Schreiner Still Running to Win the Prize

Run to Win the Prize, 2010, Crossway, Thomas R. Schreiner

This little book is from lectures given at Oak Hill College in London. It’s a summary of the thinking found in the book Schreiner wrote with Caneday,The Race Set Before Us (2001, IVP). Schreiner again engages in some special pleading for a “paradox” (p73) in which works are necessary but also for not focusing on these works but on Christ.

How it’s possible to rationally live in that paradox is not so clear. Words like “premeditation” and “intention” play a big part in the double talk.

I would NOT say that Schreiner’s thesis comes from the “new perspective” or the “federal vision” There’s no need to go to NT Wright or James Jordan to make his case. Schreiner quotes Jonathan Edwards against John Calvin to argue that works of faith are necessary for justification.

The book Free Justification by Steve Fernandez has mostly been ignored (not heard of) by the Reformed mainstream because it dares to criticize Caneday and Schreiner.

I share the amazement of Don Garlington (who wrote a book on perseverance from the new perspective and got fired for it) that Schreiner seems to be getting a free pass on this. Whether you think Schreiner is right or wrong, it’s difficult to see the big difference between what Schreiner is writing and what Norman Shepherd and Garlington wrote.

Schreiner sees justification as being in two parts of one “whole”: the already and not yet, both the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and also our running to win the prize. All true Christians have transformed hearts, he argues, and thus they also persevere because that is what their new nature does. And “union” with Christ means that we can now focus also on what the Christian does.

Schreiner explains that the biblical warnings ensure that believers will keep running. If they don’t,they will then know that they were not really believers.

Schreiner is denying Calvin’s distinction between law and gospel. Now of course, if you are a Westminster revisionist, you don’t think Calvin has that distinction. But at any rate, Schreiner thinks he is reading the warning texts differently than he thinks Calvin did.

Schreiner does disagree with the federal vision distinction between covenant and election, even though that’s a very old distinction in many Reformed paradigms. But on the question of perseverance as condition (not as evidence alone), Schreiner is on the same page as Garlington.

I read I John 3 in the context of Cain and Abel: two states. I do not buy the “habitual” tenor reading: if we habitually are denying that we are habitual sinners, then we are habitually liars. You see, it’s simple, it’s the verbs! (I think Carson’s commentary on I John 3 will read the text as “ideal” of what should be.)

Habitual failure to do good works is not only evidence of the fact that the justified are sinners. Habitual failure to do good works is also habitual sin. How much is enough?

I think Schreiner’s practical answer is to notice that you are doing as well as the people around you, but stay careful to say that this is mere “byproduct” and that, at the end of the day, the most important place you want to sit is on what Christ’s blood got done.

But You Still Got to Get Running Harder. Than You Are Now.

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14 Comments on “Schreiner Still Running to Win the Prize”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    so the atonement is of no ultimate consequence, because what will make the difference is God causing us to have a change of heart, and you can’t know today if your change of heart is going to last until you die, and besides that, you don’t know if your heart is quite changed enough, probably not enough yet, need more from you tomorrow, plus also full and complete confession of all acts of sins committed between now and then, but don’t worry because God is friendly with those in the family, not so strict, and thus will cut you some slack but not too much, we don’t ever know quite how much, but you could always shape up more but if you are struggling that’s a good sign cause it shows that you care and are trying, so don’t worry unless of course you are not worried enough, and this is what you should do with your own children, a few friendly threats would not hurt them, maybe they really were never in your family, it remains to be seen if they have had a change of heart….

  2. markmcculley Says:

    By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (Oakhill School of Theology Series Gaffin’s thesis is that there is a future aspect to the justification of an individual sinner. His assumption is that it is faith which unites a sinner to Christ and thus to the benefits/power to do the works necessary for this future aspect of justification. It is God who gives the faith; it is God who gives the works; therefore it seems right to him to condition a future aspect of justification on the faith and works of the sinner. Gaffin does not tell us what gospel must be the object of the faith which unites to Christ. Nor does he tell us how imperfect works would have to be to miss justification and be condemned.

    Gaffin: “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…” p 110 Gaffin wants to say that both things arehis hope. Part of his hope is “sanctification” defined as power over against sin despite our “incomplete progress, flawed by our continued sinning”.

