I Guess Crossway Will Not Be Publishing the Collected Works of John Murray Soon

From the 1966 OPC report on whether or not to admit Baptists to church membership (from our Mid-West correspondent):

The committee considers, however, that to admit to communicant membership those who “refuse” to present their children for baptism would constitute a weakening of the witness the church bears to the ordinance of infant baptism as one of divine warrant, authority, and obligation. Of greater weight is the fact that infant baptism is the way in which God continues to remind and assure us of that which belongs to the administration of his redemptive, covenantal purpose. The defect of the person not persuaded of this aspect of God’s revealed counsel is not concerned with what is peripheral but with what is basic in the Christian institution. And the person who resolutely refuses to present his or her children for baptism is rejecting the covenant promise and grace which God has certified to his people from Abraham’s day till now. It is this perspective that lends gravity to the offense. It is this estimate of baptism that underlies the statement of our subordinate standards when the Confession says that it is “a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance” (XXVIII, v) and the Directory for Worship that the children of the faithful “are holy in Christ, and as members of his church ought to be baptized” (IV, B, 4). It cannot be denied that the person refusing baptism for his children is delinquent in doctrine. It is the obligation of the session (in the case envisioned in this study) to apprise him of this. It is scarcely compatible with honesty, therefore, for such a person to answer in the affirmative such a question or any other form of question of similar purport as must be asked of those being received into communicant membership, namely, “Do you agree to submit in the Lord to the government of this church and, in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life, to heed its discipline?” (ibid., V, 5, 4).

In support and confirmation of the foregoing position the following additional considerations are offered.

1. God has revealed his great displeasure with those who refuse or neglect the administration of the sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:14; Exod. 4:24-26).

2. To refuse the covenant sign to the children of believers is to deny God’s covenant claim upon them, and thus to withhold from him those who are rightfully his. Such denial provokes him to anger (Exod. 4:22-26; Mark 10:13, 14).

3. The riches of God’s grace are most clearly seen in his covenant mercies, and to deny baptism to the children of the church prevents the grace of God from being seen in all its richness and manifestly detracts from its fullness. This cannot help but weaken the sense of gratitude in both parents and children and consequently rob God of the praise and thanksgiving that are due to him.

4. Those professing parents who refuse to present their children for baptism thereby deny their solemn obligation to keep God’s covenant by raising their children in the knowledge and fear of the Lord, and deprive their children as well as themselves of the comfort of God’s covenant promise.

5.Professing parents who refuse to present their children for baptism withhold from the church of Christ the holy seed which God in his goodness has provided for it, and consequently deprive their children of the nurture and discipline which the body of Christ imparts to its members.

In answer to the objection that the scriptural evidence for the ordinance of infant baptism is not of such clarity as to command our obedience, it may be conceded that there is no express command in Scripture to baptize infants. Nevertheless, what by good and necessary inference can be deduced from Scripture is to be received as authoritative (Confession of Faith I, vi) and the scriptural evidence for infant baptism clearly falls within this category. It may be further objected that in order to establish this doctrine such a closely reasoned and complicated process of inference and deduction is demanded that it is not reasonable to require those to conform to this ordinance who are unable to exert such powers of logic. In answer to this objection, it must be affirmed that the doctrine of the covenant of grace is all-pervasive in Scripture and that it takes no great powers of reasoning to find the rightful place of the children of believers within its fold.

That throws an ecclesial wrench into the Gospel allies’ paraecclesial machine.

Why Westminster Is Independent (even if Scotland isn't)

From Mr. Murray’s own typewriter (included in the OPC Report of the Committee on Theological Education, Minutes of the General Assembly, 1945, 79-80)

The conclusion at which we arrive, therefore, is that certain phases of a seminary curriculum fall quite properly into the category of the theological education conducted by the church an: that other phases of such a curriculum are no part of the church’s responsibility.

It is highly important to remember, however, that though the church is obligated to teach the whole counsel of God, it does not follow that the teaching of the whole counsel of God may be given only under the auspices of the church. There are other auspices under which it is just as obligatory to teach and inculcate the Word of God. Such teaching should be given by parents in the instruction and nurture of their children. But the life of the family is not conducted under the auspices of the church. Such teaching should also be given in the Christian school in all of its stages and developments. The Christian world and life view as set forth in Scripture is the basis of the Christian school, and so the whole range of Scripture truth must, in the nature of the case, be presented if the education given is to be thoroughly Christian in character. But the Christian school, whether at the elementary or the secondary or the university stage, should not be conducted under the auspices of the church. The teaching of the Word of God given in the family and in the Christian school will indeed, as regards content, coincide with the teaching given by the church, but this coincidence as regards content does not in the least imply that such teaching should be given under the auspices of the church.

