Lane’s Puzzle

Pastor Lane Keister over at his Greenbaggins blog is still trying to put together the pieces in Doug Wilson’s “Federal Vision” and has finally come across a piece that just doesn’t fit no matter how hard he tries. As I see it, the solution to this puzzle comes down to what is meant by the obedience of faith and how it might or might not relate to the ongoing obedience which Federal Visionists require to the demands of their conditional covenant in order to secure one’s “final justification.”

For Wilson works done by faith are acts of “obedience” just as much as is the mere act of believing the gospel. What seems to have Lane’s wheels spinning, and which is typical in so much of Wilson, is that on the one hand Wilson is correct and that when we believe the gospel, as all men are commanded to do in Scripture, we are being obedient to a biblical imperative. After all, and even Wilson points out, Jesus said: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The obedience of faith therefore is to do as we are commanded and that is to believe the gospel. However, does it follow from this that our ongoing obedience to the law as we progress in sanctification and as new creatures in Christ is also part and parcel of our justification which results from our obedience, specifically the “obedience of faith”? After all, isn’t simply believing the message of the gospel and faithfully observing the law both acts of obedience?

It should be noted that for Wilson works done by God’s grace and by faith are acts of obedience and are not “works” in the biblical sense. According to Wilson “deeds without faith is works. Deeds done in faith is obedience.[sic]” Of course, Paul maintains that we are justified APART from works of the law (Romans 3:28), but for Wilson “works” are distinct from obedience. Therefore, Wilson maintains that we are not justified APART from obedience and in this, and as already noted, he is partly right. The deception here is that in Wilson’s scheme where works differ from obedience , the “obedience of faith” includes all other the acts of obedience including the works of the law provided they’re done as the result of faith. To put it another way, in Wilson’s scheme doing the law as a result of faith is obedience not works and to be justified one must be obedient. Consequently, works are smuggled into Wilson’s “Federal Vision” through the back door and under the guise of obedience and faith.

It should be noted that Lane’s puzzle is something O. Palmer Robertson observed and solved long ago in his retelling of the history of the Norm Shepherd controversy as it raged at Lane’s alma mater, Westminster Theological Seminary:

Mr. Shepherd stressed the organic unity of faith and works in justification. In the end, he could reduce to a single assertion his views about the parallelism of faith and works in justification. He could affirm that justification was by faith alone and yet retain his position that justification was by faith and by works. For in his view the faith that justifies is itself a work of obedience which is an integral aspect of the larger covenantal response of obedience for justification. If justification is by obedient faith, it also is by the obedience of faith. If justification is by a working faith, it also is by the works of faith. Even the classic assertion that justification is by faith alone thus comes to mean that justification is by faith and by works, since the faith that justifies is understood as integral to good works done as the way of justification.

What is true for Norm Shepherd on this score is also true for Doug Wilson. The one primary difference is that Wilson is more skilled at disguising what he means through his use of word play, misleading stories and deceptive analogies. God willing Lane will soon solve this puzzle and finally see through Wilson’s soteriological Three Card Monte and retract his previous exoneration of this first rate con man on the vitals of the faith.

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10 Comments on “Lane’s Puzzle”

  1. rgmann Says:

    The deception here is that in Wilson’s scheme where works differ from obedience, the “obedience of faith” includes all other the acts of obedience including the works of the law provided they’re done as the result of faith. To put it another way, in Wilson’s scheme doing the law as a result of faith is obedience not works and to be justified one must be obedient. Consequently, works are smuggled into Wilson’s “Federal Vision” through the back door and under the guise of obedience and faith.

    Great post Sean. You’ve hit the nail right on the head! This is why what seems like straining at theological gnats to some, is in reality absolutely vital to the purity of the gospel. As I wrote in my response to Mark Horne on Lane’s blog:

    If everyone would be honest enough to use the phrase “obeying the gospel” as equivalent to “believing the gospel,” as Paul clearly does (e.g., Romans 10), then there wouldn’t be any controversy. But, as you well know, there are many who “want to pervert the gospel of Christ” by teaching that belief in the gospel alone (apart from works of any kind) is not sufficient for one’s justification, but that one must also continue to “obey” the commands and moral precepts of the gospel in order to obtain “future” justification at the last day — which is justification by “works” no matter how you want to slice it. That’s why Lane asked the very simple question, “are all works excluded from justification, or are only some works excluded?” The answer is quite simple: we are justified before God once for all the moment we simply “believe” the gospel; our past and future works of “obedience” do not contribute one iota to our justification in God’s sight. Do you believe this or not?

    I’ll have to take Mark at his word at this point, as he seems to have given an unequivocal answer to my question in the affirmative. He wrote:

    “The only ground of our standing before God is the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to sinners and received only by faith…no works, including believing, contributes to our justification.”

