Archive for July 2009

Dan Fuller vs John Calvin

July 21, 2009

John Armstrong’s Reformation and Revival Journal (Luther 2) endorses the conditional theology of Daniel Fuller. It has a review essay on Fuller’s “Unity of the Bible” by Chuck Huckaby. Since Fuller accused Calvin of being too unconditional and thus too “dispensational”, Huckaby spends much of his time trying to say that Calvin was also conditional. The idea that Calvin was right, and Fuller wrong, does not seem to occur to him.

Huckaby writes that Fuller’s quoting of Calvin is selective, and that we should refer to the creeds which are conditional. Both Piper and Fuller quote Calvin selectively. Piper only quotes that with which he can agree; I give Fuller more credit for at least quoting and disagreeing with the Protestants.

But many of you ultimately don’t care what Calvin or the creeds say. Thus for now I will confine myself to what  Reformation and Revival says about “conditionality”. Huckaby writes (p220) that the only issue here is the conditionality of faith and “nothing of works”. But “works” are at the very heart of Fuller’s concerns.

Since the old covenant and the law command faith, Fuller claims, what we need to do is avoid MISUNDERSTANDING so that our works are “works of faith” and not a “legalism of merit without faith.” It’s not “nothing of works”. Rather, it is of works, and besides that, the works must be of faith. So instead of trusting only the finished work of Christ, we must constantly suspect ourselves, and look to see if we have works, and to see if these works are properly motivated. This may be a puritan emphasis but it is not consistent with the gospel.

From Huckaby’s defense of the conditionality of the gospel:“The law is not the “letter” of 2 Corinthians from which we are released.” Then he quotes a puritan: “The spiritual law of Romans 7:12 cannot be the same as the ‘letter’ of II Cor 3:6. The ‘letter’ from which we are released is the one without the Sprit…and thus is the very opposite of the spiritual law of Romans 7.”

This seems to be the standard anti-dispensational reading: neither Romans 7 or II Cor 3 are seen as being about redemptive history or about the change brought by the new covenant. They are only warnings, proper for any time or covenant, to NOT MISUNDERSTAND, to not be a “legalist with wrong motives”.

Huckaby quotes Cranfield to support his reading of II Cor 3:
“Paul does not use ‘letter’ as a simple equivalent of ‘the law’.” “Letter” is rather what the legalist is left with as a result of his misunderstanding, and misuse of the law in isolation from the Spirit is not the law in its true character….”

This kind of “narrow reading” is what many other Reformed folk are doing
to minimize the difference between law and grace. If you get the law back to its “true character”, then salvation is also by law. If you get works back to being enabled by sovereign grace, then justification is by works. The gospel either/or must go for the sake of the but and the however. We can’t just say anymore that God DID what the law could NEVER do (Romans 8:3). That sounds too “antinomian” and “dispensational”. The legalists object:

“Everything depends on the inward attitude of the heart, with the great contrast lying between the unregenerate flesh and the indwelling, regenerating Spirit. Those indwelt by the Spirit are disposed to comply with the spiritual law of faith…”

I suppose we could at this point discuss possible discontinuities about the Spirit and regeneration between the covenants. But notice what has happened: justification by grace part from works has disappeared. The either/or that Paul had between faith and works has disappeared. For some “the law of Moses becomes only a law of sin and death.” But for others, the law of Moses “WAS SAVING” if their obedience was an “obedience of faith” (p223).

Works are not ruled out as means of justification; the only problem is “legalism” as defined as boasting. If you work without boasting and with faith, then you will be justified. If you do not work (enough), then you are an antinomian (so much so that you will not be justified?).

After we get done saying all those pretty words about the cross and justification apart from our works, we get scared of grace either/ors, and we say that “however” it all DEPENDS on God’s secret regenerating work in our hearts ALSO.

But isn’t there a real “tension” here? Perhaps, but what are we are to tell the unsaved: the gospel is a tension? It’s a “balance” between what God did at the cross and what God does in your heart? Or is that only the gospel we tell people who think they are already saved (like “covenant children”)?

