Archive for the ‘VanDrunen’ Category

Brian Mattson on Cultural Amnesia

July 1, 2013

Dr. Brian Mattson has posted a pdf corresponding to a lecture titled, “Cultural Amnesia: What Makes Pietism Possible?” The lecture makes an interesting comparison between Van Drunen-style two kingdoms views and those who argue that vaccinations are unnecessary.

Very few American travelers to certain African countries come down with yellow fever. So, it may seem unjust to require American travellers to get a yellow fever vaccination before entering those countries. On the other hand, the reason for the low incidence of yellow fever may be precisely because American travelers are required to get vaccinated against yellow fever before entering.

The point of the analogy is that sometimes a given state of affairs has an underlying cause. Ignoring that underlying cause can lead to drawing wrong conclusions from the state of affairs.

Van Drunen and similar folks make this error when they make the “Argument From Cultural Homogeneity” (see the pdf linked). But there is a significant objection to this argument. Mattson explains:

Look at it again: (A) “There is nothing distinctively ‘Christian” about cultural pursuits because (B) there is widespread cultural homogeneity.” But what if I argue the other way around: (B) there is widespread homogeneity precisely because (A) Christians have historically been effective in transforming cultural norms and expectations? This is precisely the conclusion VanDrunen does not want readers to draw. So it is not enough for him to simply point to the fact of cultural homogeneity. He has to account for it.

The way that VanDrunen attempts to account for this homogeneity is by reference to God’s covenant with Noah. Mattson skillfully rebuts this point:

Think about it for a moment. What is the covenant with Noah all about? At its core, it is about stability and regularity. Never again will God destroy all living creatures with a flood. God promises that “as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen. 8:22). The refrain, “never again” is repeated three times (8:21; 9:11, 15). The sign of the rainbow will be an enduring sign of an “everlasting covenant” between God and all living creatures. In other words, the commitments God makes in this covenant are inalterable. God’s promises simply cannot fail. God commits to never destroy the earth by a flood? Sure enough, he has made good on this promise. God commits to uphold the regularity and uniformity of nature? Sure enough, God has made good on this promise. The sun still rises and winter still follows autumn. Now let us ask: what if God promised that there will be widespread homogeneity of cultural norms and expectations among the human race? Given God’s nature and the nature of the Noahic covenant, then there has been, in fact, widespread cultural homogeneity since the time of Noah!

Few suggestions can be more historically ignorant and empirically false. To state the blindingly obvious: the history of the human race is not a history of cultural homogeneity.

There’s plenty more in the pdf linked above. It does remind me a little of Frame’s comment in “The Escondido Theology”: “Indeed, God’s covenant with Noah is religious through and through, even on the narrowest definitions of “religion.” … God’s covenant with Noah is an administration of God’s redemptive grace, religious through and through, just as those with Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ.” (p. 137) This stands in contrast to VanDrunen’s assertion (quoted by by Frame on p. 136):

Furthermore, Genesis 9 makes it evident that the covenant of common grace regulates temporal, cultural affairs rather than more narrowly religious affairs pertaining to salvation from sin. (pp. 27-28)

(as quoted by Frame)

One of the problems of VanDrunen’s view on the two kingdoms is that it suffers from the same kind of ontological problem as atheistic morality. Atheists refuse to acknowledge that their standards of morality are borrowed property. The VanDrunen-style two kingdoms view makes the same kind of mistake, to a lesser degree, in terms of committing the cultural amnesia Mattson describes.


Van Drunen Two Kingdoms Rebutted by Brian Mattson

June 27, 2013

Dr. Brian Mattson has a post in which he distinguishes between Horton’s views on the two kingdoms and Van Drunen’s views on the two kingdoms (link to post). Dr. Mattson’s post should help to explain part of the problem with engaging the topic — there are a variety of “two kingdoms” views even amongst folks like Van Drunen and Horton, each of whom would reject the position of Calvin and the Westminster divines.

Spealing of Calvin, Dr. Mattson also has a post in which he explains the problem with folks like Van Drunen trying to associate Calvin with their position (link to post). Mattson makes an excellent observation about the preface to Calvin’s great Institutes of the Christian Religion:

Before Calvin ever gets to writing the book, he begins with something called a “Prefatory Address to King Francis I of France.” It seems fairly strange that a man who believes Christian doctrine to be irrelevant to the “civil” realm would dedicate his work on Christian doctrine to the head of the civil realm. But Calvin is more specific. He writes: “For the Most Mighty and Illustrious Monarch, Francis, Most Christian King of the French, His Sovereign, John Calvin Craves Peace and Salvation in Christ.” So… Francis is a “Christian” monarch. This way of speaking is anathema to modern Two Kingdoms advocates.

When offering his defense to Francis, he writes: “Worthy indeed is this matter of your hearing, worthy of your cognizance, worthy of your royal throne! Indeed, this consideration makes a true king: to recognize himself a minister of God in governing his kingdom. Now, that king who in ruling over his realm does not serve God’s glory exercises not kingly rule but brigandage.”

There is more in Dr. Mattson’s post – I encourage you to check it out.


Which of the Two Kingdoms Does Westminster Seminary, California, Belong To?

April 10, 2012

That’s a question that was, in effect, posed to David VanDrunen and discussed by Steven Wedgeworth (here).  VanDrunen ultimately came to saying “it doesn’t mean that we can always put every single activity and every single plot of ground here in one kingdom bucket or another. Sometimes it’s more complex than that.”  What VanDrunen does not seem to recognize is that the complexity may be on the other foot.  In other words, it may be only the occasional thing that clearly is in one bucket or the other.  Everyone needs to eat to live, so it might appear to be a “common” activity but we are taught that one ought to give thanks to God for our daily bread.  Likewise, prayer may seem like a “spiritual” activity, but it involves language skills that are “common.” Moreover, aside from a handful of atheists, everyone prays.  Some pray to the true and living God, others pray to a god or goddess of their imagination (Roman practices come to mind).  In short, VanDrunen’s complexity problem is not limited to independent seminaries, but is far more extensive.  Indeed, the more extensive it is, the more it appears that the real problem is an ill-formed set.

Tom Brown’s Response to David VanDrunen on Change and Rome

October 25, 2011

Rome’s Teaching Has Obviously Changed

Dr. VanDrunen recently made the unremarkable assertion:

For many years, the Roman Catholic Church taught that people could enjoy eternal life and escape everlasting damnation only by being received into its membership.  In recent generations, that teaching has changed.  Rome now embraces a very inclusive view that extends the hope of salvation to people of many different religions or even no religion at all, provided they sincerely follow the truth and goodness that they know in their own experience.

This is one of those statements that is obviously true.  The point of the statement is that there has been a massive paradigm shift in Rome’s external relations.  Mr. Tom Brown, of the Roman communion blog, “Called to Communion,” was bothered by this statement.  What bothered Tom Brown, though, was not the obvious paradigm shift, but Dr. VanDrunen’s statement characterizing Rome’s teaching as having “changed.”

“Change” in “Teaching” = Sky is Falling

You see, one of the things that some recent “converts” to Rome like to imagine is that Rome gives them certainty.  You can’t very well have certainty if Rome changes its teachings from time to time.  So, comments like VanDrunen’s are very much a fly in the ointment.

Salvation Outside the Church is compatible with No Salvation Outside the Church?

Tom Brown has a long row to hoe in order to persuade the reader that Rome’s teaching hasn’t changed.  Dr. VanDrunen naturally cited the Council of Florence (1438), and that council states the matter fairly explicitly (bold added by me):

It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

(Cantate Domino (1441))

Vatican II on the other hand wrote:

For they who without their own fault do not know of the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with sincere heart, and try, under the influence of grace, to carry out His will in practice, known to them through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation.

 (Lumen Gentium, II, 16)

It seems that the only ways this contradiction could be clearer is if Vatican II had explicitly said “Cantate Domino was wrong,” yet Mr. Brown tries to argue that the two positions are consistent.

