Archive for June 2010

Both the Death and the Resurrection

June 29, 2010

Warnock (Raised with Christ) asks some good questions about the connection between the death and resurrection of Christ, and left me with several texts to keep pondering.

For example, I Peter 1:11 tells us of the Spirit’s prediction of “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” I Peter 3:21 speaks of an “appeal for a good conscience, through the resurrection.”

The gospel is not the death without the resurrection, or the resurrection without the death. The good news about one is good news about the other. Warnock quotes Calvin to this effect: “When in scripture death only is mentioned, everything peculiar to the resurrection is at the same time included, and that there is a like synecdoche in the term resurrection.” (Institutes 2:16:13, p 75 in Warnock).

Mr. Warnock does well to give us the Ephesians 4:8 quotation of Psalm 68: 18—“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. In saying, He ascended, what does it mean but that he also descended…?” Warnock: “Paul explains that, in the one word ‘ascension’, the descent from heaven is implied.”

But Warnock never quotes or comes to terms with the idea of John 3:13:“ No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.” To think about this would jeopardize his traditional assumptions about immortal souls (p243, in his very messy chapter on “our resurrection bodies”.

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Justified by Works, but Don’t Think of it That Way?

June 28, 2010

Run to Win the Prize, 2010, Crossway, Thomas R. Schreiner

This little book is from lectures given at Oak Hill in London. It’ s a summary of the thinking found in the book Schreiner wrote with Caneday, The Race Set Before Us (2001, IVP) Schreiner again engages in some special pleading for a “paradox” (p73) in which works are necessary but also for not focusing on works but Christ. How it’s possible to rationally live in that paradox is not so clear. I guess words like “premeditation” and “intention” and “byproduct” play a big part.

I would not say that Schreiner’s thesis comes from the “new perspective”. There’s no need to go to NT Wright, Norman Shepherd, or John Armstrong, to make his case. Rather, he goes to Jonathan Edwards against John Calvin to argue that works of faith are necessary for justification. In this respect, Schreiner is simply making popular a path already made by Dan Fuller in The Unity of the Bible (1992, Zondervan).

I quote from Unity (p181): “In commenting on Genesis 2:17 -do not eat from that tree–Calvin said, `These words are so far from establishing faith that they do nothing but shake it.’ I argue, however, that there is much reason for regarding these words as well suited to strengthen Adam and Eve’s faith…In Calvin’s thinking, the promise made in Genesis 2:17 could never encourage faith, for its conditionality could encourage only meritorious works. `Faith seeks life that is not found in commandments.’ Consequently, the gospel by which we are saved is an unconditional covenant of grace, made such by Christ having merited it for us by his perfect fulfillment of the covenant of works. Dan Fuller comments: “I have yet to find anywhere in Scripture a gospel promise that is unconditional.”

More from Unity (p310): “If Abraham was not declared forgiven until ten years later, was he still a guilty sinner when he responded positively to God’s promises in Genesis 12:2-3 and also during the following years up until 15:6?” “Calvin gave a meaning to James’s use of the word justification which is not supported by the text…He argued that for James, `justify’ meant the `declaration’ rather than the `imputation’ of righteousness.”

Calvin (3:17:12): “Either James inverted faith and obedience–unlawful even to imagine–or he did not mean to call him justified, as if Abraham deserved to be reckoned righteous. What then? Surely, it is clear that he himself is speaking of the declaration, not the imputation, of righteousness.”

Back to Fuller (p313): “Paul would have agreed with James that Abraham’s work of preparing to sacrifice Isaac was an obedience of faith. He would have disagreed strongly with Calvin, who saw obedience and works as only accompanying genuine faith…James’ s concern in 2:14-26 was to urge a faith that saves a person, not simply to tell a person how they could demonstrate their saving faith…Calvin should have taught that justification depends on a persevering faith, since he regarded Abraham as already justified before Genesis 15:6.”
And then Fuller quotes Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.” For more from Edwards, see Schreiner’s new little book (p20, 70, 92).

