Flattening Will Get You Nowhere

Mark Jones wonders what is so controversial about the view that the covenant with Adam was gracious:

. . . for the sake of argument, let’s say the Mosaic covenant has a meritorious element. Does that make it a republication of the covenant of works? Not necessarily. After all, you would have to re-define the covenant of works to make it a meritorious covenant. But what if you hold to the uncontroversial view that Adam, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, lived by faith in the Garden of Eden as he perfectly obeyed God’s law (for a time)? How is Sinai similar to that covenantal context and how is it different?

In other words, Adam was dependent on the work of grace to keep the law in a way comparable to what the Israelites experienced after the Mosaic Covenant. And as I gather from his interview (haven’t read his book yet), Jones also draws comparisons between Christ’s pursuit of holiness and the Christian’s similar endeavor. Lots of flattening in Jones’ reading of the Bible and history, though not much attention to Paul who may have provided a few reasons for not exalting every valley in redemptive history.

But surely Jones knows that his “uncontroversial” hypothesis is precisely has been contentious among confessional Reformed Protestants for as long as Norman Shepherd proposed the notion of obedient faith. In particular, Shepherd, if Cornel Venema’s review of The Call of Grace is a fair reading, had a similar habit of making the rough places of redemptive history plain:

. . . though this flattening of the covenant relationship throughout the course of history, before and after the fall, may have a superficial appeal, it has huge implications for the way we interpret the respective “work” of Adam and Christ, the second Adam. Shepherd makes clear that he rejects the traditional Reformed doctrine of a pre-lapsarian “covenant of works” that promised Adam life “upon condition of perfect obedience” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. VII.ii). To say that Adam’s acceptance before God justly demanded his performance of an obligation of obedience, is, Shepherd argues, tantamount to treating the covenant relationship as though it were a contractual one, on analogy of an employer to an employee, rather than a familial one, on analogy of a father to a son (p. 39). We should recognize that God always treats human beings on the basis of his sovereign grace and promise. Just as children never “merit” their father’s favor by their good works, so human beings never “merit” God’s favor by their obedience to the covenant’s obligations. However, life in covenant with God, though not “merited,” is nonetheless obtained only by way of the obedience of faith. This means that what God required of Adam, he requires of Abraham and all believers, including Christ.

Lest this interpretation of Shepherd’s view be regarded as a misreading of his position, it should be noted that Shepherd explicitly draws a parallel between what God obliges Abraham, Christ, and all believers to do as a necessary condition for their salvation. In his description of Christ’s saving work, Shepherd uses the same language that he earlier used to describe Abraham’s faith: “His [Christ’s] was a living, active, and obedient faith that took him all the way to the cross. This faith was credited to him as righteousness” (p. 19, emphasis mine). By this language Shepherd treats Christ as though he were little more than a model believer whose obedient faith constituted the ground for his acceptance with God in the same way that Abraham’s (and any believer’s) obedient faith constituted the basis for his acceptance with God. In his zeal to identify the covenant relationship between God and man in its pre- and post-fall administrations, Shepherd leaves little room to describe Christ’s work as Mediator of the covenant in a way that honors the uniqueness, perfection and sufficiency of Christ’s accomplishment for the salvation of his people.

So we offer a warning to Jones about his flattening lest he reduce the uniqueness of Christ’s epoch-making work in contrast to Adam’s epic failure. He may want to chalk Meredith Kline’s views of Moses up to the latter’s study of the Ancient Near East. But Jones should also pay attention to the other much more significant context for his views on republication — namely, the errors of Shepherd.

Differentiation of Ecclesiastical and Civil, Differentiation of Ecclesiastical and Civil (rinse, chant, and repeat)!

Tim Bayly is at it again with a post containing his talk at a CREC gathering. It is another instance of that Framean habit of mind which blurs categories simply because topics sort of sound or look alike. In this case, he is for integration — as in integrating faith and politics, faith and learning. But he also believes he can score points against 2kers by upholding the integration of races. So bringing up the racism of Southern Presbyterians who affirmed and taught the spirituality of the church is another way of making the point that 2kers are against integration — that is, we split church and state, faith and learning, whites and blacks.

The problem is that Tim can’t quite stay on track. He brings up his father’s decision to start a Christian school in the 1940s located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The integration here is faith and learning, and racial, since well before the Civil Rights movement Tim’s dad founded a school that welcomed blacks and whites. But what proves integration also proves separation. The Baylys school was not part of the public school system. It segregated Christians from non-Christians (and even other Christians) in the public schools. You can’t have integration all the time in a neo-Calvinist world that runs on the fuel of anti-thesis. In fact, the Bayly’s MO is largely one of underscoring the difference between true Christians and fake ones, between people who are good for America (Christians) and those who aren’t (professors at Covenant Seminary and gays). Integration can’t quite circle the square. But that’s okay. It allows Tim to feel superior in an integrated way.

The difficulties in Tim’s assessment also lead to such woppers as this:

Who is the Reformed group who is whole-hog into patriotism today? Which men are wrapping themselves in the flag, crying out “my country, right or wrong?” Who are the Reformed men who are zealous to gag God’s prophets of righteousness, instead casting their lot in with the ACLU, the powers that be inside the Beltway, and the chattering classes up and down the seaboards, Eastern and Western as they all chant: “Separation of church and state! Separation of church and state!”

I think the answer is supposed to be 2kers, but last time I checked, it was 2kers who actually wonder out loud about the propriety of patriotism in Christian circles, such as the display of the U.S. flag in churches. 2kers have also been known to avoid commenting on politics, thus leaving the subject to the deliriums of folks like the Baylys and other neo-Calvinists. Try telling these guys that Christ’s kingdom transcends the politics of any nation and see who starts bellyaching about “my country.”

Even so, Tim goes to Cornel Venema for apparent help to undermine any sense that the 2k position enjoys some kind of standing historically among the Reformed churches:

…the two kingdoms doctrine is alleged to be the venerable, original position of the Reformed churches. …(This) historical claim on the part of two kingdoms advocates… represents a tendentious reading of the historical record.

The difficulty for Venema and Bayly is that the Reformed churches have historically affirmed a differentiation between the civil and ecclesiastical spheres.

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evildoers. (WCF 23.1)

That’s the magistrate’s duty. It is hardly the same or comparable to the church’s:

Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto. (25.3)

And that has something to do with what synods may or may not do:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate. (31.4)

This may not be exactly an endorsement of the separation of church and state, but the distinction between civil and ecclesiastical spheres is certainly more in the 2k ballpark than one where integration rules, which means it is far more venerable and original that Venema indicates. I mean, if you want the integration of church and state, you likely don’t distinguish overly precisely the work of the church from the task of the magistrate, which is exactly what is missing in those who advocate a Christian America or Christian schools. Introduce the distinction between the civil/temporal and ecclesiastical/heavenly and these folks think you are a bastard child of Thomas Jefferson.

And then if you question whether the church or Christians or both should be inaugurating God’s kingdom, the way Calvin did, then you are definitely a blasphemer. And yet, those early Reformed Protestants seemed to be able to keep their wits about the direction of history and not trying to associate cultural or political advances or set backs with God’s divine plan:

THE SECTS. We therefore condemn all who deny a real resurrection of the flesh (II Tim. 2:18), or who with John of Jerusalem, against whom Jerome wrote, do not have a correct view of the glorification of bodies. We also condemn those who thought that the devil and all the ungodly would at some time be saved, and that there would be an end to punishments. For the Lord has plainly declared: “Their fire is not quenched, and their worm does not die” (Mark 9:44). We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth. For evangelical truth in Matt., chs. 24 and 25, and Luke, ch. 18, and apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different.

