Monday, February 11, 2008

The Nature of Saving Faith

Can Faith Be Equated With Faithfulness?

"To believe is to obey." This was the thesis of Pastor Dave's sermon this Sunday. He and his wife had lunch with us afterwards, and it gave an opportunity for talking with him about this very point, which has in God's providence been one of my ruminations over the last couple of weeks.

Dave's sermon, incidentally, developed the point by examining why it is in Luke 9 that Jesus did not meet with Herod despite the fact that Herod seemed eager. Why not? Because disobedience -- cutting off the head of John the Baptist, say -- amounts to a denial of God's truth, amounts to unbelief. Clearly, Herod's eagerness to see Jesus was something other than faith.

Dave didn't mention 1 Cor 10 or Heb 10.26-39 in this context, but such were obviously in the background. To disobey is to deny; hence, to believe is to obey.

This was interesting for me because of recent conversations concerning the nature of saving faith (here , here, and here). Is it legitimate to speak of saving faith as "faithfulness"? Is it legitimate to require that saving faith include obedience as a part of its definition? Is it legitimate to require that saving faith be purely receptive of the grace of God? At the back of these questions are concerns on the one hand about legalism, and concerns on the other about antinomianism.

All of these questions are raised by a pair of recent books, the latest in the ongoing Protestant quest to nail down "saving faith" to the systematic subflooring with nary a bubble. These two are Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry and A Faith That Is Never Alone. The former is a product primarily of Westminster Seminary West and argues (I am told) for a hard separation between faith and obedience in a definitional sense. The latter is a product primarily of Norm Shepherd and those influenced by him, including many Federal Vision lights. It argues, apparently, that faith must include obedience by definition; that is, that faith is faithfulness.

Both are on my reading list, so the summaries above are second hand. Certainly, this post will not be an attempt to interact with either work!

Rather, I thought merely to blog some preliminary thoughts about faith viewed from two perspectives. From the "black-box", empirical perspective, faith looks like faithfulness. When we open up the box and peer inside, it turns out that faith proper is an instrument that receives God's grace, which leads necessarily to obedience. In other words, the inner workings of faith do not properly include obedience; and yet, living faith is always necessarily obedient.

Think about faith as it is presented in James. Not merely in chapter 2, but in the whole of the epistle, the burden of James is this: if your faith is genuine, then it will be seen in the works of your hands (Jas 1.26, 3.13, 4.4 but also 1.3-4, 1.5-8, passim). Or as I often say to my students, "You don't really know something until you know it in your hands." James says in effect, "You don't really believe something until you believe it with your hands."

The author to the Hebrews presents the contrapositive: that those who disobey are unbelievers. So for instance, he warns

So, as the Holy Spirit says:

"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the desert,
where your fathers tested and tried me
and for forty years saw what I did.
That is why I was angry with that generation,
and I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.'
So I declared on oath in my anger,
'They shall never enter my rest.' "

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said:

"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion."

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.
-- Heb. 3.7-19

Time does not permit examining Jesus' take on saving faith (think for example of the fruitful soil of Matt. 13 or the Rich Young Ruler of Luke 18), nor even Paul's confirmation that the disobedient are unbelievers (1 Cor 5.11-13, Eph. 5.6 || Col. 3.6, Tit. 1.16).

All of this is strong confirming evidence that to believe is to obey. We might call this the 'empirical perspective' on faith. From the outside without any access to the inner workings of faith, what does it look like to believe? It looks like obedience to God's commands. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

In many pastoral settings, this is exactly what is needed. Indeed, as I work with students in my Ethics class, we talk often about integrity as a person; that is, having actions that are consistent with our stated beliefs.

The 'empirical perspective', then, can include obedience within faith as a matter of operational definition. If we think of faith as a kind of black box whose inputs are the promises and commands of God and whose output is obedience, it makes sense to view 'faith' as faithfulness.

But it turns out that not all pastoral problems can be solved by this approach. Indeed, one of the problems that Paul frequently felt the need to counter in his ministry was the problem of legalism.

By "legalism", I don't mean what Wright is so anxious to clear the Pharisees of -- a kind of merit-gaining by means of racking up righteousness points. Nor do I mean the addition of human laws to God's law; nor strict scrupulousness in keeping God's law. All of these are, of course, kinds of legalism.

