Dan Fuller vs John Calvin

John Armstrong’s Reformation and Revival Journal (Luther 2) endorses the conditional theology of Daniel Fuller. It has a review essay on Fuller’s “Unity of the Bible” by Chuck Huckaby. Since Fuller accused Calvin of being too unconditional and thus too “dispensational”, Huckaby spends much of his time trying to say that Calvin was also conditional. The idea that Calvin was right, and Fuller wrong, does not seem to occur to him.

Huckaby writes that Fuller’s quoting of Calvin is selective, and that we should refer to the creeds which are conditional. Both Piper and Fuller quote Calvin selectively. Piper only quotes that with which he can agree; I give Fuller more credit for at least quoting and disagreeing with the Protestants.

But many of you ultimately don’t care what Calvin or the creeds say. Thus for now I will confine myself to what  Reformation and Revival says about “conditionality”. Huckaby writes (p220) that the only issue here is the conditionality of faith and “nothing of works”. But “works” are at the very heart of Fuller’s concerns.

Since the old covenant and the law command faith, Fuller claims, what we need to do is avoid MISUNDERSTANDING so that our works are “works of faith” and not a “legalism of merit without faith.” It’s not “nothing of works”. Rather, it is of works, and besides that, the works must be of faith. So instead of trusting only the finished work of Christ, we must constantly suspect ourselves, and look to see if we have works, and to see if these works are properly motivated. This may be a puritan emphasis but it is not consistent with the gospel.


From Huckaby’s defense of the conditionality of the gospel:“The law is not the “letter” of 2 Corinthians from which we are released.” Then he quotes a puritan: “The spiritual law of Romans 7:12 cannot be the same as the ‘letter’ of II Cor 3:6. The ‘letter’ from which we are released is the one without the Sprit…and thus is the very opposite of the spiritual law of Romans 7.”

This seems to be the standard anti-dispensational reading: neither Romans 7 or II Cor 3 are seen as being about redemptive history or about the change brought by the new covenant. They are only warnings, proper for any time or covenant, to NOT MISUNDERSTAND, to not be a “legalist with wrong motives”.

Huckaby quotes Cranfield to support his reading of II Cor 3:
“Paul does not use ‘letter’ as a simple equivalent of ‘the law’.” “Letter” is rather what the legalist is left with as a result of his misunderstanding, and misuse of the law in isolation from the Spirit is not the law in its true character….”

This kind of “narrow reading” is what many other Reformed folk are doing
to minimize the difference between law and grace. If you get the law back to its “true character”, then salvation is also by law. If you get works back to being enabled by sovereign grace, then justification is by works. The gospel either/or must go for the sake of the but and the however. We can’t just say anymore that God DID what the law could NEVER do (Romans 8:3). That sounds too “antinomian” and “dispensational”. The legalists object:

“Everything depends on the inward attitude of the heart, with the great contrast lying between the unregenerate flesh and the indwelling, regenerating Spirit. Those indwelt by the Spirit are disposed to comply with the spiritual law of faith…”

I suppose we could at this point discuss possible discontinuities about the Spirit and regeneration between the covenants. But notice what has happened: justification by grace part from works has disappeared. The either/or that Paul had between faith and works has disappeared. For some “the law of Moses becomes only a law of sin and death.” But for others, the law of Moses “WAS SAVING” if their obedience was an “obedience of faith” (p223).

Works are not ruled out as means of justification; the only problem is “legalism” as defined as boasting. If you work without boasting and with faith, then you will be justified. If you do not work (enough), then you are an antinomian (so much so that you will not be justified?).

After we get done saying all those pretty words about the cross and justification apart from our works, we get scared of grace either/ors, and we say that “however” it all DEPENDS on God’s secret regenerating work in our hearts ALSO.

But isn’t there a real “tension” here? Perhaps, but what are we are to tell the unsaved: the gospel is a tension? It’s a “balance” between what God did at the cross and what God does in your heart? Or is that only the gospel we tell people who think they are already saved (like “covenant children”)?

I quote Fuller (Unity of the Bible, 143): “NOT ONLY must we trust that His death on the cross enables God to forgive our sins, but to believe properly we must also…continually believe in God’s promises as an indispensable component of genuine faith…”

See the tension? While “unconditional” election supposedly is not part of the gospel but only that which secretly makes the gospel work, the gospel is not only the work of Christ outside of us but also the work of Christ in us. So that I cry out: but what happens if I do not “continually believe as much as I should”?

What is Huckaby’s gospel reply? Is it that I am constituted righteous by the work of Christ? NO. He tells me instead not to be “overscrupulous”. He writes: “nor must justifying faith be perfect or flawless, or superhuman faith. It is the imputed righteousness of Christ alone that makes the difference, not our faith. p227”

The new perspective accentuates the  “family” (non-flawless) commands of God, and thus lets the cross make up the difference. But the gospel says that all saving faith is the fruit of the righteousness obtained for the elect AND that justification is not a future thing dependent on our future works or future faith or future works of faith. This is what we learned when we are taught the gospel: it is the very thing Huckaby and Fuller leave behind when they start saying the faith doesn’t need to be perfect.

Huckaby agrees with Fuller that “Calvin’s exegesis of key passages in Romans and Galatians can be seen as positioning the law of Moses as a ‘law of works’ not based on faith at all. (p231). I would like to see much more discussion of this: I think Calvin got it right! Gal 2:16-3:13 are not about a “misunderstanding” of works. Galatians puts works in antithesis to faith in a way that Fuller will not allow.

In a footnote, Huckaby says that he “does not agree with certain theological conclusions Fuller draws”, but he never tells us about those disagreements. He seems to agree with the “single covenant” unity approach which incorporates the legal aspects of the old covenant into the new covenant.

What is the one major difference between those of us who are submitted to the gospel and those who are not. Many would say the biggest difference is regeneration. I think the issue is “law and the gospel”. But all I seem to read from some Reformed puritans is that dispensationalists are wrong about law and grace. The errors of dispensationalists about law are usually not spelled out.

What bothers some puritans is any talk of “unconditionality”. Of course election is unconditional, they consent, BUT HOWEVER everything DEPENDS on THE COVENANT which of course to many (but not all!) Reformed scholars is  conditional, depending on us “doing our part”. To them, the law is gospel after all.

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2 Comments on “Dan Fuller vs John Calvin”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    If you keep the conditions of the law, then those conditions turn into promises? And the law turns into gospel? And the antithesis between law and gospel disappears? Many confused calvinists seem to think that–but they are wrong.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Commenting on Luke 10:28: And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” John Calvin wrote the following:

    Luke 10:28. Do this, and thou shalt live. I have explained a little before, how this promise agrees with freely bestowed justification by faith; for the reason why God justifies us freely is, not that the Law does not point out perfect righteousness, but because we fail in keeping it, and the reason why it is declared to be impossible for us to obtain life by it is, that it is weak through our flesh, (Romans 8:3.) So then these two statements are perfectly consistent with each other, that the Law teaches how men may obtain righteousness by works, and yet that no man is justified by works, because the fault lies not in the doctrine of the Law, but in men. It was the intention of Christ, in the meantime, to vindicate himself from the calumny which, he knew, was brought against him by the unlearned and ignorant, that he set aside the Law, so far as it is a perpetual rule of righteousness.


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