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Book Review – By Faith, Not by Sight (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation, 2d. Ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013. 160 pp. $14.99.

By Faith, Not By SightPauline studies have in recent decades been dominated by the so-called New Perspective(s) on Paul. “In view of reservations and denials that have accompanied the emergence of the New Perspective and are resulting in a diminished interest in the question of the ordo salutis in Paul, it seems appropriate to test these reservations and denials by examining his theology, especially his soteriology, in terms of this question and the issues it raises (p. 4).” Although this state of affairs is what prompted Gaffin to write this monograph, his primary concern here is not to evaluate or interact in detail with the NPP or its advocates. Rather, the NPP will remain in the background, coming into view only as it facilitates his positive presentation of aspects of Paul’s theology, primarily his soteriology.

Originally given as four lectures for the annual School of Theology of Oak Hill Theological College in London, this book subsequently went out of print (cheapest used copy on Amazon currently sells for $99.99!). After reading an advanced electronic review copy of the second edition, I am delighted that it will be released on November 6, 2013. For those who have read the first edition, in the preface to this second edition Gaffin notes that the revisions herein are not extensive, though occasionally they are substantive. In a number of places he has rewritten to enhance clarity, particularly in light of criticisms of the first edition. At several points he has addressed specific criticisms. Finally, a few footnotes have been added, as well as an author/subject index.

Chapter 1: The Order of Salvation and the Theology of Paul
In the first of four chapters, Gaffin gives some background on the NPP and provides some fair generalizations as to the differences between them and the Reformation/confessional Protestantism in regards to their respective assessments of Pauline teaching, especially concerning justification. Then, Gaffin lays his theological cards on the table and states that he is working within the Reformation understanding of Paul and his soteriology, particularly in the tradition of Calvin and Reformed confessional orthodoxy, building on the biblical-theological work within that tradition of Vos and Ridderbos. Then Gaffin lays some foundations, drawing attention to several general matters that need to be clear before even addressing the ordo salutis in Paul. Here, Gaffin addresses biblical theology and redemptive-historical interpretation, the problem of interpreting Paul, Paul as a theologian, and the relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology.

Chapter 2: The Order of Salvation and the “Center” of Paul’s Theology
With these general foundations in Pauline studies established, Gaffin moves on to Paul’s teaching on the ordo salutis. He affirms that Paul does have an ordo salutis, but asserts that an inquiry into the center of Paul’s theology is necessary in order to address it in a way that minimizes the risk of imposing a foreign or distorted agenda to Paul. Using primarily 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Gaffin brings us to the final conclusion that the center of Paul’s theology is the gospel, and the center of that gospel are the death and resurrection of Christ as the fulfillment of Scripture, which has its significance in relation to human sin and its consequences. Gaffin asserts that the center of Paul’s gospel-theology is actually not the ordo salutis, but rather, the historia salutis. He then states that this does not de-center justification in Paul, as some allege, even though it does represent a slightly different emphasis from what has been largely accented since the Reformation.

These conclusions raise the question of the relationship between the historia salutis and the ordo salutis in Paul, and in turn, the more specific question of the place of justification in Paul and how aspects of personal salvation relate to center of the death and resurrection of Christ. In addressing these questions, Gaffin demonstrates the already and not-yet dual focus of Paul’s eschatology and the importance of sin and its consequences in Paul’s soteriology. He then spends some time developing Paul’s understanding of union with Christ, because it is, according to Gaffin, an important part of the center of Paul’s theology – the key soteriological reality comprising all others. Then he talks about how Paul views the relationship between union and justification, as well as the essential role of faith in being united to Christ. Gaffin asserts that union with Christ by faith is the essence of Paul’s ordo salutis.

Chapters 3: The Order of Salvation and Eschatology – 1
The message fleshed out in the previous chapter is eschatological to the core. Therefore, the latter two chapters of this book seeks to address the questions of how Paul elaborates on the eschatological salvation in Christ that is received by faith, and what are the primary eschatological dimensions and soteriological implications of being united to Christ by faith.

