Saturday, April 16, 2011

Clarifying the issue of equal ultimacy

I was asked by a reader to discuss the issue of equal ultimacy.

Equal ultimacy is the idea that God predestines men to wrath in the same way that he predestines men to life. There is an exact parallel between election to salvation and reprobation. This position in Calvinist theology is labelled "supralapsarianism." God decrees both salvation and reprobation, and then decrees the fall as the means of bringing this about.

This is distinguished from the "infralapsarianism" in which election and reprobation are described as two separate acts. Election is God's active choice of certain fallen men unto salvation; reprobation is God's passive allowance of the non-elect to remain in their fallen state. In other words, God chooses some for salvation out of the sinful lump of humanity while leaving the rest in their sin.

These two positions are sometimes placed under a logical order (as opposed to a temporal order, since God transcends time) of God's decrees.

The supralapsarian "order of decrees" are as follows:

1. God decrees to glorify Himself in election and reprobation
2. God decrees the fall as a means of bringing about election and reprobation
3. God decrees the death of Christ for the elect

And the infralapsarian view:

1. God decrees the fall
2. In view of the fall, God decrees the salvation of some, while allowing the rest to remain in their sin.
3. God decrees the death of Christ for the elect

This is an important distinction to make, because Lutherans too often characterize all Calvinists as being guilty of equal ultimacy, while infralapsarianism is the predominant view. Infralapsarianism is less problematic as it avoids making God the author of sin. However, both positions are inadequate for a couple of reasons.

First, both positions are based on a theology of glory wherein one is concerned with the eternal decrees of God, rather than God's revelation in Christ--God hidden rather than God revealed--God in Himself rather than God preached. While this may be an interesting intellectual exercise, it leads one far beyond the Biblical material on the issue. I highly doubt that Paul was contemplating the order of God's decrees as he penned the epistle to the Ephesians.

Second, both of these positions place election as the central soteriological motif rather than the cross. The cross becomes merely the means of bringing about predestination--hence limited atonement. In Lutheran (and Pauline) theology, election is God's choice to bring us to the cross. This is why election is always "in Christ." The cross is at the center, and whatever other soteriological benefits are given are in view of this.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lex Semper Accusat: A Response to TurretinFan

I was recently pointed to the blog of TurretinFan, the anonymous blogger of Aomin fame, for his recent attacks on proponents of two kingdom theology. There was a bit of a back and forth between himself and R. Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California. In a recent post, he even claimed that "Escondido Theology" (the theology of Michael Horton, R. Scott Clark, David VanDrunen, Darryl Hart, and others) was a cause for conversions to Roman Catholicism.

What is the problem with these theologians? Well, apparently they are too Lutheran. Regardless of whether or not TurretinFan's interpretation of historic Reformed orthodoxy is correct on the issue of two kingdoms (which for some reason always has the word "radical" attached to it), TurretinFan has been attacking at least the historic Lutheran doctrine which he apparently does not understand. I know that TurretinFan is capable of reading, understanding, and refuting arguments well. I have seen him do so on several occasions. However, when it comes to Lutheranism, TurretinFan has not done his homework. A recent post has made this apparent.

In this post titled "Lex Semper Accusat? Does the Law Always Accuse?", TurretinFan claims that the statement that "the Law always accuses" is "theologically inaccurate." The first argument made by TurretinFan is that Christ was not accused by the law, but fulfilled the law. Disregarding the fact that Christ certainly did fall under the accusation of the law (isn't this the purpose of the cross?), one must ask: did the Lutheran fathers use this statement in such a way as to ignore the fact that Christ did not break the law?
Of course not! The statement Lex Semper Accusat is used in a very specific context. This statement appears in the Lutheran Confessional documents in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession several times. Here is one such example of its use:

"The Law worketh wrath. He does not say that by the Law men merit the remission of sins. For the Law always accuses and terrifies consciences. Therefore it does not justify, because conscience terrified by the Law of God flees from the judgement of God. Therefore they err who trust that by the Law, by their own works, they merit the remission of sins."- Apology IX.38.

Clearly, Melancthon is speaking in the context of fallen man and his justification before God. His statement has no reference to Christ, prelapsarian Adam, a Christian in the glorified state, or any such exception. Using TurretinFan's logic, one would have to call Paul's statement theologically incorrect that "all have sinned" because of the sinlessness of Christ. This however, is beyond the scope of the authors intended meaning.

The second point that TurretinFan makes is that the Law cannot always accuse because it has other functions.
But is this really the point that this statement is making? Do we Lutherans believe in one use of the Law--an accusatory one? Again, I say: of course not! Our Confessions are as explicit as can be on this issue.

"Since the law was given to men for three reasons: first, that thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men...secondly, that men may be led to the knowledge of their sins; thirdly, that after they are regenerate...they might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life"-Epitome of the Formula of Concord VI:1

So then what does the statement mean? It means that even when the Law is functioning in its other two manners, it is still accusing. When the Christian is looking to the Law as a moral guide for his good works, he still sees the inadequacy of his good deeds and is reminded of the all-sufficiency of his savior. This does not neglect the fact that the Christian does fulfill the Law to an extent, and truly does begin to love the Law as his guide. It is simply saying that he is still simul iustus et peccator.

TurretinFan's "refutation" of the slogan lex semper accusat is based on a misunderstanding of the statement, as well as ignorance of Confessional Lutheran theology. I certainly welcome challenges to Lutheran doctrine, but challenges which are well informed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

To be steeped in history is to cease being Reformed

Yes-the title of this post was taken from the oft repeated statement of Cardinal Newman after his conversion to Romanism "To be steeped in history is to cease being Protestant." Though I am theologically far removed from the Roman Catholic church, I cannot help but be sympathetic to this sentiment. Though it is not a primary area I have discussed on my blog, a study of historical theology was as influential to my conversion as was my exegetical work.

The question I pose is this: Could the Church have been wrong about so many central elements of Christian theology and practice for 1500 years?

As a Reformed Christian, I would have to answer yes--though I was not willing to admit that the gates of hell had prevailed against the church.
As I began to read through the church fathers and medieval theologians, there were several things I quickly noticed.

First, baptism is always seen as a means of regeneration. From Justin Martyr, to the apocryphal gospels and acts, to Tertullian, to Irenaeus, to Augustine, through the middle ages, there has never been a major theologian who has regarded baptism as a symbol (nor as entrance into an external covenant with no real soteriological benefits). I still have been unable to find a single writer who understood baptism in any other way than regeneration prior to the reformation.

Second, it is always an assumption that a Christian can fall away from grace. It is a consistent theme in the apostolic fathers that the Christian must not quit running the race, or else his salvation will be lost. This again is echoed through out the centuries. Augustine himself, while acknowledging the perseverance of the elect, believed that many who were baptized and regenerate would fall away. Again, I have not found a single writer who taught otherwise.

Third, no one limited saving grace to the elect. Yes, there are elements of what would later be labeled "limited atonement" in the early Prosper of Aquitaine, Fulgentius of Ruspe, and Gottschalk, but none of these theologians denied that non-elect believers had true regeneration, thus saving grace, for a time. Baptismal grace is seen as a universal gift, given to all who are baptized, regardless of their election.

Finally, there is no "regulative principle of worship" in the early or medieval church. From the first century, the church functioned by means of liturgy. The church calender played a pivotal role in spiritual formation through out the second and third centuries. The church functioned under an episcopal system, without any outcry to the contrary. At least in the conservative RPCNA circles I have been a part of, it is seen as sinful to worship in any manner other than that which is directly commanded by scripture-which in this view is a Presbyterian form of government, exclusive Psalmody in worship, and no spoken or chanted liturgy. If this is the case, one must admit that there was no real worship service from 100 AD until Calvin's Geneva.

These are only a few of the issues which I was unable to find in earlier church history; there are several more. If these, and other Reformed beliefs are true- how were they missed for 1500 years? Did everyone get it wrong? Did the Holy Spirit allow his church to fall into such error?

The history of the church is of course not an infallible authority as is the scripture. However, it should, if Christ's promise is true, at least be taken as a reliable guide for Biblical interpretation. If one is to disagree with the tradition of the church, there had better be rock solid exegetical reasons for doing so. In this case-it does not seem that there are.