The Presbyterian Narrative

If Ref21 had commboxes with their posts, I could simply make this point (or set of points) in response to Rick Phillips over there. But I guess ACE stands for Anti-Commbox Evangelicals.

At the risk of offending Bill McClay (as if he reads OL) who wrote a very fine piece on the “American narrative,” the invocation of the bad n-word, narrative, and attaching it to Presbyterian may allow me to make my point/s. Here is what McClay finds vexing about “narrative”:

It is one of those somewhat pretentious academic terms that has wormed its way into common speech, like “gender” or “significant other,” bringing hidden freight along with it. Everywhere you look, you find it being used, and by all kinds of people. Elite journalists, who are likely to be products of university life rather than years of shoe-leather reporting, are perhaps the most likely to employ it, as a way of indicating their intellectual sophistication. But conservative populists like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are just as likely to use it too. Why is that so? What does this development mean?

I think the answer is clear. The ever more common use of “narrative” signifies the widespread and growing skepticism about any and all of the general accounts of events that have been, and are being, provided to us. We are living in an era of pervasive genteel disbelief—nothing so robust as relativism, but instead something more like a sustained “whatever”—and the word “narrative” provides a way of talking neutrally about such accounts while distancing ourselves from a consideration of their truth. Narratives are understood to be “constructed,” and it is assumed that their construction involves conscious or unconscious elements of selectivity—acts of suppression, inflation, and substitution, all meant to fashion the sequencing and coloration of events into an instrument that conveys what the narrator wants us to see and believe.

I invoke “narrative” less to be trendy than to introduce to Presbyterians (real Calvinists?) the idea that we all have narratives and that we may want to be more self-conscious about them even without using the word. (Self-aggrandizement alert — I am a historian and I am actually licensed to think about “narrative.”)

Rick Phillips has a Presbyterian narrative that generally derives from New Side Presbyterianism, the ones who supported the First Pretty Good Awakening. That gives him the leverage, apparently, to further identify with New Calvinism over the Old (at least as long as the Old are critical of the new — mind you, criticism isn’t bad because New Siders and New Calvinists criticize Lutherans; where the Old Calvinists go off the rails, apparently, is in siding with Lutherans over New Calvininsts). Phillip’s affection for the New likely cools when it comes to the New School Presbyterians since they weren’t very good Calvinists. The Old School Presbyterians were good Calvinists, but they were also generally New Siders at heart — they liked aspects of the Pretty Good Awakening of the 18th century. When it comes to New Life versus Old Life, I’m betting Phillips will side with the former since Tim Keller represents the former and OL (duh) represents the latter. Plus, ins’t Keller a New Calvinist?

The problem with this narrative is that it does not address the rupture that the First Pretty Good Awakening introduced into Reformed Protestantism. The stress on experimental piety and revivals undermined the formal ministry and routine piety that had characterized many pockets of the Reformed world prior to the first celebrity pastor – George Whitefield.

What is also important to notice is that Reformed Protestants prior to Whitefield had no trouble identifying with Lutherans. Just look at the Harmony of the Confessions (1581). According to Wikipedia (another no no, but it sure is handy):

It grew out of a desire for one common Creed, which was modified into the idea of a selected harmony. In this shape it was proposed by the Protestants of Zurich and Geneva. Jean-François Salvart, minister of the Church of Castres, is now recognized as the chief editor of the work with some assistance from Theodore Beza, Lambert Daneau, Antoine de la Roche Chandieu, and Simon Goulart. It was intended as a defense of Protestant, and particularly Reformed, doctrine against the attacks of Roman Catholics and Lutherans. It does not give the confessions in full, but extracts from them on the chief articles of faith, which are classified under nineteen sections. It anticipates Georg Benedikt Winer’s method, but for harmonistic purposes.

But look at what these Old Calvinists decided to include in the Harmony:

Besides the principal Reformed Confessions (i.e., the Tetrapolitan, Basel and Helvetic, and Belgic Confessions), three Lutheran Confessions are also used, viz., the Augsburg Confession, the Saxon Confession (Confessio Saxonica), and the Württemberg Confession, as well as the Bohemian Confession (1573) and Anglican Confession (1562). The work appeared almost simultaneously with the Lutheran Formula of Concord, and may be called a Reformed Formula of Concord, though differing from the former in being a mere compilation from previous symbols.

So the question is, where did the love go? Why not more love for New Calvinists instead of Lutherans? And more importantly, what does this reveal about the Presbyterian narrative? Doesn’t it show that we have lost touch with a part of our tradition that used to regard Lutherans as more in sympathy with Reformed Protestantism than charismatics? It’s a free country and Phillips can tell whatever narrative he wants. But shouldn’t he admit he’s not telling the whole story? And one of the main factors that have prevented American Presbyterians from telling the whole story is their love affair with the First Pretty Good Awakening — an event that had all sorts of detractors on good confessional and ecclesiological grounds, sometimes who go by the name Old Side (not Old Light a Congregationalist term). (Self-serving alert: see Seeking A Better Country.)

What should also be noticed is that the Old Calvinists who put together the Harmony did not affirm union with Christ to the degree that Phillips does, as if it is the central dogma that holds Reformed Protestantism together. In fact, union is never mentioned in either the Belgic Confession or the Three Forms of Unity. If it does appear it is always in the word communion. So is Phillips prepared to dismiss the Three Forms of Unity (no pun here) in his insistence on union with Christ?

Finally, I have to take issue with Phillips’ misrepresentation of 2k, which in my mind borders on the rhetoric of the BBs:

Moreover, if being a Lutheran-leaning Old Calvinist means that I must embrace a radical two kingdoms position that will keep me from speaking publicly against manifest evils like abortion and homosexual marriage, then once again I am willing to have my Old Calvinist credentials held in derision.

I would prefer that Phillips extend the same generosity to 2k that he does to New Calvinism. But if he doesn’t want to, he should know that 2kers all affirm the confessions and catechisms of the Reformed churches which teach that murder and homosexual marriage are sinful. But even Lutherans know that carrying a baby to birth or marrying a person of the opposite sex is not going to merit God’s favor. And that is the point of 2k — for the guhzillionth time — that the good works performed in obedience to the law (state or ecclesiastical) won’t save. Can we get some credit here?

Postscript: Here’s is how a charismatic outsider sees it:

It is the revivalist style of at least some members of the New Calvinism punctuated by constant references to Jonathan Edwards and the rise of charismatic Calvinism that has many Old School Presbyterians concerned. Piper side-stepped the main issue between the two camps: from an Old-School perspective the New Calvinism smacks of the evangelical revivalism of a D. L. Moody, or, more to the point, the baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday (insert Mark Driscoll reference here). Sunday once called the novelist Sinclair Lewis “Satan’s cohort” in response to Lewis’s 1927 satirical novel Elmer Gantry, whose main character—a hypocritical evangelist—was modeled on Sunday’s flamboyant style.

That older coalition of Congregationalists, Baptists, and New School Presbyterians combined dispensationalism, celebrity revivalism, and fundamentalism—the very traits that Old School Presbyterians disliked then and now. It is not without some irony that Piper acknowledged the important role of Westminster Seminary while not even mentioning that it was the epicenter of Old School Presbyterianism with its anti-revivalist and cessationist stance (at the end of his lecture Piper got a laugh when he said, “you don’t even want to know my eschatology.” Indeed!). . . . All of this is to say that the New Calvinism looks a lot like the old New School Presbyterianism with a Baptist and charismatic flair to it.

Does this make me an outsider? Or can outsiders pick up better what’s going on than insiders?

Postpostscript: Look mom, no inflammation:

In speaking of Old Calvinism, I admit that I am using the expression loosely for the community of Calvinists generally connected with Old School Presbyterianism and their conservative Reformed Baptist counterparts. One thinks of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the Banner of Truth, and James Montgomery Boice and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (the host organization of this blog). They are united by a commitment to Five-Point Calvinism, ordinary means of grace ministry, the regulative principle of worship, and a traditional elder-rule approach to church polity.


69 thoughts on “The Presbyterian Narrative

  1. Plus, ins’t Keller a New Calvinist?

    Still reading, but this will be my only comment on this thread. Keller rose to prominence, in my mind, with Reason for God. A book I found acceptable, though not soemthing I wrote home to mom about. It came at the right time, and fit the bill.

    I’m uncomfortable attaching the NC label to the man, given his pedigree. But I have more to learn and read.

    Grace and peace.


  2. Union is never mentioned in the 3 forms of unity….. wouldn’t HC 20 qualify: “Q: Are all men then, as they perish in Adam, saved by Christ? A: No, only those who are engrafted into him and receive all his benefits, by a true faith?”


  3. Louis, it’s the ‘by a true faith’ that union seeks to displace and, as such, it’s empty, and thus unmerited participation in a forensic justification.


  4. Um, no, the emphasis has been on the elevating of existential union at the expense of a ‘faith’ particularly suited (sans good works, particularly and inclusive of inner renovation) to grasp Christ and receive, as benefit, justification amongst other gifts. The catechetical language has been of faith and saving faith, not union. This departure from the confessional category is what’s in purview in Phillip’s criticism of Old Calvinists. Phillips isn’t shy about it, justification becomes JUST another benefit amongst others.


  5. I’ve never heard anyone make that claim. The issue is whether sanctification flows from justification or whether with justification it flows from union, but nowhere do they deny the role of faith.


  6. Louis, they eclipse the confessional and catechetical language of faith with union, and soprise, soprise, here’s what happens to justification;

    “Third, as a matter of fact I am indeed more positive about the New Calvinists than I am about Lutheranism. One reason is that together with John Calvin I consider union with Christ to be the center of Christian soteriology rather than the doctrine of justification. This means that I do not subordinate sanctification to justification but hold them together in Calvin’s duplex gratia.”

    Phillips then goes onto explain how this is contra-lutherans and old school calvinists. There has been a purposeful change against an older, confessional understanding, Lutheran and Reformed, of the centrality of justification and the resulting elevation of imputation, in favor of mystical/existential union favoring the ontological and renovative. Additionally, I and many others, would take umbrage at his marshalling Calvin to his side.


  7. Right, he doesn’t subordinate sanctification to justification, holding them both to flow from union with Christ, but that doesn’t displace faith, considering that faith is central to union.


  8. “Unionist” Calvin in ‘Necessity of Reforming the Church”:

    If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity: that is, a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained. — Can union be a “source”? And if worship is such a big deal doesn’t/shouldn’t Mr Phillips have some problems with the Newcs?

    From the same piece, simple stuff on faith and works:

    There is no point which is more keenly contested, none in which our adversaries are more inveterate in their opposition, than that of justification: namely, as to whether we obtain it by faith or by works. On no account will they allow us to give Christ the honor of being called our righteousness, unless their works come in at the same time for a share of the merit. The dispute is not, whether good works ought to be performed by the pious, and whether they are accepted by God and rewarded by him; but whether, by their own worth, they reconcile us to God; whether we acquire eternal life as their price; whether they are compensations which are made to the justice of God, so as to take away guilt; and whether they are to be confided in as a ground of salvation.

