In the Plus Column

Rick Phillips might have a point if the folks who argue for the priority of justification and fear neonomianism wrote about Jimmy Stewart or Sean Connery the way this fellow writes about Babe Ruth:

“Catholicism” might not be the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Babe Ruth. With his copious drinking and womanizing, the baseball giant didn’t exactly lead the life of a religious conservative. He was, however, a member of the Knights of Columbus and invested much time and money in charitable activities, especially those involving the sick and the orphaned. This year, the 100th anniversary of Ruth entering the big leagues, we should remember all facets of this complicated man.

(Beware the way you write about George Washington, you Christian nationalists, you.)

12 thoughts on “In the Plus Column

  1. Are you saying that “sanctification” does not look like Jimmy Stewart in Indiana, Pa? How are you going to hold people accountable if you don’t know what regeneration looks like?

    Rick P even deviates from “standard Reformed preaching” in order to show us how Christians can and should and need to avoid sin.

    “Consider the symbolism of the book of Revelation, in which the redeemed are frequently shown dressed in radiant white. Standard Reformed preaching would require that we see this as emphasizing imputed righteousness. The actual data of Revelation suggests otherwise, instead using this imagery primarily to depict the purity of lives that the believers lived. In his letter to Sardis, Jesus praised the few “who have not soiled their garments,” clearly referring to THEIR ABSTENTION FROM SINFUL PRACTICES..

    rp—As a result of their abstention, “they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments” (Rev. 3:4-5). This passage sternly resists all attempts to prioritize the doctrine of justification, despite the imagery normally associated with imputed righteousness. If we study the imagery of the white robes in Revelation we will find that it COMBINES the washing of sin through the blood of Christ WITH A LIFESTYLE OF MORAL PURITY in a way that the two are inseparable.”

    mcmark— Does that mean that the distinction between law and gospel no longer applies to sinners after they have been justified by God? Rick P does not seem to agree with Gaffin, Jones, Garcia and Evans that there is a not-yet aspect to our justification. But he refuses to separate faith and works but sees them combined when it comes to the righteousness required of justified Christians.

    btw, if you are looking at Jimmy Stewart, remember that patriotism is not a sin but a virtue which pleases God.


  2. The only thing (yes, it’s not a solid or a gas, but it’s objective) in our PLUS COLUMN is the righteousness of Christ. Christ’s death is not only something done to Him, because Christ’s death was His own “accomplishment” which satisfied God for all the sins (omission, commission) of all the elect. And that’s enough. We have no need of any other righteousness, not even that which we want to credit grace. Any addition to Christ’s righteousness is not an addition, but a subtraction, which indicates that we do not trust Christ’s death. And if we die not trusting Christ’s death, that is evidence that Christ never died for us.

    There are good discussions of neonomianism, in James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991 rpt.), 176-77, 202-203) Other scholarly studies on Baxter’s theology are C. F. Allison, The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter (London: SPCK, 1966), 154-77, Dewey D. Wallace, Jr., Puritans and Predestination: Grace in English Protestant Theology, 1525-1695 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 136-39, John von Rohr, The Covenant of Grace in Puritan Thought (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), 98-100, and J. Wayne Baker, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia: The Battle for Luther in Seventeenth-Century England, Sixteenth Century Journal 16 (1985): 115-33.

    There can be no mixture of faith and works whatsoever in our confession of the gospel lest we deceive ourselves and die in our sins (Rom 3:28; 4:13-16; 9:30-33). Law and gospel are diametrically opposed. Seeking justification by our law-keeping has nothing to do with faith and also requires us to keep all of the law perfectly (Gal 3:12; 5:3; Rom 10:5). “More and more” will not cut it. “More than other people does not make the grade. “More than I used to” is also self-righteousness.


  3. I still wonder whether the differences between the pro-obedience crowd (OBs) and the neo-nominalists (NNs) isn’t largely cultural.

    Back in January, Ross Douthat penned a perceptive piece entitled, “Social Liberalism as Class Warfare”. In observing the overwhelming social liberalism of educated elites, Douthat notes, “In upper class circles, liberal social values do not necessarily lead to libertinism among the people who hold them, and indeed quite often coexist with an impressive amount of personal conservatism, personal restraint.” Douthat correctly concludes that this oxymoronic result occurs because high social capital (e.g., through dense social networks) does a better job of producing personal conservatism than explicit moralism.

    It’s probably no accident that the NNs in the PCA hail largely from communities where high social capital generally prevails over explicit moralism. In such contexts, the explicit moralism of the OBs would come off as tacky, if not altogether unnecessary. It’s not that the members of these churches believe themselves to be good; rather, they already function in a cultural environment that leads people away from personal excess.

