The Dog House or Court Room Paradigm

Many thanks to Bryan Cross for introducing me to the wonders of paradigms. They continue to explain differences between Rome and Protestants. Jason Stellman reminds me of paradigmatic analysis’ benefits in a recent post on the place of good works in the Christian’s life. He invokes Chesterton to this end:

It is quite popular among many Christians to insist that any works done by believers, even if they are Spirit-wrought, cannot contribute to our receiving our eternal inheritance, for if they did, we would be robbing God of the glory due him for our redemption from sin and death. Chesterton rightly rejected this inverse porportionality between God’s work and ours, as though God’s glory were a zero-sum game according to which anything we contribute necessarily diminishes his divine contribution. Rather, he insisted, the key to asceticism (which comes from the word denoting the practice of an athlete for his sport) is the paradox that the man who knows he can never repay what he owes will be forever trying, and “always throwing things away into a bottomless pit of unfathomable thanks.”

In a word, the key to asceticism is love.

Chesterton illustrates his point by considering the romantic love between a man and a woman. If an alien culture were to study us, they might conclude that women are the most harsh and implacable of creatures since they demand tribute in the form of flowers, or exceedingly greedy for demanding a sacrifice of pure gold in the form of a ring. What such an assessment obviously fails to see is that, for the man, the love of the woman cannot be earned or deserved, and this, ironically, is why he will be forever attempting to do so.

When it comes to our relationship with God, it is equally wrong (indeed infinitely more so) to think that we by our acts of love and sacrifice can somehow buy his favors or earn his eternal smile. But this does not preclude our good works. In fact, our own asceticism and love are conditions, but only in a nuanced sense. They are not conditions in a quid pro quo, I’ll-scratch-your-back-since-you-scratched-mine kind of way, but rather they are the wondrous and mysterious conditions attached to a wondrous and mysterious gospel.

But again, what is missing from Roman Catholic or would-be Roman Catholic tributes to charity and agape is that nagging sense of sin that sent Luther for another look at the Bible. What if the relationship between the a person and God is not that between a man wooing a woman, nor even a husband in his wife’s dog house for forgetting to bring home the milk that the kids need for breakfast, but a husband who has had an adulterous affair and now facing a divorce attorney?

That would seem to be the human predicament — one not of finding God’s favor but of facing his wrath and curse for violating his law. Even Rome acknowledges this when it teaches that some people can’t go to heaven without stopping first in purgatory. In fact, it is odd that Rome would seem to teach that it is possible to please God (with the right amount of grace), that all sorts of mechanisms are available to assist believers in this endeavor, not to mention the treasury of merits, and then all of this is not enough to overcome a blight which requires further purging somewhere between heaven and hell.

So if Chesterton were to think about the relationship between sinners and God as one between spouses estranged by unfaithfulness — a biblical image if Hosea is to be believed — I wonder if he might be more interested in a quid pro quo arrangement. How about one in which a savior takes away sin in such a way that the betrayed wife now regards her unfaithful husband as she did on wedding day?

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21 thoughts on “The Dog House or Court Room Paradigm

  1. I think what is more telling about Jason’s comments is how his BT studies concerning law and spirit opened the door for him to consider the RC’s way of viewing salvation. I’m thinking ‘Union’ scuffles and reordering the ‘ordo’ as well as what may be a catechetically helpful but perhaps a bit ham-fisted way of talking about the law (i.e. 3 categories, 3 uses).

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  2. It’s also interesting to note how far these “works of love” (I always want to play the theme from “The Love Boat” in the background when I read these guys) fall short of dying a painful, bloody death on a cross. Think back to what started this whole Protestant thing – Tetzel selling people indulgences to fund the Pope’s building campaign. The “work of love” in that case was paying money to get time off from Purgatory. Scam, scam, scam, scam. How about guilt, grace, gratitude as a marvelously simple paradigm instead?