    Whither union? And why?


  9. Here, maybe it helps if it doesn’t come from me;

    “The mystical union in the sense in which we are now speaking of it is not the judicial ground, on the basis of which we become partakers of the riches that are in Christ. It is sometimes said that the merits of Christ cannot be imputed to us as long as we are not in Christ, since it is only on the basis of our oneness with Him that such an imputation could be reasonable. But this view fails to distinguish between our legal unity with Christ and our spiritual oneness with Him, and is a falsification of THE FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENT IN THE DOCTRINE OF REDEMPTION, namely, of the doctrine of justification”.-Berkhof


  10. Back to Darryl’s claim, doesn’t HC 20 at least count as a “mention” of union? What else is meant by engrafting? And why shouldn’t the word “communion” count? The WLC seems to join the two: “The *communion* in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their *union* with him.”


  11. Louis, I don’t spell union as e-n-g-r-a-f-t. Now if you’re going to talk about analogous ideas to union, then you might have a point, though that’s hardly the central dogma that some unionists make it out to be. But if you want to claim that union is central to Reformed Protestant understandings of salvation, then we need to change the way we talk about the formal (sola Scriptura) and material (justification by faith alone) principles of the Reformation. Then again, maybe the Reformation didn’t begin until Geerhardus Vos went to Princeton.


  12. Darryl, when you said union was “never mentioned,” I assumed you meant the concept, not that the specific word didn’t appear. I’d follow up with that, but your answer is a little Bryan Cross-ish in it’s technical precision, so I’m not encouraged to continue the dialogue.

    Sean, thanks again, I think I get your point now.


  13. “One reason is that together with John Calvin I consider union with Christ to be the center of Christian soteriology rather than the doctrine of justification. This means that I do not subordinate sanctification to justification but hold them together in Calvin’s duplex gratia.”

    People who talk like this (1) really do think they have their shite together, and (2) really do think that their shite don’t stink.


  14. D.G. – Then again, maybe the Reformation didn’t begin until Geerhardus Vos went to Princeton.

    Erik – Actually, I think it started when Bahnsen enrolled at USC.


  15. The new school has won, the unionists have won, and if you are “Reformed” you most likely won’t be able to change that. But that does not mean they are right or even that they live better than we who are so focused on the forgiveness of our future sins. Even though I am not “Reformed”, neither am I Lutheran because I not only deny that water baptism saves but also deny that our future sins prove “our ability to fall from grace”.

    The union of those who make the focus union hangs its hope on what God’s grace is now doing in them, without denying that Jesus Christ did some necessary stuff back then and over there. And they always have this Calvin quotation with which to hit us over the head….

    Institutes 3:1:1 First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from Him, all that He has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what He has received from the Father, He had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, He is called ‘our Head’ (Eph. 4:15), and ‘the first-born among many brethren’ (Rom. 8:29). We also, in turn, are said to be ‘engrafted into Him’ (Rom. 11:17), and to ‘put on Christ’ (Gal. 3:27). For, as I have said, all that He possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with Him. It is true that we obtain this by faith.”

    Berkhof and Bruce McCormack know there’s more to know from Calvin besides that one quotation about the relationship of imputation and faith But Torrance and Letham assure us that the union of “sacrament” and that quotation is the key by which all else must be understood. Thus the triumphant crowing of Mark Garcia and Bill Evans.


  16. Bruce MCormack, p 110, “What’s At Stake in Current Debates Over Justification?”

    “I do not participate in the historical humanity of Christ ( a thought which would require an unity on the level of ‘substance’). Rather, I participate in the kind of humanity which Jesus embodies. That is why I John 3:2 says that when we see Him as He is, we shall be LIKE him.

    McCormack–“We need to remember the degree of residual Catholic content in the Reformation understanding… The individual Christ’s humanity and my own was thought to be transcended in terms of a Platonic reality The image of vine and branches might easily be seen to connote an organic connectedness of Christ to the believer. The early church thought of an ontological union of a ‘person” in whom being is mixed with non-being (that’s us) with a ‘person’ in whom being is pure from non-being (Jesus). Where that occurs, the life communicated from the vine to the branches flows organically….

    McCormack:“The difference between the relation between a vine and a branch and the relation between Christ and the believer is that the first relation is impersonal and the second is personal. The flow of nutrients from the vine to the branches take place automatically. It does not require a legal act of the will. But in the case of Christ and the believer, we are dealing with a willed relation. The ethical ‘bearing of fruit’ takes place on the foundation of justification. John 15:3–’You are already clean BECAUSE OF THE WORD I HAVE SPOKEN TO YOU.’

    McCormack: “The term ‘ingrafting’ is used in Romans 9-11 to speak of inclusion in the covenant of grace, which results in a share in all the gifts and privileges. That Paul would preface his use of the horticultural image with the affirmation that the adoption belonged to the Israelites before the Gentiles suggests that the image of ‘ingrafting’ is used as a synonym for adoption. The horticultural image is subordinated to the legal….”


  17. pages 60-62 of the OPC justification study committee report:

    In addition to the doctrine of union with Christ, the idea of the ordo salutis makes clear that justification is prior to sanctification. This is not priority in the sense that one is somehow more important than the other. Neither is it a temporal priority, strictly speaking, for there is no such thing as a justified person who is not also being sanctified. But while justification is the necessary prerequisite of the process of sanctification, that process is not the necessary prerequisite of justification. It is true to say that one must be justified in order to be sanctified; but it is untrue to say that one must be sanctified in order to be justified. Justification and sanctification bear a relationship to each other that cannot be reversed.

    Godfrey, Van Drunnen—one key problem with denying a priority of justification to sanctification is that it makes sanctification something other than what it is. The very character and identity of the Christian life are at stake. As Calvin has stated, when discussing the importance of justification, “For unless you first of all grasp what your relationship to God is, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build piety toward God.” There is such a thing as the moral life for the non-justified, non-Christian person. He is constantly confronted by God’s law (whether in nature or in Scripture) and everything he does is in anticipation of a judgment to come. His moral life can be nothing other than a striving by his own efforts to be right with God. For the Christian, the moral life is radically different. In his justification, the Christian has already passed through the judgment of God. He pursues holiness not in order to be right with God, but as a response to God’s gracious declaration that he already is right with him.

    Godfrey—Justification is thus decisive for sanctification and Christian ethics. All the work of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification in a person presupposes that he has been justified once and for all and that he exists as one who is right before God. Hence, it is only a justified person, never a condemned person, who is sanctified. People progress in their Christian lives as those who are justified. But the reverse is not the case. People are not justified as those who are sanctified—instead, Scripture is clear that it is the ungodly who are justified (e.g., Rom. 4:5). There is a relationship between the blessings of justification and sanctification. This relationship cannot be reversed. Justification has priority to sanctification in this sense.

    In Romans 6:14 Paul writes: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” For Paul, being “under the law” means being condemned by the law as a covenant of works (see Rom. 3:19; and also Gal. 4:21 and surrounding context). Because of justification a Christian is no longer condemned and hence is not under the law but under grace. In Romans 6:14, then, Paul makes justification, the state of being no longer under the law, the reason and explanation why sin no longer has dominion over us. Sin has no dominion over us because we are not under the law. Romans 7:6 is similar: “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”


  18. Mark you read too much Machen and not enough of the sports page in your newspaper. It shows in your Espn score.

    Kidding man. Hope all is well, thanks for all you do here. Good stuff.


  19. As soon as Michigan State loses to Virginia, things will look differently.

    I hope.

    But not “hope in the biblical sense”

    Garcia complains that if God’s imputation is before “sanctification” and results in “sanctification”, then this would mean that we have included “sanctification” into “justification” and changed the meaning of “justification”.

    But if that were true, Garcia putting “union” (personal presence) before justification so that “union” results in justification—–would mean that Garcia includes “sanctification” in “union” and changes the meaning of “union”.

    Godfrey — “It is purely gratuitous for Garcia to say that we attribute to justification a generative, quality. We do not describe justification as containing within itself a generative power that accomplishes the work of sanctification by its own virtue. Rather, we defend the idea that good works are the fruits of justifying faith and that in the ordo salutis justification has a certain priority to sanctification.


  20. Here’s the problem with putting sanctification on the same level as justification: Some people start to believe their own press and see their sanctification as being further along than it might be. When those people are in positions of authority they can become insufferable (even dangerous) when anyone dares question their decision making or judgment. Like so much in the Christian life, better to be circumspect about the degree or speed of our sanctification.

    We know Jesus died on the cross for our sins, we don’t know how far along He is in making us look like Him.


  21. dgh—The Reformed might consider that Lutherans understand better than Reformed triumphalists and experimental Calvinists that God’s glory is nowhere more on display, at least in this world, in the justification of sinners….We may not need to go much beyond justification and man’s salvation in seeing the glory of God.

    We may need to be content with the glory that is revealed in the cross and its salvation instead of yielding to the temptation to find God’s glory in human powers of discernment or in neo-Calvinist efforts to show the “Christian” meaning of calculus, Shakespeare, or Dutch history.

    While the game …sounds theocentric, it may turn out to be an unintended example of anthropenctricity in which believers try to prove their own godliness.

    dgh—A curious feature of Warfield’s contrast is the idea that Lutheranism emphasizes justification while Reformed Protestantism stresses the glory of God. .. an oft-made contrast between Heidelberg (which is considered a catechism that made concessions to Lutheranism) and Westminster is that the former catechism begins with man’s “only comfort” while the Shorter Catechism begins with “God’s glory” as man’s chief end.

    The danger in this contrast – man’s salvation vs God’s glory – is that Lutherans had good reasons for not becoming absorbed with God’s glory. Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation was a forceful warning to theologians who were tempted to identify God’s glory with outward and external signs or forms….God’s ways are not man’s, and so God may not actually glorify himself the way that man expects. The cross is folly. Preaching is weak. Christians are poor and humble. In which case, God saves an unlikely people through surprising means. And that may also mean that God’s glory is not … as human beings expect it.


  22. Karl Barth: “Job’s companions are unquestionably good, earnest and marked contrast to the violent utterances of Job, which border at times on blasphemy and the denial of God, They unquestionably speak good, earnest and religious words. . . in so doing they speak, as well may happen, that which is perverted and dangerous” Church Dogmatics 4.3, 453.

    ‘Hans Frei’s appeal to the church as subject of the narrative as well as the agent of the narrative is a reminder the narrative does not refer but rather people”” Stan Hauerwas, “The Church As God’s New Language,” in Christian Existence Today: Essays on Church, World and Living in Between (Durham, NC: Labyrinth Press, 1988) The essay is also in the Hauerwas Reader

    mcmark– my cue to once again ask my friends

    which people?
    which church?
    which covenant?
    which Presbyterians?

    if some Reformed are more like some Lutherans than like others who are Reformed, this will never change the fact that—unlike Barth and the baptists—they still agree that God does the water.

    When is the last time the Philadelphia Conference did the five points? Was the change from doing the ‘tulip” an attempt to include baptists or other “Reformational” folks (Lutherans)?

    Have you not heard that “tulip” is not a Reformed thing, but a modern devise used only by some ex-Arminians who have not yet moved to the “Reformed” seats on the bus. Slow learners, since “tulip” is neither the gospel (which we share with Arminians) nor the full worldview we need to acquire if we are to build in this age that which God will keep in the next age. Who does “tulip” anymore?


  23. I think Godfrey gets this so clearly because he knows the Belgic so well.

    I just taught (twice!) on Article 24, and it is absolutely clear on the priority of justification. It isn’t just faith, but JUSTIFYING FAITH that causes us to live a new life, and it is a good tree — not actually good, but imputationally, by justification — that bears good fruit.

    And I love how both the Belgic and the Heidelberg (Q114-115) both close their material on sanctification by pointing out how weak it is and how the law ultimately always drives us back to Christ for continual justification. “Thus, then, we would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be continually vexed if they relied not on the merits of the suffering and death of our Savior.”

    We confess not only the priority of justification, but also the posteriority of justification.

    “We believe that this true faith [JUSTIFYING FAITH, a referent to the previous two articles], being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin. Therefore it is so far from being true that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith to be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a faith working through love, which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word.

    These works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by His grace. Nevertheless they are of no account towards our justification, for it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works; otherwise they could not be good works, any more than the fruit of a tree can be good before the tree itself is good.

    Therefore we do good works, but not to merit by them (for what can we merit?); nay, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not He to us, since it is He who worketh in us both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. Let us therefore attend to what is written: When ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do. In the meantime we do not deny that God rewards good works, but it is through His grace that He crowns His gifts.

    Moreover, though we do good works, we do not found our salvation upon them; for we can do no work but what is polluted by our flesh, and also punishable; and although we could perform such works, still the remembrance of one sin is sufficient to make God reject them. Thus, then, we would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be continually vexed if they relied not on the merits of the suffering and death of our Savior.”


  24. I am scratching my head trying to work out what the link is between the picture of English electro pop’s Soft Cell and this post might be. Tainted Love? Has anyone got an idea? Musically I think the Pet Shop Boys with their tasteful Northern roots here in Lancashire always had the edge on Marc and co.

    Getting back to the serious stuff, will 2014 be the year in which John Piper and his allies split the Reformed Protestants? One does wonder if this is his aim and with enthusiastic allies like Rick Phillips he may do it. Perhaps the union with Christ debate may even pique the New Perspective rumblings of previous years. Even the lads at Reformed Forum have taken a stance, giving Piper and Desiring God a clear thumbs up as being Reformed, and making this narrative highly subjective in one episode. One up there for Piper getting folks enthusiastically on his side.

    Does union get a prominent part in the WCF? If not, why not? I recently sat through listening to a paper on how all vital union is, but while trying to figure out since when union has being so central I guessed the speaker was showing which camp in this debate he was allied to here in England, of all places; tribal lines are becoming clearer all over the place. And then the dots need to connected between the proponents of this indeed highly selective New Calvinism: Westminster Seminary East, the YRR ‘divide and conquer’ brigade, and those who want to be liked by the high profilers.

    Be careful what you wish for, fan boys of New Calvinism. In time your gradual, incremental absorption of it’s charismatic ethos, worship and ecclesiology will result in you being so little Reformed Protestant that there will be no discernable difference in substance and style between yourselves and those you are being hypnotised by. And that is the very aim of the TFG and Gospel Coalition.


  25. Paul, any link to the paper you heard?

    Your warning is apt. Think the First Pretty Good Awakening and its aftermath. Irony of ironies, Dutch Calvinists for much longer resisted what they called “Methodism” (read American evangelicalism). But now Vos on union is the basis for a Presbyterian New Calvinist union.

    Just think about the song that Tainted Love morphed into in vinyl.


  26. Paul, funny how The New Calvinists sound so much Ye Olde Evangelicals. On top of what you say, what will happen to the polemic against eeeevangelicalism? Maybe a case of Reformed narcissism, i.e. they can’t absorb charismatic ethos, worship and ecclesiology because they’re them, but we can because we’re us.

    ps maybe a play on words, as in The New Calvinists are making a soft sell. But don’t touch me, please, I cannot stand the way you teeeeeeease.


  27. Do the New Calvinists really heartily (sorry!) believe in the Union with Christ doctrine or was this just a poor jab at Lutherans (who have superior ecclesiology and liturgy to the NCs)?


  28. Les, I don’t know that unionism is a defining characteristic of the the Newcs. And liturgically and ecclesially (if you count trad presbys like Phillips) they’re all over the board too. The weird thing is that someone like Phillips would rather side with (and self-identify with) the charismo-baptist-istics rather than the old school. Experience, earnestness, and bosom burn (revivalism) has to be the reason.


  29. We have to be careful with labels. I know some “reformed baptists” who are writing essays (and at least one book) accusing those with justification priority as being “antinomians” or “Lutherans” or “new Calvinists”.

    So we have to read carefully. What people say about “Christ in us” is not the only division, nor our various readings of the kingdoms. While some of us reject the “puritan fog” of the new pietist legalism, there are some who attack “the new Calvinists” for not being legalistic enough.

    One thing for which to look is the basis of assurance. Is there such a thing as faith in the gospel without any assurance? Some attack what they call “the new Calvinists” not from a location like the Belgic 24 but from a precisionist “practical syllogism” attitude which depends on what God is now doing in them.