I quote Fuller (Unity of the Bible, 143): “NOT ONLY must we trust that His death on the cross enables God to forgive our sins, but to believe properly we must also…continually believe in God’s promises as an indispensable component of genuine faith…”

See the tension? While “unconditional” election supposedly is not part of the gospel but only that which secretly makes the gospel work, the gospel is not only the work of Christ outside of us but also the work of Christ in us. So that I cry out: but what happens if I do not “continually believe as much as I should”?

What is Huckaby’s gospel reply? Is it that I am constituted righteous by the work of Christ? NO. He tells me instead not to be “overscrupulous”. He writes: “nor must justifying faith be perfect or flawless, or superhuman faith. It is the imputed righteousness of Christ alone that makes the difference, not our faith. p227”

The new perspective accentuates the  “family” (non-flawless) commands of God, and thus lets the cross make up the difference. But the gospel says that all saving faith is the fruit of the righteousness obtained for the elect AND that justification is not a future thing dependent on our future works or future faith or future works of faith. This is what we learned when we are taught the gospel: it is the very thing Huckaby and Fuller leave behind when they start saying the faith doesn’t need to be perfect.

Huckaby agrees with Fuller that “Calvin’s exegesis of key passages in Romans and Galatians can be seen as positioning the law of Moses as a ‘law of works’ not based on faith at all. (p231). I would like to see much more discussion of this: I think Calvin got it right! Gal 2:16-3:13 are not about a “misunderstanding” of works. Galatians puts works in antithesis to faith in a way that Fuller will not allow.

In a footnote, Huckaby says that he “does not agree with certain theological conclusions Fuller draws”, but he never tells us about those disagreements. He seems to agree with the “single covenant” unity approach which incorporates the legal aspects of the old covenant into the new covenant.

What is the one major difference between those of us who are submitted to the gospel and those who are not. Many would say the biggest difference is regeneration. I think the issue is “law and the gospel”. But all I seem to read from some Reformed puritans is that dispensationalists are wrong about law and grace. The errors of dispensationalists about law are usually not spelled out.

What bothers some puritans is any talk of “unconditionality”. Of course election is unconditional, they consent, BUT HOWEVER everything DEPENDS on THE COVENANT which of course to many (but not all!) Reformed scholars is  conditional, depending on us “doing our part”. To them, the law is gospel after all.

Meredith Kline On Breaking the New Covenant

July 1, 2009

Meredith Kline. By Oath Consigned. (Eerdmans, 1968).

Despite Kline’s use of new information about extra-biblical treaties to talk about “covenant”, his conclusions are more traditional than many Reformed writers who are now distancing themselves from ANY conditional/unconditional distinctions.

I interact with Kline because I agree with his holding the line on the law/gospel antithesis, but I will argue that his reading of the covenants makes it difficult for him to talk about God meeting all the conditions for the salvation of an INDIVIDUAL.

Kline says that water baptism only puts individuals into a conditional covenant, and introduces them to potential curse as well as potential blessing. But my focus is not baptism, but Kline’s view of covenants.

Is the new covenant ONLY about the gospel? If there is such a thing as being in the new covenant but not being in Christ, what are the blessings of being in covenant for those for whom Jesus did not die?

Exactly what is the “common grace” of being in the new covenant, if one assumes that the reprobate can be included for a time in the covenant?

Kline writes about ‘the proper purpose of the covenant, the salvation of the elect.” p 34. But Kline cautions that “we are not to reduce the redemptive covenant to that proper purpose.” Those who don’t continue to believe the gospel are condemned. (John 3:18). While people are already condemned, they are condemned even more when they reject the gospel.

Of course this is true. Unless you deny that the reprobate have the duty to believe the gospel, you will agree that-despite inability–all have a duty to believe the gospel. And you could say it this way: all have a duty to come into the new covenant in which “all know the Lord “.

But this is something different from saying that the non-elect are in the new covenant, and will be cursed and broken off if they don’t continue to believe..

All in the new covenant know the Lord. When we baptize with water , we cannot know for sure if people know the Lord. But this does not eliminate our duty to judge by the gospel. Those who do not confess with their mouth the gospel we should not presume to baptize with water. Those we do baptize with water we do so not to put into a conditional covenant but on their confession of bankruptcy which rules out past and future covenant keeping BY US as a basis for blessing.

