Keep Looking: A Response to Greg Morse and Desiring God

KEEP LOOKING

My parents will be the first to tell you, I can really put my foot in my mouth. I often don’t say the right thing. Often times, I can frustrate Allyson because I try to hunt for just the right words for the situation. Different people interpret words differently. My family knew that frustrated, mad, and pissed we’re all different levels. Her family will use them all interchangeably. It causes confusion.

When I read the now infamous Piper article about sanctification I was hopeful that perhaps this was just a misstatement. I’m often not clear and so want to be gracious in this area. However, yesterday evening, Greg Morse (a Desiring God affiliate) wrote again in this issue and said exactly the same thing. Taking up the topic of killing sin, Morse seems to redirect and go on a tangent:

“But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification — both initiated and sustained by God’s grace.”

The likelihood that this is two verbal slips within a week of each other isn’t coincidental. There’s not room for me to be gracious the second time around here. What’s being said is very plain. The New Law camp has invented this brand new theological term “final salvation”. One that I’ve not found anywhere in our confession or Scripture. Yes I will agree justification is not sanctification and both of those are parts of the ordo salutis. However, there is not a single category for one to be justified without also being glorified. Paul writes in Romans 8 as if justification is the declarative decision in our glorification. There is not one example of someone truly justified but does not make it to Glory. The New Law Camp would be good to not invent categories for things that have no basis in Scripture.

But while they may pay lip service to Grace and monergism, the New Law idea is simple: Justificiation is our entrance into the kingdom, but sanctification (that is our good Works) are what keep us in the kingdom. This is contrary to the teachings of Scripture.This sounds like the Galatian issue all over again. What we’ve now begun in the Spirit will we continue in the flesh? By no means! But this is the position that is being placed before us.

He then quotes Heb 12:14 and 2 Thess 2:13, the two verses the New Law Camp seem to have rallied behind. Because they need a Biblical argument, they’ve found these two niche verses to prove this idea that justification can be possible without the promise of salvation. But this cannot be. Because if God is truly the Author and Finisher of my faith than one thing is certain. It’s not me. Sanctification is wrought in us when we look to our union with Christ and our justification.

Works are not the instrument by which we are sanctified. If that’s the position the New Law Camp want to run to, the arms of Douglas Willson’s Federal Vision are wide open. They are more than welcome to excuse themselves and head to Moscow. I reject any form of Christianity that says that the more you perform Good Works, the less you need of Grace. So if Mr. Morse, Mr. Dukeman, or any other want a fool proof way to fight sin, it’s very simple.

Keep looking to Jesus. Keep coming back to the sacaraments with the mind of “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling.” You want to kill your pet sin? Keep reminding your flesh “I am not my own, but belomg to my faithful savior.” Keep coming back to the Wellspring that declares “if your thirsty, come to Me”

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The Marrow of the Matter: The Sanctification Debate Returns

Marrow Matter

It has taken me almost 27 years, and sanctification is still a tough subject to get around. It is, in my opinion, the doctrine where the rubber meets the road. The nature of good works and their relationship to sanctification is not a new debate. The Reformed tradition has come to this dispatch box for centuries, the Marrow Controversy has not died yet. Last week, John Piper lit the powder keg again saying,  These works of faith, and this obedience of faith, these fruits of the Spirit that come by faith, are necessary for our final salvation. No holiness, no heaven”. Of course, the Reformed community came back with either push back for affirmation.

But my effort in this is not to respond to either Dr. Piper or the responses to him. This of course may seem like I am dodging the war; but I want to respond to two things I myself have seen. I want to clarify the position of the “Free Grace” boys and give some push back to my New Law brothers. I think we have a serious discussion creeping up on us, and it has the potential to teach something that is contrary to the Scriptures.

What is sanctification? According to our Confession,

Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace,[97] whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God,[98] and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.[99] (WSC #35)

Right from the onset we must dispel some things about Sanctification. First, sanctification is a work of God’s grace. Man cannot please God apart from the Spirit’s work within him. He cannot merit for Himself any righteousness before God. The Confession leaves us no room to say that sanctification is our work. It is something that is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. The prophet Ezekiel tells us this when he says:

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

Second, sanctification is not passive. We are truly active in sanctification. We are equipped, by God’s free grace, to truly resist sin and to live according to God’s commands. Sin has no power over the Christian insofar that he cannot resist it. The believer is certainly given a new spirit that wills and wants that which is pleasing to God. We cannot deny this from the Confession either. By God’s grace we actively obey Him, and we break off the chains of sin.

I want to be very clear in these statements. Doubtless some will throw around the dread term antinomian for what I will say. However, I am not saying that the Christian should live in a state of unrepentance and passivity. Yes of course we should put to death the deeds of the flesh and chase after righteousness. We would not disagree on this.

