Posted tagged ‘new perspective’

A “synagogue sermon” which scandalizes both exclusivists and inclusivists

December 12, 2016

John 1: 6 There was a man named John
who was sent from God.
7 John came as a witness
to testify about the light,
so that all would believe through him
8 John was not the light,
but John came to testify about the light.

I Corinthians 15: 13 But each in his own order:Christ, the first fruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when Christ abolishes all rule and all authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy to be abolished is death

The age to come has now come, the age to come has not yet come. The day of recompense to come has not yet come, and this explains the discontinuity between the old covenants and the new covenant. Some of us focus on the unbelief of the disciples and John the Baptist, and others of us notice their lack of understanding of the meaning of Christ’s kingdom. The age to come which has now come with Christ is not the same as the ages of the old covenants but it is also not the same as another age to come after this age. That day will be a day of vengeance and recompense. As usual I want to notice what tends to get skipped or not commented on some famous texts

Isaiah 35—The wilderness and the dry land will be glad;
the desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose.
2 The land will blossom abundantly
and will also rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon.
They will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
steady the shaking knees!
4 Say to the cowardly:
“Be strong; do not fear!
Here is your God; VENGEANCE IS COMING
GOD’S RETRIBUTION IS COMING; God will save you.”

5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then the lame will leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy,
for water will gush in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the parched ground will become a pool of water,
and the thirsty land springs of water.
In the haunt of jackals, in their lairs,
there will be grass, reeds, and papyrus.
8 A road will be there and a way;
it will be called the Holy Way.
The unclean will not travel on it,
but it will be for the one who walks the path.
Even the fool will not go astray.
9 There will be no lion there,
and no vicious beast will go up on it;
they will not be found there.
But the redeemed will walk on it,
10 and the redeemed of the Lord will return
and come to Zion with singing,
crowned with unending joy.
Joy and gladness will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee.

Isaiah 61: The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim LIBERTY to the captives
and FREEDOM to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s FAVOR,
and the DAY OF OUR GOD’S VENGEANCE

to comfort all who mourn,
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion;
to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair.
And they will be called righteous trees,
planted by the Lord
to glorify Him.
6 But you will be called the Lord’s priests;
they will speak of you as SERVANTS of our God;
you will eat the wealth of the nations,
and you will boast in their riches.
7 Because your shame was double,
and they cried out, “Disgrace is their portion,”
therefore, they will possess double in their land,
and lasting joy will be theirs.
8 For I Yahweh
will faithfully GIVE THEM RECOMPENSE
10 I greatly rejoice in the Lord,
I exult in my God;
for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation
and wrapped me in a robe of righteousness,
as a groom wears a turban
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth produces its growth,
and as a garden enables what is sown to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

When Jesus came to his own, his own received Him not. Instead they were SCANDALIZED by Jesus. They were OFFENDED by Jesus. The conservatives who liked the status quo thought Jesus was being too “political”. And those who wanted to overcome the Roman occupation thought that Jesus was being too “spiritual” (instead of political).

I often speak of “synagogue sermons” with contempt. By this I mean sermons which are not about Christ but about morality and charity, sermons which could be given to anybody, anywhere. My reference is to “sermons that think they are universal not sectarian” but which carefully exclude (or fail to attend to) anything which might possibly offend anybody. These are sermons that could be given in a mosque or a synagogue with the same (very little) effect. I hear these sermons in Christian churches, both liberal and conservative.

But there is one “synagogue sermon” which caused its hearers to be angry and to attempt violence against Jesus. Were they angry because they were atheists who did not believe in God? No. Were they angry because Jesus left off the part of the quotation from Isaiah which left out the part about the Day of Recompense? It’s not obvious that this was the case. Were they disappointed that the Age to Come they had expected had not yet come? Perhaps, but’s it’s not clear. Were they scandalized because Jesus talked about including Gentiles as well as Jews? I don’t think so. I think the main offense was that Jesus, like John the Baptist, talked about not all the Jews being included. Jesus was not “new perspective” nor was Jesus teaching a new gospel which was “more not less inclusive”.

