September 30, 2007 Commentary:
"Current Controversies Over Justification"
Mike Horton: Well, it's a privilege to host a roundtable discussion with my own colleagues from Westminster Seminary California especially on our favorite topic here on the WHI which is also at the Seminary - the Gospel. Getting the Gospel right and getting the Gospel out is at the heart of what we are all about. Covenant, Justification & Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California has been published recently. It was edited by R. Scott Clark, and we have not only the editor, but three of the contributors on the show today and we are going to be discussing this issue of covenant and justification. The editor is R. Scott Clark, who is with us; David VanDrunen is the Robert Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics; Hywel Jones is Professor of Practical Theology, and we might add was a personal assistant to Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones.
First of all what's the fuss? Everybody believes in justification in our circles right? That's the heart of historic Protestant Evangelical Christianity, who's debating justification?
R. Scott Clark: Everybody believes in justification, but not everybody believes in justification in the same way. The church always taught some doctrine of justification, in fact the church always taught some doctrine of justification by grace and by faith. That's never really been in question. If you ask any knowledgeable Roman Catholic, which represents really the mainstream of Medieval Theology even today, "What is the Medieval Doctrine of Justification, what's the Roman Doctrine (if they know, if they have read the Catechism, if they have paid attention) they will tell you that we confess justification by grace through faith. Obviously there are some missing qualifiers here and that's what makes things a little more complicated.
Mike: What are some of those missing qualifiers? What does justification have to be in order to be "good news?"
David VanDrunen: It has to not only be gracious in the sense of it is a gift of God and not only by faith in some general sense, which no one would deny, but justification as we have confessed it as Protestants, is that justification is by faith alone, by grace alone, and it is by the finished work of Christ alone. And by faith alone we mean that justification is something that we attain by trust in Christ. That we look outside ourselves and rest wholly in the work of another and that though our good works must flow from a true faith it is indeed faith alone by which we grasp that justification. I think that at the other most essential point to emphasize is that the work of Christ that we are grasping in justification is both his enduring the penalty of the curse of the Law so that our sins might be forgiven, but also his perfect fulfillment of all the positive requirements of God's law, which is imputed to us so that we are considered in God's sight not as those who have no guilt on our record but as those who have perfectly obeyed his law.
Mike: That's important to point out before you go on. It's important for people to realize that when we talk about challenges in our circles that's often where we see it today. People will say, yes, of course we believe in justification by faith alone, but we don't necessarily believe that Christ had to fulfill the law in some legalistic works oriented sense and then that gets imputed to us. It is enough that he forgave us of all our sins. Why is it not enough that Jesus forgave us of our sins, why do we need that imputation of righteousness on top of forgiveness?
Hywel Jones: Well, because we are not only someone who personally has offended God, and therefore, stands in great need of forgiveness, but God has created us and he has placed us in subjection to his law, and required of us that we fulfill it utterly and perfectly. Given that reality, it is absolutely crucial that somehow we attain to righteousness in his sight in order that we might be saved. The question of course is "how is that possible?" To that we believe that there is only one answer. That is why forgiveness is vital, but forgiveness doesn't give to us a standing in God's sight by which we are accepted by him once and for all and forever.
September 23, 2007 Commentary:
"Why Faith Alone Justifies"
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn where we are continuing our study of "A Time For Truth" - walking through the Solas: Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, to God alone be the glory. We are talking about faith alone right now, the last couple of programs we've discussed the importance of faith, the nature of faith, the object and act of faith, and in this program we are going to be looking at the question, "Why faith alone justifies?"
Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is not just one doctrine among many - it's the grand announcement, the good news that was first heralded after the Fall in Genesis 3 and echoes across the pages of Scripture all the way to the book of Revelation. Today, however, this doctrine has fallen under perhaps the greatest challenges than at any time since the Reformation, even among Evangelicals, the spiritual descendents of the Reformation the doctrine of justification is under increasing attack, or is just completely ignored. Why do we find it so hard to believe that we are saved completely by God's gracious imputation of Christ's righteousness through faith alone?
David Wells, a well-known senior statesman in the Evangelical movement wrote in a foreword to the new Crossway book By Faith Alone, "In the last few decades a new church constituency has been emerging. It is made of a generation of pragmatists, initially Baby Boomers but now spilling out generationally, who have lived off this reformational understanding as does a parasite off of its host... These pragmatic entrepreneurs, these salesmen of the gospel may not always deny Reformation understandings overtly but even if they do not, they always hide it from view. They shuffle off this orthodoxy into a corner where they hope it will not be noticed. To these seekers who are so sensitive and who are their target audience this orthodoxy would be quite incomprehensible not to say off-putting. So, it's covered up, because it's judged to be irrelevant to what is of interest to them and to those who are in the business of selling Christianity; it's likewise judged to be irrelevant to their work... And so it was that the seeker-sensitive church emerged, reconfigured around the consumer, edges softened by marketing wisdom, pastors driven by business savvy, selling, always selling, but selling softly, selling the benefits of the gospel... Just as often, the gospel has vanished entirely and has been replaced only by feel-good therapy. When all is said and done Christianity is about truth and at the heart of that truth is the Gospel. Sola gratia, sola fide, in solo Christo." That's what we are talking about in this edition of the White Horse Inn.
September 16, 2007 Commentary:
"Justification by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone"
We have all heard that faith is a private experience that no one else has the right to judge. In the words of one professing Christian computer programmer, "We all access God differently." Everybody has faith, one person justifies his religious beliefs on the basis of a feeling or an impression as a result of crisis, "I don't know why I think this way, I just believe it. I think God is like that." And the believing apparently makes it so. Another person says, "I don't believe all that stuff about God being angry and judgmental, my God isn't like that - he's loving and affirming."
