Thanks to Darryl Hart for pointing us to this challenging essay by Dale Coulter, who self identifies as a “Classical Pentecostal” in the holiness tradition. He writes on the official blog of the Regent University School of Divinity. He favors the Edwardsean piety and is highly critical of B. B. Warfield’s critique of cessationism—which he takes as an attack on the piety (or pietism) of the New Side revivalists and particularly Edwards. According to Coulter, the problem only intensified in old Westminster Seminary, which perpetuated the errors of old Princeton.
He complains about the fixation of old Princeton and old Westminster with doctrines such as forensic justification, penal substitution, and what he calls “positional sanctification.” He alleges that old Westminster has had evangelicalism in a sort of stranglehold, from which it needs to break free. He believes that evangelicalism needs to get back to more “experiential dynamic of conversion” like that taught by “first-generation Reformed thinkers like Martin Bucer and Ulrich Zwingli, neither of whom really embraced forensic justification, but both of whom were concerned to articulate a theologically and experientially robust account of conversion centered on the Spirit.” He traces this lineage through Bullinger and Bucer.
His challenge to the “New Calvinists” (the Young Restless and Reformed fellows) is to take up the experiential stream of Reformed Christianity. He says they need to be “recovering the Reformed emphasis on conversion as an experientially-driven encounter and this, in turn, allows for the on-going role of the charismatic….” If they do, such “emphases will allow for greater continuity between Reformed and Wesleyan branches of the evangelical movement rather than continually reviving the antagonism of Old Princeton/Westminster.”
I’m sure I don’t agree with Coulter’s analysis of the Reformed tradition. I agree that Zwingli was not as clear about justification as Luther or Melanchthon, or Calvin but his implicit juxtaposition of Bucer with Luther and (I assume, Melanchthon and Calvin) is far from the mark. I do not understand why folk think Bucer diverged from Luther on justification. Bucer became a Protestant by hearing Luther. Bucer never saw himself as diverging from Luther on justification and Calvin never identified Bucer as a problem child on justification. I honestly wonder how much of Bucer folk have actually read? I’ve read sections of his untranslated commentary on Romans and he was quite Protestant there. Read his Common Places compiled after his death, drawn from his various writings, and his doctrine of justification is quite clear. Yes, he had a doctrine of double justification wherein the “first justification” is for acceptance with God and the second is really only sanctification as evidence of the first, not a second ground of acceptance with God.
The doctrine of duplex iustitia (double justice) was not, pace David Wright’s comments, particularly unique to Bucer. He learned it from Luther who taught it in 1518! Further, Bucer’s doctrine of double justification was not substantially different from Calvin’s doctrine of “double grace” or Olevianus’ doctrine of “double benefit.” The Reformed orthodox continued to use these categories through the 17th century. For more on this see “The Benefits of Christ: Double Justification in Protestant Theology Before the Westminster Assembly,” Anthony T. Selvaggio, ed., The Faith Once Delivered: Celebrating the Legacy of Reformed Systematic Theology and the Westminster Assembly (Essays in Honor of Dr. Wayne Spear). (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007), 107-34. As a matter of fact, Luther, Bucer, Melanchthon, Calvin, and Olevianus all taught that the ground of justification is nothing other than the obedience and death of Jesus imputed and received through faith, resting and receiving, alone. Zwingli is a more difficult case but the best reading is probably that he intended to hold and communicate the evangelical doctrine of justification sola fide. The notion that there are two streams in magisterial Protestant theology, implicit in Coulter’s analysis, is highly dubious. Lyle Bierma debunked that historiography decades ago. See Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant.
I see no evidence of the captivity Coulter sees. Where is the influence of “old Westminster” today? I wonder if Coulter is swinging at ghosts? Which publishing houses does old Princeton/Westminster control? Which influential magazines? Which radio networks? Which institutions of higher learning? If we were any more obscure it would take a quantum physicist to find us!
Nevertheless, I agree with him that Edwards represents a turn toward pietism (see RRC on this) and that the YRR fellows do have a decision to make. Do they want to be confessionally Reformed? It’s interesting that Coulter also sees the current state of the YRR movement as transitional. I agree with Coulter that they have a choice to make and I agree that the choice is between Warfield (and Hodge and Turretin and Owen and Polanus and Perkins and Ursinus and Calvin and Bullinger and Bucer) and pietist and revivalist revisions of Reformed theology. The real choice has always been between the Reformation and Anabaptist enthusiasm. I am increasingly impressed by the Anabaptist nature of North American theology, piety, and practice since at least the early 19th century and in light of that history Coulter’s challenge to the YRR movement is apt. He’s offering them the tempting apple of religious experience (QIRE) and all they have to do is repudiate that nasty doctrine of forensic justification and its corollaries. Coulter has another spirit and it is the spirit Thomas Muntzer.
Is that really where the YRR movement wants to go?