    Is the gospel the new birth or is the gospel justification by the atonement?


    We need to know that justification is not by our regeneration. So we need to know what regeneration is and that regeneration is not the atonement. The atonement (reconciliation) is what Christ did outside of us. We receive the atonement by imputation (Romans 5:11, 17) and also by faith (Romans 4, John 1:12-13, John 5:24-25) Regeneration is what God does in us so that we believe the gospel about justification and regeneration.

    So what do you ask yourself? Do you ask, am I regenerate? Or do you ask, am I justified? Or should you ask yourself anything?

    If you are justified, you have been regenerated. If you are born again, you have been justified. If you are one, you are both. But justification is not regeneration.

    As for the question about “was I then justified?”, who much cares, unless somehow you think it’s important that you know now what you were then. If so, why? Flush the narrative. It’s only history.

    Do those who say that it’s only history reveal themselves as “new school”? Would only a “new life” say that old and new don’t matter? Would only a gentile say that jew and gentile don’t matter? If the jewish root still matters, in what way does it matter?

    Can we say what we mean without talking in code about “union” and “the covenant”? Can we mean what we say, if this division between old and new does not really mean to us so very much?


  30. Excellent post! I’ve been suspicious of Phillips ever since his screed in response to the change in the Boy Scouts over homosexual membership (just to make clear: I don’t agree with that decision, I’m just big particularly interested in the goings on of that group). My question: why is his church affiliated with them in the first place? What is his church doing bringing these secular groups into affiliation and pretending like they’re some arm of the Christian faith? Get a clue Rick Phillips and get all these organisations out of your church.


  31. The link to an interesting UK theological contribution on union with Christ is at:
    The speaker is Dr. Andrew Young, minister at Cheltenham EPCEW. I thought the paper given by Luke Jenner on Divine Simplicity was superb, leading me to further thoughts about the subjects’ relation to the Chalcedonian Creed. It is also available through the same link. Incidentally, it is also from the EPCEW that two ministers contributed excellent chapters in the book Engaging with Keller.

    Going back to the brief comments about Soft Cell, Marc Almond is still touring and I see he has been out in Malta which is loosening up (badly) fast due it’s subservience to the EU. Along with fellow punk types like the peppery and punchy ‘Bard of Salford’ John Cooper Clarke, Marc has survived the seriously druggy days of the 80’s and still has a fan base.


  32. New or Old Calvinist Darryl?

    “How can the mind be aroused to taste the divine goodness without at the same time being wholly kindled to love God in return? For truly, that abundant sweetness which God has stored up for those who fear him cannot be known without at the same time powerfully moving us. And once anyone has been moved by it, it utterly ravishes him and draws him to itself. Therefore, it is no wonder if a perverse and wicked heart never experiences that emotion by which, borne up to heaven itself, we are admitted to the most hidden treasures of God and to them most hallowed precincts of his Kingdom, which should not be defiled by the entrance of an impure heart.” No Darryl, Jonathan Edwards wasn’t the only one to talk about the sweetness of enjoying God with both the mind and emotions. This is John Calvin, Inst. 3.2.41

    How about this one? “The ‘secret’ (Ps. 25:14) means the ‘secret counsel,’ the homilia (communion), as one of the old translations has aptly rendered it. It is the intimate converse between friend and friend as known from human life where there is no reserve, but the thoughts and feelings of the heart are freely interchanged. And the notion of the covenant here expresses the same idea: the covenant being conceived not as a formal contract for the specific purpose, but as a communion in which life touches life and intertwines with life so that the two become mutually assimilated. Evidently the Psalmists recognize in this private intercourse with God the highest function of religion- the only thing that will completely satisfy the child of God.” -Geerhardus Vos, Grace and Glory, 170.

    Or this: “The life of faith is the life of love, and the life of love is the life of fellowship, or mystic communion with him who ever lives to make intercession for his people and who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. It is fellowship with him who has an inexhaustible reservoir of sympathy with his people’s temptations, afflictions, and infirmities because he was tempted in all points like as they are yet without sin. The life of true faith cannot be that of cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.” -John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 170.

    I doubt Calvin himself, Geerhardus Vos, or John Murray would qualify as “Old Calvinists” in your judgment. Methinks you need to start reading some of the most prominent “old Calvinists,” including Calvin himself, a bit more closely


  33. Jordan H., so now John Calvin belonged to the Gospel Coalition?

    But you find me an inflamed Calvinist who administers the Supper weekly, and then you might be on to something.

    In case you missed it, the difference between Old and New Calvinists is the church. Please find Calvin, Vos, and Murray defending the parachurch.


  34. I agree with your critique of the Gospel Coalition, the parachurch, etc. I consider myself an old Calvinist though I doubt I’d qualify for you since I’m a member of a PCA church and under care of a PCA presbytery, like Jonathan Edwards, read Banner books, and pray for revival. I got the idea from the post that one of the major differences between Old and New Calvinists is not merely the church but the kind of experimental piety which the above quotations reflect. It’s the argument that experimental piety is a unique feature of New Side Calvinism in distinction from the churchly piety of the Old Calvinists, an argument I’ve heard you make over and over and over again, which simply does not hold water in light of what old Calvinists like Calvin, Vos, and Murray (just a few I’ve been reading lately- I could list more) actually taught.


  35. Jordan,

    While my brother is off feeding the hungry, could you indulge me on what kind of piety Calvin, Vos, and Murray taught? I’ve got a bit of insomnia, and I am still smarting after SDSU’s loss in the (bitter)Sweet 16.

    Just some bullet points would do. I am pretty curious, because as I read Calvin in the Institutes, I see a lot more pessimism (or as I would call it, realism) compared to Edwards’ enthusiasm – inasmuch as Edwards is highly optimistic of what the Christian life looks like for one possessing the (12, I believe) distinguishing marks of genuine religious affections. I haven’t read much of Vos or Murray on piety, so indulge a restless soul.


  36. Jordan, I’m not a bishop so I don’t have the power to qualify or disqualify. I do have the freedom to opine, which is what I do here. What I would encourage you to do and anyone who prays for revival is to consider John Williamson Nevin’s argument about the consequences of experimental Calvinism (Puritanism) for sacramental theology and practice. If you can find New Calvinists who hold hedonism and reverence for the Lord’s Supper together, great. But that’s not where we are. And I blame experimental Calvinism. Maybe you can say the upside of experimental Calvinism beats its downside. But don’t say there’s no downside (even in the PCA; plenty of evidence in the OPC).


  37. Jed, to up your ante, could you imagine Calvin, Murray, or Vos writing the following about a 4-year old:

    She was born in March, in the year 1731. About the latter end of April, or the beginning of May 1735 she was greatly affected by the talk of her brother, who had been hopefully converted a little before, at about eleven years of age, and then seriously talked to her about the great things of religion. Her parents did not know of it at the that time, and were not wont, in the counsels they gave to their children, particularly to direct themselves to her, by reason of her being so young, and as they supposed, not capable of understanding: but after her brother had talked to her, they observed her very earnestly to listen to the advice they gave to the other children; and she was observed very constantly to retire, several times in a day, as was concluded, for secret prayer, and grew more and more engaged in religion, and was more frequent in her closet, till at last she was wont to visit it five or six times in a day; and was so engaged in it , that nothing would at any time divert her from her stated closet exercises. . . .

    She once of her own accord spoke of her unsuccessfulness, in that she could not find God, or to that purpose. But on Thursday, the last day of July, about the middle of the day, the child being in the closet, where it used to retire, its mother heard it speaking aloud, which was unusual, and never had been observed before: and her voice seemed to be as of one exceedingly importunate and engaged; but her mother could distinctly hear only these words . . . “Pray, blessed Lord, give me salvation! I pray, beg, pardon, all my sins!” When the child had done prayer, she came out of the closet, and sat down by her mother, and cried out aloud. Her mother very earnestly asked her several times, what the matter was, before she could make any answer; but she continued crying exceedingly, and writhing her body to and fro, like one in anguish of spirit. Her mother then asked her, whether she was afraid that God could not give her salvation. She answered, “Yes, I am afraid I shall go to hell!” Her mother then endeavored to quiet her; and told her she would not have her cry; she must be a good girl, and prayer every day, and she hoped God would give her salvation. But this did not quiet her at all; but she continued thus earnestly crying, and taking on for some time, till at length she suddenly ceased crying, and began to smile, and presently said with a smiling countenance, “Mother, the kingdom of heaven is come to me!” Her mother was surprised at the sudden alteration, and at the speech; and knew not what to make of it, but at first said nothing to her. The child presently spoke again, and said, “There is another come to me, and there is another, there is three;” and being asked what she meant, she answered, “One is, Thy will be done, and there is another Enjoy him forever;” by which it seems, that when the child said, “there is three comes to me,” she meant three passages of her Catechism that came to her mind.


  38. And just to pile on, JH. I’ll say I’m down, as far as telling someone (anyone) to read J. Calvin.

    But to really go for the jugular, tell him to read scripture.

    I’m reminded of Kevin Spacey in The Big Kahuna when the character Bob tells K. Spacey, “the apostle Paul said,” and of course Kevin Spacey goes bezerk (tee hee).

    Calvin, and I haven’t read him nearly enough, was very Scriptural. ‘Nuff said.


  39. For fun. Note towards the end, “the apostle paul said.” Im straying from the point raised. But there’s another scene where Bob really gets under Larry’s skin. Enjoy folks..


  40. And to sweeten the pot, how about Calvin writing about being in “almost constant in ejaculatory prayer”:

    From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ. and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him. I found no books so delightful to me, as those that treated of these subjects. Those words Cant. 2:1, used to be abundantly with me, I am the Rose of Sharon, and the Lilly of the valleys. The words seemed to me, sweetly to represent the loveliness and beauty of Jesus Christ. The whole book of Canticles used to be pleasant to me, and I used to be much in reading it, about that time; and found, from time to time, an inward sweetness, that would carry me away, in my contemplations. This I know not how to express otherwise, than by a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all the concerns of this world; and sometimes a kind of vision, or fixed ideas and imaginations, of being alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapt and swallowed up in God. The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.

    Not long after I first began to experience these things, I gave an account to my father of some things that had passed in my mind. I was pretty much affected by the discourse we had together; and when the discourse was ended, I walked abroad alone, in a solitary place in my father’s pasture, for contemplation. And as I was walking there, and looking up on the sky and clouds, there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express. I seemed to see them both in a sweet conjunction; majesty and meekness joined together; it was a sweet, and gentle, and holy majesty; and also a majestic meekness; an awful sweetness; a high, and great, and holy gentleness.

    After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of every thing was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost every thing. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon for continuance; and in the day, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things; in the mean time, singing forth, with a low voice my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer. And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning; formerly, nothing had been so terrible to me. Before, I used to be uncommonly terrified with thunder, and to be struck with terror when I saw a thunder storm rising; but now, on the contrary, it rejoiced me. I felt God, so to speak, at the first appearance of a thunder storm; and used to take the opportunity, at such times, to fix myself in order to view the clouds, and see the lightnings play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God’s thunder, which oftentimes was exceedingly entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplations of my great and glorious God. While thus engaged, it always seemed natural to me to sing, or chant for my mediations; or, to speak my thoughts in soliloquies with a singing voice.

