Old Doxoblogy

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Practical Lesson In Eisegesis And Context

Well, I admit it, I made a mistake, and I'm probably making one right now by writing this.
Mistake #1. I stopped in at the BHT today and the latest post was by Michael Spencer. It went something like this.

I am conducting a test on the minds of my critics. I am confessing it right now so if it comes up later, I can honestly say I admitted it. There. I did.

Definition of salvation that appeared today on a TR blog:

"It is faith alone in the gospel truth, and we need to show our faith by our works. Fruit needs to be evident in the believers life."

If you keep repeating "Faith alone = faith + evidential works" long enough, I guess it starts to make sense. Did Bill Clinton ever say "I guess it all depends on what alone means?"

And by the way...I'm pomo.

I tried 'googling' the quote that he put up, but couldn't find the source. But I think I can defend the quote very easily just by saying that Spencer's abbreviated form of the quote: Faith alone = faith + evidential works, is not accurate. In fact, it takes the quote and turns it upside down, jumbles it up, then puts it in a blender, and finally strains all truth out of it and comes up with the equation, Faith alone = faith + evidential works, which does not exist in the original quote.

No right minded TR would disagree with the imonk that that equation is erroneous. We are not saved by faith plus works. But to say that faith in Gospel truth will not result in evidential works is also erroneous. The writer of the quote (probably the same person who wrote Hebrews) avoids both errors and says faith in the gospel truth saves, and that the faith that saves also produces evidential works. Then adds an axiom of Christianity, Fruit needs to be evident in the believers life.

Mistake #2. I put myself as a guinea pig in imonk's experiment. I admit it. But, I just don't see the problem with the quote. And we here at TR Doxoblogy would also like a reference to look at. Just throwing up quotes out of context is about as profitable as actually reading the BHT.


Steve Weaver said...

oooh! You're going to get Rule 40'd for this! oops! too late!

Joe said...

Throwing up quotes sounds sick.

J. Wendell said...

What's the TR therefore?

Jeremy Weaver said...

TR means Truly Reformed. The imonk calls people who disagree with him TR. He thinks it's a bad name. I kind of like it!

Michael Spencer said...

Sorry...that wasn't the experiment. But thanks for playing.

There are any number of contemporary reformed writers who bluntly state faith=obedience or salvation = faith + necessary obedience, and have repeatedly resisted correction.

Read Luther and see what he says on salvation = faith+ necessary evidential works.

Living faith is evidenced by works. But salvation is in no way created or spiritually assured by my works, evidential or otherwise, but by the merit of Christ.

There is a definition of TR at the BHT. The name originally refered to "Psalms" only reformed types. I use to refer to a group of bloggers who have taken it upon themselves to enforce their version of independent fundamentalist dispensational orthodoxy on the blogosphere.

Jeremy Weaver said...

One place I didn't check for the quote was Doug Wilson's blog. But given the definition of TR you have just given it couldn't be him.
Could you clue me in on the source?

Sorry, I just assumed that this was the experiment since it was all part of the same post. Thanks for clarifying.

Joel Beeke in a paper titled Justification By Faith Alone quotes Luther as saying,
"We are justified, not by faith furnished with charity, but by faith only and alone."
"Works are not taken into consideration when the question respects justification. But true faith will no more fail to produce them, than the sun can cease to give light."

I am neither independent nor dispensational. Can I still be truly reformed? I do like singing the Psalms. What could be better to sing back to God than songs that He has inpired to be sung to Himself?

You said,
But salvation is in no way created or spiritually assured by my works, evidential or otherwise, but by the merit of Christ.
Are you saying that the fruit of faith (good works) is not to be considered in the question of examining ourselves? 'Cause I would strongly disagree.

Finally, who are the modern reformed writers that affirm what you have said?

Michael Spencer said...

the quote was from a comment thread at PJs.

if I use an example of who says faith=obedience, I won't hear the end of it. Famous, living people.

