Trinitarian Heterodoxy Eclipses Marriage (once again)

A pair of books were recently released entitled: Let The Men Be Men & Let The Women Be Women. As the subtitles disclose, the respective books pertain to God’s Design For Manhood And Marriage & God’s Design For Womanhood and Marriage.

This is not a review of the books but instead I offer a brief analysis on the theological appropriateness of using unqualified persons of the Trinity as an analogy for marriage.

My wife was reading to me a portion from Chapter 2 of one of the books, wherein a passing reference to the Trinity was made. The author said he’d develop the reference more in Chapter 10. Naturally, I took a quick peak at chapter 10 because some otherwise good material on wives and husbands has been disregarded over the years due to missteps having to do with Trinity analogies. One particular egalitarian Anglican-theologian who’s well versed in Trinitarian theology has capitalized on such missteps. Others have as well. Neither Baptists nor Presbyterians should want to throw the baby out with the bath water (pun intended).

In the hope that such books are a success in bringing clarity to the complementarian discussion, I thought I’d make a few comments on some direct quotes from the book on women.

My thoughts as they relate to the doctrine of God, I think, would be shared by most Reformed theologians and pastors. We might recall that they are the ones (along with an Anglican or two) who went after Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and others for their Trinity analogies to marriage in the summer of 2016. What I have, also, found unfortunate is that some biblical teaching on marriage has been dismissed, if not even scorned in the process, due to mistaken Theology Proper.

More than in Reformed Baptist circles, there are thin complementarians in the Reformed Presbyterian community. Many of these men have their Trinitarian theology down pat. So, any Trinity misstep by otherwise good men of God provides occasion for some to dismiss biblical complementarianism. This is understandable, which should cause certain Reformed Baptists to be more careful, if not solely for the sake of putting forth a biblical view of God, and secondly so that others might give attention to sound marriage doctrine.

From chapter 10:

The Trinity As A Model Of Submission

“The Trinity” is a term that defines the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – one essence and attributes, yet three in distinct work and purpose. (Emphasis mine)

We don’t want to eclipse Divine Simplicity and the inseparable operations of the Trinity. (We might recall, that was a big deal in the Trinity debate in the summer of 2016.)

Each divine Person is operative in all God’s works. Which is to say, the works of the Trinity are indivisible. Indeed, it was the Son who died on the cross, but God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (by the Spirit). In redemption there is one distinct work and purpose, carried out through the inseparable operations of Persons when Christ, by the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without blemish to God.

Trinity is not a term that seeks to define God by “relationship” within the Godhead, if by relationship we mean personal distinctions of authority and submission. The historical Christian creeds discriminate not by eternal relationships (or economic functions) but by personal properties. Accordingly, any orthodox reference to “relationship” must be interpreted as personal properties ad intra that cash out as eternal modes of being. Any eternal relationship may only be conceived of in terms of relations of eternal origin, not subject to temporal-sequence or personal roles. Historically, the church has defined Trinity in terms of the eternal origins of existence: unbegogtenness of the Father; eternal generation of the Son; and procession of the Holy Spirit.

God uses that aspect of the trinity to teach us how marriage is to work. This is the truth of 1 Corinthians 11:3 “I want you to understand the Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”As Paul is about to discuss the role of women he makes a statement about the trinity is the reason for different roles in marriage…

Paul is not making a theological statement about the Trinity but rather making application about Christ, a divine human being, submitting to his Father. In other words, the focus isn’t on the economic Trinity per se but more narrowly on economic relations of the incarnate Son as he submits as the God-man in his humanity to God, who is Christ’s head. (Matthew 27:46; John 20:17; Revelation 3:2,12) Paul’s focus is on congruous order, not Theology Proper.

Not to parse things too fine, but some have pressed the analogy too far. There is an ordering that is natural and fitting – the woman to her husband; the husband, as head, to Christ; and Christ to God.

We may glean, because Christ is Divine, there is no necessary loss of worth or dignity in personal submission, for even Christ submitted. Indeed, biblical submission is revealed in the harmony of creation. Notwithstanding, this principle of ordering mustn’t be pressed too far with respect to ontology. There are stark differences in the ordering that must be maintained, yet without losing the force of the apostle’s point.

How the analogy breaks down:

Wives and husbands share a human nature yet with distinct and separate wills, making submission not only feasible but functional. Whereas we cannot find the same ontic analogy of authority and submission in the immanent Trinity because God is of one divine essence and thereby of numerically one will (since will is indexed to essence, hence Christ’s two wills). If submission entails a plurality of wills, then there can be no submission in the ontological Trinity by the nature of the case, for one will cannot submit to itself. Accordingly, no marriage analogy may be drawn from the ontological Trinity, nor may we read submission back into the ontological Trinity from the economic Trinity in an effort to establish principles for marriage. (That should be the easy part.)

Regarding inferences relating to persons of the economic Trinity, things can get a bit trickier:

There is indeed authority and submission application to be made from 1 Corinthians 11:3, but, as already observed, we must be precise by not reading submission back into the ontological Trinity.

What I find key in the text is the reference to Christ, referring to the Son as the mediatory God-man. In other words, we may not draw application from the economic Trinity per se, but rather we must place the focus on the incarnate Christ as mediator who submits his human will to will of God. The ordering pertains to beings, not to persons without reference to being. That’s key.

Within the context of the economic Trinity there is submission of equal divine persons, but it is misleading to extend that submission, in an ontological sense, to the principle of a wife’s submission to her earthly head. The reason being, it is a divine Person as a human being who submits to a divine Being who is not a human being! In other words, Christ Jesus submitted only in his human nature to the divine will, just as we are to submit our human wills to God. Although the divine Persons are equal, the two respective wills in view are not equal in being, which is not the case with marriage. So, the ontological analogy breaks down once we tease out the relevant will of submission in the economic Trinity. I’ll try to elaborate even further.

Regarding marriage we are talking about two distinct human wills – among equal beings – that are to be brought into harmony through submission. Yet the submission of Christ does not entail equal beings. In Christ’s submission to the Father, although the persons are equal, the relevant beings are not. As a human being with a human will, Christ submits to his Father, a divine being. Therefore, that a human being, who is also a divine Person, submits as a divine Person to another divine Person (who is solely a divine being) lacks ontic analogous force as it relates to one human being who must by God’s design submit to another equal human being in marriage. Consequently, the Christ submission-analogy to marriage is not one-to-one; it cannot pertain to an equality of beings or persons, but nonetheless to a congruity and harmonious ordering of distinct and separate wills. In other words, with respect to submission in marriage, the two wills are different yet belong to equal beings. With respect to Christ’s submission to God, the wills are different too, yet of unequal beings. Therefore, the analogy is not at the point of being.

