What does it mean and why the Reformed World today cannot understand Augustine, Calvin, Amyraut, or often each other?
This is kind of hard one for certain people to understand. Normally when we use the term we think about men like John Gill and for those of us familiar with Spurgeon we think of his controversies with some of the Particular Baptists in Victorian England.
In our day, some will think of the Free Offer controversy with the Protestant Reformed. These are manifestations of hyper-Calvinism, but they are symptoms not the cause.
The cause is when Election is removed from its proper place in theology and set up as the lens through which all or all of certain areas of theology are interpreted. In the end it becomes a question of method…how we 'do' theology. There was considerable debate over this in the 17th century as some of the Calvinists asserted that the Reformed Orthodox had re-adopted Aristotelian Systematic methods over and against a Historical-exegetical method that their opponents asserted you found in Calvin. I agree with this assessment. Books have been written against this thesis, but the debate was very real and though the Scholastic party could not seem to grasp Saumur, Amyraut and others certainly understood the orthodox. If you understand what I'm writing here, you will perhaps see why the critics of Armstrong's book fail to understand either Amyraut, the issues at stake, John Calvin, or perhaps all these.
Here's a quote from Brian Armstrong:
"It was this methodology which underlay the most celebrated of all the alterations of Calvin's system, the placing of the doctrine of predestination in the doctrine of God. This was accomplished by Beza in its most extreme, supralapsarian form. It was also the approach taken by Zanchi. In fact, though this supralapsarian expression of the doctrine of predestination never found its way into the Reformed Confessions, it did become the more common position in Geneva, the academies of the Low Countries, and even in Scotland, while it found adherents in all countries where the Reformed faith found currency. It was because the approach taken was synthetic and deductive that predestination became truly the Centraldogma of Reformed Theology. Since the starting point in theological formulation was the divine decrees, there was no alternative but to discuss the whole of soteriology in terms of divine predestination or reprobation. The use of this methodological principle also explains the oft-cited debate between supra- and infralapsarians……. Using God's decrees as a starting point demands that a logical connection be realizable to enable one to construct a theological system. Thus it is the methodology which forced theologians into this impasse, a methodology quite foreign to Calvin himself."
This is the historical and methodological root of hyper-Calvinism. Calvin and Amyraut argued predestination was meant to be a comfort for believers…an assurance of salvation. It also opens a window for us and allows us to glimpse into the wonderful internal workings of the Divine. But for Theology to start there, is not only undue metaphysical speculation, but it is to ignore the historical development of the Biblical text. Logic forces one to work back to Election as the source and then all theology flows out of it. But that's not how it's taught in the Bible. The Bible absolutely teaches Election, quite strongly, but it is the visible categories, the revealed will, the administration of God's covenants that are normative for the life and understanding of the Church. Otherwise, Election destroys the Biblical data pertaining to Ecclesiology, Soteriology, and certainly affects even the other loci of systematics.
Otto Grundler makes this point in Thomism and Calvinism:
"In the theology of Zanchi, at the very point of transition from Reformation to Orthodoxy, the spirit of medieval Scholasticism has thus begun to replace that of the Reformers at a point where it counted most. To the extent to which—under the influence of Thomistic-Aristotelian tradition—the christocentric orientation of Calvin's thinking shifted toward a metaphysics of causality in the thought of his successors, Reformed theology ceased to be a theology of revelation." (emphasis mine)
This is a stunning statement and the very point of all my posts regarding hermeneutics and the philosophical questions which undergird the issue.
When you get to the point where you're even asking about supra- and infralapsarianism….you're in trouble. The infra- crowd is at least hindered a bit by the text…while the supra- adherents bring in the full force of Aristotelian Systematics and plunge rather arrogantly and without warrant into the realm of metaphysical speculation.
I would agree with Grundler…applying to someone like Gordon Clark or Hoeksema who are on the extreme end…..they do not have a theology of revelation. Logic is deified.
So when I use the term, I'm often using it generally and not always breaking down what I mean by it in each instance…and to what degree.