    His answer appears to rule out the false dichotomy between “works” and “obedience” that Wilson asserts. What do you think?

  2. magma2 Says:

    I don’t take Mark at his word and I don’t think you should either. I think these men are liars and will “appear” to rule out this or that as it suits the situation, but as long as they subscribe to a conditional view of the covenant, a scheme of salvation that requires our ongoing faithful obedience (non meritorious of course) to some unspecified demands of their so-called “covenant,” all in order to achieve our so-called “final justification,” and all the other heretical and deadly nonsense that goes along with their Neolegalist anti-gospel, then these men should be considered false teachers and should be called to repentance or be driven out of all Christian denominations — regardless of their attempts at ear tickling and double talk.

    FWIW Wilson too will say he excludes all works, all obedience and whatever else from justification, but then immediately contradict himself and affirm these very things. I think that citation from Robertson above says it all and is why so many have been bamboozled by these frauds. Of course, the intellectual corruption of Vantilianism on the minds of most pastors trying to combat this stuff is certainly no help either. IMO this explains why the FV has been able to advance as far as it has, even if most Vantilian pastors have their heads buried too deep in the dirt to even notice. They’re paying the price for not taking Clark/VT controversy seriously and thinking the question of epistemology is of secondary importance. Clark at least showed why epistemology in philosophy and theology is foundational and necessarily primary. Frankly, this is something I learned from in my Intro to Phil class years ago while going to a state university in Connecticut. I think most PCA pastors need to go back an take Phil 101.

  3. rgmann Says:

    I don’t take Mark at his word and I don’t think you should either. I think these men are liars and will “appear” to rule out this or that as it suits the situation…FWIW Wilson too will say he excludes all works, all obedience and whatever else from justification, but then immediately contradict himself and affirm these very things.

    Well, you’ve been dealing with FVists far longer than I have, so you’re judgment here may be more accurate than mine. I’ve definitely noticed that they often contradict themselves, taking away with one hand what they give with the other. In fact, I’ve went back and forth with Mark Horne on Lane’s blog several times now, and the above quote is the most straightforward answer I’ve gotten from him yet. His comments are usually unclear at best and contradictory at worse. So it’s not easy deriving any kind of firm conclusion about what he’s teaching one way or the other. Not a good quality in a minister of God’s Word to say the least!

  4. magma2 Says:

    Hi Roger. Keeping Wilson’s nonsense in mind that works done in faith is obedience, not works, and that our faithful obedience is required for our justification in the FV (without which Christians – the elect – will “devolve” into reprobation and be cutoff like dead branches), Horne has an interesting link to Norm Shepherd’s piece of Romanish sophistry, The Grace of Justification.

    The important thing to note is that Horne says this piece is one of “his favorite essays.” If you wade through the mud of Shepherd’s mind here, and I only had time to skim it this morning, you’ll find EXACTLY the same scheme of justification by faith and works that you’ll find in Wilson, Wilkins and all the other FV men. Shepherd writes:

    There is no reason why the Epistle of James should be an embarrassment to the Protestant Reformation. There is no need to suppress its message by denying to James a place in the New Testament canon, or by insisting that James is not speaking about forensic justification before God as Paul does when he speaks of justification apart from the works of the law. If there is a question about the reconciliation of James with Paul, there is also a question about the reconciliation of Jesus and the other apostles with Paul. There is even a question about the reconciliation of Paul with himself.

    Those questions are resolved with the recognition that when Paul opposes the “works of the law,” he is opposing the kind of working that no longer needs the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. The man who works (Rom. 4:4) may confess that he is a sinner and needs help. He may even seek for divine grace to assist him in his quest for righteousness. But he does not stand before God justified in the righteousness of God embodied in Jesus Christ and received by faith. His “justification” occurs outside of Jesus Christ. He trusts in himself that he is righteous (Luke 18:9; cf. Phil. 3:9). This man is deceived.

    It is not of such a one that James speaks when he says that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” The man who, in the language of James, is justified by works is a man of faith, and therefore one who by definition does not rely upon his own righteousness or “works of the law.” Those who rely on the works of the law are not of faith (Rom. 9:32; Gal. 3:12).

    First, note that Horne’s man Shepherd just assumes James was an “embarrassment” to the Protestant Reformation. Really? This is news to me. Luther might have stubbed his toe a little, but I know of no other Reformer that was “embarrassed” by James. I’m certainly not and I know of no Reformed man who would be. However, none would be so foolish to claim that James was referring to our justification before the bar of God’s judgment, say, in James 2:24. Haven’t we already answered the papist when he throws James at us insisting that the faith that saves is the faith that works? Notice too that like Rome Shepherd rejects the established Reformed exegesis of James which draws a contrast between the sense of the word “to justify” in James and Paul.

