More Van Tillian Than Thou

The new book that critiques republication (the idea that the Mosaic Covenant had in some sense a works principle) is curious in various respects. But one of the more glaring (if the paper originally presented to the Presbytery of the Northwest upon which the book is based is accurate) is the contention that Meredith Kline botched covenant theology by regarding God’s work of creation as essentially covenantal. Here are the authors of Merit and Moses:

The republication view teaches that man was in covenant with God at the very moment of creation. This is an important shift from the traditional viewpoint. Ontological considerations demand that there be at least a logical distinction (rather than a chronological or historical sequence) between God’s creating man and his entering into covenant with him. The republication teaching now erases this confessional distinction (which is based upon the “great disproportion” between the Creator and creature), and thereby turns God’s providential work of establishing the covenant into an aspect of the work of creation. Thus, we may say that the two distinct acts have been conflated or collapsed into essentially one act in this new view. For all intents and purposes, the relationship between God and man is not first that of sovereign Creator over his finite creature, but is from the point of creation a relationship of “God-in-covenant-with-man.” For Professor Kline and those who have followed his lead in the republication position, it is improper to even consider man’s existence apart from covenant. Thus, man’s covenantal status seems to “trump” his creaturely status. (from the section, “Two Definitions of Merit, Part 2: The Republication Paradigm”)

But what if Kline was simply channeling Cornelius Van Til (who should count as much as Murray unless of course Kline compromises status purity)? Here is what Van Til had to say about creation and God’s covenants:

The philosophy of history that speaks to us from the various chapters of the Confession may be sketched with a few bold strokes. We are told that man could never have had any fruition of God through the revelation that came to him in nature as operating by itself. There was superadded to God’s revelation in nature another revelation, a supernaturally communicated positive revelation. Natural revelation, we are virtually told, was from the outset incorporated into the idea of a covenantal relationship of God with man. Thus every dimension of created existence, even the lowest, was enveloped in a form of exhaustively personal relationship between God and man. The “ateleological” no less than the “teleological,” the “mechanical” no less than the “spiritual” was covenantal in character. (Nature and Scripture)

So how do your reconcile competing human authorities? Maybe you appeal not to sacred cows but to sacred Scripture?

Advertisements

Being Reformed and Avoiding Landmines

I don’t want to discourage the young and restless from growing in their understanding of Reformed Protestantism but sometimes even the best of intentions cannot prevent stepping in it. Over at the allies blog John Starke encourages readers to spend more time with Cornelius Van Til — The Most Important Boring Thinker You Should Read (whose birthday happens to be today tomorrow). Starke goes on to ask three leading apologists to recommend sources for readers who know not presuppositionalism — Mike Horton, Scott Oliphint, and John Frame, in that order.

Is it impolite to notice that hard core Van Tillians would likely take umbrage at this order since I’ve often heard comments that Horton is light in his presuppositional loafers? And what would John Frame think to read that he comes in third behind Horton and Oliphint? Maybe Horton’s recommendation of Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God as “a readable apologetic from Van Til’s perspective” will take some of the sting away. Also, since the critics of 2k often invoke Van Til against the likes of VanDrunen and Horton, and since VanDrunen and Horton appear to have more of a following among the young and restless than the hard core Van Tillians (despite the congenital defect of transformationalism that afflicts the Gospel Coalition), Starke may have unwittingly aggravated those who invoke the antithesis to divide the world between 2k and R2k.

Sometimes you need a score card to keep track of all the players.

Update: and sometimes you need a clue and can’t take TGC’s word on dates. My comrade in arms informs me that Cornelius Van Til’s birthday is tomorrow. That gives me time to stock up.

Vossians and Neo-Calvinists Together?

I have puzzled often about the lack of support in Vossian circles for two-kingdom theology. Many Vossians I know — and I consider myself to be one — find the spirituality of the church agreeable but balk at 2k. Why 2k is distinguished from the spirituality of the church is anyone’s guess, or why Geerhardus Vos’ distinction between this age and the age to come do not put a kabosh on tranformationalism is another of those brain-teasers you see in the back pages of World magazine (NOT!).

With this perplexity in mind, Jim Cassidy’s post about Vos, Van Til, and Kline and their implicit rejection of 2k’s dualism is instructive.

On the one hand:

I want to once again reiterate my deep appreciation for the work done by 2K theologians. I believe their insights are important and essential for the church to hear today. In particular, in so far as they desire to highlight the spiritual nature of the church’s ministry, I am all on board. Furthermore, I am in general agreement and in sympathy with their critique of social transformationalism. I am also deeply indebted to their redemptive-historical hermeneutic for understanding the difference between what parts of God’s Word are applicable to the church or state today, and which are not.

On the other hand:

. . . where I disagree is on a fundamental, deep-structural level with regard to their covenant theology. And I disagree with them because of Geerhardus Vos, Cornelius Van Til, and above all M.G. Kline. . . .

That brings us to Kline. Kline dedicated his great work The Structure of Biblical Authority to his professor, Cornelius Van Til. That was appropriate as the work was thoroughly Vosian and Van Tilian. But while he hints at how God’s Word and creation relate in that book (thinking here of chapter 2), the full development of his thought would have to await his Kingdom Prologue. In that book, very early on (i.e., pp. 14-41 of the W&S edition), Kline introduces the concept of God’s “covenantal fiat” in the act of creation. This means, in short, that God’s act of creation IS covenantal. . . . this means that there is no place for Thomas’s nature/grace dualism, nor is there any place for German idealism’s dualisms as well. The very Word which God spoke at creation, testifies to God who spoke it through the things that have been made. At no place and at no time is creation silent. It always and everywhere speaks. This eliminates any and all notions of natural theology as understood by the Thomistic tradition, or as modernized by German idealism. Creation does not need to be perfected by grace. It is quite adequate for the knowledge of God, thank you very much.

Whether Jim believes 2kers disagree with this point is not entirely clear. But he should be aware of how important covenant theology is to both David VanDrunen (see his piece in the Strimple festschrift) and Mike Horton (see his dogmatics) at least in part because they studied with Kline. In other words, 2k is not opposed to Jim’s point about the covenantal context of creation. I suspect that most 2kers affirm it, especially of those who studied with Kline.

Where 2kers get off the Vos-Van Til-Kline-Cassidy bus is with Jim’s application:

. . . our call as Christians is to point the unbeliever to that reality and call him to repentance. Indeed, God’s common grace allows the unbeliever to function and even thrive in cultural endeavors, and we praise God for that fact. But such grace is only a restrainer. It is never to be confused with common ground. There is no safe territory upon which the unbeliever can stand and do right by one kingdom, but not right by another. In every kingdom he is wrong. Even his own cultural endeavors testify against him. And if we, as Christians, do not (lovingly!) point that out to him, who will? I am afraid that the 2KT may in fact cause Christians to lose their greatest apologetic and witnessing opportunities.

First, where does the Bible require believers when interacting in the public square to engage in apologetics? When Joseph, Daniel, Jesus, and Paul engaged pagan rulers, did they first explain the covenantal context of creation before carrying out orders or answering questions?

Second, the public square may presume a covenantal context, but do we need to go to first principles for everything we do with unbelievers in our neighborhoods and communities? Do we need to explain the covenant or creation before we explain to city council the need for a new stop light at a busy intersection? Do we need to appeal to the creator of the universe before opposing a pay raise for public school teachers? Do we even need to give a covenantal account of the universe before declaring war on Iraq?

I don’t mean to make light of Jim’s point. But I do sometimes wonder how folks who live and breathe the antithesis live side by side in this age with unbelievers upon whom Reformed Protestants depend to stay in their lane, keep up their yards, and cheer for the home team.

Three Strikes and You're Out

The piece by David Noe on Christian education (or the lack of it) has attracted a number of heated responses and none of them give much confidence that the proponents of Christian education are going to do something that is distinctly Reformed or decidedly educational. But these responses show the real weaknesses of w-w thinking and why their days are numbered unless they come up with more compelling answers and arguments.