In like manner a theological seminary should teach the whole counsel of God. A great deal of the teaching must therefore coincide with the teaching given by the church, and, furthermore, a great deal of it is the teaching that may properly be conducted by the church and under its official auspices. It does not follow, however, that the teaching of the Word of God given in a theological seminary must be given under the auspices of the church. The mere fact that, in certain particulars, the type of teaching given is the type of teaching that may and should be given by the church and may also properly be conducted under the official auspices of the church does not rove that such teaching must be conducted under the auspices of the church. This does not follow any more than does the-fact that the teaching of the Word of God given in the home and in the school is in content the same as may and should be given by the church prove that the family and the school should be conducted under the auspices of the church. A theological seminary is an institution which may quite properly be conducted, like other Christian schools, under auspices other than those of the church, and a great deal of its work is of such a character that the church may not properly undertake it.

It is highly necessary that the theological discipline preparatory to the discharge of the Gospel ministry be as comprehensive as that provided by the curriculum of theological seminaries. But the church may not properly undertake the conduct of such comprehensive, theological education. In the interest of the most effective instruction, however, it is well that the comprehensive course of study be conducted under unified auspices. Since comprehensive theological education may not be conducted under the auspices of the church and since it may properly be conducted under auspices other than those of the church, it follows that a theological seminary, affording comprehensive theological education under
non-ecclesiastical auspices, is not only highly proper but also promotes the interests of effective theological education and guards the principle that the church must limit itself to those activities which Holy Scripture defines as its proper function.

Let’s see the anti-republicationists and pro-hymn singer deal with that.

Development of Doctrinal Dispute Stalled

David Murray concludes his four-part series on Merit and Moses — the book that is anti-republication — by boiling it down to this:

. . . my own concerns about RP have grown as I’ve increasingly come into contact with people who are using the RP to argue against any place of the law in the Christian life. They hear RP teachers saying that Israel obeyed the law to merit the land, but the NT believer is no longer under that arrangement. Thus they conclude, we don’t need to obey God’s law any more. Again, I know that’s not what RP intends but it is such a complex and confusing system that even those who have heard it explained many times still struggle to understand and communicate it accurately. I remember the first time I heard the RP preached, I thought, “What on earth was that?” To some degree, I still feel that sense of bafflement. With theology, I’ve often noticed that the more complex a system, the more likely that it’s wrong.

What is striking about this conclusion is that Murray (David, that is) winds up basically where Norman Shepherd started — Christians in the 1970s believed they could dispense with the law (thanks either to D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion or Jack Miller’s Sonship Theology). Shepherd opposed such antinomianism and wasn’t even contending with republication or 2-kingdom theology. He was, of course, sorting covenant theology out to some degree with Meredith Kline, who turned out to be one of the leading opponents of Shepherd. And Kline, as David Murray points out, represents for the authors of Merit and Moses the overreaction against Shepherd.

Has anyone yet to show us what the right reaction against Shepherd is? The folks who have been most vigorous in opposing where Shepherd led (i.e. Federal Vision) were some of the people who wrote for The Law is Not of Faith. Do they get credit for that? Not much. And what about the Murrayites (not David) who didn’t go the way of Federal Vision? Were they critical of Shepherd or Federal Vision? Or did they sit on their hands? Or how about the Obedience Boys? Have they had their innings with Norman Shepherd who argued for an obedient faith?

My contention is still that the very small world of U.S. conservative Presbyterian and Reformed believers has not yet gotten over Shepherd.

Hiding Behind Kilts

The release of the new book Merit and Moses, a critique of the republication doctrine (that the Mosaic covenant was “in some sense” a republication typologically of the covenant of works) got me thinking about a certain anomaly in contemporary Reformed circles regarding a certain Mr. Murray (his given name was John and he did not have the extra one of Courtney). The endorsements of this book show an arresting feature of the Westminster Seminary tradition and reception of Geerhardus Vos.

