Archive for May 2013

Was Your “Covenant Baptism” Law or Gospel?

May 29, 2013

In the covenant of grace ( is this covenant law or gospel?) God takes at least one believer and their infant into His care, promising them His grace and favor. Abraham believed the gospel BUT Abraham circumcised his infant sons (was this law or gospel?) according to God’s command (again, law or gospel?).

Both of Abraham’s sons were heirs of the covenant of grace (which one? the mosaic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the new covenant?), but was this by law or gospel? Though God’s freedom in election (gospel then?) was maintained and Isaac received the (gospel?) promise while Ishmael did not. So was the promise to Ishmael gospel?

Romans 9:7 “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his children.”
Such an example is used by the writer to the Hebrews to warn against eternal security. Of course Reformed people sometimes disagree about if these warnings are law or gospel. Are they warnings to Ishmael that he many not have ever “really” been part of the covenant but only “externally” related to “the covenant”? Or are these law warnings that many who enter the covenant are not promised they will be kept in the covenant?

Although the signs have changed, we are still in the same “the covenant” and therefore the question about if this covenant is law or gospel has not changed.

Like circumcision, water baptism is done by human hands but is represented in the New Testament not as our decision but as God’s decision and claim on Ishmael and Esau. So the question continues if this divine claim is the claim of law or gospel. Although “the covenant” obligates us to respond in faith and obedience, water baptism is God’s seal of God’s oath. So we need to find out if this oath is about law or gospel. But as long as still live, we can’t ever find out if we are Isaac or Ishmael. Both were heirs of the covenant. Both received the promises of the covenant.

In God’s act of water baptism, as in the preaching of the universal “offer”, God pledges His commitment to us in “in the covenant”. But is that commitment law or gospel? And is that commitment the same for all “in the covenant”? Of course, there are some credobaptists out there who have trouble with the idea of an ineffectual “means of grace” for Ishmael and Esau, so much so that they would rather say that water baptism is something humans do than even imply that God fails to deliver on some supposed “the covenant promise”.

This has enormous practical effects on anyone who wants to be part of the Reformed tradition. Even if it turns out that little Esau is never justified, it certainly feels good to think that Esau has been promised the same grace as Abraham has. Of course, if that grace turns out to be ineffectual in the face of human failure to meet conditions, then even Abraham might begin to wonder about the grace which has been promised to him.

It comes back to the question of law and gospel. Do we regard our children as born under the law or do we assure them they are already not under the law? Do we cling to God’s promise to work by His Spirit to keep Esau in “the covenant” in which he began, or do we have to fall back on some notion of sovereign imputation (with resulting conversion) in which every person begins life under condemnation and outside the new covenant? Even though we want to maintain God’s freedom in election (perhaps God will maintain that freedom for Himself), that is not something we really want to know about and while we do not deny it. we see no need to mention that truth when we could be emphasizing “the covenant” instead and thus maintaining the tension between law and gospel. Because that dialectic will help us to teach that ordinarily there is no salvation outside the church and its means of grace.

Of course I would not want to leave out important nuances. In my own experience, I know some credobaptists who are really in “the true church” even though of course they are still too ignorant and stubborn (which is the reason for their ignorance) to know the true marks of a true church. When water baptism is rightly understood (chiefly) as a promise made to Esau by God, then it will always be relevant to ask in retrospect if this promise was law or gospel. So what if Esau does not believe the gospel right now, certainty is always impossible, and it’s God’s decision which is still decisive, and since God promised Esau grace and claimed Esau, who is to say if that divine promise was law or gospel?

It makes a lot of difference to Esau if he was born in the covenant and is invited to the covenant table because that sacrament will be a means of grace to Esau. Unless of course, like circumcision, water baptism also often brings with it a curse! Every time I witness a water baptism today, I cling to God’s public certification that God has claimed Esau. And so while I am happy to be in the covenant, I always need to ask myself if God will cut me off if I do not keep (enough of) the law.

