The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘antinomianism

Moralistic, legalistic antinomians

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Mr Chantry dissects the Pharisee:

So that is what a Pharisee really is: a moralistic, legalistic antinomian. Too many in our lawless age assume that this is oxymoronic, that legalism and antinomianism are and must be opposites. This is simply untrue. Legalism and antinomianism are instead the twin children of moralism. Here is how it works . . .

Find out how it works here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 8 May 2013 at 22:04

Indicatives and imperatives

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Justin Taylor has provided a helpful set of links to the ongoing discussions between William Evans and Sean Lucas at Reformation21 and Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian at the Gospel Coalition. Having made reference to a couple of these before, being persuaded of how important the issues are, and therefore having an ongoing interest in the matter, I thought others might appreciate following the discussion. Taylor summarises:

William B. Evans and Sean Michael Lucas have been engaged in a profitable discussion over at Reformation 21 on sanctification and the gospel. Here are their exchanges:

Rick Phillips also added a helpful and important post summarizing seven assertions about the relationship between justification and sanctification.

As I’ve mentioned before, Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian have been engaged in a longer—though less direct—discussion addressing similar issues:

UPDATE: Kevin DeYoung appears to have discovered a new grammatical/theological category. According to the URL for his penultimate piece in his conversation with Tullian, he is actually discussing “inidactives.” No wonder these guys are in danger of talking past each other! From now on we must consider the indicatives, the imperatives, and the fearsome and yet to be designated inidactives.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 August 2011 at 09:07

The law of love and the love of law

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I liked this article from Kevin DeYoung, concluding:

Preachers must preach the law without embarrassment. Parents must insist on obedience without shame. The law can, and should, be urged upon true believers—not to condemn, but to correct and promote Christlikeness. Both the indicatives of Scripture and the imperatives are from God, for our good, and given in grace.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 August 2011 at 08:45

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The marrow of true justification

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What is justification?

Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners effectually called to Jesus Christ, wherein He pardons all their sins, and accepts them as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

So says the Shorter Catechism. Believing that to be an accurate summary of Scripture truth, in our men’s meetings at the church I serve we have just finished working through The Marrow of True Justification by one of the early Particular Baptists, Benjamin Keach (recently republished by SGCB, and also available as an audio recording beginning here). Keach was one of the men who made it his business to stand against false teaching on this matter at the end of the seventeenth century, in company with such men as John Owen and Robert Traill, to mention only two. Keach’s work demonstrates again, if nothing else, that there really is nothing new under the sun. If you follow anything of the debates about the nature of justification and all that flows from it, Keach’s ‘Dedicatory Epistle’ will show you that the issues today, though sometimes clothed in new language and updated phrases, are really just what they always were:

Brethren,

As I was put upon preaching on this great Subject; so I am satisfied it was at a very seasonable Hour, that Doctrine being greatly struck at by too many Persons, though of different Sentiment: in many Points of Religion. And as it was well accepted by you, who heard these Sermons (and the other: that followed) when preached; and having been prevailed with to publish these in the World, so I hope some may receive Advantage hereby: Though for the meanness of the Author, and weakness of the Work, they may not meet with that Entertainment from some as the Subject deserves; yet for your sakes whose Souls are committed to my Charge, and for whom I must give Account to the great Shepherd of the Sheep at the last Day, I readily consented to this Publication; as also that all may see that we are in this, and in all other great Fundamentals of Religion, established in the same Faith with our Brethren, and all Sound and Orthodox Christians in the World: And cannot but look upon our selves greatly concerned, to see how Men by Craft and Subtilty endeavour, through Satan’s Temptations (though I hope some do it not wittingly) strive to subvert the Gospel of Christ, and corrupt the Minds of weak Christians. An Error in a Fundamental Point, is dangerous and destructive; but should we mistake some Men we have do with, we should be glad: The Lord help you to stand fast in the Truth, as it is in Jesus (in which through Grace you are well established:) Our Days are perilous; Satan seems to be let loose upon us, and is in great Rage, but Time being but short. Brethren, ’tis a hard Case that any of those who maintain the Old Doctrine of Justification, should be branded with the black Name of Antinomians. As for my part, if Dr. Crisp be not misrepresented by this Opposers, I am not of the Opinion in several respects; but I had rather err on their side, who strive to exalt wholly the Free Grace of God, than on theirs, who seek to darken it and magnify the Power of the Creature, though we fear the Design is to wound the Truth and us, through that good Man’s sides, who, I doubt not is come to heaven: O when shall we see that Truth, Peace, and Union longed for?

My Brethren, the Doctrine we preach does not open a Door to the least Licentiousness: (as ’tis unjustly said to do by some, who are either willfully or ignorantly blind.) No, God forbid. Nothing can promote Holiness, and Gospel-Sanctification like unto it, only it teaches us to act from high, sublime, and right Evangelical Principles: It shows the only way to attain to Gospel-Purity, flows from our Union with Christ, and that no Man can arrive to any degree of true Holiness, or expect to meet with any Success therein, without a Principle of Spiritual Life, or saving Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Nature of Men must first be changed, and that Enmity that is in their Hearts against God, be removed, before they can be holy: The Tree must first be made good, or the Fruits will be evil. The Image of God must be formed in our Souls, which puts the Creature into an actual bent and propensity of his Heart to the Practice of Holiness. If a Man hates not Sin, be not out of Love with Sin, How should he be in love with God and Holiness? Now because we say Sanctification is not necessary, as antecedent to Justification, but is the Fruit or Product of Union with Christ; though we deny not but the Habits (of Holiness) are infused at that same Instant that Faith is wrought in the Soul, Must we be looked upon as Promoters of a Licentious Doctrine? Must we make our own Performances, or Observance a Condition of Justification, or be laid under infamy and Reproach? ‘Tis by Faith only, that we come to have actual Enjoyment and Possession of Christ himself, and of Remission of Sin; and not only so, but of eternal Life; and so of Holiness also, and no other ways. The good Lord help you to a right Understanding of these things, and make you all a holy People, to the Praise of his Glory, and Honour of your Sacred Profession.