But the more general definition of "legalism" that fits best what Paul argued against is this: legalism is obedience to the Law in the power of the flesh.1

It's immediately obvious that legalism in this sense can look exactly like our black-box definition of faith. Inputs: commands and promises of God. Outputs: obedience (at least by the metric of the legalistic community).

And yet, Christians all agree (following Paul) that legalism amounts to a different gospel -- unbelief! Or better, pseudo-belief.


To get at this, we must follow Paul and open up the black box, examine what goes on inside the inner workings of faith.

And when we do, we find that the faith that saves is not actually itself obedience to the Law. Instead, for Paul as he addresses the Romans, Galatians, and Philippians, faith is an instrument that lays hold of the promises of God and receives as a result the work of God: justification, sanctification, adoption, the indwelling of the Spirit. Faith in this sense is separate from obedience to the Law.

We can see this most starkly in Luther's favorite epistle, Galatians. Crucial for Paul in his argument there is that we receive the Spirit by trusting in the promises of God over against obeying the Law (Gal. 3). He insists that we are justified by faith apart from performing works of the Law (Rom. 3, 4)2.

This is mind-bending. Our black-box definition of faith was comfortable in including obedience as a part of its definition. Yet the inner workings of faith are set, apparently, apart from obedience. How?

The key (I think) is to view the black box as consisting of two components under the hood. Faith itself is that which lays hold of God's promises. As a result, God acts. He unites us to Himself, working in us through the power of the Spirit. As a result of that action, we are changed, both in initial salvation and also in its ongoing expression of sanctification. The result of that change is ... obedience.

Now, the relationship between our faith and God's work in us is inseparable from a causation perspective. Genuine, living faith will always result in God's work, resulting in obedience. Hence, the black-box perspective is operationally valid.

However, it is also incomplete. To those who labor under the illusion that their flesh-generated obedience is the same as the work of the Spirit, it must be told: faith is a receptive, not generative, instrument. 'Faithfulness' is not faith; it is the outcome of God's work in us that comes through faith.

Put another way, an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit is an irreducible part of teaching on faith and obedience. Without that teaching, legalists are led from bad to worse. With it, we can say to both antinomians and legalists: "The cure is to believe."


1. I am indebted to Jack Miller for this definition. It makes sense of Paul's frequent coupling of the flesh/Spirit dichotomy with his faith/works of the Law dichotomy. It also makes sense of the Pharisees' simultaneous reliance on the Law *and* antinomian tendencies -- both of which are sourced from the flesh nature.
2. Utterly unconvincing are solutions that try to make Paul's disparagement of fleshly obedience to the Law mean something limited: Jewish separatism from Gentiles, or adherence to OT ceremonial law. To argue thus makes light of Paul's robust view of the Law, which was in line with Jesus' (cf. Gal. 5.14). The "curse of the Law" was not visited on Jesus because Gentiles ate pork!


Anonymous said...

Sounds good, Jeff. Would you say that WCF 14.2 is then viewing faith from the operational perspective when it says that obeying the commands is one of the acts of faith?

I do like the distinction between receptive and generative--even to obey the commands is receptive, because it looks to God for what should be done, rather than try to manufacture it by itself. It also, as I've said elsewhere, obviates the difficulties of "active" vs "passive."

Joshua W.D. Smith

Jeff Cagle said...

Would you say that WCF 14.2 is then viewing faith from the operational perspective when it says that obeying the commands is one of the acts of faith?

Yes, I would.

Thanks for the visit.


tim prussic said...

Jeff, good 'n interesting. I was only able to rip through the post here at work, but I think you work it out well enough. I know that "faith = faithfulness" or "faith = obedience" type constructions are going to draw the ire of many. Thus, even though you make a good effort to work it out, too many "Reformed" bloggers (and even academics, I'm afraid) will reject you out of hand.
As for me an my house, we do like the image of the black box of faith. Makes it seem a little eerie! Possibly, faith's the thing in the plane that records transmissions.

Here's a little thought. Faith's logically prior to obedience. Also, faith necessarily generates obedience. Thus, a lack of obedience is necessarily a lack of faith. True obedience is necessarily faithfulness. Thus, one could appeal to one and logically (in differing ways) actually be indicating the other functionally.