I have no doubt that being a confessional Reformed Protestant is hard. It is easier to look at big churches, celebrity pastors, and religiously boisterous politicos as bearing the marks of the coming kingdom. Seeing the world through the eyes of faith, and not being duped by externals or cultural decay requires sobriety, restraint, and patience in ways that conflict with our own desire for either justice to prevail or self to be vindicated. But if Calvin could summon up such discipline even in the glory days of Reformed Geneva, surely Tim Bayly can do the same in the face of Obamacare:

We must, therefore, know that the happiness which is promised to us in Christ does not consist in external advantages—such as leading a joyful and tranquil life, abounding in wealth, being secure against all injury, and having an affluence of delights, such as the flesh is wont to long for—but properly belongs to the heavenly life. As in the world the prosperous and desirable condition of a people consists partly in the abundance of temporal good and domestic peace, and partly in the strong protection which gives security against external violence; so Christ also enriches his people with all things necessary to the eternal salvation of their souls and fortifies them with courage to stand unassailable by all the attacks of spiritual foes. Whence we infer, that he reigns more for us than for himself, and that both within us and without us; that being replenished, in so far as God knows to be expedient, with the gifts of the Spirit, of which we are naturally destitute, we may feel from their first fruits, that we are truly united to God for perfect blessedness; and then trusting to the power of the same Spirit, may not doubt that we shall always be victorious against the devil, the world, and every thing that can do us harm. To this effect was our Saviour’s reply to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is within you.” “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation,” (Luke 17:21, 22). It is probable that on his declaring himself to be that King under whom the highest blessing of God was to be expected, they had in derision asked him to produce his insignia. But to prevent those who were already more than enough inclined to the earth from dwelling on its pomp, he bids them enter into their consciences, for “the kingdom of God” is “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost,” (Rom. 14:17). These words briefly teach what the kingdom of Christ bestows upon us. Not being earthly or carnal, and so subject to corruption, but spiritual, it raises us even to eternal life, so that we can patiently live at present under toil, hunger, cold, contempt, disgrace, and other annoyances; contented with this, that our King will never abandon us, but will supply our necessities until our warfare is ended, and we are called to triumph: such being the nature of his kingdom, that he communicates to us whatever he received of his Father. Since then he arms and equips us by his power, adorns us with splendour and magnificence, enriches us with wealth, we here find most abundant cause of glorying, and also are inspired with boldness, so that we can contend intrepidly with the devil, sin, and death. In fine, clothed with his righteousness, we can bravely surmount all the insults of the world: and as he replenishes us liberally with his gifts, so we can in our turn bring forth fruit unto his glory. (Institutes, II.15.4)

Spheres are Sovereign but Kingdoms Can't be Distinct?

I have for some time wanted to offer a little response to Matthew Tuininga’s first (and good) piece on two-kingdom theology for the confessing evangelical allies. The essay is not all about me — shucks — but he does interact with several of my arguments. The reason for responding now is that Matt observed a tendency in my writing that has also recently spawned criticism of Dave VanDrunen (by none other than Cornel Venema in the book that has anti-2kers breathless in anticipation of its imminent release). The criticism that Venema and Tuininga (note all of the Dutch Reformed genes at play here) register is 2k theology’s fault of bifurcating the religious and political realms. Here’s how Matt describes a tendency in my work:

Part of the reason that Hart’s version of the two kingdoms doctrine is somewhat controversial is that at times Hart has pressed the distinction between the two kingdoms to the point of separation. Indeed, if the classic two kingdoms doctrine denoted the difference between two ages and two governments, Hart has often written about it as if it amounted to a distinction between two airtight spheres, one the sphere of faith and religion, and the other the sphere of everyday life. While it is clear that Hart views these two spheres as expressions of the two ages, by speaking of them in terms of separate spheres he ends up downplaying the overlap between the two ages. This tendency becomes all the more marked in Hart’s more polemical moments.

