In The God of Promise and the Life of Faith: Understanding the Heart of the Bible (Paperback) footnote 6 on p244, Hafemann writes: ” The position I am advocating is based on a reassessment of the traditional Lutheran, Calvinistic and dispensational view of the relationship between the Law and the Gospel. The traditional view saw a conflict between the two, with the law viewed narrowly as God’s demand for sinless obedience as the ground of our salvation, while the gospel called for faith In God’s grace in Christ, who kept the Law perfectly in our place.”
Hafemann does not understand correctly the antithesis he is opposing. Yes, the law is the divine demand for perfection (and also for satisfaction for sins). But he is wrong to focus on a demand for perfection being replaced by a demand for faith. The proper difference would not be a new or different demand (for faith) but the righteousness obtained and imputed by God. .
Hafemann is inattentive to three facts about the divine alien righteousness. First, Christ died under the curse of God’s law only for the elect alone. Second, faith has as its object not just any ” Christ”or any “grace”, but the Christ who satisfied the law for all who will be justified (and not for the non-elect). Third, this faith is not only a sovereign gift but a righteous gift, given on behalf of Christ and His law-work (Philippians 1:29; John 17).
When Hafemann makes the difference to be between a demand for faith and a demand for obedience, the only thing left for him to discuss is the nature of faith. Does faith include works or not? If faith works and faith is an instrument, why can’t works of faith be an instrument? Since faith is a result of regeneration, won’t that faith include works?
Hafemann does discuss the object of faith. His complaint is that the law/gospel antithesis is wrong to put all the emphasis on the past. He denies that the past work of Christ is sufficient or the only object of faith. In insisting that we give priority to the person of Christ, Hafeman wants us to look also to the (present and future) life of Christ in us.
At least he is honest about his differences with Calvin and Luther. Hafemann openly acknowledges his rejection of the law/grace antithesis. He thinks his different gospel is more biblical.
My own position is that it would help us see the difference between the two gospels if we stopped explaining the antithesis by talking only about “faith alone”. The real point of the law-gospel antithesis is not “conflict”. It is non-identity. The law is not the gospel. The gospel is not the law. The gospel, however, is about the satisfaction of God’s law for God’s elect.
Though law and gospel are not the same thing, they are not opposed because they never claim to have the same function. Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation; not only one sin would put you under its curse, no matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law could never promise everlasting life.
Hafemann thinks that the antithesis understands “Christ to bring the law to an end in the sense of abolishment”. But the antithesis does NOT understand Romans 10:4 in terms of redemptive-historical abrogation. The “end of the law” is Christ completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. Romans 10:4 is about redemptive-historical fulfillment.
The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.
Hafemann reduces the law/gospel antithesis to the abolishment of strict law, and says that what the Spirit does in us helps satisfy the law enough. This misses what the gospel says about Christ’s perfect and complete satisfaction of the law for the elect.
Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But the law will not go unsatisfied.
In a footnote 6 on page 244, Hafeman writes: “In this Lutheran view, the law itself taught a legalism that Adam and Israel failed to keep but that God continues to demand in order to drive us to the gospel”.
Is “legalism” a demand for perfection? If God demands perfection, is God therefore a “legalist”? It seems to me that the only alternative to a demand for perfection is either no law at all or a “new” demand which calls only for imperfect righteousness so that “grace” makes up the difference.
Hafemann is following in the wake of Barth, Torrance, and Daniel fuller who reject the “contract God” who demands perfection and operates by justice. They think that even talking about law’s demand for perfection is “legalism”. But God has told us that the law is not the gospel and that it never was the gospel. Romans 11:5–”So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would not be grace.”
It is Hafemann who is both legalist ( because he identifies law and gospel) and antinomian (because he then reduces the demand to including what the Spirit does in the elect. What God does in us keeps us believing the gospel, but our believing the gospel is not what satisfies the law.
Read carefully what Hafemann writes about the “obedience of faith” (p188): “Still others consider obedience to God’s law to be the necessary evidence of faith. For them, if one believes, then obedience becomes the mandatory sign of something else, namely faith, which is the human response to God’s grace that actually saves us. Faith must lead to obedience as a sign that it is real.”
While that it is an accurate description of many Calvinists about assurance, it is not biblical assurance. We do not work to get assurance. We must have assurance before our works are acceptable to God.
Most Calvinists, along with the Arminians, teach “faithalone” as if faith were the response that saves us. Yes, they disagree about the cause and source of faith, but even most of the Calvinists leave election out of their “atonement” and out of their “gospel”.