I think the "examine yourself" command is one of the real abused verses of scripture. Assurance is a work of the Holy Spirit. John says that the love of God is greater than our conscience. I think examining ourselves to see if we are in Christ means exactly that. Fruit is always part of living faith, but it is always imperfect and incomplete, and thus not a good source of assurance. Reformed churches have always been full of people questioning their salvation. It's one of the uglier aspects of the reformed faith.

Let's examine ourselves in the light of his glorious grace at the cross and in the gift of his perfect righteousness and rejoice in that assurance.

Luther said we are saved by faith alone but not by faith that is alone. Perfect.

You are only TR because you consistently high five fide-o :-) Just kidding.

Jeremy Weaver said...

Reformed churches have always been full of people questioning their salvation. It's one of the uglier aspects of the reformed faith.
I would like to disagree with you further but it's going to be off topic so I won't. And for that I'm sorry that I actually brought it up, but I was curious how far our disagreement would go.

coconutsteve said...

As I understand salvation from the Reformed (Biblical) perspective, I understand it this way. Here is a diagram presented by the late Dr. John Gerstner:

Roman Catholic: Grace + Faith + Works = Justification

Reformed View: Grace + Faith = Justification & Works

Anti-Nomien View: Grace = Faith - Works = Justification

I remember Dr.Gertsner saying that works contain no merits at all but they BETTER BE THERE!

Michael Spencer said...

It seems to me that you have to find a way to not say "For assurance of salvation, look to your own works."

That, I believe, is the path to despair because all our works- as WCF says- are imperfect, incomplete and tainted with sin.

Jeremy Weaver said...

Hey Steve!
How's it going? I was just thinking about you the other day while reading Volume 1 of Gerstner's early works. Like you, I think Gerstner got it right.

Since the thread seems to be headed this direction I'll just follow along.
WCF Chapter 16 Paragraph 2;
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 end unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

Paragraph three first line;
Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ.

Assurance of salvation comes from God alone. Part of our assurance that is given is our good works. They are not the totality of assurance, but they arepresent in respect, to give us assurance. The Apostle John repeatedly tells us that we can know we know Him by whther or not we keep His commandments, love the brethren, etc.
So I think it would be folly to say, "Don't look to your works or manner of living for assurance." I wouldn't say, "Look only to your works for assurance", however. Here is where I think we are getting into semantics.
You seem to be saying, "Don't look to your works at all for assurance."
That seems to be more dangerous than despair. Better to despair and gain your soul than to coast into hell with false assurance.

In an earlier comment you said,
"Reformed churches have always been full of people questioning their salvation. It's one of the uglier aspects of the reformed faith."
I grew up in a non-reformed enviroment. This was an enviroment that emphasized the internal witness of the Spirit for assurance of salvation over all other evidences. The result of this was a subjective feeling of 'savedness'. The problem that was encountered there was churches full of people not only questioning their salvation, but people making a new profession of faith every time they didn't 'feel saved'. While I do not reject the idea of a subjective witness of the Spirit, I find that it is better to look upon hard evidences. By hard evidences I mean Christ's work, the Scriptures, and works. Obviously Christ's work is the most objective and most reliable. From birth to the ascension He did all the work for us. But this leads to the question "Am I trusting in Christ?" This question drives us to Scripture where we find out what biblical faith is. Then Scripture points out evidences (good works, or fruit) of salvation. So to say that...salvation is in no way...assured by my works, evidential or otherwise...is erroneous.

Michael Spencer said...

"I thank thee Lord, that I am not as other men..."

That kind of assurance from works? :-)

It's really hard for me to see how the Good News tells us to look to works for assurance. We do works for a number of Biblical reasons: God's glory, others' good, our joy, etc. But I can't imagine a single thing I have ever done that I would point to someone else and say "Look at that and you'll know that I am a Christian."

Vitally connected to the Gospel- yes. Vitally connected to assurance? That seems Phariseeism to me.

Peace, MS