Archive for the ‘John Robbins’ category

The Myth of Natural Law

August 15, 2018

 

cap freedomI recently had a troubling exchange on a “Gordon Clark Discussion” Facebook page where a participant made the following statement:

Libertarianism’s axiom is the non-aggression axiom, which means it is never OK to initiate aggression against person or property. Christians ground this axiom as a principle in divine natural law … Anarcho-capitalism is simply the Bible consistently applied.

I wondered where someone could possibly get this idea, even asserting that Christianity has anything to do with “natural law,” much less someone on a Gordon Clark discussion group.  As it turns out it’s from a group calling themselves “Reformed Libertarians.” This became clear when another person posted a piece by Brandon Adams titled, “Natural Law: Greek or Hebrew?”  In his article Brandon positively extols the so-called “natural law” as normative, even Christian.  Brandon writes:

… there is disagreement over the content and source of natural law. Greek natural law and Isralite natural law are seeking to answer two different questions. Greek natural law asks “What is man’s good?” Hebrew natural law asks “What does God require of man?” The Christian is going to answer “What is man’s good?” with “Doing what God requires,” so there will be a great deal of overlap. But the two questions are distinct…. When we talk about the importance of natural law for a biblical political philosophy on this site, we are not at all endorsing the use of fallen man’s reasoning from the general principle of “seek what is good” to specific conclusions about civil government. Rather, we are simply referring to the fact that the precepts of the moral law are binding on all men from all time. There can be no appeal to natural law in distinction from revealed law in Scripture because the two are the same. Nothing can be deduced from natural law that cannot also be deduced from Scripture. (emphasis mine)

The idea that “natural law” and the revealed law in Scripture are one and the same is absurd. Calling one “Greek” and other “Hebrew” misses the point.  There is no natural law. And, the assertion that “nothing can be deduced from natural law that cannot also be deduced from Scripture” is demonstrably false.  There are any number of things that can be logically deduced from the vagaries of  “natural law” and the non-aggression axiom that cannot possibly be deduced from Scripture. One of the most glaring examples of this in Libertarian circles is Murray Rothbard’s argument defending the natural right of parents to starve their own children to death:

Applying our theory to parents and children, this means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive. (Again, whether or not a parent has a moral rather than a legally enforceable obligation to keep his child alive is a completely separate question.) This rule allows us to solve such vexing questions as: should a parent have the right to allow a deformed baby to die (e.g., by not feeding it)? The answer is of course yes, following a fortiori from the larger right to allow any baby, whether deformed or not, to die.

Then “Mr. Libertarian” adds this reassuring parenthesis:

(Though … in a libertarian society the existence of a free baby market will bring such “neglect” down to a minimum.)

Now, listen, little Johnny, if Mommy and Daddy don’t starve you to death we can always sell you to the highest bidder so be sure to brush your teeth.  Sleep tight.

Isn’t the “libertarian society” wonderful.

If you study Rothbard’s horrific argument his conclusions logically follow from his premises inexorably. The inherent absurdity of the non-aggression principle is not lost on Matt Zwolinski writing at Libertiaranism.org, even if it is seemingly lost on those writing at the “Reformed Libertarian”:

It’s one thing to say that aggression against others is wrong. It’s quite another to say that it’s the only thing that’s wrong – or the only wrong that is properly subject to prevention or rectification by force. But taken to its consistent extreme, as Murray Rothbard took it, the NAP [the non-aggression principle] implies that there is nothing wrong with allowing your three year-old son to starve to death, so long as you do not forcibly prevent him from obtaining food on his own. Or, at least, it implies that it would be wrong for others to, say, trespass on your property in order to give the child you’re deliberately starving a piece of bread. This, I think, is a fairly devastating reductio of the view that positive duties may never be coercively enforced. That it was Rothbard himself who presented the reductio, without, apparently, realizing the absurdity into which he had walked, rather boggles the mind. – Six Reasons Libertarians Should Reject the Non-Aggression Principle