But Kline resists the “bent toward such a reduction of covenant to election. To do so is to substitute a logical abstraction for the historical reality…”

The historical reality for Kline is the reality of covenant threats and “actual divine vengeance against the disobedience as covenantal elements”. I agree about divine vengeance but do those who are never initiated into the new covenant experience wrath? I am sure Kline would agree with me that they do. But this is something different from saying that those who experience the wrath of God were once members of the new covenant.

Those who hear the gospel and reject it face greater condemnation but this does not prove that they EVER knew the Lord covenantally. Matthew 7 teaches us that there are those who NEVER knew the Lord. There is no category of new covenant people who knew the Lord who then stop knowing the Lord.

I agree that the blessing of the new covenant comes through covenant curse on Jesus Christ.

But if Christ has kept the covenant for all those in the new covenant, then how can Kline speak of “dual sanctions” for those in the new covenant? Kline thinks that those who were never elected and those for whom Jesus never died can be initiated into the new covenant. And his pattern for this is not only the Mosaic covenant but also the Abrahamic covenant. Not all the children of Abraham are children of Abraham. It was possible to be in that covenant but not be justified like Abraham was.

Kline agrees that Jeremiah 31 sounds like “discontinuity” with earlier covenants. “Jeremiah speaks, to be sure, only of a consummation of grace; he does not mention a consummation of curses in the new Covenant.” p 76. But Kline maintains this is only a matter of focus— the emphasis is on eschatological blessing but curse is not denied. “But the theologian of today ought not to impose on himself the visionary limitations of an Old Testament prophet.”

But why should we take this (marcionite? to turn the tables!) attitude to Jeremiah? Perhaps the prophet really is seeing a new covenant which has no “dual sanctions” because it is altogether conditioned on the obedience of Christ.

Yes, there is anathema and excommunication in the New Testament. But what Kline needs to show is that those judgments are exclusions of those who are in the new covenant. Otherwise Kline simply assumes the paradigm with which he began. I John 2:19 says that those who sent out “were not of us.” But John 15 says that those who do not abide in the vine are thrown away. Is the right exegesis here that those who began to abide were later broken off from “the covenant”?

As for me, I don’t see how saying that the vine is the covenant fits with Christ saying He is the true vine. Certainly there is such a thing as a false profession and assurance about Christ, but does it really answer any questions to introduce into John 15 a covenant with dual sanctions?

But Kline argues that we who say that only the elect are now in the new covenant “prematurely precipitate the age to come.” (p 77). In other words, Kline does the already/ not yet number, with an emphasis on the not yet. The new covenant is really not yet, he thinks, because now there are those in it who do not know the Lord.

Kline argues from the covenant breaking of Israelites in Romans 11:17-21. If gentiles in the new covenant are grafted into the Abrahamic covenant, then we must not say that the new convent is unconditional because the Abrahamic covenant was not unconditional. Verse 21: “he may not spare you either”.

Yes, we have the promise of Romans 8:32 that all those for whom God did not spare His Son will be spared. The condition of this blessing is Christ’s obedience (even to death) . So I think it is possible to warn and threaten folks ( he may not spare you either) without telling them that they have been initiated into the new covenant. I think Kline would agree— not all are in the new covenant, we have to be initiated.

But are there some in the new covenant who will not be spared? What good would it do to warn people in the new covenant about this if it were not possible for them to be broken off? Then again, what good would it do to warn people about any disobedience if they are so reckless as to put all their hope in Christ as the only condition of blessing?

Since I reject the theology of paradox, I seek reconciliation of all the biblical data. I don’t want a reduction which leave out the warnings. But I would argue that the issue in Romans 9 to 11 is not about our covenant keeping but about continued faith in the righteousness of Christ. When Romans 9:32 complains that some of the children of Abraham did not seek righteousness by faith, this does not mean that they did not obey the law in the right way.

Israelites who rejected the scandal of Jesus were perfectly willing to give God credit for their works. They were just not ready to be told by Jesus that their works were evil .

And the reason the works of the Israelites who stumbled were evil was not simply a lack of sincerity or moral effort. Their works were evil because they were done without faith in the gospel Abraham believed.

That gospel says that God justifies the ungodly who do not work (Romans 4:5). It was not a situation of being in a covenant but failing to meet certain legal conditions. The problem was people not believing the promise of the gospel.

Romans 10:3 “for they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. “

Can people be submitted to the covenant but not be submitted to the imputed righteousness? I say no. A person who has not submitted to the righteousness of Christ has not yet had the law written on his heart. There are no unbelievers like that in the new covenant.

This is not a “premature” anticipation of the age to come. ALREADY in Romans 9-11, Paul makes two points:

Not every Jew is elect or justified. One could be in the Abrahamic covenant but not justified by God as an individual. So far, with this even the Jew who stumbled could agree. Yes, we believe in election, and we know our works are not evil and that we are elect because God has made us able to keep the covenant. Thus we teach grace but also conditional covenant.
In Romans 9:11, and this is the one many stumble upon. Paul claims that we cannot establish our own righteousness, not even if we do so zealously and with sincerity. Not even if we give God the credit for us and our doing.

Though I agree that there is a law-aspect to the Abrahamic covenant so that we can speak of some Israel being broken off, I cannot agree that any curse hangs over those in the new covenant. Those for whom Christ died will be spared. To tell a person that “you may not be spared either” is to warn him that he may not yet be in the new covenant. This is the way I read the warnings of Hebrew 6:4 and Colossians 1:23. Also Matthew 8:12 (But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out)

I certainly don’t claim to understand everything here. But I refuse to talk out of both sides of my mouth, first about an imputed righteousness which is the condition of all new covenant blessing, but then again about a covenant which God will enable the elect to keep.

If the law is not established (Romans 3:31) by the death of Christ, what makes us think anything the Spirit does in us will secure our safety? If people in the new covenant can be broken off from the new covenant, what is the big deal about the new covenant?

Hebrews 9:14 how much shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit,offered himself without spot to God,purge your conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?

Hebrews 10:14 for by one offering He has perfected fervor those who are being sanctified

Does “living by the Spirit” mean that we are being enabled to stay in the covenant by means of covenant keeping? Or does it mean continuing by faith in the righteousness of the one who is the only condition of all our blessings?

Hebrews 10:22-23 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience…let us hold fast the confidence of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

But is it not possible, as Hebrews 10:29 warns, to “count the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a communion thing”? Does not this verse teach that those who are threatened with “worse punishment” are presumed to be already in the covenant? Even if you are not elect, you are not common, but are in the covenant? I could ask: which covenant? But instead I deny that you have to be in a covenant to dishonor it. The “him” who is sanctified by the blood is Christ, not us. Those who have not submitted to the covenant are not yet in the covenant.

I certainly agree with Kline that there are many professing Christians who are not really Christians. Kline assumes that to avoid being premature, we need in this age to agree with these folks that they are in the covenant. But I disagree. I will not agree that all those in any community which professes to be Christian are in the new covenant.

To those who will not take sides with God against themselves, we must say: God may not spare you either. Of course we cannot know that a person will not later come to faith in the gospel. But we do know that those who do not trust the gospel will NOT be spared.

Christ has authority over all human creatures. Nobody has to be initiated into the new covenant in order for God to have greater jurisdiction over him! God owns even those Jesus did not buy, and their inability is no barrier to God judging them. We do not need to put them into some covenant to give God a basis for cursing them. When we pledge ourselves to the new covenant, we do not confess our hope that we will be able to do what we promise, or cursed if we fail. Instead we confess a hope in the God who conditioned all the blessings of the new covenant on the obedience of His Son.

Only Many Words: Against the New Perspective

July 1, 2009

Is it important for those who have been taught justification at once based ONLY on the “alien righteousness” to be re-educated with a new perspective on justification?

Does the NT teaches a distinction between our works (of any kind, not of law but of faith) and what we are used to calling the “finished work” of Christ. Are words about that distinction biblical or simply the imposing of  Western logic onto the text? I myself am dogmatic that Romans 5 teaches justification (and condemnation) apart from what we do.

To look not only at chapters in the Institutes on justification and sanctification but also at Calvin’s commentary on Galatians shows that we cannot distinguish Calvin from Luther in the way the new perspective attempts to do. Calvin talks like Luther about ethics.