In sum, within the economic Trinity there is no ordering of wills of equal beings, but rather an ordering of a human will under the one undivided will of God. Consequently, the taxis of persons as it relates to submission in the economic Trinity is established not by persons without further qualification but by another property found in the plurality of natures of the Second Person. Christ submits to God.

(The Presbyterians seemed to grant a marriage submission analogy from the economic Trinity, which is not a concession I’d make without further qualification.)

The principle and practice of submission has been around as long as God has existed.(Emphasis mine)

“As long as God has existed” draws application not from the economic Trinity but rather the immanent Trinity. The sentiment literally implies submission exists in the eternal and one undivided will of God prior to the hypostatic union, but the Scripture proof-text refers not to the eternal Son but to the incarnate Christ. Apart from the human will, the Second Person cannot submit his will to the Father given that it’s the identical will. (God is a simple being, not composite.)

It won’t do to appeal to the ordering or taxis of the eternal and undivided will of God. For no amount of ordering of the one undivided will of God can result in a willful coming under lest we equivocate in our analogy. Even if we recognize an ordering of the one will in terms of the Son’s willingness to become man, while the Father willed that he himself not become the mediator, it’s at best a misnomer to consider a will of concomitance in terms of authority and submission. For the Son delights in the plan of God for it is the very eternal plan of the undivided Trinity. He can do no other. It’s His will! Accordingly, the triune God willed that the begotten Son be sent by the Father, which is a fitting reflection of eternal origins (given the plan of redemption).

In closing:

Given that the divine Persons of the ontological Trinity are differentiated by their eternal, personal properties of paternity, filiation and spiration, the ontological Trinity analogy should be forsaken altogether; any analogies and application should be limited to Christ in his humility per 1 Corinthians 11:3, yet I’ve just challenged how far we might be able to take even that analogy.

Within the economic Trinity there is a Divine Person with a non-divine will that makes Jesus’ submission to God both possible and fitting. Accordingly, the Christ to God authority and submission is not a Trinity consideration per se but a limited consideration grounded in the union of two natures in one hypostasis. Yet the submission of wife to husband finds its analogy to Christ to God not in an ordering of being but in creative design nonetheless.

Again, Reformed Presbyterians need this teaching on marriage. I believe we may learn much from our Calvinistic Baptist brothers and sisters. To that end, my hope is Trinity analogies would be reconsidered in new light, as I wish there to be no dismantling of any reasonable core thesis on marriage.

The Free Offer Of The Gospel, Not What You’ve Been Told!


Q. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

WSC Q&A 31


Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

Canons of Dort 2.5

The free offer of the gospel (abbreviated “free offer”) has meant different things at different times. From a confessional standpoint, it can only mean that God sincerely offers salvation to all who repent and believe. The meaning is at best narrow. The confessions do not speak in terms of God’s desire for all men to be saved; they merely teach that God promises the gift of everlasting life to all who would turn from self to Christ. This promise of life through faith is sincere. It is a genuine offer. If you believe, you will be saved. This gospel is to go out to all men everywhere.

Arminians are often quick to point out that the free offer is inconsistent with Calvinism. They reason that if the offer of the gospel is sincere and to go out to all people without exception, then God must desire the salvation of all people without exception. Otherwise, they say, the offer isn’t sincere. How can God desire the salvation of all men without exception if God as the ultimate decider of man’s salvation chooses to pass over some? In other words, Arminians reason that unless God desires to save all men, which they observe does not comport with Calvinism, the free offer of life through faith is insincere when given to the reprobate. Their axiom is that a sincere gospel offer implies a sincere desire to see the offer accepted, a well-meant offer. More on that in a moment.

The OPC’s Majority Report

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), representative of possibly most Calvinists today on the matter of the free offer, under the leadership of John Murray and Ned Stonehouse, adopted as a majority position the Arminian view that God desires the salvation of all men. While still holding fast to the Reformed view of predestination, the OPC affirmed the view that that the free offer cannot adequately be disassociated from a divine desire of salvation for all men without exception. In other words, such Calvinists assert that the genuineness of the gospel offer presupposes God’s desire that all embrace Christ.

Subsequently, the free offer has taken on the additional meaning of a well-meant offer, or desire, that the reprobate turn and be saved. Accordingly, a major difference between Arminians and such Calvinists as these is on the question of consistency.

Back to first principles. What makes an offer genuine or sincere?

Can we judge whether an offer is genuine or sincere simply based on whether it is true or not? If God intends to keep his promise, then isn’t the offer genuine? With respect to the gospel, if one meets the condition of faith, he will one day enter the joy of Lord. Isn’t that enough to make the offer of salvation sincere?

Let’s do some basic theology…

What does it mean that God desires the salvation of the reprobate? Are we to believe that God desires the reprobate to do something he cannot do, namely regenerate himself and grant himself union with Christ? Or, is that to check our Calvinism at the door? Isn’t it Jesus who saves? Isn’t salvation of God after all? At best, if we are to remain consistent with our Calvinism, then wouldn’t it follow that to argue for a well-meant offer of the gospel we’d have to posit that God desires that he himself would regenerate the reprobate unto existential union with Christ? After all, when God desires the salvation of the elect, his desire is fulfilled not through sinners giving life to themselves but by God recreating sinners in Christ according to his predestinating decree of salvation.

Aside from the question of whether God desires that unchosen persons act contrary to the decree, what does it mean for God to desire that he himself act contrary to how he determined he would act? Of course, I know no Calvinist who affirms the well-meant offer of the gospel who would say that God desires that he had elected all unto salvation, or anything like that. Yet if man cannot turn himself, as Calvinism clearly affirms, then isn’t the implication of a well-meant offer that God desires that he would turn those he has determined not to save?

Simply stated, since Calvinism affirms total depravity, wouldn’t it stand to reason from a Calvinistic perspective that if God desires someone’s salvation, God must desire that he save that person? Accordingly, the questions that should be considered in this regard are either (a) “Does God desire the reprobate to turn himself and live?” Or (b), “Does God desire that he himself turn the reprobate so that he can live?”

Given that man is blind and deaf to spiritual things and cannot do anything to turn himself Godward, how are we not strictly dealing with the theological plausibility of (b), that God desires to turn the reprobate contrary to what he has already decreed? If TULIP is true, then (a) would seem to be a non-starter.

Now then, is it reasonable to think that the Holy Spirit desires to turn the reprobate Godward when the Father, in eternity, did not choose the reprobate in Christ? Moreover, if Christ did not die for the reprobate and does not pray that the efficacy of the cross would be applied to the reprobate (John 17:9), then in what sense does God desire the reprobate’s salvation? Does God desire that for which Christ does not pray? Does the Trinity desire that persons of the Godhead work at cross purposes? Does God desire true contradictions after all? Or is this a matter of mystery? Does God have multiple wills, let alone multiple wills that are at cross-purposes? Or is this a matter of two opposing truths that we should accept by faith? Apparent contradiction or true contradiction?

Let’s face it:

Not only can God not deny himself by acting contrary to the Covenant of Redemption (CoR) by saving the reprobate whom he did not elect in Christ; 2000 years ago God acted in time sealing that inability by securing salvation only for the elect. If so, then does it not follow that for God to desire the salvation of the reprobate, we should be willing to say that God, today, desires to break the CoR and that Jesus would have died for the reprobate 2000 years ago?

Or is there a third way of living looking at this? Does God live with a sense of regret or un-fulfillment? Is God passible or impassible?

The OPC is quick to point out that they are not advocating a position entailing God both desiring and not desiring his decree. Fine, but then what does it mean for God to desire that men act contrary to his decree? Can God desire his decree while also desiring men to act in such a way that would thwart it? No amount of mystery can salvage metaphysical (or broadly logical) contradiction.

Accidental necessity:

The past and all it contemplates is necessary. Therefore, in our refutation of a well meant offer, we may develop and apply the principle of accidental necessity as it relates to God allegedly desiring to be true (the salvation of the reprobate), when it is now past and consequently necessarily false that atonement was made on behalf of the reprobate! In other words, does God desire things He has now made impossible to obtain? (This observation also pertains to the preposterous notion of Hypothetical Universalism.)

Mystery cannot save contradiction. Accordingly, any appeal to exegesis should not make God out to be internally incoherent. It’s to put forth a passible and a non-omnipotent God to declare to any particular person that God desires her salvation in particular. God desires to save only those chosen in Christ – those who are called according to His purpose – those for whom Christ first desired to save! For this is love, that Christ laid his life down for his sheep. Did God desire that Christ lay his life down for those ordained unto goats?

Let’s go a bit further:

Let x = God’s decree

Let y = The reprobation of some

If y is a fact of x, then y is essential to x. If God (as God) desires x (and is aware that y is essential to x), then we may infer that at least in some sense God’s desire for y is entailed by His desire for x. (I’m speaking in terms of God as God in order to inform our discussion of God with orthodoxy, that we might avoid strict logical possibility that is not ontologically or broadly logical.)

Can God desire x while not desiring y? If not, then in what sense does God desire the converse of y (salvation of the reprobate) given a desire for x (a plan that includes the reprobation of some)?

Let’s briefly entertain three solutions.

1 and 2. Competing desires and unfulfillment:

Some well known Calvinists have posited that God desires the salvation of the reprobate but that he desires their damnation for his own glory even more. There’s something attractive about such a theory. It makes no apology for God positively desiring his decree, which includes his decree of reprobation. The downside is that it implies competing desires within the Godhead, a priority or ordering of yearnings to arrive at one decree. Although perhaps an improvement upon another well known Calvinist’s view that suggests in some sense God is “unfulfilled“ in his desire for the reprobate’s salvation, it nonetheless leaves God longing in making a trade-off. It’s an affront on God’s impassibility.

3. Abstracting the particular from the whole in light of distinguishing desires from pleasures:

We do well to distinguish desire from pleasure. If I desire to go to the doctor but going requires I get soaking wet in the rain, which ordinary I would not desire, then in one sense I do not desire to go out in the rain but in another sense I do. I do not want to go out in the rain if we consider going out in the rain as an abstraction from the overall plan of going to see the doctor. Yet I do desire to go out in the rain if getting drenched is necessary to fulfill my desire to see the doctor. Accordingly, it’s not foreign to our own experience to desire that which is not pleasurable. Context provides relevance.

The notion of abstracting particulars from the whole can be useful in this larger discussion. Although in isolation God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked; God certainly takes pleasure in his overall decree, which he also desires. Moreover, that something isn’t pleasurable for God doesn’t mean it’s not desirable for God. God desired to punish his Son for our sins, though surely it was not pleasurable (though the overall decretive results are pleasurable). Likewise, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but he would not have decreed reprobation without having truly desired it!

God desires all the components of his comprehensive plan because they serve his desired purpose. Notwithstanding, as a matter of an isolated instance, God takes no intrinsic pleasure in punishment. As an abstraction without purpose, judgement is neither desirable nor pleasurable. Yet in the context of all things – God, his plan, his glory etc., God takes the highest pleasure in himself and his decree, which includes his just indignation against the impenitent who have been ordained to judgement (Jude verse 4) for God’s own glory.

God’s decree is eternal, free and one. In isolation we can consider something evil, but God who transcends time and space ordains evil for good. As an abstraction, God does not desire sin and reprobation for the mere sake of sin and reprobation. Rather, God often desires that which displeases him, but always in service to his glory and the good of the elect. Indeed, God takes pleasure when the wicked turns from his ways, which entails God turning the wicked from his ways! Consequently, that God takes pleasure in all who turn does not imply that God desires all would turn. We may, therefore, say that although God does not take pleasure in in the particularity of reprobation, God nonetheless desires the individuality of reprobation because he takes pleasure in the unity and purpose of the divine decree. God desires the many in so much as it serves his desire for the one. The plurality and unity entailed by the decree are equally ultimate, a reflection of God in three Persons.

In closing:

Given man’s fallen condition, for God to desire a sinner’s rebirth, God would have to desire not that dead sinners give themselves life, but that He Himself would grant life to the dead. Does God desire to regenerate those he does not desire to irresistibly draw? Secondly, given that God does not have opposing desires or in any way go unfulfilled, we should maintain that God does not desire any providence that is outside his desired decreed. We too, following Christ, are to submit our wills to God’s ultimate plan and purpose (Matthew 16:23; 26:39). Notwithstanding, God never desires sin for the sake of sin itself but for the sake of his own glory in his unified plan of creation, fall, redemption and consummation.

Although God does not desire the salvation of the reprobate, we may declare with full confidence and without equivocation: “God came to save sinners, like you and like me. Come now, receive and rest Christ as he is freely offered to you this day and you will be saved!”

This class lays the groundwork for the corruption of the free offer offer of the gospel in the context of God’s three wills of decree, precept and wisdom.

This class focuses on the free offer.

 

Proof of Infant Baptism by way of Promise and Precept

Here is a link to a SS class that presents much of the same material.

Proof-texting versus Theology

It is the hermeneutic of the cults and not that of historic Christianity that seeks merely one or two Bible verses for all true doctrine. This should come as little surprise when we pause to consider that at the heart of Christianity is the church’s confession of the Triune God, which presupposes multi-layered doctrine as it relates to a plurality of persons who share eternally one divine essence. It is no different with the church’s doctrine of Christ, which contemplates distinct natures of divinity and humanity mystically united at the incarnation in the eternal Son of God – yet without confusion, change, division or separation. These foundational doctrines of the Christian faith were derived not from one or two isolated verses but inferred from many passages of Scripture as they relate to a larger whole, a system of doctrine that became most fully developed at the time of the Protestant Reformation and now tightly fits together like pieces of a puzzle. It is by comparing Scripture with Scripture and then doctrine with doctrine that the Reformed tradition has come up with an exhaustive theology that is consistent, coherent and explanatory.

