R. Scott Clark

An Overlooked Aspect of the Story: PCA Influence on Acts 29 and Mars Hill

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
If you have not listened to “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” you should. It helps us to understand the so-called New Calvinism or the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement. It also helps us to understand the intersection between a part of the PCA and Acts 29 and that might help us understand some of the debates occurring today within the PCA.

Regular readers of the Heidelblog and listeners of the Heidelcast will know that considerable time has been spent here analyzing and interacting with the podcast series produced by Christianity Today and hosted by Mike Cosper (see the resources below).
In that interaction most of the time and attention has been spent on the nature and effects of Mark Driscoll’s Narcissism and abuse and on highlighting the differences between Reformed theology, piety, and practice and that of the so-called “New Calvinism” or the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement as represented by Driscoll and Mars Hill.
The most recent episode of the Presbycast (“Deconstructing 2021 and Big Eva with D G Hart”), however, hits on a very important aspect of the Acts 29/Mars Hill/Driscoll story that I overlooked: the role of the PCA, specifically the Church Planting Assessment Center (CPAC) in Atlanta, and Spanish River PCA in the formation of Acts 29 and Mars Hill.
In that regard it is interesting to note that this is the first thing one sees on the CPAC page:
Choosing and Retaining the right pastor is the key variable in planting a new mission.—Lyle Schaller
Was the Apostle Paul “the right pastor”? After all, the Corinthians were not much impressed with him. They were interested in “wisdom,” and “power,” and eloquence but Paul came to them with “foolishness,” “weakness,” and stumbling: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:3–5; ESV). They were much more taken with the self-proclaimed “Super Apostles” than they were with an actual apostle and they continued to be unimpressed with simple gospel ministry for, as far as church history knows, the rest of their history.
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Good News for the Reformed Churches: Small is in Again

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Sunday, January 2, 2022
Smallish confessional Reformed congregations should not necessarily feel guilty about being small and socially insignificant. That has been the lot of most of the church for most of its history. The Roman empire, whose approval so many craved in the 4th and 5th centuries, no longer exists. The church continues. The Enlightenment did its best to destroy the church and, outwardly, in Europe and in the American mainline churches, it succeeded but the church still exists in Europe, the UK, and North America. It is flourishing in Africa, South Korea, and in many other parts of the globe.

Cornerstone is part of the fastest-growing group of congregations in America: the minichurch. According to the recently released Faith Communities Today study, half of the congregations in the United States have 65 people or fewer, while two-thirds of congregations have fewer than 100.
That’s a marked change from two decades earlier, when the 2000 Faith Communities Today survey found the median congregation had 137 people and fewer than half of congregations had fewer than 100 people.

So reports Bob Smietana for the Religious News Service. A recent study (the National Congregations Study) found “shrinking attendance figures” and a “median rate of change between 2015 and 2020 was a negative 7%.”  Half of all congregations decreased by 7%. The average congregation in America is small but “the majority of churchgoers  are worshipping in a congregation of about 400 people.” American churches are “being sorted into two kinds of churches—megachurches, and minichurches…”.
Now, it may be that “minichurches” are not ideal. As one who was a layman in the Reformed churches for a number of years and then a pastor in the Reformed churches (since 1987) I have seen and pastored my share of Reformed churches. The building pictured to the left was the renovated Standard gas station at the intersection of I-29 and I-35 in Kansas City, Missouri where my congregation met while I was there. We could hold perhaps 70 people. Most of the time we were about 40 or so. It was an intimate setting. The good news is that I knew everyone in the congregation fairly well. I have been gone since 1993 and I can still picture each face, where they sat. I remember well those who came and left and those who thought about coming but never did. I was in the homes of our members.  I attended Kiwanis with some, high school football games with others. We developed a bond. There was a sense of community but it was a challenge for newcomers to become integrated into the life of the community. We all knew each other so well that anyone who visited was significantly behind the relational curve. How should the congregation relate to guests? If we paid too much attention we were in danger of smothering them but too little and we were in danger of being “cold.”
Then there was the little matter of surviving. If I told you our annual budget you would not believe me. The people gave sacrificially but we were really small. 20% of our tiny budget went toward the mortgage payment on the building. 65% of the budget went toward my salary (with no benefits). Were it not for the kindness of Richard Barr, who gave us a quarter of beef most years, and my in-laws who gave us cars and cash, life would have been very different. As it was, in the kind providence of God, we got by.
Most confessional Reformed congregations are small and many of them feel bad about it. Perhaps some of them should feel a bit guilty? Some of them are small and they like it that way and they do not much care if newcomers find and join them. Our congregation was anxious that the gospel should go out, that people might come to faith and join us. We wanted to grow but it was very hard to do that. Thankfully, the congregation has relocated, renamed itself (Northland Reformed Church, pictured left) and has grown.
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Johnson To The PCA: “Merry Christmas. Here Is A Lump Of Coal For Your Stocking”