Chapter three pertains to the relation of eschatology to anthropology and sanctification. Much of the discussion here relates to 2 Cor. 4:16, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” This is a key text for issues related to Paul’s ordo salutis. “In explicit anthropological terms or basic anthropological profile, 2 Corinthians 4:16 brings into view the impact or outworking of union with Christ in the life of the Christian. It shows that union with Christ as it is realized throughout the period between Christ’s resurrection and his return. It spells out the basic situation, anthropologically, of that union during this period, in terms of both its present eschatological reality and the present limits on that reality” (p. 65). Moreover, this verse reflects the “already/not-yet” nature of our union with Christ and our sharing in its attendant benefits.

The second part of chapter three explores what Gaffin dubs as Paul’s “soteriological anthropology” by bringing together distinctions noted in the previous chapter as well as this one, and by focusing on their interplay: distinctions between forensic and transforming, inner and outer, faith and sight, present and future. Gaffin’s approach here is to use as a reference point the distinction between the forensic and the renovative, since this twofold benefit of union with Christ addresses the twofold consequence of sin. The rest of chapter three addresses the renovative; in other words, sanctification.

Chapter 4: The Order of Salvation and Eschatology – 2
Chapter four addresses the forensic or legal aspect of salvation in Paul. Here, Gaffin first introduces the perspective of the Westminster Standards  in relation to a future aspect of the believer’s justification. Then he makes the case for it with four components: a presumptive consideration stemming from the structure of Paul’s soteriology and eschatology, the forensic significance that both death (including bodily death) and resurrection have for him, his teaching on adoption, and his teaching on the final judgment. The teachings of Paul in relation to a future aspect of justification are summed up well in the Westminster Confession of Faith: “the alone instrument of justification…is…not alone in the person justified” (11.2).

Paul’s teaching on the final judgement as judgment according to works raises the question of how the believer’s faith relates to good works, and to this point Gaffin devotes some time, demonstrating that in the life of the believer, there is a synthetic relationship with faith and works, a constructive bond between faith and what faith does. It’s hardly possible to discuss this issue without almost immediately thinking about Paul and James, and the erroneous views that pit them against each other in terms of justification. To this issue Gaffin next turns, showing that Paul and James are in agreement in regards to justification, for the position that Paul teaches is not “faith alone”, but “by faith alone.” “The faith by which sinners are justified, as it unites them to Christ and so secures for them all the benefits for salvation that there are in him, perseveres to the end and in persevering is never alone” (p. 119). The final section of the chapter and book deals briefly with how Paul relates justification to the present – the ongoing circumstances of the Christian life.

This little book packs a huge, intense theological punch. Gaffin is firmly rooted in Reformation tradition and the Vos-Ridderbos tradition of biblical theology; yet he is not afraid to diverge from Reformation thought/accent when his exegesis convinces him to. Gaffin has written a masterful summary of Pauline soteriology and ordo salutis that interacts with the New Perspective(s) on Paul when it facilitates his positive presentation of aspects of Paul’s theology/soteriology, and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested [Pauline] soteriology and [his] ordo salutis.

Though not written for his academic peers, this book is a level above popular Christian reading. If you don’t have introductory knowledge about soteriology and biblical theology, at times you may find yourself reading and re-reading, stopping to ponder, and perhaps needing to rest your brain. But it will be well worth the effort. Footnotes are not overwhelmingly extensive, but provide excellent suggestions for further study. I know that I will be availing myself of the recommended readings, for Gaffin’s intention in writing this book was to provide an overall perspective; therefore, at a number of places he had to assert rather than argue, and affirm instead of develop. And I know I will be reading this book again to glean more from Gaffin’s sweeping knowledge of Pauline soteriology.

5 out of 5 stars

[I don’t usually attach a star rating to my book reviews because I generally don’t read books unless I know I’m going to like them. And while most books I read are pretty good, I rarely give a book five stars because it has to be a cut above the general mass of good books. This one is a cut above the rest, and one of my favorite books of the year]

Purchase from Westminster Books (currently on sale for $7.50!!) or Amazon.

*I received a free review copy from P&R Publishing. I was not obligated to provide a positive review, and the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

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  1. Book Log: November 2013 |
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