Wednesday, December 18, 2013

By Faith Not By Sight

By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of SalvationBy Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation by Richard B. Gaffin Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have wanted to read something by Richard Gaffin for a while.  I had become familiar with N.T. Wright through critical works of his and basic bogeyman fear mongering.  I could not figure out why I didn’t like Tom Wright…I just knew I was supposed to.  Then I was turned on to some writers that encouraged me to look into Wright and I found him and his writing very approachable.  Around this time I found a video of a conversation with N.T. Wright and Richard Gaffin and was blown away by the approach Gaffin took, the respect Gaffin showed, and the critique of Wright’s position/positive argument for the traditional Protestant position on justification that he provided.

I talked myself into overpaying for Wright’s new book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, and realized that my reading By Faith Not By Sight, where Gaffin deals with Paul’s ordo salutis and historia salutis, the Protestant view of justification and salvation in general, was preparing me to read Wright’s work with Reformational lenses. By Faith Not By Sight is a great primer on Pauline soteriology especially if you plan on diving into the coral reef (beautiful, entangling, and possibly dangerous) of Wright’s New Perspective on Paul.

Gaffin has a rhythm to his writing that you have to, and I mean have to, get into.  If you don’t you will have a very hard time reading his work.  By Faith Not By Sight is only about 120 pages of reading, if that, but it is rich.  The constant depth of writing reminds me of reading some of the Puritan authors who immediately took you to the depths and held you down there until the position was exhausted.  Stylistically I do not know if the comparison fits, but as far as my own reading experience, this work reminded me of my reading of Owen.  As with Owen, By Faith Not By Sight was hard for me to get started in and I could not give it any less than all of my attention.  But, also like Owen, when I did give this book its due focus and effort, it repaid me more than I could have expected.

Gaffin made many points that were novel to me and, I have to admit, I am not at level of study to pass judgment on the veracity of much that he wrote.  Three points he made, however, were extremely convincing and quite thrilling to read.

First off, maybe terms like “ordo salutis” and “historia salutis” are somewhat new to you.  Gaffin distinguishes between the two for the reader as “salvation applied” and “salvation accomplished”, respectively and spends a good part of the book looking at both aspects in the total soteriology of Paul.
(T)he distinction between the application and the accomplishment of salvation may be expressed by distinguishing generically between ordo salutis(the order of salvation){“salvation applied} and historia salutis(the history of salvation){“salvation accomplished”}… as we raise the question of the ordo salutisin Paul, we need to keep in mind that his controlling focus is the historia salutis, not the ordo salutis.


Gaffin argues that Paul’s theology is centered on the whole work of Christ saying, “at the center of Paul’s theology are Christ’s death and resurrection, or, expressed more broadly, his messianic suffering and glory, his humiliation and exaltation.”

The aspect of the book that resounded most with me, and the part that will be subject of much further study, is the eschatological aspect of Paul’s soteriology.  That is the “now and not yet” or, to use Gaffin’s language, the “By faith, not(yet) by sight” of Paul’s teaching on salvation.
Part of the recent consensus in Pauline scholarship that emerged over the course of the twentieth century, just noted, is that Paul’s eschatology has a dual or elliptical focus. For him, the concept of eschatology is to be defined not only in terms of Christ’s second coming, by what is still future at his return, but also by his first coming and what has already taken place in Christ, especially his death and resurrection. Paul teaches an eschatology that is, in part, already realized.

In my view, looking over the history of the interpretation of Paul as a whole, the relatively recent pervasive recognition of his realized eschatology represents the truly “new perspective” on Paul, one that is far more important, with wider-ranging implications, than the developments of the past several decades that have been given that designation. My perception is that a commensurate impact of this rediscovery is still to be had in the doctrine and life of the church, in its preaching and teaching.


Along with that, Gaffin highlights the critical role of union with Christ in the theology of Paul, something that itself is in a “now and not yet” state.

(U)nion with Christ. This, as we will have occasion to see, is the central truth of salvation for Paul, the key soteriological reality comprising all others. While the phrase “union with Christ” does not occur in Paul (or elsewhere in the New Testament), the reality is described in various ways and is particularly prominent in his use of the prepositional phrase “in Christ/the Lord” with other slight variations, particularly involving the preposition “with.” Scholarly debate about the phrase’s meaning has often focused on the force of the preposition “in” (en) and views range from a purely instrumental understanding to a local or atmospheric sense and even the notion of an actual physical union between Christ and believers…

Faith unites to Christ, so that his death and resurrection are mine, in the sense of now being savingly effective in my life. Better, faith is the work of God by his Spirit, effective in “calling” sinners—otherwise “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1, 5) and thus utterly incapable of faith in and of themselves—“into the fellowship of his Son” (1 Cor. 1:9), into union with Christ, who is what he now is as crucified and resurrected. This union with the exalted Christ is such that his death and resurrection in their saving efficacy from sin and all its consequences—that is, basically, from its guilt and power—are mine. Or, put even more elementally and integrally, by union with the exalted Christ, all that he now is and has secured for believers by virtue of having been crucified and raised is mine, whether presently or in the Future.




Union with Christ is so essential that Gaffin says it is “the central soteriological reality” in Paul’s teaching.  That it is “the nub, the essence, of the way or order of salvation for Paul”.  He adds that, “(u)nion with Christ by faith---that is the essence of Paul’s ordo salutis.”

After making a solidly and surfacely Reformational statement about justification in contrast to NPP (“Justification in Paul is essentially and primarily soteriological.”), Gaffin proceeds to make, what he shows to be just as solidly Reformational, a statement that on the surface is far from common Reformed vernacular.  Gaffin sets out to, and seems to do a good job of, making the point that justification is “now and not yet”.

2 Corinthians 4:16 reflects the basic “now and not yet” structure that qualifies our union with Christ and our sharing in its attendant benefits…This fundamental state of affairs is given some clarification in the immediately following section (5:1–10). There Paul addresses the believer’s hope of bodily resurrection, in other words, hope for the outer man. In this context, verse 7 affirms, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” This statement, proverbial in its ring, is an assertion like 4:16. It opens a fundamental perspective on the Christian life. Particularly instructive here is the way it serves to interpret 4:16 (as well as 4:7). “By faith” correlates with “the inner self ” (“this treasure”) and what is presently true for believers; “by sight” correlates with “the outer self ” (“clay jars”) and what is still future. For the present, until Jesus comes, our union with him and our sharing in the benefits of that union are “by faith,” but not (yet) “by sight.” We have our salvation for the present, all told, in the mode of believing, but as that believing falls short of seeing. Such “sight” participation in the benefits of union with Christ is reserved for what will be openly manifest in the resurrection of the body at his return (the predominating concern of the immediate context).

In that light, it seems fair to observe, given that for believers death is inalienably penal (“because of sin”), its removal—as the judicial consequence of the reversal of judgment already effected in justification—does not take place all at once, but unfolds in two steps, one already realized and one still future. Correlatively, the open or public declaration of that judicial reversal, that manifest declaration attendant on their bodily resurrection and the final judgment, is likewise still future. In that sense, believers are already justified—by faith. But they are yet to be justified—by sight.

This alone will throw many for a loop.  I found Gaffin’s arguments credible and convincing and found his writing entertaining and edifying.  This is a very, very good book and, at around 1500 pages less than Wright’s new tree killer, I would encourage the reader to give this work a week or two of your life before you give Wright a month or two.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to offer a review.


View all my reviews