A "Decisive Break with the Ordo Salutis Thinking": A New Perspective on Union with Christ?

Consider this quotation from William B. Evans, Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology. Studies in Christian Thought (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 264-65:

It is here that a concrete soteriological approach is called for. In contrast to the abstractions of the ordo salutis framework, in which justification and sanctification are not “in Christ” but rather occur somehow “on the basis of what Christ did,” there is a need to reflect more deeply on the relationship of the person and work of Christ. Once again, the Pauline materials provide food for thought. R. B. Gaffin has argued that for St. Paul, all of the traditional loci of Reformed soteriology—justification, sanctification, adoption, and glorification—are comprehended in the experience of Christ as the resurrected Second Adam.7 Furthermore, the Pauline perspective here is that the redemptive experience of Christ is not only paradigmatic for the Christian, but also is constitutive of the believer’s experience (the believer will not merely be raised like Christ, but is is crucified and raised with and in Christ, Rom. 6:4-10; Eph 2:4-7). If these insights are to be utilized in Reformed dogmatics, then all of salvation is in a sense “participatory,” that is, a participation in the redemptive experience of Christ. All is to be found, as T. F. Torrance rightly suggests, in the “vicarious humanity of Christ.”

A decisive break with the ordo salutis thinking that has vitiated Reformed thought since the early seventeenth century is clearly implied here. This historical record shows that as long as justification is viewed as taking place at a specific point in time (either in eternity or upon the exercise of faith) it is nearly impossible to find a meaningful relationship between justification and the economy of faith (the ongoing life of faith and obedience). Only when the traditional ordo salutis is eschewed can a truly forensic and synthetic doctrine of justification that is at the same time relational and dynamic be articulated.

7In footnote 7, p. 264 Evans says in part, “See Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption, 114-127. Of particular interest here is the presence of both the forensic and the transformative poles in the redemptive experience of Christ.” He continues by suggesting that Paul’s expression, εδικαιωθη εν πνευμα, in 1 Tim 3:16 refers not to Christ’s “vindication” but to his forensic justification saying, “there is little reason to deny the forensic sense that dikaiein generally has in the Pauline trajectory. He closes the first paragraph of the footnote with citations to Gaffin’s Resurrection and Redemption and to Vos’ The Pauline Eschatology and to Eduard Schweizer, Lordship and Discipleship.

Related Posts Intentionally Generated by the Heidelblog

Union With Christ: It’s Not That Difficult

Has the Forensic Eclipsed Christ?

Justification and Union with Christ

What is Definitive Sanctification and Is it Reformed?

Vos on Justification and Union with Christ

A Review of Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant (pt 1)

A Response to Lane’s Review (pt 2)

Calvin and Olevian on Union with Christ

Three Ways of Relating to the One Covenant of Grace

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
    Author Image

    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


    • I think you can figure out Clark’s thoughts by the slug of this post (which I assume was automatically generated by its original title).


  1. “R. B. Gaffin has argued that for St. Paul, all of the traditional loci of Reformed soteriology—justification, sanctification, adoption, and glorification—are comprehended in the experience of Christ as the resurrected Second Adam.7”

    Cliffton: Of course Gaffin speaks after this manner so that he may deny a righteousness that is imputed.

    In Christ, or union with Christ, per Gaffin is unintelligible (literally). It has wreaked havoc on all of Reformed theology. “In Christ” is used in two different ways in Scripture, and only in two different ways. It is either to be taken forensically or intellectually.

    The forensic meaning to being “in Christ” establishes the truth that righteousness is imputed, not infused, on the grounds of Christ’s representative substitution. This is a work that takes place wholly outside the individual. God justifies the ungodly. Gaffin would have us to understand that God does not justify the ungodly, but rather Christ.

    The intellectual meaning to being “in Christ” establishes the truth that believers have the mind of Christ, they think Christ’s thoughts. The mind of the Logos incarnate is communicated to the believer by means of the Logos himself, our only teacher. The Logos is not only the mediator of God’s revelation but the revelation itself. Being in Christ is being illumined with the propositions of Scripture.

    Gaffin’s understanding of “union with Christ” is experiential, existential. It is a relationship that is not capable of being defined, and therefore unintelligible. The implication of Gaffin’s “union with Christ” is that it leaves the Christian unable to distinguish an “experience” with Christ and an “experience” with the anti-christ. Barth and Neo-orthodoxy had attempted this reversal of Protestant thought long ago. And it is sad to say that his attempt was quite successful as is evident in what passes for Reformed theology today, particularly as it manifests itself in a redemptive historical method of interpretation.

    • Cliffton, do you have anything to support your accusations against Gaffin? Or, are you simply basing your statements on what Evan suggests of what Gaffin wrote? I wonder if you’ve even read Gaffin’s book, Resurrection and Redemption.

