Justification Nazis

In the whole Federal Vision controversy part of the problem is the tendency for some people to make Faith and Faithfulness to be synonymous. The problem here lies that when one is speaking of justification then the result in that arrangement is that you instantly have combined works (our Faithfulness) with faith alone. In justification Faith looks away from self and rests in Christ alone trusting completely in HIS faithfulness for us. Now, the retort that many Federal Vision people respond with is to lodge the accusation that, ‘that makes faith to be inert and perhaps even dead,’ and they go on from there to mock the notion that there is a millisecond when faith does nothing but receive Christ only whereupon then only it begins to work.

Now having dealt with more than a few of these gentleman I could see that their problem was, as I noted above, a desire for the faith that justifies to be a working faith. They wanted Faith to work even in justification, or else to them it was inert faith, or dead faith, or pretend faith.

So, I asked myself, ‘How can I satisfy their problem while at the same time leaving faith in justification to be completely instrumental and non-contributory in receiving Christ(?). “How can I talk about the work of faith in justification (so showing that it is living and vital even here) and yet not yield one inch that Faith is alone in resting in Christ?”

The answer I came up with was to tell them that, “Faith in justification does its proper work by resting in Christ alone,’ or, ‘Faith in justification works by turning from works to rest in Christ alone.’ Now naturally the Federal Vision guys didn’t like that because they knew it was undermining their attempt to combine faithfulness with faith thus making faith a kind of work.

That part is the old news.

The new news is now I am hearing that my answer is not Reformed and I might as well be Federal Vision. You see things have gotten so uptight here that unless you pronounce all the syllables in just the right order on the issue of ‘Justification by faith alone’ you must be held to be suspect of not being truly Reformed.

Below is from one of the Kiddie Corps cadets of the Westminster West justification police telling me that,

You can’t call “resting in Christ” an example of “working” and claim to be Reformed without causing some major confusion.

1.) I do claim to be Reformed.

2.) I do claim that the proper work of faith in justification is to rest in Christ alone and His work for us.

3.) I find nothing confusing in that statement. This is no more confusing then to say that the proper work of my body in sleeping is not to work at all.

What the problem here is that the atmosphere has become so supercharged with suspicion that unless you speak exactly the way that justification Nazis want you to speak then you are suspect even in the cases where YOU MEAN EXACTLY THE SAME THING THAT THEY MEAN.

Look, there is nobody — and I mean nobody, who is more opposed to Federal Vision on justification then I am. To suggest that I can’t claim to be Reformed without causing major confusion all because I employ a formulaic technique to potentially bridge a widening divide is just nonsense.

These Westminster West kids are starting to drive me nuts.

Happy President’s Day

President George W. Bush lied us into invading Iraq.

President Bill Clinton was a serial woman abuser (remember Juanita Broderick, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Jennifer Flowers, and Monica Lewinsky) and was impeached by the US Congress.

President George H. W. Bush gave us the abortionist David Souter, and signed the (litigious) Americans with Disabilities Act.

President Ronald Reagan gave us the 1986 immigration act with its amnesty and which in retrospect was probably the last opportunity to stem the illegal immigrant flood. President Reagan also bequeathed to us the abortionists Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy and increased federal spending 53 percent.

President Jimmy Carter gave us 12% inflation, 9% unemployment, 21 % interest points and a foreign policy of retreat before Communist advance.

President Richard Nixon fully abandoned the Gold Standard, introduced a wage and price freeze, signed into law title IX legislation, and introduced the suffix ‘gate’ into the lexicon of the American dictionary.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson gave us ‘Guns & Butter,’ Gulf of Tonkin and Vietnam, and the legislation that lead to quotas.

President John F. Kennedy turned the White House into a Whore house, gave us the Cuban missile crisis, and the Bay of Pigs and in a good socialistic fashion famously said that the most important question was to ask ‘what we could do for our country.’

