Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Puritan Confusion of Law and Gospel

For those in the so-called "new Calvinism" camp, the puritans are often considered the apex of Reformed Christianity. I personally, even while I was a Reformed Christian, never liked the puritans all that much. I never really even appreciated the writings of Jonathan Edwards (despite the fact that I live right near the church he preached at), as he was far too introspective. Though I do appreciate his philosophical acumen. A recent review of Tullian Tchividjian's book "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" on the podcast Reformed Media Review highlights some of the reasons which I do not have an affinity with the Puritans. Puritan scholar Mark Jones at one point stated the issue rather clearly,

"The Protestant Scholastics and Puritans viewed the gospel not simply as Christ for us... but the gospel for them actually commanded as well as promised. And Samuel Rutherford actually says that the gospel commands with an even stronger force than the law because of the great indicative behind the commands."

Though many in the Reformed camp try to highlight similarities between the Lutheran and Reformed perspectives on law and gospel, this demonstrates where we often have parted ways. Yes, there are some who hold to a more strict distinction between law and gospel (though limited atonement really negates Luther's distinction), but there is no consensus in Reformed theology on the issue either historically, or in modern discussions.

These kinds of statements simply don't hold water Biblically.

Look how the Mosaic law is described by Peter at the council of Jerusalem,
"Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10)

Look at how the gospel is described by Jesus,
"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:30)

Does the gospel command with a stronger force than the law? I think the texts speak for themselves.


Anonymous said...

Jordan- Take a look at the WCF chapter 19 "of the Law of God." It clearly says that the Law cannot justify,that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, yet the moral law is still binding in terms of how Christians are to live. Check out 1 Cor.7:19, Ephesians 6:2, James 1:23-25, Ezekiel 36:27. There is a clear law-gospel distinction in the Puritan WCF.

Jordan Cooper said...

I would never accuse the Puritans of teaching that good works justify. However, this alone does not mean that they properly distinguish between law and gospel. When it comes to the Christian life, the focus on moral improvement and the third use of the law negate a Lutheran law-gospel distinction. This is not to say that they don't distinguish between them at all, but not to the extent that Luther would.

Anonymous said...

When I was a Calvinist, I was neck deep in these puritans. Thankful, as a Lutheran, that the gospel really is good news.

Marty said...

Seems to me that the Gospel does call for more than simply faith in Christ. Titus 2:11 does say that the "grace of God [in context Gospel] teaches us to say no to ungodliness".

Andrew said...

What do we do with the passages (2 Thessalonians 1:8 1 Peter 4:17) that actually reference those who "do not obey the gospel"? If the gospel includes no commands then what are they disobeying?

Trent Demarest said...

I think the only command which the gospel enjoins is "believe," yet even this command is something enabled (or more truly, accomplished) by the Holy Spirit. Yet we Lutherans do believe, paradoxically, that the sinner can resist God's irresistible grace, that we can receive the grace of God in vain, return as dogs to the vomit of our old sinful nature, and be lost. And this doesn't mean that we were never saved to begin with, but that we have authored our own damnation.