Justification By Faith Alone Is Presbyterian Doctrine

By Dr. R. Scott Clark - Posted at The Heidelblog:

Image from America Explained
It’s hard to remember where I last saw an actual shell game. It might have been at the Nebraska State Fair or it might have been at some amusement park. It doesn’t matter. The fellow behind the table shows you three empty cups and one bean. He tips the cups end up and covers the bean with one of them and challenges one of the onlookers to keep track of the bean as he moves the cups around. It seems easy enough. Three cups, two hands, one bean. How difficult can it be? The fellow behind the table wins every time. It’s sleight of hand, the essence of which is to call attention to another cup, to distract attention away from the cup with the bean. So it can be in theology and history. Some times it is easy to follow the wrong cup, to lose, the bean, as it were.

One of the figurative shell games that writers sometimes play is to suggest problems that do not actually exist. The name for this move is red herring. In mysteries a red herring is a ostensible clue or an event that does not lead toward the solution of the mystery. It is designed to mislead direct focus away from the solution so that the author can spring the resolution on us at the end as a surprise. During the controversy over the self-described Federal Vision movement the proponents of this corruption of the gospel regularly argued that it does not really matter what one believes about the doctrine of justification because, after all, what really matters is that one believes in Jesus (and, in the FV scheme, cooperates sufficiently with grace to retain what was said to have been given in baptism: temporary election, temporary union with Christ, temporary justification, temporary adoption etc.). It is not the doctrine of justification, they say, that justifies but rather it is Jesus who justifies. Of course this is true and it is a good example of a shell game or a red herring because no confessional Protestant has ever argued and no confessional Protestant has ever confessed that sinners are justified by a doctrine. Their claim proves too much. On the basis of their logic we may ask why the Federal Visionists proposed a new doctrine of justification? On their logic there should never have been a Reformation in the first place and perhaps that is the goal of this sort of rhetoric, to call into question the validity of the Reformation?


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