General Response to Leithart’s Article on Justification, part 1

Peter Leithart has thrown down the gauntlet for someone to challenge his paper on justification. I will take up that gauntlet in a series of articles on justification, dealing specifically with the Scripture passages that Leithart exegetes in support of his position. What I am going to do in this post (and the next few posts) is a general response based on more systematic concerns and summaries. This will probably drive the FV crowd crazy. However, I wish to provide a framework in which we can work, as well as see the positives and negatives of Leithart’s position. I invite the FV folk to wait patiently. I will deal as thoroughly as I can with the exegetical concerns that Leithart raises. But that will primarily be for future posts.

The purpose of Leithart’s essay (pp. 203-235 of Federal Vision) is best said in his own words:

The purpose of this essay is to explore the “picture” (more accurately, the pictures) surrounding the Bible’s use of “justification” and related terms…Though this essay holds implications for those issues, my focus here is narrowly on the question of the meaning of “justification” itself (pp. 204-205).

My argument in this paper is that by ignoring the “improper uses” of justification and by failing to take into account the larger biblical theology of justification that these uses imply, the Reformation doctrine of justification has illegitimately narrowed and to some extent distorted the biblical doctrine (p. 209).

In other words, this appears to be a word-focused study concentrating on various passages in which the word-groups tsedeq, shaphat, and dikaioo appear, and in which Leithart challenges (at least to some extent) the Reformational understanding of justification. Leithart qualifies his statement with this idea: the Reformational understanding is not wrong, it is merely incomplete. His point is that justification is described in settings other than forensic in the Bible. 

That his essay is a word-study in exegesis does not prevent Leithart from introducing historical concerns (indeed, how could one avoid doing this when the history of the doctrine is so incredibly crucial to the discussion?). He discusses Augustine’s doctrine of justification, noting the commonplace charge that Augustine thought of the word as meaning “to make righteous.” Leithart summarizes Augustine’s doctrine by saying that “God justifies when He transforms a sinner into a saint (sic), and thus the doctrine of justification is worked out as part of the picture of an unjust man made just” (p. 205). It is important here to note that Leithart disagrees with Augustine as interpreted here. He says, “Though justification terminology has a number of different nuances in Scripture, it does not refer to an act of ‘making just'” (p. 206). However, the picture of Augustine’s doctrine is not so simply summarized. The definitive article now is surely David F. Wright’s article in a book recently published. Wright sharpens our understanding of Augustine’s doctrine. Leithart’s claim must now be contextualized by various concerns that Wright brings up (of course, Leithart’s article appeared well before Wright’s article). A more Reformational (to use an anachronism) understanding seems now quite evident in Augustine:

Since he is extremely careful to clarify that justification is received sine operibus, sine ullis praecedentibus meritis (“without works, without any preceding merits”), he seems consequently careful to avoid linking justification to works that must ensue in the justified (p. 66, from Expositions of the Psalms 110:3).

Then follows a quotation from Augustine’s work on the Psalms: “No one works justitiam (‘righteousness,’ ‘justice’) unless (already) justificatus: ‘to believe in him who justifies the ungodly’ starts from faith, so that good works do not by coming first show what a person has deserved, but by following show what he has received” (p. 66). Wright’s conclusion is thus important for us: “Thus Augustine unmistakably preserved the distinction between faith as the free grace-gift of God and the fruitful life of good works to which it must give rise” (p. 66). This other strand in Augustine’s theology, overlooked by Leithart, is surely the reason why the Reformers claimed Augustine in their battle against Rome.

38 Comments

  1. Stewart said,

    June 21, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    “His point is that justification is described in settings other than forensic in the Bible.”

    Lane, do you think this is true? Is justification described in settings other than forensic in the Bible?

  2. pduggan said,

    June 21, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Wouldn’t everyone agree that when God declares the verdict “not guilty”, the justified one is at the same time and by the declaration out from under the wrath of God?

    If so, then God has stopped being wrathful towards the sinner.

    That has to have concrete consequences, like God has stopped “giving over” sinners to “more sin”

  3. greenbaggins said,

    June 21, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    I will answer your question, Stewart, in future posts, when I get to the exegesis. For now, be patient. Bring it up again later if you think I haven’t dealt with it adequately. There are a lot of other things that have to be said first, in my judgment.

  4. Stewart said,

    June 21, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Also, would you deal with Leithart’s questions at the end of his post?

    “My question: Is this kind of exploratory biblical theology tolerable in the PCA? Is there room to discuss so central a doctrine of justification? Is it possible that we might discover some dimension of biblical truth that has been overlooked or under-emphasized in the past? If I notice that “justify” in Rom 6:7 doesn’t exactly fit the Shorter Catechism definition, what am I to do?

    Is the PCA a place where we can ask questions?”

  5. greenbaggins said,

    June 21, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    My response at this point is that we don’t mess with the doctrine of justification. It is of course theoretically possible that some underemphasized aspect of justification might be brought to the fore. But (to steal some of my own thunder) I don’t believe that Leithart has convincingly shown us that the Reformation underemphasized some aspect of justification.

  6. pduggan said,

    June 21, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    “My response at this point is that we don’t mess with the doctrine of justification.”

    Really? The Reformed did, putting it in terms of a covenant of works that Luther never did.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    June 21, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    They didn’t mess with it, Paul. They rediscovered it. Unless you are saying that the Reformation didn’t understand Paul correctly.

  8. Peter B. said,

    June 21, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    greenbaggins: “My response at this point is that we don’t mess with the doctrine of justification.”

    pduggan: “Really? The Reformed did, putting it in terms of a covenant of works that Luther never did.”

    greenbaggins: “They didn’t mess with it, Paul. They rediscovered it.”

    Me: So even Luther got justification wrong?

  9. June 21, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    Lane be careful when you try to interpret Leithart, he employs a pre-medieval hermeneutic!!! (*GASP), which is different from the reformed and right hermeneutic of grammatical-historical.

  10. June 21, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    PD,

    The Reformed *augmented* the received, common (i.e., universal) Protestant doctrine of justification by re-stating it in historical-redemptive terms, by expressing the very same doctrine in covenantal terms. Thus law is stated as a covenant of works and gospel is stated as covenant of grace.

    This is one of the major theses of my book, Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant: The Double Benefit of Christ.

    It is also a theme pursued in the recently published essay in Anthony Selvaggio, ed., “The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints.”

    rsc

  11. gospelordeath said,

    June 21, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    “My argument in this paper is that by ignoring the “improper uses” of justification and by failing to take into account the larger biblical theology of justification that these uses imply, the Reformation doctrine of justification has illegitimately narrowed and to some extent distorted the biblical doctrine (p. 209).”

    I’m SO glad to finally see someone in that camp honestly distinguishing themselves from the reformed. His doctrine is not the Reformation doctrine, his doctrine is not the reformed doctrine. Fine, go be something other than reformed, and let us reformed continue to be so. I’m so glad to finally hear such honesty.

    Mike G.

  12. thomasgoodwin said,

    June 22, 2007 at 12:16 am

    Andrew,

    The grammatical-historical hermeneutic isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and many of the Reformers/Puritans departed from it at times. How else would they interpret Canticles the way they did? Certainly not with a strict grammatical-historical hermeneutic! It may be right, but I would argue that it is not the *only* approach!

    Mark

  13. Robert K. said,

    June 22, 2007 at 7:56 am

    The question is is your approach in harmony with sanctified common-sense, the fear of God, and good will towards the Word of God’s ability to deliver sound doctrine clearly.

    FV doesn’t pass Hemingway’s famous bull**** test.

  14. Robert K. said,

    June 22, 2007 at 8:04 am

    Can a Federal Visionist here give me the origin of the word ‘Vision’ in Federal Vision? Was Federal Vision doctrine a vision from God received by one of the leading lights of Federal Vision? If so, in what year did this occur? Did the receiving of the vision involve large spectacles and golden plates or anything of a similar nature? What part of the country (or world, for that matter) was the vision received in?

  15. pduggan said,

    June 22, 2007 at 8:19 am

    Imagine Augustine were a PCA pastor. And Augustine says all the stuff attributed to him normally, and there was a report out against him. And then David Wright, of the “Augustinian Vision” writes a book that says that actually, Augustine never meant to say anything other than what the reformed tradition says about justification, but that he has been widely misunderstood.

