Pastor Leithart's Letter

I've read Rev. Peter Leithart's post-General Assembly letter to the stated clerk of his presbytery several times now and two questions occur to me.

Before beginning, however, a confession. I find the idea of a pre-fall covenant of works between God and Adam somewhat of a stretch Biblically, I do believe in the powerful congruence between Adam and Christ which the term "covenant of works" apparently refers to. Yet Hosea 6:7 notwithstanding, I remain unconvinced Scripturally of the existence of an objective covenant between God and Adam. In this as in most matters I prefer Calvin's approach to the Covenants to the views that followed him

That said, I don't understand why Pastor Leithart rejects any notion of merit in Adam in his response to point 4 of the Ad Interim Report only to argue in point 9 that James teaches a final judgment according to works. It seems he cuts the donkey's nose off only to turn around and pin it on its tail by denying merit in Adam while arguing for a final judgment based on works. Perhaps he distinguishes between works and merit. If so, it seems a distinction without much difference. The idea that Adam's obedience did not satisfy God because God needs no one's obedience doesn't square with his somewhat inchoate insistence that we give the passage in James its due which declares, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."

(Actually, I find it troubling that the second half of Jame 2:24 is so infrequently included in quotations by those who profess they're simply trying to square James with Paul. They may think that the end of the verse--and not by faith alone--is assumed in their arguments, but it sure would make those of us who are troubled by Federal Vision thinking more comfortable if we heard it expressly stated every time the first half of the verse--a person is justified by works--is emphasized.)

Second, and perhaps more importantly, Pastor Leithart is right to use marriage as a symbol of the believer's union with Christ. Not only does Ephesians 5 explicitly tell us that human marriage is modeled on the relationship between Christ and the Church, Jesus routinely uses marriage as a picture of His Kingdom and Revelation's picture of the end of history is of a great marriage feast.

But this brings up difficult issues involving the corporate vs. individual nature of things ecclesiological and soteriological. It's clear that the marriage feast of Christ and the Church lie ahead in history, but it's also clear that the Bible teaches an individual union with Christ that is not merely future but current: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me."

Pastor Leithart writes in his response to recommendation #7 of the Ad Interim Report,

I do believe that some are united to Christ yet do not persevere (John 15). During the time they are branches in the vine, they do receive benefits from Christ through the Spirit and may enjoy real, personal, and deep communion with Jesus for a time. Yet, their relationship with Christ is not identical to the relationship of the elect. Put it this way: Some are united to Christ as members of the bride but are headed for divorce; others are united and headed for consummation. Marriages that end in divorce are not the same as marriages that end happily.

My question--and it's not necessarily one with a simple answer on either side--is how Pastor Leithart can speak of some who are "united to Christ as members of the bride but are headed for divorce" while saying that "others are united and headed for consummation."

At this point Pastor Leithart seems to have sundered what can't be divided--the "union" and "consummation" of marriage. Yes, the marriage feast of the Lamb lies ahead for the Church. But, and here's the rub for all of us, Scripture clearly speaks of that which is future for the Church being present reality for those of us who are individual atoms in the Church.

When Pastor Leithart speaks of some being "united" with Christ and headed for consummation while others united with Christ are headed for divorce, he seems to reserve consummation only for the elect. But marriage isn't marriage without consummation. So either none of us are yet united with Christ--only to His Bride, the Church, which will one day be united to Christ in eternity--or there are those who are united with Christ in consummated marriage who will fall away.

Pastor Leithart seems to believe in an unconsummated one-flesh union between the non-elect and Christ. At this point, the analogy from marriage (which we know is no mere analogy) works against Pastor Leithart. There is no such thing Biblically speaking as an unconsummated marriage. To speak of such is akin to speaking of an undeclared, uncut covenant. You simply can't separate consummation from marriage.

Comments

You wrote: "I find the idea of a pre-fall covenant of works between God and Adam somewhat of a stretch Biblically..."

