The Hits Keep Coming

Just when I was recovering from the sobering news of Jason Stellman’s decision to leave the PCA along comes Carl Trueman’s double-whammy of heaping scorn upon those “for whom the doctrine of the church and 2K are all they ever seem to talk about.” (For Stellman’s response, go here.) Trueman’s is a remarkable performance since Trueman admits his own 2k inclinations and reports on those in Sovereign Grace circles who also concede a better doctrine of the church would have saved them some grief. He also acknowledges that 2k avoids “the excesses of Christian America, Theonomy, and the various social gospels — left and right.” So Trueman is in the 2k camp, as his own book on religion and politics in the United States attests, along with his own high regard for Luther. But he is apparently not extreme about it, thus protecting his standing seemingly among the gospel’s co-allies. His is supposedly a moderate 2k despite his invocations of Marx, Nietzsche, and Led Zeppelin. This is where his decision to echo John Frame’s swipe at Machen’s warrior children comes in handy even if it is a blow that conflicts with Trueman’s own combative posture, as the Peter Lillback ‘s foreword to Republocrat confirms. (Trueman is a fan of boxing, after all.)

As unnecessary and contradictory as Trueman’s jab at 2k was, I don’t readily associate him with Rabbi Bret who also used Stellman’s announcement as yet another proof of 2k’s errors and harm. Never mind that the Rabbi’s interpretation of 2k’s dualism as the path into Roman Catholicism’s nature/grace divide would seemingly indict Trueman’s own positive accounts of Thomas Aquinas. The attacks on 2k never need to be consistent in order to be consistently negative. As Bill Smith remarked to me by email:

I believe that soon high churchism and 2K theology will be blamed for global warming, the lagging economy, the high price of gas, the decline of western civilization, the composition of RUF tunes and their twangy singing by females, the election of Barak Obama, praise bands and worship leaders, and the banning of biggie sized soft drinks. And, I am not surprised. I could see it coming.

Still, it’s a curious way to respond to Stellman since not even the Baylys used the occasion to pounce on 2k. Instead, they took Stellman’s decision as an occasion to go after Peter Leithart’s weak affirmation of Protestantism. Instead of affirming justification, Leithart rejects the exclusivity of Rome’s sacramental theology. Going to Rome will leave Protestants outside the sacramental fold. For the Baylys the division between Rome and Protestants is all about the doctrine of justification.

That was encouraging to read even if their critique of Leithart and defense of justification came a little close to stepping on the toes of their hero in the culture wars, Doug Wilson, who is in some way Leithart’s boss and fellow minister at one of Moscow’s CREC congregations. Wilson also could not help but reflect on the disputes between Leithart and Stellman in the Presbytery of the Northwest. He also welcomed Stellman’s coming around to the “biblical” understanding of justification:

With regard to sola fide, he is quite right to see the very narrow position he was nurtured in as contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to sinners, and the instrument of a God-given faith is what receives that gracious gift. But the gift received is that of living faith, breathing faith, loving faith, the only kind of faith the living God bestows. It is sola fide, not nuda fide. Stellman was wrong to identify his previous narrow view of sola fide as the doctrine of sola fide itself.

Where that puts Wilson and other Federal Visionaries on the matter of the Reformed churches’ confessions and Roman Catholic teaching is a mystery since Stellman led the prosecution of Leithart precisely on the conviction that the latter’s teaching was contrary to the Westminster Standards. Now that Stellman no longer finds the confession’s teaching agreeable, he has done what he thinks Leithart should have done — leave the PCA (going to Rome may be another matter). Meanwhile — keep your eye on the bouncing ball, Wilson agrees with Stellman on justification but doesn’t think he should leave the Protestant fold.

That confusion over justification — whether Federal Visionaries actually adhere to the Reformation’s teaching or whether their views are beyond the pale and more compatible with what the Reformers opposed — is the best place to situate Stellman’s regrettable decision. The source of this confusion was not 2k or ecclesiology. It grew prominent in the teaching of Norman Shepherd which gained a hearing among the proponents of Federal Vision and received defense from John Frame, the man who first ridiculed those who identify with Machen.

Scoring points against 2k of course has its appeal and plays well in certain circles. But 2k and ecclesiology have virtually nothing to do with this. If you want to look for the clearest defense of Reformed Protestantism and its teaching on salvation, the church, and worship — convictions and practices that were pretty central to the sixteenth century — you’d be clueless to ignore those who promote 2k.


31 thoughts on “The Hits Keep Coming

  1. Thanks for the response Dr. Hart. It seemed quite apparent, to me at least, that you and a few others were the certain “breed of Christian” he was referring to. It just seemed l like “Mr. Moderate” Trueman wasn’t as concerned with being contradictory as he was with not rocking the boat too much in the broad circle he likes to travel in.