After Vos, his successors broke into two camps, one represented by Murray, the other by Meredith Kline, who took markedly different views of covenant theology. After Murray and Kline, came Norman Shepherd, Richard Gaffin, and Bob Strimple. They pretty much all sided with Murray against Kline on matters of moment. And then came VanDrunen, Horton, and Fesko. They followed Kline and have been taking their lumps ever since.

Generally speaking, the anti-republicationists are anti-Kline and pro-Murray. Here’s a sampling:

For the past thirty years, a shift in Reformed covenant theology has been percolating under the hot Southern California sun in Escondido. Atop the bluff of a former orange grove, a quiet redefinition of the Sinaitic covenant administration as a typological covenant of works, complete with meritorious obedience and meritorious reward has been ripening. The architect of this paradigm shift was the late Meredith G. Kline, who taught at Westminster Escondido (WSCal) for more than 20 years. Many of Kline’s colleagues, former students (several now teaching in Escondido) and admirers (Mark Karlberg, T. David Gordon, etc.) have canonized his novel reconstruction of the Mosaic covenant—it is “not of faith”, but of works and meritorious works at that, albeit ‘typological’. What may now be labeled the “Escondido Hermeneutic” or “Kline Works-Merit Paradigm” has succeeded in cornering an increasing share of the Reformed covenant market in spite of its revisionism and heterodoxy. This newfangled paradigm has managed to fly beneath the radar of most Reformed observers, in part because of the aggressively militant demeanor and rhetoric of its advocates and defenders. Especially vitriolic have been attacks by the Kline acolytes upon Norman Shepherd and Richard Gaffin. . . . (1)

While it is certainly true that Murray clearly and self-consciously broke with the majority of the Reformed tradition on several points of doctrine, his teaching on the nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant was not one of them. In fact, a strong case can be made that his position on the essential nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant represented the mainstream consensus of Reformed theologians. Furthermore, some of Murray’s key exegetical observations (which, incidentally, these authors simply pass over rather than critically engage) lend his thesis strong support. (63)

Now the endorsements for the anti-republicationist book:

“The doctrine of Republication has a Reformed pedigree. But in what sense? Recent understandings of Republication sometimes depart significantly from what one finds among Reformed theologians in the Post-Reformation periods. It is to the merit of these authors for dealing with this thorny issue by offering some important insights into the precise nature of the debate, such as discussions on merit and justice and the nature of typology. I hope all involved in the debate will give this book a careful and sympathetic reading—at least more careful and sympathetic than those who have publicly opposed Professor John Murray on this issue.”
—Mark Jones, Senior Minister, Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, BC

“I strongly recommend that everyone interested in the notion of Republication read the important book, Merit and Moses. By focusing on the guilt of every child of Adam and the only merit recognized by a holy God, the authors cut to the heart of Republication’s error. They show that to be the case by an insightful study of the Scriptures, of our most revered theologians—for example, John Murray, too often misunderstood and maligned by Republicationists—and of the Reformed confessions, showing that the doctrine of Republication cannot be harmonized with the teaching of the Westminster Standards.”
—Robert B. Strimple, President emeritus and Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA

“In recent years, a number of Reformed writers have advanced the claim that the Mosaic covenant or economy was in some sense a republication of the covenant of works. According to these writers, the Republication doctrine was a common emphasis in the history of Reformed theology, and even forms an important part of the basis for the biblical doctrine of justification. The authors of this volume present a clear and compelling case against this claim. Rather than a reaffirmation of a forgotten, integral feature of Reformed theology, the authors argue that the modern republication doctrine seems inconsistent with the historic Reformed understanding of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. A helpful contribution.”
—Cornelis P. Venema, President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, IN

“This volume addresses a relatively recent appearance of the view that the Mosaic covenant embodies a republication of the covenant of works, a view that in its distinctive emphasis is arguably without precedent in the history of Reformed theology—namely, that during the Mosaic era of the covenant of grace, in pointed antithesis to grace and saving faith in the promised Messiah, the law given to Israel at Sinai was to function pedagogically as a typological overlay of the covenant of works made with Adam, by which Israel’s retention of the land and temporal blessings were made dependent on maintaining a level of meritorious obedience (works), reduced in its demand to accommodate their sinfulness. A particular strength in my judgment is their showing that the abiding demands of God’s holiness preclude meritorious obedience that is anything less than perfect, and so the impossibility of a well-meant offer to sinners of the covenant of works in any sense.”
—Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA

Let the reader decide.

