Filling the Breach — Justification By Belief Alone

Posted July 23, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Gordon Clark, John Robbins, Theology

destroyed churchYou might think the seemingly innocuous phrase “justification by belief alone” would be music to a Christian’s ear. But, you would be wrong.

What you say? Don’t the Scriptures teach; “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

Didn’t the Apostle John say; “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

And, didn’t our Lord Jesus Christ say; “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Well, yes, but you see according to a majority of Reformed elders in the PCA, OPC and elsewhere belief saves no one.  What you need is faith.

But, wait.  Aren’t the words faith and belief just English translations of the single word pistis in the Greek New Testament?

Indeed they are and in fact while most translators prefer the Latin-based faith, if the word belief were used in its place it would do no violence to the meaning of any verse in Scripture.  Consider the following examples where belief is used in place of faith:

Mark 11:22: And Jesus answered them, “Have belief in God.

Luke 18:42: And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your belief has made you well.”

Acts 26:18: to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by belief in me.’

Romans 4:5: And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his belief is counted as righteousness,

Romans 4:9: Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that belief was counted to Abraham as righteousness.

Romans 4:11-13: He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by belief while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the belief that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of belief.

Galatians 2:16: yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through belief in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by belief in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Ephesians 1:15: For this reason, because I have heard of your belief in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints.

Colossians 2:12: having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through belief in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

1 Peter 1:21: who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your belief and hope are in God.

The attentive reader would no doubt have noticed in a number of the above examples that the verb form of belief is also used repeatedly and in fact can only be used simply because there is no verb form for the word faith.  For this reason alone you would think that belief would be a preferable translation of pistis to the Latin-based faith.

But, there is another reason why belief is preferable to faith as Gordon Clark explains:

Because fides or faith permits, though it does not necessitate, a non-intellectual interpretation, the liberals today want us to have “faith” in a god who is unknowable and silent because he is impotent to give us any information to believe. This Latin anti-intellectualism, permitted by the noun fides, undermines all good news and makes Gospel information useless. Although the theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have repudiated twentieth-century anti-intellectualism, their Latin heritage adversely affected some of their views.

Sadly, it’s not just theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, or even those wicked modern liberals for that matter, who have been adversely affected by this Latin heritage.  Even purportedly conservative and Reformed theologians of today prefer the Latin-based faith precisely because of the anti-intellectualism “permitted by the noun fides.”

Dr. Alan Strange, who is an OPC minister and full-time professor of church history at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, affirms this anti-intellectualism and accuses those who don’t of departing “from the historic confessions and catechisms of the Reformation as well as the theologians of the Reformation.” In addition, he pronounces anathemas on those who maintain we are justified by belief alone in the propositions of the Gospel alone and accuses them of grave heresy on par with the infamous Arius and Eutyches.  Strange writes:

That what is at the heart of saving faith requires rich metaphorical description and cannot be rationistically reduced to “propositional belief” seems galling to some, but that is the Reformed faith. Maybe you think the Bible teaches something far more “simple.” That’s what Arius, on the one hand, and Eutyches, on the other, thought about the person of Christ. But their Christianity (teaching that Christ was not truly God or Christ was not truly man) was not orthodoxy, the latter teaching something more full: Christ was God and man in one person, a profound mystery (even as was that of the blessed Holy Undivided Trinity), not amenable to rationalistic reduction. Such attempts to rationalistically reduce the faith have always ended unhappily for their promoters.

Saving faith is not simply propositonal belief but is what … our Dutch brethren, and others herein have described it as, consonant with the Word of God as understood in the Reformation: a receiving and resting upon Christ, a coming to Christ, a personal trust in Christ, a leaning upon Christ that means that one looks away from all that one is and has and does and looks to Christ and Him alone, hoping, resting and trusting in no other. That is the response to the good news of the person and work of Christ that the Reformation sought (together with repentance and the fruits of faith) and that all gospel preachers call for today.

For Strange belief in the Gospel message, the Gospel propositions, saves no one.  Rather, sinners are saved through something that defies definition and that can only be expressed in metaphorical language signifying nothing.  That’s because if this “rich metaphorical description” on which he relies, and that is required in addition to mere belief, were to signify some further truth that we are to believe, it could be stated in literal language; i.e., it could be reduced to a “propositional belief.” But Strange can’t and won’t allow that.

Notice too, for Strange the Confessional figure of speech that we are to “receive and rest” on Christ (WLC 72) is explained by even more figures of speech like “coming to” and “leaning upon” that only move the problem further back.  He even includes the idea of “personal trust” as if trust could be anything but personal.  Strange can’t distinguish belief from receiving and receiving simply because the latter is a figure of speech describing the former. He can only assert “justifying faith is something more than merely belief: not something less, but something more.” He never explains exactly what this “something more” is or even why it is necessary in order for a sinner to be saved.

Think about this. When asked to explain what this additional element is, this respected professor of church history can only respond with more figures of speech to explain the one he has been asked to define. Further, according to Strange, someone can believe the Gospel, believe that Christ alone died for his sins and is his only righteousness, and still be lost. Yet, the Scriptures say “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved” and Jesus said, “He that believes has eternal life.” Dr. Strange makes Christ a liar by insisting “justifying faith is something more than merely belief.”

Dr. Strange, along with many like-minded and similarly confused TEs, REs and others who side with him, provide a great example of the profound confusion and darkness that has triumphed in the Presbyterian and Reformed world.  A world where men actually deny salvation by belief alone while thinking they are defending the biblical doctrine of salvation when nothing could be further from the truth.  For these men faith, as opposed to belief provides the vehicle by which they can attach an intangible and undefinable something-they-know-not-what that must first be wrought in the sinner before they can be saved.  It is not Christ’s work alone completely outside of us that saves, but rather it is some anti-intellectual psychological state of mind that completes mere belief making it saving and this is their doctrine of faith.  Worse, these men, at least those who have a comprehensive theology like Dr. Strange, rest their un-Scriptural doctrine of faith on the equally un-Scriptural epistemology of Cornelius Van Til.

As an example of this, and after proving himself unable to define this additional element to simple belief which alone is able to save sinners, Dr. Strange’s appeal is to “mystery.” Strange maintains that to clearly define faith so that that it might be understood is like trying to plumb the depths of “the Trinity, the Incarnation, divine sovereignty and human responsibility,” as if these doctrines too defied human logic and explanation.  This is pure Van Til.

Men like Dr. Strange aren’t defending the historic Reformed faith; they’re defending the religion of the Dark Ages.

Yet, rather than receiving correction,  Dr. Strange doubled down by asserting: “this intellectualized definition of faith [i.e., Clark’s definition] is a significant departure from the teaching of the Reformation on the matter and rather deadly for our faith.” Deadly to his Vantillian and distorted conception of the Reformed faith perhaps.

This is scandalous. Here we have a situation where they key term in the doctrine on which the church stands or falls cannot be clearly defined so as to be unambiguously understood. No wonder heretics like those of the Federal Vision, to include Peter Leithart,  Doug Wilson, Jeffry Meyers, Steve Wilkins (remember him), and the others, have kept these imagined defenders of justification by faith chasing their tails these many years. Even worse, here we have a pastor and professor openly contradicting the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He rejects justification by belief alone and insists that belief alone is not enough, yet he’s at a loss to clearly explain what more is needed in order for a sinner to be saved. This is a gaping hole that needs to be filled.

Gordon Clark exposed this sad situation and dangerous weakness in the foundation of the historic Reformed faith years ago and proposed a simple solution to plug this hole. But, because it was a position first advanced by Gordon Clark, being a pastor in the OPC and a committed Vantillian, Dr. Strange with knee-jerk predictability rejects Clark’s solution out of hand along with justification by belief alone.

In addition to Dr. Clark, the late Dr. Robbins recognized this breach in the foundation of the Reformed faith and spent the final years of his life attempting to repair it.  Recently I struck by the following passage taken from the forward Dr. Robbins wrote for the 2004 edition of Clark’s What is Saving Faith, which is a combination of Clark’s monographs Faith and Saving Faith and The Johannine Logos:

Unintentionally and unwittingly, the defenders of justification by faith alone, by their un-Scriptural doctrine of faith (which makes faith a complex psychological act rather than simple assent to the truth) have created and sustained the theological climate in which those who deny justification by faith alone can flourish.  The defenders of justification by faith alone have asserted that it is not enough to believe the Gospel, for even the demons believe the Gospel, and the demons are lost. Belief is not enough, they say. In order to be saved, one must do more than believe; one must commit, surrender, trust, encounter, relate, or emote.

The deniers of justification by faith alone agree: It is not enough to believe the Gospel in order to be saved. But rather than urging people to perform some further psychological task in addition to belief, they tell them to do good works in order to be saved. Their works (or their baptism) will complete what is lacking in belief alone. In this way, both the defenders and the deniers of justification by faith alone have lost sight of what in fact saves: The perfect, imputed righteousness of Christ completely outside the sinner, and received by the simple instrument of belief alone.

The current controversy over justification has broken out in conservative churches because Christians recognize that the Bible denies justification by works, whether works are regarded as a ground, condition, or an instrument of justification. But what most Christians have not yet recognized is that the common Protestant view of saving faith as something more than belief of the Gospel has fueled and will continue to fuel denials of justification by faith alone so long as it prevails.  Until faith is understood as mere belief – the Bible makes no distinction between the two words – the justification controversy will continue, and those defending justification by faith alone will continue to be embarrassed by their agreement with the deniers of justification, that belief of the Gospel is not enough for salvation.

Dr. Robbins provides a scathing rebuke.  Too bad so few have listened.

But, Dr. Robbins’ rebuke doesn’t stop there.  The addition of some undefinable psychological element to faith, which is clearly absent from the unambiguously and positively intellectual term belief, has allowed these so-called stalwarts and defenders of the faith to rob Christians of the one true source of their assurance.

For those who haven’t read Clark’s examination of  faith simpliciter, of which saving faith is but a subspecies, I highly recommend that you do.  When I first read Clark’s volume I found his simple solution and clear definition to the question what is faith and saving faith positively liberating.  No longer was my faith in Christ tied to the ebb and flow of my emotions or to some unfathomable and mysterious psychological state mind, but rather it was tied directly to the truths of Scripture; the mind of Christ.  Which makes sense since our justification doesn’t rest on anything in us anyway, despite the aggressive and unfounded claims of Dr. Strange and others to the contrary.

5 Reasons It Might Be Time to Leave the PCA

Posted May 13, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

Sean Gerety:

Must reading…

Originally posted on Building Old School Churches:

1) A Failure to Exercise Discipline: In 2007 several ministers who were known advocates of Federal Vision (FV) theology drew up and signed what they called, “A Joint Federal Vision Profession” in which they tried to make clear what advocates of the Federal Vision affirmed and denied regarding doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith. This profession was signed by ministers from the CREC (which has become well known as an FV friendly denomination) as well as several ministers from the PCA including Jeff Meyers, Mark Horne, Steve Wilkins, and Peter Leithart. The question of whether these ministers were FV advocates had never really been in question, but their signatures on the Profession certainly removed all question regarding their FV beliefs.

Later that year the 35th PCA General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to approve the recommendations of the ad interim study committee on “Federal Vision, New Perspective on Paul, and…

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Clark Quick Quote

Posted April 18, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Gordon Clark

OK, one good quote to embarrass my Arminian friends (and others similarly deluded) deserves another.  It’s been some time since I’ve read one of Clark’s commentaries, but they are excellent and the insights he provides are often profound and unflinching.  What more could anyone want in a commentary?  Here is part of Clark’s commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12.

And for this reason God will send to them an activity [energy] of error so that they shall believe falsehood in order that all those who do not believe the truth but who take pleasure in injustice shall be condemned. 

…  Notice now that on those who do not care for truth, God sends an activity of error. The Arminians usually hold that God does not cause people to despise the truth nor does he purpose to condemn them for doing so. But this verse says, note carefully, that God plunges them into error in order that they shall be condemned. Non-calvinists will say that God permits, but does not cause, unbelief. Calvin denounces the idea of a permissive will. “Here they recur to the distinction between will and permission, and insist that God permits the destruction of the impious, but does not will it. But what reason shall we assign for his permitting it, but because it is his will?” (Institutes, III, xxiii, 8).

Aside from what Calvin said, one should note that the Arminians fail in their attempt to relieve God of responsibility for evil and its retribution. Suppose a lifeguard at a poll or at the beach sees a little child drowning. Can he sit still in his high chair, refuse to rescue the child, and escape responsibility on the ground that he merely permitted the child to drown? Let the Arminians tell that to the parents, and to the judge! – (First and Second Thessalonians, 98 – 99. Also see “Determinism and Responsibility”).

Clark Quick Quote

Posted April 18, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Gordon Clark

“If regeneration were a reward for a previous act of faith by our Arminian free will, God could not know ahead of time whom he could save.  The Arminians say God could look ahead and see who would freely accept Christ.  But if this “looking ahead” were accurate, and unchangeable, the man’s will would not be free.  Some factor in the dim distant past would have had to determine the will so that it could not change.  If it was not God who determined the act of faith, then there must be some power beyond God’s control that did so. For reasons such as these Paul wrote ‘God chose you from the beginning.'”  –  Clark’s commentary on First and Second Thessalonians

Uncovered Treasures

Posted March 19, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

Doug Douma who is a student at Sangre de Cristo Seminary, is busy working on a Clark biography. Along the way he has been sharing some of his discoveries on his blog, A Place for Thoughts. Check it out.

A little about Doug from his blog:

I am a seminary student at the Sangre de Cristo Seminary – a reformed seminary in Colorado. I previously studied Engineering at the University of Michigan and got an MBA at Wake Forest University. I’ve learned far more from books than in school. I’m particularly in debt to Martin Luther, Ludwig von Mises, and Gordon H. Clark for any thoughts I have.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Logic – W. Gary Crampton, Th.D

Posted February 26, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

GaryCramptonSome Aberrant Views of Logic

As important as the proper use of logic is for an understanding of God and His Word, there are a number of modern day theologians and philosophers who deprecate logic. They teach that there is no point of contact between divine logic and human logic. Here we have what Ronald Nash calls “the religious revolt against logic.”[6] And the revolt is not only from the Neo-orthodox camp. One would expect men such as Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner to take such an irrational position. After all, Neo-orthodoxy is known as the “the theology of paradox,” in which faith must “curb” logic. But this pervasive spirit of misology has infected even those who make no claim to Neo-orthodoxy.

Herman Dooyeweerd, for example, avers that there is a “boundary” which exists between God and the cosmos. The laws of logic, of valid inference, which are applicable under the boundary, do not have any application with regard to God. Then there is Donald Bloesch. In his Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation,[7]Bloesch openly denies that there is any point of contact between God’s logic and human logic (121, 293). The truth of Biblical revelation, says the author, can never “be caught through the analytical methods of formal logic” (55). Bloesch frankly acknowledges that “I depart from some of my evangelical colleagues in that I understand the divine content of Scripture not as rationally comprehensible teaching but as the mystery of salvation declared in Jesus Christ” (114). Incredulously, he even goes so far as to say that “revelation cannot be assimilated into a comprehensive, rational system of truth” (289).

Sadly, the “religious revolt against logic” extends into the camp of genuine orthodoxy as well. Edwin H. Palmer, for one, teaches that the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s responsibility is a logical paradox. It cannot be resolved before the bar of human reason. The Calvinist says Palmer, “in the face of all logic,” believes both sides of the paradox to be true, even though he “realizes that what he advocates is ridiculous.”[8]

Then there is Cornelius Van Til. Dr. Van Til is well known for his assertion that the Bible is full of logical paradoxes. John Robbins, in his Cornelius Van Til: The Man and the Myth,[9] cites numerous examples of Van Til’s deprecation of logic. For example, in spite of the fact that the Bible teaches that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), Dr. Van Til maintained that “all teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory” (25). He frequently spoke of logic (not the misuse of logic, but logic itself) in a disparaging manner. He spoke of “logicism” and “the static categories of logic.” And with references to the Confession’s (1:6) statement quoted above, Van Til commented: “This statement should not be used as a justification for deductive exegesis” (24-25). Yet, deductive exegesis is precisely what the Confessionis endorsing.

Ronald Nash also saw the problem with Van Til and his deprecation of human logic. Nash wrote, “I once asked Van Til if, when some human being knows that 1 plus 1 equals 2, that human being’s knowledge is identical with God’s knowledge. The question, I thought was innocent enough. Van Til’s only answer was to smile, shrug his shoulders, and declare that the question was improper in the sense that it had no answer. It had no answer because any proposed answer would presume what it is impossible for Van Til, namely, that laws like those found in mathematics and logic apply beyond the [Dooyeweerdian] boundary.” In other words, unlike Warfield, Buswell, Augustine, Clark, and the Westminster divines, Van Til, like Herman Dooyeweerd, assumed that the laws of logic are created rather than eternally existing in the mind of God. [You can find Dr. Crampton's entire article here.]

Re-Framing Reformed Baptist Doctrine

Posted February 19, 2014 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

Sean Gerety:

A Reformed Baptist who gets it. The section on John Frame’s triperspectivalism alone is worth the read.

A few highlights…

“To lay my cards on the table from the outset let me say this: it is my firm opinion that John Frame is one of the most dangerous characters in the broadly Reformed world today.  His ideas are so disruptive of any system of doctrine and ultimately of any reasonable approach to holiness that I find myself distrusting of those who cite him.”


“What did not surprise me at all was the number of my fellow students who emerged from Westminster as distinct anti-VanTilians.  Having learned Van Til at the feet of Frame, they found the entire system dangerous in the extreme.  Needless to say, I was tremendously relieved when Frame left Escondido for Orlando, where he became a Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy.”


“Frame’s epistemology is relativistic, and if all relativists are necessarily dishonest, the dishonesty is even more necessary for someone trying to pretend not to be a relativist in the context of a biblical institution.”

Originally posted on chantrynotes:


John Frame

As a graduate of Westminster Seminary in California during the mid-1990s, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is some variant of, “What did you think of John Frame?”  The question is unsurprising.  By 1992, when I entered seminary, Frame was among the better-known professors in Escondido.  Just a few years after I graduated he had also left Escondido after a prolonged and not very secret dispute with the Westminster administration – largely over the matter of worship.  Then in 2011 he published The Escondido Theology, a wide-ranging attack on his former employers which suggested that Westminster Seminary in California has departed from Reformed tradition.

That such a colorful figure invites curiosity is not surprising.  Furthermore, Frame is a thinker whose unique philosophical system and its accompanying linguistic usage is not immediately accessible to the reader.  It is to be expected that I hear periodic…

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