But Mr. Brown’s argument amounts to just asserting that Vatican II is consistent with a thread of historical dogma going back to Justin Martyr.  Whether or not this is the case, it hardly makes the positions of Florence and Vatican II any less contradictory.  Indeed, had Florence itself taught both positions, Florence would have been internally inconsistent.

Mr. Brown needs to demonstrate how someone being saved while not living and remaining within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church is consistent with Florence.  His appeal to Pius IX (identified for him by VanDrunen) is not compelling.  Pius IX states (the bold, added by me, is the part that Mr. Brown quotes, whilst the normal print is the context he does not include):

7. Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching. There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.
8. Also well known is the Catholic teaching that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, to whom “the custody of the vineyard has been committed by the Savior.”[4] The words of Christ are clear enough: “If he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you a Gentile and a tax collector;”[5] “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me;”[6] “He who does not believe will be condemned;”[7] “He who does not believe is already condemned;”[8] “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”[9] The Apostle Paul says that such persons are “perverted and self-condemned;”[10] the Prince of the Apostles calls them “false teachers . . . who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master. . . bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”[11]

(Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, 7-8 (1863))

Tom Brown describes the bold part of that statement as “Here Blessed Pope Pius IX simply and skillfully articulates these two Catholic beliefs … .”  Perhaps the statement is simple and skillful, but it does not resolve the conflict between Florence and Vatican II.

It is interesting to note how Pius IX suddenly finds Scripture to be perspicuous when it comes to the authority of the church and the result of rejecting that authority.  Nevertheless, Pius IX has staked out a position different from that of Florence.  Florence enunciates a position that being within the fold of the church is necessary.  Pius IX suggests that rejecting church authority is lethal.  However, Pius IX finds room for people who don’t embrace unity with the church.

While Tom Brown’s line of argument that argues that there is a long history of teachings that there can be salvation outside the church is not a meaningful answer to the problem of the conflict between Florence and Vatican II, he does pose an interesting comment:

As explained by St. Augustine and maintained through to the present by the Catholic Church, unbaptized martyrs who shed their blood for the sake of Christ are saved nonetheless, receiving the fruits of Baptism.  Baptism of blood is an extraordinary method of fulfilling the soteriological prerequisite of being ‘inside the Church’ when Baptism is impossible.

 Mr. Brown, however, does not explain how this alleged teaching of Augustine is consistent with “no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”  That reference to shedding blood for the name of Christ appears on its face to be a reference to undergoing martyrdom.

Does Mr. Brown resolve this further apparent conflict that he has introduced?  No, he does not.  Instead he jumps on to the issue of baptism of desire.  Of course, baptism of desire (whether or not it conflicts with Florence – and it certainly appears to) is not what Vatican II is talking about.  In Vatican II, the person does not know about the church.

Mr. Brown raises the point that Trent endorsed baptism by desire.  He quotes Trent as saying (bold added by me):

This translation [from the state of birth to the state of Grace] however cannot, since promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the washing of regeneration or its desire, as it is written: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

 (See, Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 4)

False Accusation of Ambiguity

Mr. Brown argues as follows:

For VanDrunen, Catholic doctrine “has indeed changed,” and he believes this change refutes modern Catholic appeals to the “unchanging character” of the Catholic Church.  The fallacy of his logic is in his amphibolous use of the term ‘change.’  By using the term ‘change’ ambiguously, VanDrunen leads the reader to the false conclusion that the Catholic Church has contradicted herself. 

Mr. Brown has not established that there is harmony between Florence and Vatican II.  The former says that there is no salvation outside the church, the latter says there is.  Moreover, Mr. Brown has not established that VanDrunen has used the term “change” in an ambiguous way.  So, Mr. Brown has not harmonized the councils, nor has he shown any error in VanDrunen’s account.

