From DGH on Can Humans Merit Before God Submitted on 2015 04 21 at 5:22 pm

Mark,

For the sake of your congregation, the PCA, the Alliance — not to mention yourself — please don’t write part 2. Do you really want to position yourself as Norman Shepherd 2.0? Aside from all that you’ve already written about the parallels among Adam, Christ, and us, and how we all — without sufficient qualification — graciously obtain God’s favor through good works, you now appear to be headed to the no-man’s land of Norman Shepherdville:

In other words, in order to keep the Adam-Christ parallels, we must not actually abandon the concept of grace given to them both, but actually affirm it. It has been a peculiar oddity that some assume that the parallels between the two Adams means that Adam could not have received the grace of God because Christ did not. But this view is based on the fatal assumption that God was not gracious to Christ in any sense.

David VanDrunen, in criticizing Norman Shepherd’s rejection of merit in the Garden of Eden, makes the following claim:

“It is not difficult to see how such a view, if taken seriously, makes belief in Christ’s active, imputed obedience impossible. If image bearers do not merit anything before God, then the true image bearer, Christ, did not merit anything before God, and his perfect obedience can hardly be reckoned ours as the basis for our justification” (CJPM, 51).

This paragraph by Professor VanDrunen will give me an opportunity in the next post to examine more carefully – I trust, in an irenic tone – some of his claims from a historical and biblical perspective.

But it is interesting to me that some recent defences of justification seem to approach the topic somewhat differently than what I find in the Early Modern era when it comes to merit and the Edenic context for Adam’s obedience.

The thing is, Mark, a historian knows the difference between the present and the past. And in the present Norman Shepherd has received round rejections from the Reformed churches. Just listen to the RCUS:

The whole crux of the matter is that Shepherd robs the gospel of good news. How can a man be justified before God? The good news is that Christ’s righteousness, namely, His perfect obedience and sacrifice upon the cross for the sins of His people, is freely imputed by God to all who receive Christ by faith alone, trusting in his saving work on their behalf. By fulfilling the law and suffering its curse, Christ obtains righteousness and eternal life as a free gift for His people.

Now, Mr. Shepherd, if Christ fully satisfied the justice of God and appeased God’s wrath against my sin, then what act of obedience would you have me do, or what act of disobedience would you have me avoid, in order to escape God’s wrath? The Bible says that the only means of escape is to reach out the empty hand of faith and receive the gracious gift. Yes, Mr. Shepherd, all it takes is a simple act of faith. ‘The vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus forgiveness receives.’ Yes, Mr. Shepherd, salvation and justification do in fact take place at a certain point in
time – the moment a person believes! “Verily, verily, I say to you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). “And the publican, … saying, God be merciful to me a
sinner! I tell you, this man went down to his house justified”! (Luke 18:13-14). “Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”! (Acts 16:30-31). “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 9:13).
Justification does not take place at any other time than the first appearance of genuine faith in the human heart.

. . . Therefore, the question is this: Is justification by faith alone apart from obedience the one true gospel or is it not? John Murray believed that “it makes void the gospel to introduce works in connection with justification.”194 For precisely this reason, Calvin (and Luther too!) called the doctrine of justification by faith alone “the main hinge on which religion turns.”195 Turretin termed it “the principal rampart of the Christian religion. This being adulterated or subverted, it is impossible to retain purity of doctrine in other places. Hence Satan in every way has endeavored to corrupt this doctrine in all ages, as has been done especially by the papacy.”196 Take note: deny justification by faith alone, and it is impossible to retain purity of doctrine in other places! It is a downward slide.

If the RCUS is not good enough for you, how about your own organization, the Alliance, a parachurch agency that launched its existence precisely because justification by faith alone (read Norman Shepherd) was on the ropes. Thanks to the nifty new device that alliance.net has made available, I can find the Cambridge Declaration of 1996 that spawned ACE. It includes the following:

Justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. This is the article by which the church stands or falls. Today this article is often ignored, distorted or sometimes even denied by leaders, scholars and pastors who claim to be evangelical. Although fallen human nature has always recoiled from recognizing its need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, modernity greatly fuels the fires of this discontent with the biblical Gospel. We have allowed this discontent to dictate the nature of our ministry and what it is we are preaching.

Many in the church growth movement believe that sociological understanding of those in the pew is as important to the success of the gospel as is the biblical truth which is proclaimed. As a result, theological convictions are frequently divorced from the work of the ministry. The marketing orientation in many churches takes this even further, erasing the distinction between the biblical Word and the world, robbing Christ’s cross of its offense, and reducing Christian faith to the principles and methods which bring success to secular corporations.