The Holy Apostle having asserted Justification by the Righteousness of God, which is by Faith in Jesus Christ, desired to know him and the Power of his Resurrection, etc. which he did not to be justified thereby, but as a Fruit flowing therefrom, or as a further Evidence thereof. The first he had attained; but there was a higher degree of Sanctification in his Eye, which he pressed after, as then not having attained: Whose Example let us follow.

I shall say no more: You own a Rule of Gospel-Holiness; Let me exhort you to labour after sincere Obedience: And pray forget me not in your Prayers, that God would graciously help me through all my Troubles and Temptations, and preserve me and you to his Heavenly Kingdom; who am your Servant for Jesus’ sake, and so shall abide till Death.

Benjamin Keach

Keach introduces his topic, and then gets down to business:

And thus I come to my Text, Romans 4:5. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that jusfifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for Righteousness.

To him that worketh not; That is, worketh not, thinking thereby to be justified and saved. Though he may work, i.e. lead a holy and righteous Life; yet he doth it not to merit thereby; nay, though he be wicked, and an ungodly person, and so worketh not, or hath no Moral Righteousness at all; yet if he believeth on him that justfieth the ungodly, his faith is counted or imputed for righteousness; Not as a simple Act, or as it is a quality or habit, or in us, as the Papists teach; ipsa fides, saith Bellarmine, censetur esse Justitia, Faith itself is counted to be a justice, and itself is imputed unto Righteousness; No, nor in respect of the effects or fruits of it; for so it is part of our Sanctification.

In this first sermon, Keach identifies two doctrines from the text: (1) That all works done by the creature are entirely excluded in the matter of the justification of a sinner in the sight of God, and (2) that justification is wholly of the free grace of God, through the imputation [putting to our account] of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith.

He proceeds to expose some of the mistaken notions about justification that were current in his day and, sadly, have not withered away with the passing of time. In the second sermon, he returns to his key text – “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom 4.5) – and his aim is to show the Scriptural evidence and arguments for the first point of doctrine above viz., that all works done by the creature are entirely excluded in the matter of the justification of a sinner in the sight of God.

Because Keach’s language is sometimes antiquated, and his use of punctuation quite fascinating and occasionally misleading, we produced an outline of his twelve arguments, with a summary (Keach’s kernel) and précis (our own attempt to reword the basic point) of each as appropriate. In the hope that they might be helpful, here they are:

First argument: “Taken from the very letter and express testimony of the Holy Scripture” (54). “That doctrine that gives the Holy Scripture the lie, is false and to be rejected. But the doctrine that mixes any works of righteousness done by the creature with faith or the free grace of God, in point of justification, gives the Scripture the lie; therefore that doctrine is false, and to be rejected” (58).

Précis: The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly state that no works (however considered) of a sinner have any place in his justification by God (Rom 4.2; Gal 2.16; Eph 2.8-9; Phil 3.8-9).

Second argument: “That all works done by the creature, are utterly excluded in point of justification appears from the different nature of works, and grace; ’tis positively said, we are justified by grace” (58).

Summary: “That which is of the free grace of God, is not by any works done by the creature.  But justification is of the free grace of God; therefore not by any works done by the creature. That being justified by his grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life, Tit. 3.5” (59).

Précis: The principles of grace and works are utterly opposed to each other, and cannot be mixed. Justification is either by works (law, merit, debt) or by grace (free, gift). If works is involved then grace is no longer grace, but the Bible says we are justified graciously (therefore works cannot be involved).

Third argument: “Faith is the way prescribed in the gospel in order to justification” as opposed to any and all works (29).

Summary: “That doctrine which confoundeth the terms of the law and gospel together in point of justification, is a false and corrupt doctrine. But the doctrine that mixeth sincere obedience, or works of any kind done by us, with faith in point of justification, confound the terms of the law and gospel together in point of justification; therefore that doctrine is false and a corrupt doctrine” (60).

Précis: Only faith takes the sinner from himself to Christ, the only Saviour. Works says, “Do this and live.” Faith says, “Believe and be saved.” These two principles are entirely opposed and cannot be mixed.

Fourth argument: “All works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification of a sinner in the sight of God, because we are justified by a perfect righteousness: if no man is in himself perfectly righteous, then no man can be justified by any works done by him” (63).

Summary: “If we are justified by a complete and perfect righteousness; then an imperfect though a sincere righteousness, doth not justify us, but we are justified by a complete and perfect righteousness” (67-68).  “We can only be justified . . . by that righteousness which is universal and complete. . . . Our obedience, though sincere, is not universal nor complete; therefore our sincere obedience or righteousness justifies us not in God’s sight” (68).

Précis: For a man to be justified requires a perfect righteousness: that is the demand of God’s holy law, which does not change. In order to be justified, we must either provide that perfect righteousness ourselves, or receive it from another. But no sinner is capable of producing or providing perfect righteousness for himself, and therefore it is not possible that we can ever be justified by any works of ours, and so we must find that perfect righteousness outside of ourselves.

Fifth argument: “All works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification of the sinner before God, appears because justification is a great mystery” (68).

Précis: A ‘mystery’ here is truth that we could not have known unless God had revealed it. The idea that we can be justified by sincere obedience suits the wisdom and nature of fallen men: humans readily conclude that the way to obtain God’s favour is to do good and so earn his smile. The doctrine of justification by faith is not unreasonable, but it is above natural (i.e. fallen) reason. It is the wisdom of God revealed from heaven.

Sixth argument: “If when we have done all we can do, [we are] are unprofitable servants; then by our best works of obedience and services under the gospel, we cannot be justified” (71).