      Don’t be so quick to condemn the man and attribute to him all kinds of nonsense. You might not be aware of it but Richard Gaffin was part of the OPC Committee to Study the Doctrine of Justification. If you haven’t read the report, I suggest that you read it. It’s only $10 at the OPC’s bookstore. It’s solid work that clearly defends the Reformed forensic understanding of the doctrine of justification and the imputation of Christ’s obedience was clearly specified. If you wish to insist on your accusations, then I suggest that you show us that you’re not just simply operating on mere prejudice or else I will call you out for breaking the 9th Commandment.

    • Dear Cliffton:

      As a person that has taken four Gaffin courses at WTS/Philly (2 M.Div, 2 Ph.D) I can say everything you said here is clear bull. It is one thing to make critical analysis against a person, it is purely another to make up lies against that person.

      • RS et al,

        I agree that some of what Clifton says is over the top. Please read the links above, however. Dick supported Norm Shepherd AND his doctrine of justification explicitly and in detail for decades. He had misgivings but he supported the 2000 book. He has proposed significant changes to Reformed theology. He has also said clearly orthodox things. I can’t blame folks for being a little confused. Accounting for the entirety of what Dick has said about justification and union is not easy because Dick has taken a variety of positions since the mid-70s. It is true, however, that he did support the committee report and he did defend it on the floor of GA (as I understand it) even though at least one commissioner cited his own (then) recent work as being in conflict with the report. One can hear the tensions in Dick’s formulations in a “Christ the Center” interview from a few months ago. There’s a lot of good stuff there but there are also moments that seem to contradict the better things he says. This is, I think, because he began to set up a system in the mid-70s, which Evans is exploiting here, which leads to the destruction of the Protestant Reformation. Over the years he’s tempered that, with the exception of his claims about definitive sanctification vis-a-vis progressive sanctification (again, when he speaks in traditional terms about the relations between progressive sanctification and justification he sounds perfectly orthodox but when he speaks about definitive sanctification being prior to justification and faith then it’s more complicated) and his claims about Rom 2:13 and future justification (instead of future vindication). This thread is that which John Kinnaird exploited. So the picture seems mixed.

      • To Joel, Timothy, and “Reformed” Sinner:

        “Baptism signifies and seals a transition in the experience of the recipient, a transition from being (existentially) apart from Christ to being (existentially) joined to him.” Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption, (P&R, 1987), 50-51.

        “The transition from being an object of God’s wrath to experiencing his love takes place at the point of being joined (existentially) to Christ.” p.51

        “what characterizes the redemption of Christ holds true for the redemption of the believer” p. 130

        Speaking in particular about Christ’s resurrection Gaffin states,

        “The constitutive, transforming action of the resurrection is specifically forensic in character. It is Christ’s justification.” p. 121

        Did you see that Joel, Timothy, and “Reformed” Sinner? Forensic justification is constitutive and transforming! Anybody see that guy with the large cone-shaped hat?

        And last but not least, the following quotation is taken from Gaffin’s contribution in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine, Essays in Honor of Robert B. Strimple, p. 184:

        “In terms of the fundamental biblical category of the covenant, which structures our image-bearing existence with God-given promises and commands, blessing and tasks- in covenant with God, we are created for communication, both with him as well as with others. That is at the heart both of our identity and our destiny. This radical “addressability,” our covenantal identity as God’s image-bearers, is utterly decisive for who we are and what is to become of us, for the protology as well as the eschatology that qualifies our ontology.”

        Gaffin is making a very simple point here, a point easily understood once you get passed all his rhetoric. Existence precedes essence.

        And I don’t think we need to go through all Gaffin’s affiliations with Shepherd, Kinnaird, and his podium sharing with N.T. Wright. But then again, considering the request from Joel, Timothy, and “Reformed” Sinner, maybe someone ought to.

  2. Excellent! Evans is right on; and his ref. to Torrance is laudable.

    For an even better accounting of Torrance’s view folks should pick up my friend’s new book Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance by Dr. Myk Habets.

    Vicariousness is where it’s at. Uncreated grace is what is constituitive, or that is the person of the Holy Spirit. Both in Christ’s humanity ‘for us’ and ‘in us’ and our humanity united to His.

      • Scott,

        Bill Evans is a nice guy, I’ve interacted with him a bit in the past on McCormack and Barth; you should be nice.

        Yes I read Muller’s latest work, thanks. I find Muller’s work interesting, helpful at points, but also ironic. His method is to complexify things to a point that nothing meaningful can be said about the ‘dogma’ represented in Reformed/post-Reformed ‘orthodoxy’; that is until he slices through ‘his complexity’ and tells us that Union with Christ, for example, is just a fad (and really has nothing much to do as a central point [if not the] of Calvin’s theology). He hasn’t proven anything, in fact all he’s doing, or should be doing, is describing things; and this is the irony. He decries the neo-orthodox position (as if preaching to the choir), decries their “modernist” theological questions associated with reading Calvin and that tradition; and yet his method (historiography) is very much so rooted in that same epistemological heritage (that is modernist). Which is to say that he believes history is a “just a facts” kind of endeavor, and he as the “objective historian” can objectively describe things in a way that is immune from appealing to metaphysical/or dogmatic grids himself. So he thinks that he undercuts certain idiosyncratic readings of Calvin (i.e. Neoorthodox, or even Evans and/or Torrance, Partee, et al) —- based upon the history [his] —- and then he provides what the reading should be by replacing the idiosyncratic ones with his reading. In short: why is Muller’s reading the right one, and, for example, Evans’ the wrong one? Is it simply because he’s Muller? Doesn’t Muller have his own dogmatic theological committments; doesn’t he read history through those committments? I think we should deal with the “first order” order questions, first (dogmatic); and then we can talk more about the “second order” ones (the history). At least this way we can be more upfront about what is informing the historical interpretive decisions being made by Muller.

