Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Causes and Effects of Sanctification

J. V. Fesko, The Christian’s Pocket Guide to Sanctification

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

Those who love Jesus Christ must be concerned with their own personal holiness, or sanctification. This book is an excellent introduction to the biblical doctrine of sanctification. Fesko presents sanctification clearly from Scripture in three brief chapters followed by a select list of recommended resources for further reading.

He roots sanctification in the believer’s union with Christ and utter dependence on the person of the Holy Spirit. He also steers a clear path between a large number of imbalanced and unbiblical views of the doctrine, presenting a balanced Reformed approach to personal holiness.

Some will fault Fesko for not treating what John Murray termed “definitive sanctification.” Definitive sanctification refers to those passages of Scripture that describe sanctification in terms of a decisive once-for-all break with the power of sin in distinction from the process of growing in personal godliness. In Fesko’s defense, Murray’s terminology is relatively new in the history of the church. Classic manuals on sanctification do not use it. He also clearly includes the fact that sanctification begins with the new birth and that Christ breaks the reigning power of sin in our lives when we are united to Him by faith.

Fesko excellently conjoins the corporate and individual aspects of sanctification. Much of the New Testament teaching on personal obedience to the Lord requires a relation to other Christians in the context of the church. He stresses the necessity of corporate prayer, public preaching, and observing the sacraments in addition to practices such as Bible reading and private prayer. This flows from his treatment of the individual and corporate aspects of salvation in Chapter 1.

This reviewer takes issue with one statement in this book. Fesko states that the law is not a means of sanctification for the Christian (50). This initially sounds alarming, since God writes the law on the hearts of His people with the pen of the Holy Spirit. However, Fesko later describes the Christian life clearly in terms of the Spirit of God using the Law of God to conform believers to the image of Christ (57). It is difficult for this reviewer to understand how these two assertions are compatible. The Law is a divinely appointed means of sanctification in a manner comparable to how the Scriptures in general are a means of sanctification. Just as the Word of God is a means of grace for believers, so is the Law of God as it is a special part of the Word. If anything, the Law is the preeminent means of sanctification, even though it is not the cause of sanctification. Christ is the cause of sanctification, through the Spirit, using the Law as a means of conforming us to His image. Fesko’s view seems to be that the Law cannot sanctify us by its own power. This point is vital and believers forget it at their peril.

This book is a good introduction to a vital topic. May the Lord help readers lay its teachings up in their hearts and practice it in their lives.
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This review first appeared in the Puritan Reformed Journal.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Book Note from Ryan McGraw

Katekōmen's chief book reviewer Ryan M. McGraw, a member of the Greenville Seminary adjunct faculty, has sent the following note concerning his own recent book, The Day of Worship.

"I just learned that my book on the Sabbath (The Day of Worship) has gone into a second printing. I rejoice and thank the Holy Spirit for the extent to which he has blessed this work already. I wrote this book because the Sabbath is a great weak point in modern Christianity. Sabbath breaking is indicative of far greater and more fundamental deficiencies in our Christian lives. Put more positively, God has designed the Sabbath to stretch our spiritual muscles, to make us long for heaven more fervently, to practice self-denial, to flee worldliness, and to better equip us to keep all of the rest of God's commandments. The Lord's Day is one of the best means in the Christian life to help us focus on the central realities of the life, death, and, especially the resurrection of Christ. It declares the Father's love to us openly and it is to our spiritual detriment that our worldly employments and recreations have so come to dominate our lives that we refuse to suffer persecution for Christ's sake by honoring his holy day.

"I believe that the triune God blessed the writing of this book beyond my natural abilities. I praise him for using it thus far. I have prayed, and I still pray, that the Lord would use this book as one means among many to bring true revival to his church. Since RHB does not indicate or advertise when a book has been reprinted, there is a link to the book below. If this issue is dear to your heart, then please pray for the book and tell others about it."



Exploring the Covenant of Works

Aaron C. Denlinger, Omnes in Adam ex Pacto Dei: Ambrogio Catarino’s Doctrine of Covenantal Solidarity and its Influence on Post-Reformation Reformed Theologians. Reformed Historical Theology, vol. 8. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010. Pp. 306. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

This is a very significant study on the development of the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works. The topic is highly important both in terms of tracing the historical development of Reformed orthodoxy and in light of contemporary theological debates over this doctrine. This work focusses on the relationship between the covenant theology of the Catholic theologian, Ambrogio Catarino, and the Reformed concept of covenantal solidarity between Adam and the human race (28). This author treats the neglected area of overlap and influence between post-Reformation Roman Catholic and Reformed theology. The broad educational background that stood behind seventeenth-century Protestant scholasticism makes this study tremendously fruitful.