Strike One: Noe’s piece has received much more indignation (Kuyper is turning in his grave) than it has reasoned response. Does this mean that Christian education is not interested in hard questions, only in passing on received ideas that can never be questioned lest we upset the dead? If so, I’m not sure these people are doing something that is genuinely educational, especially when it comes to teaching subjects like Shakespeare and chemistry on which Christians might have different ideas and about which Scripture is silent.

Strike Two: advocates of Christian education do not seem to notice that their practice is only generically Christian and not distinctly Reformed. (When they appeal to Augustine and Aquinas is Van Til turning in his grave?) They like to quote Cornelius Van Til who argued for an education based on a Reformed outlook. But what college or Christian day school has insisted on teaching Reformed theology, even to the Baptists and Evangelical Free Church students who enroll? Why is it that the more tenaciously an educational institution holds to the distinctness of Christian schools, the less Reformed they become? (Does question this make Dr. K.’s brain turn?)

Strike Three: advocates of Christian education invariably quote the likes of Van Til and Machen on the import of Christian schools. But the formal principle of the Reformation — sola scriptura — teaches that we are to base our faith and piety not on the doctrines and commandments of men but on the word of God. In which case, what kind of response is it to point out that Noe may disagree with Machen or Van Til? Machen was not the pope, not even the apostle Paul. He could have been wrong. Dr. Noe could be wrong. So if the advocates of Christian education want to be Christian and even Protestant, why not make a concerted exegetical case for Christian schools and colleges from the Bible, not from dead Reformed luminaries? (By the way, a wave of the hand to Deuteronomy 6 is insufficient.)

One aspect of this controversy that has yet to receive the attention it should is the difference between Dutch Calvinism and American Presbyterianism. Dutch Reformed Protestants, from the Afscheding to Dr. K., have insisted on Christian education and this reflects at least a European perspective on schooling that is foreign to the United States where public schools were always generally acceptable among American Presbyterians. Only for a brief period in the mid-19th century did Presbyterians entertain the idea of Christian schools. But the thought quickly passed and Presbyterians went back to the public schools where a generic Protestantism (via Bible reading and prayer) prevailed. Only after the Civil Rights legislation did American Presbyterians, primarily in the South, turn to private Christian schools, at least in part to avoid desegregation of public education.

The historical experiences of American Presbyterians and Dutch Calvinists rarely comes up in these discussions because Kuyperians have dominated conservative Reformed Protestantism in the United States, as if Dutch norms are the patterns for Yankees, Rebels, Farmers, and Miners. This is, as I’ve written before, one of the important features of David VanDrunen’s big book on two-kingdom theology — to show how Dutch Calvinism has dominated discussions of natural law and two kingdoms. Sometimes we need to pinch ourselves to remember that Reformed and Presbyterian churches existed before Abraham Kuyper and that they did not always do what he did. For conservative Calvinists who think Kuyper was merely following Bucer, A Lasco, and Ursinus, the idea that differences exist between the Dutch polymath and his Reformed forebears is alarming (and the source of most opposition to a certain seminary on the West Coast). But it is true. Kuyper was not the reincarnation of Calvin or Knox. That’s why they call it neo-Calvinism.

More than You Bargained For?

If a person living in the United States discovers that he prefers democracy to other forms of political governance, glaces at the major parties and discovers a Democratic Party, and decides that’s the party for him, he may have made a legitimate decision. But wouldn’t he want to find out something about the party’s past and platforms. What happens when he examines the work of Andrew Jackson, or Stephen Douglas, or Woodrow Wilson, or Bill Clinton, and finds that these figures may be Democrat but he hardly approves of their administrations? Does he then rethink his identification with the Democratic Party?