        Having said all that, I think Muller actually makes some great points on Calvin and the Calvinists, in general.

        Is there a center to reading Calvin’s theology? Even if the center isn’t the unio mystica, it’s certainly one of the core features of Calvin’s theology. And thus is a legitmate point to be developed as a genuine feature of Calvin’s theology. This goes back to Muller’s points, and his basic arguement, that in order to be a follower of Calvin there need not be a one-for-one with Calvin —- instead just a general [albeit in certain parameters] embodiement and thus development of key points of Calvin (and the Reformed tradition of which Calvin was a part).

        But beyond this, the real problem with your reading (as I understand it); and the confusion over the ordo salutis is that you are trying to read this through the wrong lenses. I’ll just speak for Torrance, the “order” is there; it’s just grounded in the person of Jesus Christ constituted by the Holy Spirit in communio with the Father. It is Christ’s recreated humanity that we are united to through which, by the Spirit, we are able to ‘speak out of’ and finally say ‘Yes’ to the Father as Christ first did as our mediator (there’s the ordo). How any of this undoes the ‘Reformation’ is beyond me (it is all working within the parameters and grammar set by the Reformation).

          • No, of course not.

            And of course your question is loaded, and to one side (yours).

            Btw, just so you know, I think you’re a relatively (I say this because it’s all electronic) nice guy too :-). We just disagree.

  3. Somebody, send up the Meatball!

    To me, the reference to T. F. Torrance requires that a NASCAR yellow flag be raised. Then, the line that begins “only when the traditional ordo salutis is eschewed” signals the NASCAR Black Flag with Orange circle. Evans’ work has dangerous mechanical problems and needs to be summoned off the track and into the pit for the safety of the Reformed community.

    • That’s because you haven’t really engaged TFT’s work; and thus are thinking out of caricatures (which is ‘fear oriented’ thinking).

      • If there is any fear here, it is you that are afraid of someone like me.

        The emperor (in this case TFT) has no clothes, there’s really nothing to talk about or to be afraid of.

        I’m very knowledgable about the relationship between science and Christian faith. And I think that Torrance has really made much less of a contribution than he thought or McGrath would have us believe. In fact, Torrance has shown himself at times to be an untrustworthy scholar. Because he has at times endorsed what is essentially GARBAGE, any academic would foolish not to be wary of Torrance’s endorsements.

        • Torrance was the general editor of Theology and Science at the Frontiers of Knowledge. If Torrance really knew what he was talking about, which he clearly didn’t, then he would have never had Oxford University publish Science, Theology and Einstein (Oxford University Press, 1982) by Iain Paul.

          This book was given terrible reviews by both Sigma Xi’s American Scientist and Zygon.

          “[Iain Paul] promises that his interpretation of Einstein’s scientific work will make special reference to the four papers written in 1905. He urges his readers to examine these papers and assures us that ‘their contents are not technical,’ but we do not find a summary of the contents of these papers anywhere in the volume. The book rambles, interprets its sources rather freely, is full of cliches, and lacks any redeeming intellectual value.” -Excerpt of book review on Science, Theology and Einstein by Harold I. Brown in American Scientist, Mar/Apr 1984, Vol 72, p. 218

          “He also seems unaware that the majority of contemporary physicists do not support the kind of realism which Einstein maintained, holding instead an instrumentalist/positivist view of scientific theory. … Both [Paul’s] overdependence on Einstein’s epistemology and his failure to clarify his own presuppositions suggest the conclusion that Paul has fallen unconsciously into the kind of picking and choosing he wants to avoid.” Excerpt of book review on Science, Theology and Einstein by Thomas M. Ross in Zygon, March 1985 v20 p98

          Paul was a fool to have written this book, and Torrance was a fool to have endorsed it.

  4. If justification, sancitification, adoption and glorification are all swallowed up in Christ, so to speak, what is the point in distinguishing them? Why not just have “union” and be done with it?
    Is my union with Christ an “experience” or is it a reality based on Christ’s perfect work? How does one go about sharing this experience? How do I know if I have experienced this, especially during those times where I struggle with sin? How is this of comfort to the one struggling with sin?
    Doesn’t Paul deal with this issue in Romans 6? As soon as someone talks about justification apart from works, here comes the charges of lawlessness. But, one who is justified will necessarily also be sanctified. What is wrong with keeping those two terms/ideas separate but related?
    Sorry for so many questions. It just got me thinking.

  5. Much of what he is saying is a bit unintelligible to me (probably have to read more to get a clearer picture), but I see a few problems.

