The Gaffin Question

Lane Keister recently issued a “friendly response” in order to gently rebuke Dr. R. Scott Clark for providing some very pointed, much needed and well overdue criticisms of Richard Gaffin and his 30 plus years on the wrong side of the Federal Vision controversy.

Consider some of these points raised by Clark . . .

. . . Gaffin defended Norm Shepherd’s doctrine of justification by grace through faithfulness for about 30 years. As late as 2000 Gaffin endorsed Shepherd’s book on covenant and justification. Not long after that he defended OPC elder John Kinnaird’s fundamentally wrong-headed two-stage doctrine of justification. In more recent years, however, Gaffin, who served on the OPC justification committee, has distanced himself from Shepherd by supporting the OPC committee report. I haven’t yet read his most recent book or his essay in Justified in Christ, so I don’t know how those pieces fit into this puzzle yet but it seems fair to say that Dick’s legacy on justification is mixed.

I think we need, however, to reckon honestly with the dogmatic relations between Dick’s earlier formulation of the nature and role of union with Christ, in The Centrality of the Resurrection, where, as I recall, he did use the central dogma method, and his strong and long-standing support for Norm Shepherd and even his support for John Kinnaird’s indefensible views. Some of this stuff wasn’t very long ago. Indeed, as I recall, one of his supporters asked him on the floor of GA how he relates his support for the OPC report and his (just then) published book on justification so it’s not as if I’m dredging up ancient history here.

I don’t think I’m misrepresenting Dick. I have the original Shepherd controversy documents and Dick was defending a complex instrument of justification, i.e. faith and works on paper and in faculty discussions.

Dick defended not only Shepherd’s right to hold his views but the substance of his views. He defended, on the floor of the Phila Presbytery, the substance of John Kinnaird’s view that, at the last day, we are justified on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity. These are uncomfortable facts. . .

There is no question that the double benefit of Christ is justification and sanctification [but] why do so many ostensible Reformed folk either insist that they are absolutely logically equal, that there is no logical priority to justification or even that sanctification precedes justification logically or even chronologically? The folks I’ve seen/heard arguing this say that they are following Dick.

. . . .  Where is Dick now on Rom 2:13 . . . I think I know what Dick used to say, that we are the righteous keepers of the law and not just by imputation (that was an issue in the Kinnaird trial) but by Spirit-wrought sanctity. What is he saying now?

I am concerned that Dick’s earlier formulations and those of some of his followers are being used as a wedge between the Lutherans and the Reformed on justification in a way that does not account for the actual history of theology.

E.g. I don’t believe for a second that Calvin thought he was formulating some doctrine of union that sharply distinguished him from Luther. That’s just crazy talk!

Dick didn’t just have his wacky follower. He defended him and his views in the courts of the churches. Dick’s defense of Kinnaird did a great deal of damage to good people who were, as we now all know from the OP report, right. Dick was wrong in the Phila. Presbytery and a kindly, godly, persevering lay couple–who received precious little help from orthodox ministers in their own presbytery– was right.

Further, in the case that Dick defended Norm [Shepherd] for most of thirty years we’re entitled to read what he says in that light and all the more when he is not absolutely clear about the doctrine of the standing or falling of the church.

For example, as late as 2003 Dick was still speaking (I don’t know what he says today) of a two-stage justification or an already and not yet aspect to justification. This is just wrong. There is no “not yet” aspect to justification. There is a “not-yet” aspect to our vindication, indeed, our vindication at the judgment is entirely “not yet.” Had Dick not pressed justification into the “already/not yet” scheme, we could have avoided misunderstanding.

The older Reformed theologians did not speak of a “not yet” aspect to justification because they understood that was what the entire Reformation was about! Rome said, justification has been initiated but not consummated. I realize Dick meant something else by it but we already had language for the distinction he was trying to make.

. . . I see no warrant for speaking of a two-stage justification or already/not-yet aspects to justification. As far as I know the only aspects are already and forever. The distinction is between justification which includes both the forgiveness of sins (the negative) and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (the positive). I think Paul says something about “having been justified…” Glorification is not justification but a consequence of it. What we should say is “vindication” relative to the judgment.

