Entering the Justification Debate

There are a lot of differing views of justification on offer in the modern world. If you are Reformed, then I highly recommend reading Owen, Buchanan, and Fesko before reading anything of a heterodox nature, so that you can measure the error by the already possessed yardstick of the truth. If, having read those books, you would desire to have a helpful and clear entrance into the modern debates on the nature of justification, the easiest way in is now undoubtedly the new book edited by Beilby and Eddy. The five views represented are the classical Reformed view (Michael Horton), the progressive Reformed view (Michael Bird), the New Perspective view (James D.G. Dunn), the Finnish Lutheran interpretation (Kärkkäinen), and the Roman Catholic view (O’Collins and Rafferty). And each view is critiqued by all the other views in this format, so you get interaction. Also helpful are the two introductory essays (by the editors) that clearly lay out the interpretive issues in a mostly fair way (the exceptions being a grossly distorted view of the Protestant Scholastics in footnote 73 on pp. 68-69, as well as an overly generalized view of those who accept the objective reading of “pistis Jesou Christou” (as being those who “tend to consider participation in Christ to be secondary to justification by faith alone”) on p. 81.)  You will undoubtedly have a much better view of the playing field after reading this book.


  1. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    November 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Until I have a chance to find the book, what is the “progressive Reformed view” in a nutshell?

  2. G Browning said,

    November 28, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks for the recommendations. Any thoughts on Lane Tipton’s remarks about Westminster CA, (Horton and Fesko) misunderstanding and/or wrong emphasis on Justification over Union with Christ? They were mentioned in a topic on Union in the “Reformed Forum”. Just curious. I’m slugging my way through the topic on how to prioritize etc.

  3. November 28, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Just an observation/question, Lane: Do you not agree that there is a tendency among those who hold to the objective-genitive view of the pistis xristou, and who see justification as central to the gospel, to view strongly participatory language with suspicion?

  4. greenbaggins said,

    November 28, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Joshua, the progressive view is propounded by Michael Bird in this volume, so if you know his writings, you know the progressive view. Think of it as an attempt to go between the traditional Reformed view and the New Perspective on Paul.

    Gage, I haven’t even sorted out my own views on the WSC/WTS debate. I still keep hoping that there will be some rapprochement between the two schools, because I see helpful emphases in both schools. On the one hand, I like making union the central hub from which all other benefits come out like spokes of a wheel, categorized loosely in justification-type benefits and sanctification-type benefits. In this I tend to side with WTS. On the other hand, I like the idea of justification being the source of sanctification, and being the ground of it, more like what WSC says. And I certainly dig the law-gospel distinction as WSC has propounded it. But I don’t have it all sorted out yet, not by a long shot. This is really tough stuff.

    Jason, I think there are those who hold the objective view, see justification as central, and view participatory language with suspicion. I don’t know whether I would describe it as a trend. I think I could safely describe WTS as seeing justification as central, holding the objective genitive view, and yet not seeing participatory language as suspicious, but rather embracing it (see the Justified In Christ volume). I myself certainly hold to the objective-genitive view, see justification as central (maybe as integral to the center; I certainly agree with Calvin and Luther on their claims of its importance), and do not view participatory language with inherent suspicion.

  5. todd said,

    November 28, 2011 at 10:29 pm


    I know you addressed Lane, but I always cringe when I hear 2:16 read as a subjective genitive. Where does the NT speak of Christ’s faith like this? The subjective interpretation robs us of one of the clearest passages supporting justification by faith alone. I think Ronald Fung (NICNT Galatians commentary) sums it up best:

    All such interpretations (as subjective) founder on the fact that the clause “we too have put our faith in Jesus Christ,” found immediately upon the present phrase “through faith in Christ Jesus” puts it beyond reasonable doubt that Christou Iesou is to be construed as objective genitive, expressing the object in whom the faith is reposed (so the usual translation with “in.”)

    (as subjective) – my addition

  6. November 28, 2011 at 11:14 pm


    I didn’t intend to advocate the subjective-genitive position, but was just asking whether those who reject it, and who consider justification to be a kind of central dogma, tend to view with a measure of suspicion those who speak of salvation in highly participatory terms. My experience suggests that this is indeed the case.

  7. Jack Bradley said,

    November 28, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Speaking of “subjective” in another sense, I found Letham very helpful in discussing justification in this brief excerpt (The Westminster Assembly, p. 271):

    [speaking WCF 11.2] “… the section adds that saving faith is never alone in the one who is justified, but is always accompanied by other saving graces. It works through love. It is living faith, for without works faith is dead. . . If the faith through which we are justified is always accompanied by love, does not love justify? . . . This statement at the end of WCF 11.2 is directed against antinomianism, but it is not an acceptance of Romanism. We are not justified by faith working through love, as Rome held. We are justified only by faith, since only by Christ. The faith through which we are justified has reference exclusively to Christ. However, it happens to bear fruit at all times in love and evangelical obedience. But these latter things have to do with sanctification, the renewal brought about by the Spirit, not with our legal status before the bar of God’s justice. They are inseparable from the faith that justifies, but they are disconnected from the justification received through faith.”

    I find this very helpful, in light of recent and ongoing controversies regarding justification.

  8. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 29, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Lane (#4): Yes, yes, and very yes. There’s enough obvious history for both the union view and the JP view that we ought to be able to find a coherent “theory of everything” that ties it together.

  9. Reed Here said,

    November 29, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Jack: two concerns with your comment:

    1. Ambiguity. It is great that you find it helpful, but in what way? Does it provide some sort of relief for an error to which you held? Does it correct some error you see here at GB?

    2. Relevance. Since your comment is ambiguous, it is all but impossible to determine how it relates to the subject of Lane’s post. In that regard, it not is not very helpful for entering into further conversation with you.

    If you think you have a particular point in this quote that is relevant to what Lane is talking about in this post, including as it relates to the broader context of the larger conversation here at GB, then by all means make your particular point (or points).


  10. todd said,

    November 29, 2011 at 8:20 am


    I know you were not advocating the position. I wouldn’t say I view those who hold to the subjective with suspicion, just that it is wrong.

  11. Jack Bradley said,

    November 29, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Reed, please let me get back to you this evening when I’m back to my laptop.

  12. Stephen said,

    November 29, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Todd (#5),

    First off, when did a passage being “clear” support for a cherished doctrine become a deciding exegetical consideration? This reverses what I assume you consider to be the proper relationship between Scripture and our articulations about it.

    You realize that the passage you bring up (Gal 2.16) is a prime example cited by proponents of the subjective genitive for the exact reason you mention? Taken as an objective genitive, so the argument goes, Paul is being triple-redundant: “…through faith in Jesus Christ. We also have believed into Christ Jesus, so that we may be righteoused by faith in Christ…” I’m not claiming this is some definitive argument (alongside a similar “redundancy” in Rom 3.22) as did early advocates of the subjective-genitive. Just pointing out that simply referencing this passage doesn’t get anyone anywhere in the discussion.

    Also, I would think that, from your point of view, Rom 10.10 would be one of the clearest passage. Quite straightforward: “For with the heart one believes unto/with-the-result-of righteousness…”

    Earlier proponents of the subjective genitive did everyone a disservice by representing matters as though, with the subjective genitive, the Christ follower’s faith and its instrumentality (if you will) disappears from Paul. This is by no means the case.

    Finally, FWIW, as S.M. Baught pointed out in the Westminster California book Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, for Confessional Reformed folks who read the Bible in connection with that framework, adopting the subjective genitive adds at least seven passages that discuss Christ’s active obedience.

