Perspectives on Union with Christ

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by Ben Chomp, Apr 14, 2019.

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  1. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    In pondering the relationship between regeneration and justification, I wonder if they are perspectivaly related. Think about the broader concept of union with Christ.

    Union with Christ from a normative perspective is justification. When a person is united to Christ, Christ's righteousness is imputed to them and they are seen as righteous from the perspective of their legal status before God.

    Union with Christ from a situational perspective is effectual calling. It is God's effectual calling which unites a person to Christ and enables them to believe.

    Union with Christ from an existential perspective is regeneration. When a person is united to Christ they experience a softening of the heart, faith, repentance, and a desire for God. They feel with new feelings and think with new thoughts.

    Rome has wanted to unite the concepts of regeneration and justification. They call justification an infusion of righteousness and so collapse regeneration (and sanctification) into justification. I think Rome's error is a failure to see that these two items are distinct. They are correct in that we should not separate regeneration from justification in the individual because a person is both regenerated and justified when they are converted. But they are incorrect in their inability to properly distinguish the two. I think relating them perspectivaly in this way is helpful. Your thoughts?
  2. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I don't think that you'll get too many takers on a Frameian/triperspectival analysis of union and justification, especially considering his own troubled history in the Shepherd controversy. If you want to properly distinguish the Roman from the Reformed (biblical) perspective, then it's safer to stick to those whose insight and orthodoxy have stood the test of time like Turretin or Calvin.
  3. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Yes I gather that Frame is unpopular on these forums. But rather than dismiss the ideas in the OP because of some controversies that Frame was involved in, what do you think of the OP?
  4. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    And, for what it's worth, I'm not sure that Frame would agree with my use of TP here. I am borrowing from him in regards to the use of TP, but I take responsibility for the thoughts in the OP.
  5. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Since you ask, personally, I don't find triperspectivalism useful and, indeed, believe it tends to relativism (I know that Frame disputes this allegation). Your final paragraph is certainly accurate but I don't see how couching the analysis in triperspective terms clarifies matters. My experience with TP is that in its best case it makes orthodoxy sound more complicated and unwieldy than necessary and in its worst case it disguises heterodoxy. And given that you admit that you are not sure that Frame would agree with your use of it here, how useful is a tool that one cannot even be certain how to apply?

    Your aim seems to be to engage in some sort of polemics with Rome, and yet given that they would not grant the validity of the hermeneutic you use (indeed, nor would most Reformed theologians), how far can you get? If you really want to parse central points of a half millennium dispute between Rome and Geneva, I don't believe that resorting to an idiosyncratic late twentieth century thought experiment with, to my knowledge, a mere pair of academic proponents at the border of Reformed orthodoxy is a fruitful use of your time.

    I don't mean to come off harsh or discouraging, but there is many lifetimes' worth of wealth in our theological heritage and I think that there are richer veins to mine. The Vos commentary you reference in your other thread is an example of one.
  6. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    I don't have a particular aim. I just thought it was a fun topic to think about on the Lord's Day.
  7. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Fun, on the Lord's Day? ;)
  8. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Ahem. Excuse me. I meant I thought it would be a serious topic to think about on the Lord's Day.
  9. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Do folks who dislike Frame have a similar distaste for Poythress?
  10. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    However we choose to talk and think through these (or other) matters, let us take great care to make settled statements in the well-crafted language of our creeds and confessions and catechism--our standards. By aiming (in the long run) at conformable terms, our thoughts are disciplined in a sense to a pattern, and decline from various unhelpful notions more fit for alternative terminology.

    Conversion--is explained as having or expressed by two elements, repentance and faith (the priority of those two is another endless discussion). Conversion is transformation, it is turning about, it is a new and better estate.

    Regeneration--new life in Christ; usually we say that in Reformed (or "Calvinist") terms, regeneration precedes conversion (or "faith," as conv. is sometimes reduced). We say this, because it is vitally important to defend the doctrine that the spiritually dead cannot believe in Christ to be saved. Salvation requires God's work to make faith, as spiritually attuned, lively. Saving faith is not a fallen human trait, but is described in Scripture as God's gift.

    Regeneration may (and has been, historically) thought of as descriptive of Christian life in the extended sense, a process of spiritual vivification (and mortification of sin). In other words, regeneration has a very "thick" connection to sanctification. We've come, over time, to use the regeneration-term in particular reference to the very beginning of that life, to give us a way of distinguishing that moment (at the risk for forgetting that this regeneration-life is whole-cloth with spiritual life and development ever after).

    Regeneration's precedence to conversion does not mean that we should first think of "life" in an individual as a quality that he comes to possess; naturally followed by an inherent actuating principle that turns on "faith," making him receptive to the entry of the gospel/grace whereby he is converted. The ordo salutis (order of salvation) is not meant as a strictly temporal set of ideas, but more of a logical one.

    We should think in terms of the extrinsic origin and constant-source of all spiritual good. Regeneration-life floods a man when God connects to him; an analogy might be this: when the power-relay to an already-built house is thrown open, and everything that was in an "on" position suddenly bursts with light, or engines run, etc., expressions of the extrinsic energy come in. Saving faith is the "live instrument" of reception, being made so by the gift itself. In biblical terms, faith is the spiritual-sight that receives the light of life and sees, that believes.

    WSC Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
    A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, And thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

    Effectual calling (EC)--is a description, as much of the effect (in a man), as it is of the cause (in God), with only passing acknowledgement of the instrumentality of a preacher or other vehicle for the word. Again, the cause of EC is extrinsic: it is the gospel directed by the Spirit to the heart of the elect.

    The connection of resulting union with Christ to EC is instrumental. "IN" our EC, or "BY" it--let us be careful about employing the language of identity, i.e. saying that "Union with Christ... IS effectual calling." [emphasis mine] Or that it "is" justification or regeneration. I appreciate the idea that the goal of these expressions is to provide "perspectives." Perhaps to say that we are "looking at" union with Christ through the lens of these three things, so that each of them appears to take on the quality of that which is observed by each.

    I must go for now, even though I feel as if there is more to add to the conversation.
  11. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Interesting, Bruce. I am used to thinking about regeneration only in terms of a one-time act. Do you think that the Bible talks about regeneration in this broader sense?

    Yes I don't think we should absolutely identify any of these things with any of the others. But I do believe that they are certainly related. And they all are part of the greater whole of salvation (the broadest concept). I think the perspectival tool is a helpful way to try to think of the relationships between these doctrines.
  12. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Poythress doesn't venture into the same controversial waters Frame does very often. Frame generally suffers four key areas of criticism that come immediately to mind:

    1. His abuse of the regulative principle of worship such that it is virtually indistinguishable in application from the normative principle
    2. His biblicism and accordingly "flexible" approach to our confessions and subscription to them
    3. His defense of Norman Shepherd and only rather tepid acknowledgement of the errors of Federal Vision folks--especially when compared to his hit piece on Westminster California who, for all its idiosyncracies, at least is very strong on justification
    4. His triperspectivalism and contention that theology is application

    As far as I'm aware, Poythress has only publicly joined him on #4. Granted, #4 is to some extent behind #1-3 and has problematic implications, but perhaps is not necessarily so. Poythress, in most of his work that I'm familiar with, is pretty solid. Frame's work on worship in particular has been the occasion of so much mischief and declension in Presbyterian principles that it's hard for me not engage in guilt by association with respect to Poythress, but I do often recommend Poythress' book on Dispensationalism for instance.
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  13. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    I won't comment on Frame's stuff on RP or worship. I don't know much about Norman Shepherd but I do think that FV theology is very sad. But I very much appreciate triperspectivalism and also the definition of theology as application. I'm an RTS grad so that might explain my bias there. Frame has defined theology as:

    "...the application of Scripture to every area of life."

    I love it!

    I learned at RTS that the separation of meaning from application has been a blind alley in hermeneutics. I would tend to agree. More helpful to say that what a text means is how a text applies.
  14. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    I think your op raises an interesting question for discussion. I like both Frame and Poythress. But I'll have to chew on it till tomorrow. Great post.
  15. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    Those influenced by pre-rationalist authors will tend to agree that theology should be applied - consider Ames' definition of theology as "the doctrine of living to God", or Van Mastricht's, "the doctrine of living to God through Christ". Their focus on seeing doctrine realized in practice is emphasized strongly by folks like Beeke and others who value experimental preaching. But there's not a clear logical connection between that view of theology and the more innovative aspects of Frame's theology like triperspectivalism, since splitting theology up into three perspectives doesn't tell us anything about how to live a holy life in light of what we've learned.
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  16. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    No these two things are not necessarily related. They just happen to both be held and taught by Frame.
  17. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    But I believe that Frame and others are saying something more than "theology should be applied". They are saying that "theology is application". Any time you do theology you are applying Scripture to how we think, feel, and act. You are applying God's word to human questions.
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  18. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    I agree that application is integral and so do those I referenced. I phrased the statement in that way because I don't want to imply that theology is exclusively practical, which some might understand from "theology is application", although I understand that's probably not your intended meaning. I would prefer the following formulation: that theology is both theoretical and practical and the practical realization of any point of theology is related to and flows from the theory.
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  19. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    I struggle with the concept of "practical". Sometimes people think that "practical" only has to do with what we do - how we behave. And so people believe that application only has to do with our behavior. But why can't "practical" also have to do with our thinking, feeling, and affections?

    If theology has any bearing on my thinking, feeling, and affections then I would call it practical. I would call it "useful".