The extreme form is as I said, with the Hoeksema-Clark groups. This affects all of their theology even down to their definitions of saving faith. Zanchius and the Reformed Scholastics held a view very similar to Clark. Hyper-Calvinism reduces faith by necessity to mere assent. And as I've written elsewhere, they are all in essence Baptistic in their theology. Tradition may compel them to apply water to children, but that's all it is…by necessity they are Baptists.
"Grundler has carefully detailed the very significant reorientation of this doctrine of faith in Zanchi. He has shown the object of faith for Zanchi is simply an assent to the truth of the Scriptures."
All of theology is subsumed and crushed under the weight of Election applied Logically. You can find variations of this easy-believism in other Reformed camps as well, but less severe, not in the cold minimalist cast you find with someone like John Robbins. On paper it's the same, but with a little evangelical warmth.
The Protestant Reformed Church and The Trinity Foundation represent the extreme. With Van Til, because he sought to create a philosophical basis for Kuyper's Lordship of all of life….he sought to erect a unity, a complete system that did not allow for the sufficiency of Natural Revelation in the realm of a Providentially guided Common Grace. It is no coincidence the Hoeksema camp also has a problem with Common Grace. Because this is the realm where man can think autonomously and from our Christian perspective….it is sufficient. My disagreement with Van Til is not over his apologetical method, which was really nothing new. His innovation was the philosophical and epistemological grid which he constructed to give his apologetic coherence.
The problem is his system-commitment creates the false dilemma of theonomy-autonomy and is justified by appealing to the total depravity of fallen man. I'm not so concerned with elevating man's ability, but I am concerned when the Common Grace realm is transferred in theory to the Holy Realm and is not allowed to function as it should. The systematic behind Van Til's argument and its functional justification is not rooted in Scripture, but is instead Fideism that then builds a rather elaborate Aristotelian Structure on top of it. That may be a little hard to grasp if you're not familiar with his categories as well as the one's I'm using.
It's very odd that methodologically Van Tillians reject Thomistic-Aristotelianism and turn Fideist…but then turn back to Thomistic-Aristotelianism in the critique (which is valid in the realm of Natural Revelation) but then also apply it when it comes to metaphysics. While we can appeal to the Trinity as a sort of supreme example or solution to the Problem of the Universals…to construct an Integrationist System derived from metaphysical speculation….is a little troublesome. It really goes way beyond the scope of responsible Scriptural constructions. And there is some validity to the accusation of Van Til teaching Sabellianism…this is the problem in applying the Problem of the Universals-construct to something like the Trinity. I would think considering his arguments with Clark over Incomprehensibility he would have avoided something like that……the very thing I would expect Clark to do….reduce the doctrine of God to syllogistic formulae. The Problem of the Universals can be applied in a general sense I would argue to understanding something of the relationship between visible and invisible aspects of the covenant and the church and how the church relates to Christ. It helps us to understand something of how the visible administration can be an imperfect and yet concrete expression of a perfect and concrete eternal substance.
With other groups, like say the Redemptive-Historical group…they largely escape hyper-Calvinism because of their non-Systematics hermeneutical foundation. Their methodology protects them when it comes to understanding the relationship between the Old and New….a multi-layered interplay which frustrates and baffles the Aristotelian who interprets the covenants through the Election filter. But I would still contend even with them, there are some hyper-Calvinistic tendencies. This again shows up in the realm of Ecclesiology and Soteriology.
While grasping the dynamic tensions, the dichotomies between this age and the age to come, they have other systemic commitments which halt them from grasping and applying the full orbed Biblical Revelation. They have elevated a metaphysical construction of Sola Fide to such an extent it becomes the Centraldogma in certain areas. I realize they would say this is grounded in the Two-Adam Christological construction….one with which I agree. Christ's active and passive obedience is critical to the gospel, but they have taken Justification grounded in metaphysical unconditionality, and allowed it to define all the rest of the Biblical Soteriological data, resulting in something of system-driven reduction. Sanctification is defined by Justification grounded in Election and thus becomes something of an abstraction, for many it is now only seen in its definitive aspect losing the equally valid and critical progressive aspect. Faith produced works (we can talk about what is a work)….violates the system and is reduced to abstraction. Conditionality, a key Biblical component when it comes to Covenants is decried because they will only define Covenant as a concrete metaphysical category….the invisible as I say….and reduce the visible (which they acknowledge verbally) to an abstraction. It doesn't mean anything and can't really function with any weight.
