Filling the Breach — Justification By Belief Alone, Pt. 2

Posted September 1, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

PCAThe attack on justification by belief alone continues by Lane Keister and his associates at his Greenbaggins blog. This time Ron DiGiacomo, the so-called “Reformed Apologist,” has taken up the challenge.  In part one of this series we saw Mid-America Reformed Seminary professor, Dr. Alan Strange, a man who identifies himself as one of the “Watchmen of Israel,” fail miserably in his attempt to show that belief alone in the finished work of Christ alone doesn’t save.  For Strange, DiGiacomo, Keister and the rest at the Greenbaggins blog belief is not the alone instrument by which a sinner is justified, but rather something more is needed.  This something more, whatever it may be, is incorporated (some would say smuggled) in what they mean by “faith.”  According to these men faith is something qualitatively distinct and different from belief.

In part one Dr. Strange argued, insisted actually, that this threefold definition of faith, consisting of a combination of understanding (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia), is explicitly taught in the Westminster Confession specifically in the Larger Catechism 72 where we learn that justifying faith “not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.”  According to Strange to receive and rest upon Christ and his righteousness is more than belief (understanding + assent) and is an expression of the elusive fiducial or trust element that transforms ordinary belief (understanding + assent) into something more.  Yet, according to Hugh McCann WLC 72 is not a discussion of the elements of justifying faith at all, but rather its object.  I think this is exactly right, but Strange maintains that not only did “all the magisterial Reformers” hold to this threefold definition (despite the fact that Turretin had seven elements of saving faith and Witsius had nine), but that all the Divines at Westminster intended WLC 72 to be understood as an expression of this threefold definition.

Now, I admit,  it was very odd when this professor of church history could not provide a single quote from even one of the theologians at Westminster demonstrating that the Confession was intended to be read in terms of the elements of justifying faith and not the object that faith apprehends and by which we are justified.  Yet, on Keister’s blog Strange bellowed:

[Sean] now demanded that I provide citations proving what everyone (including Clark and Robbins) has already conceded to be true: that the Reformed tradition teaches that justifying faith is not by assent alone but also involves trust.

We all know how the tradition defines faith; the question is how the innovators define it. My ability to contribute to this discussion, certainly for now, has come to an end, but it seems that if this is where the discussion has come, it’s really quite over. No one disputes what the historic Reformed definition of faith is; the only question is whether Clark’s novel definition corrects the tradition or errs. We maintain that it errs and now we have a bunch of Clarkians saying, “Well, what really is the tradition anyway?”

For the record, it has never been denied that tradition has defined faith exactly as Strange has done.  My objection is, and has been, that WLC 72 is not a discussion of the traditional threefold definition of faith at all, but rather the object of justifying faith.  I completely grant that Strange is defending tradition, but that tradition errs by adding a superfluous, tautological, anti-intellectual, and ambiguous element to simple faith or belief that has allowed heretics like those in the Federal Vision to drive a truck through.  By denying that trust is belief, specifically belief in propositions in the future tense like “he will be good to me” as Clark defined it, or, as Webster’s defines it as “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.,” men like Strange have left the Reformed faith completely open and vulnerable to attacks from within and without.  Men like Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart, James Jordan, Steve Wilkins, Greg Lawrence, Joshua Moon, Jeff Meyers and the other Federal Visionist have made all these self-styled “Watchmen of Israel” look like impotent and incompetent chumps as they continue to attack the Reformed system exactly at its weakest point; the traditional threefold definition of saving faith.  Yet, rather than acting like Protestant men by judging their tradition in light of Scripture, they act like puffed up papists complaining that their opponents “have to make their argument from the Bible.”  The gall, I know.

Which brings us to Ron DiGiacomo who, with the blessing of Lane Keister, has continued to undermine the very foundation on which the church stands or falls.  According to DiGiacomo those who maintain, along with the Scriptures, that a man is justified by belief alone err by denying that fiducia or trust is that which transforms or completes simple faith or belief making it saving.  DiGiacomo begins his attack as follows:

Those who promote the belief alone view are sometimes met with tedious rejoinders such as the false dichotomy “we’re saved by Christ not propositional belief.” Notwithstanding, more serious objections have been raised by Teaching and Ruling Elders against the belief alone position because of the group’s insistence upon equating belief with assent. This is where things get a bit dicey. Most of the things we assent to, whether a priori or a posteriori, are not volitional. One does not will to believe that God exists any more than a child chooses to believe he is being fed by his mother. These are mental assents that are not discursive; they are immediate and without reflection. The will is bypassed. However, the gospel always engages the will as the unbeliever counts the cost and by grace abandons all hope in himself while looking to Christ alone, finding rest in Him. Accordingly, it is inadequate to reduce justifying faith to belief alone when belief is reduced to assent without remainder.