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Wednesday, December 22, 2021
There are several serious problems with Pastor Johnson’s reasoning here. First, his speech was highly biographical, emotive, and even prejudicial. He implied that anyone who disagrees with his position “hates” homosexuals. It equates traditional Christian sexual ethics with anti-gay bigotry. Second, he assumes that, except for his commitment to Christ, he might have taken a same-sex husband and had a family and that by not violating God’s natural and moral law thus he has made a great sacrifice for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

For several years now, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has been roiled by controversy over whether to admit to her ministry men who are same-sex attracted but celibate. The debate has centered around a the so-called Revoice movement which openly celebrates “Gay Culture” and has come to focus upon the Rev. Mr. Greg Johnson, pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church, St Louis. His views have been investigated by his Presbytery. The Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA ruled that Presbytery followed the correct process. NB: To the best of my knowledge, the SJC has not ruled on Johnson’s theology nor has it rendered a decision on the Revoice theology and rhetoric.
One might think, in light of the angst and grief generated in reaction to Revoice and to his rhetoric, e.g., his 2019 speech on the floor of General Assembly, and the serious concerns that have been raised across the PCA, in multiple presbyteries about the Revoice theology and the very idea of a same-sex attracted man serving as a minister in a confessional Presbyterian denomination, that the Rev. Mr. Johnson’s posture might be that of a grief-stricken penitent. One might think that his apparel might be sackcloth and his attitude one of gratitude for the privilege of being able to continue in the service of Christ and his church despite his self-professed handicap of being immutably same-sex attracted. The PCA, however, awoke this morning to a diatribe published, in all places, in USA Today (HT: Presbycast) implying that he has been vindicated by the courts of the PCA and giving advice to other homosexuals on how to deal with their uptight relatives at Christmas. I kid you not. You should read the article for yourself.
You can imagine how fun denominational gatherings can be. Me with a couple thousand mostly older white, churchgoing, Southern, heterosexual religious conservatives with children and grandchildren and seersucker suits. One of us is not like the others.
As before, he suggests that by not acting on his sexual orientation, he is making a sacrifice:
And while you might be forgiven for assuming that my willing celibacy and lifetime of sexual sobriety might make me acceptable in such conservative religious spaces, it’s not always so. I’ve been investigated by church authorities, both formally and informally, because of my sexual orientation.
Remarkably, he claims:
After a recent investigation, I was exonerated in January 2020. Then exonerated again. Finally, this October, our denominational supreme court cleared me.
That ruling can’t be appealed. So I kid you not, my critics are now trying to change our denominational constitution to get rid of me, barring from ministry anyone who is honest about not being heterosexual.
Even 49-year-old virgins who are saving themselves for Jesus.
Here is his characterization of the concerns being debated by the PCA:
How can I love family members who seem at times so blind to their own failings? To their own insensitivity? When they seem to be making bad decisions motivated by fear and suspicion? When they don’t think I belong?
Again, you should read Johnson’s essay for yourself.
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Are Translations of the Bible Inspired and Inerrant?

Is biblical inerrancy just for the original version? The substance of this question is whether our English (or French, or German, or Spanish, etc.) translations may be considered inerrant? The short answer is: yes, we may regard translations as inerrant insofar as they accurately reflect the original text (autographa).
First, let us define our terms. The historic Christian church has always regarded Scripture as the inspired, infallible Word of God. In the Nicene-Constantinoplitan Creed (AD 381), the church universal confesses that the “Holy Spirit… spoke by the prophets.” We regularly see the fathers of the church describing Scripture as infallible, i.e., incapable of error. When we say that Scripture is inspired, we mean “breathed out by God” (θεόπνευστος; 2 Tim. 3:16). It means that the Prophets and Apostles wrote as they were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21).
This is what the Westminster Divines wrote and what the Reformed churches confess regarding the importance of both the original texts and translations:

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope (WCF 1.8).

The original texts, the autographs, the Hebrew, Aramaic (parts of the Old Testament are in Aramaic), and Greek texts given by the Holy Spirit, through the Prophets and Apostles, are inspired, infallible, and inerrant.
That last adjective, inerrant, has been a source of controversy since the late nineteenth century when orthodox Christians of various traditions began using it to say that not only is Scripture infallible but it is actually without error. We adopted this language to respond to the rationalist (i.e., those who put human reason above divine revelation) critics of Scripture. For more on the inerrancy of Scripture, see these resources.
The final authority for Christian doctrine and the Christian life is the Word of God in the original languages.
The final authority for Christian doctrine and the Christian life is, as the Westminster Divines wrote, the Word of God in the original languages. Textual criticism is the business of deciding, when there is a question, what the original text was, i.e., which is the most likely reading or text in a particular instance. Biblical scholars have always practiced textual criticism: the ancient fathers did it, the Renaissance scholars advanced the practice, as did the Protestant Reformers. The questions grew, however, in the late nineteenth century when scholars found a large cache of ancient texts in Egypt. It is important to note, however, that none of the various readings substantially changes biblical teaching. Many of them, particularly in the New Testament, are obvious later emendations by copyists who were seeking to clarify something that they found troubling. Others were marginal notes that came to be copied into the body of the text. We have a marvelous treasury of ancient texts of the the Scriptures, and the Christian may have a high degree of confidence that within those texts we have the autographs, i.e., the text of Scripture as given by the Spirit through the Prophets and Apostles. For more on this see these resources.
Because it is Scripture in the original languages that norms our faith and practice, it is essential that our pastors and teachers receive a genuine education in the original languages. This is why we should expect them to continue learn and progress in their knowledge and use of the original languages in pastoral ministry. For centuries before the Renaissance and Reformation, most the ministers in the Western church lost the ability to read the Scriptures in the original languages. Indeed, to find an illiterate priest (one who could not read at all) was not unknown. In the Greek church, of course, they could at least read the New Testament but it was not until the Renaissance that the knowledge of Hebrew and Greek began to return more widely and to be taught again in the universities, where pastors were educated. The Reformed churches understood and appreciated the value of the knowledge of the original languages and expected the pastors to learn and use them.
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“Loco” or “In Loco Parentis”?

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Our children do not belong to the state or to state-schools. They were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They belong to God and they are entrusted to parents for nurture and admonition and that is an order that may not be subverted without the gravest consequences.