At this point we've already moved into the overlap with Ecclesiology, (the covenant straddles the two loci in systematics, or ought to)….and we find this same kind of abstraction with the Sacraments.
It ends up being a functional Baptistic theology. In terms of Covenant Theology as it pertains to the Kingdom, Common Grace realm, and Eschatology…they are spot on in my book. When it comes to Soteriology and Ecclesiology (in some ways, two sides of the same coin)….they have a hyper-Calvinistic tendency. I realize full well they would disagree. But just like with the other hyper-Calvinists we end up with an easy believism….a saving faith that doesn't seem to be much more than assent.
One last example….
This all stems from methodology. The Redemptive-Historical School is MUCH closer to what I would argue is the correct method….I just wish they would apply it more broadly.
With regard to this methodology…that I call Aristotelian and Scholastic, Armstrong makes the following statement:
"There may be an even more important reason for the misunderstanding of Amyraut's doctrine of predestination: most of his interpreters appear to have assumed that Amyraut was working within the same categories as the orthodox. There has been no appreciation of the different nature of his theology. The situation is comparable to that of a person immersed in medieval scholasticism who undertakes a study of Luther's theology. He soon has to learn that he is in a different world of thought and that Luther's teaching is somewhat difficult to understand. Once he does grasp the drift of Luther's argumentation, however, one particular insight may well be serviceable for that theology in extenso if it is consistently applied. Amyraut's theology, at least in the matters which concern predestination, is of much the same nature."
This is why Amyraut's theology is often called 4pt Calvinism. It's not 4pt Calvinism; its methodology sees Dordt as being a woefully reductionistic systemized grid. While the 5 pts are indeed truth….if one only holds to them and doesn't see the reciprocals…or if they are used as Centraldogma, we're back to Rationalism overrunning Revelation.
Amyraut had a Redemptive Historical hermeneutic but it did not seek to synthesize or remove tensions that a Scholastic method would pick up and try to reconcile…that our BT brothers seem to do today when it comes to Ecclesiology and Soteriology. The Text remained supreme in Amyraut's theology.
This is really interesting…it's a combination of Norman Shepherd and Meredith Kline and The Federal Vision….hey, kind of like me.
Amyraut saw three covenants, one of Nature, one of Law, and one of Grace. He sets out five basic elements…
1. The contracting parties
2. The condition and the nature of that condition
3. The promise
4. The mediator
5. The efficacy
"(1) The development in terms of the contracting parties is seen in the progressive enlargement of God's design in these covenants. In the covenant of nature the contracting parties were God and one man, Adam. In the covenant of law the contracting parties were God and a nation, Israel. In the covenant of grace the contracting parties are God and all mankind. (2) The progressive enlargement of God's design in the condition is revealed in the decreasing difficulty in its fulfillment. In the covenant of nature the condition was perfect obedience to the law of nature, in the legal covenant perfect obedience to the law of nature clarified by written law and the ceremonies, and in the covenant of grace, simply faith. (3) As for the promise, an enlargement is shown in both the quality of the rewards and its comprehensiveness. In the covenant of nature it was a blessed, continuous life in Eden, in the legal covenant the promise of a blessed life in Canaan, and in the covenant of grace, salvation and eternal life. (4) The development, in relation to the mediator, is thought of in terms of the effectiveness of that person. In the covenant of nature there was none, in the legal covenant a mere man, Moses, and in the covenant of grace the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ. (5) The development, in the idea of efficacy, is seen both in terms of its nature and its certainty. In the covenant of nature there was no efficacious work which did not depend on man's perfect obedience, in the legal covenant the efficacy was simply one of restraining men from evil, though not without compulsion, and in the covenant of grace the efficacy is that of the power and mercy of God which brings full liberty and a spontaneous inclination to the good (that is, piety and holiness)."