Like most bad arguments, this one fails right from the start.  First, DiGiacomo begs the question by asserting that “most things we assent to . . .are not volitional,” i.e., that most of our beliefs don’t involve choice.  How does he know this?  DiGiacomo’s chief examples are belief in God’s existence and a child’s belief that he is being fed by his mother.  First, how does he know what a child chooses to believe or does not believe? While on a plane this past week I saw a stewardess pick up a woman’s baby who was on her way to her grandparents in order to celebrate her fist birthday.  After a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” (OK, I wasn’t very rousing), the stewardess said; “Where’s your mommy?”  The child started to reach out to her mother. Was her choice of this one woman out of a half dozen or so other women seated nearby a choice?  Was it an act of will? It would seem so. If the stewardess handed the child to a different woman and said, “Here, this is your mommy,” would the child believe her?  Somehow I think the child would have resisted and probably would have squirmed and even cried in protest as she was handed off to an impostor. Thankfully, the stewardess wasn’t so cruel, yet this child exhibited more intelligence than some Reformed apologists.

So, what about God’s existence?  According to DiGiacomo belief in God’s existence is a belief that “is not discursive” or one not marked by “analytical reasoning.”  Now, I don’t know what sort of isolation booth DiGiacomo lives in, but I’ve met countless people over the years that either deny or affirm God’s existence for all sorts of reasons.  It seems that the choice to be an atheist, a Muslim, a Roman Catholic, a Hare Krishna, a Christian, or whatever else in relationship to the one true God are more often than not marked by some of the most intense analysis imaginable. Then again, some people are just brought up as an atheist, a Muslim, a Roman Catholic, a Hare Krishna, or even a Christian, but does this imply that that their belief or non-belief in God’s existence, or even the belief in many gods for that matter, is not a choice; “not discursive”?  I don’t see how, but then I don’t live in anything close DiGiacomo’s solitary confinement.  Besides, and as Gordon Clark explained many times throughout his career, the idea of God’s existence is really a meaningless phrase feigning profundity for the simple fact that any word that can be predicated on everything means nothing. Hallucinations, dreams, and even unicorns all exist. The better question would be which God exists and to answer that, either in the positive or the negative, requires a choice, or, simply, an act of the will.  Read the rest of this post »

Van Til – The FV Connection Pt. 2

Posted August 18, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Gordon Clark, Heresies, Theology, Van Til

Cornelius Van Til

Cornelius Van Til

In my last post, and with help from Dr. Robbins, I tried to again flesh out the connection between the philosophy of Van Til and Federal Vision.  Van Til’s denial of any point of contact between the system of theology taught in Scripture and theology as it exists in God’s mind, completely undermines the authority of Scripture and robs Christians of any “objective and absolute word from God.”   What this mean is that when elders steeped in Van Til’s philosophy vow to “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” it must be remembered that they are not claiming that the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures and outlined in the Confession is the one that exists in God’s mind.   For the Vantillian, the latter is unknowable.

In recent years some of Van Til’s defenders, perhaps realizing that Van Til’s insistence on a complete break between God’s knowledge and knowledge possible for man ends in skepticism, have tried to blunt the force of Van Til’s analogical doctrine of Scripture by suggesting that man can indeed know the truth as God knows it, only that how God knows some particular truth and how man knows the same truth is different.   For example,  John Frame claims that Van Til “wanted to insist that our way of knowing is different form God’s.  On these matters, the most heatedly debated of the controversy, Van Til and Clark actually agreed.”  Of course, if all that Van Til wanted to do was to insist that God’s way of knowing is different from ours, then his point is trivial and his attack against Clark and his supporters was even more reprehensible.  Unfortunately, and as  anyone who has read the Complaint filed against Clark’s ordination along with Clark’s Answer already knows, this was never a point of contention concerning the doctrine of incomprehensibility.  It wasn’t “the most heatedly debated” point of the controversy, as it wasn’t even debated at all. Both sides understood each other completely and accurately. Consider this from the Answer:

 The complainants in attacking Dr. Clark’s position are not concerned with knowledge in the sense of the manner of knowing.  They distinguish and they admit Dr. Clark distinguishes between intuition and discursion, but they claim that the manner of God’s knowing is no part of the doctrine of incomprehensibility. The proposition, Two times two are four, apart from anything it implies, means just what it says.  It is difficult, in fact it is impossible to express the meaning of this proposition in any terms simpler than the words, Two times two are four. It is in this sense that the Compliant asserts that such a proposition has two different meanings . . . .

What Dr. Clark said was that though God’s knowledge of a truth is different from man’s knowledge of the same truth, it is none the less the same truth they both know, if indeed man knows anything.  The Complaint avers that it is a prerequisite of ministerial good standing to believe that God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge do not “coincide at any single point” (P.5, 3; O. 21). It tries to set up as a test of orthodoxy the denial that man knows even one truth God knows . . . Far from being a test of orthodoxy, this test imposed by the Complaint is nothing else than skepticism and irrationalism. [The Answer, 20,21].

To confirm Clark’s conclusion and that for Van Til “the manner of God’s knowing is no part of the doctrine of incomprehensibility,” and to confirm that men like Frame are being disingenuous, if not flatly dishonest, one only has to look to Van Til’s Introduction to Systematic Theology, which is material taken directly from what Van Til taught his students for 45 years at WTS.  The following quotes are from the digital version of Van Til’s complete works and are referenced by John Robbins in his lecture,“The Theology of Richard Gaffin and Norman Shepherd”:

The “system” thus produced as, e.g., it finds expression in the Reformed confessions of faith, pretends to be an analogical system. At no point does such a system pretend to state, point for point, the identical content of the original system of the mind of God. If there were any point at which such a Christian system would claim to be exhaustively reproductive of the mind of God it would have to claim to be reproductive of the whole mind of God. To claim for the Christian system identity with the divine system at any point is to break the relationship of dependence of human knowledge on the divine will.

Notice the force of this.  According to Van Til the Reformed system of doctrine is “at no point” identical to the system of theology as it exists in the mind of God. But that is exactly what the confessions do claim.  Consider WCF 1.4: “The authority of the holy scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, (who is truth itself,) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.” The Confession doesn’t “pretend” to state the system of doctrine as it exists in the mind of God, it states the system of doctrine as it exists in God’s mind and as God, “who is truth itself,” knows it and has revealed it to us in the propositions of Scripture; “the word of God.”  The Confession makes no distinction whatsoever between what is in God’s mind and what is taught in Scripture.  They are one and the same.  To say otherwise is pure fiction manufactured in the mind of Van Til.

Here are some more:

 But even this enrichment does not imply that there is any coincidence, that is, identity of content between what God has in his mind and what man has in his mind. If there is no identity of content in the first proposition that God gives to man there can be no identity of content attained by means of any number of additional propositions of revelation that God gives to man.

I try to make a “system” of my own, my system will be at no point a direct replica of the divine system, but will at every point be analogical of the system of God. It can at no point be a direct replica….He [man] never has and never can expect to have in his mind exactly the same thought content that God has in his mind.

Affirming the primacy of the Creator-creature relationship, the Christian position, consistently expressed in the Reformed faith, maintains that man does not at any point have in his mind exactly the same thought content that God has in his mind… If God had made all the revelations propositions that he will ever make to man about himself, even then man could not have the same thought content in his mind that God has in his mind unless he were himself divine. Man can never experience the experience of God. An endless number of added propositions does not change the matter in the least.

Concerning Van Til’s construction (or, better, deconstruction) of the Creator/creature distinction, Dr. Robbins said:

Somehow [Van Til] thinks that if God knows a truth and man knows the same truth that destroys the Creator/creature distinction.  That’s nonsense. The whole point of revelation is for God to communicate truth to men.  That’s the whole purpose of revelation.  If revelation doesn’t achieve that, it’s not revelation.  The purpose of revelation is that there be the same content in the mind of men as there is in the mind of God.  To be sure, we will never know everything God knows. We’ll only know what God reveals. But, what He reveals we do know.

