Results tagged “Goodwin” from Reformation21 Blog

Truly Reformed (TR) & Reformed Catholics


A class of churchmen is emerging in Reformed circles that excites me. They are called Reformed catholics (or Reformed irenics), the term preferred by many of the great Protestant scholastics who didn't care much for the term "Calvinist". Reformed catholics differ from the so-called progressives insofar as they prize their confessional identity rather than pay lip service to it. They also differ a little from another group of staunch confessionalists.

For many years now, those who have taken the Westminster Confession of Faith seriously - perhaps a little too seriously for some - have at times been designated with the pejorative, "TR" (Truly Reformed). Not infrequently I have heard the quip, "he's a TR [sic]." 

Now, as I understand the term, those who are Truly Reformed are the "hotter sort" of Presbyterians. There are Reformed Baptists who are like this, as well. I know some of these chaps, and I will not apologize for saying that some of the godliest men I know are Truly Reformed (or would be branded that way). I count many of them my friends, and look up to them. 

Among this group, I sometimes worry that their zeal for Confessional fidelity - a noble zeal, in and of itself - can sometimes reflect an overly restricted reading of the diversity of the Reformed tradition and our Reformed confessional history. They can read our confessions in a somewhat a-historical manner. Thus they tend to draw the lines of orthodoxy quite narrowly, excluding views from the tradition that have quite a bit of historical precedent. We must admit: our tradition has lots of diversity. Lots. And this diversity is present in the way our Confessions were formed, if one reads them carefully (e.g., the nature of Adam's reward is ambiguous).

Take for example the hypothetical universalist position on the atonement. I myself am not a hypothetical universalist. But I am also aware that up to a quarter of the Reformed tradition, including the early Reformers, were hypothetical universalists. Indeed, if a hypothetical universalist came to the Western Canada Presbytery to be examined - let's call him Edmund - I would not view his position as striking at the vitals of the Confession. It is a close one, but the better versions of hypothetical universalism - which differ from the views of Amyraut or Cameron - are practically indistinguishable from certain versions (yes, versions!) of particular redemption. John Owen was actually the novel theologian when he wrote The Death of Death. In fact, Owen was an innovative theologian for his time, rarely afraid to say things differently or in a new way.

This example above on the extent of the atonement provides a gateway into the topic described at the beginning of this post. I sense there may be a growing number of younger churchmen who have had particularly good historical-theological training overseas and also here in North America. They understand the sentiments behind Regensberg. They have wrestled with the diversity of the Reformed tradition in the Early Modern Period. They have read a lot of primary sources, and so haven't been duped by some of the earlier popular Reformed literature that made a lot of claims without a lot of evidence. They have seen that there is a precedent for a healthy Reformed catholicity. And so these chaps are willing to cut a little more slack to positions that they are in disagreement with. Yes, the gospel must be defended, but the gospel isn't necessarily under attack when someone denies that Adam could merit heavenly life or affirms that there were gracious elements (carefully understood, of course) in the "Adamic Administration." 

The problem with a lot of polemical theology done by those who might be called Truly Reformed is their penchant for going for the jugular too easily and quickly. One can get in the habit of reading the worst into someone's view and calling them a moralist. This has a twofold consequence. First, to call someone a moralist is to say they are going to hell. It is the most serious of all heresies, and not a charge to be taken lightly. A moralist believes that we are justified by Christ and something else (e.g., circumcision). Second, what do we make of the rest of Christendom (e.g., Arminians) who have a different understanding of justification by faith than the Reformed. Are they also moralists consigned to the outer darkness?

Most of those in Christendom have never heard of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, much less understand it. Some in North America act like if you don't affirm that particular doctrine your soul is in danger. Nonetheless, I find some comfort in John Owen's words: "Men may be really saved by that grace which doctrinally they do deny; and they may be justified by the imputation of that righteousness which in opinion they deny to be imputed." Considering that Owen wrote one of the best defences of the doctrine of justification, these words need to be taken seriously. We need to remember that justification is not by precision alone

Here's the irony: to be truly Reformed, in my view, is to be a Reformed catholic. To be truly Reformed means you can freely quote men who are Papists or Arminians. Our Reformed forefathers didn't have to worry about people freaking out when they quoted Arminius approvingly. Today, the Reformed catholic can quote N.T. Wright approvingly, but he must be prepared to pay the price (personally, I am not much of a fan of Wright, but the example is still useful). It was Thomas Goodwin, a Westminster divine, who called Estius an "ingenious Papist" and a "learned expositor." So much theology online today reflects a party-spirit: if my friend says certain things it is okay, but if someone I don't like says the same things he is creating confusion and we need to send emails warning people about their heterodoxy. 