Venema detects a similar weakness (or is it error?) in VanDrunen (via the international Calvinists):

For Calvin, the spiritual and the civil government of God do not stand independently alongside each other. The civil government or jurisdiction, although it is not to usurp the distinct spiritual government that Christ exercises through his Spirit and Word, has the task within God’s design to secure the kind of public order and tranquility that is indispensable to the prosecution of the church’s calling. In this way, the civil jurisdiction serves the redemptive purposes of God by protecting the church and ensuring its freedom to pursue its unique calling under Christ. Furthermore, as servants of God, civil magistrates have the task of ensuring that both tables of the law – the first table dealing with the service and worship of God, the second table addressing the mutual service of all human beings to each other – are honored and obeyed. Although the civil magistrate is not authorized to usurp the distinctive prerogatives of the spiritual kingdom, namely, the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word in renewing human life in free obedience to God’s law, it does serve to advance the redemptive purpose of the spiritual kingdom by requiring an outward conformity to the requirements of God’s moral law.

In case I am missing something, both objections apparently stem from the neo-Calvinist aversion to dualism. As one recent graduate of a neo-Calvinist college summarized the problem of dualism:

“Dualism” is an incredibly dirty word. Why? For two reasons: A) Dooyeweerd’s non-dualist and non-monistic, non-reductionistic philosophy of modal spheres, B) Kuyper’s insistence that all things be reclaimed under the Lordship of Christ, which means there is no such thing as a dualism between “sacred” and “secular.” All spheres of life should be reclaimed under the dominion of Jesus Christ.

I for one continue to be stupefied by the reflexive dismissal of dualism since distinctions between the physical and spiritual, secular and sacred, temporal and eternal appear everywhere in the Christian religion, not to mention the history of the West. Jesus himself seemed to justify some kind of differentiation between sacred and secular matters when he spoke about what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar. He did not immediately qualify himself by saying “of course, everything belongs to God,” but let his assertion dangle. Neo-Calvinists, of course, won’t, suggesting an apparent discomfort with the very words of Christ.

Then there is the apostle Paul and that two-age construction which distinguishes between the eternal and the temporal (secular) so much so that he could say “to die is gain.” Paul also wrote: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18 ESV) If Paul affirms dualism, it’s okay but if 2kers do then it’s bad? Or maybe neo-Calvinists don’t read Paul outside those cosmic “all things” passages.

And then there is the classic distinction between the earthly and the spiritual in the Belgic Confession:

Now those who are born again have two lives in them. The one is physical and temporal– they have it from the moment of their first birth, and it is common to all. The other is spiritual and heavenly, and is given them in their second birth; it comes through the Word of the gospel in the communion of the body of Christ; and this life is common to God’s elect only.

Thus, to support the physical and earthly life God has prescribed for us an appropriate earthly and material bread, which is as common to all as life itself also is. But to maintain the spiritual and heavenly life that belongs to believers he has sent a living bread that came down from heaven: namely Jesus Christ, who nourishes and maintains the spiritual life of believers when eaten– that is, when appropriated and received spiritually by faith.

To represent to us this spiritual and heavenly bread Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread as the sacrament of his body and wine as the sacrament of his blood. He did this to testify to us that just as truly as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls. (Art. 35)

The distinction between things secular and sacred is everywhere in the history of the West, even if its usage does not always match. Augustine had his two cities, Gelasius his two swords, and Christendom its pope and emperor. Some kind of dualism is writ large in the Christian tradition. Neo-Calvinists may not like it but that’s too bad.

But what makes this suspicion of 2k all the more annoying is that the language employed to describe the neo-Calvinist idea of sphere sovereignty places church and state and family in separate realms with their own — get this — sovereignty. The two kingdoms can’t be distinct but need to bleed into each other lest dualism surface. But the spheres can be as distinct as Holland, Michigan and Pella, Iowa.

