I am going to take the next section of the Joint Statement by itself, which is different from my last treatment of the subject, wherein I took the section on Reformed Catholicity and the Covenant of Life in one section.
In my last treatment, I raised the all-important question of which works are excluded from the structure of justification. I have always thought it odd that Doug entitled this section “Reformed Catholicity,” when the statement is about justification. Presumably, he means to harp on the catholic (small c) implications of the doctrine of justification. But as I also said in my earlier treatment, the field is left a bit wide open. For instance, who is meant by “everyone that God has received into fellowship with Himself?” Everyone who says, “Lord, Lord?” Every denomination who says “Lord, Lord?” The most charitable reading of my first question is that all works are excluded. However, the statement in and of itself does not necessarily exclude all works from justification. If there were works that were not revealed to us by God, but which God made us to do by His Holy Spirit (and were thus not manufactured by man), then there is at least a theoretical category of works that could be included in justification. In the second sentence, there is a word that I believe is misplaced. His sentence reads, “Because we are justified through faith in Jesus alone…” I believe the word “alone” should not come after Jesus (although we certainly want to agree that salvation is found nowhere else but in Jesus), but after “faith.” Or, even better, repeat the word “alone” after faith and after “Jesus.” Now, again to be fair, Doug uses the term “sola fide” in connection with the term “correct formulations,” which plainly indicates that he believes there is a correct formulation of sola fide.
And, also as I wrote previously, my question is this concerning the second paragraph: is Doug saying that correct understandings of sola fide are not necessary for salvation, or is he merely saying that they are not sufficient? I would agree with the latter, but certainly not with the former. The demons understand the structure of justification by faith alone, and yet it is not sufficient. However, neither do I believe that one can be saved while believing that one gets to heaven by one’s works. One might ask about the faith of infants here, since they (probably!) cannot understand justification by faith alone. Certainly a valid question. I think that any genuine faith (or seed-faith as Calvin might say) that an infant has will necessarily grow up into an understanding of justification by faith alone. On the one hand, we don’t want to say that infants cannot be saved. On the other hand, neither do we want to say that one can be saved while having a completely opposite view of salvation to what the Bible says. Navigating between these two things is a touch difficult. Any saving faith definitely has trust as an element. That infants can have. True saving faith will also grow in understanding. So, I would say that an infant can have saving faith without understanding everything about justification. But such an infant will grow up and understand justification. An adult, on the other hand, needs to understand justification in order to be saved (though that is not all he needs to have), and must also trust Jesus.
I am curious as to what theologians the FV’ers have run across who say that a correct formulation of sola fide is an infallible indicator of true faith in Jesus. Or is there a target at all there?
In response to Doug’s last post, I will say just a few things. With regard to Wilkins, a differentiation that cannot be defined is not really a differentiation in the person’s theology, is it? Substitute the word “distinction” for differentiation, and the thought becomes clearer. “Oh yeah, there’s a distinction in the covenant between the decretally elect and the non-decretally elect, but I can’t for the life of me think of how to describe that distinction.” It would be like saying, “Oh yeah, there’s a distinction between justification and sanctification, but…uh…I haven’t the foggiest idea what it is.” Is there really a distinction in this person’s theology between justification and sanctification if he has no way to express it? The obvious distinction in the administration of the covenant would be between regenerate and non-regenerate, but Wilkins has NEVER said that, because he wants to say that non-decretally elect can still be regenerate in some way (though he would say that he is using the term in a non-WCF way, no doubt).
Secondly, regarding John 15 yet again, the questions Doug asks are simply not in the text. The text is simply not interested in how the suckers grew. There is no indication of how that happened. But the text does say that in terms of what counts (fruit) the unfruitful branches are not alive at all. These branches have the kind of faith that James condemns: “faith” without works. James says that faith without works is dead. It is not true faith at all. A fruitless branch in the sense that Jesus speaks of never bore fruit, and was thus never alive in the sense that counts in Jesus’ words. To talk about being alive in another sense is over-reading the passage, eisegeting details that don’t even exist. And, as I said, the phrase “in me” simply cannot bear the union-weight that the FV’ers put on it. He asks, “what are they cut out of?” They are cut out of the visible church. But to affirm some extra kind of non-salvific (or salvific, as some FV’ers do) union from this text way over-reads the text.