Can you be Evangelical and Reformed?

If one grasps the fact that evangelical doctrine is essentially Baptist, then the answer is no, because baptistic ideas are contrary to the Bible.  There is also the fact that the Reformed Confessions all reject the idiosyncratic baptistic teachings.  Baptists have no idea of the covenant, and cannot see the relevance of the OT to the NT, and how the NT is the fulfilment  of the OT Abrahamic covenants of promise.  Indeed, many baptistic writers have written against it in no uncertain words.

There are of course those who are unaware of the essential incompatibility of the two theologies.  You have men calling themselves Reformed who are really predestinationalist Baptists, or, Reformed Baptists.  Strictly speaking it is a contradiction in terms, but people can call themselves what they like.

The thing to bear in mind is the absolute intolerance of infant baptism that marks the true Baptist, or Evangelical.  There are evangelicals who practice infant baptism, but they are doing so for reasons of tradition and church law, not because of a proper understanding of the issues.  I studied and trained in such a church.

This “tell” of hostility to infant baptism is the dead give-away to the absence of a proper covenant theology.

Then there are those who allow both credo-baptism and infant-baptism.  Again, that is the fruit of not understanding the covenant.  There was a large church near me that split into three over this very issue.  They were Presbyterians without a covenant theology, so they made convinced baptists into elders, they pushed their anti-covenant agenda, and before long the true Presbyterians were compelled to leave.

The turmoil over the Federal Vision boils down to hostility to the covenant from within Reformed churches themselves, the very places where the covenant should be celebrated.  The Federal Vision is authentic Augustinian Reformation theology, plain and simple.

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Evangelicalism versus the Reformed Faith

These two religions are quite different.  Evangelicalism is basically the Baptist Faith with all of its short-comings.  Baptistic theology is essentially Marcionism with a splash of pietism for flavour.  It is deeply Marcionite because it rejects the Old Testament as just a collection of prophecies about Christ, feeling that that is about all it is there for.  It has no understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant at all, and cannot see that it is the Ur-covenant that the Lord Jesus came to fulfil.  This Ur-covenant is entirely invisible to them, even when you point it out.  You may point to the Magnificat where Mary speaking by the Holy Spirit prophecies that God has remembered the covenant that he swore to our father Abraham, but it will make no difference.  You will be told that there is continuity and discontinuity between the new and the old, but you will not be told exactly what that means, probably because they do not know.  This response is a standard reply, and it serves as a catch-all cliche to cover just about anything.

There is of course the overwhelming acceptance of Darwinist thinking as well that makes the history of the Bible effectively irrelevant.  The six day creation event is rejected as a metaphor for Darwinism, as is everything in the first eleven chapters of Genesis.  What use is there for an allegedly flawed book such as Genesis?

This double whammy of Marcionite exclusive New Testamentism and Darwinism makes the majority of the biblical texts utterly irrelevant to evangelicals.

In stark contrast the Reformed Faith is founded upon the WHOLE Bible.  The whole Bible is inspired and recorded history, and it is ALL useful for teaching etcetera.  The New Testament is the fulfilment of the promises that God swore on oath to Abraham, and it is this single insight that binds the old to the new in indissoluble bonds.

What is new is that Moses has been cancelled.  This is exactly what the OT said would happen when the New Covenant was made with Israel.  Moses was always an interim arrangement until Christ should appear to fulfil Abraham and to redeem Israel.

The evangelical idea of the church is deeply flawed because they cannot seer that it is Israel simpliciter.  The church is not a new Israel, or a replacement Israel, it is the old Israel with one subtle difference – it has newly ingrafted branches of the Gentiles.  These new branches do not make a new tree, they make new branches.  These grafts are implanted into the old Israel Tree according to Paul, so that we are now co-heirs with the Jews in – wait for it – the commonwealth of Israel!

This is, of course, covenant theology, plain and simple, and it is these insights that put clear water between the Reformed Faith and evangelicalism, and indeed, all other forms of Christianity.

I make the news

I have been mentioned in the trial of Peter Leithart by the owner of the GreenBaggins Blog, Lane Keistner.  He claimed that my letter to his Stated Clerk, accusing him of hypocrisy regarding the Federal Vision because he himself is out of accord with his church’s confession on the key issue  of sola fide, resulted in complete exoneration.

This all came as a surprise to me as you can imagine.  I had not expected to be mentioned in Peter’s trial.

Having thought about it, I have a few questions I would like Lane Keistner to answer.

Lane:

1. What did they study? No-one contacted me, and since I am the one making the charge, that strikes me as odd.

2. You must have brought the case against yourself. That is quite a precedent. How many accused wish they could do that? What does that tell us about the quality of the evidence you brought against yourself?

