Tuesday, April 06, 2010

By Faith, Not By Sight by Richard B. Gaffin Jr.

By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation,
 by Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Paternoster, 2006, 114pp.

When Adrian Sargent dropped me an e-mail and kindly asked if I would like to avail myself of his spare copy of this book, I didn't keep him waiting too long before saying, "Yes please". Richard Gaffin is one of my favourite Reformed systematic theologians. This is especially the case because he is a fine Bible exegete and his theological work is enriched by careful attention to the biblical text. The theologian is particularly insightful in his handling of the writings of the apostle Paul. Gaffin is no "machine Dogmatician" who is simply  content to churn out unreconstructed dollops of Reformed theology. Indeed he is willing to challenge and reform Reformed theology in the light of what he has discovered in God's Word.

This current work is concerned with Paul's ordo salutis, or the apostle's teaching on the order of salvation. Consideration of the ordo salutis is one of the staples of Reformed systematic theology. But what that usually means is discussion of the logical ordering of the different aspects of salvation. Salvation is like a "golden chain" with one link in the redemptive process leading inevitably to another. Thus it is held that regeneration logically precedes faith and it is on believing in Christ that the sinner lays hold in justifying grace and so on. This is all well and good, but the impression can be left that salvation is received in well ordered, yet discrete bits and pieces.

While Paul sketches out something like a traditional ordo salutis in Romans 8:30, the ordo in this sense is not the organising principle of his theology of salvation. The apostle is far more interested in the  historia salutis, that is in salvation accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ. On the basis of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 and other related texts, Gaffin agues that the central feature of Paul's theology is that Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead. Salvation is received not in discrete bits and pieces, but whole and entire on the believer's union with Christ crucified and risen. This is the organising principle of Paul's concept of salvation,

"The central soteriological reality is union with the exalted Christ by Spirit-created faith. That is the nub, the essence of the way or order of salvation for Paul. The center of Paul's soteriology, at the center of his theology as a whole, then, is neither justification by faith nor sanctification, neither the imputation of Christ's righteousness nor the renewing work of the Spirit."  (P. 43).

The standard  ordo salutis approach as found in Reformed systematics can sometimes fail to give union with Christ central place in the application of salvation. While the importance of the union is not denied, it is often discussed simply as one feature of the salvation process alongside effectual calling, justification and sanctification. See Robert Reymond's treatment of the application of redemption, p. 703-801, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 1998 Thomas Nelson.  A glance at the contents page, noting the place of union with Christ in his discussion bears out my point. However, for Paul union with Christ is not simply an aspect of salvation, it is the determining factor.

Also it is perhaps the case that not enough attention is given to the eschatological structure of Paul's soteriology in traditional Reformed theology. Gaffin  offers a welcome corrective on this point, devoting chapters 3 and 4 of the book to a consideration of The Order of Salvation and Eschatology. Attention is given to being raised with Christ as the transformative factor in the Christian life. Drawing upon Paul's teaching in 2 Corinthians 4:16, Gaffin makes a distinction between the believer's present resurrection in the "inner man" and the future bodily resurrection of the "outer man" at the parousia. For now we "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). In the present we have been raised with Christ "by faith". Our being rasied with him will be made visible, "by sight" at the resurrection when the body will be raised incorruptible at the return of the Lord Jesus. Being raised with Christ is the great dynamic indicative that enables the Christian to enact the imperatives of the gospel. This is of the essence of the New Testament's teaching on the life of holiness. It is not about legalistically following a set of rules, but living obediently as whose who are dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:12-13).

Gaffin also discusses eschatology and justification. Over and against N. T. Wright and other advocates of the "New Perspective on Paul", the theologian does not think that justification is primarily concerned with the issue of who is a member of the church. He insists that justification is a forensic declaration that the believer is righteous in Christ. Justification thus defined makes the gospel good news for guilty sinners. Paul emphasises that the Christian was justified on believing in Christ.  Justification is therefore an event in the believer's past. We have been justified by faith (Romans 5:1). But the apostle also teaches that there will be a future justification for believers (Romans 2:13, Galatians 5:5). Future justification will be "according to works", but this does not compromise "justification by faith alone". The believer's past justification will not be imperilled by the future justification. N. T. Wright argues that future justification will be on the basis of a lifetime of faithfulness of God (see p. 98). But works will not be the basis of the believer's future justification. Paul does not teach a future justification "by works", but "according to works". The distinction is an important one. The Christian is both transformed and justified on his or her union with Christ. Those who are truly justified by faith alone have also died to sin and been raised to a new life of holiness in Christ. Works are therefore the evidence that a person has been justified on being united to Christ by faith. The faith that alone justified does not remain alone. Faith works by love (Galatians 5:6). Where love and good works are absent, there is no evidence that a person has been savingly united to Christ and justified by faith. The prospect of future justification "according to works" is thus an incentive to for believers to demonstrate the reality of their faith by their works. And so the apparent concflict between Paul and James  (Romans 4:5/James 2:24) is resolved.

Drawing once more on 2 Corinthians 5:7, Gaffin observes that in the present the believer has been justified by faith, but in the future our justification will be visible for all to see. As Christ's resurrection from the dead was his justification (1 Timothy 3:16), so our future justification will involve the resurrection of the body (Romans 4:25). Having been justified by faith in the "inner man" we shall be openly justified in resurrection glory.

I welcome Richard Gaffin's brief, yet immensely rewarding and insightful study of Pauline soteriology. His work provides something of a corrective to the standard works of Reformed theology. The theologian also makes some salient points on the New Perspective on Paul. Gaffin is surely right to identify union with Christ as the key to understanding Paul's order of salvation. Christ in us and Christ for us is the essence of the gospel. Thanks, Adrian for the free copy!


Richard said...

what happened to the Murrison interview? I picked it up on google reader but it's missing.

He's obviously not my MP before but has been before. I have not and would not ever vote for him but he is, I think, a pretty decent constituency MP.


Guy Davies said...


I was editing the Q&A and hit the "Publish" button rather than the "Save" button by mistake and so had to hastily remove it. I wanted to make sure that AM was happy with the questionnaire before it was posted. Whatever you may make of his political affiliations, he is a fine constituency MP and is often receptive to a Christian standpoint on ethical and social issues.

Guy Davies said...

The Murrison interview has now been properly posted.

K Hartley said...

Does anyone know where I can find a copy thats not $103? I found it on Amazon, but its crazy expensive.

Guy Davies said...

£28.61 from Copy n' paste this: