Finished John Owen volume 2

Good friend of mine sold me the volume at a price I could afford.  Longer review coming later.

Pros:
Owen has a great section on what “union” and “communion” actually entail.
Very clear section on satisfaction of Christ.
Clear statements of classic Western triadology.
Interesting tidbits on civil magistrate and regulative principle

Cons:
Too many subdividers in each chapter.  Loses focus of larger arguments.
His definition of “God” opens himself up to Eastern criticisms.  He defeated the Socinians in debate, but just barely.
The “Vindication of the Previous Discourse” suffered from length and lack of section divisions (I know that seems counter to the first con, but it’s true).  Not always clear what Owen’s opponent is purported to have said.

Jesus doesn’t burden the church apart from his word

Jesus told the church in the Apocalypse, “No other burden do I lay on you.”  Tertullian mentions that the sign of the cross was absent from the church in the first 150 years.   Therefore, Jesus didn’t burden the church with the sign of the cross.

Now, I am not necessarily opposed to making the sign.  However, if a relatively small thing yet eventually universal thing like the sign of the cross was absent from the church, meaning it could not have been established by the apostles, what do we say of the larger ceremonies?

Updating side links

I am finally updating the blogrolls to the side.  I don’t plan to overload it with a bunch of links that neither I nor the readers will read.   I am planning for a handful of links along the topics of Covenanter principles and useful discussions in reformed theology.

Conversation with Catholic Convertskii

Saw this on facebook with a Catholic friend of mine:

Catholic Convertskii, after bashing Calvinism:  Yeah, if you read Calvin you’ll be amazed at some of the wack things he said.

Other Catholic:  How much Calvin have you read?

Convertskii:  About 1/3 of the Institutes.

This is why Wedgeworth and others ridiculed the convertskii movement so much.   Convertskii as a general rule have’t read deeply in the Reformed tradition.  If you haven’t read Calvin, then you have’t really wrestled with the heart-issues of the system.  Now, is it necessary to read Calvin and Musculus to really arrive at the truth?  No.  But if you are claiming to pursue the truth and address all of the major concerns, you have to read Calvin (especially…gasp…if you are refuting Calvinism!).

I refuted this same gentleman on Thomism earlier in the year.  And the reason I felt so successful was that I had read at least 1500 pages of the 2500 of Summa Theologiae.  I plan to finish the whole thing by next May, deo Volente.  I knew the issues.   Even though I didn’t agree with Aquinas, I respected the system and really understood what he was aiming for.

This gentleman wrote a slam today on Facebook where he was asking how Calvinists could say that they “couldn’t fall from grace when Paul says in Galatians that you can.”   If he is arguing against Calvinistic Baptists, it’s a strong argument.   Reformed Presbyterians, however, believe in the doctrine of the Covenant.   The covenant is unconditional in its essence but quite conditional in its administration.  Of course, had he read Calvin he would have known that.

Messiah: Governor of the Nations

Messiah: Governor of the Nations of the Earth by Alexander McLeod, D.D.

This is a lengthy pamphlet outlining the basic Covenanter (and Reformed) view of Christ the Mediator and what this doctrine entails for the civil magistrate. The recent church in America has proven itself incapable of giving a clear and robust view of the duties of the civil magistrate. It is no small encouragement, then, to see McLeod’s book back in print. His writing style is simple and forceful and never tedious. The essay is divided into three parts: Messiah as Mediator, the acts of the Mediator, and Objections Answered.

He begins the first part surveying the texts which prove that the Ascended Christ is the Lord of the nations. There is no point in this review to survey all of the texts—there are just too many. It is remarkable that McLeod so artfully weaves these texts into his argument in a way that doesn’t tire the reader.

Having established that Messiah is ruler of the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5), McLeod, ever taking his cue from Scripture, examines the ways in which Messiah executes his mediation. This section is interesting and future Reformed reflection should develop this thought even further. We know that God the Father has ordained whatsoever comes to pass (Ephesians 1:11ff). Further, we Reformed folk do not simply believe in predestination in the abstract. Rather, we hold that predestination and election are actions that are in Christ (Ephesians 1:4) Therefore, we posit that Christ the Princely Mediator executes the decrees of the Father. More specifically and relevant to our purpose, he executes the decrees as they relate to the nations on earth.

