As I suspected, the review that Cornel Venema wrote of The Law is Not of Faith is not nearly as damning as various and sundry critics of Westminster California have let on. I figured that if Venema had written anything really juicy â€“ like this is view that needs to be purged from our churches â€“ Rabbi Bret would have quoted it by now, especially that â€“ ahem â€“ his Advent and Christmas duties are well behind.
Although Venema criticizes the book, its arguments and authors, he actually writes sensibly and in a guarded manner (unlike some on his faculty):
Here are some examples, all from the conclusion:
Viewed against the background of the history of Reformed covenant theology, the particular question of the distinctiveness of the Mosaic administration posed by the authors . . . is a legitimate one, and one with a long pedigree in the history of Reformed theology. That some contemporary Reformed theologians find the question itself to be puzzling or problematic does reflect, as the editors . . . observe, a loss of historical awareness and appreciation for the complex history of Reformed reflection on the covenant.
So some of the reactions to the book could actually be ignorant.
Though my review . . . offers a number of criticisms of the authorâ€™s arguments, I fully concur with the authorsâ€™ aim to uphold and teach the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone upon the basis of the righteousness of Christ alone. As I put it in my description . . . on the book jacket, the â€œauthors ably refute recent attacks on the classic Reformed understanding of the grace of free justification on the basis of the entire obedience and sacrifice of Christ alone.â€
Yes, thatâ€™s right, Venema wrote a blurb for the book that he supposedly found devastating in review.
Rabbi Bret and others seemed to miss that Venema actually did recommend this book for publication and to readers to read â€“ thatâ€™s why the publisher printed this on the back cover by the president of Mid-America:
This provocative volume makes a historical and biblical-theological case for understaning the Mosaic administration in the covenant of grace as in some sense a â€œrepublishedâ€ covenant of works, which teaches that only perfect obedience to the requiremetns of the law is sufficient to secure the covenant promise of life in communion with God. The authors ably refute recent attacks upon the classic Reformed understanidng of the grace of free justification on the basis of the enire obedience and sacrifice of Christ alone. Though I am not persuaded by every forumulation here, this volume deserves the careful attention of anyone who prizes the bilical teaching that the believerâ€™s justification rests not on any works of his own, but solely on the full obedience of Christ.
What is curious is that Venema could endorse a volume that he would later critique for over seventy pages. The ethics of endorsing and reviewing hold that once you add your name to a bookâ€™s set of endorsers, you refrain from reviewing the book â€“ since your review would not be credible as representing an impartial judgment (oh, that’s right, no neutrality). What we have here is a case of recommendation followed by critique, which is one of the odder turns in the publishing world. The endorsement is also a fact that critics of Westminster California have selectively left unnoticed.
Venema also adds in the conclusion of his review:
. . . while I recognize the manifest diversity of opinion on the question of the distinctive nature of the Mosaic economy in the history of Reformed theology, my primary objection to the arguments of the authors . . . is to what I have termed an â€œaccommodatedâ€ reading of the sources.
In other words, this is a debate among historical theologians. On the matter of correctly exegeting Paul, Venema comes to no conclusion. Last I knew, a ministerâ€™s historical theology was not the basis for his standing in the church.
. . . in my critical assessment of the republication thesis . . ., I have intimated that the historic Reformed distinction between the â€œthree usesâ€ of the law provides a better answer to the complexx question that this thesis aims to resolve.
So we are in the realm of a better explanation of the Mosaic administration, not a heterodox point of doctrine.
The implication of the republication thesis, as is stated by some of the authors, seems to undermine the positive function of the law within the administration of the covenant of grace.
â€œSeems to undermineâ€ is a long way from this by Rabbi Brett:
Dr. Venemaâ€™s work in the Mid-America Journal of Theology is one more effort to pull back the curtain to expose a committee of Ozzes who are working overtime to infect the whole Reformed Church with their virus theology.
But when you are prone to seeing the world populated not by people who study and teach but either by angels or demons, Communists or the liberated, you think that evaluation of an argument is the same thing as drawing up charges.