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Forde Rejects the Idea that God has Wrath, and Only Speaks of Faith as the End of Human Wrath

May 18, 2013

Forde is more about the verb (our believing) than he is about the object of our faith. Forde cares more about our experience than anything that may or may not have happened 2000 years ago. Forde begins his atonement essay “Caught in the Act,” (1984) by stating that a proper understanding of the work of Christ must necessarily begin “from below. According to Forde’s reading, Jesus did not come teaching an atonement theology about the nature of God. Rather, Jesus simply traveled around Palestine spontaneously and unilaterally forgiving sinners.

“Why could not God just up and forgive? Let us start there. If we look at the narrative about Jesus, the actual events themselves, the “brute facts” as they have come down to us, the answer is quite simple. He did! Jesus came preaching repentance and forgiveness, declaring the bounty and mercy of his “Father.” The problem however, is that we could not buy that. And so we killed him. And just so we are caught in the act. Every mouth is stopped once and for all. All pious talk about our yearning and desire for reconciliation and forgiveness, etc., all our complaint against God is simply shut up. He came to forgive and we killed him for it; we would not have it.”

For Forde it’s all about the wrath of humanity and not at all about the wrath of God. Forde is more interested in a “low anthropology” than He is about God or God’s agency in redemption. For Forde, humanity under the power of legalism prefers not to be forgiven so that it can maintain its illusory control over God with its good works. Forde writes: “But why did we kill him? It was, I expect we must say, as a matter of “self-defense.” Jesus came not just to teach about forgiveness of God but actually came to do it, to forgive unconditionally . . . this shatters the “order” by which we must run things here.”

Another analogy Forde uses is a man who throws himself in front of a moving truck and is killed while attempting to save a child playing in the road. In this analogy, sinful humanity is driving the truck and the man killed is Christ. Humanity drives the truck insofar as they participate in the legalistic order of the present evil age.

Forde asserts that the goal of Jesus was to be “. . . crucified by the legalistic order itself, so to bring a new order.”By killing Jesus, sinful humanity comes to recognize its bondage. In rejecting Jesus and his mercy, humanity is truly made conscious of its root-sin of opposition to God’s grace. God allows himself to be killed by us, states Forde, in order to “. . .make it plain that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).” Jesus therefore did not die to fulfill the law or suffer the punishment for our sins. Rather, he died in order to reveal a low anthropology— fallen humanity’s sin of self-justification and opposition to God’s grace.

Forde reduces the gospel to our experience of faith. To Forde, this matters way more than what happened at the cross. To Forde, the gospel is only “epistemology”, only about us coming to understand stuff that we did not before. To Forde, the gospel is NOT about what God did in Christ, in terms of God’s justice or God’s nature as holy.

For Forde, the gospel is not ultimately about the death of Christ. For Forde, the “gospel” becomes a teaching law which shows us that we need to die and be re-created as new persons of faith. In that we are made conscious of our sin by the death of Jesus, then we die in our experience.

Forde’s idea of our “inclusion” in Christ’s death is that Christ is NOT a substitute. For Forde, it is not Christ’s death that is ultimately matters because TO HIM IT’S OUR DEATH BY PREACHING WHICH MATTERS. Forde’s idea is that God is “satisfied” not by Jesus’ death, but by our own death –which is an experience of passive trust.

Forde: “When faith is created, when we actually believe God’s unconditional forgiveness; then God can say, “Now I am satisfied!” God’s wrath ends when we believe him, not because Christ’s death is payment to God “one time. for all time. For Forde, God never had any wrath. For Forde, human wrath ends when faith begins..

Many religious songs have those who sing them confess themselves as “maggots” for having put Christ on the cross. But I question this sentimentality. First, if we all put Christ on the cross, then Christ died for all sinners, and that is the false gospel.
Second, nobody but God has the ultimate power to put Christ on the cross. If we all are supposed to feel bad about crucifying Christ, then is God also to apologize? May it never be! Acts 2:23-24, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

Yes, the Bible teaches that God’s sovereignty does not eliminate the accountability of sinners. Certain specific lawless humans killed Christ. But also, God gave Christ up to die for the sins of the elect alone. God the Trinity decided for whom Christ would die. The human experience of faith does not decide if Christ’s death has any practical effect.

We sinners now did not ourselves put Christ on the cross. We are NOT the imputers. We do not get to decide when and if we put our sins on Christ. We do not get the opportunity to contribute our sins so that then Christ contributes His righteousness. Neither election nor non-election is conditioned on our sins or on exercise of faith.

