Archive for December 2011

Augustine on Saving Faith

December 26, 2011

In What is Saving Faith, Gordon Clark defines faith as assent to an understood proposition and saving faith as assent to the understood propositions of the gospel. For Clark, what differentiates ordinary faith from saving faith is not some elusive and ill-defined third element which, or so we’re told, completes faith.  Rather, what separates faith from saving faith are the propositions believed.  Clark further critiques the popular three fold definition of faith as a combination of understanding, assent, and trust (or notitia, assensus and fiducia for those who get all warm and fuzzy when they see Latin) showing that it has historically resulted in nothing but confusion and should be abandoned.  Central to Clark’s critique is that the addition of trust (or fiducia) adds precisely nothing to faith’s definition and is rather an unnecessary redundancy that is equivalent to defining a word with itself.  This is a form of the fallacy of definition and, as anyone with any familiarity with Clark knows, Clark did not like to have his theology mixed with fallacies.

For example, under Fallacies of Definition Wikipedia lists defining a word with a synonym:

A definition is no good if it simply gives a one-word synonym. For example, suppose we define the word “virtue”—an important word in ethic— by just using the word “excellence.” It might be perfectly true that all virtues are excellences and all excellences are virtues, but the word “excellence” itself is not a good definition of “virtue” in philosophy. One can always simply ask, “But what does ‘excellence’ mean?” Surely, if one has a basic confusion about what “virtue” means, then one may also have a basic philosophical confusion about what “excellence” might mean.

Now, Clark wrote What is Saving Faith long before there was a Federal Vision controversy, but what he pointed out, and what a lot of people on both sides of the FV divide continually fail to grasp, is that faith or belief (which are both translations in Scripture of the same Greek word pistis) is synonymous with the word trust.  Seems obvious enough to anyone who speaks English, which explains why English is not the preferred language of Theologians.  That’s because to believe someone or to have faith in someone is to trust in what they say and to trust someone is to believe or have faith in what they say.  Simply put the words “trust” and “believe” are synonymous.  In response to R.C. Sproul’s confused but typical (mis)understanding of saving faith, John Robbins argued:

Notice that Sproul here uses the verbs “believe” and “trust” interchangeably, as synonyms. This is both good English and sound theology. Belief, that is to say, faith (there is only one word in the New Testament for belief, pistis) and trust are the same; they are synonyms. If you believe what a person says, you trust him. If you trust a person, you believe what he says. If you have faith in him, you believe what he says and trust his words. If you trust a bank, you believe its claims to be safe and secure. Strictly speaking, trust is belief of propositions in the future tense, such as “he will be good to me” or “this bank will keep my money safe.” This is important, because Sproul’s incorrect analysis of saving faith, his splitting it up into three parts, the third part being trust, depends on denying that belief and trust are the same thing. But here he correctly implies they are the same by using the words interchangeably.

In contrast, a man who is unconcerned with having fallacies litter his theology and who I am quite sure gets all tingly at the sound of Latin (after all it is the traditional language of the religious elites particularly those members of the Roman priesthood), is Federal Visionist James Jordan.   Jordan, like all Federal Visionists, makes good use of the tautological nature of the three fold definition of faith by attaching a meaning to the idea of “trust” or “fiducia” which is not  synonymous with the word “faith.”  Writing on Doug Wilson’s blog, Jordon stews:

The followers of Gordon Clark say that faith is notitia and assensus, but not fiducia. They have been objecting to historical Calvinism ever since the 1930s. They object to the so-called FV for the same reason: We say that faith involves loyalty, fiducia.

Notice, for Jordon  trust is not belief in propositions in the future tense, such as “he will be good to me” or “this bank will keep my money safe.”  No, for Jordon and his fellow FVists to trust means to be loyal.  And, for Federal Visionists being loyal means to live our lives in conformity to the demands of the covenant that God has imposed on us by virtue of the magic waters of baptism and the mumblings of an FV priestling.  It’s not receiving and resting on Christ’s righteousness alone — His covenant faithfulness — completely outside of us or apart from anything that might be wrought in us as a result of our own ongoing sanctification.  Rather, justification by faith — even faith alone — includes our ongoing sanctification which is the instrument of our justification (something the FV men divide into two part; initial justification via the waters of baptism and final justification on the basis of our works or ongoing loyalty). (more…)

5th Century Lessons for Today

December 24, 2011

While you are rushing around shelling out cash for all those last minute Christmas presents that hopefully included a Kindle or some other e-reader, if not for a loved one at least for yourself,  I wanted to take a moment and recommend some of the free e-books available at Monergism books.  I think I can safely recommend them all with the exception of the one selection by Douglas Jones (anything coming from Doug Wilson’s Canon Press is poison).

