Friday, 3 July 2009

Justification Questions

I'm still trying to work through what constitutes a sound biblical and Reformed theology of justification. I got questions.
  1. Is justification an effective word from God? Mark Seifrid in Christ Our Righteousness and, I'm reliably informed, Mike Horton in Covenant and Salvation affirm that while justification is a forensic declaration of 'righteous', this declaration becomes effective in producing what it declares. Just as when God said, 'let there be light' and there was light, when he declares someone 'righteous', then that person actually begins to conform to that imputed righteousness; progressive sanctification carries the person towards experiential conformity to that forensic declaration. This view seems to make sense of many Scriptures. For instance, Paul says, "Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." (1 Cor. 5:7) Become what you ARE as a result of Christ's work. Darryl Hart makes the point that if Adam's guilt issues in our corruption, then surely the justification offered in Christ issues in our sanctification (see here and here).
  2. On the other hand, is justification purely forensic, nothing more? Dick Gaffin would answer in the affirmative. He recently criticized Horton's formulation of justification, implying that the idea of an effective word inevitably blurs the essential boundary between justification and sanctification. Gaffin advocates what some call the 'duplex gratia'. He believes that when one is incorporated into Christ, one recieves the double grace of justification and Definitive Sanctification (DS). Neither has a logical priority. Justification is purely forensic and DS is concerned with our being ushered into the life of the Spirit. In a recent interview at the Reformed Forum, Mark Garcia insisted that Gaffin's doctrine of the duplex gratia, in keeping justification as purely forensic best preserves it from error.
Hmm. Weighty issues. I'd be interested to hear any thoughts.


Stephen said...

I also have trouble with the Horton/WHI/WSC statements on the relationship between justification and sanctification i.e. that the latter flows from the former. As Garcia noted in his interview, it means there is a seed of transformation in justification which does violence to its forensic nature. I am with Gaffin and Garcia on this.

R. Scott Clark said...

Hi Nick,

Mike and I were discussing this issue the other day and he made a very helpful comment. He distinguished between the effect of justification and the effect of the gospel. We can say that the latter word (Christ for us, righteousness imputed to us, received through faith alone) is the message through the hearing of which the Holy Spirit makes us alive, creates faith. Through this faith we receive Christ and his benefits the first of which is justification and, logically considered, the second of which is progressive sanctification.

This seems to be the clear teaching of WSC 30:

Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?

A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

I think the "thereby" in this answer is most important and is overlooked, especially in the enthusiasm of some to promote a particular view of union with Christ.

The danger here, that I see, is that just as some hyper-Calvinists want us to focus on predestination, and others want us to focus on adoption, the historic, confessional order salutis wants us to focus on Christ from whom all the benefits flow.

Union, like predestination is an a posteriori way of explaining what happened.

As to the logical priority of justification, the majority report of the tradition is that God justifies sinners. I think Paul says that somewhere. He sanctifies the justified. Yes, as Olevianus and Calvin and Perkins and many others taught there is a duplex beneficium or a duplex gratia but the scheme that some are pushing depends upon what seems to be a novel view of definitive sanctification and that's not the sort of sanctification one finds Calvin and Olevianus et al discussing. Dick Gaffin agrees that, when progressive sanctification is in view, then justification is logically prior.

Nick Mackison said...

Hey Scott,
Thanks for this.

These are tricky issues and there are good guys on both sides of the debate.

I think DGH's argument on the issue was a strong one.