There goes Tullian Tchividjian under the bus! I can certainly wish that Greenbaggins would be one blog above cheapshots about some sort of, maybe, kind of connection between Tullian’s fall and his doctrine of sanctification. Lane Keister, after all, knows well what it’s like to go into the lion’s den and get utterly smeared by the PCA’s liberals. I hate to say it, but I think Lane has taken the line of poor taste and used Tullian’s personal flop as a chance to write off his views on sanctification. We get all we need from Lane’s piece– which is nothing. He doesn’t try to demonstrate a causal link between Tullian’s views and his affair because there isn’t one. It’s all very confusing and sad when a minister (especially a prominent one) falls into sin. But at another level it’s rather simple. Tullian certainly knows just as much as his critics that having an affair is wrong. He blew it. Do we really want to go this way? I mean, is every ministerial scandal an occasion for the poor chump’s ideological opponents to say “See, I told you so!”? Well somebody could bring up Mark Driscoll but the Mars Hill debacle is really about a long string of unforced errors.

Lane ought to remember that this same thing played out after Jason Stellman shocked his supporters and gratified his enemies by joining the false church of Rome. Failures like those of Tullian and Stellman just confirm that they were flawed men fighting for a good cause. It’s sad that their theology has to get the blame for their personal failures. We are witnessing that popular fallacy– the circumstantial ad hominem– in all it’s glory. Those of us who want to challenge burgeoning legalism in Reformed circles can’t give up before one of the classic cheapshots. We certainly have a lesson to learn here. Not the platitudes like “But for the grace of God go I” but rather “Vain is the help of man.” We feel the blow of Stellman’s sell-out and Tullian’s scandal just so far as we’ve bought into the folly that the justness of our cause depends on the spotless reputation of our point men. We might as well give in and join the legalists if outward appearance matters so much to us. After all, those who think they can stand before God in their own works are the masters of hypocrisy, the gurus of appearance. But that’s not what we stand for. We know man looks at the appearance but God looks at the heart and in that way we know we have to stand in Christ or fall in our works.


So I was looking around on the web trying to figure out the Tullian Tchividjian controversy. Basically he was under accusation of taking the Law-Gospel distinction too far toward the error of antinomianism. The news says that he was asked to hurry up and move on with a ministry initiative called Liberate. The upshot is that the Presbyterian grandson of Billy Graham has taken his clout elsewhere and the The Gospel Coalition is free of a resident trouble maker. I get the sense that Tchividjian as a mega-church, ministry empire type guy is simply too busy to respond to all the doctrinal heavy hitters that have been challenging him to a debate. I’m curious to see where the controversy goes because the matters of Law/Gospel, the Law in the Christian life, sanctification, assurance and grace are fascinating in their own right. But the potential pitfalls are serious.

Some would say that antinomianism is the error besetting the church. If only that were true. It’s important that we get it right because confusion on either side, whether Law or Gospel, is possible. The confessional heritage of the Reformed churches shows that the Law has a place in the Christian life beyond just showing us our sin and need of a Savior. On the other hand, I’ve heard preaching in Reformed churches that takes the dialectical route (theology by balancing two equally ultimate truths). The results are confusing at best. You’ll just have to take the preacher’s word for it that he affirms justification by faith alone. That’s hard to swallow coming from someone who says that your salvation depends on what you do, period, and that those who show forth Christ in the Old Testament are in error.

The latest “antinomian” controversy calls this blogger, at least, to patiently and diligently attend to the Bible. One resource for making sense of the flourishing debate comes from a wise pastor. When we’re talking about Law and Gospel, we need clarity about whether we’re thinking of Law as a covenant or as a principle. Scripture certainly speaks highly of the Law as a guide for life but we’re warned against marrying ourselves to the Mosaic Covenant rather than to Christ. Now that’s food for thought!

Internet chat about the Federal Vision frequently goes off the rails because someone asks the loaded question, “Is it heresy?” Someone else invariably chomps on the bait and that someone’s alleged ignorance, lack of charity, lack of discretion, etc. takes the spotlight rather than the propriety of the FV. I do think the question, “Is it heresy?” isn’t as far fetched as many assume. Most confessional Reformed bodies have either handed down opinions against it or commended committee reports to the churches filled with trenchant critique of FV theology. The best of these reports is probably the one produced by the OPC in 2006. Denominational tolerance of the FV is limited to possibly the Canadian Reformed Churches and the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (a young body formed to accommodate a novel take on Reformed theology). The PCA is boiling over the FV, but that’s only one of many internal controversies.

