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Mark McCulley
Judge by the Gospel


Those Antinomians Down Where I Live

There are many "new covenant" elders who would warn us to stay away from the "antinomian" in Luther and to read puritans like Baxter instead. Thus they think that the old covenant was a "ministration of death" only because of human inability, and that our hope in the new covenant is that we now have the ability to do works of faith so that the "tenor" of our living is obedience, so that we do not rely alone on the work of the cross but see our salvation in the work in us.

These elders do of course claim to also rely on the cross. But the cross and imputation of Christ's righteousness is not enough, they inform us, no matter what Luther or Calvin thought: to be biblical, these elders tell us, we must get our Christian life also into the equation.

They do teach "forensic" justification: they say that God will look at the "tenor" of our lives and then vindicate us or not, factoring in our works of faith at the judgement according to works. Or so these elders tell us.

Speaking not as an elder of any kind, but as one devoted to Paul's gospel, I would rather (and do!) fellowship with somebody who disagrees with me about "new covenant theology" but who teaces justification by the cross and NOT BY OUR WORKS OF FAITH.

Nobody will be justified by works at the judgement according to works. Our works will be judged by our state of justification (either we are or are not!) So we rejoice in ANOTHER BOOK, not in the books of works.

Jesus Himself was not vindicated by works but only in death and resurrection. The difference these elders and me is the difference between a theology of the cross and a theology of glory.

So two worries:

Is this clear? The question: is the imputed rightoeuness of Christ enough? Or must we also be found with the vital but imperfect obedience and love of those who are no longer sinners in "tenor"?
Who are these elders I keep talking about? James Dunn, Don Garlington, NT Wright, Dan Fuller, John Piper, John Armstrong and Thom Smith. In lectures in Toronto, Smith said we must overcome the narrow distinctions of " the high Calvinists" from down in his part of the country...

In the flexible and polite "evangelical" world, we are taught not to teach "guilt by association". We are warned against the emotion and heat of "protestant fundamentalism", against "slippery slop arugments". So it does not matter that Sanders is a naturalist or that Dunn has a "flawed Christology" or that Wright is a sacramentalist who denies indiivual election... At least these fellows have shown us that Luther was wrong when he so quickly equated Catholics with Jews!

Gal 1:6 some are turning to another gospel, which is not another

new perspective: yes, and those who do that are those who exclude others for sake of narrow distinctions about justification (which is far from the center of Paul's gospel anyway); those who turn to another gospel perhaps have too much legalism or nationalism, but we still have the same "supernaturalism" as Wesley and "evangelical catholics", because despite their legalism their bottom line is Jesus Christ and the grace of a changed life.

Gal 2:16 we know that a person is justified not by works of the law but though faith

new perspective: not by works of law but by works of faith

Gal 2:21 if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing

new perspective: if you forget to give God credit for your works of faith, Christ had died for nothing; but if you do not add to Christ's death your grace-"enabled" works of faith, then Christ also died for nothing...

Romans 11:6 if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would be no more grace

new perspective: if faith is by grace, then you can rely on works of faith and not only on the cross. As long as you do not use the word "merit", there is no danger.

the tapes of Thom Smith's Toronto lectures are available from Toronto Seminary, 103 Girrard St, Toronto, Ca M5A 3T4

Mark McCulley

Copyright © 2000 by Mark McCulley. All rights reserved.