Archive for the ‘Calvinism’ Category

The following material was published in 1984 in Christianity and Civilization No. 4: The Reconstruction of the Church, pages 6-9, and are reprinted here as grist for the mill of the discussion of “evangelicalism.” Footnotes have not come through, of course. Though this material is offered in connection with a concern for “evangelicalism” raised initially by Rev. Douglas Wilson, I am as certain as I can be that Doug would agree with what is written here about the dangers spoken of.  My point is that one of the several meanings of “evangelical” is precisely someone who would agree with Whitefield and the Methodists in connection with the problems of the Great Awakening. If you want to understand much of what is meant by “evangelicalism” in America, you need to understand the evils of the Great Awakening. — JBJordan

Beginning of citation:

As a result of all this [the inability of the Reformers to get full liturgical worship and weekly communion in place in the churches], protestant people came to think of preaching as the most important aspect of the institutional Church. This was a mistake, because God has not given many gifted orators to the Church. (St. Paul was ridiculed for his lack of oratorical skill, and Moses had the same problem; see Exodus 4:10ff. and Acts 20:7-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 10:10.) The proclamation of the gospel needs the pastoral context of the whole “body life” of the Church, and particularly needs the seal of the sacraments. By its exaltation of preaching as a charismatic art, the Reformation moved in the direction, subtly and unintentionally to be sure, of undermining the Church itself. (more…)


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I wrote my beef about “regeneration” a decade ago, and I don’t really see the need to reopen what I think now. (Jordan, Thoughts on Sovereign Grace and Regeneration: Some Tentative Explorations. Biblical Horizons Occasional Paper No. 32; available for $5.00 from Biblical Horizons, Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588.)


My pal Doug Wilson has been writing a series of essays on “Life in the Regeneration” (I like the title!) and I’m being constrained to say something. So let me do this as a series of points.

1. I’m a postmillennialist, because I actually believe (gasp!) that Jesus was serious when He said He intended to disciple all nations.




Got it?

So, I don’t think I have to get everything right today. In fact, I know I won’t. In the year AD 35,678, some theologian in what is now Sri Lanka will come up with the very best explanation of the things under discussion, and I’m willing to wait.


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During the last couple of weeks, Douglas Wilson has issued several posts over on his Blog and Mablog blog that deal with “evangelicalism” and who is and who is not an “evangelical.” In the course of these postings, Doug has written that while I am a fine Christian who has much to offer everyone, I’m not what he means by “an evangelical.” I’m a conservative Biblicistic protestant (my phrase), but not an “evangelical.” See here and here. None of this really bothers me, but I have received more than one request that I comment on the issue involved, including from Doug himself. Hence this first of a series of essays.

(The essay of mine to which Doug refers is Thoughts on Sovereign Grace and Regeneration: Some Tentative Explorations. Biblical Horizons Occasional Paper No. 32, January, 2003; available for $5.00 from Biblical Horizons, Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588; or see here.)

First of all, then, what is “an evangelical”? That will be our topic in this posting. The use of the adjective “evangelical” as a noun is, to start with, a bit strange, but “Evangelical Christian” is the actual term, with “evangelical” being shorthand.

The usual and broad meaning of “an evangelical” in the United States (where it matters most) is this: someone who accepts that the truth claims of the Bible are without error not only doctrinally but also with respect to historical and spatial matters, who accepts the teaching that God is three equal persons in one Godhead, and who trusts in the work of Jesus Christ alone for his justification and salvation. This is the definition that will get you into the Evangelical Theological Society, of which I have been a card-carrying member since 1976. And in this sense, James B. Jordan is most definitely “an evangelical.” And I know that Douglas Wilson fully accepts that this is so.


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2. What is the Covenant?

There are many and varied descriptions of what the Bible means by the word “covenant” (Hebrew: berith). We are tempted to write that there are as many definitions of “covenant” as their are covenant theologians. Because this is a short introductory book we shall not take up who said what, and argue for one view of another. Rather, we shall allow systematic and philosophical reflection on the Biblical data to help us rise to a full and broad understanding of covenant.

Clearly, a covenant is some kind of personal relationship that involves a bond and a structure. Such a bond is real — breaking it is painful, and this pain is the pain of death.1 Thus, we shall call it a bond of life or a living bond. At its most basic, then, a covenant is a personal and structural bond between two or more persons. We can see this in the marriage covenant, which involves two people, life-bonded together, in a structured relationship with the husband as head who gives himself sacrificially to the wife who subjects herself to him.

(footnote: Since God’s life is Triune, human beings made in his image experience death when they are isolated from other people and from God. See the book of Job. We too often think of “life” only as individual life, but there is no life apart from community. This means human life, for God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” even though God was with him (Genesis 2:18). Old people who live alone, widows and widowers, need cats and dogs to keep them company. Life does not exist in isolation, but only in bondedness with others. That is why those who are “alive” in hell are also “eternally dead,” for they are cut off from God and from all other persons.)

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The previous essay on “Monocovenantalism” brought up this matter, so a few comments here. In this area also the mindless militants have perverted the conversation. The notion that the death of Jesus was insufficient for our justification and that we must also have an imputation of His perfect life in order to be declared just is a notion found in none of the Reformed Confessions. It was debated at the Westminster Assembly, with people on both sides, and the Assembly decided to write nothing about it and leave it as adiaphora.

Like American political liberals who find the right to abortion hidden in the Constitution, today’s militants have found this doctrine hidden in the penumbra and interstices of the Reformed faith and are determined to pronounce as heretics anyone who differs from it. Never mind that their behavior makes the entire Westminster Assembly into heretics!

I’m rather dubious about this doctrine myself, since I cannot find it in the Bible. Perhaps it is there by implication, as indeed may be the case. I do think, however, that there are some underlying issues that play into the matter, and these I wish simply to note here.

One issue  is the incarnation. The early church and the Nicene Creed affirm that the incarnation was “for us” as well as “for our salvation.” The Son was not incarnated as man only to save us from sin, but also to “bring many sons to glory.” In other words, the incarnation was planned all along, sin or no sin. God created humanity as a bride for His Son, and it was always going to be the Son who would come into the world and bring His bride to full glory. Notice the Creed:

Who for us men,

          And for our salvation,

Came down from heaven,

And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

And was made man;

          ALSO [etiam] was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,

          And suffered….

Together with this is the effective rejection of Romans 8:30, where “justified and glorified” are in the same tense. There is present glorification just as there is future justification. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 assures us, we are presently growing from glory to glory. The early church called glorification “deification.” The passages used nowadays to show imputed righteousness, such as the robing of Jeshua in Zechariah 3, are actually about glorification (as is obvious).

God killed an animal to cover Adam’s sin in the garden, and then clothed them in tunics, a royal garment. This “same” tunic of royal rule was stripped from Jesus at the cross and the soldiers cast lots for it.

The “day of atonement” in Leviticus 16 is actually literally the Day of Coverings, plural. Blood covers the Ark-Cover, removing sin, and then the priest is covered in his glory garments.

I lean my hand upon the sacrificial animal, but he does not turn around and put his innocent paw upon me. Rather, he dies and his blood is displayed. That’s justification. Then, however, the sacrifice enters into God’s fiery shekinah presence inside the “altar” (communion site) and ascends up to the throne. That’s glorification.

My robes are white in the BLOOD of the Lamb, not from “imputed righteousness.” The Lord’s Supper displays Jesus’ DEATH to the Father until He comes.

Jesus receives my liability to sin and thus dies, His blood displayed. What I receive from Him is union with His glorification by the Spirit. It is His new life, resurrection and transfigured life, that is given to me. It is the well nigh universal failure of the Reformed faith to take this Biblical data into account that is behind the confusion over justification. Jesus died for me. That’s why I’m forgiven. That’s enough.

