Rachel Miller Contra Mundum? The 5 Solas and John Piper, Part 1

Piper is arguing that the whole of the so called Five Solas relate only to Justification; in particular, one can only say that we are justified by faith alone.

Sola fide does not have reference to Justification alone, the benefit that answers our guilt; sola fide likewise applies to Regeneration/Sanctification/Glorification, the benefit that answers to our corruption, since faith itself is the instrumental cause of both. Truly these benefits are what constitutes salvation in its fullest sense. If we cannot separate these benefits, and if they are strictly speaking the effects of justifying faith, conferred through Union with Christ, then there is no doubt that the Five Solas (sola fide in particular) cannot be restricted to just one benefit alone, viz., Justification. 

 

Introduction

Rachel Miller recently posted the article, “Salvation by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone in Christ Alone,” wherein she critiques John Piper’s latest iteration of his doctrine of “Future Justification” according to works (yes, I’m sure that many think I have already misrepresented him with that description). The issue comes up yet again due to his 9/25/17 post, “Does God really Save us by Faith Alone?” To my lights, Rachel has simply reiterated the Reformation and (more importantly) Pauline doctrine that “by grace you have been savedthrough faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).[1] She lists a host of passages from the Scripture as well as the most important statements found in the Reformed Confessions on the subject, my favorite being the following:

Q. 61. Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?

A. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God; and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only

Q. 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?

A. Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God must be perfect throughout and entirely conformable to the divine law, but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

But many have fired back—and quickly—arguing that Rachel does not understand the Reformed tradition, nor the Confessions, and is “part of a vocal minority” accusing Piper of “compromising the doctrine of Justification” (see Mark Jones HERE). What I have seen most in reaction to her critiques are (1) works are necessary to salvation due to a proper understanding of the doctrine of Union with Christ (principally Joe Carter); (2) “salvation” is a broader concept that includes more than just Justification, and works are necessary and instrumental to Sanctification and Glorification, therefore they are necessary and instrumental to the broader concept of Salvation (Raymond A. Blacketer and Mark Jones [by implication]); and (3) Piper’s teaching is in accord with the mass of 16th and 17th century Reformed scholarship; that is, Piper is in good company, and if we want to call him to the carpet, we must also call many other thoroughly orthodox Reformed authors to the same carpet (Mark Jones, Justin Taylor, Patrick Ramsey, Michael J. Lynch, etc. Indeed this is the most common).

While I hope to address each of these in turn (in separate posts), I would first like to address what exactly John Piper wrote in his recent article.  There seems to be some confusion here. I have read his presentation of these issues many times before, mostly in The Future of JustificationFuture Grace, and various articles. I have found myself in knots before with his words on this subject, but always seemed to figure my way out; I mean, he’s done some fantastic work against the errors of N. T. Wright. But in this most recent post, he is arguing that the whole of the so called Five Solas relate only to Justification; in particular, one can only say that we are justified by faith alone. He writes,

If you substitute other clauses besides “We are justified . . .” such as “We are sanctified . . .” or “We will be finally saved at the last judgment . . .” then the meaning of some of these prepositional phrases must be changed in order to be faithful to Scripture. For example,

  • In justification, faith receives a finished work of Christ performed outside of us and counted as ours — imputed to us.
  • In sanctification, faith receives an ongoing power of Christ that works inside us for practical holiness.
  • In final salvation at the last judgment, faith is confirmed by the sanctifying fruit it has borne, and we are saved through that fruit and that faith. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

He goes on to analyze James 2 and concludes that good works will be presented as evidences of true faith at the Last Judgement (Final Justification), and therefore “we should not speak of getting to heaven by faith alone in the same way we are justified by faith alone.”

There is much truth in this article of Piper’s, especially taken in light of his other work, but it is nevertheless my opinion that it is dead wrong to claim that the Five Solas apply only to Justification, but that salvation is by “faith and fruits.” And to be doubly clear going forward: this is in fact the claim and purpose of Piper’s article.

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