A Retraction

It gives me no pleasure at all to write this post, first of all. To come to this conclusion means thinking worse of a person’s theology, which person has at the very least commanded my respect, and has been very courteous to me throughout our debates.

But I feel that I need to retract an earlier statement I made about Douglas Wilson’s theology. I have come to the conclusion that the law/gospel distinction is essential to preserving sola fide. Here’s how this worked in my own mind. If there is no distinction in the text of Scripture between law and gospel (that is, if the difference between law and gospel is only in the application, and not in the text), then all the discussion of faith in the New Testament is both law and gospel, which we’ll call Golawspel. This means that, even in the apostle Paul’s most rigorous separation of faith and works, which occurs in his discussions of justification, Paul is not really claiming that law observance is separate from faith within the structure of justification. For the definition of faith itself must fall prey to the Golawspel muddlement. If faith, therefore, is not opposed to works in justification, then justification is no longer sola fide.

Put more positively, the definition of sola fide has always been dependent on the prior distinction between law and gospel, such that when God calls people to faith, this has nothing to do with law observance of any kind. It is pure gospel. Paul does not speak of faith-faithfulness in justification, but of faith as utterly opposed to works in justification. Who are we to turn around and call faith Golawspel?

This means that every proponent of the Joint Federal Vision Statement denies sola fide. They will, of course, claim the opposite. And they will also claim that denying the distinction of law and gospel in the text of Scripture does not mean that they deny sola fide in justification. This will have to be a difference between them and me. For if there is no difference between law and gospel in the text of Scripture, then faith is no longer what the Reformers said it was: which is opposed to works in justification.

No doubt, references will be thrown at me like Paul’s “obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5. But Paul is not talking about justification there. When he talks about justification, he utterly opposes faith to all obedience. Faith, in the Christian life, always results in obedience. But faith itself is not a work of the law. Instead, it is a receiving and resting on Christ for His righteousness.

Another possible objection thrown my way is that people will say I believe in justification by a dead faith. I believe in nothing of the sort. But faith’s aliveness means its reality, not the obedience that results from faith.

I am not particularly interested in getting into a huge debate over this. And as I said, it brings me zero pleasure to write this. But I feel that I must. I hope and pray that it will result in reformulation among the FV proponents, especially of the law/gospel distinction, but also in their tendency to connect faith to faithfulness, even in justification.