Here is how I once offered a corrective to the false dilemma that often derails debate over the FV:

My own view, avoiding the pitfall of “is it, is it not heresy,” is that it is a movement that has unnecessarily divided the Reformed churches through provocation, obfuscation and novel and bizarre formulations. Of course FV proponents say some good things. That’s not the issue at all. It’s the attacks upon the Cov. of Works, the Invisible/Visible church, the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, and the positing of a bifurcated concept of Election (decretally elect/ covenantally elect subject to apostasy and hell fire). That’s just a partial list. I tend to think the FV has at best offered us a wobbly ride in a zealous effort to remake the wheel.

Revising a revision


Whereas my original proposed revision wasn’t up to date with the internet age, and

Whereas so many dynamic proposals for retooling and recasting Reformed theology are posted on the internet, and

Whereas many of said dynamic proposals for retooling and recasting Reformed theology are first enunciated at pastors conferences, along with critiques of conventional Reformed theology as hopelessly captive to Enlightenment Rationalism and other “isms” that Doug Wilson doesn’t like.

Therefore, be it resolved that my proposed revision be revised as follows (additions in italics):

Do you mostly receive and reservedly adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as sort of containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you promise that if at any time you find this system of doctrine out of accord with any of the fundamentals of your own system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your flock, pastors conferences and the internet the changes which need to take place in the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms due to changes in your own views since the assumption of your ordination vow?

Peter Leithart has served up another excrement sandwich for those concerned about his controversial doctrinal formulations. Dr. Leithart, with copious name-dropping, has extolled the virtues of “Reformational catholicism” over plain old Protestantism. The latter is apparently the denizen of (among others) the “confessionalists” in his own denomination that took umbrage rather than applaud his comprehensive overhaul of Reformed theology in tandem with the Federal Vision “conversation” (by the way, everyone involved in the FV should consider Prof. Clark’s Form for the Confession of Sin). Leithart’s lopsided post (unless you’re Roman Catholic or Mainline Presbyterian) has already been expertly answered and also diagnosed as a symptom of More-Cosmopolitan-than-Thou. The post you are reading expands upon those blog entries to identify the Leithart Fallacy. This fallacy is really a cluster of muddled thinking and sophistry. Here is how you’ll know it when you see it (I remember Leithart’s colleagues in Presbytery claiming to know error when they see it, but that’s contested):

1.  First, combine a generous amount of straw man representations of Protestantism or Presbyterian confessionalists with outrageous imputations to the same.

2. Stir in fluff about how the “Reformational catholic” is so much more widely read, so sophisticated, so full of brotherly love across the unfortunate chasm separating Romanism and the “Reformational catholics” who seek rapprochement with Rome. Speaking of the divide Rome between Protestantism, Leithart’s piece presumptuously minimizes it and unfairly loads the blame for its continuation on Protestants (whom he doesn’t fairly represent). In contrast to Protestants, you’ll know the Reformational catholic’s savoir vivre and urbanity by the fact that he’s beyond reading Louis Berkhof, Charles Hodge, J. H. Thornwell and Jonathan Edwards and now loves Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox thinkers like Yves Congar and Alexander Schmemann. He has taken up distinctive ministerial attire similar to High Church Anglican, Mainline Methodist and Lutheran clerics in (and out of) worship, complete with clerical collar and accoutrements of varying colors to match seasons of the Church Year. He is so beyond the two-kingdom debate that he is certain that Constantinianism is the way to go (I suppose the doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church is one of those unfortunate results of finding flaws with the Roman Communion, by which the pioneer Reformers risked the Papal Bull or the fiery stake).

3. Now for the main ingredient: Add the amorphous, vague “consensus” around “mere Christianity.” Say to your gauche fundamentalist friends “I answer to a higher power. Judge me not according to your weak, juvenile Protestant confessions. I stand in the strain of Orthodoxy with a capital O!” 

The main ingredient is where we find the principal error. “Orthodoxy” and “the Catholic Tradition” are grand abstractions unless tempered with some historical perspective. All Christians affirm the doctrines associated with this thing called “Orthodoxy” because if it means anything it means affirmation of the doctrinal advances of the great Ecumenical Councils, the historic, unifying statements about the doctrines of God and the person of Jesus Christ. These doctrines are vitally important and a great starting place for seeking agreement but the kind of common ground that Leithart imagines exists with his Roman brothers and sisters is a fantasy. Leithart styles himself as a vanguard of ecumenical development but isn’t joining the Roman Communion and dismisses the Reformed tradition as locked in anachronistic protest. We ought to consider instead the fuller confession to the two traditions to see if Leithart’s tertium quid offers more.

Rome and the Protestant churches have dogmas on many other points besides the resolutions of the early Trinitarian and Christological controversies. Rome and the Reformed churches have never reduced the teaching of the church to the Nicene Creed or the Definition of Chalcedon. So what is Leithart advocating? He emerges from this metamorphosis not readily Roman Catholic, not contentedly Reformed, but holding a distinctive trait of the Evangelicalism against which the Federal Vision overreacts. Evangelicalism necessarily reduces Christianity to the lowest doctrinal common denominator. Evangelicalism is where historic creeds and confessions are are minimized and replaced by sketchy laundry lists of doctrinal affirmations that can appeal to the widest constituency. The Evangelical world is where it’s spiritual success to please most of the people all of the time. That’s the kind of spiritual tradition that results from occupying the inevitably fluid middle. There are strange consequences for rejecting the Reformed faith for who-knows-what.

