One Last Thing

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Not a lot of complaints about the last essay in this volume, a chapter on justification and pastoral counseling by Dennis Johnson. Like some of the the others, this chapter was just great also, with a sub-standard federal-visiony footnote jury-rigged into the argument. Like I said, not a lot of complaints about the text proper. Go, team, go.

But the footnote can’t be allowed to pass without some comment. It provides an outstanding example of the kind of problems that have afflicted us throughout this whole imbroglio.

“Some federal vision advocates draw a distinction between God’s ‘strict’ justice, which only Christ’s perfection can satisfy, and God’s ‘fatherly’ assessment, which accepts our less-than-perfect obedience, calling it ‘pleasing’ and ‘good.’ Rich Lusk, for example, asserts . . .” (p. 411).

The rest of this footnote goes on to critique Lusk for this second sense, apparently for messing around with congruent merit and such, but leaves the acknowledged sense (involving what only Christ can do) out of the discussion. But how come?

One last comment, and this book goes back on the shelf. Back when Westminster West first did their conference on this controversy (out of which this book grew), they issued “Our Testimony on Justification.” Most of it is wonderful, consisting of quotations from the Reformed confessions. But the preamble tells us why they are doing this, and shows that they haven’t learned anything about this issue in the last few years. And frankly, given the amount that has been written on it, this is just inexcusable.

“. . . Such critics, called neonomians in the seventeenth century, today are perhaps better labeled covenant moralists. Our testimony is directed primarily to this third group, who claim to be genuinely Reformed. These covenant moralists teach, contrary to the Reformed confessions and/or historic Reformed conviction, some or all of the following . . .” (p. 432).

A series of gross misrepresentations follow, which I addressed when this statement first came out. For one fruity example, consider this claim about our beliefs — “that justification is not by faith alone, but by faithfulness, that is, trust in Christ and obedience” (p. 432).

Westminster West, as a seminary, has put their reputation on the line in this book. They issued the statement initially, held a conference, developed this book out of that conference, and they have published this testimony again. This means that their testimony is false testimony.

Where does this falsehood come from? The temptation is to resort to the standard two alternatives in cases like this — this is being done because they are stupid, or because they are malicious. Incompetent or hateful? But I don’t think either alternative explains what is going on here.

Tight dogma held in the wrong way can make good people do bad things. In this case, the irony is particularly thick, because the dispute is about how the free justification that is given to us all in Christ is the fount of all practical godliness. This volume has stated, more times than I can remember, how the Reformed doctrine insists that the faith alone which justifies is not a faith which is alone, but rather is accompanied by other gifts and graces. This is the Reformed doctrine, and I agree with it.

So, when are we going to do it? Does the free justification in Christ alone, appropriated by faith alone, naturally lead Christ’s followers to state the obvious truth about one’s doctrinal adversaries, regardless of the ‘poltitical’ cost? Does it require men who hold to the historic Reformed doctrine on justification to pick up the phone and call a brother on the other side of the line whom they know to have been misrepresented? Does free grace allow one to refuse to “break ranks,” even though he knows that an injustice is occuring? Does an orthodox understanding of sola fide allow justified believers to continue to publish inaccurate books, and refuse to meet the brothers mentioned in those books to thrash out the issues. And does it allow those leading the charge to refuse to debate when repeatedly invited to do so? You say you have faith? Show me your faith by your works. And if this book was an example of those works, you need to try another one.

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