While there are many things attractive about Libertarianism to include its belief in limited constitutional government, the acceptance and adherence to Austrian economics as an approximation of biblical economics, and even the non-aggression principle if only as a crude measure to identify some examples of government overreach, what is troubling is there are a number of young Christian men, some even calling themselves Scripturalists, who don’t seem to realize that in their youthful infatuation with Libertarianism and the non-aggression axiom that they end up juggling two competing and mutually exclusive axioms.  That’s because the non-aggression axiom is grounded on “natural law” theory, whereas the precepts of  Christianity are grounded on the axiom of the Bible alone.  To confuse the two, or even to equate them, is a fatal error.  Besides, the very idea of natural law fails before it even starts, as Gordon Clark explains in his Essays on Ethics and Politics:

The theory of natural law commits a major logical blunder when it tries to deduce a normative conclusion from descriptive premises. No matter how carefully or how intricately one describes what men do, or what the provisions of nature are, or how natural inclinations function, it is a logical impossibility to conclude that this is or is not what men ought to do. The is never implies the ought. This criticism applies to all empirical theories.

John Robbins writing in Freedom and Capitalism calls this “Hume’s Gap.” As Robbins  explains:

Law is not something that can be discovered in nature; it must be and has been revealed by God. Christian law is supernatural law, not natural law. The phrase “natural law” itself is capable of so many interpretations that anyone who advocates nature law must expend a great deal of effort explaining what he means.

Ironically, Brandon Adams quotes this last sentence above in the introduction to his article yet didn’t seem to grasp its significance when he concluded that natural law and the law revealed in Scripture are one and the same. Which is weird since only a page later in the same chapter in Freedom and Capitalism Robbins argues;

One of the principle objections to any theory of natural law is that it fails to take into account the fact that nature is cursed and man depraved. Nature is not normative; it is abnormal.

The doctrine of total depravity and even the historicity of the Fall are things any group calling themselves “Reformed,” even “Reformed Libertarian” should positively affirm, yet any discussion of man’s fallen and cursed state is missing from Brandon’s examination of natural law in both his imagined “Greek” and “Hebrew” varieties.

So while there may be some superficial overlap with natural law theory and the non-aggression axiom with the Christian system when it comes to things like the command not to steal or murder, the similarities begin to break down in areas like suicide, infanticide, abortion, so-called “homosexual marriage,” the legitimacy of taxation, the role of government in the administering of justice, and the list goes on. Which makes sense, because if you start with different axioms you are going to end up with different systems, any accidental coincidence between the two notwithstanding.

Contrary to Brandon above, the appeal to natural law stands in stark contrast to the revealed law in Scripture and the two are mutually exclusive for the simple reason that there is no natural law.  As Robbins explains above the precepts revealed in Scripture are supernatural, not natural, and are not discoverable in any sense (no pun intended) by the study and observation of nature.  According to Robbins “natural law” is nothing but vanity and idolatry:

Is it not obvious that only Christianity can furnish a valid ethical system precisely because it does not proport to derive law from reason or experience? David Hume … has laid an ax to the root of all efforts to devise a valid system of ethics from human experience. It it not evident that we must go out of — or rather, Someone must break into — our world in order to give us law? Only propositional revelation — only commands from the Lawgiver — can provide us with the needed ethical guidance.  Gordon Clark has formulated the Christian ethical principle in four words: “God’s precepts define morality.” Jerome Zanchius wrote that God “did not therefore will such things because they were in themselves right and he was bound to will them; but they are therefore equitable and right because he wills them.”

Those professing Christians — the Romanists and the Arminans  — who believe that natural law theory is compatible with the Bible or is even taught in the Bible itself have not grasped the implications of the first two chapters of Romans. Paul there wrote that ‘when the Gentiles (who do not have the law) do by nature the things of the law, they are a law to themselves, showing the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness with them’ (Romans 2:14-15).

Romanists and Arminians illogically conclude from this passage that natural law theory is found in and sanctioned by the Bible. But Paul says that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness; they refuse to glorify God; they are ingrates, fools, and do not like to retain God in their knowledge. He is describing all Gentiles, that is, the natural law theorists, among others. So long as they are men and are the image of God, they are responsible for their actions. Men cannot, however, construct theories upon this innate information, for their intellects are depraved: “The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Could there be a better refutation of natural law theory than that? The Gentiles, Paul says, performed some of the deeds of the law, almost, as it were, by accident. They show the work of the law written on their hearts, Paul wrote. Thus many Gentiles have never murdered anyone. But while Aristotle may never have actually murdered anyone, he recommended abortion and infanticide, and attempted to prove the existence of a finite, ignorant, anchoretic god. While the Gentiles may perform the law, Paul does not say – he says the opposite – that they can advocate or expound the divine law.… Yet this suppression of the truth is overshadowed by the idolatry involved in elevating nature – or rather, Nature – to the position of lawgiver. Natural law theorists, rather than worshipping the Creator and obeying his law, worship the creature and attempt to discover her laws. Natural law theory is, in the final analysis, a form of idolatry. What has nature to do with law? Nothing. Law is God commanding.

 

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John Robbins Quick Quote

January 10, 2015

Since Lane Kesiter has so far refused to answer any of my questions and instead complained that I have misrepresented and mangled what he said and in the process distorted the teachings of his mentor and intellectual father, Cornelius Van Til (Keister said I did so it must be true), I hope to delve more into his non answers in a future post.  I confess, it was intriguing to read him bemoaning my refusal to take  his “no contradictions in the Bible” at face value.  I mean, would he take Jeffery Meyers, James Jordan, Peter Leithart, Richard Lusk, Steve Wilkins (remember him), or Doug Wilson at face value when they all say they believe in justification by faith alone?  I hope not.  Oh, yeah, Keister did take Wilson’s claim at face value before reversing himself after it was too late.

Now, I sympathize with Keister.  As I mentioned recently in one of the discussions on this blog, it is not easy for someone like Kesiter to come out publicly against the present irrationalism as it puts him at odds with the mainstream of modern Reformed thought.  Could you imagine the fallout if he were to repudiate Scott Clark who thinks the teachings of Scripture presents to the mind of man a morass of “mystery of paradoxes”?  Look at what Herman Hoeksema and Gordon Clark, not to mention John Robbins, all went through in opposing men just like Scott Clark. Just look at the amount of garbage being hurled my way for defending something so basic as justification by belief alone against the mystery mongers like Alan Strange, Ron DiGiacom, Reed DePace, Ron Henzel, Kesiter and the others at his blog.

The professional religious class is completely dominated by irrationalists.

For a guy like Keister to reject religious irrationalism parading as Reformed thought would threaten not only his standing among his peers, but his professional standing as well.  And, I’m sure he wants to keep his job.

Concerning the Clark/Van Til Controversy Hoeksema observed:

However, even now one begins to wonder whether the real question in this controversy is not whether God, but whether his revelation to to us in the Scriptures, is comprehensible, that is, can be logically understood by the mind of man. Dr. Clark’s position is that all of Scripture is given us that we might understand it, that all of it is adapted to our human mind, so that, even though there be many things in that revelation of God which we cannot fathom, there is nothing in it that is contrary to human intelligence and logic.  And the opponents appear to deny this [they do – SG].

And if this should be the real, underlying issue [it is – SG], if the complainants take the stand that Scripture reveals things that are, not above and far beyond, but contrary to, in conflict with the human mind [they do – SG], it is my conviction that the complainants should be indicted  of heterodoxy, and of undermining all sound theology.

Either the logic of revelation is our logic, or there is not revelation.

This proposition I am prepared to defend at any time.

Sadly, and as an example of how bad things really are, all you need to do is look back at the Trinity Foundation’s founding document, The Trinity Manifesto: A Program for Our Time. John Robbins wrote about this very problem and fighting it is the reason the Trinity Foundation exists (much to the chagrin of the professional religious class).

Consider this from Robbins:

Contemporary secular intellectuals are anti-intellectual. Contemporary philosophers are anti-philosophy. Contemporary theologians are anti-theology. The irrationalism of the present age is so thoroughgoing pervasive that even the Remnant—the segment of the professing church that remains faithful—has accepted much of it, frequently without even being aware of what it was accepting. In some circles this irrationalism has become synonymous with piety and humility, and those who oppose it are denounced as rationalists—as though to be logical were a sin. Our contemporary anti-theologians make a contradiction and call it a Mystery. The faithful ask for truth and are given absurdity. If any balk at swallowing the absurdities of the antitheologians, they are frequently marked as heretics or schismatics who seek to act independently of God.

There is no greater threat facing the true church of Christ at this moment than the irrationalism that now controls our entire culture. Communism, guilty of tens of millions of murders, including those of millions of Christians, is to be feared, but not nearly so much as the idea that we, as Christian men, do not and cannot know truth. Hedonism, the popular philosophy of America, is not to be feared so much as the belief that logic—that “mere human logic,” to use the religious irrationalists’ own phrase—is futile. The attacks on truth, on revelation, on the intellect, and on logic are renewed daily. But note well: The misologists—the haters of logic—use logic to demonstrate the futility of using logic. The anti-intellectuals construct intricate intellectual arguments to prove the insufficiency of the intellect. The anti-theologians use the revealed Word of God to show that there can be no revealed Word of God—or that if there could, it would remain impenetrable darkness and mystery to our finite minds.

Nonsense Has Come

Is it any wonder that the world is grasping at straws—the straws of mysticism and drugs? After all, if people are told that the Bible contains insoluble mysteries, then is not a flight into mysticism to be expected? On what grounds can it be condemned? Certainly not on logical grounds or Biblical grounds, if logic is futile and the Bible mysterious. Moreover, if it cannot be condemned on logical or Biblical grounds, it cannot be condemned at all. If people are going to have a religion of the mysterious, they will not adopt Christianity: They will have a genuine mystery religion.”Those who call for Nonsense,” C.S. Lewis once wrote,”will find that it comes.” And that is precisely what has happened. The popularity of Eastern mysticism and of drugs is the logical consequences of the irrationalism of the twentieth century. There can and will be no Christian revival—and no reconstruction of society—unless and until the irrationalism of the age is totally repudiated by Christians.

John wrote the above in 1978. I was only a year out of high school and had first professed Christ around that time, but since then very little has change. And, as Keister has demonstrated so convincingly, it has only gotten worse.

John Robbins Quick Quote

November 26, 2014

Periodically heated discussions breakout concerning the question of assurance, arguably one of the least understood doctrines especially by those who ought to know better.  The confusion rests on the error of attempting to rest one’s assurance on the knowledge that one is saved and the claim that our blessed state can be deduced by good and necessary consequence from Scripture.  This is false.  The Westminster Confession never makes this claim even stating that assurance does not belong to the “essence of faith,” but rather is a gift that “a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it.”  It follows that if knowledge of one’s election could be deduced from Scripture, then the true believer would not have to wait long or struggle for assurance at all for; all they would need to do is simply deduce their eternal blessedness from the Scripture.

But, that my friends, is impossible.

Quite a few years ago on a Scripturalist discussion group run by Dr. Robbins, this question regarding assurance and knowledge basically brought the group to a grinding halt and no progress could be made on either side.  While Dr. Robbins did not participate in the back and forth at that time, he did offer the following insight.  I post it hear not so much to revisit this question of assurance, or even to rebuke those who find themselves on the other side of this debate, but because there is so much practical wisdom and insight into the Scripturalism of Gordon Clark in John’s response that it deserves its own post:

Folks,

It seems that when a discussion gets underway on this list some members prefer to return to the question of whether one can now know one is saved. Then follows all sorts of confusion that would take days to sort out, probably to no one’s satisfaction. So no progress is made.

First, the issue is not skepticism. Even if a sinner cannot know (in the proper sense of the word) that he is saved — and so far no one has shown that he can — Scripturalism furnishes us with many truths when all other methods fail, and so skepticism is avoided.

Second, knowledge requires explicit statements in Scripture or deductions from Scripture. It is not the same as assurance or certitude or certainty.

Third, opinions may be true or false. (It is absurd to say that some propositions are neither true nor false.) So Jack’s (a hypothetical person) opinion that he is saved may indeed be true, but no one has yet shown how he can deduce it from Scripture. Those who think he can so deduce it must show how it can be so deduced — but don’t try it here for at least a year.