As to baptism I’ve written a good deal about it and I can’t accept Dick’s language . . . .

Baptism is a sign and seal but creates no more existential union with Christ than circumcision did. Esau was a member of the visible covenant community. That’s all.

. . . Baptism is a sign and seal of what is true of those who believe. Why make it more complicated?

And finally,

John [Kinnaird] cried and gave a reasonably orthodox account of his views so that the men voted on what he said on the floor and not what he had said. What he said at GA, from what I understand, bears little relation to what he had been saying or what he has said since.

What was properly before GA was not what he was saying just then but what he had said, preached, and written. I suspect that people didn’t want to believe that such things were being taught in the OPC by an honored and respected member of the denomination and a former moderator of GA.

I’ve read everything Mr Kinnaird said before GA and I was shocked at the vote in that GA. Immediately after Mr Kinnaird announced that his views had been “vindicated.” Things were not set right until the next GA when there was a re-assertion of justification sola fide and then in the GA study committee report. [Nothing was set right by the following GA since the Kinnaird decision still stands as a matter of OPC court precedent.  The committee report changed nothing.  The Kinnaird case still needs to be overturned. — SG]

What John is saying now is what he was saying before GA. The difference is that people are paying attention now and understand what he’s saying. A lot of people didn’t begin paying attention until the Kinnaird case. In a way, even though it wrecked a congregation and hurt good people, I’m glad it happened because if it hadn’t (sort of like Pearl Harbor) I think it might have taken a lot longer for people to start paying attention.

What was defended on the floor of the Phila Presbytery, however, was quite outside the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy, namely a two-stage doctrine of justification. Initial justification sola gratia, sola fide and a final justification grounded partly on Spirit-wrought sanctity. Not vindication *coram hominibus* but justification before God. This he derived from his doctrine of union with Christ and the necessity for Spirit-wrought, inherent righteousness in order to stand before God.

My only response to the above laundry list of charges and objections leveled by Dr. Clark against Richard Gaffin and those he has openly and publicly defended for more than 30 years is AMEN.

Now, it should be pointed out that like Keister, Clark is a fellow Van Tillian which perhaps explains Keister’s carefully worded and gentle rebuke in defense of Gaffin.  It should also be noted that when I brought up many of the same points back in February of ‘07 on the Puritan Boards Keister’s response to me was considerably less guarded . . . or friendly.  After Keister lavished considerable praise on Gaffin and insisted that “he is no friend to the FV or the NPP,” I started to wondered if Keister was talking about the same Richard Gaffin? I wrote:

While I haven’t read his latest book, what about his track record over the last thirty plus years? Here is a man who has provided decades long defense of some of the most egregious supporters and advocates of the so-called “Federal Vision,” so much so that he wrote the following glowing endorsement of Norm Shepherd’s counterfeit gospel and even allowed his name to be used as a selling point for The Call of Grace. Can you imagine someone opposed to Shepherd’s errant doctrines writing:

“This lucid and highly readable study provides valuable instruction on what it means to live in covenant with God. God’s covenant is the only way of life that fully honors both the absolute, all-embracing sovereignty of his saving grace and the full, uninhibited activity of his people. The Call of Grace should benefit anyone concerned about biblical growth in Christian life and witness.”

Thank you Dick Gaffin. Hardly shocking since he has been consistently in agreement with Shepherd on more than a few fundamental points as he makes clear in his book “Resurrection and Redemption” where he writes:

“Baptism signifies and seals a transition in the experience of the recipient, a transition from being (existentially) apart from Christ to being (existentially) joined to him. Galatians 3:27 is even more graphic: “Those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” . . . Consequently, the transition described in [Ephesians 2] verses 5f. as being an object of God’s wrath(v.3) to experiencing his love (v.4). takes place at the point of being joined (existentially) to Christ [50_51].”