Given the theological nuance of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation of the Son of God, it should not surprise that infant baptism is not a one or two verse doctrine. After all, infant baptism is in the name of the Holy Trinity and signifies engrafting into the Son of God. All that to say, we should not be put off by the claim, “There is not a single verse in the Bible that teaches infant baptism.” The avoidance of proof-texting in exchange for a fully orbed systematic theology within which a doctrine of infant baptism resides should lead us not to doubt but instill greater confidence in the church’s practice.

It would be hazardous to try to construct a doctrine of infant baptism by looking up verses in a concordance only that pertain to baptism. If baptism is an ordinance or sacrament reserved for those who are to be regarded as God’s people, then we must seek to understand biblical precepts that pertain to marking out the people of God. In other words, the question of who is to be baptized relates to how we should define Christ’s church. If water baptism is the visible rite of passage into the visible people of God, then it must be applied to infants of professing believers if they are to be numbered among the church. Contrariwise, if infants of professing believers are not to be regarded as members of Christ’s church, then the sign of water baptism must be withheld from our covenant children – if they may even be considered covenant children!

Are infants of professing believer’s to be regarded as separate from Christ, or are they to be regarded as Christ’s inheritance? When we are told not to suffer little children from coming to Christ, are we to deny them baptism? Are they to receive Christ’s blessing but not washing? Are they to be considered outside God’s covenant people and, therefore, denied participation in the outward administration of the covenant?

Continuity versus discontinuity

If baptism is reserved for members of Christ’s church, then our doctrine of the church will inform us on the question of who is to be baptized. Under the older economy children of professing believers had an interest in the covenant. When physically possible covenant children were to be marked out as the people of God through the sign and seal of circumcision. Most Baptists and Paedobaptists agree on that point. The question of infant baptism hinges upon whether there has been a change in this Old Testament principle. Are children of professing believers no longer to be regarded as they were under the older economy? Baptists answer that question in the affirmative.

From a Reformed perspective, the Old Testament has both continuity and discontinuity as it relates to the New Testament. With respect to continuity, the old is swallowed up in the new as Christ has fulfilled the covenantal promises of God.

“For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” 2 Corinthians 1:20

God’s covenant promises are fulfilled in Christ. In Christ the promises to Israel find their yes and amen, their affirmation and confirmation. Yet in another sense, the many promises of the many covenants are essentially one specific, foundational and singular promise – that is, salvation in Christ. That is why the apostle could say to the saints at Ephesus, “remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise [singular], having no hope and without God in the world.” Ephesians 2:12

The centrality of Christ in the covenants

  • It is the promised Christ who fulfills the Adamic covenant, that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. (Mark 8:31-33; John 12:27-32; 1 John 3:8)
  • It is the promised Christ who fulfills the Noahic covenant, that God would uphold and preserve the world (so that he might save the world). (Genesis 9:8-13; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 4:3)
  • It is the promised Christ who fulfills the demands of the Mosaic covenant, as well as the outward administration of the sacrificial system. (Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Matthew 5:17; Philippians 3:9)
  • It is the promised Christ who fulfills the Davidic covenant, that one from David’s line would sit upon his throne. (2 Samuel 7:8-17; Psalm 89:3,4; Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 1:32,33; Acts 2:29-31; 1 Corinthians 15:25; 1 Timothy 6:15.)
  • It is the promised Christ who fulfills the New Covenant promise. (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:19,20)

Given the Christocentric thread of continuity, we may now turn to the continuity of God’s covenant people.

The promise to Abraham and the doctrine of the church

An astute reader may have recognized that the Abrahamic covenant was not mentioned among the covenants listed immediately above. Given the ecclesiastical implications of the Abrahamic covenant of promise, it will be treated separately and in more detail below.

The takeaway from this small section is that there is a continuity from Old Covenant to New Covenant. The common thread throughout the Bible pertains to promise and fulfillment. The centerpiece of Old Testament theology is the promised Messiah who would deliver his people from the bondage of sin and inaugurate a new age in which righteousness would be established in the earth. The covenants of promise did not center upon Israel or a promised land, but rather the various strands of promise converged, finding ultimate fulfillment in Christ alone. Christ is the Seed of the woman who crushes the serpent’s head. It is David’s Son, the ascended Christ, who sits at God’s right hand encircled by the covenant-rainbow first given to Noah as a sign of a delayed judgement (presupposing intended consummation). It is Christ who has fulfilled the demands of the Mosaic law, whereby the ordinances against God’s people were nailed to cross, putting an end to the ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic economy.

Abraham, Seed and Promise

Immediately after the fall, God promised that he would inflict a deep-seated hatred between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. That promise, which would come to fruition being a promise(!), included the good news that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Then the Lord of the covenant covered with skins the two who were naked and ashamed (Genesis 3:21).

God later expanded upon his promise with respect to the seed saying that he would establish his covenant between himself and Abraham. Not only would God establish his covenant promise with Abraham, he would also establish it with Abraham’s seed after him. This promise that was made to Abraham and his seed was that God would be a God to them and that they would occupy the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:7, 8). In response to the promise of God, which was one of redemption of a people and land for them to occupy, Abraham pleaded that his son Ishmael might live before God in faithfulness (Genesis 3:18). God refused Abraham’s request, saying “as for Ishmael, I have heard thee… but my covenant will I establish with Isaac” not Ishmael (Genesis 17: 20, 21).

God’s promise of deliverance of the seed would come to fruition; yet it did not apply to all of Abraham’s physical descendants. It even applied to those who were not of physical descendants. Abraham was to be the father of many nations, not just one. Notwithstanding, all those who were of the household of Abraham were to receive the sign and seal of the covenant, as if they themselves were partakers of the promise of God. Even more, those within a professing household who did not receive the sign and seal of the covenant were to be considered covenant breakers. This sign of the covenant was so closely related to the covenant that it was called the covenant by the Lord (Genesis 17:10). Consequently, those who had received the sign were to be considered in covenant with God; whereas those who had not received the sign (yet qualified to receive it) were to be treated as covenant breakers. We might say that the invisible church was to be found within the visible church, “out of which there was no ordinary way of salvation” (Acts 2:47b; WCF 25.2). (This principle of household solidarity was not something new, for it was Noah who found grace with God; yet his entire household was saved in the ark.)

