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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

Confusing Law and Gospel (and the WCF)

February 11, 2010 11 comments

Patrick Ramsey recently posted some comments regarding the doctrine of republication and its compatibility with the Westminster Confession of Faith. I have found Ramsey’s comments on this whole issue to be very clearheaded, direct, and helpful. That is not to say I agree with him though. Mark Karlberg, a vehement opponent of neonomians, Richard Gaffin in particular, notes:

Through the penmanship of Patrick Ramsey in the essay “In Defense of Moses: A Confessional Critique of Kline and Karlberg” Gaffin attempts to undermine Kline’s theology, viewing it as contrary to the teaching of Reformed orthodoxy as formulated in the Westminster standards… Ramsey’s critique of Kline and Karlberg and his interpretation of the Reformed tradition regarding the doctrine of the Mosaic covenant are analogous in substance (if not in detail) to that of Gaffin.

Federalism and the Westminster Confession :  Mark Karlberg, p 52

This may or may not be an accurate characterization of Ramsey’s views. I encourage you to read Ramsey’s WTJ article. Here is another short post from Ramsey to give you some perspective on his view: Good Works and Salvation (and he also recently made a post about Romans 2 that I would strongly disagree with regarding our works and the judgment, quoting Thomas Schreiner, but it looks like he removed it.)

Karlberg (as well as Kline) has been very outspoken in his criticism of Westminster Philadelphia. He wrote “The Changing of the Guard” and is a friend of the Trinity Foundation. So why would I say that Ramsey’s comments critiquing Karlberg have been helpful? Well, because I think they’re true. I think Karlberg has a better understanding of the Mosaic covenant (the fact that it was works based), but I think Ramsey has a better understanding of the consequences of Karlberg’s view. Ramsey, in an effort to defend the distinction between law and gospel, has been very clear in arguing that if the Mosaic covenant is based on works, it cannot be an administration of the covenant of grace. In his recent post, he notes:

I understand how a gracious covenant that administers the gospel through types/shadows (land which is a type of the new heavens and new earth is promised and received by faith, etc.) can be an administration of the covenant of grace.

I can also see how a law covenant could serve (or be “subservient” to use an older term) the covenant of grace by exposing sin.

But how can the gospel be administered by a law/works/meritorious covenant? How does “do this and live” administer the gospel: “believe and you shall be saved”?  Undoubtedly, the answer will be by typology.  The problem with this answer is that the law covenant itself does not administer grace to the covenant member.  It simply demonstrates through typology how eternal life is achieved.  It is not itself an administration of grace.  After all, it is a law/works/meritorious covenant.  And only a gracious covenant can administer grace.  A works covenant cannot administer grace.  Hence, it seems to me that to call a law covenant an administration of the covenant of grace is to misuse the language of the Confession and to confuse law and gospel.

To quote Inigo Montoya of the classic movie The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means.”

Ramsey is absolutely right. The law is not of faith. However, his conclusion that the Mosaic covenant is not works based is wrong. The Mosaic covenant is a law/works/meritorious covenant.

How then do we resolve this tension? John Owen did it by removing the Mosaic covenant from the covenant of grace. And he was right to do so.

John Piper’s Justification According to Works

November 6, 2009 38 comments

I have been thrust into a study of the final judgment. It started when I read a post over at Bring the Books: If You Are Late to the Discussion. It is a summary, taken from Christianity Today, of John Piper and N.T. Wright’s views of justification. My study began when I commented that, given Piper’s view, he was the exact wrong person to be defending justification against Wright – and my comment was met with strong criticism. Here is Piper’s view:

Piper: Present justification is based on the substitutionary work of Christ alone, enjoyed in union with him through faith alone. Future justification is the open confirmation and declaration that in Christ Jesus we are perfectly blameless before God. This final judgment accords with our works. That is, the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be brought forward as the evidence and confirmation of true faith and union with Christ. Without that validating transformation, there will be no future salvation.

I do not believe Piper’s view is biblical. There is no “future” justification in addition to “present” justification. They are the same. In the words of Robert Reymond: “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).

Piper cannot consistently believe the above statement and also believe that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1) because he believes our salvation must await validation, determined by our works, on the last day.

Another consequence of Piper’s view is that he must deny justification by faith alone. I understand that he does not believe he denies it and in fact has written a whole book on it, and I thank God for that, but that just means he is inconsistent. Given that “present” justification is different from “future” justification, we can say that “present” justification does not matter because it does not determine who is going to heaven to spend eternity in paradise with God and who is going to hell to burn forever. “Future” justification is what determines our fate, and thus, “future” justification is what matters.

That being said, Piper does not believe that faith alone determines our “future” justification (keep in mind there is actually no difference between “future” and “present” justification). He believes that both our faith and our works determine our “future” justification. Granted, he does not view them equally – he believes in a sort of chain where our works connect us to saving faith which then connects us to Christ’s righteousness. But that means that it is not faith alone that unites us with Christ. Both our faith and our works play a determining role. Thus both our faith and our works are the instrumental causes of our justification.

You may say that’s unfair, that my logic must be wrong, that there’s no way Piper believes that. Well, let me offer some biblical support for Piper’s view. James says: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone(2:24). Clear enough, and if there’s any chance I have any Roman Catholics reading this, I’m sure you’re shouting “I told you so” from the rooftop.

But Brandon, you may object, James is not talking about the same thing as Paul. James is talking about our justification before men, about evidence that we look at to estimate if someone is justified. We can’t look into someone else’s heart to see if their faith is genuine. To us, faith is invisible, so we must look at the fruit of faith. I agree! But Piper does not. Piper does not believe James is talking about how we view each other here and now. No, Piper believes James is talking about the final judgment:

Several times Paul listed certain kinds of deeds and said, “those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In other words, when these deeds are exposed at the judgment as a person’s way of life, they will be the evidence that their faith is dead and he will not be saved. As James said, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). That is what will be shown at the judgment. (Future Grace, p366, emphasis added)

He also says:

How then can I say that the judgment of believers will not only be the public declaration of our differing rewards in the kingdom of God, according to our deeds, but will also be the public declaration of our salvation – our entering the kingdom – according to our deeds? The answer is that our deeds will be the public evidence brought forth in Christ’s courtroom to demonstrate that our faith is real. And our deeds will be the public evidence brought fourth to demonstrate the varying measures of our obedience of faith. In other words, salvation is by grace through faith, and rewards are by grace through faith, but the evidence of invisible faith in the judgment hall of Christ will be a transformed life. (Future Grace, p364)

So Piper necessarily denies justification by faith alone, as James makes very, very plain. Yet Paul disagrees: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

If you disagree with the conclusion, I would honestly love to hear why, because I cannot come to any other conclusion. (If you do comment, please do not simply list quotes of Piper affirming “present” justification through faith alone – please actually demonstrate how the points above do not lead to the necessary conclusion).

Update:

R.S. Clark recently taught on the invalidity of a “two-stage justification.” Expostion of the Nine Points (pt 9)-A Two Stage Justification?

I asked him how his teaching relates to Piper:

As to Piper, he’s just flat wrong and he needs to repudiate this teaching. It’s contrary to the Reformation, to the Reformed confessions, and to the gospel.

Related Post:

For Further Reading: