Friday, February 26, 2010

Article: The Covenant of Works in Dutch Reformed Orthodoxy

The mono-covenantalists (both Legalists and Antinomians) deny the very idea of the Covenant of Works. Some of those from the Dutch Reformed tradition have even come close to historical revisionism in postulating a new antithesis of Reformed versus the Puritans. According to this revisionist understanding, the Continental Reformed with their 3 forms of unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession of Faith, Canons of Dordt) do not believe in the Covenant of Works. It is rather the *evil* Puritans who introduced the concept of "merit" and as such formulated the Covenant of Works, giving it confessional status in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

In this article by Pastor Shane Lems, the historical record is set straight. As written:

The doctrine of the covenant of works has come under fire once more in Dutch Reformed churches. Some Dutch Reformed Christians have called the covenant of works an unscriptural theory that must be rejected outright. The covenant of works, they say, has traces of Arminianism or Roman Catholicism in it. Of course, the battle rages elsewhere as well, but Dutch Reformed church history has volumes to add to this debate.

Despite recent criticism of the covenant of works within Dutch churches, it is very clear that the covenant of works is both a Presbyterian and Reformed — indeed Dutch Reformed — doctrine. The main point of this essay is simple: the Dutch Reformed church has taught the covenant of works since the Reformation. While we may owe much to our Presbyterian brothers and sisters, we did not adopt the covenant of works from the Westminster Standards. Rather, the English and Dutch Reformed theologians were influenced by each other, and stood side by side on the covenant of works.

Those in Dutch churches who deny the covenant of works today usually only use a select few recent Dutch theologians to help disprove it. Alternatively, they suggest that the covenant of works is foreign to Dutch Reformed theology, as if there were no major Dutch theologians before the turn of the twentieth century who taught it. But what about the 350 years of Dutch Reformed theology before the late twentieth century? Is Dutch Reformed theology from 1900-1940 the norm for our understanding of the covenant of works today?

For the sake of space, only a few major Dutch Reformed theologians will be mentioned. This article is designed to be a descriptive walk through Dutch Reformed history beginning in the mid sixteenth century. We will look at Caspar Olevian (1536-1587), Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583), Herman Witsius (1636-1708), Wilhelmus a' Brakel (1635-1711), Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), and Louis Berkhof (1873-1957). All these influential Reformed thinkers clearly demonstrate that the covenant of works is a teaching that is not unique to Presbyterianism.

We should note that not every major Dutch theologian since the Reformation taught the covenant of works. At the same time, an impenetrable case can be made that the vast majority did teach it. I have tried to be as brief as possible in the following summaries. I leave it to the reader to follow these leads and look at the details of each theologian's description of the covenant of works.

...

Denial of the Covenant of Works, while not by itself outrightly heretical, has very serious consequences. As the essay concludes:

... First, it is necessary for those of us who uphold and defend the Three Forms of Unity to admit that the covenant of works is neither a Roman Catholic nor an Arminian construction. We must be honest with all this church history and openly declare that it is thoroughly a Reformed - even Dutch Reformed - doctrine.

Secondly, those who deny the covenant of works must not ignore Dutch Reformed theology that precedes the late nineteenth century. To paraphrase what Geerhardus Vos wrote in 1891, if one has the "historical sense" to be able to separate the mature development of a doctrine from its beginnings, there should be no trouble in recognizing the "covenant of works as an old Reformed doctrine." The covenant of works flows through the veins of Dutch Reformed churches; this much is clear.

Finally, the present day opponents of the covenant of works have to be careful when attacking it. By calling it an unscriptural theory, Arminian construction, or medieval Roman Catholic doctrine, one indicts the above Dutch theologians. I trust no one who loves the confessions would want to accuse any of the above theologians as being anything but confessional, orthodox, and Reformed.