When we come to Galatians 3, we learn something quite astounding. The promise was made to a single Seed, who is the Christ; and it is by spiritual union with him, pictured in the outward administration of baptism, that the promise is received by the elect (in Christ). “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ…For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ… And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:16, 26-29) The apostle teaches that the covenant promise was established with the Godman – the incarnate Christ, and by covenantal extension with the elect who would be truly, by the Spirit, united to the Seed in baptism.

Although God’s covenant was established from the outset with the elect in Christ, it was to be administered to all who professed the true religion along with their households. The theological distinction of the visible and invisible people of God was well in view, even at the time of Noah and most acutely at the time of Abraham. Although this was the theology of the covenant, the apostle still had to labor the point to the New Testament saints at Rome. After telling his hearers that nothing could separate God’s people from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39), the apostle went on to explain how the people of God who had an interest in the covenant could have fallen away. How, in other words, could the people of God become apostate if the promise of redemption had to come to fruition being a promise from God?

The illusive Israel

With this pedagogical background in place, the apostle explained Old Testament Covenant Theology, which is that although God established his covenant only with the elect in Christ, it was to be outwardly administered to the non-elect as long as they were of the household of a professing believer and had not demonstrated visible apostasy. Consequently, not all true Israel are from external Israel (Romans 9:6), just like not all the New Testament church will be saved. “That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Romans 9:8)

In sum, although God treats professing believers as his elect, not all who are to be numbered among the visible people of God are chosen in Christ, i.e. children of promise. God’s promise was that he would redeem a particular people that he would place in his recreation, the church. The church’s final destiny is the consummated New Heavens and New Earth, wherein righteousness dwells. Until God separates the sheep from the goats, the visible church will contain unbelievers and hypocrites. Upon kingdom consummation, the visible church and the elect will be one and the same.

From covenant promise to covenant baptism

As we just saw, under the older economy, although the covenant of promise was established solely with the elect in Christ it was to be administered to the households of professing believers. This means that the children of professing believers were to receive the mark of inclusion and, therefore, be counted among the people of God prior to professing faith in what the sign and seal of the covenant contemplated. Covenant children, even if they were not elect, were to be treated as the elect of God and heirs according to the promise based upon corporate solidarity with a professing parent.

When the apostle addresses the children in his letter to the Ephesians, he does not distinguish them from the corporate body that he has already called saints, faithful in Christ Jesus, and those chosen in Christ. This is the unbroken pattern throughout both testaments. Although God establishes his unbreakable redemptive promise solely with the chosen in Christ, by precept all those who profess the true religion along with their children are to be regarded as among the elect until such time they demonstrate otherwise either in faith or practice, doctrine or lifestyle. Surely the apostle appreciated that not all the assembly in Corinth were necessarily sanctified in Christ Jesus, or effectually called into the fellowship of Christ. Yet the visible church at Corinth was addressed as such and without qualification: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours…” It’s no different when we come to the severe warning passages in Hebrews. After issuing warnings not to fall away from the faith, the author addresses the hearers he just warned as converted believers:

“But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” Hebrews 6:9

“But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Hebrews 10:39

(This has grave implications for pulpit ministry. After the call to worship the minister is not to address the lost. Congregational worship is not a tent meeting. It’s for God and his saints, a foretaste of the consummated sabbath.)

When we come to the New Testament nothing has changed with respect to the heirs of the promise. The promise remains established with the elect in Christ, as it always was. The question Baptists ask is whether the children of professing believers have somehow lost the privilege of receiving the sign of entrance into the New Testament church. They say YES, which places a burden of proof upon them to demonstrate such a conclusion by good and necessary inference if not explicit instruction. (More on that in a moment.)

Quick Review

By way of review, God’s promise to save Abraham and his “seed” was without any conditions (Genesis 17:7) that had to be met by those prior to God establishing his promise with the elect. Abraham responded to God’s promise of salvation in faith, which was first issued in Genesis 12, whereby he was justified (Genesis 15:6). Although God promised Abraham and his elect son Isaac salvation, God rejected Ishmael (Genesis 17:18-21). Nonetheless, Ishmael was to receive the outward sign of the covenant-promise, which was circumcision (Genesis 17:10ff). Accordingly, God’s precept was that his covenant sign be administered to the household of Abraham, even though God established his covenant solely with the elect in Christ. The apostle Paul picks up on this theme when he reminds us in Romans nine that the promise of salvation was not intended for every single person who was by precept to be regarded as among the Israel of God. In fact, the apostle explicitly tells us that the children of the “promise” are counted as Abraham’s seed, and not the children of the flesh (Romans 9:8). Accordingly, all those who would believe the promise are the true children of Abraham (Romans 9: 8; Galatians 3:9). Most importantly, the “seed” to whom the promise was made was Christ alone (Galatians 3:16). It is through existential union with Christ, the single Seed of Abraham, that we experience our becoming of true descendants of Abraham. As Galatians 3:29 states, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, and heirs according to the promise.”

Some misguided arrows, continuity and discontinuity

With respect to national implication as it pertains to circumcision, we must keep in mind that Abraham was not Jewish. Indeed, Israel according the flesh eventually came from Abraham’s loins, but the promise was that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Israel did not even become a nation until 430 years after God called Abraham according to the promise (Galatians 3:17). Consequently, contrary to what so many evangelicals think, the sign of circumcision primarily had spiritual significance as opposed to national or ethnic significance. As Romans 4:11 states, “[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith…” The verse does not teach that Abraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of ethnic or national origin.

John MacArthur hangs much on his denial of circumcision relating to personal faith, yet in contradistinction to this aberrant view, the apostle Paul states that circumcision was the confirmatory seal of the righteousness one appropriates by faith!

Consider MacArthur’s unintended denial of the teaching of Romans 4:11:

I do not see circumcision in the Old Testament as a sign of personal faith. I believe it was something else. I believe it was a symbol of the need for cleansing…. But circumcision is certainly not to be defined in itself as a sign of faith. I believe that if you look at circumcision honestly, it is more a sign of the desperate depravity of man and the need for God’s salvation.

MacArthur vs Sproul

Yet even allowing for an honest oversight of Romans 4:11, we can still work with the premise that circumcision implies the need of cleansing and salvation from the depraved nature. Yet don’t those things occur through spiritual circumcision, when one is spiritually baptized into Christ? Notice how the apostle juxtaposes the spiritual significance of the ordinances:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Colossians 2:11-12

Given that under the older economy covenant infants were to receive the visible sign and seal of (a) faith, (b) cleansing and (c) salvation – even without having yet professed what the sign pointed to, we can at least dispel the premise that one may not receive the sign and seal of baptism without having first professed what baptism points to, which is ultimately union with Christ. In other words, according to biblical precept one needn’t possess what the ordinance contemplates in order to have it placed upon him. These are God’s signs and seals to dispense as he sees fit. Moreover, according to Colossians 2:11-12, the reality of what physical circumcision contemplates is what water baptism signifies. One is spiritually circumcised when he is spiritually baptized. So, if the sign of the former was to administered to infants, then we need explicit instruction (or good and necessary inference) to break the biblical precept when it comes to the New Covenant’s sign of entrance into the people of God.