Rob Zins, who wrote his masters on Shepherd’s view of Justification, writes about James in his book on Romanism (2002, p184): “The best we can do with James 2 is to say that Abraham was `shown to be just’ by offering Isaac up on the altar. It may be stretching things too far to say that Abraham was `shown to have been justified’ when he offered Isaac. One can be called righteous without being declared justified by God…Certainly there is a demonstration here, but it is a demonstration of faith rather than a demonstration of righteousness.”

Zins writes on p189 about Romans 2: “It is difficult to grasp how Paul could be speaking hypothetically. Paul rather seems to be making direct statements of reality. .. The question revolves around whether God gives eternal life `because’ of good works or `in accordance with good works’. ” And then on p192, Zins concludes: “both James and Paul do not hesitate to apply the word `justification’ when God approves a sinner on the basis of good works…Yet these justification notifications stem from a previous justification by imputation…The blood of Christ had to be applied to Abraham for his justification despite both his faith and the completion of his faith by his good works.” And then Zins quotes favorably ( p196) the conclusion of Jonathan Edwards about God considering from the first the future works of faith of the believers.

I have been trying to set the Schreiner book in a context, but in doing that, I have written more about Dan Fuller, Rob Zins, Jonathan Edwards, and John Calvin, than I have about Schriener’s exegesis or about the psychology of making assurance depend on present working without at the same time depending on present working. Now, I am going to compound the strangeness of this review, by closing with a quotation from Fesko’s excellent new book on Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (2008, P and R). This time it’s not Dan Fuller against the later Luther, but Fesko against the later Richard Gaffin (even though he supports Shepherd, Gaffin should not to be confused with Shepherd. See my review of Gaffin’s By Faith, Not by Sight, another Oak Hill lecture.)

Fesko writes on p 315: “Gaffin tries to argue that works are not the ground of judgment. `It is not for nothing, I take it, and not to be dismissed as an overly fine exegesis to observe that, in Romans 2:6, Paul writes “according to works” and not “on account of works”… Gaffin’s point is that `in accordance with works’ are synechdochial for faith in Christ. (Ridderbos; Paul: Outline, 178-181; also Murray; Romans, 78).”

Fesko responds: “Can such a fine distinction be supported by the grammar alone…What difference exists between the two? `Corresponding to’ is common in reference to the precise and impartial standard of judgment that will be applied on the great Day. Gaffin and Venema fail to account for judgment according to works for the wicked….According to Gaffin’s interpretation, are the wicked judged according to their works, but the works are not the ground of their condemnation? Romans 4:4–“now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as WHAT IS DUE.”

Surely there are many unanswered questions. If the non-elect are condemned ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR WORKS, how do the elect live with the notion that works of faith are necessary for their justification? I will say the one simple thing I keep on saying: God does not count faith as the righteousness. Neither the initial act of faith nor the continuing acts of faith are the basis of justification. God counts the righteousness of Christ earned for the elect alone as the righteousness. The elect have legal union with Christ’s obedience to death for the elect. The elect come to share in this righteousness by legal imputation. The righteousness credited ( a free gift received, Romans 5:17) results in the justification of elect. But you cannot have faith ( beginning or continuing) in this righteousness if you have not yet heard and understood and assented to what the gospel reveals about election.

Effective, Even if Nobody is Saved?

June 24, 2010

The Lutheran Jacob Preus has written an interesting book on Just Words: Understanding the Fullness of the Gospel (Concordia, 2000). About reconciliation, he writes: “Faith is necessary to appropriate the reconciliation of Christ. However, our faith does not make Christ’s work effective. It is effective even if no one approves it, even if no one is saved.” (p140).

Many “Reformed” folks like Mike Horton like this book. It has a lot of talk about sacraments and objectivity. But Lutherans have an “objective reconciliation” that does not reconcile. That kind of objectivity is not gospel. It’s not good news to make salvation depend on “appropriation”.

Even if you say that grace has to overcome the bondage of your will to “take it” (the word appropriate sounds like “steal” to me, but Sproul uses it so it must be ok: it means there for you but you got to consent to go get it with your empty hands), there are two problems with this false gospel.

One, there is no notion here that Christ’s death purchased the work of the Spirit and faith for the elect. Even if God by grace gives the faith, that faith is not a certain result of Christ’s work, even though the Bible teaches that it is (I Peter 1:21;II Peter 1:1; Eph 4:7-8; Phil 1:29).

