Can Reformed Theology and the NPP Be Synthesized?

Daniel Kirk says “yes” but Guy Waters says “No.” See the latter’s review of the former’s work on Romans at Ref21. Some folk might like to think, now most of the NAPARC denominations have publicly rejected covenant nomism, that the moralists will melt away. Not so. For those new to the discussion, there are several replies to the NPP et al.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Scott,
    There are different ways of appropriating the NPP. The most promising is to recognize the horizontal aspects of justification which NPP interpreters have pointed out (though without reducing justification to a social epiphenomena as some NPP can do). It is this aspect that has been neglected in post-Reformation dogmatics since Paul is just as much concerned with “Who are the people of God?” as he is with “What must I do to be saved?”. Whether ya like it or not, this is one aspect that we can learn from the NPP. I would add that Sanders’ participationist eschatology is far more likely to be the centre of Paul’s thought than the imputed righteousness of the active obedience of Jesus Chrsit in order to fulfil the covenant of works!

  2. I’m Catholic, but the answer is pretty simple for anyone who understands the basics (and doesn’t have ulterior motives): NO!

    There might be a few ‘tangential’ points classical Reformed theology could take from NPP, but other than that, the NPP at it’s core is incompatible with classical Reformed theology. It’s actually shameful the way NPP scholars reject imputed righteousness yet still consider themself Reformed!

    The NPP arguments against classical Protestant doctrines (eg imputed righteousness of Christ) are actually stolen from classical Catholic objections, while the “ethnic markers” crap is more along the lines with liberal and universalist theology.

  3. MB
    Having been involved with Guy in a book related to this topic, I very naturally agree with him-but I would take it a little further. Taking a cue from Mark Devers, I am somewhat inclined to give serious thought to whether or not fellowship around the Table with sneaky, low-down skunks who embraced the NPP( be they Baptist or paedobaptist)while stilling claiming to be Reformed, is something that ought to atleast be given consideration.

  4. GLW,

    Whoa! A “sneaky, low-down skunk”. Well, I’ve never been called that before. I’ll definitely keep it in mind.

  5. Dear Gary,

    I share your convictions and love for Reformed theology, and also your frustration with some aspects of the NPP, but your comment here makes me embarrassed to admit that. You owe Mike an apology. Blessings on your continued ministry brother.

    Dear Mike,

    As I think you know, I would rather subsume the horizontal implications of justification within the larger vertical heart of justif, making the horizontal logically derivative of, though critically important to, the vertical. Yet I’ve been helped by the NPP to see my neglect of the horizontal and I’m still wrestling thru how it all fits together. But I want you to know that I continue to learn from you and am grateful for your contribution to Christ’s cause and Paul studies. For every Reformed name-caller there are many of us who read Paul slightly differently after reading SavRightOfGod et al. Don’t throw in the towel.


  6. Dane
    As Bugs Bunny famously said, ‘You don’t know me very well’- Very tongue in cheek and tagged around MB’s ‘soggy fish’ remark about Devers.

  7. Dear Bugs,

    Thanks for the clarification. Mike’s comments here and on his blog make it clear that it wasn’t taken tongue in cheek, which is why you owe him an apology. Blessings to you.


  8. I nearly choked reading that Kirk recommended Protestants ask “the Roman Catholic Church for forgiveness?” That would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic. Maybe Kirk should exegete 2 Tim 4:3,4.

    OTOH I think Waters was too quick in dismissing the Gaffin connection in support of Kirk’s thesis. As you’ve pointed out on this blog:

    I have the original Shepherd controversy documents and Dick was defending a complex instrument of justification, i.e. faith and works on paper and in faculty discussions.

    Seems to me that Kirk has considerable justification for citing Gaffin in support of his similar rejection of the Reformed truth of Christ’s imputed righteousness in favor of a faith/works soteriology. Although, I don’t recall ever reading where Gaffin thinks Protestants owe Rome an apology.

