What a great online fight over salvation and good works at the moment, isn’t it? And it’s really not that difficult. It all should be so clear for everyone. We all should know better. There are a plethora of conditions for final salvation. Where have you been? A pastor as eminent as John Piper has said it. When you stand at the last judgment, you should know by now, there are conditions you need to meet. There had better be fruit, there had better be good works, or else, for you cannot be saved without them, and these are causes of your salvation. 

Mark Jones has made this all the more clear for us; good works are necessary for your salvation. As Dr. Jones says, Zanchius said it, Mastricht said it, Goodwin said it, Owen said it, Twisse said it, and Ursinus said it. This is not difficult, if you are going to take issue with John Piper, you “need to spend some time getting theological training and then, after that, publish via peer-reviewed journals, books, etc., before you can be taken seriously.”

And, according to Jones, if you are not “thoroughly acquainted” with the plethora of past distinctions between things like dispositiva (that’s Latin), the right versus the possession in the necessity of good works for salvation, then “you have no business writing" (or speaking I assume) on this topic. 

If that isn’t enough to shut it down, it gets even better. Now Dr. Jones has proposed a disputation with Dr. R. Scott Clark. He will fly down to Escondido on his own dime and debate these fine distinctions for the good of the church. Since things have reached a “hysterical pitch” the disputatio will be the solution. If not, then people should stop tweeting and be called out for questioning anyone who says that good works are necessary for salvation.

If I had the space and time, especially observing that this month we celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, this would be a good moment it interject the story of Martin Luther. The little known Augustinian monk who questioned Rome who said good works were necessary for salvation, and after a series of disputationes, he was put on trial, excommunicated, his works burned, and he was threatened to “go to the flames” since he had no business questioning the theological giants and the church. But I digress.

I want to fast forward to October, 2017 as we celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, to speak of a little unknown man who has made a small protest to Dr. Jones about confusing what once was clear for him. In his recent piece over at the Calvinist International, Jones made all the above statements that were quoted. In the comment section you will find a man of which few, if any, will take notice. 

His name is John Lewis. John is a very young Christian, “saved at the age of 61.” Notice that, "saved", or at least he thought for now at 70, after reading the Calvinist International, he's confused. What's important to notice is that this common man takes it out of the theoretical for us and takes us to the heart of what we do as pastors in helping real, struggling, sinful people know how they can be right with God, something pastors are supposed to care most about. 

He writes, 

Well Martin Luther was one person, and he took upon the entire Roman Catholic Church. Think about that! I am no theologian, I’m a very young Christian, 70 years old, saved at the age of 61, when I came to understand the selfless act and blood sacrifice of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and I follow no one except Him and Him alone. It is by faith in that one act, it is by my understanding of the criminals on either side of Him, the one who acknowledged Christ and rebuked the other criminal. The one who asked Jesus to remember him, he who also deserved eternal death, and yet was spared….I have absolutely no gripe with John Piper at all, except to say that methinks he took something not all that difficult (to quote you) and made it quite confusing, and I’m wondering how Martin Luther would have responded?
What a great question. How would Martin Luther have responded this? Mr. Lewis then went on to thank Dr. Jones who “gave him a lot to think about.” He is  clearly now wrestling with the issues. Lewis provides an entire citation from Calvin who once had greatly comforted him in speaking of the singular grace God gives. He was clearly thinking of how wonderful it was when he understood how he was right with God. But now, he’s confused.

Gauging from what he wrote, his struggle seems to go something like this: “Maybe, just maybe, Piper, Jones, and these highly esteemed men are on to something that I have missed. Maybe I have misunderstood how I am right with God. Maybe I have this all wrong. I lived 60 years of my life in rebellion to God. I know what I’ve done. It’s bad. I’ve only been a Christian for 11 years now and I’m 71. Surely the good hasn’t outweighed the bad. Humanly speaking, I may not have a lot of time on this earth left. What works do I need to do to have salvation, to gets it's possession? I’m really confused by this dispositiva thing, and even more so by the right and possession. All of this has thoroughly confused me. Maybe I don’t have everything I need in Jesus. And now I'm not even supposed to write about it, just accept  what these great theologians say, since I am terribly ignorant.”