3. You claim that you were completely exonerated. Exonerated from arguments you yourself brought? Were arguments made, or did you just say you are orthodox, and you all went out for coffee?

4. How would you answer to the accusation that this looks and smells like a deal done in advance? What does that say about your claim of total exoneration?

5. On that subject, three Presbyteries have ruled against you, and your friends, on these central issues. The tide has turned against you. Does that not give you pause to think that perhaps you may be mistaken? That so many of your peers and superiors disagree with you is telling.

Sows and corn

One of the most strident voices raised against the Federal Vision is the Green Bagginses blog.  I eventually realized after months of engaging the folks there in biblical argument and debate that it was a waste of my time.

I also found myself in a near constant state of agitation at what was happening with the lynching of Steve Wilkins.  The Rev. Wilkins is one of the best Presbyterian exegetes living today, and he was being forced out of the PCA by Lane Keistner and his gang of exegetical illiterates.  His offence is reading the Bible through the lens of the historical covenants – the Federal Vision.

For a reason that I cannot explain I posted at the Bagginses site this week.  My intention was to remain pure by simply making a comment, and refusing to be drawn into another pointless discussion.  Instead, I found myself interacting on two threads.

I have put my finger on something that may explain the impossibility of an accord between the FV and its Reformed enemies – a crippled and malformed exegesis driven by rigidly systematic, not literary, considerations.

For example, in the parable of the sower, the Lord uses the picture of a plant that grows, but is strangled by weeds and thistles, so that is becomes fruitless.  I pointed out that a plant can only become fruitless if it was fruitful before.  Otherwise we have a meaningless statement.

Keistner’s brilliant reply was to point out that ginomai also means to be, to support his assertion that the plant always was fruitless.

It is true that ginomai san sometimes mean to be, BUT, it depends on the context and the way it is being used.  There was no acknowledgment of this elementary, pre-school, fact.

Keistner’s blanket drag and drop has the effect of turning the parable into a non sequitur: the plant was strangled and it was fruitless.  No link between being strangled and fruitlessness, just strangling of an already fruitless plant.  Why put these two things together if there is no link between them?

Do you see what I mean by crippled exegesis?  Strictly speaking it isn’t exegesis at all, but plain incompetence.

What drives this kind of response is the prior commitment to the doctrinal view that there is no such thing as true apostasy.  There are only two kinds of people in the world – the elect and the rest – and only the elect can ever be called true Christians.  It is impossible under any circumstances for one of the others to be regenerated and bear fruit, and then fall away.

Texts mean nothing, the doctrine is everything.

The result is the pitiful handling of the sacred text that we have seen.  They treat the word of God the way a sow treats a bag of corn, in Martin Luther’s memorable phrase.

William Tyndale’s Federal Vision

William Tyndale was the first man to translate the Bible into English from the Greek and Hebrew texts, instead of the Latin, which is itself a translation.  His introduction to his outstanding New Testament is intended to give the reader a way into the scriptures.

The right way, yea and the only way to understand the scripture unto our salvation, is, that we earnestly and above all thing, search for the profession of our baptism or covenants made between God and us.

Unpacking this just a little, is is clear that our baptism enters us into a covenant with God. Tyndale wishes his reader to grasp the fact that our baptismal covenant involves action both by God and man.  On God’s part he freely and graciously forgives us all our sins and promises us every blessing and gift for the sake of Christ, and on the basis of the cross alone; and for our part we are obliged to forsake evil and turn towards God, to keep his laws and fight against our corrupt nature perpetually, that we may do the will of God every day better and better.

The first part of the covenant, namely, God’s free gifts, are acknowledged by all who identify themselves as Reformed or orthodox Lutheran.

The difficulty for many lies in the second aspect of the covenant – our obedience.

Now if any man that submitteth himslef not to keep the commandments, do think that he hath any faith in God: the same man’s faith is vain, worldly, damnnable, devilish and plain presumption.

Those who apply the law/gospel distinction as extremely and as foolishly as the folks at Green Baggins and their friends will have a little difficulty with Tyndale here, because he goes on to assert that God offers a man mercy on condition that he will mend his living.  Those who have received mercy and grace but refuse to come under the covenant will lose the same mercy and grace.

Where he strikes to the heart of the present controversy is to assert that our continuance in grace is tied directly to our faithfulness to God’s laws:

And let us arm ourselves with this remembrance, that as Christ’s works justify from sin and set us in the favour of God, so our own deeds through working of the Spirit of God , help us to continue in the favour and the grace, into which Christ has brought us; and that we can no longer continue in favour and grace than our our hearts are to keep the law.

So then, our continuing justification is linked to our continuing obedience!  When this simple law is grasped the letter to the Hebrews and James’s epistle become intelligible.