Mark Garcia on a Reformed view of Justification

The Ordained Servant, a publication connected to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, has posted Mark A. Garcia’s review article: “No Reformed Theology of Justification?” Garcia is the pastor of Immanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Oakdale, Pennsylvania, and this article is reprinted from the October 2007 edition of the Ordained Servant. This is a must read article for those interested in the present controversy concerning justification within the Reformed tradition.

Garcia reviews two books: The Way of Salvation: The Role of Christian Obedience in Justification, by Paul A. Rainbow; and Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, ed. by R. Scott Clark [abbreviated CJPM]. Although the books are very different, Garcia argues that they both start with a wrong assumption by highlighting the areas of agreement between different branches of the Reformation [such as Lutheran and Reformed theologies] and minimizing the areas of disagreement.

Garcia says that CJPM is particularly confusing in regard to this. He says,

Despite the clear witness in the texts of the tradition, especially but far from exclusively in Calvin (see especially his commentary on 1 Cor. 1:30), that justification, sanctification, and any other graces of salvation are distinct, inseparable, and simultaneously bestowed aspects of union with Christ, the contributors to CJPM argue otherwise, and do so with evident passion. They prefer instead the classical Lutheran construct in which sanctification flows from justification, and to identify the Reformed tradition wholly with it.

Garcia argues that the heart of the Reformed theological perspective on justification is the issue of union with Christ: “Put most concisely, appreciating the biblical truth that sanctification does not result from justification, but is an aspect, like justification, of our union with Christ, alone safeguards the doctrine of justification against the Roman Catholic error. If we argue, with CJPM, that justification is the cause of sanctification, then we attribute to justification a generative, transformational quality (in that sanctification is generated or produced by justification) and thus, ironically in view of the driving concern in CJPM, compromise the purely forensic character of justification, its nature as a declarative act rather than the beginning of a work.”

Garcia does note that the issue is not whether theologians in the Reformed tradition have held to the type of theology found in the book from WTS-CA. The problem is the way the book frames the debate, arguing that those who disagree with their “pan-confessional” position are not Reformed. Garcia says, “I am aware of no extant evidence that requires our sympathy with such a suggestion.” He then encourages ministers in his denomination, the OPC, to realize that the theological perspective found in CJPMis not the only way to wrestle with our current controversies [such as NPP and FV issues].

Please read his article here. His historical discussion concerning why the Reformed tradition is different from the Lutheran tradition is very helpful. I have wrestled with some of these issues myself, concerned about the present climate concerning the appropriate “Reformed” position on justification and union with Christ. Pastor Garcia’s article is a helpful resource for thinking through these issues.

7 thoughts on “Mark Garcia on a Reformed view of Justification”

  1. The comparison of the Lutheran and Calvinistic formulations of justification involves a distinction without a difference. Both positions grounded both justification and sanctification on the objective and historical work of Christ (the righteousness of Christ), viewing it as the sole legal basis and cause the of the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Though Calvin operated out of covenantal categories and the central motif of union with Christ, while Luther did not, both Calvin and Luther consistently and thoroughly insisted that on the material cause of the Reformation: that justification is by faith alone and not by, for, or from good works.

    Both Calvin and Luther taught that justification is by faith alone, though their nuances were different.

    Both Calvin and Luther taught the law/gospel distinction in justification. Calvin said that there is a law way of justification involving perfect obedience, and a gospel way of justification, involving union with Christ and His alien righteousness by faith alone.

    Both Calvin and Luther insisted that genuine faith works and that sanctification has a progressive dimension.

    Anyone who denied these things subsequent to the Reformation was actually moving away from the Reformation and back toward medieval scholastic categories. Though men and women who historically called themselves both Lutherans and Calvinists denied these gospel themes, their denial was symptomatic of theological disease and regression, which moved back in the direction of Pelagianism.

  2. That said, I agree with Garcia that it is historically inaccurate to seek to ground specifically Reformed theology in a pan-confessional synthesis. There are theological nuances in Reformed theology on justification that are good and helpful.

    The problem I have is that this point is sometimes asserted to make room for God to consider the Christian’s evangelical obedience antecedent to His rendering the verdict of justification. That is patently un-Reformed and is not warranted historically.

  3. Interestingly, I just found out that R. Scott Clark’s dissertation was done on the “duplex beneficium,” the double benefit of justification and sanctification which simultaneously flow from union with Christ. I wonder what he would say to Garcia’s critiques, since he is surely aware of the nuances of the Reformed doctrine of justification and sanctification in conjunction with union with Christ.

    R. Scott Clarks’ Dissertation:
    “Duplex Beneficium: The Trinitarian, Protestant, Calvinist, Federal Theology of Caspar Olevian (1536-87)”. Supervisor: Rev. Dr. J. E. Platt, Pembroke College, Oxford University.

  4. Thanks for the note. I read the post today and referenced it. Hopefully this will not turn into a heresy hunt, but instead produce a fruitful theological discussion.

  5. Hi, please excuse my frank comment, but I thought Godfrey and VanDrunen’s response was devastating. Now, I kind of feel bad for Mr. Garcia. I do not believe this article will necessitate a heresy hunt, but in the spirit of honest debate about what is and isn’t distinctively “Reformed”, which Garcia himself brought to the fore, it is a pointed response. The interesting thing would be how Mr. Garcia “really” feels about the OPC report on Justification, which VanDrunen was the chairman of the committee and who’s work is apparent throughout the report. What I think some people fail to understand is that some of the critiques that Garcia has made about the “pan-confessional” perspective of CJPM is the same sort of arguments that Norman Shepherd has maid. Now I’m not saying that Garcia is a Shepherdite, but there are still some historical and theological influences that still plague the view that “justification” as we know it is “lutheran” and that it needs to be revised or made more “distinctively Reformed” is part and parcel Shepherd’s original historical thesis. Drs. Godfrey and VanDrunen are trying enrich and renew our amazing and rich Reformation legacy that has continued from Luther through Calvin and our Reformed heritage. Sure there are differences between Luther and Calvin, Lutherans and Calvinists, but not so much that we throw out the continuities altogether in order to highlight the discontinuities.

    I agree with you, Mr. Grant, Garcia’s article was helpful, precisely because it highlights his own agenda, from his unsolicited review, that confessional theology is a legitimate category through which to have discussions on what is Reformed and what is less so. My two cents.

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