Thursday, June 19, 2008

Converging Thoughts and Divergent Thinking (Speculations on the Tension Between Divine and Human Agency)

My husband and I think in different ways, but we often come to so many same conclusions independently and even say the same things at the same time. If a week goes by when we fail to utter the same unexpected comment simultaneously, I wonder if there is trouble in our relationship. So it's odd to consider how I comprehend things in terms of global perspective (borrowing a term from Cynthia Ulrich Tobias – Remember her of FoF fame, Moms?) and he comprehends best by looking at the finer details first. I quickly become uncomfortable without the overview when I am handed too many fine details, not knowing where to put them. He needs the specific, objective details first, as they help orient him. I'm all about framing out the house and getting the plywood on the roof before I can begin to worry about shingles, and he is all about the shingles and the budget. So far, we have been a wonderful match for one another, showing complementary strengths.

When it comes to this discussion of faith and works in the circles of all those claiming Reformed Christianity, the general overview provides me with comfort. For that, I believe that certain writers appeal to me more than others. Throw in the changes in Reformed Theology, Theonomy and Christian Reconstruction that have occurred over the past 15 years. Greg Bahnsen and Rousas Rushdoony graduate to Glory. Those men commanded much due respect that others don't seem to carry in the ways that they did, and in their absence, many different groups of folks lay what often seems like exclusive claim to their ideas. Throw in N.T. Wright, Norm Shepherd, New Perspectives on Paul, John Robbins, things Westminster (both East and West coast), the ever-growing Federal Vision weirdness and what Karen Campbell calls “patriocentric voodoo” that comes out of those who profess things patriarchal and family integrated. The regulatory principle of worship is another detail rich conundrum for me that does not hold my interest, though I also know some details people who become bogged down in what seems like minutiae. Many varieties and numbers of unique and common shingles lay in bundles and in the fray, many of which do not interest me. I'm concerned about where the shingles go, not the fine details of the specifics unless it is vital to my faith and worship. Thus far, it has not been too critical, though it seems those who are interested in these issues tend to be detail oriented as opposed to the over-view-type of thinker.

Human agency versus “faith alone” also confronts me as I write more about the similarities between the patriocentric and the Roman Catholic view of infused grace through ongoing works as a means of ongoing sanctification. As stated many times before, if you are Roman Catholic, the idea that patriocentrics believe that every household creates what is, effectively, an autonomous priest, creating sacraments out of wholesome agrarian living, ought to be offensive. Reformed Protestants should be offended because the patriocentrists (Federal Vision followers included) claim staunchly to be Reformed when they follow a Catholic-like form of government (via their patriarchal priesthood) and a view that differs little from the sanctification process of infused righteousness that Aquinas described. This denies the central tenets of all things Protestant and Reformed Christianity in particular. Roman Catholics should be offended because their view of priesthood becomes diminished, particularly when there are so few available priests worldwide. They should also take issue with patriocentricity's creation of countless family-oriented sacraments of wholesome living because they cheapen the significance of the seven sacraments established by the Roman Catholic Church. And as I've stated before, if you want to be Roman Catholic, that is your decision and we still have fellowship in Christ, just not in the specific mechanics of the mediation of justification and sanctification, etc. as it relates to patriarchy. My personal issue concerns these who claim a Reformed faith and Theonomy when they are actually closer to Roman Catholic Theology in their beliefs regarding sanctification. Create a new label, but be honest. Do not claim the Reformation (and likewise, do not claim Roman Catholicism, as they would not readily lay claim to these beliefs either).

Within the realm and ranks of Reformed Protestantism, I also contend personally, practically, and theoretically with what seems to be the natural and inevitable tension between faith and works in the Christian life. I inadvertently stumbled upon another discussion of this on a blog, all while Sandlin's “Faith That Is Never Alone” along side Elliott's “Christianity and Neo-Liberalism” stare at me from my bedside. They lay beside a copy of “Divine and Human Agency in Paul and His Cultural Environment.” I also think of those who clearly follow Theonomy with grace and balanced Christian love in the Spirit of the Law as they pose a striking contrast against the “other supposed Theonomists” who I imagine Robbins would call the ersatz Calvinists. I've been using this term recently because it is shorter than “brave, new angry Calvinists” who recommend stoning of wayward teens and legalism the likes of which seem could only come from one who has never been to the Cross of Calvary. These are those who turn Calvinism into pagan karma through their works-based love of the letter of the law, as if their TULIP was short at least one petal (as if total depravity really never applied to them personally).

I inadvertently wandered into another minefield of what seemed like thousands of individual shingles laying around when I found “Professor Clark's” recent blog post about Theonomy and Federal Vision being identical twins that were separated at birth. Many single details presented there seemed quite valid and reasonable, and other conclusions regarding those and other facts presented seemed either murky or like minutiae. I lack the specific knowledge of those individual shingles that would enable me to rightly lay them in the right place in the right way so as to make a water-tight theological roof. From my global perspective style, the conclusions seemed off even though I did recognize the truth in some observations and facts.

Within a few hours after commenting there (which went unrecognized), many ready answers came to me with both completed framing and shingles in place for me from a source that I don't always agree with implicitly on all matters, but one I hold as most trustworthy and faithful. I am also aware that these are matters that he has studied at great length and one who actually had personal relationships and direct knowledge of the views of others referenced [in the blog theory of the supposed displaced theological twins]. This, Sandlin's response, adds more confidence to my speculations that the discontinuities between the Shepherd and Robbins camps are issues of articulating unique perspectives. But that's a Right-brained thinker with good Right-Left Integration at work, and the Lefties may not “get it,” even if I've articulated this all well. That's okay, as I am comfortable to leave some things obscured through the glass we see through darkly. I'll see it clearly one day when we shall be changed and be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is – the ultimate goal behind and bearing up the purpose for all of these debates.

Here is a portion of Andrew Sandlin's response to Clark, “Reversing Revisionism (on Theonomy, Shepherd and Federal Vision)":

Contrary to what we read on Professor Clark’s blog, I do not support and have never supported the FV. It’s odd that the critics of the FV do not grasp this readily documentable fact, because the FV’ers themselves do. They all know that I cannot agree with and in fact criticize their ecclesiology, their sacramentalism, their liturgy, their covenantalism and much else besides. The fact that I have defended — and will defend — them against historically misguided charges of heresy and “denying the Gospel” no more suggests that I embrace the FV than the fact that R. C. Sproul may defend John MacArthur against charges of heresy and “denying the Gospel” for being premillennial makes Sproul a premillennialist. Such (il)logic is just plain silly, as any thoughtful, dispassionate person must acknowledge.
I embrace the doctrine of justification precisely as it appears in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The exclusive instrumental cause of justification is faith. That faith rests entirely on the redemptive work of Jesus on the Cross and from the empty tomb and grasps hard on Jesus as Savior and Lord. The issue is not sola fide, which Scott and I both heartily affirm, but the nature of saving faith. Scott, like his colleague Mike Horton, has made clear his position that justifying faith is exclusively passive (trusting in and resting on Jesus) and never active (submitting to Jesus as Lord and as his disciple). I affirm that it is both simultaneously (in the distinct senses I have stated), and that a faith that is merely active is moralistic while a faith that is merely passive is antinomian. On this point, I dissent from Clark and Horton and I agree with J. I. Packer in Evangelical Affirmations:
There is an evident confusion here between faith as a psychological act, that is, something that you do (in this case, “closing with Christ” as the Puritans used to put it), and faith as a meritorious work, that is, a means of earning God’s favor and inducing his acceptance. When it is argued that to call for active commitment to discipleship as a response to the gospel is to teach works-righteousness, the confusion is clear. The truth is that every act of faith, psychologically regarded, is a matter of doing something (knowing, receiving, and trusting are as much acts in the psychological sense as is resolving to obey); yet no act of faith ever presents itself to its doer as other than a means of receiving undeserved mercy in some shape or form. This is as true of a trustful commitment to follow Christ as it is of a trustful resting on the Saviour’s [sic] promise of pardon. There is no need to restrict faith to passive reliance without active devotion in order to keep works-righteousness and legalism out of the picture.
Packer believes what Clark and Horton do not: a saving faith defined only passively lends aid and comfort to antinomianism, and a saving faith defined both passively and actively does not lend aid and comfort to a moralistic works-righteousness and legalism. Justifying faith is both passive and active, and this is precisely what James denotes when he demands justification by works, which in no way violates sola fide but, rather, protects it.
This also is what NS believes and teaches, but agreeing with NS on this issue is not tantamount to support for the FV, just as RJR and GLB agreed with NS on this issue, and did not agree with JBJ’s views that eventually became known as the FV.
This account, all-too-brief, is an accurate summary of the genealogy of the FV. One hopes that it will help to reverse some of the historical revisionism (or just plain ignorance) parading under the guise of thoughtful commentary.

Read the whole post HERE.