    1. His notion of “forensic” justification is not God’s declaration of or accounting sinners as righteous (based upon the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, received by faith alone); but a declaration of Christ as righteous and our “participation in the redemptive experience of Christ.” So our justification is not direct but “in”(?) or “with”(?) Christ. But doesn’t Scripture say: “God justifies the ungodly,” “whom he called, them he also justified,” “justifier of him which believeth in Jesus”?

    2. “Participation in the redemptive experience of Christ” seems problematic for several reasons. Even if we accept his argument about Christ’s vindication / justification. What about election? Calling and regeneration? Adoption? Sanctification? When did Jesus “experience” these things? Was Christ predestinated to be conformed to the image of himself?

    3. I think this formulation of “participating in the redemptive experience of Christ” is a natural outcome when one abstracts union as a “thing” that we must possess or experience, rather than “in Christ” as used by Paul being expression of the believer’s relation to Christ in its various aspects (decretal, legal, vital). It is no wonder, then, that Evans recasts faith as “ongoing life of faith and obedience”. With all the focus on the subjective experience of the believer, the work of Christ for us is bound to be obscured.

    Those are my thoughts. Like I said, I could be misreading Evans, so I hope I didn’t erect any straw men.

  6. Where’s Sean Gerety when you need him! It seems to me that this Gaffin-unionism and its imitators threatens to undermine the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Gaffin should repent of his teaching on this subject. I’m glad that Scott caught this problem a while back.

    • I have much more to learn and am not very familiar with Gaffin (I think he’s a professor at Westminster East), but based on this excerpt it’s Evans’ interpretation of Gaffin at issue. Am I missing something here?

  7. J.V. Fesko in his ‘Justification: Understanding The Classic Refeormed Doctrine’ (P&R,2008 ) has a very good analysis of this subject, pro and con in chapter 10, “Justification and Union with Christ” particular as it relates to Gaffin.

  8. BL
    No, but he does address Norman Shepherd and the Federal Visionists like Rich Lusk who end up advocating the substance of what Kinnard espoused.

  9. I highly recommend Tom Wenger’s article, “New Perspective on Calvin” where Wenger challenges Gaffin’s take on Calvin and union, but I can’t find it on-line anywhere.

  10. Thanks for the help! I look forward to reading Fesko. Any online resources you can recommend that specifically engage Kinnaird’s view(s)?

    • He teaches a two- stage doctrine of justification. The final judgment is based partly on intrinsic, Spirit-wrought sanctity. There are responses to this doctrine on the HB. Search for the terms justification and vindication.

      Sent from my iPhone

      • Was the present tense of “teach” deliberate? Are you saying he (Kinnaird) is currently teaching such a thing? The OPC GA overturned his conviction on appeal on the matter of his teaching (at the time) regarding justification. If his current teaching was out of accord with the WCF/WLC/WSC don’t you think that someone from within the OPC would have noticed, and prepared a fresh set of charges? Responding to a “two-stage doctrine of justification” doesn’t mean that you’ve proven someone is actually teaching it. Even if you have “proven” it, to whom have you done so? Not the OPC, who is the only legitimate authority with respect to what Kinnaird does or does not teach. So, at most I think you can say is that perhaps he may be lapsing again into to being less clear than he should. However, perhaps the clarity of his teaching is geared towards his primary audience? If you are not in his primary audience, then perhaps you lack the frame of reference in which his teaching is clear?

        • As I understand things he continues to teach this. He was teaching it prior to the OPC GA. He repented of it on the floor and then announced (via email) after GA that his teaching had been “vindicated.” He has since articulated the same views on the web. They are evident on the OPC Yahoo discussion group.

          • The question is “What was the final disposition of the case?” The answer is, conviction overturned, defendant is therefore not guilty. Vindication seems to be a reasonable description a declaration of “not guilty”.

            So, if he was ultimately found not guilty and is still teaching the same things, and no further charges have been brought doesn’t that mean that the only legitimate authority with respect to the man’s teaching is entirely (from a judicial standpoint) satisfied that his teaching is not erroneous?

            Why does the judgement of RSC trump the OPC GA with respect to this case?

            • Kinnaird’s views were NOT vindicated. GA upheld his appeal on the basis of his emotive appeal on the floor. He repented of the views he had articulated. He cannot repent of his views on the floor (speaking of easy believism) and then say his views were vindicated. He can’t have A and -A at the same time.

              Further, one of the best things to come out of the Kinnaird fiasco was the study committee which cemented the OP’s de facto rejection of his peculiar and unconfessional views.

              It’s not a matter of Clark’s private judgment trumping the that of the OPC. It’s a matter of Clark trying to get the facts right about what’s gone on here.

              Your post does, however, serve the useful purpose of highlighting once again the utter failure of the OPC GA in giving in to sentimentality instead of judging his case on the facts and the merits. It’s a good reminder of the danger of the “good old boys” club that is too easily formed in our small-ish NAPARC churches.