Jeff Cagle said...

Scholars might. I was very general in my treatment of the various passages, and there's tons of exegetical detail for each one. I've entered into that level of detail for some of the passages but not all of them.

Reformed bloggers, OTOH, would probably find little to object to here. I'm sticking very close to the Confession on this one.


Richard Van Noord said...

Hi Jeff,

One thing that I want to point out in your consideration of these two schools on the subject, is that the Covenental Nomist school of the Norman Shephard variety, insists on a definition of "living, active obedient faith". The other school, separating faith and faithfulness, separates it in order to focus on the object of our faith, i.e., the perfectly obedient, perfectly righteous one whose obedience "becomes" ours, by grace through faith. The Imputation of the active obedience of Christ(IAOC), is not necessary in Norman Shepherd's novelty. Since, he argues, the Covenant of Works (failed by the first Adam) is a fiction, there is no requirement for perfect obedience(fullfillment by the second Adam). This makes it really difficult to reconcile with a whole lot of Christian history and the WCF, which admittedly is not on par with scripture. I just wanted to point out that this is not primarily a disagreement about whether faith is obedient. A simple reading of John 1 tells us so-and gives us assurance if we desire to obey. So something very fundamentally different is being passed off as faith. Norman Shepherd say's in The Call of Grace, that faith = obligation and that grace = promise. I'd never say that I have achieved the ability to obey enough to satisfy the demands of the law. As you study these things, ask yourself, Do I hear such demands in my church? Do I get relief by knowing my desire is for obedience and that my obedience is perfected in(through, the IAOC) Christ?

Jeff Cagle said...


Thank you for your comments. You put your finger precisely on my concern about the trajectory that the "faith = faithfulness" formula might lead. My concern is heightened every time I hear slogans like "the Law is the Gospel."

Namely, I am concerned that that "faith = faithfulness" formula might attribute faithfulness to something within us (as a result of God's regenerating work, of course) -- an innate, autonomous feature of the new nature.

And that move (whether present in Shepherd's work or not, I don't know) would then lead very quickly to obedience in the power of the flesh.

What is need, IMO, to prevent such a move, is to insist that the dynamic, sanctifying work of the Spirit, appropriated by faith in the object of our faith, Jesus, is the inner source of our obedience.

You seem persuaded that Shepherd and his compatriots are already at a place of legalism. I'm more circumspect, having only a little evidence of a conflicting nature to go on.

I will say that someone like Rich Lusk, whose formulations have concerned me in this regard, still affirms with me the need for the work of the Spirit in sanctification. So that's an encouraging point.

I just wanted to point out that this is not primarily a disagreement about whether faith is obedient.

Yes, I agree that Shepherd combines many other ideas into his notions of justification.

Here's why I wrote this post. There are a substantial number of folk out there -- Joshua is one of those -- who think that it is. Historically, Shepherd's teaching arose in reaction to the Lordship Salvation controversy that arose in two places, dispensational churches and Campus Crusade. I'm just old enough to remember fierce talk about the legitimacy of the category "carnal Christian."

So my aim in this post was to provide a tertium quid for those who believe that faith and faithfulness cannot be separated, but also who are still willing to grant that the work of the Spirit is necessary for obedience.

I'm very pleased that Joshua and Tim, for example, find it acceptable.


Richard Van Noord said...

Thanks for receiving my post Jeff and for letting me know your intentions with this.

You said:

"You seem persuaded that Shepherd and his compatriots are already at a place of legalism." I don't know why it seems that way to you. I have met Shepherd, and have asked him about his views on the laws demands, imputation, merit, etc. His views were admittedly at odds with the WCF, which he is not obliged to uphold. His own Belgic Confession say's this:
"..acknowledging ourselves to be such as we really are, without presuming to trust in any thing in ourselves, or in any merit of ours, relying and resting upon the obedience of Christ crucified alone, which becomes ours, when we believe in him. This is sufficient to cover our iniquities, and to give us confidence in approaching to God; freeing the conscience of fear, terror and dread, without following the example of our first father, Adam, who, trembling, attempted to cover himself with fig-leaves. And verily if we should appear before God, relying on ourselves, or on any other creature, though ever so little, we should, alas! be consumed. And therefore every one must pray with David: O Lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified."