Two, there can be no notion of a penalty for specific sins imputed, and therefore Lutherans end up with a propitiation that does not propitiate, a ransom that does not redeem, and a reconciliation that does not reconcile.

Part of the problem with the Preus chapter on reconciliation is that he seems to have no idea of God Himself being both the object and subject of His own reconciliation. Preus limits the concept to the sinner’s enmity to God, and not to God’s enmity to unjustified sinners.

Even when writing about the Father and the Son (p142), Preus tells us that “Christ was at enmity with God”. This is wrong. It is a result of not talking about the imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ. Instead of seeing that Christ was “made sin” legally because of imputation, Preus turns Christ into a sinner angry at God. Christ is and was human, but in no way a sinner except by imputation.

But of course no Lutheran who teaches an universal objective atonement can dare talk about the imputation of the guilt of the elect to Christ. They cannot even talk about an imputation of the elect’s penalty to Christ. On p 84, Preus explains that the ransom “should not be understood to be only for some and not for others…not all will be set free because the gift is to be received through faith.”

An universal ransom always means an ineffective ransom. Faith becomes what ransoms, even if you deny that and try to give the credit to a false Christ who died for everybody.

But does not the Bible use the word “reconcile” only with human sinners in mind? No. Let me channel John Murray for a minute. First, Romans 5:17 speaks of “receiving the reconciliation”. Surely, this does not mean overcoming your enmity in order to overcome your enmity! It means to passively receive by imputation what Christ did.

Second, Matthew 5:24 (sermon on the mount) commands “leave your gift there before the altar and first be reconciled to your brother.” So, even though we are the objects of reconciliaton, though we receive it, that it is not only the overcoming of our hostility, but what God has done in Christ to overcome God’s own hostility to sinners.

Why bother to write more? Didn’t I know that he taught an universal ineffective atonement before I read the book? Yes, but it’s interesting to see how that one simple thing complicates everything else. For example, on p 150, Preus writes that repentance “is a necessary prerequisite for forgiveness”, but then three pages later, he writes that “our repentance must not be thought of as a necessary prerequisite for forgiveness.”

Instead of the death of Christ being what God has done to expiate the sins of the elect, Preus thinks of the cross as a “means of grace” people can use to get the wrath averted. (p171).

Sinners become the imputers, whenever you leave out the good news that God is the imputer and that God has already imputed the sins of the sheep to the Shepherd (and already not the sins of the goats ). Perhaps that is why Preus avoids the biblical metaphor of the Shepherd.

For at least three of the biblical metaphors (birth, cleansing, salvation), Preus gives the efficacy not simply to “baptism” (saves you, I Peter 3:21) but to water baptism administered by ordained clergy. On p 125, there is a typo: instead of Ephesians, the reference to Adoption should be Galatians 4.

Let me close with two good statements, which of course are contradicted by what is written elsewhere in the book about universal atonement (and not written about imputation). On p 109, Preus argues for the possibility of translating Romans 3:21 as “but now a justification from God, apart from law, has been made known.”

Of course we could add detail to that. In Romans 5, it’s clear that a “free gift of righteousness” has resulted in “justification”. So there is room for a distinction between what Christ has done, and God’s declaring the elect to have legal union with that (justification). But it is the same greek word, so Preus has a point. But of course he contradicts it later by saying that faith is credited as the righteousness.

The second good statement relates to this. On p 111, Preus writes: “God’s righteousness is in the one who justifies, not in the one who justified.” That is right, but you cannot maintain that if you say that Christ did the righteousness even for those who perish. You cannot maintain that if you say that God counts the faith of the sinner as the righteousness.

So Preus sees the problem, but he cannot fix it, and that is inherent in any universal atonement which is conditioned on the faith of the sinner.

Imputation, The Transfer is Legal Union With and Because of that Christ Died

June 18, 2010

The Bible sometimes has imputation without transfer. For example, Psalm 106: 30-31 tells us that “Phinehas stood up and intervened and the plague was stayed and that was counted to him as righteousness.” Nobody replaced Phinehas or did his killing work for him, nor is the idea that something not really righteous got counted as righteous.