To conclude on a practical note, as a' Brakel and Bavinck indicated, the covenant of works directs us away from our own works and drives us to trust in the works of another, the second Adam, Jesus Christ. He has merited salvation for the elect and paid for their sins. Jesus has agreed to the stipulations of the covenant of works: "Do this and live" applied to the last Adam, the true Israel, Jesus Christ. Praise God that Jesus has obeyed and paid, that our salvation depends not upon our merit, but on His. Jesus has done this and lives; therefore, we live with Him. Praise God that where we have failed, He has prevailed and covered our sins with His sacrifice. It is clear why both a' Brakel and Bavinck understood that a denial of the covenant of works can quickly lead to a misunderstanding or denial of the covenant of grace, of the gospel. After all, without Jesus' perfect obedience to the law credited to our account, how could we stand righteous before God?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Merit and the concept of the Covenant of Works

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Lk. 17:7-10)

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality (Rom. 2:6-11)

Question 63. What! do not our good works merit, which yet God will reward in this and in a future life? Answer: This reward is not of merit, but of grace (Lk. 17:10) (Heidelberg Catechism, Q63)

... So then, we do good works, but nor for merit — for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who "works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13) — thus keeping in mind what is written: "When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.' (Lk. 17:10) ...

(Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 24)

One of the characteristic of Mono-covenantal Antinomianism is its denial of the idea of merit especially in the Covenant of Works. As opposed to its opposite number, Mono-covenantal Legalism as found in the heresy of the Federal Vision, the very idea of merit sickens the Mono-covenantal Antinomians, who see the idea of merit as leading to a form of works-based religion as epitomized in the Federal Visionists. In the battle within the two sides, the balance of the right preaching of the Law and Gospel are lost by both. In the camp of the Mono-Covenantal Legalists, Gospel becomes Law, and thus their idea of gospel is made up of commandments of doing and believing. In the camp of the Mono-Covenantal Antinomians, Law becomes Gospel, and thus the Law lose much of its power of warning, condemnation and exhortation. Instead, the Law mostly becomes something we are reminded of so that we can run back to God's grace (which is certainly correct but not enough). The motivation for living holy lives has been greatly reduced, and warnings against apostasy and carnality muffled since after all, aren't we justified by God's grace apart from works?

In this post therefore, I would like to address the error of the Mono-Covenantal Antinomians in their rejection of the concept of merit especially in the Covenant of Works, especially in the interpretation of Lk. 17:10 and in the Continental Reformed Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism. It must be noted here that both sides of the mono-covenantal spectrum reject the Covenant of Works, the Legalists to make grace into law, and the Antinomians to make law into grace.

Covenant Theology historically teaches bicovenantalism as opposed to monocovenantalism. Redemptive history is split into two overarching covenantal paradigms: the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, reflecting the Lutheran contrast of Law (Covenant of Works) and Gospel (Covenant of Grace). While the Puritan and Scottish tradition expressed this teaching succinctly in the Westminster Confession of Faith (cf WCF Chapter VII, Para II), it is not expresseively found in the Confessions and Catechisms of the Continental Reformers due to their creeds and confessions being written early in Reformation history. Yet, a look at for example eminent Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Witsius' magnum opus The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man [1] would prove that the Continental Reformed churches also do embrace bicovenantalism, although of course variations between Reformed theologians are to be expected (Compare for example Samuel Rutherford's [2] understanding of the covenants to Witsius').

A covenant is made up of two contracting parties, with stipulations for the parties involved, and rewards and punishments for the fulfilling of the obligations. Covenants may be unilateral as being more along the lines of ANE (Ancient Near-East) suzerainty treaties, of which God's covenants are similar to [3]. As O. Plamer Robertson defines the biblical idea of covenant when predicated of God, it is a bond-in-blood sovereignly administered [4]. Within the context of a covenant initiated by God, God bonds himself to the other party (i.e men, Adam, Israel etc) by His own free choice and unilaterally lays down the stipulations of the covenant (what they are to do), and the rewards and punishments for their obedience and disobedience respectively for fulfilling these stipulations.

In the context of a covenant therefore, where men under the covenant fulfil the stipulations of the covenant, they are said to have "merited" the rewards promised them in the covenant God made with them. The historic idea of "merit" and the concept of "earning salvation" is set in the context of God's covenants as initiated by Him.

Therefore, historic Covenant Theology talks about men meriting with God on the basis of the covenant. This does not mean that God owes men something for some good they have done, but that rather God owes it to His own integrity as the Covenant God who makes good on what He has promised.

Both the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism have a section on the idea of merit, and both of them are quoted to support the attack of the Mono-covenantal Antinomians against the historic view of bicovenantalism. However, is that a proper appeal to the confession and catechism, or rather an improper appeal to them?

Question 63 of the Heidelberg Catechism in situated in the context of salvation; of being right with God. Question 60 asks of us how we are righteous before God, and the only answer that we should give is that we are righteous only because of having faith in Christ. Question 62 asks us why our good works cannot be the whole, or part, of our righteousness before God. The answer in itself damages the case of Mono-Covenantal Antinomianism. It is as follows:

Because, that the righteousness, which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect, (Ga. 3:10, Deut. 27:26) and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and also, that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin (Is. 64:6).

It can be seen that question 62 teaches that there IS indeed a righteousness which can be approved before the tribunal of God, which is that of perfect righteousness. As long as a person has perfect righteousness, his righteousness can be approved before God. Of course, that is impossible for fallen men, but that's besides the point here.

Question 63, following question 62, enquires as to whether our good works merit before God. In other words, do our good works count for anything in God's sight such that He would reward us for doing them?

The answer given to the question is an emphatic no. The catechism teaches here that our good works do not earn us anything before God, but rather God rewards us for them due to His grace, not our merits.

The context of this answer however shows us that it is addressed to fallen sinful men who have already violated the works principle in the Covenant of Works (cf Rom. 2:6-11). Postlapsarian men are all born sinners and thus cannot hope to merit anything with God, nevermind the fact that even if they were to do the impossible — to not commit sin plus somehow avoid the Original Guilt of Adam — they still cannot earn the positive righteousness before God necessary to enter heaven, for there is no Covenant of Works made with them.

In the Belgic Confession of Faith, the section whereby the passage is taken from is Article 24 which is entitled the Sanctification of Sinner. Similar to the case of the Heidelberg Catechism, it is addressed to postlapsarian sinners whose only way of salvation is fond in Jesus Christ alone.

Both of these passages proof-text Lk. 17:10 to support their statement, and a look at the passage and verse would show that the case the catechism and confession is making is solid, and in fact the verse is broader in application than either have used them; being applicable across the lapsarian divide. Creatures are obligated to their Creator, and cannot merit anything with Him.

After understanding the teachings of historic Covenant Theology and look at the teachings of Scripture, we perceive immediately that the objections of the Mono-covenantal Antinomians miss the mark altogether. We have said that in Covenant Theology, the idea of "merit" within the context of Covenant is that God does not "owes men something for some good they have done, but that rather God owes it to His own integrity as the Covenant God who makes good on what He has promised". The issue therefore is not, as the distractors would have it, that men obligate God to reward them (an erroneous teaching soundly refuted by Lk. 17:10), but that God obligates Himself to reward them. When this is properly understood, the objection on this ground made by the Mono-covenantal Antinomians are seen to be baseless.

In conclusion, men can "merit" before God only in the framework of a covenant. Specifically, only within the framework of the Covenant of Works can such "meriting" happen, as only the Covenant of Works has a stipulation attached to it for men to fulfil. In the Covenant of Grace however, the stipulation is fulfilled by our represetative head which is Chrst in His humanity. For His own people the elect therefore, the Covenant of Grace does not contain any stipulations or conditions on our part, as our salvation is purely of grace and grace alone.


References:

[1] Herrman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man – Comprehending A Complete Body of Divinity, trans. William Crookshank (Original printed 1822; Reprinted Kingsburg, CA: den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1990; Distributed Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing)

[2] Samuel Rutherford, C. Matthew McMahon (Ed.), , The Covenant of Life Opened (Original 1654; New Lenox, IL, USA: Puritan Publications, 2005)

[3] See Michael Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology (p. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books), pp. 23-28.

[4] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R publishing), p. 15

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rom. 5, the doctrine of Imputation and Original guilt

I have been interacting with an Arminian recently who asserts, among many other things, that Rom. 5 especially verse 12 does not teach the Reformed teaching of Original Guilt through the imputation of Adam's sin to us sinners. While I have addressed his eisegesis in the meta in that post, I would like here to present a brief positive exegesis of Rom. 5: 12-19 and show that the plain interpretation of Scripture do teach the doctrines of Imputation of sin and Original Guilt.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5:12-19)

A striking feature, and in fact, the important thing to notice in this passage is the parallelism made between Adam and Christ, as they are compared and contrasted in many different ways. The end of verse 14 in fact informs us that the parallelism made is one of typology — Adam as the type and Christ ("who was to come") the antitype.

The entire passage therefore is governed by the concept of typology. Adam therefore is or did something which is then compared or contrasted with how Christ is or did that same thing. Whatever the interpretation of the text is, failure to read it as typology would render the interpretation necessarily errant.

The passage starts off with the mention of death coming into the world because of sin. Breaking this sentence in verse 12 down into logical form, we would have the following argumentation:

Premise 1: Sin entered the world through one man
Premise 2: Death comes with sin
Premise 3: All sinned
Conclusion: Death came to all men

Expanding the argument:

Premise 2: The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)/ Death comes with sin
Implicit premise 1a: Sinlessness merit eternal life (cf Gal. 3:12, Rom. 2:6-7,11)
Intermediate conclusion 1a: If and only if sin is real, then death must occur.

Premise 1: Sin entered the world through one man
Intermediate conclusion 1b: If and only if sin entered the world through one man, then death must occur.

Implicit premise 1c: If sin entered the world through one man, then all have sinned
Intermediate conclusion 1c: If and only if all have sinned, then death must have came to all men.
Premise 3: All sinned
Conclusion: Death came to all men

The argument as follows is valid and sound, which shows us the force of Paul's argumentation in verse 12. Paul is saying that all have sinned, and therefore all men die. Yet even here the fact of the "one man" in which sin entered the world came into focus. According to Scripture therefore, sin entered the world through that "one man" resulting in the fact that all of us die because sin has entered the world of our existence.

Verse 13 is a short digression into the relationship between sin and the law, stating that the law did not create sin since sin was already present before the giving of the law (the Ten Commandments and the laws at Sinai). Rather, the law showed sin to be sin (so that it becomes counted as sin), echoing Paul's later teaching in this regard as seen in Rom. 7: 8-10.

In verse 15, the parallelism starts to be mentioned and contrasted. Adam's sin ("one man's trespass") caused many men to die, whereas in Jesus Christ, the "free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ" abounded for many [unto life]. Verse 16 makes it even more explicit that the original sin of Adam was in Paul's mind, since it is through that ONE sin that condemnation follows, and death came which reigned in all of us (v. 17a). In Jesus Christ however, his free gift "follow[ed] many trespasses" (thus noting the fact that it is not because of men's righteousness that the gift was given) which brought justification. In verse 17b, Jesus Christ is the one who through His grace and His free gift cause those in Him to have life.

The contrast is thus formed as follows:

AdamChrist
One trespass One gift
Brought condemnation Being justified
DeathLife

It must be here noted that all men are considered to be under the federal headship of either of these two heads. Adam brought death to many through his trespass, while Christ brought life to many through His free gift.

Rom. 5:18 continues the line of thought in the previous section. Adam brought condemnation and death to all men through his trespass, while Christ brought justification and life to all men through His righteousness. This modifies the chart as follows:

Person:AdamChrist
Act:One trespass One gift of righteousness
Meritorious cause: SinRighteousness
Legal status: Condemnation Justification
Result:DeathLife

Verse 19 in Rom. 5 sums up the teaching of federal headship in the entire passage, by contrasting what we get by being in Adam, and being in Christ. Adam's original sin caused the many to be made sinners. Conversely, Christ's obedience caused the many to be made righteous. The parallelism is remarkable, and show forth the contrasts the two heads bring to those under them.