This analogy occurred to me once again when considering the arguments of John Frame against the so-called Escondido Theology. Greenbaggins has started reviewing Frame’s latest book and has come to the first chapter on the law-gospel distinction. He writes in response to one of Frame’s infelicities:

Frame goes on to say, “They are also motivated by a desire to oppose what they regard as theological corruptions of the Reformation doctrine, particularly the views of N.T. Wright, Norman Shepherd, and the movement called Federal Vision.” I would be a whole lot more comfortable with this sentence had Frame struck out the words “what they regard as.” These distancing words would seem to imply that Frame does not regard Wright, Shepherd, and the FV to be corruptions of the Reformation doctrine. Also, I would think a more charitable way of phrasing this motivation would be that the WSC theologians are motivated by a desire to defend the truth (are they really motivated by opposition, or are they motivated by the truth?).

Greenbaggins contends that the law-gospel distinction has a long pedigree in Reformed circles. It is not merely a Lutheran way of interpreting the Bible, even if Reformed Protestants are not of one mind in distinguishing law and gospel.

Frame notes what he thinks are two failures of the WSC theologians: 1. They fail to notice the problems with the law-gospel distinction. 2. They “fail to understand that the law is not only a terrifying set of commands to drive us to Christ, but is also the gentle voice of the Lord, showing his people that the best blessings of this life come from following his will” (p. 2). WSC theologians fail to notice the problems that Frame points out because they are not problems for the law-gospel distinction. Advocates have noted these objections before and answered them. As to the second point, Frame seems to be accusing the WSC theologians of denying the third use of the law. Whether this is an accurate assessment of Frame’s charge here or not, Frame is off the mark. WSC theologians do not deny the third use of the law any more than Lutherans do (there is an entire section in the Augsburg Confession devoted to the third use of the law).

Greenbaggins’ critique of Frame has not prevented his readers from wondering whether something is still suspect about Westminster California. Some continue to think that the law-gospel distinction has no standing in the Reformed creeds. Others seem to think it may be there but the Southern Californians use it in a radical way. So I’m to imagine that using the law-gospel distinction in opposition to Shepherd, Wright, and the Federal Vision is extreme?

Once again, what seems to happen is that Reformed Protestants understand the Reformed tradition to be as old either as the founding of the Free University or the creation of Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia). These folks continue to be surprised that older members of the Reformed tradition, some of those who defined it, spoke about doctrines like jure divino presbyterianism, or exclusive psalmody, or the priority of justification, or the law-gospel distinction. I too was surprised to learn these doctrines back when my exposure to the Reformed faith came mainly from the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology and Francis Schaeffer. But, you know, I soon discovered that the Reformed faith preceded Princeton Seminary and Jonathan Edwards and went all the way back to the sixteenth century where Protestants talked about law-gospel distinctions. Unlike the democrat who did not like what he found among the Democratic Party, I had no problem trying to take instruction from Reformed Protestants older than Abraham Kuyper and Cornelius Van Til (both of whom Frame claims to follow).

Speaking of following Kuyper and Van Til, these Dutch Protestants were members of a church that confessed the Heidelberg Catechism. And lo and behold, the Heidelberg Catechism makes a distinction between law and gospel.

Question 3. Whence knowest thou thy misery?
Answer: Out of the law of God.

Question 4. What does the law of God require of us?
Answer: Christ teaches us that briefly, Matt. 22:37-40, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Question 18. Who then is that Mediator, who is in one person both very God, and a real righteous man?
Answer: Our Lord Jesus Christ: “who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”

Question 19. Whence knowest thou this?
Answer: From the holy gospel, which God himself first revealed in Paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and lastly, has fulfilled it by his only begotten Son.

