Norman Shepherd’s First Article, part 4

The subject of this post is again the relationship of faith and works. It is important here to get the relevant Calvin quotes out in the open. First up is 3.11.1:

The theme of justification was therefore more lightly touched upon because it was more to the point to understand first how little devoid of good works is the faith, through which alone we obtain free righteousness by the mercy of God.

Shepherd’s evaluation of this is quite telling: “But Godfrey is careful not to say, as Calvin does, that faith working through love justifies, or that the faith itself through which we obtain free righteousness is not devoid of good works” (p. 60). Of course, Godfrey was commenting on the Institutes 3.11.20, which Shepherd seems not to have noticed in his critique. Here is the relevant Calvin passage (3.11.20):

Also, they pointlessly strive after the foolish subtlety that we are justified by faith alone, which acts through love, so that righteousness depends upon love. Indeed, we confess with Paul that no other faith justifies “but faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). But it does not take its power to justify from that working of love. Indeed, it justifies in no other way but in that it leads us into fellowship with the righteousness of Christ. (emphasis added)

Anyone with half a brain tied behind his back can see that Shepherd has completely misunderstood Calvin, and that Godfrey has understood him. Calvin’s point is that faith alone justifies, though that faith is never alone. Shepherd makes the subtlely different but telling claim that “faith working through love justifies.”

One need only compare Session VI, Canon 11 of the Council of Trent with Shepherd’s formulation to know where Shepherd’s theology lies:

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

I ask this question: what problem would Shepherd have with this formulation? Imputation to the exclusion of charity (love) in justification is what is rejected by this canon, and it is precisely what is rejected by Shepherd, as well.


  1. greenbaggins said,

    April 7, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Rey, I tire of your misunderstanding the Reformed faith constantly. If you want to understand what I’m saying, then go read the Puritans. More righteous people you will never meet, nor will you meet people less inclined to give works a place in justification. This anomaly cannot be accounted for by Roman Catholics, Arminians, Socinians, or anyone else who wants to include faithfulness in the definition of justifying faith.

  2. April 7, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Thanks, Lane, for keeping up the good critique.

    Calvin makes the same point, again, in his commentary on Galatians 5.

  3. Tom Wenger said,

    April 7, 2008 at 11:08 am


    Can you cite one single example of how adherence to the CONFESSIONAL Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone has led to actual excuses for sin?

    It’s really hard to take you seriously when you make statements that exhibit such an ignorance of what Reformed theology actually teaches and when you do so from within your pretended unassailable highground.

    So will you actually give us something we can discuss? Some actual evidence? Or will you continue to waste your time with comments that no one takes seriously?

  4. Matt Beatty said,

    April 7, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    “Anyone with half a brain tied behind his back can see that Shepherd has completely misunderstood Calvin, and that Godfrey has understood him.”

    Honestly, Lane. As a shepherd of the sheep – an example to others – do you find this kind of puerile language helpful?

  5. Dean Bekkering said,

    April 7, 2008 at 1:37 pm


    The Holy Spirit thought of your objection already and answers it the best.

    Rom 5:20-6:2 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? NKJV

  6. its.reed said,

    April 7, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Ref. 6:

    Matt, c’mon, puerile? Childish, juvenile, immature?

    Which is worse, Lane focusing his challenge to Shepherd with a common hyperbolic phrase, our your use of a word that many layman would have to look up first? :)

    How about a substantive critique of Lane’s point?

  7. Anne said,

    April 7, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    I’d be most interested to read someone’s attempt to see daylight between Shepherd’s view of justification and the Council of Trent citation.

    What would be Shepherd’s problem with it?

    It’s a fair question.

  8. Dean Bekkering said,

    April 7, 2008 at 3:54 pm


    I am not an expert on Shepherd or on Trent, but I think Shepherd would quibble with the phrase “and is inherent in them”.

    But now that I think about it more the RCC would want that phrase understood in light of chapter six. “Now they (adults) are disposed unto the said justice, when, excited and assisted by divine grace, conceiving faith by hearing, they are freely moved towards God, believing those things to be true which God has revealed and promised,-and this especially, that God justifies the impious by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

    I think it is a very fair question.