Although believers are commanded to count as true what God has already counted as true, humans can never be the original counters or those whose decision is what ultimately counts.

The cross is not what condemns. Good news for the elect, the gospel is not what condemns the non-elect. Rejecting the cross is not what condemns the non-elect, because we are all already condemned in Adam.

Popular Arminian Versions of Penal Substitution Deny a “Perfect Balance”

May 11, 2013

from a review of Raised With Christ, by Adrian Warnock (Crossway, 2010)

The Arminian “evangelical middle-camp” (p205) assumptions of Warnock’s theology come into clear view in his chapter on Romans 4:24–raised because of our justification or raised in order to and for the purpose of our justification? Warnock asserts  that “Jesus’ resurrection was not a result of our justification” (p 121) because our sin was not a result of His death. But this misses the parallel. His death is a result of our (the elect’) sin, therefore His resurrection IS a result of the future justification of elect sinners.

On p 124, Warnock writes: “The answer is that God was displeased with the sin  that Christ was bearing but remained pleased with Jesus’ infinite goodness, which was greater than the sin.” This is NOT how the apostle Paul explains the requirements of justice. Sins do not demand some philosophical (and non-biblical) idea of some “infinity” or “equivalent balance”. The sins demand death. The wages of sin is death.

On p 126, Warnock writes: “The resurrection was necessary to allow the credit of Jesus’ righteousness to be shared with us, for it demonstrated that the credit was greater than the debt.” But to glory in the cross is to see that the death of Christ cancels the debt for all the elect when they are placed into that death. Romans 6:9-10 are great resurrection verses: “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has any dominion over him. For the death he died , he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. “

The reason that the debt of the sins of elect cannot hold Christ is not some “greater credit”. The reason that the debt of the sins of the elect cannot hold Christ is Christ’s death. Christ died to sin. This does not mean that Christ was born again. And Romans 6 is not talking about our being born again either.

This means (1) that Christ is no longer imputed with those sins, because He has died once for them and will not die again. It means (2) that it is not sinners (nor their faith nor their apology nor their discipleship) who give their sins to Christ. God gave the sins ofthe elect to Christ already, and God already did not give the sins of the non-elect to Christ.

Think of a parallel text to Romans 6:9-10. Think of II Corinthians 5:15: “One has died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

II Corinthians 5:15 is about Christ’s death being the death of those who will be justified.  This is the thing that the popular view of penal atonemn does not say, and cannot say. The popular view of penal atonement is not penal atonement, because it denies any “perfect numerical commercial balance” and makes the ” on the plus side of the credit” depend on ‘accepting it” and “showing that they accept it” by the way they live. Thus Warnock writes on p 124,  “so that our guilt COULD now be taken away, and we COULD be counted righteous.”  This “might or might not be” continues in the chapter on “union with Christ”.  On p141, Warnock explains: “Jesus suffered the penalty due our sins so that we do not have to.”

But see Romans 8:3—“What the law could not do, God already DID by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin-he condemned sin in the flesh.”

The popular view of penal atonement says that what Jesus did (in death and resurrection) sets up a plan which makes it possible for you to give him your sins and then for Him to save you.  And this is still the view of people like Warnock  even though he thinksof  himself as  being on the cutting edge of the young, restless and reformed.

II Corinthians 5:15 does not teach that Christ died for our sins so that we don’t have to; it says that those for whom Christ died also died with him.  That is substitution, and you cannot teach substitution without confusion unless you either teach that Christ’s death saves all sinners or you teach that Christ was a substitute only for the elect. If Christ died for every sinner but some of these sinners will perish,  then that may be a substitution but it not a saving substitution.

I think most popular advocates of penal substitution would rather live as practical de facto universalists then  dare talk about election in connection with II Corinthians 5.   They fear as antinomian any good news which teaches that the elect have already died to judgment when Christ died for them. (See John Fesko’s wonderful book on Justification).

Another advantage for these popular evangelicals in not talking about election in II Cor 5 is that they can take the phrase “live for Him who died for them” and use it to lay duties on every sinner they meet.  Warnock tells us (p141) that “we are saved not only by believing the fact that Christ died for our sins, but by union with the crucified and risen Savour.”  But it is NOT a fact of the gospel tells any particular sinner that Christ died for their sins.  The gospel  does not tell sinners who the elect are; the gospel tells sinners about election.

