Monday, February 02, 2009

Richard Sibbes, The New Perspective on Paul, Federal Vision, Justification and all that...

Richard Sibbes is increasingly a hero of mine (one of many heroes - and it should be said  I've still only read one work by Sibbes, Glorious Freedom which is oustanding). Mike Reeves' two hours with us last week on The New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision and contemporary challenges to the doctrine of justification made me break my self-imposed book ban to order a copy of Martin Luther's The Freedom of the Christian and Sibbes' The Bruised Reed.

Mark Dever is a bit of a Sibbes expert and enthusiast, mp3 here

The basics idea of Reeves investigation of NPP/FV etc is that they've somewhat misread the reformers on justification, missing their emphasis on union with Christ (i.e. in Luther). Calvin is very strong on Union with Christ in The Institutes, for example. Something that evangelicals in general have missed, ending up with a flat-photocopied version of the reformers theology. Reformed justification doesn't just give us Christ's status, we are given Christ. NPP/FV provide a helpful recall of this, but if we read the reformers right we'd already have this. We can learn from this, but also must query other things. Clarity on this changes our approach to discipleship to be one that doesn't go after the will (as William Perkins did) but after the heart (as Sibbes did). More on that when I get a copy of his notes (the promise of which meant I didn't really take any notes of my own).


  1. nice. What's the heart?

    I look forward to Dave K's reflections on this. He often pointed out to me the irony that the NPP controversists (on both sides) seem to forget how much the question of "in/out" because of cultural boundary markers really was at the heart of the Reformers' discussion of justification & church, namely "I will be saved because I'm in the Roman Catholic church" or "I'm in the people of God because I've been united to Christ & so only expect his fate to happen to me: resurrection, justification & glorification".

  2. The Freedom of the Christian and The Bruised Reed are EASILY two of my very favourite books.

    Just schorching!

    ANd you can read them both online at Theoogy Network...

  3. Amen to that... although I'mnot altogether sure how that relates to FV guys...mind you, I tend to read the more sensible ones.

  4. ....'look forward to Dave K's reflections'!

    I'm not sure that I have anything great to offer. I look forward more than anything to hear a fresh, historical theology (a la Mike Reeves) take on it all.


    I was wondering whether I really said that Chris? So often I think I speak without much thought. It is true that the Reformers knew about the theory that 'works of the law' just referred to boundary markers and dismissed it. Also it is true that NT Wright's Paul combats the ethnocentricism of Judaism, and this parallels the Reformers problems with being in the RC church equaling salvation. I suppose maybe I do say what you said Chris, and you just describe it differently...

    It has been too long since I've done much reading in contemporary Pauline Theology. I'm getting rusty.

    Interesting that Reeves said that FV proponents don't recognise 'Reformed justification doesn't just give us Christ's status, we are given Christ'. FV is probably bigger on Union with Christ than most, after all they all are deeply influenced by John Murray and Richard Gaffin. Nevertheless I think that Reformed doctrines of justification have often just given us Christ's status, and Lutheran doctrines of justification (which have had just as much influence on English Evangelicalism) focus on status even more. So to that degree NPP/FV proponents have a point.

    I wonder whether Reeves talked about Osiander, and the different Reformers reaction to him. Union with Christ has to be carefully described. Much of Protestant Orthodoxy's emphasis on status came from Melancthton and others reaction against Osiander who taught (I believe) that we have all of Christ which led him into all kinds of trouble. I think Union with Christ is more than status, but you have to be careful not to go too far. I think the most biblical way though is to talk about sharing in his story as Chris mentions, and understanding how he abides in us by his Spirit (which bizarely shows both how close he is and how seperate).

    Interestingly you can see how Osiander could get where he did with Luther's marriage metaphor in 'Freedom of the Christian' which you are going to read. It is a wonderful book. I read it several times last year because it is so short and tried to give an outline of its structure here if you are interested.

    ... sorry for musing in the comments box. I'll sit and wait in anticipation.

  5. "The basics thesis of Reeves on NPP/FV etc is that they've misread the reformers on justification, missing their emphasis on union with Christ. Reformed justification doesn't just give us Christ's status, we are given Christ."

    I don't think the FV guys claim to be at variance with Calvin on this issue. Some NPPers might, but the FV boys are quick to point out the roots of some of their stuff in Calvin and others in the reformed tradition.

    Important not to lump things and people together that don't necessarily actually go together. Not suggesting Mike Reeves was doing that, but it needs to be said, and the blogosphere is the worst place for it. A few people reads a blog post talking about FV/ NPP/ challenges to justification all in one breath and then pretty quickly 'FV bad' becomes the new shibboleth.

  6. sorry to put words into your mouth dave. That said, I'm glad my hope did not disappoint!

  7. It was a, they have some good stuff to say, some good questions to raise but perhaps we don't want to go exactly where they're going.

    I fear I blundered into cheap comment generating by posting on this. I need Mike's notes to say any more. Given he's staying with us tonight I ought to have them, but I don't. We were too busy talking about Frankenstein and the evangelistic potential of Song of Songs (two different but related subjects).

  8. You might be interested in this then

  9. I'm now really looking forward to posts on Frankenstein and on evangelism from song of songs.

  10. Pete - you may have to wait sometime... those are a part of what I'm going to look at on my sabbatical this summer.