Posted tagged ‘Daniel Fuller’

The “Misunderstanding” View of the Law

July 29, 2013

John Armstrong’s Reformation and Revival Journal (Luther 2) endorsed the conditional theology of Daniel Fuller. It has a review essay on Fuller’s “Unity of the Bible” by Chuck Huckaby. Though Fuller accused Calvin of being too unconditional , Huckaby spends much of his time trying to say that Calvin was also conditional.

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 Calvin..

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 Daniel 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.

Here is 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 Spirit…and thus is the very opposite of the spiritual law of Romans 7.”

This is the “misunderstanding” 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 “misunderstanding” view 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. They don’t want to us say anymore that God DID what the law could NEVER do (Romans 8:3). That sounds too “antinomian” and “dispensational”.and “Lutheran”.

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Daniel Fuller vs John Calvin’s “Faith Seeks Life Not Found in Commandments”

November 5, 2011

Calvin (p 575 Battles, Institutes 3:2:20— “Faith properly begins with the promise, rests in it, and ends in it. For in God faith seeks life: a life that is not found in commandments or declarations of penalties, but in the promise of mercy, and only in a freely given promise. For a conditional promise that sends us back to our own works does not promise life unless we discern its presence in ourselves.”

Dan Fuller (p 81, The Unity of the Bible) “In commenting on Genesis 2:17 -do not eat from that tree–Calvin said, `These words are so far from establishing faith that they do nothing but shake it.’

Dan Fuller: I argue, however, that there is much reason for regarding these words as well suited to strengthen Adam and Eve’s faith…In Calvin’s thinking, the promise made in Genesis 2:17 could never encourage faith, for its conditionality could encourage only meritorious works. `Faith seeks life that is not found in commandments.’ Consequently, the gospel by which we are saved is an unconditional covenant of grace, made such by Christ having merited it for us by his perfect fulfillment of the covenant of works.

Dan Fuller responds to Calvin: “I have yet to find anywhere in Scripture a gospel promise that is unconditional.”

More from Daniel Fuller’s Unity of the Bible (p310): “If Abraham was not declared forgiven until ten years later, was he still a guilty sinner when he responded positively to God’s promises in Genesis 12:2-3 and also during the following years up until 15:6?”

“Calvin gave a meaning to the use by James of the word justification which is not supported by the text…He argued that for James, `justify’ meant the `declaration’ rather than the `imputation’ of righteousness.”

Calvin (3:17:12): “Either James inverted faith and obedience–unlawful even to imagine–or he did not mean to call him justified, as if Abraham deserved to be reckoned righteous. What then? Surely, it is clear that he himself is speaking of the declaration, not the imputation, of righteousness.”

Back to Fuller (p313): “Paul would have agreed with James that Abraham’s work of preparing to sacrifice Isaac was an obedience of faith. He would have disagreed strongly with Calvin, who saw obedience and works as only accompanying genuine faith…The concern in James 2:14-26 was to urge a faith that saves a person, not simply to tell a person how they could demonstrate their saving faith…Calvin should have taught that justification depends on a persevering faith, since he regarded Abraham as already justified before Genesis 15:6.”

And then Daniel Fuller quotes Jonathan Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.”

Is Daniel Fuller’s Conditionality the Answer to Dispensationalism?

May 17, 2011

I quote Daniel 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…”

While “unconditional” election supposedly is not part of the gospel but only that which secretly makes the gospel work, the gospel according to Daniel Fuller is not only the work of Christ outside of us but also the work of Christ in us.

But what happens if I do not “continually believe as much as I should”? We are told not to be “overscrupulous”. “Justifying faith need not be perfect or flawless, or superhuman faith.”

The Fuller/ Piper perspective focuses on commands of God “to those already in the family”, to those “already in the covenant” and explains that we don’t need to be exactly perfect.

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 Fuller and Piper leave behind when they start saying the faith doesn’t need to be perfect.

Fuller explains 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.

I think Calvin got this one right! Gal 2:16-3:13 are not about a “misunderstanding” of works. Galatians puts works in antithesis to faith in a way that Daniel Fuller will not allow.