    I felt then great satisfaction, as to my good state; but that did not content me. I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, wherewith my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break; which often brought to my mind the words of the Psalmist, Psal. 119:28. My soul breaketh for the longing it hath. I often felt a mourning and lamenting in my heart, that I had not turned to God sooner, that I might have had more time to grow in grace. My mind was greatly fixed on divine things; almost perpetually in the contemplation of them. I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, year after year; often walking alone in the woods, and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and converse with God; and it was always my manner, at such times, to sing forth my contemplations. I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer, wherever I was. Prayer seemed to be natural to me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent. The delights which I now felt in the things of religion, were of an exceeding different kind from those before mentioned, that I had when a boy; and what I then had no more notion of, than one born blind has of pleasant and beautiful colors. They were of a more inward, pure, soul animating and refreshing nature. Those former delights never reached the heart; and did not arise from any sight of the divine excellency of the things of God; or any taste of the soul satisfying and life; giving good there is in them.


  41. Z, I suppose I could dig up my favorite Owen. But instead, your post stands as is, with nothing more than my acknowledgement.


  42. Darryl,

    Shee-eessh. What was in the Wheaties in 18th Century New England? I’d just be content if my four year old would stop pissing the bed – or mine when he comes in our room because he claims to be “skawed ov da monstos undow my bed.”

    Was that an account of a conversion, or was the poor kid suffering some serious hallucinations because her 11 year old brother gave her the wrong kind of mushrooms from the backyard?


  43. Update: Postpostscript: Look mom, no inflammation:

    In speaking of Old Calvinism, I admit that I am using the expression loosely for the community of Calvinists generally connected with Old School Presbyterianism and their conservative Reformed Baptist counterparts. One thinks of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the Banner of Truth, and James Montgomery Boice and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (the host organization of this blog). They are united by a commitment to Five-Point Calvinism, ordinary means of grace ministry, the regulative principle of worship, and a traditional elder-rule approach to church polity.


  44. Come on guys, stop avoiding Jordan’s question. He’s just snookered you and so you need to keep changing the subject. It’s quite clear that Calvinists- new AND old- have always affirmed a vigorous, experimental Christianity. Jordan’s given you the quotes; it’s there in the writing and preaching.

    Now. There are certainly differences between old side/school and new side/school: in perspectives, adherence to confessions, ecclesiology. All that is granted. There is clearly fundamental differences between them. But that doesn’t mean that experimental religion is the preserve of one group. Scottish Presbyterianism has always maintained a vigorous confessionalism and experimentalism.

    Of course para church organisations are awful; and much of new calvinism is just ridiculous. But old Calvinists could be just as impassioned as new.


  45. Jordan,

    No one denies that genuine Christian piety involves more than theological assent. The whole heart is involved in loving God. The problem is when we slowly move from the Biblical admonitions concerning the heart, such as walking with integrity, receiving the Word with humility, honoring God with a sincere faith, etc., to speaking of heightened emotions and experiences of God’s presence that most Christians, if they are honest, just do not normally feel. Too many Neo-Calvinists who speak of experimental piety make this “emotional communion” something only attainable by a select few who “feel” God’s presence and leading every day, or so they keep reminding us Yes, we bring our emotions to God, but often those emotions are negative ones, and some people simply are not very emotional. The Christians I know feel pretty crappy most of the time, whether from their bodies breaking down, bad family situations, work or church situations, etc., and most do not “feel” God’s presence, but nevertheless believe it (struggle to believe it) because God promises it regardless of our feelings. The inability to temper the earnestness rhetoric so that it actually matches real life only hurts the Christians in the pew who need to hear the objective promises, not made to feel far from God for lack of subjective experience.


  46. Alexander – It’s quite clear that Calvinists- new AND old- have always affirmed a vigorous, experimental Christianity.

    Fletch- There we get into kind of a grey area.

    Fletch’s Editor – How grey?

    Fletch – Charcoal?


  47. Todd – well said.

    Alexander – “It’s quite clear that Calvinists- new AND old- have always affirmed a vigorous, experimental Christianity.”

    Well, in the spirit of meeting halfway – because we’re all about compromise here – we’ll let you have your experience if you don’t tell us what experience we must have. You can swoon and fly above the mountains, but just keep it to yourself. But experientialists won’t make that deal. Experientialists must give experiential commands in the form of poetic hyperbole.


  48. The inability to temper the earnestness rhetoric so that it actually matches real life only hurts the Christians in the pew who need to hear the objective promises, not made to feel far from God for lack of subjective experience.

    Double ding, Todd. The resultant cognitive dissonance produces tuning out, walking out, or an unhealthy self deception. Poor Southern babdists figure out that after the third or fourth dunking and eighth or ninth aisle walk someone is telling them wrong.


  49. M&M, that is the issue — whether the inflamed requires us all to be on fire (if not, we’re not Christian).

    But a related issue is the bad taste, poor manners, of talking about such personal and existential things. Maybe these people do go on in public for everyone to see about how gee golly willicker great the love of their life is. But some us know our audience, that we can talk openly about our affections with good friends and some family members, and with others we need to be reserved.

    Do the New Calvinists and other experimental Calvinists know the value of reserve and moderation? Or are they adolescents in love with God all their lives?


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