            • Here [http://opc.org/qa.html?question_id=85] is my attempt to state the facts of the case. I wrote this shortly after the Assembly in question while I was still general secretary of Christian Education in the OPC. I still believe that it is an accurate summary of the truth of the matter:
              “The case of ruling elder John Kinnaird from Bethany OPC in Oxford, Pennsylvania, revolved around what it means that, at the final judgment, our Lord will judge his people according to their works and openly acknowledge and acquit them (see Confession of Faith XXXIII, Larger Catechism 90, Shorter Catechism 38). He had been accused of teaching that God justifies sinners not through faith alone, but through faith and works, and his session had found him guilty. He appealed to his presbytery, which upheld the verdict. And so he appealed to the General Assembly. Again, the case provoked considerable debate. He contended that he did not teach justification through faith and works but was only concerned to emphasize that salvation involves not only justification but also includes sanctification and glorification.
              Again, there was considerable divergence over whether the debate was over the doctrine itself or over the way that doctrine was stated. Some were persuaded that Mr. Kinnaird intended to teach orthodoxy, but that the way he actually taught was culpably confusing. Others argued that, even if at points he expressed his views in a way that confused some, his actual views are nevertheless orthodox.
              “In this case, the General Assembly determined that the session and presbytery had erred in convicting him. This means that it reversed the original verdict. The Assembly insisted on maintaining both a free justification (the primary concern of the accusers) and a full salvation (the concern expressed in the teaching the accusers were challenging). In other words, *the Assembly did not determine that what Mr. Kinnaird was accused of teaching is legitimate in the OPC; it determined that Mr. Kinnaird was not guilty of teaching what he was accused of teaching.*”

  11. It’s a good reminder of the danger of the “good old boys” club that is too easily formed in our small-ish NAPARC churches.


    Sorry to put you through all that, but thank you for getting there.

  12. I’ve read Evans’ book (and the original dissertation). I for one cannot help but see much continuity between those of the Westminster East persuasion (Gaffin/Evans/Ryken) and WLC Q.69. While Evans and co. would deny that union with Christ is “essentially forensic”, I fail to see how this is inconsistent with the wording of our confession. Dr. Clark, any comments?

    • Daniel,

      WLC 69 says:

      Q. 69. What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?

      A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.

      I’m not sure I understand the question. Are you assuming that because this question appears before Q. 70 and that marvelous exposition of the forensic doctrine of justification that somehow Q 69 leads us away from the forensic doctrine of justification? If that’s what is being suggested I would reply that such a suggestion confuses the ordo docendi for the ordo salutis.

      • Can we just go ahead and adjudicate against Murray’s monocovenantalism, in order that we can cut the head off this snake and then we can all happily sign off on a confessional maximalism that upholds a truly protestant conception of justification. Please. If we’re not gonna deal with Murray then it’s tantamount to mowing down weeds instead of pulling that sucker up by the roots.

    • I think the concern is that pushing union to the “forefront” tends to downplay or worse, obscure the relationship of justification, adoption, sanctification, etc. to each other. Taken to the extreme, the ordo will be tossed out of one’s theology in favor of union, at which point we are in danger of giving up any meaningful distinction between the forensic (“alien righteousness”) and the experiential (“wrought in us”). Take a look at Godfrey and VanDrunnen’s piece in the Ordained Servant. Here’s an excerpt:

      “We ought not begin with an abstract doctrine of union, conceived independently of the concrete blessings of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and then deduce from this abstract doctrine the idea that justification, adoption, and sanctification must be received simultaneously through union without a defined relationship to each other. Union with Christ (or any other doctrine) should not become a central dogma from which we derive everything else…. [speaking of WLC 69] This statement also rightly connects our justification and sanctification to our union with Christ. But clearly it does not teach that justification and sanctification bear no ordo relationship to each other. If anything, WLC 69 warns us against starting with an abstract doctrine of union from which we deduce the relationship (or lack thereof) between justification and sanctification. The WLC points us precisely to justification, adoption, and sanctification as those blessings that manifest our union. If we want to understand union, then, we must look to our justification, adoption, and sanctification. These blessings show us what our union with Christ is.”

  13. A good place to start-I would recommend Lee Irons’s chapter ” Redefining Merit: An Examination of medieval Presuppositions in Covenant theology” in ‘ Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline’ eds. Howard Griffith and John Muether (Reformed Academic Press,2000) along with J.V. Fesko ,’ The Federal Vision and the Covenant of Works’ . A Lecture for the Meeting of the stated Clerks of the PCA 3 December 2004.

  14. Dr. Clark,

    I did not mean to imply any denial of the the doctrine of forensic justification. In reading Evans and speaking with him about these issues, he doesn’t deny the doctrine either. Rather, he and others seem to deny that soteriology is to be cast as “essentially forensic” as Horton and others claim.


  15. Daniel,

    I don’t know what it means to say “soteriology is essentially forensic.” Soteriology is a broad term covering several topics, including justification. The latter is certainly “essentially forensic.” Anyone who denies that justification is essentially forensic is not a Protestant. Are there elements in Reformed soteriology that are not “essentially forensic”? Yes, I suppose so. I’m not a big fan of an “essentially forensic” doctrine of sanctification — which is sometimes propounded by those want us to move beyond a forensic doctrine of justification in favor of union with Christ.

