Thursday, January 04, 2007

Word, Works, and a Tertium Quid?

It is safe to say that a great deal more attention is given to the fact that the Spirit bears witness than to how this witness is borne.

Still, it was customary for Puritan divines such as Thomas Goodwin to speak of the Spirit's testimony—often referred to as the third prong of the "threefold method" for attaining assurance—as being a direct, immediate communication of the fact of our sonship from the heart of God to the heart of man.

The most obvious, but by no means the only, problem with this approach is seen in the fact that if assurance is something that can be gained in small measure without the witness of the Spirit (Rom. 8:15), but in greater measure with it (Rom. 8:16), then what God hath joined, i.e. Word and Spirit, man hath put asunder.

If the witness of the Spirit is, as this paradigm admits, a tertium quid, then the dove has escaped the ark despite our efforts to rein her in. Once this has occurred, the only place she will find to rest her foot will be upon the unmediated experiences with which many have replaced the more sure word of prophecy.

So much for "Credo en spiritum sanctum qui ex patri filioque procedit."

The threefold method, therefore, is flawed for at least two reasons. First, it seems to presuppose an unproven and, as will be demonstrated, untenable definition of the Holy Spirit’s witness, i.e., the communication of factual data concerning the condition of the doubting saint. And secondly, by virtue of its being threefold, it divorces Word from Spirit, making assurance possible by Word alone without the Spirit’s witness, by Spirit alone without the Word’s promise, or by works alone without either.