Category Archives: Calvinist’s Progress

Not Norman Shepherd

A tweet:

Good works are necessary for salvation. Thus says on 12/16 while channeling Norman Shepherd.

Well, it is true that the post mentioned Norman Shpeherd.  But was I channeling him or others?

What I wrote is that Shepherd prompted me to investigate Reformed Orthodoxy.

What bothers me a great deal looking back at the accusations that were made against Norman Shepherd is how much the source material was kept out of view of the public who were told he should be condemned.  Back when I first heard of him I didn’t know Zacharas Ursinus’ lectures on the theology of the Heidelberg Catechism had been reprinted (virtually photocopied from an older book), Francis Turretin’s second volume was still not published, and Benedict Pictet remains unpublished.  Shepherd was a scholar in the Protestant Scholastics, but this was a world I was told nothing about.

The only authority who gave me support back then, in the early nineties, the only authority who seemed to be seeing the same material was John Gerstner in his Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth. He wrote,

good works may be said to be a condition for obtaining salvation in that they inevitably accompany genuine faith. Good works, while a necessary complement of true faith, are never the meritorious grounds of justification, of acceptance before God. From the essential truth that no sinner in himself can merit salvation, the antinomian draws the erroneous conclusion that good works need not even accompany faith in the saint. The question is not whether good works are necessary to salvation, but in what way are they necessary. As the inevitable outworking of saving faith, they are necessary for salvation (Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, p. 210).

Unaware of the confusion that is being propagated today, Gerstner was naively certain that confusing a merely necessary condition with a meritorious necessary condition was a specifically dispensational mistake and thus writes, “That Ryrie cannot grasp the distinction between a necessary condition and a meritorious condition is apparent” (p. 256).

Sadly, Gerstner himself was to cross this line (though I don’t think he did so in the book), teaching that the good works of justified believers merited heavenly rewards.  But I knew that was wrong and it is certainly something Shepherd has always denied.

In 1995 I went to seminary and got to discover Reformed Theologians who were mainstream to the heritage but have been forgotten.  Specifically, I found the nineteenth-century translation Christian Theology by Turretin’s nephew, Benedict Pictet’s consistent position is revealed again in his chapter “of good works” (pp. 331-334). He writes:

As to the necessity of good works, it is clearly established from the express commands of God, from the necessity of our worshipping and serving God, from the nature of the covenant of grace, in which God promises every kind of blessing, but at the same time requires obedience, from the favors received at this hands, which are so many motives to good works, from the future glory which is promised, and to which good works stand related, as the means to the end, as the road to the goal, as seedtime to the harvest, as first fruits to the whole gathering, and as the contest to the victory… (pp. 332; emphasis added).

Not only did this portrayal of the life of faith (and the good works that were part of that) as means to coming into possession of salvation, blow my mind, but I realized it sounded quite familiar.  Eventually I figured out why.  I re-read chapter 16, paragraph 2, of the Westminster Confession, “Of Good Works”:

These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

I have no idea if Pictet was reflecting on the Westminster Confession when he wrote his passage, or if both documents reflect a common heritage.  In any case, they both use Romans 6 to justify what they say:

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I had already found plenty of backing for (what was passed on to me as) Shepherd’s position.  But I had missed this.  It was especially interesting because I had heard often that obedience was not a means to salvation but a fruit of it.  This dichotomy was simply not considered valid by the Reformed Scholastics and the Westminster Divines.

But, thanks to P&R  I finally got to look through volume 2 of Turretin’s Elenctic Theology (P&R has published Francis Turretin, Peter Leithart, and Norman Shepherd and have since been trying to stuff the smoke back in the bottle).   In his Seventeenth Topic, “Sanctification and Good Works,” Turretin’s third question is “Are good works necessary to salvation?” His answer is straightforward: “We affirm” (17.3; p. 702). He claims we need to teach such a formulation, saying,

still we think with others that it can be retained without danger if properly explained. We also hold that it should be pressed against the license of the Epicureans so that although works may be said to contribute nothing to the acquisition of our salvation, still they should be considered necessary to the obtainment of it, so that no one can be saved without them—that thus our religion may be freed from those most foul calumnies everywhere cast mot unjustly upon it by the Romanists (as if it were the mistress of impiety and the cushion of carnal licentiousness and security) [emphasis added].