I hope I'm grasping the question here, and please forgive me if I have missed the point.

I am no great theologian, however it seems to me that the key here, to explain it to some who don't get it, is that Adam did not KNOW about the covenant. His knowledge and understanding was not required.

A covenant is a bond sealed in blood, imposed by God. IMPOSED. He was our Federal Head. The covenant with Adam is implied in New Testament scripture where Jesus is called "the 2nd Adam."

Christ fulfills the covenant that Adam failed to fulfill.

Paradise lost becomes Paradise regained. The way is once again open to the tree of life.

"Covenant of Works" may not be the best name for the Covenant with Adam (really with him and ALL in him - the entire human race).

As in Adam we all die, so in Christ we shall all be made alive.

In fulfilling the New Covenant, Jesus was at the same time fulfilling the covenant with Adam.

A marriage that ends in divorce is still consummated (unless that was the reason for the divorce). That being the case it must be that consummation equates to the final union in glorification, when we shall know as we have been known.

I have FV sympathies and the whole "consummation" terminology threw me for a loop. He did state that if his presbytery needed further clarification he would gladly provide it. I think I would ask for clarification on that point.

al sends

If you have Calvin's commentaries, his commentary on Ezekiel 18:20 is helpful here, i believe. Allow me to quote a paragraph (i can't get italics and underline to work, so read carefully):

"He now adds, the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the impiety of the impious shall be upon him. We said that this was the legal sentence: if God used the same language everywhere, no hope of safety would be left to us. For who would be found just if his life were judged strictly by the law? But it has already been said, speaking accurately, that God rewards those worshipers who observe his law, and punish those who transgress it. But since we are all far from perfect obedience, Christ is offered to us, from whom we may partake of righteousness, and in this way be justified by faith. Meanwhile it is true, according to the rule of the law, that the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, since God will not disappoint any, but will really perform what he has promised. But he promises a reward to all who observe his law. If any one object that this doctrine is useless and superfluous, we have an answer at hand, that it is in many ways useful, since, first of all, we acknowledge that God, although he owes us nothing, yet willingly binds himself to be reconciled to us; and thus his surprising liberality appears. Then we again collect, that by transgression we cannot profit or obtain any advantage when God offers a reward to all who observe his law. For what can we demand more equitable than that God should of his own accord be our debtor? and should reward us while he holds us bound to himself, and completely subject to him with all our works? And that pattern of Christ must be considered, When you have done all that was commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10). Why so? for we return nothing but what God has justly required of us. We gather, then, from this sentence, that we cannot expostulate with God, or complain of anything while the fault of our own condemnation resides in us for not keeping the law. Thirdly, we acknowledge another instance of God’s mercy in his clothing us in the righteousness of his Son, when he sees us in want of a righteousness of our own, and altogether destitute of everything good. Fourthly, we said that they are esteemed just who do not satisfy the law, since God does not impute their sins to them. Hence the righteousness of the law is not without fruit among the faithful; since on account of that blessedness which is described in Psalm 32:2, their works are taken into account and remunerated by God. So the righteousness of the righteous is upon him, just as the impiety of the impious is upon him, and it shall recoil upon his own head."

Here Calvin explains that we certainly are sinful in ourselves, and if God were to count our sins, we would not stand in his sight. Yet, God, for the sake of Christ, does not impute our sins to us, and so our good works (he doesn't mention it, but he does imply it: works done in faith) indeed do have a benefit for us. Yet, Calvin is clear here: it is not in abstraction from Christ's work through whom we have forgiveness for our sins, and it is not because our works are inherently "meritorious" (since after we have done everything, we are still unprofitable servants). The point is that God rewards ("remunerates") our good works, counting them as righteousness, only becasue of his free mercy and grace.

I don't see Dr. Leithart saying anything all that different from this that Calvin himself says.

This is the sort of discussion the PCA needs.