    Yeah, that would get a hearing. :-)

  16. Robert K. said,

    June 22, 2007 at 8:42 am

    Rather than attempt to deflect, could you help me out in understanding the ‘Vision’ in Federal Vision? Is it similar to the vision of that girl who started the Rapture Doctrine back in the 1800s?

  17. greenbaggins said,

    June 22, 2007 at 8:45 am

    Robert, I would imagine that they would refer to Steve Schlissel’s article in the Knox Colloquium “A New Way of Seeing.” I would think that would be fairly synonymous with “vision.” My thoughts.

  18. Robert K. said,

    June 22, 2007 at 10:17 am

    Now let’s get at the word ‘Federal’ in Federal Vision. I suspect they used this word because Federal Theology – they know – is the elegant systematized truth of God’s Word, so they’ve intentionally used this word ‘Federal’ to mirror the name Federal Theology and confuse new believers. Because otherwise these FVists are contemptuous of Federal Theology and also much rather hang around in the more mushy environment of covenant theology (i.e. biblical theology rather than Reformed systematic theology – covenant theology as it is related to Federal Theology in practice). Their system mocks Adam and Jesus as federal heads. They deny the Covenant of Works and they propose salvation by one’s own works.

    Federal Vision is nothing more than a direct attack on the only school of doctrine that represents biblical truth: Reformed Theology/Federal Theology/Classical Covenant Theology. Federal Vision exists to co-opt this school and turn it into the age-old bondage and darkness of Romanist doctrine.

    I wouldn’t touch the very garment of Federal Vision or any of its proponents for fear of being spotted by it. It has the stench of the flames of hell on it.

  19. anneivy said,

    June 22, 2007 at 10:55 am

    I don’t believe they – on the whole – actually do “propose salvation by one’s own works”, however.

    Mind, the writings of the FV theologians most certainly do tend to read like that!

    But if I’ve understood them properly, what they’re saying is that “final” justification is by both a faith which God provides, and by works which are also provided by Him.

    If either the God-provided faith or the God-provided works are missing, then at judgment the person will be revealed to have been a NECM, not an ECM.

    Since God predestines those who will exercise both the faith and the works He provided, it’s not technically “works righteousness” as defined by Calvinism. That sort of “works righteousness” has a certain required (though unspecified) level of works to be reached before one can be justified, and it’s almost always connected to free-will theology.

    Mind, I think this “predestined faith+works” system as posited by the FV is inaccurate, but it also isn’t “works righteousness”, per se.

  20. Robert K. said,

    June 22, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Doctrine doesn’t need to be talked about like that (not your writing, Anne, theirs). That kind of mumbo-jumbo is only needed when you are playing games and hiding your truth intentions. It’s clear they are not interested in Reformed doctrine other than to define it away from its God-centered truths and into their man-centered demands.

  21. Robert K. said,

    June 22, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Should have been “true intentions”…

  22. Sean Gerety said,

    June 22, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    Since God predestines those who will exercise both the faith and the works He provided, it’s not technically “works righteousness” as defined by Calvinism . . . I think this “predestined faith+works” system as posited by the FV is inaccurate, but it also isn’t “works righteousness”, per se.

    Hi Anne. You have correct about the FV understanding of works righteousness, but have misunderstood the argument made by Calvinists, Calvin in particular. This is from the Institutes:

    The Sophists, who make game and sport in their corrupting of Scripture
    and their empty caviling, think they have a subtle evasion. For they
    explain “works” as meaning those which men not yet reborn do only
    according to the letter by the effort of their own free will, apart from
    Christ’s grace. But they deny that these refer to spiritual works. For,
    according to them, man is justified by both faith and works provided they
    are not his own works but the gifts of Christ and the fruit of regeneration.
    For they say that Paul so spoke for no other reason than to convince the
    Jews, who were relying upon their own strength, that they were foolish to
    arrogate righteousness to themselves, since the Spirit of Christ alone
    bestows it upon us not through any effort arising from our own nature.
    Still they do not observe that in the contrast between the righteousness of
    the law and of the gospel, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all works are
    excluded, whatever title may grace them [Galatians 3:11-12].

  23. Sean Gerety said,

    June 22, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    The problem with doing two things at once (the Gerry Ford syndrome for those old enough to remember — particularly the old Saturday Night Live sketches).

    Above should have read:

    You ARE correct about the FV understanding of works righteousness, but have misunderstood the argument made by Calvinists, Calvin in particular. This is from the Institutes . . . .