While the theology of the cross may be believed, these movements are actually emptying it of its meaning. There is no gospel except that of Christ’s substitution in our place whereby God imputed to him our sin and imputed to us his righteousness. Because he bore our judgment, we now walk in his grace as those who are forever pardoned, accepted and adopted as God’s children. There is no basis for our acceptance before God except in Christ’s saving work, not in our patriotism, churchly devotion or moral decency. The gospel declares what God has done for us in Christ. It is not about what we can do to reach him.

Thesis Four: Sola Fide

We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.

We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.

I wonder, the way you are headed, if you can affirm what the Alliance does. I sure hope so. But your constant toying with a doctrine that stands at the center of the gospel leads me to think the RCUS’ words to Norman Shepherd might apply to you:

Does Shepherd Jones really want to maintain that the fathers of the reformation, who together wrote the Protestant Creeds, along with all their spiritual sons, men like Turretin, Hodge, Berkhof, and John Murray, have all misread Scripture and have all misunderstood the doctrine of justification by faith alone?

Those of us who read you fear that the answer is yes.

Flattening Will Get You Nowhere

Mark Jones wonders what is so controversial about the view that the covenant with Adam was gracious:

. . . for the sake of argument, let’s say the Mosaic covenant has a meritorious element. Does that make it a republication of the covenant of works? Not necessarily. After all, you would have to re-define the covenant of works to make it a meritorious covenant. But what if you hold to the uncontroversial view that Adam, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, lived by faith in the Garden of Eden as he perfectly obeyed God’s law (for a time)? How is Sinai similar to that covenantal context and how is it different?

In other words, Adam was dependent on the work of grace to keep the law in a way comparable to what the Israelites experienced after the Mosaic Covenant. And as I gather from his interview (haven’t read his book yet), Jones also draws comparisons between Christ’s pursuit of holiness and the Christian’s similar endeavor. Lots of flattening in Jones’ reading of the Bible and history, though not much attention to Paul who may have provided a few reasons for not exalting every valley in redemptive history.

But surely Jones knows that his “uncontroversial” hypothesis is precisely has been contentious among confessional Reformed Protestants for as long as Norman Shepherd proposed the notion of obedient faith. In particular, Shepherd, if Cornel Venema’s review of The Call of Grace is a fair reading, had a similar habit of making the rough places of redemptive history plain:

. . . though this flattening of the covenant relationship throughout the course of history, before and after the fall, may have a superficial appeal, it has huge implications for the way we interpret the respective “work” of Adam and Christ, the second Adam. Shepherd makes clear that he rejects the traditional Reformed doctrine of a pre-lapsarian “covenant of works” that promised Adam life “upon condition of perfect obedience” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. VII.ii). To say that Adam’s acceptance before God justly demanded his performance of an obligation of obedience, is, Shepherd argues, tantamount to treating the covenant relationship as though it were a contractual one, on analogy of an employer to an employee, rather than a familial one, on analogy of a father to a son (p. 39). We should recognize that God always treats human beings on the basis of his sovereign grace and promise. Just as children never “merit” their father’s favor by their good works, so human beings never “merit” God’s favor by their obedience to the covenant’s obligations. However, life in covenant with God, though not “merited,” is nonetheless obtained only by way of the obedience of faith. This means that what God required of Adam, he requires of Abraham and all believers, including Christ.

Lest this interpretation of Shepherd’s view be regarded as a misreading of his position, it should be noted that Shepherd explicitly draws a parallel between what God obliges Abraham, Christ, and all believers to do as a necessary condition for their salvation. In his description of Christ’s saving work, Shepherd uses the same language that he earlier used to describe Abraham’s faith: “His [Christ’s] was a living, active, and obedient faith that took him all the way to the cross. This faith was credited to him as righteousness” (p. 19, emphasis mine). By this language Shepherd treats Christ as though he were little more than a model believer whose obedient faith constituted the ground for his acceptance with God in the same way that Abraham’s (and any believer’s) obedient faith constituted the basis for his acceptance with God. In his zeal to identify the covenant relationship between God and man in its pre- and post-fall administrations, Shepherd leaves little room to describe Christ’s work as Mediator of the covenant in a way that honors the uniqueness, perfection and sufficiency of Christ’s accomplishment for the salvation of his people.