For Turretin, Reformed Orthodoxy occupies the proper middle ground between the errors of the “modern Epicureans and Libertines who make good works arbitrary and indifferent” and the Roman Catholics who “press the necessity of merit and causality.” Holding “the middle ground between these two extremes” The Reformed orthodox, he writes, “neither simply deny, nor simply assert; yet they recognize a certain necessity for them against the Libertines, but uniformly reject the necessity of merit against the Romanists” (17.3.2; p. 702). This third way between two extremes holds that good works are necessary for salvation according to “the necessity of means, of presence and of connection or order.” Good works are “the means and way for possessing salvation” (17.3.3; p. 702).

It wasn’t too long before I also found the original American publication of an English translation of Zacharias Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.  While Ursinus, writing many decades before Turretin, was more cautious about being misunderstood, he came to exactly the same position as Francis Turretin.

We may, therefore, easily return an answer to the following objection:

  • That is necessary to salvation without which no one can be saved.
  • But no one who is destitute of good works can be saved, as it is said in the 87th Question.
  • Therefore, good works are necessary to salvation.

We reply to the major proposition, by making the following distinction: That without which no one can be saved is necessary to salvation, viz: as a part of salvation, or as a certain antecedent necessary to salvation, in which sense we admit the conclusion; but not as a cause, or as a merit of salvation. We, therefore grant the conclusion of the major proposition if understood in the sense in which we have just explained it. For good works are necessary to salvation, or, to speak more properly, in them that are to be saved (for it is better thus to speak for the sake of avoiding ambiguity,) as a part of salvation itself; or, as an antecedent of salvation, but not as a cause of merit of salvation (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, pp. 484-485, emphasis added).

I’ve written up all this and a great deal more here (pdf download).  Please forgive the typos.

I’m curious if there is any way that Dr. Hart could possibly be unaware that prominent, mainstream, and orthodox Reformed Scholastics taught that good works were necessary to salvation as means to an end.  What exactly is the point of making people think that Norman Shepherd is the source of that so that I would need to channel him when I’m pointing out that a great deal of the Reformed heritage would have remained, as far as I know, hidden from my eyes if Shepherd had not been willing to reflect on it and teach it.

I don’t know anymore how much I agree or disagree with Shepherd’s positions.  I do know I appreciate not remaining ignorant, which is greatly due to his willingness to teach honestly, suffer for it.  Ironically, I also have to thank his enemies for lighting up a flare.

Norman Shepherd and the Westminster Standards: How I stopped thinking I knew and started learning about the Reformed Faith

So, after graduating from college I got a job working for Coral Ridge Ministries and fell into regular conversation for awhile with a seminary grad (RTS or Westminster) who told me about Norman Shepherd.  It was probably 1990.  He said (and I’m pretty sure I have this word perfect because it made an impression) that Shepherd taught that good works were necessary to salvation.


Could you say that again?

I heard right.

This guy was outraged at what happened to Shepherd.  He said that one guy on the board resigned because there was no point of serving at an institution where teachers were not permitted to teach Westminster doctrine (and I have no idea who this may have been or any independent verification; I’m just telling you what he said).

I sat there trying not to freak out.  Plainly my friend was expecting me to be sympathetic toward Shepherd because I was (for a young punk non-seminary guy anyway) a knowledgeable and committed Calvinist.  He thought I would know that Shepherd was right.

I’m not sure how I reacted at the time except, believe it or not, I stayed quiet and asked questions.

Then I went home and began reading the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.

I had to face two basic questions:

  1. Was Norman Shepherd’s teaching faithful to the Westminster Standards (and perhaps the Reformed heritage generally)?
  2. Was it Biblical?

This was years before Shepherd began thinking about the theology of Zacharias Ursinus and came to question the distinct “imputation of the active obedience of Christ” as a result of his studies of a contributor to the Heidelberg Catechisms.  So that was not even an issue.  The question was about how we should understand, express, what the Bible demands of sinners as a condition for salvation.

There were some other issues but at this point I had two documents once I did some digging:

  1. The 34 Theses
  2. The Grace of Justification

It has been quite some time since I’ve read these things by Norman Shepherd, so I am not going to say much now about them.  But one of the things that shocked me as I read the Westminster Confession, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, was how much I had not read them before, even when I was reading them.  The power of Already Knowing What They Were Going To Say had pretty much rendered me a worthless reader.  I had not paid attention to details.  I had not put together statements that were located on different pages.  I simply had not allowed my mind to truly think about the actual content of the text.

This was written over a decade later, but it gives you an idea of what I discovered.

And yes, I did decide that the Westminster Standards were being fully Biblical in what they taught on the issues.   Though I’m ashamed to say I don’t have as much written to show concern for that issue.