In the introduction to Kingdoms Apart, the book that will be the kinder, gentler version of John Frame’s Kuyper warrior-children manifesto, describes sphere sovereignty this way: “God has created distinct social, economic, cultural, and political spheres that have their own unique functions. . . (xxvi)” Then follows a quote that describes sphere sovereignty as “each sphere possess[ing] its own authority within itself.” Shazam! That’s a lot of distinct authority. The introduction goes on, “state, church, business, family, and academic institutions . . . ‘have the liberty to function on their own according to the divine ordinances God has established for each one.” (xxvi-xxvii) Because neo-Calvinists say that these sovereign, liberated, and autonomous spheres receive authority from God, I guess the distinctions are somehow permissible. But when have 2kers ever said that the temporal kingdom is independent from God? Straw man comes to mind. But divine sovereignty notwithstanding (never thought I’d write that) it is remarkable that sphere sovereigntists can divide the world up into such tidy spheres but won’t give 2kers the same freedom. And, by the way, the 2kers claims go much deeper than late nineteenth-century Netherlands.

What makes 2k superior to sphere sovereignty is that 2kers are really willing to live with distinctions. For sphere sovereigntists the distinctions are only skin deep. The spheres exists, but they are all under God, so religion needs to inform all the spheres thus raising important questions about which members of which spheres are introducing religion into a sphere since religion won’t do it by itself. Do I bring religion to bear on politics as an elder, husband, historian or citizen? In other words, does my functional identity change when I go from one sphere into another? It may, especially Scripture’s claims on me as citizen are thin compared to its teaching about overseeing the flock. But I don’t hear neo-Calvinists talking about these bugs in their system. Maybe it’s because they are too busy looking at the bugs in the paleo-Calvinist’s eye.

To illustrate how complicated religion’s relationship is to the various spheres, I appeal to a review I wrote for Ordained Servant:

Life in modern society is tough. In any given week, an average American may have to decide which is the best and prettiest paint for the exterior of his house, what are the best and most affordable tires to put on his car, whether to replace a deep filling with another filling or with a crown, whether to diversify the investments in his retirement portfolio, and which candidate from the Republican Party is the best to run against a Democratic incumbent in the upcoming presidential election. No single American has sufficient knowledge to make all of these decisions simply on the basis of his own learning and reading. In addition to confronting these dilemmas, this person likely has a full-time job that occupies much of his time, and a wife and children that take up most of his spare time—not to mention incredibly difficult choices about bad influences on his son at school, whether his daughter should play field hockey, and consulting with his wife about his mother-in-law’s declining health and the best arrangements for her well being. If he is a Christian with responsibilities at church, he may need to wade through files of applications for a pulpit search committee, or consult with architects and engineers about plans to expand the church’s parking lot.

Complicating further this average American’s decisions are the accompanying choices to be made over which advice to follow. For in addition to life’s complicated questions are a bevy of advisors, available on the radio and television, folks such as Oprah, Rush Limbaugh, and Dave Ramsey—people who seem to have a lot of insight into life’s difficulties. But which of these advisors to heed raises an additional layer of decisions.

Throw the Lordship of Christ and biblical interpretation into these various decisions and related evaluations and you have the potential for nervous breakdown (maybe that’s what happened to Abraham Kuyper). For negotiating the regular world — the temporal kingdom, that is — I’ll take 2k any day. Neo-Calvinism leaves me with sphere schizophrenia.

Hide the Women and Children!

As I suspected, the review that Cornel Venema wrote of The Law is Not of Faith is not nearly as damning as various and sundry critics of Westminster California have let on. I figured that if Venema had written anything really juicy – like this is view that needs to be purged from our churches – Rabbi Bret would have quoted it by now, especially that – ahem – his Advent and Christmas duties are well behind.

Although Venema criticizes the book, its arguments and authors, he actually writes sensibly and in a guarded manner (unlike some on his faculty):

Here are some examples, all from the conclusion:

Viewed against the background of the history of Reformed covenant theology, the particular question of the distinctiveness of the Mosaic administration posed by the authors . . . is a legitimate one, and one with a long pedigree in the history of Reformed theology. That some contemporary Reformed theologians find the question itself to be puzzling or problematic does reflect, as the editors . . . observe, a loss of historical awareness and appreciation for the complex history of Reformed reflection on the covenant.

