The Auburn Avenue Theology : A Biblical Critique

 By Rev. Brian Schwertley - Posted at Reformed Online:

Rejection of Justification by Faith Alone

In the conservative Reformed world there has been a controversy raging since 2002 due to the introduction of a new theological paradigm called the “Auburn Avenue theology,” the“federal vision,” the “Monroe doctrine,” or, “the objectivity of the covenant.”1 On one side of the debate are people who argue that this new teaching is a breath of fresh air, a clarifying and reforming doctrine, another legitimate stream of Reformed covenantal thought. On the other side are an increasing number of pastors, elders and scholars who are warning people that this new doctrine is dangerous and heretical. In the middle is a large group of people who are not sure what they think because: a) they have not had time to study the issues; b) the new teachings are difficult to understand; c) the people who are advocating these new doctrines are popular Reformed writers and speakers known for being defenders of orthodoxy in the past; d) the terminology used in the new theology is often ambiguous and confusing. This essay is directed to the large group of people in the middle who might say, “What’s the big deal, can’t we all just get along?”

The purpose of this study will be to examine the very heart of Christianity, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as it relates to the Auburn Avenue teaching. The question that we want to answer is: Does the new Monroe doctrine contradict the reformation teaching of sole fide or justification by faith alone? If they have adopted a new method of justification, what is it and how do they arrive at their new teaching? How can we defend the reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone against this new doctrine? What are the ramifications or the applications? Where does it lead? These questions are very important because this new teaching is spreading in a number of “conservative” Reformed and Presbyterian denominations (e.g., the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America) and will cause great harm to the church if not stopped.

The Auburn Avenue doctrine of justification is a radical departure from Protestantism, all the Reformed symbols, the teaching of all the Reformers and all of the notable Reformed theologians. According to the Monroe doctrine, people are saved by a faith/works combination.They would argue that works or merit play no role whatsoever as the ground of justification but their definition of faith is inclusive of works (e.g., faith equals faithful obedience, covenant faithfulness, and the works of faith). As we examine how they arrive at their doctrine of justification, their teaching on this topic will come into focus. To people who are untrained in theology or hermeneutics their teachings are very confusing and easily misunderstood.