Précis: If your works justify you, then you are not an unprofitable servant and have done all that God requires of you, and your sins are not sins, but only minor imperfections. But Jesus shows that by all our efforts – however sincere – we cannot come to deserve the blessings of salvation, which comes only by grace.

Seventh argument: “Because we are said to be justified by the righteousness of God: hence it follows that all our works of obedience are excluded, Rom 3.21, 22. ’Tis called the righteousness of God in opposition to the righteousness of the creature” (72).

“If that righteous which is the righteousness of God, which is by faith, in opposition to the righteousness of the creature doth justify us; then all works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification in God’s sight: but the former is true; ergo [therefore], all works done by the creature are excluded, etc.” (76).

“If Paul, nor no other child of God durst, or dare to be found in any righteousness of their own at death or judgment; then works done by us, or sincere obedience justify us not; but the former is true; therefore no works of ours, nor sincere obedience doth justify us in God’s sight” (77).

“That doctrine that holds a Christian down under slavish fear, by grounding his justification on his own works of holiness and sincere obedience, is not of God; but the doctrine of justification by our own work of holiness or sincere obedience, holds a Christian down under slavish fear, by grounding his justification on his works of holiness and sincere obedience; therefore that doctrine is not of God” (77).

Précis: God in his infinite wisdom has provided his perfect righteousness in Christ as the means of forgiving and justifying guilty and condemned sinners like us. This was Paul’s refuge and must be ours (Phil 3.8-10): Paul excludes all his past and present efforts, however sincere, from his standing with God and relies on the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone for his hope.

Eighth argument: “All works done by the creature are excluded in point of justification of a sinner in the sight of God, because we are justified by that righteousness by which the justice of God is satisfied, and his wrath appeased” (77).

Summary: “If by that righteousness of Christ which is out of us, though imputed to us, the justice of God is fully satisfied, we are justified; then all works done by us, or inherent in us, are excluded in our justification before God: but by that righteousness of Christ which is out of us, though imputed to us, the justice of God is satisfied; therefore all works done by us, or inherent in us, are excluded in our justification before God” (80).

Précis: The only righteousness that delivers us from condemnation and the curse of the law is the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us [put to our account]. We need no other righteousness to accomplish this, and there is no space for any other righteousness in the matter of justification. Our works of righteousness as believers do not justify us, although they are necessary in us, being fruits of our saving union with Jesus Christ. Our personal righteousness apart from Christ gives us nothing in which to boast, either with regard to justification or sanctification.

Ninth argument: “All works done by the creature, are excluded, etc. because ’tis by the obedience of one man that many are made righteous, that is Jesus Christ, he is made of God unto us righteousness, etc. Rom. 5.18,19. 1 Cor. 1.30. But our own inherent righteousness is of many; i.e. every man’s own sincere obedience that obtains it” (81).

Précis: If our justifying righteousness comes by the obedience of one man, then there is no room in justification for the obedience of a second man (ourselves) or any number of other men.

Tenth argument: “All works done by the creature, are excluded in point of justification, I prove thus; if any one man was justified without works or sincere obedience, or through faith only, then all works of obedience, etc., are excluded” (81).

Précis: The thief on the cross, and saved infants dying in infancy, are saved without works of obedience, and yet still justified. This is because the remedy is always the same for every person for the disease of sin: Christ’s atoning death and imputed righteousness. Like our spiritual father, Abraham, as well as other heroes of faith, it is the righteousness that comes by faith (not by works) that justifies.

Eleventh argument: “Is, because Christ is tendered or offered to sinners as sinners” (82).

Précis: Christ is not offered to those who are good or who are trying to be good, but to men who must come to Christ for the righteousness which justifies and for the new life of holiness which invariably follows. We have no qualifications for salvation apart from our need. It is as sinners trusting in Jesus alone that we are justified: where, then, is there room for our own works, either before or after salvation?

Twelfth argument: “It is, because if a man should so walk as to know nothing of himself, i.e. be so righteous, or so sincere in his obedience, as not to have his conscience to accuse, or reproach him; yet he cannot thereby be justified.”

Précis: The holiest men (Job, for example) utterly renounce all their own obedience and righteousness before God, abasing themselves and confessing themselves great sinners. The only plea of the godliest man before the judgment seat is Christ’s blood, death and righteousness. In the day of judgment, we will not plead our works but renounce and be ashamed of them (Mt 25.37). All our good works will be swallowed up in our admiration of God’s free and infinite grace.

Selected applications

Caution: “Do not think, O Soul, that thy own Righteousness doth justify thee, through Christ’s Merits; or that Christ’s Righteousness is thy Legal Righteousness, and not thy Evangelical. No, no, he is thy whole Saviour . . .”

Comfort & instruction: “This Doctrine will support you that are weak, and doubt for want of inherent Righteousness, take hold of it, A Robe of Righteousness, Put it on, Believe on Christ, as poor Sinners come to him . . . if thou can’st not come to God as a Saint, come as a Sinner; nay, as a Sinner thou must come, and may’st come. . . . We are for the Law as Paul was, and for Holiness and sincere Obedience, as any Men in the world; but we would have Men act from right Principles, and to a right end: We would have Men act in Holiness from a Principle of Faith, from a Principle of Spiritual Life. . . . You must first have Union with him, before you can bring forth Fruit to God; you must act from Life, and not for Life.”

Entreaty: “To you that are Believers, Oh! admire Free Grace; lift Christ up who died for you, the Just for the Unjust, who bore your Sins, who was made sin for us that knew no Sin, that we might be made the Righteousness of God in him. He gave himself for you, and has given Grace, the Fruit of his Death, and himself to you. O labour to be a holy People; live to him that died for you, and rose again. To conclude. Is there any Sinner here? Are you ungodly, and in a wretched Condition (in your own Eyes)? Are you weary and heavy laden? Come to Christ, lift up your Heads: For to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifies the Ungodly, his Faith is counted for Righteousness.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 19 March 2011 at 13:01

The new Calvinism considered

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Note: for those interested in a more developed treatment of this same issue, you can find it beginning here.