If he believes that, he could never be considered a legalist. But then, why would his novelty need to do away with the IAOC? I'm not accusing him of legalism. It occurs to me that maybe he's trying to destroy any possibility of it with his system. However, legalism has always existed. There's nothing new under the sun. Shepherd thinks he has the antedote in his Covenant Nomism (Moralism)? I can think of other words to describe him than a legalist. I am holding back when I say "novelist". Thank you for allowing me to post here. I understand that this may not fit into this particular conversation. Just wanted to say that there is more to it...and for the most part, I am thankful to be out of it. As for you, Keep up the good work!

Andrew Matthews said...

Jeff, I know you posted this a year ago, so I wanted to ask you, Do you still believe Shepherd confuses faith with faithfulness (i.e., faith + obedience)?

Jeff Cagle said...

I admit that Call of Grace still lies unread, so it would be safest for me not to comment. The little that I've read from him has been a criticism of the phrase "Justification by Faith Alone"; by which he appears to mean that justifying faith is never alone, but always accompanied by the fruit of good works.

Honestly, if he means this and only this, then I don't object to the content. However, the method of getting there (repudiating "JBFA") is massively confusing, since it is in fact true that faith is the sole instrument of justification.

And it appears that NS wants to deny that repentance and works are the fruit of faith, but instead are components of it. If that is in fact his teaching, then my argument in this post stands against him. I would say, in that case, that he has confused the black box with its inner workings.

All in all, I think WCoF 11.2 gets it just right.

Clearly, I gave a shallow answer to your question, since I'm ill-informed about Shepherd's teachings. He's one of those names, like Barth or Bultmann or Borg, used to warn off seminarians: "Don't go down THIS road!"


Andrew Matthews said...

Well... you invited. ;)

I recommend you read the COG and judge for yourself whether Shepherd deserves the reputation he has been tarred with. I also recommend his new book, entitled The Way of Righteousness: Justification Beginning with James, which was published last year by Kerygma Press. In this book, Shepherd demonstrates the consistency of James’ teaching with the whole NT. WOR is basically an update of his 1979 paper, “The Grace of Justification.”

Shepherd does not merely mean that faith happens to be always accompanied by the fruit of good works. And this, of course, is why he has come under such heavy fire.

You recognize that the precise Protestant doctrinal formulation is that faith is the sole instrument of justification. That’s great, but do you distinguish between instruments and means, recognizing the role of means, as Shepherd does? All instruments are means, but not all means are instruments in the proper sense.

There are a multiplicity of means God uses to bring about the justification of his elect. For instance, St. Paul says, "it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved... How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:10,14-15)

Here we see that justification depends not only upon the exercise of faith, but also upon verbal confession, gospel preaching, and the evangelical apostolate (the ordination & commission of evangelists). All these things are means (some necessary in every particular case) for justification.

Rome says that baptism is the instrumental cause of justification. Where do gospel preaching and the sacraments fit in? Do theologians really do justice to the doctrine in definitions that ignore the means God normally uses to justify?

So, I don't really care for the black box analogy. The "empirical perspective" is a description of what happens in the real world--not the realm of abstract theory as to what is philosophically essential and what dispensible. Sola fide as an ideology is the acid bath responsible for dissolving the faith of millions in the normative ministry of the Church.


Andrew Matthews said...

It’s actually not the case that Shepherd has been confusing on the matter. Rather, his chief accuser, Arthur Kuschke could not (or would not) grasp the validity of the distinction between instruments and means. This is clear from the recordings of the Philadelphia OPC presbytery’s 1978 discussions of Shepherd's Thirty-four Theses on Justification.

The charge has been repeated from the beginning that Shepherd has been unclear and confusing. Well, when repeated often enough by enough people, a lie has the appearance of truth. Thankfully, the history is documented and Shepherd's original views are available for all who care to look.

I am aware of no place where Shepherd says repentance and works are components of faith (another charge that was originally raised by Kuschke, if my recollection is accurate). Rather, Shepherd has consistently claimed for about forty years that faith and works are conditions of justification. Shepherd talks about justification as a forensic declaration and as the state in which one who is declared righteous exists.

