Note: This is the second part of a paper I recently wrote on the nature of justifying faith. IN this section I outline the particular views of Norman Shepherd to show how his definition of faith has driven much of the controversy. Please see first PART I
II. The Present Controversy
Beginning in 1974, Norman Shepherd, professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, said something that troubled the faculty: the instrument in justification, Shepherd insisted, includes both faith and works.
On May 27, 1977 formal charges were filed against Shepherd in the Philadelphia Presbytery of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Shepherd submitted his “Thirty-four Theses on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance, and Good works.” Four theses in particular called into question Shepherd’s view of justifying faith.
Thesis 20: The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, “the doers of the Law will be justified,” is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 8:21; James 1:22-25).
Thesis 21: The exclusive ground of the justification of the believer in the state of justification is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but his obedience, which is simply the perseverance of the saints in the way of truth and righteousness, is necessary to his continuing in a state of justification (Heb 3:6, 14).
Thesis 22: The righteousness of Jesus Christ ever remains the exclusive ground of the believer’s justification, but the personal godliness of the believer is also necessary for his justification in the judgment of the last day (Matt 7:21-23; 25:31-46; Heb. 12:14).
Thesis 23: Because faith which is not obedient faith is dead faith, and because repentance is necessary for the pardon of sin included in justification, and because abiding in Christ by keeping his commandments (John 15:5; 10; 1 John 3:13; 24) are all necessary for continuing in the state of justification, good works, works done from true faith, according to the law of God, and for his glory, being the new obedience wrought by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer united to Christ, though not the ground of his justification, are nevertheless necessary for salvation from eternal condemnation and therefore for justification (Rom. 6:16, 22; Gal. 6:7-9).
Concerns were immediately raised that Shepherd had improperly joined works to faith in God’s act of justifying the sinner.
Without rehearsing all the details of the controversy, and before we evaluate Shepherd’s position, it is important to understand what motivated his re-formulation of the Protestant doctrine of justification.
In his article “Justification by Faith Alone”, Shepherd explores what Protestants mean by the doctrinal formula, “justification by faith alone.” In the introduction Shepherd expresses concern over the problem of antinomianism. To suggest that the “alone” of justification means a simple act of faith by which Jesus accepts the sinner will lead people to think there is no need “to escape from sin or its consequences.” The answer for Shepherd lies in how we should understand the “alone” of this faith that justifies. According to Shepherd, there is one kind of saving faith that the Scriptures, a “living, active and obedient faith.”
Defined this way, there is no need for a logical distinction between justification and sanctification. Shepherd accuses evangelicals of typically “dodging” the verses that Rome employs to refute the Reformation. When Paul speaks of “faith working through love,” or James speaks of Abraham as “justified by works,” all of this dodging becomes unnecessary when we understand that Paul is always speaking in a soteric sense. Faith is never alone because the virtues (what Shepherd calls “gifts and graces”) belong inherently to the nature of faith. This is a Roman definition of faith, since the faith that justifies always includes these gifts. Subsequently, Shepherd is able to say that repentance is necessary for justification, both are intertwined and cannot be separated, and “there is no justification without a penitent faith.” The faith that is the alone instrument of justification is a living faith, “ever accompanied with all other saving graces and is no dead faith, but worketh through love.”
Shepherd clothes his revision of historic Reformed theology in terms of the covenant. Shepherd defines covenant as a “relationship of union and communion between God and his people in the bonds of mutual love and faithfulness.” According to Shepherd, “all the same principles are operative in all covenants,” so the covenants are all covenants of works and grace. Whether we are speaking of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, or the New Covenant, all require the condition of righteousness to be met. The question of what meets this condition of righteousness is germane to understanding Shepherd’s concern of both legalism and antinomianism.
It is important to note that classic Reformed theology distinguished between covenants that operated upon the fundamentally different principles of law and grace. In Shepherd’s mono-convenantal schema, the law and the gospel, faith and works, are meshed together in such a way that “faith and works are inclusive of one another.” In flattening out all covenants without distinguishing whether the given covenant is operating on the principle of law or grace, faith and obedience are joined together and form the believer’s obligation to fulfill the blessings of the covenant.
