The Laughing Wolf

Just when I thought Lane Keister had his prey trapped he let him go, and, unless he is willing to do some damage control, Doug Wilson may have the last laugh.

Now, I confess, trying to sort out the pieces is a bit difficult, but here is what happened as I see it. First, Lane trapped Wilson in a clear contradiction between the Joint Federal Vision Profession (JFVP) and the Westminster Confession of Faith concerning the Covenant of Works . To recap the JFVP states:

We deny that continuance in this covenant in the Garden was in any way a payment for work rendered. Adam could forfeit or demerit the gift of glorification by disobedience, but the gift or continued possession of that gift was not offered by God to Adam conditioned upon Adam’s moral exertions or achievements.

Whereas, the WCF states:

The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

As mentioned in a previous blog piece, Hunting Wolves, life cannot be promised and not promised in the covenant of works on the condition of “perfect and personal obedience,” and, at the same time, not on the condition of “moral exertions or achievements.” Perfect and personal obedience IS (at least for those of us who still speak English) the result of moral exertions and achievements. Or, to put it another way, “moral exertions or achievements”are works and the signers of the JFVP reject the idea that the gift of life promised to Adam and his posterity was conditioned on his “prefect and personal obedience” or works.

Obviously trapped, Wilson in a vain and shameful attempt to get around this glaring contradiction, disingenuously claimed works done in faith are not works at all, but are rather acts of obedience. Therefore, according to Wilson and the other signers of the JFVP, obedience was necessary for Adam to fulfill the CoW whereas “works” were not. This is where the debate should have remained and is where Keister should have marshaled his forces. He had the winning hand and should have played it.

Unfortunately, in his next move Wilson turned the tables on Keister by again returning to the question of the supposed “aliveness of faith” in justification and the question of what constitutes “the obedience of faith.” Red flags should have been waving immediately by Wilson’s surreptitious misuse of James 2 (specifically James 2:26) as relating to forensic justification. Sadly, Keister missed the implication that works of obedience, what Wilson calls an obedient faith and confuses with Paul’s idea of “the obedience of faith,” is something that makes mere faith salvific or “alive.” Instead of challenging Wilson on his errant and deadly misapplication of James, he at first concedes Wilson’s point by stating:

I am willing to say that faith must be alive to justify. We are not justified by a dead faith. The aliveness of faith is hence a state of faith that is always present in a justifying faith.

Why would Kesiter do this? The analogy James uses concerning dead faith is one that does not evidence itself by works and has nothing whatsoever to do with forensic justification. James says, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” Dead or feigned faith is one without works and alive or genuine faith is one that has accompanying works. So why would Keister admit that for faith to justify it must be alive, that is, it must have works? He is wrong and so is Wilson and both for the same reason. We are justified by faith alone apart from works (Romans 3:28), not by the addition of works. Works do not make faith “alive” and James is not discussing how a sinner might be justified before the bar of God’s infinite justice. James is concerned with how someone who professes to believe the truth might be justified before men – not God. Wilson is doing the Roman shuffle by playing fast and loose with the meaning of the word “to justify” in James. James is concerned with helping us judge the sincerity of a person’s profession, not with what makes faith saving. To not draw and maintain this distinction is to make the error of Rome, a deadly error being repeated by Federal Visionists like Wilson. What makes ordinary faith or belief saving are the propositions believed, specifically the propositions of the Gospel, not something in addition to mere belief or faith alone. Not works. Not our ongoing obedience. Nothing.

Thankfully, and even though the pot has already been muddied by Keister’s concession that “faith must be alive to justify,” he attempts to correct this misstatement by asserting that

. . . faith’s aliveness is not directly relevant to justification, because in justification, faith is receptive and therefore passive. Faith’s aliveness, always accompanying justification, consists in sanctification.

The problem is, and why Keister has gotten himself in such deep trouble, is that he has contradicted his own position at times and has not been at all clear in even communicating exactly what his position is. Compounding the problem is that he continues to dogmatically maintain that “our obedience of all stripes plays no part in justification.” He also makes a categorical, and worse, a strategic error by asserting that he

. . . can easily grant that saving faith is an evangelical obedience (as WCF 11.1 says), if I can qualify that by saying that its quality as an evangelical obedience has no relevance to justification itself, other than as an always accompanying aspect (like faith’s aliveness)

Now, how can faith, which he grants is an evangelical obedience, have “no relevance to justification itself”? WCF XI:2 states that

Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.