So some of the reactions to the book could actually be ignorant.

Though my review . . . offers a number of criticisms of the author’s arguments, I fully concur with the authors’ aim to uphold and teach the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone upon the basis of the righteousness of Christ alone. As I put it in my description . . . on the book jacket, the “authors ably refute recent attacks on the classic Reformed understanding of the grace of free justification on the basis of the entire obedience and sacrifice of Christ alone.”

Yes, that’s right, Venema wrote a blurb for the book that he supposedly found devastating in review.

Rabbi Bret and others seemed to miss that Venema actually did recommend this book for publication and to readers to read – that’s why the publisher printed this on the back cover by the president of Mid-America:

This provocative volume makes a historical and biblical-theological case for understaning the Mosaic administration in the covenant of grace as in some sense a “republished” covenant of works, which teaches that only perfect obedience to the requiremetns of the law is sufficient to secure the covenant promise of life in communion with God. The authors ably refute recent attacks upon the classic Reformed understanidng of the grace of free justification on the basis of the enire obedience and sacrifice of Christ alone. Though I am not persuaded by every forumulation here, this volume deserves the careful attention of anyone who prizes the bilical teaching that the believer’s justification rests not on any works of his own, but solely on the full obedience of Christ.

What is curious is that Venema could endorse a volume that he would later critique for over seventy pages. The ethics of endorsing and reviewing hold that once you add your name to a book’s set of endorsers, you refrain from reviewing the book – since your review would not be credible as representing an impartial judgment (oh, that’s right, no neutrality). What we have here is a case of recommendation followed by critique, which is one of the odder turns in the publishing world. The endorsement is also a fact that critics of Westminster California have selectively left unnoticed.

Venema also adds in the conclusion of his review:

. . . while I recognize the manifest diversity of opinion on the question of the distinctive nature of the Mosaic economy in the history of Reformed theology, my primary objection to the arguments of the authors . . . is to what I have termed an “accommodated” reading of the sources.

In other words, this is a debate among historical theologians. On the matter of correctly exegeting Paul, Venema comes to no conclusion. Last I knew, a minister’s historical theology was not the basis for his standing in the church.

. . . in my critical assessment of the republication thesis . . ., I have intimated that the historic Reformed distinction between the “three uses” of the law provides a better answer to the complexx question that this thesis aims to resolve.

So we are in the realm of a better explanation of the Mosaic administration, not a heterodox point of doctrine.

The implication of the republication thesis, as is stated by some of the authors, seems to undermine the positive function of the law within the administration of the covenant of grace.

“Seems to undermine” is a long way from this by Rabbi Brett:

Dr. Venema’s work in the Mid-America Journal of Theology is one more effort to pull back the curtain to expose a committee of Ozzes who are working overtime to infect the whole Reformed Church with their virus theology.

But when you are prone to seeing the world populated not by people who study and teach but either by angels or demons, Communists or the liberated, you think that evaluation of an argument is the same thing as drawing up charges.

More 2K Hysteria

Rabbi Bret apparently thinks he has another smoking gun to support his beef against 2k. Cornel Venema has written a review of The Law Is Not of Faith for the Mid-America Reformed Seminary journal and the good Rabbi is content to rely on reviews rather than actually read the book to bolster his vendetta against Westminster California..

What is worth noting is that the gun Venema shoots doesn’t smoke the way that Bret does. Compare the following quotations, from Bret about the toxic nature of 2k, Venema on the authors views of republication (of the covenant of works), and also the heated words of the Kerux review (which Bret adds for good measure).

First Bret, ever charitable and ever showing the effects of listening to too much Rush:

Even though R2K theology was disciplined in the Lee Irons’ case it has not yet been eliminated from the Reformed Church. This is due to the fact that R2K theology has many high profile Doctors (and at least one Seminary) who are dedicated to breathing life into this dismal theology. Dr. Venema’s work in the Mid-America Journal of Theology is one more effort to pull back the curtain to expose a committee of Ozzes who are working overtime to infect the whole Reformed Church with their virus theology.