But also consider this. Mr. Murray was a strong proponent of exclusive psalmody, arguably the lone holdout of prominence in the OPC. And yet those who follow Murray on covenant theology are willing to argue quite decidedly against singing psalms only or even singing the imprecatory psalms (about which Murray had no qualms). Dick Gaffin recently wrote:

Among my continuing reservations about the Psalter-Hymnal project (March issue), here I’m only able to raise one concern about its commitment to total psalmody. The imprecations in Psalm 137, among others, have in view the Old Testament situation, when God’s covenant people were one nation, a single geopolitical entity (Israel), and their enemies were likewise ethnically and geopolitically defined (Babylon and Edom here). But now, after Christ’s finished work, that spiritual enmity, inseparably national, has ceased. Now the realization of God’s eternal saving purpose, anticipated throughout the Old Testament, is universal. His elect are no longer found only within Israel, but within every nation. Under the new covenant, the church is “in Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13) in a way it was not under the old: no longer are Jews in holy hostility towards non-Jews; now, in Christ, they are reconciled to each other (Eph. 2:11–22).

I recognize that the ethnic references like those in Psalm 137 are not only literal but also typological. Akin to the symbolic references to Babylon in Revelation, they point forward to the final destruction of the enemies of God’s people. Still, singing explicitly genocidal curses in public worship, without a whole lot of preparatory explanation (and perhaps even with that), risks leaving the impression that the congregation is calling on God for the large-scale destruction of people with Gentile ethnicity like most of us in the New Testament church. (20-21)

(Could there be some kind of ambivalence at work here with typological readings of the OT?)

So what I am wondering is what would happen to this argument against total psalmody if Orthodoxy Presbyterians knew it departed from Mr. Murray. I mean, if it is fair game to raise concerns about views that do not follow Murray’s reading of creation or the Mosaic covenant, why is that okay when it comes to Murray’s singing of David? Maybe the OPC needs to kick away the crutches, prepare for sacred cows to be wounded, and through delegated assemblies let word and Spirit do their work.

Did God Rest In One Day?

Volume four of the Nicotine Theological Journal is now available at the back issues page. Here is a whiff, from the April number:

. . . [Morton] Smith’s study of John Murray is an example of how sabbatarian-creation logic fails. Murray understood as well as anyone the importance of creation for Sabbath-keeping: “The weekly sabbath is based on divine example,” he wrote in Principles of Conduct. “The divine mode of procedure in creation determines one of the basic cycles by which human life here on earth is regulated, namely, the weekly cycle.”

LET US CONCEDE, FOR argument’s sake, that Smith is right about Murray, and that the Scotsman “seem[ed] to have held to the 24-hour creation days.” (Smith acknowledges that this is not “expressly stated” in Murray.) So the world was created in 144 hours, according to Murray. Then what happened? “And he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he made.” But how long was the seventh day? Murray is very clear that that day was not twenty four hours. Here is more from Principles of Conduct: “In the realm of God’s activity in creating the heavens and the earth there were six days of creative activity and one day of rest. There is the strongest presumption in favor of the interpretation that this seventh day is not one that terminated at a certain point in history, but that the whole period of time subsequent to the end of the sixth day is the Sabbath rest alluded to in Genesis 2:2.”

From these citations we are forced to conclude that for Murray a literal six-plus-one creation sequence was unnecessary for the establishment of a literal six-plus-one Sabbath-keeping sequence. However symbolic God’s days were, Murray saw that creation was still revealed in such a way as to establish the weekly Sabbath as a creation ordinance. So the logic of Sabbath-creationism collapses. And if the seventh day is not literal, why do the first six days have to be?

Although Smith’s essay claims to survey American Presbyterian thought on creation, including the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, it is largely focused on recent PCA debates, and he neglects OPC reflection on the matter except to speculate on the views of Murray and Cornelius Van Til. This is unfortunate because he omits the 1968 resolution of the OPC’s Presbytery of Southern California (comprised of Murray’s and Van Til’s students), which we believe has not been surpassed as a summary of the biblical and confessional teaching on creation. We republish those eight affirmations in hopes that they will gain a greater reading:

1. The one true and living God existed alone in eternity, and beside Him there was no matter, energy, space or time.

2. The one true and living God, according to His Sovereign decree, determined to create, or make of nothing, the world and all things therein, whether visible or invisible.