Van Til’s Creator/creature distinction is a bastardization, a weak caricature, of the Creator/creature distinction taught in Scripture and affirmed in the Reformed confessions. His theory of Scripture and truth has done irreparable damage to the Reformed faith and has allowed distortions and deadly novelties from biblical theology to theonomy to the Federal Vision to the New Perspectives on Paul (Gaffin’s or Wright’s or someone else’s altogether, take your pick) to take root simply because Christians are left with competing systems all lacking any direct, unambiguous, or univocal relationship to the truth as God knows it.  By denying that the Reformed confessions mirror the system of doctrine as God knows it “at any point,” any seemingly coherent system of doctrine is as valid and as acceptable as any other. Anyone can claim to defend “the true Reformed faith” simply because the true Reformed faith has no direct relationship to the truth as God knows it and has revealed it to man.

Holy War or Ungodly Mess

Posted August 11, 2014 by Steve Matthews
Categories: Politics

JohnHagee

By Steve Matthews

The recent uptick in violence in the Middle East has resulted, predictably, in an uptick in calls to action from American neo-conservatives and dispensationalist Evangelicals.  Just today, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham called for more decisive action from President Obama with regard to the Islamic State, calling the organization, “a direct threat to our homeland.”  On his program last week, Sean Hannity, among the most militant neo-conservative, pro-Zionist voices in the American media, breathlessly reported on current conflict between Israel and Hamas.  From the tenor of his reports, it was clear that Hannity’s aim was to gin up support from American conservatives and Evangelicals for the Gaza offensive being conducted by Israel.  Yellow journalism, it seems, did not die with William Randolph Hearst.

According to a report in the Washington Post, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), an organization founded by dispensationalist John Hagee and currently the largest pro-Israel group in the US, has launched an aggressive nation-wide advertising campaign with the same goal in view as Sean Hannity’s reporting, solidify Evangelical support for Israel in its struggle with Hamas.  According to the article, CUFI, “will be taking to Israel 50 pastors, one from each state, as part of a solidarity trip.  The itinerary, barring unforeseen developments due to the war, includes meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli soldiers…The trip affords CUFI a vehicle for expressing solidarity with Israel and then informing and energizing their flock back in the U.S.”

According to the CUFI website, there are Biblical and moral imperatives that obligate Christians to support the state of Israel.  Neo-conservative politicians columnists and academics call for further American military involvement in Middle East.  What is an Evangelical to make of all this?

Support for Israel

CUFI gives as its statement of purpose the following:  “The purpose of Christians United For Israel (CUFI) is to provide a national association through which every pro-Israel church, parachurch organization, ministry or individual in America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters related to Biblical issues.” Under the heading Goals and Objectives, we find the following statement, “While millions of Christians support Israel, there are millions more who do not yet vocally stand up for the Jewish state.  It is crucial to educate Christians on the biblical and moral imperatives to support Israel and build Christian support for Israel throughout America.”  And by the term “support”, the group seems to mean principally political action.  The website continues, “While it is important that we pray for Israel, it is also important that we put feet to our prayers and speak truth to power about the need to stand with Israel at this critical juncture in history.  CUFI accomplishes these goals through:  CUFI’s annual Washington Summit CUFI members to personally speak with their elected officials on behalf of Israel. CUFI’s Action Alerts mobilize CUFI’s over one million members to contact their members of Congress or the Administration on critical policy issues.”

But while CUFI is very aggressive in making known its political support for Israel and encourages Christians to demonstrate their solidarity with that nation, oddly absent from its website is any mention of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It’s the 500 pound gorilla that Hagee and his colleagues would prefer to simply ignore.  One supposes this is due to the dispensationalist theology held by Hagee and his supporters who maintain the heretical doctrine that Jews already have a relationship with God through the law.  If CUFI and its members truly care about Israelis, they should be preaching the Gospel to unbelieving Israelis, not lobbying Congress to support the Jewish state’s offensive in Gaza.

Interventionist Foreign Policy

As a boy, I recall watching the nightly news in 1978 and seeing images of the scary mobs in Tehran.  Thousands of people in the streets were chanting, waving banners and denouncing the US as the Great Satan. It was disturbing to watch, but the joy of the Iranian mobs at the capture of the US embassy in Tehran also left me not a little bit puzzled.  I had no reason to hate Iranians, and it seemed to me that the vitriol directed by the Iranian mobs toward the US seemed completely unfounded.  It wasn’t until years later that I learned the root of the conflict between the US and Iran stretched back to 1953, when the CIA engineered a coup that deposed Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mosaddegh and imposed the Shah, who served as an American puppet.  While not excusing the actions of the Iranian Islamists, this bit of background at least made clear why many in Iran harbored a deep dislike of the US.

