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Archive for June, 2014

OPC GA Republication Study Committee

June 17, 2014 4 comments

The overture was once again before the assembly. In review, the overture requests that the GA establish a study committee to examine and give its advice as to whether and in which particular senses the concept of the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the Adamic Covenant is consistent with the doctrinal system taught in the confessional standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. After much debate, and a call for division, the overture was granted by a vote of 83–53.

http://theaquilareport.com/orthodox-presbyterian-church-2014-general-assembly-report-5/

The Emperor Has No Clothes

June 14, 2014 4 comments

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.
Categories: books, justification

Rick Phillips’ Stand

June 14, 2014 2 comments

I am very grateful for Rick Phillips’ continual stand against a confusing and troubling view of the final judgment. He has been doing so for several years. See here and here, which was also delivered at the 2009 Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals Conference. Around the same time (maybe part of the same series) he had an article regarding the Westminster Confession as well, but I remember that article being very quickly pulled following some heated exchange with others, including Mark Jones (sorry, can’t find the discussion – it may have been on Jones’ old blog that was removed years ago).

Just recently Phillips posted another helpful stand for clarity on this issue: Concerns about the “Efficacy” of Works in which he warns Mark Jones to take a firmer stand against neonomianism.

Jones argued that our good works play a role greater than “mere evidence” at the final judgment: “God will not grant eternal life unless there are good works; indeed, these works have a sort of ‘efficacy.'”

Phillips explains

I am rather raising concern about the need to be clear in avoiding this kind of implication [of teaching that works are an instrumental condition of the Christian’s justification].

If our works play more than an evidentiary role in our salvation and inheritance of eternal life, then what is that role?  Stephen Cunha notes in his critique of Richard Gaffin:

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 Emperor Has No Clothes (on sale right now for $3.98)

But Jones says he’s not talking about justification, he’s talking about salvation. To which Phillips rightly responds:

to see these works as efficacious with any sense of instrumentality requires us to have two doctrines of justification, one present and one future, in such a way that justification through faith alone is simply not conclusive.  But this is contrary to Paul’s constant emphasis: “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).  That “now” is not provisional, but conclusive and final.

Robert Reymond agrees:

“Justification possesses an eschatological dimension, for it amounts to the divine verdict of the Eschaton being brought forward into the present time and rendered here and now concerning the believing sinner.”

A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p743

Again, I’m thankful for Phillips’ clear stand against both Tchividjian’s confusion and Jones’.

Categories: final judgment