  13. G Browning said,

    November 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks Lane, very helpful to read your thoughts. It is indeed tough stuff especially since it seems to me in listening to Tipton that his view of “the reformed tradition” goes against what Luther and Calvin thought on the importance of the doctrine of justification, (being the hinge on which Christendom swings” etc. I heard Tipton say that Union is the doorframe when confronted with the reformer’s analogy. But he introduced categories that were new to me and surprised me like “definitive sanctification” which he admitted that Fesko said “that category didn’t exist.”. So it seems that he intimated that WTS (namely Tipton) holds the confessional view and WSC misses the mark in this area. So confusing, but I can’t help but get back to your comment that justification is the source of sanctification. I wonder how much emphasis is placed on union or sanctification happens as a result of the particular fight one is fighting. I emphasize sola fide to the Romanist not union etc… I’m gonna read the books you suggested and continue to slog.

  14. Stephen said,

    November 29, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    G. Browning,

    You may know this, but “definitive Sanctification” is not a category Tipton invented. I assume he got it from John Murry — and I wouldn’t be shocked if the many people here with more Reformed Historical Theology knowledge than myself could point to earlier uses of that terminology, if not the idea. It’s not opposed to progressive sanctification either, btw.

    As for justification being the “source” of our sanctification, where does one get the from?

    This brings me back to something that makes me and perhaps others here as well) laugh: me engaging in Reformed systematic theology discussions since that’s really not my world anymore. Union w/ Christ (or participation in Christ; however you wand to term it) remains “central” for me mainly because it is for Paul, for example. That doesn’t mean we relegate other Pauline concerns like righteousness, adoption, “sanctification,” etc., to the sidelines — just that for Paul the more fundamental reality is the Christ-person’s union with Christ. To point to one of many from within the Reformed tradition who get this (alongside the numerous broader Pauline scholars out there who were already saying this), think of how Gaffin puts it in Resurrection and Redemption. We are justified because we are united to Christ, the justified One.

  15. Sean Gerety said,

    November 29, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I would also recommend The Everlasting Righteousness, by Horatius Bonar: and Justification by Faith Alone, by Charles Hodge which were both included in the Trinity Foundation’s volume; Not What My Hands Have Done. But you’re right, you must understand and know the genuine article before you can rightly discern the counterfeits.

  16. Sean Gerety said,

    November 29, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    I think Gaffin goes off the ranch when he makes union an existential category and not exclusively an intellectual and legal one. Something that might explain why Gaffin spent most of his career on the wrong side of the FV debate (see O Palmer Robertson’s history of the Shepherd mess at WTS for example).

  17. Sean Gerety said,

    November 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    See also The Changing of the Guard by Mark Karlberg.

  18. todd said,

    November 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm


    I never said the clear support for sola fide is a deciding factor for its interpretation, but that interpreting faith there as Christ’s faithfulness is erroneous, and as Christ’s own faith as confusing and unusual, and taken in it’s normal usage in Galatians it is a clear proof-text for sola fide. That’s all. BTW, does Steve write where he comes down on the debate?

  19. Jack Bradley said,

    November 29, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Reed, I recognize that my post was little more than a loose word association. I’ll try to be better focused in future. Still, hope it was helpful for someone :)

  20. G Browning said,

    November 30, 2011 at 2:23 am

    I appreciate your remarks. I knew Tipton didn’t invent “definitive sanctification”, and I knew of the category, I probably wasn’t clear. I was trying to explain the obvious gap, where Tipton mentioned in the Reformed Forum that Fesko denied it as a category. I know it is different then progressive sanctification as well, just trying to mention the gap between resident scholars at two sister institutions. It is probably because of my interaction with current WSC scholars and other “Law/Gospel” hermeneutical proponents, and my limited interaction with those outside that camp that caused my questions. Which is why I appreciated Lane’s post, and I’m going to interact with Lane’s list above. I guess I was just surprised at the level of emphasis in general, and the general idea that those who deny the idea of “definitive sanctification” or question it may be missing the mark in regards to the confession. I never thought of it as accepted “Reformed Dogma” as Tipton seems to indicate. (My impression of the discussion on the Forum). If I’m missing Tipton’s meaning I am open for correction on his views. And where did I get “justification being the source of sanctification”? Lane- #3…

  21. dgh said,

    November 30, 2011 at 5:27 am

    Stephen, how could you possibly say that union is central to Paul when Paul doesn’t mention union when saying what is central to him (1 Cor. 15: 1-2ff). Saying union is central is like saying the application of redemption is central. But faith and regeneration were not the material principles of the Reformation.

  22. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 30, 2011 at 6:18 am

    DGH, because he’s using a different than you are to measure with.

    You hold justification to be of central importance, no?

    Others see union as central because every blessing we have in Christ flows from being united with Him (as Fesko, Clark, and Horton have noted, and as WLC 69 teaches).

    Both statements are true.

  23. TurretinFan said,

    November 30, 2011 at 7:46 am

    It’s remarkable that someone can point to 1 Corinthians 15:1-2ff and miss the formulation:

    1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

    One of the reasons that the Federal Vision error is so significant is that it has a wrong conception of union with Christ, alleging that there are those in Christ that will not be made alive.


  24. Cris D. said,

    November 30, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Is there a possible problem with the “justification as source of sanctification” concept? Doesn’t that reintroduce a transformational concept into justification? That’s why Union and Effectual Calling are the center from which all the benefits flow? Because there are no benefits without the Benefactor, Christ.

    Reflecting on God’s free justification in Christ may indeed produce a desire for increased sanctification (fruit of faith) in one’s life. But sanctification does not actually come from justification as it’s source. Sanctification is not a second tier benefit, with justification being a first tier benefit. Both benefits are dependent upon Christ. The Benefactor is source of all benefits. Christ is the giver of gifts, and he and his Father both give Christ himself, and in him all the other gifts of salvation.

  25. Cris D. said,

    November 30, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Consider John Calvin. (From the McNeill-Battles edition)

    Calvin’s Institutes, Book Three, The Title is:
    The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ:
    What Benefits Come to Us from It, and What Effects Follow


    Section 1 title is : The Holy Spirit as the bond that unites us to Christ

    Thus we come to the opening two lines of Institutes, III.1.1:

    We must now examine this question. How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son—not for Christ’s own private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.

  26. Stephen said,

    November 30, 2011 at 10:25 am

    G. Browning (20),

    Thanks for your kind reply and clarification of your comment that I misunderstood. Not that you accuse me of this, but I did not mean to come across condescendingly. Nevertheless, I apologize.

    What you say here makes sense, though I confess a greater ignorance than most here (I assume) about the WTS – WSC controversy. While I have read, for example, Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry and thus know WSC’s very Klinian and the like understandings of the Law/Gospel hermeneutic, my knowledge of this controversy remains limited to what I’ve heard second-hand as well as what I can glean from juxtaposing my own WTS training with what I know of WSC.

    I haven’t heard Tipton’s Reformed Forum lecture(s) on the topic in question, but can imagine (based upon his lectures at WTS) how his overt fronting of Union w/Christ would be striking. See my next comment…

  27. Stephen said,

    November 30, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Related to my above comment, I have a question for G. Browning, Jeff Cagle, Lane Keister, dgh, and others here:

    At WTS Gaffin (see especially his inaugural Krahe chair lecture) and Tipton energetically taught that the Westminster Standards recognized and even oriented themselves around the centrality of Union w/Christ. They often pointed to the WLC question Jeff Cagle mentions below (see also WCF, WLC, and WSC…nevermind, I cannot find my marked-up copy of the Standards).

    But are the Westminster Standards really a Union w/Christ document? As much as I agree with Jeff Cagle’s comment theologically and with fronting Union w/Christ, I don’t really see the Standards as having that orientation – with WLC 69, for example, giving us a glimpse of some largely unarticulated underlying conscious structure. Put another way, it always seemed to me like Gaffin and his followers were theologically innovative within the Westminster Standards “tradition” but wanted to downplay their innovativeness. They seemed to be further highlighting, emphasizing, and centralizing something that in the Standards, for example, is more marginalized. To be clear, theological innovation like this isn’t a “bad” or delegitimizing thing to me.