Development Hypothesis

Mr. Brown sets forth a sort of development hypothesis on this point:

However, by distinguishing between change as organic development and change as contradicting what was previously held, the conclusion that the Catholic Church has contradicted herself no longer follows.  In other words, if Catholic doctrine has changed by developing, this change does not lead to the conclusion that the Vatican II teaching (regarding the possibility of salvation for those not in full communion with the Church) contradicts what was previously held.

The problem is that Vatican II does contradict Florence.  It is not merely a problem that Rome’s doctrine has changed (which it certainly has) but that it is has changed from “no salvation outside the church” to “salvation outside the church.”

Mr. Brown continues:

This notion that Christian doctrines have developed should be no surprise.  Major theological and religious doctrines have developed, such as the Trinity, the nature and canon of Sacred Scripture, or the two natures of Christ. 

The canon of Scripture is not a doctrine per se, though Rome has made acceptance of a particular erroneous canon a matter of faith.  The canon changed because God inspired more books.  There have been different periods of recognition of the canon, but that issue of canon recognition is not a doctrinal development.

The discussion of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ has greatly increased over the years, but the doctrines themselves have not changed.  The Scriptures themselves teach the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. 

Mr. Brown continues:

While Reformed believers implicitly accept the notion of doctrinal development in those instances, they reject modern developments out of hand.  But this acceptance of primitive developments while rejecting modern developments is ad hoc.  There is no principled reason to accept development of Trinitarian doctrine while simultaneously denying the possibility of development on extra Ecclesiam after centuries of careful study and reflection.

Up front, Mr. Brown is wrong.  We don’t explicitly or implicitly accept the idea that there has been “doctrinal development” in the sense that we now hold to things that our forefathers in the faith didn’t.  We may use technical terms we didn’t before (like the term “trinity”) but the doctrines are the same.

Moreover, there’s a severe non-analogy between the doctrine of the Trinity developing a technical vocabulary and Rome’s position changing from “no salvation outside the church” to “some salvation outside the church.”  There’s simply no reasonable comparison between the two.

We don’t agree with Nicaea, for example, because Nicaea said it, just as we don’t disagree with Ariminum  because they said it.  Instead, we agree with the former and not the latter because the former teaches what Scripture teaches.  The Word of God is our ultimate standard, not the traditions of men.  

A Strange Conclusion

Mr. Brown concludes with: “The authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church are not contradictory on this matter, but carefully elucidate Sacred Scripture and our understanding of God’s mercy and justice.” Carefully elucidate?  Scripture is briefly cited in a few of Mr. Brown’s quotations, but hardly elucidated.  What Scripture does the error of invincible ignorance “elucidate”?  One couldn’t know either from the documents themselves or from Mr. Brown’s paper.

In short, Mr. Brown’s conclusion, like most of the rest of his paper, should be rejected.  Dr. VanDrunen was right to point out the paradigm shift between Florence and Vatican II, and Dr. VanDrunen is right to describe that as a “change” in teaching, even though Vatican II lacks the same authority as Florence (since there were no dogmatic definitions in Vatican II).

It is surprising, indeed, that Mr. Brown did not attempt to evade the problem of change by simply appealing to the fact that Vatican II does not claim to be an infallible document.  Instead, Mr. Brown falsely charged Dr. VanDrunen with fallacy and ambiguity, when Dr. VanDrunen simply provided an accurate historical assessment.


UPDATE: It seems there is no intuitive way to find Dr. VanDrunen’s original article.  Here is a link that Steve Hays provided recently on Triablogue (link).

Guest Post: The Civil Law Keeps Kloosterman Safe at Night

August 25, 2010

The following is a guest post from an anonymous Reformed author. I’ve made some minor edits, so the author can receive all the credit for anything good you find in the article, while I ought to take the blame for the bad (at least in terms of style, formatting, and the like).

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 6:5

In responding to Professor Kloosterman’s review of VanDrunen’s monograph, “A Biblical Case for Natural Law”, Dr. VanDrunen presents the following colorful scenario, intended to buttress his case for natural law at work in unbelieving mankind:

Presumably when Kloosterman pulls out of his driveway on the way to work every day, his non-Christian neighbors do not lean out their windows and try to shoot him and then, after he has made his narrow escape, rush to his home to assault his family and loot his goods. Most non-Christians, most of the time, pursue law-abiding lives.