  9. Joe Brancaleone said,

    April 7, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    rey… of course the hypothetical rejoinder “Shall we continue in sin?” has already been asked and answered.. in Romans 6.

    Yes salvation is freely given through faith alone for impenitent rebel scum. What else does it mean for God to “justify the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5) but that the accused who stands trial ends up receiving a verdict exactly opposite of what was deserved.

    That’s right, God demands no changes whatsoever as a condition for the Not Guilty verdict. Because the Not Guilty verdict is based on the careful argument made by rebel scum’s advocate. Nothing less than perfect righteousness satisfies perfect justice.

    And Paul commands us to loudly proclaim the doctrine of justification by faith alone as the only satisfactory motivation for doing good works. No fear of punishment, and no attempt to add our efforts or acts of repentance to further safeguard our justification, will inspire the kind of good works that God is concerned about. The only kind of good works that God cares about are those that flow simply from the knowledge of our justification by grace through faith.

    “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” Titus 3:4-8

  10. Matt Beatty said,

    April 7, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Reed (?),

    (If Reed ISN’T your name for some reason, I apologize in advance)

    There’s a great deal on this blog – most of it, frankly – that would escape most laymen and that doesn’t seem to have been (or continue to be…) an impediment to many of the regulars. Some laymen, of course, wish to keep up on all things theological (usually, in my experience, at the expense of their families, jobs, communities… but I digress…) and I wouldn’t begrudge them a place here. But I must say that I took this blog to be a place where ministers of the Gospel, educated and ordained elders, and intelligent and well-read laymen discuss theological issues and, thus, they (not the loving, but theologically illiterate brother) are the primary audience. Or did I miss something.

    Is a word like “puerile” so out-of-bounds for this audience? I don’t think so, but if it is, I apologize. To be honest, I thought of adolescent, juvenile, junior high-ish, and silly, but those all seemed to inflammatory. I went with “puerile” because I judged it – and I’m being perfectly honest here – to be a tad more refined and capable of getting at the right nuance without all of the perceived snarkiness of the other words. The point is, I wasn’t attempting to be snarky – I was attempting to be precise. Lane’s way of dealing with folks (Just recently… “Don’t tell me how to run my blog…” and this last mixed-up reference to half a brain and having one’s hands tied behind one’s back) is unfitting for a pastor who should reprove (yes, I believe reproof is in order) GENTLY. I’m thinking of something along the lines of this:

    If Lane believes himself to be completely above-board on these matters, then I leave you to yourselves. Chide and lampoon away.

    I wonder how many (Lane?) have actually met Mr. Shepherd? He’s one of the kindest, saintliest older Christian men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with. I can’t imagine words like Lane’s EVER proceeding from his lips, even to his harsher critics. I wonder if Lane would speak in the way he wrote were Shepherd sitting next to him, looking him in the eye? What do you think, Reed?

    By the way, Lane, I’d still like to hear from you since it was your comment. Then, I’ll promise to leave you alone.


  11. its.reed said,

    April 7, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Ref. 13:

    Matt: mine, I thought was a gentle chiding. Your’s, at least from the length and tone of your response here, is rather more. Are you incensed, or in some manner angered here?

    You clearly have taken offense at what Lane has said. So be it. I merely was suggesting a substantive response is more in keeping with correcting a brother.

    As it is, I feel tongue lashed. I leave it to Lane to respond to your admonishment.

  12. Tom Wenger said,

    April 7, 2008 at 8:19 pm


    There is a time for gentle reproof and then there is a time for harsh criticism. Norman Shepherd’s time for gentle reproof ran out back in the 80’s when he insisted on teaching a synergistic doctrine after being constantly engaged, entreated and warned to change his view. Such warnings and engagements have only continued and his views have only become more aberrant. The damage he has done to the Reformed community with his Galatian-esque synergism is almost incalculable. He has brazenly chosen not only to continue in these heretical views, but has added to that, gross misconstruals of his opponents’ views and of the Reformed tradition itself in order to support his revisionism.

    Considering how much damage Shepherd has done to the Gospel, Lane’s comment that it is easy to see how poor his arguments are is gentle compared to the reproof that he actually deserves.