A year or two ago it seemed that ‘the new Calvinism’ was all the rage.  Perhaps it has already reached and passed its peak.  Maybe the mission has already become a movement and will shortly become a museum.  Only time will tell.  Certainly the wild rush of the past few years has slowed a little; the river seems broader and flows more gently.  Consolidation has occurred around such organisations as the Gospel Coalition and there are nexuses (nexi?) like Together for the Gospel (T4G) and Acts 29 that also function as anchor points.  Not so long ago you could not read a book, website or news article in some Christian circles without coming up against one of a range of personalities.  The new orthodoxy needed one of a string of names to back it up: “Piper/Grudem/Carson says . . .” almost became the equivalent in some circles of, “The Holy Spirit told me . . .”  It seemed as if the new Calvinism was sweeping the board.  More conservative evangelicals felt the pressure, often ‘losing’ their young people to the heady atmosphere of the new movement.  There was a certain triumphalism in some quarters, a sense of having seen the working future.  In others, there was a sometimes uninhibited aggression.  However, there seemed to be little middle ground: you were either for or against, a committed friend or a committed foe.

I tried to understand what was taking place by immersing myself in the stream for a while: I read the books and the blogs and listened to the sermons and addresses.  I hoped that I got a fair and accurate understanding of this movement.  I found things that were attractive and stimulating and provocative and controversial and worrying.

At a little distance from the swirling storm of popularity and controversy, I recently saw a very brief list of those things which characterise the new Calvinism, written very much from within the movement.  Looking at that list, I thought, “Yes, but . . .” and began to sketch out some other qualities that, it seems to me, are embedded in the mass of new Calvinistic identity.  The list got reasonably long in the end, but I thought that I would work it up and put it out.  It may prove useful, or interesting, or controversial, or pointless.  I think that some new Calvinists would acknowledge and admit much of what follows, sometimes quite cheerfully, but not always.  They might not agree with all the labels I use, or with my own stance on them, but I have set out to be fair and accurate.

Some caveats: I have attempted not to identify and discuss individuals (except where obvious and necessary, and for occasional examples) because this is not about supporting or attacking any one individual.  I also recognise that there are exceptions to most if not all of these rules, hence the introductory wording to each suggestion: I am not trying to make out that the movement is more monolithic than is in fact the case.  Furthermore, I have not attempted to distinguish between the positive and the negative (which will differ depending on where you stand anyway!) but have rather lumped them all in together.  I have not attempted to list these characteristics in order of priority or significance.

That will probably do by way of introduction.  So, then . . .

1.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a desire for the glory of God.  In this sense, I do not think one can legitimately deny that this is a Reformed resurgence.  There is an evident, open, sincere aim at the glory of God in all things, and I think that God is much glorified in many ways by the words and works of many of my new Calvinist brothers and sisters, and I rejoice at it.

2.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by deep-rooted spiritual joy.  This may be one of the reasons why it is so attractive to so many, perhaps especially to those from more conservative Reformed circles who feel that this is one of the things that has been lacking in their spiritual experience.  It flows, no doubt, in large part from the emphasis on the grace of God (see below) and it may flow into some of its more exuberant expressions of worship.  Again, the public face of the new Calvinism is one in which men and women with their hearts made clean through the blood of the Lamb rejoice in their so-great salvation.

3.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by missonal zeal.  As with any vibrant gospel movement, the desire to take the good news into all the world is central.  Evangelising.  Witnessing to Christ.  Church strengthening.  Church planting.  Church rejuvenation.  Training pastors and preachers.  There is a Scriptural readiness to overcome or ignore the boundaries too readily established in the mind and the heart and to preach the gospel to every creature, and to use as many means as possible (although the Biblical legitimacy of some might be questioned) to promote the truth, propagate the gospel, and advance the kingdom of Christ Jesus.  As the movement has advanced, neither the local nor the international elements of this have been left behind.

4.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an emphasis on the gospel of grace and the grace of the gospel.  Everything is ‘gospel’: New Calvinists do ‘gospel-this’ and ‘gospel-centred that’ and ‘gospel-cored the other’, sometimes to the point of inanity.  By that, I do not mean that the gospel ought not to be at the heart of things, but if we are genuinely evangelical then by definition the gospel should be at the heart of things, and the tendency to badge everything with the word ‘gospel’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is gospel-soaked and gospel-centred, nor does it guarantee that it will be.  That aside, this is a movement that desires to preach the good news as good news, to proclaim the free and undeserved favour of God to sinners in a way that is engaging, fresh, real and powerful.  One of the great anathemas of new Calvinism is legalism.  Whether or not this is rightly or fully understood I will not argue here, but these friends are desperate to highlight and declare the primacy of grace.  Of course, this is intimately related to the joy they feel and the glory of God they pursue.

5.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by complementarianism.  We are told by these friends to distinguish between the theological equivalents of national boundaries and state boundaries, to appreciate the different between distinction and division.  At the same time, it appears that complementarianism is one of the new Calvinist shibboleths.  That does not mean it is wrong, of course, but it is interesting that of all the things that we are told do not matter in the consideration of unity and separation, complementarianism has become something of a sine qua non.

6.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a return to a more Biblical masculinity.  One could argue that at times this has almost become a caricature (and I would agree, and it has indeed been parodied and caricatured), but it is a welcome if sometimes extreme reaction to the anaemic and limp manhood too often displayed elsewhere in the nominally or actually Christian world.  Alongside and arising from the complementarianism, dignified and vigorous male leadership has received a welcome fillip from the new Calvinism.  Like many gospel movements of the past, this one has been characterised in many respects by the salvation of men (often young men), the calling of men to preach, and a readiness by men to take the brunt and lead from the front.  This is not to say that women are excluded from the movement, but the Scriptural emphasis on male leadership has seen a welcome return.

7.         Again related to complementarianism, it seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the promotion of the family as a basic unit of church and social life.  Once again, such an emphasis can easily become an over-emphasis, but the evident loving affection for wives and sons and daughters that is characteristic of many of the leaders of the movement is an excellent testimony.  The re-establishment of the God-ordained family unit, the outworking of masculinity and femininity in the family sphere, an encouragement to family worship, a readiness to discuss and instruct concerning relationships between men and women, single and married, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers and children, and the like, is often part and parcel of new Calvinism.

8.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by charismatic convictions with regard to spiritual gifts.  It seems as if the nature, extent and degree of the Spirit’s work in what some would say we cannot call post-apostolic times has become almost a moot point in new Calvinism.  What was for so long a genuine line of divide between Christians has seemed to be smoothed over with the rise of the so-called ‘Reformed Charismatic’, a label willingly embraced by many if not all of the leaders of new Calvinism, most of whom would be happy – to various degrees and in different ways – to acknowledge themselves to be continuationists, as the lingo has it.  Interestingly, this is one of the fault lines that seems likely to become apparent again, not least because of its significance.

9.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by Calvinist soteriology, with some departures and aberrations.  Again, here is one of the areas where the claim to the name ‘Reformed’ is at stake and much debated.  Generally speaking, in line with the emphasis on the gospel of grace and the glory of God in salvation there has been a distinctively Calvinist take on this issue, and it is here – probably more than anywhere else – that the movement derives the ‘Calvinist’ part of its name.  At the same time, there is – in many of those who are at the forefront of this group – more than a hint of Amyraldism, so I am not sure to what extent this is going to hold water for long.  You will also note that I identify Calvinist soteriology as apart from other elements of historic Calvinism, many of which I think one could argue have been neglected, ignored, or abandoned by new Calvinists.

10.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a generally thoughtful ecumenism.  You only need to look at or think about the names that are at or clustering about the centre to see how broad a movement this is.  It has genuinely united Christians from a variety of backgrounds, and garnered sympathy from many who would nevertheless be unable to share all the distinctives of the movement as a whole.  Issues such as baptism, ecclesiology, the spiritual gifts, and worship have – to some extent – not been allowed to prevent the coming together of believers to serve God either in community or at the very least in co-operation.  Interestingly, though, this ecumenism seems to reach over the middle ground.  By this I mean that there is a readiness to receive and relate to (and receive critique and input from) those close to the inner core of the movement, and then a readiness to reach quite far out from that core for critique and input and relationship, leaving those in the middle ground somewhat isolated.  So, for example, consider the speaking list at some of the last few Desiring God conferences: where else would you find Piper, Dever, Driscoll, Warren, Wilson, Keller, Baucham, MacArthur, Sproul, Storms and Ferguson.  At points on that list you are moved to cheer.  At others, a very Scooby-Dooish cry of “Yoicks!” – mingled alarm and distress – rises from the lips.

11.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an often pragmatic ecclesiology.  I am glad that it is characterised by ecclesiology at all, that the church of Jesus Christ is in many respects given its rightful place in his plans and purposes for the kingdom.  At the same time, there is often more of the light of nature than the light of Scripture in some of the decisions that seem to be made.  This, then, is a movement in which statistics matter.  This is a movement in which, if you cannot keep up, you have to drop off.  Are you in the way of progress?  Then you are fired.  We are moving onward and upward, so we will hire a worship pastor used to larger crowds or able to generate them; we will hire a technology deacon to take our presentations within and without the services to a new level.  Are you not willing or able to move this fast?  Then goodbye, because you are holding up the advance.  Multi-campus doctrine is one of the examples of this pragmatism; branding and advertising are given a prominence beyond anything the Scripture provides for.  Everything is made to serve the growth of the church numerically and the advance of the mission as stated by the church.  At times the church seems less and less like an organic whole in which every member has her or his part and more like a business in which the chief executive and his team get to hire and fire at will, moulding the structure and its activity according to human will and purpose.  If the church were a business, would I fire some of her workers?  Sure.  But it is not, and I am not at liberty to decide who I want or do not want in or working for the advance of a kingdom that belongs to and is ruled by a sovereign King.  I should, however, add – in fairness – that perhaps at times others outside the movement have not been pragmatic enough, or dynamic enough, in seizing opportunities for gospel advance and employing means about which the Scriptures are silent (this comment is not about the regulative principle, by the way).  By the way, you have to love the names of the churches: all portentous, bastardised Greek or catchy, thrusting urban vim?  Fantastic!

12.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a neo-Kuyperian view of culture.  Here the mantra is that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”  There is much to be said for such a declaration, but it also needs to be read in terms of the already/not yet dichotomy.  In new Calvinist orthodoxy, it seems to be very much ‘already’ and this often means that culture is considered neutral, and all to be claimed for Jesus.  By extension, nothing seems to be out of bounds, and much that the world says and does can be tidied up, baptised, and brought into the service of Christ’s church.  Of course, it tends to be the culture from which the converts are drawn (see below) that comes into the church, and so we get our reference points and illustrations from all the hip and cool sources, or those made trendy by the movers and shakers.  Star Wars?  Check.  Lord of the Rings?  Check.  The Matrix?  Check.  So we get to be all funky and populist.  Then we get to name check Lewis and Chesterton and Dostoevsky and O’Connor and come over all literary and high-brow.  By and large, the new Calvinism seems ready to co-opt, co-operate with, and/or capture this culture now, without always making assessments about the origin, tendency and direction of particular elements.  Under this heading I am willing to place the whole issue of contextualization, although it might be considered worthy of its own heading.