There are a few outstanding issue to be sorted out here, which we shall do now.

The first issue is the use of "many" and "all" in the passage. Just because the word "all" is used does not mean that all men everywhere are saved by Christ, neither does that necessarily mean that "all" men are sinners just because the quantifier "all" is used. Rather, the word "all", just like the word "many", is used as a quantitative modifier of the class they are describing. The Scriptures therefore do not teach Universalism based upon some sophomoric misinterpretation of the Greek word panta and its derivatives as used in this passage.

All men are sinners, not because the word "all" is used to modify "men", but because "all men" belong to the class of being "in Adam". The fact that we have all died proves that to be the case. Contrary to Arminian thought which states that we die solely because we actually sin, the Scriptures even in verse 12 itself teaches that sin and death entered the world through Adam (not separately through us), while verse 15 explicitly states that we first died in Adam even before committing any actual sin. Adam's "one trespass" caused our deaths because all of us have sinned in Adam as our federal head. While actual sins do cause death, a fact which the Arminians do admit, Adam's sin caused our death even before any one of us have committed any actual sins.

We all sin in Adam as our federal head, and therefore we all possess this Original guilt. Adam's sin is thus imputed to us, or considered to our account. Likewise, following the parallelism, Christ is the new federal head for all true Christians who are in Him (εν χριστω). Christ's righteousness is imputed to us and therefore we have His righteousness as ours.

As a parallelism, the manner in which the two are compared and contrasted must be the same. Therefore, a change in the mode of the transmission of Adam's sin would necessitate a change in the mode of the transmission of Christ's righteousness. The Arminians change the transmission of Adam's sin into purely a genetic transmission of a sinful nature. For the parallelism to hold, they must likewise consistently admit that the transmission of Christ's righteousness is a actual giving process, which is the process of infusion. In infusion, Christ's righteousness is not credited to men, but truly and ontologically given to men such that they are actually righteous. It is here that we can see the error of Romanism and semi-Pelagianism come to the fore. Embrace of the Arminian heresy with its attendant error of the denial of original guilt would cause original sin to be merely a sinful nature, which should make Christ's righteousness to believers an infused or actual righteousness, and there we go back to the faith-and-works religion of Romanism. After all, if you are actually righteous, then you must act righteous (works) otherwise you are not in Christ and thus not saved. Justification in such a system as Rome's is therefore through faith and good works, otherwise euphemistically stated as "a living faith" or "faith which works through love".

Rom. 5:12-19 therefore teaches 1) the federal headships of Adam and Christ, 2) Original guilt, 3) the imputation of Adam's sin to his seed, and 4) the imputation of Christ's righteousness to his seed. A denial of Original guilt, when interpreted in the light of the parallelism of Rom. 5:12-19, would necessarily result in the embrace of the heresy of infused righteousness and such would further necessitate a denial of the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. It is no wonder therefore that the Synod of Dordt spoke for the Church of Jesus Christ in denouncing the heresy of Arminianism in her Canons, seeing the pelagianizing tendencies within her false teachings. Historically, the person of Remonstrant theologian Conrad Vorstius (who apostatized into Soccinianism — a form of incipient universalism at best) is more than sufficient to prove such tendencies inherent within Arminianism itself.

ADD: For the exegesis of Rom. 5:12 :

The preposition "so" indicate that whatever comes after is a conclusion from what comes before, while the word "because" indicates that whatever comes after this preposition is a premise for the one that comes before that prepostion. Therefore, the agument would be as follows:

Therefore, just as (P1) "sin came into the world through one man", and (P2) "death through sin", and so (C) "death spread to all men" because (P3) "all sinned". (Rom. 5:12)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Witsius' quote and the proof of Scripture

I am in the midst of leading a Bible study series for my cell group, and in one of the Bible study, the passages I brought up are the one by Witsius as seen here. Here therefore is the proposed Scriptural cross-references for the propositions in the quotes taken from his book The Economy of the Covenants:

