Is Covenant Theology “Narrow”?

covenant of graceWilliam Evans has responded to my critique. In reply I want to ponder what he means by “extrinsic covenantalism” and to try to achieve a measure of clarity by defining our terms. “extrinsic covenantalism” is is new terminology for me. His paradigm seems to be shaped by 19th-century debates. Mine is shaped by my study of the 16th and 17th centuries and, to a certain degree, by the contemporary discussions (e.g., Federal Vision, NPP etc).

He calls my view narrow. Well, if by “narrow” he means “that view held by most of the Reformed from the 1530s through the 19th century and confessed by the Reformed churches Germany, France, Switzerland (German and French), and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries and today” then, yes, I plead guilty to holding a “narrow” view but that strikes me as an odd definition of narrow.

As I explained above, “covenant” is a biblical term. The principal Hebrew term, Berith, is used 289 times in the Hebrew Scriptures (BHS) and the Greek term, Diatheke, occurs 33 times in the Greek NT (NA 27).

It is not a peripheral or marginal term in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. It occurs the first time in Genesis 6:18 and is used repeatedly in Genesis 12, 15, and 17 to describe the way that God relates to us. It is true that it isn’t the only way to describe the way God relates to us but it is an important term and is fairly described as comprehensive.

It is notable that Zechariah, in Luke 1:72, characterizes the advent of our Lord in terms of God’s “remembering his holy covenant” is instructive. This is a typical OT way of speaking. The Spirit preserved this testimony to help us understand the person and work of Christ. The synoptic gospels (Matt, Mark, Luke) all record the same institution of the Lord’s Supper. Our Lord said “this is my blood of the covenant” (Matt 26:28 and Mark 14:24). Luke says, “blood of the new covenant” (Luke 22:20; on which Paul capitalized in 1Cor 11:25). Thus, the very sacrament instituted by our Lord for our frequent observance, in which, as we confess, we are fed by the true body and blood of our Lord or even the “proper and natural” (Belgic Confession Article 35) body and blood of Christ can only be understood in covenantal terms. His blood is the new covenant. To say that is to invoke all of the ANE categories of which some now want to be rid. I was taught to read Scripture in light of its original context that still seems right. If Scripture was given in a covenantal context and if, through Jeremiah, God promised a new covenant (ch. 31) and the NT claims that Jesus inaugurated that new covenant, then how can we avoid covenantal hermeneutics?

In Acts 3:25, Peter, preaching on Solomon’s Porch, appealed to the covenant. Stephen (7:8) also did in his sermon. Paul appeals to it in Rom 11:27. Paul characterized his entire ministry as the ministry of the new covenant (2Cor 3:1–14). He clinched his argument with the Judaizers by an appeal to the history of God’s covenants with Abraham and Moses (Galatians 3:15–17). Geerhardus Vos thought that the theme of “covenant” was so strong in Hebrews that he titled it the “Epistle of the Diatheke” (covenant). Certainly, it is not possible to understand Hebrews without getting to grips with its covenant theology particularly in chapters 7-10 and then again in his benediction. The term for covenant (diatheke) occurs about 15 times in Hebrews alone.

Then there are allusions to the covenants beyond the express discussion of the Abrahamic covenant. E.g., Ps 110 one of the most frequently quoted passages in the NT. Some argue that it is the most frequently quoted OT passage in the NT. The turning point in Ps 110 is vs. 4 which is Adonai’s (The LORD) oath to Adoni (my Lord). In the ANE context (c. 1000 AD) it seems impossible to understand this oath, on which the NT spends so much time, except as a covenant between the Father and the Son. This is how Hebrews understands it and I doubt we want to call the writer to the Hebrews “narrow.”

Reformed theology did not invent covenant theology. Several of the 2nd-century fathers appealed to the biblical notion of “covenant” for roughly the same reasons that the Reformed turned to the category of “covenant” to reply to the Anabaptists in the 1520s and 30s: to express the fundamental unity of salvation in the history of redemption. God is one. There is one God and Father, one baptism, one salvation. Covenant is the way that Scripture articulates that unity and so the fathers appealed to it in their defense of the unity of Scripture and of God against the dualists (both Gnostics and Marcion). The Fathers, like the Reformers after them, appealed to the covenants also to express the progress of revelation and redemption. They didn’t use it to “flatten out” redemptive history.