Now from Kerux, more like Michael Medved than Rush, but nonetheless guilty of fear-mongering:

The goal of Ferry and Fesko’s contributions was to position the idea that the Mosaic covenant is in some sense a covenant of works within the mainstream Reformed tradition. However, because of their misquotations, misrepresentations, and (at times blatant) misreading of the primary documents, their essays are both significantly flawed. Far from providing the Reformed churches a definitive settled word on the matter, they have only further muddied the already murky historical-theological waters on the Mosaic covenant in the Reformed tradition. Though both authors attempt to write with a detached, objective, and “historical” tone, careful analysis reveals that both authors are governed far more by their polemical interests than they let on. Their chief interest seems to be in legitimizing their own views on the Mosaic covenant rather than faithfully representing the consensus position of Reformed orthodoxy.

Curious that the waters of the Reformed tradition are murky, but Fesko and Ferry’s motives are not. I wonder what goggles you wear for that kind of vision.

And now Venema (thanks to Bret – I have yet to see the review):

Though Ferry cites Calvin as an example of this kind of formal republication (a forerunner to R2K Mosaic covenant as republication ‘in some sense’ of the covenant of works –BLM), I will argue in what follows that Calvin does not conceive of the Mosaic covenant as a republication of the covenant of works. Calvin’s view is much closer to what Ferry terms a ‘material’ republication view, (the view that in the Mosaic covenant we have a mere reiteration of the moral obligations that belong to the moral law of God in any of its distinct promulgations throughout the course of history) since Calvin affirms that the Mosaic Law reiterates the requirements of natural (moral) law that was the rule of Adam’s obedience before the fall. The position Ferry terms a ‘material’ republication view, is … the most common view in the Reformed tradition and hardly warrants being termed a ‘republication’ of the covenant of works in any significant sense. Ferry’s taxonomy here and throughout is rather confusing and, for that reason, unhelpful.

A couple of matters worth pondering: 1) if Venema had issued warnings akin to what Kerux published or what Bret opines, the Rabbi would have quoted them. So this is the best that Bret can do in finding ammunition against Westminster California. Since Venema doesn’t go near calling into question the faithfulness of ministers of the gospel, he is shooting blanks compared to Bret’s own toxic bullets.

2) Has Bret or the reviewers of Kerux ever considered that Brent Ferry, a good friend and former student, did not attend Westminster California? Now this could be proof the spread of the virus. It could also mean that people who read sources – not just reviews – learn a thing or two about the Reformed tradition and even its variety and pluriformity. In which case, Westminster California is not the font of these apparently objectionable views.

Another point worth making is that Bret and Kerux’s authors seem to think that Murray is on the orthodox side of matters covenantal. I myself believe that Murray got more right than he got wrong. But for a theologian, who questioned the reality of a covenant of works, to be held up as the standard of Reformed orthodoxy by which to bludgeon the contributors to The Law is Not of Faith is well nigh ironic. If Bret and Kerux’s reviewers can look past some of Murray’s quirks, why not Ferry and Fesko?

Finally, over at the Puritan Board Venema’s review has provoked discussion and Mark Van Der Molen, who is to Kloosterman what T. H. Huxley was to Charles Darwin, says that Venema’s review raises the same “red flags” that the Kerux review did. Well, not to put to fine a point on it – Venema does not. He does not hyperventilate about republication bringing down the witness of the Reformed churches. Instead, he engages in an academic review. Surely, an attorney should be able to spot the difference between a hostile witness and a lawyer’s summary arguments.

Meanwhile, Bret and Van Der Molen continue to ignore the CRC, the communion most worldviewish and Kuyperian. If denying positing two kingdoms is leading churches astray, what happened to Bret’s own communion where a world and life view is more synonymous with orthodoxy than the Canons of Dort.

If these guys can be so wrong about how to read texts and conditions within churches, why should we trust their analysis of the culture or politics? The answer is – no reason.