Christina Wyman has published an OpEd on NBCnews.com in which she argues that parents who insist on influencing the education of their children do not understand how education actually works. She observes that the latest crisis, focused on the schools in Loudon County, VA, is nothing new. “Parents,” she writes “have always tried to interfere with curricula…” Please note her choice of verb: “interfere.” It means “take part or intervene in an activity without invitation or necessity” (New Oxford American Dictionary). She argues that parents who think that they have a right to have a say in how their children are educated fail to understand how education works. “It’s sort of like entering a surgical unit thinking you can interfere with an operation simply because the patient is your child.” Education, she claims, is a “science,” something that can be done only by highly trained specialists. The author herself has an earned PhD in curricular studies. She observes that 36 states require teachers to earn a master’s degree. She concludes,
The future of our country and world are sitting in today’s K-12 classrooms, and those children will eventually become adults in a world requiring their empathy, passion, intelligence and engagement. Parental interference in school curricula is poised to accomplish the exact opposite. Shielding students from real-world issues and diverse perspectives will create bubbles that will render their children ill-prepared to navigate society, particularly when they are called upon to contribute and think critically.
That schools ought to be helping students face the real world and to think critically is just the thing but she begs the question by assuming that post-modern schools are doing those things.
Responses
First, we should rather doubt her self-serving analogy between a typical “college of education” within, e.g., a land-grant university and the medical school on the same campus. Teachers College is not medical school and teachers are not surgeons. The comparison is risible but that she had the gall to attempt it tells us much about the inflated sense of the profession that has developed in recent decades. Please do not misunderstand. Teachers do valuable work but teaching children to finger-paint and supervising nap time or the correct way to eat Graham Crackers (such were the rigors of Kindergarten in 1966) was hardly open-heart surgery. Even the most demanding High School physics course is no match for even an average pre-med organic chemistry course let alone a medical school program.
More basically Wyman misunderstands the order of nature here. Teachers and schools work for parents and not the reverse. By law school teachers and administrators are empowered to act in loco parentis (in place of the parent). The original authority, however, belongs to the parents. To review some basic biology, when a man and a woman love each other they marry and, in time, in the providence of God, they produce a child. The school did not produce or nurse the child. Indeed, a school does not even see the child until age 4 or 5. Parents temporarily loan their children to the school each day to the end that the child should learn to read, write, calculate, think well, and express himself well. The school’s authority is derived, secondary, and temporary. Your child’s teacher (master’s degree) is expensive hired help and clearly, judging by Wyman’s OpEd, they need to be reminded of their place.
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What Does It Mean To Be “Confessional” (E.g., In The PCA)?

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Monday, November 29, 2021
To be confessional is to ask what the Standards say and intend? What are the implications of the Standards for one’s theology, piety, and practice? What did the framers, in their context, intend for the churches to say and do? Ask yourself this: if your favorite, dearest practice was found to be contrary to the Standards would you give it up and reform your practice to conform to the language and intent of the Standards? A confessional Presbyterian is willing to be corrected by the Standards. What does it mean to do something in good faith? It means to act with “honesty or sincerity of intention.”

