Friday, January 06, 2012

The Real Turretin on Covenant of Grace and Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant

Kerux, Volume 24, Number 3, p. 76, FN70 (Dennison et al.):
[O]ur editors have summarized Turretin as teaching that “the form of the Mosaic covenant was the covenant of works, but its substance was the covenant of grace” (12). This muddles Turretin’s otherwise careful distinctions regarding the administration of the covenant of grace under Moses, and oversimplifies his rather complex formulation. It is true that Turretin argues that the Mosaic administration contained a restatement of a “form of the covenant of works” to remind Israel of the broken covenant of works and to lead them to Christ (2:263). But Turretin later clarifies that by “form of the covenant of works,” he is referencing “the law in itself” apart from the Mosaic covenant (2:269). This he distinguishes from “the Mosaic covenant itself, in which the law was enacted” (ibid.). This administration included not only this “legal relation” but also an “evangelical relation,” which was “sweeter” in that it led them to Christ (2:227). Thus, Turretin calls this administration a “mixture of both the law and the Gospel” (2:263). As he says elsewhere: “And thus in sweet harmony the law and the gospel meet together in this covenant. The law is not administered without the gospel, nor is the gospel without the law. So that it is as it were a legal-gospel and an evangelical-law; a gospel full of obedience and a law full of faith” (2:268). In short, our editors summary of Turretin’s view of the Mosaic covenant is at best severely truncated, and at worst, misleading. It fails to grapple with Turretin’s own stated definitions, and oversimplifies Turretin’s complex (though very precise) views.

I don't post this comment to endorse it (I haven't carefully enough studied Turretin's relevant writings to form a conclusion), but simply as an interesting point worthy of further consideration. Turretin's careful distinctions are one of his principle advantages and following them is critically important in understanding his writing.


Thursday, January 05, 2012

Guest Post: The Insufficiency of T. David Gordon’s Argument Against the Bible as a Sufficient Guide For Faith and Life

[A beloved and anonymous family member wrote the following article.  It seems timely in view of Dr. Frame's recently released book.]

In his provocatively titled article, “The Insufficiency of Scripture,” [Updated link] T. David Gordon argues that the failings of modern evangelicals are essentially due to too high a view of Scripture—a view of Scripture that says that Scripture is relevant for all of life, not just life as “covenant community members” (the latter being Gordon’s position). Without much consideration for logic, Gordon suggests that wisdom should inform practice, and that wisdom most importantly, “does not come exclusively or perhaps even primarily, through Bible study.”

Simply reading the Bible will not bring wisdom, says he, a statement with which none but the most obtuse believer would quibble. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is needed to bring forth godly behavior, but surely the Bible must be read and apprehended in order to be applied. Yet his emphasis is not on the word, “reading,” but on the words “the Bible”. We are urged to read other things because the Bible cannot inform us for life.

Neglecting to discuss verses like Psalm 19:7-8, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;” and “in Christ in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3) and II Tim. 3:16, Scripture “is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” Gordon advises Christians to seek wisdom outside God’s holy Word, which he repeatedly calls inadequate to the task of teaching anything but how to live as a member of the covenant community (while never explaining what such membership entails).

Taking the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.6) statement that worship has circumstances that may be regulated according to the light of nature, Dr. Gordon ignores the proviso in the same section that even these circumstances are subject to Christian prudence, and the general rules of the Word which are always to be observed [emphasis mine], and generalizes illogically that this section therefore proves the insufficiency of Scripture for life in general. Apparently Gordon does not understand the regulative principle of worship which states that only that which the Bible commands is allowed in worship. The Westminster Divines wisely added there are circumstances which do not fall under this precise regulation. No Reformed theologian defends what might be called “the regulative principle of life” in which only those things commanded by the Word are allowed in life.

Gordon rightly notes that Scripture recommends obtaining wisdom from those older than us, and even from nature. However, since he seeks to divorce these sources from The Source (the Word of God), Gordon is left with a problem: how will he know when he has received wise counsel? Will the wisdom of Socrates do? How about the wisdom of one’s Unitarian grandfather? Or in the created order, shall the industrious man “go to the sloth” and be wise? Or shall the submissive wife look to the black widow spider or praying mantis? This over-the-top silliness is intended to highlight Gordon’s knot: without the Bible as a standard of truth, how can he know when he has received wisdom? The reason why we go to the ant (one of the creatures he mentions) is that the Bible tells us to do so, and it tells us what to look for in the nature of the ant; the way in which we assess what we hear from older people, is whether what they say is in accord with the teaching of Scripture.