And yet elsewhere lest anyone doubt he asserts Salvation was through Jesus Christ even in the legal covenant. So it's interesting, if you're familiar with the debates…we have a covenant of works, a hint of the two Adam construction, a legal construct put on the Mosaic law…sounding rather Klinean… and yet with this we have concepts like conditionality and efficacy which you don't find in the Klinean group but do find with the Shepherdites. What you will also see is Amyraut's emphasis on the visible-conditional covenant as normative….allowing for language and concepts very much akin to what some of the Federal Vision men are saying.
The legal covenant is not treated as substantially ONE with the covenant of grace just under a different administration. It is by nature a different arrangement…Amyraut emphasized a 'strict opposition between the Mosaic covenant and the covenant of grace. And it was Amyraut who worked this interpretation for all it was worth. Cameron had suggested the idea, but had spoken of the Mosaic covenant as foedus gratiae subserviens." (a lesser or subservient covenant of grace) "His terminology implied a basic unity with the covenant of grace, even though he had called it a third covenant. Amyraut however, by using the terminology foedus legale, emphasized the radical opposition of the two covenants in a way which recalls Luther's law-gospel distinction….the moral laws of the Old Testament are seen to be useless, even damaging, in the light of the New Testament revelation."
What we're seeing is a multi-layered Progressive Revelation based theology. We are contrasting Old with New and yet because this is categorized as 'visible' or as Amyraut would say, 'hypothetical' (meaning conditional)……it operates on its own, as it were. It is just as concrete as the Eternal Unconditional Covenant. They function as unity and disunity. The unity is in the eschatological Christ, and the disunity is based to use our terms today…in the already not-yet.
We have another realm or layer where we find the covenant of grace hinted at in Genesis 3.15….and later brought out with greater clarity at the time of Abraham. Amyraut does not consider the Noahic arrangement to be a clear expression of the covenant of grace. Lee Irons is probably helpful here in distinguishing a two-fold nature in the Noahic covenant. So, with Abraham we have a covenant of grace pointing to Christ that runs parallel to the legal covenant. In terms of lineal development I view the Mosaic arrangement as parenthetical…a subset with a typological dotted line going back to Eden. It's perhaps a little less developed with Amyraut. He emphasizes interactions between these layers in the Christological types and hinting portraits… but they are incomplete, only partially perfect shadowy images.
But the parallel covenant of grace must not synthesize and thus eliminate the legal aspects of the Mosaic. They dwell in an interacting but separate tension. The Klineans seem to be the only group today that is grasping this….a dual arrangement during the time of Moses.
And yet, here's where Shepherd comes in….Amyraut recognized the covenants operative in a visible concrete nature which is normative. That's why it is indeed SO much better that we live in the New as opposed to the Mosaic. And back to Kline….In terms of just the visible categories we can contrast Moses with Christ. Moses was the yoke, the administration of death….etc….
This does not negate any underlying unity. Both sides are true. But back to the visible aspect and Shepherd….Amyraut recognized that even on the pages of the New Testament there are terms of conditionality…part of the mechanism in any covenant. These do not in any way negate the eternal truth of salvation by Divine Grace through the person and work of Christ. That was also true during Moses even with the legal overlay. The legal overlay is gone….but contrary to the Klineans, Amyraut did not see the conditionality as part of the legal arrangement, but part of all covenants. The legal arrangement had an additional layer of corporate conditionality….obedience meant keeping and staying in the land. But for the individual conditionality is inherent within the framework of the visibly administered covenant. The New Testament speaks in conditional terms which some find rather troublesome…and if we tie conditionality in with only the legal covenant construct….we cannot account for it in the new. Here's where the Klineans turn a little scholastic…a little hyper-Calvinistic. The Normative visible administration loses its concrete-ness…it becomes abstraction…there is no real efficacy…and now we have big problems with many texts. They can't be taken as concretes…all the 'ifs' and conditionals of Hebrews don't REALLY mean anything. They've lost their bite.