However, my concern arises when we begin to treat good works as either the basis for our sanctification or the instrument by which the Spirit sanctifies us. Or that the Christian has a somewhat two fold justification: one that is given to us sola gratia, sola fide and one that is taken hold of per opera bona. This is utterly foreign to the Reformed tradition. Paul is clear that those who are justified and surely glorified.  (Romans 8:31) If these good works are Spirit wrought, how then can one obtain the promise of eternal life but never take it in actuality? However our Confession teaches that through good works believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God. But none of this speaks of good works being the instrument nor is it the means by which we take possession of eternal life.

Berkhof writes that good works, “do not have the inherit value which naturally carries with it a just claim to a reward.” This is because they are Spirit-wrought, not Christian-wrought. Whatever claim we have to them, we must be very quick to remind ourselves that they God working through us.

Good works then cannot be the instrument of sanctification. It is not that we are equipped to work and are thus sanctified. To argue this is to put the cart before the horse. It makes our sanctification (and thus our final salvation) dependent on our good works meriting God’s sanctifying work.

My fear is that there is a conflation in these discussions between justification and sanctification. Our New Law brothers at best are trying to ward off against anti-nomianism. I can appreciate that. However, they do a great disservice when they argue that our salvation is through good works and not unto good works. It is a dangerous place that this leads us to.

It leads us to a place that I saw one Southern Baptist seminarian go this weekend. Let’s call him Tim. Tim, in one of his many attempts to ignite the passions of his social media echo chamber, began to put a former Presbyterian minister on blast for an antinomian view. This pastor has not been on the stage for some time. But Tim likes to be heard and so attacked a formally ordained minister. However in doing so he makes the statement that it is “not enough” that we rest in our justification. My question is then: In whom then should I rest for my salvation? Jay? Jay is a terrible person to rest in. Jay is a sinner who daily has to repent. Do I have all that I need in Christ to be fully redeemed? Is it really finished? Or must I add to Christ’s work with my own sanctifying efforts as Rome tells me?

This is how serious the discussion is, it is the crux of the Reformation. Scripture clearly teaches that we are saved not by our works but by Christ. Our works are evidences of the faith and grace that has been freely given to us. But they are not the instrument of some final salvation. So to Tim, or anyone else who asks, “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” I look to Christ who says, “Believe” and “come to me and take my yoke, for it is easy and my burden is light.”

What Would You Prefer?

So folks are still blasting Colin Kapernick’s form of protest even after a year. We’re still debating this whole issue. People have just taken to not watch football then let Kaepernick’s protest spark any kind of dialogue. Which hey, that your decision. You’re grown.

But let’s start at the top. Because we’re not talking about the real issue. Everyone’s made Kaepernick’s protest into something it’s not. Here’s what I mean:

Kaepernick isn’t protesting against Trump. He’s not blasting soldiers. He’s not said that he has been oppressed. Statistically, he’s better than several starting QB’s (though not Brady stats). He’s not protesting for antifa or anything like that.

He kneels because

Oscar Grant
Tamir Rice
Eric Garner
Philando Castile
Sandra Bland
Terrance Crutcher

Alton Sterling
Jordan Edwards
Sam Dubose

Michael Brown
John Crawford III
Akai Gurley
Rumain Brisbon
Eric Harris
Walter Scott

Have been killed by law enforcement.

These are all the ones that I could think of off the top of my head. If I looked them up, I’d probable have a longer post. But these were real people who were killed without a trial. And their killers have all walked. Free. Absolutely free. You want to talk about being prolife? Here you go. It’s all right here.

So let us then ask this question: What would YOU prefer? Because when black folks march, y’all get upset. When black folks riot you get upset, when black folks kneel you get upset. So is it the form of the protest, or the subject?

what would you prefer they do? Sweep it under the rug? Ignore the videos? Carry on? Shameful is what it is.

Kapernick is quietly, peacefully protesting which is his right. In fact, either nothing Tebow and Kapernick have the right to kneel, or nether of them do.

Bring Your Talents to Westminster: Why My Reformed SBC Brothers Should Come Join the PCA

BYTTW

In response to Dylan’s article just recently posted, I have a better solution: Come join the PCA.

The SBC is making it abundantly clear that they don’t want the Calvinists. I remember having to dance around Reformed theology in my sermons and when interviewing for positions. It made me feel like I was lying. I remember not getting invited to fill the pulpit because I was open that I was a Calvinist. If this new statement says anything, it says that you’re not the preponderance, not the main group.