In the years since, the US has continued armed involvement in the region.  In 1983, the US lost hundreds of marines when a suicide bomber drove a truck full of explosives into the Beirut barracks of a US peacekeeping force.  Gulf War I and II followed in 1990 and 2003 respectively.  The war in Afghanistan, started in 2001, is still ongoing and has become the longest running military conflict in Americana history.  As if this were not enough, US backed NATO forces assisted in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.  The most recent US military involvement in the region was its attempt to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar Assad.  The US is also supports ongoing drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia.

The above is just a brief summary of US activity in the region.  There is much more to it.  But US involvement there is not limited to bombs only.  On the opposite side, it has been a longstanding policy of the US to provide foreign aid to the region.  For example, during Fiscal Year 2012, US taxpayers were forced to provide the following amounts to the nation of the Middle East,

  • Afghanistan             $12.8 billion
  • Iraq                           $1.9 billion
  • Israel                        $3.1 billion
  • Egypt                       $1.4 billion
  • Pakistan                    $1.2 billion
  • Jordan                      $1.1 billion
  • West Bank/Gaza      $457 million

And just what has the US to show for all this activity?  Are Americans better off today than they were before spilling their blood and treasure?  Hardly.  The Middle East is more unstable now than at any point in the last several decades.  In addition to the war in Gaza against Hamas, Israel is threatening to attack Iran to prevent it from building a nuclear arsenal.  The US backed Syrian rebels, many of whom have Al Qaida ties, have gone rogue, taken a significant stash of the most advanced US weapons, formed the Islamic State, and overrun a large portion of Iraq.  Their next move is anyone’s guess, but calls have already begun for the US to put boots on the ground in Iraq.  Meanwhile the civil war continues to fester in Syria. Read the rest of this post »

Van Til — The Federal Vision Connection

Posted August 9, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Gordon Clark, Heresies, Theology, Van Til

portalesWhile driving from Portales to Amarillo this past week for meetings, and with a little over two hours to kill, I had forgotten that I had put a John Robbins lecture on my Sansa Clip (the anti-iPod) dealing with the justification controversy.  This particular lecture, and one I hadn’t heard before, zeroes in on the aberrant and deadly theologies of Richard Gaffin and Norman Shepherd.  Of particular interest was John’s discussion of Gaffin’s, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology. John admits having to reread particularly difficult passages four or five times in order to understand exactly what the Gaffin is saying. More than anyone I’ve known, John had a habit, to the chagrin of many, of doggedly sticking with an oblique and difficult passage until he can distill the author’s meaning clearly and unambiguously.  Robbins exemplified the old Puritan ideal of making difficult ideas “plain.”  So while Shepherd’s heresy is easy to see, Gaffin’s is much more difficult to uncover, but Robbins exposes Gaffin completely.

Interesting too, Robbins has some very nice things to say about Westminster West, even referring to Scott Clark as “one their best theologians.” He also speaks glowingly about WSC president, Robert Godfrey.  He recounts a story seeing Godfrey perform “admirably” when he was forced to defend justification by faith alone against J.I. Packer and some unnamed papal representative at a national gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society in Florida.  Robbins said it was a “set up” and that the way supposedly “Reformed” men in the audience attacked Godfrey over the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “horrible.”

However, the overarching message of Dr. Robbins’ lecture is the influence the philosophy of Cornelius Van Til has had on Gaffin and Shepherd and how it has contributed directly to the current justification crisis in Presbyterian and Reformed churches.  Failure to understand the relationship between Van Til and the Federal Vision is the failure to understand that fruit trees need good soil in order to produce good fruit.  Interesting too, while Robbins places the justification controversy squarely at Van Til’s feet, he does see the rise of Biblical Theology (which is anything but biblical) as a contributing factor that has lead to this perfect theological storm.

By denying any point of identity between God’s thoughts and man’s thoughts, even in the propositional revelation of Scripture, Van Til has robbed Christians of any authoritative word from God.  While Van Til was fond of saying that the Christian is to “think God’s thoughts after him,” the irony lost on Vantillians like Scott Clark, Lane Keister, Gary Johnson and others, is that according to Van Til, the Christian possesses none of God’s thoughts to think. Now, while the connection between Van Til and the FV should be perfectly obvious, there are still those who still can’t see the connection, including at least one of those in attendance at John’s lecture.  Here’s that exchange:

Question: Dr. Robbins, with reference to what you’ve just said, I’m unable, or I guess I just didn’t pick it up, the connection between Van Til and his thought and these errors directly.  Could you make that a little more clear for me or restate what you already said?