God counted Phinehas killing the two people as righteousness because it was righteousness, not to justify him but as sufficient cause to stop the plague against Israel. The story of Phinehas is not gospel, because it has no transfer to or from Jesus Christ.

God is righteous always and God imputes righteousness for what it is.

The Bible also has imputation, and transfer, and still no gospel.

When the sin of Adam is transferred to every human person (not when they are teenagers but when they are born), this transfer of guilt is not good news. God does not transfer the guilt of Adam to us because we are united to Adam in sharing the same nature.

United to Adam by his guilt transferred to us, we share Adam’s nature. To make the union something prior to the guilt keeps begging several questions. Unless we know that a transfer of guilt is unjust, we have no reason to define our union with Adam in metaphysical terms about the organic essence of the one and the many.

Transfer of guilt is union, and results in depravity and death. This depravity is not for the elect alone, because the guilt of Adam is not for the elect alone.

The gospel has a glorious transfer , but It is not a transfer of depravity. Christ was not imputed with the depravity of the elect, but with their guilt. Even though depravity is part of the punishment for imputed guilt, Christ was not imputed with depravity but with guilt.

Even though many Calvinists focus on the supposed “spiritual death” that Jesus experienced in the three hours before He died (see Michael Lawrence in It Is Well, or Harold Camping, or W. E. Best), the Bible itself never says that Christ Jesus experienced depravity, not even for three hours. Christ Jesus bore the guilt, the sins of the elect. The result of that was death.

The entire human race is now born guilty and depraved in nature. Christ was born truly human but not depraved. He did not have to be depraved to be human. Nor did He have to be guilty to be human. This means that Christ can be and was imputed with the guilt of the elect alone, and not with the guilt of the non-elect.

I do not know for sure when this guilt of the elect was transferred. Because of Christ’s lifelong suffering, I tend to agree with Smeaton that God transferred the guilt at His birth. Surely that guilt was not satisfied though until Christ died on account of the sins of the elect.

But what we can say for sure is that not only punishment for guilt, but that guilt itself was transferred to Christ. The gospel talks about election, because the gospel talks about Christ bearing sins.

Isaiah 53:5 speaks of the punishment which brought us peace. But Isaiah 53:6 also tells us that “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us.” The servant Christ bore not only punishment but also iniquity.

There is no biblical reason to isolate three hours of existential agony from all the rest that Christ suffered. As God uses Satan to cast out Satan, God can and does use sin against sin. We do not have to look for something direct and without the involvement of humans.

God ordained specific sinners to sin against other specific sinners. And God ordained specific sinners to sin against the One who had been imputed with the sins of specific sinners. Using the power of the nation-state-empire, God punished Christ who was legally charged with all the sins of the elect alone. This is not unfair. It is good news but only for the elect.

Faith is Not the Righteousness, Turretin

June 16, 2010

Turretin on faith and justification. (p75, Justification, ed Dennison, P and R, 1994)

First,the false mode of justification by faith (introduced by the Socinians and Romanists) must be removed. The act of believing is not considered as our righteousness with God by a gracious acceptation. A. Because receiving righteousness cannot be our righteousness itself formally. Rom 5:17-18)

B. Because faith is distinguished from the righteousness itself imputed to us, both because it is said to be “of faith” and “by faith” (Rom 1:17; 3:22; Phil 3:9) and because Christ with his obedience and satisfaction is that righteousness which is imputed to us (Is 53:11; Jer 23:6; I Cor 1:30; II Cor 5;21; Gal 3:13-14). Faith has this righteousness as its object, but with which it cannot be identified.

C. Because we are not justified except by a perfect righteousness. For we have to deal with the strict justice of God, which cannot be deceived. Now no faith here is perfect. Nor can it be considered as such by God and a gratuitous lowering of the law’s demands. For in the court of divine justice, there cannot be a room for a gracious acceptation which is an imaginary payment.

D. If faith is counted for righteousness, we will be justified by works because this faith cannot but have the relation of a work that justifies. And yet it is clear that in this business Paul always opposes faith to works as incompatible and two antagonistic means by which man is justified either by his own obedience or by another’s obedience.