Some may wonder if this really is a law-gospel distinction (by the way, you can see a similar distinction between Q. 39 in the Shorter Catechism — “The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will” and Q. 85 “To escape the wrath and curse of sin, God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, and the diligent use of the outward means whereby he communicates the benefits of redemption.” The section on the law is distinct from the means of grace.). But if you go to Zacharias Ursinus’ commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, it sure looks like he thinks Heidelberg rests upon this basic distinction:

The gospel and the law agree in this, that they are both from God, and that there is something revealed in each concerning the nature, will, and works of God. There is, however, a very great difference between them:

1. In the revelations which they contain; or, as it respects the manner in which the revelation peculiar to each is made known. The law was engraven upon the heart of man in his creation, and is therefore known to all naturally, although no other revelation were given. “The Gentiles have the work of the law written in their hearts.” (Rom. 2: 15.) The gospel is not known naturally, but is divinely revealed to the Church alone through Christ, the Mediator. For no creature could have seen or hoped for that mitigation of the law concerning satisfaction for our sins through another, if the Son of God had not revealed it. “No man knoweth the Father, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee.” “The Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (Matt. 11: 27; 16: 17.)

2. In the kind of doctrine, or subject peculiar to each. The law teaches us what we ought to be, and what God requires of us, but it does not give us the ability to perform it, nor does it point out the way by which we may avoid what is forbidden. But the gospel teaches us in what manner we may be made such as the law requires: for it offers unto us the promise of grace, by having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us through faith, and that in such a way as if it were properly ours, teaching us that we are just before God, through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The law says, “Pay what thou owest.” “Do this, and live.” (Matt. 18: 28. Luke 10: 28.) The gospel says, “Only believe.” (Mark 5: 36.)

3. A the promises. The law promises life to those who are righteous in themselves, or on the condition of righteousness, and perfect obedience. “He that doeth them, shall live in them.” “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Lev. 18: 5. Matt. 19: 17.) The gospel, on the other hand, promises life to those who are justified by faith in Christ, or on the condition of the righteousness of Christ, applied unto us by faith. The law and gospel are, however, not opposed to each other in these respects: for although the law requires us to keep the commandments if we would enter into life, yet it does not exclude us from life if another perform these things for us. It does indeed propose a way of satisfaction, 105which is through ourselves, but it does not forbid the other, as has been shown.

4. They differ in their effects. The law, without the gospel, is the letter which killeth, and is the ministration of death: “For by the law is the knowledge of sin.” “The law worketh wrath; and the letter killeth.” (Rom. 3: 20; 4: 15. 2 Cor. 3: 6.) The outward preaching, and simple knowledge of what ought to be done, is known through the letter: for it declares our duty, and that righteousness which God requires; and, whilst it neither gives us the ability to perform it, nor points out the way through which it may be attained, it finds fault with, and condemns our righteousness. But the gospel is the ministration of life, and of the Spirit, that is, it has the operations of the Spirit united with it, and quickens those that are dead in sin, because it is through the gospel that the Holy Spirit works faith and life in the elect. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation,” etc. (Rom. 1: 16.)

Objection: There is no precept, or commandment belonging to the gospel, but to the law. The preaching of repentance is a precept. Therefore the preaching of repentance does not belong to the gospel. but to the law. Answer: We deny the major, if it is taken generally; for this precept is peculiar to the gospel, which commands us to believe, to embrace the benefits of Christ, and to commence new obedience, or that righteousness which the law requires. If it be objected that the law also commands us to believe in God, we reply that it does this only in general, by requiring us to give credit to all the divine promises, precepts and denunciations, and that with a threatening of punishment, unless we do it. But the gospel commands us expressly and particularly to embrace, by faith, the promise of grace; and also exhorts us by the Holy Spirit, and by the Word, to walk worthy of our heavenly calling. This however it does only in general, not specifying any duty in particular, saying thou shalt do this, or that, but it leaves this to the law; as, on the contrary, it does not say in general, believe all the promises of God, leaving this to the law; but it says in particular, Believe this promise; fly to Christ, and thy sins shall be forgiven thee.

Now since several of Westminster California’s faculty are ministers in a communion that confesses Heidelberg, should it really be that surprising they follow Van Til and Kuyper all the way back to Ursinus and affirm a distinction that the historically challenged consider to be sub-Reformed? Or might it be more plausible to recognize that since members of Westminster California’s faculty work within the Continental Reformed tradition, their appeal to the law-gospel distinction entirely compatible with earlier generations of Reformed Protestants?

