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Monday, July 07, 2008

Clark on Gaffin, Insufferable

Recently I paid a visit to Professor R. Scott Clark’s site in an effort to set straight a misrepresentation of Dr. Richard Gaffin’s view of water baptism. Below is the thread. My last response, which is included in the thread below, has been deleted from Professor Clark’s site. Dr. Gaffin did not weigh in. The first post labeled “Gaffin:” is I believe an accurate quote of his, supplied by a Christian named Sean.

The reason I am posting the thread is the Escondido crowd is quite influential. Obviously they influence their students. Should their students end up in pulpits they will influence the church even exponentially. So, why not play a small part in putting out a word of caution on their insupportable assertions?

I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the courage and integrity of WTS in Philadelphia. Our prayers are with you as you navigate through the roads ahead.

Gaffin: “Baptism signifies and seals a transition in the experience of the recipient, a transition from being (existentially) apart from Christ to being (existentially) joined to him. Galatians 3:27 is even more graphic: “Those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” . . .Consequently, the transition described in [Ephesians 2] verses 5f. as being an object of God’s wrath(v.3) to experiencing his love (v.4). takes place at the point of being joined (existentially) to Christ [50_51].”

Sean: The way of salvation proposed by Gaffin in R&R is through the water of baptism and existential union with Christ – not by mere belief alone in truth of Scripture and the message of the Gospel.

Ron to Sean:

Dear Sean,

Dr. Gaffin clearly notes that he’s speaking of what baptism signifies and seals in the experience of the believer. [Actually, he's speaking of that which baptism signifies and seals in the experience of all persons who receive water, as they are God's signs and seals regardless of their efficacy. Being God's signs and seals and not man's testimony of what God has actually done, the sign and seal need not convey the reality of actual conversion.] He goes to greater pains than the apostle to flesh out that he’s not speaking of a Romish working of the works, or anything of the sort. Even a cursory reading of his writing bears this out. You’re willing to read the apostle in light of the Westminster standards (and rightly so), where it states: “There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other” Yet for some reason you are unwilling to render to Dr. Gaffin the same measure of charity, even when he actually prefaces his statement by referring to signs and seals.

I see this sort of thing quite often from you Sean. I hope you will wrestle with whether you don’t have the acumen to deal fairly with your opponents, or whether you are willing to bear false witness intentionally.


Dr. Clark to Ron:

Hi Ron,

I don’t think it’s quite fair to ask us to treat Paul and Dick Gaffin in the same way. In the case of Scripture we’re interpreting ad hoc letters and drawing inferences etc. In the case of any contemporary theologian we’re reading a text in the light of 2000 years of Christian reflection on Scripture. Further, in the case of a confessional Reformed theologian we’re dealing with a person writing in an established tradition with an established set of categories and a fixed vocabulary for addressing basic questions such as union with Christ and justification. Further, in the case that Dick defended Norm for most of thirty years we’re entitled to read what he says in that light and all the more when he is not absolutely clear about the doctrine of the standing or falling of the church. For example, as late as 2003 Dick was still speaking (I don’t know what he says today) of a two-stage justification or an already and not yet aspect to justification. This is just wrong. There is no “not yet” aspect to justification. There is a “not-yet” aspect to our vindication, indeed, our vindication at the judgment is entirely “not yet.” Had Dick not pressed justification into the “already/not yet” scheme, we could have avoided misunderstanding.

The older Reformed theologians did not speak of a “not yet” aspect to justification because they understood that was what the entire Reformation was about! Rome said, justification has been initiated but not consummated. I realize Dick meant something else by it but we already had language for the distinction he was trying to make.

So, reading Paul is one thing, reading Dick Gaffin is another.