    Frankly, a clearer rejections of the biblical doctrine of justification which is by belief alone is hard to find even in the writings of the pope. Even in this little snippet above demonstrates that for these men faith includes works and it’s the combination of faith and works, what they call “obedience”, that is essential to their scheme of justification.

    A big red flag needs to be waved every time any man talks about James 2 in relation to forensic justification.

    Horne very much accepts the same false dichotomy of works/obedience as does Wilson and Shepherd. I would ask him if he really rejects Wilson on this score will he also repudiate his “favorite essay” by Shepherd? I don’t think you’ll get a straight answer. Like I said these men are liars.

  5. magma2 Says:

    FWIW and just an aside, I think Lane has just made a blunder on his blog that he will shortly pay for as he is beaten over the head by the FV men. Lane wrote:

    I will in no way countenance a formulation that allows obedience in any way, shape, or form, however delimited and qualified, to be instrumental in justification. It does not matter whether God gave the faith in this question. God-given obedience is not part of justification, either. God-given obedience is part of sanctification. This is non-negotiable.

    If this is non-negotiable then Calvin erred (always possible) when he wrote concerning Paul’s phrase “the obedience of faith”:

    We must also notice here what faith is; the name of obedience is given to it, and for this reason — because the Lord calls us by his gospel; we respond to his call by faith; as on the other hand, the chief act of disobedience to God is unbelief, I prefer rendering the sentence, “For the obedience of faith,” rather than, “In order that they may obey the faith;” for the last is not strictly correct, except taken figuratively, though it be found once in the Acts 6:7. Faith is properly that by which we obey the gospel.

    IMO Lane has been suckered in by Wilson’s equivocal use of the idea of obedience.
    Consequently, he makes a categorical and strategic error when he writes that he will not allow ” obedience in any way, shape, or form, however delimited and qualified, to be instrumental in justification.” Calvin allows for it even if Keister doesn’t. Paul does too since he coined the phrase the obedience of faith. Sadly, now Wilson & Co. have the upper hand when they argue that God commands us to believe in His Son and when we do as we are commanded, we are being obedient to his call.

    The problem here for Lane is that I don’t think Paul has the Gentiles’ sanctification in mind in Romans 1:1-7 or in Romans 16:25-27, yet that is the only option left if we’re going to side with Lane. Consider Paul’s closing remarks in 16:25-27:

    25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past,
    26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith;
    27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.

    Notice, Paul focus is the message preached with the end result its acceptance by those who are called. It is in this sense that he incorporates the idea of the “obedience of faith.” After all, Paul says in chapter 10, “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” It seems odd to me that Paul’s concern both here in Romans 16 and in the opening of his letter, especially given the context which is the preaching of the gospel which he expounds at great length, is with sanctification. Is sanctification the goal and the end of Paul’s preaching? I thought it was the acceptance of his message, what he calls “my gospel,” that was the end of his ministry? Sanctification is rather a byproduct of believing Paul’s message, yet if we’re to accept Lane sanctification is the goal of Paul’s preaching. I don’t buy it.

    Consider Paul’s comments in Romans 1:

    Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
    2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,
    3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,
    4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
    5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake,
    6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;

    If Lane is correct then verse 5 is speaking about sanctification. Paul’s main concern, and especially in Romans, is that the message of the gospel would be clearly understood in all of its details and accepted by those who are called of Jesus Christ. Again, I find it hard to conclude that Paul here was concerned about bringing about the progressive sanctification of the Gentiles, but rather that they might believe his message and be justified.

    Calvin is right and that for Paul “Faith is properly that by which we obey the gospel.” Or, to put it another way, to obey the gospel is to believe that it is true.

  6. rgmann Says:

    A big red flag needs to be waved every time any man talks about James 2 in relation to forensic justification.

    Amen! Indeed, it’s impossible to talk about James 2 in relation to forensic justification before God without corrupting the gospel and rejecting the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. A perfect example is the quote from Shepherd that you cited:

    “Those questions are resolved with the recognition that when Paul opposes the ‘works of the law,’ he is opposing the kind of working that no longer needs the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.”

    Of course, that’s complete nonsense. When Paul concludes “that a man is justified by faith apart from deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28), he is plainly opposing works of obedience to the law (specifically circumcision) in addition to faith in Christ alone. Only a blind man or a moron can fail to see that. That’s why he goes on to argue that God justified Abraham by faith prior to and apart from his obedience to the command of circumcision:

    “How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also.” (Romans 4:10-11)

    Paul’s entire point is that Abraham’s subsequent work of obedience to the command of circumcision did not contribute to his justification before God one iota!

