5 Points Part Two

I am not going to go into much detail on the fifth point of Covenantalism.   I am interested to see how the 5 Points of Covenantalism match up with the horribly-named 5 Points of Calvinism.   This is important because too many people, both friend and critic, reduce all of Reformed theology to the TULIP.   Orthodox Bridge is terrible about this from a critical standpoint, and Together4Gospel is bad about it from a friendly standpoint.  I’ve already given ample reasons why Reformed thought should not be identified with TULIP (however much I may agree with the individual propositions in TULIP).   This post will explore how the Covenant Model maintains the essence of TULIP but does so in a more concrete and biblical-historical way.

Transcendence    OR   Total Depravity?

The two terms aren’t synonymous, which makes a 1:1 switch problematic.   God’s transcendence doesn’t change either before or after the Fall.    I think “Total Depravity” might be one of the worst terms of theology ever invented.  I challenged Orthodox Bridge guys on this point.   My comments still haven’t been approved.  I have no problem with Total Depravity, but this isn’t the best model to begin theology with.

Hierarchy or Unconditional Election?

This one is easier.    We are elected in Christ.   Christ is mediator.  There is no such thing as election in the abstract Godhead.   God establishes intermediaries, but because of the rich, earthy Hebraism these mediators aren’t seen in a chain of being continuum.

Ethical Law or Limited Atonement

Despite surface appearances, this is easy too.   Christ fulfilled the law and died the covenantal death.  You get the same thing as limited atonement but it is seen in a more concrete way.   You get the same thing if you add point two of the covenantal model.

Sanctions or Irresistible Grace?

Irresistible grace is about as bad as any on the term (for we all know people who’ve resisted the grace of God).   Effectual calling is superior.   But I think “Covenantal Sanctions” is even better.  Covenantal sanctions deal with blessings and cursings, which call to mind “oaths and witnesses.”   Someone is a Christian because God marks him out as one.  We don’t “make” ourselves Christian.  This means that any talk of calling must be done in the context of the covenant. Granted, we need to flesh this out more, but I think it has promise.  I think this is better than irresistible language.

Continuity or Perseverance?

This one is easy.  These two are almost synonymous.

 

On Dominant Psalmody

My position–which I won’t debate at the moment with my more Covenanter-ish friends–is Dominant Psalmody.   The Psalms in their entirety should comprise the majority of private and public liturgical devotion.   The burden of proof should always be on the one who says we shouldn’t sing God’s word (even though God commanded us to sing his word, Eph. 5:19).  With that said, however, I am not exegetically convinced that there is no place for hymns.  I am not going to give huge detail on why or why not.   I have no interest in defending hymns at large, especially the saccharine revivalistic hymns.   But my own convictions lead me to conclude that some hymns aren’t sinful.   But that’s not the point of this post.

One of the recent New Horizons (March 2014) by the OPC examined the Psalm-singing debate.  Well, not actually.  It explored the ramifications of introducing more psalm-singing (specifically, a new psalter) into the life of the congregation.   Some of the articles (Eric Watkins and others) were quite good on redemptive history and the psalms, if not actually giving an analysis of the discussion.  However, one pastor argues that we shouldn’t sing all 150 psalms (p. 7).  He says God hasn’t commanded us to sing all psalms.  He notes (probably correctly) this has been the consensus of the OPC committee.

What to make of this argument?  I want to be respectful because I came from the OPC and I don’t like criticizing the OPC (remember the rock whence you are hewn).  However, it appears sophistic.  God commands us to sing psalms. True, he didn’t say “all 150,” but that’s like taking Paul’s injunction “to preach the Word” as meaning, “Yeah, but we don’t have to preach the whole bible.”   Sed contra, the hymn singer has to give the justification on why songs by Wesleyans and Pentecostals and anybody from the 1970s gets precedent over God’s word.   God or somebody who says we need a second blessing to be fully saved?  It’s not a hard choice (and for the record, I like “And Can it be?”  However, at the end of the day even Psalm 137 necessarily gets priority).