Robbins: Well, I can try to briefly, but I urge you to read some of the books as well. The connection is in Van Til’s thought we cannot know what God knows. There can be no identity of content. All the Reformed confessions are the Christian system, but they’re not the divine system of theology. And, if that’s the case, that leaves theologians, or whoever, open to interpreting Scripture in various ways. If we have no objective and absolute word from God, then theologians can run off in all directions, and they have run off in all directions from Westminster.  You find some sound men who have graduated from the seminary, and you find people who have run off in various directions.  And, it’s all because we have no clear word from God.  Once you’ve undermined the doctrine of propositional revelation by saying there is no identity of content between the Reformed confessions and the divine system of theology . . . then you have open season on the Reformed confessions.

If any of this is still unclear in anyone’s mind, then I strongly urge you to listen to the entirety of Dr. Robbins’ lecture where he completely fleshes out the connection between Van Til and current justification controversy. You can access the lecture here. Maybe even put it on your Sansa Clip for your next long drive.

* To download the mp3, just RIGHT CLICK over the above link and choose SAVE LINK AS from the drop down menu.

The Clark/Van Til Controversy

Posted August 5, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Gordon Clark, Van Til

Benjamin Wong did an outstanding job transcribing the Text of the Complaint leveled against Gordon Clark by C. Van Til and other professors at Westminster Theological Seminary in the 1940’s along with the Answer to this complaint by Clark and some of his supporters.  You can find the transcripts online at Benjamin’s site: The Complaint, The Answer.  I have also provided Word copies in the sidebar on this blog.

For those even with a passing interest in either Clark or Van Til and has ever wondered what the whole hubbub is about, it’s time to get up to speed.

Filling the Breach — Justification By Belief Alone

Posted July 23, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Gordon Clark, John Robbins, Theology

destroyed churchYou might think the seemingly innocuous phrase “justification by belief alone” would be music to a Christian’s ear. But, you would be wrong.

What you say? Don’t the Scriptures teach; “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

Didn’t the Apostle John say; “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

And, didn’t our Lord Jesus Christ say; “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Well, yes, but you see according to a majority of Reformed elders in the PCA, OPC and elsewhere belief saves no one.  What you need is faith.

But, wait.  Aren’t the words faith and belief just English translations of the single word pistis in the Greek New Testament?

Indeed they are and in fact while most translators prefer the Latin-based faith, if the word belief were used in its place it would do no violence to the meaning of any verse in Scripture.  Consider the following examples where belief is used in place of faith:

Mark 11:22: And Jesus answered them, “Have belief in God.

Luke 18:42: And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your belief has made you well.”

Acts 26:18: to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by belief in me.’

Romans 4:5: And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his belief is counted as righteousness,

Romans 4:9: Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that belief was counted to Abraham as righteousness.

Romans 4:11-13: He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by belief while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the belief that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of belief.

Galatians 2:16: yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through belief in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by belief in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Ephesians 1:15: For this reason, because I have heard of your belief in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints.

Colossians 2:12: having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through belief in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

1 Peter 1:21: who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your belief and hope are in God.

The attentive reader would no doubt have noticed in a number of the above examples that the verb form of belief is also used repeatedly and in fact can only be used simply because there is no verb form for the word faith.  For this reason alone you would think that belief would be a preferable translation of pistis to the Latin-based faith.

But, there is another reason why belief is preferable to faith as Gordon Clark explains:

Because fides or faith permits, though it does not necessitate, a non-intellectual interpretation, the liberals today want us to have “faith” in a god who is unknowable and silent because he is impotent to give us any information to believe. This Latin anti-intellectualism, permitted by the noun fides, undermines all good news and makes Gospel information useless. Although the theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have repudiated twentieth-century anti-intellectualism, their Latin heritage adversely affected some of their views.

Sadly, it’s not just theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, or even those wicked modern liberals for that matter, who have been adversely affected by this Latin heritage.  Even purportedly conservative and Reformed theologians of today prefer the Latin-based faith precisely because of the anti-intellectualism “permitted by the noun fides.”

