For the Umpteenth Time, Grace is Not Nature

Once again the lame argument that nominalism (and its Protestant progeny) severed the chain of being and gave us Walmart:

One can now readily see the theological pitfalls of this position. It means that in Genesis, when God called creation ‘good’—it was only because He said so, not because it was really good. It also contravenes the testimony of the Old Testament, where creation as seen as reflecting the beauty and goodness of God—Dreher quotes Psalm 19:2, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Finally, Ockham’s position is at odds with the reality of the Incarnation itself, along with the reality of the visible Church and the sacramental system. (Certainly it is now apparent how nominalism helped pave the way for the Protestant Reformation.)

In the context of the Christian faith, the errors and perils of nominalism may seem manifest, but what about its broader cultural implications? As Dreher explains, once the world had been emptied of inherent meaning and bore only that meaning imposed on it by God, the next big step was to replace God with man.

How and why did this happen?

The real answer, of course, is beyond our scope, but we can briefly point to it here. (See Dreher’s second chapter, “The Roots of the Crisis” for the full summary.) Once the sacred chain connecting all being to God was severed, creation shrunk back from its Creator: the world became a smaller place.

Hello! The heavens declaring the glory of God doesn’t make the heavens a sacrament.

Hello! Affirming the profound chasm between Creator and creature (can you say transcendence?) does not destroy the light of nature that shows “that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might” (Confession of Faith 21.1).

Hello! Saying that God’s ways are not our ways is not to deny that God superintends all things.

In fact, if you believe in providence:

God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. (Confession of Faith 5.1)

you can also believe in sacraments:

A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers. (Shorter Catechism 91)

But if you so closely identify God with his creation, you may have trouble distinguishing the church from Europe. Hillaire Belloc anyone?

Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe.

Surely, somewhere in all those Aristotelian categories appropriated by Aquinas, Roman Catholics have a way of distinguishing the world from God who is a “spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” You have to preserve those incommunicable attributes of God somehow.

Advertisements

The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Three

This is the third in the four-part interview David Strain did with mmmmmeeeeeEEEEE. We finally get to 2k:

1. Would you briefly state the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (2K) for us?

I should have a handier definition than I do. I guess I would describe it this way.The church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 25.2) outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Communicant and non-communicant church members are part of that kingdom, the kingdom of grace (which is different from the kingdom of Satan and which is playing a part in hastening the kingdom of glory – the Shorter Catechism speaks of these three kingdoms, Satan’s, grace, and glory in explaining the second petition of the Lord’s prayer.

The kingdom of the civil realm has its own rules and sovereignty, and has criteria for membership that vary in places and across time.

The kingdom of grace operates according to the doctrine of forgiveness. The church is to minister the message of forgiveness of sins that comes through trusting in Christ and repentance from sin. The state operates according to standards of justice and is supposed, no matter how imperfectly, to punish wrongdoing.

Confusing forgiveness and justice is a huge example of category confusion. Granted, the forgiveness the church administers is premised on the justice that Christ underwent in suffering for the penalty of sin. And granted the magistrate’s ideals of justice are a type of the eschatological justice that will be administered on the Last Day.

In other words, you can’t understand the church or the state apart from God’s righteous standards, that is, his law.

But the church is involved in the work of reconciling God and man through Christ. The state has no direct role in that project of reconciliation. It may create and sustain an environment in which the church can minister. But the aim of the state is fundamentally different from that of the church. I recommend J. Gresham Machen’s essay, “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” as a brilliant elaboration of this argument. It can be found either in his Selected Shorter Writings or as the appendix of Hart and Muether, Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the OPC.

2. If you were to summarize the central points of debate between Kuyperians and Two Kingdoms advocates what would you say were the major areas of contention?

One major source if misunderstanding is the Lordship of Christ. 2k people want to distinguish Christ’s redemptive kingship (the church) from his creational and providential lordship (the state and the family). Kuyperians often hear 2kers as denying Christ’s lordship over “every square inch.” We don’t deny this at all. Christ is lord over all things. But we do distinguish, as Calvin and Ursinus do, for instance, between different aspects of Christ’s lordship. Confessing Christ as savior and lord (which happens in the church) is a different proposition from submitting to Christ’s rule through the work of magistrates and parents. You don’t need to confess Christ to submit to your dad. You should submit to a parent whether you are a Christian or not. And non-Christians do submit no matter how imperfectly. Plus, it’s not as if Christians are better submitters to parents and the state than non-Christians are.

A second point of tension concerns the creation mandate. Most Kuyperians appeal to Gen. 1 and argue that it is still in effect and guides the cultural endeavors of believers. 2kers tend to look at the creation mandate through the lens of the fall, and see that mandate as now being seriously altered because of sin. This means that cult (faith) and culture (secular endeavors) are now in a paradoxical relationship. In other words, you cannot chart the coming of Christ’s kingdom by looking for “progress” in cultural life. (Actually, Christians will likely disagree on what counts as progress. Does is mean a Republican in the White House, does it mean universal health care, does it mean literacy, does it mean lots of family farms and healthy local economies?) Connecting the effects of “good” culture to signs of the kingdom is a sure recipe, from a 2k perspective, for a social gospel and liberal Christianity. Kuyperians seem to be a lot less worried about this recipe because they are less willing to admit a paradoxical relationship between cult and culture.<

3. In 2K thought, Christians are citizens of both kingdoms simultaneously, right? We belong to both the kingdom of creation and the kingdom of redemption. What are the duties incumbent upon Christian citizens of the Kingdom of creation?

It depends. The early church did not have citizenship in the earthly kingdom. Paul was unusual in this regard. Christians in the United States, for instance, are members of both kingdoms. As citizens in the republic, Christians have various obligations and responsibilities, many of which will depend on their vocations. Some may actually run for and hold public office. Others might believe the state is so corrupt or has erred so far from its founding principles that they will have less to do with politics and legislation. I think one of the important contributions of the 2k perspective is to recognize Christian liberty in the realm of politics. This is a particularly attractive position at a time when the Religious Right has implied a one-size-fits-all approach to national politics, as if there is one Christian position on a host of public policy, economic, and cultural programs.

4. Whenever I’ve spoken about the Two Kingdoms I have generally been met with concern that I am advocating passivity among Christians when it comes to their involvement in civic society, or that I think the church should withdraw into some kind of religious ghetto and let the world rot. How would you respond?

First, I think it is important to acknowledge that the world is rotting and that various efforts to help humans flourish will not prevail over the rotting effects of sin. I mean, even Lazarus died after Christ raised him from the dead. I do wonder if the transformers actually see that eliminating poverty, hunger and war will not conquer the legacy of sin and its consequences which will be apparent to all people at the Last Day.

Second, human flourishing is a good thing. It is better to have lower crime rates than not. Christians working for lower crime rates is a good thing, and it depends on their vocation whether they will be actively engaged in crime prevention. After all, not everyone is called to be a cop, a district attorney, a judge, or a warden.

But the church as church, as the institution responsible for administering forgiveness through word and sacrament, is not called to reduce crime. The church actually has a much more important work to do, which is to worry about the criminals who will be facing the ultimate judge on the Judgment Day.

Inability to see the difference between eternal and temporal crimes is another case of missing what is important to the gospel and the church. If people want to the church to be engaged in civil society, I wonder if they have overestimated the importance of earthly affairs. I cannot understand how the work of the church needs to be made “relevant” by engaging in works of cultural renewal or crime prevention. If the church is ministering word and sacrament, she is doing the most important work one can imagine. If she doesn’t do it, who will? (Again, the Machen essay mentioned above is hugely effective in making this case.

5. I’ve never met a theonomist who was not also a postmillenialist (though such may exist out there someplace). Postmillenialism seems to be the only consistent eschatology for someone with a ‘transformationalist’ vision of the church’s mission. Would you say there was a similar connection between eschatology and 2K thinking? Is amillenialism a necessary implicate of 2K ideas?

Amillennialism is an acquired taste, though a form of it has been present in the church since Augustine’s arguments about the differences between the city of God and the city of man. But to recognize that God’s kingdom advances even when affairs in this world are going to hell in a handbasket (such as the fall of the Roman Empire) is crucial to understanding the work of the church and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Postscript (as of January 26, 2017): I have renounced the phrase “human flourishing.” What was I thinking?