    Gaffin says many good things about imputation. For example, on p 51, he lists 3 options for the ground of justification. A. Christ’s own righteousness, complete and finished in his obedience…B. the union itself, the fact of the relationship with Christ…c. the obedience being produced by the transforming Spirit in those in union. Gaffin rightly concludes that “the current readiness to dispense with imputation” results from taking the last two options as the ground of justification.

    But Gaffin always has a but, a not yet. Though we are justified now (because he thinks faith in something, even Arminianism, unites us now to Jesus), Gaffin still teaches a justification by sight, ie by works. Instead of reading the “according to works” texts as having to do with the distinction between dead works (Hebrews 6:1,9:14) and “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), Gaffin conditions assurance in a future aspect of justification on imperfect but habitual working. Instead of saying that works motivated by fear of missing justification are unacceptable to God, Gaffin teaches a future aspect of justification which is contingent on those works. Since Christ was justified by His works, he thinks the pattern means that the future aspect of our justification depends on our works.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Psalm 95
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
    9 when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
    10 For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
    and they have not known my ways.”
    11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
    “They shall not enter my rest.”

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Tianqi Wu The parable of unforgiving servant is not threatening the believer that God will revoke forgiveness if they don’t forgive their brothers but is describing by a human analogy how sinful it would be to not forgive your brother when you have been forgiven by God.

    1, in the parable, the master forgives monetary debts, but not sinful conduct (the servant being unmerciful)

    2, in the parable, the master’s forgiveness of debt is by master’s absorption of the loss which he can change mind about later, not by an complete, settled payment by a mediator.

    Some of those who divide sin into sin against law and sin against grace, says sin against law is forgiven, IF you do not sin against grace. Some of them also say God can change his mind about the value of Christ’s death for you based on your response.

    id you ever notice that the people who make our forgiveness of other sinners conditional on those sinners (which God does not), think that they are meeting the conditions of salvation WITHOUT ACTUALLY FORGIVING. The OFFER to forgive (now the potato is in your hands) means these people can get assurance without forgiving but only OFFERING to forgive.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    “justification in Galatians”, p 172, Moo’s essay in the Carson f (Understanding the Times)—Nor is there any need to set Paul’s “juridicial” and “participationist” categories in opposition to one another (see Gaffin, By Faith Not By Sight, p 35-41). The problem of positing a union with Christ that precedes the erasure of our legal condemnation before God ( eg, making justification the product of union with Chris) CAN BE ANSWERED IF WE POSIT, WITHIN THE SINGLE WORK OF CHRIST, TWO STAGES OF “JUSTIFICATION”, one involving Christ’s payment of our legal debt–the basis for our regeneration–and second our actual justification=stemming from our union with Christ.”

    mark: No way! so they don’t deny election or legal atonement or legal imputation, but in the end they continue to make “actual justification” the result of “union” which is for them a “faith-union”. They still get faith first (and not God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness) in the “real justification” . Calling Christ’s death (and resurrection?) not only “the legal payment” but the “first justification” does NOT change the fact that they start by saying there is no order of application and then turn around and make the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith first in the order of application

    By consequence, the imputation of Christ’s righteous to us is the necessary precondition of the restoration to us of the influences of the Holy Ghost, and that restoration leads by necessary consequence to our regeneration and sanctification.

    The notion that the necessary precondition of the imputation to us of Christ’s righteousness is our own faith, of which the necessary precondition is regeneration, is analogous to the rejected
    theory that the inherent personal moral corruption of each of Adam’s descendants is the necessary precondition of the imputation of his guilt to them. On the contrary, if the imputation of guilt is the causal antecedent of inherent depravity, in like manner the imputation of righteousness must be the causal antecedent of regeneration and faith.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    John Piper—-Now I want to stop and make sure that you are hearing what I believe the Scripture is saying, because it is not commonly said, but our lives hang on it. There is a real sense in which our justification depends on our sanctification. There is a sense in which whether we are acquitted before God depends on whether the law of the Spirit of life has freed us from the law of sin and death.

    But how can this be? The sentence of “not guilty” has already been given, and it was given to those who have faith. How then can I say that the past sentence of “not guilty” is dependent on the present process of sanctification? And how can I say that to experience justification one must not only have faith but also be freed by the Spirit from the power of sin?