Calvin does not confine the reference point for ethics to “union with Christ”. Without forensic justification, Calvin claims, a sinner cannot do any works which pleases God. Another way to say this is that the elect are not sanctified by works. The elect work because we were sanctified by the blood of Christ. (see Hebrews 10:10-14) When the NT says that people are “being sanctified”, it is simply saying that various individuals are becoming Christians at different points of time. In the NT, the word “sanctification” is not used to describe improvement of character and conduct, so that Christians are more or less sanctified”.

But the new perspective does not object to imposing a  traditional category like “progressive sanctification” onto the NT. If we say (and we do!) that justified sinners go on to work and grow in grace, they say we contradict our denial that SANCTIFICATION is process.

So we have a controversy about words here. And the question I want to raise in this essay is not so much about Calvin but about the practical difference (if any) a RE-EDUCATION about words can have. If we could be persuaded to say (or not say) “progressive sanctification”, would the results be more faith and love ? If we could get folks to stop using the word “sanctification” except to describe our holy position in Christ, would that be a great benefit for the kingdom?

But why ask such questions? Are we pragmatists, willing to test the truth of a theology by our opinion of its results? Of course I do think we must consider the life that results from “holding to” any doctrine.  I especially want to question the assumption that a new perspective which includes the Christian life into the definition of justification will result in greater energy in the Christian life.

I do not think that those who hold to justification defined ONLY by imputed righteousness need to be re-educated. The tenor of life of such people is not worse than those who include works of faith into that which justifies.

We are being told by advocates of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (Timothy George) that we cannot insist on forensic justification as gospel because to do so would call into question the salvation of all those people before the Reformation. With the last part I agree: if we say that you must believe in Christ as the justifier of the ungodly to believe he gospel and be saved, then we certainly ARE calling into question the Christian status of all those who condition grace on something they do.

But my point is that the new perspective cannot call into question our “scholastic” finished work language without also calling to question the experience of those who keep using the language of Calvin and Luther.

If the Reformation should have never happened, then it is clear that we should stop using Reformation language to describe our relation to God. If Reformation language is only a situation gospel, or only an “application of the gospel”, then we must ask if the gospel needs to be applied in our day the way it was in that day.

The new perspective tells us that in the NT the gospel is opposing Jewish privilege and is not opposing merit. Since merit is not the problem, we are told that we should not read texts like Philippians 3 as opposing merit. In other words, as long as you say that God makes you different by grace and not by being Jewish, then there is no need to get picky about HOW you talk about the righteousness of Christ. As long as you talk about the righteousness and not about your roots, then it will not matter so much if this righteousness is in you or in the finished work Such a distinction is scholastic, and matters not.

But if it doesn’t matter, then why worry about scholastics imposing such distinctions on the text? Why the many wordy attempts to re-educate the next generation so that it will not talk the language of “alien righteousness” and ‘finished work”?

I do not think we need to stop saying that justification was achieved at the cross, and not in us.

I think we need to START SAYING IT!

My corollary: the words and works of those who advocate the new perspective are evil. They cannot say that they are only quibbling about words: they are bewitching the people of God to not obey the truth about justification. (Gal 3:1)

The assumption of the new perspective is that “keeping the commandments” has nothing to do with saying that justification is based outside of the Christian in the finished work. Against that some of us would say that you cannot keep any commandment of God without first “submitting to the righteousness of God”, defined by Scripture as that which is revealed in Christ’s obedience and not in ours. (Romans 7:1-6; Hebrews 9:14)

Nothing else matters if you do not know and obey the truth that Christ was imputed with the sins of His people and bore them away. If you say that Christ died for everybody but saved only some, then you condition salvation on the grace of God in us instead of the finished work, and then you do not obey the truth and are neither justified nor sanctified and therefore cannot keep any of the commandments of God.

You mean that we must assent and trust in particular redemption? Yes. There is no redemption which is not particular. Isaiah 53 is the presupposition of everything the NT has to say about redemption: those who are redeemed will be redeemed, and those who think of their redemption as based on what grace will enable them to do are still in darkness.

Is this “justification by words”? Does it matter if somebody knows anything about the cross, if one keeps the commands anyway? Does it matter if one knows anything about Christ, just so long as God gives them the grace to keep the commands?  I think it does matter but to get back to them: does it matter if we are ignorant of the new perceptive, if we keep the commandments whole holding on to “Western logic” about the finished work?