Diagnosing the modern model; Dr. Peter Leithart

It seems to me that there is a model of reality prevalent in the way we think  The model involves minds controlling mechanisms that happen to be bodies.  One’s mind is the person sitting at the computer controlling the shooter in the video game with a mouse aiming a gun and fingers on w, a, s, d to control movement.  One’s mind is the person holding the controller flying the radio controlled plane.

I remember movies in biology class in which the brain was illustrated as a cartoon man in a lab coat watching on a screen what the eyes of the body can see and receiving messages from the other receptors (senses).  We’re all little people driving robots according to this model.

And language is explained in a similar model.  There is a chart of equations somewhere which has certain sounds lined up with certain meaning so that the brain is constantly looking at the chart to match the perceptions with meanings.

In how many ways has this baseless model for human nature contaminated Christian teaching?

Sacraments come to mind.  The role of ceremonies for good or ill more generally would also be affected.  The importance of community, the Church, and the role of human relationships.  For on this model the primary reality is complete isolation.

One of the people, perhaps the most important person, who has begun to make me begin to see this is Dr. Peter Leithart.  Perhaps the best place to see him tackle the problem most directly is in his little book, Against Christianity, but I started back with his The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church, which is very good despite being dated.  The Baptized Body is also quite relevant.  There are many other books he has written that are also very valuable.  I’m sorry to say I haven’t been able to keep up with all of them.

Of course, quite appropriately, Peter (sorry, I can’t continue to refer to him by his last name) is not just about ideas.  His writings encompass literature, exegesis, Bible commentaries, and also fiction.  Anyone who knows him and his family knows they have a great teacher, even if he was to never speak, as to what it means to be a godly husband or father.

Dr. Leithart is a great gift to the Church.  I’m thankful I have had the privilege of encountering him.  Just felt I should mention that right now.  May God never forget him.

Back to work.

(And, yeah, this post did kind of change directions.  Sorry.)

POSTSCRIPT: Many of Peter’s books are free online

N. T Wright and “Federal Vision” FAQ 2 (N. T. Wright continued, exile and politics)

(Continued from Part One)

Can we talk about Wright’s idea of Israel still being in exile now?

OK, we should probably get back to that.  Part of Wright’s offense, as it were, is that he does real covenant theology; which means, he understands that the God revealed in the Bible is a God who is bound to an identifiable and visibly-marked out people or society.  As you might have noticed, both those two parables I mentioned to you involve a more “corporate” emphasis than is often realized.

This corporate  emphasis has commonly been linked–in Wright’s writings and in the minds of his critics–with the claim that Israel had never really returned from exile and that Jesus was finally announcing the real return from exile for the nation.  Basically, in Wright’s understanding, the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy 30, and re-asserted by Jeremiah and Ezekiel had not yet been fulfilled, even though Israel had been brought back from exile and given the land.

Is this related to that weird interpretation of the Prodigal Son in his Jesus & the Victory of God?

Oh, puh-leeeze!  That insight that the Prodigal Son story would remind listeners of the return from exile is extremely helpful and convincing.  Ever since childhood I have wondered about the weird metaphor that simply appears without warning, “he was dead, and is alive.”  Wright showed me where the concept came from, the return from exile as prophesied in Ezekiel and Isaiah.  The description of the prodigal going to and returning from “a far country” is important.

Well now it sound like you agree that Israel was in exile.

No, Israel was in deep trouble like they had never been before.  They were in Egypt and Babylon, only worse, even though they were geographically in the land.  But just like there is no reason to claim that Israel had never really left Egypt, so there was no reason to believe that Israel never left Babylon.  They had been delivered from Egypt and then they had been delivered from the nations as Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 30, but they had fallen from that greater grace into greater sin.  You look in vain for any time before when Israel was filled with demoniacs the way it was when Jesus came.  Precedents like the spirit tormenting Saul only emphasize how much worse off Israel now was when Jesus appeared on the scene.

Any evidence you want to share with us against Wright’s interpretation?

I have already mentioned Wright’s excellent insight into Matthew 12.43-45, which says that Israel had been cleansed of a demon in the past and was now worse off than before.  Maccabees simply does not cut it as a possible explanation.  The demon was sent away when Israel was again in the land.  But I think Mark 11.17 is also inexplicable unelss the promises of return have been fulfilled.  Jesus says that the Temple should be a house of prayer for all the nations.  He is quoting Isaiah 56.7 which, in context, is probably usually understood as a prophecy of the New Covenant.  But it is not.  Jesus thinks it is already in effect and that the Temple rulers have fallen away from it.