The last section considers objections to this doctrine. Interestingly, McLeod does not consider unbelieving objections, which are likely tautologous, but rather he considers Christian objections. In many ways this section is logically unnecessary. If McLeod has demonstrated that the Bible teaches Christ is ruler of the nations on earth (Revelation 1:5), which he has and which it does, then there are no serious objections the Christian can advance against this doctrine. Granted, there are difficulties in our own spiritual life this may raise, and McLeod touches upon these, but there are no real logical objections by this point in the narrative.

The book can be read in an hour. It is short and pastorally written. As Spurgeon said of Bunyan, so may we say of McLeod’s book, “Prick him. He bleeds Bibline.” This book can likely be purchased in bulk for very cheap. It deserves widest possible dissemination.

A monarchist response to Horton and Two Kingdoms

Much of the debate on Two Kingdoms theology is frustrating to watch.  Both sides carpet bomb each other, not realizing they share many presuppositions, or so it would seem.   With Horton I agree that today’s church’s involvement in politics has been a disaster and should be avoided.  Further, to read the bible looking for a specific political system is doomed to failure.  The Old Testament law recommends a Hebrew Republic, but this fails miserably in biblical history and after the monarchy and exile, is not attempted again, prescription in the Law notwithstanding.  The monarchy is initially condemned by God, but later becomes the focal point through which the Messianic prophecies are shaped.  God never promised to restore the Republic to his Messiah.  How flat does that sound?

While I don’t hold to the Platonic and Hegelian view that opposites are in fact identical on one level, it appears nonetheless to be true here:  Kuyperianism/American theonomy is eerily similar, if not identical at the level of presuppositions, to Radical 2 Kingdoms (R2K).   Consider:

  • Neither view seriously challenges the validity of liberal democracy.   I know American theonomists are generally “conservative,” but I am using “liberal” in the sense of John Locke and Adam Smith.
  • While R2K advocates aren’t quite as loud about it, both views consider American-style Republicanism as the only valid political theory.
  • For all of Escondido’s gripes against Kuyper, sphere sovereignty is Two Kingdoms:  The Church cannot get involved in the State, and vice-versa.

Escondido is correct in that the Bible does not give the contents of a specific political order.  This is where American theonomy fails so miserably.  While it is true that the Torah outlines a form of representative government, the American theonomist has to answer a number of immediate and embarrassing questions:   1) The Torah also gives very specific guidelines to future monarchs, so on what grounds do we say that the Bible prescribes republicanism but prohibits monarchy?  2)  If 1 Samuel 8 is the most important political text in the Bible, and so condemnatory of monarchy, how come the prophets base their future hope that the Messiah will be a Davidic monarch and not a theocratic representative?  Let’s pursue this a bit further:  When we read the OT we understand–correctly–that this Davidic monarch is the 2nd Person of the Trinity.   So we sort of understand that such a monarchy is not actually a prescription to future rulers on how to build a political order (though one can certainly and legitimately understand their own monarchy as an imaging of the Davidic monarchy.  Jesus seemed to suggest as much in the Lord’s prayer).  However, an OT reader of these texts would not have (immediately) come to that conclusion.  He would have concluded, “God’s promises will be mediated through a monarchy, not a republic.”  This raises another question about how far the Law can function as prescriptive norm.

So is representative government necessarily illegitimate?  No.  Rutherford and numerous political thinkers (Calvin among them) wisely say that the best form of government is one that naturally reflects the people’s own cultural inheritance.  Monarchy won’t work in America (actually, a far worse centralized government is now functioning in America, yet American conservatives fear the rise of monarchy more than anything else!!!!!!!).

Conclusion:  What did I try to argue?

R2K and theonomy are American phenomena.  Only someone who has received the centuries-long fruit of Lockean politics and who lives in a stable and relatively tolerant land would argue something as inane as Two Kingdoms.   Theonomy seeks a legacy with earlier theocratic positions, but it phrases that legacy around a certain understanding of political order and economics, which would likely render it unintelligble to earlier theocrats.  I suggest that Lockean philosophy, in short, is that connection between American theonomy and R2K.

I also tried to outline, following the Rev. Professor Oliver O’Donovan’s argument in Desire of the Nations, that the monarchy stands as mediator between God and his people, ultimately mediating the Messianic promise. However, to cut off charges of Erastianism at the knees, this mediation was fulfilled in the Second Person of the Trinity and his ascension to the right hand of the father.  Current monarchs do not mediate divine promises.