Shepherd is here being faithful to the teaching of our Lord that one can only expect to be forgiven if he forgives others their debts (Matt. 5:12,14-15), and that sins are forgiven only as they are confessed (1 Jn. 1:9). The absolution of sins is given with the expectation and upon the condition that the sinner truly endeavor to reform his life. Our Lord's teachings on restitution to redress wrongs should also be consulted.

The WCF at 11.2 is great. 15.3 is also important:

"Although repentance be not to be rested in as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God's free grace in Christ; yet is it of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it."

This is exactly Shepherd's teaching, who views repentance as a non-meritorious but indispensible condition. It is not the teaching of his accusers, who neither preach the conditional necessity of repentance nor submit to the plain and consistent teaching of Scripture on this point.

Jeff, thank you for this opportunity to defend a good man.

Jeff Cagle said...


Thanks for your thoughts. Having read the 34 Theses, I would register agreement with all but four: #20, 21, 22, and 25. My disagreement with #22 is that it makes me wonder what quantity of personal holiness is necessary (in Shepherd's view) for justification.

Three thoughts/questions:

(1) I'm not sure that the black-box analogy has been given a fair hearing yet. You mention the contrast between "the real world" and "abstract theory", but those categories are not in view.

Rather, we're talking about two perspectives, both of which are richly attested in Scripture.

On the one hand is man's view of things (not the real world!). In that view, faith looks like obedience.

On the other is God's view of things. He has told us (in Eph, Gal, and other places) that in His view, the Spirit is received by faith, and He is the one who motivates the good works.

What about this do you dislike?

(2) You've given examples of the difference between instrument and means. Do you have a concise definition of a "means" that sets it apart from an "instrument"?

(3) What is the difference between sola fide as a teaching and sola fide as an ideology?


Andrew Matthews said...


Thanks for the discussion. Substantive discussions such as this are great motivators to refine my own thinking on controversial but crucial matters.

I possess little in the way of qualifications to argue the finer points of justification doctrine. Yet, having some scriptural knowledge, some acquaintance with the history of Christian doctrine, having read a few of Shepherd’s writings, and having heard a couple dozen hours of his sermons, lectures, and debates, I feel reasonably competent to contend for the man’s orthodoxy.

Real quick: NS views all acts of personal faith (including belief) as non-meritorious, so his view does not require any specific quantity of holiness for vindication on the Day of Judgment. What will be necessary is proof of perseverance in faith throughout one’s life.

(1) Having read some of your contributions over at Green Baggins since you made your last comment here, I see you are employing your dual perspective theory quite a bit. Your approach is similar to the way Shepherd cashes things out in his contrast between covenant perspective (roughly, “man’s view”) and election perspective (roughly, “God’s view”). (See CoG, 79ff.)

Of course, Shepherd draws controversial conclusions from his paradigm. For instance, though we know something about the order of the decrees in general we know little of the details in particular cases—even our own. Shepherd argues that the covenant perspective is present on the surface of the biblical text. For him, the covenant perspective—what God has revealed about the mutual yet incommensurable covenantal commitments of God and man—is the biblical perspective. This seems prima facie correct since the Bible is not a systematic exposition of theological truth.

Turning now to the details of your paradigm, you write:

“On the one hand is man's view of things (not the real world!). In that view, faith looks like obedience.”

Not to be a contrarian here, but the exercise of faith is in fact an act of obedience. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (Jn. 6:29).

The Gospel proclamation includes a command to believe: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”

Faith does not exhaust the commandments, so faith is not equivalent to obedience. Nevertheless, faith exercised in response to the divine command is a form of obedience. In fact, it is the fundamental form of obedience. This is true from both man’s perspective and God’s.

God knows very well that faith is an effectual work or operation (see below), and he does not exclude this consideration when he justifies the man of faith. What is excluded is the act of faith considered as a meritorious cause or ground.

The remainder of this long comment depends less upon Shepherd’s account than upon my own negotiation of the doctrine.


Andrew Matthews said...

Justification is a divine forensic declaration. Yet, we are justified through the instrumentality of a work—a work not of the flesh but of God, something other than the voice of God speaking audibly from Heaven.

Where and when does the justifying verdict take place? There are a variety of opinions among Reformed. It is in the application of the verdict in Christian experience where things get complicated.

