Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dave Woolcott's Critique of My View of Justification

Dave Woolcott has recently offered a critique of how he understands my view of justification, and has suggested that we publish each others posts on this issue. So, the text below (in gray) is a copy of the relevant post from Dave Woolcott's blog: A response to Steven Coxhead’s “Absolute and Covenant Righteousness Reconciled”. My response to Dave's critique will follow in the next few posts.

Now for something completely different! This is a bit heavy, I guess, but I believe important to discuss.

Steven Coxhead has posted on his website these 32 Theses regarding what is essentially his understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith. Steven is a lecturer at our theological college, the PTC, and a link to Steven’s website can be found at the PTC Blog. For a number of years students at the PTC have been confused by Steven’s teaching, and I appreciate his attempt to publicise what he believes so that is can be weighed against scripture. You might like to read Steven’s Theses before reading my response, otherwise it will not make much sense!

My Response!

In his introduction Steven claims that he is not denying that justification is by faith alone. This is because he is using the terms “faith” and “works” covenantly, rather than anthropologically. The question needs to be asked though, “Is there a difference?” In my view, what Steven writes does undermine justification by faith alone, no matter how he claims to be using the terms “faith” and “works”, especially because he has not clarified the difference that this ‘covenant’ view has to the ‘anthropological’ when Paul does not appear to make such distinctions.

I believe there are a number of errors in Steven’s thinking. The major flaws are outlined below.

1 – Steven claims that there is a fundamental difference between the law of Moses and God’s covenant with Adam (pt 3). In many ways, this difference is at the heart of what Steven is trying to reconcile, but is there anything to reconcile? As we continue hopefully we will see that what Steven tries to reconcile is the same thing.

2 – The main difference that Steven is referring to is that the covenant with Adam did not deal with sin, but that the sacrificial system under the law of Moses did. The problem with this thinking is that the sacrificial system never dealt with sin (c.f. Psalm 40:6, Hosea 6:6, Hebrews 10:1-5). It should be noted that death was the result of sin for Adam, and Paul reminds us in Romans that the wages of sin are still death. At the same time, the Covenant with Adam did not refer to “immediate” death as claimed by Steven (pt 3).

3 – Steven believes that righteousness comes through works of the law (pt 6), but seems to forget that Jesus is the only one to whom this truth can be applied (pt 2). Paul himself uses Abram as an example against this very thinking. Abram, before the law of Moses (and after Adam), was considered righteous by God because he believed God (Genesis 15:6).

4 – Steven believes that there is more than one type of justification and more than one type of righteousness that need to be reconciled (pt 7). This is due to the difference Steven sees in the Adamic Covenant and the Mosaic law (pt 3, 4, 5). As I mentioned earlier, I do not believe the difference he claims is there, and in the same way I believe that Steven is mistaken if he believes there is more than one type of justification or righteousness. It is difficult for me to prove that something does not exist, and so the burden of proof is on Steven to produce evidence for this. My understanding of Scripture is that we are either absolutely of the light or absolutely of the darkness. We cannot be partially justified.

5 – Steven speaks as though it is our relationship with the covenant that is important in the OT (pt 8, 9, 10). In actual fact it is our relationship with God that is important. The covenant simply defines to some degree what the relationship is. It is a covenant relationship.

6 – Steven is under the impression that works of the law come before “absolute justification/righteousness” (pt 12, 22). Scripture gives a different understanding. Biblically it is always as a result of salvation that good works are performed. God certainly appears to work from this understanding in Exodus 20:2, when before the 10 commandments are given God reminds Israel that he is the God who has saved them. In Romans 12:1 Paul exhorts the church in Rome to be living sacrifices in view of God’s mercy.

7 – No one has ever kept covenant with God. Even Moses failed to enter the promised land. In point 19 Steven suggests that the key difference between the old covenant and the new is that the mediator was Moses in the old, and is Jesus in the new. Moses, however, was a failed leader, an unworthy mediator. Jesus is the perfect prophet, priest and king, and ultimately the prophet, priest and king that Israel, even Moses, was waiting for.

8 – It is not an issue of correctly balancing two types of justification/righteousness, or for that matter, balancing the right combination of works and faith in Christ (pt 32). Even if you say that greater weight should be given to righteousness through faith in Christ, it is not about a balancing act. Rather it is about one coming before the other (though in the reverse order to what Steven claims in pt 28). It is through what God has done in Christ that believers are empowered to do good works – to become slaves to righteousness. John reminds us that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). In Christ we are taught how to love – how to fulfil the law (1 Thessalonians 4:9). With regards to the law, Paul says in Galatians 5:1 that “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Through Ezekiel God made it clear that he would work in our heart with a new Spirit and that this would incline our hearts to follow his commands (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

9 – Steven does not realise that being under the law increases sin. Steven is working with a paradigm that suggests that being under the law will increase good works and even play a part in the process of salvation. Paul is very clear in Romans 7:7-11. When the law is combined with our flesh, sin and death are the result. How can Steven say that the law will bring the opposite BEFORE salvation? As a result, there is no good pastoral reason to point people towards works completely outside of the context of grace (pt 30, 31, 32).

10 – Under the ‘system’ that Steven proposes I wonder who it is that judges the correct balance between faith in Christ and works of the law. How does one know if they have the balance right? What assurance is there when it is not simply salvation/righteousness/justification through faith in Christ alone? I ask the question from both a covenantal and anthropological perspective.

In Conclusion, if I have misunderstood Steven or been unfair to him I would love to be corrected. I believe that this whole topic is central to our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and well worth discussing!

1 comment:

John Thomson said...


I share many if not all of these reservations. Most of what you say I can see in the NT. The question I would like to ask is how do you view the experience of a godly believer under Law?

How does a godly believer in the OT relate to a covenant of works that condemn him?

How do we equate Ps 119 and the Psalmists delight in the laws of the Lord with say Roms 7 or a view (one I believe) that the law only condemns?

Indeed was an OT saint 'born of God'? Is that a NC blessing (Ezek dead bones and Jn 3)? What role did the Spirit play given the eschatological significance of both the new birth and faith these are hard questions. The more absolute your position and mine the harder it is to make sense of OT godly living.