The way of salvation proposed by Gaffin is through the water of baptism and existential union with Christ – not by mere belief alone in truth of Scripture and the message of the Gospel. His mission, or at least part of it, has been to undermine, and, if possible, supplant the biblical order of salvation with a new one derived from his own “new perspective of Paul.” Admittedly, his book is subtly written, but I believe many have missed the far reaching implications of his (novel) views. At the very least, I was struck by how many broad and even bold assertions he makes throughout the book without even the slightest evidence. He just assumes his readers will agree or just take his word. Maybe this is how he has been able to fool so many people? Perhaps Gaffin gets a pass because he’s such a “polite scholar”? Yet, from the above you can see it is the water of baptism which translates a person from an object of God’s wrath to an object of His love. It is baptism, not belief alone, which brings us into union with Christ. Union with Christ for Gaffin is an “existential” non-propositional or legal bond. Besides confusing the sign with the thing signified, his view of baptism and christological union explains his long defense of men like Norm Shepherd and John Kinnaird.

My guess is you took classes with a different Richard Gaffin. Either that or perhaps he puts on different faces for different audiences.

Here is Keister’s reply:

No, we are talking about the same Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., whom you are not only misquoting (out of context), but slandering in the process. I’m not sure I consider an endorsement of Shepherd’s book to be the wisest thing he ever did in his life. But if you look at the endorsement closely, he didn’t endorse everything in the book. Look, Gaffin was a personal friend of Shepherd. As long as there was any hint that the issues might be due to misunderstanding, he stood up for his friend. Can we not understand that he would wish to do that? He is a polite scholar. But in phone conversations to me, he has admitted that Shepherd’s theology is imbalanced, that Shepherd considers the inseparability of faith and works to the exclusion of the distinctness between the two. I don’t know if that would count as a repudiation of his earlier stance. But it seems to me that the longer this controversy has gone on, the more he has distanced himself from Shepherd, FV, and NPP. At the very least, his article in WTJ ought to clear him of teaching the same thing as the NPP. The fact that he wholeheartedly endorsed the OPC study committee report, and that he endorsed my argumentation on the NPP debate page, I think clearly indicates where his allegiances lie. And if you are listening to that loose cannon, John Robbins, then I advise you to stop immediately. That man has done little good for the cause of Jesus Christ. Anyone who has the least questions about the theology of Gordon Clark is an outright heretic, according to Robbins. And I can say this, because my father J.C. Keister was Gordon Clark’s best friend. I grew up admiring Clark. I went to WTS and found out that there is much more to Van Til than disagreeing with Clark. I call myself Van Tillian now. Robbins would undoubtedly call me a heretic. Robbins is a vitriolic loose cannon with a publishing house. Don’t listen to him.
Rev. Lane Keister
Teaching Elder, PCA

I confess I have never read anything by Dr. Robbins or any material from Trinity Foundation (John Robbins’ “publishing house”) that differs in any substantive way from the objections raised by Dr. Clark above.  So why should I not listen to Dr. Robbins?  Should I listen to Dr. R. Scott Clark instead?  Perhaps now since both men have leveled the same criticisms against Keister’s “polite scholar” and beloved former professor, maybe he thinks I shouldn’t listen either of these men?  Admittedly, Dr. Robbins is arguably, if not justifiably, more skeptical about any presumed shift in Gaffin’s thinking concerning justification and the role union with Christ plays in Reformed soteriology than is Dr. Clark,  but if it comes from Robbins it’s the vitriolic conclusions of a “loose cannon.”

Amazingly, Keister argues that Gaffin’s endorsement of Shepherds book was really a sign of Gaffin’s loyalty and integrity.  As long as there was “any hint” that there might be any “misunderstanding” as to Shepherd’s views, it was just Dick standing up for an “old friend”.  Clearly Keister has not read O. Palmer Robertson’s history of the Shepherd controversy as it raged for more than 7 years at his alma mater, Westminster Theological Seminary.  Oh, that’s right; Robertson’s book was published by that same publishing house run by that “vitriolic loose cannon” John Robbins who I shouldn’t listen to.

Of course, had Keister read Robertson’s book, perhaps he might even ask what possible misunderstanding could there be in Gaffin’s mind after hotly discussing, debating and even defending Shepherds novel and completely anti-Christian doctrines for more than 7 years?  Are professors at WTS too stupid to correctly identify the heretical nature of Shepherd’s views, whereas “loose cannons” are not?  If so, give me loose cannons any day.