There is something in addition to natural law significantly at work in this example. Moreover, even with this other “something” at work, the conclusion that “most non-Christians, most of the time, pursue law-abiding lives” is unwarranted in view of Scripture (as Kloosterman has shown), and the empirical evidence of common experience.

That which restrains lawlessness and (sometimes) prevents the neighbor-with-shotgun scenario in society is civil law. This restraint operates in two channels: teaching and deterrence. All law is didactic. Laws on the law books declare right and wrong, good and evil. When abortion is prohibited, this teaches citizens that abortion is wrong; when abortion is permitted, this teaches that abortion is right. As Kloosterman says, there is a “a certain regard for righteousness, justice, and love” at work among unbelievers.

A second element that restrains lawlessness is the law’s deterrent effect. Calvin noted that the civil use of the law of God is useful to restrain evil in society:

The second function of the law is this: at least by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law. But they are restrained, not because their inner mind is stirred or affected, but because, being bridled, so to speak, they keep their hands from outward activity, and hold inside the depravity that otherwise they would wantonly have indulged.

(Institutes 2.7.10)

One of the main reasons that Western societies have not devolved into chaotic, anarchistic societies like that at the time of Noah, is their foundation on biblical law. For all we know, our neighbors by nature may be inclined to injure us and our families and rob our homes, but may be restrained by

  1. the witness (didactic teaching) of the civil law of the land that prohibits these things; and
  2. the bridle laid upon them—the dread of punishment for these unjust, evil acts.

Law is not only didactic; it is also deterrent. To the extent that unbelievers appear to abide by the law of God, do they do so 1) because of natural law; or 2) because of the blessing of biblical law enshrined in civil statutes and the deterrent effect of known punishment? The latter (2) is the more likely explanation.

While these two elements form the other “something” at work that prevents chaos and has preserved our society, nevertheless do most non-Christians, most of the time, pursue law-abiding lives? This is far from established. In fact we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to lawlessness, not obedience. Consider the following examples:

  1. The need for deterrence and security: Because of theft and violence, security cameras are ubiquitous in our cities. Armored vehicles protect those who move cash around; armed guards protect jewelry stores in suburban malls. Retail stores and businesses of every kind invest thousands of dollars in anti-theft devices. Even library books carry security tags. Plagiarism thrives among students prompting the sale and use of anti-plagiarism computer programs. If the majority of folk are law-abiding citizens, wouldn’t these measures be vastly redundant and indeed a waste of resources?
  2. The fact of abounding lawlessness: The internet is a danger zone for young and old, as unsuspecting people are ensnared into dangerous and sinful behavior, or become victims of deception and seduction. Unjust divorce, same-sex marriage, and unmarried sexual behavior are no longer rarities, but in fact are common. Headlines scream about heinous, unthinkable murders. Less publicized are suicides. And rarely acknowledged by our polite society are the 43 million abortions which have taken place since 1973 when the US enacted abortion legislation more permissive than that of the Soviet Union.
  3. And what of evil on a global scale? Time would fail me to tell of dictators like Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Castro, Stalin, Mao and Hitler–who through lawlessness slaughtered Christians, enslaved their citizens, brainwashed their people, and starved millions mercilessly to empower themselves. Other, more “civilized” societies engaged in unjust warfare, killing civilians and bombing nonmilitary targets. These all live by lawlessness, natural law failing to restrain their evil tendencies.

Hannah Arendt has rightly pointed out the banality of evil: the absence of reflection and judgment about one’s actions can ultimately lead to horrendous crime. Much evil can be done by the non-thinking, uncritical functionary or the neighbor next door. One’s conscience can be seared, and just as dangerously, can be ignored. Man’s knowledge of right and wrong as well as his will to do right have been profoundly affected by the Fall.

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