Dr. Alan Strange, who is an OPC minister and full-time professor of church history at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, affirms this anti-intellectualism and accuses those who don’t of departing “from the historic confessions and catechisms of the Reformation as well as the theologians of the Reformation.” In addition, he pronounces anathemas on those who maintain we are justified by belief alone in the propositions of the Gospel alone and accuses them of grave heresy on par with the infamous Arius and Eutyches.  Strange writes:

That what is at the heart of saving faith requires rich metaphorical description and cannot be rationistically reduced to “propositional belief” seems galling to some, but that is the Reformed faith. Maybe you think the Bible teaches something far more “simple.” That’s what Arius, on the one hand, and Eutyches, on the other, thought about the person of Christ. But their Christianity (teaching that Christ was not truly God or Christ was not truly man) was not orthodoxy, the latter teaching something more full: Christ was God and man in one person, a profound mystery (even as was that of the blessed Holy Undivided Trinity), not amenable to rationalistic reduction. Such attempts to rationalistically reduce the faith have always ended unhappily for their promoters.

Saving faith is not simply propositonal belief but is what … our Dutch brethren, and others herein have described it as, consonant with the Word of God as understood in the Reformation: a receiving and resting upon Christ, a coming to Christ, a personal trust in Christ, a leaning upon Christ that means that one looks away from all that one is and has and does and looks to Christ and Him alone, hoping, resting and trusting in no other. That is the response to the good news of the person and work of Christ that the Reformation sought (together with repentance and the fruits of faith) and that all gospel preachers call for today.

For Strange belief in the Gospel message, the Gospel propositions, saves no one.  Rather, sinners are saved through something that defies definition and that can only be expressed in metaphorical language signifying nothing.  That’s because if this “rich metaphorical description” on which he relies, and that is required in addition to mere belief, were to signify some further truth that we are to believe, it could be stated in literal language; i.e., it could be reduced to a “propositional belief.” But Strange can’t and won’t allow that.

Notice too, for Strange the Confessional figure of speech that we are to “receive and rest” on Christ (WLC 72) is explained by even more figures of speech like “coming to” and “leaning upon” that only move the problem further back.  He even includes the idea of “personal trust” as if trust could be anything but personal.  Strange can’t distinguish belief from receiving and receiving simply because the latter is a figure of speech describing the former. He can only assert “justifying faith is something more than merely belief: not something less, but something more.” He never explains exactly what this “something more” is or even why it is necessary in order for a sinner to be saved.

Think about this. When asked to explain what this additional element is, this respected professor of church history can only respond with more figures of speech to explain the one he has been asked to define. Further, according to Strange, someone can believe the Gospel, believe that Christ alone died for his sins and is his only righteousness, and still be lost. Yet, the Scriptures say “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved” and Jesus said, “He that believes has eternal life.” Dr. Strange makes Christ a liar by insisting “justifying faith is something more than merely belief.”

Dr. Strange, along with many like-minded and similarly confused TEs, REs and others who side with him, provide a great example of the profound confusion and darkness that has triumphed in the Presbyterian and Reformed world.  A world where men actually deny salvation by belief alone while thinking they are defending the biblical doctrine of salvation when nothing could be further from the truth.  For these men faith, as opposed to belief, provides the vehicle by which they can attach an intangible and undefinable something-they-know-not-what that must first be wrought in the sinner before they can be saved.  It is not Christ’s work alone completely outside of us that saves, but rather it is some anti-intellectual psychological state of mind that completes mere belief making it saving and this is their doctrine of faith.  Worse, these men, at least those who have a comprehensive theology like Dr. Strange, rest their un-Scriptural doctrine of faith on the equally un-Scriptural epistemology of Cornelius Van Til.

As an example of this, and after proving himself unable to define this additional element to simple belief which alone is able to save sinners, Dr. Strange’s appeal is to “mystery.” Strange maintains that to clearly define faith so that that it might be understood is like trying to plumb the depths of “the Trinity, the Incarnation, divine sovereignty and human responsibility,” as if these doctrines too defied human logic and explanation.  This is pure Van Til.

Men like Dr. Strange aren’t defending the historic Reformed faith; they’re defending the religion of the Dark Ages.

Yet, rather than receiving correction,  Dr. Strange doubled down by asserting: “this intellectualized definition of faith [i.e., Clark’s definition] is a significant departure from the teaching of the Reformation on the matter and rather deadly for our faith.” Deadly to his Vantillian and distorted conception of the Reformed faith perhaps.

