[HT Pooka] T. David Gordon is always worth reading, and Pooka sent me an email the other day with a link to his thoughts on Auburn Theology. Note that .doc is lecture notes, not an article, so the prose doesn’t have Gordon’s usual polish. It appears that this is the articlization of that lecture, but it is missing the fantastic insight that I wanted to quote here.
Gordon is discussing Auburn Ave. Theology (aka Federal Vision), and the paper is chock full of “why didn’t I think of that?” moments, but here is his assessment of FV’s “Sacramentalism/ Sacrdotalism”:
While not employing the language of Trent (ex opere operato), some of Auburn’s statements seem indistinguishable from Trent. Those who are baptized are sometimes referred to by Auburn as the elect, without qualification. In its effort to avoid/evade Evangelicalism’s subjectivism (and the constant questions about whether the individual is “really sure” she is saved), Auburn points to the sacraments, as external rites, to answer the question of assurance. It is always right, pastorally, to direct faith externally rather than internally. But our faith is not in the sacraments by which a redeeming God discloses Himself; our faith is in God Himself.
Most sacramental error comes from asking what the sacraments say about us; most sacramental truth comes from asking what the sacraments say about God. Baptism marks us–as much as any ecclesiastical rite can mark us–as belonging to Christ, whose death washes away sin. The Lord’s Supper marks us–as much as any ecclesiastical rite can mark us–as being invited within God’s house to sup as children at His table, reconciled to Him. But these ecclesiastical marks are not infallible in how they mark us; they are infallible in the truths they proclaim about a redemptive God. They infallibly testify that He washes away sin; they infallibly testify that He has reconciled sinners to Himself through the sacrifice of His Beloved Son.
Calvin viewed the Sacraments as analogous to the Word preached. The Sacraments were the Word made visible (as opposed to the preached Word made auditory). For Calvin, the grace offered in Proclamation and the grace offered in Sacrament were the same; each was a divinely-chosen, divinely-instituted means of God’s grace (thereby encouraging our participation in and submission to), yet grace was not tied to them mechanistically. Calvin taught a sacramental view of kerygma/proclamation, and a kerygmatic view of sacrament.
Analogy: Robert Frost chose to disclose himself through poetry. If one wishes to know Robert Frost, one will have to read his poetry. Yet many read his poetry and cannot make any sense of it; others make sense of it, and it is the wrong sense. So, there is no guarantee that, by reading his poetry, any particular individual will understand Frost. But we can guarantee that those who do not read his poetry do not understand him; and that those who do understand him do so via his poetry. So also, our redemptive, gracious God has disclosed Himself through Word and Sacrament. Not all who are exposed to Word and Sacrament will know Him; but none who do not submit to Word and Sacrament will know Him, and those who do know Him do so via Word and Sacrament.