President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave us Earl Warren and William Brennan, broken promises to Hungary in its 1956 uprising, increased federal spending 30 percent and created the Department of Health, Education, & Welfare.

President Harry S. Truman incinerated an untold number of civilians.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew the Japanese were coming but because he desired a causus belli did nothing about it, gave Eastern Europe to Uncle Joe Stalin, and gave us hard socialism with the NRA, and the ABC legislation.

President Herbert Hoover increased federal spending 38 percent (current dollars), passed legislation giving welfare to farmers, and corporate interests, and passed massive tax increases.

Do you get the point or do I need to continue?

Which Flavor Of Fascism Do You Prefer?

I’ve been doing some reading on Fascism. I keep coming across the subject. Jonah Goldberg has just released a volume on the subject and I have read several reviews on his book. (Most of them were not very complimentary.) Jonah’s premise is that Liberals (read Democrats) are Fascists. He apparently challenges the notion that Fascism is a right wing phenomena and insists quite to the contrary that we are living with a left wing version of it today. Quite to the contrary Keith Olberman of MSNBC fame, and a renown liberal recently gave a torrid 10 minute commentary on how George Bush and Republicans are Fascists. I grew up with television and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ‘news commentary’ more hot than what Olberman flamed (you can watch it here if you care to).


Now, I am a little familiar with this subject but it has been years since I have looked at it. I will give you the premise now and periodically keep you updated on how my theory is fitting up against my renewed study. Before giving my premise I think that we must recognize that the word ‘Fascist’ has become somewhat like the word ‘racist,’ in as much as it is often thrown around by people as just a way of closing down the conversation. Consequently, perhaps what will happen as we probe this is to get to a closer definition of what Fascism is. Anyway… my premise is that both Jonah Goldberg and Keith Olberman are correct. Jonah is correct is saying that Liberals are Fascists and Olberman is correct saying that Republicans are Fascists.

What people seem to be missing today is that the real battle going on today in American is not between what has been dubbed ‘the left’ and ‘the right.’ Rather the battle that is going on today is somewhat akin to the battles that waged in Berlin in the 1920’s between the Communists and the National Socialists. The battle then, and the battle now is a war between national socialist expressions of the Left (current neo-con Republicans) and international socialist expressons of the left (current liberal Democrats), and BOTH are incarnating themselves in Fascist like manifestations. Conservatives or the ‘Right’ don’t have a dog in this fight. Our dog died a long time ago. If the reader wants another metaphor in terms of how two guys in black hats can be at each others throats think about the war between Stalin and Trotksy.

Our problem today as Christians is that we have a hard time realizing that where the conflict is raging hottest in our current ideology wars is that we don’t have a champion in the cause but we think that one of the few options that is offered up must be better than the other. Stalin is not our guy but neither is Trotsky. Goldberg is not our guy but neither is Olbermann. The Democrats are not our guys but neither are the Republicans. The most that we can hope for is that these guys will bury each other and clear the field for a real option.

As we consider Fascism we must first realize that it is a Worldview one component of which is the disappearance of the Transcendent or perhaps better put the relocation of the Transcendent. Ernst Nolte defined Fascism as ‘the practical and violent resistance to transcendence.’ Fascism decries the idea of a moral order or being who stands in judgment over any attempt to re-construct society and as such they relocate that Transcendent to concrete, corporeal, and immanent notions of blood and soil so that the situated community, speaking with a mass voice, as embodied in the State, becomes the Transcendent in their Worldview.

Such a view does not negate all thinking about the importance of blood and soil when it comes to National identity but it does negate talk about blood and soil when the Transcendent is identified as equivalent of the nation and its people. Obviously then when we think of Fascism we have strong emphasis on Nationalism.

