With the publication of The Emperor Has No Clothes: Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.’s Doctrine of Justification, author Stephen Cunha has provided another excellent example of how the central mission of the Trinity Foundation is being fulfilled. When the first issue of the Trinity Review first appeared in 1978 they began by boldly stating their reason for existence in “The Trinity Manifesto – A Program for Our Time.” For those of you who may have purchased any of the books published by the Trinity Foundation over the years, you probably are already familiar with the Trinity Manifesto as it can be found, at least in a slightly modified version, in the back pages of every one of their publications and which includes the following thought from the late Dr. Gordon Clark:
To echo an early Reformation thought, when the plough man and the garage attendant know the Bible as well as the theologian does, and know it better than some contemporary theologians, then the desired awakening shall have already occurred.
While I would not presume to claim that the desired awakening has already occurred. If it has I must have missed it. I can say that Cunha, who states up front that he has no seminary degree and is not an ordained officer in the church but rather toils “in the business world,” clearly knows the Bible as well, if not better, than most (not some) contemporary theologians. In addition, his book is a much needed piece in the puzzle exposing Richard Gaffin’s false gospel demonstrating that Gaffin has more in common with Norman Shepherd (the granddaddy of the Federal Vision) than anything remotely approaching the historic Reformed and Christian faith. This is important, because Gaffin, now retired, was professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and taught there from 1965 until 2007.
For more than forty years Dr. Gaffin has trained would be pastors and budding theologians and scholars in his unique brand of neo-legalism that he helped forge with Shepherd. According to Dr. Mark Karlberg Gaffin along with Shepherd is the “co-father of the new, anti-Reformational teaching at Westminster Seminary” (see “The Changing of the Guard,” Trinity Review, March-April 2001). Not surprisingly Gaffin has never publicly distanced himself from Shepherd, much less repudiated him or his false gospel. Which could explain his glowing endorsement of Shepherd’s horrendous, The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism (a book where Shepherd restates the doctrines that got him dismissed from WTS) and is something 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 theology is imbalanced” and “that Shepherd considers the inseparability of faith and works to the exclusion of the distinctness between the two.” Hardly the appropriate response when they Gospel is at stake and from a man who openly defended Shepherd during the entire time the Shepherd controversy raged at WTS). As Cunha notes:
In this writer’s judgement, Dr. Gaffin’s endorsement of Mr. Shepherd in general, though it does not necessarily imply agreement with Mr. Shepherd on all points of doctrine, is fully consistent with Dr. Gaffin’s own view on the role of works relative to justification. (93)
It is this consistency that Cunha demonstrates throughout his book as he pulls material primarily from Gaffin’s By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation along with recorded lectures. Combined with Mark Karlberg’s devastating The Changing of the Guard which focuses on the Shepherd-Gaffin nexus at WTS (both East and West), Paul Elliot’s handling of Gaffin’s own New Perspective on Paul along with his shameful defense of Shepherdite and neo-legalist John Kinnaird in Christianity and Neo-Liberalism, John Robbins article “In Christ” where he examines Gaffin’s erroneous and anti-Christian “existential” theory of union with Christ via the waters of baptism, and now Cunha’s new addition dealing with Gaffin’s anti-Christian doctrine of justification, and the similarities between Gaffin and the false gospel of Norman Shepherd and the Federal Vision become impossible to deny.
Consider the following “modification” (or more properly nullification) of the Law/Gospel distinction from By Faith, Not By Sight as cited by Cuhna:
From this perceptive, the antithesis between law and gospel is not an end in itself. It is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not be virtue of creation but as a consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer [emphasis Cunha]. (38)
Or, consider this from Gaffin’s recorded “Lectures on Romans” and his discussion of Romans 2:13:
As that judgement decides, in its way, we’re going to wanna (sic) qualify that deciding, but as it decides the ultimate outcome for all believers and for all humanity, believers as well as unbelievers. That is, death or life. It’s a life and death situation that’s in view here. Further, this ultimate judgement has as its criterion or standard, brought into view here, the criterion for that judgement is works, good works. The doing of the law, as that is the criterion for all human beings, again, believers as well as unbelievers. In fact, in the case of the believer a positive outcome is in view and that positive outcome is explicitly said to be justification. So, again the point on the one side of the passage is that eternal life… depends on and follows from a future justification according to works. Eternal life follows upon a future justification by doing the law. (55-56)
As Cunha correctly notes “Dr. Gaffin holds to the view that Romans 2:13 is referring in a positive sense to a final justification for believers according to imperfect works produced through faith.” (56) Now compare Dr. Gaffin’s teaching with the PCA’s FV/NPP report’s concluding point #9:
The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called “final verdict of justification” is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
Further, and as Cunha carefully demonstrates:
Given the context of Paul’s argument, it is not so surprising that Calvin would say regarding Romans 2:13, “they who pervert this passage for the purpose of building up justification by works, deserve most fully to be laughed at even by children.” Give the context, it is extremely unlikely that “the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans 2:13) refers in a positive way to believers . . . Dr. Gaffin’s reading would have the practical effect of directing sinners to endeavor to obtain their justification through faith plus works.” (57-59)
I should say so. Every step of the way Cunha takes Gaffin at his word. But, more importantly, he carefully contrasts Gaffin’s word with God’s Word and in every instance Gaffin comes up short. More importantly, Gaffin’s gross mishandling of Romans 2:13 cannot be easily dismissed as former OPC elder Paul Elliot explains in “The Orthodox Presbyterian Cover-Up“:
Strangely, the [OPC] Justification Study Committee deliberately chose not to address Romans 2:13 head-on. It said only that “this report does not have the space to explore“ the “many current exegetical debates” concerning the passage. In light of the OPC’s history and facts that have come to light since the conclusion of the 2006 General Assembly, this is a serious – and revealing – omission.