Keister asserts, “At the very least, his article in WTJ ought to clear him of teaching the same thing as the NPP.”  OK, who has argued that Gaffin’s views are the “same thing as the NPP”?  As Paul Elliot makes crystal clear in his book, Christianity and Neo-Liberalism,  Gaffin has a new perspective on Paul that is all his own, but one which is every bit as deadly as Wright’s.  Oh, that’s right, Keister wouldn’t be aware of this criticism either since Elliot’s book was published by that same publishing house run by that “vitriolic loose cannon” John Robbins who I shouldn’t listen to.

Given Kesiter’s gargantuan blind spot when it comes to Gaffin, I think Keister needs to start listening, even to those he callously maligns with seeming impunity.

Keister says Gaffin has “distanced himself from Shepherd, FV, and NPP” and, as evidence, asserts that Gaffin now thinks, at least according to a private conversation between he and Keister, that Shepherd’s theology is “imbalanced.” Admittedly, imbalanced can mean a lot of things, but it is hardly the kind of criticism Shepherd’s views demand or deserve.  Notice, Gaffin did not say Shepherds theology was unrepentantly heretical, anti-Christian, or even dangerous with a warning to stay away and avoid.  Rather,  his views are “imbalanced.”  Does anyone other than Keister think this reply is sufficient given Gaffin’s decades long defense of the Shepherd?

Finally, Keister believes Gaffin has successfully distanced himself from Shepherd and the FV in his book, By Faith, Not By Sight.  He may have me here since I haven’t read the book.  I have read Resurrection and Redemption and that raised a sufficient number of red flags for me, evidently not so much for Keister.  However, one person reviewing By Faith, Not By Sight on Amazon wrote:

. . . Gaffin always has a but, a not yet. Though we are justified now (because faith in something, even Arminianism, unites us now to Jesus), Gaffin still teaches a justification by sight, ie by works. Instead of reading the “according to works” texts as having to do with the distinction between dead works (Hebrews 6:1,9:14) and “fruit for God” (Romans 7:4), Gaffin conditions assurance in future justification on imperfect but habitual working. Instead of saying that works motivated by fear of missing justification are unacceptable to God, Gaffin teaches a justification which is contingent on faith and works.

If this reviewer is correct it raises even more red flags about Gaffin that Keister hasn’t noticed.  Could it be that Keister’s devotion to this “polite scholar” and beloved professor has clouded his thinking?   Dr. Clark seems to think so, which is why he wrote, “I’m concerned that we not let personal loyalty cloud our judgment here. I’m not interested in maligning anyone, but history is history.”

As I told Dr. Clark on his Heidelblog that while I very much appreciate his taking a stand he should be prepared. Right now the gloves are on. I have no doubt that the attacks will turn considerably less friendly, particularly if he doesn’t back off from his criticism of Gaffin and fall into line and do so quickly.

Explore posts in the same categories: Heresies

11 Comments on “The Gaffin Question”

  1. qeqesha Says:

    It seems Gaffin has been quite consistently on the side of theologically aberrant views. It is surprising that Keister should lash out at Clark for simply pointing out obvious facts. Keister seems to value buddies above the word of God and truth in general. This is the fruit of “relationships” theology.
    Remember this is the Keister who tells us that both van Til and Gordon Clark used to dose off after dinner. From which I suppose Keister wishes us to conclude there is no difference, theologically between them!!
    One hears, “Relationships are fundamental.” In my denomination this has almost reached confessional status. It is Truth which is fundamental! Propositional revelation is fundamental! Our buddies are not above revealed truth!
    Perhaps Keister should consider joining one of the five families in New York. That is where family certainly counts above morality and truth.


  2. magma2 Says:

    Five families in New York? You lost me there.

    I just find it ironic that on the Castle Church podcast Keister was held up as some kind of expert on the Federal Vision. Those hosting the podcast certainly said so and Keister certainly sees himself comfortably in that role. Yet, his blind spots are immense.