Why all the words against scholasticism? Are the new scholastics of the “new perspective” saying that their words promote the keeping of the commandments? I remember what Wesley wrote:” if you want to still promote the Christian life, be sure not to go too far with such things as election and imputation.”

Neither side in this controversy hss achieved wordlessness. On my side, we are very concerned to say that Christ has achieved all the blessings for salvation at the cross and that this achievement means that all for whom Christ died will repent of ever being bewitched by a perspective which includes our works into the righteousness revealed in the gospel.

Christ died for our sins according to the words of Scripture. Christ did not die of those who either die ignorant or reject the words of the Scripture concerning the death of Christ. We do not invite folks to believe that Jesus died for everybody. We command people to believe that only those for whom Christ finished a work will be saved.

Jesus saves. Jesus saves those who believe that Jesus saves. Those who believe that Jesus died to save everybody do not believe that Jesus saves. Those who do not believe that Jesus saves believe that they are their own saviors We should not tell such people that what matters is the keeping of the commandments. We do not invite them to call upon a Christ of their own choosing. We command them to believe the gospel of a finished work for the elect, because if they do not, they remain in their sins and their works are evil.

To the Galatians, Paul expresses himself strongly. “If you get bewitched by the words of a false gospel, then you are under the curse which comes with a false gospel.” It will not matter that you used to have the apostle Paul as your pastor, if you look to your doing, fhen you will not only be less fruitful. You will not be justified. You will be cursed.

The new perspective is right to warn us not to separate justification from the Christian life. If you attempt to live the Christian life by works, you teach justification by works.  But wait, says the new perspective, the problem in Galatians is not merit-works but privilege-works, and concern about merit is only application. OK. Let me use my old forensic language and say it this way: if you “ground” your assurance on anything but “Christ crucified” then you are making something else besides the finished work the condition of your salvation.

If you say that Jesus died for everybody but that only some are justified and that this is conditioned on grace working in you, then you are under the curse. If you say that you are justified by Christ crucified but that assurance depends on your Christian life, you may be a good Calvinist but you still are under the curse.

The declarative justification of the last day  (some raised to life, some not) will not look at the quantity or quality of our works in order to say if we were justified by the blood of Christ. Works of faith are NOT included in the justification of a sinner, because God justifies the elect before that last day and while they are still ungodly.

Though the mere decree of God makes certain the justification of the elect, the ground of justification is Christ’s blood shed for the elect. Though Christ died for his people after and before His people lived, the elect do not receive justification until they are called by the gospel and believe it. So the questions becomes whether the people doing the works were justified by the blood while doing the works.

The judgment is not about how many works are needed for you to get justified The works of those who did not believe the gospel were dead works and fruit unto death. (Romans 6:14;7:1-6; Hebrews 9:14) To by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13) is not simply about not stealing and killing anymore; it is about working while abiding in the gospel of justification. It is about working without in any way including your works in your justification. This is what the apostle John calls “practicing righteousness” (I John 3:7).

The one who includes his works into his justification does not believe the gospel and cannot do any works which please God. We cannot tell by “outward appearance ( II Cor 5!) if somebody believes the gospel.  All we have to go by is their abiding confession that they believe the gospel of Christ crucified as having finished the work. But all the works advocated by the new perceptive are works of unbelief in this finished work of Christ. Only if our assurance is not in what Christ did, may we say that Christ died for everybody. Only if our assurance is not in what Christ did, may we include our works into our justification.

This is how I think we ‘apply” Galatians. Even if you avoid Jewish parochialism or Roman Catholic merit theology, if you set aside Christ crucified when it comes to living the Christian life, then you give evidence of still being fallen from grace and lost in your sins.

There is no mystical know-nothing-ism in Galatians. Paul says that “Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified” When it comes to ANY favor with God, Paul knows nothing but Christ Crucified. There were words, he writes, and you understood them and those of you who give evidence of the effectual call heard those words with the “hearing of faith”. This faith was not in your faith, this assurance was not in your assurance.