The problem is failing to see the interplay between visible administration and eternal/eschatological reality, and recognizing the visible side has conditionality because of the not-yet….but the invisible is unconditional…the already…the eschatological reality.
How does it work? Amyraut spoke of a conditional covenant (foedus hypotheticum)………my preferred terms are visible/temporal/administrative……aspects of the Covenant.
And a foedus absolutum…no conditions, grounded in eternity…general, and undeveloped…and to a certain extent undevelopable. This category, which may call Eternal, Eschatological, Invisible, is hinted at, revealed to us from time to time……not for theological development and structural application to the normative conditional covenant….but actually for worship and comfort for the believer and that we might 'know' our Creator better and aid us in our heavenly mindedness and desire for reconciliation. How does Election apply to Baptism, Saving Faith, the Visible Church etc…..? It confuses the issues and guts the visible conditionals of having any weight or meaning. When we're talking about Baptism, we're not talking about Election.
And yet because there is a unity all the language can be applied exclusively to each framework. Paul can address the Ephesians as Elect, knowing full well there were wolves among them. Elect can function in the visible conditional covenant (conditional election?)……or can function in the invisible/eternal covenant….unconditional election...divine predestination. Now apply that to Covenant, Church, Sacraments etc….The Bible does so.
Covenant membership can refer to the visible…or the invisible. It depends on the context. So thus it can mean someone can be in but not in….or in AND really in.
Someone can be part of the church and yet not be. Someone might not be part of the church…but might be. And we call also say being part of the church is absolutely necessary for salvation…..or not at all. Depends on the sense in which it is being used.
The Sacraments can be absolutely necessary for salvation and can function objectively within the visible covenant…or they can have no value at all…….again, depending on context. When we're talking about the Visible Word…we don't need to talk about Election…the invisible substance.
But speculating about the eternal eschatological categories except in general terms in Scripture is not all that practical. Again, what does Election have to do with Baptism? Nothing. When we're talking about Baptism we're talking about the visible and conditional arrangement.
"It is the…conditional covenant… which Amyraut regards as the proper object of theological discussion."
He's starting to sound a lot like the Federal Vision guys now….
The gospel is grounded in the eternal covenant…but is applied and operates in the visible covenant. I could also reverse that, but I don't want to unnecessarily confuse anyone by unfolding another layer. Because the eternal covenant is eschatological it does not relate perfectly to the visible/temporal order and is not normative in application. Rehashing a bit…..
Klineans see something of this two-layered approached when it comes to the Old….but there's actually a third layer…conditionality which is part of the nature of any covenant with God. This conditionality is in addition to the corporate conditionality the Klineans recognize in the legal covenant.
If you don't see this……then yes, Shepherd, Federal Vision, Amyraut, and I all have taught works necessity salvation. We're defining faith as faithfulness and an active disposition to faithfulness.
But if you do see this…..you'll see the Scriptures are even more multi-layered and complex than we might at first realize…and there is a constant interaction between these layers. And yet in it all there is a Unity so that to some extent Full Terminology can be employed and applied to any layer. That will make some really squirm, but I will argue again and again that's how it functions in the Bible.
To add yet another layer…when discussing the work of the Trinity, its clearest application is properly to the normative-visible category. When we plunge into the higher eternal realm and engage in metaphysical speculation we are on shaky ground and assault the incomprehensibility of God. This is not the realm to speculate regarding the Ontological Trinitarian relationships in the quest to try and develop a philosophical macro-system.
Rather, the realm of theological development and application is in terms of Efficacy is in the visible administration. Here we speak in terms of Economy and can work out within the boundaries of the text, triadic applications.
The Scholastic and metaphysically inductive means of Theological development is a non-Biblical method and as a consequence ends up inverting much of the Biblical data. We see this in the Five points construction of Dordt. I've written of this elsewhere.
While the TULIP is true….it's not the starting point.
Unconditional Election is a patent fact taught all throughout the Bible…but again it functions as a window into Providence, a comfort, a stimulator of worship and praise…..But this doesn't help us in the normative administration of the Covenant. We don't know who the elect are, so we can employ the terminology as Paul does to the visible church.