Russell’s Criticism of Aquinas

Russell’s criticism of Aquinas:

“The appeal to reason is, in a sense, insincere, since the conclusion to be reached is fixed in advance…Or take again the arguments professing to prove the existence of God. All of these, except the one from teleology in lifeless things, depend upon the supposed impossibility of a series having no first term. Every mathematician knows that there is no such impossibility; the series of negative integers ending with minus one is an instance to the contrary…

“The contentions that God’s essence and existence are one and the same, that God is His own goodness, His own power, and so on, suggest a confusion, found in Plato, but supposed to have been avoided by Aristotle, between the manner of being of particulars and the manner of being of universals. God’s essence is, one must suppose, of the nature of universals, while his existence is not.

A History of Western Philosophy, p. 462.

Review of Horton’s God of Promise

 

Michael Horton in this book gives the church and updated primer on covenant theology, drawing upon and routinely surpassing the works of Meredith Kline and O. Palmer Robertson. It is superior to these two works both in style and choice of content. Few can match Horton’s clear, lucid writing. With regard to choice of content, Horton covers the same ground that most systematics cover, but he does so without being repetitious. As a whole, the book is outstanding, but I can only recommend it with a few qualifications (more below). Given the controversial nature of some things in this book, the reviewer must remind the reader that the first half of the book will only explicate some of Horton’s conclusions. The immediate absence of criticism in no way implies agreement with Horton, except as noted.

Controversially, Horton frames his covenant theology around the idea that there were two covenant principles in the Old Testament: the principle of promise given to Abraham and later repeated in the Davidic covenant, and the principle of works found in the Sinaitic covenant. Horton argues persuasively that Yahweh’s unilateral, unconditional promises to his people are always made in terms of the Abrahamic covenant and never the Sinaitic covenant (though he affirms elements of promise in the latter). While I do not care for the language of “republication of the Covenant of Works” (and Horton distances himself from that language), it does appear to be the case that there are two principles present (which Paul himself repeats in Galatians 3-4).

This view is particularly strengthened when Horton deals with the question of “conditions in the covenant” (176). Horton grounds his covenant theology within the Trinity, within the Pactum Salutis. The Covenant of Grace is merely imaging in history the eternal covenant. In neither covenant are their conditions or the possibility that God will fail to bring his people to fruition. There are conditions, however, in the Sinaitic covenant. Further, there are conditions in the administration of the covenants.

Horton’s most controversial chapter is “Providence and Covenant.” Horton notes that God has made a nonredemptive covenant with creation, the Noahic Covenant (113). Here he gives his common grace to all of creation. Much of the chapter is standard Reformed teaching on common grace. Horton notes that religious fundamentalism sees all of culture as “evil” while theological liberalism sees all of culture as “already saved.” He rightly rejects both approaches.

He then examines various millennial views as they relate to culture (119). Horton grudgingly acknowledges that even amillennialism has its dark moments: Christendom, Holy Roman Empire, Calvin and Servetus, and Augustine’s recommending the sword against Donatists (120). Horton charges that these guys, while rightly holding the Two Kingdoms view, did not practice it (more on that later).

Horton’s chapter on the Sacraments is the best in the book. He grounds his understanding of sacrament in the nature of how a covenant is made—cutting and oath (144). The circumcision passages in Genesis have Yahweh giving a self-maledictory oath. Of importance is the language of “cutting off,” which in the Old Testament represents rejection by God. The most dramatic moment of cutting off is Christ’s crucifixion, and in baptism we are united to Christ’s circumcision-death (148; cf Romans 6:1). In short, circumcision-baptism is judgment and alludes to judgment-moments in Israel’s history (1 Cor. 10:2; 1 Peter 3:21; Matt. 3:11ff).

Therefore, we see Horton placing baptism out of the arena of metaphysics and into the realm of covenant and eschatology. In Christian baptism the Covenant Lord brings his servants to an eschatological account, and those who are united to him by faith have life (152-153). Anticipating his section on the Lord’s Supper, Horton shows us why a covenantal (and therefore Reformed) understanding of the sacraments is superior: the reality (seated in the heavenly places with Christ) is not only signified but is actually communicated. A truly covenantal understanding of the sacraments does not have to worry about collapsing sign into the thing signified, or vice-versa. If one doesn’t hold a covenantal ontology, then one is forever in dialectic and tension on whether the sacraments do anything, with any answer to that specific question necessarily being a wrong answer.i

Excursus: What is a Covenantal Ontology

Horton correctly notes: “The covenantal background of the sacraments discloses a worldview far removed from the Greek one we have inherited at this point. In the former, sacraments inhabit the world of oaths and bonds, not substances and accidents” (153). The basics of a covenantal ontology include: “the name (calling on the name, being given the name), word, proclamation, promise, presence, the divine witnessing involved in God’s countenance, and so on, and are part of the vocabulary of covenant rather than metaphysics” (144).

A moment’s reflection will reveal how appropriate this “covenental ontology” way of reading the sacraments really is. He completely exposes how false both Romanism and Zwinglianism are. On Horton’s view it is impossible either to divorce or confuse the sign and thing signified. Even more important, when one reads the Scriptures, one sees little of substance, accidents, and primary substances. One does read about blood, cutting, oaths, and presence.

Interesting insights

Of particular importance is the way Horton (and Kline) root God’s word (the Canon) in the covenant. A lot of Orthodox and Romanists will challenge Protestants with, “What came first, Scripture or the Church?” The answer is, “Neither. The covenant came first.” Canon is the binding word of the covenant Lord. Canon is rooted, not in the Church primarily, but in the covenant Lord. Said even stronger, The existence of the covenant Lord (principium essendi) automatically entails canon-word of the covenant Lord (externum principium cognescendi).

Critique and Concluding Remarks

A few things keep this book from being recommended uncritically. While the Klinean model of the contrast between principle of works/principle of law safeguards the covenant of grace and clarifies many passages in Hebrews, one wonders how easily it can be squared with the Westminster Confession’s teaching that there are not two parallel covenants.

Most unfortunate, though, is Horton’s insistence that modern day rulers are to govern by the nonredemptive Noachic covenant and the principle of common grace. I agree with Horton’s unspoken criticism that modern evangelicalism’s foray into American politics has been a disaster. Further, it is true that Calvin did praise the pagans at points. Even more noted, a commonwealth does not necessarily have to rule by the Law of God in order to be a stable commonwealth.

With all of that said, however, a number of difficulties arise which Klineans cannot answer. If we are to rule by the common-grace ethic, then we must know what the content of that ethic is. Presumably, appealing to the Bible is out (which makes the appeal to the Noahic covenant somewhat strained: which unbeliever, using his “natural reason,” would ever agree to be ruled by one of God’s covenants, including one mandating the death penalty?). Can we appeal to natural law? That still raises the question: what is the specific content of that ethic?

Horton says a two-kingdoms approach prevents the church from blurring into the state. He is correct. However, he criticizes Calvin and the Reformers for upholding Two Kingdoms in theory while rejecting it in practice. Presumably he has in mind the ubiquitous position among the Reformers that the civil magistrate enforce the true religion. Here Horton runs into two problems: 1) as noted above, what is the content of the civil ethic in Two Kingdoms theory? If you cannot define that content then how can Calvin be guilty of violating two kingdoms? I realize some would respond, “The Law of Nations.” Fair enough. On the principle of the Law of Nations, Calvin approved the death penalty for blasphemy, and his critics in Rome agreed with his reasoning. Today’s Law of Nations theory, however, is most likely encoded in the United Nations charters, to which all good Christians must resist to the death.

Horton’s second problem with Two Kingdoms is that he is defining it (to the degree he actually defined it) differently than the Reformers. Two Kingdoms means the kingdom of the Church is not the Kingdom of the state (interesting sidenote: perhaps two kingdoms in fact means two kingdoms. Monarchy, anyone?). The Reformers separated the kingdoms with regard to function, not morality.

Aside from the several major problems mentioned above. The book has much to recommend it. It is superior to Robertson’s take on covenant theology both in style and content. The section on the sacraments is worth the price of the book several times over. Unfortunately, for all of Horton’s irenecism, he presents his arguments somewhat along partisan lines (at least in terms of conclusions) that will drive many away to dangerous theological positions which could have been avoided. His take on the sacraments is what many American Presbyterians need to hear—both the gnostics in the southern United States and the high-church men who are tempted to wilder extremes.

iI remember in seminary my professors struggling to understand what Herman Ridderbos meant on baptism. It seemed like he was ascribing a lot of power to baptism, which would threaten justification by faith. The problem was that they were stuck in Greek ontology and Ridderbos moved in covenantal language.

