An inaccuracy in the report

OK, I don’t want to do much more than point out the citation issue here, because I’m still working on the report. It says:

some also proclaim that both elect and non-elect in the local church receive qualitatively the same grace. As Rich Lusk observed, “We need to be willing to speak of the undifferentiated grace of God (or the generic, unspecified grace of God).” In a similar fashion, other proponents view grace granted to biblical characters, such as Saul and David, as “the same initial covenantal grace”; interpret verses traditionally understood as referring to individual election in an undifferentiated fashion; and read statements from both the Gospels and epistles referring to the entire church’s salvation as a salvation that could be lost or the image of a branch that could be cut off. [68]

Endnote #68 reads:

Rich Lusk, “Covenant and Election FAQs (Version 6.4),” AAPC Session, “Summary Statement of AAPC’s Position on the Covenant, Baptism and Salvation (Revised),” item 10; Douglas Wilson, “The Objectivity of the Covenant,” Credenda Agenda 15:1:5,; Wilkins, “Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation,” Auburn Avenue Theology, 260-5.

Now, I don’t have every reference her in front of me, but naturally I’m interested when a paper I published (and really liked) is used to support a belief I, as a Calvinist, obviously abhor. So, I looked again at Rich’s FAQ used to substantiate this accusation and found this:

Are you saying there is NO difference at all between the covenant member who will persevere to the end and the covenant member who will apostatize?

No. God certainly knows (and decreed) the difference, and systematic theologians should make this difference a part of their theology. But from our creaturely, covenantal point of view (which we should not apologize for!), there is no perceptible difference (e.g., Saul and David look alike in the early phases of their careers; Judas looked like the other disciples for a time). No appeal to the decree can be allowed to soften or undercut this covenantal perspective on our salvation. It is only as history is lived, as God’s plan unfolds, that we come to know who will persevere and who won’t. In the meantime, we are to do what was described in the handout above and demonstrated throughout Paul’s epistles – treat all covenant members as elect, but also warn them of the dangers of apostasy.

The language of the Bible forces us to acknowledge a great deal of mystery here. For example, the same terminology that describes the Spirit coming (literally, “rushing”) upon Saul in 1 Sam. 10:6 is used when the Spirit comes upon David (1 Sam. 16:13), Gideon (Jdg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jdg. 11:29), and Samson (Jdg. 14:6, 9; 15:14). But in four of these five cases (David, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson), the man in question was clearly regenerated and saved by the Spirit’s work (cf. Heb. 11:32). This means that at the outset of Saul’s career, the biblical narrative itself draws no distinction between his initial experience of the Spirit and the experience of those who would enter into final salvation. Saul’s apostasy was not due to any lack in God’s grace given to him, but was his own fault. While God no doubt predestined Saul’s apostasy (since he foreordains all that comes to pass), God was not the Author of Saul’s apostasy (cf. WCF 3.1). Saul received the same initial covenantal grace that David, Gideon, and other saved men received, though God withheld from him continuance in that grace. At the same time, his failure to persevere was due to his own rebellion. Herein lies the great mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility (cf. WCF 3.1, 8).

While we as Calvinists like to make a sharp distinction between genuine regeneration and the common operations of the Spirit, we should be willing to recognize that this distinction does not enter into many biblical passages. Instead, we need to be willing to speak of the undifferentiated grace of God (or the generic, unspecified grace of God). For example, in Heb. 6:4-5, some Reformed theologians try to draw subtle distinctions, showing highly refined psychological differences between the blessings listed, which do not secure eternal salvation, and true regeneration, which does issue forth in final salvation. But it is highly unlikely the writer had such distinctions in view, for at least two reasons. For one thing, it is by no means certain that those who have received the blessings listed in 6:4-5 will fall away. The writer merely holds it out as a possibility, a danger they must beware of. In fact, he expects these people to persevere (6:9).