Luke 4: 16 Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20 Jesus then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down to teach. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus.21 He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”

22 They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth….Jesus said to them, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.25 But I say to you, there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months while a great famine came over all the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them—but to a widow in Sidon. 27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time, there were many in Israel who had serious skin diseases, yet not one of them was healed —only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged.29 They got up, drove Jesus out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Jesus over the cliff.30 But Jesus passed right through the crowd and went on His way.

Even though John the Baptist may not have been confused about the exclusion of some Jews from the kingdom, even John was bewildered and doubting about the nature of the kingdom age which had come with Jesus. What the old covenants had taught about the age to come seemed like it was all done at one time, not in two ages, with still another age to come. John the Baptist had already scandalized many, both Pharisees and Sadducees

Matthew 3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” 3 For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said:
A voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
make His paths straight!
5 Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were flocking to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. 7 When John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the place of his water baptism, John said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 10 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees! Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

John the Baptist preached news about Christ as the one who had come to fulfill the law and the prophets. John pointed to Christ as the one who had come to bring the Day of Recompense. John the Baptist preached the law in order to point to Christ as the gospel.

Matthew 11: 2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, John sent a message by his disciples 3 and asked Jesus, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

4 Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see:5 the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed,the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news.6 And if anyone is not OFFENDED BECAUSE OF ME, he is blessed.”

7 Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? Look, those who wear soft clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet. 10 This is the one it is written about:
Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You;
he will prepare Your way before You.

Chaplains of the status quo teach us that it was all a big misunderstanding, that some people think that the kingdom is political but it is not. Chaplains of the status quo wear soft clothes and live in king’s palaces. But John, in preaching the law, was negative about the chaplains and the status quo. John was positive about a coming day of wrath and recompense. Even though John the Baptist was wrong about the timing, John was not wrong about God’s law being satisfied in the future. God’s wrath is satisfied not only in Christ’s death which was ordained by God but which was organized by the Jewish political status quo. God’s wrath was shown in that age by the Roman destruction of the temple and will be shown in the destruction of all the non-elect in the Day to come.

But all these events , John’s preaching and even the synagogue teaching of Jesus (Luke 4) all happened before Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. All that preaching had more repenting in the message than it did “believe and you shall be saved”. Without saying that any one person needs to hear law before gospel, it does seem that for a time what is being heard is law as a preparation for the gospel. Do all the law and you will be saved. But you can’t do all the law, so you won’t be saved. Now you are ready for the gospel. But in some stores. it seems like nobody ever gets to the gospel, because everybody is stuck in law-mode, both those who know they are doomed because they can’t do the law and also those who think they do enough of the law and thank God for giving them the sincerity and ability to do the law, and to “at least” be better than those who killed John the Baptist.

Matthew 14 Herod had arrested John, chained him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 since John had been telling him, “It’s not lawful for you to have her!” 5 Though Herod wanted to kill John , Herod feared the crowd, since they regarded John as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday celebration came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. 7 So Herod promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8 And prompted by her mother, she answered, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter!” 9 Although the king regretted it, Herod commanded that it be granted because of his oaths and his guests. 10 So Herod sent orders and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 John’s head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother.

God does not teach all the law and gospel to any one person at all time, no matter what ‘”soundbite” they have landed on. God did not teach all the law to Adam or to Moses or even in the Sermon on the Mount. And God did not teach all the gospel to Adam or to Abraham or to David or to the disciples and John the Baptist.

Hebrews 2: We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels was legally binding and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. 4 At the same time, God also testified by signs and wonders, various miracles, and distributions of gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will. For God has not subjected to angels the world to come that we are talking about.
7 You made him lower than the angels
for a short time;
You crowned him with glory and honor
8 and SUBJECTED EVERYTHING everything under his feet.
For in subjecting everything to Jesus, God left nothing that is not subject to Jesus. As it is, we do NOT YET see everything subjected to him. 9 But we do see Jesus

The age to come has not yet come.