Any biblical teaching can be corrupted and, gradually, the medieval church did redefine what the covenant was and how it operates, if you will. They turned grace into law and substituted duty for gift. The Reformation reclaimed the category in light of the Protestant re-reading of Scripture. Like the fathers we expressed both the unity and progress of redemptive history by using the language of covenant.

There are different “covenant” theologies. The Medieval theologians offered a few different covenant theologies. In the 17th century, the Baptists a version and the Reformed had a version. The Lutheran orthodox, for a time, developed a covenant theology in response to the Reformed (Gerhard discussed “covenant” quite a lot). This is because how one understand “covenant” is the result of how one understands a number of biblical passages and themes. The Reformed covenant theology was an expression of the great insights of the Protestant Reformation.

The word “extrinsic” has been terribly important in the history of Protestant theology. Though my dialogue partner seems to be using it negatively, it has not historically been used pejoratively. We’ve used it or synonyms in a couple of ways that I know. We distinguish between an “extrinsic” and an “intrinsic” ground of justification. THE pan-Protestant view was that the ground of our justification before God is and must be extrinsic to us. The medieval church had taught an intrinsic ground, i.e., that God justifies us on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity which was said to be the result of infused grace and cooperation with grace.

The Protestants, however, beginning with Luther, read the Scriptures to teach something quite different. The righteousness by which we are declared righteous is not within us, nor is it the product of grace and cooperation with grace but Christ’s perfect righteousness, in medieval terms, his condign (intrinsically worthy) merit, achieved for us and imputed to us. In that sense, the distinction between “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” is the difference between being a Protestant and being a Romanist. Anyone who denies that ground of our acceptance with God is outside of us, is not a Protestant.

Another place the distinction between “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” might be important is the distinction between an external relation to the visible and an internal or spiritual relation Christ. Historically the Reformed have always affirmed that Paul’s teaching that a Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly (Rom 2:28) and that “not all Israel is Israel” (Rom 9:6) means that there are two ways of relating to the covenant of grace: externally and internally.

Not everyone who has an external relation to the covenant of grace also has an internal relation. The latter is the result of the Spirit’s sovereign work, through the means of grace (preaching of the Gospel) to raise one to life spiritually (to regenerate) and to create faith and through that faith to unite one to Christ. Thus, ordinarily, all believers have an external (or extrinsic) and internal (or intrinsic or Spiritual) relation to the covenant of Grace and to Christ.

A third place “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” might be relevant is our spiritual relation to Christ. As I’ve explained at length in earlier posts, the doctrine of union with Christ is most important to Reformed theology. Calvin wrote that what Christ accomplished for us is of no value to us if he remains outside of us. In order to benefit from Christ’s work we must be personally united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, through faith. That union must become communion. In that sense, the extrinsic righteousness of Christ is intimately related to our intrinsic, if you will, spiritual connection to Christ.

There has been, however, a great lot of emphasis in contemporary Reformed theology on “union with Christ” and not all of it has been equally clear or helpful. E.g., some have characterized union with Christ as the “central” teaching of the Scriptures as understood by the Reformed. Setting aside the methodological question whether there is such a thing as a “central” Reformed teaching, it is a stretch to say that Reformed theology orbits around the doctrine of union with Christ.

Others have characterized the doctrine of union with Christ so that it becomes a vehicle to return to the mysticism of certain medieval theologians. In this model, union becomes a kind of ladder by which we either climb or are drawn up into Christ’s being. In this model relationship becomes being and its hard to see how this is a biblical way of thinking and it certainly isn’t a confessional way of thinking.

Finally, some emphases on union have sought to marginalize the Protestant doctrine of justification, to put it in a sort of box. The Protestant formulae are recited but then faith is limited to a sort of technical status in justification and when we’re done with justification, where our older writers talked about faith these writers now want to talk about union. Indeed, as I suggested in the previous post, I worry about an unintentional move by some toward the doctrines of Andreas Osiander (1498–1552). Osiander brilliantly and devilishly co-opted the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone and united it to a doctrine of justification on the basis of the indwelling Christ. This seems to me to be case where the relation eclipses the forensic.

What the orthodox Reformed have always desired is that every professing Christian would have new life by the Spirit and that their outward profession would be matched by inward possession of all that the sacraments signify and that Christians would rest for righteousness with God on the extrinsic righteousness of Christ and that the same Spirit who brought them to faith would continue to work in (intrinsically) by grace, through faith and by the power of the mystical, Holy Spirit union that we have with the risen Christ.

That, I believe, is the faith of almost all the orthodox Reformed writers in the 16 and 17th centuries, of our Reformed confessions, of Thomas Boston and the Erskines in the 17th and 18th centuries, of Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, the Hodges, Warfield, and Machen, in the 19th and 20th centuries. Narrow? I suppose it comes down to definitions.

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  1. As an amateur, reading from the outside of this debate, I wonder whether Dr. Evans is really concerned to maintain the subjective aspect of salvation, lest it be swallowed by the objective (i.e. it really matters that you believe). If so, I know that you (Dr. Clark) would not dispute this for a moment. It is just possible that there is not as much disagreement as you both seem to believe.

    • Well Dan,

      It seems to me that he is calling into question the category of “covenant” as a way of explaining Scripture, Christ’s federal headship, and the forensic doctrine of justification among other things. Were it a matter of emphasizing the subjective, why the criticism of the covenants of works, redemption, federal theology and the like?

      Were he only concerned to re-emphasize the subject, I wouldn’t have said a word.

      There’s no question that the subject aspect of our relation to Christ is essential but we cannot have one unless we are first legally, forensically, objectively right with God.

  2. I was a bit taken a back after reading it that it was be a “Presbyterian” Head scratcher.

  3. Thanks for your helpful comments, some of the more recent skepticism of Covenant theology has been a bit discouraging. Something I’ve read that Kline was aware of in his day. Perhaps the confusion stems from the differing formulations, and it is frustrating for people who hold to CT as well as those who throw it out all together.

    There was one comment you made that I wanted to seek clarification on;

    “There has been, however, a great lot of emphasis in contemporary Reformed theology on “union with Christ” and not all of it has been equally clear or helpful.

    E.g., some have characterized union with Christ as the “central” teaching of the Scriptures as understood by the Reformed”

    I’m not sure who this is referring to, and that may be where the rub is. And I understand why you didn’t specify. As I understand it, Union with Christ is “most basic” and “central” to salvation. That isn’t saying that Christ is central to all of Redemptive History. Are those distinctions on the “helpful” side of things?



  4. Personally I think “covenant” is a useful category. However, if I recall correctly Robertson in “Christ of the Covenants” rejected the notion of a covenant of redemption and John Murray famously (or infamously) rejected at least the label of “CoW.” I’ve read the claim that Murray held to the principles although he had concerns with the label.

    Furthermore, in “Far as the Curse is Found” there is a substantial flattening of the distinction between CoW and CoG in my opinion. If one recognizes the represenative solidarity of Adam with unbelievers and the solidarity of Christ with believers that seems to come closer to the truth than some “covenantalists” seem to.

  5. I think you and Rev. Winzer at the Puritanboard on this subject are on-the-mark. Possibly on the other side is an impatience with terminal knowledge of the truth. Ever learning never able (or wanting) to come to understanding of the truth.

  6. Hello Professor Clark.

    I’m Bill’s brother, teaching OT at a seminary in Kenya, presently at “the other university” in England doing research.

    I saw where you wrote Dan the following:

    ‘It seems to me that he is calling into question the category of “covenant” as a way of explaining Scripture, Christ’s federal headship, and the forensic doctrine of justification among other things. Were it a matter of emphasizing the subjective, why the criticism of the covenants of works, redemption, federal theology and the like?