    The other problem here is that Evans seems to what to “eschew” (his word) the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation doctrine of justification is that it is punctiliar. Evans says we have to stop thinking in punctiliar terms. Evans says that Reformed theology has “vitiated” by “ordo salutis” thinking since the early 17th century.

    This is pretty radical language for guy who isn’t really proposing anything radical, isn’t it?

    • I hesitate to jump into this all-too-lengthy thread, given that the Heidelblog is Scott Clark’s house and that, on balance, I regard the Heidelblog as a force for good. But some here seem to be going out of their way to pick a fight, so here are some comments.

      1. I’m happy to see that this issue will not be decided by whether I’m a “nice guy,” or not (see Bobby Grow/Scott Clark exchange above). I’m just a sinner being saved by the unmerited grace of God in Christ Jesus. Incidentally Scott, when did we meet? I’m sure you are a memorable fellow, but I don’t recall the occasion.

      2. There seems to be a lot of discussion about a book most of the participants here apparently have not read. It’s not even clear to me that Scott has read the book. This thread seems to be an exercise in what Mark Garcia calls “drive-by theology”—throw out a quote without much context to people who have not read the book and then watch the fur fly! Pretty soon people start pontificating about what the author believes and why it is wrong, and then we get embarrassingly vituperative statements about “cutting heads off of snakes” and so on. This is the sort of thing that gives our Reformed community a bad name. I’m happy to discuss the substance of the book with people who have actually bothered to read it.

      3. For the record, I do not recast “faith as ‘ongoing life of faith and obedience,’” as Mike Y. suggests. The book does note quite a number of examples (particularly in the New England Calvinist tradition) where the definition of faith is expanded to include works of evangelical obedience, but I certainly don’t recommend that move—the problems in the NE tradition are all too apparent. I affirm the imputation of the active obedience of Christ to the believer, and I’m not uncomfortable with the concept of merit. My view of justification is forensic and synthetic. It is the “justification of the ungodly.” I have some significant differences with Norman Shepherd (whom I, nevertheless, recall fondly as a cobelligerent during my CRC days) and my opposition to the Federal Vision is a matter of public record. So please read the book before my alleged mistaken beliefs are pilloried with apodictic certainty.

      4. Scott seems to be enjoying the word “eschew.” I’ll admit to being flummoxed as to how I am “eschewing the Reformation.” After reviewing the thread once more I finally realized that, for Scott, an ordo salutis framework is essential to the “Reformation.” After all, “the Reformation . . . was about the ordo salutis.” That strikes me as an exceedingly odd statement. After all, there is some formidable literature showing that Calvin was not an ordo salutis theologian (see p. 37 of the book), and the rise of ordo salutis thinking in the post-Calvin context has been chronicled (see pp. 52-57). I fear that Scott is quickly emerging as the “Parson Thwackum” of the conservative Reformed community—when he speaks of the “Reformation” he means later Scholasticism, and when he speaks of later Scholasticism he means the WTS-C version of it.

      5. On a happier note, I was pleased to learn (right here on the Heidelblog, no less) that Ryan Glomsrud’s dissertation on Barth was recently approved. If his fine essay in the Engaging with Barth volume (“Karl Barth as Historical Theologian”) is any indication of the dissertation’s quality, I hope it soon finds a publisher. For those of you who have not read the essay, Glomsrud documents Barth’s heavy reliance on nineteenth-century secondary sources, and shows that he was not the deft master of the tradition that the contemporary neo-Barthian revival supposes him to be.

      6. One last matter—will any of y’all (note that, as a resident of South Carolina, I’m legally entitled to use this term) be attending ETS next week in Nawlins? Perhaps we can connect and discuss matters of mutual interest.


      Bill Evans

      • Hi Bill,

        1. I thought we met at a conference at RPTS in Phila a few years ago. I might be confused.

        2. I should have made clear. I have not read the book. I read the last section and found those paragraphs to be provocative. I didn’t write the main body of the post. As it happens, you did.

        3. We shall have to disagree about the nature of the Reformation. I cannot imagine how saying that it was about the ordo salutis is odd. I think that rejecting justification on the basis of sanctification (or any intrinsic basis in us, even union with Christ) is all about the ordo salutis, speaking anachronistically, and the material question of reformation was just that. Why is that odd? Are we talking about different Reformations?

        4. What do you mean when you say that justification is both forensic and synthetic? Doesn’t the latter approach to justification more or less annul the former? Where does the WCF teach a “synthetic” doctrine of justification? I thought the Reformation was a repudiation of a “synthetic” doctrine of justification. Maybe we’re talking past each other, but as I read WCF 11 and WLC 70 et seq and HC 21 and 60 and BC 22-23, the Protestant doctrine of justification says that the ground of justification is Christ’s actual righteousness imputed to me and receive through faith, resting and receiving, alone. Of course faith isn’t alone but those graces which always accompany justification do not make faith justifying or else we’ve fallen back into the medieval/Tridentine definition of faith.