Faith is sort of become a pretty plastic term - we create a God ex nihilo by our faith. Once upon a time Christians at least spoke of "the faith once for all delivered to the saints." But now that eventually has gotten caught up in the confusion with empire and what's known as "Christendom." To this day one of the titles of Britain's monarch is "Defender of the Faith." Its the sign of the times that the heir Prince Charles has already announce that he'd change that title to "Defender of Faith." Instead of being something objective and an external word that comes to us as an announcement of a body of truth centering on the person and work of Christ. Faith has come to be identified as almost exclusively with an inner quality of the human soul. Everyone has faith, what one has faith in becomes rather immaterial.
In our American Civil religion, we too speak of faith in this generic sense. You know, in politics we here about faith-based institutions encompassing all creeds. And even many churches today easily succumb to the habit now of referring to cooperative service ventures between different religious groups as "interfaith". In fact many main-line Protestants participate in interfaith religious services. Faith is a generic category that doesn't need to have any reference to Jesus Christ. At least in the Biblical understanding, faith never meant a capacity within human beings at all. Rather, it is a gift of God to cling to Christ. It is part of that new creation that God has called into being out of nothing as Paul describes it in Romans 4. Furthermore, faith was not a generic belief in anything or everything, but necessarily claimed Christ as its object. Anything else just isn't faith. Believing doesn't save anybody no matter how deeply or sincerely one does it. And no matter how positively that believing may improve one's life. Rather, Christ saves and faith can only be said in the sort of shorthand "to save" because it clings to Christ as the Savior. So, faith like the gospel that creates it, doesn't well up within us, but comes to us from the outside as a gift, and it is saving only because it has Christ as its object and content. That's our subject in this program of the White Horse Inn.
September 9, 2007 Commentary:
"Is Faith a Gift?"
Hello and welcome to another broadcast of the White Horse Inn. As many of you know the theme for this year has been "A Time for Truth" and we've been weaving our way through the solas, the onlys of the Reformation that give us a way for talking about the truth that we think it's time for. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), solo Christo (Christ alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), and now we're talking about sola fide (faith alone). In our last program we defined the object and act of faith and in this program we're asking the question, "Is faith a gift?" A lot of people today will agree generally with the statement that salvation is a gift. It's when we start defining that point that we run into disagreement. For example, most evangelical Christians will at least say we're saved by grace and not by works. You press that button, you usually get that answer. "Are we saved by grace or are we saved by works?" But especially when we bring up the subject of election, namely, that as Paul put it, salvation is not of human decision or effort but of God who shows mercy, the objection is often heard, "Hey, that denies my free will!" There's a widespread assumption that making a decision for Christ is the one thing I did to get myself saved. It's my part in salvation. Billy Graham wrote that book years ago, How to be Born Again. And that's the idea that a lot of people have, "Here's how you get born again." "I'm born again because I did something." "I made a decision...walked an aisle...prayed a prayer," or in some way surrendered to Jesus and that's how I was born again. And since the whole Gospel is being born again, that ends up being the Gospel. There may be nothing I can do to atone for my sins, to pay the price for my redemption, but there are things I can do to actually make Christ's saving work effective and actual in my life. Is faith a gift, or is it the small contribution that we make to salvation? Where does this true faith come from? This is our subject on this edition of the White Horse Inn.
September 2, 2007 Commentary:
"What is Faith?"
You've got to have faith; you've got to believe in something. That's a moral imperative in our culture. Jiminy Cricket, one of the Disney created spokespersons for this objectless religion, beckons, "If you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, all your dreams will come to you," or something like that. Then there's the T.V. preacher who even wrote a book titled How to Have Faith in Your Faith. In our culture today, and in many of our churches, faith has apparently come to mean "positive thinking." Americans are famous for being wildly, even fanatically, committed to the leap of faith. Some of the world's greatest inventions, scientific discoveries, and entrepreneurial feats have been the consequence of this love of risk for the sake of a dream.
So we're a nation of people with a lot of faith, right? Well, not if we define faith according to Scripture, where faith is not a general term for possibility thinking, but is very specific. First of all, it demands an object, and the object it requires is Jesus Christ as the savior of sinners. All other objects make the active trust something other than faith. Even God, generally conceived, is not the proper object of faith. People aren't justified by belief in God's existence, for example. People aren't saved because they have the good sense to know how to follow a good argument and affirm theism. Nor does faith have a sufficient object if it's God's general goodness and kindness.
No, the object of faith, the only object that makes faith, faith, is God as he has pledged his saving mercy to sinners in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, God as he gives himself to us in the Gospel, in and as Jesus of Nazareth. That's the object of faith. Faith in anyone or anything else is not faith, but idolatry. To understand faith according to the Scriptures, then, we have to know what the object is, but we also need to know what the act of faith itself involves. Unlike possibility thinking, faith isn't a leap in the dark, it's not an ignorant attitude of blind hope that will live happily ever after; it's true and saving knowledge.
I'll never forget when the doctors were delivering our premature triplets, and one of them announced, "They're all alive and breathing." It would have been foolish for them to have said that, or for me to have believed that, simply as wishful thinking. No, it was a certain announcement based on the facts of the situation. Faith is knowledge that God has reconciled us to himself, in Christ, and assent to that wonderful truth. But true faith is not only knowledge of and assent to a particular state of affairs, it is faith in the person of whom that truth speaks. True faith then is knowledge, assent, and trust in the person of Jesus Christ.