All I seem to read from some Reformed folks is that dispensationalists are wrong about law and grace. These Reformed guys have never once in their lives been accused of being “antinomian”.

What bothers them most is any talk of “eternal security” or “unconditionality”.

Of course election is unconditional, they formally consent in their confessions. BUT in the end everything DEPENDS on THE COVENANT which of course to many (but not all!) Reformed scholars is conditional, depending on God causing us us doing our part.

Instead of being dispensationalists, they have decided that the law is gospel after all. They started by talking about the “grace of law”.

Perhaps there is no blank page in their Bibles between the Old and New Testaments. But there seems to be a blank where Romans 6:14 reads “not under law but under grace”. The apostle Paul seems to be operating there with an old perspective in which one thing depends for its definition on not being another thing.

What Must I Do To Prove that You Already Married Me?

January 31, 2011

Titus 3:14—“And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”

Even though it is popular to be against individualism, and thus FOR making transparent and public what we keep private, I have no intention here of talking much about my marriage to my wonderful wife Linda. I am trying to make a point against self-righteous puritans who condition everything on our perseverance.

My wife tells me– “I already married you. What more do you want?” And of course I reply: everything!

Puritans are not sure if you are married yet. If they are consistent and not simply self-righteous, puritans are also not sure if THEY are married yet. The more they talk against carnal security and the more they insist on the inevitability of mandatory fruit, the more puritans need to ask themselves: am I the fourth dirt in the parable, or one of the other three?

I am not saying that married people don’t want more of each other. I am not even denying at this point that what we do now is a condition of staying married. Although I would like to think that’s true, the analogy breaks down between our marriage to each other and God’s love for the justified elect.

I am not an Arminian, and I don’t believe that the justified elect lose their salvation, and therefore I don’t think that Christians have to do stuff to stay in the new covenant. But my point right now is that I am not a puritan, and I don’t believe that the justified elect have to do stuff to prove to themselves or to God that they are real Christians.

Puritans tend to let you in the front door by faith alone, but then after they allow you a little time, they will let you out the back door if your faith is still alone. In addition to faith, they ask: what have you done for me lately? It would be like my wife saying to me: sure, I married you for love, but now I want to see the big house with the bird nests in the big back yard.

I am not denying that a husband could do more. I also agree that a husband SHOULD do more. There is always more! But how much does a husband have to do in order to show himself and his wife that he really married the wife?

What would you do now if you found out that you didn’t have to do anything?”

When I walked down that aisle , what was my thinking? Was it probation, so that I had so much time to prove to Linda’s parents that I was not worth-less? No. So was my mind thinking: now that I am married, I don’t need to love her? It’s not strictly necessary?

We need to ask the question: necessary for what? I do not say that works are not necessary for justification but that synergism is necessary for “sanctification”, because that difference cannot account for the biblical idea of sanctification by the blood (Hebrews 10:10-14). Our works are not necessary to obtain God’s blessings. Romans 4:4—“To the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due”. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has elected the elect in Christ and has blessed the elect in Christ with every spiritual blessing.

Works are needed. Wives need their husband to work for them. Husbands need their wives to work for them. Love works. But works are not needed to prove that we are already married. It might sound good for Dan Fuller to teach that we grow by the same “faith alone” as we get justified by “faith alone”. But when the faith by which we grow is never alone, then that means that the faith by which we get justified is never alone. And this means that faith alone really means with the addition of works.

I know I don’t deserve to have Linda as my wife. But I also know that I will never ever in the future deserve to have Linda as my wife. And you can redefine “justice” until it becomes less strict and never use the word “merit”, but at the end of the day I will still never deserve to be married to her.

BUT I AM married to her. When I do something for her, this is not mortgage payments on a note which can never be burned. I am not like Jacob who had to work seven more years after he got married.

Married is married. What we do doesn’t get us more married. And what we do doesn’t prove that we are married. The elect are saved by Christ’s work. When the elect become justified, they are married to Christ. Christians share in what Christ has, not because of what they do but because they are now married/justified.