Stanley Hauerwas—We say that the Psalm Sunday crowd got it wrong because they were wanting freedom in this world and in this age, and then we who either love the status quo or think nothing will change say that Jesus was offering only spiritual freedom, a kingdom after we die, and a death which is not really death. Instead of Passover and resurrection, we teach an inherent immortality that claims that all humans are eternal.

That way we can say the kingdom is in our hearts. Instead of obeying the King who was standing among the disciples and who is coming back to earth, we can say that the Sermon on the Mount is only for after we die, and now go out and buy our guns. All we need to do is be careful not to buy those guns as a church but as individuals.

Hauerwas—-“If Jesus is all about getting us to love one another, then why did almost everyone reject Jesus? They did so, I think, because when Jesus was told by the devil that he would be given the power to turn stones to bread, Jesus refused; when Jesus was offered authority over all the kingdoms of this world, he refused; when he was offered the possibility he would not die, he refused. Jesus refused these goods because God’s kingdom cannot be forced into existence using the means of the devil.

Hauerwas—Jesus’s refusal to play the devil’s game does not mean that the kingdom Jesus proclaims is not political. Jesus refuses to use the violence of the world to achieve “peace.” But that does not mean Jess is any less political or that Jesus is not about the securing of peace. His arrest is often thought to represent the apolitical character of Jesus because Jesus commands Peter to put away the sword Peter had used to cut off the ear of the priest’s slave. Jesus rebukes Peter, but Jesus does so because that is not the “cup” the Father has given him. But the cup from which Jesus must drink is no less political for being nonviolent.

Hauerwas—The character of Jesus’s politics is manifest in his response to the high priest who questions Jesus about his teachings in John 18.19-24. That Jesus is questioned by the high priest may suggest that his mission was “religious” rather than political, but such an account cannot be sustained for no other reason than Jesus’s answer: “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”

Hauerwas—They tell me that you are the King of Jews. Is that true?” Pilate’s question is meant to see if Jesus is “political.” Jesus responds by asking if Pilate came up with such a view on his own or did others tell him such was the case. “I am not a Jew, am I?” replies Pilate.. “If my kingdom were FROM this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. ” This is a response used often to deny that Jesus was political. But Pilate rightly saw that Jesus’ denial that his kingship was not of this world is not the denial that Jesus is king. Jesus denied that his kingdom was just another form of Rome.

John Howard Yoder— the Constantinian shift the meaning of the word “Christian” changes. Prior to Constantine it took exceptional courage to be a Christian. After Constantine it takes exceptional courage not to be counted as a Christian. … After the establishment, Christians knew that God was governing the world in Constantine, but they had to take it on faith that within the nominally Christian mass there was a community of true believers. No longer could being a Christian be identified with church membership, since many “Christians” in the church had not chosen to follow Christ. To be a Christian is transmuted to “inward-spirituality.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (2006)

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Because You Went After It the Right Way? Romans 9:32

March 27, 2012

Romans 9:32–”Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.”

In order to perform its killing function, the Mosaic covenant was law demanding perfection with the power to condemn. Law is not only a tutor that “reveals” sin or makes people aware of sin. Romans 5:20 says that the law entered that sin would increase, not simply knowledge about sin would increase.

The law does not only “kill” by making us thinking of things to do that we would not have thought of before. The main way that the law kills is that it is used by idolaters (all of us by nature) to try to justify ourselves before God. We think–I did it, or I did enough of it. The law kills, leads to death, and if no gospel, only that. But the elect while still under the law are taught by the gospel to SEE that they are dead.

Romans 7 verse 9: “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” We were dead by nature, and already sinners. This “I died” is something besides the death we were born with under the law.

It’s life to see that you are dead and to see that any and all righteousness found BY US in the law (Phil 3:9) is insufficient to stand before God. Only Christ by Has death for the elect has satisfied the requirements of law and found a righteousness for the elect, so that the law now demands that the elect be given every blessing of salvation.