  28. Stephen said,

    November 30, 2011 at 10:31 am

    DGH (21),

    Wow, stepping out of character and going to the Bible? ; )

    I assume with 1 Cor 15.1-4 in this context you mean for us to note how Paul mentions “…Christ died for our sins…” but doesn’t include Union w/Christ in a passage where he actually tells us what his gospel is, and even what’s of first importance? Not only do I disagree with reading references to Christ’s death in connection with sins exhaustively or primarily through the rubric of traditional juridical categories, but also note the passage highlights together Christ’s death according to the Scriptures and resurrection according to the Scriptures. It says nothing about Justification, faith-alone, etc. (not that the passage doesn’t relate to those theological issues). Are you claiming that justification and faith-alone are the primary or even exhaustive significance of Christ’s death and resurrection according to the Scriptures for Paul in 1 Cor 15.1-4 (elsewhere too?)?

    We can also have “proof texting” fun with other passages like Rom 1.1-5 where Paul tells us why he was called to be an apostle and what he was set apart for: “…the gospel of God, which he promised through his prophets in the holy books, concerning his son, the one descended from the seed of David according to the flesh, the one designated/appointed son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness from/by the resurrection from death, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship for the purpose of the obedience of faith/faithfulness among all the nations for the sake of his name…” This translation of the passage takes the majority view that peri tou hiou autou of 1.3 modifies euaggelion theou of 1.1 (e.g., the gospel concerning his son) as opposed to peri tou hiou autou modifying graphais hagiais of 1.2 (e.g., “…in the holy books about his son…”); though I don’t really care which it is for this discussion. So here’s a passage about the basics of Paul’s apostleship. He’s set apart for the gospel of God, which is about the stages or phases in Christ’s existence, especially the eschatological transition or transformation he undergoes at his resurrection, according to the Scriptures. The basics also include his/its purpose: bringing about the obedience of faith among Judeans and Gentiles.

    Let’s see, by your implicit logic Paul’s apostleship and Gospel don’t even have to do with Christ’s death for sins here – and Justification is certainly nowhere to be found. My point here obviously isn’t that “justification” and Christ’s death for sins aren’t important in Paul’s gospel or broader thought, or even that this passage doesn’t relate to those issues. Just that your pseudo proof-texting logic doesn’t get us anywhere, DGH : ).

    BTW, what’s wrong with saying that the basics of Paul’s thought revolve around how people relate to Christ and thus have access to all the soteriological-eschatological blessings of God? That may not be “the material principle of the Reformation.” But how does that determine for us what the basic logic of Paul’s thought must be?

    Lastly, to spell this out in our lovely Reformed jargon, Union w/Christ isn’t just an ordo salutis application of redemption category. It’s how historia salutis and ordo salutis cohere organically for Paul. Union w/Christ is significant because, for Paul, another way to specify what Christ devotees “get” in the Gospel is Christ, his history, his benefits, his status, his pneumatic and exalted existence, etc. Christ undergoes and pioneers the experience (e.g., death, resurrection, etc.) and transformation that Christians share in by union with him. This is why Paul so stresses the dynamics of the gospel in terms of Christological transformation by the spirit for Christians (e.g., Rom 6-8, especially 8.29; 2 Cor 3-5, especially 3.17-18; in passing in Gal 4.19; Phil 2-3, especially 2.5, 3.10-11, 3.20-21; the basis of the pervasive “imitation” notions in Paul, etc.).

  29. dgh said,

    November 30, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Stephen, that’s good but why is it that Paul wrote Roman to explain not union but justification? Even Calvin — the go to guy for duplex gratia — knew that.

    BTW, it strikes me that the historia and ordo cohere far more convincingly in federal theology than in the single and still to be explicated doctrine of union. Though I do find it interesting that the historia crowd is now on a quest to lock down union in the ordo. I’m not sure that’s what Vos had in mind.

  30. Stephen said,

    November 30, 2011 at 11:18 am


    So you’ve now moved from 1 Corinthians to Romans? You can just claim Romans is written to explain justification and that simplistic wave of the wand settles things? Any interest in demonstrating your claim that “Paul wrote Romans to explain…justification” in the primary and exhaustive sense you imply here?

    What do you mean by “still to be explicated doctrine of union”? What has yet to be explicated?

    Stepping more into the world of Reformed Systematics (which, again, isn’t my main world), I’m pretty certain that most WTS Union people don’t consider their theology opposed to Federal theology…if I may understate matters.

  31. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 30, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Stephen, I would say that Calvin considers union to be a self-explanatory concept, which is why he leads off with it without explaining it in Inst. 3.

    The only place that he feels it necessary to explain the nature of union is when distinguishing proper union from the false view of essential righteousness (Inst 3.11.11ff).

    But in terms of air-time, it is clear that justification is uppermost on his mind.

    For that reason, I would agree with Muller that “union with Christ” is not the center of Calvin’s thought, nor is it the center of the Confessional teaching. And I would further agree with Muller that “We can speculate that, when the union with Christ theme has run its course, there
    will be another false center identified for Calvin’s thought that can then be juxtaposed with the purported centers or omissions of later Reformed theology.” (R. Muller, Was Calvin a Calvinist?).

    Rather, union is assumed as the architectural center of our salvation: All benefits of Christ flow from being united with Christ. This is evidenced in Inst 3.1, WLC 69, and the meaning of the sacraments, which in all Reformed confessions are said to symbolize our union with Christ.

    I’m qualifying in this way so as to make clear that the question of “center” begs the question of “metric” — how we measure determines what we see as the center.

  32. TurretinFan said,

    November 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm


    You asked: “are the Westminster Standards really a Union w/Christ document?”

    If I understand your question, the answer seems to be an emphatic “yes.” I actually posted this some time ago in response to a series of odd questions from DGH:



  33. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    November 30, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    “…how could you possibly say that union is central to Paul when Paul doesn’t mention union when saying what is central to him (1 Cor. 15: 1-2ff). Saying union is central is like saying the application of redemption is central. But faith and regeneration were not the material principles of the Reformation.”

    1. If 1 Cor. 15 is the standard for what is central, then IAOC is not central to Paul, so that’s really not a good move for the TR position.

    2. Even if the point of Romans is to explain justification, this is wrapped up in union, e.g.:

    -6:5-11: the benefits of Christ’s death come through union (and justification is one of those benefits, cf. v. 9-10).
    -8:1: no condemnation (i.e., justification) for those “in Christ.”

    3. WLC #69 states that “justification…manifests…union,” thus making union logically prior to justification.

    4. Justification is also part of the application of redemption, so putting justification as central is just as problematic by that standard.

  34. David R. said,

    November 30, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Stephen (#30),

    So you’ve now moved from 1 Corinthians to Romans? You can just claim Romans is written to explain justification and that simplistic wave of the wand settles things? Any interest in demonstrating your claim that “Paul wrote Romans to explain…justification” in the primary and exhaustive sense you imply here?

    For whatever it’s worth, here’s Calvin’s view. This is from the beginning of his Romans commentary, where he summarizes the argument of the epistle:

    The whole Epistle is so methodical, that even its very beginning is framed according to the rules of art. As contrivance appears in many parts, which shall be noticed as we proceed, so also especially in the way in which the main argument is deduced: for having begun with the proof of his Apostleship, he then comes to the Gospel with the view of recommending it; and as this necessarily draws with it the subject of faith, he glides into that, being led by the chain of words as by the hand: and thus he enters on the main subject of the whole Epistle justification by faith; in treating which he is engaged to the end of the fifth chapter.

  35. dgh said,

    November 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Josh, any sense that Paul is using union in a decretal, federal, or mystical sense? Any sense that anyone talking about union today ever specifies which of these senses he is using?

    David, thanks for supplying Calvin’s comments from his intro.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: