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Thursday, July 20, 2006

More Sola Fide For You!

Since it appears that I am inadvertently on a sola fide "kick", I'll post some things I wrote in the comments section of Andrew Sandlin's blog. Sandlin posted Norman Shepherd's response to the OPC Report on Justification, and I tried to give some reasons as to why his response is insufficient to uphold a robust, confessional affirmation of sola fide. I have lightly edited my original comment post.

The frustrating thing about Rev. Shepherd’s response is that it dances around the central issue. Gaffin does not want the very definition and essence of faith to be blurred with works because what the OPC Report is trying to preserve is the fact that works are, in no sense, a co-instrument of faith by which we receive justification. The OPC Report says:

...he [Shepherd] is unclear that and how faith is the sole instrument in justification to the exclusion of all that accompanies it.

Indeed. If Shepherd were to simply and straightforwardly affirm that faith is the sole instrument by which we receive justification, to the exclusion of sacraments, works, really good works, and really really good works (done in true evangelical faith), then there would be little controversy. Indeed, he would probably still be teaching at WTS.

But I don’t think Shepherd’s theology could allow for such an affirmation. For two reasons:

1. His exegesis of James 2:24 denies the traditional distinction between James’ use of the term “justify” and the Pauline use. Rather, Shepherd tells us, James’ use is the same as Paul’s. The necessary implication of this is that good works are, along with faith, a co-instrument of justification.

2. Shepherd states positively against “the merit of good works” justifying us, and against works being the “ground” of our justification, and against “works of the Law”. But tellingly, this leaves out other forms of works. Possibly, one could then include the sacraments, or other works of evangelical obedience (”faithful” obedience). These omissions lead me to believe that he could consider certain forms of works as candidates for being co-instruments of justification.

Another problem, common in Shepherd’s discussion of the issues, is the conflation of justification with the broader category of salvation. Notice the shift from justification to salvation in the 20th paragraph of this article, where Shepherd writes:

The reason why these matters are important is signalized by Machen when he quotes Gal. 5:21 to say that without the works “insisted upon by Paul in every epistle . . . no man can inherit the kingdom of God.

No one is going to argue that good works aren’t necessary (in a descriptive, not prescriptive sense) to salvation (broader category). But this is not the same issue as saying that good works are necessary (in a prescriptive sense) to receive justification (narrow category).

I conclude that the OPC Report is correct in its criticism of Shepherd at this point on the relationship between faith and justification. To whatever extent the "Federal Vision" follows suit, it also falls under the criticism that it compromises the historic Protestant doctrine of sola fide.

Category: Theoblogia


  • AMEN!

    click on "Phil."


    By Blogger R. Scott Clark, at 12:10 PM  

  • Nice work guys. The OPC recommendations included being proactive in teaching against such errors. Keep it up. I too have posted various criticisms mainly against Shepherd. Check it out:

    Ryan McIlhenny
    University of California, Irvine

    By Blogger Ryan Mc, at 6:45 PM  

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