Review; Gaffin’s ‘By faith, not by Sight.’

Posted: November 1, 2011 by mrdanwebster in Book review

At Jono’s request, here’s a short, non-critical review of Richard B Gaffin Jr’s ‘By faith, not by sight.’

It’s a bunch of slightly edited lectures given at Oak Hill College. I like those sorts of books. Short and written to be spoken. I liked it. Very little to be critical of in my view.

The purpose of the book is to consider ‘Paul’s understanding of how the individual receives salvation.’ Particularly, how historia salutis / redemptive history (HS) relates to the personal ordo salutis (OS). This is in response to the NPP which ‘properly’ focuses on HS issues, as does Paul. ‘But the NP assesses them in a way that leaves uncertain or even dismisses as peripheral in his teaching matters related to individual salvation from sin.’ He identifies himself as ‘working within the Reformation understanding of Paul and his soteriology’, but that doesn’t stop him criticising both camps. In fact, you could say that a fair chunk of the book is correcting a major reformed error. We think of justification as all ‘now’, and sanctification as a little bit ‘now’ but mostly ‘not yet’. He smacks that down.

Chapter one; The order of salvation and the theology of Paul.

He starts with some initial considerations for the reading of Paul; Paul’s canonical context, the difficulties with interpreting Paul, Paul as a theologian, and how BT and ST fit together. We need to get into the mind of Paul the theologian, and we can only do that through his letters.

Chapter two; The order of salvation and the ‘centre’ of Paul’s theology.

Is Paul interested in personal salvation? Yes. HS is applied to the individual by faith, and individuals are called to have faith. Faith is what connects the individual into the HS. The whole of what Paul has to say about the church’s present possession of the salvation revealed in Jesus, and on the Christian life, is contained in this phrase; ‘We walk by faith, not by sight.’

He then looks for a centre in Paul’s theology, something with explanatory power. Turning to 1Cor15:3-4, he says that the centre is Christ crucified and resurrected. It’s not the application of the implications of these events that’s central, but the man and events themselves. The key implication of all this is that the kingdom is breaking in. These are all HS categories. ‘He is concerned with matters of individual appropriation only as they are integrally tethered to and flow from his redemptive-historical focus.’ (Reformed theology is wrong here.) Even when we think about personal salvation, we have to think in a cosmic way, about the moving from one epoch to another. Again, HS categories.

He then moves to talk about sin. If we’re going to understand what all these HS issues are about, then we need to understand the problem. Sin is theocentric first and always relational Oor anti-relational). The key consequences of sin are guilt and enslavement. So our salvation is both forensic (dealing with guilt) and recreational (dealing with our enslavement). It’s about justification and sanctification. Again, reformed theology often pulls these apart.

He then moves back to the ‘centre’ and seems to be saying; ‘While HS issues are the centre, to personally benefit from Christ, we must be united to him. So in terms of application of HS (ie. OS), union with Christ is central.’ Union with Christ ‘is the central truth of salvation for Paul, the key soteriological reality comprising all others.’ Union with Christ is the climax of the OT covenant of reciprocal possession; ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’ Union with Christ has three separate but inseparable temporal moments; predestinarian union, past/HS union, and present/experiential union. Our present union is mystical, indissoluble, and importantly, spiritual. That means, worked by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit and faith work this union. He highlights the personal nature of this union in order to counter the NPP trend of speaking corporately only. He concludes; ‘To polarise personal and corporate or personal and cosmic concerns in matters of the gospel is simply foreign to Paul. So is allowing either one to eclipse or negate the other.’

Summary so far… ‘The central soteriological reality is union with the exalted Christ by Spirit created faith. That is the nub, the essence, of the way or order of salvation for Paul.’ This isn’t to decentre JBP, but to make it antecedent upon something more crucial; ‘Christ and our union with him, the crucified and resurrected, the exalted, Christ. Union with Christ by faith – that is the essence of Paul’s ordo salutis.’

He then wants to make it clear that justification shouldn’t be understood the way the NPP sometimes understands it (all corporate / ethnicity, not much individual). To do that he goes back to Adam. The creation story is the bigger story of which the history of Israel is only a servant. This story has nothing to do with ethnicity. It’s just about sin. He makes some observations from Rm5. There’s a parallelism; sin and righteousness, condemnation and justification, death and life. Justification answers condemnation, so just as condemnation is forensic and declarative, so is justification.

He then makes some comments on imputation. Union doesn’t do away with imputation, because while we’re united, we still don’t do away with personal distinction.

Chapter three; The order of salvation and eschatology – I

Being united to Christ is a thoroughly eschatological reality.