        5. What is it exactly about the forensic doctrine of justification from the early 17th century and following that is so vitiating?

        6. As to the Reformation and Reformed orthodoxy, I am part of a project that challenges the now discredited and decrepit Calvin v the Calvinists story and hopes to revitalize Reformed theology by learning from the tradition, which you seem to want to eschew (there’s that word again). Currently I’m translating (or should be) Olevianus’ commentary on Romans and supervising the translation and publication of other such works. I don’t see them vitiating but rather enriching our tradition. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you?

        Have you taken a look at Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment? It’s good intro to the Muller-Van Asselt et al project.

        7. FWIW, here’s a historical piece I did on Luther’s forensic doctrine of justification, which I understand to have been essentially Calvin’s doctrine. When I say “forensic” this essay explains what I mean and I enter this discussion against the background of resisting the attempt to re-cast historic Protestant theology in terms of “union” and “theosis” and the like:


        8. Parson Thwackum? Have you read Recovering the Reformed Confession? One of the arguments of the book is that confessional Reformed theology is not at all insular. It is quite catholic. I don’t see how harvesting the best of the Christian tradition is insular.

        OTOH, If asking questions or if asking Reformed folk to take their confession (defined broadly and narrowly) seriously or if challenging attempts to recast Reformed theology in radical directions (e.g. the FV, which we both oppose) makes me a bad guy, I can live with that.

      • Dear Mr. Evans,

        I apologize first for misreading you, and second (and more importantly) for not being more careful with my words. In my comment, I tried to make clear that what I thought you were saying might be inaccurate since I was only interacting with a little blurb. Nevertheless, I should not have attributed any beliefs to you without first reading your book or other works. The wise thing to do would have been to refrain from saying anything at all. Please forgive me.


        • Mike:

          Apology accepted, and gladly. I think we all wrestle with the question of how best to use the Internet format for theological discussion. One of my students, after reading this thread and the Frame/Horton fracus, thinks we should put a pox on all theological blog discussions. I wouldn’t go that far, but there are real dangers. Given the nature of the medium, nuances get lost and things can quickly get out of hand. People will say things on the Net that they would never say face-to-face or in print. If the conservative Reformed community becomes known more generally for its “flame wars,” that is not a good thing.

          After my Reformation21 piece on Barth and McCormack (graciously linked by Scott here on the Heidelblog) appeared last year, I had a couple of extended blog discussions about the piece. One was, shall we say, disappointing. The other was constructive and useful, even though real disagreements were evident. Here’s a link to the second, which I mention here because a portion of the content is at least peripherally relevant to this discussion.



          Bill Evans

  16. Scott:

    Thanks for the response. I believe you have confused me with somebody else that you met in Philly.

    Again, it is difficult for me to discuss the book with you when you haven’t read it. While I plan to read your RTRC, which I’ve heard good things about, you can rest assured that I won’t be criticizing it (or praising it, for that matter) on the Internet before I actually read it. Many of your questions above will be answered by a careful reading of the book.

    I think we will have to agree to disagree about the fundamental nature of the Reformation. You have a radically extrinsic reading of the issue. In terms of 19th century antecedents, you stand squarely with Charles Hodge. But Hodge met with considerable opposition on this point in his own context, and he conceded that Calvin framed the issue differently. In fact, it was Hodge’s trenchant criticism (along with other 19th century federalists) of Calvin that goaded my own interest in this matter–I realized that there was a story to be told. The book unpacks all this in considerable detail.

    There is no conflict between “forensic” and “synthetic,” and both terms are useful for shorthanding the classic Reformed doctrine of justification. The distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments comes from Kantian philosophy, and finds its way into Reformed discussions of justification via Ritschl in the late 19th century (e.g., in A. A. Hodge). An analytic judgment is according to the facts, while a synthetic judgment is not. An “analytic” justification would be God declaring us righteous because we are actually righteous. “Synthetic” justification, on the other hand, is the declaration that the sinner is righteous in God’s sight while still a sinner. Of course, a “forensic” doctrine of justification could also be “analytic,” but that is not the position of Calvin or the Reformed confessions.

    While I think there are some rather clear and basic differences in how we construe the tradition, we probably are talking past each other at certain points. This is just a hunch, but I suspect that this may be the case because you are primarily a scholar of continental orthodoxy, while I am primarily an Americanist. Perhaps we can learn from each other.


    Bill Evans

    • I must have met one of your colleagues.

      My understanding of the Reformed doctrine of justification has been driven by my reading of Luther, Olevianus, Ursinus, Calvin, and the Reformed orthodox of the 17th century (e.g. Wollebius, Polanus, and Owen among others). Without reading him, I couldn’t tell you what Hodge said. I’m also reasonably well read in English/Scottish theology in the same periods. I don’t see any substantial difference between them. I tried to document some of that research in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.

      I’m not a Kantian and don’t work with those categories so I’ll have to take your word for their use.

      I suspect that we do read the tradition rather differently. I look forward to reading your book.