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Repeatedly over the last several years a variety of characters have accused the so-called “Federal Vision” of being “monocovenantal.” Many other wild and unsubstantiated accusations against the “Federal Vision” have been made, of course. Recently I learned that two of the men on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s study committee on “Federal Vision” did not even know that there was a book called The Federal Vision. These men had read next to nothing, if anything, about the “Federal Vision,” but actively wrote a report full of lies and misrepresentations of it.

The lies about the “Federal Vision” early on took on a life of their own. Those repeating them, marching mindlessly in lock step, never bother to consult any “FV” representatives. They just issue report after report repeating the same lies. After a while it becomes, “Well, how could so many churches be wrong about the Federal Vision? Hey look, ALL the denominations have condemned it!”

The answer is simple: the people on the committees are mindless marchers. They march in step with the mindless marchers who have told them these lies. Seldom do they read anything written by the people they supposedly are investigating. They publish wild reports, filled with amazing lies, and when called to account they say this, “Well, those men say that they don’t believe these things; but we know that they really do.”

How do you answer such evil men?  They cannot find that you’ve ever written XYZ, and they cannot find that you’ve ever said XYZ, but they accuse you of it anyway. When you say you don’t believe XYZ, they call you a liar. I wish I were wrong about this, but it seems that these are the kind of men who staff the theological committees of pretty much all the “conservative” “Reformed” denominations these days. There is no charity, no benefit of the doubt, not even a phone call. The attitude is pretty clear; as Luther put it:  They proudly say, “Now, where is he That shall our speech forbid us? By right or might we shall prevail; What we determine cannot fail; We own no lord and master!” (Luther, Psalm 12)

Among the lies constantly reiterated by the unthinking marchers is the charge of “monocovenantalism.” According to them, “Federal Visionaries” deny that there are two covenants in human history. Since nobody has ever said this, the charge is a lie. Somebody started up this lie, and the mindless marchers, too lazy to check into it for themselves, simply repeat it over and over.

Reformed theology does say, of course, that the three persons of God exist in covenant with each other. They exist with each other in other ways also, but they are indeed covenantally united. This follows from the Biblical doctrine of creation. There is nothing in the creation that does not have its archetype in God, because there is nothing outside of God that God could look at when making the creation. Covenants exist in human life because the three persons of God are in covenant with one another. This is standard, garden-variety Calvinistic teaching, and anyone who denies it is not Reformed in any way, shape, or fashion.

So, ultimately, in God there is one covenant. This is an inescapable fact that anyone with the least knowledge of systematic theology should know. In history, however, there are phases in God’s administration of His relationship with man and there are two overarching covenants. (Oh by the way, “Federal Visionists” despise systematic theology as “inherently rationalistic” we are told!)

The human race was created in covenant fellowship with God, but in a child form of that relationship. Human beings were under “law” administered by angels until they grew up. When the human race was ready, God entered into a new covenant, an adult covenant with humanity. The first covenant was in Adam and in the human beings that came from him, including Jesus the Christ. Jesus was born into the first covenant, and then through death and resurrection brought the new covenant, the covenant of maturity or glory. So, there are two overall covenants.

Nobody denies this. To say that “Federal Visionists” deny this is a lie. Nobody has ever denied it.

Of course, beyond this, we recognize a succession of covenantal administrations in history: the Adamic, Noahic, Patriarchal, Sinaitic, Kingdom, Prophetic, and Oikumenical covenants, which precede and lead down to the New Covenant. Each of these previous covenants reiterates the “angel/law” world of the childhood covenant, but each also reveals and progressively partly manifests the adult world of the mature covenant. And, because of the fall of man into sin, each of the older covenants reveals the coming salvation of the world from death and sin, which will make possible the entrance into the New Mature Covenant.

