Wednesday, 5 March 2008

The Federal Vision And The Language Of Appearance (4)

Part one: the FV position
Part two: the FV problem
Part three: FV arguments

A reminder of Matthew's argument (which I picked as being representative of FV arguments in general):

It may be helpful quickly to summarize something of the biblical testimony regarding what apostates lose. Without hedging, the Bible says of apostates that

 - Some receive the word with joy and believe for a time (Luke 8.13)
 - They are branches in the Vine, Jesus (John 15.2, 6)
 - They are baptized into the Greater Moses (1 Cor 10.2)
 - They drink of Christ (1 Cor 10.4)
 - They have been enlightened (Heb 6.4)
 - They taste the heavenly gift, the word of the God, and the powers of the age to come (Heb 6.4f)
 - The are partakers of the Spirit (Heb 6.4)
 - They are sanctified by the blood of the covenant (Heb 10.29)
 - They escape the defilements of the world (2 Pet 2.20)
 - They know the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet 2.20)
 - The know the way of righteousness (2 Pet 2.21).

Now, how do we account for this? To say that ‘temporary’ faith is ontologically distinct from ‘saving’ faith, that it is therefore merely external, and that the benefits that in receives within the covenant are merely external, falls short of the repeated testimony of the Scriptures.

Now, I certainly wouldn't accept that list in toto as if each member exemplified Matthew's point. At some places I think it directly contradicts it. Take for example Hebrew 6, which Matthew refers to three times. To my mind, the language of "tasting" and "partaking" and being "enlightened" is very much the language of partial-ness. The apostates spoken of have tasted, but not fully imbibed; have partaken, but not comprehensively entered into the things they have taken of; have been enlightened by being given true knowledge of the way of salvation yet without internalising it so that they were actually saved. This language fits in very well with the old doctrine that those with "temporary faith" have had an experience which falls short of salvation. The old doctrine never said that the Holy Spirit only ever works in a person 0% or 100%; it is possible to experience benefits from him, yet to resist his overtures of grace. God works infallibly and savingly in his elect - but the old position, hyper-Calvinists aside, never claimed that he never worked at all in the non-elect.

Similarly, I think that Matthew's invocation of 2 Peter 2, which he relies on three times, is also way off the mark. Matthew quotes verses 20 and 21, but then leaves out what comes next: verse 22. We should quote all three together:

20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
Notice how Peter describes the apostates: as dogs who have returned to their vomit; as sows who were washed but have now returned to wallowing in the mire.

Why does a dog return to its vomit? Because it's a dog. Why does a sow, though having had its outsides wash, go back to wallowing in the mire? Because its a sow. In English we'd say that the leopard doesn't change its spots, or you can't teach granny to suck eggs. No matter how much you do to its outsides, a dog or a sow is what it still is, and its dog or sow-like ways are what it will inevitably return to. The apostate has not become a new creature in Christ - despite what has happened and what has been received externally, inside he essentially remains what he always was.

Hence Peter actually does say what Matthew says he doesn't - he gives us plenty of evidence that the "Christianity" which these apostates had spent some time in was merely external. Peter's illustration gives us the exegetical key to understand just what kind of "escape" or "washing" or "knowledge" they have enjoyed - external.

Thirdly, Matthew uncritically adds Hebrews 10:29 to his list. This verse says, "Of how much sorer punishment, do you suppose, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace?". The difficulty here is that the "he" as in "wherewith he was sanctified", is ambiguous. Has the apostate, who has insulted the Spirit of grace, also insulted Christ, who was sanctified by the blood of the covenant? Or is the verse sayiong that the apostate himself was sanctified with that blood? The Greek grammar itself cannot settle the question either way. John Owen, the most renowned of the English Puritans, and the most esteemed commentator on the book of Hebrews in Christian history (his work ran to seven volumes), decided that the former option was correct. FV advocates, though, tend to uncritically cite the former interpretation as the only one on the table, and as unquestionable. This again isn't very convincing.

To be continued...

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