So we offer a warning to Jones about his flattening lest he reduce the uniqueness of Christ’s epoch-making work in contrast to Adam’s epic failure. He may want to chalk Meredith Kline’s views of Moses up to the latter’s study of the Ancient Near East. But Jones should also pay attention to the other much more significant context for his views on republication — namely, the errors of Shepherd.

What a Difference Three Decades Make

In 1981 the PCA turned down the OPC’s decision to join the PCA. The context was something called J&R, joining and receiving. The PCA had invited the RPCES (denominational patron of Covenant College and Covenant Seminary) and the OPC to join and be received by the PCA into one denomination. The RPCES cleared the hurdle. The OPC did not mainly because the PCA had reservations about the teaching of Norman Shepherd and his influence within the OPC.

This week the word came that the PCA has upheld a lower court ruling that exonerates Peter Leithart’s teaching. It is an odd ruling because the PCA had approved a study report that argued the Federal Vision theology, of which Leithart is a proponent, was outside the bounds of the communion’s confessional standards.

It is also odd because the affinities between Shepherd’s theology and the Federal Vision are numerous if not always obvious.

This takes the question of how to fix the PCA to an entirely different dimension.

The Grandaddy of Reformed Anti-Lutheranism

Not that reviews of books at Amazon.com are ever adequate or trustworthy, the one for Ian Hewitson’s book on the Shepherd Controversy is revealing and adds context to the current polemics among militant critiques of Lutheranism from biblical theologians. The initial hostility in Presbyterian circles to Lutheran notions of justification came from Norman Shepherd. The reviewer is correct to note:

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the doctrine of justification by “faith alone” came under scrutiny at Westminster Theological Seminary. One of the reasons that precipitated a long, drawn-out, and painful controversy there is because the Rev. Norman Shepherd sought to do faithful exegesis of the text of Scripture in comparing the so-called contradictory pronouncements on justification between Paul and James. He did so while staying faithful to his Reformed tradition as expressed in the Westminster Standards (Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms). While Shepherd came to question Luther’s statement of “justification by faith alone,” he wondered why exegetical theology could not express itself in terms of the simpler, and more biblical, “justification by faith.” It was, after all, Martin Luther who added the gloss “alone” (glauben allein) into the text of Romans 3:28, which is not in the Greek text.

Ian Hewitson, Ph.D. University of Aberdeen, reveals in his clear, erudite dissertation, that at the crux of the debate over Shepherd’s teachings was the Lutheran-Calvinist distinction in what constitutes justifying faith. For Luther, the faith that justifies is “alone.” That is, faith is an entity that exists all by itself, is “alone,” and is devoid of any and all good works. In this sense “justification by faith alone” uses “alone” as an adjective. What kind of faith is it that justifies? It is an “alone” faith. It is faith in abstraction from all else. That is the adjectival use of the word “alone” in “justification by faith alone.”

Before Shepherd, theologians like John Murray or Louis Berkhof would not have objected to the Lutheran doctrine of justification. But Shepherd did.

Before sympathetic readers here jump on the anti-Shepherd bandwagon, they need to remember that at the time Reformed rigor was on the decline and evangelical breadth was on the rise among conservative Presbyterians in the OPC, PCA, and Westminster Seminary. John Frame’s book, Evangelical Reunion (for starters) would be ironically one example of that New School turn among conservative Presbyterians away from Old School practices and convictions. Shepherd’s desire for a consistently Reformed doctrine of salvation was part of an Old School instinct to preserve a distinctly Reformed voice.

What needs to be noted is that Shepherd was correct to resist the decline of Reformed militancy and singularity at his seminary and within his communion. I wonder if John Frame’s endorsement of Shepherd actually includes some recognition of the distance between him and Shepherd on the Reformed identity and militant character of the OPC, with Shepherd embodying one strand of Machen’s warrior children and Frame exhibiting boredom with fighting period. (Fight liberalism, sure. But that was so yesterday.)

The question is whether Shepherd needed to find a really, really, really Reformed doctrine of justification in order to right the ship. My answer, for what it’s worth, is negative.

Speaking of Obscure Publishers

Next Step Resources, Inc. is the publisher of a new book on Norman Shepherd and the controversy that led to his dismissal from Westminster Theological Seminary. The author of Trust and Obey is Ian Lewiston and John Frame writes the foreword. Why a company that specializes in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School materials would publish a dissertation from an obscure academic institution (Highland Theological College) is anyone’s guess, almost as hard to fathom as Nelson Kloosterman’s endorsement of the book:

From this point forward, only the person who has read Ian Hewitson’s study deserves to speak and be heard … The Ninth Commandment requires nothing less.