Pastor Trey, it seems obvious to me that the Bible teaches that our good works will be taken into account...what i am wondering is whether FV teaches that these works are instead of Christ's righteousness (ie: Christ clears our slate, but we must earn the righteousness)...this may be absolutely ridiculous to ask; please forgive my ignorance. If that is the case, that is very troubling, if that is not the case...then i am not sure what the issue is (with regards to works).

Brad,

Most of what I've read is by Wilson or Leithart but I've never seen either of them argue that "these works are instead of Christ's righteousness (ie: Christ clears our slate, but we must earn the righteousness)".

I'm bothered by the marriage and divorce analogy (at least Leithart's apprehension of it) because it places Christ, as the husband, in a dubious light if He is to be a divorcee. Moses taught that a man may divorce his wife only for infidelity; so to Biblically interpret Leithart's divorce analogy we must assume that the believer who is destined to be divorced from Christ is the unfaithful party (Christ cannot be the unfaithful party); elsewise it would be an illegal divorce.

But how is that to be reconcilled to what Christ Himself said about divorce: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way." ? Are we to learn that Christ has a hardness of heart regarding certain believers?

Or what about the entire book of Hosea?

David, I think you're right about the divorce analogy. As I understand scripture, we are not yet married while in this life but are betrothed to BE married at the final consummation described at the end of Revelation. So then those that are baptized and in union with Christ but then fall away were not yet married but were, in a sense, put away by He who was betrothed to them (Christ). To say that they are "divorced" implies that the final consummation has already taken place, when in reality it hasn't yet. It sounds like he's right on with respect to I Cor 10, so I wonder if he just used a faulty analogy... ?

Or...perhaps we're dealing with a Reformed Theology dilettante who really doesn't know his two Adams from his Balaam's ass.

Dear Mr. Phillips,

I'm not sure whom you're referring to by "he"...

If it's me, perhaps you're right. If you're thinking of Pastor Leithart, we disagree. I think he's wrong in some very important areas, but the problem isn't his lack of knowledge. The problem, as I see it is that those in the Federal Vision camp think they've established a via media (a middle road) between two positions they know very well.

I'm not convinced that road exists, but it isn't ignorance which has brought them to this point.

If anything, they value learning and logic too much. I believe even the work of theology must be done in faith and so I'm willing, by faith (though some may call it willful ignorance) to embrace certain mysteries along with my position. I admit that the reprobation passages of Scripture are difficult for the Reformed to define to the satisfaction of Roman Catholics. I accept that. My explanations of those passages may look weak to others, but this is where I live by faith theologically. I'm not going to try to square my view of reprobation with RC criticism to maintain intellectual or logical coherence when so much else that I view as indisputable in Reformed theology is harmed in consequence.

Yours in Christ,

David Bayly

One thoughtlet: I think all the doctrinal traditions try to inject too much into the Vine & The Branches parable. E.g., treating the phrase "in Me" (v.2) as if it can refer to outward professors only (not fully factoring who the "you" were in verse 5); treating the word "abide" as if it was a synonym for "is saved"; or insisting that the metaphor of burning always refers to eternal judgment. I've read Reformed and Wesleyan interpretations of that parable that both seemed wrong. Now here it is again, popping up its leafy head as justification/illustration of a bigger theological system...

It's interesting how both Arminianism/Roman Catholicism and the FV have as foundational doctrines that one can be Truly United To Christ but that connection be permanently lost due to a believer's lack of faith and obedience.

The FV spends a lot of time talking about "union to Christ" but ISTM it completely changes the nature OF that union. Surely it's the belief that once one is united to Christ in a salvific way, one is safe in His hands and will never be permitted to fall away that is the true foundational doctrine of the Reformation? This is why indulgences exist, after all...they're an attempt to keep the union alive.

What's ironic is that there has been a tendency among those who hold to the FV to dismiss the TULIP as passé, airily declaring there to be more to Reformed theology than THAT. Which is true. Absolutely. Yet when it comes to defending their Calvinist credentials it's their continued belief in predestination that is pointed to as proof they are, indeed, Calvinist.