3. God performed His creative work in six days. (We recognize different interpretations of the word “day” and do not feel that one interpretation is to be insisted upon to the exclusion of others.)

4. That no part of the universe nor any creature in it came into being by chance or by any power other than that of the Sovereign God.

5. That God created man, male and female, after His own image, and as God’s image bearer man possesses an immortal soul. Thus man is distinct from all other earthly creatures even though his body is composed of the elements of his environment.

6. That when God created man, it was God’s inbreathing that constituted man a living creature, and thus God did not impress His image upon some pre-existing living creature.

7. That the entire human family has descended from the first human pair, and, with the one exception of Christ, this descent has been by ordinary generation.

8. That man, when created by God, was holy. Then God entered into a covenant of works with the one man Adam. In the covenant Adam represented his posterity, and thus when he violated the requirement, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him into an estate of sin.

CONTEMPORARY CRITICS OF these affirmations might charge them with sanctioning a “poetic” creation account. If so, it bears noting that, contrary to the slippery-slope fears of the Sabbath-creationists, neither Murray’s eternal Sabbath nor the presbytery’s interpretive openness have cultivated in the OPC, thirty years later, a “poetic Sabbath,” that is, observable decline in Sabbath-keeping. The lesson to be drawn, it seems, is this: if Sabbath-breaking is the ultimate concern of the watchdogs from Taylors, South Carolina, they had better look for causes elsewhere than in one’s interpretation of the days of Genesis one and two.

William Hayward Wilson

Where's Waldo Wednesday: What's At Stake?

The recent show at Reformed Forum on union with Christ has generated a lively exchange (some of which spilled over to Old Life). As he did at Old Life, David has produced a number of quotations from Reformed theologians on the ordo salutis that suggest the unionists have their work cut out for them if they are going to claim that John Murray or Dick Gaffin hung the union moon. For instance (thanks to David):

Berkhof wrote:

The sinner receives the initial grace of regeneration on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Consequently, the merits of Christ must have been imputed to him before his regeneration. But while this consideration leads to the conclusion that justification logically precedes regeneration, it does not prove the priority of justification in a temporal sense.

A. A. Hodge wrote:

The second characteristic mark of Protestant soteriology is the principle that the change of relation to the law signalized by the term justification, involving remission of penalty and restoration to favor, necessarily precedes and renders possible the real moral change of character signalized by the terms regeneration and sanctification. The continuance of judicial condemnation excludes the exercise of grace in the heart. Remission of punishment must be preceded by remission of guilt, and must itself precede the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Hence it must be entirely unconditioned upon any legal standing, or moral or gracious condition of the subject. We are pardoned in order that we may be good, never made good in order that we may be pardoned. We are freely made co-heirs with Christ in order that we may become willing co-workers with him, but we are never made co-workers in order that we may become co-heirs.

These principles are of the very essence of Protestant soteriology. To modify, and much more, of course, to ignore or to deny them, destroys absolutely the thing known as Protestantism, and ought to incur the forfeiture of all recognized right to wear the name.

And James Buchanan wrote:

It has sometimes been asked—Whether Regeneration or Justification has the precedency in the order of nature? This is a question of some speculative interest, but of little practical importance. It relates to the order of our conceptions, not to the order of time; for it is admitted on all hands that the two blessings are bestowed simultaneously. The difficulties which have suggested it are such as these,—How God can be supposed, on the one hand, to bestow the gift of His Spirit on any one who is still in a state of wrath and condemnation,—and how He can be supposed, on the other hand, to justify any sinner while he is not united to Christ by that living faith which is implanted only by the Spirit of God? But such difficulties will be found to resolve themselves into a more general and profound question; and can only be effectually removed, by falling back on God’s eternal purpose of mercy towards sinners, which included equally their redemption by Christ, and their regeneration by His Spirit. The grand mystery is how God, who hates sin, could ever love any class of sinners,—and so love them, as to give His own Son to die for them, and His Holy Spirit to dwell in them. The relation which subsists, in respect of order, between Regeneration and Justification, is sufficiently determined, for all practical purposes, if neither is held to be prior or posterior to the other, in point of time,—and if it is clearly understood that they are simultaneous gifts of the same free grace; for then it follows,— that no unrenewed sinner is justified,—and that every believer, as soon as he believes, is pardoned and accepted of God.