I’m not sure exactly what’s in John Lewis’ mind, but I know this, by his own admission he is now confused. He is wondering "how Martin Luther would have responded." 
If I may, Dear Mr. Lewis, Luther really did stand up to those who were teaching salvation by works. Luther did have an answer to this and here is how it went: 

Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this `faith,’ either... 
Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words...
The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools. Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.

Notice true faith doesn't have to debate whether good works need to be done. When we believe, we are declared legally righteous before God and saved. Period. We are never more or less justified following that wondrous declarative act of God. In saving, justifying faith, we receive all of Christ's righteousness who fully accomplishes our salvation by his merits, and then from true faith, a born again Christian cannot help but do works, so much so, that it's natural to the new life. 

The current controversy is confusing and unnecessary. The propositions are causing people to move away from good works as consequential fruit of true faith, and accept that good works are a condition/cause now for our salvation. It smacks of Rome and does great damage among the sheep. 

Just because past and current theologians use certain words to make distinctions, this does not mean they made Christ's work of salvation plain to the sheep. Just because one can cite a thousand Reformed theologians, and ten thousand Puritan ones, it doesn't mean they are were always helpful or clear. We have to decipher who are the most helpful theologians in making Christ's work of salvation clear in our time and in our day

This is especially true when the language of the theologians confuses them with regard to Christ's work. It's no longer merely an academic "debate" over language, it has now morphed into a serious theological problem among our people who are now confused in thinking salvation is by works. There is nothing pastoral about it and Mr. Lewis is proof.

So back to John Lewis who is now confused. Because of this theological browbeating, no longer can he say he was "saved at 61", can he?  He now may reach his deathbed with a question mark regarding salvation because his faith did not produce enough good works. I trust Jones does not intend for this, but this kind of confusion will be a consequence of these discussions in our day. 

Think of this horrendous situation now created: "faith alone may not be enough for me because I have not done enough to enter glory." So his testimony should now go something like this: "I once thought I was saved at 61, but now I'm confused, I'm hoping I will be "saved" when I die as I now do the good works that are required of me for salvation.  

This isn’t a television show, folks, but a simple, common man reading these things and now confused over things that Reformed pastors should be making clear. Shame on us Reformed folk who are doing this to the sheep! I say first to me, shame on me as a pastor if I have confused the sheep. And shame on all of us for bringing in this confusion and hurting the message of Christ’s finished work. This is a tragedy and we should be in tears over this, not laughing and jesting on Facebook. 

So I have a proposition to Dr. Jones. Instead of intimidating people without degrees who comment, and instead of offering to arrange a theological disputatio at a seminary, especially seeing that it has created a virtual MMA kind of online response, and instead of making this post a source of jest on Facebook, this is what I propose:

Dear Mark Jones, 

These things are confusing sheep who read you. I trust you don't really mean to do this. I propose that you fly on your own dime to see John Lewis and pastorally help him since now he is confused about these matters. We are always forced to more clarity as pastors when we are looking at real, dying people and explaining salvation to them. 

And when you do this kind of good work, in silence, without public acclaim, then we can talk about great rewards in heaven. Ah, but even then we really won't need to, for true faith never thinks twice as to whether a good deed like this visit should be done. 

For a more detailed answer from the Reformed confessions on how to speak of the place of good works, see here: http://theaquilareport.com/how-arminian-has-the-sanctification-debate-become/


  1. Amen! Thank you, Pastor Gordon.

  2. Even if Jones were a raging heretic, your argument that his offer to debate Clark is a bad thing is illogical and unpersuasive.

  3. While it is sad to see the kind of confusion this has caused, what about the other side of the coin. There are plenty of people who have been taken in by the antinomianism of the Evangelical world and believe that if they say a prayer or belief a couple key propositions, they are undoubtedly saved. This is certainly *not* what the apostle Paul or the Lord Jesus Christ believed. Piper and Jones's language can be a useful corrective to that kind of teaching. Whether it could be done in a more pastorally sensitive way is a question I do not know the answer to.

