Union with Christ, A Response

We are pleased to welcome Dr. Michael S. Horton to the program once again. Dr. Horton is Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California. He is also the president of White Horse Inn, a co-host of their national radio program, and the editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is also the author of many books on a variety of theological topics—two of which that are germane to our discussion today are Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ and The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way.

In Christ the Center episode 200, Dr. Lane G. Tipton, Professor of Systematic and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, spoke about the doctrine of union with Christ. In the course of the interview, Tipton drew out what he saw as implications of the views presented by Dr. Horton in his book Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ. This episode is Dr. Horton’s response to Tipton’s previous statements.

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely of the individuals and are not the views of Reformed Forum or any other organization affiliated with the participants in this interview.


Participants: , ,

Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program and learn how to subscribe.

87 Responses

  1. Thank you for this. Wish these guys where together to talk, but this is the next best thing. There are other topics which you brothers could bring our contemporary theologians together to discuss.

  2. Jon

    I don’t think they would agree to get together to speak on this topic.
    Is Horton saying that the gospel IS the “declaration” of righteousness? The declaration is mainly a forensic one? Or, is he saying that the gospel is the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but all of that is a done in a ‘forensic amphitheater’?

    I am having trouble with the language of “forensic amphitheater”. Does he mean that the ultimate ground for the the Son coming into the World is a forensic one? The life (forensic) death (forensic) and resurrection (forensic) is the ground, or source, or origin, or overarching context? Maybe I am getting confused but the resurrection wasn’t only for justification, Acts 2 :24 “God raised him, loosing the pangs of death becasue it was not possible for him to be held by it.” This is definitely not justification language, but a breech with sin’s power, which could not contain Christ.

    I am confused about why the amphitheater has to only be forensic. Why can’t the context also be renovative? Jesus’ death is not just becasue of him bearing our sin, but it is also a death under the power of sin. Jesus defeated sins power in his death and resurrection, he didn’t just provide a judicial context for something to be declared. this is why the gospel IS NOT the declaration of justification but IT IS the declaration of Jesus Crucified and Raised – BOTH Forensic and Renovative. Your faith in Jesus Christ is your justification (ordo speak). Your faith in Jesus Christ is your sanctification (ordo speak)

    1. Jon,

      I agree. I tried to bring this point up when we began speaking about the resurrection and historia salutis. I think Dr. Gaffin’s exegesis in Resurrection and Redemption is sound and extremely helpful on this point.

      1. David

        Gaffin appears to prioritize the forensic in the historia (if not in the ordo):

        On the antecedent forensic basis of Christ’s atonement, his wrath-propitiating obedience unto death, God, by the faith-creating call of the gospel effective in the power of the Spirit, unites sinners to Christ now exalted to his right hand and, in so doing, gives them a share in the benefits that flow from that spiritual union, both forensic and renovative, without confusion and without separation.”

        (from “A Response to John Fesko’s Book Review”)

      2. David


        In the interests of trying to better understand, I have some questions about the atonement and historia salutis. Based on what I’ve been hearing from you guys, I think you would argue that there are both forensic and renovative aspects to the atonement, and that neither of those aspects has the primacy in terms of importance, am I correct?

        If so, then I have the following questions: What is the relationship of the merit of Christ to the forensic aspect of the atonement? (Are they equivalent and if not, then what is the relationship?) Moving to the ordo, What is the relationship between the merit of Christ and our sanctification?

        I am asking these questions because it seems to me that while the atonement has been touched upon in these discussions, it hasn’t explicitly figured into them to the same degree as the resurrection. If you can point me to some reading material, I’d be grateful. It seems to me that Murray touches on this a little, and Gaffin also gets at it a bit in “Atonement and the Pauline Corpus” in the “five views” book. Where else can I look?

        Again, just wanting to better understand. Thanks.