With that one caveat aside, I recently downloaded Augustine’s Anti-Pelagian Writings and just finished the rather lengthy introduction by B. B. Warfield.  I probably shouldn’t even have started this as I have also recently purchased Augustine’s massive City of God  and I’m barely through the first book.  Besides, I didn’t even think I would be remotely interested in the Pelagian controversy as the doctrines of original sin and free will have been settled, at as far as I’m concerned, centuries ago even if the belief in free will is alive and well if only in the form of semi-Pelagianism (something Augustine wrestled with toward the end of his life) or in its slightly more refined “Evangelical” form of synergism,  Arminianism.

That said, what immediately caught my attention was how early in the controversy Pelagius was able to avoid prosecution and even had his teachings temporarily vindicated through a clever manipulation of the meaning of the word “grace.”  Quoting Augustine Warfield writes:

“For if these bishops had understood that he meant only that grace which we have in common with the ungodly and with all, along with whom we are men, while he denied that by which we are Christians and the sons of God, they not only could not have patiently listened to him, — they could not even have borne him before their eyes.” The letter then proceeds to point out the difference between grace and natural gifts, and between grace and the law, and to trace out Pelagius’ meaning when he speaks of grace, and when he contends that man can be sinless without any really inward aid. It suggests that Pelagius be sent for, and thoroughly examined by Innocent, or that he should be examined by letter or in his writings; and that he not be cleared until he unequivocally confessed the grace of God in the catholic sense, and anathematized the false teachings in the books attributed to him.

When initially examined, Pelagius affirmed God’s grace in salvation, but what he meant by “grace” is the natural endowment of a soul free from the stain of sin at birth and possessing a free and undetermined will which is able to choose either good or evil.  Augustine was keenly aware of how this subterfuge worked:

And they found such a device as this….’Because I defend man’s free will, and say that free will is sufficient in order that I may be righteous,’ says one, ‘I do not say that it is without the grace of God.’ The ears of the pious are pricked up, and he who hears this, already begins to rejoice: ‘Thanks be to God! He does not defend free will without the grace of God! There is free will, but it avails nothing without the grace of God.’ If, then, they do not defend free will without the grace of God, what evil do they say? Expound to us, O teacher, what grace you mean? ‘When I say,’ he says, ‘the free will of man, you observe that I say “of man”?’ What then? ‘Who created man?’ God. ‘Who gave him free will?’ God. ‘If, then, God created man, and God gave man free will, whatever man is able to do by free will, to who grace does he owe it, except to His who made him with free will?’

It guess it is true that as much as things change they stay the same.  Heretics in every century are expert in employing words in ways that their opponents will accept as orthodox while at the same time attaching meanings to those words that are anything but.  A good recent example is how Federal Visionists have been able to exploit the relative ambiguity around the meaning of the word “faith” which has allowed them to appear, at least to some, as if they were affirming the central doctrines of the Gospel, even justification by faith alone.  Like Pelagius, these false teachers have been amazingly resourceful in subverting the traditional tri-fold definition of saving faith by including works (or obedience) as an integral definitional and “fiducial” component of faith.   A good example of this subterfuge, and since I mentioned him earlier,  is Douglas Jones’ claim in the pages of Doug Wilson’s Credenda Agenda that knowing is doing.  Jones asserts:  “In contrast to this prevailing view of knowledge as merely mental, Scripture assumes that knowledge is primarily a kind of bodily doing.”  It shouldn’t be hard to see how from Jones’ epistemological perversion of knowledge as a “kind of bodily doing,” that men like Wilson arrive at the notion that believing is also doing and justification by faith alone really means justification by faith plus works or simply justification by our own faithfulness.