    1) The faith to which justification is promised is not merely a single decision to acknowledge Christ’s lordship and accept him as Savior. The faith by which we are justified is an ongoing life of faith. When we read Romans 4 and James 2 carefully we see that Abraham believed God’s promise and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He was justified by his faith. But then we notice that the illustrations of this faith in Romans 4 and James 2 are not merely its first act in Genesis 12 that caused Abraham to leave the land of Ur and follow God to Canaan, but also Abraham’s faith in God’s later promise in Genesis 15 to make his own son his heir, and the faith in Genesis 22 that enabled him to almost sacrifice his only son, Isaac. In other words, when Paul and James think of the faith by which Abraham was justified they think not merely of his initial belief but of his ongoing life of faith. Therefore Paul says in Colossians 1:21–23,

    And you who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, IF INDEED YOU REMAIN IN FAITH stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.

    Or as he says in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2: I preached to you the gospel which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, IF YOU HOLD IT FAST—unless you believed in vain.
    We are justified not ALONE by that initial reception of the gospel but by an ongoing life of faith.

    2) Second, the coming of the Holy Spirit into a person’s life and the working of the Spirit to liberate that life from the law of sin and death always accompany genuine faith and there is no other way to have it….It is by faith that we receive the Holy Spirit, and it is by faith that the Spirit works within us. To live by faith and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit are the same thing, viewed from two different angles.

    Paul says in Romans 8:14, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.” . One must believe in Christ to be God’s child; one must be led by the Spirit to be God’s child. And these are not two conditions but one, for it is by faith that God supplies to us the Spirit, and it is by a life of faith he works miracles among us.

    Now with these two insights I think we can solve our earlier problem. On the one hand Romans 5:1 says we have been justified by faith. . Freedom from condemnation is made conditional upon the work of the Holy Spirit freeing me from sin.

    May no one react and say, O, that cannot be. All you have to do is believe in Christ as Savior; you don’t have to overcome sin by the power of the Spirit. That error cheapens faith, contradicts the teaching of Romans 8:1, 2, and runs the risk of hearing Jesus say on the judgment day: Depart from me, you evildoers, I never knew you.

    You don’t want to believe in a Christ who makes no difference in your life, do you? Who wants a Jesus who is so nothing that all he can produce is a people who think, feel, and act just like the world? We don’t want that.

  7. David Bishop Says:

    How many times must I commit the same sin in order for that sin to be counted habitual? 490 times is not enough, because Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother 70 x 7, and if Peter can forgive after 489 times, but God can’t, then that makes Peter’s forgiveness a better mercy than God’s.

    Now of course, 70 x 7 was just an expression that means there is no maximum number, and guys like Schreiner would agree with this, they nevertheless turn right around and talk about habitual sinning being proof of no forgiveness. I don’t know about Schreiner, but 490 seems pretty habitual to me

    • markmcculley Says:

      McNight is more favorable to NT Wright and the new perspective than is John Barclay

      John Barlcay—Gifts, like trade or pay, involve reciprocity— in all these spheres, there is a common structure of quid pro quo. What distinguishes the sphere of gift is not that it is “unilateral,” but that it expresses a social bond, a mutual recognition of the value of the person. The gift invites a personal, enduring, and reciprocal relationship—an ethos very often signaled by the use of the term charis (grace).

      John Barlcay— Luther did not “rediscover” grace (which was near the center of practically every form of medieval theology), nor did he simply reinvigorate the Augustinian tradition. As an isolated slogan, sola gratia tells us far too little about its precise Lutheran configuration. What is distinctive in Luther is not only the relentlessly Christological reference of grace, but also its permanent state of incongruity. On these grounds, believers live perpetually from a reality outside of themselves, a status of divine favor enjoyed only in and from Christ. Their agency does not need to be re-attributed to the agency of grace, because their works are non-instrumental, and are performed in faith, that is, from the security of a salvation already granted. On the same grounds, gift-giving is stripped of the instrumental reciprocity that had been basic to its rationale. In this sense, Luther did not just reform the church. He offered a new theological definition of gift

      (i) superabundance: the supreme scale, lavishness, or permanence of the gift;
      (ii) singularity: the attitude of the giver as marked solely and purely by benevolence;
      (iii) priority: the timing of the gift before the recipient’s initiative;
      (iv) incongruity: the distribution of the gift without regard to the worth of the recipient;
      (v)efficacy: the impact of the gift on the nature or agency of the recipient;
      (vi)non-circularity: the escape of the gift from an ongoing cycle of reciprocity.