Do you mostly receive and reservedly adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as sort of containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you promise that if at any time you find this system of doctrine out of accord with any of the fundamentals of your own system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your flock the changes which need to take place in the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms due to changes in your own views since the assumption of your ordination vow?

I don’t think I could have said this any better so I will defer to a wise comment over at Greenbaggins. Here is an excellent run-down of why only those who just want Leithart off the hook can really be satisfied with the outcome of his trial:

The main arguments advanced by his supporters in the trial seem to be: “the PCA is too small already, we need to make sure the boundaries of what’s acceptable are large enough to include Leithart”, and “some reformed person at some time in history held one view similar to one of Leitharts, therefore he’s ok” (never mind the fact that finding someone who held to his system of doctrine would be difficult indeed, and that said view is contrary to the standards), and “our witnesses have more degrees than yours, please ignore the fact that they haven’t actually studied what he has written”. If those who support Leithart were loving of their confessional brothers in a Biblical manner, they would have at the trial demonstrated that a plain reading of Leithart and of the WCF (which we have all vowed is a faithful exposition of Scripture) are similar, rather than making the arguments that they did, and thus convince their confessional brethren of their error.

One thing I would add is that partly because Leithart’s defense counsel capitulated to the standards of secular courts did they spend so much effort flaunting the academic credentials of their witnesses (and their own) and playing presbyterian politics in the filth of personal destruction, especially the personal destruction of Lane Keister. Mark B. finishes strong, telling it like it is about the Leithart defense fund in the PCA:

Ask yourself this: Who are those decrying those who oppose the FV the loudest? Is it not those who would like to view our standards as something antiquated and restricting, who have to search for ways to show how they are in agreement with the standards, whose list of exceptions is almost as long as the confession, or who think that the WCF needs an update or rewritten, or maybe just CWAGA folk? Who are those who oppose the FV? Are they not those who see the WCF as faithfully summarizing what Scripture teaches? If we are a confessional denomination, how are we faithful to our vows?

Thanks, Mark B. Those following the judicial phase of the PCA’s FV woes should expect the outcome desired by the big-tent, latitudinarian, evangelicalism-friendly, Westminster-is-passé coalition. By all means pray, but I think it’s just sensible to expect the worst.

The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom TheologyThe Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology by John M. Frame
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The subtitle of John Frame’s book misleads the potential reader. This book is a little about Two-Kingdom theology and a lot about Frame’s antipathy toward Reformed critiques of evangelicalism and his animosity toward his colleagues. Frame has burdened us with a specious construct– a bogeyman. This bogeyman runs against his reputation for irenicism. In fact, “John Frame, the irenic polemicist” (the title of a tribute to Frame among the book’s introductory matter) is a reputation in serious need of repair in the aftermath of The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology.

The most interesting of the chapters (most of them book reviews) is Frame’s reading of Meredith Kline’s Kingdom Prologue. Sadly, even here, Frame’s criticisms are usually shallow and perfunctory. Frame displays a lack of understanding of the Biblical foundations of the Covenant of Works and the distinction between Law and Gospel. Throughout the book, Frame shows an overarching penchant for attempting syntheses of Biblical interpretations that are not compatible. Such syntheses are usually unfavorable to the so-called Escondido theologians; Frame’s strong desire is to sound an alarm against what for him is an extreme version of Reformed theology. Since Frame makes it clear that just about every other form of Christian theology should be read charitably and get the benefit of the doubt, one comes away wondering how coherent Frame’s “irenicism” really is.

Frame offers Abraham Kuyper as an antidote to the alleged errors of his colleagues at one point. He even claims that his own thought follows in the line of Kuyper. Yet he never adduces Kuyper’s important distinction between the church as organism and the church as institute. Nor does he consider the potential this distinction has for making sense of the Two Kingdom vs. One Kingdom debate.

Frame asks questions, even if obvious ones, of the specifically “Two-Kingdom” books he impugns (Van Drunen’s, Stellman’s, Hart’s) that would be illuminating for Reformed 2K proponents to answer. Sadly, Frame frequently wastes his readers’ time by repeating certain weak criticisms in book review after book review. For example, Frame habitually appeals to I Corinthians 10:31 in support of Christian social activism and against distinctions between cult and culture. He thereby grossly oversimplifies the issues and seriously miscalculates in turning repeatedly to this text as his “silver bullet.” This is just one example of the crude proof-texting that Frame employs among other unhelpful lines of attack. The authors Frame covers surely deserve a more fruitful engagement than what he offers here. Not recommended.