  24. anneivy said,

    June 22, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Ah. Well, there you go. I’m sort of a Jill-of-all-trades in theology, knowing just enough to be dangerous. ;-)

    That was a most interesting quote, Sean, particularly this bit:

    “For, according to them, man is justified by both faith and works provided they are not his own works but the gifts of Christ and the fruit of regeneration.”

    That does sound like the FV, doesn’t it?

    Should have known Calvin would be able to ‘splain it far better than I.

    Also should have known the “God-provided faith+works” system’s nothing new, since there’s nothing new under the sun, as we’re assured by a most reliable Authority. :-D

  25. Robert K. said,

    June 22, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    That Calvin quote is a good example of how the FVists attempt (and often succeed) in getting you to make little concessions so as to draw you off into their crooked by-path. Your better sense knows that no works of your own play a part in your justification, but with the constant, non-stop, glass-eyed, pomo jargon intended to wear you down or make you throw your hands up they get these little concessions and before you know it you’re debating them half on their deadly false doctrine ground.

    This is why the Bible says answer a fool once or twice but then leave them to themselves. They are playing on the Calvinist’s love for talking and debating doctrine, but in their case it’s a dangerous indulgence.

  26. June 22, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    […] decided to take Leithart up on his challenge concerning justification. He’s already posted Part 1 and Part 2. Lane always does a nice job, so I’m sure that this will be interesting […]

  27. pduggan said,

    June 22, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    “That kind of mumbo-jumbo is only needed when you are playing games and hiding your truth intentions.”

    Lane, do you agree with Robert K on this? That the FV is “hiding their truth” (that is: “lying”?)

    Is that a fair aaccusation you want to let people make on your blog?

  28. greenbaggins said,

    June 22, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    I think the FV is lying when it says that it holds to the WS. Not all of them say that, of course (Barach, Schlissel, e.g.). But how can they say that they uphold the WS, on the one hand, and then deny the WS with their doctrine, on the other hand? Now, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is a malignant, deliberate lie. I cannot read hearts. But their theology contradicts the WS. I have said this about a trillion times on this blog. Therefore, for them to say that they hold to the WS, and yet contradict it with their teaching: that is a lie.

  29. NHarper said,

    June 23, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    Pride – man just can’t accept the fact that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – he can do to contribute to his justification. Pride is what motivates many to toy with the biblical doctrine of justification. A clear understanding of justification will never be found in having a theological debate or discussion. It can only be found at the foot of the cross. The cross is where our pride is stripped away and we see our true condition. That is why many refuse to go to the cross and as a result, die in their sins. For, the cross is a stumbling block to the Jew with his works righteousness and foolishness to the world who believes in the goodness of man.

    Jesus does not merely SHARE his life with us, as Leithart stated. He GIVES his life to us. His righteousness is not shared with our filthy righteousness. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. It is imputed – not infused. And, this is where the Federal Vision fails and falls into error.

  30. Xon said,

    June 23, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    Lane, people hold inconsistent sets of beliefs all the time (understatment of the year?) I’ll bet you have two inconsistent beliefs lurking somewhere in your “web” of beliefs right now. Does this mean that you are “lying” every time you claim to believe both of them (whatever they are)?

    If you are right that FV claims logically entail a contradiction of the WS, this does not automatically render FVers liars when they say they hold to the WS (b/c “holding a belief that logically contradicts A” DOES NOT EQUAL “lying when you say you believe A”). They could simply not see the contradiction; it could be a rational/cognitive failure on their part, not a moral one. Again, this happens all the time. If someone says they believe A, but they also believe B and B entails not A, this does not mean that they are “lying” when they say they believe A.

  31. NHarper said,

    June 24, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    FV Session (to non-FV pastor): Do you hold to any different theological views from us?
    Pastor: I took a vow to uphold the Westminster Standards. I agree with the Standards and do not take any exceptions. Do you agree with the Standards?
    Session: Oh, yes.
    Pastor: Then we have no differences.

    The session lied, Xon. There was no rational/cognitive failure. And, this line has been used to cover up a whole host of errors and lies on the part of many FV folks.

    If there was a “rational/ cognitive failure”, then what in the world are these folks doing in leadership?

    As John Stossel often says, “Give me a break!”