    “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.’” (Romans 4:2-3)

    Therefore, when James says that Abraham was “justified by works” (James 2:21) and “that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (2:24), he is not talking about forensic justification before God period. John Calvin pointed this out almost 500 years ago, so Shepherd and his devotees have absolutely no excuse:

    That we may not then fall into that false reasoning which has deceived the Sophists, we must take notice of the two fold meaning, of the word justified. Paul means by it the gratuitous imputation of righteousness before the tribunal of God; and James, the manifestation of righteousness by the conduct, and that before men, as we may gather from the preceding words, “Shew to me thy faith,” etc. In this sense we fully allow that man is justified by works, as when any one says that a man is enriched by the purchase of a large and valuable chest, because his riches, before hid, shut up in a chest, were thus made known. (Calvin’s Commentary on James 2:21)

  7. rgmann Says:

    Calvin is right and that for Paul “Faith is properly that by which we obey the gospel.” Or, to put it another way, to obey the gospel is to believe that it is true.

    I agree, and Lane has overstated his case to be sure. That’s why I initially wrote in my response to Mark:

    If everyone would be honest enough to use the phrase “obeying the gospel” as equivalent to “believing the gospel,” as Paul clearly does (e.g., Romans 10), then there wouldn’t be any controversy. But, as you well know, there are many who “want to pervert the gospel of Christ” by teaching that belief in the gospel alone (apart from works of any kind) is not sufficient for one’s justification, but that one must also continue to “obey” the commands and moral precepts of the gospel in order to obtain “future” justification at the last day — which is justification by “works” no matter how you want to slice it.

    The problem created by the FV’s use of “obeying the gospel” or “the obedience of faith” is that they reject the biblical Law/Gospel distinction — the Law in its character as a covenant of works, and the Gospel in its character as a covenant of grace. Obedience to the Law as a covenant of works “earns” the promised reward (Romans 4:4), while obedience to the gospel as a covenant of grace passively “receives” what Christ has already earned by His obedience to the Law in our stead (Romans 5:17-19). That’s why Paul writes:

    “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them.’ But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:4-10)

    In other words, “obedience” to the gospel command to believe in Christ is of an entirely different nature than “obedience” to the commands of the Law as a covenant of works. The latter contributes to our justification before God; the former contributes precisely nothing to our justification, but merely receives the “abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness…through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). If the FVists ever get this right (by God’s grace), then we will be able to accept them as brothers in Christ. Until then, they should be considered as enemies of the gospel!

  8. magma2 Says:

    Great points Roger. Also, it didn’t take long for Wilson to go in for the kill by claiming it’s checkmate for Keister. Oh, well, it’s not like we didn’t try and warn him 😉

  9. rgmann Says:

    Well, I’ll be interested to see how Lane responds to Doug’s latest post. As far as I can tell, Wilson has checkmated him on this point. Scripture states: “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 3:23). It seems pretty bizarre to argue that when we obey God’s commandment to believe in His Son, that our “faith” is not an act of obedience. I sure wouldn’t want to try and defend such a position! Moreover, the Confession clearly states that faith is an “evangelical obedience” — “not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness” (WCF 11.1).

    However, I did want to comment on one thing Wilson said:

    The only alternative left is to say that faith, the instrument of justification, is an obedient faith. Now if we do this, it is perfectly acceptable (and necessary) to add that this “obedience” must not be confused with the obedience of our good deeds throughout the course of our sanctification. I wouldn’t mind Lane saying that, because that is what we say.

    Ok, but if the Confession is correct, then both our faith and our subsequent good deeds are Spirit wrought acts of “evangelical obedience,” and not two different types of obedience as Wilson’s quote implies. The problem only arises when one makes “evangelical obedience” (whether faith or good deeds) contributory factors in our justification before God — as our “legal obedience” would have done (as the ground of our justification) under the covenant of works. Both Lane and Wilson seem confused on this issue to me.

  10. magma2 Says:

    I don’t think Wilson is confused. I think there are a number of different interpretations of what is meant by the “obedience of faith” and Wilson will deftly employ whichever one suits his purpose. Lane seems wed to one that is probably the majority report, but I don’t think it’s correct and now Wilson has him in a corner. For example of how this phrase has been understood, which tracks very well with Wilson’s overall theology, one Roman apologist explains it this way:

    Martin Luther unhappily wanted Paul to proclaim that justification came not by “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26), or by “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) but by “faith alone”. To force this heretical interpretation upon Paul’s writing, Luther was forced to add the word alone into the text which skewed Paul’s meaning and helped bring about the Protestant Reformation. In fact, the only place the words “faith” and “alone” appear together in Scripture is in James, who also speaking about Abraham said, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? … You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas 2:21, 24). Faith and subsequent obedience to Christ, the obedience of faith, is the path to salvation and final justification.

    Take away some of the obvious slams against ML and throw in more stuff about dead faith vs a faith that is alive and you have Doug’s theology in a nutshell, right down to the predictable use of James to justify (pun intended) their errant soteriology. I agree with you that the phrase “obeying the gospel” or the “obedience of faith” are synonymous with simply “believing the gospel.”


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