Charles Hodge spent a lot of time with Schleiermacher. Consider this rather startling catholicity from Hodge:

When in Berlin the writer often attended Schleiermacher's church. The hymns to be sung were printed on slips of paper and distributed at the door. They were always evangelical and spiritual to an eminent degree, filled with praise and gratitude to the Redeemer. Tholuck said that Schleiermacher, when sitting in the evening with his family, would often say 'Hush, children; let us sing a hymn of praise to Christ.' Can we doubt that he is singing those praises now? To whomsoever Christ is God, St. John assures us, Christ is a Saviour. (II.440 footnote).

Maybe spending time with Schleiermacher was the difference. We tend to be more forgiving towards people with whom we've spent time.

Readers who have been paying attention to Reformation21 will also notice that certain quarters within the blog have tried to cultivate a Reformed catholic spirit, even though we don't mind some theological sparring. No doubt we've upset some folk who are concerned about the content on the site (e.g., pieces on Halloween), but we've also gained a wide readership from people who are thoroughly enjoying Reformation21. (I'd visit the site just to read Aaron Denlinger's pieces). 

Reformed catholics receive Baptists into church membership, embrace them at the Table; Reformed catholics don't go crazy when someone - let's call him E.J - chooses to remain agnostic on the length of the first three days of creation. 

When we consider the Christian world, and just how broad it is, it doesn't make much sense for us in the Reformed Confessional tradition to be too narrow. We are, after all, a tiny minority. We should, as far as we are able, and without compromising our confessional heritage, embrace or respect other Christian traditions, viewpoints, and values. It is actually a firm confidence in our Reformed Confessional heritage that allows us to do this. 

I can only speak for myself on this matter, but visiting South Africa, China, Brazil, and other lesser-known parts of the world (e.g., Holland), has been good for me. I have spent a lot of time with godly Christian men and women who do not quite have their theology as precise as Reformed confessionalists do here in North America. But when you see their basic love for the Lord, their desire to exalt Christ, and their joy that their sins are forgiven and that God has given them his Holy Spirit, you tend to gain a different perspective compared to those who perhaps spend a little too much time in one place with those who agree with them on almost everything. Echo chambers can be dangerous places. I'd love for some of the "hotter sort" of seminarians visit Christians in other countries; it may be more valuable for their theological and pastoral development than most of the PT classes they take. 

I have students in Africa who have had to deal with a visiting pastor in their church claiming that Job was a Satan worshipper. A literal fight broke out, and in that case I think they were right not to embrace diversity! 

In the end, I think that we need to take more seriously these words from John Owen: "And a good work it is, no doubt, to pare off all unnecessary occasions of debate and differences in religion, provided we go not so near the quick as to let out any of its vital spirits." This is something I want to take more seriously in my own approach; but I hope others will also think carefully about how they seem to want to make trouble where there doesn't need to be any trouble. To that end, I'm grateful for the growing Reformed catholicity among a new generation of churchmen that takes confessional theology seriously.

Does this mean we compromise? Absolutely not; unless, of course, we're willing to say that Owen and Hodge were compromisers...

Judgment According to Works

Part 6: Judgment According to Works (see below)