Another interesting facet arising from the Pelagian controversy was Augustine’s flirtation with traducianism or the belief that the creation of the soul is not a separate and immediate work of God (creationism) but rather is a result of natural generation.  As many of the readers of this blog may already know, Gordon Clark was very much a defender of traducianism (see The Biblical Doctrine of Man).  The reason the origin of the soul was important is because Pelagius argued that since God immediately created the soul of every man it follows that man cannot be born with the stain of Adam’s sin without making God sin’s author.  One way around this argument was traducianism.  Warfield again: (more…)

Foreign Aid Follies

December 13, 2011

By Steve Matthews

In a recent piece titled The Bible, Blowback and the Bomb, I used the rhetoric from the November 22 Republican foreign policy debate to discuss the dangers inherent in the militarist foreign policy favored by most of the candidates.  But bellicosity was not the only bit of foolishness on display that night.  Another ritual abuse of the US taxpayer, foreign aid or foreign assistance as the State Department likes to call it, was a subject of some debate as well.

Most of the Republican candidates seemed to agree that foreign aid, if used in the service of a good cause and given to the right people, was sound policy.  This, of course, is the same view held by the Democrats.  The difference between the two parties is not over whether foreign aid is a good thing – they both agree that it is – but merely over who should receive it.  For their part, Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton have made clear whose interest they believe should be served at taxpayers’ expense:  the homosexual lobby.

A piece in the New York Times has reported that,

The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that the United States would use all the tools of American diplomacy, including the potent enticement of foreign aid, to promote gay rights around the world.

Now that’s what I call your tax dollars at work.  But despite the high profile announcement, the administration was rather vague about how it actually plans to implement this new strategy.  For the article adds,

Neither Mr. Obama nor Mrs. Clinton specified how to give the initiative teeth.  Caitlin Hayden, the National Security Council’s deputy spokeswoman, said the administration was ‘not cutting or tying’ foreign aid to changes in other nation’s practices.

Color me cynical, but this strikes me as laughable.  Think of how often the federal government has threatened to withhold highway funds from this or that state unless it goes along with the latest diktat from Washington on some generally unrelated issue.  Do they really expect anyone to believe it will work differently in this case?  The old saying is still applicable, “he who pays the piper calls the tune.”

This initiative is an example of what the Obama administration has termed “smart power,” a policy that emphasizes development and diplomacy as a complement to American military power.  In other words, smart power’s aim is to provide a welfare carrot to go along with the warfare stick.  Or put it still another way, the Obama administration’s policy is if you can’t bomb ’em, bribe ’em.

So just how smart is this “smart power”?  In the eyes of those who wield it, “smart power” appears the very height of wisdom.  But God calls their wisdom foolishness, and he does so for at least two reasons.  In the first place, the Bible nowhere sanctions foreign aid.  The job of governors is to punish evil doers (Rom. 13:4), not take money from citizens and then to give it to foreign governments for the purpose of social engineering (or for any other reason for that matter).  When magistrates go beyond their limited, biblical mandate to punish evil doers and instead seek to use public money to advance pet projects, they are guilty of breaking the eighth commandment, God’s prohibition against theft.

Second, the objective of the administration’s “smart power” initiative – the advancement of the homosexual rights agenda – is sinful in itself regardless of the source of the money, because homosexuality, or sodomy as it is also know, is a sin.  The Bible calls it an abomination.  And those who engage in sodomy, as the Westminster Larger Catechism correctly notes, are guilty of breaking the seventh commandment. (more…)

John Robbins Quick Quote

December 8, 2011

In his excellent and timely piece, The Bible, Blowback, and the Bomb, Steve Matthews provides a link to a 1991 Trinity Review by John Robbins, Truth and Foreign Policy. I strongly recommend both articles for careful study and reflection; especially if you’re a Republican voter in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina. It’s time that the Bible, and not knee-jerk jingoism and blind faith in multi-point plans offered by well-quaffed self-styled visionaries,  inform our political choices.

There are good reasons why the new boss is same as the old boss and why we are routinely fooled again.  These two pieces explain why.

