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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Friday, March 29, 2013

Mike Horton's Paradox: Justification and Sanctification "Apparently" Contradict

Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; . . . and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.  

CHAPTER XVII—Of the Perseverance of the Saints, Westminster Confession of Faith


In an article in the July issue of Christianity Today, (Let's Not Cut Christ to Pieces), Dr. Michael Horton attempts to reconcile what "appears" to be a contradiction in his own mind, namely that justification by faith alone and sanctification are contradictory to each other.  However, Horton says that this is not a genuine contradiction but only "appears" to be so:

One problem of simplistic views of sin is that they always generate simplistic views of redemption. Scripture speaks of salvation in terms of a tension between the "already" of salvation and the "not-yet" that still awaits us. Unwilling to embrace the paradox of being "simultaneously justified and sinful," we reject either justification or sanctification. However, a simplistic view of sin as acts requires as its solution nothing more than red-faced threats or smiling therapies for getting our act together.  (Michael Horton, "Let's Not Cut Christ to Pieces," Christianity Today, July 12, 2012, page 3).
Unfortunately, this is more of Van Til's theology of paradox and dialectic analogy at work.  There are presuppositions inherent in Horton's remarks, namely that the Scriptures are not univocally the fully inspired, infallible, and inerrant words of God.   The problem is that Van Tilians, like the neo-orthodox existentialists, view truth as two-fold.  The Scripture is not the literal and univocal Word of God but only an analogy of the truth from a creaturely perspective.  If that is so, according to the late Gordon H. Clark, then we can know nothing that God reveals, since the revelation is not God's words or thoughts and "at no single point" does revelation equal God's direct words, thoughts or propositions.  The Van Tilians say that the Word of God is real knowledge but not God's knowledge.  They attempt to make a mediating position between neo-orthodoxy and the Evangelical position as it was asserted in The Fundamentals and at Old Princeton seminary.

The trouble with "paradoxes" in regards to justification and sanctification is that for all practical purposes these paradoxes are real contradictions in the minds of those presupposing there are "apparent" contradictions in the Bible.  Why not just presuppose that there are no paradoxes and that the "apparent" problems in Scripture have a logical solution?  Once the line is crossed into presupposing errors, contradictions, antinomies, and "apparent" paradoxes in Scripture, the door is wide open for a further erosion of biblical truth.  The problem is not with Scripture but with the subjectivist and existentialist reading of the Scripture as two-fold truth.  Emil Brunner said that Scripture is a "picture frame" around revelation but is not itself "revelation".  For the neo-orthodox theologians logical contradictions are not a problem since they have fully accepted Immanuel Kant's presupposition that transcendant revelation from above, i.e. the Creator, is impossible.  Horton and other Van Tilians tacitly accept this philosophy inherited from Kant and from Soren Kierkegaard.  That is how Horton can embrace an "apparent" contradiction between justification by faith alone and the process of sanctification.

The concern expressed by Horton in the article above is a pastoral concern.  How can we minister the Gospel to homosexuals without causing them psychological harm?  That is a legitimate concern.  But the problem is that we cannot embrace paradox to do so.  The Scriptures are unequivocal in asserting that God's moral law is immutable.  In other words, God's justice is blind.  Whoever breaks God's law is justly condemned.  That would include straight sinners as well as gay and transgendered sinners.  The doctrine of moral and natural inability does not excuse the sinner, as Horton rightly points out.  Pastors should be careful to point out that the first use of the moral law still applies after conversion so that church members do not become proud or self-righteous (Philippians 3:9; Romans 10:1-4; Ephesians 2:8-9).

But the problem with Horton's understanding of the biblical relationship between justification and sanctification is that he thinks that sanctification is a factor in justification.  As the late Gordon H. Clark pointed out, justification by faith alone is the source of any assurance we might have from our progress in the sanctified life.  (See:  Do We Know Enough or Obey Enough?We are are justified by faith alone (Romans 1:16; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38; Hebrews 11:1), therefore let us grow in the faith and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).  Salvation is rooted in justification so we are saved.  But we are also "being saved" in that the root of the tree supports the tree, and the tree then produces fruit (Galatians 5:22-26).  (See also:  Thirty-Nine Articles, Article XII).  Justification by faith alone is the foundation for true assurance and all else is a false assurance based on self-justification.  (See:  Matthew 5:17-20, 48; Matthew 7:21-23).

Having said that, however, grace is not a license to sin (Romans 6:1-2).  If the Christian is struggling with sin, then he or she is to pray for God to grant them the grace to repent and to press on (1 John 1:8-9).  1 Peter 3:9 is not teaching Lordship Salvation or Wesleyan Entire Sanctification.  In fact, 1 John 1:8-9 flatly denies such a view.  But as we know more Scripture, we learn what God wants us to do and God gradually begins to change our thinking (Proverbs 23:7), making us more and more into his image and likeness (John 17:17; 2 Peter 3:18; 2 Peter 1:10-11).  There is hope for homosexuals precisely because God's Word can transform the thinking of anyone who is elect, no matter how far down they have fallen into the bondage of sin (Romans 12:1-2; Isaiah 1:18).  It is knowledge of Scripture that opens the door to believing that God will justify and save the worst sinners and pardon them of all their sins.  

It is God's Word that opens the door to sanctification as a progressive change in the Christian's life.  Salvation is not an existential encounter with an ambiguous, ineffable "person" we vaguely know as "Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3-4) or a Gospel that is devoid of knowledge or dogmatic teaching (Galatians 1:8-9).  The Gospel is the full teaching of all the Scriptures (Romans 1:16-17; 2:16; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21), not a false division between "preaching" and "teaching."  In fact, this is nothing more than a throw back to the liberal theology of kerygma (preaching) as the kernel of truth with the husk of extraneous and unnecessary teaching of doctrine:

 Mr. Stott says, “It is commonly accepted today that within the New Testament itself a distinction is made between the kerugma (the proclamation of the gospel) and the didaché (the instruction of converts).” True, this idea is commonly accepted today. It is one of the most important parts of the anti-Scriptural theories of the dialectical theologians. And it should be resisted by those who believe the Bible.

Gordon H. Clark (2013-03-04T05:00:00+00:00). What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 2631-2634). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.
This view goes all the way back to Schliermacher:

Of course, according to Schleiermacher, we have no knowledge of God. At most we know, or better, feel his relation to us; and this relation is this feeling. Other doctrines, supposedly Christian doctrines, can likewise be obtained by analyzing experience. By rather specious analyses Schleiermacher thought he was able to deduce the doctrine of the Trinity, the Atonement, and even the Lord’s Supper. Theology is really psychology.

There are three points that especially need to be noted in this attempt to base Christianity on experience. The first is that the derivation of the doctrines is suspect. It is worse than suspect. It is ludicrous. There is just no possible logical way of analyzing an emotion or a feeling and proving the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is found only in the Biblical revelation. No one would ever have thought of it, no one ever did think of it, apart from the Bible. True, some philosophers had three-fold sets of principles. Plato had the world of Ideas, the Demiurge, and chaotic Space. But this is not a tri-personal divine being. Plotinus had something similar. He spoke of the One, the Ideas, and the Soul. But he also had a Logos and a lower world. The whole was continuous. There is, no tri-personal supreme being. Plotinus’s One does not think and cannot know. Neo-Platonism is not at all similar to trinitarian Christianity. Schleiermacher therefore did not get the Trinity from Christian experience. One may doubt that his experience was Christian, anyway.

But there is also a second point to notice. Schleiermacher expressed a basic desire to make Christianity immune from scientific objections. Miracles are impossible. Therefore one must reject much of the Bible, if he wishes to make Christianity palatable to the modern mind. This is permissible because the Bible couches its beneficial message in the limited thought forms of a by-gone age. The precious kernel is wrapped around with worthless husks. Discard the husks and preserve the essential ideas.

But what is essential? Shortly after the death of Schleiermacher and under the influence of Hegel, the modernists concluded that the personality of God was not essential to Christianity. In fact, Schleiermacher himself was a pantheist. In philosophical writings it is quite clear that he had no sympathy for the theory of a personal God. But in his religious writings he tried to accommodate himself to the prejudice of common Christian opinion. His language therefore at times sounds semi-orthodox. But by 1850 there was quite a volume of theological writing that denied the personality of God.