    1. It's not's a sensible corrective, at all. Doesn't Lewis prove that? If someone feels that one doctrine is being overemphasized, the way to correct the problemis not to brow beat with another doctrine in a confusing way. The theological priorities in the correction get lost. In other words, there are certain theological categories that if their logical priority is lost, the pursuit of balance can actually make things worse. That is what's happened here.

  4. What Ursinus actually says about "whether good works are necessary to salvation" (pp. 484-485 of his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism):

    "The...expression must be explained in this way; that good works *are necessary to salvation*, not as a cause to an effect, or as if they merited a reward, but as a part of salvation itself, or as an antecedent to a consequent, or as a means without which we cannot obtain the end. In the same way we may also say, that good works are necessary to righteousness or justification, viz: as a consequence of justification, with which regeneration is inseparably connected."

    Now listen to what he says in the very next sentence:

    "But yet we would prefer not to use these forms of speech, 1. Because they are ambiguous. 2. Because they breed contentions, and give our enemies room for cavilling. 3. Because these expressions are not used in Scriptures with which our forms of speech should conform as nearly as possible. We may more safely and correctly say, *That good works are necessary in them that are justified, and that are to be saved.* To say that good works are necessary in them that are to be justified, is to speak ambiguously, because it may be so understood as if they were required before justification, and so become a cause of our justification. Augustin has correctly said, 'Good works do not precede them that are to be justified, but follow them that are justified.'...For good works are necessary...in them that are to be saved...as a part of salvation itself"(I omitted some intervening clauses, but not to change the meaning but to make it clearer for the reader).

    Thank you for your post. It is pastors like us who will be forced to pick up the pieces of the shattered consciences of sheep who think their final salvation will somehow depend on their good works and not on the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ alone.

    Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:12-13)

    1. This is a fantastic addition to Chris' post. Thanks!

  5. Bill, that's great! Just what I was trying to say (he said it much better), glad you pointed out Ursinus warned against this.

  6. Dear Chris,

    Rumor has it you are into selling books and you get them from interesting places. Well, I will not sell you a book, but I have written a book for the sheep on these issues and made them as plain as possible. If you will do me the great honor of reading this book, I would love to know if I have made these issues plain enough. Crossway will be putting this into the hands of far, far more people than a couple of blog posts...Just send me your physical mailing address.


    mark jones

  7. Dear Mark,

    Thanks for the reply. I would certainly like to read your book, but I do have to admit, it makes it hard for me to read things in theory when I see a completely different online behavior = "life" and the confusing of sheep with regard to good works = "doctrine".

    Do you remember when you said in a public forum that you can't wait to see me in person? I do. I didn't quite know how to take that, was that a threat? Sure seemed like it to me. So I wrote you privately offering that you to stop by my house in Escondido next time you're here, and you said," never me never to contact you again." Remember?

    Do you see a disconnect there when you are telling us how to pastor, love our enemies, with behaving like this? I trust you do. Do you see a disconnect in making all these fine distinctions on good works, and then the confusion that results in someone like Mr. Lewis?

    The door is always open on my end. But most of all, I encourage you to contact Mr. Lewis. He should be of greater concern to the both of us at the moment.

    Glad you're willing to talk to me again.

    Chris Gordon

  8. Dear Chris,
    Well, if you want to make this personal that is fine. I am sorry for offence I have caused. I ask forgiveness. But I also ask that you look at my publishing record with many different Reformed publishers and see that I have done my best to make complicated things plain for laypeople. After all, like you, I am a pastor, not a scholar. I sincerely hope you will read "Faith.Hope.Love", as I think you will be pleasantly surprised and happy at our agreement in these matters.

  9. Thank you, Mark.

    You're forgiven. It isn't about me, it's about people like John Lewis. That's why I wrote the post. I've known pastors who have been by the death beds of people who have been in the church their entire life and these sheep said they hope they've done enough for God to save them. It breaks a pastor's heart. What you're saying sounds like the same thing. So I trust you see why I wrote. Glad this is not personal.