Keeping predestination while simultaneously changing the nature of a Christian's union with Christ is still an abrupt departure from Reformation theology, ISTM.

They're right that there's more to Reformed theology than predestination, but it's that precise "more" that's been removed.

>It's interesting how both Arminianism/Roman Catholicism and the FV have as foundational doctrines that one can be Truly United To Christ but that connection be permanently lost due to a believer's lack of faith and obedience.

I don't think the FV hold to that, certainly not in the sense that Arminians and RCs do.

I beg your pardon.

"It's interesting how both Arminianism/Roman Catholicism and the FV have as foundational doctrines that one can be Truly United To Christ IN SOME SENSE but that connection be permanently lost due to a believer's lack of faith and obedience."

Better? ;^)

>"It's interesting how both Arminianism/Roman Catholicism and the FV have as foundational doctrines that one can be Truly United To Christ IN SOME SENSE but that connection be permanently lost due to a believer's lack of faith and obedience."

Better (as in more accurate) but less meaningful as what that sense is can make an enormous difference.

Mr. Bayly, I was referring to Leithart, but I take your response, or, I see your point in your response.

Still, I think you may be being too generous in ascribing such a level of understanding of Reformed theology to a Federal Vision person like Leithart. To understand Reformed theology is to also see its power. FV doesn't see it's power.

>Still, I think you may be being too generous in ascribing such a level of understanding of Reformed theology to a Federal Vision person like Leithart. To understand Reformed theology is to also see its power. FV doesn't see it's power.

Presumably then Spurgeon had no understanding of it either. An odd assumption and one that shows a lack of understanding of the human condition.

For evidence Leithart just doesn't understand biblical doctrine (Reformed Theology) go here:

http://www.leithart.com/archives/003091.php

I mean, read that and then tell yourself this is the high intellectual of Federal Visionism.

No, Spurgeon saw it.

>No, Spurgeon saw it.

Then why was he reformed in nothing but his soteriology? Because he didn't.

Nothing but his soteriology? Overstatement. If the power of Reformed Theology were in church polity or sacramentology that would pit John Owen against Presbyterians as much a Spurgeon against paedobaptists. Reformed theology is about the five solas and doctrines of grace. Federal Theology.

>If the power of Reformed Theology were in church polity or sacramentology that would pit John Owen against Presbyterians as much a Spurgeon against paedobaptists.

Owens view of the sacraments is nowhere near the Baptistic view. It is less enlightened than Calvin's of course.

>Reformed theology is about the five solas and doctrines of grace.

In a world consisting only of yourself perhaps.

No, I said five solas, doctrines of grace, Federal Theology. Only the tediously un-Reformed who hold to the pre-regenerate's notion of things like baptismal regeneration put sacramentology at the head of the list of what defines Reformed.

And Owen did not practice Presbyterian church polity. Which was the obvious point, not that he was paedobaptist.

Look at this post by Leithart. This is rank, mocking, undergraduate atheism 101:

_________________

Jesus the Judge

[Theology - Eschatology | Link | Print]

The Father has put judgment into the hands of the Son (John 5), and God the Father has appointed a day on which the Risen Son will judge all men (Acts 17:31). The judge of all will be a Man, as Paul says in Acts 17.

According to the PCA FV Study Committee, the "so-called final verdict of justification" based only on "the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone."

Doesn't that mean that Jesus is passing judgment on His own obedience? And isn't that slightly odd? Doesn't Jesus seek His Father's approval rather than His own?

_________________________

This is the high intellectual of Federal Vision.

>And Owen did not practice Presbyterian church polity. Which was the obvious point, not that he was paedobaptist.

You are contradicting yourself.

I'm not sure who A.T. Phillips is and I'm not sure what he's trying to prove by taking random bits of Leithart as proof of his inferior intellectual prowess. Is this some sort of arm-wrestling match?

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