The puritans tend to say that you are in the house despite of who you are and what you have done, but now that you are in, there is a covenant which now expects more of you because you could now do more if you wanted to. The subtext is even more threatening— maybe you are in, and maybe you are not in, and we shall wait and see what you want to do and then what you do, and we will never say it specifically about you, but we will say in a general way— there are some folks who were never in the house in the first place.

Sure I have been working now for a long time (but with what motives and what results?) but how am I to know that I will keep working from now on in (so let me die first before I do something which will prove to me and everybody that I was never married in the first place!)

Our “Characteristic” Obedience or God’s Righteousness?

December 8, 2010

Scott Hafemann’s The God of Promise and the Life of Faith (Crossway, 2001)

In 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 faith but the righteousness obtained and imputed by God. What the law demands the gospel gives.

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 Jesus or any “grace”, but the Jesus 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).

These three facts are denied by Lutherans and are not being taught by Calvnistic neo-nomian moralists. When Hafemann makes the difference to be between a demand for faith and a demand for perfect obedience, the only thing left to discuss Is the nature of faith. And this is where Hafemann goes: 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 confess the Lordship of the Savour?

Of course Hafemann does discuss the object of faith. His theme 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. He insists that we look also to the life of Christ in us, and to the future work of Christ in us.

If the gospel is about righteousness, and if the gospel is (also) about what happens in us, then is the righteousness not yet complete? Even though I agree that regeneration is part of the gospel, what the Holy Spirit produces in us is not any part of the righteousness.

To his great credit, Hafemann openly acknowledges his differences with the law/grace antithesis. He thinks his different gospel is more biblical. I think we would all see the difference between the two gospels if we stopped explaining the antithesis by talking only about “faith alone”. The word “imputation” is missing from Hafemann’ s description of the gospel he is opposing. So is the concept of an “alien righteousness”.

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”. The antithesis does NOT understand Romans 10:4 in terms of 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. The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

Hafemann unfairly reduces the law/gospel antithesis to the abolishment of law. While that it is a good description of Lutheranism and dispensationalism, it misses what the gospel says about Christ’s 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.

The law, once satisfied by Christ, now demands the salvation of all the elect, for whom the law was satisfied. God the Father would not be just, and God the Son would not be glorified, if the distribution of the justly earned benefits were now conditioned on the imperfect faith of sinners. Yes, faith is necessary for the elect, but even this faith is a gift earned by the righteousness of God in Christ’s work.

This is how the law/gospel antithesis explains Romans 3:31. The law is not nullified but honored by Christ. The only way that its requirements will ever be fully satisfied in the elect (Romans 8:4) is by the imputation of what Christ earned. “Not under law” means not under the curse and not under further demands “for righteousness”.

But to Hafemann, to Wesley, and to all other legalists, Christ’s taking away the sanctions of the law for the elect means eliminating the practical importance of what God demands from all human beings and results in antinomianism.

Back to footnote 6 on page 244: “In this 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.” I want to think about this “legalism”. Hafemann does not define it. Does it mean 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 simply following in the wake of Barthians like the Torrances who reject the “contract God” who demands perfection and operates by justice. These Barthians put “grace” and not justice into the pre-fall situation of Adam.

If the law were the gospel, even saying that there’s law (in the garden and now) would be “legalism”. But God is a legalist against legalism. 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 the legalist, because he identifies law and gospel, and then reduces the demand to including what the Spirit does in the elect. But what God does in us (by grace) must be excluded from the righteousness. What God does in us (by grace) is necessary for a different reason than the satisfaction of God ‘s law.

Legalism is lookng to what’s happening in you to still get the law satisfied. In the process of “getting busy for God”, legalists always stop looking completely to what CHRIST GOT DONE ALREADY. What Christ got done was done only for the elect, and not at all for the non-elect. So what Christ already did is the difference between saved and lost.

Yes, there were some forms of dispensationalism which taught that God has more than one gospel. And many non-dispensationalists claim that the OT saints only knew about God’s Lordship or about resurrection. Also of course, most evangelicals tend to teach that “grace” is mostly about what happens in the sinner.