Calvinism as an Upgrade

Once baptized, always a Roman Catholic:

Pope Benedict affirmed that Catholicism comes without an escape clause: Once a person is baptized or received into the Church, there is no getting out.

Of course rejecting ecclesiastical communion or the Church’s doctrine has consequences, among them the penalty of excommunication. But excommunication is a punishment, not a shunning. Disobedient or dishonest Catholics might face damnation for their choices, but they will go their deathbeds as members of our Church. One can be a Catholic and be pro-choice, but having rejected the truth and the Church’s communion, he had better be prepared to face his judgment.

The fact is that among the People of God are those who have rejected the grace God has given them. That our Church includes the reprobate, and the dogmatically impure, and that we ourselves sometimes fill out those categories. The unpleasant truth is that one can be Catholic, and still be damned.

The grace of baptism is no assurance against going to hell.

But the elect don’t go to hell.

So election and baptism do not vary in this life. In the life to come, election and baptism’s consequences vary considerably.

Is Neutrality Anti-Religious?

The insightful Bruce Froehnen offers a standard brief against neutrality:

The lie of a neutral public square, in which we can debate important issues on the basis of “public reason,” is at its heart an anti-religious lie. It rests on the notion that we can set aside our faith and discuss important issues on the basis of reason alone. But faith and reason are not distinct categories of thought and action. Faith and reason are intimately bound up with one another and with a more generalized approach to the world—the imagination. Historically, the vast majority of people have seen the world as intrinsically moral, that is as made up of structures and choices that have intrinsic moral importance. Ethics is central to life, on this view, and is bound up with our general approach to both daily and life-changing issues such as whom to marry and what to demand of government, community, local association, family, neighbor, and self. This conception of life is intrinsically religious, for it rests on recognition of a natural order to our being that makes sense, has moral importance, and calls us to virtue, despite our own failings and limitations. It is a vision that has been under attack for more than two centuries, however, as a seemingly secular vision rooted in human emotions and impulses has sought dominance. This latter view, often termed the “idyllic” imagination and ascribed to Rousseau, sees the intrinsic goals of life as bound up with self-expression and self-actualization. It blames the injustices of life on social structures deemed oppressive or unjust and sees duty as something to be imposed on other people and especially on institutions.

But where would Froehnen put Calvinists who have a distinctly different estimate of humans’ moral potential? Is it possible for Protestants who affirm the following to have a place in Froehnen’s dressed public square:

Q. 25. Wherein consisteth the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.

Q. 26. How is original sin conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity?
A. Original sin is conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity by natural generation, so as all that proceed from them in that way are conceived and born in sin.

Q. 27. What misery did the fall bring upon mankind?
A. The fall brought upon mankind the loss of communion with God, his displeasure and curse; so as we are by nature children of wrath, bond slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.

Such an understanding of human nature post-fall certainly qualifies Froehnen’s sense that ethics are “central to life” or that we all share an understanding of existence that “calls us to virtue.” If neutrality is deceptive, so too is an ethical public square if it leads people to think they can be good “naturally,” apart from grace. And if Froehnen wants to claim that goodness only proceeds from grace, then what does he do in the public square he envisions with people who don’t have grace? Do they need to leave? Or does he expand his understanding of grace — as so many western Christians have done while holding the keys of the establishment — to include everyone as a recipient in some sense of grace? (Say hello to Pope Francis praying with Hindus and Buddhists.)

So maybe a “neutral” public square is not so bad after all. It doesn’t mean having to cut and paste Christian orthodoxy in order to include non-Christians in a common ethical endeavor. Let the civil realm be the civil realm, and the church the church.

From DGH on Can Humans Merit Before God Submitted (2) on 2015 04 23 at 12:42 pm

Mark,

We need to stop meeting like this. I am still unsure why you keep pushing the dogmatic boundaries on grace, merit, the covenant of works, and the satisfaction of Christ. Perhaps you’ll recall that Rick Phillips tried to moderate your views a year ago. But you persist in ways that might have even caused Norman Shepherd embarrassment. He was not someone to show off.

Since you and Rick have gone round and around again, I only want to add two cents (same in Canadian dollars).