... it must be confessed, that in the present dark state of our minds, even the most illuminated are ignorant of a great many things (Job. 38-40:5; Is. 55:8-9); and that many things are believed with an implicit [tacit] faith (Mt. 7:17,20; 17:20, cf. Jn. 9), especially by young beginners and babes in Christ, so far as they admit, in general, the whole scriptures to be the infallible standard of what is to be believed; in which are contained many things which they do not understand, and in as far as they embrace the leading doctrines of Christianity, in which many other truths concenter, which are thence deduced by evident consequence, and which they believe in their foundation or principle, as John writes concerning believers, that they knew all things, 1 John ii. 20. ... (III.7.9. Vol. 1, p. 376.)

Moreover those things which are necessary to be known by the person who would believe, are in general, the divinity of the scriptures (Ps. 119 esp. v. 81, 114; Eph. 1:13), into which faith must be ultimately resolved; more especially, those things which regard the obtaining of salvation in Christ; which may summarily be reduced to these three heads (Eph. 1:13): 1st To know, that by sin thou art estranged from the life of God, and art come short of the glory of God, Rom. iii.23. That it is not possible, that either thou thyself, or an angel from heaven, or any creature in the world, nay, or all the creatures in the universe, can extricate thee from the abyss of misery, and restore thee to a state of happiness. 2dly. That thou shouldst know Christ this Lord to be full of grace and truth, John i.14. who is that only name given under heaven, whereby we can be saved, Acs. iv. 1. and in the knowledge of whom consists eternal life, John xvii. 3. 3dly. That thou shouldst know, that, in order to thy obtaining salvation in Christ, it is necessary that thou be united to Christ, by the Spirit and by faith, and give up thyself to him, not only to be justified, but also sanctified, and governed by his will and pleasure, proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, Rom. xii. 2. (III.7.10. Vol. 1, p. 377.)

The three things that all Christians must hold to therefore are: 1) The divinity of the Scripture, 2) the message of the Gospel, 3) the divinity of Christ and the Godhead. These are the fundamental truths of Scripture which all Christians must hold to in order to be saved.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Phil Johnson on the Neo-Liberal Stealth Offensive

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:3-4)

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30)

In the e-Journal by 9Marks ministry (Jan/Feb 2010, 7:1), Phil Johnson, who is the Executive Director of Grace to You, has written an excellent and extremely pertinent article on the attack of the enemy against the churches. He begins:

The gospel’s most dangerous earthly adversaries are not raving atheists who stand outside the door shouting threats and insults. They are church leaders who cultivate a gentle, friendly, pious demeanor but hack away at the foundations of faith under the guise of keeping in step with a changing world.

No Christian should imagine that heresy is always conspicuous or that every purveyor of theological mischief will lay out his agenda in plain and honest terms. The enemy prefers to sow tares secretly, for obvious reasons. Thus Scripture expressly warns us to be on guard against false teachers who creep into the church unnoticed (Jude 4), wolves who sneak into the flock wearing sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15), and servants of Satan who disguise themselves as angels of light (2 Cor. 11:13-15).

In light of the disaster of the New Evangelical experiment, especially as epitomized in the Seeker sensitive movement, causing biblical illiteracy to rise to shockingly new levels, evangelical churches are ripe for the infiltration and taking over by liberals of all stripes, from the capital "L" Liberals on the left to the Neo-Orthodox on the right.

In his article, Johnson details the 4 trends that is leaving evangelicals vulnerable to subversion:

1. They recklessly follow the zeitgeist.

...

Beware of church leaders who are more worried about being contemporary than they are about being doctrinally sound, more concerned with their methodology than they are with their message, and more captivated by political correctness than they are by the truth. The church is not called to ape the world or make Christianity seem cool and likable, but to proclaim the gospel faithfully—including the parts the world usually scoffs at: sin, righteousness, and judgment (cf. Jn. 16:8). Jesus expressly taught that if we are faithful in that task, the Holy Spirit will convict hearts and draw believers to Christ.