    At the time in 1997, he was appointed by President, Dr. Mohler, to a position as NT professor. Schreiner gave a presentation on perseverance and apostasy, in which he surveyed various common approaches and then suggested his own model. This has since become public via an article shortly thereafter published in the Seminary’s journal (See Thomas R. Schreiner, “Perseverance and Assurance: A Survey and Proposal” in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, vol.2 no. 1, pp. 32-62 and in the co-authored volume with Ardel B. Caneday, The Race Set before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance, [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2001.]) This was a challenging presentation to which I took immediate exception. I spoke with Dr. Schreiner after the presentation during the Q & A session, and subsequently I even invited him to lunch in my home, to which he graciously came and cordially debated the merits of his proposal during our meal together. There was one point where I had conceded to Dr. Schreiner that works proved to be evidentiary of genuine faith (Matthew 25), even though I was strongly resistant to the idea that works had anything to do with salvation. So despite this concession on my part, otherwise we were still miles apart. My purpose here is not to suggest that Dr. Schreiner’s view is heretical, though I thought that at the time. I believe it is within the realm of evangelical options as an alternate model of grace but one that operates very differently from what I understood grace to be at the time as a member of GES.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Schreiner review of Barclay—I am not persuaded that there is no polemic against doing in Galatians. Faith is set against doing, even if the doing is circumscribed by Torah (Gal 3:1–9). The contrast is particularly strong in Gal 3:12 where the law, in contrast to faith, is characterized by performance. The reference to uncircumcision does not negate what is said since people can boast in what they do (get circumcised) or what they do not do (uncircumcision). That is why Paul trumpets the cross as his only boast (Gal 6:12) and the new creation is the rule by which all should live (Gal 6:16). Additionally, Barclay does not reflect enough on the difference between promise and law. Law does not avail since it focuses on what human beings do (or more precisely fail to do), while the promise stresses what God in Christ does for believers…..

    When it comes to Romans, Barclay sees a pronounced emphasis on the superabundance of grace. In Romans, like Galatians, Paul sees God’s grace as incongruous so that it is granted to the unworthy, and fitting, in that it changes those who are its recipients. The incongruous grace of God continues to be given in Jesus Christ. At the final judgment there will be evidence that those who have received God’s grace have changed. Hence, God’s grace is unconditioned (given to the unworthy), but not unconditional (those who have received such grace are transformed).

    On the other hand, he is not convincing when he says that there is no polemic against a Jewish conception of works in Rom 4:4–5. Has not Barclay already shown that some would not agree with Paul’s notion of an incongruous gift? In these verses we see a different conception of grace. Some Jews certainly depended on their works for vindication; otherwise, the boasting of the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector (Luke 18:9–14) does not relate to anyone. Barclay thinks Paul has an exegetical but not a polemical purpose in Rom 4:4–5, but that is a very unlikely splitting of categories. Paul writes about matters present in people’s lives. In the same way, it seems as if Barclay strains to deny any sense of trusting in one’s own righteousness in Rom 9:30–10:8. In Barclay’s reading of Rom 10:3, Paul speaks of confirming or validating one’s righteousness instead of establishing or achieving righteousness. He does not think Paul criticizes an attempt to be righteous by works or human achievement. The issue is that some believed that Torah observance made one a fitting recipient of God’s kindness. Paul does not criticize works-righteousness “but the criteria by which worth is defined” (p. 541 n46). This is a possible reading, but it is a very fine distinction. It seems likely that people would boast about meeting such criteria. Indeed, Paul sets boasting and works over against faith in Rom 3:27–4:5.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Lee Irons—Gaffin has misunderstood Lincoln’s argument. The argument is not that Israel’s being on the verge of entering the land is a type of the invisible church’s actual present enjoyment of heavenly rest. Rather, the argument is that Israel’s being on the verge of entering the land is a type of the visible church’s being called in the gospel to enjoy heavenly rest now by faith. This distinction is crucial. In fact, Gaffin….assumes that Israel in the wilderness functions as a type of the true, redeemed people of God rather than a type of the visible covenant community (which is not coterminous with God’s hidden election according to grace).