    And please don’t bring out the threadbare arguments that Shepherd is a nice guy. Who cares?! That has NEVER been the issue. The issue is, regardless of how nice he is, he teaches a false Gospel. And for that he deserves more of a rebuke than he has received thus far.

  13. Matt Beatty said,

    April 7, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Reed – Tongue lashing? I hope not. You have my sincere apologies if it came off that way; it wasn’t intended. Am I frustrated with Lane’s tone? Yes. Too much so? Evidently. Again, I apologize.

    Tom – You and I will obviously have to disagree on Shepherd’s influence. I wouldn’t go as far as Shepherd does on some items, but I wouldn’t begin to call him a heretic. Would his “synergistic teaching” which you say dates to the 80’s be the same synergistic teaching that got P&R to publish his book and Gaffin to endorse him? I know that Gaffin is on-record now in the OPC report denouncing Norm’s current views, but what about the so-called synergism of the 80’s?

    Only with the TR’s is the argument that someone is kind (which Scripture commands) and saintly (ditto) a “threadbare argument.” Of course, my argument for his position – which I did not intend to mount in the comment space here – wasn’t the point. The point was to contrast one Christian gentleman’s behavior with another’s. That was the point of the link to Newton, as well. Of course, someone’s kindness isn’t replacement for orthodoxy. But you (and many others) appear to forget that one way the world knows we are His is how we disagree and love one another in spite of the disagreements, however strong they may be.

  14. Tom Wenger said,

    April 7, 2008 at 10:17 pm


    Anyone teaching that we are justified by two instruments, faith and works, is most certainly considered heretical by historic reformed theology. Yes, I think that synergism is present in Call of Grace, and I don’t criticize P&R for publishing it. And so, I would stand by my comment that defending his niceness was irrelevant, because when someone is being accused of teaching a false Gospel, their niceness isn’t the point. Lane attacked his false views and did so after Shepherd has received ample warnings. Whether or not you think Shepherd is a heretic, you would have to at least agree with my point that there is a time when gentleness must cease and stern rebuke is a must.

    You disagree that it was appropriate here because you think Shepherd is orthodox. But that is really where the conversation needs to center. If he is a man above doctrinal reproach then of course Lane’s and my comments are wrong. But if he is found to be in error (as the overwhelming evidence proves) then what Lane said is indeed mild.

  15. Tom Wenger said,

    April 7, 2008 at 11:56 pm


    Come up with any evidence yet?

    You know that the longer you dodge the question, the more it casts doubt on your ability to back up your outlandish claims.

  16. its.reed said,

    April 8, 2008 at 5:53 am

    Ref. 16:

    Matt; thanks for your response. No offense taken.

  17. Matt Beatty said,

    April 8, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Tom – thanks for the response. I’m not sure additional “talking” would be fruitful for either of us, so I’ll bow out.

  18. greenbaggins said,

    April 8, 2008 at 10:55 am

    My comment was a rhetorical flourish designed to posit that the conclusion was obvious. In so saying, I had no intention of saying that Shepherd himself was stupid. Furthermore, many godly and wonderful scholars have completely misunderstood something at some point in their lives. So, it is no slap in Shepherd’s face at all. Of course, I consider Shepherd to be teaching another gospel. I am therefore not saying that Shepherd is a godly and wonderful scholar. I am saying that if it is true even for what I would regard as the best scholars, all the more is it true for lesser scholars like Shepherd.

  19. Dean Bekkering said,

    April 8, 2008 at 10:56 am


    How does your view that the “form of doctrine” in 6:17 is baptism harmonize with Rom 2:25ff?

  20. pduggie said,

    April 8, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Yes, Shepherd is quite telling.

    Because its all about Godfrey’s reticence about the terms Calvin is happy with.

    Why won’t Godfrey just reiterate calvin and move on. Faith is not devoid of works. But if faith ONLY produces love, it is itself devoid of love, no? So either Calvin didn’t really mean what he says, and Godfrey recognizes that, or Godfrey is skittish about what Calvin says.

    Its a polemical point and it makes perfect sense to me.

    And Shepherd DOES stress what you italicize on p 62 “this second sentence is most important and needs to be stressed” he says. And he agrees with Turretin about it.

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