    Chris Gordon

  10. It is not easy to do justice to all of the difficult texts, such as Romans 8.13. But Romans 8.13 is between 8.1 and 8.32 and I simply say that faith in Christ is all that is needed for salvation. That has been the backbone of my ministry at Faith for ten year and the vast majority of the people under my care will happily attest to that. Justification is an act of God that can never be revoked and it is the only righteousness that can withstand the severity of God's judgment. I will die for that truth and I have tried to make that as plain as possible. Did you read my post on the "means and way"? I would be curious to know if that was clear enough for a person to have confidence regarding a passage like Romans 8.13. The whole point of that post was to make Owen plain for laypeople.

    In Christ,
    Mark Jones


  11. I'm glad to hear that, Mark. I think our online actions and message should be consistent with our priorities and behavior before our people in the church.

    As for Owen, I read your piece, and believe you captured what Owen said. But he was quick to observe in the work that "this is not a cause and effect relationship properly; eternal life properly belongs to the free gift that comes through the work of Jesus Christ." His whole point is (I might have missed it in your post) that the Spirit is the efficient cause. The principle efficient cause by which mortification is effectuated in the life of the believer is “by the Spirit.” "The condition cannot be met unless a person has the Spirit; the Spirit is the single appointed means for mortification in the life of the believer."

    I think Bill Godfrey provides a helpful caution from Ursinus that encourages being careful with certain language. That's what my concern is with the Piper defense and the confusion it brought to John Lewis. I know you are going to hate this, but the whole thing sounds FV, and we're already fought that battle when you were in doctoral school. Please keep that in mind.

  12. Dear Chris,

    Well, I am not sure how this can all sound Federal Vision when all of the theologians (Owen, Goodwin, Turretin) and terms ("possession", "right", "means", "way") come from the 17thC Reformed.

    Maybe I can say this: it is important to see in each blog post what I'm trying to do. So, for example, you point out the Spirit's work in Rom. 8:13. Absolutely. I agree. No problem there at all. But my point in the post was slightly different.

    First, I wanted to show how we can speak of a "condition" in two senses. The one sense would cause a true child of God to despair. I don't want that. Hence, I love how John Owen puts it that there is a duty required but the condition will certainly be fulfilled. The whole point is to assure a Christian. There's a lot more one can say, but I was trying to point out that "condition" can be used in a sense that is consistent with free grace versus a sense (that I abhor) that is not.

    Second, in the case of quoting theologians in a previous post. My point was not to use them to outline a whole body of divinity on good works. Rather, Piper used certain language that people found problematic. I understand that. But literally dozens of other Reformed authors have used similar language, as far as I can tell. Now, I appreciate your desire for these things to be made plain. But my point in that post was to ask someone like Rachel Miller if she would go after these other chaps as well? My suspicion is that Piper is an easy target for some, but if other Reformed theologians (Westminster divines, for example) used that language, no one would bat an eye.

    So, I think in blog posts, rather than books (where my own settled views are offered for laypeople), one has to consider the purpose.

    I trust we won't completely see eye-to-eye on this (though, I pray we might one day), but I really hope you can see I am trying often to take the Puritans/Reformed scholastics and use what is helpful from them to make things clearer for us. If I have failed in that, I apologize. But my intent is for clarity, not confusion.

    In Christ,

  13. Dear Mark,

    Because it sounds like this:

    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).

    and it especially sounds like this:
    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).

    I trust you know who said these things? You realize they were condemned?

    I'm all about making proper distinctions, but some have already been on trial, which requires all the more caution and care when language is confusing.

    I've got to run, be back later, didn't you say something about pastors needing to exercise?

  14. Dear Chris,

    In my blog posts I summarized Piper's position thus:

    "In our own reading of Piper it is clear to us that he:

    1. Believes justification is a once-for-all act.
    2. It can never be revoked.
    3. God will justify us on the final day publicly based upon the same grounds he justified us when we first believed, namely, the imputed righteousness of Christ.

    Nevertheless, he is also saying, along with Reformed theologians:

    1. The path we walk on towards glorification includes good works.
    2. This path is not optional (i.e., it is necessary).
    3. Those who are truly justified by a supernatural faith will certainly walk on the path God has laid out for them to eternal life.
    4. God will vindicate us publicly by showing that our faith was genuine, proved by good works. But these good works, as noted above, are not the ground for entering heaven."

    (I have a personal email where he affirms this).

    I also wrote, using the "right" versus "possession" distinction:

    As Herman Witsius argued, the right to life is “assigned to the obedience of Christ, that all the value of our holiness may be entirely excluded.” However, regarding the possession of life, “our works…which the Spirit of Christ works in us, and by us, contribute something to the latter.” [Simply, works are the path on which we walk to glory, but are not the ground for entering heaven since we receive that due to the 'right' of salvation.]

    Personally, I don't see how this schema is not faithful to the Reformed tradition and the Scriptures. It also appears pastorally helpful to many who have confessed as much to me.

    I have never read Norman Shepherd (I had to google those quotes), but I would rather be judged on what I am trying to argue in terms of justification and good works, not whether something sounds similar (since we can play that game with Romish quotes, Lutheran quotes, Methodist quotes, etc.).

    In Christ,

    1. Dear Mark,

      Let me remove the substance of the debate between RSC and you and just ask a more simple question. Do you consider Piper's way of addressing this to be helpful to average folks in the pew? Does it cause the whole discussion of salvation to be more or less clear for them? I think the fact that you have written numerous posts defending the substance of the argument, followed by confusion from men like John Lewis, demonstrates that clarity may not be the result of Piper's point. Additionally, you took time to clarify Piper's point, and even got an email confirming your clarification, which indicates that perhaps it wasn't that clear in the first place.

      Piper's post, and the follow up post on Desiring God, did not serve to bring clarity, even if it was in keeping with the ideas / language of some / many reformed divines. That may be a good debate at ETS, but I wonder if it serves well the average folk reading DG blog posts. I can certainly attest to the fact that I know pastors who read a post like that and go right to laying heavy burdens on their congregations. That's not Piper's fault. But he does bear responsibility for being clear. It isn't my fault when my congregation hears me improperly. However, I do bear responsibility to know my congregation and to work diligently to be as clear as possible.

      By the way, since you have pointed out that your new book speaks to this clearly at the level of the average person, I will pick it up and give it a read. I am always looking for resources that encourage my church to look away from themselves to Christ.

    2. Dear Mark,

      I just got back from mortifying the fat of the flesh, it was purely a a good work on my part, I admit.

      Now back to your comments.

      First, I totally reject #3 and so should you. A two-stage justification is not Reformed and no where supported in Scripture. Please prove to me differently. The only value it has is confusing the sheep.

      When talking of good works, the best statement ever penned can be found in the Belgic Art. 24. I won't cite it all, but it says plainly that works are of no account to our justification thereby removing any speaking of works in relation to a supposed justification in regard to our final salvation. That view was condemned by the Reformed theologians (father Perkins) and our Synods with regard to the FV.

      Speaking of a two-stage justification will produce what the Belgic warns against in troubling the sheep and it's a doctrine of Rome.

      Second, for all the theoretical talks regarding conditions, final justification based on works, etc., our experience with the chief proponents in their behavior is shocking. I ask, do you think your online behavior has modeled for us the kind of good works that would meet a final justification, if it were indeed so? Look, I'm as bad as the next guy, but this should give pause to anyone saying such things. I want to fight "for you" on this one. I don't think you've modeled it that well for us, personally speaking. Again, I probably haven't either. Maybe it's a good time to quote Machen and that whole active obedience death bed hope line. Most people online I see espousing these things act like complete jerks and antinomians. They model badly what good works should even look like, so they loose all credibility.

      Third, have we forgotten John Lewis? He seems to be sidelined already. I think we should "together" be in tears over his confusion in this discussion, don't you?

      Finally, I appreciate how you have dialoged with me here, thank you.

  15. Chad, we can talk elsewhere, as we have before. I think you'll find we all share slightly different perspectives on whether something was helpful, clear, etc. It isn't easy to satisfy everyone's feelings on this. I don't agree with your last sentence in the first paragraph. I was putting in point form the basic argument he made and wanted to be sure (and I was fairly certain) that I had understood him. Turns out I had, which actually disproves your point. He was clear and I was able to understand him.