Beyond this, each of these eight covenants has an initial and then a full form. The Adamic covenant is “not good” until Adam has gone through a kind of death-sleep and then been glorified with a bride; then the covenant is “very good.” Similarly, the Sinaitic covenant has a first phase, in which the Ten Words are written on stone and in which the bride is merely part of the husband’s house in the Tenth Word; and then after the death and resurrection of Israel in the wilderness comes the full phase of the Sinaitic covenant, in which the Ten Words are now put in flesh through the voice of Moses and in which the bride is elevated in the Tenth Word to co-rule with her husband over the house.  The same kind of move from initial to full form can be seen in each of the covenant administrations, once it is recognized that the “bride” is the community. Hence, again, the Prophetic covenant starts with Elijah as soloist, but after his departure, Elisha is seen always in community.

The point of this essay is not to give a full explication of genuine Biblical and Reformed covenantal theology. The point is that there are no monocovenantalists. As far as I know, there never have been any.

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Recently the magazine Tabletalk published a series of essays against Calvinist theologian N. T. Wright. The black cover of this issue lets us know just how dangerous this man is.

But how dangerous is N. T. Wright? Well, he’s dangerous to some people, but not to others. Let’s see:

1. He believes in paedocommunion. He thinks baptism is enough to admit children to the table. There’s no particular essay on paedocommunion in this issue of Tabletalk, but you can be sure that it’s in the background. Paedocommunion is a much more churchy and less intellectualistic approach to the Kingdom than the writers in Tabletalk believe in.

2. He believes in theocracy. He thinks that it is of the essence of the Gospel that Jesus is King, and not just King of the Church but King of kings. God has been forgiving and justifying people ever since Adam, but now He’s made Jesus King and calls all societies to repent. This is completely rejected by the Klineans and pietists who dominate the “Reformed” world today. They are opposed to any idea of theocracy. For Wright, salvation is both individual and social, and the baptistic individualists who attack him completely disagree with this, especially John Piper, who as a baptist is not really into a covenantal view of society and salvation. It is no surprise that baptists and amillennialists, who think that God is only saving individuals and not societies, would be confused by traditional Calvinists like Wright.

3. He’s basically postmillennial. He thinks we have not yet arrived at the end of history. He doesn’t think everything has been settled, and that the Great Conversation needs to continue. He’s willing to be open to correction on lots of secondary issues. This is a problem for amillennialists, who naturally tend to think that everything has been settled and that any departure from their views is a move into serious error or heresy.

4. He’s a member of the Church of England. So, he believes in sung, liturgical worship. As far as the Ligonier types, most of them anyway, that’s a great evil. I know some of the men who wrote in this issue of Tabletalk, and believe me, they are strongly against weekly communion, singing psalms, and structured covenant-renewal worship. Two of these authors are pastors at First Presbyterian, Jackson, MS, and you can go to that website and see for yourself.

5. He’s a bishop. You’ll notice that all the people attacking him in this issue of Tabletalk are baptists or presbyterians. But Wright’s view of bishop is very low church: The bishop is nothing more than an ordinary minister who is regarded as first among equals. Wright is strongly opposed to any separate “office” of bishop. The “presiding minister” in the Confederation of Reformed and Evangelical Churches is pretty much the same as what Wright views as a bishop. Still, just hearing the word “bishop” makes some of these men react. I know some of these men, and they have an emotional revulsion when it comes to Episcopalians of any variety.

6. Wright joins with the original Calvinist reformation and views justification as forgiveness, and does not see any “imputation of active obedience” as part of it. This is a technical question that grew up a generation or two after the Reformation and that was an issue at the Westminster Assembly, and concerning which the Westminster Standards are deliberately silent. Many modern Calvinists believe that when we are united to Jesus in His resurrection, we receive all His righteousness plus His glorified power, and that is what gives us the power to obey and live as Christians. But we are pronounced innocent simply because of the cross. As far as I am concerned, this is correct. The Lord’s Supper shows forth Jesus’ death, not some kind of “imputed righteousness.” But whatever the case, anyone who thinks that “imputation of active obedience” is part of the essence of the Reformed faith is in error. The Reformed faith has always had people on both sides of this question.

7. The fact that Wright is an openly declared Calvinist is not an issue, of course, but you’d never know that from the way these men have written about him. Wright has never tried to be “above” the differences between Protestant and Catholic, as one of these writers falsely alleges. He’s completely Reformed and Calvinistic, and has said so many times.