    Were he only concerned to re-emphasize the subject, I wouldn’t have said a word.

    There’s no question that the subject aspect of our relation to Christ is essential but we cannot have one unless we are first legally, forensically, objectively right with God.’


    in the interests of Christian charity and unity, which mean so much to our Savior, may I make a few comments on your site? (1) Bill has always loved the doctrine of covenant in Scripture and does indeed see it as a key to understanding the Bible and redemptive history. What he worries about is getting things somewhat out of balance (covenant overload). I’m guessing that he shares my concern as an Alttestamentler that all the talk of the Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace can distract Bible readers from the specific, progressive covenants in redemptive history (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, New). (2) Bill would never deny that Christ is our covenant head and rejoices in that teaching of Hebrews, the Synoptics. Likewise Bill has repeatedly stuck his neck out in various debates defending the forensic aspect of justification (including imputation) against New Perspective types. (3) Though a historical theologian, Bill is above all concerned to do justice to Scripture (and Paul is mainly in view as we discuss Union). To him I think that means giving proper weight to “the forensic imagery of justification and the relation focused imagery of participation in Christ” (Dunn’s language in “A New Perspective on the New Perspective on Paul,” Early Christianity 4 [2013]: 157-82). Both are absolutely biblical. (Please note that Bill and I have huge problems with Dunn, and I’m not quoting Dunn here because I agree with his construal of Paul’s theology. It’s deplorable that JDGD denies imputation.) What is so regrettable, even mischievous at times, is that in the current debates people are going to extremes and either downplaying Union with Christ on the one hand, or dismissing the forensic aspect (and imputation). We must not do either. Some people see your theological position as moving Union with Christ to the periphery, and they are drawn instead to (what Bill was arguing is) the Pauline (Rom 8:1; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9) and Calvinian view that gives proper weight to both. The benefit of understanding justification and sanctification (always distinguished , never separated) as ours in union with the God-Man is great in my view.

    I wish you much grace and peace (and a good semester ahead).

    • John,

      As far as we can tell there is a fundamental disagreement on some important issues.

      1. Your comments and Bill’s about the pactum salutis represent a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the doctrine and the history of theology. Have you read Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry or any of the more recent scholarship on the pactum salutis? It’s just not possible to write/speak that way about the pactum salutis any more. Berkouwer was wrong. He’s been shown to be wrong about the the doctrine exegetically, theologically, and historically. One might yet come to reject it but such a rejection can no longer be so dismissive. The critics of the doctrine must answer the exegetical arguments made by the tradition (which neither Berkouwer or his followers have done) and by those who’ve come to appreciate what the tradition was attempting to do. The PS was not peripheral to Reformed theology. Not everyone, everywhere has taught or accepted it but it was widely taught until the modern period. Consider this: Olevianus, in his popular, German-language, account of the faith, began his explanation of the faith with the PS. Why? Because, as a pastor and student of Scripture, he found it in Scripture and pastorally helpful. This was the same fellow who wrote two other surveys of the development of redemptive history.

      2. The Reformed churches confess the covenant of works explicitly. If we’re going to up end what the churches confess (the confessions are not just mini-systems that we may criticize at will. They are public, ecclesiastical declarations that have a binding character) then we ought to do so more seriously and ecclesiastically.

      3. The very reason that Reformed theology formulated its covenant theology was to give an account of the progress of revelation and redemption. This is why I find it so shocking that you fellows think it’s a distraction. I cannot believe that you could read Olevianus, Robert Rollock, Johannes Cocceius or Herman Witsius or Amandus Polanus (you fellows have read these works, right?) and come away with the notion that the doctrines of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace distract from the history of redemption. Frankly, such a claim strikes me as well, bizarre. By that I mean that it’s almost as if we’re in a parallel universe. How could anyone look at such works, at Owen, at the extensive and detailed accounts of redemptive history in Rutherford, Gillespie, or even Ball and think that the traditional Reformed three-covenant theology leads us away from detailing with the details of redemptive history.

