Doug earlier today talked about latitude in the Reformed tradition regarding the active obedience of Christ. Bill later chimed in with some remarks about the Marrow Controversy and neo-nomianism. As I’ve read the blog for the past two weeks, I can’t help but think that this debate is really between supporters (FV) and critics (non-FV) of Norman Shepherd and his proposals that started over three decades ago.
As I understand the origins of that controversy, Shepherd was concerned about anti-nomianism within the Reformed ranks. He sought various ways to correct it, one of the most important for him being the idea of obedient faith, or that the kind of faith that is full or alive is always obedient. This developed into a full-blown controversy about the relationship between justification and sanctification, and whether Shepherd blurred these doctrines in his effort to counter anti-nomianism.
It seems to me from my limited reading of FV that it is characterized by a similar concern to counter anti-nomianism. You question the doctrine of assurance, you attach a high importance to attending the means of grace, you deny the active obedience of Christ — all of these moves seem designed to get Christians to be diligent, to be faithful, to observe God’s law, to walk in the way of the covenant.
The Reformed tradition has had ways of countering anti-nomianism (the third use of the law, the Heidelberg’s structure of guilt, grace, gratitute) while also maintaining that faith alone rests and receives the saving work of Christ. Justification always leads to sanctification, but sanctification never leads to justification. In that sense, the gospel has an anti-nomian ring. It invites Paul to ask, shall we sin that grace may abound?
So I wonder if this is a big part of the difference between the various sides in this discussion.
I also wonder why those who oppose anti-nomianism are so eager to encourage us to be faithful and obedient, as if our faithfulness or obedience vindicates our faith. The Bible and the WCF are clear that our good works, our faithfulness, are filthy rags. That is why I quoted from Calvin’s catechism of 1536 way back when where he teaches that even our good works need the imputed righteousness of Christ to receive God’s favor. So I wonder if the neo-nomians do not have a sufficiently realistic view of the sin that continues to corrupt our faithfulness.
If FV teaches that continuing in the covenant through faithfulness, FV offers me no hope because I know that my faithfulness is still polluted with unfaithfulness. How could such faithless faithfulness ever keep me in the covenant?