This doesn’t settle, of course, whether the law-gospel distinction is correct. But given Frame’s endorsement of a pro-Shepherd account of the Shepherd controversy, I am reserving the right to question what he believes to be at stake in contemporary debates over justification, not to mention other matters of Reformed Protestant conviction.

Why Do Reformed Think They Are Evangelical?

If Reformed Protestantism is basically evangelical then how do you account for the major divisions that have occurred among American Presbyterians? The fundamentalist controversy apparently has nothing at stake for the Reformed/evangelical consensus since Machen and other conservative Presbyterians were fighting liberalism and EVERYONE knows that liberalism is bad. (Of course, the problem here is that Machen’s evangelical colleagues at Princeton were some of his biggest opponents – the revival friendly Charles Eerdman and Robert Speer.)

According to this consensus the Presbyterian opposition to revivalism during the Second Pretty Good Awakening is also easy to explain. Charles Finney and company were delinquent on theology and possibly practice (revivalism and new measures instead of just plain revival). So the Second Pretty Good Awakening proves nothing.

Then there is the First Pretty Good Awakening where Calvinists promoted revivals. This is the golden-age for the Reformed/Evangelical consensus. But what about the Old Side critics? Well, as I learned at Westminster and from Leonard Trinterud, the Old Side were proto-liberals, propounding a rationalistic theology with Enlightenment echoes, and they were drunks, falling off their horses on the way home from presbytery thanks to a heavy elbow.

In the recent exchange with Ken Stewart over at the Christian Curmudgeon I came across another explanation for the apparent tension between Reformed Protestants and evangelicals – which is, blame the Dutch. In response to differences of interpretation about revivalism, Stewart wrote to the Curmudgeon:

I think we disagree is in our estimation of the danger posed by Hart and his school of writers. Westminster Escondido, in a strange continuity with Calvin Seminary Grand Rapids (these schools are usually at loggerheads) are centers from which revival is disparaged. So important a church historian as George Marsden (raised in the OPC) termed Darryl Hart’s book on American presbyterianism “anti-evangelical” because of its steady misrepresentation of the Great Awakening. So, while from your vantage point, you are aware of Hart, from mine – I think he and his allies represent a danger so great that it needs to be countered.

When pushed on the fact that George Marsden, who studied with Cornelius Van Til, who was very critical of evangelicalism, Stewart responded:

I don’t dispute CVT’s anti-evangelical posture; in fact I would suggest that the influx of CRC faculty into WTS in the 1930’s fundamentally shifted the young WTS away from its Princeton heritage, which had been decidedly the other way. When one stands back from this, it makes us realize that the whole conservative Reformed tradition in this country has been influenced far more by Grand Rapids theology than is generally acknowledged. I am not demonizing the CRC in this particular respect; I am simply highlighting the fact that throughout the 20th century, there have been rival versions of the Reformed faith jockeying with one another for dominance.

What is fairly amusing about this reply is that the Dutch-Americans at Calvin Seminary were responsible for printing a review that Stewart wrote of Recovering Mother Kirk, which was hardly flattering of the book’s author or his interpretation of the Reformed tradition. If the Dutch-American Reformed mafia wanted to enlarge their control of the interpretation of American Protestantism, they fell asleep when reading Stewart’s submission.

Stewart and others who reject the argument that Reformed and evangelical are at odds gain a lot of traction by suggesting that Reformed critics of evangelicalism construe Reformed and evangelical Protestantism as fundamentally at odds or separate entities. The proponents of an evangelical-friendly Reformed faith also like to point out that Reformed churches have made lots of room for evangelicalism and even revivalism. So both conceptually and historically, supposedly, the Reformed critics of evangelicalism are flawed.