  32. Xon said,

    June 24, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    NHarper, sorry I don’t have any idea what you are talking about.

    As to your rhetorical question: “If there was a “rational/ cognitive failure”, then what in the world are these folks doing in leadership?” we all commit occasional failures of this sort. The student who scores a 177 on his LSAT exam and can pick whatever law school he wants to go to still might make a couple of careless mistakes on a couple of questions. Read the answer choices too quickly, didn’t read carefully enough, etc. That’s a cognitive failure. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are dumb as a brick and unfit for any position of leadership.

  33. NHarper said,

    June 24, 2007 at 9:00 pm

    Xon,
    If the FV position consists of merely a few theological slip-ups or cognitive failures, there would be no PCA report, or MARS report, or OPC report, or Missisippi Valley report, or any other report. The Federal Vision is a well planned strategy of deception by a group of pathogenic liars. I know that sounds harsh, but that is the truth.

    The Federal Vision cannot stand on its own. Its proponents can only survive as parasites off of a healthy denomination. The PCA gave birth to this illegitimate theology when they allowed theonomic conservative Southern Presbyterian churches to join in starting the denomination. Now over 30 years later, we are reaping the bitter, rotten fruit of this false teaching..

    We are fooling ourselves if we think that approving a committee report is going to make the FV go away. It’s like treating cancer with a Tylenol

  34. Xon said,

    June 25, 2007 at 12:16 am

    If the FV position consists of merely a few theological slip-ups or cognitive failures, there would be no PCA report, or MARS report, or OPC report, or Missisippi Valley report, or any other report.

    Sure there would, if the authors of those reports suffered some cognitive failure(s) of their own. Happens all the time.

  35. NHarper said,

    June 25, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Xon

    Am I understanding you to say that all the reports are a result of cognitive failures or dysfunction on the part of its authors?!

    If that’s the case, please count me in with all these cognitively dysfunctional folks:
    “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness (cognitive/rational failure), but to us who are being saved (us dysfunctional folks) it is the power of God.”
    “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
    “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
    1 Cor. 1:18, 20-21 (added words mine)

    A description of false teachers – notice that Scripture does not describe their teaching as mere theological slip-ups:
    “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord.”
    “…these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority…”
    “But these men revile the things they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.”
    Jude 4,8,10

    Xon, we are not dealing with cognitive failure but rather, moral depravity.

  36. Xon said,

    June 29, 2007 at 9:25 am

    NHarper, you still seem to think that “cognitive failure” means “dumb as a brick.” It doesn’t. Like I said in #32, all people experience all sorts of cognitive failures all the time (and yes, I would put this ultimately back to total depravity…the “noetic effects of original sin,” as Alvin Plantinga once called it).

    Very smart men can make some very embarrassing mistakes. If you forget to carry the 1 and you get the relatively easy addition problem wrong, that’s a cognitive failure. If you are reading quickly and you perceive the wrong word, that’s a cognitive failure. If you try to predict what your discussion partner is going to say before he says it, and you get it wrong but you aren’t paying attention becaus you’re so busy daydreaming about what you THOUGHT he was going to say, that’s a cognitive failure.

    The fact that Scripture speaks of some people as being false teachers who are deliberately and immorally going out and spreading bad doctrine does not mean that all people who make intellectual mistakes are in the same category. This is obvious, isn’t it?

    I do not accuse the drafters of the cmte report of being deliberately immoral. I simply accuse them of writing a document that is full of mistakes. They are very intelligent men despite these mistakes; such is the world we live in.

  37. October 22, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    […] Part 1 (General observations, part 1), part 2 (General observations, part 2), part 3 (Exegetical response, part 1), part 4 (Exegetical respons, part 2), Leithart’s response to the charge of illegitimate totality transfer, My response to Leithart, part 5 (On Judgment), part 6 (Psalms and Prophets, part 1), part 7 (Psalms and Prophets, part 2), part 8 (Psalms and Prophets, part 3), part 9 (Psalms and Prophets, part 4), part 10 (Paul, part 1), part 11 (Paul, part 2, on Romans 4:25), part 12 (Paul, part 3), Romans 6:7 (from the DRC debate) […]

  38. October 22, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    […] Part 1 (General observations, part 1), part 2 (General observations, part 2), part 3 (Exegetical response, […]


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