But did the Mosaic law-covenant announce clearly that it was a “killing instrument” and not the gospel? If it didn’t, who could blame any Jew for using the law wrong , attempting to be saved by keeping it?

The central text discussed in this connection is Romans 9:32–”They did not seek if by faith, as if it were by works of law.”

Some who focus only on redemptive history say that there is no difference between law and gospel, but only a right way and a wrong way of pursuing the law, and that the gospel is the right way of pursuing the law.

A rebuttal to this idea I have recently is an essay by David Gordon in WTJ (Spring 1992): “Why Israel did not obtain Torah Righteousness; A note on Romans 9:32.”

Gordon writes that the verse should be translated not “as if it were”, but “because the law is not of faith” in line with Gal 3:12. “The qualification works-and-not faith in Gal 3:10-13 is parallel to the qualification works and not faith in Romans 9:32.”

“If one group attained what the other did not, the difference between them might lie in the manner in which they pursued it. This is NOT what Paul says however. The two groups did not pursue the same thing (the gentiles pursued nothing). Paul’s point therefore is NOT that the Gentiles pursued righteousness in a better manner (by faith) than the Jews. Rather, God’s mercy gives what is not even pursued.”

“When Paul asks why the Jews did not attain unto the Torah, his answer addressed the NATURE of the law- covenant (Torah demands perfect obedience), not the nature of the PURSUIT of the law-covenant.”

Those who say “we cause the death of Jesus to save us, and we do it the right way, with the faith and not works” do not understand the gospel. We don’t do it ANY way. God did it. God did it at the cross, for the elect. God imputes that cross-work to the elect, and the elect believe this gospel.

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.

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.

Dan Fuller vs John Calvin

July 21, 2009

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.

Only Many Words: Against the New Perspective

July 1, 2009

Is it important for those who have been taught justification at once based ONLY on the “alien righteousness” to be re-educated with a new perspective on justification?

Does the NT teaches a distinction between our works (of any kind, not of law but of faith) and what we are used to calling the “finished work” of Christ. Are words about that distinction biblical or simply the imposing of  Western logic onto the text? I myself am dogmatic that Romans 5 teaches justification (and condemnation) apart from what we do.

To look not only at chapters in the Institutes on justification and sanctification but also at Calvin’s commentary on Galatians shows that we cannot distinguish Calvin from Luther in the way the new perspective attempts to do. Calvin talks like Luther about ethics.

Calvin does not confine the reference point for ethics to “union with Christ”. Without forensic justification, Calvin claims, a sinner cannot do any works which pleases God. Another way to say this is that the elect are not sanctified by works. The elect work because we were sanctified by the blood of Christ. (see Hebrews 10:10-14) When the NT says that people are “being sanctified”, it is simply saying that various individuals are becoming Christians at different points of time. In the NT, the word “sanctification” is not used to describe improvement of character and conduct, so that Christians are more or less sanctified”.

But the new perspective does not object to imposing a  traditional category like “progressive sanctification” onto the NT. If we say (and we do!) that justified sinners go on to work and grow in grace, they say we contradict our denial that SANCTIFICATION is process.

So we have a controversy about words here. And the question I want to raise in this essay is not so much about Calvin but about the practical difference (if any) a RE-EDUCATION about words can have. If we could be persuaded to say (or not say) “progressive sanctification”, would the results be more faith and love ? If we could get folks to stop using the word “sanctification” except to describe our holy position in Christ, would that be a great benefit for the kingdom?

But why ask such questions? Are we pragmatists, willing to test the truth of a theology by our opinion of its results? Of course I do think we must consider the life that results from “holding to” any doctrine.  I especially want to question the assumption that a new perspective which includes the Christian life into the definition of justification will result in greater energy in the Christian life.

I do not think that those who hold to justification defined ONLY by imputed righteousness need to be re-educated. The tenor of life of such people is not worse than those who include works of faith into that which justifies.