  9. Dane
    I don’t visit MB’s blog on a regular basis-kinda like slumming. I will say for the sake of even more clarification. Whatever issues I might have with Devers on baptism, they pale in comparison with the issues I have with Wright on justification. Wright cannot be harmonized with the Reformed confessions . To his credit Wright is up front about how his views are NOT compatible with confessional Reformed theology. The problem is that some of Wright’s admirers ,like MB, want to have their cake and eat it too and go around (sneakingly) trying to make the unsuspecting believe that Wright can be shoe-horned into Reformed theology. That is the problem and Scott’s blog is to be commended for maintaining a constant vigil against any attempt to define what it means to be ‘Reformed’ outside the Reformed confessions.

    • So, GLW, you are now explaining why you were in fact serious in your invective against Mike Bird? But you still don’t need to ask his forgiveness?

      Correct me if I am wrong, but this seems to go along with the usual attitude you project: it is ok (necessary?!) to be nasty and rude if you are right and someone else is wrong?

  10. I have no stake in the argument about whether the Reformed tradition can be harmonized with recent Pauline scholarship. But GLW is petty, childish, and ultimately rather laughable in the way he’s tried to frame the matter. Either one interprets the Reformed tradition in the way he wants to or they are a bunch of vicious sneaky little bastards who should be cut off from table fellowship. In other words, he assumes that no one who disagrees with him about this issue could possibly be doing so in good faith. Rather they have to be a bunch of scary theological conspirators. My how convenient for him!

    GLW seems quite scared of any actual argument about the relevant issues at play here. He cannot bear to enter into the actual discussion about whether or not he might be wrong, either about Paul or the Reformed tradition. Instead he has to cast those who disagree with him as malevolent and dishonest at the outset to insulate himself from having to enter into actual substantive discussion.

    What cowardice and immaturity.

  11. FTH
    Huh, No. Why is that MB can say he will like to slap Devers in the face with a soggy fish but I can’t make a similar remark without guys like you coming out of the woodwork wanting my head on a platter? Oh, I remember now, you are still upset over my opposition to Peter Enns.

  12. On further thought FTH ,I think you are still peeved at me for constantly reminding you about North Carolina losing in last year’s NCAA finals in both basketball and baseball.

    • I do not recall UNC losing in the Finals of last year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. I recall us getting housed by Kansas in the semi-Finals, however.

      Maybe your doctrine of Scripture is as errant as your basketball knowledge? : )

  13. Umm, saying that you’d like to slap someone with a soggy fish is a comedic way of expressing disagreement with what someone says. It’s a far cry from accusing others of being duplicitous and sneaky, and, essentially arguing that they should be excommunicated.

    Can you seriously not see the difference between a soggy fish gaffe and calling your detractors false Christians?

  14. Yes, my( rare) mistake-it was the semis. While we on touchy subjects, have you ever considered extending a public apology for the really nasty things you’ve said over and over again about Westminster theological seminary, esp. about Peter Lillback and Carl Trueman? My remark about MB was an elbow in the ribs and not a personal attack like the ones the S.O.S crowd made about Lillback and Trueman.

  15. Halden
    Who said anything about false Christians? Excommuication? Did I mention that? As a matter of fact,if you go back and look at my comment, I didn’t mention anyone by name. Hey, does MB subscribe to major features of the NPP? Does he think that the NPP is perfectly compatible with Confessional Reformed theology? If not what makes you think I was referring to him? Does MB have a guilty conscience? You gotta ask these kinda of questions. Hey, why hasn’t FTH asked my questions?

  16. I’m not exactly sure why the church (thankfully) stopped burning heretics, but I’m sure that today the reason is because what’s more grotesque than watching a human being burning alive is watching people like GLW Johnson salivate at the sight…

  17. James
    Gee whiz, now why would you say something like that? I simply made a very clear reference to what is compatible with confessional Reformed theology and you-and others- start foaming at the mouth about what a unlikeable fellow I am.

  18. Excluding people from table fellowship is as close as we can come to a New Testament definition of excommunication. But, if you feel I have overstated, then whatever.

    The overriding point however is that you refuse to acknowledge that those disagreeing with you about this issue might do so in good faith. You accuse them of deception and subterfuge. Such a dodge is cowardly and obfuscating.

    The fact that you did not mention anyone by name is a punt and you know it. Your comment was manifestly a reply to Mike. At least own what you say. Weaseling around is not usually good pastoral practice.

  19. GLW Johnson, hold on now, why this overreaction? I never said you were “unlikeable.” Gee whiz. I simply made an aesthetic observation, as I assume you were doing when you said MB smelled like a “skunk” and visiting his blog is like “slumming.”

  20. Halden
    Reformed churches, as defined by the canons of Dort, have every right to restrict who can come to the Lord’s table. Those who do not subscribe to the doctrine of justification as set forth in documents like the Westminster Standards, should not seek fellowship in churches that are Reformed. It is as simple as that. Quasi-reformed individuals who want to incorperate the NPP understanding of justification should not seek membership in confessional Reformed churches.

  21. At the risk of making myself even more odious to those of you who have expressed their contrary opinions here, I would not allow anyone who affirmed the basis tenets of the NPP to become a member of our church and to take communion. Since I teach the new members class ,this would be stated rather emphatically.

  22. Be that as it may, from what I understand of the current conflicts over FV, and the NPP–and admittedly I am an outside observer of this little squabble–the position that many are arguing is that acceptance of some aspects of NPP does not deviate from the Westminster understanding of justification. Now, obviously you disagree with that and you may be right. However, the point I have made repeatedly, which you continue to ignore is that you assume in a facile, dismissive, and arrogant manner that anyone arguing against you about this issue is disingenuous, deceptive, and sneaky. You refuse to believe that your interlocutors argue in good faith. Well, good for you I guess. You just have everybody all figured out, no conversation needed.

  23. Halden
    I do not question whether or not the NPP/FV advocates are sincere in their beliefs. They have been ,however,weighted in the balance by Reformed denominations like the PCA and the OPC and found wanting. As such , as a Reformed pastor I would act accordingly and bar them from membership in our church in the same way that individuals who embrace universalism, Arminianism, etc would find themselves barred from membership in our church.

  24. Wow, I can’t believe I read all that. What a great argument against blogging!

    For what it’s worth, I’d just like to throw in my two cents as a Reformed layman.

    First, a distinction. There is a very important distinction to be made between those who teach the FV/NPP stuff and those who have become enamored with it.

    For those who have become enamored with it, laymen, non-ministers who have no seminary degree – patience should be used with them generously.

    For those who teach it, who have been to seminary, they ought to know good and well that what they’re teaching is contrary to the Reformed Confessions’ teaching on justification.

    Now, whatever you think, it may be possible that the Reformed Confessions are wrong on justification, but that’s not at issue here. What is at issue here is whether or not what is taught by the purveyors of the FV/NPP is compatible with the Reformed Confessions. Why is that so important? Because these confessions define what Reformed Theology is. If you want to know what Reformed Theology is, shouldn’t you look at what Reformed Theologians have written about what they believe and teach? Shouldn’t you look at what Reformed Churches confess, saying, “This is what we believe”?

    It is patently obvious to anyone with a good theological education that what the FV/NPP teach is contrary to what is in the Reformed Confessions. They are two different things. Thus the controversy over what they’ve been teaching. If what they were teaching was the same as the Confessions, there’d be no controversy.

    But the fact is, they’re teaching something other than what the Confessions teach. Now, of course, they’re free to do that. Go ahead, be my guest. But now you’re not Reformed anymore. You and I don’t get to say what “Reformed” means or what it is. The Reformers get to say that. And they DID say it, and the Reformed Churches continue to say it. If you want to be Reformed, this is what you must say.

    Now if you don’t want to say what the Reformed Confessions say, by all means, feel free. But you’re not Reformed.

    But what Mr Johnson’s complaint is, is this: the teachers who teach this stuff, ought to know that what they’re teaching is different from what’s contained in the Confessions.

    Well, suppose that in good faith they actually don’t know that. Suppose Pastor John at the Church down the road teaches the NPP and the FV, and he does so thinking he’s teaching exactly the same thing that’s in the Reformed Confessions.

    Such a man is stupid and unfit for ministry, and I guarantee you he would not have been ordained by any examining body (e.g., a presbytery) worth their salt.