How Could Questions about “The Order of Salvation” Be Practical?

May 10, 2013

Edwards puritan: The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. I am not sure how we can be united to one without being united to the other.  There is no  imputation of the righteousness of Christ before the actual union with Christ.

mark:  The puritan continues to say “actual union” in a question-begging fashion, and the problem is that he does not define what that means, except for his assumption that the “actual” is not the legal (which he does not deny). What he needs to do is find a term for what he’s calling “actual”. Is what he’s calling “actual” regeneration? Is what he’s calling “actual” the indwelling of the person Christ in us, so that (as in Luther), when faith is in us, Christ is in that faith and thus in us? In any case, he needs to explain what he means. Faith is an experience. Imputation (God’s legal sharing of the merit of Christ’s work) is not an experience.

I certainly agree that nobody can be united to Christ without also being united to the Holy Spirit. But the question concerns the Spirit’s priority in the “application”.  Calvin assumed this. But does this mean that the elect are united to the Spirit logically before they are united to Christ, and then the Spirit binds Christ together with elect persons? This is not a technical query about the order of salvation application (or even about the order of redemptive history). Rather, it’s a basic exegetical question about baptism in and with the Holy Spirit. Though the puritan agrees that Christ purchased the work of the Spirit for the elect, he still seems to think that the Spirit baptizes into Christ, but exegesis of all the seven texts (including Corinthians 12:13) tells us that Christ is the one who baptizes in and with the Spirit.

But how could this possibly be anything but a technical scholastic “order” question? Gaffin and all who dismiss the order question (Barth, Anthony Hoekema, Ferguson) as of no importance tend to have their own order, at the end of the day. Yes, you can’t have the Spirit without Christ, or Christ without the Spirit, but then it turns out that, when it comes to “actual union”, the priority always goes to the work of the Spirit in us, to faith as that which ‘applies” Christ. And this is practical, because that gets us away from thinking about the atonement or about the atonement being only for the elect, and gets us back to the place where we can work with Arminians–ie, the place where the atonement is for those who believe (whatever), the place where atonement is for those with the Spirit, the place where the atonement is not back there then but here now, so that the atonement becomes the application of the atonement, so that the “real” atonement becomes what the Spirit does with Christ.

if indeed the order is not practical and important, why is it that Gaffin and others spend so much time insisting on the priority of union with the resurrected Christ over any “legal union” with what Christ did in the past? If it doesn’t matter, then why not let us other folks keep on talking the way we do?

But the Confession says the Spirit applies, and Calvin did also. I won’t take the time to talk about the ambiguity in Calvin (or the Confessions), but I think the reason Calvin gives priority to the Spirit uniting to Christ has something to do with the way Calvin thought he had been baptized (in water). But why do puritan credobaptists also give the priority to the Holy Spirit? Some of them think water baptism is about Spirit baptism (or about both that AND baptism into the death of Christ, but my guess is that these puritan credobaptists give priority to experience. Imputation is not an experience..

A lot of the discussion of this is simply question-begging (probably mine also!).  Reasserting again that imputation can’t take place logically before the experience of faith. the puritans say imputation would be a fiction because imputation does not take place before the “actual union”. But if the Spirit (the blessing of Abraham) is given to sons, not in order to constitute sons (Galatians 3-4), then God’s imputation is first.

The puritans agree that Christ purchased the Spirit. they also agree that faith is not really the righteousness. But nevertheless they thinks it acceptable for us (and the Bible) to say that God counts our faith experience as the righteousness, and acceptable to say that the Spirit gives Christ (at least when it comes to “union”, as opposed to Christ giving the Spirit). But the result of that is always going to be us talking about regeneration and indwelling and our hearts instead of about Christ’s guilt-bearing for those elected in Christ.

I ask that we define “union”. It does no good to agree that “union” has various aspects (ie, it’s by election and it’s legal also) if we then go on from that to use the word “union” to mean “experimental break with the pattern of sin”.