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  3. Erik,

    You lose strict justice in Eden, to say nothing of ruling merit or legal/forensic ‘inappropriate’ to the familial dynamic and it’s not that long a walk to Shepherd, FV and then Rome

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  4. Leithart: “If we are united to Christ in all the virtue of his saving acts, does this not include union with Christ in the power for sanctification? If Ward agrees with this, it’s not clear exactly how he differs from Shepherd (whom he criticizes). If not, then how does he avoid antinomianism (which he also criticizes)? Ward claims that Shepherd’s view leaves us with a basically Arminian doctrine of justification: ‘The obligation in the covenant for the believer today is the same obligation Adam had pre-fall. In short, Christ has secured forgiveness by his death but logically we are put in a position where our covenant faithfulness is the way to salvation.’

    Leithart: ” What is missing from this is the crucial reality of union with Christ. Yes, we do have the same obligation that Adam (and Abraham, and Moses, and David, and Jesus) had, namely, the obedience of faith. And, yes, covenant faithfulness is the way to salvation, for the “doers of the law will be justified” at the final judgment. But this is all done in union with Christ, so that our covenant
    faithfulness is dependent on the work of the Spirit of Christ in us, and our covenant faithfulness is about faith, trusting the Spirit to will and to do according to His good pleasure.”

    mark: Sean is correct to notice the confusion cause by deliberately ambiguous language about “union” priority. It’s as if the entire Reformation could have been avoided if only somebody could have said “not by merit but by union”….Oh, wait, even at the time the Roman Catholics who debated Calvin and Luther were saying only the right kind of works would do, the works done by grace, the works done in the family…and only the stubborn would say: not by works of any kind, I will not eat green eggs and ham.

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  5. Many Neo-Calvinists will not talk about election when they are talking about Christ’s death and love. Instead they talk about “covenant conditionality”. They will only say, “if you put your life-long trust in Him,” and will not spell out the antithesis between sheep for whom Christ died and goats for whom Christ did not die.

    On the one hand, everyone in their congregation is spoken to as one of the “us” Christ loves. On the other hand, listeners are warned that the ultimate efficacy of Christ’s intention depends on God making us obedient “in the covenant family”

    At issue here is not only the extent of Christ’s love but the nature of Christ’s love. If Christ’s love goes unrequited, then even His love for those who love Him back is of a very different nature than the unconditional love which never lets go of those God gave His Son.

    It does no good to say that God took the initiative in loving the unlovely. In our own relationships, one of us often takes the first step. But if the other person does not respond, it amounts to nothing.
    If Christ’s love is only one step which then depends on our being enabled to make an adequate response, then Christ’s love amounts to zero. Galatians 2:20 does not say that the Son of God loved you and gave Himself for you. Nor does that text give clergy the authority to extrapolate that God loves you and gave Himself for you. Rather, the next verse says “if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If Christ’s love depends on your obeying the law as the way you put your trust in Christ, then Christ’s love amounts to nothing and His death was for no purpose.

    In our relationships, we try to woo the lovely. We attempt to become lovely to those who are lovely to us. In the same way, the false gospel of Roman Catholicism depends on our becoming more lovely. But what good is a love for the unlovely which depends on our becoming lovely at some point? A love which CAN amount to nothing always DOES amount to nothing.

    If we think we can do one lovely thing to cause God’s imputation to happen, then we presume that God is wooing us. We think God is appealing to the part of us which God finds lovely. So then, no matter what we say, we haven’t really believed that God loves the unlovely.

    Neo-Calvinists think of election and definite redemption as two different things, because they think of love and propitiation for the elect as two different things. Not so the Scripture! John 10 does not say that the good Shepherd loves the goats so that they can become sheep if they respond. John 10:12 says that “he who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” . The good shepherd does not act like the hired man. The hired man’s love amounts to nothing.

    How do we know the Shepherd loves the sheep? “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Does this mean that the Shepherd dies as a representative of the sheep along with the sheep? No. The Shepherd is not only the leader, not only the first to die. The Shepherd dies as a substitute for the sheep. Because the Shepherd dies, the sheep do not die. So John 10 does not separate Christ’s love and Christ’s death. Christ loves those for whom He dies. Christ dies for those He loves. John 10 does not say, “If you put your trust in and believe.” John 10:26—“you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice.”

    But Neo-Calvinists don’t deny election. Sure, John 10:29 tells how “My Father has given them to me”. Doug Wilson and Leithart only ask us not to talk about election when we are talking about Christ’s covenant love and death..

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  6. Even Rome acknowledges this when it teaches that some people can’t go to heaven without stopping first in purgatory.