So there was a return from Exile but there was, in a sense, another fall into a different sort of exile.

Right, and this one was worse than the others.  Israel was truly free from idolatry in one sense.  Unlike the Prophets, Jesus never has to denounce the Israelites for their shrines to Baal or unauthorized image-shrines to YHWH.  But something worse has happened.  Critics are right to disagree with Wright, but they are wrong if they think this undermines his point obout Jesus socio-political message?


This is another point where Wright’s insights are blindingly obvious and yet I’d been entirely blind to them.  The temple was going to be destroyed as a national judgment–but judgment for what?  The Gospels are stuffed with information about that issue, but it all gets lost in a preacher’s felt need to present a view where people don’t think they need propitiation and Jesus is telling them that they do.

Does N. T. Wright believe in the need for propitiation.

Yes, he clearly does.  In his commentary on Romans he makes this clear.  In his lectures on Romans at Regent College in Vancouver, B. C. he ripped into the NIV for not using the term “propitiation” in their translation of Romand 3.25.

So the doctrine of propitiation is not lost on this second look at what the Gospels are saying.

No, not at all. The point is that Jesus was confronting the whole nation over unrepentant sin–sin which they had managed to convince themselves was holiness.  There are several places and ways to show this, but since you asked about propitiation, lets talk about the accusation that sent Jesus the cross.  What does Jesus say to the women weeping over him as he goes to the cross?  He tells them quite directly the he is being crucified for a charge of which he is innocent, but that in a generation, Jerusalem’s children will be so obviously guilty of that accusation that they will be crucified and more.

And this is backed up by the whole choice between Jesus and another “son of the father” Barabbas.  Barabbas is a “robber”–the same word used to describe the two people Jesus is crucified between and also used by Jesus when he claims the Temple has been made into a “robber’s den.  A robber, however, is not someone who steals, but an outlaw rebel.  Barabbas, we are told in the Gospels is an insurrectionist and a murderer.

This is going to show how Jesus’ challenge was socio-political?

Yes.  Jesus came preaching the Kingdom, which everyone already wanted and expected.  But Jesus told them they were preparing for this Kingdom in a way that was only making God angrier with them.  Israel loved outlaw killers and thought they looked more like the hope of Israel than Jesus did.  As we have already discussed, Jesus told his generation that, unless they repented, they too would be killed by Roman soldiers and many more Jerusalemites would be destroyed by tumbling buildings.

Israel had adopted as a national way of life a stance toward the world and toward how to live in it that was not Her true calling.  As a nation formed by God for a mission, this covenant calling was, by definition, socio-political.  Jesus was coming and proclaiming a new way of life that was appropriate to God’s calling on Israel.  Jesus was calling for a re-defined “Politics of Holiness.”

To be continued

N. T. Wright and “Federal Vision” FAQ 1 (N. T. Wright, mostly on Jesus)

What do you think of N. T. Wright?

Hard to say now.  It has been so long since I have seriously read him.

Why is that?

Well, one big reason (probably not the biggest one) is “The Camille Paglia phenomenon.”  He got famous after his “second big book,” Jesus & the Victory of God, and then only managed to put out one more on the Resurrection (which I hear is great but it wasn’t what I was hoping for), and has since been reduced to a billion instabooks a lot of speaking engagements, and all the political and teaching business that came with his acceptace of the office of Bishop of Durham.

“The Camille Paglia phenomenon”?

Right.  Where is the sequel to Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson? Her shorter essays are great, and I’m a fan of her Salon column, but we were supposed to get a real book some day.  I’ve been waiting for that since the age of 24 or 25.

So what did you like about Wright?

Well, mainly his work on New Testament introduction and on Jesus.  It was amazing.  It took things I thought I knew and showed that I had not even begun to think through the implications.

What was the belief that you hadn’t properly used in your reading of the gospels or the Bible in general?

Mainly, what is called “preterism”–the understanding that much of the prophecies in the NT refering to “the end of the world” according to many are actually referring to the final judgment on the old order of the pre-Christian economy.  It never occurred to me that the parables of Jesus, to name one example, needed to be re-thought.

For example…

Well, the parable of the demon being driven out and then coming back with more demons–Matthew 12.43-45.  I had assumed the timeframe was Jesus’ own ministry.  He drove out the demon but it would come back worse unless the people repented.