All of which leads to the point that the Reformed tradition has not been uniform on the ordo salutis. How could it be since the ordo is one of the great mysteries of the faith — the Spirit of God working invisibly in the hidden corners of the human soul?

If the Reformed tradition has witnessed (and by implication tolerated) a variety of views on the ordo salutis, what is so crucial to the unionist position? One answer might be historical. Today’s church has neglected a doctrine that has been central to the Reformed tradition. But is union solely the possession of Reformed Protestantism? Last I checked, Luther believed in and taught union with Christ. And so have various Reformed theologians who then proceeded to situate union in relation to the application of redemption in a variety of ways.

Another answer is that the gospel is at stake in the doctrine of union. I sometimes believe that unionists sound as if getting union right is on the order of fidelity to the gospel.

Or it could simply be a matter of doctrinal fine tuning. If we spend a little more time on union then other matters of the faith become clearer or pastorally beneficial.

But given the decibel level of unionists’ arguments (not to mention the length of their interviews), I am not sure that historical accuracy or a doctrinal tune-up is an adequate explanation. That would leave the gospel as the matter at stake in debates over union.

If anyone can help me understand the union ruckus, I’d be grateful.

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.

Weaker Bayly Brothers

I have apparently offended a weaker set of brothers. Since the offense occurred on-line, perhaps an on-line mea culpa is in order. The problem though, as is usually the case with weaker brothers, is that these brothers don’t think they are weaker. They think I am.

My error happened during a discussion of what sort of actions are just or fitting regarding one’s membership in a Presbyterian communion. Tim Keller’s own understanding of justice was the basis for thinking not only about what Christians might owe to their neighbors but also their fellow brothers, sisters, and overseers in the Reformed faith.

The comments progressed and the along came the Baylys with their big foot on the matter of abortion. Tim, I believe, intervened with his usually loving touch:

Fifty comments by the most eminent among us filled out with accolades from their admirers and nary a word about the 1,300,000 unborn children slaughtered on our doorsteps, blood running in our gutters and bones in our dumpsters year after bloody year, decade after obscene decade.

When the question of conflict with the civil magistrate is brought up, examples are sodomites, Palestinians, African Americans, and Third Reich Jews.

Not a word about the unborn. Not a word about the greatest injustice in the history of man.

Well over a billion victims felled by this bloody oppression and neither Darryl Hart nor The Prince can quite remember it. The murders are carried out on their doorsteps day after day, many by souls in their congregations, but in a discussion of justice and civil disobedience, that particular injustice doesn’t quite make the cut. It’s not in their memory bank. It doesn’t tug at their minds or hearts.

Now here is the offense, apparently, though Tim (Bayly, that is) never specified the precise error (or sin?). I was carrying on a conversation about justice. The specific context was the justice that Presbyterians owe other Presbyterians. And my failure was not to mention the slaughter of innocents.

If I apply what Paul writes about weaker brothers in Romans 14, I need to start from the perspective that speech is itself not unclean. Paul writes in 14:20 that nothing is unclean in itself. That means that I was not wrong to speak. The further implication of Paul’s assertion is that speaking or writing about justice is also not unclean (two negatives adding up to the positive of “clean”). So far, I think I’m okay.

But then along comes Tim and says that to speak without mentioning abortion, or to speak about Presbyterian justice without mentioning the slaughter of innocents, is unclean. His explanation was that he “found instructive . . . the absence of any discussion of abortion.” But since Tim has gone on record and declared 2k to be deserving of anathemas, he would seem to think that the discussion at Old Life was more than instructive. It was wicked.

The implication here is that Tim and David are like the weaker brothers in Romans and Corinthians who could not bear to watch other Christians eat meat offered to idols. They actually do what Paul professedly forbids: they declare something good (a conversation about Presbyterian justice) to be evil; and they judge other Christian brothers for not mentioning abortion even though Paul says we should not judge each other for either talking about abortion or not mentioning it: “Let not him who eats (talks about abortion) despise him who abstains (silence about abortion), and let not him who abstains (silence) pass judgment on him who eats (talks); for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls” [3-4].