But if the blessings catalogued are less than regeneration, and these people might persevere after all, we are put in the awkward position of saying that non-regenerate persons persevered to the end (cf. 2 Cor. 6:1)! Second, the illustration immediately following the warning, in 6:7-8, indicates these people have received some kind of new life. Otherwise the plant metaphor makes no sense. The question raised does not concern the nature of grace received in the past (real regeneration vs. merely common operations of the Spirit), but whether or not the one who has received grace will persevere into the future. Thus, the solution to Heb. 6 is not developing two different psychologies of conversion, one for the truly regenerate and one for the future apostate, and then introspecting to see which kind of grace one has received. Rather, the solution is to turn away from ourselves, and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1ff). This is the ‘secret’ to persevering (and to assurance).

That last introjection of boldface text is a free extra that may be relevant in looking at the PCA FV Report. I also note the following in Rich’s essay in the FV book:

…this is not to say that there is no actual difference between the grace that the truly regenerate receive and the grace that future apostates receive. No doubt, there is a difference…Whatever grace reprobated covenant members receive is qualified by their lack of perseverance. Augustine rightly distinguished ‘predestination unto grace,’ which was only temporary, and did not lead to final salvation, from ‘predestination unto perseverance,’ which did issue forth in eternal life… Rather, [the] presence or absence [or persevering faith] qualifies one’s whole participation in the ordo salutis. The point here, however, is that this qualitative difference is not in view in warning passages such as Hebrews 6,….

OK, I said this was only going to be about citations, but I did just use my word search function on the browser to see if the report ever used the common traditional Reformed terms “common grace” and “special grace.” I don’t find them. I find that puzzling since the first term is the traditional language to describe the undifferentiated grace that both the elect and reprobate can receive, and the latter is the traditional Reformed term for the grace that only the elect receive (which Rich above refers to by the equally traditional term, “regeneration”) which inevitably causes true faith and perseverance.

Whether or not that amounts to anything, I think the citations in chapter 68 need to be checked, and the ones using Rich’s FAQ need to be excised.

7 thoughts on “An inaccuracy in the report

  1. Alan

    Trying to understand all this here.

    Do the ideas of living faith/dead faith in James, for example, equate with the persevering faith/temporary faith?

    keeping in mind, of course, that a dead faith might persevere. But does a living faith ever apostasize?

  2. Alan

    Not being very clear, I think.

    What I mean is a dead faith can certainly stay dead (staying true to its meager confession held in common with the devils) throughout one’s life.

    But what gets people all lathered up (it seems to me, at least) is the idea that a living faith might die.

  3. mark Post author

    Living faith can’t die.

    I disagree (at least in a decent church situation with real discipline) that dead faith will persevere.

  4. pentamom

    Well, a dead faith wouldn’t lead to baptism and communication anyway, would it? Isn’t the point of James writing to teach us that dead faith is both outwardly identifiable, and unacceptable? Don’t the elders of the church rightly exclude those whose faith is dead (entirely lacking works) as James defines it?

    “Dead faith” is something that is excluded from the churches, I’d think, not something that allows one to be part of the visible church but lacks persevering qualities.

    I would think non-persevering faith would look more more like some of the bad soils — looks as though there’s something there, but doesn’t last. James calls dead faith, faith “without works,” so I wouldn’t think that would be confused for real faith that incorporates one into the visible church, unless it were an antinomian congregation.

    Or am I misconstruing?

  5. Alan

    Though I agree dead faith shouldn’t be allowed to abide in the church, it certainly can and does.

    Cf. what James writes– in writing to Christians, why would he insist that they need to show that their faith is living by doing good works?

    Also, James says that they need to be doers of the word, and not just hearers. They wouldn’t be hearers unless they’re in the church.

    I see FV guys saying that faith can be temporary, and critics flipping out because they see from WCF 14-3 that faith always “gets the victory.” There is no such thing as a living faith that fails to persevere in the WCF, as I read it. FV critics assume FVers to refer to a living faith when they talk about a temporary faith. If that assumption were in fact correct, on that point I think it is clear FV thought would be outside the WCF.

  6. garver

    There’s the “temporary faith” that Dort talks about, which many Reformed theologians have construed as a gift of the Spirit resulting from the proclamation of the Gospel and thereby an effect of grace (often citing the parable of the soils).

    But I would think that such a temporary faith falls short of a true, living faith since a living faith is one that perseveres and works itself out in love.


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