But for this critic, it is obvious that evangelicals and Reformed are both Protestant and so overlap at certain points, both religiously and historically. Experimental Calvinism arose in the context of Reformed churches (especially when the prospects for reforming the national churches were looking bleak) and Reformed and Presbyterians churches have been friendly to evangelicalism (though I wish they were not).

What the proponents of the consensus are incapable of doing is accounting for the splits that have occurred within Reformed churches over evangelicalism (even without the presence of Dutch Reformed). The Old Side and the Old School split from their Presbyterian peers because the pro-revivalists believed subscription and polity were secondary to conversion and holy living. And so it has always been with evangelicalism. It is inherently anti-formal in the sense that forms to not matter compared to the experience of new birth or ecstatic worship. Evangelicals are also inherently inconsistent about this because since we exist as human beings in forms (i.e., bodies that are either male or female), we cannot escape formalism of some kind. Either way, on the matter of forms – creeds, worship, and polity – those who promote revivals or consider themselves evangelical are indifferent. The Spirit unites, not the forms. The same goes for different shades of evangelicalism: for the Gospel Coalition it is the gospel not the forms that unite; and for the Baylys and other “do this and live” types, it is the law not the forms that unites. Sticklers for the regulative principle, the system of doctrine, or presbyterian procedure are simply ornery obstacles to uniting Protestants on what is truly important.

What should not be missed either is that when Presbyterian particularists insist that forms matter, that the word reveals forms, and that the word and the Spirit work in conjunction, the response is invariably that the particularlists are mean and lack the fruit of the Spirit. Why? Because they do not recognize the presence of the Spirit.

And so to bring a little more light on the matter from one of those nefarious Dutch-Reformed types (though he is actually German), here is a useful reflection from Richard Muller on the impulses within evangelicalism that lead away from the insights of the Reformation(if only he had been editing the Calvin Theological Journal when Stewart reviewed Recovering Mother Kirk):

Even more than this, however, use of the language of personal relationship with Jesus often indicates a qualitative loss of the traditional Reformation language of being justified by grace alone through faith in Christ and being, therefore, adopted as children of God in and through our graciously given union with Christ. Personal relationships come about through mutual interaction and thrive because of common interests. They are never or virtually never grounded on a forensic act such as that indicated in the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works – in fact personal relationships rest on a reciprocity of works or acts. The problem here is not the language itself: The problem is the way in which it can lead those who emphasize it to ignore the Reformation insight into the nature of justification and the character of believer’s relationship with God in Christ.

Such language of personal relationship all too easily lends itself to an Arminian view of salvation as something accomplished largely by the believer in cooperation with God. A personal relationship is, of its very nature, a mutual relation, dependent on the activity – the works – of both parties. In addition, the use of this Arminian, affective language tends to obscure the fact that the Reformed tradition has its own indigenous relational and affective language and piety; a language and piety, moreover, that are bound closely to the Reformation principle of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. The Heidelberg Catechism provides us with a language of our “only comfort in life and in death” – that “I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ” (q. 1). “Belonging to Christ,” a phrase filled with piety and affect, retains the confession of grace alone through faith alone, particularly when its larger context in the other language of the catechism is taken to heart. We also have access to a rich theological and liturgical language of covenant to express with both clarity and warmth our relationship to God in Christ.

Even so, the Reformed teaching concerning the identity of the church assumes a divine rather than a human foundation and assumes that the divine work of establishing the community of belief is a work that includes the basis of the ongoing life of the church as a community, which is to say, includes the extension of the promise to children of believers. The conversion experience associated with adult baptism and with the identification of the church as a voluntary association assumes that children are, with a few discrete qualifications, pagan-and it refuses to understand the corporate dimension of divine grace working effectively (irresistibly!) in the perseverance of the covenanting community. It is a contradictory teaching indeed that argues irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints and then assumes both the necessity of a particular phenomenology of adult conversion and “decision.” (“How Many Points?” Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 28 (1993): 425-33 posted at Riddelblog)

An Anniversary that Deserves More than a Mug

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church turns 75 today. Festivities have so far included lectures, presentations from the General Secretaries of the Assembly’s standing committees, a banquet tonight, and the opportunity to purchase handsome coffee mugs. Thankfully, the Assembly’s organizers resisted the chief temptation of our time — t-shirts (which are fine to wear under shirts with collars but should be reserved for the boudoir or basketball court).