Yes, THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has become a haven for Reformed Southern Baptists. And yes, we’d ask you to work through baptism and polity. But let’s see what Paige Patterson says:

“I know there are a fair number of you who think you are a Calvinist, but understand there is a denomination which represents that view,” Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said at the close of Tuesday’s chapel service. “It’s called Presbyterian.”

“I have great respect for them,” Patterson said. “Many of them, the vast majority of them, are brothers in Christ, and I honor their position, but if I held that position I would become a Presbyterian. I would not remain a Baptist, because the Baptist position from the time of the Anabaptists, really from the time of the New Testament, is very different.”

To that I say: come on!

Brothers, the grass is greener. I don’t have to dance around soteriolgy. I’m submitted men who take doctrine seriously. The standards for ordination are tighter, but you know your pastor is educated. And we sit under Word, Prayer, and Sacrament.

So come join us! We’ll gladly take you

An Addendum of Thanks to Maverick

I wanted to make an additional statement after yesterday’s post respond to Maverick Witlouw, but I don’t think it fits anywhere where an edit just makes sense.

I wanted to thank Maverick personally for being willing to discuss this with me. I know I was critical, but my criticism is merely academic. I respect him and his position on covenants. Too often, Reformed young men who want to be theological really just want to surround themselves with like minded people. It’s tempting to build an echo chamber where everyone in our group thinks like us, believes like us, and supports everything we do. But that’s not what Late Night Theology is about, nor is it what the Church looks like. So Maverick, thanks for being open and willing to push back on each other. Love you brother.

I do want to say I know there are differences between 1689 Federalism, New Covenant Theology, and Progressive Covenantalism. I hope to not mix these up because they are different. But on the position of baptism, I do not see a major difference. If he knows of any, I humbly accept the education. I don’t want to get it wrong, and sometimes we need to be honest about our misunderstandings.

New Coke and New Covenant Theology

I rarely take the time to respond to another writer on another blog. It’s not my favorite thing to do; I just think it looks bad. However, exceptions must be made and the time has come to graciously, and humbly respond. Over on Soveriegn Grace Theo[blog], Maverick Witlouw wrote a post  expressly saying that Westminster doesn’t work. According to him, Westminster is practicing a replacement theology not a fulfillment theology. Per his post, Westminster just botches the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

But this cannot be so. I get that 1689 Federalists, Progressive Covenantalists, and New Covenant Theologians are trying to take historic Reformed Covenant theology and align it to their view. But this isn’t the way we come to theology or the Scriptures. All it is is theological New Coke, a changing and rebranding of what has been held to historically.

new_coke

So let’s discuss Mavericks critiques and see if they hold sway.

Witlouw seems to be upset that Westminster states that there is continuity in the covenants. He calls it “inference”  and argues that the Divines forced this in order to make room for infant baptism. At the end of the day I think it is fair to sum up Witlouw’s argumentation as this: “What’s new about the New Covenant?” And this is the common objection among all Reformed Baptists. Dr. Stephen Wellum makes the same case in “Believer’s Baptism”. This isn’t unfamiliar territory. Witlouw tips his hand when he cites Hebrews 10:16, the restatement of Jeremiah 31 New Covenant passage.

We can sum up the NCT logic behind this passage very easily. The New Covenant is “not like” the Old Covenant. As they see it, there is a transition from external membership to internal membership. Membership is no longer based on families, but is rather based on faith alone. Therefore, they argue, infant baptism is not valid because infants cannot express faith.

The problem they run into is this: Circumcision is not founded in the Mosaic Covenant, but rather the Abrahamic. Here’s the issue. In the New Testament, the term Old Covenant is always looking at Moses, not Abraham. It’s always looking at the Law from Sinai, not the Ram in the Thicket. The error of Reformed Baptists is that they conflate Abraham and Moses together as well as the New Covenant and the Covenant of Grace. That is not to say that they are not united, but they would state that God’s covenant with Abraham is radically different than the New Covenant, divorcing God’s promises from the Covenant of Grace.

However, Scripture does not teach this. Abraham is our Father because he was faithful. He believes God and is given the covenant sign of circumcision to be given to him and to his children after him. But Reformed Covenant theology is not arguing for salvation ex opere operato. We are in no way stating that an infant is secure based on their baptism. Federalists are once again confusing the sign with the thing signified. Baptism, like circumcision is a sign. Signs point to something. And even way back in Deuteronomy 10:16 where people are called to circumcise their hearts. It is not a saying of “Oh you’re for sure in”. Regardless if the sign was circumcision or baptism, the call has always been “cleanse your heart, reach out to Christ by faith.”

“But New Covenant membership is based on faith and regeneration, not baptism.”