  16. Thank you so much for what you've said here.

    I'm the co-host of Theology Gals podcast. We've had Dr. R Scott Clark & Rachel Miller on as guests, and I've appreciated their contributions on this topic.

    Struggles with assurance is the most common thing women write to me about. Overwhelmingly. Some of these women are in Calvinistic Baptist Churches, but many are in NAPARC churches. Every one of them says something like, "I just don't know if I obey enough, I'm still struggling with sin."

    There's many "John Lewis'" and not just as a result of the current debate, although they obviously exist too. But also as a result of what they're hearing from the pews.

    1. From the Heidelberg Catechism: 86. Q.
      Since we have been delivered
      from our misery
      by grace alone through Christ,
      without any merit of our own,
      why must we yet do good works?
      Because Christ,
      having redeemed us by his blood,
      also renews us by his Holy Spirit
      to be his image,
      so that with our whole life
      we may show ourselves thankful to God
      for his benefits, 1
      and he may be praised by us. 2
      Further, that we ourselves
      may be assured of our faith
      by its fruits, 3
      and that by our godly walk of life
      we may win our neighbours for Christ. 4

    2. Thanks, Coleen. I hope you are able to help many people in their struggle with assurance. I fear, however, that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes these issues, in the wake of this confusion we will probably be seeing a lot more casualties.

    3. Great citation from the HC, Mark. One of my favorite!

  17. Chris,

    I do not reject three as I believe it is pretty standard stuff and hardly controversial. I'm genuinely surprised. The final justification is simply the public declaration that we are righteous in Christ. It is the same declaration that was made when we first believed. Openly acquitted.

    I must say, I have been influenced by Ursinus on the matter of good works in relation to salvation.

    He says, that we perform good works so that we may escape temporal and eternal punishment. Matt. 7:19; Rom. 8:13; Ps. 39:11.

    1. Good works are necessary to salvation NOT:
    a. As a cause to an effect.
    b. As if they merited a reward.

    2. Good works are necessary to salvation AS:
    a. Part of salvation itself.
    b. An antecedent to a consequent. [Note the idea of order]
    c. A means without which we cannot obtain the end.

    He adds:

    1. Likewise, we can say that good works are necessary to righteousness or justification that is necessary in them that are to be justified, viz: as a consequence of justification, with which regeneration is inseparably connected.
    a. But it is much better to say: “That good works are necessary in them that are justified, and that are to be saved.”
    b. For to say that good works are necessary in them that are to be justified is ambiguous and makes it sound as if they come before justification and as a cause of justification.

    2. No one can be saved without good works so good works are necessary to salvation.

    I agree with him. If I have misread Ursinus then I am open to correction, but I think he is the one quoted above who cautions us against saying things that are not pastoral.

    Finally, do you mind if perhaps we can forego for now the talk about online personal piety. It is a tricky subject with the possibility of unsubstantiated facts, innunendo, context, etc. I don't deny it is important, but I think it would be good if we could focus on the theology and not cloud this discussion with those issues. I also would not like to hear FV or Shepherd since I am simply trying to put forth a historical case based on our Reformed forefathers whom we mutually love (e.g., Ursinus, Owen).


    PS, as for Mr. Lewis, please be assured that I am doing something about it and reaching out to him.

  18. Mark,

    I think public piety when we are speaking of good works and making these distinctions is fair game. But I will honor your request. I agree that I probably shouldn't have raised our personal squabble, so forgive me for that. I was trying to illustrate a point with that.

    As for Ursinus, again, what was cited above is so helpful.

    Ursinus says, "But yet we would prefer not to use these forms of speech, 1. Because they are ambiguous. 2. Because they breed contentions, and give our enemies room for cavilling. 3. Because these expressions are not used in Scriptures with which our forms of speech should conform as nearly as possible. We may more safely and correctly say, *That good works are necessary in them that are justified, and that are to be saved.* To say that good works are necessary in them that are to be justified, is to speak ambiguously, because it may be so understood as if they were required before justification, and so become a cause of our justification."

    He recognizes certain distinctions can be made, but then cautions directly against using this language for all the reasons I have expressed here. That's the heart of my post.

