Posted tagged ‘perseverance’

Schreiner Still Running to Win the Prize

December 11, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

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!)

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.