A Crib Rattling Complaint: Frank Turk’s Moralism Vs Horton’s Gospel Driven Sanctification

Art Azurdia examines just who it is who builds the house. This is an essential. It explains why our sanctification is not a matter of volunteerism (Turk’s subjunctive volition), but of a will in concert with the mind of Christ which is being renewed by the Word of God via our union with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. As Azudia directs us, our attention is not primarily to be focused upon our doings, but Christ purchase. All that we can do can not ever accomplish what Christ has done. The soteriological reality of Christ’s propitiation cannot be divide into separate aspects, justification and sanctification. They are, rather, one work of Christ, who was raised for our justification that we would live in newness of life, and come to us a one gift. While we must maintain the distinction that our justification is not dependent upon our sanctification we must also never confuse our part in sanctification with the finished work of Christ. We will walk in newness of life, if we have been raised with Christ, period. The end of our salvation is the very purpose for which we were first apprehended for salvation, namely, that Christ will, not might, present to himself a bride without spot or blemish. Azurdia’s appeal to Hosea should not be taken lightly. For we are the wandering whore, and must comprehend that without neglecting who we have been made to be in Christ. And that not of ourselves, but a free gift. That will not tend to negligence, rather, it will result in the reasonable service of worship. Not as a subjunctive possibility, but of a subjunctive inevitability. Azudia notes, our focus should not be on what we are doing, that will be the natural fruit of our union with Christ, if indeed, that is a reality. And that will not be without the call to repentance, nor will it be without a striving toward making it so. To divide the house, as Turk’s volitional model does, disassembles, it does not build.

Any answer to the critics of the Reformation that attempts to satisfy them on their own grounds is doomed to failure because it has conceded the major premise of the critique. However diligently this lot may formally affirm justification sola fide seek and to preserve some version of justification sola fide alongside a system of acceptance with God partly on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity/righteousness, it is only an act of the will. It is theologically incoherent. it is unstable. It has two competing principles at work with its soteriology. Soteriology cannot serve two masters: acceptance on the basis of intrinsic sanctity/righteousness (however construed and for whatever reason) and acceptance with God on the basis of extrinsic righteousness imputed. It must love the one and hate the other.

Yes, we believe in Spirit-wrought sanctity, or Spirit-wrought righteousness. Anyone who denies that doesn’t know Reformed theology, but we don’t believe, confess, or teach that Spirit-wrought sanctity or righteousness has anything to do with our standing with God. There are two benefits of Christ: justification and sanctification. The latter follows from the former. It is the fruit and evidence of justification. It contributes nothing to our acceptance with God.

via The Moralists Will Be Back « Heidelblog.

One commenter in response to Michael Horton’s response to Frank Turk, pointed out the salient difference. Just as our regeneration is first monergistic which produces our active participation, our sanctification is first monergistic and produces our effort. If, as the apostle Paul is saying, there is any truth in reference to the Philippians salvation, any participation in the Spirit, then we ought to have the same mind as Christ: Therefore workout… because it is God who works in you the willing and the doing of his good pleasure.

The chapter in Philippians is filled with the “subjuntive.” And yet, it isn’t Turk’s my will be done, but God’s will be done.

So what is his actual complaint? “Your emphasis is not my emphasis.” To which Horton replied, “My emphasis includes your emphasis.” To which Turk rattles his crib again, “Well, your emphasis is not mine.”