Faith is “the alone instrument of justification,” therefore it is very “relevant” to justification. Without it no man could be justified. Yet, by excluding faith’s relevance to justification Wilson now has Keister trapped. Wilson writes:

God command us to believe. We either do or we don’t. What is that? It is either obedience or disobedience . . . We have moved the pieces back and forth enough on this one. Checkmate.

On this Wilson is correct. God commands us to believe and when we do as we are commanded we are being obedient. Seems simple, so why is Keister so resistant to conceding this point? It appears that Keister is afraid that as soon as he allows for the obedience of faith, which he (erroneously) thinks can and only refer to sanctification, he will be conceding Wilson’s other point that our ongoing obedience to the demands of his anti-Christian conditional covenant is also necessary for faith to justify. Of course this doesn’t follow, but it is precisely what Wilson means by the so-called “aliveness of faith.” To say that faith, the act of believing, is being obedient to the biblical imperative to believe the gospel does not imply that our ongoing obedience to any and every other biblical imperative is similarly an aspect of faith — or is even faith itself — and is therefore relevant to justification. Believing is believing and doing is doing. Not so for Wilson and it’s not at all clear that is for Keister either. Wilson slams his trap shut:

. . .Lane only acknowledges that this justifying faith happens to be alive, but he has told us here that the aliveness (or obedience, take your pick) plays no role in the justification that happens. Well, it certainly plays no role as credit or merit or attaboy. But does it really make sense to say that the “aliveness” of the eyeball does not make it see . . . .

When I say that faith is alive, I am saying nothing more than that faith is really faith. When I say that faith is obedient, I am saying nothing more than that faith is true faith. If it were not alive, or not obedient, you would not have the same basic thing, only with some of the paint chipped off. You wouldn’t have faith at all. And if you don’t have faith at all, then you don’t have justifying faith, or faith that lays hold of Christ. Put another way, faith must be faith to be the instrument of justification.

Look what happened. The idea of the “aliveness” of faith, a metaphor lifted from James 2 which is related solely to sanctification, is made a quality of faith that is supposed to render faith “true,” “justifying” or “saving.” This is how Wilson defines “true” or saving faith. For Wilson believing means doing and in order for faith to save, for it to be true faith, it must obey. That is, it must work. The thing Kesiter has failed to notice is that in the process of making his own categorical error by which Wilson has now repeatedly “checkmated” him, is that Wilson makes a much more dangerous and deadly categorical error by including our obedience – which are the fruit or consequences of saving faith — an aspect or quality of justifying faith. As mentioned above, our ongoing obedience, what James calls our works, are the means by which we may judge the sincerity or genuineness of the profession of others. Belief alone is “the alone instrument of justification” which is “ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” Those things which “worketh by love” and accompany saving faith are not aspects of saving faith, they are its fruits. They are the natural consequences of saving belief. To confuse the fruits of faith with faith itself is to crossover into Romanism — which is exactly what Wilson has done — even if Keister once again hasn’t noticed.

Gordon Clark was correct, faith or belief (which in Scripture are just translations of the same Greek word pistis) is an assent to an understood proposition. Saving faith or belief is an assent to the understood propositions of the Gospel. Those works, those acts of obedience, that accompany saving faith in sanctification are, according to James, the means by which we may judge true faith from the feigned variety. It seems both Wilson and Keister do not understand what faith is or even the book of James for that matter. Wilson to his own destruction and Keister to the losing of his prey and this debate.

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13 Comments on “The Laughing Wolf”

  1. gusg Says:

    Dear Sean,

    Is it really a surprise that two VanTillians, one orthodox and one heterodox do not understand the Bible or theology? In principle they espouse the inadequacy of language. Therefore in principle–they are both on the same side of the argument.

    I have examined James 2 carefully, using Robertson’s Word Pictures, and the Linguistic Key to the New Testamentt. I hereby offer a tentative translation (with notes) that VERY clearly makes the pertinent point.