In classic covenant theology, when a covenant was determined to operate on the principle of grace, even the conditions of the covenant (as all covenants included promises, stipulations, blessings, and curses), were understood to be provided from the gracious hand of God. For instance, Perkins wrote,
In the covenant of grace two things must be considered the substance thereof, and the condition. The substance of the covenant is, that righteousness and life everlasting is given to God’s church and people by Christ. The condition is, that we for our part, are by faith to receive the aforesaid benefits: and this condition is by grace as well as the substance.
Historically, the Abrahamic covenant has been understood to be a gracious covenant because God provides a mediator for the sinner, and because the condition of the covenant of works is considered, either by anticipation or in fact, to have been fulfilled. This gracious covenant is a response to what had been lost by Adam and his posterity in a previous covenant arrangement that operated on the principle of law. In the Abrahamic covenant God makes a provision for sinners to apply the merits and righteousness of the mediator by the instrument of faith.
Thus, when God required faith on the part of Abraham, it was an instrument that was also met by grace. Understood in this way, there is no condition in the administration of the covenant of grace that a sinner in his own strength can do to merit God’s blessing. The entirety of this covenant operates under the principle of grace. It is for this reason that even conditionality, strictly speaking, becomes unconditional for the elect as God gives his own requirement of faith to the sinner.
The difference in Shepherd’s covenant theology is that he collapses the different words of law and gospel into one mono-covenantal system. This collapsing of two fundamentally different principles has a direct bearing on how Shepherd explains conditionality in covenant relationship.
Adam’s covenantal obedience in the garden did not merit any reward; neither does our covenantal obedience. But both are required by the covenant demand. The threat for disobedience is eternal death. This threat is as real for us as it was for Adam in the garden. The warning of the New Covenant must not be blunted or made hypothetical in any way. God’s threat to Adam or to Israel was not idle, and the same sanction of the covenant is directed against us in the new Covenant.
Shepherd’s covenant theology clearly implies that there is only one covenant, and it is, in effect, a covenant of works. Shepherd’s position is strikingly similar to Rome’s as the need for the active righteousness of a mediator, namely, Christ’s righteousness, becomes unnecessary. Shepherd writes, “the blessings of the covenant are the gifts of God’s free grace, and they are received by way of a living and active faith.” Since all covenants operate upon the same principles, like Adam and Israel, if the new covenant believer does not fulfill his side of the covenant with what Shepherd calls an “obedient faith”, he too will be cut off.
When Shepherd states that faith fulfills the condition of righteousness in all covenants, since he understands all covenants as operating together upon the principles of law and grace, he has no option but to define faith as something other than apprehending and receiving the righteousness of Christ, and by so doing inculcates into justifying faith the sinner’s obedience. Shepherd writes,
The works to be distinguished from faith in the Pauline passages are not good works, but works of the flesh, works that are done to provide a meritorious ground of justification…Since faith, repentance, and good works are intertwined as covenantal response, and since good works are necessary to justification, the ordo salutis would better be: regeneration, faith/repentance/new obedience, justification.
Shepherd calls into question what Paul meant in Rom. 3:28 when he wrote “that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Shepherd defines the works of the law as “adherence to the provisions of the Mosaic covenant,” and sharply criticizes Luther for inserting the word alone into his translation. This distinction is very important in Shepherd’s view. Historically, Protestants have excluded all works from faith as it functions in the act of justification, without distinction. But Shepherd makes a categorical separation between the works of the law and the works of faith. Theses 24 and 25 capture this distinction.
Thesis 24: The “works” (Eph. 2:9), or “works of the law” (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16), or “righteousness of my own derived from the law” (Phil. 3:9), or “deeds which we have done in righteousness” (Titus 3:5) which are excluded from justification and salvation, are not “good works” in the Biblical sense of works for which the believer is created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10), or works wrought by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 5:22-26), or works done from true faith (I Thes. 1:3), according to the law of God, and for his glory, but are works of the flesh (Gal. 3:3) done in unbelief (Gal. 3:12) for the purpose of meriting God’s justifying verdict.