13.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by doctrinal if not practical antinomianism.  Most of the movers and shakers appear ready to align themselves with New Covenant Theology in some form or other.  As so often, the Lord’s day Sabbath is the first point of contact and conflict on this issue.  However, the default position here, as – I believe – across broad evangelicalism as a whole – is that the moral law has no abiding relevance in the life of the new covenant believer.  That assumption is woven throughout many of the key texts and declarations of the new Calvinism, from the ESV Study Bible downwards (for example, consider these comments in the ESVSB on Romans 14.5: “The weak thought some days were more important than others. Given the Jewish background here (see v. 14), the day that is supremely in view is certainly the Sabbath. The strong think every day is the same. Both views are permissible. Each person must follow his own conscience. What is remarkable is that the Sabbath is no longer a binding commitment for Paul but a matter of one’s personal conviction. Unlike the other nine commandments in Ex. 20:1–17, the Sabbath commandment seems to have been part of the “ceremonial laws” of the Mosaic covenant, like the dietary laws and the laws about sacrifices, all of which are no longer binding on new covenant believers (see also Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16–17). However, it is still wise to take regular times of rest from work, and regular times of worship are commanded for Christians (Heb. 10:24–25; cf. Acts 20:7)”).  This is having and will continue to have implications perhaps not so much in the sphere of justification (though that will follow) as in the sphere of sanctification.  It is going to mean much for the development of true holiness, and it is only in the next two or three generations of the new Calvinists that these chickens will come home to roost.  Key names among the new Calvinists have laid the foundation for this widespread antinomianism, and it is for me one of the most concerning aspects of the whole movement.

14.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by contemporary worship.  By definition, all of the service ought to be worship, and by definition, anything done today is contemporary, however old-fashioned or new-fangled it may be considered, but you know what I mean.  I personally have no difficulty with songs and music written in the present day, but that is not the same as a willingness simply to co-opt the forms and patterns of the entertainment of the world for the worship of the church.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the sung worship of the church.  Into the mix here also come the charismatic and cultural convictions of many of the key figures.

15.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the driving force of several key personalities.  You know them: there is a centre circle reasonably well-defined, and then the concentric circles around them together and individually.  Piper.  Carson.  Mahaney.  Dever.  Mohler.  Driscoll.  Keller.  Grudem.  Chandler.  Anyabwile.  Harris.  DeYoung.  Chan.  Perhaps a little further out are Duncan and MacArthur and Sproul and Trueman.  Among the bloggers, Challies and Taylor and others.  Read long enough and widely enough and the same names will crop up time and time again.  You might place them more or less close to the centre, but they will be there or thereabouts.  My apologies to those who ought to be on the list and are not, and to the groupies who are now offended because I did not put their idol on the list.  Here you see more than a little of that ecumenism mentioned before.  No new Calvinist conference is complete without at least one and ideally more of these men on the platform.  Each is a little chief in the centre of his fiefdom, many of which overlap.  Of course, it can all seem a little nepotistic, even incestuous at times, as these figures read, invite, commend, and endorse one another in ever-decreasing circles.  Again, God usually works by men in the world, and those men naturally attain to a right and reasonable prominence, but the concentration on a few key personalities, especially in the early days of the movement, was distinctive.  Of course, some of those names are already second-generation names, and it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

16.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the ready embrace and employment of new technologies and media and the platforms that they provide.  The new Calvinism is, to a large degree, an internet phenomenon.  Sermons, videos, blogs, other social media, swirl around ceaselessly in this milieu.  The exchange and discussion of ideas takes place largely online.  Conferences are broadcast and live-blogged, and the lines and colours are laid down by a thousand artists simultaneously, often painting on the same canvas.  Cross-reference and self-reference generate a stupendous amount of traffic.  Look at some of the key blogs, for example, and you will find that they all tend to highlight the same books, events, people and things at almost precisely the same time.  All these platforms nevertheless provide a potent thrust for new Calvinist dogma and praxis, and where others are left behind, the new Calvinism is often at the cutting edge, adopting and co-opting the latest technology (hardware and software) in order to promote either Christ or his servants, depending on your take on particular individuals and circles.  Of course, we must state here that no self-respecting new Calvinist would be found dead using a PC.  The Apple Macintosh and its related accessories are the technological sine qua non of the true new Calvinist.  (I deleted the next bit because it counted as mockery, but let’s just say that it went in the direction of cool glasses and coffee shops, tattoos and T-shirts.)

17.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a concentration on a younger, more urban demographic.  I recall one new Calvinist church-planting leader voicing his concern at how many church-planter/ing applications he saw targeted precisely the same group as all the others: the young, trendy, hip (when did this admittedly serviceable but not especially remarkable joint become so popular?), urban crowd.  Although some of its leaders are getting old enough to be in them, you will not find much of the new Calvinism catering to the full range of society.  It tends to be quite selective.  I know of a number of churches that – when they began going in this direction – did begin to attract far larger numbers of a certain type and age, but they also began to lose many others.  Again, you can only ride the crest of the wave for so long: what happens to the water ahead, and the waves coming in behind?  This is one area where the willingness to preach the gospel to every creature perhaps needs to take account of the fact that every creature doesn’t like the same fashion, music, art, style, clothes, and approach as those who have made new Calvinism what it is.

18.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the desire to be big and to have a seat at culture’s table.  Bigness does seem to be a great concern for many.  Bigness – size and numbers – as a by-product of the pursuit of right things in a right way and for the glory of God is perfectly acceptable, but bigness as an end in itself is not something that the Bible promotes in isolation.  Alongside of this goes what sometimes looks like an obsession with being accepted and heard in wider society.  Consider the orgiastic and ecstatic applause and self-congratulation when the big names get on national television, or when the movement gets name-checked by Time magazine.  Is there a danger here that the movement is too concerned with the applause and adulation and recognition of the world?  Does this tie in with the attitude to culture, and what may be a failure to recognise that in this present evil age we are strangers in a strange land?