      4. What historic Reformed covenant theology does is to provide a broader framework, to give coherence to the whole story. It is not biblicist. It is not atomistic. It is not subjectivist. I can understand how, in our age, one might find such restrictions bothersome but I think these are helpful in the way that guide rails on a mountain road are helpful since on either side lies destruction. As I explained in Recovering the Reformed Confession the biblicism that so many seem to find so attractive today has its roots in Socinianism, who made some of the very same criticisms that you and Bill are making. I’m not saying that you’re Socinians but I am cautioning you both to be careful lest you inadvertently end up where the Socinians did. They positioned themselves as “biblical” theologians. They’re slogan was “we’re just following Scripture.” But it wasn’t true. They were rationalists pretending to follow Scripture and they attempted to read Scripture as if no one had ever done it before. Socinianism wasn’t a “one-off.” It still happens. Many evangelicals have unknowingly adopted what are effectively Socinian assumptions and methods. One cannot adopt the same methods and even some of the same assumptions as the Socinians and expect things to come out differently.

      5. Both you and Bill seem to assume that the Reformed never wrote about union with Christ or that somehow we’ve missed something all these years or perhaps, as Bill seems to think, Calvin got it right and everyone else after Calvin got it wrong until now. Again, the actual history of the Reformed tradition is quite different. We will likely not agree on the right interpretation of Calvin. I think that Bill and others are guilty of an anachronistic reading of Calvin, i.e., of reading their view back into Calvin in the same way that the Barthians read Barth back into Calvin. Hence, the Calvin v the Calvinists methodology. Second, if you want a theologian who is “all about union” your guy is Zanchi, not Calvin. He was closer to building a theology around union than Calvin. Thirdly, the Reformed have not talked about union the way that some influential contemporary writers have done. As I’ve shown on the HB and as Fesko has shown independently the Reformed doctrine of mystical union is remarkably uniform and it’s the doctrine taught in WSC 30.

      6. Was Vos unconcerned about the history of redemption? To ask that question is to answer it. Yet, he did not feel the need to set fire to the entire Reformed tradition. Why not? Because he actually took the time to learn it. He read the sources. He was an active student of the classical Reformed writers. Ditto for Kuyper. Indeed, Vos actually was forced to it by an encounter with an odd version of covenant theology he encountered while teaching in GR. He wrote to Bavinck to marvel at what he had encountered, how ignorant they were of the tradition, and of what he had found in reading the tradition.

  7. Thanks, Scott, for taking so much time to respond. I’m not sure you engaged what I wrote, but I’m grateful you wrote what you did for the sake of my understanding your position. If you really believe that a brother’s questioning the CoW is “to set fire to the entire Reformed tradition,” that would explain your strong reaction to it. There are a lot of theologians and OT exegetes—essentially everybody outside the Reformed camp, and many within our conservative Reformed circles—who simply can’t find it in Scripture. That includes two recent Moderators of the PCA General Assembly. Am I right in thinking you would put such doubters outside the camp? (That might encourage some to call your view of the Reformed tradition “narrow.”)

    Perhaps another one of the differences between us is our view of creeds and Scripture. I dearly love the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards, always will, but the Westminster Divines did not see their work as the final word or as the rule of faith and practice (WCF 31.3). It worries me as an exegete when you seem to be warning me against a Berean style consideration of theological teachings. I know that at the Judgment God won’t ask me if I was faithful to a certain sort of Reformed tradition (be it Calvin, Heidelberg, of Westminster), but if I was faithful to his Word, his Son, and his calling in my life. The creeds are a wonderful help (I’ve memorized portions of the Heidelberg and the Westminster Standards), but I think we most honor our forebears who produced them when we study their work diligently (I’ve been through the Institutes about four times) and also evaluate all their teaching and work by the standard of Scripture. I fail to see how Socinianism is the spectre you think it is, if we try to be Bereans (without ignoring the history of doctrine).