    If he is smarter than your average 10 year old, and he recognizes that what he’s teaching is different from what’s in the Reformed Confessions, then he is nothing less than sneaky, crafty, deceptive, and I daresay a false prophet/false teacher. In short, he is a liar – IF he is saying that what he is teaching is the same as what is in the Reformed Confessions, i.e., he calls his teachings “Reformed”.

    Those who are not teachers are less responsible for understanding these things.

    But those who are teachers, who say that the FV/NPP is simply the same as Reformed Theology, are either too stupid to understand how wrong they are, in which case they are unfit for ministry, or they are a false teacher and unfit for ministry. Either way, to teach FV/NPP and call it Reformed is a lie, and renders the person unfit for ministry.

    And oh, by the way, just about every Reformed denomination has said that exact same thing by way of ecclesiastical vote.

    It is completely undeniable that the FV/NPP is incompatible with Reformed theology, because it IS NOT Reformed theology. Whether it’s a better theology or truer to Scripture is a separate issue. That’s harder to sort out. But whether it is Reformed or not? No. And almost every Reformed body has said so, with every vote being not even close, and the Confessions themselves make this abundantly clear.

    So, yes, at the end of the day, any FV advocate (teacher) who claims to be Reformed is simply a liar.

    Now why would he tell such a lie? I don’t know, but the only motive I can come up with is that he wants to seduce people away from what the Confessions say without them realizing it. I can think of no other motive. They are therefore shepherds who prey upon the flock, eating the fat of the sheep and clothing themselves in the wool. They do not feed the sheep, they eat the sheep.

    Again, to anyone with a theological education, the difference between FV and NPP on the one hand and the Reformed Confessions on the other is amazingly obvious and blatant. That’s why the statements saying as much were nearly unanimous when they were passed. (I was at the OPC’s General Assembly when it passed. Maybe 2 guys out of 150 or so delegates voted against passing the statement/report. And I know that the PCA’s statement was overwhelmingly passed as well, and they had all their ministers present.)

    Unlike Mr Johnson, I don’t think the continuing ministry of ministers who have taught these things and called it Reformed ought to be considered at all. They’re NOT Reformed. They ought not to be Reformed ministers any longer. Period.

  25. And yes, if they refuse to repent and teach what is in the Reformed Confessions, they ought to be excommunicated.

  26. What is “always reforming” is my/your understanding of reformed theology.

    But the Confessions haven’t changed in 400 years or so.

  27. For someone of a reformed persuasion you seem to have read precious little of the reformers. That is not in any sense their understanding of semper reformanda. For the reformers, our apprehension of the word of God, be it in confessions or otherwise is fallible and in constant need of reformation on the basis of the Word of God. You, however are saying that the reformed confessions themselves are infallible.

    I really don’t have a dog in the race regarding what counts as “Reformed” among a few middle class American denominations; but that being said, you clearly don’t understand much about your own tradition.

  28. “What is ‘always reforming’ is my/your understanding of reformed theology”!!!???? If Reformed theology is merely the solas maybe that could be said of the reformers, but if it concerns the Reformed confessions themselves, this is entirely not true. For one, there exist so many Reformed confessions (as opposed to the single confession of Lutheranism) partly because the Reformed had a more local understanding of the church (and in that time, given the political status of Reformed churches, it was as much a simple reality as an ecclesiology), but also because they saw confessions as aids to the reading of Scripture (as Calvin his Institutes), and so were constantly revisable because of sola scriptura. In fact, the Scots Confession declares at the outset that if anyone can prove any statement wrong by Scripture they should write in, and the confession will be changed.

  29. Reformed Christians surely are the most joyful and loving people. We hear here that all those who disagree are “sneaky skunks,” “stupid,” “liar[s]” who are simply “NOT Reformed” and therefore should be excommunicated and removed from ministry with haste. My, you’ve got to wonder what loving one’s enemies looks like for these “Reformed” if they can’t even have patience for their seemingly misinformed or misunderstanding fellow Christians. We can only malign you unless you repeat-after-me. Sure has a lot to say for the vitality of Reformed theology… Indeed, if doctrine, much more *Reformed* doctrine, does not teach sound practice (and that’s what doctrina means), then it is neither Reformed nor theology. After all, the whole point of reform from the standpoint of the magisterial reformers was to correct corrupt practice and worship as perpetuated by the Catholic Church. Reformed doctrine was not an end in itself, but a means to the end of the reform of the church where such included the daily lives of Christians (look at Geneva’s consistory) and the polity of the church. Now we see that Reformed doctrine is just an occassion for people to slander, and so engage in corrupt practice, their fellow Christians and as much of a tradition (as opposed to scriptural faith) as Roman Catholicism ever was. How amazingly counter to Reformed doctrine itself!

  30. Gee, James and Halden- if you really see things that way then by all means don’t be associated in any way, shape ,form or fashion with confessional Reformed churches. Go off and start your own particular ‘reformed’ church that has no link whatsoever with things like the Three Forms of Unity or the Wesminster Standards. Then you can have your own brand new tradition .Excepted it won’t be all that new. Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone already did that.

  31. GLW Johnson, I’ve said mine, but one maybe two last comments. First, you have my forebears to thank for your precious Westminster Standards; I’m an Anglican. So don’t worry, I’m not troubled by any divergence from Westminster. Secondly, my point immediately above is that doctrinal confessions, especially those that exist to speak consistently of God’s sovereign, free, and unmerited grace, should not become license for adherents to assert their merit in holding to these standards and be immoral in their treatment of those who do not. This, as I said, contradicts what doctrine is, as well as Reformed theology itself. But I do love how every time you are challenged, you shift the debate to another issue. First, when challenged about your words against Mike Bird, you say you were merely making an observation as to what is compatible w/ Reformed confessionalism and that you are just being a good pastor by respecting the decisions of your denominational body, and now when challenged further that such hostility goes against the grain of the Reformed confessions themselves, you make this in to a debate about who respects Westminster. So both times you’ve missed the point. Adherence to Westminster or any confession is not a license to run around and malign all those who you think diverge from it, because confessions are meant to reform the lives and faiths of those who confess them, and surely one such reform would be the manner in which one engages those with whom he or she disagrees. In short, confessing Westminster does not cover the sin of retreating back to playground politics.

  32. James
    So tell me, exactly what is the difference between saying you would like to slap-by name- the Baptist Mark Devers in the face with a soggy fish and my egregious remark about ‘sneaky low-down skunks’ passing off the newly minted NPP views as being genuinely Reformed? One doesn’t bother you but the other really gets under your Anglican skin. Hey, wait a minute! Anglican? NT Wright is an Anglican! Tried to pull a fast one didn’t ya!

  33. James Merrick, you have expressed yourself well here. I echo your sentiments.

    If I may bring up a point I have brought up many times, I fail to see the difference between the Confessional Reformed views espoused by RSClark/GLW/Echo/etc. and Roman Catholics with respect to the functional and theoretical authority of tradition. This goes also for many of the leaders who have shaped the recent actions of the PCA and OPC General Assemblies.

    The type of Confessional Reformedness advocated here does not allow any challenges to Reformed Tradition (Confessions), especially from Scripture. If one thinks Scripture challenges the Confession, various leaders denounce you as not Reformed since you do not allow the Confessions to control interpretation. Ridiculously some of these same people allow in principle the fallibility of certain Confessions and the possibility of Scripture challenging them…but they will never let it happen because (again) anyone who sees the Confessions as diverging from Scripture by definition loses his place at the Reformed table. Please explain to me how in the world this type of Reformedness has done anything other than replace the authority of Scripture with the ultimate authority of the Confessions (Tradition!)? The WCF (or other selected Reformed Confessions) has become the new magisterium.

    BTW, before anyone makes the usual counter move by suggesting I represent rank individualism, wherein I think anyone should be able to read the Bible apart from the church…just look at what is going on now. There are entire movements WITHIN the Reformed world calling for serious interaction over and wrestling with parts of the Confessions afresh TOGETHER from the Scriptures. What has been the response of such Confessionally Reformed as seen here? You declare all such movements non-Reformed and deny them a place at the table…thus NEVER entering into humble dialogue with them. You adopt reports at GA level that simply aim to show divergence of their positions from the Confession…and explicitly DO NOT make room for communal interaction TOGETHER with the Scriptures to weigh these entire variegated movements. Oh, you also constitute the committees writing these reports only with folk who already oppose the movement being targeted.