    P 27

    It is questionable to argue that, since the Exodus functions in biblical theology as a type of redemption, the object of that redemption (Israel) necessarily functions as a type of the redeemed. And even if such a typological use of Israel were demonstrated in other passages of the New Testament, our text clearly employs Israel as a type – not of the redeemed – but of the evangelized: “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just at they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (4:2)

    According to Gaffin’s understanding of the typological structure of this passage, the wilderness generation’s apostasy and failure to enter the land can only signify the loss of genuine salvific blessings (i.e., regeneration and justification). If “believers have already experienced deliverance from the power of sin, pictured by the Exodus from bondage in Egypt” (p. 38), and if the Exodus “here in this passage [3:16], and in terms of the controlling model, is justification by faith” (p. 45) then who are those “who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness” (3:17)?

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones–Often, any threatening is understood as law threatening, and so the gospel is held out as a mans of escaping such threatening, p 50 Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest, P and R, 2013

    Mike Horton—The law condemns and drives us to Christ, so that the Gospel can Comfort without any threats or exhortations that might lead to doubt…. The Gospel acts without threats, it does not drive one on by precepts, but rather teaches us about the supreme goodwill of God towards us. …. Even after conversion, the believer is in desperate need of the Gospel because he reads the commands, exhortations, threats, and warnings of the Law and often wavers in his certain confidence because he does not see in himself this righteousness that is required. Am I really surrendered? Have I truly yielded in every area of my life? What if I have not experienced the same things that other Christians regard as normative? Do I really possess the Holy Spirit? What if I fall into serious sin?

    Machen declared, “According to modern liberalism, faith is essentially the same as ‘making Christ master’ of one’s life…But that simply means that salvation is thought to be obtained by our obedience to the commands of Christ. Such teaching is just a sublimated form of legalism.”11 In another work, Machen added, What good does it do to me to tell me that the type of religion presented in the Bible is a very fine type of religion and that the thing for me to do is just to start practicing that type of religion now?…I will tell you, my friend. It does me not one tiniest little bit of good…What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question that I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me.

    While the Gospel contains no commands or threats, the Law indeed does and the Christian is still obligated to both “words” he hears from the mouth of God.

    Mike Horton—”God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. … ..To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. How can they fall under the curses of a covenant to which they didn’t belong? ”

  12. markmcculley Says:

    The notion of two stages of justification is not new to Gaffin and Beale. —James K Smith–That the English Puritan John Flavel constantly appears in this new collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson will surprise no one. He fits perfectly in the communion of Protestant saints that populate her essays, appearing alongside John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards and Oliver Cromwell. But there is a particular idea from Flavel that keeps recurring throughout this collection, and it tells us something about the burden of Robinson’s project. As she recounts again and again in different chapters, Flavel entertained the idea of a two-stage judgment: he “considers the thought that we might all be judged twice, once when we die and again when the full consequences of our lives have played themselves out.” The notion depends on a unique intersection of eternity and history. Appointed once to die, we face the judgment, but the judgment in eternity takes account of time’s arrow in history. It’s like your soul gets a callback when the repercussions of your life have played themselves out across subsequent generations. The end of your life is not the end of your responsibility.

    Bnonn Tennant– I have argued that Reformed histrionics over final justification are misguided, being grounded in an obviously mistaken view of faith as a one-time (“synchronic”) act, In response, one reader who agrees with me wrote to express her concerns over the implications of this for the doctrines of regeneration and perseverance—and thus especially for assurance of salvation. What follows is our exchange:–

    If faith is a synchronic event (preceded by the synchronic event of regeneration, followed by the synchronic event of imputation), it is impossible to fall away. You are moved from one box (unregenerate/unbelieving/unjustified) to another (regenerate/believing/justified). This scheme is purely spatial; it has no temporal dimensions, so it doesn’t account for the continued/diachronic exercise of faith.

    No one really thinks that faith is a one-time event. We all agree that it is something that must continue throughout life. It is regeneration and imputation that are one-time events. (I wouldn’t personally speak of imputation this way as I think the word itself is a confused choice to describe our covenantal incorporation into Jesus.) This to say, the Reformed view is not primarily that those who fall away never had faith, but rather that those who fall away were never regenerate. Their not having faith was a result of their not being regenerate: they never had their hearts turned to God,

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