Catarino was a Catholic counter-Reformation theologian who wrote two polemical treatises against Martin Luther (24). Denlinger’s introduction stresses the fact that Catarino published material regarding a pre-fall covenant twenty years prior (1541) to Reformed thinkers, such as Zacharius Ursinus (12). Chapters 2 and 3 assess previous theories concerning the origins of the pre-fall covenant in Reformed theology as well as the general neglect of Catarino’s covenant theology.

Chapters 4 and 5 outline Catarino’s covenant theology and his doctrine of the pre-fall covenant. Catarino and later Reformed thinkers held in common the imputation of Adam’s guilt to his posterity by virtue of his covenantal solidarity with humanity. However, they differed widely as well. Catarino believed in three eternal covenants. The first was with Christ and it bridged the ontological gap that existed between God and humanity. Christ’s coming was not necessitated by man’s sin (110-121). The next two eternal covenants were with Mary as the bride of Christ (121-124) and with the church as the fruit of her union with Christ (124-126). The pre-fall and post-fall covenant fulfilled these eternal covenants (125, 130). Through his fall, Adam lost the superadded gifts of justice and grace. These gifts would have lifted him above his natural limitations as a creature (156, 159). Faith and works were the means of obtaining eternal life, both before and after the fall. Sin only made this process more difficult (130).

After exploring the medieval background of covenantal solidarity in Chapter 6, Denlinger treats his primary question in chapter seven: Did Catarino influence Reformed orthodox covenant theology? Denlinger’s arguments here are largely circumstantial and inconclusive. Similarities between Catarino and Reformed writers on the pre-fall covenant may be explained more easily via Denlinger’s excellent treatment of their common medieval roots than by direct influence. His most significant argument relates to the similarities between Robert Rollock and Catarino, but even here Denlinger noted that the evidence for dependence is “rather tentative” (270). His research does not necessitate the conclusion that Catarino influenced Reformed authors. His concludes with Chapter 8 by arguing that Catarino was one of many indirect influences upon Reformed thinkers.

This book makes at least two highly significant contributions to the history of Reformed theology. First, Denlinger makes the astute observation that most previous studies of the origins of the pre-fall covenant have searched mistakenly for a single source for the doctrine (29). Instead of looking for a “fountainhead” of the doctrine, he looks for “tributaries” that converge in developing the idea of Adam’s covenantal solidarity with humanity (30). This approach avoids looking for an evolution of thought through a select set of authors, such as Calvin and Ursinus (47). While this method is more complex than searching for a single source of the covenant of works, it is more fruitful and convincing (63). This method bucks the trend of most of the current secondary literature on the origins of the covenant in Reformed orthodoxy.

Second, he places the “intellectual roots” of Reformed covenant theology in late-medieval nominalism (32). The significant point is that both Reformed and Catholic authors developed ideas from medieval nominalism in ways that both differed and overlapped at times (289). This common pre-Reformation background is important even apart from considering the connection between Catarino and the Reformed (193). In particular, Denlinger observes that Catarino developed his idea of covenantal solidarity via medieval sacramental views of “covenant causality” (215). “Covenant causality” taught that God made the sacraments efficacious by creating a covenantal bond between the sign and the thing signified (225). This furnished Catarino and later authors with a foundation for the imputation of Adam’s sin.

This reviewer has one minor criticism for this work. Denlinger is likely correct in asserting that early Reformed authors did not explicitly teach a covenantal solidarity between Adam and his posterity. However, he oversimplifies the matter by arguing that while sixteenth-century authors stressed realistic solidarity between Adam and mankind, seventeenth-century writers shifted towards covenantal solidarity (186). This is the hinge of his argument for connecting Catarino to the Reformed (247). It is more accurate to say that many seventeenth-century authors affirmed physical descent from Adam was the cause of inheriting a corrupt nature, but that the covenant was the ground for imputed guilt. However, it is not clear that this position was unanimous. Such a black and white contrast is rarely accurate in historical theology.

One further comment is in order. Denlinger argues that the Westminster divine Anthony Burgess had Catarino in view when he rejected the idea that Christ was a medius or ontological bridge between God and man instead of a Mediator (184). Denlinger’s connection is plausible. However, it is important to note that it was a common view that Christ was an ontologically intermediate figure between God and man in Eastern Orthodoxy as well. The broad educational background of Protestant scholasticism included the Greek fathers as well as a broad range of contemporary theology. This point merits further research.