But isn’t that true?

Sure, but I doubt it was what Jesus was saying.  I think it is much more likely (with Wright) that Jesus is summarizing Israel’s history and explaining why they are now inhabited by demons.  Because Wright is stuck on a “perpetual exile” idea (my term, I think) he doesn’t turn to the obvious national historic exorcism, but I think Zachariah is clear that the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple was the exorcism.  So I hadn’t rethought the time frame.  Futurism trains us to make everything begin with Jesus’ ministry and go into the future.  But why not expect Jesus to teach on what has gone wrong in Israel that is bringing them now to the end of days?

So you disagree with Wright about that Israel was still in exile.

Yes, but let me give you another example of a parable.


Consider Luke 13.1-5.  I had always thought this was a straightforward teaching  by Jesus that everyone who doesn’t repent will go to hell when they die.

But isn’t that true?

Sure, but I doubt it was what Jesus was saying.  He wasn’t making an abstract point about every human being alive since the Fall of Adam and about what they need to do to get to a good afterlife, though they can all certainly learn a lesson about that from what Jesus says here.  But Jesus was telling people to escape a specific national judgment and giving them a concrete warning about how they would perish.

How do you know this?

Well, two reasons.  First, Jesus doesn’t say that his listeners with also perish.  He says that they will likewise perish.  He says that they also will be killed by Roman soldiers and that others in Jerusalem will also be crushed under falling buildings.

Second, is the context of the passage.  Jesus is obviously talking about national judgment–what will happen to his own generation.  This is so obvious and yet somehow I totally ignored it in order to read into the passage my own concerns about the soul of “everyman” and the universal need for conversion.  These things are true.  Their truth does not justify misleading myself or others about what God’s word actually says in a passage.

It was reading Wright that made me realize how much like a liberal I was in reading Jesus in the Bible.

How so? What do you mean by “liberal”?

I mean being offended by the actual Jesus of history and replacing him with my own construct.  Stereotypical “liberals” basically make Jesus the ambassador of a few principles: “Fatherhood of God,” “Brotherhood of Man”–or “Siblinghood of Humanity” now I guess.  All Jesus’ distinctiveness is bleached out to make him look like a modern guru of modern democratic values and modern “spirituality.”

And you did this?

Sure, I did.  I am a convinced Evangelical and Calvinist.  Ergo, Jesus was just like me and he must be teaching all the things that are important to me.  He wasn’t a “great moral teacher” like the liberals said.  He was rather, something much more orthodox (which is a residual blessing) and silly: He was a great roving systematic theologian, meeting with people and publicly preaching various points on the Ordo Salutis.

And we shouldn’t do this?  Isn’t Evangelical Calvinism true?

Of course it is true, but it is not what Jesus was doing or saying.

If I tried to treat Jeremiah the way we treat Jesus, I’d be laughed at by Evangelicals and deservedly so.  We all know that Jeremiah was a prophet to Jerusalem telling them to repent and submit to Nebuchadnezzar.  For the most part, we know that we have to do some work to properly learn Jeremiah’s lessons.  When we do this, I suppose we usually do an adequate job, though in truth if one looked at how often Jeremiah is preached or taught, we then see how Biblically anemic we have become.  Jesus and Paul are our placebos for the felt need we have for someone to have written directly to us, and to have written us a theology text that is timeless.

But isn’t the Bible applicable for all ages?

Absolutely.  But the Father in His Wisdom and Love did not send us a book that looks anything like the ones we write about Christian truth.  He wrote us a history.  Jesus, in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and the Spirit given to start the Church at Pentecost, are the climax of that story, but they are not writing systematic theology.  And Jesus needs to be read more like Jeremiah and less like Louis Berkhof.

But isn’t Jesus more than a prophet?

Absolutely!  But he is not less than one.  And reducing him to theological encyclopedia might be something His Father finds insulting.

To be continued (Next: probably more about Wright and Jesus and things I disagree with or not)

About why the “Genuine Offer” is important to me.

I think it is objectively important for many reasons, but, personally, writing this paper was a water shed experience to the extent that intellectual “arrivals” or cognitive rest are important to pastoral life.

Basically, I’m snipping pieces of it and blogging them. Long papers are not really web friendly. I suspect that I will eventually replace the essay with a bunch of smaller notes based on these blog entries.