Ron to Dr. Clark:

Dear Scott,

I don’t see the relevance of Dr. Gaffin’s support of Norman Shepherd or his already-not-yet paradigm as it pertains to justification since we were to be considering Dr. Gaffin’s words as they pertain to Galatians 3:27 and Ephesians 2:5. All Dr. Gaffin (following Murray) has noted in that particular snippet supplied by Sean is that in the application of redemption, signed and sealed in baptism, a real transition occurs from being a child of wrath to that of recipient of love and grace in Christ. That reality occurs through the existential union in Christ as opposed to at the cross (or in the eternal election-identity one has in Christ). It would seem that Sean would have us believe that Dr. Gaffin attributes the elect’s existential union to a magical working-of-the-works, which you will be hard pressed to find in any of Dr. Gaffin’s writings given his unequivocal repudiation of Romish baptism. Consequently, your appeal to Dr. Gaffin’s support of Shepherd and a two-stage paradigm of justification fails to support Sean’s claim regarding Dr. Gaffin’s alleged view of water baptism.

Having said all that, I am not here to support Dr. Gaffin’s view of justification, even as it is put forth in his most recent essay Justification and Eschatology. In fact, I find much of what Dr. Gaffin wrote unclear, if not troubling. Notwithstanding, I’m not about to give up union-with-Christ language (as some are so quick to do); nor will I allow it to eclipse the Reformed theology of imputation, alien righteousness and the final open-vindication of our justification (by grace through faith), which I think Dr. Gaffin is also jealous to guard.

Some of my problems with Dr. Gaffin are:

1. Dr. Gaffin denies that a person is partially justified according to a process of justification. (That much is good.) Yet he affirms that justification unfolds in two steps. I see that as taking away with one hand that which is granted with the other. The two-stages would seem like a process that is merely separated by the time that extends from conversion to the Day of Judgment. I would have less of a problem if he fleshed out a significant difference between the two justifications, like if he noted that the second does not include the forgiveness of sins. If he’s done that, I’ve missed it.

2. Dr. Gaffin asserts that one is not justified [openly] in the first justification anymore than he is resurrected bodily at that time. But is the reason this is so due to God not yet gathering all mankind before him, or is it because we have not yet been glorified in the body? I sense from Dr. Gaffin’s writings that it’s because men have not been changed ontologically, which if so would mean that our justification is incomplete (implying process) due to a change that must still occur in us, a problem indeed. If one’s reasoning were that we await a second justification before a watching world, then I could more easily attribute that (second) justification to that of a public vindication. That, however, is not Dr. Gaffin’s view as I understand it because he clearly affirms a forensic aspect to the second justification similar to that of the first.

With those concerns in view, I wish that men would begin to substitute “justification” with “forgiveness of sins and considered righteous before God for Christ’s sake” in every theological discussion of this sort. I think it might then become exceedingly glaring that if we’re justified (i.e. forgiven, etc.) now, then there can be no justification of that sort to come later. For how can one be irrevocably forgiven and declared righteous once and for all, and then once again?

As wisdom is vindicated in her children, so will our forgiveness be vindicated by our deeds wrought in Christ by the Spirit on the last day. To call that “justification” in a discussion such as this is equivocal at best. I’m concerned that Dr. Gaffin means a bit more than that.

To bring this full circle, I hope you can appreciate my narrow concern as put forth in my first post. I don’t think it is helpful (let alone truthful) to impugn Dr. Gaffin’s doctrine of baptism when his writings on that matter have been clearly Reformed and uncontroversial.


Dr. Clark to Ron:

Hi Ron,

As I’ve said many times (e.g. on the PB) I see no warrant for speaking of a two-stage justification or already/not-yet aspects to justification. As far as I know the only aspects are already and forever. The distinction is between justification which includes both the forgiveness of sins (the negative) and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (the positive). I think Paul says something about “having been justified…”

Glorification is not justification but a consequence of it. What we should say is “vindication” relative to the judgment.

As to baptism I’ve written a good deal about it and I can’t accept Dick’s language. See the pamphlet on baptism and the article on baptism or the Exposition of the Nine Points.
Baptism is a sign and seal but creates no more existential union with Christ than circumcision did. Esau was a member of the visible covenant community. That’s all.

Murray could and did err. By his own testimony he set out to revise Reformed covenant theology. It was an experiment that didn’t work. We’re all fallible. Having rejected the visible/invisible distinction or the internal/external distinction folks are bound to get into all sorts of unnecessary tangles.

Ron to Dr: Clark

“Baptism is a sign and seal but creates no more existential union with Christ than circumcision did. Esau was a member of the visible covenant community. That’s all.”

Dear Scott,

Dr. Gaffin never stated nor implied that baptism creates existential union. He merely stated that “baptism signifies and seals a transition in the experience of the recipient.” [Whether the recipient is a believer or not is of no consequence since the sign and seal is God's testimony to the world, the church and the converted.] It was Sean and now you who wish to impose upon Dr. Gaffin a theology that would have the existential experience indexed to the washing of water. That rendering is not supportable by any of Dr. Gaffin’s writings. If it was, then one could find it on the Trinity Foundation website! :)

As for your remarks on Murray, we’re not talking about whether the Mosaic covenant was purely an administration of the one Covenant of Grace (a position I affirm and you don’t). My reference to Murray had to do with his view that a transition occurs when one who is eternally identified in Christ as elect becomes united to Christ existentially. That existential union is signed and sealed in baptism, which is not the same thing as saying that it is created by baptism - the doctrine you dare to impugn Dr. Gaffin with.

Moreover, it is simply absurd to think that Gaffin or Murray somehow missed the visible / invisible church distinction. Clearly they understand / understood that the one covenant of grace was established with the single Seed of Abraham (Christ as the second Adam), and in him with all the elect. Genesis 17; Galatians 3; WLC, Q&A31 Whereas it is to be administered to those who profess the true religion along with their households.

I’m pleased to let this matter rest, Scott. It’s clear to me after two tries that you are not going to engage my point. I’m not even sure you have understood it.

In His grace,


Dr. Clark to Ron:


Murray explicitly rejected the visible/invisible distinction. Check it out. It’s in his collected writings. I don’t know what Dick thinks about it. We’ve never discussed it, but Murray’s criticism of it helped create the pre-conditions for the FV nonsense.

Baptism is a sign and seal of what is true of those who believe. Why make it more complicated?

Ron to Dr. Clark:

Dear Dr. Clark, (please forgive me for not extending you that courtesy before)

When I said you can have the last word, I was speaking of your willingness to impugn Dr. Gaffin with a view of water baptism to which he does not subscribe. Now you’ve claimed a source for Murray’s alleged misunderstanding and total rejection of the visible-invisible church distinction.

Murray understood the theological distinction all to well, which is why he made the practical observations he did. My Brother - did you actually read Murray’s article in Volume One, or did you just read the title of chapter 31 and assume his meaning in haste? I sincerely have to wonder given what you’ve now said, which by the way pales insignificant in my estimation to the allegations levied against Dr. Gaffin regarding water baptism.

With respect to Murray, he was merely jealous to guard against the abuses that readily come with the view toward an invisible church, such as what he called the overlooking and suppression of corporate responsibility, noting that “[Invisible] is a term that is liable to be loaded with misconceptions… and tends to support the abuses incident thereto…” Indeed, Murray noted that “there are those aspects pertaining to the church that may be characterized as invisible. But it is to ‘the church’ those aspects pertain…” Accordingly, Murray recognized the term “invisible” – he just was careful to regulate the term within the context of the Christian’s responsibility to, and the grace found within, the institutional visible-church. In a word, Murray was guarding against the putting asunder of that which God had joined in his word, the invisible aspects of the church to Christ’s visible institution. Murray was merely dealing with a problem of his day, which is only more evident in ours.

I’m afraid that the mission, no crusade, of Escondido will not be stopped with reason. I sincerely hope that God will be merciful to those who so carelessly misrepresent saints for whom Christ died.

In the bonds of Christ,

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Bret L. McAtee said...

I am beginning to seriously wonder if anything good can come out of Escondido.

