Friday, May 27, 2011

Bierma on Bullinger and the Covenant

Lyle D. Bierma has published quite prolifically. His critique of Baker’s view can be found in his “Federal Theology in the Sixteenth Century: Two Traditions?” Westminster Theological Journal, vol. 45, 1983, pp228-250. He has also written The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2005).

The following is one of his footnotes:

“It is puzzling why Baker especially sees a fundamental difference between Bullinger’s and Calvin’s doctrine of covenant. Baker is correct in pointing to a tension in Bullinger’s theology between salvation sola gratia and a conditional covenant that takes human responsibility for faith and piety very seriously. But precisely the same tension is present in Calvin and in all of early Reformed theology for that matter. To suggest, as Baker does, that Calvin resolves this tension by making faith a gift rather than a condition does justice neither to Calvin’s many references to the conditional nature of the covenant nor to Bullinger’s own insistence that faith is a gift of God bestowed on those whom He has elected from eternity.

It is also curious that Baker ascribes the differences in Calvin’s and Bullinger’s views of the covenant to their doctrines of double and single predestination, respectively. Faith as a condition of the covenant of grace is only apparent in Calvin, he argues, because for Calvin this condition is always fulfilled for the elect, and the reprobate, by God’s will, can never fulfill it. Baker implies that Bullinger’s single predestination, on the other hand, helps to preserve the conditional nature of the covenant because the reprobate, not God, bear final responsibility for their rejection. It is difficult to see, however, how these two views of reprobation affect the conditionality of the covenant. By locating the ultimate cause of reprobation in human unbelief Bullinger does not mean to suggest the possibility that nonelect persons after the fall are capable of fulfilling the condition of belief. The unregenerate continue to sin willingly, without coercion from the outside, but their wills are not free to the extent that they are able to love God or do any good (Second Helvetic Confession, IV.2, 3; VIII.2). That ability is a gift reserved for the elect, and the ultimate cause of one’s election is found, of course, solely in God (ibid. XVI.2). The possibility of fulfilling the condition of the covenant, therefore, is really no greater in Bullinger’s view of predestination than in Calvin’s.”

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