We are being told by advocates of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (Timothy George) that we cannot insist on forensic justification as gospel because to do so would call into question the salvation of all those people before the Reformation. With the last part I agree: if we say that you must believe in Christ as the justifier of the ungodly to believe he gospel and be saved, then we certainly ARE calling into question the Christian status of all those who condition grace on something they do.

But my point is that the new perspective cannot call into question our “scholastic” finished work language without also calling to question the experience of those who keep using the language of Calvin and Luther.

If the Reformation should have never happened, then it is clear that we should stop using Reformation language to describe our relation to God. If Reformation language is only a situation gospel, or only an “application of the gospel”, then we must ask if the gospel needs to be applied in our day the way it was in that day.

The new perspective tells us that in the NT the gospel is opposing Jewish privilege and is not opposing merit. Since merit is not the problem, we are told that we should not read texts like Philippians 3 as opposing merit. In other words, as long as you say that God makes you different by grace and not by being Jewish, then there is no need to get picky about HOW you talk about the righteousness of Christ. As long as you talk about the righteousness and not about your roots, then it will not matter so much if this righteousness is in you or in the finished work Such a distinction is scholastic, and matters not.

But if it doesn’t matter, then why worry about scholastics imposing such distinctions on the text? Why the many wordy attempts to re-educate the next generation so that it will not talk the language of “alien righteousness” and ‘finished work”?

I do not think we need to stop saying that justification was achieved at the cross, and not in us.

I think we need to START SAYING IT!

My corollary: the words and works of those who advocate the new perspective are evil. They cannot say that they are only quibbling about words: they are bewitching the people of God to not obey the truth about justification. (Gal 3:1)

The assumption of the new perspective is that “keeping the commandments” has nothing to do with saying that justification is based outside of the Christian in the finished work. Against that some of us would say that you cannot keep any commandment of God without first “submitting to the righteousness of God”, defined by Scripture as that which is revealed in Christ’s obedience and not in ours. (Romans 7:1-6; Hebrews 9:14)

Nothing else matters if you do not know and obey the truth that Christ was imputed with the sins of His people and bore them away. If you say that Christ died for everybody but saved only some, then you condition salvation on the grace of God in us instead of the finished work, and then you do not obey the truth and are neither justified nor sanctified and therefore cannot keep any of the commandments of God.

You mean that we must assent and trust in particular redemption? Yes. There is no redemption which is not particular. Isaiah 53 is the presupposition of everything the NT has to say about redemption: those who are redeemed will be redeemed, and those who think of their redemption as based on what grace will enable them to do are still in darkness.

Is this “justification by words”? Does it matter if somebody knows anything about the cross, if one keeps the commands anyway? Does it matter if one knows anything about Christ, just so long as God gives them the grace to keep the commands?  I think it does matter but to get back to them: does it matter if we are ignorant of the new perceptive, if we keep the commandments whole holding on to “Western logic” about the finished work?

Why all the words against scholasticism? Are the new scholastics of the “new perspective” saying that their words promote the keeping of the commandments? I remember what Wesley wrote:” if you want to still promote the Christian life, be sure not to go too far with such things as election and imputation.”

Neither side in this controversy hss achieved wordlessness. On my side, we are very concerned to say that Christ has achieved all the blessings for salvation at the cross and that this achievement means that all for whom Christ died will repent of ever being bewitched by a perspective which includes our works into the righteousness revealed in the gospel.

Christ died for our sins according to the words of Scripture. Christ did not die of those who either die ignorant or reject the words of the Scripture concerning the death of Christ. We do not invite folks to believe that Jesus died for everybody. We command people to believe that only those for whom Christ finished a work will be saved.

Jesus saves. Jesus saves those who believe that Jesus saves. Those who believe that Jesus died to save everybody do not believe that Jesus saves. Those who do not believe that Jesus saves believe that they are their own saviors We should not tell such people that what matters is the keeping of the commandments. We do not invite them to call upon a Christ of their own choosing. We command them to believe the gospel of a finished work for the elect, because if they do not, they remain in their sins and their works are evil.

To the Galatians, Paul expresses himself strongly. “If you get bewitched by the words of a false gospel, then you are under the curse which comes with a false gospel.” It will not matter that you used to have the apostle Paul as your pastor, if you look to your doing, fhen you will not only be less fruitful. You will not be justified. You will be cursed.

The new perspective is right to warn us not to separate justification from the Christian life. If you attempt to live the Christian life by works, you teach justification by works.  But wait, says the new perspective, the problem in Galatians is not merit-works but privilege-works, and concern about merit is only application. OK. Let me use my old forensic language and say it this way: if you “ground” your assurance on anything but “Christ crucified” then you are making something else besides the finished work the condition of your salvation.

If you say that Jesus died for everybody but that only some are justified and that this is conditioned on grace working in you, then you are under the curse. If you say that you are justified by Christ crucified but that assurance depends on your Christian life, you may be a good Calvinist but you still are under the curse.

The declarative justification of the last day  (some raised to life, some not) will not look at the quantity or quality of our works in order to say if we were justified by the blood of Christ. Works of faith are NOT included in the justification of a sinner, because God justifies the elect before that last day and while they are still ungodly.

Though the mere decree of God makes certain the justification of the elect, the ground of justification is Christ’s blood shed for the elect. Though Christ died for his people after and before His people lived, the elect do not receive justification until they are called by the gospel and believe it. So the questions becomes whether the people doing the works were justified by the blood while doing the works.

The judgment is not about how many works are needed for you to get justified The works of those who did not believe the gospel were dead works and fruit unto death. (Romans 6:14;7:1-6; Hebrews 9:14) To by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13) is not simply about not stealing and killing anymore; it is about working while abiding in the gospel of justification. It is about working without in any way including your works in your justification. This is what the apostle John calls “practicing righteousness” (I John 3:7).

The one who includes his works into his justification does not believe the gospel and cannot do any works which please God. We cannot tell by “outward appearance ( II Cor 5!) if somebody believes the gospel.  All we have to go by is their abiding confession that they believe the gospel of Christ crucified as having finished the work. But all the works advocated by the new perceptive are works of unbelief in this finished work of Christ. Only if our assurance is not in what Christ did, may we say that Christ died for everybody. Only if our assurance is not in what Christ did, may we include our works into our justification.

This is how I think we ‘apply” Galatians. Even if you avoid Jewish parochialism or Roman Catholic merit theology, if you set aside Christ crucified when it comes to living the Christian life, then you give evidence of still being fallen from grace and lost in your sins.

There is no mystical know-nothing-ism in Galatians. Paul says that “Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified” When it comes to ANY favor with God, Paul knows nothing but Christ Crucified. There were words, he writes, and you understood them and those of you who give evidence of the effectual call heard those words with the “hearing of faith”. This faith was not in your faith, this assurance was not in your assurance.

Faith is not what causes the difference between saved and lost. The difference between saved and lost is caused by Christ crucified: those for who Christ was crucified will be saved, and to be saved they will be given faith not in faith nor in their works of faith but in the work finished at the cross.

The new perspective is a gospel for fools because it looks away from Christ crucified to us and begin to look to our imperfect keeping of the commands. When we on the “scholastic” side try to say that it matters how you keep the commandments, so that you do it from duty or gratitude but not for your justification, the new perspective is so convinced that we are wrong that it also concludes that we really don’t think it matter if you keep the commandments.

Like the Judaizers in Galatians, the new perspective says it does not deny anything Paul has taught  about Scripture or resurrection or justification. Yes, justification IS based on the blood and is by faith, but we only want to add something to the definition, include something in without of course taking anything away from it.

Just So. Circumcision also matters. We agree with Paul that circumcision does not matter for entrance into the covenant community. We certainly agree that there is no merit in circumcision If you make circumcision a matter of merit, then you are acting as if the law did not command faith and are making circumcision into a “work of law” (Romans 9:32) But we are not advocating any of that. We are only saying that circumcision is a commandment and that it matters as a “work of faith”.

This sounds a lot like the Arminian false gospel: we are not denying that the blood of Christ is what saves people. We are only saying that Christ died for everybody and that works of faith are the difference between the saved and lost at the judgment. After all, the judgment is according to our works, and therefore not ONLY according to the finished cross. We know that Christ finished the work for everybody.

Am I trying to say the new perspective is inherently either Arminian or universalist? Yes of course, but let me explain: you can hold to election and still hold the new perspective. The Judaizers certainly believed that it was their election which made them different. I will say something stronger: I think you can “hold to” particular Atonement and still be a Jewish person who rejects Christ.

(I am not talking about Judaizers at this point. Judaizer “accepted Christ”. They were under the curse because they accepted Christ on their own Arminian terms instead of God’s terms.)

Even Jews who rejected Jesus as the Christ did not take lambs to the temple for the sake of everybody. The lambs were slaughtered for particular sinners. Redemption IS particular; there is no other kind of redemption in the Bible. The Atonement is personal. There is no other kind of atonement.

The problem with the new perspective is not solved merely agreeing with the Bible about particular redemption. Although that would be a good start! But the greater problem is if you will not rest on that blood and God’s promise about the blood as that which entitles you to all the blessings of salvation. The new perspective does not want to include into justification merit or circumcision but it DOES want to include in it the imperfect “tenor” of the Christian’s life.

It does not want to stop singing “Jesus thy blood and righteousness”. It just want to further glorify God by getting into the question of whether Christians are less likely to steal wallets than are non-Christians. Yes, the blood. But also assurance that even if you are not more moral than your neighbor at least your motives are better.

So the false gospel to the Galatians. No circumcision without faith. But then again, no assurance without circumcision either. While the Gentiles may show their faith without circumcision, let us show you my faith in Christ by my circumcision. Don’t tell us that circumcision doesn’t matter. We never said it was meritorious. We never said that the blood was not the “ground”. We just said that you are being scholastic if your worry so much about Uncircumcision.

This scholastic law/grace antithesis may have had some application once upon a time, Paul, but you know very well that it’s not the gospel and that you can teach grace without saying anything about law or righteousness. We feel that you can teach Christ without getting into details about circumcision.

At the very least I hope I am exhibiting the  dialectic of the new perspective. It claims to be a practical gain for the church, but it doesn’t see any way it could in any way be calling into question the cross or the gospel itself. Of course, circumcision doesn’t matter but neither does uncircumcision, so therefore when you get on your scholastic high horse and say that we are cursed if we get circumcised, then you are being very sectarian.

Of course we can appreciate your interpretation on the question, but surely you are not saying that we are not Christians. While we may accuse you of justification by words, surely you will not consign us to hell for saying that works must be included into our justification. Of course our words matter and you need them to straighten you out, but even if we are wrong, Paul, surely you can’t be serious that we are cursed. We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He died and rose again.

Even so Arminianism. It claims to be more evangelistic and more honoring to God’s universal love, but it  assumes that we are all Christians here and can  believe the same thing about substitution. Of course, universal atonement doesn’t matter but neither does particular atonement, so therefore when you get on your scholastic high horse and say that we are under the curse if we condition the application of the universal atonement on something done in the sinner, then you are not only NOT exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit but probably even saying that the fruit of the Spirit doesn’t matter.

We can appreciate your interpretation on these things. Even if we do say that your God is a monster if He demands us to believe the gospel if Jesus didn’t die for everybody. Surely we all need to grow in knowledge but no sane man would say that we need to change Gods. We all believe in the same God, but some of us show our faith by being circumcised. We all believe in the same blood, but some of us show our faith by saying that our faith is what makes the blood of Jesus effective. For we all believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He died and rose again.