“The faith of Abraham,” it is said, “was imputed to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3). Not properly because in this way he would have been justified by works. But metonymically, faith is taken for its object (Gal 3:25), ie, for that which faith believes. (ie the promise, Gal 3:16)

Nor is this to wrest Scripture and to expose coldly the power of faith, as it is charged. Nay, no more clearly and truly can the genuine sense of that imputation be set forth. For since that thing which is imputed to us for righteousness ought to be our righteousness before God (that on account of which God justifies us), nor can faith be that, it is clear that this phrase is to be taken metonymically with regard to the object.

The Blood By Which Christ was Sanctified

June 16, 2010

Hebrews 10:28-29, “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the One who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace.”

I want to look at this text rather carefully,because it has the idea of making the blood unclean, or profaning the sacred. This text is also one which is often used to teach a grace which is common to both elect and non-elect.

The verse is even used to teach that the new covenant can be broken, and that the covenant is bigger than election, and that grace is for more than the elect. The idea of common grace is that God has some grace for everybody, more grace for those in the covenant, and even more grace for the elect. This idea of common grace is not biblical.

The Hebrews 10 warning is not saying that an apostate was in the new covenant. I do not think it is even saying that the apostate appeared to be in the new covenant, although this is a possible interpretation if you want to work out a visible and invisible church contrast.

The “Son of God” is the closest antecedent of the pronoun “he” in the phrase “the covenant by which he was sanctified”. Of course we need to remember that “sanctify” does not mean to get better and better, as most systematic theology would have it. “Sanctify” is to set apart before God, both in the Old Testament context of Hebrews 10, (blood of the covenant, Zechariah 9:11, Ex 24:8) and in John 17. “And for their sake I sanctify myself, that they shall also be sanctified.”

Those who profane the death of Christ teach that Christ sanctified Himself in common for every sinner so that maybe (and maybe not) these sinners will be sanctified.

Not only do they wrongly define sanctification as getting better, but they turn that getting better into the condition which can make the common death something special. But the book of Hebrews instead gives all the glory to Christ’s death.

“We see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He would taste death for every… (2:10). The verses which follow tell us every “son to glory”, every ”those who are sanctified”, every “the children God has given me”.

Those who profane the death of Christ tell us that the glory and honor of Christ is dying for many sinners who will never be glorified. They tell us that the One crowned was sanctified for more than are sanctified. They dishonor Christ by telling the children God gave Him that Christ died also for those who are not and who will never be children of God.

That Christ sanctified Himself does not mean that Christ got better and better but that Christ set Himself apart to die for a people set apart before the creation of the world. These elect people are one day sanctified by faith given by Christ’s Spirit, but before that, in both the Old and New Testaments, God’s elect are set apart by the death, by the blood of Christ.

Hebrews 5:9, “And being made perfect, He became the source of age to come salvation to those who obey Him.” All the elect will obey the gospel but it is not their doing so which is the source of their salvation.

But if Christ died in common for every sinner, and not every sinner is set apart, then it is not the blood of Christ which sanctifies. It is not special, and it does not do anything special. God forbid!

Profaning the Blood of Christ

June 16, 2010

Those who teach that Christ died for everyone are profaning the blood of Christ. But these false teachers cannot change either the justice or the sovereign effectiveness of the cross, for even their false teaching has been ordained by the same God who designed the glorious death of Christ.

It does not follow that we who believe the true gospel have no purpose or need to refute the false teaching. Our prayer is that we ourselves have been predestined to expose any and all attempts to make Christ’s death common.

Christ’s death is not common for every sinner, because Christ’s death does not have the common ordinary effect of making a salvation conditioned on what sinners do with grace.

Christ’s death is not only about sovereignty but also about justice, because Christ’s death is about not only punishment but also about imputed guilt.

Christ’s death has the uncommon result of entitling every elect person to all the benefits of salvation. Elect sinners might be somewhat wary of any talk of being entitled to anything, since we know that we are still always sinning, but it is simply boasting in Christ.

if we think that our sinning somehow makes us any less entitled to all salvation blessings, then we will also falsely come to think that our not sinning will bring us extra rewards. If our sinning or not sinning comes into the equation, then what Christ did is not enough.