Monthly Archives: April 2007

Stephen King on writing

This was a phenomenal read. At some point, Steve mentions that writers read all the time and, at that point I sort of took a break from the book and started reading more fiction. Then when I came to the book I realized he himself had taken a long break in writing the thing. So I enjoyed imagining some sort of significance to that (hey, what’s the point of enjoying fiction if you’re not willing to engage in a little bit of it in your head?). Of course, my break from the book to read stories was a lot more pleasant than his break–which was caused by getting hit by a van and nearly dying.

King’s book has several sections. The first, C.V., is basically a biographical sketch which heavily emphasizes his experience in getting started as a writer. He then gives some advise for writing, both living as a writer and the actual practice of writing. The book ends with some more autobiography detailing his trials in restarting his writing habits after a forced break–or rather forced multiple fractures and breaks.

Probably the least amount of attention is given to technique. King believes there is a lot of good material out there and he doesn’t think he has much he needs to add to it. He recommend’s Stunk’s The Elements of Style. Of the tidbits he does leave the reader, probably the most space is devoted to portraying adverbs as monsters as gruesome and repulsive as any he has ever portrayed in his novels.

Rather than a technical manual on how to write a novel, King’s book is more about how a person can be a writer. What disciplines and habits do you need to learn? What tools do you need? King recommends a bottom line habit to produce a thousand words a day for six days a week.

It’s a great book (though a content warning for some language is necessary).  But what surprised me the most was how much I ended up liking Stephen King as a person.  He just seemed like a great guy.

The report so far 02a

I. A. 2. Covenant

The report claims “The Westminster Standards set forth a bi-covenantal structure of federal theology” but this is not the false Klinean view, but the orthodox (and, yes, confessional) view of “covenant of works before the Fall and a covenant of grace after the Fall.” The report is gratifyingly clear on this point: “The Confession affirms that there is one covenant of grace in the Old Testament era (“the time of the law”) and the New Testament era (“the time of the gospel”) (WCF 7.5). Hence the Confession asserts the unity of the covenant of grace in its various administrations (WCF 7.6), while also affirming its diversity or progress. The Confession is clear in its insistence that salvation is by faith in the Messiah, in the Old Testament as in the New (WCF 7.5).”

More later.

The report so far 01

OK, I’d like some interaction if I’ve missed anything, because I am busy with stuff, even though I decided to take some time to start the report.

First, I’ve read I. A. 1 on Election in the Westminster Standards.  I don’t see anything wrong with it.  It is standard Reformed theology.  I have to say that if the report is going to claim that anyone in the PCA disagrees with this, I hope they prove their case because I’m highly capable.

(Perhaps they don’t make such a claim.  I just searched for the word “arminian” and didn’t find it.  So, if we’re not Arminians then we should all be calvinists and the reports material on election and Westminster is common ground for all of us, right?)

More later

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.

Report is out

Here it is.

Seems pretty careful from what I can tell. A couple of extracts with comments:

Key in the present discussion is the definition of doctrines that have been crucial to our identity as a biblical and confessional church. In the PCA, we use theological terms such as “regeneration,” “election,” “justification,” and “perseverance” to define these doctrines in a particular and agreed upon fashion through ecclesiastical action. The committee affirms with the PCA that the Confession’s usage of these and related terms is faithful to the teachings of Scripture. While we are aware that the biblical usage of some of these words may have varying nuances in different contexts, our task is to study the theological claims that the NPP and FV proponents make about such terms. Then, our purpose is to determine whether the theological claims they make serve to undermine the system of doctrine taught in the Scripture and Confession. It is certainly possible to say more than our Confession does about biblical truth, but this should not necessitate a denial of the vitals of our faith.

Working to the next to last sentence, it worried me that the committee was claiming that anything anyone might misunderstand could be considered “undermining.” But the last sentence is quite clear and I’m glad they acknowledged the bar. But it gets better:

The committee also affirms that we view NPP and FV proponents in the PCA as brothers in Christ.

No anathema. No Galatian heretic. The blogosphere has really really lowered my expectations. In fact, it has made me think worse of men than I should have. I almost teared up reading this.

I’m not saying this ends all disagreement. The committee (admirably softly) wants to “suggest” that men are outside the system of doctrine of the Westminster standards who I believe are well within it. But it was still like a lead weight lifted off my chest, or a python unwrapped from my lungs, or whatever image works for you, to read the above affirmation of brotherhood in Christ. I am extremely grateful for it.