Thesis 25: The Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone does not mean that faith in isolation or abstraction from good works justifies, but that the way of faith (faith working by love), as opposed to the “works of the law” or any other conceivable method or justification, is the only way of justification. (John Calvin, Institutes, III, 11. 20. “Indeed, we confess with Paul that no other faith justifies ‘but faith working through love’ [Gal. 5:6]. But it does not take its power to justify from that working of love. Indeed, it justifies in no other way but in that it leads us into fellowship with the righteousness of Christ.”).
Putting these statements together, the way of justification is by the way of an obedient, active, living faith which includes the good works of the law and not the works of the flesh.
In Shepherd’s discussion of Genesis 15:6 he writes that the faith that justified Abraham was a living and obedient faith. Shepherd correlates James chapter 2 to Abraham’s forensic justification and applies his obedience as part and parcel to the very faith that was credited to him as righteousness. Shepherd writes,
Verse 21 [of James 2] says that Abraham was considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. His faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did…James goes on to say that faith without deeds is dead. For that reason, he can also say in verse 24 that a “person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” The faith credited to Abraham as righteousness was a living and active faith.
In the Mosaic covenant Shepherd again states, “without a living, active, penitent, and obedient faith, Israel could not remain in the Promise land.”
Even more striking is the way Shepherd applies covenant conditionality in the new covenant to the work of Jesus Christ. Shepherd writes, “His [Christ’s] was a living, active, and obedient faith that took him all the way to the cross. This faith was credited to him as righteousness.” Drawing a conclusion for the new covenant believer, Shepherd writes, “A living, active, and abiding faith is the way in which the believer enters into eternal life.” Like Adam, if the new covenant believer does not fulfill his side of the covenant with an obedient faith, he too will be cut off and face eternal condemnation.
Shepherd’s view can be summarized this way: God graciously establishes the covenantal relationship with believers and their children. But in this mutual covenantal bond of love, the believer maintains this relationship and fulfills the condition of righteousness by a faith that is living, active, abiding, and obedient, by which the believer enters eternal life. Justification as a narrower concept and salvation as a broader concept that includes sanctification, an important distinction in Reformed theology, is an absent distinction in Shepherd. Therefore, the justification of the sinner is by the way of faith and good works.
Having overviewed Norman Shepherd’s view of justification and good works, we now transition to demonstrate how Shepherd’s views have impacted the present-day Reformed community.
“Reasons and Specifications Supporting the Action of the Board of Trustees in Removing Professor Shepherd,” in A Companion to the Current Justification Controversy, ed. by John W Robbins (Unicoi, Tenessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2003), 135. See also Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, ed., by R. Scott. Clark (Philippsburg: P&R, 2007), 3-24.
O Palmer Robertson. A Companion to the Current Justification Controversy, ed. John W. Robbins (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2003), 34-35.
 For an evaluation of other documents, see the 258th Synod of the RUCS Report of the Special Committee to Study Justification In Light of the Current Justification Controversy.
 “Justification By Faith Alone,” Reformation and Revival 11 No. 2 (Spring 2002): 75-90.
 Ibid., 76. Shepherd asks elsewhere, “How do you preach grace without suggesting that it makes no difference what your lifestyle is like? In other words, how do you preach grace without being antinomian? On the other hand, how do you preach repentance without calling into questions salvation by grace apart from works? How do you insist on obedience without being legalistic?” Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace,(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2000), 8-9.
 Shepherd, Justification by Faith Alone, 75.
 Ibid., 81.
 Ibid., 85.
 Ibid., 79.
 Shepherd, Call of Grace, 12.
 Ibid., 51.
 For instance, the Reformed confessions clearly present the covenant in the garden with Adam as a covenant of works, upon which the law principle of “do this and live” was operative. See Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 6, 9; But in the covenant God made with Abraham and his seed, the operative principle was grace. By the instrument of faith, the sinner, as a recipient of the gracious covenant made through Abraham, is called to renounce his own works and look in true faith to the promised Christ who, as the second Adam was sent to merit all the demands of righteousness that the first Adam had lost in the garden. This righteousness received by faith is the ground of the sinner’s justification before God.