The OPC has also produced two new books to mark the event, Confident of Better Things, a collection of essays edited by John Muether and Danny Olinger, and Between the Times: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Transition, 1945 to 1990 by yours truly.

The latter title covers a number of important episodes during the period when second generation Orthodox Presbyterians decided what to do with the legacy and heritage of Machen, Van Til, Murray, Stonehouse, Young, and Woolley. It includes chapters on the creation of the Trinity Hymnal, the formation of Great Commission Publications, Westminster Seminary’s relationship to the OPC, relations with the PCA and RPCES, and the demise of the Presbyterian Guardian.

One of the more interesting parts of this middle period was the OPC’s desire and protracted effort to merge with the Christian Reformed Church. To honor the anniversary and whet readers’ appetites, the following is an excerpt from chapter seven, “The OPC and the Christian Reformed Church, 1956-1973”:

The OPC’s dependence on theologians and churchmen from immigrant backgrounds characterized its first three decades of existence and gave to the denomination a unique character and international outlook. Westminster Seminary was the source of this foreign presence. Names such as Cornelius Van Til, Ned B. Stonehouse, and R. B. Kuiper were not common fare among American Presbyterians. And even though John Murray’s name was more common than Dutch family names among Presbyterians whose ties to Scotland and Ireland were apparent in the colonial era and first half of the nineteenth century, even his Presbyterianism — the Scottish Free Presbyterian Church — differed in important respects from the American tradition out of which the OPC came. Yet, the OPC did not simply find a place for these foreign Calvinists, as if the church were a haven for the world’s Reformed masses struggling to be free. If anything these Dutch and Scottish Calvinists helped to preserve the conservative Presbyterianism they had learned at Princeton Seminary and that Machen had established at Westminster. In turn, these hyphenated Presbyterians helped to define the the OPC. Because the denomination had emerged from the northern Presbyterian mainline church, it was obviously American in its formal expressions. But because of the presence of foreign leadership — a point that the OPC’s critics never tired of making — the church was also un-American.

The Dutch-American connection was particularly strong and a significant influence upon the OPC’s ecumenical relationships before 1970. Here the ties went back again to Old Princeton. Geerhardus Vos’ decision to complete his theological studies — after transferring from Calvin Seminary — at Princeton Seminary and Princeton’s subsequent appointment of Vos in 1892 as professor of biblical theology established a unique kinship between conservative American Presbyterians and Dutch-American Calvinists of which the OPC was practically the sole beneficiary. Of course, the relationship also benefitted the Dutch communion. As an ethnic religious body on the margins of Anglo-American culture and Protestantism, the CRC was naturally looking for ways to assimilate. Conservative Presbyterians at Princeton and Westminster were particularly attractive half-way houses from ethnic isolation to mainstream respectability. But again, not to be missed in this relationship is the leadership of Dutch-Americans within the OPC. The church did not merely provide a comfortable home for ethnic Calvinists who hoped to be successful in the United States on American terms. In fact, the situation was almost the reverse. The OPC became a comfortable home for Reformed orthodoxy and Presbyterian practice because hyphenated Calvinists assumed positions of leadership in the denomination.

The downside of ethnic leadership, as disaffected critics never ceased to mention, was the OPC’s difference from other conservative Protestants who followed the ethos and piety of American Christianity more than a Reformed faith less encumbered by United States developments. The upside was an ability to see the Reformed faith without the blinders of national pride or patriotic civil religion. So appealing was this international Calvinism that the OPC almost decided to unite with the Christian Reformed Church. In fact, at a time when American Protestants were increasingly identifying Christianity with the American “way of life,” the OPC was contemplating ways to establish closer ties to Dutch-American Reformed Protestants.