Venema's Review of "The Law Is Not of Faith"

Status
Not open for further replies.

dannyhyde

Puritan Board Sophomore
Without stating where I stand or do not stand on the issue, Cornelis P. Venema has evidenced what a scholarly and godly review article of a book should be with:

"The Mosaic Covenant: A 'Republication' of the Covenant of Works? A Review Article: The Law Is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant," Mid-America Journal of Theology 21 (2010): 35–101.​

If you do not subscribe, you can find purchasing info here.
 

dannyhyde

Puritan Board Sophomore
He doesn't say much, except to agree with the WCF that it is an administration of the one covenant of grace. He asks lots of questions of the volume, but doesn't set forth any large response (which is partly why it's a good review...he summarizes, asks questions, pokes and prods).
 

eqdj

Puritan Board Freshman
It's a great Journal. One of only two I subscribe to (the other being the Reformed Baptist Theological Review).
I highly recommend it.
I'm thinking about subscribing to Kerux, but it seems rather pricey : (
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Sophomore
Thanks. I saw this referenced elsewhere but didn't realize it was a full 70 page review. I just ordered a copy.
 

mvdm

Puritan Board Junior
He doesn't say much, except to agree with the WCF that it is an administration of the one covenant of grace. He asks lots of questions of the volume, but doesn't set forth any large response (which is partly why it's a good review...he summarizes, asks questions, pokes and prods).

Danny, I'd agree it was a very good and careful review. However, understanding that Venema's style is rarely polemical, he substantively raises the same red flags as the Kerux review did.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Can you give a short summary of the main points of Venema's review, just for those of us who don't have access to the Mid-America Journal of Theology?
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Sophomore
Richard, I was typing this up for my own purposes, but here you go:

1. Helpful summaries/survey of the historical, biblical, and theological sections of the book
2. Critical assessment:

a) An accommodated reading of the sources

i) John Calvin "...When the law is viewed in isolation from its evangelical setting (Mosaic Covenant), it can only condemn fallen sinners who are incapable of doing what it requires. Contrary to Fesko's reading of Calvin, there is no basis for interpreting Calvin to teach that the Mosaic administration included at some level a kind of "legal" covenant that republished the prelapsarian covenant of works."

ii) Francis Turretin is surveyed by Venema because "Not only does Turretin offer his own conception of the unique place of the Mosaic administration within the broader history of the covenant of grace, but he also identifies the diversity of viewpoints among leading Reformed theologians of the period...Turretin affirms affirms that the law, narrowly considered, remind Israel of the requirements and consequences of obedience, and thereby closes the door to justification and life by the works of the law. In this respect, the law reiterates the demands of the covenant of works and shows why the promise of life and blessing cannot be obtained through the law. However, in doing so the law serves the gospel of God's grace in Christ, demonstrating that the covenant of works has been wholly abrogated as an instrument for obtaining life... To view the law as though it were given covenantally as a means for obtaining the blessing of life and justification would be to "abstract" the law from the promises of grace that are an integral part of the Mosaic economy. [And this abstraction is the error of the legalists whom Paul opposes]"

iii) Herman Witsius "When Witsius describes the law of Moses as both a covenant of works and a covenant of grace, he seems to favor the second view that Turretin identifies, namely, that the Mosaic economy was an admixture of the covenant of works and grace. However, much of Witsius' treatment of the question corresponds to the themes that we have seen previously in Calvin and Turretin, and cumulatively support the view that Witsius regarded the Mosaic covenant as substantially an administration of the covenant of grace. Among the writers we have considered, Witsius' position does seem to anticipate some of the emphases of authors of "The Law is Not of Faith", particularly the idea that the Mosaic economy includes in some sense a formal republication of the covenant works at the level of Israel's corporate or national life. But in this respect Witsius differs from the views of Calvin and Turretin, and in a way that is more confusing than is clarifying."

iv) WCF "It is difficult to see what basis the authors of TLNF have for appealing to these articles in Chapter 19 of the WCF.. As a matter of fact, the Confession expressly denies that the law was given through Moses "as a covenant of works."

v) Summary of historical "...the law is not given through Moses or under any of the administrations of the CoG as an instrument for obtaining the inheritance of life and blessing."