    But if theology doesn't have any bearing on my thinking, feeling, and affections then it doesn't seem practical or useful and, indeed, doesn't even seem like theology. All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
  20. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Despite being often cited as such, from my reading Ames is actually a fairly poor precedent for Frame. Ames defined Divinity as the doctrine of living to God. As a good Ramist, he bifurcated divinity into two parts: faith and observance (or faith and obedience). Ames certainly emphasized the practical side of divinity and wrote against the idle speculation of the academy in the Middle Ages but he didn't equate doctrine with application in the same way that Frame does from what I'm familiar with.

    If all Frame wants to say is that doctrine doesn't matter unless it changes your life, fine, but what Puritan/Reformed writer (even the *gasp* scholastics) argued otherwise? An actual equation of theology and application defies reason and sense and, as with much of his project, undermines the confessional basis of our churches.
  21. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    I think this is a profound misunderstanding of Frame. Frame, Poythress, and others (including myself) are saying that theology is the application of Scripture to life (our thinking, feeling, and doing). And we are saying that the division between meaning and application does not make any sense.

    Here are some other ways of putting it:

    The application of a text is the meaning of the text. What a text means is how it applies.

    "What should I believe about God?" is an application question. Therein we are seeking to apply God's word to our thinking and believing.

    The Standards say that the Bible teaches what we are to believe about God and how we are to obey God. Both of these things are an application of Scripture - one to our beliefs and the other to our behavior.
  22. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I know that's the way Frame likes to put it, and it's false. It emphasizes the subjective content of Scripture rather than the objective. First and foremost the Bible is God's self-revelation. Does this place demands on us by virtue of that? Imperatives? Sure. But that is a consequence of what it is, not what it is in itself.

    Frame, of course, waffles on it a little bit. When you try to pin him down he resorts to implying that all he means is that the Scriptures inherently place demands on us and its truths are not abstract. That's fine, but it's also banal. So he wants to say something new and recast things in his own schema. If all he means is that "believe it" is a legitimate application of a text of Scripture (especially a doctrinal one), Amen, I wish evangelical preachers would pay attention. But, again, Frame seems to want to say something more, or at least say it ambiguously enough that it seems like something more. It's self evident that "Jesus is the Son of God" and "(You) believe that Jesus is the Son of God" are different statements. One is the meaning of the text, the latter is an application of the text. Since the text is authoritative the latter flows necessarily from the former, but to deny the distinction is to fly in the face of common sense and basic semantics.

    If you read the intro to his Systematic Theology and especially the little bit where he criticizes Hodge, it seems as if his biblicism makes him uncomfortable with the very nature of systematics and, accordingly, he has to redefine it into something more palatable to him. But the deficiencies he sees in Hodge are mostly specters of his own imagination and an a priori commitment to biblicism.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2019
  23. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    The Bible is God's self revelation to humans. As such, it automatically, immediately, and always puts demands on us. It cannot be approached with a mere objectivity. If we read "Jesus is Lord" and do not understand it as "you must repent and believe that Jesus is Lord", then we've not understood it at all.

    I think this reflects your suspicions of Frame more than Frame's own thinking.

    If you do not understand the demands that "Jesus is the Son of God" places on us, then you do not understand the expression "Jesus is the Son of God".

    He criticizes Hodge because Hodge says that the business of Systematics is to put the truths of Scripture into proper order. Frame questions this because Hodge's definition supposes that the truths of Scripture are somehow not already in the proper order. Better to view theology as the application of Scripture, in my view.
  24. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    Nothing novel about Bruce's explanation . . . Calvin himself, though he would have affirmed it in the narrow sense (as you have), nonetheless usually spoke of it as Bruce has described it, as closely linked to a life-long process of renewal.
  25. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Agreed. But the demands are still different than the meaning. The way you speak of it implicitly acknowledges this since it a natural part of language and human psychology. That they are inseparably combined does not imply identity. Understanding it as "Jesus is Lord" and not "You must repent and believe that Jesus is Lord" cannot be wrong if the two statements are the same thing.

    Perhaps, but as a public teacher in the church, you have some responsibility for how your words are perceived. If you mean to defend the Trinity but do so in such a manner that implies (against your intent) modalism, for instance, there is guilt there. That's not to say you are responsible for every misinterpretation of your words, but if you speak in such a way as you are prone to be misinterpreted then you may be.

    Agreed and still not the point of controversy here.

    Right, this is Frame's argument. Hodge's definition supposes no such thing to any reasonable reader however, and Frame himself has to back off of it somewhat after saying it. For all of Frame's fear that men may take Hodge (and the countless others who have used a similar definition--after all this is what "systematic" means) in this manner and denigrate the Bible, I'm not aware of a single person who has. Perhaps the "no creed but Christ" fundies, but like Frame they only take it as such in a negative sense because of their biblicism. Exegetical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology all change the order and form of Scriptural truths, and none of them imply that God made a mistake in inspiring the Scriptures. When you preach a sermon, should you instead just read the bare Scriptures alone, because to elaborate the meaning would be to accuse the Word of not being properly clear?
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