Romans 6 is certainly a key text on the relationship of justification and the Christian life. Many read Romans 6 as if it were saying: don’t worry about that two legal heads stuff in Romans 5, because there is another answer besides justification as to why we don’t sin, and that is “union”. Or don’t worry about justification of the ungodly now, because God is not only looking to Christ’s death but also looking to what the Spirit is going to do in us in the future.

Others (like Robert Haldane) read Romans to say that the answer to the question about the Christian life is not something else besides justification, legal identity with Christ’s death and resurrection. We read Romans 6:7 as saying that the answer continues to be “justified from sin”. We insist on that because Christ became dead to sin, was justified from sin, and that certainly was NOT “regeneration” or the work of the Spirit in Him. We insist on reading Romans 6 in terms of “sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law”.

Others of course read Holy Spirit baptism into Romans 6. They don’t talk about Christ giving the Spirit (which also is not in Romans 6). They talk about the Spirit giving Christ (which is not in Romans 6). Others talk about the sacramental water of the church. But it is no way acceptable to these folks to think that Romans 6 is about justification and legal identification. They already have their minds made up that imputation is not a good enough answer to the question of Romans 6.

If this topic is not practical, don’t waste your time on it. If you spend time on it, let’s agree that “order” questions are important even for you.

Norman Shepherd Begins By Telling Us Not to Talk about Election

May 8, 2013

The ultimate way we can tell people that the gospel is “outside of you” is to tell them that the gospel they MUST believe excludes even this believing as the condition of salvation. The only condition of
salvation for the elect is Christ’s death for the elect.

No debated language about the objectivity of “covenants” or “sacraments” should be allowed to obscure this gospel truth. Unless you preach that Christ died only for the elect, no matter how
confessional you are, you will end up encouraging people to make faith into that little something that makes the difference between life and death!

I am not looking for another discussion about Calvin and Luther on the extent of the atonement. I am also looking for something ambiguous enough for influential people to sign in some “alliance” or “coalition”.. I am asking us if we believe that the glory of God in the gospel means that all for whom Christ died will certainly be saved. Or has this doctrine become too “rationalistic” for us?

Would that doctrine perhaps take the grace of God out of the hands of those who hand out the “means of grace” and locate grace with the Father who has chosen a people and given them to Christ? (Romans 11:4-6) Would the doctrine of effective atonement take the starch out of those who thank God for how much changed their “hearts and souls” are?

I want more sermons about God’s love being found in the propitiation accomplished by Christ. Out there, back then!

Election is God’s love. When the Bible talks about God’s love, it talks about propitiation. I John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” If all we only stipulate that the appeasement of wrath will not work without our faith, then it’s not enough to add on that God sent His son to purchase our faith. The nature of the cross as a propitiation will not be proclaimed. Instead a James Boice (sermons on Psalm 22) will turn the gospel into law, and tell sinners that the atonement was for them but they “ruined” it for themselves.

A propitiation for the elect which is also the same and enough for the non-elect, amounts to nothing. Does the Neo-Calvinist love the gospel of election, or does he hate the doctrine and suppress it? Yes, Christ loved the church, but is the church the Norman Shepherd church of elect who become the non-elect? The Shepherd gospel is not first of all about future justification by works. It starts with the idea of talking about “covenant” instead of “election”, about water baptism instead of regeneration.

The Neo-Calvinist does not talk about Christ not dying for the non-elect. He won’t even talk about Christ not dying for those who don’t put their trust in Him. The Neo-Calvinist wants you to give yourself to Christ without knowing anything about election.

The Neo-Calvinist will even defend this non-election gospel as being the only perspective possible to us. We have to know we believe, before we can know if we are elect. I agree that knowing our election before we believe is impossible. Knowing our election is NOT our warrant to believe. (See Abraham Booth’s wonderful book against preparationism– Glad Tidings).

But this is no excuse for leaving the Bible doctrine of election out of the doctrine of propitiation by Christ’s death there and then on the cross. We can and should teach the doctrine of election. The Bible doctrine of election does not teach unbelievers that they are elect, nor does the Bible doctrine of election teach unbelievers that they can find out if they are elect without or before believing,

The glory of God does not depend on human decisions, and the gospel must not become a hostage to collaborations with evangelicals who in the name of universal atonement condition salvation on what God does in the sinner.