Here is a small sample from the Robbins piece that succinctly contrasts a very popular and even religious foreign policy with the biblical one:

Alfred Thayer Mahan, the apologist of naval power at the turn of the century, thought of America’s “unwilling acquisition of the Philippines” in these terms: “[T]he preparation made for us, rather than by us…is so obvious as to embolden even the least presumptuous to see in it the hand of Providence.” Circumstances not only justify the action, sometimes they lend it divine authority.

Had King David been guided by Mahan’s notion of the guiding hand of Providence, rather than by the Biblical idea of obedience to God’s laws, Old Testament history would have been quite different. When King Saul was trying to kill David, and David was fleeing from him and his troops, Saul

“came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.) Then the men of David said to him, ‘This is the day of which the Lord said to you, “Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.”’ And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe. And he said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.’ So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul. And Saul got up from the cave and went on his way.”

Here was the “guiding hand of Providence” if ever it had displayed itself. It led Saul into the cave where David and his men were hiding. David could have killed Saul while he napped. David’s men, like Alfred Mahan, urged him to seize the moment; they even quoted a prophecy to lend the sanction of God to their opinion. But David, who was truly a man after God’s own heart, knew that they were wrong. His obligation was to obey God’s command not to harm the king. He could not tell what God’s purposes were by reading the circumstances. As it turned out, God’s purpose, or one of God’s purposes, was to test David to see whether he would obey God rather than leaning on his own understanding of circumstances. David passed the test; his men would have failed had David not restrained them.

The Bible, Blowback, and the Bomb

December 3, 2011

By Steve Matthews

For the most part, the Republican foreign policy debate held November 22 was a contest among the candidates for the title of who could bomb, sanction, no-fly zone, and occupy the greatest number of countries with the biggest, most expensive military toys. The underlying premise – that the US has the right, indeed the obligation, to do all these things – went unchallenged except by one individual.  I would like to explore this premise further, but before I do, I wish to make two points.

First, the Bible is the sole source of truth about how to conduct foreign policy.  It likely seems odd to most people, even to most Christians, to suggest that the Bible has anything to say about foreign policy, let alone to suggest that it is the sole source of truth on the subject.  Secularists despise the Bible for its message.   In their view it is unscientific, unloving, unforgiving, judgmental, out of date, racist, sexist and homophobic.  Christians, who rightly reverence the Bible as the word of God, are accustomed to think of it as a book on how to get saved and live a life pleasing to God.  Of course the Bible is about those things, but there is much more to it than that.  The Bible has a monopoly on truth.  All truth, including the truth about how to conduct foreign policy.  For the Scripture says that in Christ are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” including the wisdom and knowledge necessary to conduct foreign policy.

Second, rulers and the nations they govern are not sovereign.  Governors are subject to the law of God just as much as are private citizens.  There is a tendency among some to suppose that there is one law for rulers and another for everyone else.  Governors, so goes the argument, have a special dispensation to lie, steal, blaspheme and murder if they do so in the pursuit of some stated greater good.  But the Bible tells us that, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).  There are no exceptions for governors.  Elsewhere Paul, writing about rulers, states, “for he is God’s minister to you for good” (Rom.13:4).  If rulers are God’s ministers, then they are responsible to God, that is to say they are answerable to him for their actions, not only those taken as private citizens, but also those as rulers.  And God has only one set of ethical principles:  the Ten Commandments.  These apply to all men everywhere, regardless of their station in life. (more…)

When Book Endorsements Backfire

December 1, 2011

By Brandon Adams

I recently received an email update from Monergism Books announcing new titles they have available. One of them is Isaac Watts’ “Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth”

Description: Isaac Watts is well known as the author of more than 750 beloved hymns. What most people don’t realize is that his work on logic was a standard textbook for nearly 200 years.

The Puritans were convinced that the ability to think clearly was of the utmost importance for interpreting the Bible correctly, and especially for those entering the ministry. In their minds, if a man could not think clearly, he could not interpret the Bible correctly.

In our day, common sense is not very common and clear thinking is not very clear. This book will help discipline the mind and train the reader to discern proper thinking and argumentation in seeking truth.

