Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A Response to Richard Lucas' comments on my Reformed vs. Calvinist "Vision" article

Note:  A reader named Richard Lucas took exception to my brief assessment of the book Kingdom through Covenant in last week's Vision article.  I tried to add the following response to the comments, but it exceeded the allotted word count, so I am posting it as an article instead.  To read the original article and the Lucas' comments, go here.
Thanks for your comment and sorry to be so long in responding to it.  This article was the pastoral column that I wrote for last week's edition of my church's e-newsletter, The Vision.  I typically post my pastoral article to my blog each Thursday.  It so happened that one of my friends at the  Confessing Baptist website then posted a link to the article on their site and the views went up into the hundreds.
From your comments it seems I hit a nerve with my brief and less than enthusiastic assessment of Kingdom through Covenant (Crossway, 2012), especially my description of it as an attempt "to meld dispensationalism with Calvinism [let me clarify that by Calvinism I meant a full blown Calvinistic and, thereby, convenantal theology]."
Let me assure you that I do, in fact, own a copy of Kingdom through Covenant (and the picture above proves it [!]; believe it or not, I found it among the used books at the local Salvation Army--so I bought it for about a dollar, great deal!).
Let me also add that I have published over 25 book reviews in peer-reviewed academic journals (like Interpretation, Perspectives in Religious StudiesPuritan Reformed Journal, Faith & Mission, and American Theological Inquiry), not to mention at least as many reviews in Reformed Baptist Trumpet, the e-journal of the RBF-VA, which I edit.  In formal published reviews I have closely read each book, often more than once.  I have not (as yet) written a thorough review of Kingdom Through Covenant and may or may not ever get around to it, particularly since several folk have already ably done so, and I do not see the need for another.
I don't know if you're familiar with Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren's classic work How to Read a Book (Touchstone, 1940), but I would commend it.  Within that book, the authors describe three levels of reading:  (1) elementary; (2) inspectional; and (3) analytical.  All the books for which I have published a review have been read at the third and deepest level.  I admit that my reading of KTC was more on the second level, but then again my purpose was not to offer an in-depth review.  Adler & Van Doren describe inspectional reading as "the art of getting the most out of a book in a limited time" (p. 38).  When it comes to reading speed, they add:  "One point is really very simple.  Many books are hardly worth even skimming; some should be read quickly; and few should be read at a rate, usually quite slow, that allows for complete comprehension" (p. 39).
My brief reference to KTC in the article was not, of course, meant to serve as an exhaustive review.  I do not believe, however, that my brief assessment of the book was inaccurate and find it curious that this brief reference hit such a nerve with you.  As Max pointed out in the comments, my assessment was essentially the same as that of Thomas Schreiner's (i.e., "Gentry and Wellum offer a third way, a via media, between covenant theology and dispensationalism...") which the publishers chose to print on the introductory page of the book.
Beyond this, I do not understand how one might have read the book's concluding chapter 17 "Some Theological Implications" (pp. 653-716) and not conclude that the authors hoped to bridge dispensational and covenant theology by making use of aspects of each.  Let me offer just one brief excerpt from the discussion of the KTC view of ecclesiology:
"Given that we are presenting our view of the covenants as a via media, it is not surprising that we agree and disagree with both views [dispensationalism and covenant theology] at various points.  For example, in agreement with progressive dispensationalism and covenant theology we believe there is only one people of God (the elect) through the ages and one plan of redemption centred (sic) in Christ.  However, in contrast to covenant theology, we believe that the church is different from Israel in at least two ways...." (p. 684). 
You state that you don't like my use of the verb "meld" to describe this, but when I consulted an online dictionary it gave the following definition of "meld":  blend, merge, combine, fuse, mesh, alloy.  Isn't "meld" an appropriate description of the KTC method?
Let me also offer a little more background.  I have been following the "New Covenant theology" movement over the last few years including closely reading Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel's New Covenant Theology and Richard Barcellos' response In Defense of the Decalogue.  Even an inspectional reading of KTC convinced me that it was related to New Covenant Theology, as did endorsements by other NCT theologians and past Bunyan Conference speakers like T. Schreiner and M. Haykin.
So, all that said, thanks again for your comments and suggestions to improve my article in reference to KTC, but I stand by it and do not feel any need to alter it.
Respectfully, JTR


Mad Jack said...