John Murray has a very helpful essay on Romans 14 that explains the logic of Paul’s instruction and also elaborates the enmity that often afflicts the weaker brother. First, on the nature of the weakness:

While it is true that there is nothing unclean of itself; it does not follow that all have the knowledge and faith and strength to use all things. In this matter of conduct we have not only to consider the intrinsic rightness of these usable things but also the subjective condition or state of mind of the person using them. There is not in every person the requisite knowledge or faith. Until understanding and faith have attained to the level of what is actually true, it is morally perilous for the person concerned to exercise the right and liberty which belong to that person in Christ Jesus. The way of edification is not that conduct should overstep the limits of knowledge and faith or to violate the dictates of conscience, but for conscience to observe the dictates of understanding and faith. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” The believer must always act out of consciousness of devotion to Christ and when he cannot do that in a certain particular he must refrain from the action concerned. We must remember that although nothing is unclean of itself; yet to him that reckoneth it to be unclean to him it is unclean. To use other terms, we must remember that though things are indifferent in themselves the person is never in a situation that is indifferent. Things are indifferent but persons never.

In which case, if the Baylys really are weak, their weakness comes from an insufficient understanding of the faith or ignorance. And what goes with this is often a sense of moral superiority. The remedy for this, according to Murray, is further instruction in the faith:

The weak must ever be reminded that their censorious judgment with respect to the exercise of liberty on the part of the strong is a sin which the Scripture condemns. “Let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.” “Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? To his own Lord he stands or falls. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:3, 4). The censorious judgment in which the weak are so liable to indulge is just as unequivocally condemned as is the contempt to which the strong are too prone. And with such condemnation there is the condemnation of the self-righteousness that so frequently accompanies such censoriousness.

Now, it could be that I am really the weaker brother. It could be that I do not fully understand how I need to mention abortion in every conversation. But if this were the case, is the treatment that I receive from the loving and pastoral words of the Baylys really the way that the stronger should bear with the weaker? Rebukes are one thing, but ridicule? Wouldn’t censoriousness, in fact, be the give away on which brother is weak or strong or whether both brothers are weak?

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.

Forensic Friday: You Say Klinean, I Say Repristination

In the current issue of the Westminster Theological Journal, William Evans from Esrkine College, has an article offering a taxonomy of the current debates over the doctrine of union. In the repristinationist wing he puts Westminster California. He even specifies that the revisionism of Shepherd and Federal Vision provoked the repristinationist effort. The other group in Evans’ taxonomy is the Biblical Theology wing of Vos, Murray, and Gaffin. Some of these distinctions among Shepherd/FV, WTS, and WSC seem a bit arbitrary since all sides claim to stand within the tradition of biblical theology (was anyone more biblical theological than Kline?). What does separate these groups is the way each wing positions itself in relationship to the past, with Shepherd/FV (Mark Horne’s ransacking of the 17th century notwithstanding) being the most novel, the Biblical Theological group extending back mainly to Vos (with a lot of use made of a particular section of Calvin) and the repristinators endeavoring to recover the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century categories for a stable theological program and church life.

Which leads to the way in which Evans characterizes Westminster California:

The overriding motive here is clear and laudable – safeguarding the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith.

Here, first of all, we find a vigorous defense of the Law/Gospel hermeneutic. If salvation is to be truly gracious, then law and gospel must be distinguished. In contrast to the Revisionists, who view the Law/Gospel distinction as genetically Lutheran rather than Reformed, these figures stress the essential continuity of Lutherans and Reformed on this matter, although the attitude toward law is more positive than one finds among some Lutherans. For example, there is consistent affirmation of the “third use” of the law (i.e., the law of God as a guide for the life of the Christian).

Second, in keeping with this, there is vigorous defense of the conceptual apparatus of later federal orthodoxy, especially the bi-covenantal framework involving a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace. The covenant of works as an instantiation of the law principles is viewed as an essential guarantor of the Law/Gospel distinction. Then, in order to underscore the gracious uniqueness of the New Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant is seen in part as a “republication” of the Covenant of Works. There is also defense of a pre-temporal intratrinitarian Covenant of Redemption or pactum salutis between the Father and the Son, which is viewed as providing a foundation for the Covenant of Grace in theology proper.

What is worth noting, aside from highlighting Evans’ piece, is the omission of the worn out canard that Westminster California is simply channeling Meredith Kline. In point of fact, WSC is trying, as Evans concedes, to hold on to the insights of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As Mike Horton mentioned recently, that sure puts those complaints about Westminster California’s radicalism in a different light.