...

2. They want the world’s admiration at all costs.

... When we need to shave corners off the truth or compromise righteousness in order to gain the world’s friendship, bearing the reproach of Christ is an infinitely better option. No true friend of God deliberately seeks the world's camaraderie (Jas. 4:4).

But one of the common characteristics of liberalism is an obsession with gaining the world’s approval and admiration no matter the cost.

...

When churches give in to that craving for worldly approval, they inevitably subjugate the gospel to a more popular message. At first, they won’t necessarily deny (or even challenge) core gospel truths such as the historical facts outlined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. But they will abbreviate, modify, or add to the message. The embellishments usually echo whatever happens to be politically correct at the moment — climate change, world hunger, the AIDS crisis, or whatever. Those things will be stressed and talked about repeatedly while the historic facts of Christ’s death and resurrection, the great themes of gospel doctrine, and the actual text of Scripture itself will be largely ignored or treated as something to be taken for granted.

Feed any church a steady diet of that for a few years and they will have no means of defense when someone attacks the faith more directly. That’s precisely what is happening today with various attacks on substitutionary atonement, the exclusivity of Christ, the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, and other essential Christian truths. All of those things were first downplayed in order to make the church’s message sound more “positive.” Now they are being subjected to a full-scale assault.

...

3. Their “faith” comes with an air of intellectual superiority.

Liberals treat faith itself as an academic matter. Their whole system is essentially a wholesale rejection of simple, childlike belief. Their worldview foments an air of academic arrogance, setting human reason in the place of highest authority, treating the Bible with haughty condescension, and showing utter contempt for the kind of faith Christ blessed.

Consequently, liberals are and always have been obsessed with academic respectability. They want the world’s esteem as scholars and intellectuals—no matter what they have to compromise to get it. They sometimes defend that motive by arguing that the secular academy’s acceptance is essential to the Christian testimony.

Of course that is a quixotic quest. It is also a denial of the Bible’s plain teaching. Believers cannot be faithful to Scripture and win general accolades from the wise men, scribes, and debaters of this age. The world hated Jesus, and he made it clear that his faithful disciples mustn’t expect — or seek — the world’s honor (Jn. 15:18; Luke 6:22; cf. Jas. 4:4). Paul, himself a true scholar in every sense, wrote this world’s wisdom off as sheer foolishness: “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor. 3:18-19).

True Christian scholarship is about integrity, not accolades. Liberalism covets the latter, and that explains why liberals are always drawn to ideas that are stylish and politically correct, yet they are resistant to virtually all the hard truths of Christianity, starting with the authority Scripture claims for itself. Be on guard against that tendency.

4. They despise doctrinal and biblical precision.

This may sound like an oxymoron, but while treating faith as an academic matter, liberals prefer an almost anti-intellectual, agnostic approach to dealing with the specific truth-claims of Scripture. They like their doctrine hazy and indistinct.

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Heavy doses of that flavor of postmodern, neo-liberal evasion have conditioned multitudes of church members to regard carefulness and precision in handling doctrine as both unimportant and potentially divisive. These days the person who shows evidence of doctrinal scruples is much more likely to be held in suspicion or disdain among evangelicals than the neo-liberals who have deliberately made the study of biblical doctrine seem so cloudy, confusing, and contentious.

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Do read the complete article by Phil Johnson, as it shows us the deadly compromises made by New Evangelicalism, who sold out their evangelical birthright for a bowl of academic respectability soup. When you sow to the wind, you reap the whirlwind. May we learn from their mistakes and turn from them.