Norman Shepherd misused Romans 2:13 in his Thirty-Four Theses on Justification and elsewhere. It is a linchpin of his false gospel. He uses this verse to say that law-keeping by the individual believer is required in order to be justified before God. As noted earlier in this book, the OPC’s Presbytery of Philadelphia had repeated opportunities to condemn this teaching in 1979 and 1980; but through the efforts of Gaffin, Tyson, and other neo-liberals, it failed to do so. The Presbytery said, in fact, that Shepherd’s teaching on Romans 2:13 was in accord with the OPC’s ordination vows.
Following Shepherd’s example, John Kinnaird also misuses Romans 2:13. Kinnaird teaches that “it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous on that Day of Judgment.” Kinnaird consistently adds the last five words to his personal paraphrase of this text of Scripture, thus changing its meaning entirely. In context, the Apostle Paul is teaching that no one but Christ is capable of keeping the law, and that His perfect law-keeping righteousness is imputed to believers. But by adding his own words to the end of the verse whenever he mentions it, Kinnaird changes Romans 2:13 to mean that lawkeeping is required of believers themselves in order to be declared righteous on the Last Day. Dr. Peter Lillback, now president of Westminster Theological Seminary, defended Kinnaird’s twisting of Romans 2:13 in testimony at his heresy trial. Federal Visionists such as Richard Lusk and New Perspectivalists such as N. T. Wright also twist Romans 2:13 to invent an un-Biblical “second justification” at the Last Day.
Sadly, Gaffin’s mishandling of Paul is in no way limited to Romans 2:13. Consider Gaffin’s take on Paul’s use of the phrase “obedience of faith” found in Romans 1:5 and 16:26:
In this expression “of faith,” is best taken as intentionally multivalent. In relation to “obedience,” it is both appositional and indications source or origin. In other words, in view is faith itself as an act of obedience (cf. Acts 16:31), as well as other acts of obedience that stem from faith.
Talk about trying to have your cake an eat it too. It this kind of deceptive analysis and faulty exegesis where Gaffin’s doctrine of justification by faith and works (or what Wes White calls the doctrine of sola fidelity) really comes into view. As Cunha explains:
In other words, Dr. Gaffin believes that when Paul used the phrase “obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5 and 16:26, he meant both “faith itself as an act of obedience” and “the obedience that comes from faith.” Dr. Gaffin uses this interpretation of Romans 1:5 and 16:26 to help bolster his view that, within the context of justification, “there is a positive or synthetic relationship between faith and works, a constructive bound between faith and what it does.” (77)
By dissecting Gaffin’s doctrine of justification and holding it up repeatedly to the light of Scripture, Cunha’s careful analysis inexorably leads to the conclusion that Gaffin has taught, and arguably continues to teach, another gospel. Cunha concludes in part:
The heart of the problem is Dr. Gaffin’s view that works in some sense play a causal role in justification. This view destroys the classic Protestant Law/Gospel antithesis and is inimical to the teaching that justification is by faith alone. This teaching ultimately leads men to look, at least to some degree, to the production of good works in order to secure justification before God.
Dr. Gaffin qualifies his teaching by saying that works are not (co-) instrumental in justification, but it is clear from his writings and support of Mr. Shepherd that Dr. Gaffin believes that works have a non-meritorious, causal role in justification. Non-meritorious causality with respect to justification equates to instrumental causality in the language of those who subscribe to the Westminster Standards. (95)
The Emperor Has No Clothes: Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.’s Doctrine of Justification is an important new addition in the study of the false gospel of faith and works that continues to plague the church.