Oh, Never Mind

Guy Waters’ Introduction has three main sections. In the first, he summarizes the doctrine of sola fide. That section was quite good in many respects, actually. I can say this because I affirm, believe, and teach the doctrine of sola fide. The only place I would quibble with Waters here is that I would want to talk about the imputation of Christ’s obedience, as distinct from the imputation of Christ’s merits. Other than that, I was good with everything he said, with the exception of why he was saying it. “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” There was a major problem with this section in that he begins by asking how the “New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision” have “challenged sola fide?” (p. 22). Notice how things are already getting mushed together.

In the second section, he takes on the New Perspective on Paul — Stendahl, Sanders, Dunn, and Wright in four pages. It is not trying to provide an in-depth treatment, and he makes some solid points. In fact, Credenda/Agenda, what Waters would consider a federal vision magazine, made many similar points in its Pauline Take on the New Perspective. But mentioning this would interfere with the next point, which was to try to show how the NPP runs into the FV.

As he is discussing Dunn, he summarizes Dunn’s position by saying, “Justification, then, includes the inward transformation of the sinner” (p. 27). Remember that.

He then turns to the Federal Vision, and begins by noting that we (unlike the NPP) are trying to call the Reformed world, at least according to our lights, to “a more thoroughgoing commitment to the Reformed tradition” (p. 28). But then he says:

“Neverthless, Federal Vision proponents have often been supportive of Reformed efforts to embrace Wright’s and Dunn’s insights on matters related to justification, particularly in their efforts to recast the doctrine as primarily ecclesiological . . . One federal Vision writer has expressed appreciation for certain New Perspective(s) definitions of the ‘righteousness of God’ as covenantal faithfulness(rather than the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer for his justification) at key points in the letters of Paul” (p. 28).

The footnoted one is Peter Leithart, and the reference is to Peter’s essay in The Federal Vision. Because he is not named in the text, but only in the footnote, this particular interaction does not show up in the index of By Faith Alone. Waters goes on to say this about Leithart:

“This proponent consequently defines justification in terms of non-forensic, transformational categories. To put it simply, he conflates justification and sanctification. In so doing, his definition of justification cannot sustain the doctrine of sola fide” (p. 29).

After reading Waters, I went back and read Peter’s essay again. It is quite clear that he wants to say more about how the Bible uses the words relating to justification and righteousness than some Protestants have said, but it is equally clear that he insists that we must not say less. Reread what Waters just said above, and then consider these quotes from Peter’s essay.

“Though justification terminology has a number of different nuances in Scripture, it does not refer to an act of ‘making just’ (The Federal Vision, p. 206).

“The Protestant confessions reflect the biblical teaching when they claim that justification is an ‘act of God’s free grace’ by which God pardons and forgives and counts us as righteous” (p. 206).

“As far as it goes, the Protestant doctrine is correct; if the scene of a sinner in the dock before the Judge is put before us, and we are asked, ‘What does justification mean?’ or ‘On what grounds is a person justified?’ then the proper answer is the Reformation answer: Justification is an act of God’s free grace whereby He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ reckoned to us and received by faith alone” (p. 209).

“First, the Protestant doctrine of justification has mainly been concerned with the question of applying the redemption of Christ to individual believers. While that is certainly a central part of the gospel and the apostolic doctrine of justification . . .” (p. 211).

And then Waters concludes with this turnip.

“As different as the New Perspective(s) on Paul and the Federal Vision are, they converge in this respect: they deny the doctrine of sola fide: justification by faith alone. rather than calling men and women to rest on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ alone for their justification, the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision give us a modified covenant of works. They tell us ‘do this (with God’s help) and you will live'” (p. 31).

And I have to sit down and fan myself. When I have recovered sufficiently, I will say (again) that salvation is of the Lord, from first to last. The Lord is our only righteousness, and He is the only one who can impute that righteousness. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone and . . . oh, never mind.

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