Denlinger’s book is a vital addition to the small, but growing, body of literature on Reformed orthodox covenant theology. It will help students expand the theological context of post-Reformation theology both in terms of medieval and Catholic sources.


The preceding review was first published in the Westminster Theological Journal.


Reformed Controversy in Bygone Ages

Michael A. G. Haykin and Mark Jones, eds. Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.

Reviewed by Ryan M. McGraw

There is much debate in contemporary Reformed theology. Well respected authors differ over theological method, the Mosaic covenant, the relationship between justification and the order of salvation, and other issues. Historical theology potentially sheds light on how to approach these and other issues. Drawn into Controversie places seventeenth-century British Reformed theology in sharper focus by examining theological diversity among Reformed authors. Unlike many compilation volumes, every chapter in this book is gripping and profound. Several chapters deserve special attention either because of the subjects treated or because of their potential relevance to the church today. After a general survey I will consider Chapters 3, 8, 9 and 10 in detail.

Richard Muller’s introduction both summarizes his research on continuity and discontinuity in the Reformed tradition and introduces the essays in this volume. Alan Strange next argues provocatively that the Westminster Standards clearly and intentionally affirmed the imputation of Christ’s active obedience even though those Standards do not state the doctrine explicitly. Not all will agree with Strange’s findings, but his case is a well-reasoned and stimulating appeal to the primary sources. In chapter four, Crawford Gribben demonstrates the pivotal development of Puritan millenarianism from the 1640’s to the end of the century. J. V. Fesko then treats the influence of the English delegates on the Synod of Dort and the diverse lapsarian views represented at the Synod. In chapter seven, Jonathan Moore shows that English hypothetical universalism taught that Christ died for all men in one sense, but for the elect alone in another sense. It may surprise some that English hypothetical universalists subscribed to the statements on the atonement in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Rather than contradicting the confession, they added another sense in which Christ died for all men.

Mark Herzer follows in Chapter 7 by using Thomas Goodwin and Francis Turretin as representatives of two views on the nature of Adam’s promised reward in Eden. He observes that Reformed authors generally denied the concept of merit in the covenant of works while still distinguishing clearly it from the covenant of grace. In chapter eleven, Joel Beeke helpfully illustrates diverse Puritan approaches to personal assurance of salvation. He does so with remarkable clarity by reducing disagreements to six primary questions. Michael Haykin and Jeffrey Robinson conclude the book by noting debates among particular Baptists on open communion and church membership as well as whether singing uninspired hymns is lawful. Those who are unfamiliar with seventeenth-century Baptist theology may find the terms of these foreign. This is particularly true when one side of the hymnody debate argued for singing both Psalms and hymns in public worship while the other side rejected singing entirely. This chapter usefully helps round out the broad seventeenth-century theological landscape.

Four chapters deserve special notice. In Chapter 3, Hunter Powell looks at the debates at the Westminster Assembly regarding the seat of church power. He examines hitherto unrecognized disagreements (and overlap) among various shades of Presbyterians, the Dissenting Brethren, and others at the Assembly. He argues that the Dissenting brethren had an influence disproportionate to their numbers (52) and that their position on the subject of church power differed from most Independents (56). The debate on the seat of church power in October 1643 is significant because it occurred before the Scottish commissioners were seated and it limited the scope of all subsequent discussions over this matter (55). It regarded the proper interpretation of Matthew 16:19, over which there were five differing views (65-68). The Dissenting Brethren argued that Peter was simply the proton dektikon, or first designated person in the text (68). The Dissenting Brethren added that Christ bestowed distinct power on ministers and on congregations and that neither derived their authority from each other, but from Christ (69, 78). This attracted Scottish Presbyterians and distinguished them from some segments of English Presbyterianism (70). Powell adds that English Presbyterianism was unique in asserting that ministers and congregations derived power from the universal church (74). The Scottish Presbyterian, Samuel Rutherford, rejected this view by arguing that Christ bestowed power on both elders and congregations in local churches first and then to Presbyteries (78). Though none disagreed that elders should exercise the power of the keys (80), the divines were aware of the diverse views among them and they were reluctant to debate this issue head-on (81). Powell states the significance of his research well: “Thus, the month of October 1643 enables us to see the uniquely English complexities of ecclesiological debates” (83). This reviewer greatly anticipates the publication of Powell doctoral thesis on this subject.

