This book is a hard-hitting critique of Dr. Gaffin’s teaching on justification. The author is a layman who was a member of the OPC congregation where Dr. Gaffin serves on the session. The book originated as a paper by Mr. Cunha presented to the session. When he did not receive a response that satisfied him, he and his family left the OPC and joined a church in the denomination founded by Paul Elliot.
I review this book with several misgivings and concerns. First, I do not like the tone set by the title of the book, “The emperor has no clothes.” Second, Dr. Gaffin became Emeritus Professor in 2008, and so it seems a little harsh to go after a man now that he has retired and is trying to serve the church in quieter ways. Third, the publisher (The Trinity Foundation, run by John Robbins until his death) is not an objective source, but is known as extremely critical of Van Til, the OPC, and Dr. Gaffin – pretty much writing all of them off as heretics who deny the gospel.
Mr. Cunha, true to the Publisher’s intemperate rhetoric, charges Dr. Gaffin with teaching a false gospel. He claims that Dr. Gaffin’s teaching “crosses the line of Reformed orthodoxy and communicates a gospel that is different from the Gospel of God revealed to us in Scripture” (p. 33). His main evidence supporting that claim is Dr. Gaffin’s repeated emphasis on a future justification in accordance with works at the day of judgment, based on his interpretation of Romans 2:6-13. As a result, Cunha claims, the works produced by faith are, on Dr. Gaffin’s construction, pulled into the sphere of justification in a way that is beyond purely evidential (pp. 38, 45, 48).
In spite of my misgivings about the author’s tone, my theological sympathies lie with Mr. Cunha. I agree 100% with his own formulation of the doctrine of justification and the proper relationship of faith and works. I agree with Mr. Cunha that Dr. Gaffin’s (pre-2006) formulation of a future justification according to works was not in line with Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone and certainly finds no foundation in Romans 2:6-13 when read in context. In addition to his mistaken formulation of future justification, Dr. Gaffin had a long track record of consistently defending Norman Shepherd. He also made the tragic error of endorsing Shepherd’s book, The Call of Grace (2000). Even more recently, at the 70th GA in 2003, he defended OPC ruling elder John Kinnaird, who taught that believers do not attain glorification and entrance into heaven on the sole ground of Christ’s righteousness but by their holy living and good works.
I do think, however, that something happened to Dr. Gaffin ca. 2006. I don’t know exactly what happened, but something did. That was the year that the OPC’s Committee to Study the Doctrine of Justification, of which Dr. Gaffin was a member, completed its Report, which was received by the 73rd GA and commended to the presbyteries for study. This Report is very clear in its teaching on justification, including a repudiation of Shepherd’s confusion of faith and works (pp. 55-56 n89). The year 2006 is also a turning point since that is the year Dr. Gaffin published his book By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (1st edition published by Paternoster; 2nd edition by P&R) (The bulk of Chapter 4 of this book was adapted, with slight modifications, into an essay titled “Justification and Eschatology,” published as Chapter 1 in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification, ed. K. Scott Oliphint [Mentor, 2007].) In By Faith, Not By Sight, Dr. Gaffin’s formulation of the future aspect of justification is significantly clarified in contrast with his earlier formulations. He now clearly states that the bodily resurrection of believers will be the “open manifestation” of the justification that they already possessed irrevocably by faith alone on the ground of Christ’s imputed righteousness alone (in contrast with what Shepherd, Kinnaird, and he himself formerly taught). He adds that when believers appear before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged according to their works, they will appear there as already justified. (For these absolutely critical statements, see By Faith, Not By Sight, pp. 98-100; Justified in Christ, pp. 20-21). Dr. Gaffin sees future justification (i.e., glorification) as occurring prior to judgment according to works, with the former being grounded exclusively in Christ’s merit. Contrast that with his earlier statement that “eternal life depends on and follows from a future justification according to works” (Dr. Gaffin’s audio lectures on Romans; quoted by Cunha, p. 56). There are still some important loose ends and probable ongoing disagreements that need to be explored, such as Dr. Gaffin’s non-hypothetical interpretation of Rom 2:13, the law-gospel contrast, and the question of the relationship of justification and sanctification in union with Christ. But those are in-house Reformed debates. It seems to me that the post-2006 Dr. Gaffin is within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy with regard to justification.
So while I am sympathetic with much that Mr. Cunha has to say if taken as a critique of the pre-2006 Dr. Gaffin, I do not think he has taken into account the change that took place in Dr. Gaffin’s thought. Legitimate questions still remain, of course: Why hasn’t Dr. Gaffin come forward to acknowledge that his thinking has changed? Why hasn’t he repented of and apologized for his previous defense of Shepherd for the previous 30 years, especially for the regrettable endorsement of The Call of Grace? The lack of any public accounting for his past statements and writings provides an opening for critics like Mr. Cunha who do not believe Dr. Gaffin’s more recent professions of orthodoxy with respect to the doctrine of justification. I cannot recommend this book, but I understand what motivates it.