But back to the article:  The author claims that many of the Psalms “flow out of the Mosaic covenant,” which is obsolete (8).  He doesn’t give any examples, but then goes on to speak of “The Old Testament.” This is bizarre, since the New testament sees Psalms 8 and 110 as proof-texts for the New Covenant, and Psalm 89 is the locus classicus for the Davidic Covenant. Reformed theology, however, does not identify the Mosaic Covenant with the Old Testament.   In fact, since David wrote most of the psalms, would it not better to speak of their being in the Davidic Covenant, which is very much a reality for believers today (Acts 2; Jesus being identified as the Davidic King)?  In the second column on page 8 he says the imprecatory psalms are incompatible with Christian piety.   We are on the edge of Marcionism here.  Most amazingly, he writes that Christian’s suffering today cannot be identified with that of the Psalmists (3rd column, p. 8).  He may be the only person in Christendom who has ever said that.  In fact, if what he is arguing is true, not only should we not sing the psalms, maybe we shouldn’t even pray or read them!

Continuing in a veiled Marcionite strain, he says the attitude towards other nations changed.  While he admits that the Old Testament does see the fullness of the Gentiles coming in, he says this is not the psalms’ approach to other nations.  Presumably, the psalmists (though writing under the Holy Spirit) wanted God to kill the other nations.   It’s a strange argument.  Among other psalms, 22 and 72 prophecy the in-gathering of Gentiles.

Reading that article makes me want to apologize to James Jordan (just a little bit).  For all the wacky things he has said, he has also vigorously argued for more psalm-singing in church.   Even more, he has given practical and step by step ways to introduce it into the church.  We might be uncomfortable with the idea of chanting, but we must remember that everyone from Ireland to India chanted the Psalms, and for a specific reason:  memory.  In the ancient church you could not have been a bishop without having memorized the Psalms (and at least one gospel).    When he advocated an army of Psalm Chanters to change the world, he practically clinched the debate.   The negative of this is what happens when you don’t sing Psalms.

At this point I had planned to do a review of the Red Trinity Hymnal, but that would make the post unnecessarily long.

Is there Greek and Hebrew thinking?

Another observation on today’s Federal Vision is the parting of ways among some of their thinkers.   Most notably is Calvinist International’s rejection of Jim Jordan’s model of “Hebrew Thinking.”  I don’t come down on either side of the discussion, but I will make some observations.  Unlike both parties, I don’t hold to Van Til’s system.    They write,

In his lecture, “Exorcising the Saints of the Great Hangovers,” we were named as a dangerous influence because we stand with the Reformers, the mainstream Reformed tradition, and C S Lewis regarding the natural law and natural theology.

I follow the above guys only so far as it keeps me out of trouble.   Their use of categories was wise and shouldn’t be likely discarded.   I think natural law can work if we see that equity is an inescapable concept.    At the end of the day, though, I will go with Torah over natural law.  Much of CI’s response is a justification of natural law.   I won’t interact with that since I presuppose (irony?) a form of natural law at the most basic level.

This positions him to be the herald of a new age, who speaks with the authority of a new age; previous ages are thus imperfect not simply as all ages are, but rather, are deeply tainted with paganism which only he and a few predecessors have been able to see and correct.

Yes and no.  That much of Western Civilization held on to remnants of paganism is beyond doubt.  The question is whether these specific remnants can fall under common grace (and so be retained) or are they truly pagan and should be rejected.

The idea that past doctrines might actually have the same meaning as some of his own formulations seems ruled out for him by his historicistic principle; the past must be inferior simply because it is past, and truth is new.

Can I say two things:  this is a true proposition as regards Jordan but much of the “Hellenic” thinking is bad and that affirming the latter clause does not entail the former?

Only the Bible stands above this, but not the Bible as read consensually over time; but rather, the Bible as read now, by him.