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The Christian Curmudgeon takes a stab at tracing the origin of the original “Truly Reformed.” The post makes for some light, diverting reading. What I find more interesting is how the current use of the term TR reflects the sad divisions within our Reformed churches. The reason there are those “bad guys” called TR’s is that we have all these different kinds of progressives who are going to push their agendas no matter what. Too often conflicts in the Reformed communion are reduced to a backward reaction of hateful throwbacks and hardliners, or dare I say, fundamentalists. But what if we question the assumption that it’s inherently righteous to move the ancient boundary markers? Is it possible that the Reformed churches are divided because we have men who passionately seek acceptance or at least a beachhead for various novel practices and doctrines? Of course!

So, taking a cue from the The Christian Curmudgeon, I’d like to define a TR via negativa. You’ve probably been called a “TR” if you stand athwart the road of history (à la Bill Buckley) and yell “STOP!” at the following agenda items:

1. The Federal Vision: The most recent revisionist program to take the Reformed churches by storm. The movement burst on the scene with the 2002 Auburn Ave. Pastor’s Conference with calls for a retooling and recasting of Reformed Theology. Yes, you heard that right, even though proponents often claim a strong historical pedigree for FV positions. Proponents are likely to call anyone a grumpy TR who isn’t comfortable with FV attacks on the Covenant of Works and their revisions of Justification, Election and Baptism. I’m still scratching my head about the popularity of the FV; why should Calvinists be excited about a movement that redefines the perseverance of the saints out of existence?

2. Paedocommunion: This movement is closely related in my mind to the FV even though they only partially overlap. Paedocommunion has been around longer than the FV, yet it is a relative novelty in Reformed history. In fact, John Calvin rejected it (Institutes, 4.16.30. So much for being more Calvin than the TR’s). Our Reformed fathers were surely aware of the notion but the historic confessions do not support it, especially the Westminster Standards. I’m still convinced that waiting until children can “examine themselves” is solid Biblically so it bothers me that some passionate paedocommunionists like to stir up discontent. I have observed that the zeal for paedocommunion in some circles leads not only to charges about grumpy TR’s (again) but a whole other level of attack. If you reject paedocommunion you starve God’s babies, excommunicate your children, teach your children to doubt and (worst of all?) sound like a Baptist (gasp!). In many ways the paedocommunion debate saddens me because it won’t end well. Certain paedocommunion proponents have already made it clear that they are very disappointed that the Reformed churches haven’t already joyfully adopted the practice. The goal of getting very young children to the table and bypassing that whole “let a man examine himself” thing will inevitably end in power plays. Either paedocommunionists create their own denominations (like the CREC) or they will push through revisions to church orders that aren’t really helpful (if they have the patience for that sort of churchmanship). Meanwhile, impatient paedocommunionists undermine the confessional nature of the church as they openly and loudly chafe under Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 171, 174 and 177.

3. New School/ New Life: I welcome the historians to correct me but I think the New School and New Life trajectories in American Presbyterianism are a good catchall for movements within Reformed bodies to quietly set aside doctrinal rigor and embrace experimental worship, revivalism, social activism, church growth techniques and broad evangelicalism. Here, you’re basically a grumpy TR if you’re uncomfortable with the definition of “Reformed” becoming so broad and diffuse that it doesn’t really mean anything.

Speaking of terms that don’t mean anything, I’d differ slightly with the Christian Curmudgeon.* The problem with the term TR is not that it lacks defining significance. The problem is that term is really a bogeyman; everybody who’s “hip and cool” in the Reformed tradition is defining themselves in opposition to TR’s. But, if TR’s are the ones holding firm on the historic Reformed distinctives found in our confessions of faith, who is really being divisive?

* Though I think he’s right in saying if it means anything, it means a hardline conservative.

Westminster Seminary California: A New Old SchoolWestminster Seminary California: A New Old School by W. Robert Godfrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A warm, engaging history written by two men who have taught at Westminster Seminary California. D.G. Hart has moved on to other positions but Robert Godfrey has been President for twenty years. This book covers the seminary faculty and some of the staff from the beginnings in the late 1970’s until today. This history focuses on Westminster’s commitment to confessional Reformed theology in a world in which it often faces opposition. The authors don’t shy away from controversy. In fact, this book will help anyone wondering about the stance of the seminary in a host of matters controversial in Evangelicalism and the Reformed churches. Godfrey and Hart also provide many insights into the trends in American Evangelicalism and American Reformed theology, adding humor from time to time. Overall, this history is a happy tribute to the Lord’s faithfulness to Westminster Seminary California.

I read the Amazon Kindle edition. I hope it will be revised because I noticed more than a few typos.

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