    What worse is his shameful treatment of John Robbins and Trinity Foundation who, if he had been paying attention, provides much needed light so that even Keister could see what he has been missing on everything from Gaffin’s own NPP to Wilson’s complete rejection of the gospel. I found it telling that during the podcast when Keister was asked for recommendations on books dealing with the FV not one was from TF. You’d think at least the Roberston book would have made his short list, but clearly when it comes to any criticism of Gaffin Kesiter’s mind is firmly closed.

  3. justbybelief Says:

    Keister said: “it was just Dick standing up for an ‘old friend'”

    He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:37 KJV

    I had been attending an OPC with my wife and children for a year when the pastor starting dropping words like ‘incarnational,’ ‘collective,’ ‘perspectivalism,’ and ‘provsional’ in an evening Bible study which concerned the doctrine of scripture. My radar really bleeped when the whole emphasis of the study concerned the canon writer’s characteristic style and his audience as opposed to doctrine and the Spirit of God breathing out every word of scripture.

    I started investigating and came across Paul M. Elliot’s book mentioned above. Elliot’s book was right on the mark and addressed all the words being dropped in the Bible study, the doctrine associated with each, and the names of the false teachers authoring the doctrines. Elliot has incredible discernment and is truly a gift to God’s church. The only disagreement I had in Elliot’s book was a quote by Machen where Machan states basically that ‘Liberalism is not Christianity’ but leaves the liberals uncondemned. Indeed, Liberals and Neo-liberals are not Christians at all. Besides Elliot’s book I read ‘Gods Hammer: The Bible and its Critics by Gordon Clark,’ ‘The Current Justification Controversy by O. Palmer Robertson,’ ‘A Companion to The Current Justification Controversy by John Robbins,’ and ‘W. Stanford Reid: An Evangelical Calvinist in the Academy by A. Donald MacLeod.’ The book by MacLeod has a whole chapter about W. Stanford Reid’s fight against Shepherd in the seminary for six years. Reid also left documentation of the controversy in the archives at WTS in the hopes that history would vindicate him and his defense of the true gospel. I would like to get my hands on his documentation of the matter. The Trinity Foundation deserves much credit for exposing the men and their errors by publishing four of the five books above along with all their review articles and for putting a finger on the source of the errors, Van Til (WTS Sacred Cow), who also defended Shepherd. When did stating the facts and exposing error become vitriolic. Robbins should be commended, but Jesus’ word is fullfilled when he said, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” John 16:2.

    After doing my investigation I asked two OPC pastors their opinions on Shepherd, Kinnaird, and Gaffin and they do not condemn them or their teaching and deny their is any problem in the OPC. One said, “Shepherd had a lot of good to say.” My appeal is, “If justification by bare belief is denied then any doctrine taught subsequently only aggrevates our condemnation and will only lead to dispair or self-righteousness.” Another statement made by the same OPC pastor was, “Just mind your business here at the church and don’t worry about what goes on at General Assembly.” I don’t even need to comment on this prattle. The other pastor had some soft words concerning Shepherd like: “he is a very kind man” and “he has some formulation problems.”

    After making my thoughts known, basically that all three are hereitcs, the following Sunday, in the sermon, the pastor said, “In justification, God takes the believers whole christian experience into account.” To which I reply, “In justification, God takes Christ’s life instead of the believers into account.” Not being members we took the liberty of leaving this OPC and we will never darken the door of another OPC. Why does the OPC need to form a committee to study justification? The doctrine of justification is a settled matter. Elliot is right, the OPC is allowing two doctrines of justification within its bounds and the OPC is still full of pastors and elders who don’t condemn Shepherd’s teaching. If they don’t condemn Shepherd’s teaching they either agree with it, they can’t discern, or they can go either way–faith alone or faith and works. In any of these cases they shouldn’t be holding the office of elder whether teaching or ruling. Yet, they all go undisciplined which proves that the OPC has lost the marks of a true Church as Elliot has stated so eloquently and it is time for true Christians to leave it.

    Just as an aside how is it that Shepherds book ‘The Call of Grace’ is published by Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing?