The correct reciprocal is NOT conditional election…that's mixing apples and oranges. The reciprocal is the conditional covenant.
Election is the means for the Eschatological Covenant and the Decretive Will of God, grounded in Christ.
Conditionality…….Saving Faith is the means for the Conditional Covenant governed by the Revealed Will of God, grounded in Christ.
Election is there to dwell on and look at….but in terms of construction and application…it is the Conditional Covenant that we must speak of. I know I keep saying this, but it's critical. We can't build Ecclesiology and Soteriology on the doctrine of Election. Election is part of soteriology, but is not even the main point or core.
Limited Atonement is not explicitly taught in the Bible though it is hinted at in certain texts. It is for the most part a result of Aristotelian Method. Despite that it is certainly a true doctrine. It is a wondrous mystery in the Decretive Will of God. Yet it should not be framed in a discussion regarding the ordering of decrees. There is but one decree and no basis to insert chronological sequence when discussing the Eternal workings of the Almighty. Before the foundation of the world…..should sum it up for us. We should be content.
As Calvin himself said:
"The election of God will be a fatal labyrinth for anyone who does not follow the clear road of faith. Thus, so that we may be confident of remission of sins, so that our consciences may rest in full confidence of eternal life, so that we may boldly call God our Father, under no circumstances must we begin by asking what God decreed concerning us before the world began. Rather we must begin by seeking what through His paternal love He has revealed to us in Christ and what Christ himself daily proclaims to us through the Gospel. We must seek nothing more profound than that we become the sons of God."
Concerning the idea of order in the decrees, a topic in which, "secrets are so profound, and the abyss so impossible to explore, that whoever will undertake to know them would necessarily be swallowed up by them or will necessarily remain eternally deluded as being in a completely inexplicable labyrinth."
So we may acknowledge and find a comfort in God's inexpressible love exemplified for us in Particular Redemption…
Yet, in terms of the visible covenant we must speak in terms of Universality. For God so loved the World….not the cosmos for the elect. He desires all men to be saved, not all sorts of men. He's not willing that any should perish…not that any of the elect should perish.
We cannot interpolate decretal election on these texts, completely recasting and inverting their meaning.
Even Calvin could say in his sermon on 1 Timothy 2.3-5…"it is no light matter that souls should perish who were bought by the blood of Christ…"
Look up Calvin in his commentaries on 2 Peter 3.9
Even Calvin had no problem recognizing the Two Wills…..the Two sides, the dialectical tension between the eternal and temporal. Do not probe into the mind of God and call him insincere because your fallen reason cannot grasp the complexity of His will as it relates to time and eternity…the already and the not-yet.
Amyraut wasn't denying Limited Atonement per se…..he wasn't teaching an inconsistent 4pt model. He was arguing the whole framework and method is wrong. You can't reduce these matters to a mere 5pt model!
I'll say it again…Amyrauldianism is not 4pt Calvinism. It is an entirely different theology and theological method than employed by Dordt, Westminster, and Princeton.
It is a full orbed Augustinian-Calvinism…closer in method and spirit to Calvin and yet much more in depth and encompassing…closer to what Augustine hinted at.
Grace is certainly Irresistible in terms of the eternal decretive will of God. Go to John 6. All that the Father gives to me shall come to me……..the eternal particular side.
And he that comes to me I will in no wise cast out…..the visible universal.
One of my favourite passages in the whole of Scripture. Back and forth, back and forth…….even when we get to the Bread of Life discussion…same principle. Yes, it's sacramental language.
Is grace irresistible?…of course.
But the visible, conditional is our realm of application and administration….. Why will you die? Seek and ye shall find… Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. If you continue in the faith grounded and settled and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel…
There are verses in the gospel indicating Jesus was in some sense limited because of their unbelief. We don't have to engage in philosophical gymnastics to understand the verse. It's meant visibly. It's narrative, not systematics.
Perseverance? Yes, but it's not eternal security.