Becoming Self-Consciously Confessional
When I was introduced to Reformed theology, piety, and practice I do not think that very many people were talking about being “confessional.” Indeed, the idea of creeds (e.g., the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed etc) confessions (e.g., the Westminster Confession or the Belgic Confession), and catechisms was unknown to me until I began attending St John’s Reformed Church in 1980–81. [Speaking of St. John’s please pray for pastor Lee Johnson, who needs your help. Read more». St John’s is a faithful congregation but not wealthy]. Of course, in the early months and years of my Reformed journey everything was new. There was a great lot to sort. As I began read more and even in seminary, where we discussed the confessions and where I took two courses covering both the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity (i.e., the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort) I do not recall hearing a lot of discussion about being “confessional.” Typically we distinguished between “conservative” and “liberal.” We were taught to think of ourselves first as evangelicals and secondly as Reformed.
In this period I was, shall we say, schizophrenic. In some ways my practice of ministry was pragmatist (largely under the influence of the church-growth literature). I believed and loved the Heidelberg Catechism but there were ways in which my theology, piety, and practice was out of sync with it. The authors, and framers of the catechism assumed, taught, and interpreted Scripture in light of the Luther’s distinction between law and gospel. I did not. The authors and framers of the catechism correlated the covenant of works with law and the covenant of grace with gospel. I did not, at least not consistently. I was a legal preacher. I consistently put the congregation back under the covenant of works while simultaneously trying to push them toward contemporary worship, so that we could grow and be “successful.”  Under my leadership we gave up the evening service in favor of Bible studies. In the providence of God, it was a study of Galatians that helped to open my eyes to some of the mistakes I had been making but still I was mostly assuming that whatever I was thinking of doing was at least not contrary to the catechism. It was not yet shaping my thinking. Had you asked me whether I agreed with Heidelberg 65 and the Reformed doctrine of the due use of the means of grace I would have said yes but my actions were contradictory. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
During my post-graduate research, for which I spent much time reading and translating primary sources from the sixteenth century Reformed theologians and a good deal of secondary literature (i.e., books and articles about the primary sources, authors, and settings) I began to see some dissonance between the way I learned Reformed theology and the way it had been understood during the classical (i.e., formative) period. My sense of that dissonance grew as I began teaching Reformed theology first at the undergraduate level and then in a seminary context. Teaching courses on the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms gave me an opportunity to learn the documents, and their background, and intent more deeply. I continued to become more aware of the tension between the way the framers of our confessions looked at Reformed theology, piety, and practice and the way we tend to look at them.
Somewhere between the time I began my post-grad research in 1993—was it reading D. G. Hart’s PhD diss. on Machen? It is still the best-written PhD diss. I have ever read—and c. 2006 I came into contact with the language of “being confessional.” It was in this period that I began to see that there was a difference between assuming that whatever I thought must be what the catechisms and confessions intended to say and being confessional. There is a difference between nominally affirming the catechisms and confessions and actually allowing them to shape my theology, piety, and practice. In this period I began to hear and read the word confessionalist. It was against this background that I wrote Recovering the Reformed Confession, in which I tried to share what I had learned and to invite the reader to join me in the recovery process.
In Statu Confessionis
I am confident that I am not the only pastor who was guilty of assuming more than knowing that my theology, piety, and practice were deeply informed by the church’s confession of God’s Word. The denomination that I served from 1987 to 1998, for most of my time,  used only the Heidelberg Catechism. I had read and studied the Belgic and the Canons but they did not live in my bones, as it were. As I began to teach them, however, they began to affect me and my theology, piety, and practice. I began to see that my assumptions were not theirs. My concerns were not theirs. E.g., the classical Reformed theologians tended to move from their doctrine of God to worship. The rule of worship was not the product of a censorious spirit (as I had assumed) but their understanding of the holiness of God. Somehow I had come to assume that, in the late twentieth century, Reformed theology had matured beyond the Reformed theology of the classical period but my assumption of superiority was ill-founded. I found that they were the teachers and I was the student. My posture changed rather dramatically.
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Another Reason Why the Covenant of Works Matters

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
When we understand what was at stake in the covenant of works, when we contemplate communion with God, when we meditate on all that Jesus (the Last Adam; 1 Cor 15:45) did for us and has given to us, we are filled with joy and the Scriptures become not dull but alive with the story of the promise, accomplishment, and application of our redemption. 