How did we ever get in a situation where we were being presented the false dichotomy of Federal Vision vs. Escondidoism as if they were the only two options?

Sean Gerety said...

FWIW I completely concur with Dr. Clark's reply to you. I have nothing to add except to note that for some reason you seem completely oblivious to the central concerns raised by Dr. Clark which is, Richard Gaffin has been on the wrong side of the current justification controversy for more than 30 years.

IMO he's still on the wrong side.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...


Very good point. You're always fair and balanced, a true breath of fresh air.


Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...


I know you concur with Dr. Clark. I'm simply waiting for something that resembles an argument against Dr. Gaffin's view of baptism. You do remember what an argument is, don't you? :)



~Milhous~ said...

Bret wrote: I am beginning to seriously wonder if anything good can come out of Escondido.

I keep hearing/reading disparaging remarks about Westminster Cali, but I haven't been able to get my mind around the complaints.

In a nutshell, what is the alleged problem with Escondido?

I understand in this case that y'all find Clark's critique of Gaffin to be lacking. But there seems to be a sense of a larger theological or philosophical or apologetic failing. There seems to be a broad complaint against the whole of the faculty and not just Clark on this particular issue.

Can anyone help me get up to speed?


Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...


Many associated w/ Escondido have no use for union with Christ language. They don't appreciate that when God regenerates a sinner, he is united to Christ. In that union sinners receive faith, righteousness, and the declaration of pardon. One must first be in Christ and, therefore, definitively sanctified prior to receiving the declaration of pardon for the imputation comes by the instrumentality of faith which comes by regeneration, which requires one to be in Christ.

Moreover, they're all too willing to call people outside the Confession when they deviate at all from their view of the Confession. Not only is their view of the Confession often wrong, they accuse others of being wrong when they're not! They have a terrible view of the Mosaic economy, not appreciating that it was an outward adminstration of the covenant of grace. They have a flawed view of grace in the garden, subscribing to the view that Adam could have merited something before God and in doing so been glorified. Creatures can merit nothing, (and creatures made upright do not have libertarian freedom, as some from both Philly and Escondido think). Also, that Adam would have been glorified is speculative at best.

Losing John Frame was a big loss. They now do their theology in an historical mode, not an exegetical mode.

Then there's the issue of apologetics...


Bret L. McAtee said...

And let's not forget the whole R2Kt thing that Escondido is pursuing with a vengeance. This includes the Klinean idea of the Old Testament case law being part of an intrusion ethic that was lifted back into the heavenlies when the Israelite theocracy failed. Hence their uniform hatred of Theonomy

Adam J. Myer said...

I have always believed that one of the biggest problems in the OPC is that of having too many ruling elders who do not know their place. I have run into a good number of these men, formally untrained, who (it is clear once you get to know them) are greatly pained that they were never given the opportunity to have become a minister of the Word, or a theologian of renown. This results in half baked papers being presented at presbytery or other venues by RE's who want a piece of the pie, and blogs being set up by these same men to show the church that they should be recognized for something other than a faithful, humble, no-ax-to-grind, run-of-the-mill, RE. I wish that the church were rid of them, and I find it of no small import that Martyn Lloyd-Jones refused to allow anything other than a diaconate to exist during his stay at Westminster Chapel in London. It was for this very reason.

Just think, if Kinnaird had recognized his place, rather than attempt to present himself as someone accomplished in the realm of theology, that whole mess would never have disgraced the pages of church history (well, an appendix in the back of a small book somewhere, anyway - speaking with some historical perspective).

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Dear Adam,

That is possibly the most interesting post that has graced this site in two years. I haven’t experienced all that you have, but I do resonate with a little of what you said but probably under vastly different circumstances. I’m certainly not in a position to draw such decisive conclusions regarding the hearts and motives of ordained servants. As for Jones’s solution, bad polity is never under good regulation.

Thank you for your observations. I sincerely hope your pain and possible bitterness subsides.