    Interestingly, there is such a Tradition-Authoritarian culture in the PCA/OPC that many in these movements have refused to voice themselves as wanting wrestling with the Confessions, because they know how you all will respond (using that as evidence to marginalize them). Thus they try to show how what they are doing is somehow in line with the Confessions just so they can continue to serve within the congregations and denominations to which they have been called by the Lord. Of course, you have your response here, labeling them as dishonest snakes and drawing upon all the invective rhetoric you can muster to paint them as dishonest and almost satanic deceivers.

    You guys have enacted very efficient legitimating strategies for yourselves. Ironically, I doubt many laypeople of the PCA/OPC would be pleased with the dynamics of how you “interact with” (harshly marginalize!) brothers and sisters WITHIN the Reformed world who sincerely want to see what new challenges the Lord might for us from His Word.

  34. FTH
    So, your scurrilous remarks about WTS, Lillback and Trueman are within the bounds of acceptable discourse but my comment about unnamed- sneaky low-down skunks-( which I said up front was made very much tongue in cheek) are not because I am on the otherside of the fence?

  35. The following is taken from The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer:

    It is tempting to reduce the communicative act to its propositional content alone. Yet such an identification of divine discourse with propositional content is too hasty and reductionist, for it omits two other important aspects of the communicative action, namely, the illocutionary (what is done) and perlocutionary (what is effected). To repeat: what is authoritative about the Bible is what God says and does in and with its words. To equate God’s word with the content it conveys is to work with an abbreviated Scripture principle that reduces revelation to the propositional residue of its locutions. Such an abbreviated Scripture principle, in overlooking the illocutionary and perlocutionary dimensions, is both christologically and pneumatologically deficient. It fails to see that what Scripture is doing is witnessing to and hence mediating Christ, and it fails to do justice to the role of the Holy Spirit in making sure that this witness is effective.

    He continues:

    Many theologians who believe that doctrines refer truly, however, are aware that their formulations, while adequate, and nevertheless incomplete. it need not follow that doctrines, once formulated, must always be expressed in teh same verbal form. To imply that they must is to confuse sentences with propositions. There is a difference between a “static” formulation and a “stable” truth. The same truth may be (incompletely) expressed in a variety of relatively adequate formulations.

  36. GLW Johnson, first, Halden already explained the difference b/w the two comments above nicely, and I haven’t seen your response.

    Secondly, and more to the point, Mike Bird’s mistake is not license for yours. Two wrongs don’t make a right. You weren’t seriously suggesting that as an excuse for your comments, were you? Just accept responsibility for crying out loud; stop trying to justify it by making yourself out to be the hero of Westminster or Dever’s defender.

    Thirdly, I never saw Mike Bird, who is in question here, “passing off” NPP views as genuinely Reformed. What he said was that the NPP develops or expands the Reformed tradition, but not in a way that undermines it. That’s not the same as “passing off” a view, for it admits the difference, even as it attempts to supplement.

    But, fourthly, this is all a nice illustration of the slippery-ness of your thinking, as well as an explanation as to why you are so zealous in your pursuits. Mike makes a more precise claim that the NPP can deepen the Reformed faith which you, assuming the worst of him, turn into him trying to “pass off” sneakily the NPP as Reformed. So with me: Despite the fact that I have not said whether I agree or disagree w/ the NPP, you assume I have, which, as is clear here, in your mind makes me sub-Christian (so thanks for that) and worthy of being impugned. You further assume that the only possible reason I would have for holding to the NPP, if I did, is party allegiance. It certainly couldn’t be an attempt to be faithful to Scripture, and so the Reformed commitment to sola scriptura. No, I’m just “pulling a fast one,” like that sneaky skunk Mike Bird, just a wolf in sheep’s clothing I am, and mindlessly following everything that is said by a theologian who is an Anglican. I don’t of course reflect upon Wright’s views, I just assume that because he’s Anglican he’s views are true.