    Original
    Jas 2:20-26 MKJV But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (22) Do you see how faith worked with his works, and from the works faith was made complete? (23) And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.” (24) You see then how a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (25) And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she had received the messengers and had sent them out another way? (26) For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

    Clarified
    Jas 2:20-26 MKJV But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (21) Was not Abraham our father vindicated by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (22) Do you see how faith worked with his works, and from the works faith was made visible? (23) And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God.” (24) You see then how a man is vindicated by works, and not by faith only. (25) And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also vindicated by works when she had received the messengers and had sent them out another way? (26) For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

    How did Rahab show that she believed? She saved the spies. Vindication (Latin. “vindicatus, vindicatio”) means “to clear from censure or doubt, by means of demonstration”. Both “justify” and “vindicate” can be seen in the original meaning of dikaioo. God himself will be vindicated from sinful man’s charges of unfairness. See: Rom 3:26. It is because a professing Christian vindicates his faith before men that faith is made visible.

    In Robertson’s Word Pictures the following comments are found concerning James 2:20, the final phrase”,…faith without works is dead”

    “Barren (arge). See 2Pe_1:8 (not idle nor unfruitful) and Mat_12:36, but Hort urges “inactive” as the idea here, like money with no interest and land with no crops.”

    Irrespective of what you think of Hort’s critical text theory, He was a Greek scholar. He had reason to suggest “inactive”. Inactive would be an excellent rendering since it would make it clear that the issue is a man’s belief in relation to his fellow men. Remember the thief on the cross, had inactive faith…but he still went to heaven. I append the following from Linguistic Key to the New Testament ( Reineker & Rogers) on James 2:20…

    “…anthropos, man. The term is used here in a derogatory sense. kenos, “empty”, deficient. The word is used of a man who cannot be depended upon, whose deeds do not correspond to his words; hence, of boasters & imposters (Mayor). argos, inactive, barren, unprofitable, unproductive of salvation (Ropes). (Page 730-731).

    I am no Greek expert, I am just an educated layman, who believes in the Protestant principle of analogia fidei, the perspicuity of Scripture, and the adequacy of language as the gift of God. So how come I can figure it out, but Lane Keister cant? How come he involves himself in paradoxes and contradictions and mutilates language? Simple, like Wilson, he should be on the heterodox side of the debate–he’s a VanTillian. Now, I could be wrong, it could be simple incompetence. Please correct me if he is NOT a VanTillian.

    IF I am correct, I think it is time we just came out and said it, that if you are Van Tillian, thoroughly and self-consciously, you may be orthodox in theology, but YOU HAVE NO REASON TO BE.

    I do, I am a Scripturalist.

    Regards,

    Gus

  2. magma2 Says:

    Keister is not only a Vantilian, but he banned me from commenting on his blog for calling Vantilian John Muether an “unreliable” historian for his attempt to rewrite the history of the Clark/Van Til controversy. Keister and others on his blog, following Muether’s lead (see my reply to GLW Johnson in Rusted Memories in a previous blog piece), have tried to portray Van Til as an unwilling participant in the unwarranted and unprovoked attack on Clark. FWIW these men not only want to rewrite history they demonstrate no grasp whatsoever of the central issues in that controversy, which perhaps explains their incompetence in addressing first rate heretics, liars and con men like Wilson in this one.

    Beyond that, you are spot on and Vantilians have no epistemic reason for opposing heresies like the Federal Vision and they demonstrate that almost daily. I’ve become so discouraged that I’m leaving the PCA because of it. These men are not equipped to stop the spread of the FV in the PCA. I can no longer be part of a denom that allows this Romanish false gospel to be preached next to the true one. I sent a letter to my session requesting release.

  3. whereisthewisdon Says:

    Hi Sean,
    It is a blessing and delight to read your blog. I am from Indonesia and have been exposed to Gordon Clark’s teaching only recently via Vincent Cheung’s site and that came at the right time. I was very much exposed to Van Till’s teachings through the many writings of VanTillians translated into our languages. After two or three years of reading Vantillians, unconsciously I became Roman Catholic in my thinking. I tried to resist that by trying hard to deny/suppress it but it was of no avail. It was such a difficult struggle for me. Something in me said it is wrong to believe such things but what could I do? I even considered to be just an atheist then.
    Thanks to your writing and writing of others who expose Van Till’s thought, my mind is better prepared to combat those Roman Catholic thoughts.

    One question; do you know if there is any plan to translate Clark’s writing into other languages (I have Indonesian in mind)? That would be good thing to do. I tried to contact a major reformed publisher in here if they want to translate Clark’s writing into Indonesian few months back but have not received any response.