Yes, the “covenant of works” theory teaches a ”hypothetical gospel” in which Adam supposedly “could have” earned righteousness for others by keeping the law. One clear way to say that the law is not the gospel is to say that the it was not the gospel for Adam either. But neither the “covenant of works” nor the plural gospels of dispensationalism are inherent to the law/gospel antithesis.

Hafemann does at least resist reducing everything down to one “the covenant of grace”. Even though he claims that neither the old nor the new covenants demand perfect righteousness, Hafemann wants to focus on the increased power “available” in the new covenant. For him, it is easier (do-able) for those in the new covenant to get it done.

Hafemann seems to think that “legalism” is not giving the Spirit the credit for what you did!. But as long as you are careful to say “thank you God that I am not like this”, and you– not like some– really mean that when you sincerely say it, then you are not a legalist.

As long as you credit God as the power for your works, then Hafemann has no problem putting your obedience into the equation as being a necessary part of the righteousness demanded. Of course, since he does not think our works are perfect, and yet does not think that what Christ got done apart from our works is complete enough, Hafemann has to say that God does not require a perfect righteousness.

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 most Calvinists’ theory 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. But most Calvinists, along with the Arminians, think that faith is the response that saves us. Yes, they disagree about the cause and source of faith, but they both leave election out of their “atonement” and out of their “gospel”.

It does not matter that some Arminians say that there was “substitutionary satisfaction” for every sinner, since they think faith is what actually saves. It does not matter that some Calvinists say that there were “multiple-purposes” for the atonement, so that the propitiation was only for the elect, since they preach that it’s God gift of faith which actually saves.

Though the true gospel knows that the justification of the ungodly does not happen until righteousness is imputed and faith is created by hearing the gospel, the true gospel knows that it is the righteousness alone (and not the faith created) which satisfies God’s law.

The legalist Calvinist of course is careful to say that works are the evidence of Christ’s work in them. Nevertheless, the legalist does not test his works by his doctrine of righteousness. The legalist thinks you can be wrong about the doctrine of righteousness, and still give evidence by works of one’s salvation. They raise doubts about those who oppose “Lordship salvation”, but not about sincere hard-working Arminians.

As Hebrews 9:14 and Romans 7:4-6 teach us, that a person not yet submitted to the righteousness revealed in the gospel is still an evil worker, bringing forth fruit unto death. (See Matthew 7.) Since both the Arminian and the legalist Calvinist agree that not everybody will be saved but not about how many sinners Christ died for, they both get assurance from the “tenor of life” of the professing believer.

Indeed, unless we are universalists or fatalists (some Primitive Baptists are both), we cannot avoid the search for evidence. But we need to see that the evidence is submission to the gospel, which involves knowledge about election, imputation and satisfaction. It is a waste of time to talk about other “evidence” unless a person knows what the gospel is. Only after a person knows what the gospel is, can we then ask if that person judges by that gospel.

There is no need to waste time talking about works until we know if a person has repented of Arminianism. If a person still thinks she was saved as an Arminian, then she has not yet obeyed the gospel, no matter how much knowledge she has or how many works she has. Many works prove nothing!

We first test ourselves to see if we have excluded works as being any part of our righteousness before God. To include the works (done it is said by the Spirit) in the righteousness is evidence all by itself that a person still believes a false gospel. Along with legalism comes indifference about the question of election and about the truth that Christ did not die for the non-elect. Such things don’t matter to the legalist, since what got done on the cross is not enough anyway for the legalist.

Read Hafemann: “In other views, obedience may be possible, desirable, or maybe even necessary as the byproduct of trusting Christ, but it is not an essential expression of what it means to trust Christ in and of itself.” (p188) He is trusting in the false Christ who is now getting the rest of it done imperfectly in us.

He is putting the stress on the nature and quality of faith, but not on the righteousness complete by Christ which should be the only object of faith. Those with false gospels debate about if faith is alone or if faith includes works. They squabble about the “instrumentality” of faith alone. But the false gospels all fail to see that the sovereignty of God without the completed righteousness of God is still not good news.

There are many false gospels and only one true gospel. There are many different ways to be “legalist”. The only way not to be legalist is to know that the law demands perfect righteousness and that the gospel joyfully explains how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. One certain result of the righteousness earned by Christ is that the elect will believe this gospel and not any false gospel.

