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The Emperor Has No Clothes

I just noticed that Stephen Cunha’s The Emperor Has No Clothes in on sale for $3.98. The book is a critique of Richard Gaffin’s doctrine of justification. I have not read Gaffin’s By Faith and Not By Sight because it was out of print – but it appears it has recently been re-published. Mark Jones wrote the forward to the second edition I’m which he calls it “a book that has been so deeply influential in my own theological thinking.”

I greatly appreciate any correction and interaction with Cunha’s critique of Gaffin. Here is my summary:

I was a bit guarded going into the book, expecting to read a very (perhaps overly) polemic work. But I was surprised to read a very simple, clear, concerned critique of Gaffin‘s view.
It stands out against the other works that have been written interacting with Gaffin because it is written by a layman (who has a firm grasp on the issues) and is thus very to the point and practical (whereas much of the writing between WS and WSC beats around the bush and requires a lot of reading between the lines).

Here are some summary quotes to give you a better idea:

The purpose of this book is to demonstrate and call attention to the fact that Dr. Gaffin is teaching a doctrine of justification that is contrary to the Westminster Standards, and, more importantly, to the Word of God. In this writer’s opinion, the key factors influencing Dr. Gaffin‘s distinctive teaching on justification are the application of the already/not yet concept to justification and, I shudder to say, a distorted understanding of the resolution between Paul’s assertion that justification is by faith alone and James’ assertion that justification is not by faith alone, which subtly, yet gravely, compromises the classic Law/Gospel antithesis taught by the Reformers (13)

The first chapter discusses Gaffin‘s view that the believer is still under judicial condemnation from the fall, and thus he dies. I found this chapter to be very worthwhile. It’s something I’ve only briefly considered. Cunha argues that our deaths are 1) not required, and 2) part of the Father’s loving process of sanctification, not condemnation. He discusses WLC Q85 in this regard.
The second chapter discuses how Gaffin‘s view of faith and works applies to his understanding of the supposed already/not yet aspect of our justification. Cunha notes:

According to Dr. Gaffin‘s view, faith and works are constituent parts of a faith/works complex that is necessary to obtain justification. Just as access to the flight is partially dependent upon the presence of a passport, so justification is made to be partially dependent upon the presence of good works. This goes beyond the traditional Protestant view that works are only evidential or declarative with respect to justification. When Dr. Gaffin refers to works as “the integral fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith” in justification, he acknowledges works to be the “fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith,” but denies that works are solely evidential with respect to justification.

It is clear that Dr. Gaffin denies that works are the ground or basis of a believer’s justification. What is not so clear is how works produced through faith can be pulled within the sphere of justification in a way that is beyond purely declarative of justification and, at the same time, not share any degree of instrumentality with faith, nor be a part of what faith itself is. Unless there is a new category of description that this writer is not aware of to characterize the relationship between works and justification, we are limited to the categories of ground, instrument, and evidence. If works produced through faith are in the smallest degree beyond purely evidential of justification, it follows that they must be, to some degree, either the ground or instrument of justification.

The third chapter is the longest and it addresses Gaffin‘s denial of an absolute Law/Gospel antithesis. Gaffin says:

From this perspective, the antithesis between law and gospel is not an end in itself. It is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not by virtue of creation but as the consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer. How so? Briefly, apart from the gospel and outside of Christ the law is my enemy and condemns me. But with the gospel and in Christ, united to him by faith, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend. Why? Because now God is no longer my enemy but my friend, and the law, his will, the law in its moral core, as reflective of his character and of concerns eternally inherent in his own person and so of what pleases him, is now my friendly guide for life in fellowship with God. These observations on faith and obedience may be reinforced by referring here briefly to the perennial debate over Paul and James on faith and works. On the coherence between them, in what is sometimes taken to be their contradictory teaching on faith and works in justification, it is hard to improve on what J. Gresham Machen wrote aphoristically, “as the faith which James condemns is different than the faith that Paul commends, so also the works which James commends are different than the works which Paul commends.”

Cunha comments:

The classic Protestant Law/Gospel antithesis is that there are two antithetical ways to obtain justification. Justification is obtained either through a course of perfect obedience to the law or through faith in Jesus Christ… Dr. Gaffin says that the Law/Gospel antithesis is “not a theological ultimate” and that the Gospel “is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer.” It is here where one may rightly question whether or not Dr. Gaffin truly understands the classic Protestant Law/Gospel antithesis. Understood properly, there is no need to move toward an end of removing an absolute Law/Gospel antithesis in the life of the believer because the Law/Gospel antithesis applies to justification only. Both now and throughout eternity, a believer will rejoice in the fact that he or she has been justified on the basis of Jesus’ atoning death and merits received by imputation through faith alone.

He also includes a very helpful discussion of Romans 2 in this chapter.
The fourth chapter discusses Gaffin‘s support and endorsement of Norm Shepherd and the similarities between their views of justification and works.
He concludes with some remarks about other work being done at Westminster East and its connection to Gaffin‘s view of justification, faith, and works.
Overall I found the book to be very readable and to provide a helpful summary of the concern/debate about Gaffin‘s views – much more so than what I had read previously.
If anyone has read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts.
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Categories: books, justification
  1. markmcculley
    July 28, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Gaffin, By Faith not by Sight, p77, “Surely our gratitude is important. But sanctification is first of all and ultimately not a matter of what we do, but of what God does. As Machen says, the works which James commends are different from the works which Paul condemns.”

    Machen, Notes on Galatians, p178–”You might conceivably be saved by works or you might be saved by faith, but you cannot be saved by both. It is ‘either or’ here not ‘both and’. The Scripture says it is by faith. Therefore it is NOT works.”

    Machen, p221–”If James had had the epistles of Paul before him he would no doubt have expressed himself differently.”

    Norman Shepherd, “comments on the opc justification report”—”I consider this statement of Machen to be an indictment of the Holy Spirit who inspired James.”

    Even though Cunha’s The Emperor’s New Clothes doesn’t have a comprehensive picture,, Cunha does a good job of criticizing Machen’s quotation which say works in James are not the same as works in Galatians

    Yes, there is a difference between works seeking merit, works not seeking merit but if justification is (also) by works not seeking merits, that means justification is also by works

    And justification is not by works. Not by works before justification, and not by works after justification.

  2. markmcculley
    July 28, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight, p 38—From this perceptive, the antithesis between law and gospel is not an end in itself. It is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not be virtue of creation but as a consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer

    p 73, —”Here is what may be fairly called a synergy but it is not a 50/50 undertaking (not even 99.9% God and 0.1% ourselves). Involved here is the ‘mysterious math’ of the creator and his image-bearing creature, whereby 100% plus 100% =100%. Sanctification is 100% the work of God, and for that reason, is to engage the full 100% activity of the believer.”

    mark: I agree with Cunha’s criticism of Gaffin (The Emperor’s New clothes). The law is not satisfied by the removal of the antithesis in Christians, but by Christ’s satisfaction of the law by His death for the elect.

  1. September 9, 2014 at 7:35 pm

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