Carl Trueman on the "New Evangelical Liberalism" and Academic Respectability

In the e-Journal by 9Marks ministry (Jan/Feb 2010, 7:1), Carl Trueman wrote an excellent article entitled The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, playing a pun on Mark Noll's book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Eerdmans, 1995). In his article, Trueman addresses the issue of the need for acceptability and academic respectability among the [New] Evangelicals. As he wrote:

... there would seem to be a pervasive evangelical inferiority complex. This means that, while we do not wish to exclude anybody, we dread being excluded ourselves. Indeed, for the evangelical academic, in a world so ill-defined, it is always tempting to cut just a few more corners, or keep shtum on just a couple of rather embarrassing doctrinal commitments, in order to have just that little bit more influence, that slightly bigger platform, in the outside world. This is particularly the temptation of evangelical biblical scholars and systematicians whose wider guilds are so utterly unsympathetic to the kind of supernaturalism and old-fashioned truth claims upon which their church constituencies are largely built. In so doing, we kid ourselves that we are doing the Lord’s work, that, somehow, because we have articles published in this journal or by that press, we are really making real headway into the unbelieving culture of the theological academy. Not that these things are not good and worthy—I do such things myself—but we must be careful that we do not confuse professional academic achievement with building up the saints or scoring a point for the kingdom.

It remains true (as James Barr pointed out years ago) that evangelical academics are generally respected in the academy only at precisely those points where they are least evangelical. There is a difference between academic or scholarly respectability and intellectual integrity. For a Christian, the latter depends upon the approval of God and is rooted in fidelity to his revealed Word; it does not always mean the same thing as playing by the rules of scholarly guild.

New Evangelicalism from its inception desires favor with the world, and the world's respect for its teaching. Far from compromising the truths of Scripture, the entire New Evangelical experiment desired both favor with their academic peers and no compromise of the Gospel message — an experiment in trying to have their cake and eat it too, as the case of the early New Evangelicals Harold Ockenga and Edward Carnell showed [Iain H. Murray, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), p. 20].

Christian scholarship is indeed important, and intellectual integrity especially. But because Christian scholarship is, for lack of a better term, Christian, it MUST needs be despised and to some measure rejected by the world for moral and spiritual reasons. It is treachery to desire the favor of a world in rebellion against her Creator if we ourselves profess allegiance to this same Lord of heaven and earth.

Instead of desiring the recognition of a God-hating world, Christian scholarship should be about desiring the recognition from God and the edification of His body the Church.

... too few evangelical academics seem to have much ambition. ... Yet true ambition, true Christian ambition, is surely based in and directed towards the upbuilding of the church, towards serving the people of God, and this is where evangelical academics often fail so signally. The impact evangelical scholars have had on the academy is, by and large, paltry, and often (as noted) confined to those areas where their contributions have been negligibly evangelical. Had the same time and energy been devoted to the building up of the saints, imagine how the church might have been transformed.

This is not to say that high-powered scholarship should be off-limits, nor that the immediate needs of the man or woman in the pew should provide the criteria by which relevance is judged; but it is to say that all theological scholarship should be done with the ultimate goal of building up the saints, confounding the opponents of the gospel, and encouraging the brethren. The highest achievement any evangelical theological scholar can attain is not membership of some elite guild but the knowledge that he or she has done work that strengthened the church and extended the kingdom of God through the local church.

As the world grows ever more and more wicked, and with the failure of the New Evangelical experiment, a time is coming when the New Evangelicals will have to count the cost and choose whom they will serve

The day is coming when the cultural intellectual elites of evangelicalism — the institutions and the individuals — will face a tough decision. I see the crisis coming on two separate but intimately connected fronts. The day is coming, and perhaps has already come, when, first, to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired, authoritative, and utterly truthful, will be seen as a sign at best of intellectual suicide, at worst of mental illness; and, second, to articulate any form of opposition to homosexual practice will be seen as the moral equivalent of advocating white supremacy or child abuse. In such times, the choice will be clear, those who hold the Christian line will be obvious, and those who have spent their lives trying to serve both orthodoxy and the academy will find that no amount of intellectual contortionism will save them. Being associated with B. B. Warfield will be the least of their worries.

As Trueman said, the problem with "[New] evangelical scholars and scholarship" is not there is no mind or little thinking, but there is "precious little evangel;" little Gospel. After 50+ years of the New Evangelical experiment, the time has come to terminate it for its horrendous fruits it has produced and continue to produce in the Church.