Faith is not what causes the difference between saved and lost. The difference between saved and lost is caused by Christ crucified: those for who Christ was crucified will be saved, and to be saved they will be given faith not in faith nor in their works of faith but in the work finished at the cross.

The new perspective is a gospel for fools because it looks away from Christ crucified to us and begin to look to our imperfect keeping of the commands. When we on the “scholastic” side try to say that it matters how you keep the commandments, so that you do it from duty or gratitude but not for your justification, the new perspective is so convinced that we are wrong that it also concludes that we really don’t think it matter if you keep the commandments.

Like the Judaizers in Galatians, the new perspective says it does not deny anything Paul has taught  about Scripture or resurrection or justification. Yes, justification IS based on the blood and is by faith, but we only want to add something to the definition, include something in without of course taking anything away from it.

Just So. Circumcision also matters. We agree with Paul that circumcision does not matter for entrance into the covenant community. We certainly agree that there is no merit in circumcision If you make circumcision a matter of merit, then you are acting as if the law did not command faith and are making circumcision into a “work of law” (Romans 9:32) But we are not advocating any of that. We are only saying that circumcision is a commandment and that it matters as a “work of faith”.

This sounds a lot like the Arminian false gospel: we are not denying that the blood of Christ is what saves people. We are only saying that Christ died for everybody and that works of faith are the difference between the saved and lost at the judgment. After all, the judgment is according to our works, and therefore not ONLY according to the finished cross. We know that Christ finished the work for everybody.

Am I trying to say the new perspective is inherently either Arminian or universalist? Yes of course, but let me explain: you can hold to election and still hold the new perspective. The Judaizers certainly believed that it was their election which made them different. I will say something stronger: I think you can “hold to” particular Atonement and still be a Jewish person who rejects Christ.

(I am not talking about Judaizers at this point. Judaizer “accepted Christ”. They were under the curse because they accepted Christ on their own Arminian terms instead of God’s terms.)

Even Jews who rejected Jesus as the Christ did not take lambs to the temple for the sake of everybody. The lambs were slaughtered for particular sinners. Redemption IS particular; there is no other kind of redemption in the Bible. The Atonement is personal. There is no other kind of atonement.

The problem with the new perspective is not solved merely agreeing with the Bible about particular redemption. Although that would be a good start! But the greater problem is if you will not rest on that blood and God’s promise about the blood as that which entitles you to all the blessings of salvation. The new perspective does not want to include into justification merit or circumcision but it DOES want to include in it the imperfect “tenor” of the Christian’s life.

It does not want to stop singing “Jesus thy blood and righteousness”. It just want to further glorify God by getting into the question of whether Christians are less likely to steal wallets than are non-Christians. Yes, the blood. But also assurance that even if you are not more moral than your neighbor at least your motives are better.

So the false gospel to the Galatians. No circumcision without faith. But then again, no assurance without circumcision either. While the Gentiles may show their faith without circumcision, let us show you my faith in Christ by my circumcision. Don’t tell us that circumcision doesn’t matter. We never said it was meritorious. We never said that the blood was not the “ground”. We just said that you are being scholastic if your worry so much about Uncircumcision.

This scholastic law/grace antithesis may have had some application once upon a time, Paul, but you know very well that it’s not the gospel and that you can teach grace without saying anything about law or righteousness. We feel that you can teach Christ without getting into details about circumcision.

At the very least I hope I am exhibiting the  dialectic of the new perspective. It claims to be a practical gain for the church, but it doesn’t see any way it could in any way be calling into question the cross or the gospel itself. Of course, circumcision doesn’t matter but neither does uncircumcision, so therefore when you get on your scholastic high horse and say that we are cursed if we get circumcised, then you are being very sectarian.

Of course we can appreciate your interpretation on the question, but surely you are not saying that we are not Christians. While we may accuse you of justification by words, surely you will not consign us to hell for saying that works must be included into our justification. Of course our words matter and you need them to straighten you out, but even if we are wrong, Paul, surely you can’t be serious that we are cursed. We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He died and rose again.

