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Friday, May 19, 2006

The Sixth Circle?

At the repository of sophistry known as Reformed Catholicism Kevin Johnson saw fit to edit out one of my posts there on the grounds that it was "inappropriate and disrespectful". I like to think of our blog as appropriately disrespectful, dispensing noogies, wedgies, wet willies, and occasionally even swirlies to all forms of doctrinal unsoundness. So I have posted the uncensored version here with light editing. Parental guidance suggested for children under 13.

This was written in response to
Jamey Bennett's post.



I first read Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said in the summer of 2001 and remember thinking to myself “there is a lot of good stuff in here, but gosh, some of this sounds a lot like Norm Shepherd and Daniel Fuller.” This is before the Auburn Avenue flap. You can probably buy the book for $10 or so. It really should concern you more than it seems to.

But saying "discipleship is salvation" is not the same as saying "discipleship is justification". I assume McArthur is using "salvation" here in reference to sanctification.

But the most charitable reading of Wright’s quote that God will declare us just "on the last day on the basis of an entire life" leads me to conclude that he is, at best, equivocating - "declare us just" is really in reference to our public vindication, not justification (our right standing before God). I chalk this sort of confusion up to the prevalent illiteracy in systematic theology. Anyone who has read standard works such as Berkhof knows better than to muddle such basic concepts. Or, heck, Reymond or Grudem or Hodge’s systematics tomes will do fine, too.

Another example of this systematics confusion is assuming that the statement “salvation is God’s work from start to finish” exonerates Wright from a Reformational standpoint. That statement is an affirmation of sola gratia (which even Romanists often affirm), but not an affirmation of sola fide.

Is Wright going to hell? Maybe. Maybe not. For St. Paul, it was a certainty that the Judaizer leaders were (thus his anathema) - but for the Galatian audience he only held it out as a live possibility, thus giving them a stern warning in hopes that they would accept correction. This is under the assumption that their faith of the heart was better than their momentary doctrine and practice. Hopefully Wright falls into the latter. I suspect he does, but does not a similar stern warning have propriety, as God disciples his sons?

I echo Phil Johnson's sentiments and appreciate the spirit and tone of your post. As I reflect on the matter further, I realize that most Anglicans - even academics - have probably never been exposed to standard works of systematics by us American presbyterians and Dutch-rooted Calvinists. Turretin is maybe the closest thing an Anglican might be exposed to. I could be all wrong here, since I don’t exactly have my hand on the pulse of the Anglican world.

One can affirm that “discipleship is salvation [i.e. sanctification]” yet deny that eternal life “hinges on faith lived out faithfully.” Justification judicially secures BOTH eternal life and the living out of our faith. So the living out of our faith (good works) is a descriptive condition of eternal life, not prescriptive. Thus, good works are not instrumental causes of justification or eternal life. I know that this metaphysics is rather tight, but wander off and you could step on a theological land mine.


Now Jamey's post was respectable, and if the ratio of posts from Jamey, Joseph Johnson, and Rev. Pahls to posts by Kevin Johnson and Tim Enloe continues to climb past a ratio of 1.00, then that web site might become a respectable little outfit conducive to edifying dialogue. I might even be forced to revoke my award I gave them for Most Pretentious Sophistry on the Internet.

Kevin took exception to my use of the "h" word. Hey, I am not the one who brought up the topic of hell in relationship to bad theology, Jamey did. On a serious note, I have a hard time seeing the reproducing of the biblical warnings to the Galatians as "disrespectful" to any ordained minister. The Judaizers received anathemas from Paul, but the Galatian church (including the ordained officers there) received a warning. I see no scriptural principle that bars church laity from making similar warnings to church officers or (in this case) about church officers.

As I have made clear, I'm calling no one a heretic nor anathematizing Bishop Wright. If I have learned little else from John Frame's writings, it is that one should always read an author's writings with the most charitable interpretation that logic and language can allow. Therefore, I believe his theological views are muddled, and while I honestly believe the faith of his heart is better than the teaching he articulates, I still see great propriety in warning brethren about his teaching.

Plenty of people who will be in heaven have muddled theology. The problem with muddled theology is, rather, a pastoral problem. You never know what sort of faith is really lurking inside all the smoke and haze of such a theology.

Category: Theoblogia


  • Yup.

    It's worth noting that the expression "Salvation is discipleship" is Jamey's unattributed paraphrase of MacArthur's position.

    If MacArthur used those precise words (and he might well have done so), it was not a statement about justification at all, but a response to those who teach that "salvation" is gained by receiving Christ as Savior only, while the call to "discipleship" is a summons to some higher level of Christian experience in which Christ's lordship is vital.

    In other words, MacArthur was arguing against the artificial bifurcation of the gospel call and Jesus' call to discipleship. He was not suggesting that justification is a process aided by and ultimately grounded in my own faithfulness.

    In that sense, and that sense only, discipleship IS salvation. It's an elliptical expression meaning that [Jesus' call to] discipleship IS [a call to] salvation.

    Hope that helps.

    By Blogger Phil Johnson, at 2:09 PM  

  • P and D, I love you guys more than you could know. MacArthur was my gate-way drug out of the Arminian baptist world and into the classical Anglican way. That aside, the quote comes from his Hard to Believe audio series. I was in the car when I heard it. He blasted, blared, and shouted it. Or at least that was my impression.

    My bottom line? They both say eternal life is by faith. They both say eternal life results in fruit, or its not eternal life. What gives? I can't imagine Wright would deny your expansion of "Jesus' call to discipleship is a call to salvation." Only disciples are saved, right? So then only disciples will be declared righteous on the last day! I think we've got the same point.

    By Blogger jamey bennett, at 2:16 PM  

  • Jamey: "I think we've got the same point."

    But we don't. And here's where David Gadbois's remarks are so dead-on accurate about the paucity of understanding that prevails today in the realm of systematic theology.

    To say "eternal life results in fruit, or it's not eternal life" says exactly nothing specific to the subject of justification, which is the topic on the table.

    Justification deals with my standing before God--not merely (and not even predominantly) at the final judgment, but here and now.

    And the question of whether my justification is grounded completely in what Jesus did on my behalf through His life, death and resurrection as opposed to (even in the smallest degree) something I must do for him is the difference between the true gospel and the error Paul dealt with in Galatians.

    The question of whether justification is a forensic declaration which settles my standing with God here and now, as opposed to a preliminary presumption of righteousness that must await final affirmation at the judgment seat (after a judicial review of my life!) is a distinction of similar import (Rom. 8:1).

    By Blogger Phil Johnson, at 2:51 PM  

  • Jamey,

    The Classical Anglican Way is a far cry from NT Wright's understanding of justification. Glad that brethren like Phil and John aren't silent on the issue. Well, they shouldn't. And I bet you the lay folks aren't taking things lying down as well. Already there is a backlash against the OPC's toleration, in fact, espousal in the form of double-talk, no less plus ambiguous clap-trap that does nothing to clarify the relationship between faith and works.

    The situation of NT Wright is simply that all these while the Reformers have got it wrong on the one fundamental thing that justified separation from the apostate Mother Church. Now, I thought it's abundantly clear that the one gift the Holy Spirit bestowed at the Reformation was heightened development of doctrine which included major clarifications on the implications of predestination, i.e. eternal predestination to life is inseparable from imputed justification because both hinges upon a grace which is not only prevenient but also irresistible, hence the pastoral ramification of the perseverance of the saints, something which was taught by St. Augustine, explicating the Pauline corpus, no less. So, the Reformers can rightly claim to be the true heirs of the Augustinian Succession. Recall that, among other things, Rome has repudiated the absolute efficacy of grace or monergism in favour of synergism, thus disowning Augustine himself.

    What you have furthermore the revival of classical Arminianism within Reformed ranks propagated by the likes of Wright who employ extra-Biblical literature to interpret Scripture: if there is ever an outright negation of sola Scriptura, here it is.

    Like what Phil has said, the Verdict of "Not Guilty" brought forward into the present remains and abides with the believer *until* the very end. What you have with NT Wright is that he is imposing 2nd Temple Judaism understanding of the Covenant on NT doctrine. But guess what? That is precisely the teaching condemn by none other than St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians, he who is the great advocate of predestination. The golden chain salvation is unbreakable and inviolate. No one who is predestined unto regeneration/baptism, faith, justification, assurance, repentance, sanctification can ever lose his/her salvation. In other words, Scriptural Catholic teaching does not allow for the separation of temporal and eternal salvation ... not a whit. This was Augustine's teaching and his successors standing outside the magisterial mainstream Catholic Church and continues today by way of the true development of doctrine (contra Newman) in the Reformation Churches and systematic theology. Thank God for ST!

    By Blogger Jason Loh, at 4:20 AM  

  • Well, I'd love to pursue all the implications of this, but I think we're simply framing Paul in two different ways, but I don't think the frames are incompatible. That being said, Jason, I don't pretend to know what you have read from Augustine, but I do believe you are slightly off the mark. I'd highly recommend you pick up 19th century Anglican M.F. Sadler's book The Second Adam and the New Birth available from Athanasius Press (Auburn Avenue). He has an appendix in there that you will have to reckon with. Sadler places in paralell columns Augustine's writings on his view of baptism (which he believed to be real, actual, regenerative, and that it bestows salvation) with his views of predestination. Augustine had no problem holding both. Neither do I.

    By Blogger jamey bennett, at 8:03 PM  

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