This is a legitimate criticism of Jordan.  Many times I would have no problem with his conclusions if he would take the time to work out the sixteen steps he used to get there instead of being so dogmatic about it.

Is There a Greek Mind?

The next section of the essay explores who is the true Van Tillian.  Since I am not one I won’t come to a conclusion.  Ironically, I think I will agree with Van Til on his use of the Greeks.  I think the guys at CI do a good job in showing how Jordan borrows from various streams of antiquity while claiming to reject antiquity.

However, I think Jordan does score some points on the effects of Hellenic thinking and I realize that much esotericism is Jewish in origin.  Here is what neither CI nor Jordan have said:   ancient Greek thinking is by no means Western.  It is Eastern.  Many Greeks borrowed from Egyptian and Babylonian magic religions.   So when Greek Orthodox Christians engage in pagan practices like monasticism and extreme ascetism, they are not shucking their Greek heritage for some bastardized Judaism.  They are simply drawing upon the Eastern strain of Hellenic thinking.

And the sad fact remains:  read the earthy sexuality of Song of Solomon and then read Tertullian, Basil, and Augustine on married sexuality.   There is a huge difference between Hebrew and Hellenic thinking.

As to Jordan’s historiography of the Reformation on this point, the CI guys are correct.   Calvin did not simply recover the Hebrew worldview.  Calvin held to Plato’s view on the soul.  Bucer quoted False Dionysius with approval.  I disagree with both gentlemen.

But the antithetical polarity continues in Mr. Jordan’s lecture, with him at one point sounding like an odd combination of Adolf von Harnack and Dr. Bronner:

I can’t shake Harnack’s thesis.  Sure, it’s a bit crude but there is something to it.  When I read the ancient fathers and the Greeks, I see “hyperousia,” the termination of motion, and a serene god.  When I read Zephaniah I see Yahweh fighting like a drunken Samson!

The CI guys then give a list of scholars who have supposedly rebutted the Greek vs Hebrew thesis.  All I can say is, maybe.  I don’t think there is such a view that the Greek brain functions differently than the Hebrew brain.  That is silly.  But the philosophical concepts behind the Old Testament and the ancient Greeks are worlds apart.  Hesiod (and Virgil, too-cf Aeneid Book VIII) saw each successive age as worse than the last one.  Hebraic Christianity on the other hand sees a progression from Older Glory to Newer Glory (2 Corinthians 3.  It’s in the text, Barr notwithstanding).

The CI guys then point to “Hellenism” in the New Testament.   I don’t deny Greek influences, but I do stand by my thesis that pagan Greek philosophers would find certain categories in the OT as incompatible with their own.  The rest of the paper is a spiel on natural law.  I’ll leave it at that.

An Army of Psalm Chanters

My goal in “Federal Vision Diagnosis” is to give an analysis somewhat removed from the situation. Most of the battle are over. NAPARC has ruled (correctly) that the FV is in error. The CREC provides a convenient outlet. Even if the PCA ultimately disciplines Leithart, he’s won the debate. He has shown that the PCA cannot discipline error at the highest level. The reason is simple: what right do mainstream PCA guys have to rebuke Leithart when they are deliberately weak on the Second and Fourth Commandments? (And to add insult to injury, Jim Jordan really doesn’t take exceptions to those two commandments, at least not the way most people take the exceptions). I am also trying to cut off future movements into FV at the knees. A lot of young guys get enamored with the FV because they do see some good things there and see inadequacies in their own churches, and think the FV is the answer. When they are rebuked on it, they harden the defenses. I don’t plan this to be a rebuke. I really want to capitalize on some good things they are saying. Below is an analysis of one of Jordan’s rants against the Calvinist world. I’m not linking to it. It’s fairly easy to find.

What makes this piece by Jordan so annoying is that of the six pieces he wrote on this topic, hidden in two of them were some gems that would utterly revolutionize Reformed life. I’ll jump to the conclusion: you really want to “change the world” or “continue the reformation?” Sing and “chant” Psalms. And not the tamed NIV-psalms in the Red Trinity hymnal.

Some of my criticisms of this article are more along the lines of “this is why nobody wants to play with you.” Other comments will acknowledge that this idea could work and could be within the parameters of the Reformed faith, but the way it is being presented is harmful.

The Calvinistic churches are little more than extensions of the academy. The black robe is the robe of the scholar, not the angelic white robe of a worship leader.

No argument here on the academy part. If robes worn are under the category of “circumstance,” then I don’t see the problem with wearing a white one instead.

The heart of the meeting is the long lecture-sermon.

Paul did say preach the word.

Candles

I’m going to say “no” but my reasons are different. For starters, Bucer didn’t have an initial problem with it. I’ve been in Presbyterian churches that did light candles and it didn’t detract from the preaching (think of a 40+ minute sermon). At the end of the day I have to ask, “Where is it commanded?” Could it be under “circumstance?” That might work. I have long hated fluorescent lighting with all of my heart. It is ugly and science has proven that it triggers migraines. There is no excuse for it. Using candles (or some variant) instead is infinitely superior.

Colored paraments on table and pulpit?

I don’t even know what that is.

Flowers? Maybe.

I have so many reasons for not wanting flowers. All low-church evangelicals know they are obligated to compliment Aunt Glady May’s flowers in the front or lose their job. Try it next Sunday. Even worse, I’ve seen some churches who are big on “creational theology” overdo the flower stuff. It’s worse than silly. A lot of such theology is no different from Celtic paganism.

The darkest part of the room is the center where the dark wood table and the dark wood massive pulpit and the black-robed preacher are.

Not if they are using fluorescent lighting. Then it is seeringly bright.

The Supper is not a festival, is done rarely, with precious little to eat and only grape juice to drink.

The Reformed world has actually improved on this point. He is right on grape juice. That is utterly inexcusable. It’s not merely a crude violation of the RPW, wine has ontological and typological connotations. If we drink grape juice, then we can’t fight Yahweh’s battles in a drunken Spirit-frenzy (Zeph. 9:15). We’ll fight it like practitioners of American Religion. We’ll vote Republican. But I’ve seen Reformed churches increase frequency on this point and as American Fundamentalism waxes older and older, I think we will see more wine. I hope so, if for their sakes.

And in fact, the sacraments don’t actually do anything at all. They are just aids to devotion. Eating bread is nothing; it’s meditating on Jesus that matters. Water on the head is nothing, just a symbol that some day you might come to the right ideas about Jesus and be saved. In other words, touch and physical contact are completely unimportant. It’s all ideas. If you get sick, don’t expect to be anointed with oil. You might be, but it’s pretty rare.

Let’s look at what he is and isn’t saying. He is implying that we are transformed, but not in a Romanist sense. What kind of sense? I don’t know. He doesn’t say. You can’t just drop bombs like this. This is why even on the most charitable reading, The Federal Vision can be accused of pastoral irresponsibility.

So, the churches are miniature academies. People are not taught the Bible, but the confession of faith, over and over.

Sometimes they aren’t taught the Confession, either. No one has ever accused the PCA of being too confessional! LOLOLOL!

I should have thought that the “basics” were learning to chant all the psalms, getting a real practical knowledge of the laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy, and coming to be able to walk through every book of the Bible.

He has a point. If you are trained to do chiastic outlines of the Old Testament, I promise you will be able to recall most of it (structure) from memory. And Scripture becomes infinitely more beautiful. But what about chanting? Isn’t that what EO and Rome does? Sort of. I doubt they chant it like the Hebrews did. But however you say it, chanting is mnemonic. Many Russian Cossacks had the entire Psalter memorized. Even though imperfect, they sought to be Holy Warriors. Chanting aided memory.