You tell him, Jeff.

You know, I ploughed through both articles and don't understand a thing. I'm a Christian believer. I go to Church services on Sunday where I sing, pray and try me best to stay awake during the sermon. I wonder if I'm reformed, unreformed or something else, and if it matters.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


The hope was not to stir up confusion but to add some clarity. The best laid plans.... The main point was to distinguish between being Calvinistic (holding to the five points of Calvinism) versus being Reformed, pointing to five areas of difference:

1. non-confessional vs. confessional
2. "New Covenant" vs. covenantal
3. continuationist vs. cessationist
4. normative principle of worship vs. regulative principle of worship
5. non-sabbatarian vs. sabbatarian

The follow up article was more to respond to Lucas' more specific complaint that my brief reference to KTC misrepresented its thesis.

Though I think it does matter, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it if you don't get all the nuances.


AJ said...

Pastor Jeff,

I "bit my tongue" and resisted to the temptation to respond to Mr. Lucas' comments. With your response here, I'm thankful I did.

The title "reformed" is a label that represents a fully-orbed and robust system of theology (Covenant Theology). Your post was a thoughtful explanation of a just a few of those characteristics that distinguish those who are convinced of this theological position. New Calvinism however, is a movement, towards certain aspects of RT (CT), but certainly not a complete system of theology. It is actually very ecumenical when it comes to dogma. The conferences and their respective speakers represent a spectrum of theological positions and suggest the willingness to allow more liberality on theological issues as long as we are "together on the gospel".

It is amusing that many in the movement want to wear the "reformed" label but they don't want the full theology or the subsequent implications. In a manner not far removed from post-modernism, they seek to redefine "Reformed" in such a way that they can proudly wear the badge and scream "Not fair!" whenever they are measured against the true definition and come up short. It's really more likened unto a "Picadilly" theology.

One of the overarching difficulties that arise from this, as you eluded to in your previous post, is when a conscientious individual is searching for a Reformed congregation. Unless one keeps up with all the re-defining and has the discernment to recognize the deviations, you never what you might get with a "Reformed" church today. It's almost as bad a the SBC! (Of course that shouldn't be surprising when you consider one of the prominent leaders of this movement and his justification for the ecumenical "2000 Baptist Faith and Message".)

Unfortunately on this side of glory, we aren't going to get our theology perfect, but for the sake of integrity, stop trying to wear clothes that don't fit - you'll either split your britches or lose your pants, but either way, you'll be exposed.

On a much lighter note, a salute to the gruff look of the winter beard you're sporting!

Richard Lucas said...

[I wrote this on the original post...I thought it appropriate to reproduce it here]

Mr. Riddle, I did not see your other response [this one] until some time later when someone else pointed me to it, because it was not linked on this particular post (at least not initially). I subscribed to follow up comments for a few days, but then turned that off.

Mr. Barcellos is right, it is better to assume the best, including that you had read the book before commenting on it.

I apologize for assuming/accusing you of not reading the work, please forgive me. Those statements were bound up with the rhetoric of my reply, but it is still not right. This is but another reminder to be slow to speak (or type).

It seems as though at the heart of our disagreement was that we were operating with different definitions of the term "calvinism." Again, I should have asked for clarification before going on the offensive.

I don't have anything further to add to this dispute. I still stand by the substance of what I wrote, but I would certainly want to change the tone.

Mr. Barcellos, thank you for the subtle admonishment. Reading your comment just now prompted me to write this reply.

I will eagerly anticipate the upcoming review you mentioned.