Fourth, Jack’s failure is not due to any doubt about Scripture (and it is impossible to doubt a proposition one believes — one either assents or one does not) but solely to the problem of self-knowledge. He knows the major premise, All believers are saved. He opines the minor premise, I am a believer. Therefore the conclusion, I am saved, can rise no higher than opinion.

Finally, the question is not how does one know one knows? but how does one know? Scripturalism says, one knows only by explicit statements in or valid inferences from Scripture.

Now, gentlemen, move on to another topic.

JR

Filling the Breach — Justification By Belief Alone

July 23, 2014

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 moves 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 are figures 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 was 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.

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 now directly tied to the truths of Scripture; the mind of Christ.  Which makes sense since our justification doesn’t rest on anything in us, despite the aggressive and unfounded claims of Dr. Strange and others to the contrary.

John Robbins Quick Quote

June 29, 2013

Recently some of the unfounded comments made by Ron Gilbert on this blog and to me via email prompted me to again read John’s resignation letter from Midway Presbyterian Church.  In this “John Robbins Quick Quote” I would just like to focus on the unbiblical and very un-Presbyterian notion that John’s departure from the PCA was somehow a sinful breach of office while he was an Elder at Midway.  I would also recommend those interested to carefully read the reasons John gave for resigning his position here. However, since John’s good name has been attacked and he is no longer here to defend himself against one embittered former Trinity Foundation employee, and others who seem to think that it is somehow never proper. even sin,  for an elder to leave, you can call this “John Robbins Speaks From the Grave”:

Lest someone accuse my family and me of breaking our membership and ordination vows by resigning from the Session and the church, the PCA Book of Church Order recognizes and permits such resignations. Furthermore, these actions are taken in fulfillment of my vow to “strive for the purity, peace, unity, and edification of the church.”  There can be no Christian purity, peace, unity, or edification except on the basis of the Gospel. Subjection to the Elders is not absolute, but limited by the phrase “in the Lord.” When Elders refuse to correct men who are teaching a false gospel; when Elders criticize those who do their duty by identifying false teaching as false; and when Elders fail to warn the sheep of danger, to remain submissive to them is to be rebellious to Christ.

John Robbins Quick Quote

June 26, 2012

I have been taking a bit of a break from blogging, but don’t want to ignore it entirely.   So here is an old comment from Dr. Robbins in response to one of Clark’s many critics that infested the old Yahoo groups “Clark discussion list”:

John says that he has written that we may know — that is, it is the writing — the Scripture — that gives us knowledge. He does not say that extra-Biblical knowledge — if there could be such a thing — is needed. He says the Scripture is sufficient. In that he agrees with Paul in 1 Timothy, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, etc. One who believes the Gospel, whether he is assured or not, can have the true belief that he is saved. When Clark spoke of deduction, I suppose he had in mind a syllogism such as the one I suggested earlier:

All who believe the Gospel are saved.
I believe the Gospel.
Therefore, I am saved.

Now the question is, Can we be mistaken about whether we believe the Gospel?  Yes, we can. Do you deny that? It is not possible that the proposition “All who believe the Gospel are saved” is false. That is a revealed truth. But we may deceive ourselves about what the Gospel is, and about our own state of mind. Christ says that many church leaders will appear before him on the last day, assured of their salvation, only to be thrown into Hell. That is, they believe, incorrectly, the proposition “I am saved” to be true. They are assured of eternal life, but they do not know they have it. Assurance is a state of mind, not a quality of propositions. Biblical assurance comes from believing the Word of God, as John says.

…There are many warnings in Scripture — take heed, lest you fall — that the Arminians have misused to teach that a person can lose his salvation, but which in my opinion bear on this very question of self-deception. If anyone wants to be assured of his salvation, he must stop looking at himself and look only at Christ. The error of those in Matthew 7 who are turned into Hell is that they cite their own accomplishments, not Christ’s.  – Robbins  (#406)

*See also “Justification and Judgement” by John Robbins.

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.


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