Even so Arminianism. It claims to be more evangelistic and more honoring to God’s universal love, but it  assumes that we are all Christians here and can  believe the same thing about substitution. Of course, universal atonement doesn’t matter but neither does particular atonement, so therefore when you get on your scholastic high horse and say that we are under the curse if we condition the application of the universal atonement on something done in the sinner, then you are not only NOT exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit but probably even saying that the fruit of the Spirit doesn’t matter.

We can appreciate your interpretation on these things. Even if we do say that your God is a monster if He demands us to believe the gospel if Jesus didn’t die for everybody. Surely we all need to grow in knowledge but no sane man would say that we need to change Gods. We all believe in the same God, but some of us show our faith by being circumcised. We all believe in the same blood, but some of us show our faith by saying that our faith is what makes the blood of Jesus effective. For we all believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He died and rose again.

Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames

July 1, 2009

Letter to My Local PCA Pastor

Dear ——:

Last night I went to see Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s Flames for myself. What I saw and heard was a false gospel and a false Christ.

  1. The cross was presented as something that the devil did to Jesus. There was no presentation of “sin” as that which demands the justice of God so that God gives the Son to satisfy justice for the sins of His people.
  2. The cross was presented in the fist five minutes as something that MADE NO DIFFERENCE at the end. Since it was clearly said several times that Jesus died for every person, nobody in the audience could conclude that the difference between heaven and hell was what Jesus did on the cross. (big deal! he died for those in hell too) The difference was said to be what the listeners did. So there was no good news at all last night, but only commands to believe in a false Christ and a false gospel.
  3. In the end Satan gets people for whom Jesus died. That ideas brings dishonor and reproach to Jesus and His work. Care you more for the approval of men then do you do for the honor of Christ?
  4. The entire presentation was one long appeal to the flesh, to the natural mind. Sample statements:

    You all got a “knower”.
    You got to humble yourself.
    You got to have the courage to say the prayer.
    It’s up to you in the next 60 seconds.
    He’s the path, but you are the chooser.
    You got to really mean it.
    If you will stand up, you will be a “special person”.
    God will not throw it in your lap.
    It’s God’s gift, but your accepting the gift is the difference.
    If you say this after me, your name will be written in the book.
    And most infamously: “just do it!”
    And then people clapped when they did it.

  5. And I cried. Before, when I was a proud Calvinist, convinced that I was more theologically sophisticated than other folks, I would have simply been outraged. But I cried, helpless, not knowing what to do or to say. “God, do you want me to stand up and interrupt when they say that Jesus died for those who go to hell?” Maybe I should have. I don’t want to be a fatalist; I don’t want to shirk my responsibility. But then again, I want people to be offended at the gospel, not at me.
  6. The trouble is that you don’t preach the gospel because you don’t preach particular redemption. Thus you avoid the offense of saying that the difference between saved and lost is the death of Jesus (and that all those for whom Jesus died will be brought to faith in the true gospel and saved from the sin of idolatry involved in believing the false gospel.) You may occasionally talk in code language that reassures some people that you believe what the WCF says about particular redemption, but you avoid the antithesis. Thus you avoid the truth. You agree that you only have another interpretation but speak peace to those who say that God is neither wise nor holy nor just in saving all for whom Jesus died.
  7. How did I get from 1-5 to 6? I think you tolerate and sponsor what you really believe. If you think of Heaven’s Gates as the gospel, or even as “pre-evangelism”, then you do not really believe the gospel. “Unconditional grace” without preaching the imputed righteousness of the effective death of Christ is not the gospel, but merely lawlessness. Romans 1:17–“in the gospel a righteousness is revealed”…
  8. What was “sin” in the presentation? Doing drugs, social drinking, not going to church, and, ultimately, not accepting Jesus. But Romans 10:3 teaches us that it is sin to try to establish our own righteousness instead of submitting to the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God is not out there to be taken at people’s discretion. The righteousness of God demands that those for whom Christ died will not only stop hating God and His righteousness but also that all of the elect be forgiven for their sin of hating God and His righteousness. When you abridge the gospel, you substitute your own wisdom for that of God.
  9. What am I to do when ninetween clergymen say to the town in which I live that this is the gospel. I am not a pessimist: I do not believe that Satan rules the world. But I know that Satan is behind the presentation I saw last night. Satan does not wear a red cape. He substitutes a false gospel for the real one and calls it grace.

Mark McCulley