    Thanks for commenting,

    In Christ,
    Chris Gordon

  19. This is just a question (I’m not trying to condemn Piper using the “guilt by association” fallacy) but when we are discussing what Piper has written about justification/eternal salvation in relation to works, should it be legitimate to point out that when Piper has said that Federal Vision Theology is not “another gospel”? And even that NT Wright doesn’t preach “another gospel”? I mean, how many true gospels can there be? One, by my count.

    It can get confusing when people will literally use the same terms and phrasing...but can mean totally different things. For example, I’ve talked to many Roman Catholics who say they believe they are saved by Christ alone just like us Protestants. But, I know their underlying theology behind that claim and I know they actually mean something totally different than we do when we say we are saved “by Christ alone.”

    Back to John Piper...if he truly believes that the Federal Vision “gospel” is the true gospel, then maybe even though he uses the same words and phrasing as the Reformers, he actually means something different than what the Reformers meant? I don’t know. Just something I thought Inwould throw out there for discussion.

  20. Chris,

    Gauging pastoral helpfulness can be difficult, can't it? When I came out of evangelicalism twelve years ago and the crushing and confusing weight of moralism, Dr. Clark was extremely helpful in shaping my understanding of JBFA. Nearly half a decade later when I was in the throes of spiritual depression -stemming in part from my confusion over law/gospel, sanctification, and good works -Dr. Jones was more than a cup of cold water to me. Neither of them needs me to "defend" them, but I owe both of these men a debt a gratitude because they have profoundly helped me see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Maybe I'm alone in that...or maybe I'm not, but I think both have been a great help to the church.

    "[Christ] speaks by [his ministers], and they use all kind of means that Christ may be entertained into their hearts. They move all stones, as it were, sometimes threatenings, sometimes entreaties, sometimes they come as 'sons of thunder,' Mark iii.17; sometimes with the still voice of sweet promises. And because one man is not so fit as another for all varieties of conditions and spirits, therefore God gives variety of gifts to his ministers, that they may knock at the heart of every man by their several gifts [...] All kinds of means have been used in the ministry from the beginning of the world" (Richard Sibbes, Bowels Opened, 2:61-62).


    1. Kyle, I would only encourage you to remember that the trajectory to error is a movement from grace to confidence in the flesh. Thus the Galatian error. It's our default mode. So when one says, at one time JBFA greatly helped me, but now these ideas on works are a cup of cold water to me, you'll need to keep the trajectory toward error in mind. Blessings, Chris

  21. That's a great comment Kyle - thank you for that!

    Chris, I could turn around your post on Mr. Lewis and tell you ways in which Scott Clark's antagonism towards anything that even smelled like FV (but was not) or was not phrased in the exact way he demanded hurt sheep and churches. All of us need to practice restraint and generosity, along with passion and vigilance for the truth - especially those who are the most gifted and influential.

  22. Dear Mark,

    Thanks for this. Are you saying Scott confused people by confronting those who were speaking of conditions for final justification, conditional justification, salvation by works, etc. Justification by faith alone is not on trial, but I trust you realize the FV was in our churches. So the comparison is a bit of a distraction and really apples and oranges. If you feel Scott unfairly, in public, wounded someone by making them doubt their salvation, then by all means, please introduce us to "Mr. Lewis" so we can talk to him, and please encourage Scott to do so. But if this is just a general observation, I trust you will talk will write to your fellow URCNA co laborer and address your concerns. Blessings, Chris

  23. Dear Mark Jones,

    I tried to put a comment in at CI but had troubles, maybe it's awaiting moderation.

    Thank you very much for planning to help John Lewis, who was the heart of my concern through all of this.

    I'm firmly convinced that the unity we desire will only be achieved by clarity on these matters. We should all strive to make Christ clothed in his gospel a sweet message of deliverance for people, apart from human works. Since it is our default mode to want to contribute to our salvation in some way, and since we naturally gravitate to a theology of the little bit, this problem alone should restrain us greatly in speaking in ways that would rip the glory from Christ, confuse the sheep, and foster pride and separation among brothers. I encourage us all, together, to strive for this clarity.

    In Christ,
    Chris Gordon