    Is Purgatory an infallible teaching? They recently did away with “Limbo”, but mayhap if Purgatory is linked to Trent (and its affirmations of indulgences = Purgatory groupons) Rome could not believably reverse purgatory.

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  7. Certain puritan experimentalists (and quakers) move the “purgatory” into this life, before the first death.
    Max Weber called it a work-ethic to confirm to ourselves that we are elect.

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  8. The Persistence of Purgatory (Richard K Fenn) traces Western attitudes toward time back to the myth of Purgatory. As popular understandings of Purgatory became increasingly secularized, the lifespan of the individual became correspondingly purgatorial. No time could be wasted. Fenn demonstrates the impact of Purgatory on the preaching of Richard Baxter and William Channing, but he also argues that John Locke’s views can only be understood when placed within the context of a belief in Purgatory.

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  9. “Certain puritan experimentalists (and quakers) move the “purgatory” into this life, before the first death.”

    That’s a great way to put it, and very true!

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  10. mark mcculley: Certain puritan experimentalists (and quakers) move the “purgatory” into this life, before the first death. Max Weber called it a work-ethic to confirm to ourselves that we are elect.

    RS: That could also be seeing something because you (the author(s)) are looking for it. Note in the text below that we are to apply dilgence and be all the more diligent ” to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” The doctrine of election does not lead to an easy life, but one of suffering and diligence. Yes, one can make fun of it and find all kinds of analogies, but the sure Word of God stands firm.

    II Peter 1:4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
    5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
    6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness,
    7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
    8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
    10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;
    11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.

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  11. Uh, Richard – you left out verse 3 –

    “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to[c] his own glory and excellence,[d] 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire”

    What is the power that enables us to be law-keepers? Christ’s divine power. You gave us the “gratitude” (law) section without including the “grace” (gospel) section. I’m starting to think you’re up to something sinister here.

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  12. Erik Charter: Uh, Richard – you left out verse 3 –

    “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to[c] his own glory and excellence,[d] 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire”

    What is the power that enables us to be law-keepers? Christ’s divine power. You gave us the “gratitude” (law) section without including the “grace” (gospel) section. I’m starting to think you’re up to something sinister here.

    RS: Maybe you should brush up a bit on reading, or maybe there is just something in you that wants to read certain things in a certain way. Whatever the issue, there is no law section in that passage and all that follows from verse four is from a person being a partaker of the divine nature. Are you sure that it is the power of Christ spoken of in that passage?
    2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;
    3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

    RS: Grace and peace are multiplied to you, how? By knowing the facts of God? No, it comes through the true knowledge of HIm who called us by His own glory and excellence. It then flows into being partakers of the divine nature, but only after escaping the corruption that is in the world by lust. So verse 4 really covers enough to get the point across that all true good comes from God and so all that we do in our diligence is not of the Law.

    But again, how are grace and peace multiplied to you, since, after all, you brought it up. So can a person know the facts of the Gospel and not be converted according to this verse?

    Erik Charter: There has got to be some baptists with weak consciences somewhere that will be all over this stuff you are peddling.

    RS: Only those who love the true Gospel of grace alone that was planned in eternity past and will be by grace for all eternity. The problem for your position, however, is that it cannot handle a grace that longs for and desires holiness. But the grace in eternity future will be a grace that brings perfect holiness, so clearly grace is not inconsistent with holiness in the slightest. Titus 2 also tells us what grace instructs us: “11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” See, grace instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and at the same time to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age. I simply don’t see why it is so hard to see that to declare that we are to pursue righteousness and holiness is an aspect of grace and we are told that believers are under the reign of grace (Rom 5:17-21). In fact, grace reigns through righteousness.

    While it may sound popular and all of that to say that those who speak of holiness and righteousness are legalistic and lack grace, in fact it may be that those who push something they call grace and teach that we don’t have to pursue holiness are teaching a false grace. When Christ and His grace reign in people, they will be like Paul before Felix who “was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” How did Felix respond? “Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.” That is more or less what people do today as well.