There is one faith; faith is one. And Faith is both an operation and a faculty, a thing. The supposed antithesis between extraspective faith and operative faith serves to nullify faith altogether. Saving faith, being alive, actively attends to the Person and ministry of Christ for justification. It is simultaneously active and passive in the same effectual operation. Therefore, it cannot be said without contradiction that the sinner is justified by extraspective faith apart from operative faith. This would be the same as saying justification is by faith apart from faith!

In any theological analysis of justification we must distinguish between types of causation. Certainly God does not consider faith to be the meritorious cause (ground) of justification; Christ and his ministry alone constitute that. To call the exercise of faith an instrument is not the same as claiming faith merits justification. To make this mistake is to commit the fallacy of confusing distinct causal categories.

Allow me to digress a bit. Since Roman Catholicism identifies baptism as the instrumental cause, but not the meritorious cause (which is Christ’s office alone), then in no way can Roman Catholics be rightly accused of adding human merit to Christ’s merit in procuring the justifying verdict.

Now, Roman Catholics speak of the “increase” of justification where human condign merit builds upon Christ’s merit. However, Christ’s all-sufficient merit remains the indestructible foundation while the sinner’s imperfect obedience is never alloyed with it, being merit of a different kind.

On my understanding of Roman Catholic teaching, an insufficient quantity of condign merit can never destroy initial justification, which always remains intact unless mortal sin is committed. Only mortal sin can bring the sinner into condemnation. And, mortal sin will eventually destroy temporary faith. Catholics have recourse to sacramental confession for their restoration. And official Roman Catholic dogma allows for the view that the elect will persevere in seeking opportunities to be restored.

Back on track, “instrument” language is confessionally Reformed. According to WCF 11.2, faith is “the alone instrument of justification.” In Reformed theological usage, the “alone instrument” is faith because by faith all other gifts and graces are rendered efficacious in their subjective appropriation: Without faith it is impossible to please God.

On the other hand, faith is insufficient by itself for the Christian to finally inherit eternal life. Confession must be added to faith in order to persevere in the state of justification (Cf. 2 Pet. 1: 5-11). Confession accomplishes both the remission of and purification of sins: “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

An implication of this, I think, is that faith, even genuine faith, does not ex opere operato accomplish justification.


Andrew Matthews said...

Jeff, you also write:

“On the other is God's view of things. He has told us (in Eph, Gal, and other places) that in His view, the Spirit is received by faith, and He is the one who motivates the good works.”

I find your distinction between works of the flesh and works of the Spirit helpful. The initial infusion of faith is entirely monergistic, for faith is first of all a creation of the Spirit. Faith is only secondarily an activity of man. God, by his Spirit, lovingly draws us to himself through the act of faith itself. God always remains the first and efficient cause. Faith is truly His work.

“What about this do you dislike?”

I guess what I dislike is the conflation of different kinds of works (arising from different sources, i.e., flesh and Spirit) implicit in the usual Protestant account of the doctrine. This account neglects (at best)—or implicitly denies (at worst)—the necessary function of Spirit-motivated works (e.g., preaching, confession, repentance, restitution, baptism, forgiveness of neighbor, works of charity, etc.) in the administration of justification.

Scripture never says we are justified by faith alone. What it says is that we are “justified by faith apart from works (accomplished in the power of the flesh) of the Law” and, that we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (Rom. 3:28; James 2:24). St. James insists on the necessity of works for justification. St. Paul insists that unbelief renders the works of the Law void of meaning and efficacy. Paul never says or implies that the old covenant didn’t administer justification to the faithful through its ordinances (e.g., circumcision, temple sacrifices, high priestly mediation, etc.).

(2) “You've given examples of the difference between instrument and means. Do you have a concise definition of a ‘means’ that sets it apart from an ‘instrument’?”

“Means” would be all the grounds, processes, instruments, and conditions employed by an agent to effectually achieve a desired end. An instrument is a means, but not all means are instruments. Much less are all means meritorious causes.


Andrew Matthews said...

(3) What is the difference between sola fide as a teaching and sola fide as an ideology?

Sola fide as an ideology (solafideism) is a pre-rational commitment to justification by faith apart from every means whatsoever. It is the essence and source of all spiritual enthusiasm. The ideological tendency is to entirely corrode confidence in the ministry committed to the Church. Ultimately, in its historical outworking, solafideism overthrows faith and denies Christ. Its operative principle is a false spirit, the spirit of Antichrist, which denies Christ’s coming in the flesh, and which denies that Christ’s life can really become our own.

Faith is supernatural in its origin, essence, and operation. If saving faith is fundamentally one with the faith Christ exercised during the course of his earthly obedience, then faith becomes very significant for how one understands the believer’s union with Christ. This union is achieved through faith and is not reducible to psychological phenomena. It may be that faith itself constitutes the union.

Neither Luther nor Calvin denied the essential union of the believer with Christ. This may be their saving grace.

I believe the Catholic-Protestant dispute over justification is in large part terminological due to the early Reformers’ avoidance of (necessary) medieval scholastic categories, possibly due to the reigning philosophical nominalism of the era. The early Reformers also erred in conflating assurance with faith.

Later, Reformed theologians would adopt scholastic methods and categories. This is because there can be no meaningful articulation of finer theological points without them. The Reformed tradition would also qualify its understanding to distinguish personal assurance from the essence of faith. One may have faith in Christ apart from certainty of one’s final perseverance. St. Paul says, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). Many other scriptural passages teaching the conditional side of justification and the necessity of perseverance can be accumulated.

Even RC clericalism and sacerdotalism do not pose a real difference. The Reformed tradition has its own equivalents. The fact of Anglicanism is proof that sola fide can be promulgated by episcopal hierarchs and incorporated in catholic Eucharistic liturgy.

In conclusion, the biblical and orthodox teaching of sola fide insists on the absolute indispensability of faith and the dependence of every other saving gift and grace upon it (for efficacious subjective appropriation). Only by logical contradiction can a thinker claim justification is by extraspective faith apart from operative faith. Finally, justification is never administered apart from the other operations of the New Covenant. Gospel-preaching, repentance, verbal confession, and reception of the sacraments are all means God uses to justify his people.

The entire New Covenant economy is a divinely ordained comprehensive system whose purpose is to nurture faith and administer the justification of God’s elect.

Jeff, I apologize for the length of this reply.

Jeff Cagle said...


I appreciate the lengthy reply and the well-argued and well-thought-out nature of it.

Obviously, Shepherd has been controversial, so one locus of our discussion might be "Why?"

Your response suggests that sola-fideism is possibly to blame; but I wonder then at other folk who move in similar circles as Shepherd (e.g., Gaffin) who have distanced themselves from him in some way. Politics? Or is there something else there?

A second, and possibly more profitable locus could be, "Is saving faith extraspective only, or operative also?"

The black-box model argues that faith ends up as operative because it is extraspective; and the missing link that connects the two is the supernatural work of the Spirit.


Three things strike me:

(1) Shepherd is arguing primarily in terms of merit, a concept developed by Anselm and thence into the Western Church, which may not exactly be what Paul is arguing against exactly in Romans and Galatians.

For when faith obeys (whether operative of itself or by receiving the work of the Spirit), it nevertheless obeys the Law of God. That is, the "obedience of faith" coincides precisely with the traditional 3rd Use of the Law in Reformed thought.

And the recent work by Wright, for example, suggests that Judaism thought of the Law in "Covenantal Nomism" kinds of ways. That is: they appeared to have understood that one "gets into" the covenant by grace, but then "stayed in" by keeping the Law.

So it might well be the case that Paul is not arguing narrowly against "meritorious works" merely, but against any kind of works of the Law being effective for justification -- including covenantal nomism.

If so, then Shepherd has carved out a niche for himself by anachronistically reading Paul.

(2) It is interesting that there is a time-gap between Gen. 15 and Gen. 21. I think it is non-negotiable that any treatment of Paul and James together on the subject of Abraham must treat with this time gap. Here's my attempt.

(3) Because the black-box model and Shepherd's "operative faith" look the same on the outside, it is not necessarily the case that each instance in Scripture where faith is described as "operative" in some way, can count as evidence for or against one model or the other.

That is: Some of the passages Shepherd appeals to in defense of "operative faith" in The Grace of Justification are equally at home in the black-box model.



Andrew Matthews said...

Jeff, I've not abandoned our discussion. I've discovered some gaps in my thinking that I've been working through. I shall return!