Gordon also bashes "theonomy" not merely as the error du jour, but the error par excellence. Reading Dr. Gordon’s article, one would think that the whole Christian world had gone over to theonomic thinking when, in fact, huge tracts of evangelicalism have never heard the word "theonomy," much less adopted the tenets thereof. The Bible is insufficient, warns Gordon, to instruct and inform the “human-as-legislator” or the “human-as-physician” or the “human-as-mechanic,” as if the most ardent Bible-thumpers (as he calls them) ever tried to discover in Scripture the number of amendments to the U. S. Constitution, or the number of chambers in the human heart, or the number of spark plugs in an engine. He’s tilting at windmills.

Gordon admits that the basis for this article is not Scripture but a Gallup poll revealing high rates of divorce among evangelicals. Dr. Gordon declares “Scripture is manifestly not sufficient” (presumably the Gallup poll has made it manifest to him) “to teach people how to attain” a lifelong marriage. He reasons thus:
1. Evangelicals read the Bible.
2. Evangelicals have a high divorce rate
3. Therefore, the Bible is insufficient for any purpose outside of life as a covenant community member.

This is a leap of logic by any standard. Accordingly, Dr. Gordon’s case against the sufficiency of the Bible has proved itself to be insufficient.

- Anonymous
[Posted by TurretinFan on Anonymous' behalf]


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Responding to "Gabriel Serafin" Regarding the Religion based on the Word

A poster using the handle "Gabriel Serafin" wrote:
Protestantism is a religion based on a book. But Jesus Christ did not hand out Bibles, He established a Church and gave her authority to teach. God gave us the Bible through His Church; thus the Catholic Church defined the Canon of Scripture in the first place. "Bible-only Christians" who dismiss the teachings of the Catholic Church are simply living in a state of ignorance and false understanding of Christianity. James White is merely one voice among thousands of voices spreading a cacophony of noise and confusion against the Church that was established by Christ. Without the Catholic Church you have no Bible.. 
I reply:

The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible.  The fact that Jesus himself did not "hand out Bibles" is hardly a compelling point, given that he frequently quoted from the old testament Scriptures and commanded his theological opponents to "Search the Scriptures."

Moreover, the final book of Scripture is the Apocalypse, which describes itself as "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him ... ." (Revelation 1:1)  Us folks who follow the Book know this, or at least we should.  So, while it would be inaccurate to say Jesus "handed out Bibles" he certainly gave us the Bible, not only by virtue of being the Word made Flesh, and the capstone of the prophets ("God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" Hebrews 1:1-2) but also by delivering this final Revelation to John by the hand of an angel ("... sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw." Revelation 1:1-2) just as also the Pentateuch was delivered ("it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator" Galatians 3:19).

You may say that Jesus established a church, and indeed Jesus did.  But Jesus did not establish a church headed by some other man, but rather he is the head ("gave him to be the head over all things to the church" Ephesians 1:22; "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church" Ephesians 5:23; "he is the head of the body, the church" Colossians 1:18).  Jesus did not tell us that the bishop of Rome is to be a second head - as though when a husband is bodily absent some other man can fulfill that husbandly role with his wife.

In fact, the apostolic writings provide us with zero documentation of any papacy.  There wasn't one.  Christ did establish his church, but modern Rome is not that church.

In fact, the implied conception of "the church" is foreign to the New Testament scriptures.  The expression "the church" in Scripture can refer to various things, such as the local body of believers or to the entire category of all believers.  It is faith that defines the church, though - not the other way 'round.

