3. God has a supernatural task force (1 Kgs 22:19-23; Ps. 82:1).

Review: Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church

Van Reest, Rudolf. trans. Theodore Plantinga. Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church. Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 1990.

The Golden Age of Dutch Theology came in the person of Kuyper, yet within Kuyper were the seeds of its own destruction. The younger generation either went with the worst of Kuyper’s theology or with liberal Protestantism.

The Problem with Scholasticism

Schilder seems to equate “scholasticism” with Kuyper’s bizarre views on covenant, and Kuyper’s view:

(1) We baptize on the presumption that the child at the baptismal font is already regenerate.

(2) Yet some children are not saved.

Therefore, (1) must become

(1*) Their baptism was not a genuine baptism after all (Van Reest 47).

But if no one knows whether his baptism is real, then only the most morbid self-examination can follow:

(3) You must use the distinguishing marks as a checklist.

The payoff, or lack thereof, is you can’t ever go to the Lord’s Supper.

But is Scholasticism just shorthand for Kuyper? I don’t think so, though Schilder is never clear. It seems to be when a church starts with faulty presuppositions and draws conclusions from them. Over time this builds up into a system which can never be challenged by Scripture (50-51).

Woe to you, my people

Key part of the Solomonic thesis: “When people become Solomonic, their concern is not for the Truth alone, or for belief in the Scriptures and faithfulness to the confessions” (251).

Van Reest details the tragic events unfolding in the 1930s. Schilder, along with a few others, saw that National Socialism was pagan in its root. This is often forgotten. In the 30s “Nazi” did not mean Jew-killer, and this explains why H.H. Kuyper and V. Hepp could implicitly support the Nazis and formally rebuke Schilder for attacking the Nazis.

Schilder was arrested for writing Reformed articles against the Dutch Nazis. He was soon freed, yet began writing again. He barely escaped a concentration camp and had to go into hiding. His story is the stuff of heroism and suffering.

Sadly, the Synod deposed Schilder for not holding to Kuyper’s doctrine of presumptive regeneration, yet they did not attack him on doctrine, but on church order. They said he was schismatic in not obeying the order of Synod. Yet his leading accusers, HH Kuyper and V. Hepp, ignored previous synods’ warnings against Dutch Nazi youth groups.

Nor should they have deposed him without his being there. But had he been there, the Nazis would have deported him to a concentration camp.

Those events then led to the Liberation of 1944. But it does not appear that the Synodocratic forces won. Consider Van Reest’s words:

“The spirits of the men at the synod were also very low. You could see it in their faces and in the slack way they walked. They had run completely stuck with their ecclesiastical scheming, but there was no way out for them…

G.C. Berkouwer sat there in the president’s chair, a sunken heap of a man” (356).

Plantinga, the translator, then ends with how the Liberated churches fared in America.

The book reads like hagiography, which it probably is. Still, it contains valuable first-hand information about a great theologian during one of the darkest hours of the 20th century.

Review: Nouvelle Theologie (Boersma)

Genealogical critiques are always dangerous, but it seems they are necessary. Hans Boersma examines the ideas that undercut late medieval Catholicism and also provided for the rise of “nouvelle theologie” in the 20th century.  This book is the scholarly version of Heavenly Participation.

boersma

Thesis: “I have made the case that the historical embodiment of theological truth expressed a sacramental ontology that would enable the reintegration of nature and the supernatural—of history and theology” (202).

There are several villains in this narrative. One, obviously, is modernity. The other is early 20th century Neo-Thomism. Boersma notes, “The theological manuals of the neo-Thomist scholastic theologians tried to be faithful to the theology of Thomas Aquinas (1224/5–74), and they believed that this could be done only by maintaining a strict separation between the natural and supernatural realms” (4). In other words, nature is a hermetically sealed realm.

By contrast, as Boersma reads them, Nouvelle Theologie theologians wanted to argue for an “interpenetration of sign (signum) and reality (res) [that] meant, according to the nouvelle theologians, that external, temporal appearances contained the spiritual, eternal realities which they represented and to which they dynamically pointed forward. For nouvelle theologie, theology had as its task the dynamic exploration of the reality of the divine mystery: (292).