Yesterday a prominent evangelical theologian tweeted “The gospel does not begin with Genesis 3 and human sin. The gospel begins with Genesis 1 and God’s goodness and our grandeur. If we start with Genesis 3, we make the gospel seem tiresome, predictable. If we start with Genesis 1, the gospel becomes captivating, thrilling.” This is an important question and worth considering for three reasons: 1) how we characterize the gospel; 2) how we understand what was offered to humanity before the fall; 3) how we should think about God. Each of these is a significant question in its own right and, treated properly, deserves a monograph (a book devoted to a single topic). It is also useful, however, to think of them together as it is put before us in what is, in effect, a theological thesis. By the way, this is one of the better uses of Twitter. For most of two millennia Christian theologians have posed brief theses, just like this one, for debate and discussion.
What Was Offered Before the Fall
Since the very earliest days of the post-apostolic church it has been understood implicitly, later made explicit, that Adam was the federal head of all humanity (see e.g., Irenaeus) and in a probationary arrangement with God. Augustine, in The City of God, called that arrangement a covenant. It came to be a given among Medieval theologians that Hosea 6:7 referred to a covenant between God and Adam. The Reformed Reformation would take up that idea and refine in it light of their distinction between law and gospel and in light of their doctrine of salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), and in light of their distinction between justification on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ and progressive sanctification.
The Reformed came to see that what was offered to Adam, as the representative of all humanity, before the fall, in the covenant of works or the covenant of nature or the covenant of life (which he able able to keep by virtue of being created righteous and holy and because God “endued him with power and ability to keep it” [WCF 19.1]) was eternal life and blessed communion with God. The condition of entering into this state of blessedness was “personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience” (WCF 19.1). The Lord planted two trees in the garden in which he placed Adam: the tree of life and the tree of death (Gen 2:9). Adam was commanded not to eat from the tree of life. This was a very compressed expression of God’s natural, moral law: love God with all your faculties and your neighbor (Eve and all his posterity) as yourself (Matt 22:37–40). God promised life upon Adam’s successful fulfilling of this test and he “threatened death upon the breach of it.”
Make no mistake, however, what loomed before righteous Adam, should he exercise his free choice righteously, unencumbered and uncorrupted by sin as it was nothing short of consummate blessedness which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined” (Isa 64:4; 1 Cor 2:9). Theologians call what was offered the eschaton, the final state. The study of the eschaton is called eschatology. It means more than just last things in history (e.g., the return of Jesus etc). Broadly, it has to do with the relations between heaven and earth. What was on offer to Adam was, in sense, what we call the New Heavens and the New Earth. Of course, when we think of that, it is after the fall, and in light of our Lord’s death, resurrection, ascension, session, and glorious return. What the first Adam failed to accomplish, the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45) accomplished. So, the thesis is both correct and incorrect. What was revealed to Adam before the fall (we must not forget that) was glory. The condition of entering into glory, into the final (eschatological) state was righteous obedience. That offer, however, was not the gospel. Adam was not a sinner when God entered into the covenant of works with him. He had no need yet of the Good News.
The Gospel
Adam did come desparately to need the Good News (Gospel). He needed it because mysteriously he choose freely, without compulsion, without the corruption of sin, to disobey God, to listen to the lies of the Serpent, (the Devil), who offered a false, lying covenant to him. The Evil One offered not glory but equality with God, something he wanted for himself, something he could not give and something that Adam, tragically, sought to grasp (Phil 2:5–11). Adam broke the law (1 John 3:4). He brought condemnation upon himself, his wife, and his posterity (us). As the American colonial ABC book said, “In Adam’s fall sinned we all.” We are all dead in sins and trespasses (Pss 32; 51; Eph 2:17ndash;4). After the fall, in Adam, we are hopeless and helpless.
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Another Reason Why the Covenant of Works Matters

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
When we understand what was at stake in the covenant of works, when we contemplate communion with God, when we meditate on all that Jesus (the Last Adam; 1 Cor 15:45) did for us and has given to us, we are filled with joy and the Scriptures become not dull but alive with the story of the promise, accomplishment, and application of our redemption. 