This is scandalous. Here we have a situation where they key term in the doctrine on which the church stands or falls cannot be clearly defined so as to be unambiguously understood. No wonder heretics like those of the Federal Vision, to include Peter Leithart,  Doug Wilson, Jeffry Meyers, Steve Wilkins (remember him), and the others, have kept these imagined defenders of justification by faith chasing their tails these many years. Even worse, here we have a pastor and professor openly contradicting the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He rejects justification by belief alone and insists that belief alone is not enough, yet he’s at a loss to clearly explain what more is needed in order for a sinner to be saved. This is a gaping hole that needs to be filled.

Gordon Clark exposed this sad situation and dangerous weakness in the foundation of the historic Reformed faith years ago and proposed a simple solution to plug this hole. But, because it was a position first advanced by Gordon Clark, being a pastor in the OPC and a committed Vantillian, Dr. Strange with knee-jerk predictability rejects Clark’s solution out of hand along with justification by belief alone.

In addition to Dr. Clark, the late Dr. Robbins recognized this breach in the foundation of the Reformed faith and spent the final years of his life attempting to repair it.  Recently I struck by the following passage taken from the forward Dr. Robbins wrote for the 2004 edition of Clark’s What is Saving Faith, which is a combination of Clark’s monographs Faith and Saving Faith and The Johannine Logos:

Unintentionally and unwittingly, the defenders of justification by faith alone, by their un-Scriptural doctrine of faith (which makes faith a complex psychological act rather than simple assent to the truth) have created and sustained the theological climate in which those who deny justification by faith alone can flourish.  The defenders of justification by faith alone have asserted that it is not enough to believe the Gospel, for even the demons believe the Gospel, and the demons are lost. Belief is not enough, they say. In order to be saved, one must do more than believe; one must commit, surrender, trust, encounter, relate, or emote.

The deniers of justification by faith alone agree: It is not enough to believe the Gospel in order to be saved. But rather than urging people to perform some further psychological task in addition to belief, they tell them to do good works in order to be saved. Their works (or their baptism) will complete what is lacking in belief alone. In this way, both the defenders and the deniers of justification by faith alone have lost sight of what in fact saves: The perfect, imputed righteousness of Christ completely outside the sinner, and received by the simple instrument of belief alone.

The current controversy over justification has broken out in conservative churches because Christians recognize that the Bible denies justification by works, whether works are regarded as a ground, condition, or an instrument of justification. But what most Christians have not yet recognized is that the common Protestant view of saving faith as something more than belief of the Gospel has fueled and will continue to fuel denials of justification by faith alone so long as it prevails.  Until faith is understood as mere belief – the Bible makes no distinction between the two words – the justification controversy will continue, and those defending justification by faith alone will continue to be embarrassed by their agreement with the deniers of justification, that belief of the Gospel is not enough for salvation.

Dr. Robbins provides a scathing rebuke.  Too bad so few have listened.

But, Dr. Robbins’ rebuke doesn’t stop there.  The addition of some undefinable psychological element to faith, which is clearly absent from the unambiguously and positively intellectual term belief, has allowed these so-called stalwarts and defenders of the faith to rob Christians of the one true source of their assurance.

For those who haven’t read Clark’s examination of  faith simpliciter, of which saving faith is but a subspecies, I highly recommend that you do.  When I first read Clark’s volume I found his simple solution and clear definition to the question what is faith and saving faith positively liberating.  No longer was my faith in Christ tied to the ebb and flow of my emotions or to some unfathomable and mysterious psychological state mind, but rather it was tied directly to the truths of Scripture; the mind of Christ.  Which makes sense since our justification doesn’t rest on anything in us anyway, despite the aggressive and unfounded claims of Dr. Strange and others to the contrary.

5 Reasons It Might Be Time to Leave the PCA

Posted May 13, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

Sean Gerety:

Must reading…

Originally posted on Building Old School Churches:

1) A Failure to Exercise Discipline: In 2007 several ministers who were known advocates of Federal Vision (FV) theology drew up and signed what they called, “A Joint Federal Vision Profession” in which they tried to make clear what advocates of the Federal Vision affirmed and denied regarding doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith. This profession was signed by ministers from the CREC (which has become well known as an FV friendly denomination) as well as several ministers from the PCA including Jeff Meyers, Mark Horne, Steve Wilkins, and Peter Leithart. The question of whether these ministers were FV advocates had never really been in question, but their signatures on the Profession certainly removed all question regarding their FV beliefs.

Later that year the 35th PCA General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to approve the recommendations of the ad interim study committee on “Federal Vision, New Perspective on Paul, and…

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