  17. Labeling Clark a parson Thwackum? How pedestrianly procrustean. Yawn.

    Quote from The History of Tom Jones. (The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.) “Square held human nature to be the perfection of all virtue, and that vice was a deviation from our nature, in the same manner as deformity of body is. Thwackum, on the contrary, maintained that the human mind, since the fall, was nothing but a sink of iniquity, till purified and redeemed by grace.”

    A reference to the Square/Thwackum is a reference to a false dilemma. Also, isn’t Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones an inchoate kernel of 19th century Victorian morality? Is Evan’s saying that like Fielding and the later Victorians, he holds Christian doctrine in low regard and would have us believe that children are born “pure of heart”?

  18. “Someone”:

    1. Anonymous blog posts are cowardly and juvenile.

    2. You missed the Fielding allusion by a mile. Among those who study religion and theology, Fielding’s character Parson Thwackum is best known for this quote: “When I mention religion, I mean the Christian religion; and not only the Christian religion, but the Protestant religion; and not only the Protestant religion, but the Church of England.” If you can’t connect the dots on this one, I’m not inclined to help you.

    Bill (whose patience is wearing rather thin) Evans

  19. Dear Someone who just happened to read this blog:

    Wow. You certainly have mastered the art of the sentence fragment. I congratulate you on this most prodigious accomplishment.

    Incidentally, you might interested in reading this Reformation 21 article where Dr. Evans criticizes Inspiration and Incarnation.


  20. “Someone” – you are embarrassing yourself. But, I guess that doesn’t bother you too much since we don’t know who you are. Bill Evans has been particularly kind and gracious on this blog, especially given few on here have actually read his book and yet feel duty-bound to comment in areas they have little or no expertise. And we call this Christianity?

    (this comment should come up under “decisive break …”, not in the RCA post.

  21. Since Evans showed ZERO regret in his blatant acts of ad hominem name calling– first Clark,then me–I can’t fathom why anyone would seek to defend him here.

    Sentence fragments? A locally-biased set of ethics acquired in a childhood academic setting are irrelevent to real-world situations like these. One’s sense of authority should definitely not be to the memory of an authoritarian English teacher.

    • “someone,”

      I don’t agree with Dr. Evans’ take on union, but he has responded well to this blog as you can see by the correspondence between him and Dr. Clark. Whatever case you may be fighting for, let me tell you that you are looking like a fool and hurting your cause by being so belligerent and by consistent deliberate misrepresentation. Calling someone a secular humanist in the Harvard strain who cherishes academics over the faith because he used a turn of phrase is disingenuous and ridiculous. It is It would be tantamount to me saying that since you used “ad hominem” and invoked logic, you must be solely based on logic and really believe in an Aristotelian first cause God since he uses logic too.

      In regards to sentence fragments: When somebody writes with much emotion against someone and has obvious grammatical flaws, it can be a good indication (good indication != deductive proof) that the person is not proofreading his writing, thus not reflecting on it before publishing it. Yes, the other “someone” was patronizing, but grammar is not irrelevant to the real world. A good comparison can be when a person goes to a meeting with his colleagues. Does he dress up in a tie and possibly a coat; does he dress in torn blue jeans and a t-shirt? He dresses up to show the people there that he cares about being there and about what he has to say enough to want to make a good impression on the other people present. (sorry about the extended off topic paragraph, you hit on one of a newspaper editor’s pet peeves).

  22. By what metric has Evans responded well to this blog? As witness to Christ, I think he fails because he prioritizes academic agrandizement. Furthermore, defense of his underhanded tactics, even by the obviously and possibly hopelessly naive, just disgusts me.

    Evans talks more like a snake’s oil salesman. He’s slick. But smart shoppers don’t buy into his or anyone else’s Jesus Junk sales tactics. Like Time Magazine said, “who needs harvard?”


  23. You must feel tough speaking the way you do: anonymously. Bravo. And this is what makes blogs so frustrating: any madman can just sign in and spout off without accountability.

  24. How is calling me a madman anything other than being a hypocrite?

  25. “Someone,”

    Grace and peace you. (That’s sincere, not sarcastic. I keenly feel my own need of God’s grace.) Many of us on the blog site would like to see the dialogue continue, especially among those who have read or are reading the Evans book. Several have sent not-so-subtle messages to you that you’re being quarrelsome and taking offense where no offense has been given. I recall that somewhere Calvin says that taking offense can sometimes be the greater sin. You seem to take umbrage at every turn. You claim to feel insulted, yet many of us see you writing in a demeaning fashion. It seems you want to denounce ad hominem attacks, but you employ them in every post you write. I commend to you the following Calvin quote from his commentary on Titus 3:3 (that gave me a needed rebuke about 12 months ago): “Nothing is more likely to subdue our pride and moderate our severity than to be shown that the charges we make against others may fall back on our own heads. A man who is forced to seek pardon for himself finds it easy to forgive others, and the only reason why we are so unwilling to forgive our brethren is our ignorance of our own faults.” May we proceed with a humble and respectful tone, leaving personal issues aside? – A missionary in Africa (who’s taught alongside a brilliant, sweet, godly, Bible-believing Harvard graduate 😉

Comments are closed.