Memories from seminary

clowney.jpgOne of my favorites: Dr. Edmund Clowney, lecturing on typology and hermeneutics, addressed the position that we can only find types in the OT that are mentioned in the NT. He said:

That’s like saying that we’re only allowed to do a problem in a math textbook if the answer to that problem is given in the answer key in the back of the book.

Some fixed points

I was raised in a devout Evangelical home. Both parents were and are sincere Christians. I “asked the Lord Jesus into my heart” at age six and was baptized at age eight.

My parents were devout and raised us to be. We never skipped church and we read about and talked about the Bible, God, and Jesus as naturally as talking about anything else.

At about age fifteen I started living in ways that were, whether I admitted it or not, incompatible with my Christian confession. About a year later I repented. This led to loads of enthusiasm which really made me endearing to all my more secular friends.

I had a Presbyterian Sunday School teacher in high school who introduce discussions of calvinism into a place that otherwise was under charismatic hegemony. (Military base / all Protestants together)

I had never heard of the concept of election before this happened. I hated the idea when I first heard about it (before backsliding mentioned above).

When I resumed walking like a Christian, I got to see the original Holiness of God films from R C Sproul where he wore a turtleneck, colorful pants, and had straight black hair. I was a monergistic TULIP calvinist (L may have taken longer but I can’t remember) by the end of the series.

I became a calvinist after I had already been accepted to attend a Wesleyan college.

I had perfect grades, won a contest to go on the space shuttle, and was a perfect delight to all my classmates in the gentle and charitable way I explained to them that I was right and they were wrong about the basics of salvation.

Theological misleadership and its fruit, updated

This was originally published on 7 August 2006, the month that disappeared upon transfering to this blog site. A recent blog post reminds me to republish it:

I hadn’t gone to seminary. I had only been Reformed for a few years. I was a college graduate reading a hot Reformed magazine. The issue was Lordship salvation and I read as a fan and a follower. The problem was that I had read too many books. So I’m reading about Lordship salvation and a “Reformed perspective” on the brouhaha between John MacArthur and Zane Hodges. And the Reformed experts in this magazine tell me they are both wrong. Specifically, MacArthur has not kept track of the ordo salutis so that he can properly distinguish faith and repentance. If he understood that faith is prior to repentance then his viewpoint would have preserved the orthodox and gospel view. As I read the article I found myself more and more confused. I reread it. Is he really saying that? Yes he was. John MacArthur was being dismissed because he failed to line up an ordo and put faith before repentance. This was written in a tone of utter confidence like everyone who knew anything about the Reformed heritage knew that this was true. It wasn’t true. And I knew it wasn’t true. And I knew that anyone knowledgeable in basic Reformed thinking should know that it wasn’t true. What I didn’t understand is how I could know this and yet the writer of the article seem completely oblivious to the fact. He’d been to seminary, after all. He would be aware of what the basic writers had written.

I lived out of my office in those days (saved money on the air conditioning bill) and my book shelf was not thee feet away from me. I swiveled my chair around and reached for the book I had recently read: John Murray’s Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. Murray’s book, if you haven’t read it (and that means you should go and do so), describes the ordo salutis, or, if we can give up our worship of the dead past, the “order of salvation.” Each chapter is given a title for a different step in the order. In fact, Murray is even prone to make distinctions that go beyond those found explicitly in the Westminster Confession. He has a chapter on “Effectual Calling,” followed by a separate one on “Regeneration.” Yet, mysteriously, “Faith & Repentance” is a single chapter. He treats faith first and then, in introducing repentance, makes the following statement:

The question has been discussed: which is prior, faith or repentance? It is an unnecessary question and the insistence that one is prior to the other is futile. There is no priority. The faith that is unto salvation is a penitent faith and the repentance that is unto life is a believing repentance.

Everything said to dismiss MacArthur as a worthy Reformed thinker could have been written about Murray, and should have been. After all, Everyone knew MacArthur was a dispensationalist. If this “error” regarding the ordo was so significant, then the writer should have protected his readers from the author with the more established Reformed reputation. But then, who reads Murray anymore? I doubt he is even used that much in seminary. Generically, that is somewhat understandable, since there has been progress made. But in terms of the Reformed tradition, it seems rather like the disappearance of good money in favor of debased currency. The phenomenon I was encountering, but could not recognize because it was unthinkable to me at the time, was that the ones popularizing the Reformed faith for a new generation were altering it according to their own convictions and doing this by pretending that these were the only Reformed viewpoint. If you want to know why the PCA and the OPC are tearing themselves apart right now, it is because we are reaping fruit from a sowing of dishonesty that has been going on for a long time.