Yesterday a prominent evangelical theologian tweeted “The gospel does not begin with Genesis 3 and human sin. The gospel begins with Genesis 1 and God’s goodness and our grandeur. If we start with Genesis 3, we make the gospel seem tiresome, predictable. If we start with Genesis 1, the gospel becomes captivating, thrilling.” This is an important question and worth considering for three reasons: 1) how we characterize the gospel; 2) how we understand what was offered to humanity before the fall; 3) how we should think about God. Each of these is a significant question in its own right and, treated properly, deserves a monograph (a book devoted to a single topic). It is also useful, however, to think of them together as it is put before us in what is, in effect, a theological thesis. By the way, this is one of the better uses of Twitter. For most of two millennia Christian theologians have posed brief theses, just like this one, for debate and discussion.
What Was Offered Before the Fall
Since the very earliest days of the post-apostolic church it has been understood implicitly, later made explicit, that Adam was the federal head of all humanity (see e.g., Irenaeus) and in a probationary arrangement with God. Augustine, in The City of God, called that arrangement a covenant. It came to be a given among Medieval theologians that Hosea 6:7 referred to a covenant between God and Adam. The Reformed Reformation would take up that idea and refine in it light of their distinction between law and gospel and in light of their doctrine of salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), and in light of their distinction between justification on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ and progressive sanctification.
The Reformed came to see that what was offered to Adam, as the representative of all humanity, before the fall, in the covenant of works or the covenant of nature or the covenant of life (which he able able to keep by virtue of being created righteous and holy and because God “endued him with power and ability to keep it” [WCF 19.1]) was eternal life and blessed communion with God. The condition of entering into this state of blessedness was “personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience” (WCF 19.1). The Lord planted two trees in the garden in which he placed Adam: the tree of life and the tree of death (Gen 2:9). Adam was commanded not to eat from the tree of life. This was a very compressed expression of God’s natural, moral law: love God with all your faculties and your neighbor (Eve and all his posterity) as yourself (Matt 22:37–40). God promised life upon Adam’s successful fulfilling of this test and he “threatened death upon the breach of it.”
Make no mistake, however, what loomed before righteous Adam, should he exercise his free choice righteously, unencumbered and uncorrupted by sin as it was nothing short of consummate blessedness which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined” (Isa 64:4; 1 Cor 2:9). Theologians call what was offered the eschaton, the final state. The study of the eschaton is called eschatology. It means more than just last things in history (e.g., the return of Jesus etc). Broadly, it has to do with the relations between heaven and earth. What was on offer to Adam was, in sense, what we call the New Heavens and the New Earth. Of course, when we think of that, it is after the fall, and in light of our Lord’s death, resurrection, ascension, session, and glorious return. What the first Adam failed to accomplish, the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45) accomplished. So, the thesis is both correct and incorrect. What was revealed to Adam before the fall (we must not forget that) was glory. The condition of entering into glory, into the final (eschatological) state was righteous obedience. That offer, however, was not the gospel. Adam was not a sinner when God entered into the covenant of works with him. He had no need yet of the Good News.
The Gospel
Adam did come desparately to need the Good News (Gospel). He needed it because mysteriously he choose freely, without compulsion, without the corruption of sin, to disobey God, to listen to the lies of the Serpent, (the Devil), who offered a false, lying covenant to him. The Evil One offered not glory but equality with God, something he wanted for himself, something he could not give and something that Adam, tragically, sought to grasp (Phil 2:5–11). Adam broke the law (1 John 3:4). He brought condemnation upon himself, his wife, and his posterity (us). As the American colonial ABC book said, “In Adam’s fall sinned we all.” We are all dead in sins and trespasses (Pss 32; 51; Eph 2:17ndash;4). After the fall, in Adam, we are hopeless and helpless.
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A New Religion With a New Sacrament?

Written by R. Scott Clark |
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
For us Christians, let vaccines be vaccines and not sacraments. Let science be science and not a new religion. If something may not be questioned, however, it is a religion and not science.

