Greenbaggins – Stuck in the Mud

It is sad when you see someone stuck knee deep in mud. It’s ever sadder when they reject the hand they’ve been given as their boots are sucked from their feet and they’re now standing thigh high in the muck. That’s the picture I get watching PCA pastor, Lane Keister, as he continues to play pat-a-cake with Federal Vision’s apologist and salesman, Doug Wilson. For close to a year now, Lane has been going around and around with Wilson on the question of what constitutes the “aliveness” of faith in relation to justification. No matter what angle he attacks this same question he ends up sinking deeper in the mire. Consider this from Lane’s most recent blog in response to Wilson:

I will try one last time to make the point about the living nature of faith and its relation to justification. We both agree that justifying faith is alive. The WCF says this: “is no dead faith” (WCF 11.2). Contrary to the criticisms of FV proponents (especially in the horrible caricatures in the book A Faith That Is Never Alone), I know of NO Reformed scholar who says that we are justified by a dead faith. I know of no Reformed scholar who even hints at this. I know of dozens of Reformed scholars who say the aliveness of faith is not what justifies us.

Needless to say, this is confusing right from the outset. According to Lane, and the unnamed Reformed scholars he elicits for support, we are justified by an alive faith (since no Reformed scholar says we justified by a dead faith), yet it’s not the “aliveness of faith” that justifies us. It would seem we are justified and not justified by an alive faith. In an attempt to make this confused and seemingly contradictory view of faith even more unclear, Lane continues:

The best way I can put this is to say that the aliveness of faith is a sine qua non, but is not part of the inherent structure of justification. Of course the person who stretches out his arm to catch a ball has to be alive to do that. But his being alive is not an action inherent in stretching out his arm. Maybe I can put it this way: states of being are distinct from actions, just like verbs of being are distinct from verbs of action. We must distinguish then between the state of being alive and the verb of action of what faith does in laying hold of Christ’s righteousness. To put it another way, our aliveness can have no object. It is inherently reflexive. But faith’s action in justification takes a direct object: the righteousness of Christ. I really think this is as clear as I can be.

Lane attempts to explain the figurative language of the Confession concerning dead faith with an even more vague and confusing figure of a disremembered arm catching a ball and the distinction of “verbs of being”as opposed to “verbs of action.”  Maybe it’s just me, but how is any of this either helpful or clear? Lane adds; “ I don’t see any reason why Doug should disagree with this, either.” Let’s hope so, because I have no idea what Lane is talking about.  Frankly, I suspect Lane doesn’t either, which is why he has resorts to vagaries and word pictures.

Quite some time ago while discussing Gordon Clark’s definition of faith, Lane agreed that to believe someone and to trust them mean the same thing; that belief and trust are synonymous. Therefore, it follows that the third and so-called essential element that makes ordinary faith saving, sometimes called “fiducia” or simply trust (for those not particularly impressed by the Latin), adds precisely nothing to the definition of faith. It is the linguistic equivalent of saying that what makes belief saving is belief. And, let’s face it, the emptiness of defining a word with itself is something all the word pictures and vagaries can never change.

This is why every pastor who tries to explain the difference between faith and saving faith as the difference between, say, believing a chair will support your weight and actually sitting on it, or believing a bank is a safe place to keep your money and only trusting it when you actually deposit your cash, is blowing just so much pious sounding wind. That’s because there is nothing comparable to sitting on a chair or depositing one’s money in a bank with believing the Gospel. Either one believes the Gospel or he doesn’t. Faith is a purely intellectual act, which explains why sensate and natural men like Wilson cannot grasp it. One either understands and assents to the Gospel message or they do not. Those who do, and to whatever degree, are saved persons and those who don’t are not. As Gordon Clark put it: “There is nothing in the spiritual situation analogous to depositing the currency [or placing one’s bottom on a chair]. There is believing only: nothing but the internal mental act itself. To suppose that there is, is both a materialistic confusion and an inadmissible alteration of the Scriptural requirement (The Johannine Logos,117).”

Perhaps if Lane paid closer attention to Clark, not to mention the Scriptural requirement, he wouldn’t be sitting for nearly a year covered in mud as he continues to embrace Wilson as his slightly confused brother in Christ.