There were several ways to do this, not all of them equally successful. To shorten the review: while de Lubac had promising insights on nature and grace, his medieval-style exegesis was simply too unwieldy to be an effective tool.

Von Balthasar’s concepts of analogy and participation not only served as a critique of Karl Barth, but allowed him to appropriate Henri de Lubac’s Neo-Platonic project without the latter’s tendency to downplay physical creation. Boersma: “Contra Barth: “According to Balthasar, analogia entis did not assume a neutral concept of being; it merely implied that God’s salvation in Christ was the saving of his created order:… For Balthasar, the doctrine of analogy simply served to defend that there was a natural stability to the created order that God had redeemed in Christ (132).

Boersma realizes, however, that the rise of Nouvelle Theologie was not a complete victory. In some ways, one could argue that it was partly responsible for the horror that is Vatican II–though to be fair, some of the Nouvelle theologians saw that as well. Boersma mentions it in passing but probably doesn’t see the significance of it. In de Lubac’s short book on Nature and Grace, de Lubac mentions an “underground council” that worked at cross-purposes to his own work in Vatican II. He is right. That is the council that was probably responsible for the occultic practices documented by Fr Malachi Martin in Windswept House.

This is a good summary of a facet of 20th century Roman Catholicism, though many will get bogged down in the long lists of French names

End of a year, shoring up conclusions

My theology doesn’t “change” much anymore, although I do explore different emphases and distinctives.  I consider myself in the Reformation tradition, even if I don’t “truck” with current TR distinctives.  The following is a list of what I found that works and what is a dead end.

Dead Ends

  1. Pop level presuppositionalism.  The thing is, we can’t all be Bahnsens.  Further, name a big league (bigly) debater of Bahnsen’s caliber.  Sye doesn’t count.  Really, you can only say “Yeah, well how do you know that?” enough before it’s evident that you are clueless.
    1. So what’s my alternative?  I don’t know.  Present a coherent case for Christianity and offer defeaters.  That’s the best I can do.
    2. The thing is, modern presup has no clue about the current moves and discussions in philosophical theology.
  2. Internet Covenanter thought.  If you are a godly member in an RP type church, bless you.  Stay there and be fed.  My beef isn’t with you.  But at the same time, the type of Covenanter thought one finds on Facebook is intellectual cancer.  There is no depth of thought nor constructive engagement with the past, nor could there be.
    1. RP Covenanter thought is Donatism. Which splinter group is pure enough?  You see this with Steelites.
      1. We can take this a step further: on one covenanter page the question came up, “Can one read Dabney, given his terrible views on race?”  On a pastoral level that’s a fair question.  I’m not a Dabney fan by any stretch and the average person shouldn’t read Dabney.  But the question is deeper: can we read anyone who isn’t “pure enough?”
      2. And once you start asking that question, you end up with being the only pure group (think Steelites, Greg Price, Dodson, etc)
    2. Necessarily, this means that much of church history is off-limits.  Think about it: if anyone who isn’t using psalms only and no instruments is a Baal worshiper.
      1. Don’t try to point to quotes from Aquinas on using the Psalms.  True, the medieval church and early church didn’t rely on instruments, but these guys also had icons, incense, and sang Gregorian and Ambrosian hymns.   So they aren’t you.
      2. I’ve dealt with Covenanters before in the past, so I won’t say more here.

Let’s go to a happier note.  Here are some valuable moves I’ve learned (okay, that sounded like a karate movie).

  1. Hans Boersma.  I read Heavenly Participation a few years ago and it had a big impact on me. I don’t accept his Radical Orthodoxy reading of philosophy, but his Platonic worldview did cash out in several ways:
    1. Heaven is more important than politics.
    2. The emphasis on “heaven” keeps one from following all of the “redeeming the body” fads.
    3. Dear Reformed people: do you want a good response to NT Wright?  Don’t try to rebut him on Paul.  Just show him Boersma’s view on heaven.
    4. However, I don’t hold with his emphasis on the Nouvelle Theologie.  De Lubac had a few good books but most of the time he just cited sources.  Further, Nouvelle Theologie was incapable of dealing with the modernism that followed Vatican II.
  2. Analytic Theology.  It’s simply too powerful a tool to ignore.  Yes, some of them go off the deep end and do nothing but quote truth tables all day.