19.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an ambivalent relationship to church history.  I know we all tend to pick and choose the bits that appear or tend to support what we now believe, but it is right there on the surface of the new Calvinist vehicle.  Sometimes there is what I can only call a chronological snobbery.  This is not meant to sound as pejorative as it does.  It is part of the laudable enthusiasm of the movement.  What I mean is that there is a freshness of discovery that excites us: we feel, if I may work through Wodehouse back to Keats,

. . . like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

However, just because I have recently discovered some theological gem does not mean that it has never been discovered before, or that I therefore become the sole guardian and interpreter of the tradition.  There may be a whole bunch of trekker’s rubbish upon that peak in Darien from those who have been and camped before.  Neither does the popularity or promotion of our discovery entitle us to be the arbiters of the canon.  Anyway, there is a tendency among new Calvinists either to claim that ground long-broken has been only recently broken by them, or that it has never been broken before and now needs to be broken by them, or because they have broken it no one else is allowed to set foot on it, or that there is no other way of it being broken.  In this way, the great and the good of the past all become proto-new Calvinists.  Take a bow, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Bunyan, Cowper, Calvin, Lewis, Owen, Augustine, etc. etc.  Of course, all this demands quite a bit of historical revision, of which there is perhaps no finer example than C. S. Lewis, one of the new Calvinism’s patron saints.  I am not suggesting that these intelligent and well-read men are not aware of it, but at least let us not pretend nor give the impression that Lewis fits seamlessly into the mainstream of Reformed orthodoxy!

20.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by sensitivity to the judicial and social aspects of the gospel at work in society.  Perhaps in part because there is a left-wing as well as right-wing political input to new Calvinism, it is nevertheless a recovery of emphasis on the God who defends and protects the widow and the fatherless and the stranger, who is concerned for righteousness and justice in heaven and on earth, who takes note of the presence or absence of ethical integrity in the thoughts, words and deeds of men.  Of course, this is very easily dismissed as politically correct or touchy-feely nonsense, but there is, perhaps, more of it in the Scriptures than others have always been ready to admit.  So, on such matters as abortion, adoption, euthanasia, care for the poor and hungry, help for the homeless, and so on, there is a welcome re-engagement and re-appraisal.  Confusion still exists (as, no doubt, it always will) about the relative roles of the church and the individual Christian citizen or subject (two kingdoms theology, anyone?), but there is an awareness of and sensitivity to these issues that is welcome.

21.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by Americocentrism.  Here let me bother with another caveat: this is not an instance of cultural jealousy or bitterness, nor is it in and of itself intended as a condemnation.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and of course the movement spills over, especially into the UK and Australia, where the linguistic heritage is shared (so perhaps I should speak more of ‘the West’ that I do of ‘the States’, although I think it is fair to say that America is probably the dominant Western culture, having more influence on others in the West than they have on it).  However, while there are adherents, some of them prominent, outside the USA, the movement has its spiritual and cultural home in the States.  Could this be where some of its cultural distinctive and pragmatic attitudes derive?  Is this part of the reason for its determination and enthusiasm and can-do mentality?  Is this driving the concentration on technology and the referents and foci of the movement?  Time after time we hear men and women happily cradled in the bosom of American/Western culture assure us that the future of the church is in the so-called Third or Developing World.  Is new Calvinism in danger of exporting more of America/the West than it is of Jesus?  By definition, we are to some extent products of our culture, and that is part of God’s sovereign design for our sphere of influence and usefulness.  But could it be that there is sometimes a lack of cultural awareness and a degree of cultural supremacism that penetrates new Calvinism further than we are aware?  This, I acknowledge, is nebulous, easy both to defend and attack precisely because it is so hard to quantify, but it seems to me that this is an inherently Western movement, if not an inherently American one, a movement very much of a certain time and place.  That does not make it inherently bad, but it certainly does call into the question the degree to which it can both last and spread beyond its immediate environs.

At this point, I see no reason to change the assessment I made several months ago, after reading Collin Hansen’s survey of the movement, although I hope I have a better grasp on the whole: “There is much that is splendid about the movement . . . but it contains within it some fascinating and fearful tensions, as well as some wonderful prospects.  Much depends on the legacy of the present leaders, and the readiness of those who follow to pursue a comprehensive Scripturalism that will govern head and heart and hands. . . . observers and participants [need] to gauge both the trajectory and the likely terminus of this curious company, but [they] should also challenge us about the extent to which our faith and our life are keeping pace.”

So there you have it.  Do you agree or disagree?  Is there anything to add or remove?  I should be interested to know what you have to say.

No works in justification

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Regular readers of this blog will know that both neonomianism and antinomianism are bugbears of which we are much aware.  The quote that follows is from The Marrow of True Justification by Benjamin Keach (Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007).  The first part is his eleventh argument for the exclusion of all works done by the creature, or any obedience of his, in the matter of our justification with God.  Keach explodes all attempts to make our own works any part of our standing righteous before God with regard to our justification with the true doctrine of God’s grace in Christ, while making plain that such grace has nothing to do with antinomianism.  Rich stuff!