Turk’s mistake is his idea of the subjunctive as volition as some third category in sanctification. But it really results in a volunteerism which is rightly rejected by Scott, and Horton, as outside the Reformed view of progressive sanctification. Turk get’s there, apparently, by collapsing what might be called a purposive thematic subjuntive of Scripture with grammatic constructs. This is a great mistake. Beside, even in the grammatic subjunctive there is a form which doesn’t mean might, or maybe, or an unsure possible future dependent upon whether or not there is sufficient condition, i.e., volition, but an absolute form of the subjunctive that is premised upon there being an established sufficiency, a worked in will (per Philippians 2:12-13 above) along with its assured outcome (Philippians 1:6). To put it in perspective, our sanctification is a guarantee because of what Christ has done. We look to his benefits, and because of what he has done, we begin our sanctification in faith through conviction and repentance. But, as all things which have been freely given, they are not our working, but the Spirit’s working in so that we therefore work. We find an assurance in that God who has raised Christ from the dead will surely give us all things, even life to our mortal bodies. Then, the purposive subjunctive theme of Scripture, the, “For God so loved that,” will secure a bride without spot or blemish, and that he will do without our help.

(I use purposive thematic subjunctive and avoid the use of metanarrative for the simple reason of its negative connotation.)

The purposive thematic subjunctive can be found in the structure of the WCF, were we find not one, but seven, chapters in regard to progressive sanctification, where the assurance is not found in man’s efforts, but God’s causing man’s effort, with the final product assured. Beyond that, the whole of the WCF infers the reasoning that all it contains is so because another thing is, namely, God’s revelation to man about God’s salvific purpose, “God so love the world that…” That we are made be instruments to that end, or to say that we cooperate, should not be confused with meaning that we cooperate the Spirit. As all things pertaining to life, sanctification requires an actual first work of the Spirit, and he works where he wills, with or without our volunteerism. In other words, he operates us. And yet Scripture and the WCF warn that we are not to grow negligent, rather we are to work it out tremulously. And so we make it our aim to be found without blame, for without holiness no one will see God, and yet it is he who determines our steps no matter our plans, (Romans 7); and has promised never to leave us, nor forsake us, (Romans 8).

Apparently, Turk doesn’t get this. As Scott has rightly pointed out, the Spirit-wrought work is not set aside in Horton’s efforts to reestablish the Law/Gospel distinction as the means which God uses in our sanctification. To the contrary, it is Turk’s confusion which Horton is addressing, namely that the subjunctive is not subjective, but objective. The subjunctive theme flows from the Law/Gospel theme, and is not a third category operating beside them, or the Spirit. Nor is it simply a grammatical construct. To make the outcome dependent upon the man’s effort is fruitlessness, precisely because of what the confession says about our best efforts. That is, they fall woefully short, being in some way unclean, not even coming close to the reality of the righteousness which is in Christ that is required of us.

Turk’s fear is understandable, but mistaken. He simply has put a pietistic cart before the horse, intended or not. His “subjunctive (volition)” results in a volunteerism, an “If I do this, God will do that,” rather than the voluntary submission which is and can be only by the Spirit’s taking the initiative to make willing and empowering the believer, so that it results in God giving what God commands, without failure. Turk’s fear is an excusism, I suppose. But that is his short-sightedness of what the Law/Gospel distinction is all about. And, what seems to be, his misunderstanding of what is meant by grace alone.

Is there an excuse when Christ said he did not come to do away with the Law but to be fulfilling it? The command to righteousness is as much a part of the result of the Gospel as is liberty from the condemning wrath of the law against unrighteousness. We would not know the need for the Gospel except the law said “do, and do not,” nor would we know what the Gospel’s satisfaction and relief is all about. Scripture is clear that to follow Christ requires an absolute obedience, and one for which his work is the only remedy. The law still forces us to our knees and the Gospel still places us as seated in the throne of righteousness with Christ. And by the grace of God, he does fulfill his promise in us:

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

What Turk doesn’t seem to grasp is the reason we can with surety be seated with him is not dependent upon what we do, in the least, but what he has done. And that should be our message to the world.

What we do, is because we are already seated with Christ and have already been blessed with the highest blessing, accepted in the Beloved. And that is what the Gospel announces. Some how he has missed, “what I would do I am unable,” or, “so that you are not able,” or even who it is that works the gifts in us the first place. And, he seems to miss that our appearance is not the basis of the declared Gospel. Though it may hinder its proclamation, or adorn it, what Christ has done, he did, irrespective of what his disciples do. If we reference ourselves, at what point of purity would our witness be acceptable?