It is well nigh impossible to deny that Christians will be judged according to works when Christ returns (2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 16:27; Jn. 5:28-29; Gal. 6:7-9; Rev. 20:13; 22:12). The question arises, then, how do we maintain the teaching of the passages above with the equally clear teaching that justification is received by faith alone? We do not, as I have written previously, hold to the Roman Catholic version of "two justifications." We hold to one justification by faith; but we must also grapple with the nature of true, saving faith, and the not too infrequent conditional language of the New Testament (see WCF 13.1, citing Heb. 12:14; 2 Cor. 7:1).
In relation to faith, Owen says: "For there is a faith whereby we are justified, which he who has shall be assuredly saved, which purifies the heart and works by love. And there is a faith or believing, which does nothing of all this; which [he] who has, and has no more, is not justified, nor can be saved" (see WCF 11.2). This concept forms the backbone of the judgment according to works.
Justification has both an "authoritative" aspect and a "declarative" (or "demonstrative") aspect. Thomas Goodwin points out that "the one [i.e., authoritative] is the justification of men's persons coram Deo, before God, as they appear before him nakedly, and have to do with him alone for the right to salvation; and so they are justified by faith without works" (Rom. 4:2-5) (see Works, 7:181ff.).
But there is a demonstrative aspect to our justification. God will, at the Day of Judgment, judge men and "put a difference between man and man, and that upon this account, that the one were true believers when he justified them; the other were unsound, even in their very acts of faith" (Goodwin) (Acts 8:13). God will therefore make evident, for all to see, the difference between those whom he has truly justified and those who have been left under wrath, even though they may have "professed" faith. Matthew 25:31-46 is instructive on this point.
Returning to the "right" versus "possession" distinction, Goodwin, who has affirmed that the right to salvation as received by faith alone, also posits: God will not "put the possession of salvation upon that private act of his own, without having anything else to show for it." This language is remarkably similar to Petrus van Mastricht: "God does not want to grant the possession of eternal life, unless there are, next to faith, also good works which precede this possession, Heb. 12:14; Matt. 7:21; 25:34-36; Rom. 2:7, 10." This is not a "Puritan" distinctive, as some seem to think. Dozens of Continental theologians spoke this way.
The key in all of this is to understand that Goodwin is making an argument for God's own justification of himself at the Day of Judgment. God justifies apart from works, but he also will "go demonstratively to work" and clearly distinguish between a true believer versus a spurious believer. God will "justify his own acts of justification." Or, to put the matter another way, God will justify the faith of the believer who has been justified - the judgment will prove we had a lively faith that worked through love.
The contrast between Paul and James is then brought into clearer view: "In a word, Abraham's person, considered singly and alone, yes, as ungodly, is the object of Paul's justification without works, Rom. 4:3-5. But Abraham, as professing himself to have such a true justifying faith, and to have been justified thereupon, and claiming right to salvation by it, Abraham, as such, is to be justified by works" (Goodwin).
Goodwin speaks about what sense "a man may be said to be judged by his works at the latter day." All those judged will either be justified or condemned. "So there is no more danger to say, a man at the latter day shall be justified by his works, as evidences of his state and faith, than to say he shall be judged according thereto." He essentially argues that we will be justified by works, but only demonstratively as God justifies his own act of justification in each believer. After all, Christ speaks of a (demonstrative) justification according to works in Matthew 12:36-37, "...for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
Goodwin adds: "neither is it anywhere said, that God will judge men according to their faith only." (As Calvin says, justification "by faith alone" is ambiguous; the sense of "alone" has to be understood adverbially, not adjectively). "God will say, I am to judge thee so as every one shall be able to judge my sentence righteous together with me: 1 Cor. 4:5, the whole world may know that he justified one that had true faith indeed." The final judgment is as much about the vindication of the triune God as it is about true believers having their lives vindicated. 
The result of this, for Goodwin, is that "Paul's judging according to works, and James his justification by works, are all one, and are alike consistent with Paul's justification by faith only. For in the same epistle where he argues so strongly for justification by faith without works, as Rom. 3-4, he in chapter 2, also declares, that 'he will judge every man according to his works.'" 

Most of the Early Modern Reformed did not view Romans 2:7-11 as hypothetical, contrary to what some in the Reformed camp today have suggested. Rick Phillips has addressed this question in the past, but I remain concerned about some historical and exegetical issues made therin; his post also strikes me as far too defensive. Better, in my view, is the approach taken by Richard Gaffin in By Faith, Not By Sight
Should this cause people to despair regarding the future judgment? Only if one is a bona fide hypocrite. Christ will rightfully condemn the hypocrites in the church (Matt. 25:41-46). They are marked out as those who did not do good works. They are those who neglect the weightier matters of the law (Matt. 23:23).
Here is the good news for those who have a true, lively faith: the resurrection will precede the judgment (Larger Catechism, 88; 2 Cor. 5:10). Based on 1 John 3:2, we shall see Christ and be immediately transformed by the sight (beatific vision) of him. We shall appear, then, in a manner of speaking, as already justified at the judgment. Remember, when we first believed, we received the "right to life." This is the glory of justification (Rom. 5:1; 8:1). Nothing can separate us from God's love, especially at the judgment.
We do not need to fear the final judgment if we are children of God. But, as children of God, glorified in the presence of Christ, we "must [nevertheless] all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Cor. 5:10). And, yes, there will be those in the church who will not do so well at the final judgment because their faith was dead (i.e., did not produce fruit, Jn. 15:2-5, 10, 16).