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  13. Very sad to see that Stellman has abandoned the monergism of the biblical-reformational gospel for the Rome-like synergism of eternal life conditioned upon Spirit-wrought covenant faithfulness and contributionism (i.e., God contributes His part in Christ, we contribute our part in Spirit-wrought covenant faithfulness). Also very sad that manifestations of this synergistic false gospel seem to be tolerated and even taught in some segments of conservative Reformed churches claiming to be confessional. Why one would abandon the spiritual riches, comfort and assurance of the biblical gospel, the doctrines of grace and Reformed theology for such a bondage-inducing, enslaving, comfort-less synergism is beyond me (especially one who had previously professed to embrace Reformed theology). “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1, ESV)

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  14. Roman Catholics like Sungenis will always talk about a “difference” between a paradigm with quid pro quo conditions and a “in the family now” paradigm with “mysterious conditions”. But I would shift the paradigm comparison to that between those who teach that Christians are imparted with the divine nature and thus enabled to meet “conditions in the covenant” and those who refuse any notion of “conditionality” except that which depends on Christ’s finished work.

    Even though the revivalist family is not so strict as to demand perfection, it does keep asking its members to ask themselves— am I the fourth dirt in the parable, or one of the other three?

    I am neither an Arminian nor a federal visionist, and I don’t believe that the justified elect lose their election, and therefore I don’t think that Christians have to do stuff to stay in (internally in?) the new covenant. Those “in the family” tend to let you by faith alone, or even without that if you are an infant, but then after a while, they will let you out the back door if your faith is still alone. In addition to faith, they ask—what have you done lately?

    It’s like my wife saying to me—the wooing doesn’t stop now. Sure, I married you already but
    now I want to see the big house with the bird nests in the big back yard. I am not denying that a husband could do stuff for his wife. But I ask the revivalist– how much does a husband have to do in order to keep the wife! Is it always just a little bit more than what I have done already?

    When I walked down that aisle 33 years ago, was I thinking— now that I am married, I don’t need to love her? It’s not strictly “quid pro quo” necessary? I need to love her, but it’s “mysteriously conditional?

    Our works are not necessary to obtain God’s blessings. Romans 4:4—“To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due”.

    What I do for my wife is not like mortgage payments on a note which can never be burned. I am not like Jacob who had to work seven more years after he got in the family (and that after seven years already)

    Married is married. What we do doesn’t keep us married.. There is no cause-effect relationship between our works and some second final justification, because the elect are saved by Christ’s work.Christians share in what Christ has, not because of what they do but because they are still married to Christ.

    The federal visionists warn us that the new covenant now expects more of us because we COULD now do more if you wanted to. Despite talk of the divine assistance available, the subtext is threatening and ominous– it’s not strict and perfect we want, but we shall wait and see what you
    do, and we will never say it specifically about you, but we will say in a general way–not enough recently, maybe out of the family now….

    Sure it’s great that water baptism has united me to Christ but how am I to know that I will keep covenant from now on in (so let me die first before I do something which will put me out of the covenant, let me die sooner rather than later). This is what I mean by purgatory now, before the first death.

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  15. Richard – You show that you are an evangelical at heart in that, like them, you want to assume the gospel and put all of your focus on works (what you call “holiness”). Like them you say, “O.K., Jesus has done his part, now it’s up to you to do yours”. You fail to understand that it is the gospel that provides the impetus and the power to do good works. Most of the Federal Visionists came out of evangelicalism — some not very long ago. Perhaps that is your true church home? Do you conclude, like many of them, that we are saved not by faith, but by “faithfulness”?

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  16. C S Lewis: “The Pantheist’s God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you.”

    So Lewis was not a pantheist idolater. But Lewis was an Arminian idolater who believed that God’s wooing continued into purgatory. In the Screwtape Letters, Lewis: ‘the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of God’s scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will…would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish, He can only woo…”

    C. S. Lewis s not only made an idol of human decision but curtailed the demand of the law to fit the possibilities of purgatory. Romans 10:3 “Those who are ignorant of God’s righteousness seek to establish their own righteousness, and do not submit to the righteousness of God.”

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  17. Mark Mcculley: Our works are not necessary to obtain God’s blessings. Romans 4:4—“To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due”.

    RS: True works are part of His blessing. It is a blessing to have Christ in us and it is a blessing to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is because people are regenerated, united to Christ, and then declared just that they can do good works. But the works are a blessing and come from the inward work of God in the soul.

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