    Whatever our differences, Professor, I’m glad to call you a brother in Christ and sign myself “your servant for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5).

    • John,

      That you don’t see how my comments address what you wrote only illustrates how far apart we are.

      A lot of this discussion comes down to defining the adjective “Reformed.” Yes, I see in Bill’s proposals the destruction of Reformed theology.

      I’ve written and edited several books on this and related topics and I can’t type them out here in a combox but let me encourage you to read Recovering the Reformed Confession (this is a link to the Kindle version). The Reformed faith cannot be shorn of its covenant theology or its federalism without becoming something else.

      I’m quite aware of the contemporary, biblicist, hostility to the covenant of works. There have been plenty of responses to that hostility. Yes, the covenant of works is essential to the Reformed faith. That’s why the divines said it twice in the WCF. They weren’t kidding.

      You’re entitled to criticize the WCF but you cannot take vows to uphold them same and gut them at the same time. If folk don’t like what we confess, I understand. The Evangelical Free Church is waiting for you. They have only 12 points and there’s there’s plenty of latitude on the 12th. If the E-Free is too narrow, there are lots of options including the EPC, the new covenant group exiting the PCUSA and the CCCC.

      There’s a qualitative difference between being a Berean and being a Socinian. Everything can and should be tested by Scripture. Sola Scriptura! As I explain in RRC, however, everyone reads Scripture somewhere, with someone, in some context. To pretend otherwise, as many in the bib studies guild do, is essentially Socinian and at odds with our confession and our tradition.

  8. Hi Scott. Thanks once again for the opportunity to post on your blog. I’m coming away with a clearer understanding of your theology (which I suppose is your hope for HB).

    What really helped to crystallize things for me was your statement above, “… our relation to Christ is essential but we cannot have one unless we are first legally, forensically, objectively right with God.” I take it that, for you, Union has nothing to do with justification and is an extra something (mystical union, communion with Christ) experienced in the Christian life. Justification according to RSC is not “in Christ,” if I follow you correctly, but based solely on what Christ has done for us. The quote I just cited puzzles me greatly because I have noted Reformed theologians over the centuries teaching that our justification is based both on Christ’s sin-atoning sacrifice (what he did) and also on who he is as our righteousness (1 Cor 1:30). We “become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). The RSC quote I cited could almost be preached as, “Get right with God and then you’ll get Jesus.” I think a lot of Pauline scholars would insist that for the Apostle justification is about Union, about “being found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ” (Phil 3:9). I’m afraid I can’t comprehend not seeing justifying righteousness in both Christ’s Person and work. By faith we are united to Christ, “found in him,” and we come to know all the benefits of his passion and resurrection. I take that to be Calvin’s point in the quote you’ve given recently (and approvingly) from III.1.1: “First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.”

    I’m no fan of CCM, but maybe there’s some good balance in the lines about our acceptance by God being, “Not because of who I am, but because of what you’ve (Christ) done, not because of what I’ve done, but because of who you are.”

    I confess I’m still struggling to understand your argument that creeds cannot be scrutinized by “searching the Scriptures” like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). (And I suppose you might mean, don’t critique the creeds we like—the Heidelberger, the Westminster Standards; creeds we don’t like—Trent, Vatican I—are fair game.) If the creeds we like cannot come under the scrutiny of God’s infallible Word, in your view, then I am at a loss to know what has become of sola Scriptura in your theology. (I understand well that “everyone reads Scripture somewhere, with someone, in some context,” and I would never suggest that we should try not to. We read with the Church today and the saints of the past. So I always want to be open to correction. The Socinian charge still bewilders.) Since we’re all sinners, dust and ashes, men of our time, and prone to error (RSC, Calvin, Ursinus, the Divines, especially JFE), I think we all must be open to correction of our work. Again, I suggest we keep WFC 31.3 in mind; surely the Divines meant for the Bible alone to be our rule of faith and practice.

    Thanks, Scott. May God grant you his abundant grace and peace, even far more than he sends my way. (I will not be posting again on this thread.)