But Frame’s foreword is more arresting that Kloosterman’s blurb if only because of the contrast between sympathy for a man who botched the gospel and hostility to men who don’t agree about Christ and culture. On the one hand, Frame agrees with Hewiston’s assessment of Shepherd:

[His] credentials — his moral integrity, personal courage and humility, impeccable scholarship, and commitment to the authority of Scripture — have given to the church and to the academy the pattern for Christian piety and scholarship. His commitment to, and passion for, “exploring the riches of divine revelation” coupled with his recognition that systematic theology is never a finished science, will provide a sure defense against “heterodoxy” for succeeding generations.

On the other hand, on closer inspection Sheperd’s scholarship may not be the bulwark against heterodoxy that Hewiston alleges. For when Frame comes to the specifics of Shepherd’s teaching he does an intellectual impression of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk (that’s the one where he walks backwards, right?):

I think Shepherd was right about James 2:14-26, but he should have presented it not as a new idea but as Reformed tradition: “It’s faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.” I can’t imagine that such a way of putting it would have aroused the controversy that Shepherd’s view raised. But to some extent, he evidently wanted to create controversy, since he believed that typical evangelical, Lutheran, Baptist, and even Presbyterian preaching, for example, wrongly pitted grace and faith against gospel obedience. . . .

Further, I am not convinced of Shepherd’s view of election, or of his more recent denial of the imputation of Christ’s active righteousness. Still, even on these matters, Shepherd made serious arguments based on the Scriptures and Reformed confessional tradition, better on the whole, I believe, than those of his critics.

Frame’s mention of Shepherd’s faults may sound pretty negative but Frame bails out his former colleague by concluding that Shepherd bettered his critics. Frame fails to mention that Shepherd’s argument and scholarship did not persuade Frame. But then, no one ever pleases John Frame.

Logic aside, Frame’s foreword is striking. He is willing to add his name in support of a biased account of the Shepherd controversy. He is also willing to vouch in glowing terms for Shepherd’s scholarship even though justification has come under serious attack for the last thirty years. (He also doesn’t mind that Shepherd, one of Machen’s would-be warrior children was combative.) But when it comes to two-kingdom theology, Frame is more than willing to take off the gloves over a topic that is hardly the main hinge on which religion turns.

The reasons remain obscure.

Forensic Friday: You Say Klinean, I Say Repristination

In the current issue of the Westminster Theological Journal, William Evans from Esrkine College, has an article offering a taxonomy of the current debates over the doctrine of union. In the repristinationist wing he puts Westminster California. He even specifies that the revisionism of Shepherd and Federal Vision provoked the repristinationist effort. The other group in Evans’ taxonomy is the Biblical Theology wing of Vos, Murray, and Gaffin. Some of these distinctions among Shepherd/FV, WTS, and WSC seem a bit arbitrary since all sides claim to stand within the tradition of biblical theology (was anyone more biblical theological than Kline?). What does separate these groups is the way each wing positions itself in relationship to the past, with Shepherd/FV (Mark Horne’s ransacking of the 17th century notwithstanding) being the most novel, the Biblical Theological group extending back mainly to Vos (with a lot of use made of a particular section of Calvin) and the repristinators endeavoring to recover the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century categories for a stable theological program and church life.

Which leads to the way in which Evans characterizes Westminster California:

The overriding motive here is clear and laudable – safeguarding the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith.

Here, first of all, we find a vigorous defense of the Law/Gospel hermeneutic. If salvation is to be truly gracious, then law and gospel must be distinguished. In contrast to the Revisionists, who view the Law/Gospel distinction as genetically Lutheran rather than Reformed, these figures stress the essential continuity of Lutherans and Reformed on this matter, although the attitude toward law is more positive than one finds among some Lutherans. For example, there is consistent affirmation of the “third use” of the law (i.e., the law of God as a guide for the life of the Christian).

Second, in keeping with this, there is vigorous defense of the conceptual apparatus of later federal orthodoxy, especially the bi-covenantal framework involving a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace. The covenant of works as an instantiation of the law principles is viewed as an essential guarantor of the Law/Gospel distinction. Then, in order to underscore the gracious uniqueness of the New Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant is seen in part as a “republication” of the Covenant of Works. There is also defense of a pre-temporal intratrinitarian Covenant of Redemption or pactum salutis between the Father and the Son, which is viewed as providing a foundation for the Covenant of Grace in theology proper.