And what does the Calvinistic seminary-academy look like? Well, this is what I was taught: We start with exegesis, the grammatical-historical method of getting the data out of the Bible. Then we build Biblical Theology on top of that, learning Biblical themes. But the acme, the highest point, is Systematic Theology. There we have it all put together. So, what are sermons like in Calvinistic churches? They consist of “points” that are somehow related to some text. They do not consist of walking through the text and bringing the people as close as possible to how God wrote the text. Something as simple as walking through the text line by line and closing with some applicatory thoughts would just not be “sermonic” enough.

I’m sorry but this is true. No, the reality is much worse. My experience was a watered-down version of the above. Yeah, that bad.

But let us consider what a Christian view of the Church would be. It would be a place of transformation, not merely of information. Marshaling the people into an army of psalm chanters would be at the top of the list. Indeed, in seminary several psalms would be chanted every day in chapel. The music in the church would be loud, fast, vigorous, instrumental, martial. There would be real feasts. People would be taught that when God splashes water on you, He’s really doing something: He’s putting you into His rainbow.

Some of this is silly, but I hope the “army of psalm chanters” got your attention. As to the instruments–my jury is out on that one.

The environment of music (and the Spirit is the Music of God, as the Son is the Word of God) would be a healing environment (1 Samuel 16:14-23); there would be far fewer occasions for pastoral counseling. Also, because the things that God holds important (music, sacraments, Bible) would be paramount, what passes for systematic theology would be kept on the back burner where it belongs. We need it to ward off errors, but it does not cause the Church to grow. Confessions of faith are neither soil nor fertilizer nor water. Laymen probably should not know that they exist.

There is something to systematic theology, but I am willing to see the above enacted. We shouldn’t reject Charles Hodge. All of the convertskii have demonstrated that they know nothing of Hodge and Turretin.

 

A sort of autobiographical diagnosis

In good chiastic fashion I have come full circle with some older pre-FV writings.  When I left college I read anything I could get my hands on by Peter Leithart and James Jordan–and much of it really was quite good.   Without really knowing all the issues involved, I fell in love with a tangible, concrete biblical verbalist ontology.  And even today that is good.  Several issues made this a bad thing:   1) the FV was still mutating into the dangerous creature it is today, 2) rightly or wrongly (and a little of both) theonomy was tagged as FV’s meaner cousin, and 3) Protestant scholastic categories had fallen on hard times.   I think a good verbalist ontology is what we need, but not at the expense of justification.

Now that I’ve fought Anchoretism and truly understand (to the degree that I do) the philosophical issues involved in the debate, and since much of the FV has moved into the mainly CREC orbit (which has problems even beyond FV), FV writings do not tempt me anymore.  In other words, when FV writers use the biblical text to deconstruct Greek ontologies (and the religious traditions that hold to them), I cheerfully use them.  This isn’t all that different from what Mike Horton does.

I never could shake this argument

All Protestants intuitively know this.  However, as some begin to move into Patristics they pretend it isn’t there.   I first came across it in Jim Jordan’s brief commentary on Revelation (which I don’t endorse).  Jordan writes,

Anyone who reads the Bible, climaxing in the New Testament, and then turns to the “apostolic fathers” of the second century, is amazed at how little these men seem to have known. The Epistle of Barnabas, for instance, comments on the laws in Leviticus, but completely misinterprets them, following not Paul but the Jewish Letter of Aristeas. It is clear that there is some significant break in continuity between the apostles and these men.

No argument here.  It’s the next sentence that loses all his readers,

What accounts for this? I can only suggest that the harvest of the first-fruit saints in the years before ad 70, which seems to be spoken of in Revelation 14, created this historical discontinuity. (I’d say the first-fruits Church was the Pentecostal harvest of the third month; we look toward the Tabernacles harvest of the seventh month; note Leviticus 23:22, which comes right after the description of the Pentecostal feast, and may well shed significant light on the problem we have here mentioned.)

That might be true, but you just can’t drop bombs like this out of nowhere and expect people to follow along.  But I digress.  Back to Aristeas.   There are a number of comments that OB didn’t approve on the LXX.  His next point is spot-on.

We ought to be careful, too, in assuming we have a comprehensive picture of the early church. We have a few writings of a few men, many of whom were not pastors and teachers but educated first generation converts from paganism, lay scholars who were engaged in debate.

Anchorites love to appeal to St Ignatios and the fact that he was a disciple of John.  What of it?  What gives you the right to take a mere selection (fewer than 20 pages) of one man’s writing and apply them to the whole church?  This is the crudest of logical fallacies

Revisiting the Wilson-Evans debates

One of the stupider–at least rhetorically–things Wilson said is his view that

In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.

When I first read Fidelity I didn’t catch that (or I did and it was eight years ago and I have since forgotten).   I understand why feminists like Rachael Held Evans got angry.  Admittedly, this sounds degrading to women.    I am not defending Wilson, but I want to see how this debate plays out and issue a warning that while Wilson’s language might be stupid, his position is by no means the most demeaning among the debaters.

(It did provide fodder for some hilarious memes)

penetrates

What Wilson Probably Meant (But Didn’t Say)

If you have read Lewis’s Space Trilogy, he develops the idea that maleness-femaleness cannot simply be reduced to sexual genitalia.  It is part of our very being (and maybe the cosmos, since one can find male-female dualisms in nature).  “Equality,” whatever that word means, cannot simply be achieved with legislation or feminist propaganda. Even if it were achieved, it wold make harmony impossible.   God’s universe doesn’t change because Congress gets angry.   Did Wilson intend all of that?  Who knows?  I think Lewis is right and Wilson probably should have quoted Lewis.

Let’s continue with the line that Wilson is wrong on this point.  I hold that he is.  I hold that he is because this will show that his feminist opponents–by their own words–are more degrading to women. Fast-forward to the 50 Shades of Grey Debate.   Wilson makes the point that sexual morality (even between male and female) is defined ultimately–to the degree such a definition can be given–by God, not by “mutual consent.”  Like Wilson or not, I think that is a truism in Christian ethics.    He quotes Evans as saying,

Just a few interactions though. Rachel Held Evans says this–and lest someone think I am taking Evans’ words out of context, the background to this is the 50 Shades novel, which Jared Wilson rebutted by the above reference to Fidelity:

“Note: I get that some folks enjoy getting ‘conquered’ to some degree in bed. That’s fine. Do what you both enjoy. But this should be a mutual decision, pleasurable to both parties, and it is certainly not required by God-ordained gender roles.”

I think both Wilson and Evans in this context are using “conquered” in the sense of bondage.  True, Wilson used the language of “conquer” in Fidelity, but since Evans and Wilson have now moved the conversation to 50 Shadesit seems the definition of conquer has shifted to more–well, you get the idea.   Wilson then makes an interesting observation,

So the problem is not the language I used about penetration or conquest, but rather who is in charge of the whole thing. The objectors have wanted to slander me by pretending that I put the man in charge of it, but I most emphatically do not. What I actually do (as she accidentally acknowledges here) is to say that God is in charge of it.

I’ve long since given away (Or thrown away) my copy of Fidelity, so I’ll have to take his word for it.  He continues,

It also means that I believe that mutually-agreed-upon rape games in marriage are out. Mutual consent is necessary in godly marital sex (1 Cor. 7:4), but mutual consent is not the final authority. Mutual consent is required by God, but mutual consent is not God

If mutual consent were the final authority, then there is no reason why a married couple could not decide to read 50 Shades together.

Again, it’s hard to argue with this (and I still think his language his poorly chosen).  Let’s go back to one of Evans’ quotes,

“Note: I get that some folks enjoy getting ‘conquered’ to some degree in bed. That’s fine. Do what you both enjoy. But this should be a mutual decision, pleasurable to both parties, and it is certainly not required by God-ordained gender roles.”

Wilson rejects this line of thinking.  So I ask you, “At the end of the day, which person believes that women-bondage is okay?”  Of course Evans will reject this, but given her language its hard to see what else she meant.