11 Arg. Is, because Christ is tendered or offered to Sinners as Sinners; not as righteous persons, but as ungodly ones, without any previous Qualifications required of them to set themselves to receive Christ; they are all as poor, lost, undone, weary, and heavy laden Sinners required to believe in Christ, or venture their Souls upon him, though they have no Money, no Righteousness; if they have, they must cast it away, in point of Dependence, Trust, or Justification: These are they, Christ came to call; these are they he invites to come to him, these are they he came to seek and to save, who see nothing of Good in themselves; but contrariwise, are sensible of their filthy Hearts and abominable Lives: And yet though it be thus, if they come to Christ, they shall be at that very instant justified, which Faith or Divine Grace will soon make them holy and sanctify them; for holy Habits are at that very instant infused into them, though Sanctification is a gradual work: This being so, it follows all Works done by the Creature are excluded, in point of Justification of a Sinner before God.  What said Paul to the ungodly Jailor, when he cried out, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved and thy house, Acts 16.31.  The Apostle did not put him upon doing to be saved, but upon believing.  But O how contrary is this to the Doctrine some Men preach now-a-days; they tell Sinners what they must do, what good Fruits they must bring forth, and this before the Tree is good, or they have closed with Christ, or have real Union with him; nay, bid the People take heed they do not too soon believe on Christ or venture on Christ.  Sirs, you cannot too soon believe in Christ, I mean truly believe; I don’t say you should get a presumptuous Faith, but true Faith: But is it not strange a Minister should be heard lately to say, A Man must get a new heart before he can be justified.  I though a Man could not have a new Heart before he had true Faith: Is not a new Heart one of the absolute Promises of the New Covenant, Ezek. 36.26.  Can any thing, short of Almighty Power, make the Heart new, or for the Image of God in the Soul; or can a Man that hath a new Heart be under Condemnation, for are not all in that Condition who are not actually justified?  Or can a dead Man quicken himself, or dead Works please God?  Or the Fruit be good before the Tree is good?  Are not all that are new Creatures in Christ Jesus, and have union with him, 2 Cor. 5.17? (82-83)

A little later, he urges the comfort of these things for sinners before raising and answering an objection:

Here is Comfort for Sinners; but if you are self-righteous Persons, or go about like the Jews of old, to establish your own Righteousness, down to Hell you will fall, Rom. 10.2.  This Doctrine will support you that are weak, and doubt for want of inherent Righteousness, take hold of it, A Robe of Righteousness, Put it on, Believe on Christ, as poor Sinners come to him, you that have no Money, no Worth, no Merit, no Righteousness, this Wine and Milk of Justification and Pardon is for you: Cry to God to help you to believe; Christ is the Author of your Faith, ’tis the Gift of God, ’tis a grace of the Spirit; Do you see you are wounded?  Look to Christ, Believe, and thou shalt be saved, Mark 16.16.  John 3.15, 16.  If thou can’st not come to God as a Saint, come as a Sinner; nay, as a Sinner thou must come, and may’st come.

Obj. But this Doctrine is decried for Antinomianism.

Answ. They know not what Antinomianism is, that thus brand us, as here-after I shall God-assisting prove.  If this is to be an Antinomian, we must be all such, and let them mock on; the Lord open their Eyes: We are for the Law as Paul was, and for Holiness and sincere Obedience, as any Men in the world; but we would have Men act from right Principles, and to a right end: We would have Men act in Holiness, from a Principle of Faith, from a Principle of Spiritual Life, be first married to Christ that they may bring forth Fruit to God, Rom 7.4.

We preach to you, Sinners, that Jesus Christ will entertain you, if you come to him, bid you welcome, and not cast you off, because of the Greatness of your Sins, though you have no Qualifications to recommend you to him.  Would you wash your selves from your Sins, and then come to the Fountain of his Blood to be washed; we hold forth Christ to be your whole Saviour, and that he is set forth as the Propitiation through Faith in his Blood; whom if you close with, and believe in, you shall be justified.  We tell you God justifies the Ungodly, i.e. that they are so before justified.  (88-89)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 February 2010 at 09:38

Calvinism and complementarianism

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Kevin DeYoung has an interesting post (generated by one from another blogger, I should add) about why so many New Calvinists are also complementarians, and rigorously so.  He suggests at least four reasons (summarised below) why they are so closely linked:

  1. Historically, opening the door to egalitarianism in one generation leads to bigger errors in the next.  It is a distinctly and definitely slippery slope.
  2. The role of men and women is a huge issue for our day. Gender issues are among the most significant in our day.
  3. Complementarianism tends to signify a number of other important convictions (he suggests that it usually ‘goes with’ inerrancy, penal substitution, and eternal punishment, for example).  In DeYoung’s opinion, a Calvinist complementarian is a pretty safe pair of theological hands.
  4. Practically, it is very difficult for groups and organizations and movements to make both complementarians and egalitarians happy.

These are interesting reasons, not least because we are accustomed to hearing the so-called New Calvinists banging on about the importance of distinguishing between doctrines held in the open hand and doctrines held in the closed fist (i.e. negotiable and non-negotiable matters).

Quite apart from the fact that not all “New Calvinists” are actually Calvinists (some are Amyraldians), I am left wondering who gets to determine the open hand – closed fist classification of any doctrinal matter.  Is it the loudest shouter, the most famous name, or the bloke with the biggest congregation (do downloads count)?  I find it vaguely amusing that we all like to think that we can determine what are the open and closed hand issues, and vaguely worrying that complementarianism is now identified as one of the latter, when so many important matters are – relatively speaking – dismissed as the former.

I am not suggesting that the roles of men and women are unimportant issues, but there are many doctrinal matters which are, historically considered, far more slippery in a slopewise fashion than complementarianism (one might mention antinomianism or unbalanced perspectives on the person and work of the Spirit, both of which seem to be moot points among “New Calvinists”).  Who decides that other issues are relatively unimportant?  I can think of a whole raft of theological positions which do and do not imply faithfulness in other areas, some much more and others much less.  Finally, it can be fairly tricky to keep any ‘organisation’ (one might mention the local church, for example) happy that has people in it at opposite ends of the spectrum on more significant issues.

So, a stimulating and useful post by Kevin, but one which raises more questions than it answers, and certainly demands that the same magnifying glass be employed on other equally-if-not-more-important issues.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 6 July 2009 at 15:29

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