    By contrast, the OBs tend to pastor churches that serve a larger proportion of middle-class and working-class folks, who are less likely to be the beneficiaries of high-social-capital networks. For them, the social costs of libertinism are low, so explicit moralism steps in to fill the gaps.

    And if we educated elites are honest with ourselves, we generally prefer the less explicit rules of our high-social-capital networks to the rigidity of explicit moralism. And we’re probably not going to waste our time at churches that are trying to force-feed us strong doses of explicit moralism.

    In some ways, I think this begs a larger question. As Charles Murray notes in “Coming Apart”, educated professionals now inhabit a world where they have practically no contact with people who aren’t also educated professionals. Whether we admit it or not, a lot of conservative Reformed churches have adopted a way of “doing church” that fits better with the lifestyles of the middle classes than with those of educated professionals. In many ways, being “truly Reformed” seems to require that one also adopt the tastes and affinities of the middle class.


  4. The Shame of Reformed Neonomians is that for all the big talk of transforming world and church, we ourselves are still sinners. Christ’s death is not the extra which gives us what we now lack in “sanctification”, while we are in the process of needing less justification because of our increased “sanctification”.

    Seeking sanctification by our law-keeping has nothing to do with faith and also requires us to keep all of the law perfectly (Gal 3:12; 5:3; Rom 10:5).

    The Shame of the Catholic Subculture By John Zmirak


  5. Bobby, I like sociology of church life so I think your speculations have interest. But we need more specifics. Where do you put OL or ACE or TGC on this grid?

    I tend to think that a lot of the moralistic finger pointing takes place in politcally charged or transformational churches where people feel a need to think themselves and their way of life better for the republic than the wayward secularists or liberals. I know this doesn’t apply to someone like Keller where the Redeemer superiority vibe comes from being more urban and cosmopolitan than thou. But the grief that 2kers take from the every-square-inchers, who also happen to traffic in obedience arguments, indicates that the problem is we aren’t doing anything for the culture (and we are probably trying to hide our own laxity).

    The problem is that most of the culture war issues — abortion, gay marriage, feminism — are not ones that define 2k. Most 2kers would oppose all of these in some way but aren’t all that excited about opposing them, or all that convinced that these are the issues by which the culture has deteriorated.


  6. DGH nailed it. I want to add that much of the moralizing that pours forth form the pulpits of politically charged or transformational churches only makes sense in the context of listeners who are embedded in ‘high-social-capital’ networks. The leaders of these groups drool over the well-connected and politically powerful because it’s through these networks as the channels through which they can transform culture. Obedience, in this context, is exploiting social networks in a way that advances the leaders’ transformational agenda.


  7. @RL

    Those aren’t the kinds of high-social-capital networks that I had in mind. I was thinking about things much more from a local level. I was thinking more about the dense social networks that one still generally finds in upper-middle-class and upper-class communities. Most of these are local in nature, such as local bar associations, country clubs, various sports-interest groups, boards for local charities, and a host of other civic organizations. In my upscale Chicago suburb, I am constantly running into the same people over and over and over again. If I start painting outside of the lines too egregiously, it will cost me standing in the community. I don’t want to lose that standing, so I behave myself. Moreover, kids see this modeled within the community, and behave themselves too. Explicit moralism is unnecessary because there’s an implicit moralism built into the functioning of the community. One sees this to a much lesser degree in middle-class and working-class communities.

    As to DGH’s comment, I think the OL approach is fairly compatible with this high-capital context, as it isn’t offering a competing moralistic scheme to compete with the one that’s already implicit within the community. ACE is probably much the same, at least that was probably the case when it was headed by JMB. In contrast, TGC strikes me as much more of a middle-class beast, and much more explicitly moralistic.

    In general, I prefer that churches focus more on their central commitments and worry less about the boundaries. When you obsess over the boundaries, you get a moralistic Christless Christianity.


  8. From Pink’s, THE DOCTRINE OF SANCTIFICATION, pages 181-182: “Having presented an outline in our last chapter of the part which faith plays in sanctification, we shall now endeavor, under God, to offer consolation unto some of our sin-burdened, doubt-harassed, Satan-tormented brethren and sisters in Christ. Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God (Is. 40:1). And why? Because God’s children are the most deeply distressed people on the face of the earth! Though at times they experience a peace which passeth all understanding, revel in the love which passeth knowledge, and rejoice with joy unspeakable, yet for the most part their souls are much cast down, and fears, bondage, groans, constitute a large part of their experience. They may for a brief season be regaled by the wells and palm trees of Elim, but most of their lives are lived in the ‘great howling wilderness’ (Deut. 32:10), so that they are often constrained to say, ‘Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then I would fly away, and be at rest.”


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