John Calvin (1509–64) famously wrote that the human heart is a “perpetual factory of idols” (Institutes 1.11.18).
What he meant is that since human beings are irrevocably and naturally religious and, after the fall, profoundly corrupted by sin, our religious inclinations do not disappear but are misdirected. The question is not whether humans will be religious but how? Yesterday on Twitter Jules Diner posted a quotation from a certain Thomas Sheridan, a writer hitherto unknown to me:
The ‘Pandemic’ has been a kind of religious event for most people. For the first time in [their] entire existences they had something meaningful to live for. It gave them rituals, fear of damnation, and hope for redemption and salvation with the vaccine[s] being the keys to ‘the kingdom of heaven.’ They could point fingers at heretics and unbelievers like their ancestors did back in the Middle Ages. [Ed. note: revised for punctuation and grammar]
I do not know if this is an original analysis but it seems true. There is a religious quality to some responses to the pandemic (and to other crises too). Consider the global cooling [1970s]/global warming [1980s–90s]/climate change [2000s] crisis. There are reasonable grounds for questioning the claims being made about anthropogenic [man-made] climate change but increasingly debate on this issue is being silenced. By definition science operates on the principle of doubt not trust. Anyone who knows just a little about the history of science or even its most basic principles knows that it operates on doubt, questions, discussion, and even debate. When scientists publish their results the first thing that happens is that other scientists try to replicate their methods and results to verify them. Science does not trust. It doubts and tests. Anyone who tells us to “trust the science” is advocating a dogmatic, unreasoning religion not science. Christianity, by contrast, has dogmas to be sure but it is not unreasoning. It is grounded in historical claims. We claim that the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a historical event the evidence of which (i.e., Jesus of Nazareth) was witnessed by hundreds of people. We have written accounts, produced by sane, reasonable people of these historical events. Further, we claim that there is more evidence to come: Jesus will return bodily and there will be more bodily resurrections.
It has been observed that lab-coated scientists are the priests of Modernity. They are the clerics who diagnose the ills of our bodies (e.g., medicine) and souls (e.g., pyschiatry) and it is they who prescribe the cure of bodies and souls. Steadily through the Modern period their pronouncements have become unquestionable and dogmatic. So, the turn of the culture, during the pandemic, to lab-coated priests is understandable. It is interesting that Dr Fauci’s NIH staff photo shows him in a lab coat. The lab coat, of course, is the vestment for the new priesthood and Fauci is arguably the new pope of the new priesthood. Consider why Dr Fauci would have his lab coat on for his staff photo? It is not because he had just stepped out of the lab for the photo. He has been an administrator for years. His actual working uniform is a business suit not a lab coat. My grandfather, who was a farmer, did not wear his overalls for the family photo. Fauci wore his lab coat for his staff photo for the same reason a priest wears his vestments for a photo: to signify his office.
Yesterday afternoon my better half was remarking on the comments she was reading below a story in the New York Times about the airline strikes and the vaccine mandates. As she described the tenor and language of the comments I was struck by how much they reminded me of the angriest of witch-hunting medieval mobs. This is quite striking because I imagine that the subscribers of the NYT think of themselves as enlightened and tolerant but there was precious little of either evident in the comment box.
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What Is Necessary for a Christian to Believe?

According to the Reformed understanding, all twelve articles are under the heading “gospel.” This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a narrow sense of the gospel (as sketched above), but it does mean that, when we answer the question of what must be believed, we do not stop at the narrow sense of gospel. We include in it the doctrine of the Trinity, a doctrine of God, a doctrine of creation and providence, of sin, of Christ, of salvation, of the church, sacraments, and last things.
Our doctrine of God is intimately connected to our understanding of man, salvation, church, and worship.
Modern evangelical answers to this question have focused on Christ to the exclusion of these other doctrines, but in Reformed theology they’re all connected. Our doctrine of God is intimately connected to our understanding of man, salvation, church, and worship. The Reformed faith, however, is biblical and catholic, i.e., we believe what the Scriptures teach about God, man, Christ, salvation, etc., as understood by the church in all times and places.
In contrast, for evangelicals, so long as one affirms a personal relationship with the risen Christ, everything else is negotiable. It is not even always certain what an evangelical means by “Christ.” Is she referring to the Christ of Scripture and history, confessed in the Creed, or to the Christ of subjective, mystical experience?
The Reformed answer to the question, “what must a Christian believe?” is not minimalist, but neither is it maximalist. We don’t ask Christians to believe everything possible. We ask them to believe all that is necessary. There are limits to what may be set as a condition of salvation. There is a hierarchy of beliefs. They aren’t all equally ultimate or necessary. There are fundamentalist groups that require adherents to believe that the King James Version of the English Bible is the only acceptable translation, but that’s not a necessary belief. The King James Version is a wonderful piece of work, but it’s just one translation among many.
The Geneva Bible pre-existed the KJV, the Tyndale translation pre-existed the Geneva Bible, and we’ve had many fine translations since 1611. Others would set the length of creation days as a necessary belief. One is certainly entitled to one’s opinion about the meaning of the “day” in Genesis 1 and 2, but historically the emphasis has been on the reality of the creation days and upon the truth that we are created and not the Creator.
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