The elect people of God transcends testaments

God always had an elect people, which he so happened to form into a nation 430 years after the call of Abraham. The nation was incidental to the promise. The promise both precedes and transcends the nation and could, therefore, not be abrogated upon the apostasy of the nation. God has now taken the kingdom away from the nation of Israel and has started his final building project, the New Testament church. The church is the international people of God, a “nation” bearing the fruit of the covenant. Consequently, when one is converted to Christ he need not become part of the nation of Israel, for Christ has sent his followers into the world to make disciples of all nations. The promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations is now fulfilled in the universal, international church.

The disagreement and the error of both groups, Baptists and Paedobaptists

Herein lies the problem that many Paedobaptists run into when dealing with Baptists, especially so-called “Reformed” Baptists. “Reformed” Baptists argue that the Old Covenant was established with the elect and reprobates in professing households since many who were to receive the sign of the covenant fell away. Then they rightly show that the New Covenant is established only with the elect. Accordingly, they reason: if the covenant has changed from including non-believers to including only true believers, then baptism should be reserved only for professing believers in order to ensure (as best as possible) that the visible church resemble the true regenerate church of the New Testament. Paedobaptists get tripped up by that argument when they try to argue that both the New and the Old Covenant are conditional, i.e. established both with the elect and non-elect within professing households. Such Paedobaptists are correct with respect to the continuity from old to new but they cannot argue effectively that the New Covenant is established with certain unbelievers because Scripture doesn’t support it. Consequently, the Baptist argument often goes like this: “Hey Mr. Paedobaptist, you and I agree that the Old Covenant was made with the visible people of God, which includes believers and unbelievers (since many Israelites fell away from the true religion); therefore, we can agree that circumcision was to be administered to all males, elect or not, within a professing household. However, since the New Covenant is clearly made with the elect in Christ who will persevere in the faith (unlike unfaithful Israel), then it is reasonable to maintain that the covenant has changed with respect to inclusiveness. Therefore, the sign of the covenant should be reserved for those the elders are persuaded are actually believers.” In other words, the Baptist argues that since the people of God fell away under the older economy, then the Old Covenant promise was conditional and must have been made with non-elect persons; yet the elect of God will not fall away in the New Covenant, therefore, the New Covenant promise must be made with the elect alone. There is a flaw in reasoning that must be considered. Baptists who argue this way are contrasting the Old Testament visible people of God with the New Testament elect in Christ. By using a faulty comparison, the Baptist is trying to prove with whom the Old Covenant was established by showing who were to receive the sign (elect and reprobate); then they argue for the proper recipients for New Testament baptism on the basis of God establishing his NT covenant with the elect alone. By changing their criterion in this way, they arrive at logically unsubstantiated conclusion. In other words, our Baptist brethren prove with whom the covenant was established under the older economy by looking at who was to receive the sign (elect and non-elect); then they try to establish who is to receive the sign under the newer economy by considering with whom the New Covenant was made (the elect alone)! Such a maneuver is simply fallacious.

The single covenant of promise was established with the incarnate Christ and all who were elected in Him; yet this covenant, although established with the elect in Christ, was to be outwardly administered to the household of a professing parent.

The sign of the covenant

God commanded 4,000 years ago that the sign of the covenant be placed upon males within the household of professing believers. Although the sign of entrance into the covenant people of God has changed from circumcision to baptism (and can now be received by females), God never rescinded his covenant principle concerning households that were to receive the sign and seal of the covenant promise. In the same way that all Israel was not Israel, we may also infer that all the church is not the church. Nonetheless, we are by precept to place the sign of covenant membership in the church upon those who qualify, per the instruction of God – which was never rescinded or abrogated.

A concise deduction

An Old Covenant precept was that whenever possible the sign of entrance into the covenant was to be placed upon all who were to be regarded as God’s people. Children of professing believers were to be regarded as God’s people under the Old Covenant. Therefore, children of professing believers whenever possible were to receive the sign of entrance into the Old Covenant by way of precept. God’s precepts may not be abrogated without explicit instruction or good and necessary inference. Since God never abrogated the Old Testament precept regarding who was to receive the sign of entrance into the Old covenant, the sign of entrance into the New Covenant still should be placed on covenant children. Therefore, God’s precept is that children of professing believers receive water baptism since that is the New Testament sign that marks of the visible people of God.

More formally stated:

1. An Old Covenant precept was that whenever possible the sign of entrance into the covenant was to be placed upon all who were to be regarded as God’s people.

2. Children of professing believers were to be regarded as God’s people under the Old Covenant.

3. Children of professing believers whenever possible were to receive the sign of entrance into the Old Covenant by way of precept. (1, 2)

4. God’s precepts may not be abrogated without explicit instruction or good and necessary inference.

5. God never abrogated the Old Testament precept regarding who was to receive the sign of entrance into the Old covenant.

6. God’s precept is that children of professing believers receive the sign of entrance into the New Covenant. (3, 4 and 5)

7. The sign of entrance into the New Covenant is water baptism.

8. God’s precept is that children of professing believers receive water baptism. (6, 7)

A Reformed Baptist use of Jeremiah 31

Baptists will say that the abrogation of the principle in view is implicit in Jeremiah 31:34: “…they will all know me….”, which they say means that the New Covenant is established only with those who savingly know the Lord. Accordingly, they reason that we should ensure as best as possible to administer the New Covenant only to those who profess faith in Christ, which infants cannot do. The problem they run into with this line of reasoning is that the passage does not teach that the covenant is only established with those who possess cognizant faith! The promise of Jeremiah 31 is a promise of greater fidelity (verse 32), greater empowerment (verse 34), and a greater depth of knowledge (verse 34). It does not address the qualification for covenant entrance. Verse 34 does not speak to the question of with whom the covenant would be established. It merely teaches that those with whom the covenant is established will indeed “know the Lord.” In passing we should note that under the older economy all those with whom the covenant was established would come to know the Lord. So, the difference in view cannot pertain to the exclusion of infants from the outward administration of the covenant promise. It must pertain to something else, such as the depth of knowledge of the Lord if not also the missionary explosion promised to Abraham as it relates to the elect from all nations coming to know the Lord.

Before considering what it means in that context to “know the Lord” we must first appreciate that verse does not teach us that the covenant will be made only with true believers after they believe. At the very least, if Baptists were correct, then knowledge of the Lord would not be a blessing of the covenant promise to the elect but rather something that first must be obtained in order to enter into covenant! The verse cannot possibly exclude infants from covenant entrance who will grow up to “know the Lord” because the verse does not imply a change in qualification for covenant entrance, but rather it speaks to the increase of blessings that will be received by those with whom God establishes the New Covenant. The verse is not speaking of a new qualification for entering into the covenant; rather it is speaking about something different that will occur under the newer economy as compared to the older economy for those who will be in covenant.

The glory of the New Covenant

Since the Old Covenant was established with the elect alone, we may safely say that a saving knowledge was granted to all with whom God established the Old Covenant(!), barring no early deaths that would preclude saving knowledge. Consequently, the verse must be speaking to the quality and depth of that saving knowledge under the newer economy as opposed to the mere possession of it, which all those with whom God established the Old Covenant would have received. Not surprisingly, that is what we see in the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant with the establishment of the priesthood of all believers – through the revelation of Christ, the completed Canon and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – we all “know the Lord” in a manner vastly different than that under the old economy. In summary, Jeremiah 31 may not be used to defend a more stringent entrance examination for covenant privileges simply because it does not imply anything more than increase of blessings. Thankfully the glory of the New Covenant is not to be found in the exclusion of infants. (Also, the promise that all will know the Lord, eliminating the need to tell our neighbors to know the Lord, could very well be a reference to the triumph of the gospel in the world as all nations are discipled.)

Burden of Proof

Both sides of the infant baptism debate argue from silence. Paedobaptists observe that the Bible does not forbid infant baptism, whereas Baptists argue that the Bible does not command it. In this respect, both sides are correct. Notwithstanding, not all arguments from silence are equally weak or fallacious. Whether an argument from silence begs crucial questions largely will depend upon burden of proof. It would stand to reason that if for 2,000 years of redemptive history children of professing believers were to receive the mark of covenantal inclusion, then that precedent should stand whether the New Testament repeats the precept or not. Accordingly, Baptists must bring forth evidence to overturn the practice. Moreover, to assume discontinuity from the Old Testament if a principle is not repeated in the New Testament leads to the abrogation of many Old Testament principles that Baptists will readily agree should not be rescinded. For instance, nowhere does the New Testament forbid bestiality.

Corroborating Evidence from Scripture

When we approach the New Testament with a covenantal lens on, we would expect to see household baptisms given the Old Testament precedent of household circumcision. Behold, that is what we see. Scripture references the following household baptisms: Lydia; Crispus; Gaius; Philippian Jailor; Cornelius; and Stephanas. Other baptisms recorded in Scripture wherein are listed names of people are the baptisms of Paul, the Ethiopian Eunuch, and Simon Magus. The first two would not seem to have had children and we know nothing of the magician other than he was an infidel. The material point is, we would expect from a covenantal perspective that household baptisms would abound, and that is precisely what we see. Another piece of corroborating evidence is that in forty years of New Testament narrative and epistles we don’t find one instance of a covenant child coming to faith and undergoing believer’s baptism. Not once do we see what we would expect to see if credo baptism were the apostolic teaching.

Incidental Evidence from Church History

In the annuls of church history we see theology forged out on the anvil of providence. God appoints factions so that the church might receive those who are approved and entrusted with the truth (1 Corinthians 11:19). With respect to theological controversy, we have records of the Arian controversy; Sabellianism; Adoptionism; Nestorianism, and so on. We can read about the church’s defense against the denials of the divinity of Christ; a seed form of modalism; Christ becoming Son; Son becoming two persons, etc. In other words, heresies and heterodoxy are a matter of church record. Accordingly, we would expect to see at least some resistance to the practice of infant baptism given that there would have occurred a massive churchwide departure from apostolic teaching by the 3rd century if the apostolic teaching was indeed credo-only baptism. Yet we see no such resistance. None whatsoever. That observation works with infant baptism and against credo-only baptism. Yet positively, we know that Irenaeus referenced infant baptism in approximately 180, and Origen referred to the practice shortly thereafter. Although Tertullian advised against the practice (perhaps due to the pragmatism of delaying the washing of water so to lessen one’s post-baptismal sins), he nonetheless recognized it as the church’s practice; he also mentions children having baptism sponsors.

To be continued, Deo volente.

John MacArthur’s Lordship Salvation

In this post I addressed the aberrant view that justifying faith is assent alone apart from trusting in Christ. In that post I made a passing reference to another extreme view of faith – the “Lordship Salvation” gospel whose advocates not only define faith without reference to trust, but also add commitment of life to assent, which in turn eclipses the gospel and redefines how one might appropriate Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel. 

John MaCarthur is the most noteable proponent of this view. It is noteworthy that MacArthur does not subscribe to historical Reformed theology. In that respect, he is unchecked with respect to confessional theology in the Reformed tradition. Aside from having a baptistic ecclesiology and a dispensational view of the covenants, he has gotten the doctrine of justification wrong and justifying faith wrong. I address those errors here.

Saving Faith According to John MacArthur

Forsaking oneself for Christ’s sake is not an optional step of discipleship subsequent to conversion; it is the sine qua non of saving faith.

The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 142

By “saving faith” MacArthur actually means justifying faith. We may infer this because he is speaking of the faith that is tied to conversion. Accordingly, sanctifying or persevering faith is not in view. What is noteworthy is MacArthur cites “forsaking oneself” as an essential condition for our pardon in Christ. Yet that is radically different than how the Reformed tradition defines justifying faith.

Justifying faith is a saving grace wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Westminster Larger Catechism, #72 What is justifying faith?

The most detailed Confession in the history of the Protestant tradition defines faith quite differently than MacArthur. At the heart of justifying faith is receiving and resting upon Christ, which is absent in MacArthur’s ordo salutis. Moreover, to add forsaking one’s life(!) to the simplicity of faith is another gospel. It’s to add works to faith. Not only does MacArthur add forsaking one’s life to faith, he also asserts that personal commitment is essential to justifying faith.

Commitment is the disputed element of faith around which the lordship controversy swirls. No-lordship theology denies that believing in Christ involves any element of personal commitment to Him.

Faith Works, The Gospel According To Jesus, p. 43-44

John MacArthur contends that justifying faith, the faith that appropriates the benefits of Christ, entails “forsaking oneself” and “commitment.” It is not MacArthur but the Westminster Shorter Catechism that has it right when it states:

Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, he is offered in the gospel.”

Westminster Shorter Catechism, #86 What is faith in Jesus Christ?

It completely escapes MacArthur that personal commitment and forsaking of life are true works of righteousness, which are fruits of sanctification and not elements of faith. What MacArthur also misses is that justifying faith is merely an instrument through which the unrighteous lays hold of Christ’s righteousness. (Westminster Shorter Catechism #73)

Not only does MacArthur add works to justifying faith, he leaves out the crowing element of justifying faith, which is child like trust in the perfect righteousness of Another. But it is worse than that. Much worse. Not only does MacArthur add works to faith while leaving out trust, he would have us believe that the traditional view of trust (often referred to as fiducia) is not reliance upon Christ but rather surrender.