This violent opposition to the Transcendent that ends with a virulent Nationalism also brings expression to another aspect of Fascism and that is the loss of the individual. Fascism comes from the fascis, meaning “bundle.” It was used in ancient Rome to symbolize that he who carried the ‘bundle’ acted for the people, with the reflexive meaning being that the people were acting in the ruler. Fascism in its 20th century incarnation has meant societies and cultures that were monolithic in their thinking, and behavior. In Fascists cultures there isn’t much room for individuality as mass consciousness becomes the order for the day.

Given these two beginning descriptors it is not difficult to see lineaments of Fascism in our culture. These United States have lost their belief in the Transcendent and with the constant assault by the Federal State on the mediating institutions of Church, Family and local governments increasingly the only backdrop that is erected for the individual to define himself or her self against is provided by the State and the mass media, which shares in the same anti-Transcendent conviction, that the State holds. The result of this is the exchange of the individual as individual for the individual as mass man.

Now, the only battle that is left is which flavor of Fascism will Americans embrace. Will we embrace the Fascism of Fox network and Rupert Murdoch or will we embrace the Fascism of the mainline media. This is where the warfare is hot and heavy between neo-cons and liberals. Both tend towards Fascism. Neither can see their own Fascistic tendencies. Both insist that they are the preservers of freedom and the American way against the evil intentions of their enemies.

As Christians we have to keep going back to the Word of God in order to use it as the standard by which we judge the two current alternatives that basically give us a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. For Christians the poles are not ‘left’ and ‘right,’ but rather ‘adheres to God’s Word’ and ‘doesn’t adhere to God’s Word.’

More on Fascism as I return to my earlier reads and explore a few new ones.

Sin As A Corporate Phenomenon

“Moral evil is social and structural as well as personal; it comprises a vast historical and cultural matrix that includes traditions, old patterns of relationship and behavior, atmospheres of expectation, and social habits.”

Cornelius Plantinga Jr.
Not The Way Its Supposed To Be, pg. 191

This observation teaches that a unredeemed people who build a culture will institutionalize their particular rebellion against God into their cultural infrastructure with the result that not only are the individuals in the culture in revolt against God but also that the cultural superstructure is serving to reinforce that rebellion in the lives of the individuals. The consequence of this is that if there is a redeemed community living as aliens in and among an unredeemed culture that redeemed community will first have to work hard at recognizing that their home culture can indeed be fairly characterized as unredeemed and secondly they will have to become epistemologically self conscious as to how their unredeemed culture, in which they are saturated, and consequently which they are inclined to find altogether normal, is pushing them in a direction that is contrary to Christ.

All of this is only to recognize that all of us tend to reflect the culture in which we are part. I heartily confirm that regeneration and redemption ought to have a significant bearing on that but it is manifestly self-evident that it often doesn’t. In our contemporary setting part of the reason for this, I think, is that there is not enough work being done by Christians in examining how our cultural mold in which we dwell is shaping us in a non-Christian direction. I also think however that there is also not enough willingness on the part of rank and file Christians to take seriously the work that is done in teaching how the Church needs to be counter-cultural, given the reality that we are currently living in a post-Christian culture.

As we pursue this subject we should likewise reverse this scenario and suggest that among a people who are largely redeemed their will arise a largely redeemed culture that will, by the impact of the common grace, have the effect of putting socio-cultural brakes on their wickedness of the unredeemed that live in their midst to the point that the unredeemed will often accept for normal what is defined as normal due to the cultural infrastructure that is in place in a redeemed culture. This is to say that a unredeemed person living in a largely redeemed culture will likely not express their depravity as thoroughly as they would were that same unredeemed person living in a culture completely devoted to hating Christ.

Now some might object that this is an environmental understanding of the effects of sin. Nothing could be further from the truth since a totalistic environmental understanding of sin would suggest that there would be no way to break out of the cultural mold into which people are born. Quite to the contrary, because of the power of the Gospel, both individuals and whole people groups, quite contrary to their established cultures do turn from the aimless conduct received by tradition from their fathers and embrace Christ. What I am arguing here is not for a predestinarian cultural behaviorism, rather what I am seeking to recognize is that as God has made us to be social beings, social dynamics and the way those are constructed make a difference in the way that we think about and respond to everything. I argue this point with the hopes that we might understand that the Gospel has to impact not only individuals but also the macro cultural constructs that individuals build. In order for the Gospel to be successful it is not only the case that individuals must be saved but it is also the case that those individuals have to be saved with the kind of salvation that challenges the reality shaping institutions that comprise their culture since the reality shaping institutions are still molding saved individuals in a anti-Christ direction.

I think there can be little argument that the Church has done, at least by its own estimations, a bang up job of getting people saved in the last 100 years. From Finney to Moody to Sunday to Rodeheaver to Graham to McGavern to Hybels to Warren to Osteen there has been a whole lot of ‘saving’ going on. But despite hand over fist converts we live in what many people are characterizing as a post-Christian West. Now, in light of this, either what I am arguing above is true or salvation really means nothing.

There is something else that is connected with all this that I find interesting and it has to do with the noetic effects of sin. We often speak of the noetic effects of sin being more pronounced upon the unbeliever over against the believer. But let’s imagine a scenario where two people are living in the same largely unredeemed culture. Shelia is a product of her culture and epistemologically self conscious of her hatred for Christ. The Bible holds no threat for her since she rejects any authority it proclaims to have. Christina on the other hand is a Christian who likewise is largely a product of her culture and who claims to accept the authority of the Bible. Both have decided to have an abortion. Shelia, having an interest in ancient literature, reads the Scripture and says to herself, ‘this teaches that murder is wrong,’ but since this book has no authority I am going to get my abortion. There are no noetic effects of sin on her interpretation (though certainly there are noetic effects on her volition). Christina reads the Scripture and precisely because she holds it to be authoritative insists that it does not prohibit abortion. Clearly in this scenario the neotic effects of sin lie more heavily on the Christian then the non-Christian. Those Christians who accept the authority of Scripture may be more inclined, because of the noetic effects of sin — noetic effects that may be accounted for, in part, because of how they are being informed by the unredeemed culture they live in– to abuse the Scriptures then those who have no dog in the fight since they read Scripture without thinking it has any authority over them anyway.

Ask The Pastor Part III

What about end times? What are all those “millennialism” words about? Has the Christian Reformed Church officially wrestled with these?

In the Bultema case (1918 1920) the Christian Reformed Church officially decided that some tenets that are central to pre-millenialism are not acceptable in the Church. Generally speaking the Christian Reformed Church is amillennialist in its eschatology and especially in its interpretation of the book of Revelation, although its assemblies have never made a specific pronouncement to that effect.

Evaluate the rationale for the CRC’s coming into existence in 1857.

The CRC seceded from the RCA for four basic reasons.

Exclusive Psalmody

Masons and Lodges

English speaking worship

Government schools

In as much as the Government schools were already at that time being run by the Unitarians and since Education is a profoundly religious undertaking I believe that those who seceded were right to do so even if only for this reason. Though the problem with government schools at the time may have been as much cultural as it was theological, still if living these many years later recognize a intimate relationship between culture and theology we would have to conclude that their concerns were valid. Masonry is clearly a different religion and Scripture clearly teaches not to be unequally yoked and so on that score I find their reasoning acceptable. Since they were largely an immigrant Church I can’t fault them for wanting to worship in the language they were familiar. How many of us would attend Churches that worshiped in a second language with which we were barely familiar? And while not an exclusive psalmist myself I can’t fault people who are committed to singing from God’s songbook. The advantages of having Scripture ground into our memories along with verse and meter is itself enough to be sympathetic to anybody who wants to worship in such a fashion.

James Schaap wrote a book called “Family Album” about the CRC. In it, he does what many others have done – describe the CRC membership as having a number of “strands”. Tell about the three strands known as “doctrinalists”, “transformationalists”, and “pietists.”