It's a blessed hope for those dwelling in a conditional covenant. They will persevere….if you continue. If you don't, then your faith was a temporary y one. Look up Calvin on the parable of the sower. Again you won't find a Scholastic construct. He takes the text and lets it speak and has no problem speaking of a real concrete Temporary Faith. Why? Because like Amyraut later we're talking in terms of the visible…we're not talking in terms of the eternal. The Parable was not trying to deal with the invisible eschatological category. It's not talking about election. It's talking the visible covenant…some come in and persevere and flourish…others fall away.
So Perseverance rightly understood means the Elect will keep on repenting and believing. They are kept. But the context is conditional.
If you don’t Persevere, you fall from grace, you fall away, you lose your salvation. That's what excommunication is. You're put out of communion. Instead we frame it by abstracting the visible and say…well, you never were really in. 1 John 2.19 might be appealed to…but I would also site 1 John as yet another example of the back and forth dialectic. He's interacting constantly between the eternal and temporal. They weren't really 'of' us…..well then, can we say that about anyone? That they're really 'of' us? This seems to imply a deeper eternal substantial relationship….union in the eschatological sense. Can I tell that about you? Can I look into your heart and see if you really are reborn? How do I know you're a Christian? Because you've been baptized, and you are repenting and believing according to your capacity…and thus, I have no reason to doubt you are a Christian. Can I speak visibly administratively that you are 'of' us? Yes and no. Yes in terms of the visible covenant…..by baptism. No, in terms of the eternal, because I'm not given specific data concerning individuals with the exception of a few people specifically mentioned in Holy Writ… and that would include me. Hence the need to persevere. Now if you apostatize….I can say you are no longer 'of' us and with a bit of caution I can say in the eternal sense you never were 'of ' us…but probably not with the same level of confidence John had when speaking of these particular men, these antichrists.
How do you persevere…by you own strength and works? Of course not. You keep focused on Christ the Lord; you place your hope in him. You are alive because of him…you cannot but work. What are works…worshipping God through prayer, reading his Word, living the Christian life. It's not a quantitative gauge…it's qualitative and cannot be gauged. Only God knows your heart. As I've said elsewhere….if you're focusing on your works, or on the waters of Baptism, or the Bread of the Supper……you've not understood the gospel. But if you're focusing on Christ, your filthy corrupted imperfect works are a comfort….not that you did anything, but that you're persevering. Christ has not abandoned you. Even though I willfully sin just about every moment of the day…He is mine and I am His. And the fact that after all these years I'm still here following him…praise Him. If I'm focusing on Christ I can understand the waters of Baptism wash away sins…it is the blood of Christ, the passage through the watery chaos-death realm. I am united with Him. The Supper is the bread of life, the cup of salvation…his body and blood.
Total Depravity refers to our sinful inability to thwart our enslaved will and do good. Nothing could be plainer from the Scriptures. But this has to be tempered a bit by fallen man's ability to perceive something, even if imperfect, of Natural Revelation. There is still a conscience. There is still accountability. I think all would agree on that point.
But does Total Depravity mean that in terms of Common Grace….the temporal order of delayed judgment…fallen man is unable to construct a sufficient cultural polity? Everyone wants to scream, "Yes, it does mean that…" and they would be right…except for Providence. I've discussed this elsewhere… I will just say that we're not looking for an Integrated System….that's in heaven. We're not going to transform the kingdom of this world into the Kingdom of God. That's Christ's work at the Eschaton…after the fire.
Meanwhile on earth, even fallen man retaining something of the imago dei, to lesser and greater degrees engages in his construction of what ultimately ends up being an idolatrous tower of Babel. Yet, despite this, because of the imago dei, because of Providence, because of the body of Christ here on the earth, even fallen culture can produce things that are both insightful and beautiful. In light of eternity, not very meaningful….but we can certainly with sanctified wisdom live in the City of Man and interact with fallen man at whatever level of depravity he is at. Spiritually he's dead…but temporally, even fallen people can be quite profound and inspiring. Some will need the full crushing force of a Van Tillian apologetic…others might need a gentler progressive argument. It depends on where they are at. Some people are, pardon the expression….almost Christians. Sometimes that's good, sometimes that makes them the hardest to witness to. Others are very lost…sometimes that makes them very easy to witness to…other times it's impossible. We must be wise. God will take care of His own glory. We do not degrade Him by…dare I of all people say it....reasoning with them?
