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Barlow Responds to my Post – My Response

Mr. Barlow was kind enough to respond to my article. His response was on his comment section of his blog but I wanted to include it here for full disclosure:

Rich,

Thanks for taking the time to interact with the discussion. Sorry for the rude remarks directed your way by some here. You characterized my critique this way:

“Pastor Phillips wants to try and convict Pastor Wilkins for not being a strict subscriptionist to only ONE confessional use of the terms election and perseverance. Pastor Wilkins does not deny election or perseverance in the way that the WCF use them and wholeheartedly agrees with them BUT merely denotes that the terms are used in a broader sense.”

That’s close, but not exactly what I hoped to have said in my paper. Something more like this (rephrasing your paragraph):

“Pastor Phillips wants to convict Pastor Wilkins by questioning the sincerity of his subscription. Phillips does this by saying that Wilkins cannot simultaneously confess to believe the confession’s formulation of doctrine X and say what he does about the scriptures.”

My response was to note that the confession is theology, and thus it can say “The Doctrine of Election is _____” while not meaning to imply that every time the word “election” is used in scripture it carries all the freight of that doctrine (a doctrine derived from the full counsel of scripture). It seems to me that Phillips misses what Wilkins says when Wilkins talks about the scripture’s “broader” use of terms. Phillips argument seems much clearer to you, evidently, than it does to me because I find him stretching quite a bit to classify Wilkins’s exegetical observations as confessional deviations.

I’m not saying the substance of Phillips’s critique is over terms. I’m saying that the substance of his error lies in his approach to terms. Your summary of Phillips’s critique is illustrative of this:

First, “Neither the scriptures nor the confession admit to a doctrine of conditional election.”

Wilkins would respond ““ “You’re right, I can’t support a doctrine of conditional election from scripture, and obviously the confession does not contain it.”

Secondly, “Neither the Scriptures, nor the confession, admit to a temporary perseverance.”

Wilkins would respond “The scriptures and the confession teach that the elect will persevere. The confession, however, does not talk much about the experience of the non-elect in the covenant of grace. There is evidence about the plight of the non-elect in the scriptures and not much is said about them in the confession.”

Thirdly, “Neither the scriptures, nor the confession, admit to a temporary union with Christ”

Wilkins would respond, “It depends upon what you mean by “˜union with Christ’. In general, the confession talks about the elect and the kind of union they have which is permanent. But the scriptures use metaphors of branches being broken off, remaining in the vine, being spit out of the mouth of the Lord, etc. And so I must conclude that there is more to the situation than the confession discusses ““ perhaps the non-elect have a kind of union with Christ for a time from which they will inevitably apostatize.”

Does that help? I wish that Phillips had stated his critique in the way you summarized it. Instead, he clouded the issue by focusing on Wilkins’s approach to the word “˜election’ in individual scripture passages and trying to tie those exegetical insights to a denial of the confession’s “doctrine of election.”

Hope this helps; perhaps we still disagree over what the “substance” of Phillips’s critique was, but hopefully you can trust that my goal is not to misrepresent him; that’s why I tried so hard to be excruciatingly clear in the paper, even risking being pedantic.

My response to Mr. Barlow:

Thanks for the response. I still believe that the substance of Pastor Phillips critique is levelled against the doctrinal conclusions drawn by Pastor Wilkins from passages that teach some *benefit* but not the way that Pastor Wilkins implies. The critique is that his conclusions about an *additional* meaning lead to a contradiction of the *first* meaning.

Rev Winzer cautioned me on the PB in a very edifying way:

Friends, when did the reformed church insist that the exact terms must be found in Scripture? The idea of conditional election to temporary benefits is clearly revealed in holy writ. Our Lord has provided a parable which specifically teaches that the reprobate are partakers in the kingdom of God temporarily — the parable of the wheat and tares. At the judgement, “the Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather OUT OF HIS KINGDOM all things that offend, and them which do iniquity,” Matt. 13:41. The visible church enjoys special “privileges” bestowed by God, which the world does not receive, Westminster Larger Catechism, answer 63. To be in the visible church is to enjoy these benefits. If any are made partakers of these benefits it is because God chose them to it (temporary election).

The term “temporary election” is used in reformed theology in the same way as “common grace.” Although Scripture uses “election” and “grace” only in relation to the members of the invisible church, there is a theological analogy which makes it appropriate to apply the terms to the members of the visible church in a common way, in virtue of the fact that the visible church is the temporal manifestation of the invisible church.

Consider the words of John Owen (Works, 4:430):

Thus God chooseth some men unto some office in the church, or unto some work in the world. As this includeth a preferring them before or above others, or the using them when others are not used, we call it election; and in itself it is their fitting for and separation unto their office or work. And this temporary election is the cause and rule of the dispensation of gifts. So he chose Saul to be king over his people, and gave him thereon ‘another heart,’ or gifts fitting him for rule and government. So our Lord Jesus Christ chose and called at the first twelve to be his apostles, and gave unto them all alike miraculous gifts. His temporary choice of them was the ground of his communication of gifts unto them. By virtue hereof no saving graces were communicated unto them, for one of them never arrived unto a participation of them.

As Owen goes on to note, the term election finds specific support in connection with the choice of Judas to the apostleship, John 6:70. That this was temporary is indicated by the fact that our Lord specifically says in chap. 13:18, I speak not of you all; I know whom I have chosen.” Now if this is true of Judas, who was given an extraordinary office in the church, and equipped with miraculous gifts, it must also be true of ordinary officers and members of the church, who are given the ordinary gifts to administer and receive the Word and sacraments.

The problem with the FV formulation of the teaching is that it supposes “saving graces” are communicated by virtue of this temporal election, contrary to what John Owen teaches above. It is at this point that justified criticism can be levelled at the FV. By denying the traditional reformed teaching of temporal election in order to oppose the FV, you make yourself equally chargeable with a departure from the reformed faith.

I believe that the substance of the critique of Wilkins is in the final paragraph.

Reformed writers have, for centuries, been able to speak of the temporary benefits of Covenant participation without making the error of confusing the idea that some saving grace is imparted.

I’m left wondering, sometimes, who this really benefits if we have to talk in such fine points all the time to explain ourselves properly. I fancy myself somewhat articulate and intelligent and men like Phillips and Winzer much more than I. If, in the final analysis, a small cliche can only understand the language your using and it’s causing the Church to reject you then maybe you can just use the same language we always have if you subscribe to the same idea.

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