Remember, the disciples all ran, and hid, and he did for them what they said they were willing to do but could not. And as he told Peter after all that Peter did and the restoration that Jesus gave him: “What is it to you? …You follow me.” And that even after previously telling him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” We do not ever perfectly fulfill the commandments, nor in our flesh are we willing, which is why Paul taught we are not of those who judge by the outward. Judging by externals is the way of the world. The duty of the Gospel is not to draw attention to “Our Best Life Now,” as if our lives in any way validated the Gospel. It is our duty to redirect the gaze of the world from us miserably failing sinners, to Christ and what he has done. Our obedience is as filthy rags, and if that is the measure of our message, our message fails. There is no thing hidden which the world will not find out. The world will judge Christians by their faults, not in percentages of purity, but by the dross which remains. Look at what Jesus’ detractors did. They didn’t commend Christ for his miracles. They condemned him because of his disciple’s unclean hands. That tiny chink in the armor of self-adornment is all the world needs to dismiss the Gospel of Grace if what you are attracting them by is how you tinker and polish the armor.

Yet, our failures are no excuse, and Horton has not ever, implicitly or explicitly, allowed that there can be. It is Turk’s need for his emphasis to be outstanding, and that alone, which forms the basis for his complaint.

Turk is posting commentary on the WCF at his personal blog, and eventually he will arrive at the place that John Newton did when he wrote about what he would do if he could and what he wouldn’t do if he could. Hopefully, at that point, the insistence in putting personal holiness before the holiness which is in Christ will have struck him as quite backwards.

Therefore, it’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.

A friend of mine recently put it to me this way: the law is like a set of railroad tracks. The tracks provide no power for the train but the train must stay on the tracks in order to function. The law never gives any power to do what it commands. Only the gospel has power, as it were, to move the train.

Recognizing the continual need of the gospel for Christian people as much as the initial need of the gospel for non-Christian people, J. Gresham Machen wrote, “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel; not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me.” The Gospel of amazing grace gets us in, keeps us in, and will eventually get us to the finish line. It’s all of grace!

Now, go and spread this defiant, scandalously liberating, counter-intuitive Word around the world…it’s waiting!

via Two Ways To Realize Radical Obedience: My Indirect Response To Jason Hood – Tullian Tchividjian.

This is perhaps what Turk doesn’t get the most. It is not by our putting into practice good works that we prove the Gospel’s efficacy and liberating influence. It is the Gospel that puts into practice the benefits of Christ’s finished work. Some how he is not satisfied with the order, and wants to continue with plenty of milk along with his meal. As any parent knows, as the writer of Hebrews knew, keeping your kids on too rich a milk diet is not the way to them to move on to maturity. They’ll drink the milk and neglect the weightier matters and rot their teeth along the way. In any case, we will only move on if God permits. And there is the real disjoint in Turk’s complaint. He seemingly thinks that we will only move on if we permit it with our subjunctive volition. Throughout the epistles doctrine alway precedes practice and practice always follows. The Spirit always precedes and the fruit always follows. Do the last first and you’ll produce only the rot of self-satisfaction. Do the former first, and you can only be humbled by the new life granted in Jesus Christ.

3 thoughts on “A Crib Rattling Complaint: Frank Turk’s Moralism Vs Horton’s Gospel Driven Sanctification

  1. I’ve been following this whole thing from various threads. Yours is a a helpful and worthy clarifying addition that shines light on the fuzziness of both the CT article and and Turk’s Open Letter.
    God bless.

    Jack

  2. Well, thankyou. Frank is one of my favorite bloggers, by the way. We just don’t always see eye to eye. A commenter named TUAD said on one thread that he believed Turk and Horton are closer than it appears. I think that is right. The thin nuance of the difference in this aspect is easily missed by either side.

  3. Pingback: What’s Missing: An Open Letter To John MacArthur By Frank Turk « A Rose by Any Other Name

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