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.

 

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.

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.

Clowney review from 11 years ago

I found this in my old email archives.

Jacob Aitken

Sermon Preparation

Prof. Alan Hix

29 April 2005

Clowney, Edmund P. Preaching and Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1961), 124pp.

Biographical Information

The late Edmund Clowney is renowned throughout the Presbyterian world for his teaching and church leadership. Serving at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA for several decades, he has written largely on preaching and ecclesiology. His present book, Preaching and Biblical Theology, draws heavily off the theological method of New Testament scholar, Geerhardus Vos. Using such a method—which will be mentioned shortly—he analyzes the various attempts to integrate biblical theology into the life of the church.

Purpose of the Book

While appreciative of the necessary work of systematic theology, Clowney sees the danger in mere doctrinal moralizing and offers the pastor a fresh alternative that is faithful to the scriptures. He seeks to rescue biblical theology from false dichotomies with systematics on one hand, and liberal distortions on the other hand. Clowney also hopes the budding preacher will read the works of Geerhardus Vos.

Organization and Content

In lieu of recent liberal scholarship on biblical theology, Clowney does the necessary groundwork in providing the pastor with a working definition of biblical theology. Recent works had defined biblical theology along the lines of the “History of Religions” school of thinking. Or, the scholar might look at the text along evolutionary lines, thus negating the aspects of redemption and revelation. To have a working definition of biblical theology, Clowney notes, biblical presuppositions are necessary. Following Vos Clowney defines biblical theology as “that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible” (15). This definition opposes any form of liberalism or neo-orthodoxy that denies prepositional truth. It also presupposes, against evolutionary views of revelation, a unity and objectivity in the Bible.

On the conservative side, some will object that such a definition will bring biblical theology into opposition with time-honored disciplines like systematic theology. Not so, Clowney argues, if the pastor recognizes the tension between the two disciplines as necessary. The tension can be properly understood when the pastor recognizes the distinct nature of both disciplines. Systematic theology approaches the text in a linear fashion, while biblical theology traces out the historical developments within God’s redemptive history. The tension can be eased, although never done away with, if the pastor sees the “sensitivity to the distinctiveness of both the form and the content of revelation in each particular epoch [in biblical theology]” (16).

If one is to write on preaching in the modern age, he must justify the authority of preaching over against the autonomy of the post-Christian West. Clowney then does a brief survey of New Testament scholarship with respect to the proclamation of the text. In each setting Clowney notes the challenges to biblical theology that current fads in New Testament studies would pose. Many liberal scholars saw their hope in the “kerygma” of the early church. The scholars sought to emancipate the kerygma of the New Testament form the myth the Church had placed on the gospels. Such thinking immediately led to the “Quest for the Historical Jesus,” which was more indicative of liberal presuppositions than it was of concern for the truth. Regardless of what shape the challenge might take, all presupposed an impossibility of prepositional revelation. God’s message to man was personal, not prepositional. Clowney refutes: “Personal communion with communication is impossible between human subjects, and it is a strange conception of revelation in Christ which denies to him revelatory communication in making known the Father” (27).

Having a covenantal groundwork in the Old Testament, Clowney applies this to the New Testament to establish authority for biblical theology and preaching. Christ is prophet, priest, and king in the New Testament—the self-interpreted Word of John 1 (51). Besides being the Son of God, his authority is first seen as that of an Old Testament prophet proclaiming the message of God. But not only is he a prophet, he is the fulfillment of prophecy. Furthermore, the apostles are endowed with authority as they, being witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, proclaim the whole counsel of God, which has been fulfilled in Christ. “Their apostolic ministry,” says Clowney, “is the foundation of authority in the New Testament church, for by their witness the word of Christ is given to the church” (59).

The character of preaching, if it is to be driven by biblical theology, must enrich the listeners with the full scope of God’s redemptive work. Such preaching is driven by biblical eschatology. The preacher thus realizes that he is living in the last days, knows Christ’s kingdom has been established, and is driven with an urgent message of the grace of God in the person of Christ. Clowney exults, “The evangel of the prophet Isaiah is that which is fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth. The year of Jubilee has come, therefore we must proclaim liberty to the captive…the latter days have come, the days in which the Lord is glorified, and he has poured out his Spirit upon men” (67-68).

The only flaw in the book comes in the middle of this otherwise edifying chapter. Clowney notes the mission-orientation of the Church was lost upon the establishment of Constantine. He writes how the church has lost much of her vigor in missions. Clowney: “No doubt this came about through the confusion of church and state which began in the age of Constantine” (69). Now, one can legitimately roast Constantine on a number of issues, but this overlooks the gospel’s explosion on the island of Britain, for example. Granted, much of the Roman and Grecian church lost their power due to state control, but he tries to put too much historical commentary in one paragraph. Clowney ends his chapter on the character of preaching with a challenge to the pastor to balance the ethical and the redemptive element in his preaching.

