Godfrey and VanDrunen Reply to Garcia


This post first appeared on the old HB (now defunct) in December, 2007. It re-appears just because the old HB is being phased out entirely.

In the October 2007 issue of the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) publication Ordained Servant, OPC pastor the Rev. Dr. Mark Garcia published a review of Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry that was sharply and almost entirely negative. In this month’s number of the Ordained Servant, the Rev. Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, President of Westminster Seminary California, and the Rev. Dr. David VanDrunen, Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology at WSC, have published a response. Garcia has also published a clarification of his initial review that does not substantially retract any of his earlier criticisms. I will let the reader judge for himself the merits of Garcia’s review and clarification.

I would note, however, that the Rev. Mr. Gregory Reynolds, editor of OS, notes in his editorial in this month’s number:

“Can’t we all just get along?” We all recognize this statement in context to be a cover up of the truth—a denial of criminal activity. But in the church we should be growing in exercising charity to all, especially those with whom we disagree. However, this does not deny a salutary place for theological debate, or even for drawing lines where Scripture and Confession demand. For example, as editor Scott Clark says in CJPM, covenant nomism and federal theology cannot both be correct. The recent General Assembly’s “Report on Justification” asserts this unequivocally, reiterating the covenant theology of our Confession.

He continues by outlining the editorial policy of OS toward book reviews and concludes by saying,

In the particular case of CJPM I was not fully aware of the contents of the book, as I had not read it (I don’t read every book that I send out for review, and in this case the review was unsolicited, so I did not have a copy in hand) at the time I published the review. Now that I have read portions of the book, I can say that I would recommend it simply because it is part of the Reformed conversation on this important topic, and because I find myself in sympathy with most of its essential emphases.

I hope that those—and here I am not speaking to or about the editor of OS, who has been gracious in permitting a response—who have perhaps only read the Garcia review or other reviews of CJPM and who have not actually read it themselves, will take the time to read it. I would particularly urge this upon those who hold special office in NAPARC denominations and federations. I do not necessarily expect the laity to read this book, though, judging by the responses I have seen, many laity have read the book with profit. Elders, ministers, and even deacons have a duty to be able to explain and defend the Reformed confession. Several denominations and federations have had study committees or ad hoc Synodical committees which have studied these issues in detail and, as a consequence, several confessional Reformed churches have rejected the errors of the FV/NPP categorically, including the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the United Reformed Churches, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the Reformed Churches in the United States, to mention only a few.

In places CJPM is heavy going, but the issue of the nature of justification, the nature of the gospel, the nature of faith in the act of justification, and the nature of Reformed federal or covenant theology, and the relations between these questions are of the highest importance and therefore worth the effort.

Certainly it is unjust to judge the arguments and merits of a book, any book, without first having read it. This would seem to be a fundamental requirement of justice. To judge a book or a person unheard is forbidden by the Word of God.

In light of this duty, some years ago now, he faculty of WSC held a conference to address the complex of issues associated with the New Perspective(s) on Paul and the Federal Vision movements. To that end, and as part of putting together CJPM, each of us sat down and worked through a great deal of published literature on the NPP/FV movements and by the NPP and FV movements. We did due diligence. We spent the time. This was an act of justice and charity. We knew that we could not interact with the movements and the questions they raise without first reading them. So we read them carefully and extensively.

Now, those who are sympathetic with or tempted to sympathy with the NPP/FV movements, who have not read CJPM, have a moral duty to read the book and to interact with the evidence adduced, and with the analysis and arguments presented.

I offer this mild exhortation because, in informal conversation and email, I have the growing sense that some folk, perhaps many, know the book is “out there” but, whether out of sloth or prejudice or inability due to circumstances, have not yet read the book. I am sometimes given to understand that, some, unless the material is presented online, will not read CJPM. If folk are intractably and willfully ignorant, there is nothing to be done but pray.

Finally, I am confident that the response by Drs Godfrey and VanDrunen more than meet the challenge presented by Dr Garcia’s review. They have addressed his basic questions and shown his review not only to be fundamentally inaccurate, unfair, and misinformed but also to create serious theological and historical problems of its own. The response, which is only about one-half as long as Garcia’s initial review (not including the clarification), demonstrates that the views propounded by Dr Garcia are, in certain respects, out of accord with the Westminster Standards as understood by the OPC and as reflected in the OPC Study Report on justification.

Therefore, the reader must do his homework. There is a great deal of research embodied not only in the text of CJPM, but also in the footnotes. We are confident that, regarding the theological and exegetical questions, if the reader approaches these questions with the Reformed confessions in one hand and the Word of God in the other, that CJPM will be found to be a faithful exposition and defense of the Reformed faith. Regarding the historical questions, again, if one reads the sources in their own context, without anachronism (i.e. asking writers to answer questions which they did not consider) or without imputing to them views that they did not hold or seeking to use the past to vindicate one’s own views in a contemporary controversy, again, the volume withstands scrutiny. To be sure, the demands and the nature of such a volume restricted the degree to which historical theology could be done.

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  1. You mentioned that the old HB is being phased out completely.

    Does this mean that everything on it will disappear forever or will it still be archived somewhere in cyberspace?

    Just curious how that works.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    My pastor asked me to do some research into the disagreements on union with Christ and justification. Having read CJPM and read about the debates, I am quite sympathetic to the views of WSCali over that of Garcia and Gaffin. I am currently rummaging through the books that deal with the topic and the helpful articles you have provided, which is greatly appreciated.

    Are there any sources that you consider a must over the disagreements concerning union and justification that are readily available to the public? Any guidance that is feasible would be appreciated. Thanks!

  3. Read Horton’s Covenant and Salvation – which is the third in his monumental four volume series.

  4. Timothy,

    See also John Fesko’s volume on justification. He has a chapter on this topic that is very helpful.


    BTW, I don’t know that it’s accurate to cast this as difference of opinion between two schools because that assumes that everyone in each of the two faculties would say things the same way. That’s almost certainly not true.

    The question is this: what is the logical relation between the existential aspect of union and the ordo salutis and the benefits of Christ.

    There is no question whether union is the context for ordo salutis and the benefits of Christ, but how does it work?

    No one here questions whether there’s a decretal aspect and a federal aspect to union that is logically prior to regeneration, faith etc. The question is whether “existential union” (Gaffin’s term from his vol. By Faith) is logically prior to faith, justification, sanctification. Related is the question whether there is such a thing as definitive sanctification and also whether the justification and sanctification are “equally ultimate.” The field of play here, as to who would say what, seems to be shifting almost daily, but there is a school of thought that says that they are equally ultimate.

    I would rather say that, relative to existential union, with HC 65, that the Spirit operates through the Word to regenerate, create faith, and through that faith creates “existential union.” I don’t think this is or should be a controversial way of speaking among Reformed folk.

    See this post: http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/11/12/union-with-christ-its-not-that-difficult/

    See also the lecture on union from the GDL conference:

    see point six here: http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2008/07/31/on-olevian-calvin-and-union-points-5-and-6/

  5. Thank you for the context and couching the discussion in its existing state. I will take a look at what you have provided.

    Thanks again… hopefully these questions are not becoming too much of nuisance.

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