  2. Indeed – a very sad day. Your point is very well-made that he is taking the honorable step that Leithart should have.


  3. Thank you for the analysis of the current responses. In Trueman’s post, who, exactly, are the people that only (seem to) talk about the church and 2K?


  4. I think this is why people (including myself) respect your blog – instead of speaking in generalities about an issue, the discussion is directed at the person promulgating the ideas. That’s the consistent theme among anti-2K-ers – it’s all about the “2k bloggers…” not the people promoting the ideas.

    When an issue is disconnected from it’s proponents it’s much easier to sweep them under the bus. I wish Trueman would have simply said “Dr. Hart, Dr. Horton” and whoever else he’s got coming to his mind. I don’t think he would have said what he did if he said the names of those who he disagrees with. You might create some enemies in the process, but who knows, at least Chesterton and Bernard Shaw could share a pint even if they wrote books against each other.

    Thanks for keeping it honest.


  5. Perhaps you are not reading Trueman as his original intent was. His basic issue seemed to be that it is not surprising that Stellman left because he focused on those two things (ecclesiology and 2K) rather than the gospel. Indeed he did say there are others out there, but there is no need to make it all about you. If you just stick with Trueman’s basic point and not let the other stuff stick as if he meant it specifically about Hart and Horton, it really is a good point. When people do not keep their focus on the main things, it is not surprising when they spin off into error in other things.


  6. IWell, Richard, I don’t know who you are, but I do know that you have not kept your focus on the main thing in your posts at this blog. Instead of focusing on what Christ did in His death and resurrection over there back then, you keep focusing on what you think is going on “in your soul” and inside Jonathan Edwards. Whenever we get on to this great comforting news about Christ liberating the justified elect from the law of sin and death, you simply repeat yourself that you don’t think Romans 6 is talking about that. This is something you have in common with Jason Stillman.

    Romans 6:14–”for sin shall not have the dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace.” I read that as saying that sin shall not reign over a justified person, because that person is justified.

    Jason Stillman (Dual Citizens, Reformation Trust, 2009) suggests that such a reading is a non-answer. I quote from p 143: “According to this view, under law means under the condemnation of God’s moral law, and under grace speaks of the deliverance from this condition. Some problems arise from this view…. When Paul spoke to those saints in the churches of Galatia who desired to be under the law, was he talking to people who longed to be under the condemnation of the law? When Paul wrote that Jesus was born under the law, did he mean that Christ was born under the condemnation of the law? “

    Stillman continues: “Furthermore, if under law and under grace are existential categories describing an individual’s condemnation or justification, then Paul’s argument is a non-sequiter. It is not justification but sanctification that frees us from the dominion of the sin.”

    Stillman’s reading of Romans 6 is common to many Reformed and revivalist folk today. They tell us that “freed from sin” in Romans 6:7 cannot mean “justified from sin” because Romans chapter six is about sanctification and not about justification.

    We need to pay attention to Stillman’s two questions about Romans 6:14. First he asks a questions about Galatians: “When Paul was warning the Galatians,were the false teachers wanting to be under condemnation?”

    I think Paul’s answer was that the Galatian false teachers were under condemnation. If you go their way, Christ will be of no profit to you. The gospel does not tell people that they WANT TO be damned. The gospel says that THEY WILL be damned if their trust in anything else but Christ’s death (and resurrection) for the elect. That death (and resurrection) alone, apart from our works enabled by the Spirit, is the gospel.

    Stillman’s second question about Galatians—-”When Paul wrote that Jesus was born under the law, did he mean that Christ was born under the condemnation of the law? My answer is yes. Gal 4:4: born of the law to redeem those under the law cannot mean only that Christ was born under the jurisdiction of Moses to get Jews free from that jurisdiction. Of course jewish bondage under the law is in view, but it’s part of the more basic pattern of all humans being condemned by the “curse of the law”.(Gal 3:13) .

    Yes, Christ was born under the condemnation of God and God’s law. To see this, we need to attend to the first part of Romans 6 before we rush to the second part and conclude that it has to be about a sanctification that makes it just for God to justify the ungodly. Romans 6:10 says that “the death Christ died He died to sin”.

    Before we jump to the redemptive historical complexity of union with the death (when? Before the ages? Two thousand years ago? At imputation? Before or after faith?, us in Christ or Christ in us?), we need to focus on Christ’s death to sin. Does Christ’s death to sin mean that Christ was unregenerate and then positionally cleansed by the Holy Spirit? God forbid.

    Does Christ’s death to sin mean that Christ became corrupt fallen flesh but then later was “infused” with the divine nature? Again, God forbid.

    Does Christ’s death to sin mean that Christ by being in the environment of the world and of the old covenant age needed a deliverance from “the flesh” and from the physical body? Once more, God forbid.

    What does it mean that Christ died to sin? It means that the law of God demanded death for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ. As long as those sins were imputed to Christ, He was under sin, he was under law, He was under death.

    Now death has no more power over Christ? Why? Because the sins are no longer imputed to Him, but have been paid for and satisfied. The gospel is not only about God justifying, but also about God being justified when God justifies. The gospel is less about inside you and more about the history of what God did in Christ for the redemption of the elect. As Machen once wrote, you can forsake history and still have some kind of “faith”, but you cannot forsake history and still have the gospel.


  7. English physicist Michael Faraday (1791-1867):

    “That man in his natural state is greatly influenced by his fellow-creatures and the forms of emotion which are amongst them, is doubtless true, even when it concerns what he considers his eternal welfare. How else would the wonderfully varied and superstitious forms of belief have obtained in the world? What carries the Mormons into the desert, surrounded by trouble and the enmity of those around them? What sustains a spiritual dominion like the Papacy, aided by the nations around it, to proclaim the name of Christ whilst it contradicts His Word—refuses it (the record of the Spirit) to the people—and crushes out with all intolerance the simple obedience of the truth?

    “Man’s natural mind is a very unstable thing, and most credulous, and the imagination often rules it when reason is thought to be there. Mesmerism has great power over it; so has poetry; so has music; so has the united voice of the multitude; so have many other things: but these things are, so to say, indifferent as respects the character of the object they may be used to sustain, and are just as powerful in favour of a bad cause as a good one.” (The Life and Letters of Faraday, Vol. 2, 1870, pp. 431,432)

    “The Revivals cannot trouble the Christian who is taught of God (by His Word and the Holy Spirit) to trust in the promise of salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. He finds his guide in the Word of God. He looks for no assurance beyond what the Word can give him, and if his mind is troubled by the cares and fears which may assail him, he can go nowhere but in prayer to the throne of grace and to Scripture. No outward manifestation, as of a revival, can give either instruction or assurance to him, nor can any outward opposition or trouble diminish his confidence in ‘Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but to them who are called, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.’

    “If his attention is called to the revivals, it cannot be that he should feel instruction there or assurance there, other than what he finds in the Scriptures, without reference to them; and it seems to me that any power they may have over his mind other than the Scripture has, must be delusion and a snare.” (The Life and Letters of Faraday, Vol. 2, 1870, p. 431)


  8. Pat,

    I vote for Zrim as well. He’s forever stirring it up unnecessarily and purposely drawing ire from the internet militia much less guys like Trueman. We’ve tried to talk him down a number of times but he keeps up with the; “I’m just sayin yada yada yada……………..”. Plus, he’s earwiggish on top of it all so I understand why Trueman put him in the crosshairs


  9. RS –

    Regardless if his basic issue was Stellman’s focus on 2K and Ecclesiology led him astray, he takes shots at 2k proponents in an underhanded way-

    there is a breed of Christian out there for whom the doctrine of the church and 2K are all they ever seem to talk about.

    Seriously, what gives?

    I’m simply curious since everyone in the small world of Reformed Theology knows exactly who Trueman is speaking about. It’s not some mystery long hidden in the past ages. And interesting that you are here on Dr. Hart’s blog. Who else does the rest of the Reformed/Neoevangelical world think Trueman is speaking about? Certainly not TGC


  10. Richard,

    Dr. Hart is right—unless you have been through Jason’s blog, listened to his sermons, read his book, you really are talking in ignorance about what he focused on; I have–and Dr Trueman has really done him a disservice by making remarks in ignorance.


  11. Richard, there is an alternative read that is less gratuitous and more charitable: Stellman has given his fellow 2kers a black eye. But since part of the point of 2k is to preserve the unfettered gospel from the distracting cares of this world, can anyone talk about enough?

    But why am I being pegged here? Using Trueman’s formula, my vote for next to pope is Matt Tuininga where it’s 2k 24/7.


  12. Zrim: “why am I being pegged here?” (high-pitched whine followed with well what about Matt, he does it more than me). See Pat, this is why Trueman took aim. You would too.


  13. Daryl, perhaps my sarcasm was a bit too subtle. Honestly, I expected more from him, at least some pointed accusations at you or someone. Not to mention that fact that I think he misunderstands blogging.

    Zrim, this isn’t a democracy, you’ve been chosen, just accept it. You’re the first man in Rome now buddy.


  14. Says the man with cats. But I went to Tuininga’s 2k lecture expecting to see Pilgrim “PLM” Paul and risk getting pile driven (no show)–was that man enough? Oddly, still no Roman fever.


  15. Zrim,

    You can always challenge Paul to a round of Russian Roullete, just like Hemingway did with a Russian general in Spain who was trying to seduce Gellhorn. Now that would be manly (or stupid).


  16. John, Hemingway had cats. But he did tear a urinal out of Sloppy Joe’s and carry it home. Plus, he submitted his work to Gertrude Stein for review–let’s see the manly Baylys do that.


  17. Zrim,

    You’re right Hemingway did have cats- they showed that. However, they did not show him pulling out the urinal at Sloppy Joe’s and taking it home. He did meet Gellhorn at Sloppy Joe’s and he drooled alcohol all over the Marlin he had just caught that morning (a tradition at Sloppy Joe’s where those go “to not get drunk but stay drunk”)- it did not impress her at all. She thought he was a dirty and filthy man when she first saw him. I don’t want to ruin any more for whoever wants to watch it.


  18. D. G. Hart: Richard, how much time have you or Trueman spent with Stellman’s blog or preaching or his book for that matter?

    Richard Wolfe: Richard, Dr. Hart is right—unless you have been through Jason’s blog, listened to his sermons, read his book, you really are talking in ignorance about what he focused on; I have–and Dr Trueman has really done him a disservice by making remarks in ignorance.

    RS: Since I don’t know Trueman, I have no idea of how much time he has spent reading or listening to Stellman. However, that was not my point. It had to do with dealing with Trueman’s main point versus jumping on him for saying something about some people who hold to 2k and then speculating as to whom he might be speaking about. It could also be that Trueman has read Spellman or perhaps even knows him and has a different take. His main point (assuming that it was correct or at least partly correct) was a good point. There is no need to get into a tizzy over something Trueman may or may not have meant.


  19. D. G. Hart: Richard, as I’ve tried to argue, and as the production of 2kers makes clear, 2k is today part and parcel with the defense of sola scriptura and sola fide. So not only was Trueman wrong, but his point was off.

    RS: Perhaps his main point was not what you are pointing at.


  20. A staunch 2Ker myself, I think that we can appreciate Trueman’s broader point, even though he was too facile in applying it to Jason. Pointing out the unfair aspects of his critique are important, but I’m wondering if we’re getting a tad defensive, and at one of our own at that.

    Let me make this analogy. Most of us know people who have gone through or are going through the Calvinist cage-phase, where all they seem to talk about is predestination. Many of us went through it ourselves. Accusation of not being able to say 2 or 3 sentences about the faith without bringing up the five points, provokes that hot retort, “it’s all about the gospel!” Well, I agree in principle (just as I agree that 2K is integral to sola scriptura and sola fide), but if we all roll our eyes at cage-phase Calvinists as a bit unbalanced, could we not accept there could be a hypothetical 2Ker who is similar? The irony is, just as 5-pointers can lose sight of sola fide, neither does 2K guarantee fidelity to the gospel. It seems to me that the open theist, Greg Boyd holds to a version of 2K.

    Now, I’m not saying that anyone here is that hypothetical “cage-phase” 2Ker. And if we aren’t, shouldn’t our reaction be to sigh or chuckle at Trueman’s comment, point out (as DGH did) that blogs are not necessarily reflective of our preaching and life; that our Bible teaching, indeed, revolves around the finished work of Christ, with 2K, 5 points, or whatever Biblical themes always there in the architecture, but only brought out or emphasized as appropriate to the text itself? If we slam Trueman for his misdirected remarks as a calculated means of striving for the celebrity status that he disparages, well, aren’t we guilty then of returning a greater evil for a lesser?


  21. Are there some who never ever went through a “cage-stage”, others who need to experience a prolonged “cage-stage”, and yet others who just keep talking about the doctrines of the gospel of grace in antithesis to the falsehoods of evangelicalism, even if it gets in the way of them selling books to these same evangelicals?

    Carl Trueman writes: “Reformed’ in current popular parlance is somewhat like ‘confessional.’ I keep meeting ‘confessional evangelicals’ who do not actually adhere, other than at a notional level, to any of the great historic ecclesiastical confessions. They seem to be using the adjective as a substitute for ‘conservative’ or ‘orthodox’, which is fine — as long as (once again) it does not then lead to blurring the significant difference between being orthodox in belief and being confessional in practice. Being confessional in the traditional, ecclesiastical sense, has profound practical significance for how one
    operates at the level of the church; it does not simply express a set of ideas to which one is intellectually committed, with no direct implications for church governance etc.

    “Further, as I have said before, a true return to the confessions of the Protestant church will
    inevitably involve a return to the divisions which those confessions enshrined and which were in fact often the very reason for their production: fundamental disagreements among Protestants over
    sacraments and ecclesiology.”


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