Hafemann does not believe in perfect obedience but instead in “habitual” obedience enabled in us. But who is to say what is “characteristic” (P190)? The self-righteous Pharisee thanks his false god for enabling him to be characteristically different from the state-employee.

The workers who came before the the judgment in Matthew 7 were sure that their works were characteristic enough. They were not antinomians and they were not insincere. They probably believed in election also (or at least the unconditional right of Israel to the land!). But instead of pleading a Christ who got done a perfect righteousness, they pleaded their characteristic deeds.

They didn‘t say they had “faith alone”. They were not into “easy believism”. They didn’t say that their obedience was a “second step” added to their faith. They avoided the law/gospel antithesis that Hafemann wants us to avoid. They thought they were safe. Yet despite their false assurance, they were lost. Why? Was it because they lacked enough “characteristic obedience” or was it because they trusted in the false gospel? That’s a trick question: they were lost because they were born lost, and they never were rescued and we know that because they never believed the revealed gospel.

They trusted a false gospel because they, like all legalists, had flattered themselves about their obedience being acceptable. We who are Christians now must confess that we too once did the same thing, and that it is only because Christ died for us that we came to repent of that false gospel.

Hafemann writes on p60: “God’s promises are given to us unconditionally. Only then, sandwiched between what God has done for us and what he promises to do for us in the future, do we find the commands of God for the present as the necessary link between the two.” This is a false “unconditionality”. It makes the gospel “unconditional” in the same way as the law is: if you do it enough right, then God promises not to kill you…..

I will not at this point deconstruct the Daniel Fuller (John Piper?) distinction between grace as the cause of the conditions and the conditions as the cause of grace. That distinction always keeps falling apart. But why do these people find the distinction necessary? They don’t want to keep talking about election. The idea of “unconditional to the elect sinner, and conditioned only on what Christ got done for the elect sinner” says way too much for them about election. In that kind of election, it is the death of Christ (and not faith) which sets one sinner apart from another. (See Hebrews 10:14)

II Peter One reverses legalism by commanding us to examine our works by first making our calling and election sure. By what gospel were we called? Was it the gospel of “characteristic obedience” or was it the gospel of “Christ paid it all for the elect”? Are you trying to follow Christ as Lord without first submitting to being saved only by God’s perfect righteousness?

Justified by Works, but Don’t Think of it That Way?

June 28, 2010

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

This little book is from lectures given at Oak Hill 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 works but Christ. How it’s possible to rationally live in that paradox is not so clear. I guess words like “premeditation” and “intention” and “byproduct” play a big part.

I would not say that Schreiner’s thesis comes from the “new perspective”. There’s no need to go to NT Wright, Norman Shepherd, or John Armstrong, to make his case. Rather, he goes to Jonathan Edwards against John Calvin to argue that works of faith are necessary for justification. In this respect, Schreiner is simply making popular a path already made by Dan Fuller in The Unity of the Bible (1992, Zondervan).

I quote from Unity (p181): “In commenting on Genesis 2:17 -do not eat from that tree–Calvin said, `These words are so far from establishing faith that they do nothing but shake it.’ I argue, however, that there is much reason for regarding these words as well suited to strengthen Adam and Eve’s faith…In Calvin’s thinking, the promise made in Genesis 2:17 could never encourage faith, for its conditionality could encourage only meritorious works. `Faith seeks life that is not found in commandments.’ Consequently, the gospel by which we are saved is an unconditional covenant of grace, made such by Christ having merited it for us by his perfect fulfillment of the covenant of works. Dan Fuller comments: “I have yet to find anywhere in Scripture a gospel promise that is unconditional.”

More from Unity (p310): “If Abraham was not declared forgiven until ten years later, was he still a guilty sinner when he responded positively to God’s promises in Genesis 12:2-3 and also during the following years up until 15:6?” “Calvin gave a meaning to James’s use of the word justification which is not supported by the text…He argued that for James, `justify’ meant the `declaration’ rather than the `imputation’ of righteousness.”

Calvin (3:17:12): “Either James inverted faith and obedience–unlawful even to imagine–or he did not mean to call him justified, as if Abraham deserved to be reckoned righteous. What then? Surely, it is clear that he himself is speaking of the declaration, not the imputation, of righteousness.”

Back to Fuller (p313): “Paul would have agreed with James that Abraham’s work of preparing to sacrifice Isaac was an obedience of faith. He would have disagreed strongly with Calvin, who saw obedience and works as only accompanying genuine faith…James’ s concern in 2:14-26 was to urge a faith that saves a person, not simply to tell a person how they could demonstrate their saving faith…Calvin should have taught that justification depends on a persevering faith, since he regarded Abraham as already justified before Genesis 15:6.”
And then Fuller quotes Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.” For more from Edwards, see Schreiner’s new little book (p20, 70, 92).

Rob Zins, who wrote his masters on Shepherd’s view of Justification, writes about James in his book on Romanism (2002, p184): “The best we can do with James 2 is to say that Abraham was `shown to be just’ by offering Isaac up on the altar. It may be stretching things too far to say that Abraham was `shown to have been justified’ when he offered Isaac. One can be called righteous without being declared justified by God…Certainly there is a demonstration here, but it is a demonstration of faith rather than a demonstration of righteousness.”

Zins writes on p189 about Romans 2: “It is difficult to grasp how Paul could be speaking hypothetically. Paul rather seems to be making direct statements of reality. .. The question revolves around whether God gives eternal life `because’ of good works or `in accordance with good works’. ” And then on p192, Zins concludes: “both James and Paul do not hesitate to apply the word `justification’ when God approves a sinner on the basis of good works…Yet these justification notifications stem from a previous justification by imputation…The blood of Christ had to be applied to Abraham for his justification despite both his faith and the completion of his faith by his good works.” And then Zins quotes favorably ( p196) the conclusion of Jonathan Edwards about God considering from the first the future works of faith of the believers.

I have been trying to set the Schreiner book in a context, but in doing that, I have written more about Dan Fuller, Rob Zins, Jonathan Edwards, and John Calvin, than I have about Schriener’s exegesis or about the psychology of making assurance depend on present working without at the same time depending on present working. Now, I am going to compound the strangeness of this review, by closing with a quotation from Fesko’s excellent new book on Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (2008, P and R). This time it’s not Dan Fuller against the later Luther, but Fesko against the later Richard Gaffin (even though he supports Shepherd, Gaffin should not to be confused with Shepherd. See my review of Gaffin’s By Faith, Not by Sight, another Oak Hill lecture.)

Fesko writes on p 315: “Gaffin tries to argue that works are not the ground of judgment. `It is not for nothing, I take it, and not to be dismissed as an overly fine exegesis to observe that, in Romans 2:6, Paul writes “according to works” and not “on account of works”… Gaffin’s point is that `in accordance with works’ are synechdochial for faith in Christ. (Ridderbos; Paul: Outline, 178-181; also Murray; Romans, 78).”

Fesko responds: “Can such a fine distinction be supported by the grammar alone…What difference exists between the two? `Corresponding to’ is common in reference to the precise and impartial standard of judgment that will be applied on the great Day. Gaffin and Venema fail to account for judgment according to works for the wicked….According to Gaffin’s interpretation, are the wicked judged according to their works, but the works are not the ground of their condemnation? Romans 4:4–“now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as WHAT IS DUE.”

Surely there are many unanswered questions. If the non-elect are condemned ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR WORKS, how do the elect live with the notion that works of faith are necessary for their justification? I will say the one simple thing I keep on saying: God does not count faith as the righteousness. Neither the initial act of faith nor the continuing acts of faith are the basis of justification. God counts the righteousness of Christ earned for the elect alone as the righteousness. The elect have legal union with Christ’s obedience to death for the elect. The elect come to share in this righteousness by legal imputation. The righteousness credited ( a free gift received, Romans 5:17) results in the justification of elect. But you cannot have faith ( beginning or continuing) in this righteousness if you have not yet heard and understood and assented to what the gospel reveals about election.