b) Assessment of the Biblical Arguments

i) Paul's use of Lev 18:5 - "When Paul adduces Lev 18:5 against his opponents, he is not offering a complete account of the law within the framework of the Mosaic covenant... In the Old Testament economy of redemption, Leviticus 18:5 does not appear in a context 'that deals with legal righteousness as opposed to that of faith' (quoting Murray). Rather, Lev 18:5 seems to present the law in the same way as it is presented in Ex 20, Deut 5, and in many other passages in the Pentateuch, namely, as a rule of gratitude that norms the conduct of a redeemed people in their life-fellowship with the Lord... When Paul adduces Lev 18:5 to expose the futility of any effort to obtain justification upon the basis of the works of the law, he does not thereby deny the legitimacy of an appeal to Lev 18:5 in support of a sincere and grateful obedience to the law of God. Nor does he deny the sense in which such sincere obedience is the way of life and blessing for the redeemed people of God."

ii) Gal 3:6-14 and the Mosaic Administration - Venema appeals to Ridderbos to essentially make the same point made about Lev 18:5 above, adding that Paul's argument is ad hominem, showing the legalists, from the law itself, what they must do if they abstract the law as a means of justification (they must do it all).

iii)Typology in the Mosaic Covenant - "In the usual view of Reformed covenant theology, however, the temporal blessings promised Israel are regarded typologically as a foreshadowing of the full spiritual blessing of fellowship with God in a renewed creation... In Kline's view of the typology of the Mosaic covenant, two radically opposed inheritance principles are posited, each of which is said to operate at a distinct level of Israel's life, the earthly and the spiritual... The problem with this conception is that the typology of the Mosaic economy does not foreshadow or prefigure, at least at the level of Israel's existence as a nation in the land of promise, the blessings that are granted freely and graciously to the new covenant people of God. The blessings are different in kind; and the principles for inheritance of these blessings are radically different. To put the matter differently, because the Mosaic administration actually consists of two levels of covenant administration, one of works and the other of grace, it cannot function at both levels as a typological promise of the new covenant, which is essentially and exclusively a covenant of grace... The promises and demands of the Mosaic economy are "typical" of the promises and demands of the new covenant economy. The redemption promised in the covenant of grace always requires the response of faith and sincere, albeit imperfect, obedience on the part of the people of the covenant. As it was in the covenant administration of Moses, so it is in the covenant administration of Christ."

c) Theological Ambiguities or Problems

i) One in Substance, Diverse in Mode of Administration - "Though the authors of the volume profess their adherence to the historic Reformed theology of the covenants, they offer an account of the Mosaic economy that seems at odds with the classic Reformed position that there are only two covenants, a prelapsarian covenant of works and a postlapsarian covenant of grace, of which the Mosaic covenant is a particular administration. The traditional formula of Reformed covenant theology, that the covenant of grace is one in substance though diverse in administration, entails that the Mosaic covenant was substantially a covenant of grace and only accidentally distinct from other administrations of the covenant of grace. This means that the distinctive features of the covenant of grace, which distinguish it in substance from the covenant of works, characterize the Mosaic administration in its entirety. It also means that whatever features of the Mosaic administration distinguish it from other administrations of the covenant of grace belong to the category of adjuncts or accidents, which do not materially affect its nature or character.
The theological problem posed by the republication thesis can be stated rather simply. If what belongs to the substance of the covenant of works does not belong to the substance of the covenant of grace in any of its administrations, it is semantically and theologically problematic to denominate the Mosaic administration as in any sense a covenant of works."

ii) The Covenant of Works, Voluntary Condescension, and the Covenant of Law - "the tendency of some authors to equate the moral law of God as such with the covenant of works... There is little evidence that many covenant theologians in the orthodox period simply identified the covenant of works with man's creation in God's image and subjection to the moral law of God... on this as well as a number of other features of TLNF, the authors tend to accommodate their reading of the history of Reformed theology to contemporary theological concerns, especially the distinctive formulations of Meredith Kline."

iii) The Abiding Validity of the Moral Law (Uses of the Law) - "Because the authors of TLNF view the moral law of GOd to express necessarily the "works principle" of the covenant of works, they do not have a stable theological basis for affirming the abiding validity of the moral law as a rule of gratitude. The argument of the authors seems to be something like the following: because the moral law of God, rooted as it is in God's holy and righteous character, always requires perfect obedience, and because God's moral government requires that obedience be rewarded and disobedience be punished - the moral law is essentially a covenant of works. For this reason, VanDrunen seems compelled to conclude that the moral law of God is no longer the rule of conduct for believers in relationship to each other within the "spiritual kingdom" of the church of Jesus Christ. VanDrunen even goes so far as to suggest that the law that is "written upon the heart" of the new covenant people of God is not substantially the same moral law that was promulgated in the Decalogue through Moses."