Mark Jones’s chapter (Chapter 8) on “The ‘Old’ Covenant” is particularly relevant to modern controversies over the nature of the Mosaic covenant. He argues that there were five views among the Westminster divines regarding this covenant (188, 190). Most of the divines believed that the Mosaic covenant expanded the covenant of grace made with Abraham, but that this included a declaration of the covenant of works as a subordinate element (189-190, 200). This did not mean that Israel was under the covenant of works. Instead the covenant of works was present on Sinai declaratively rather than covenantally (200). This is virtually equivalent to the Reformed view of the first use of the law which convicts people of their need for Christ. Israel continued under the covenant of grace by virtue of the Sinai covenant, but the law simultaneously reminded them of the broken covenant of works. God designed it to drive them to Christ. Jones treats the peculiar views of Cameron, Bolton, Owen, and Petto to the effect that the Mosaic covenant was neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace, but that it included elements of both (195, 199). Out of the five views that Jones surveys, only a small minority was willing to say that the Mosaic covenant was simply a covenant of works. This provides much food for thought, both because modern views of republication usually do not approximate the majority Reformed orthodox position and because the majority historic position has largely been forgotten.

John Owen significantly appears prominently in almost every chapter of this book. This shows that scholars are beginning to recognize his importance in British Reformed orthodoxy. Carl Trueman is perhaps the greatest catalyst for the recent flowering of Owen studies. In Chapter 9, he traces Owen’s shift from arguing that the divine decree alone determined the manner of the atonement (consequent necessity) to asserting that the being of God determined the nature of the atonement (absolute necessity). His essay illuminates the complex factors that went into Reformed theological method and formulation. Trueman asserts, “Owen reveals that his change in understanding of God’s justice is paralleled by a change in his understanding of the nature of revelation” (215). He shifted from the idea that divine revelation presented the arbitrary acts of God’s will to the view that God’s will takes shape from the divine attributes. Owen’s central presupposition was the close correlation between God’s essence and his revelation (217). The way in which he related epistemology to the being of God had affinities with both Aquinas and Arminius (220-221), Aquinas being the common influence on both. Trueman concludes, “This points us once again to the complexity of the historical development of Reformed theology, a complexity that defies any attempt at explanation in terms of simplistic models and categories” (221). This chapter gives readers a glimpse at the Medieval foundation of Reformed theology and how systematic theology influenced the individual parts of an author’s thought.

Robert McKelvey’s treatment of the relation between antinomianism and eternal justification (Chapter 10) is important for historical and contemporary theology. The relationship between justification, the ordo salutis, union with Christ, and the divine decrees are important topics today. McKelvey shows that they were in the seventeenth-century as well. Eternal justification arose as an effort to protect the free and sovereign grace of God from human contributions (224). This doctrine equates the eternal decree of justification with actual justification. This debate involves the time of justification and its relation to faith (225). Richard Baxter called it, “the pillar and ground of antinomianism.” However, McKelvey argues that not all who believed in justification from eternity were antinomians (242, 251, 255, 257). Antinomians did not necessarily deny that justification sanctification were inseparable (233), but they believed that treating sanctification as evidence of justification led to a “subtle legalism reminiscent of Roman Catholicism” (230). They often stressed justification by Christ rather than justification by faith. By doing so, they virtually “obliterated” faith as an instrumental condition of justification (231). For similar reasons, later hyper-Calvinists, such as John Gill, defended “antinomians,” such as Tobias Crisp (235). The Westminster Assembly decidedly rejected the Antinomian view that God sees no sin in the justified (238). McKelvey effectively disentangles historical antinomianism from Baxter’s misleading assertion that it grew inseparably from eternal justification (262). Ideas such as being justified prior to faith (say, at the cross), calling sanctification as evidence of justification “legalism,” and opposing justification by Christ to justification by faith, all while asserting that justification and sanctification are inseparable, will sound familiar to many readers. The fact that these were antinomian positions in the seventeenth-century that mainstream Reformed orthodoxy rejected is potentially fruitful to contemporary discussions.

In one sense, theological debates in seventeenth-century British Puritanism bear similarities to those in our time. In another sense they differ widely. They are similar in that they demonstrate a range of views among those who adhere to Reformed confessions. They differ in that the substantial agreement among the Reformed is sometimes remarkable. Some modern authors hold views that approximate to those excluded by historic Reformed orthodoxy. Modern debates have often left us searching for new theological methodology as well. While our forefathers are not an infallible guide, they give us a working model for where to draw theological lines in a way that promotes precision and unity. To help both historians and pastors, I cannot recommend Drawn into Controversie highly enough.


The preceding review was first published in the Puritan Reformed Journal.