Autobiographical: Joe Morecraft’s preaching and teaching

In 2004 I came across a Vision Forum set that had a few sermons by Joe Morecraft.  I was hooked.  Too hooked, actually.  I then went to sermon audio and found a whole collection of his sermons.  His history of the reformation is legendary among Christian schoolers.  And many of us will relate to his country, folksy-style preaching.

On the other hand, though, I’ve found some difficulties with his reading of Church History.  He wants to read the entire Reformation story around the premise that Presbyterianism = liberty = republicanism in church and state.  Conversely, monarchy = Erastianism = episcopacy in church and state.   Admittedly, many Presbyterians set the stage for Republican government, and the two seem to mirror each other.  However, one must also note the following:

  1. Holland was just as robust a Reformed witness, but at the time of the Synod of Dordt the Calvinist churches were somewhat tyrannized by a republican government.  Holland would later experience a monarchy.
  2. Samuel Rutherford never rejected monarchy, neither did Knox or Cargill.
  3. The one man who saved Protestantism in Europe was a monarch, King Gustavus Adolphus.  And since religious liberty and political liberty are correlative, we are led to the conclusion that monarchy, particularly in this part of Europe, led to religious liberty.

 

The Lion of the Covenant

Even in the best of times the relationship between Church and State has always been uneasy. While the idea of a Christian state is lauded and is ultimately what we must struggle for, the fact remains that the State has more often than not been the enemy of the church. Even more diabolical, however, is when the ecclesiastical establishment allies with the State and it, too, becomes an enemy to the people of God. So it was in Richard Cameron’s day.

Maurice Grant does a fine job in quickly and deftly explaining the context of the Cromwellian period and afterward. Of particular note is the controversy between the Protestors and Resolutioners, the former rejecting any compromise of Jesus’ crown rights over his church. The flow of the story parallels Richard Cameron’s own life. It starts small and remains uneventful for quite some time. Grant treats his readers to the intricate details of Cameron’s own development, his turbulent ministry, and his climactic (and prophetic) death.

More importantly, however, are the issues around which Cameron fought. If the civil magistrate proclaims himself head of the church, and thus blurs the distinction between Church and State, is it logically possible to resist him only in the realm of the church but leave him be in the realm of the State. Cameron’s critics and moderate Presbyterians today say yes. Cameron said no. The Stuart monarchs also said no. One is reminded of Jesus’s statement that the children of this world are wiser than the children of light.

Cameron represents something of an embarrassment for the modern Reformed establishment. On one hand, he was a Covenanting martyr. Further, he fully identified himself with the best of the Scottish Reformation. Therefore, if you disagree with Cameron you disagree with the essence of what it means to be Presbyterian. On the other hand, unfortunately for modern Reformed seminaries, Cameron advocated a theocratic republic based on Moses’ judicials.

Even worse for the bourgeoisie Reformed, Cameron’s very martyrdom is complicated by the fact that he had pistol and sword in hand when martyred! (Of course, this doesn’t bother me at all. I think it is awesome).  Even more embarrassing, Richard Cameron correctly prophecied many times: he prophecied the deaths of several specific sinners and he prophecied that a Stuart king would never again be crowned in Scotland; making the previous even more interesting, James II, while crowned in England, lost his crown before he came to Scotland!   Or maybe it was Cargill who prophecied that.  My point is the same).

So what should we do?

I am not uncritical of Cameron, though. I agree with his taking arms against thugs who happened to have been deputized by a foreign power. That is Lex, Rex plain and simple. Grant is correct, though, that Cameron had not thought out the issues as thoroughly as his friend Donald Cargill had. The Scottish Reformation championed the idea of armed resistance to a king. But it still saw the king as king. Disowning a king, however, runs very close to the Romanist concept of a pope deposing kings as he saw fit. Cameron could have justified his actions with far more powerful arguments by relying much more closely on Rutherford.

Should we, likewise, resist tyrannical rulers? Well, it depends. Our situation is not analagous to Cameron’s, though one suspects the we live in a secular Erastianism. Cameron was fully justified in resistance because by culture, tradition, and prior law he was bound to uphold the Covenants. We can’t exactly make that claim today. So what should we do? At the moment, nothing beyond a careful reading and application of Rutherford.