    Some final questions: How can Gaffin defend Shepherd for thirty years and go undisciplined within the OPC? How can Gaffin by his actions condemn God’s elect who rightfully fought Shepherd/Kinnaird and their teachings go undisciplined within the OPC. Why is the OPC trying to bury the Gaffin/Shepherd/Kinnaird issue. Since when is Gaffin’s writing a new book considered repentance and church discipline? Finally, Why are those who condemn these teachings and these men who shout it from the house tops treated with contempt.

    What concerns me is the chameleon like nature of false teachers. Remember, ambiguous teaching is false teaching. If a pastor won’t state clearly and unambiguously where he stands and what he believes don’t sit under his teaching!

  4. qeqesha Says:

    Hi Sean,
    ¨Five families in New York.?¨
    La Costa Nostra, aka–the wise guys!!! LOL!!!!

    Keister will not recommend the Trinity Foundation, John Robbins or Sean Gerety, for your criticism of his hero, van Til, for which he will never forgive you! Keister is a very, very loyal kind of guy, it seems, no matter what! That is why I recommended he take up membership in the one organisation where loyalty to oneś buddies really matters, and stop viewing himself as a minister of the Gospel!!!


  5. […] Doctrine of Revelation by John Robbins More on the issue can also be found in the blog entitled, The Gaffin Question, which confirms a number of the points made by Robbins in the MP3 about Richard Gaffin (your […]

  6. brandon Says:

    I haven’t read anything from Gaffin and all I know is what I have read from here, the Heidelblog, and the TF, but I just listened to Gaffin’s interview on Christ the Center regarding sanctification.

    It seems to me that what he was trying to understand/explain was the same thing those (like Gill) who argue(d) for an eternal justification were trying to understand: How can God be for us (give us a new heart) before He is for us (justified)?

    I know there are other complicating issues, but am I correct to assume there is a similarity there? It seems Gaffin answers this by attributing it to an “existential union.”

  7. […] that continues to be a cause of embarrassment for many of Gaffin’s most ardent supporters.  (Lane Keister claims that in a private telephone conversation with Gaffin he “admitted that Shepherd’s […]

  8. markmcculley Says:

    According to the Gaffin wing of the OPC, our problem is that wehave reduced salvation to justification and forget that we are “united to His resurrection”.

    David Garner– “A not-guilty verdict of an Almighty Judge does not make the criminal a son.”

    mark mcculley–And thus “justification” is reduced to forgiveness and not guilty. And the teaching of forensic co-death with Christ so that the justified elect are “justified from sin” (Romans 6:7) is transformed into saying that since Christ was transformed by death, we shall be transformed. No, it is not said that Christ became regenerated or that Christ became united to God, but is said that Christ’s death is NOT “merely” about “sin not having dominion because or noting being under law” (Romans 6:14) but instead about Christ being adopted and becoming the Holy Spirit (in terms of economic agency, in terms of atonement)

    David Garner—“There is ….no conferral of redemptive blessing not attained by the Personal Source of redemption himself. The vital and intimate union between the sons and the Son remains unyieldingly robust….In Christ the forensic and the transformative are ONE. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are ONE. Declaratory, transformatory and consummatory COALESCE in this resurrection.” The manner in which the apostle Paul aligns resurrection and adoption requires that we affirm this coalescence with Christ’s newly attained sonship.

    mark mcculley—The Gaffin solution is that the “believer who thinks he is weak and needy” needs to be given some information about “union with Christ’s resurrection” so that they will know that they are transformed and can transform. Instead of getting stuck only on the cross and the death of Christ, that “average believer” needs a theology of glory and resurrection. If they are taught the history of Israel (which equates to the history of redemptive transformation) , then they can forget any difference between DOING law and KNOWING gospel, because now that they are adopted, the definition of faith as “not works” has been eliminated, as has any other “narrow” focus on justification by grace and not by law.

    David Garner—“Adoption then functions as no synonym for an ASPECT of union like JUSTIFICATION, but offers rather a complex metaphor entailing his divinely declared and transformed identity at his resurrection.”

  9. justbybelief Says:

    Gaffin and his ilk like to drown out the gospel with their rhetoric.

  10. justbybelief Says:

    Furthermore, let them settle the definition of word ‘faith’ before talking about anything else.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    The critique of the “federal vision” by Dewey Roberts is out now.

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