This “trust,” or fiducia, faith’s volitional component, is the crowning element of believing it involves surrender to the object of faith.”

Faith Works, The Gospel According To Jesus, p. 44

In essence, MacArthur takes the volitional component of justifying faith, fiducia, and turns it into something other than mere child like trust in the righteousness of Christ. MacArthur redefines trust. For MacArthur fiducia is not to exercise trust in Christ’s alien righteousness but rather it is the work of bringing to Christ our own righteous deeds in the form of forsaking of oneself, commitment, and surrender.

Justification

In MacArthur’s book Justification by Faith, MacArthur takes up the question of “Crediting righteousness to the Christian’s account.”

God actually credits righteousness to our account. He imputes righteousness to us; He infuses divine life into us; He regenerates and sanctifies us. He makes the unholy holy, and therefore declares that we are righteous. There is an ontological as well as a forensic declaration. There is a reality – God gives us righteousness, and thus He can declare that we are righteous.

Justification by Faith, p.121

God does not declare that we are righteous because he makes the unholy holy. God justifies the ungodly! (Romans 4:5) Nor are there two declarations, one for our ontic change and one for our imputed righteousness. The forensic applies to imputation, not infusion. Lastly, does God declare us righteous because he “gives” us righteousness?

One page later MacArthur states:

The believing sinner is justified by righteousness infused into him.

Justification by Faith, p,122

That is Rome, not Westminster.

It’s my understanding that MacArthur may have repented of his views of Justification, just like he repented of his denial of the eternal Sonship of the Second Person of the Trinity. He has not yet recanted on the nature of justifying faith, however. If anything, he has doubled down.

My point is not to point out MacArthur’s errors. If that was my agenda, there’s more I might have written. My original point was to address the aberrant views of faith that flank the Reformed view. Two ditches to avoid. Yet one cannot help but realize the protective nature of confessional theology. One can attend an independent church for her entire life and believe that she is getting the pure milk of God’s word, when in fact she might be getting something quite foreign to the teaching of the Fathers and the Reformers.

Often right but never in doubt is not a comforting formula for church leadership. I thank God for the checks and balances of Presbyterianism and the collective wisdom of the Reformed tradition.

Assent Alone And The Gospel

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Most of the things we assent to, whether a priori or a posteriori, are not volitional. One does not will to believe that God exists any more than one wills to believe the rose is red. These are mental assents that are not discursive; they are immediate and without reflection. The will is bypassed.1 However, the gospel always engages the will as the unbeliever counts the cost and by grace abandons all hope in himself while looking to Christ alone, finding rest in Him. Accordingly, it is inadequate to reduce justifying faith to belief alone when belief is reduced to assent without remainder.

Clarkians and easy-believism advocates promote that we are justified by belief alone. One is justified by assenting to “Jesus died for me.” Another extreme comes from “Lordship Salvation” advocates who define trusting in Christ in terms of commitment of life, which eclipses the gospel and redefines how one might appropriate Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel. The focus of this post is on the former error.2

Clarkians will assert that assent is synonymous with resting in or relying upon Christ. In this context it is suggested that to assent to Christ dying on the cross for my sins is to “trust” the proposition is true. Albeit the premise is true for true believers, this observation turns on a subtle equivocation over the word trust. Indeed, to trust a proposition is true is no different than to assent to its truth. So, in that sense trust and assent are synonyms. However, to trust that something is true is not the same thing as to trust in something because it is believed to be true. The latter idea of trust carries the meaning of reliance upon, whereas the former use of trust merely conveys an intellectual assent that might or might not be accompanied by reliance. Accordingly, to argue that trust and assent are synonyms in this way is to deny implicitly the need to trust willfully upon Christ alone for salvation.

Clarkians redefine trust so that they might appear confessional since the Westminster standards clearly speak of not just “accepting“ the gospel as true but also relying upon (i.e. trusting in) the finished work of Christ. (It’s not just equivocal but also a downright case of special pleading to define “trust” as a synonym for assent and then on top of that limit its use to assent. Clarkians should out rightly deny trust rather than suggest they affirm it. The trust they equate with assent is not the trust of the Reformed tradition for that trust is metaphysical and volitional. It does not mean assent. It presupposes it!)

Assent pertains to accepting something as true, even possibly with no reflection, whereas trust (or lack of trust) pertains to the degree of relevance a person might assign to the “assented to” proposition. Assent is a mental act that need not be accompanied by volition; whereas trust in Christ is always volitional in nature. Assent always pertains to accepting the truth of a proposition, whereas how one might respond in light of assent (e.g. trust, rest, exuberance, etc.) is commonly classified under the philosophical heading of disposition (which is not propositional assent). Whereas trust and other dispositions can evidence assent, dispositions need not accompany any given assent since assents can be mundane, occur without reflection and, also, be subjectively perceived as inconsequential. (This is why philosophers consider disposition to be a poor indicator of the presence of assent. Dispositions are sufficient but not necessary for assent.)

Assents or beliefs are propositional attitudes that can be distinguished from volitional, metaphysical movements. For instance, choices are mental activities that engage both the intellect and the will. This is more recognizable once we consider that choices involve both judgment and reliance. What one deems as true can result in a choice to rely upon that which the judgment contemplates, but the intellection of belief need not give way to volition. This is sufficient to demonstrate that belief and volition are not the same things though they often go together. This observation would seem rather uncontroversial in the Reformed tradition. It was presupposed in Jonathan Edwards’ writings and was taken up by men like R.L. Dabney, A.A. Hodge and even William Cunningham. Yet contra this popular view, Gordon Clark believed that it is an illusion (an illusion, mind you!) to think that such acts of intellection differ from volition. Clark went so far to say that belief in a chair is volitional.

If assent and trust were synonyms, then either both would mean cognitive conviction or else volitional reliance. Conviction of truth (assent) could never give way to reliance upon truth (trust). If assent and trust are indistinguishable concepts and, therefore, mean the same thing, then it would be unintelligible to say that we rely upon anything we believe; nor would it be sensible to think that we believe anything we rely upon. Intellectual assent without reliance leaves no room for relying upon Christ; whereas reliance without conviction paves the way to trusting in Christ while not assenting to the gospel. Obviously, the concepts are indeed distinguishable as well as distinct principal acts of saving faith.

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1 Even when the will is engaged in choosing, we don’t will belief. Doxastic Voluntarism is a philosophical surd.

2 In the not so distant future I plan to address the gospel according to John MacArthur and the nature of faith as the instrumental cause of justification. MacArthur fails to distinguish and ends up conflating the disposition of reliance upon Christ with the sanctifying grace that inevitably produces a faithful commitment of life to Christ.