This book is a historical account of the controversy that took place at Westminster Theological Seminary from 1975 to 1982 over Norman Shepherd’s teaching on justification. The author was a participant in these events and he wrote this account in 1983 while his memory was fresh. I was in elementary school when the Shepherd controversy started and in middle school when he was dismissed from Westminster. Being raised in a non-Reformed church, I had no knowledge of the OPC or Westminster at the time. So when I later went to seminary (Westminster Seminary California) and I heard a lot about the Shepherd controversy, I was only able to pick up bits and pieces from different professors. I wish I had Robertson’s excellent account back then. It was very instructive to get a grasp on what exactly transpired. Robertson gives the blow-by-blow, covering each paper, board meeting, presbytery meeting, and other meetings. It is a sad story. The saddest part is to see how these highly intelligent godly leaders of Reformed institutions (WTS and the OPC) were so discombobulated and confused by Shepherd’s teachings that they could not immediately spot his error and denounce it. Of course, there were those shining lights, like Robertson, Meredith G. Kline, Robert Godfrey, Arthur Kuschke, Philip E. Hughes, and others, who did clearly see the error and tried to point it out. But they were apparently in the minority for most of this period and had to endure contumely (and at one point the threat of charges, can you believe it?) for their upright stand. Sad and shameful.
I have great fondness for Westerholm and his approach to Paul, particularly as it relates to his doctrine of justification and the New Perspective on Paul. If you have read his earlier work, you will not be surprised by his basic line of argumentation in this book. It is a great summation of his previous scholarship on the NPP, although it does also contain some new insights. The book could be taken as a response to the NPP by looking at six different aspects of the NPP, using a representative scholar as his main interlocutor for that chapter.
Ch. 1: The Peril of Modernizing Paul. Krister Stendahl famously argued that Protestant interpreters of Paul had modernized Paul by reading Paul through the lens of Luther’s introspective conscience and his quest to find a gracious God. In response, Westerholm shows that those who responded to Paul’s message must have been concerned about how to be delivered from God’s wrath and accepted by God (e.g., 1 Thess 1:9-10). Ironically, Westerholm suggests, it is Stendahl rather than Luther who was guilty of modernizing Paul by reading Paul as if he were concerned only with the sociological problem of Gentile inclusion in the people of God.
Ch. 2: A Jewish Doctrine? E. P. Sanders contested the older Protestant caricature of Judaism as a legalistic religion devoid of any concept of divine grace. In response, Westerholm acknowledges that Sanders was right to correct that caricature by showing that Judaism did have a concept of grace. Nevertheless, Judaism’s understanding of grace was not as radical as Paul’s, as even Sanders himself admitted, since the Rabbis did not have a doctrine of the essential sinfulness of humanity. When Paul became convinced on the road to Damascus that a crucified and risen man was the Messiah, Paul concluded that he was crucified for our sins, and this in turn led him to a much deeper sense of humanity’s essential sinfulness and bondage to sin, much deeper than anything Judaism ever envisioned. A deeper awareness of humanity’s plight goes hand-in-hand with a more radical understanding of grace.
Ch. 3: Are “Sinners” All That Sinful? Heikki Räisänen claimed that Paul was inconsistent in his analysis of human sinfulness. On the one hand, Paul pulls no punches and declares that humans are in bondage to sin and utterly incapable of transforming themselves apart from grace. On the other hand, there are passages where Paul seems to take it all back, when he says that unbelievers, apart from grace, can do things that are morally good (e.g., Rom 2:14-15, 26-27; 13:1-4). Westerholm appeals to Augustine, Luther, and Calvin who understood Paul to be saying that while the unregenerate can do works that are externally good, they are not done from the right motive of love for God, and therefore are nothing more than splendid vices.
Ch. 4: Justified by Faith. This punchy chapter is devoted to N. T. Wright’s odd claim that the verb “to justify” in Paul means “to declare one to be a member of the Abrahamic family, God’s covenant people.” Westerholm does a quick word study of “righteousness” language in the OT and in Paul, and shows that the word is used frequently in an ordinary sense to designate the moral behavior that God requires of humans, and the verb is used to designate “to find innocent, to declare one to be righteous.” Paul’s usage, in a soteriological sense, has to do with God’s provision of righteousness for the unrighteous. When God “justifies the ungodly” he does so in a just manner because of the atoning death and righteousness of Christ imputed to those who, in themselves, are unrighteous. (I was influenced by Westerholm in making this very argument at length in my about-to-be-published dissertation The Righteousness of God.)
Ch. 5: Not By Works of the Law. James D. G. Dunn reinterpreted the phrase “the works of the law” (which Paul says don’t justify us) to mean only the boundary markers of circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and the food laws that separated Jews from Gentiles. Here Westerholm takes aim at another key pillar of the NPP and shows that it is a misunderstanding of Paul’s point. When Paul says that we are not justified by the works of the law, he is not attacking a Jewish misuse of the law (turning it into a means of ethnic divisiveness to keep the Gentiles out of the people of God). Rather, he is pointing out that sinners are not able to perform the good moral deeds required by the law as given by God, and therefore the law cannot be the means of attaining righteousness before God. For fallen humanity, the law (though holy and good in itself) can only bring condemnation and a curse. Righteousness before God must therefore come by a different route – by faith in the crucified and risen Messiah.
Ch. 6: Justification and “Justification Theory.” Douglas Campbell wants to create a major paradigm shift in the interpretation of Paul’s theology, from a legal-justification paradigm to a radically different apocalyptic paradigm. He wrote a massive tome (1,218 pages!) titled The Deliverance of God arguing this point at length. Westerholm objects to the dichotomy that Campbell pushes. He rejects as Marcionite the claim that we must choose between a God who is good (the apocalyptic paradigm’s view of God) and a God who is just (justification theory’s view of God).
This is a great little book taking on the New Perspective on Paul. Westerholm shows that the Old Perspective still has life in it and cannot be dismissed as passé.