What does a sermon driven by biblical theology look like? The pastor has two tasks before him. He recognizes the unity of God’s salvation throughout biblical history. He proclaims to his flock that Abraham rejoiced to see Messiah’s day and we too long to feast with the prophets when the kingdom of God is consummated at the end of the ages. He also notes the “epochal structure” of redemptive history. This prevents him from arbitrarily chopping unity of God’s revelation and redemption, as the early dispensationalists did (88). However, the pastor does pay attention to the historical nature of the God’s acts in history. The preacher who would preach along the lines of biblical theology takes note of symbolism and typology in the scriptures. God’s revelation is laden with types and shadows that point to the future redemption accomplished by Christ. “Until the heavenly reality is manifested, the covenant fellowship is mediated through earthly symbols, ‘like in pattern’ to the heavenly archetype (Heb. 9:24, 25)” (100). Clowney guides the bible student in interpreting symbols and types: 1) They symbol is distinct from that which it represents; 2) There is a relation between the symbol and the reality symbolized; 3) The reference of the symbols is divinely established in revelation; 4) The symbols may be classified in various groups (103-108).

Evaluation

Clowney’s book is written along the lines of heroic disorder. His thoughts and guidance to the reader are superb and Clowney himself appears to soar at times. His passion for his subject is not lost on the reader. Nevertheless, there were times where one wondered where he was going with an idea. He did repeat a number of times several of his best ideas and phrases throughout the book, although to the delight of the reader. Writing from what appears to be an amillennialist interpretation of scripture, it is curious as to why he did not address dispensational challenges more often than he did. The book is extremely edifying and relevant to the church at large. It is a book that will stay on the pastor’s desk as he searches the scriptures. Clowney achieves his goal in exciting students to take up the task of biblical theology.

Application

Clowney’s work is utterly relevant to the church and those who long for their sermons to be clothed with the Spirit’s power. What else could enflame preaching but the glorious proclamation of what God has done in Christ in history? Whether he goes into the pulpit or the lectern, Clowney provides both a tonic to the tired preacher and a caution to the theologian who might divorce systematic theology from biblical theology. It provides the bible student with a hermeneutic that sees Christ, properly interpreted, in all scripture, thus avoiding trite moralizing.

When Matter Becomes Form

This is a review of Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation vol. 4.

And so ends the greatest theologian of all time. The following are highlights around the central theme of grace restoring nature. Indeed, with Bavinck we see the rejection of dualisms: “The dualisms between the internal and the external, the spiritual and the material, eternity and time, essence and form…are products of a false philosophy and contrary to Scripture” (458).

*The Church*

In his discussion of the church Bavinck always comes back to the truth that it is in the Reformed churches that preaching is exalted. Bavinck makes an important distinction that Lutherans see the Spirit working per verbum, while Reformed see him working cum verbum.

*Ethics*

Ethics

While Bavinck appreciated a Christianized society, he didn’t think all sins (e.g., fornication, drunkeness) should be punished by the State (437).

Bavinck’s discussions on the sacraments are par for the course with most Reformed dogmatics, so no need to explicate them here. He takes Calvin’s view as a middle path between Roman realism and Anabaptist gnosticism. He believes the Supper should be monthly.

*New Creation*

This is the most important section. When you want good eschatology, always go to the Neo-Calvinists, never American neo-Puritans. Recreation

“The resurrection is the principle of the renewal of all things” (428).

Judgment

Bavinck ably rebuts the hippy, humanitarian idea that hell is too mean for God, especially when evaluated on human sentiment. “For when the interest of society becomes the deciding factor, not only is every boundary between good and evil wiped out, but also justice runs the danger of being sacrificed to power…Human feeling is no foundation for anything important, therefore, and neither may nor can it be decisive in the determination of law and justice. All appearances notwithstanding, it is infinitely better to fall into the hands of the Lord than into human hands. The same applies with respect to eternal punishment in hell (708).

The New Earth

“The state of glory will be no mere restoration of the state of nature, but a re-formation that, thanks to the power of Christ, transforms all matter into form, all potency into actuality, and presents the entire creation before the face of God, brilliant in unfading splendor and blossoming into a springtime of eternal youth (720).

“The difference between day and night, between the Sabbath and the workdays, has been suspended. Time is charged with eternity of God. Space is full of his presence. Eternal becoming is wedded to immutable being. Even the contrast between heaven and earth is gone (730).

Conclusion:

Perhaps, as others have noted, this book isn’t as good as volumes 1-2. But it’s still the best thing on the market regarding this locus of systematic theology.