The ‘doctrinalists’, as the name suggests, are concerned about adhering to the truths of Scriptures and the confessions. They are concerned with the question, ‘What do we believe.’ They would find the genuine stream in the CRC of vigorous Reformed thinking and insist that Reformed thinking is what makes us CRC.

The ‘transformationalists,’ following Abraham Kuyper are concerned with Kuyper’s emphasis of being salt and light to the World with the result that the World is transformed from fall by redemption. ‘Transformationalists’ are concerned about Worldview and cultural issues and believe that Christianity that doesn’t effect cultural, personal and institutional ‘transformation’ is a strange kind of Christianity.

The ‘pietists’ emphasizes the personal, relational, and intimate aspect of the Christian faith in terms of a walk with Jesus. The concern here is to avoid a religion that has the mind but leaves the heart unaffected.

It should go without saying that these three form a kind of three legged stool, that requires the presence of each in order for the stool to stand aright. For example, ‘transformationalists’ without ‘doctrinialists,’ would do incredible damage to the reputation of the Reformed faith by potentially transforming things in a wrong direction. Biblical ‘transformation’ can’t be successful apart from Biblical doctrine. Similarly it would seem that ‘doctrinalists’ can’t survive without the ‘pietist’ reality. Apart from a sincere love of Jesus and a desire to know him, it is difficult to see why anybody would spend their time burrowing into doctrine. Examples could be drawn from this triangle in every direction. Now we should say that the challenge for the Reformed faith is to find a harmony of interests among these different camps as opposed to seeing conflict in these different positions.

Which issue in CRC history do you think is most telling about the nature of the CRC?

I think the CRC claims to support the inspired, infallible, sufficient and authoritative Scripture throughout the life of the denomination has been paramount to its identity. Where the CRC has been at its best it has continued to stand under the authority of God’s Word. Where the CRC has been at its worst it has deviated from that authority. Starting with the Janssen affair where the encroachment of Modernism with its Higher Critical method was excised, continuing through every Synod that has affirmed directly or indirectly that Scripture is God-breathed the CRC has stood in the tradition of its Scriptural based confessions when it has affirmed that it serves and must examine all issues in submission to the King’s Word.

In the 1920s the CRC wrestled with “worldliness” and “common grace”. What was that about? What insights might help us today as we look back on that issue?

The consequence of this debate was the formation of the Protestant Reformed Church under the tutelage of Dr. Herman Hoekesma. The debate seems to have centered upon the kind of disposition that the Church would have towards the ‘World.’ The followers of Hoekesma insisted that common grace did not exist that while God did give good gifts to the reprobate it was not done out of love for the reprobate. They seemed to be reading God’s intent from the end consequent backwards. That is to say that seeing that at the end God intends to damn the reprobate they concluded that everything that happened along the way to that ultimate end must be read in light of that end. If God intended to damn the reprobate then any good gift that God gave the reprobate was given only to make their judgment all the heavier in their judgment, for they were after all always reprobate. The advocates of common grace seemed to read God’s intent as part of a story that is not yet finished. That is to say, they seemed to require that we read the story of men as it is unfolding. If in the unfolding story we see that good comes upon the reprobate then that must be read as a example of common grace.

Those who denied ‘common grace’ seemed to believe that the embrace of ‘common grace’ by the Church would lead towards a ‘worldliness’ that was inconsistent with what it meant to be the set apart people of God. Those who embraced ‘common grace’ seemed to believe that without a doctrine of ‘common grace,’ the consequence would be a church that was isolated in its mission and witness.

It seems that the debate has taught us that both concerns were right and both concerns were wrong. Surely those who feared about a compromised Church may have reason to believe that their worst fears have come to pass as the Church begins to trespass into realms and on issues its members of earlier generations could never have imagined. On the other hand those who feared that a denial of common grace would lead to an isolated Church might look upon Churches that have a strong teaching on the anti-thesis and see very little missional impact in the World.