They nearly had me sold, until I read the only endorsement:

“Fuzzy thinking is one of the great sins of our age. Christians who seek to return to the clear-mindedness which characterized the church of previous generations will certainly welcome the reurn of this great text on logic by Isaac Watts. The clear devotion of Watts’ hymns came from a clear mind–and that was no accident.”
–Doug Wilson, National Board of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools

Talk about irony. Robbins once commented: “Indeed, one could use Wilson’s whole book as a source of examples of logical fallacies when teaching logic.” (NRAT p. 78). Wilson himself noted: “For various reasons, many of them very sad, my mind does not work the way a logic teacher’s mind ought to work” (“The Great Logic Fraud”, from The Paideia of God, p. 78)

As Robbins and Gerety note in Not Reformed At All (p. 29):

The point is not whether Wilson holds to this or that point of the “historic Reformed faith as represented by the Westminster Standards” (even while artfully misrepresenting those Standards), but whether or not his opinions contradict or undermine the system of truth summarized in those Standards and taught in the Scriptures. Christianity is a logical, propositional system, not an aggregate of disjointed thoughts and metaphors; and Wilson’s dislike of logical systems, propositions, and of logic itself, is well known. Wilson is opposed to all systems, especially theological systems. He is even opposed to arithmetic.*

*In 1999 Wilson published an essay titled “The Great Logic Fraud” in his book The Paideia of God. It expresses his revolt against excellence, precision, and logic. That essay belies any claim Wilson might make to believe the system of truth in the Westminster Confession. In the essay, Wilson even denies that 2 + 2 = 4 is true. His exact words are, for those who might find my accusation incredible, “Because of our realist assumptions in mathematics, we have come to believe that 15 + 20 = 35 is true. But it is evidently not true” (85).

Robbins provided further explanation on the Trinity Foundation website:

“Because of our realist assumptions in mathematics, we have come to believe that 15 + 20 = 35 is true. But it is evidently not true. 15 unicorns plus 20 unicorns will not get you 35 unicorns, try as you may. Of course, on the other hand, 15 turnips plus 20 turnips will result in 35 turnips, and it will do so every time. The structure of the addition table is sound, and the ‘argument’ is valid. And if unicorns existed, we would wind up with 35 of them. But this means the argument is valid, not true.” –– Douglas Wilson, “The Great Logic Fraud,” The Paideia of God, 85.

Comment: Wilson did not write this revealing essay to make the trivial point that arguments are valid (or invalid) and propositions are true (or false). He wrote it to deny that the proposition, “Fifteen plus twenty equals thirty-five” is true. Arithmetic, like logic, Wilson says, is a “great fraud.”

And Anthony C0letti added the following comment to Doug Wilson’s blog entry response:

There was a question on a e-mail list I subscribe to about whether you support a “classical education”. I’ve come to the conclusion you support a classical education while rejecting classical logic.

I posted on the list: “Wilson appears to support a classical education while rejecting classical logic by making a claim on existential import as a requirement for defining truth. 2+2=4 is not true according to Wilson because it is not linked to “real” objects. He would say 2 unicorns and 2 unicorns does not equal 4 unicorns. It seems to me that existential import is irrelevant to truth – otherwise there could be no abstract truth regarding concepts like freedom and loyalty. One could not say it is true that ‘one should love his neighbor’ because love is an abstract concept – like unicorns.”

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

This comment in Not Reformed At All directly precedes the section discussing Wilson’s obsession with “objective” “photographability”.

See also: Doug Wilson and the Problem of Propositionalism

Federal Visionist Jeffrey Meyers Could Be Charged

December 1, 2011

The Judicial Panel sent a preliminary decision to the Standing Judicial Commission in favor of sustaining the complaint brought against the Missouri Presbytery for their failure to find a “strong presumption of guilt” in their examination of Federal Visionist Jeffrey Meyers.  They recommend that the case be sent back to the MOP and that they institute process according to BCO 31-2.  This is only a proposed decision and can always be overturned when the entire SJC meets (which happened in the case of Federal Visionist Joshua Moon – see A Standing Judicial Setback).

You can read the SJC’s Judicial Panel’s arguments here.  I think their recommendation sustaining the complaint is a pretty good indicator of how the SJC might decide (and certainly should decide) in the Leithart case, although it’s not a given as already noted.   I only wonder if Meyers is stupid enough to stick around and face a trial  or whether he’ll pull a Wilkins.  Either way, the writing is on the wall and it’s time for these FV men to go.


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