Mark Garcia’s Critique of the WSC Position on Justification
In 2007, the faculty of Westminster Seminary California (WSC) published a collection of essays titled Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry (hereafter referred to as CJPM), edited by R. Scott Clark. The essays grew out of a conference that the seminary held in 2003 in response to recent controversies over justification, most notably the Federal Vision, which had just then broken onto the American conservative Presbyterian and Reformed scene.
In response to the publication of CJPM, Mark Garcia wrote a review article titled “No Reformed Theology of Justification?” published in Ordained Servant in October 2007. Garcia’s review article included some comments about another book on justification, The Way of Salvation by Paul Rainbow, but the inclusion of the Rainbow book did little to conceal the fact that the review was intended primarily as a polemical piece against CJPM. At the same time, Garcia was not identifying with the Federal Vision in every respect, and in fact distanced himself from it in upholding the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Yet, strangely, he felt more of a burden to engage in polemics against WSC’s defense of sola fide, than to join hands with WSC in refuting the Federal Vision’s denial of sola fide!
Mark Garcia earned a Master’s degree at WTS in 2000 and did further postgraduate study at WTS in 2001. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh in 2004, and his dissertation, titled Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology, was published by Paternoster in 2008. Garcia dedicated his book to Dr. Gaffin, and in the preface, he explains that Gaffin’s “influence on my thinking [on the topic of Calvin and union with Christ] is reason enough to dedicate this project to him.” The influence of Gaffin on Garcia is evident throughout Garcia’s published writings.
It is evident that Garcia is committed to the whole set of concepts that make up the Gaffin thesis. For example, in his dissertation, Garcia writes:
In Calvin’s framework … the life of obedience or sanctification by the Spirit does not flow from the imputation of Christ’s righteousness but from Christ himself with whom the Spirit has united believers. In other words, for Calvin, sanctification does not flow from justification. They are not related as cause and effect. Rather, together they are ‘effects’ or, better, aspects of union with Christ (Life in Christ, 146).
He says the same thing in his review of CJPM: “Sanctification does not result from justification, but is an aspect, like justification, of our union with Christ.” It is from this point of view that he critiques the WSC position:
Despite the clear witness in the texts of the tradition, especially but far from exclusively in Calvin (see especially his commentary on 1 Cor. 1:30), that justification, sanctification, and any other graces of salvation are distinct, inseparable, and simultaneously bestowed aspects of union with Christ, the contributors to CJPM argue otherwise, and do so with evident passion. They prefer instead the classical Lutheran construct in which sanctification flows from justification.
Notice the language of “distinct, inseparable, and simultaneous” benefits. That is Gaffin’s language. The point of it is to say that union with Christ is primary. From union with Christ flow two benefits (the forensic and the renovative, justification and sanctification) that are distinct, inseparable, and simultaneous. Therefore, justification does not have priority over sanctification. It is not the cause of sanctification.
There are a number of inter-related claims here. Garcia is arguing the following:
- Calvin taught the “primacy of union, twofold non-prioritized benefit” view. Garcia directs readers to his dissertation for that case.
- Saying that sanctification flows from justification (i.e., prioritizing justification as the cause or legal ground of sanctification) is a Lutheran, not an authentically Reformed, construct.
- There may be some parts of the Reformed tradition that have Lutheranizing tendencies (such as the Heidelberg Catechism and the WSC faculty), but these are not authentically Reformed. Calvin’s view is the authentic Reformed view.
And with that we come to what may be the heart of Garcia’s concern. Garcia writes: “There is in fact no such thing as a ‘Reformational’ or pan-confessional theology of justification” shared by both the Lutheran and the Reformed systems of theology. Garcia thinks the Reformed system is, at a basic level, distinct from the Lutheran system. He thinks the differences between the two traditions are fundamentally incommensurate. The differences are in fact “systemic,” due to their different understandings of the place of union with Christ. In the Lutheran system, justification has controlling priority, and union with Christ and sanctification are effects of justification. In the Reformed system, according to Garcia, union with Christ has controlling priority, and justification and sanctification are distinct, inseparable, simultaneous, and non-prioritized effects of union with Christ.
The reason this is important for Garcia is that it impacts how one grounds sanctification, good works, and obedience in the Christian life. If one follows the Lutheran construct, then good works and obedience are merely the fruit of faith, or, to quote R. Scott Clark, “merely evidence of sanctity and nothing more” (CJPM, 253). But Garcia wants to argue that this “merely evidence” construction is “unable to do full justice to the multitude of imperatives in the New Testament that are clearly ‘Gospel,’ i.e., that commend (imperatively) obedience in some form as a condition for eternal life.”
Both Garcia and WSC believe in the necessity of good works, but they have a different view of the reason for the necessity of good works. For WSC, sanctification and good works are the result of a justification freely given and freely received. For Garcia, sanctification and good works are necessary, not as the result of justification, but as a result of union with Christ. This follows from his starting point regarding the distinct, inseparable, simultaneous, non-prioritized twofold benefit. “Calvin makes clear,” Garcia writes, that “this necessity [of good works] is not grounded in justification but in the reality of union with Christ.”
Near the end of his review, Garcia adds an important point that needs to be addressed. He thinks that the Gaffin formulation (primacy of union, twofold non-prioritized benefit) is the only formulation that truly safeguards the doctrine of justification against the Roman Catholic error:
If we argue, with CJPM, that justification is the cause of sanctification, then we attribute to justification a generative, transformational quality (in that sanctification is generated or produced by justification) and thus, ironically in view of the driving concern in CJPM, compromise the purely forensic character of justification. This is the liability of the Lutheran model, but it is a liability that is entirely avoided in the Reformed model according to which justification and sanctification come to us as distinct, inseparable, simultaneous benefits of union with Christ, rather than one coming from the other.