The Trinity Foundation has started a podcast. Episode 2 is an interview with Stephen Cunha, the author of a critique of Richard Gaffin’s doctrine of justification titled The Emperor Has No Clothes. I recommend the book (and the podcast). (For more details, see here, here, and here).
Cunha is very kind, clear, and level-headed. He explains how he was a member of Gaffin’s congregation, but left after learning more about Gaffin’s doctrine of justification. He wrote a paper explaining his reason for leaving, which eventually became the book.
In addition to the theological issues, Cunha also makes a couple of important observations. First, he recounts coming across someone online who said they had a hard time reading the book and eventually stopped reading it, not because they disagreed necessarily, but simply because Cunha was a layman and Gaffin’s theology has received the stamp of approval from many respectable reformed theologians. Cunha rightly points out this is not a Berean attitude. Along this same line, Cunha comments on the atmosphere in Philadelphia
Some people might say ‘Well how can a lay person think that they can possibly challenge somebody who has a doctorate in theology from Westminster Seminary?” and my only answer to that would be that I think spiritual truths are spiritually discerned… you can have all the technical knowledge, all the training in the world, and be brilliant, but the spiritual truths are spiritually discerned. The Holy Spirit helps to illuminate Scripture so I think even the simplest believer who may not even have any academic degree at all or may not be super intellectual or sophisticated, can understand the deepest truths of Scripture.
And I think in this area in the Westminster – I live in the Philadelphia area – and I’m not trying to slam Westminster Seminary here because I don’t think it’s exclusive to Westminster Seminary, but I think there is an attitude that I picked up from my time here that – it was quite explicit from some people, because we’re surrounded by Westminster students and professors in the area, and there’s this attitude that they are so intellectually smart – and many of them are, many of them are academically gifted – that we have to listen to everything that they say and you can’t question what they’re saying.
Second, he notes that
[T]he reformed world, and even to some degree, the OPC – they do tend to be thought leaders. And I’m concerned that some of this teaching might eventually spill over into other evangelical communities.
There is no “eventually” about it. John Piper explicitly references Gaffin to support his understanding of the final judgment. “Gaffin’s exegetical efforts in By Faith, Not by Sight and the careful work of many other scholars, and my own efforts to understand Scripture persuade me that this is the true biblical understanding of the function of works in the final judgment.” Piper wrote a troubling foreword to Tom Schreiner’s book Sola Fide. Schreiner is a leading figure in what is known as Progressive Covenantalism. He has co-written The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance with Ardel Canedy. Canedy has contributed a chapter to the volume “Progressive Covenantalism” titled “Covenantal Life with God from Eden to Holy City” in which he argues that “the formulation of covenant stipulations remains the same across the covenants… From Adam’s habitation of the Edenic garden with access to the tree of life to inheritance of our eternal habitation, God’s holy city…” He rejects the law/gospel distinction rooted in the Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace distinction as “an exaggerated contrast.” He spends 4 pages recounting the “intramural” debate within the OPC/reformed world on the law/gospel antithesis (one of Cunha’s main criticisms of Gaffin is his rejection of this antithesis). So it has absolutely “spilled over into other evangelical communities” so much that it is apparently now a foundational pillar of Progressive Covenantalism (with a firm root at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).
So be a Berean. Take up your Bible, read, and ask the Holy Spirit to provide the spiritual illumination necessary to understand it. (Note: that illumination may come by means of what other believers – even those super intellectual academic ones – have written).