Interestingly, when asked about John Robbins view of faith in his combox, which was unfailingly consistent with Clark’s own view and one that would have saved Lane from falling thigh high in the muck, Lane wrote:

Hmm. Robbins and his crowd seem to me to be in danger of denying that justifying faith is alive, which is what the confession says. Now, they may say that assent is alive.

Both Robbins and I reject human works as being any part of justifying faith. I think Robbins would unnecessarily exclude many other Reformed authors from being orthodox, because I think he drew the line in the wrong place. He himself was Reformed. I don’t doubt that credential one bit. But he called a lot of people un-Reformed who were in fact Reformed, and he blamed a lot of people for problems that they didn’t cause (Van Til being the obvious one). Furthermore, Robbins didn’t seem to know how to love people very well. Even my father, who is a Gordon Clark fan (was his best friend when they both taught together at Covenant Collete), had run-ins with Robbins.

It is striking how Lane has no problem showing his own personal animus toward Dr. Robbins on his blog and elsewhere on the Internet. However, considering Robbins view of faith was consistent with Clark’s, is Lane saying that Dr. Clark was also in “danger of denying that justifying faith is alive”? At least by extension, it would seem so, but where is the argument? On a side note, I have to wonder what Dr. Robbins did to Lane to deserve such an unprovoked, personal and public attack?

Further, where is the evidence that John “called a lot of people un-Reformed who were in fact Reformed”? I’ve read virtually everything John had ever published, including his long out of print book on Pat Robertson along with a couple of articles that John cringed when I mentioned them, but I have never read anything where he called someone “un-Reformed” when they were in fact Reformed. He did call Doug Wilson positively un-Reformed, but I hardly think even Lane can take issue with that.  Then again, maybe he does? Needless to say Lane is notably more accommodating to Doug Wilson and his crowd than he’s ever been to Robbins and his.

Also, where is the evidence that “Robbins didn’t seem to know how to love people very well”? What a bizarre thing to say and how could Lane possibly know this?  Has Lane been hanging around Charismatics or is now one himself and can somehow peer into a man’s soul?  As for me, when I read John’s work I see a man who loved the Lord and who had an uncompromising love for the Gospel and who was deeply concerned with the false gospel of the Federal Vision that continues to spread throughout the Church, oddly enough with Lane’s help, and who devoted the last decade of his life trying to expose and stop it.

Lane even accuses John of bearing false witness and for blaming “a lot of people for problems they didn’t cause (Van Til being the obvious one).” Again, perhaps obvious to Lane, but where is the evidence? As for Van Til, John is not the only person to see a direct link between Van Til’s epistemic and theological distinctives with the Federal Vision. In his concluding remarks in The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision, E. Calvin Beisner clearly identifies the root cause of the Federal Vision:

I suspect that this objection to logical systematization-and to its use as a critical tool to test for falsehood by uncovering logical inconsistency-rests, for at least some of them, on their embrace of Cornelius Van Til’s epistemology and apologetic, an important element of which is reticence as to (or perhaps even hostility to) the use of logic in theology. But antipathy to logic is contrary both to Scripture (Isaiah 5:29: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”) and to the overwhelming practice of Reformed theologians. (320-321)

Will Lane now accuse Beisner of blaming Van Til for a problem he didn’t cause or was Beisner just unloving?

Moreover, I’ve noticed that whenever Clark is discussed, or whenever anyone remotely considered in Clark’s “crowd” is even mentioned, Lane always brings up what great pals his Dad and Clark were as if this were somehow relevant or proof of something unsaid.  In this case, Lane uses his Dad’s long ago friendship with Clark to insinuate that Robbins was somehow out of control, even having “run-ins” with Clark’s close friends.  Again, where is the evidence? Further, what constitutes a “run-in”? Is it merely disagreeing on some point or something more akin to vehicular homicide?  I’ve had my share of run-ins with Lane, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love him.  Further, why should anyone care and how is it relevant? Yet, in contrast to Lane’s vented spleen, Dr. Clark had enormous respect for John, even entrusting all of his manuscripts to his care, publication and preservation.

Finally, I would encourage my readers to keep a close watch on Lauren Kuo’s involvement on Lane’s blog. My guess is she’s about to get Lane’s famous left-foot of fellowship out the back door as she came perilously close to revealing her own experience in one of the PCA’s Federal Vision churches – a church that happens to be the sister church of Lane’s brother and PCA church elder, Arne Keister. You can read about Lauren Kuo’s experience here and Arne Keister’s sister church here.

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15 Comments on “Greenbaggins – Stuck in the Mud”

  1. Monty L. Collier Says:

    John Robbins was never afraid to correct my theology when he caught me in a mistake. He was fearless when it came to the truth. John never candy coated his analysis of my theology: He was always straight to the point. John was simply dedicated to presenting and defending the truth of Scripture. God used him well. I truly believe that John was the greatest Calvinist since Gordon H. Clark. I have never met anyone who could communicate so much valuable knowledge in a few simple sentences. John could tell you exactly what books you needed to study. He would often answer my questions with: “Have you read this book? (I would say “no.”) Well, You can find the answer in that book.” This led to me reading many books, and that is not a bad thing.

    He was more optimistic than I am, and he always seemed glad to speak to me (even when I was obviously taking him away from his work momentarily). One of the last times I talked to John–he reminded me to be more optimistic. I really miss speaking to John.

  2. Bob S Says:

    Well, we’ll see what happens, but one thing that strikes me about GB is that the ole academic/ collegial/cordiality thing is operating to a fault. Doug’s a big fan and promoter of it too, because he gets to come across as a good ole boy, trading on his audience’s charity and ignorance instead of being a meanie calling the FV heresy/heretics. (Tain’t nothing new. Arminius was a suave character while the apocryphal story was that classis used to send somebody to synod to sit behind Gomarus and grab him when he started getting too vehement.) Not only is GB a member of the pastor club like Doug, one: he’s young, treading lightly and ain’t ready to lower the boom on anybody yet and two: he’s trying to milk the FV thing for a thesis – if he hasn’t changed to something on the Enlightenment fragmentation of knowledge – from what I remember him saying.
    IOW GB is a nice guy, but he got sucked in. His site was pretty hot for awhile, but it’s been pretty tame lately since he bought into the Doug’s not so bad, let’s just agree to discuss things/chase our tails on the merry go round. Trouble is, anybody who has been around long enough to have seen essentially what the “what became the FV” bunch did with the RPW have seen all this before. Robbins made the same comment when he nailed the Recons for constantly complaining that people hadn’t read their latest book which corrected their latest error. Like maybe they shouldn’t have been publishing/pontificating to begin with, i.e. shut up and stand down. Now.

  3. Sean Gerety Says:

    Hi Bob. I agree Lane is a nice guy who got sucked in, but perhaps suckered is the better adjective. I think his failure to correctly judge Wilson, who has frankly been quite clear in his belief that obedience and not faith alone is the instrument of justification, has become a major liability. Rather than exposing and warning people about Wilson, he says Wilson’s Federal Vision DOES NOT strike at the vitals of the faith, and, in that sense, is basically a benign theological perspective, if only a little confused.

    What’s worse is the elders he surrounds himself as his moderators and contributors, who I assume are all “nice guys” too (OK, Gary Johnson is not so nice), all seem content to let his assessment of Wilson go unchallenged. FWIW I think GB provides a great case study of why the PCA will never be able to rid herself of the false gospel of the FV.

  4. Bob S Says:

    Unfortunately, Sean, I think you might be right about Lane and the PCA. One can hope, but for that matter, I remember someone telling me that Chapt. 3 of the WCf was already toast when the PCA seceded from the old Southern Pres. , largely upon fundamentalist issues.
    Neither did the PAcific NW presbytery, that I know of, acquit themselves honorably in examining Peter Leithart’s theology.

  5. Jim Says:

    Sean,
    Regarding the distinction between faith and “saving faith” and apart from the FV issue. Would you not agree that there is such a thing as a non-saving faith? I.e. what has been called an historical faith?

  6. Sean Gerety Says:

    Hi Jim. Yes, I would very much agree that there is non-saving faith, whether someone wanted to call it an historical faith or something else. People believe all sorts of things. However, the distinction being made, at least by Clark, is not on the basis of some added psychological or some other ill or non-defined element that makes ordinary run-of-the-mill belief saving. Rather, it is the propositions believed that makes the difference between faith and saving faith. Further, As Gary Crampton points out in his piece, Faith in Hebrews 11, and referencing Clark’s What is Saving Faith:

    Gordon Clark once remarked that the Bible’s English translators could have avoided a lot of confusion if they had not used the Latin-based word “faith” and had instead simply used “believe” and “belief” throughout the English Bible, as the writers of the New Testament use pistis and pistein throughout the Greek Bible.

    I think this is spot on. I think people, even those calling themselves Protestant and Reformed, have imbued faith with so much un-biblical baggage, partially due to tradition and historic confusion, that they’ve laid themselves open to skilled charlatans like Wilson and the rest of his FV comrades. So, again, it’s not a different “kind” of faith that is non-saving, rather the difference lies in the actual things believed.

    For example, a Roman Catholic has faith in Jesus Christ, just not the Christ of Scripture, hence their faith in Jesus is non-saving because they deny His finished work and His Gospel in both profession and practice. The Romanist doesn’t lack some “fiducial” component that, if added, would save them. They lack belief in the finished work of Christ alone on their behalf, pure and simple. And, it’s precisely this lack of belief that condemns them. FWIW same is true for men like Wilson and the rest of the followers of the Federal Vision.

  7. Ben Buskey Says:

    It seems to me that when you run out of any good arguments (not to say there were any to begin with), some people then resort to shameless name calling, i.e. “Robbins didn’t seem to know how to love people very well” (abusive ad hominem). One would hope that when discussing topics like this one, we would leave the child play at the door (oops, did I just use do the same thing).

  8. Jimmy Ellis Says:

    Thanks Sean. But this takes me back to the Lordship vs Non-Lordship controversy. The Non-Lordship guys like Zane Hodges seemed to be defining saving faith as mere intellectual assent to certain facts, a la the Sandemanians. As you recall, this view was opposed by John MacArthur and many Reformed folk. While MacArthur may have overstated the matter a bit — attaching perhaps too much un-biblical baggage, guys like Michael Horton, James Montbomery Boice, and R.C. Sproul were nevertheless on his side of the issue.

    They were suggesting that assent was less than trust, therefore non-saving. You say believing is believing, it is just a matter of what, not how. Therefore, it seems, to counter the Non-Lordship guys in a Clarkian fashion, one might suggest, “Saying you believe, is not really believing, if the person and work of Christ in the gospel are practically denied.” Am I close?
    I admit I have not read enough of Clark. I need to read him more.

  9. Sean Gerety Says:

    I’m certainly no expert in the whole Lordship controversy, since I really didn’t follow it very closely, but according to Monergism.com:

    So, in fact, while the “no-Lordship” position is admirably attempting to protect the doctrine of “faith alone”, but in the process it has cast aside the biblical doctrine of “grace alone”. “No-Lordship” may believe in a salvation by grace, but not salvation by grace alone (sola gratia). That man must somehow cooperate with God to be born again, as they hold, is to say that some men innately have the natural capacity to believe, independent of God’s action of grace, while others do not. How is this different than salvation by merit?

    I’d say per the above it’s no different at all. But, I fail to see how this has any bearing on Clark or defining faith as an assent to understood propositions? For example, PCA pastor Andy Webb says that without the addition of love, which he says is an emotion, mere belief alone cannot save. But where is this emotive component that is supposed to make belief saving found Scripture? Love (which is a volition and not an emotion) would seem to me to be the result of coming to a knowledge of the truth of the Gospel, yes?

    Therefore, it seems, to counter the Non-Lordship guys in a Clarkian fashion, one might suggest, “Saying you believe, is not really believing, if the person and work of Christ in the gospel are practically denied.” Am I close?

    I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking, so I’m not sure how to answer? Are you asking are some people hypocrites who claim to be Christians but are not? Then the answer is yes.

    I admit I have not read enough of Clark. I need to read him more.

    You should pick up a copy of What is Saving Faith. Given your concerns, it’s a great place to start. I’d also recommend his monograph, Sanctification.

  10. Sean Gerety Says:

    Jimmy, let me just add this from Dr. Robbins and his intro to Clark’s “What is Saving Faith”:

    Several factors have contributed to the growing rejection of the Gospel in the churches, and one of those factors is confusion about the nature of faith. That confusion is common to those who oppose the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and to some of those who defend it. Faith, rather than being recognized as belief of a statement, that is, intelligent assent to an understood proposition—and saving faith being belief of the truth, that is, intelligent assent to Biblical propositions—rather than faith being understood in Scriptural terms, faith is seen as something more than belief—as ‘commitment to a person,’ ‘trust of a person,’ ‘encounter with a person,’ ‘surrender to a person;’ or a ‘personal relationship.’ This common viewpoint is not in accord with Scripture, for it makes a fatal dichotomy between persons and propositions, and regards faith as trust in or commitment to a person, rather than belief of a proposition.

    …Deniers of justification by faith alone may say that faith is not mere assent, for it is obedience as well. They make the vague ‘something more than assent’ definite by their assertion that saving faith includes works. This allows them — watch their sleight-of-hand carefully — to assert that justification by faith alone is true, as the Westminster Confession teaches, because they have redefined faith to include works. So when they assert that ‘justification is by faith alone,’ they mean, ‘justification is by works, too.’

    Many of those who wish to defend justification by faith alone are embarrassed because of their agreement with the deniers of justification that faith is not mere belief, not intelligent assent to an understood proposition. And they should be embarrassed, for their faulty understanding of faith has opened the door to the current widespread denial of justification by faith alone.

  11. Jimmy Ellis Says:

    Thanks for your patience, Sean. I apologize for not being more clear in my remarks. I’ll get a copy of Clark’s “What is Saving faith?”

    I take it Clark does not agree with the idea of saving faith having three parts to it, which were described by three Latin words: notitia, assensus and fiducia? This way of looking at it has a lot of Reformed backing (so to speak).

  12. Sean Gerety Says:

    Clark does break with tradition for the simple reason that it is not biblical and the addition of fiducia adds absolutely nothing to our understanding of what faith is. Clark wrote:

    The crux of the difficulty with the popular analysis of faith into notitia (understanding), assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust), is that fiducia comes from the same root as fides (faith). Hence this popular analysis reduces to the obviously absurd definition that faith consists of understanding, assent, and faith. Something better than this tautology must be found.

    Now, Clark didn’t have the rise of the false gospel of the Federal Vision to contend with, but it is telling (at least to me) how positively ineffective those who do hold the traditional tri-fold definition are in exposing the FV’s defective and deadly view of faith. I think Robbins nailed the reasons why above.

  13. Roger Mann Says:

    The Non-Lordship guys like Zane Hodges seemed to be defining saving faith as mere intellectual assent to certain facts…

    Guys like Zane Hodges were correct in defining saving faith as “mere intellectual assent to certain facts” — i.e., the true propositions of the biblical gospel:

    “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17

    “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved… For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

    But Hodges gravely erred by teaching that saving faith was generated by unregenerate man’s “free-will,” that progressive sanctification was an “optional” step for regenerate believers, and that a truly justified man could fully and finally “stop believing” the gospel and still possess eternal life. It’s a weird sort of mix between Arminianism and “once-saved-always-saved” Antinomianism.

  14. Sean Gerety Says:

    sanctification was an “optional” step for regenerate believers,

    That’s pretty much how I understood the whole debate, at least what I’ve read about it. I have a hard time thinking how such men handle James, not to mention Romans 6. While I’ve heard Clark called any number of things, antinomian was never one of them.

  15. Roger Mann Says:

    I have a hard time thinking how such men handle James, not to mention Romans 6.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read Zane Hodges book, Absolutely Free, but I believe he argued that continued repentance and sanctification ought to be our response to God’s grace, yet they are not a necessary result of regeneration and faith in Christ. It logically follows from his erroneous “free-will” theology. We “freely” choose to believe the gospel and receive eternal life — which can never be taken away or lost, since it’s eternal — and we “freely” choose to submit to Christ’s Lordship and obey His commandments — which happens in varying degrees (or not at all) with each individual believer. Of course he resorts to interpretive gymnastics in order to harmonize James and Romans 6 with such a theology. It’s basically the classic Arminian heresy with “eternal security” thrown in the mix. But I’ll have to give him credit for absolutely destroying the traditional tripartite division of saving faith into notitia, assensus, and fiducia. His biblical arguments were superb in that one area.


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