From l to r: Dr. Ted Van Raalte, Dr. Jason Van Vliet, Rev. John Bouwers, Dr. Cornel Venema, Dr. Bob Godfrey.
A couple of weeks ago, there was a synod of the United Reformed Churches in North America. One of the noteworthy things that happened at Synod Visalia was a colloquium or discussion about covenant theology between theologians of the URCNA and of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Representing the URCNA were Dr. Cornel Venema from Mid-America Reformed Seminary and Dr. Bob Godfrey from Westminster Seminary California. The CanRC representatives were both professors from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, Dr. Ted Van Raalte and Dr. Jason Van Vliet.
The colloquium was an initiative of the URCNA Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity (CERCU). It seems that fears and suspicions about covenant theology in the Canadian Reformed Churches continue to beleaguer efforts to work towards a merger of our federations. Hence, this colloquium was proposed as a way to help clear the air. Most reports that I’m hearing suggest that it definitely was a step in the right direction. I commend CERCU for organizing it!
Prior to the colloquium, a couple of documents were prepared by the participants. You can find those documents here, prefaced by a letter from the CanRC Committee for Church Unity to CanRC church councils. The first document is from the URCNA representatives and lays out their position. The second is from the CanRC representatives. They answer some questions posed to them by Dr. Venema and Dr. Godfrey.
I want to note a few things about the CanRC contribution to this discussion.
First, it needs to be recognized that Dr. Van Raalte and Dr. Van Vliet are not presenting the “official” covenant theology of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Apart from what our confessions say (which is not much), we do not have such a theology worked out in the kind of detail you find in this document.
Second, Dr. Van Raalte and Dr. Van Vliet are both professors at our seminary. Thus, it can be said that this is representative of what is being taught to our seminary students.
Third, I endorse what Dr. Van Raalte and Dr. Van Vliet have written. I might express myself somewhat differently on some points, but I have no substantial problems or questions about what they have set forth. I particularly appreciate that they maintain:
- The imputation of the active obedience of Christ in our justification. They unambiguously state that this is the position of the Three Forms of Unity.
- That, in justification, law and gospel are antithetical.
- That covenant and election are not to be identified with one another, though they are connected.
- That all the children of believers truly are in the covenant of grace
- That there are different “outcomes” with regard to those in the covenant of grace: life or death.
- The activity of faith in justification is merely receiving or accepting the free gifts of Christ.
I could add more, but those are some important highlights.
I keep hearing that the colloquium was recorded on video, but I have not yet seen or heard of it being posted. I will let you know if I run across it. I do know there will be some further follow-up in Christian Renewal. Daniel Hyde’s take on the colloquium will be published, as will a response from Dr. Van Raalte and Dr. Van Vliet. I look forward to reading that interchange and pray that all of this discussion will further the cause of unity.