Christ built his church on himself, the Rock and our only Rock:
  1. "He is the Rock" Deuteronomy 32:4; 
  2. "he forsook the God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation" Deuteronomy 32:14; 
  3. "Of the rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee" Deuteronomy 32:18; 
  4. "except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?" Deuteronomy 32:30; 
  5. "There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God." 1 Samuel 2:2; 
  6. "The LORD is my rock" 2 Samuel 22:2; 
  7. "The God of my rock, in him will I trust" 2 Samuel 22:3; 
  8. "who is a rock, save our God?" 2 Samuel 22:32; 
  9. "the LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock; and exalted be the God of the rock of my salvation." 2 Samuel 22:47; 
  10. "The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me," 2 Samuel 23:3; 
  11. "The LORD is my rock" Psalm 18:2;
  12. "who is a rock save our God?" Psalm 18:31;
  13. "The LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted" Psalm 18:46;
  14. "O LORD my rock" Psalm 28:1;
  15. "be thou my strong rock" Psalm 31:2;
  16. "thou art my rock" Psalm 31:3;
  17. "I will say unto God my rock" Psalm 42:9;
  18. "He only is my rock and my salvation" Psalm 62:2;
  19. "He only is my rock and my salvation" Psalm 62:6;
  20. "In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God" Psalm 62:7
  21. "thou art my rock" Psalm 71:3;
  22. "they remembered that God was their rock" Psalm 78:35;
  23. "Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation" Psalm 89:26;
  24. "the LORD is upright: he is my rock" Psalm 92:15;
  25. "my God is the rock of my refuge" Psalm 94:22;
  26. "O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation" Psalm 95:1;
  27. "he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel" Isaiah 8:14;
  28. "thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength" Isaiah 17:10;
  29. "whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:" Matthew 7:24;
  30. "Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: he is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock" Luke 6:47-48;
  31. "This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner." Acts 4:11;
  32. "Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed" Romans 9:33;
  33. "for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." 1 Corinthians 10:4; 
  34. "To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, " 1 Peter 2:4; and
  35. "Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.  Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." 1 Peter 2:6-8.
Yet against that backdrop, you will foolishly assert that Peter is the Rock of Matthew 16:18?  Why, because Peter's name means "rock"?  Do you not know that Peter is called "Bar Jona" because of his relationship to his fleshly father Jona?  If so, then why do you not understand that Peter is called Peter because of his faith in the Rock, namely in Christ.

The foundation stone is Christ, as it is written:

  • "Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." Isaiah 28:16
  • "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 3:11

Yes, there is some secondary sense in which we are built on the apostles (all of them, together with the prophets): "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;" (Ephesians 2:20) but notice who is the one rock on which everything else is built: it is Christ.

The Bible did not come from "the Catholic church" it was delivered to the prophets and the apostles.  Most of the books were delivered in the Old Testament period, before "the Catholic church" even claims to have existed.  The rest of the books were delivered by the apostles and the evangelists.  The claim the Scriptures make about themselves is that they are God-breathed ("given by inspiration of God" 2 Timothy 3:16) not church-breathed.

When Paul wrote the epistle to the Galatians he expressed it this way: "Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)" (Galatians 1:1).  Those are not the words of someone who needs to run it past the church, or even past some imaginary 1st century pope.  Instead, Paul received divine revelation from Christ and was inspired to hand it on to us in writing.

God used many people, including unbelieving Jews, to preserve the text of the Bible for us. We are thankful for God's providence in that regard.  Nevertheless, their role in preservation of the Scriptures is no endorsement of their theology.

Indeed, those in the English-speaking world ought rather to say that we received the Scriptures despite Rome, rather than because of Rome.  Wycliffe's translation of the Bible (from the Vulgate!) was suppressed, as was Tyndale's translation from the Greek.  To be a Bible translator in those days was to risk persecution, yet men did the work necessary to get God's word into the language of those in England.

The idea that "the Catholic Church defined the Canon of Scripture in the first place" is laughable.  Rome's first "infallible" definition of the canon of Scripture was at Trent - after Luther's death.  That's hardly "in the first place."  Moreover, even if one goes back all the way to the North African Councils that came the closest to the Tridentine canon, they weren't the first canons of Scripture to be provided.  Athanasius managed to provide a canon of Scripture before the north Africans.  Moreover, it is plain that others before him (such as Origen) had a canon of the Scripture.

Who is living in a state of ignorance about Christianity?  Those who follow the teachings of Christ and the apostles, which are set forth in Scripture?  Or those who instead following the teachings of Rome, whether or not they contradict what Scripture teaches?

James White is merely one voice among thousands of voices, one witness amongst a great cloud of witnesses. Yet referring to his appeals to the authority of Scripture as "cacophony" suggests that the author of the comment has a confused idea about Scripture.

Would that "Gabriel Serafin" would cast aside his mistaken idea that Christ's church is founded upon Peter and instead recognize that Christ's church is founded upon Christ, the true Rock of our salvation.