Salvation - Justification by Faith

'The Emperor Has No Clothes: Dr. Richard B. Gaffin's Doctrine of Justification' (Book Review)

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
A courageous brother has dared to expose one of the most insidious errors of our time, and one of its chief proponents.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

A courageous brother has dared to expose one of the most insidious errors of our time, and one of its chief proponents. [This article was originally published in April 2011, but bears repeating in view of subsequent developments.]

About three years ago, Stephen M. Cunha, then a member of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Ambler, Pennsylvania, sent me a carefully-researched paper called The Emperor Has No Clothes: Dr. Richard B. Gaffin's Doctrine of Justification. Mr. Cunha asked me to comment on it.

I well remember my reaction. I expressed deep appreciation for a brother who was daring to take on one of the most insidiously heretical Reformed theologians of our time. Dr. Gaffin, a teaching elder in what was then Mr. Cunha's home church, is one of today's leading promoters of the soul-damning doctrine of justification by faith-plus-works. I expressed the hope, as other reviewers did, that The Emperor Has No Clothes would be published as a book.

I am happy to report that Stephen Cunha's book has now been published (April 2011) by The Trinity Foundation. In the preface, he explains the title:

The title selected for the work was not in any way intended as a personal invective against Dr. Gaffin. Rather, the metaphor was chosen because I do not have a seminary degree, am not an ordained officer of the church, and work in the business world. For these reasons, I am identifying myself as the boy in Hans Christian Andersen's classic story. I believe the metaphor is apt, though, to be sure, unlike the boy in the story, I am not the first person to call attention to Dr. Gaffin's teachings on the doctrine of justification.1

Why You Should Read This Book

I highly recommend Stephen Cunha's book to anyone interested in better understanding how Dr. Gaffin and other postmodern theologians have, for decades, actively undermined belief in the Gospel doctrine of justification by faith alone and substituted the counterfeit of justification by faith-plus-works. Their destructive heresies have infected two generations of Reformed preachers. Emperor is relatively brief (120 pages), highly readable, and the subject matter could not be more essential. As Mr. Cunha so aptly puts it,

What is at stake here? In a word, the Gospel of God. Justification is by faith so that it may be by grace (Romans 4:16). All of us "have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We all deserve God's wrath and curse. It is only by faith that a sinner can appropriate the perfect, all-sufficient righteousness of Christ as the legal ground for his justification. "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). To those who truly understand the depth of their sin and depravity, this is truly Good News!

If works are made to be in any sense or to any degree causal in justification, grace is lost and the glory of Jesus' perfect life of obedience and sacrificial, atoning death on the cross is obscured. Not only does such a gospel, which is really no gospel at all, close the door of salvation to poor, needy sinners, but, even worse, it robs Jesus Christ of the glory of His finished Work! Whether intentional or unintentional, this is the fearful consequence of any teaching that joins man's works, meritorious or non-meritorious, with Jesus' Work as the cause of justification.2

You can order The Emperor Has No Clothes by Stephen M. Cunha directly from The Trinity Foundation by clicking this link.

Stalwarts for the Faith

I consider it a privilege to count Stephen Cunha as a friend. He is a stalwart for the true faith. In his preface, Stephen mentions that the Cornerstone OPC session - of which Dr. Gaffin was a member - refused to interact with what he had written, even though he had humbly asked those men to tell him if they thought he was wrong in his analysis. I would describe what took place as the conspiracy of silence under which OPC leaders typically seek to smother inconvenient facts.

Since I wrote my own books regarding the denomination's spiritual crisis several years ago,3 many concerned people from OPC congregations across the country have contacted me. All of them express their alarm at the doctrinal deviancies they are encountering in their own churches, and they often ask advice. All of them have, in various ways, confronted heresies as Stephen Cunha did.

I can tell you that their experiences follow a very consistent pattern. The official response to such Berean inquiries usually begins with a conspiracy of silence. The elders of the church view the faithful watchmen, not the heretics, as "the problem". They believe that by simply ignoring "the problem" it will go away. But for those who persist in exposing heresy to the light of Biblical truth, and persist in holding the officers of the church accountable to their vow to protect its doctrinal purity, worse things await. Official silence often gives way to harsh criticism, personal attacks, ostracism, and even active persecution. Jesus' words may truly be said of the Cunha family and many other faithful people who have subsequently left the OPC in sorrow:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

For similar reasons, I was deeply touched by Steve's dedication of The Emperor Has No Clothes: "In memory of Anne Gindele (1942-2010), who was strong and courageous, and a true Berean." Some of you may remember that we requested prayer for Anne during her battle with cancer. Anne and her husband were also stalwarts for the truth at Cornerstone OPC. When they saw the doctrinal rot setting in, they also had the courage to confront it directly. Anne once told me, "I was raised a Roman Catholic but was saved as an adult. I know the difference between Roman Catholic teaching about works salvation, and the Gospel of justification by faith alone. What Dick Gaffin was teaching was the same kind of works salvation I was taught as a child by my priest."

Anne and her family likewise left the OPC, and found a warm welcome in a church that preaches the one true Gospel without compromise or equivocation.4 But even after that, Anne was belittled - even at her funeral - by men from her former church who said that she was simply "another layperson who didn't understand theology." Steve's dedication puts the lie to that. It is in the spirit of Martin Luther, who said that "a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it" - and greater than the most learned theologian as well.

That, by God's grace, was true of Anne Gindele. That is also true of Stephen Cunha. May God give us more men and women like them.

References:

  1. Stephen M. Cunha, The Emperor Has No Clothes: Dr. Richard B. Gaffin's Doctrine of Justification (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2011), pages 7-8.

  2. Cunha, page 103.

  3. Paul M. Elliott, Christianity and Neo-Liberalism: The Spiritual Crisis in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Beyond (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2005) and A Denomination in Denial: An Analysis of the Report of the Committee on the Doctrine of Justification of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Westminster, Maryland: TeachingTheWord Press, 2006). Both books are available in our online Resource Store.

  4. The Cunhas and Gindeles subsequently joined Covenant Presbyterian Church, a congregation of The Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian Church, in Hatboro, Pennsylvania.

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