What is worth noting, aside from highlighting Evans’ piece, is the omission of the worn out canard that Westminster California is simply channeling Meredith Kline. In point of fact, WSC is trying, as Evans concedes, to hold on to the insights of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As Mike Horton mentioned recently, that sure puts those complaints about Westminster California’s radicalism in a different light.

Right Chronology, Wrong Westminster Professor

Plain as nose
The controversial Kerux review of The Law Is Not of Faith is now available on line. I cannot get past the first sentence: “For the past thirty years, a shift in Reformed covenant theology has been percolating under the hot Southern California sun in Escondido.”

This is an amazing opening because for thirty years the sideline Reformed world has experienced a controversy over the refashioning of covenant theology and the doctrines that flow from it. But Westminster California was not the place where the controverted doctrines came from. Did the reviewers for Kerux notice anything about Federal Vision, or Evangelicals and Catholics Together, or Norman Shepherd? Of course, not. These are real controversies conveniently ignored to go after the alleged real culprit: WSC and its part-time professor, Meredith G. Kline.

Atop the bluff of a former orange grove, a quiet redefinition of the Sinaitic covenant administration as a typological covenant of works, complete with meritorious obedience and meritorious reward has been ripening. The architect of this paradigm shift was the late Meredith G. Kline.

Again, this is truly dumbfounding. The doctrine of justification has been up for grabs in the heart of conservative Reformed and Presbyterian communions such as the OPC, PCA, and URC. The doctrine has received further questions and revisions in the broader Protestant world thanks to the already mentioned Evangelicals and Catholics Together, the Federal Vision, and the New Perspective on Paul. And yet, Kerux decides to lower the boom on Kline and WSC.

It should be noted that Kline, as a professor at Gordon-Conwell, was one of those who thirty years ago supported the Westminster faculty who were opposed to Shepherd’s teaching – among them, W. Robert Godfrey, Palmer Robertson, Robert Knudsen, and Arthur Kuschke. And since then it has been Klineans who have been clearest on justification, its centrality to the Reformed doctrine of salvation, and its priority to sanctification. At the same time, it has been those who have either defended or been silent about Shepherd who have been some of the biggest critics of Westminster California.

Consequently, it is an odd historical judgment that Kerux offers, and one that draws attention away from the real source of controversy in Reformed circles.

But the problems of historical analysis only get worse for the authors of the review. Not only was Kline an important critic of Shepherd but his students have been at least partly responsible for bringing a measure of calm to that controversy within the OPC thanks to the leadership of WSC faculty on the study committee on justification. That report was clear regarding the defects of Shepherd’s views and their ties and affinities to the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul.

And in case anyone actually thought WSC was ambiguous about justification, the seminary has issued a statement on the doctrine, “Our Testimony on Justification,” which counters the Shepherdian claim that justification needs to be set free from its Lutheran bondage. It declares:

. . . some who claim to be Reformed suggest that too many Reformed people have a Lutheran view of justification and need to develop a distinctively Reformed view of justification. These critics usually claim that they accept the Reformed confessions, yet at the same time claim that Reformed theology needs to be changed and clarified to be distinctive. Such critics, called neonomians in the seventeenth century, today are perhaps better labeled covenant moralists.

Our testimony is directed primarily to this third group who claim to be genuinely Reformed. These covenant moralists teach, contrary to the Reformed confessions and/or historic Reformed conviction, some or all of the following:

that the Reformation doctrine of justification is not fully biblical;

that the Lutherans and Calvinists have different doctrines of justification;

that the Reformation misunderstood Paul on justification;

that justification is not by faith alone, but by faithfulness, i.e. trust in Christ and obedience;

that the idea of merit as a way of explaining the work of Christ for us is unbiblical;

that Christ died for our sins but he did not keep the law perfectly in our place (his active obedience);

that Christ does not impute his active obedience to us;

that obedience or good works is not only the fruit or evidence of faith, but is also part of the ground or instrument of justification;

that our justification is in some way dependent on the final judgment of our works.

As the faculty of Westminster Seminary California we believe that we must issue this testimony especially in relation to those who claim to be Reformed in their attack on the Reformation doctrine of justification and who claim to uphold the teaching of the Reformed confessions.

So for the last thirty years, Westminster California has through its faculty, both in the courts of the church and individual authors, during debates about Shepherd, ECT, Federal Vision, and the New Perspective, been on the right side of the doctrines of grace. Now along comes Kerux to re-write history and say that not Shepherd, Richard John Neuhaus, Chuck Colson, nor N. T. Wright was the problem but Meredith G. Kline and his students. To borrow a line from Harry Emerson Fosdick, “what incredible folly!”