Naturally also the atonement was considered unessential. After all, experience does not justify such a doctrine. It is repulsive to man’s moral sensibilities. It conflicts with moral experience. And of all things, the moral principles of the Sermon on the Mount are the essential kernel of Christianity. As Renan and others who wrote on the historical Jesus said, the real Jesus who stands behind the legends of the Gospels was a mild ethical teacher who had no theology at all.

Gordon H. Clark (2013-03-04T05:00:00+00:00). What Is The Christian Life? (Kindle Locations 2340-2363). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.
While it is admirable that Mike Horton wants to stand against antinomianism and accepting unrepentant homosexuals as communicant members of a local congregation, he does so at the expense of the Gospel, the univocal nature of Scripture as a uniform and unified revelation of God rather than an ambiguous analogy representing a two-fold view of truth.  If God's truth cannot be revealed to man univocally on the creaturely level, then revelation is impossible and we can know nothing.  Van Tilianism leads to skepticism.

Finally, in doing pastoral counseling with homosexuals there is no need to tell them they are reprobates since we cannot know that. We can only know whether or not they believe and are genuinely concerned to repent and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Horton's anecdote about a homosexual who hanged himself might be true in regards to the Lordship salvation view espoused by John MacArthur, Paul Washer and others.  That is because they view justification and sanctification as paradoxical.  In other words, they have confused the two and used the Van Tilian theology of analogy and paradox to excuse their confusion of law and Gospel, justification and sanctification.

The Christian who is struggling with sin--even same sex attraction or transgender thoughts--need not fear the legalism of the Lordship salvationists.  God's Word can justify anyone who truly believes.  And that faith will instantly begin a process of sanctification that is imperfect yet evident (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 7:1-25; 12:1-2).  God will work in those who belong to Him (Philippians 2:12-13).  He is able to complete it and will certainly do so (Philippians 1:6).  The Lordship view is really nothing more than Arminianism rehashed.  The sovereignty of God means that no one has an excuse to break God's moral law--even if they are unable to obey it!  But the Good News is that those who belong to Jesus will most certainly persevere to end, despite numerous failings along the way:

CHAPTER XVII—Of the Perseverance of the Saints

  1.      They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. (Phil. 1:6, 2 Pet. 1:10, 1 John 3:9, 1 Pet. 1:5,9)
  2.      This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; (2 Tim. 2:18–19, Jer. 31:3) upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, (Heb. 10:10, 14, Heb. 13:20–21, Heb. 9:12–15, Rom. 8:33–39, John 17:11, 24, Luke 22:32, Heb. 7:25) the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, (John 14:16–17, 1 John 2:27, 1 John 3:9) and the nature of the covenant of grace: (Jer. 32:40) from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof. (John 10:28, 2 Thess. 3:3, 1 John 2:19)
  3.      Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; (Matt. 26:70, 72, 74) and, for a time, continue therein: (Ps. 51 title, Ps. 51:1) whereby they incur God’s displeasure, (Isa. 64:5, 7, 9, 2 Sam. 11:27) and grieve His Holy Spirit, (Eph. 4:30) come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, (Ps. 51:8, 10, 12, Rev. 2:4, Cant. 5:2–4, 6) have their hearts hardened, (Isa. 63:17, Mark 6:52, Mark 16:14) and their consciences wounded; (Ps. 32:3–4, Ps. 51:8) hurt and scandalize others, (2 Sam. 12:14) and bring temporal judgments upon themselves. (Ps. 89:31–32, 1 Cor. 11:32)


The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
Grace is not a license to sin.  But those who truly believe will make some progress in living for Christ, however shaky that progress might be at first (Romans 6:1-2).  The way out of bondage to sinful lifestyles is to immerse oneself in the Word of God, trusting God to change our thinking more and more into agreement with God's Word.  When that happens, our behavior changes by the grace of God given to us beforehand.  (See Psalm 1:1-6).



ALMIGHTY Father, who has given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification; Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may alway serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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