    This is, however, very illuminative of why you treat others who disagree with you the way you do, and why you treat the Reformed confessions the way you do. The Reformed confessions are simply true because they have the label “Reformed” on them. Your job is to just to repeat everything that is called “Reformed.” And so you seem to think that one’s faith is no more than party allegiance. Thus, you must make sure that your party line is clearly delineated and visible. And all those who appear to diverge or change, even if for the better (for such is irrelevant since the Reformed Confessions are true), must be called out, denounced, and declared publicly to be unworthy of the name “Reformed,” so that all Reformed Christians won’t be confused. For my part, I think Christian faith is a bit more involved than playground politics and the children’s game of “Simon says.” And I think the Reformed themselves, who saw three components to faith, would agree. Faith is a deep trust to the point of unrestrained dependence upon God’s promises and their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. It’s not merely assent to a doctrinal confession… But I suppose you don’t like the sort of ambiguity that follows from this.

  37. First, the NPP/FV are advocating a medieval soteriology clothed in reformed jargon. What they are doing, whether they mean to or not, whether they want to or not, is UNDOING the Reformation altogether.

    What does the adjective “reformed” mean? Does it simply, in your estimation, mean “orthodox”? These are two different words. The word “reformed” simply means “of the Reformation” or “having to do with the Reformation”. It’s turning the event, the Reformation, into an adjective. Thus by definition, the word, the adjective, “reformed” cannot now continue to evolve, because the Reformation was an event that happened once upon a time. It produced its confessions. Those confessions contain what the reformers believed.

    Thus, to be Reformed is to believe what the Reformers themselves believed, which definition is now fixed in the Confessions, and has been for about 400 years. Someone said above that there’s all these confessions, and you could send someone a letter making a biblical argument against one of the points, and poof, someone, somewhere, would change it. Nonsense. I’m a Presbyterian. This is how we do it. We have ecclesiastical bodies. They vote on these things. We have elders. They govern the church. They RULE in the church. We believe in the authority of elders and ministers. The Church is not a democracy.

    So if the confession is to be changed, fine, let the duly appointed governing bodies change it. But note well that the Westminster Confession was written in the 1640’s, and aside from changing statements about the civil magistrate, it remains unchanged since then in the Presbyterian Church. We don’t have another Confession.

    And if you want to say that to the extent that we don’t confess that bit about the civil magistrate we are not reformed – fine. I don’t care. Whatever.

    Also, someone made the ridiculous charge that the OPC’s justification report is some kind of minority report drafted by a very few elitist mad scientists in a corner, who unfairly refused to hear the NPP/FV side of things.

    One would think that the entire General Assembly of the OPC didn’t actually debate the report point by point. one would think that the GA didn’t change some of the things in it when they passed it, commending it to the presbyteries. Furthermore, one would think that someone was excommunicated without a fair trial.

    But these kinds of statements completely misunderstand things. First of all, Richard Gaffin was one of the authors of the report. Gaffin’s endorsement is on the back of Norm Shepherd’s book, the very book quoted very liberally in the report when it speaks of the FV. What more do you want? This guy that endorsed Shepherd is one of the AUTHORS of the report that concludes that Shepherd is out of accord with Scripture and the Westminster Confession.

    What – should the OPC have invited NT Wright to come and participate? He’s not in the OPC!!! The men who authored the report are all Systematic Theology professors at the major seminaries. Vandrunen from WSCAL, Gaffin from Philly, Fesko, Strange from Mid America, Curto from Greenville, etc. What more do you want? All the major seminaries were represented. The doctors of the church were the ones who wrote this report, those who are steeped in this stuff all day long, all the time. These are the men who were most qualified.

    And again, this report was voted on by the entire General Assembly. They debated it point by point. Were you there? I was. The OPC is united behind this report. The only people complaining about it were like one or two guys who thought Gaffin’s views weren’t sufficiently represented in the report. But that’s just crazy, because he’s one of the authors!!! What did they think, that Vandrunen and Strange, both relatively young, bullied perhaps the most respected theologian in the entire OPC? The notion is outrageous.