3) Concluding observations
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Thanks for that, Brandon.

Very enlightening even in summary.

E.g.
i) Paul's use of Lev 18:5 - "When Paul adduces Lev 18:5 against his opponents, he is not offering a complete account of the law within the framework of the Mosaic covenant... In the Old Testament economy of redemption, Leviticus 18:5 does not appear in a context 'that deals with legal righteousness as opposed to that of faith' (quoting Murray). Rather, Lev 18:5 seems to present the law in the same way as it is presented in Ex 20, Deut 5, and in many other passages in the Pentateuch, namely, as a rule of gratitude that norms the conduct of a redeemed people in their life-fellowship with the Lord... When Paul adduces Lev 18:5 to expose the futility of any effort to obtain justification upon the basis of the works of the law, he does not thereby deny the legitimacy of an appeal to Lev 18:5 in support of a sincere and grateful obedience to the law of God. Nor does he deny the sense in which such sincere obedience is the way of life and blessing for the redeemed people of God."

Also Leviticus 18:5 isn't at the foundation of the Mosaic Covenant, but tucked away, introducing tributary laws about incest.

If God does present the law to Israel as a purely hypothetical way of salvation it is of His grace to persuade them to follow the only way now open for salvation, not to be a RoCoW and not to encourage sinners to follow a legal route to salvation.

The same could be said in a New Testament context of our Saviour's dealing with the Rich Young Ruler.

The theological problem posed by the republication thesis can be stated rather simply. If what belongs to the substance of the covenant of works does not belong to the substance of the covenant of grace in any of its administrations, it is semantically and theologically problematic to denominate the Mosaic administration as in any sense a covenant of works."

There is a major semantic problem in the language of "Republication of the Covenant of Works" in whatever guise the doctrine itself is formulated by its proponents. This is one of the major objections to it, that whatever the Mosaic Covenant is, or is not, it shouldn't be constantly referred to as a RoCoW as it is blurring or confusing the vital theological line drawn between God's dealings with sinless Man and God's salvific dealings with sinful Man.

Plus, when you compare the CoW with the various proposals for the RoCoW, there are major differences not least in that with Adam and Christ, God was dealing with sinless men that hadn't yet broken the CoW, whereas with Israel He was dealing with a nation of sinners that had already broken the CoW and that needed God's grace to sinners - whether common and/or saving - in order to be and do good, whether be formally good as unsaved Israelites or be truly good as saved Israelites. :2cents:
 
Last edited:

mstew28

Puritan Board Freshman
He doesn't say much, except to agree with the WCF that it is an administration of the one covenant of grace. He asks lots of questions of the volume, but doesn't set forth any large response (which is partly why it's a good review...he summarizes, asks questions, pokes and prods).

I agree that Dr. Venema has written a good and godly review, but disagree with the assertion that he doesn't say much or set forth any large response. In fact, his conclusions seem quite substantive. For example: "In my estimation the failure of the authors of The Law is Not of Faith to affirm vigorously the positive function of the law as a rule of gratitude in the Mosaic economy is not accidental. Because the authors of The Law is Not of Faith view the moral law of God to express necessarily the "works principle" of the covenant of works, they do not have a stable theological basis for affirming the abiding validity of the moral law as a rule of gratitude." Since this particular synopsis is directed at David Van Drunen, professor at Westminster Seminary, it would appear that while the review indeed spends a lot of time summarizing and asking questions, it also quite definitely identifies and criticizes some substantial issues raised in the book, important for folks in the OPC/URC world.

Mark Stewart
Pastor, Burlington URC
Burlington, WA
 
Last edited:

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
If Israel's history had been different and she had been so godly that the Lord didn't allow the Assyrians, the Babylonians and then the Romans, to defeat her, she would have acknowledged this to be of grace and not works.

This is true even if the posited RoCoW "in some sense" was only a certain approximation to complete holiness.

Complete holiness was only possible for Adam and Christ anyway, not for the nation of Israel which God was dealing with at Sinai and which had already broken the CoW in Adam.

Excommunication from the Land of Israel - for individuals, sometimes by execution, or the nation - was a typological teaching aid.

We still have excommunication, temporary or permanent, in the New Covenant Israel of God, except without the typological accutrements.

The Seven Letters to the Churches in Revelation, indicate that not just individuals but whole congregations, can be excommunicated by Christ.

Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. (Rev. 2:5)
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top