2 Cor4:6 becomes the entry point into Paul’s view of anthropology. Outer man decaying, inner man being renewed. This isn’t two parts of me, but two aspects of the whole. The inner man, or heart, is who I am at the core of my being, I in my pre-functional disposition. My outer man, or body, is more than the narrowly physical. ‘It is… the psycho-physical “package” I am. I is I in my functioning, as a functioning person, I as thinking, willing, speaking and acting. All told, we may say, “the outer man” is the “functioning I”.’

So; ‘The benefits of union with Christ are such, it appears, that insofar as I am “outer man”, that is, in terms of my bodily existence, those benefits are not yet possessed. My sharing in them is still future. On the other hand, as I am “inner man” or “heart”, considering for who I am at the core of my being, in my most basic ‘bent’ or disposition, those benefits are already received and possessed; they are a present reality.’ For this reason, ‘for the present, until J comes, our union with him and our sharing in the benefits of that union are “by faith” and no (yet) “by sight”.  We must be clear that it’s true IN our bodies, just not yet OF them.

In Christ’s resurrection a new epoch has begun which we’re part of already. We’re already raised with Christ in our inner man. Like our union with Christ, there’s three united temporal moments of resurrection; Christ’s, ours in our life story, and our future one. At the core of who we are, we will ever be more resurrected than we are already. It won’t be undone. This is our motive and the basis of our obedience and underlies transformation. There is nothing more basic to the Christian life than that we are resurrected. ‘The Christian life is a manifestation, an outworking, of the resurrection life and power of the resurrected Christ.’

How does this relate to the indicative and imperative? We are alive from the dead, but in the mortal body. ‘“Alive from the dead” pinpoints the present indicative of eschatological salvation, salvation as already possessed in Christ, and so specifices the basis and dynamic for obeying the imperative. This is the first things that the congregation, by faith, needs to know about itself. On the other hand, “in the mortal body” pinpoints the future indicative of this salvation, salvation as not yet revealed and possessed in Christ, and so specifies  the need for the imperative and its scope, the necessity that the congregation be exhorted.’

Next he basically slams the reformed tradition for not getting the ‘already’ very well. Particularly of sanctification. We make it a work rather than part of our salvation. This leads to all sorts of problems. Rather, my inner man is already sanctified. That underlines my activity in ‘the body’. Sin is no longer my Lord in my inner man.

Chapter four; The order of salvation and eschatology – II

The reformed tradition usually thinks of justification as all now, and sanctification as a bit now but mostly later. He’s shown that sanctification is now and later, so is the same true of justification?

Paul doesn’t talk about this explicitly, but it’s clear implicitly from the structure of Paul’s theology, the forensic significance of death and resurrection, his teaching on adoption, and his teaching on final judgment.

Christ’s resurrection was God’s declaration of his righteousness. It was his justification. In our union with him, we are justified in the inner man. But there’s also a not yet. At our own bodily resurrection we will be openly justified. We’re already justified fully, but only in the eyes of faith.

Adoption is likewise a now and not yet. Rm8 speaks of both. Again the resurrection will be the open declaration of our adoption.

The final judgement will refer to works, but not as an extra judgment on a different basis. The final judgment will be the open manifestation of the judgement that’s already taken place in Christ. Ie. Our justification. The works will only be the fruits of a true and lively faith.

And our resurrection will come before the judgement, so we’ll arrive at that judgement already openly justified. So the final judgement won’t be a test, but further affirmation of our justification.


His way of tying together the HS and the OS is; “Christ in you, the hope of glory.’


  1. Jonathan says:

    Gaffin is a revolutionary! (He would hate that). If someone(s) could follow up his theological insights, work out what they mean for us…

    For my money, there’s two points here where the challenge goes very deep.

    1. “Union with Christ ‘is the central truth of salvation for Paul, the key soteriological reality comprising all others.'” That’s priceless. Let’s now restructure the rest of our theology around that centre. That’s going to take a bit of work. Anyone up for the job? I wonder how different things will look once we’ve done that?

    2. On justification: “Christ’s resurrection was God’s declaration of his righteousness. It was his justification…At our own bodily resurrection we will be openly justified.” And you know, he’s right. Try reading Paul on justification, and think resurrection of Jesus/us. It actually makes sense of it. Nice that someone noticed what Paul means by ‘justification’ at last!

    So could we restructure our soteriology around Jesus’ resurrection and ours? See how things look then. Anyone keen to have a go?

    Thankyou God for Gaffin!

  2. Hehe,
    I reckon Calvin had a pretty good crack at 1., but you know, maybe we should listen to him.

    As for 2. Try Robert Jensons Systematic theology. You may even get sick of hearing about the resurrection!

    • Jonathan says:

      Yes Jenson does take that approach, from the brief time i’ve spent in his Systematic Theol. I guess I’m hoping someone could do it in plain english that I can understand, with less weird stuff. I hate weird stuff. I like it when people say things just the way I was expecting them to.

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