One final thought. It occurs to me that some speak of the final judgment in a sub-trinitarian way. It is all about declarative justification for some. Now, of course, declarative justification gives us the right to life. Only the imputed righteousness of Christ can withstand the severity of God's judgment. But, demonstrative justification, as I have highlighted above, is the Father's approval of the Spirit's work - that is, the Spirit of Christ - in his people because of our union with the Savior. 

The Father who gave two gifts to us, the Son and the Spirit, will look upon us as justified in Christ and sanctified in Christ by the Spirit; and he will be well pleased with his work. He will accept us for Christ's sake and reward and vindicate us because of Christ's Spirit, who has enabled us to do good works, which were prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10).  

So, it seems to me, we need to do a better job - at least, from what I've been able to read - of describing the final judgment in explicitly trinitarian terms. To that end, I believe the account above aims to do just that.

If there is a better way to bridge together the freeness of justification by faith, the conditional language of Scripture (Rom. 8:13), and the fact that Christians will be judged according to what they have done in the body (2 Cor. 5:10), I'd be very interested in such an account. But I trust and hope the basic map laid out above, with help from a well-respected Westminster divine, is faithful to the overall teaching of the Scriptures. 

I do wonder, given the zeal of some today, whether Goodwin might not find himself in some trouble in certain Presbyteries, and no amount of squirming on his part ("hey, I wrote the Confession") will absolve him from his errors.

Not to be a Suffenus

Ne Mihi Suffenus essem - Not to be my own Suffenus
"Duller is he than country dullness' self,
Once he takes pen in hand, yet ne'er so happy
As when he scribbles verse; then is he all
Self-admiration and self-centered bliss."
Because of the internet, and thus the ability to "self-publish", there are a plethora of "Suffenuses" causing all sorts of trouble for the church. John Owen used the term "Suffenus" to describe young theologians who think they know it all. Suffenus was a poet, a tad incompetent, but in no way lacking confidence in his own abilities. Those (overly) pleased with their intellectual powers were, says Owen, called "Suffenuses." These types are blind to their own faults but bitterly attack the faults of others.
Owen, speaking in the seventeenth century, when young men were generally a great deal better educated than young men today, notes how some who have read only a few volumes pretend that they deserve the title, "scholar."
"Such arrogance! Better it would be if such Suffenuses did not also go on to despise those who are truly endowed with the wisdom that they so foolishly boast of having attained to."
Thomas Goodwin makes a similar point:
"It may humble young Christians, that think, when they are first converted, that they have all knowledge, and therefore take upon them to censure men that have been long in Christ; and out of their own experience they will frame opinions, comparing but a few notes together. Alas, ye know but a piece of what you shall know! When you have been in Christ ten or twenty years, then speak; then those opinions which you have now will fall off, and experience will show them to be false."
A basic acquaintance with the blogosphere - I have in mind the "comments" sections - or the world of Twitter - the Protestant version of "ex cathedra" statements - only confirms the warnings made by Owen and Goodwin.
As an MA student and an early PhD student, I had a high estimation of my theological knowledge. However, the more I studied the more I began to realize that I actually know very little. The more I read the less I knew. In fact, God was gracious to me. He gave me friends in certain places and at certain times that, without knowing it, put me firmly in my place. I remember having a beer with a colleague in Dordrecht after a conference and we ended up speaking about his D.Phil dissertation. He is an Italian-speaking young man who learned German so he could write his thesis in German; he speaks perfect English; he also knows and speaks Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and classical Greek. I could give dozens of these types of examples.
We should remember that the seminary is a perfect breeding-ground for Suffenuses. I've lived it; I've seen it. 
What's the solution? There are many. But Owen's words have been deeply instructive to me in many ways:
"Wherever fear and caution have not infused the student's heart, God is despised. His pleasure is only to dwell in hearts which tremble at His Word. Light or frivolous perusal of the Scriptures is a sickness of soul which leads on to the death of atheism."
Moreover, according to Owen, it is imperative, for the good of the student, "that he carefully weigh up and monitor what progress he is making: (A) In all of the truth which he is busy digging out of the Word, and (B) In acceptable worship of God. Let the latter be the first and main purpose of all his studies and meditations in the Holy Scriptures...Our studies are useless if they do not teach us about our own standing before God and our Lord Jesus."
Lastly, all of our study should be "preceded, accompanied, and closed by continuous and heart-felt prayer. This is the most effectual means ordained of God for discovering that heavenly wisdom for which we are seeking..."
Seems to me to be some helpful remedies against the Suffenus in us all, and from a man who really was a scholar!
Pastor Mark Jones promises to carefully read all of the comments below on this post, just after he finishes reading more than 3.5 pages on the doctrine of Republication.