    In Christ
    Paijo

  4. magma2 Says:

    Hi Paijo, I don’t know of any efforts to translate Clark’s work. I think that is a brilliant idea though. You can probably contact John or Tom over at Trinity Foundation since they are the sole publisher of his works. I would think that such a project would be a major undertaking and Trinity Foundation is certainly not a major publishing house. I would imagine even if they were willing they might not have the resources. FWIW I’m looking forward to the day when all of Clark’s works are available on CDROM, something like what they did with Van Til’s works only with better material. 🙂

  5. raykikkert Says:

    I think that is a good idea as well.

    I would think it would be of benefit to have the resources of the Trinity Foundation available in different languages.

    The following site:

    http://www.cprf.co.uk/

    …is the work of our sister church in Northern Ireland.
    Rev. Stewart, his wife ,and the congregation have been able to get the resources to have other reformed works translated into other languages.

    I cannot see why this work could not be done as well …. providing Mr. Robbins is willing.

    Check it out when you have time … hope you are well Sean.

  6. raykikkert Says:

    Sean … forgot to ask … in leaving the PCA … where do you plan to church?

  7. magma2 Says:

    Good question. We’ve been looking.

  8. whereisthewisdon Says:

    Ray, I corresponded with Mr. Robbins and he thinks of it as good idea and even asked me if I was a translator. So, there is no problem I guess. Maybe you should ask the church to do so. It makes it easier I think.

    Paijo

  9. whereisthewisdon Says:

    I mean ask the church to discuss with Mr. Robbins

  10. raykikkert Says:

    I will contact Rev. Stewart of Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland today. I will ask him to talk to Mr. John Robbins directly by email.

    Thank you,

  11. magma2 Says:

    Vern Crisler, a Vantilian who I’ve sparred with on more than a few occasions in the past, but who is at least willing to put aside our substantial differences to combat a common enemy, had the following to say on Lane Keister’s Greenbaggins blog. It’s nice to see some people on Lane’s blog can see through the clever trick being played by Wilson on the unsuspecting Keister. Since Keister won’t listen to me, perhaps he’ll listen to this fellow Vantilian since he nailed it.

    Re: faith and obedience:

    It’s definitely not necessary to agree with everything Sean Gerety says, but he made an interesting point about the FV view of faith and obedience:

    “…Wilson…disingenuously claimed works done in faith are not works at all, but are rather acts of obedience. Therefore, according to Wilson and the other signers of the JFVP, obedience was necessary for Adam to fulfill the CoW whereas “works” were not.”

    It appears that the FV purpose in claiming that faith is obedience is so that they can affirm a super additum view with respect to Adam. Adam was not required to merit life by works (as the traditional COW teaches) but by obedience. Adam’s obedience was by faith, so that faith constituted his obedience, and his fall was caused by lack of faith (disobedience). It was not disobedience to law, nor failure to work, nor failure to maintain righteousness, but rather unbelief – a fall from grace – the super-added gift.

    Similarly, in FV justification, works are not included with faith, but obedience is. That is to say, faith is obedience, just as it was for Adam. Thus, we are justified not by faith only, but by faith-works, that is, by the obedience of faith, the same faith Adam had. And just as Adam lost his faith, so Christians can lose their faith and be cast out. The conditionalism of the COW is thus transferred to the covenant of grace by the specious distinction between obedience and works. It’s just a subterfuge for super additum thinking.

    http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2008/06/23/i-wonder/#comments

  12. raykikkert Says:

    I was in contact with Rev. Stewart and he relayed that they have too much on their plate at present. It was thought best that The Trinity Foundation look after the matter of translation of the works themselves.
    It would not be fair to say yes to a work, if you have enough on your plate already, and never get around to the extra work you took on.

    The least I could do was ask.

    I would also think that with a little help, The Trinity Foundation could put into place the resources to translate the work.
    I sincerely hope they do and find dedicated men to translate the work as a labor of love to the Lord.
    Maybe men like yourself Paijo could help out in some way.

  13. RubeRad Says:

    Red flags should have been waving immediately by Wilson’s surreptitious misuse of James 2 (specifically James 2:26) as relating to forensic justification.

    Don’t miss Calvin’s commentary on James 2! It’s so simple, straightforward, clear, orthodox, … it’s beautiful!


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