8. Of course, Wright, like most English evangelicals, is in favor of women’s ordination. And he’s got some political views that I don’t agree with, though he’s an openly declared “small government man.” And of course, as a participant in the Great Conversation, there are a number of places where I disagree with Wright’s interpretation of a particular passage.

9. The final thing I’ll say about Wright is this: There is absolutely nothing in anything N. T. Wright has ever written that even in the slightest compromises the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Anyone who says otherwise is just ignorant.

10. So, the question for us is this: Is N. T. Wright dangerous to US? I don’t think so. He’s a fine evangelical and Reformed scholar who has much to say, and we should not be afraid to listen, and disagree sometimes or often.

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Part One

Continuing through The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies:

The author gives some of his own appraisals rather than immediately quoting Durel, even though that is how he began his chapter. In Davies’ opinion, while the Puritans would invoke their own interpretation of Scripture in order to condemn, say, Calvin’s Church in Geneva when a difference was pointed out to them, they were ultimately ignorant of the greatness of the variance between their own convictions and those of the Continental Reformed Churches.

They would probably have been surprised had they realized the extent of their divergence from the customs of the Reformed Churches. They would have been even more amazed that, in certain features of her worship, the Established Church in England approximated more closely to the Reformed Tradition than they did themselves (p. 38).

The main point here was the use of written prayers, as opposed to only extemporaneous prayers, in public worship. Some Puritans, such as Richard Baxter, had no such scruples against using written prayers. But many did. Their influence is seen in the Westminster Directory, which Horton Davies says, “brought Puritan practice nearer to Calvin’s” (p. 39), but couldn’t actually include written prayers to be read in worship.

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The Worship of the English Puritans by Horton Davies really valuable book for gaining historical perspective on the American Presbyterian scene. (I will note for the record that I don’t believe there is an objective definition for “puritan” and I wish historians would stop using it and instead speak of “English Calvinists” or “dissenters” or use some other label that actually designates a particular group by shared characteristics. But it is still a good book.) What is especially helpful is chapter 4: “Puritan Worship and the Continental Reformed Churches.”

Davies points out that it was “clearly the intention to bring English worship into line with Reformed practice” (p. 35). Furthermore, the Puritans would “appeal to the continental Reformed Churches for precedents.” Even the Separatists would do this.

Oddly, however, one John Durel, a Reformed pastor of a congregation in Savoy, France published an entire book arguing that the Anglicans were closer to the Reformed Churches than the Pruitans. It was entitled, A View of the government and Publick Worship of God in the Reformed Churches beyond the Sea (London 1662). On page 14 of that work, according to Davies, he wrote that the views held by the Westminster Assembly regarding the continental Reformed churches were, “mere Chimeras and Ideas; which, like the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, never existed but in their brain.”

Davies goes on in the chapter to examine Durel’s claims and evaluate them. As I have time I’ll post more about what he says on various practices and structures that the Puritans were advocating as “Reformed.”

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This is the conclusion to Frame’s discussion about historical/covenantal election in his The Doctrine of God (pp. 329-30):

Historical election and eternal election are distinct, but they cannot be entirely separated. Note the following:

1. Both historical and eternal election are aspects of God’s saving purpose. The election of Israel and the temporary election of individuals in history are means by which God gathers together those who will receive his final blessing.

2. As we have seen, the “remnant” of historical election is no less than Jesus Christ. Jesus himself is eternally elected by God (1 Pet. 1:20), together with those God has chosen to be in him. So in the end, historical and eternal election coincide [1]. In history, they do not; for historical election is a temporal process and eternal election is forever settled before creation.

All of the eternally elect are historically elect, but not vice versa. Historical election is the process in time by which God executes his decree to save the eternally elect. As God judges the reprobate through history, the difference narrows between the historically elect and the eternally elect. In the end, the outcome of historical election is the same as that of eternal election.


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