I’ve read some pretty stern criticism of Norm Shepherd or, for instance, the view espoused by Don Garlington on Justification and Perseverance. As far as I can tell, there are those in the reformed camp who believe these men are proposing a faith + works view and thus denying the gospel.
A few comments and questions:
1) Regarding the new perspective on Paul: how does Romans 9:30-32 fit in? (What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”) This passage seems to support an “old” view of Paul… i.e. that the Israelites were not simply following the law to maintain covenantal boundaries, but were seeking to establish their own merit through the law.
2) I recently wrestled with a particular sin, and found strength in that time of temptation by recalling that my God is the God Who Sees, and that sin is no longer my master, and that where sin remains the abiding master, well, it doesn’t look good from Don G.’s reading of Romans 2. As it happens, I resisted the temptation in that particular case. But I then became worried, based on the harsh criticisms I’ve read of Shepherd and others. Was I now trying to earn my salvation? By allowing eschatological judgment to factor in to my ethic, had I just compromised the Gospel by making Justification ethical? I became surprisingly distressed, and ended up spending some time in prayer simply affirming my utter reliance on the righteousness of Christ. Were my means of finding strength against the temptation dishonoring to God? Was I to resist the temptation out of thankfulness only?
3) Shepherd is accused of making statements that are believed to be “soft” on justification by faith. He is said to have made justification ethical rather than forensic and all sorts of other horrible things. If Shepherd is so dangerous, what does the average Bible reader make of:
–Jesus: Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
–Paul: There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.
–James: You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
I’ve heard countless answers to these passages to harmonize them with forensic justification, and I’m not questioning the explanations. Rather, I hear accusation after accusation that, although Norm Shepherd claims to believe in this or that sound doctrine, he doesn’t mean it, because look at what else he says, and look at his overall tone. Well, Jesus, Paul, and James would fall to the same criticisms if one approached them determined to find error and ignore the fullness of what they said.