But again, this is a conflation of terms. The Covenant of Grace has always said that faith was needed. Children in both the Abrahamic (Gen 17) and New (Acts 2:8-10) Administrations of the Covenant of Grace have been included. This is why the Philippian jailer’s family is baptized “because of his faith”. But faith was always a covenant requirement. True sons of Abraham have always had faith. So yes we look hopefully for our children to come to faith. But we know that if they do not reach out in faith, they are covenant breakers.

So what IS new? At the end of the day it is this: The New Covenant is better and different because we have the substance of Christ instead of the shadow of the Law. We do not have to come to God through a priestly mediator because Christ Himself is that mediator. We do not have to appease God through sacrifice and ceremony, because Christ is the sacrifice and ceremony. The difference is that we have what the Old Covenant veiled. This does not make it meaningless. But let’s trace Federalism to its conclusion by a simple question.

If the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace as Federalists say, how were people saved before Christ? Was Abraham saved by faith? Was he regenerated? If so, we have a regeneration, a so called “New Covenant” prior to the New Covenant. Yes they have the same substance because salvation has always been found in Christ alone by faith alone. Abraham, Moses, and Peter were all saved the same way. The difference is one had merely type and shadow, but today we have fulfillment.

Therefore, my recommendation is that Maverick go back and look again at what Covenant Theologians are saying. That he go read O Palmer Robertson’s “Christ of the Covenants” or “Far As the Curse is Found” by Michael Williams. I’d recommend dealing with what we’re really saying. And I’d strongly recommend he ditch the New Coke Theology for Classic Westminster.

Diet of Nashville

Somewhere between me getting to the boxing gym and sitting down to dinner, social media hounds found the Nashville Statement. For the last two days everyone from every side has launched their opinion on it, given pushback, critiqued, and been offended by it.

But I’ve figured out something about statements like this. When you say something strong and Biblical, everyone has an opinion. Is CBMW perfect? By no means! They still have issues with Trinitarian doctrine. Eternal Submission of the Son is wacky, no matter what Grudem argues. And yes, many Christians have taken complementarianism and turned it into a new patriarchy. So yes, there are issues with the group. But let’s remember that God uses us crooked sticks to draw straight lines.

So now everyone’s coming and offering up these emotional critiques of this statement. Notice I said emotional critiques. Not hermeneutic critiques, not exegetical critiques, not historical critiques. But emotional ones.

This has been the flaw of mainline Protestantism for decades; that there is no real hermeneutic. It is whatever we make it. There are no real standards of exegesis or history because there’s no real doctrine, because there’s no real salvation, because what ails us isn’t in our hearts, it’s what’s outside of us.

Conservative Christians have been saying this for the last sixty years. Isn’t interesting, we are at the the same place we were two generations ago. Culturally, racially, and theologically we are having the same fights. Social media just put it in our face, turned the volume up, and boost the vitriol.

Because the overwhelming arguments have been emotional, I cannot take them seriously. Emotions do not carry the same weight as Scripture.

“But why make a statement about THIS? Who not about white supremacy or racism?” Because these things aren’t mutually exclusive. Because, while yes condemning racism is a good thing and for many denominations(including my former one) still has not happened, we cannot make it an idol. The primary work of the Church is not to condemn racism, but to proclaim the Gospel that calls both racists and the LGBT to repentance and to put their faith in Christ, just as it does for all sinners. But we’ve elevated homosexuality above racism. Here’s what I mean: take Article 10 of the Nashville Statement. Replace the language if homosexualty with “racism”. Any one who pushes back on this new statement gets RIGHTLY condemned and run out of town. So why do we do it with this sin?

Because at the end of the day, we don’t want to just say that homosexuality is a sin.

But my confusion is why the world is so shocked at what has been said. This has always been the orthodox Christian position. The Church has always held that homosexuality is against the teachings of Scripture. It has always taught the heterosexual monogamous relationships are God’s design for marriage. Only for the last half century has this been in question. So yes, I agree, this does strike at the heart of how we will interpret Scripture and form doctrine. One of the critiques I got was that I was interpreting Scripture as a 21st century cis white man; as if I’m inherently flawed because of my skin color and gender indentity. But Augustine, Moses, Paul, Peter, Gregory, Athanasius, Polycarp, John, and Christ weren’t 21st century white men. But Scripture doesn’t change with the culture. We don’t ignore the parts we don’t like. So while my liberal friends like to quote Christ when it comes to taking care of the poor, they seem to leave off the part where he says “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand”

Certainly, Evangelicals need a clear, gracious strategy of ministering to those who struggle with same sex attraction. Yes, absolutely the LGBT are made in the image of God and the hand of the Lord is not short to save. But we have to decide today, right now, are we going to change our doctrine to excuse sin

or are we going to cling again to the Scriptures and say “Here I am, I can do no other. God help me”

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