    • John,

      We really are not communicating very successfully. I’ve tried to articulate my view of union in many posts here on the HB. My view is that of WSC 30:

      The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling (emphasis added).

      The Spirit creates mystical union between the believer and Christ through faith. This is why WSC 30 says “and thereby uniting.”

      That seems fairly clear.

      On justification, what the Reformed believed is very clearly articulated in WCF 11.1:

      1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

      Please note the language, “not by infusing righteousness into them” and again “not for anything wrought in them…”

      Can you show me a classic Reformed theologian—I said Reformed, that excludes Richard Baxter, to whom Owen responded in vol 5 of his works. On this see CJPM—who taught that anything wrought in us is in any way part of the ground of our justification?

      I’m confused. Earlier you said that you uphold the “forensic” doctrine of justification and now you seem to criticize it. Like Bill, you gut Reformed theology and you don’t quite seem to understand what you’ve just done.

      Justification certainly is “in Christ”! Are you assuming a different view of union with Christ and then criticizing me for not holding it? I affirm HC 21 and HC 60

      60. How are you righteous before God?

      Only by true faith in Jesus Christ;1 that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them,2 and am still prone always to all evil;3 yet God without any merit of mine,4 of mere grace,5 grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction,6 righteousness, and holiness of Christ,7 as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me;8 if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.9

      There are three aspects to the doctrine of union with Christ:

      1. The decretal
      2. The federal
      3. The mystical

      With respect to the decree, all the elect are in Christ from all eternity.
      With respect to Christ as our federal head, all the elect were in him inasmuch as he was legally representing us.
      With respect to the application of redemption all the elect come to mystical (existential) union through faith.

      Our whole redemption is “in Christ.” I have no idea whence you conclude that I separate Christ’s work and his person. We must have both! In the statement you isolated, I was writing about the third aspect of union.

      Let’s go back to basics.

      The medieval church taught that we are justified to the degree we are sanctified so that the ground of justification is Christ’s work in us.

      The Reformation taught that the ground of justification in Christ’s work for us. He cannot, as Calvin said, remain outside of us, however. We only benefit from his work when the Spirit unites us to him mystically by Spirit-wrought faith. Is there a logical order of salvation? The Apostle Paul and the entire Reformed tradition and the confessions of the churches say, “Yes.” Spirit-wrought faith apprehends Christ AND his work and benefits. One cannot have one without the other.

      Nothing I’ve written can be fairly construed to diminish what Christ’s work has done for us, which is imputed to us. I cannot imagine whence you make such an inference. Once again, please see the chapter in CJPM on the imputation of active obedience where I defended the IAO at length.

      I’ve done the same on the HB many times:

      And those are just a few of the places. Do a google site search:

      site: imputation active obedience and you can see the results for yourself.

      Where did I write that we cannot criticize the confessions? What I wrote is that, having taken a vow to uphold and defend and teach what the churches confess, her ministers are not free to undermine or criticize the confessions without following an ecclesiastical process. The confessions certainly are subject to revision. The American churches rightly revised the Belgic and WCF on the magistrate for example. Again, I discuss subscription and revision at length in RRC.

      The confessions are noty just mini-systems. They aren’t private documents. Berkhof’s Dogmatics, Horton’s system, or Hodge’s systematics, those are private documents relative to the church. We may criticize their systems all we will but confessions have a different status. They are ecclesiastical documents. They are the church’s public, authoritative interpretation of Scripture. Therefore we must proceed accordingly. This is not mere traditionalism. If you’ll take the time to read RRC you’ll see that I’ve argued that we need new confessions—for which I’ve been criticized by some traditionalists. The Bible IS our sole rule of faith and life and if someone finds the confession to be out of accord with Scripture then he should take that error to and through the courts of the church.

      Biblicism, in its modern expression, is rooted in Socinianism. I understand that might not be a familiar analysis but it’s true. Take a look at RRC where I explain this in more detail.

  9. Dr. Clark, I disagree with you on a few things (your now famous coinages for instance), but you are writing from the power of Reformed doctrine in this thread.

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