First, you insist that words need to mean what they mean.

Professor VanDrunen does not define “merit”. He seems to make the argument that because Christ, the true image bearer, merited before God, Adam, as an image-bearer, also could have merited before God. In his quote there appears to be a one-to-one correlation between the merit of Christ and the merit of Adam. This is questionable ground, in my view. He needs to define merit, otherwise we are left guessing, at best, what he means. Is he departing from what the Reformed scholastics meant by merit or agreeing with them?

Great. O lexicographer define thyself’s words:

There are important Christological reasons why Christ could merit, but Adam could not. If our understanding of what constitutes a meritorious work follows the Reformed scholastics, then the answer is quite simple: the dignity of Christ’s person (as theanthropos) explains why he, and he alone, could merit before God.

Sorry, that’s not a definition. So why hold Dave VanDrunen (or the objects of your criticism) to a standard that you don’t meet? Are you special like Jesus? Sorry if that’s a bit snarky, but in previous posts you have compared Jesus to believers, so it’s both fair and snarky.

Second, “voluntary condescension” is not grace. If we are going to insist on the exact meaning of words, then again you can’t pour grace into that phrase from the Confession (though I guess you can because Canada is a free country like the U.S.).

What I particularly don’t understand (howl if you like here) is why you keep stating that the covenant with Adam could not have been meritorious because the reward would have been disproportionate to the work he would have performed:

Finally, the rewards given to Christ are proportionate to the work he performed. Adam’s reward would have been far greater, assuming we say that Adam would have been granted heavenly life, than what he “worked for”.

But following your logic, was Adam’s penalty, his condemnation along with the rest of the human race, proportionate to his merely eating a piece of fruit? Yes, it was an act of disobedience. But one strike and you and your children and your children’s children are out is not an arrangement that brings to mind grace, no matter how much Canadians struggle with baseball. It sounds more like a threat or a curse arrangement. In which case, if Adam could earn everlasting condemnation simply by one act, why not everlasting blessing for the work prescribed by a just and powerful God?

Comments are still open.

P.S. A word of advice — let others decide whether your response is gracious.

Forensic Friday: The URCNA's Nine Points

THE NINE POINTS OF (URCNA) SYNOD (SCHERERVILLE) 2007

Synod affirms that the Scriptures and confessions teach the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone and that nothing that is taught under the rubric of covenant theology in our churches may contradict this fundamental doctrine. Therefore Synod rejects the errors of those:

1. who deny or modify the teaching that “God created man good and after His own image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness,” able to perform “the commandment of life” as the representative of mankind (HC 6,9; BC 14);

2. who, in any way and for any reason, confuse the “commandment of life” given before the fall with the gospel announced after the fall (BC 14, 17, 18; HC 19, 21, 56, 60);

3. who confuse the ground and instrument of acceptance with God before the fall (obedience to the commandment of life) with the ground (Christ who kept the commandment of life) and instrument (faith in Christ) of acceptance with God after the fall;

4. who deny that Christ earned acceptance with God and that all His merits have been imputed to believers (BC 19, 20, 22, 26; HC 11-19, 21, 36-37, 60, 84; CD 1.7, RE 1.3, RE 11.1);

5. who teach that a person can be historically, conditionally elect, regenerated, savingly united to Christ, justified, and adopted by virtue of participation in the outward administration of the covenant of grace but may lose these benefits through lack of covenantal faithfulness (CD, I, V);

6. who teach that all baptized persons are in the covenant of grace in precisely the same way such that there is no distinction between those who have only an outward relation to the covenant of grace by baptism and those who are united to Christ by grace alone through faith alone (HC 21, 60; BC 29);

7. who teach that Spirit-wrought sanctity, human works, or cooperation with grace is any part either of the ground of our righteousness before God or any part of faith, that is, the “instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness” (BC 22-24; HC 21, 60, 86);

8. who define faith, in the act of justification, as being anything more than “leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified” or “a certain knowledge” of and “a hearty trust” in Christ and His obedience and death for the elect (BC 23; HC 21);

9. who teach that there is a separate and final justification grounded partly upon righteousness or sanctity inherent in the Christian (HC 52; BC 37).