One insight from this issue might be the necessity of well thought out engagement. One way the McAtee family has done this is by holding vociferously to the anti-thesis when it comes to the training of our children. We have done so out of our desire to see our children equipped so that as they engage the World it is the World that they are transforming and not them that are being transformed by the World. We have sought to be very doctrinalist in our training so that out of a well formed love for Jesus they desire to see every area of life transformed in the direction of Jesus.

Another insight might be is that doctrine of common grace can be held in such a way as to be destructive to the crown rights of King Jesus and the body of Christ. There is and should ever remain a distinction between the people of Christ and the people of anti-Christ.

My preaching on this has been the necessity to build parallel but not isolated communities. As a witness to the World Christians should be building covenant communities that are definitive, distinct, and deliberate in their Christian faith and expression. At the same time we must not, in an Amish like fashion, completely isolate ourselves. We must take the distinctive Christian thinking and living that we are cultivating in our Christian covenant communities (which ideally should include more then just attending Church on Sunday) and seek to spread that virus into all the careers and fields in which as God’s people we are called. This will lead to conflict as the World doesn’t want to be infected with the virus of God centered thinking but this conflict may be indicative that we are making progress.

Andrew Kuyvenhoven, a former editor of The Banner, said upon his retirement that the greatest challenges to the CRC were materialism and fundamentalism. What do you think of his assessment? Are these still challenges? What other challenges might the CRC be facing?

Well, certainly anybody living in the incredible wealth of These United States, certainly must be aware of the dangers of materialism. It is fallen human nature to try to love both God and mammon. The fact that the Church has to often stumbled in that regard is seen in the late Francis Schaeffer’s lament about the Church’s desire for personal peace and affluence above all other considerations. Calvin taught us that the heart is an idol factory and materialism is certainly one of the idols of our age. Materialism has made all of fat, dumb, and happy and unwilling to do anything that might threaten any source that feeds our daily materialism fix. How many of us have thought when preparing for a sermon, “I better not say this or that because it might tick Joe Moneybags off and so dry up the revenue in the Church and thus jeopardize my job.” Materialism has made us obese and it is an open question whether or not we will die from the obesity with which we suffer.

As it pertains to fundamentalism, I’m not exactly sure what Mr. Kuyvenhoven is getting at, as often the perjorative of ‘fundamentalist’ is one of those epitaphs hurled at people in order to stop the conversation before going. Often liberals will hurl that label at the orthodox all because they are being challenged on some contentious point. In the end, the charge, in certain instances, may say more about the person making the charge then the person being charged.

Having given that caveat I would offer that I see very little fundamentalism in the CRC. Now, I readily admit this may be due to the fact that I don’t get out very often. Maybe they are out there and I don’t run in the right CRC circles in order to be exposed to them.

Let me say though with all earnestness that I am as opposed as possible to the kind of fundamentalism that allows for a man to tyrannize his wife because the Bible says he is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. I’ve seen to much of that in my life to stomach it. I am opposed to the kind of fundamentalism that mistakes loyalty to Christ for loyalty to the state all because the bible says that we must subject to the governing authorities. I am opposed to the kind of fundamentalism that thinks certain behaviors quite apart from love of Christ, is automatically pleasing to God. I grew up in that kind of fundamentalism and all I saw it breed was hypocrisy.

For what little I know of the great big ocean that is the CRC I would say that the greatest danger to the CRC right now is forgetting the anti-thesis. From where I sit I think there is a danger that the denomination is going to be finally swallowed by the whale of modernity. From what little I know of the CRC it seems to me that the denomination is in danger of losing its Reformed identity for a mess of pottage called ‘being relevant.’ I think that can only be avoided by re-discovering the idea of the anti-thesis. I think this is the danger not only for the CRC but also for most Reformed denominations with which I am familiar.