 Richard Philips, “Covenant Confusion,” Seminar Address for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformation Theology Phoenix/Indianapolis/Philadelphia (March-April, 2004). See also, “Which Covenant Theology” by Michael S. Horton in CJPM, 197-228.
Perkins, Reformed Catholik, 571.
 Instrument is probably a much safer word to employ in light of the current controversy. CF. “Faith Formed by Love of Faith Alone? The Instrument of Justification” W Robert Godfrey in CJPM, 267-284.
 Cf. “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching” R.S. Clark in CJPM, 331-363.
 Robertson, Companion, 151-152.
 Shepherd, Call of Grace, 22.
 Reasons and Specifications Supporting the Action of the Board of Trustees in Removing Professor Shepherd,” in A Companion to the Current Justification Controversy, 150.
 Calvin’s commentary on Gal. 3:28 is helpful in this context, “The meaning is, that there is no distinction of persons here, and therefore it is of no consequence to what nation or condition any one may belong: nor is circumcision any more regarded than sex or civil rank. And why? Because Christ makes them all one. Whatever may have been their former differences, Christ alone is able to unite them all. Ye are one: the distinction is now removed. The apostle’s object is to shew that the grace of adoption, and the hope of salvation, do not depend on the law, but are contained in Christ alone, who therefore is all. Greek is here put, as usual, for Gentile, and one department for the whole class. John Calvin Calvin’s Commentaries Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 112.
Robertson, Companion, 34-35. Again Calvin is worth citing, “There would be no difficulty in this passage, were it not for the dishonest manner in which it has been tortured by the Papists to uphold the righteousness of works. When they attempt to refute our doctrine, that we are justified by faith alone, they take this line of argument. If the faith which justifies us be that “which worketh by love,” then faith alone does not justify. I answer, they do not comprehend their own silly talk; still less do they comprehend our statements. It is not our doctrine that the faith which justifies is alone; we maintain that it is invariably accompanied by good works; only we contend that faith alone is sufficient for justification. The Papists themselves are accustomed to tear faith after a murderous fashion, sometimes presenting it out of all shape and unaccompanied by love, and at other times, in its true character. We, again, refuse to admit that, in any case, faith can be separated from the Spirit of regeneration; but when the question comes to be in what manner we are justified, we then set aside all works. With respect to the present passage, Paul enters into no dispute whether love cooperates with faith in justification; but, in order to avoid the appearance of representing Christians as idle and as resembling blocks of wood, he points out what are the true exercises of believers. When you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or of works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle. Paul does not here treat of justification, or assign any part of the praise of it to love. Had he done so, the same argument would prove that circumcision and ceremonies, at a former period, had some share in justifying a sinner. As in Christ Jesus he commends faith accompanied by love, so before the coming of Christ ceremonies were required. But this has nothing to do with obtaining righteousness, as the Papists themselves allow; and neither must it be supposed that love possesses any such influence. John Calvin Calvin’s Commentaries Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 152-3.
 Shepherd, Call of Grace,16.
 Ibid., 30.
 Ibid., 19.
 Ibid., 51. This summarizes Shepherds view of faith, but the same definition is dispersed throughout his writings. In his paper the “Grace of Justification”, the same joining of obedience as an element of faith. Shepherd speaks of “faith as entailing obedience”, and is “invariably intertwined with repentance.” Further, the forsaking of sin and rebellion is itself an “act of faith.” This is thoroughly Pelagian
 Morton Smith similarly states, “In the Call of Grace the author’s primary thesis can be summarized as follows: The way of salvation, that is justification, is the way of faith and good works. The faith that saves, the faith that justifies is active, living, and abiding. It perseveres to the end. The way or instrument of justification (though Shepherd does not employ the term “instrument”) is faith and works. Morton Smith, The Biblical Plan of Salvation, With Reference to the Covenant of Works, Imputation, and Justification by Faith, (The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision), ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Knox Theological Seminary: Fort Lauderdale, 2004), 103.
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