WSC’s Response to Garcia’s Review of CJPM
In the December 2007 issue of Ordained Servant, W. Robert Godfrey and David VanDrunen wrote a response to Mark Garcia’s critical review of CJPM. Godfrey and VanDrunen point out that what lies behind Garcia’s critique is his position on union with Christ: “Garcia is part of a rather new Reformed theological approach that wants to focus all of Reformed theology on union with Christ.” Garcia evidently thinks “Calvin’s doctrine of union with Christ is the sledgehammer with which to crush CJPM.”
They divide their response into sections: first, Garcia’s historical argument; second, Garcia’s theological argument.
Garcia’s historical argument is that there is no such thing as “pan-confessionalism,” that is, a doctrine of justification held in common by both the Lutheran and the Reformed theological systems. In reply, Godfrey and VanDrunen point out that the Lutheran and Reformed theologies do have significant differences in various areas, such as Christology and the sacraments, but they are in agreement on the doctrine of justification, and on the priority of justification to sanctification. They quote the Formula of Concord, which makes the same point as the Reformed confessions that “good works always follow justifying faith, and are most certainly found together with it … for true faith is never alone, but hath always charity and hope in its train.” (Cp. Westminster Confession’s affirmation that faith “is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love” [WCF XI.2].)
Godfrey and VanDrunen argue that Calvin himself was a pan-confessionalist with regard to justification. He signed the Augsburg Confession. He had friendly letter exchanges with Melanchthon. He wrote a letter to the Lutheran ministers of Saxony and Lower Germany in 1556 in which he affirmed his agreement with the Lutherans on the doctrine of justification by faith. True, in the 1559 edition of the Institutes (3.11.5-12), Calvin did forcefully engage in polemics with the Lutheran theologian Osiander, who had argued that in justification we receive God’s essential righteousness. But this doesn’t make Calvin a critic of the authentic Lutheran doctrine of justification. The only way to read Calvin as critical of the Lutheran doctrine of justification is if one takes Osiander as the only consistent Lutheran—which is what Garcia argues. But this is an “astounding” claim in view of the fact that Osiander’s views were explicitly and officially rejected by the Lutheran churches themselves in the Formula of Concord.
In sum, “Garcia represents Calvin’s attitudes to Lutheranism as consistently negative, which is simply not true.” Calvin formulated his doctrine of justification in harmony with, not in opposition to, the Lutheran doctrine. If, by grounding justification in union with Christ, Calvin was establishing the doctrine of justification on a fundamentally different theological footing than in Lutheran theology, he didn’t seem to be aware of it.
What about Garcia’s theological argument that, in union with Christ, the two benefits of justification and sanctification are simultaneous and non-prioritized? Godfrey and VanDrunen affirm the doctrine of union with Christ, but the difference is that they understand and formulate the doctrine of union with Christ in such a way as to maintain the priority of justification over sanctification, whereas Garcia exalts union with Christ as an “abstract doctrine.” They write:
We would appeal to Garcia to uphold this sense of the priority of justification to sanctification in the ordo salutis. This is not a doctrine to be embraced in place of union with Christ, but our theology of union must be compatible with this doctrine. We ought not begin with an abstract doctrine of union, conceived independently of the concrete blessings of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and then deduce from this abstract doctrine the idea that justification, adoption, and sanctification must be received simultaneously through union without a defined relationship to each other.
This issue, for Godfrey and VanDrunen, is of vital importance. “The very character and identity of the Christian life are at stake.” Why is that? Because “there is no such thing as the moral life for the non-justified.” A person who is not justified is not at peace with God, and is constantly confronted with his guilt before God due to his failure to keep the law. Therefore, a non-justified person who seeks to live a moral life can only do so in the vain attempt to secure God’s approval on the basis of his own works of righteousness. But for the justified person, the moral life looks completely different. For the justified person, he “pursues holiness not in order to be right with God, but as a response to God’s gracious declaration that he already is right with him.”
There is an order in the economy of salvation: justification precedes sanctification, not only in the obvious sense that justification is an instantaneous act of God at the outset of the Christian life, whereas progressive sanctification is a life-long process. Rather, justification precedes and grounds sanctification in the spiritual sense that, as Godfrey and VanDrunen write, “people progress in their Christian lives as those who are justified.” We are justified by faith alone. God justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5). And then having been justified by faith alone, saving faith produces good works as the fruit and effect of justification by faith. This was the issue at the time of the Reformation, the point of difference with the Roman Catholic Church. If we put the order the other way, and say that we are justified only as we are sanctified, then we have fallen into the Roman Catholic view and we have lost the gospel.
Godfrey and VanDrunen engage in some helpful exegesis at this point as well, showing that this order (justification prior to sanctification) is taught in the Scriptures. They appeal to Luke 4:47, where Jesus says that the sinful woman’s love was the expression and evidence of that fact that she was forgiven and justified. They also point out that in Gal 5:13 Paul says we have freedom in Christ, that is, as those who are justified and adopted we have been set free from the law as a covenant of works, and so as those who are free, we are free to love. “We love as those who have been freed through our justification.” Paul says much the same thing in Rom 6:14 and 7:6. “The reality of justification is the foundation for the sanctified Christian life.”
I mentioned in the previous post that Garcia made the charge that WSC’s position on justification as having priority over sanctification “attribute[s] to justification a generative, transformational quality (in that sanctification is generated or produced by justification),” thereby compromising the purely forensic character of justification. Godfrey and VanDrunen respond to this charge by stating that the contributors to CJPM never said that justification “causes” sanctification. It is not the position of WSC that justification has a “generative, transformational” power, as if justification itself (rather than the Spirit) accomplishes the work of sanctification in us. Rather, WSC is keen to defend the idea that “the good works produced by believers in their sanctification are the fruits of justifying faith and that in the ordo salutis justification has a certain priority to sanctification.” Garcia misunderstands the WSC position.
They quote from the OPC Report of the Committee to Study the Doctrine of Justification (2006) to flesh this out more. The priority of justification over sanctification is not that justification is more important than sanctification, nor is it a temporal priority, for all who are justified are also being sanctified. Rather the point is this:
While justification is the necessary prerequisite of the process of sanctification, that process is not the necessary prerequisite of justification. It is true to say that one must be justified in order to be sanctified; but it is untrue to say that one must be sanctified in order to be justified. Justification and sanctification bear a relationship to each other than cannot be reversed (pp. 60-61).
Finally, Garcia may be correct that Calvin taught a “union-double benefit” construction of the ordo salutis. But Calvin did not follow this through to Garcia’s conclusion that the two benefits are equally basic and non-prioritized. Godfrey and VanDrunen make this point, quoting the famous statement by Calvin that justification is “the main hinge on which religion turns … For unless you understand first of all what your position is before God … you have no foundation on which your salvation can be laid, or on which piety toward God can be reared” (Institutes 3.11.1).