    Someone else said that there’s no difference between what I’m saying and what Darth Vader, the Pope, says about tradition.

    Well, you who make such claims and accusations are confused. The Roman recognition of tradition as bearing equal weight with Scripture is completely different from the Reformed Confessions.

    The Reformed Confessions are (relatively) fixed; Roman tradition is not. They can make up whatever they want (such as the perpetual virginity of Mary).

    The Reformed Confessions are derived from Scripture; Roman tradition more often than not contradicts Scripture.

    The Reformed Confessions not only were debated over and over again over a period of years, especially in the case of Westminster, but have been confessed by every Presbyterian/Reformed minister, elder and deacon ever since. The ecclesiastical authority lent to the Confessions by all these officers called by God to their task ought to at least give us pause. Meanwhile, Roman tradition is whatever the Pope says it is.

    So when the NPP/FV come along and say, yeah, let’s throw out justification by faith alone, the very doctrine that literally every reformed theologian agrees is that doctrine upon which the church stands or falls, when these guys come along and suggest that soteriology was done by Thomas Aquinas better than it was by Calvin – and Reformed people tell you that what they’re doing is NOT Reformed – it’s just outrageous for the counter charge to be that the Reformed Confessions are being treated as equal authority with Scripture. It’s just a monstrous misunderstanding of lots and lots of issues.

    It demonstrates a misunderstanding of Roman tradition, of the Reformed Confessions, of the NPP, of soteriology as the Bible describes it, how Presbyterian church government works, and who knows what else.

    I find it ironic that on the one hand, some insist that the NPP/FV is confessional, that it can be reconciled with the Reformed Confessions, while on the other hand, some have recognized that it’s not reconcilable with the confessions, so they change tactics and argue in favor of rejecting the Reformed Confessions, on the basis that HAVING fixed Confessions is actually contrary to the spirit of the Reformation, and is thus not reformed.

    Ironic is probably a nice way to put it. Perhaps laughably ignorant and self contradictory is more honest. How could it be not Reformed to adhere to a Confession? After all, the Reformers themselves were the ones who wrote them.

    This is why blogs tend to breed nasty responses and rude discussions: because people throw up whatever pops into their mind, hit send, and walk away. It’s almost always a gut reaction, emotional, without careful thought, etc. Stop and think. Your arguments just don’t work.

    Let me just note that no one was put on trial in the OPC’s justification report. Ideas were considered. They were demonstrated to be contrary to the Bible and to the Westminster standards. This report was not adopted. It is not part of the OPC’s confession. It was meant to educate people in the OPC (and outside it) about what the OPC believes about justification. No one was excommunicated. The OPC simply reaffirmed what they have ALWAYS believed in light of recent discussions. Nothing more.

    What does that mean? That means if my pastor teaches NPP, I can’t just bring him up on charges and have him excommunicated for teaching the NPP. I still have to demonstrate that he’s teaching something contrary to the Scriptures and the Confession. I can’t just say, “He teaches NPP, and since the OPC has already condemned that, the prosecution rests.” I have to make my case. The report would be very helpful in doing that, and I could refer to it, but it’s not authoritative. What’s authoritative is the same thing that’s always been authoritative: Scripture, and SUBORDINATE TO SCRIPTURE, the Confession.

    But remember what the Confession is: the Confession is just what we believe the Bible is saying. That’s it. Every church has one, whether formalized or not. Every church has a belief statement. If they’re willing to revise it on a whim, fine, go ahead. Revise it because it’s a nice day out today and you’re feeling generous. But we Presbyterians are more stuffy and grumpy. You have to move heaven and earth to get us to change our minds about what we believe. After all, we think the Bible is pretty clear in its teachings, since God MEANT for us to understand it. We don’t understand it perfectly – there’s room for disagreement on things in the Confession – but we understand it pretty well, well enough for a couple hundred years of church officers to take a vow that they believe that the Westminster Standards teach the biblical system of doctrine.

    We take the authority of ministers and elders seriously. We don’t just dismiss it.

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