It's about method. It's about how we think and how we read the Bible. Scholasticism is Rationalism and it overthrows Revelation. Some, hanging onto to the railing of the Text, are spared being cast into the abyss of a religious system based on empirical methodology also known as Logic…leading to a god who is all too human and limited, one who is defined by man's simplistic and attempts to speak about things which they do not know. We need to put away our toy shovels and buckets and quit building sandcastles and walk toward Zion, the Mountain and bow our heads.
A final quote from Armstrong on Amyraut's understanding of the tensions and layers among and between the covenants:
"This is the broad outline of Amyraut's (Historico-Redemptive) covenant teaching. It is his favorite idea, and to it he returns over and over again in all possible contexts. He develops numerous variations of this theme, always stressing the twin ideas of the progression of God's revelation and the final full and perfect experience of God's redemption in the ages to come, though he is constantly concerned with setting forth the excellency of the period of the covenant of grace.
"Of the above-contrasted topics, the one which has the most far-reaching implications has to do with the idea of efficacy….it needs to be recognized here that Amyraut places an unusually strong emphasis upon the work of the Holy Spirit. This is because he believes that the Holy Spirit is the member of the Godhead who works efficaciously. The Spirit is, as the Confession testifies, God's virtue. And it is only under the gospel covenant that the Spirit is communicated to me. So Amyraut emphasizes that the spiritual nature of the covenant of grace renders it superior to the other covenants. There is, running throughout his writings, a sort of dualism between spirit and flesh, between the supernatural and the natural, a dualism which sounds almost Neoplatonic. 'The Kingdom of God,' he says, 'is of a totally different nature than the kingdoms of the world, and the means of entrance thereto are marvelously different.' Not only that, there is a fundamental difference between the outlook of the natural man and of the spiritual. The natural man looks to outward appearances, to pomp and circumstance and show; the spiritual man has a totally different perspective, recognizing that the natural man is at enmity with God. This concept at times reminiscent of Luther's 'hidden and revealed' dialectic, is clearly enunciated in Amyraut's paraphrases…."
This theology can slice between the controversies of the day…or it can build bridges. Amyraut stood directly on the shoulders of John Calvin. As I've said elsewhere, I don't care about Calvin….I used to worship him and devoured his works for years. He was yet another flawed giant. On these points…concerning method and the freedom of the text to establish our logic and categories…he was right. And as we all know he was intimately familiar with Augustine…another flawed giant. But it is the Augustinian Dialectic recognizing the tensions and interplays, the visible and invisible that is key to understanding the Bible…rather it is allowing the Bible to interpret itself. It avoids the death-trap of Scholasticism….Aristotle's methods are fine for the horizontal and temporal realm (culture, science, and politics)….but they cannot subordinate Divine Revelation. This is the crux of what hyper-Calvinism is. In their zeal to glorify God and make Him into a System….they diminish Him and exalt their own understanding. Professing themselves to be wise…..
This kind of thinking has given us hyper-Calvinism….and it is also the foundation of all Baptistic systems.
There are many in the contesting camps that have picked on SOME of this. I hope I might stimulate some of them to consider a little more….
I'm not suggesting the Medieval Underground had a system as elaborate as Amyraut's….but they did know Augustine. They carried his writings in little miniature hand copied books. And with them you see the tension….the Visible Sacramental Conditional concept of the church…….and you also see with many of them the Invisible and Decretal side with its focus on Divine Grace.
And they carried this Dialectic into the realm of the Kingdom in a way the Reformation alas, did not.
Calvinistic Sacerdotalist Anabaptists…or Full Augustinian Two Kingdoms…….
Proto-Protestant……..Protestant but something else as well……
Maybe some readers can see what I mean about bridge building….Amyraut saw it too and had great hopes of reconciliation between the Lutherans and Calvinists…even the Romans were interested in what he was saying…but in his day he was persecuted by the orthodox Scholastics.