      3. David


        If I can pursue this a little further, I’m trying to gain some further insight into this question of whether the forensic or the renovative aspects of salvation have the priority by considering the nature of the atonement. I’ve just skimmed through the section in the first part of Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied entitled “The Nature of the Atonement,” and though he doesn’t explicitly say so, it seems clear by his treatment that the forensic aspects of the atonement are far more in the forefront of his mind than the renovative aspects. Here’s what I mean: Murray deals with the nature of the atonement under the four categories of sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. Of these four categories, the first three are entirely forensic. They all clearly have exclusive reference to what Christ does to procure our justification and have nothing to do with what He does to procure our sanctification. Only the fourth category, redemption, has reference to both forensic and renovative categories, in that Christ redeems us from both the guilt and the power of sin. Regarding Christ’s freeing us from the power of sin, Murray devotes just one paragraph in his entire treatment of the atonement, the rest of which focuses exclusively on the guilt of sin. So it seems to me that if Murray’s presentation is accurate, then it would seem that the Bible places far more emphasis on the forensic aspects of the atonement than on its renovative aspects.


    2. James

      Jon, well said. You are right, I think Horton did say that the preaching of the gospel is itself the declarative aspect of justification. Faith, for Horton, seems to be directed toward the declaration of our righteousness in Christ. Strange stuff indeed! Has anyone else noticed that the historia salutis has suspiciously gone missing in all this? Also, does the declarative aspect of the ordo salutis precede (logically, or otherwise) the actual imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us? Horton seems to be saying this at points.

  3. I believe there are a few things we need to hammer down to continue this discussion. First, the relationship of justification to faith. Is there any sense in which we can speak about a justification-declaration without faith and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness being directly within its purview? Second, we then need to explore the relationship of faith to union. Indeed, Tipton argues for a faith-union. That’s what union is—a connection to Christ by Spirit-wrought faith. Third, the relationship of historia salutis to ordo salutis needs to be clarified. This can go far toward answering some of your questions, Jon.

  4. Thank you Camden for providing Michael Horton the necessary opportunity to respond to Lane Tipton’s previous remarks.

    To Michael Horton: You ventured willingly and joyfully into the den and comported yourself effectively and in keeping with Scripture and the Reformed tradition. More than that, in the presentation of your defense, you held high the gospel of Christ; no greater purpose could have been served. You highlighted the very issue churning the waters today, which has on and off for 2000 years roiled the Church, i.e. law and gospel and the proper place of each.

    My take away from this interview is that as regards union, interesting enough, the gospel of Christ remains central to the debate concerning it, our justification and sanctification. Many thanks.

  5. Tony Phelps

    Here’s my weak effort to explain justification as the forensic basis of regeneration. Disclaimer: I am only 50% caffeinated at this moment.

    Our condition of spiritual death is a JUDGMENT connected to Adam’s first sin. “In the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” In Adam, all die – spiritually, physically, eternally. Implicitly, Adam’s obedience would have attained life for him and his posterity, i.e., “DO this and LIVE.” Christ’s death for us (the elect) removes the judgment we deserve for our sins – including the judgment of spiritual death. Christ’s righteousness / obedience for us secures the reward of life, including spiritual life/regeneration. Therefore, the imputation of our sin to Christ, and of Christ’s righteousness to us, becomes the forensic ground of our regeneration.

    The traditional ordo salutis is a logical not temporal arrangement concerning the APPLICATION of redemption. And as such, regeneration/effectual calling still precedes faith. God by His Spirit works through the Gospel, calling His elect to Himself – regenerating them and thereby granting them faith, by which they are justified. God grants this gift of regeneration/spiritual life which Christ secured for His elect by His death for our sins and His perfect obedience to God’s Law on our behalf. Justification – what Christ’s Cross & righteousness secured for us – is thus the forensic basis of our regeneration, but is not logically prior in terms of the application of the benefits of redemption Christ has secured for us. God calls & regenerates the elect in time because Christ lived and died and rose again for us.

    1. Paul


      The problem seems to be that Horton splits up justification in two, such that, while the declaration precedes regeneration, the actual event of imputation occurs several steps afterward. Therefore, although your explanation might be something to consider, it does not comport with Horton’s view (in my listening).

      So, in the logical application of the benefits (if we are stuck with a singular progression along a straight logical line), for Horton, justification precedes faith in the ordo salutis sense. It seems that in your explanation, the justification which you perceive as foundational for our faith is Christ’s justification, which is a historia salutis category, and is a different question altogether (but one that, as Camden has said, must be asked to properly deal with the ordo question).

      I think Br…I mean Jon’s questions still stand.

      1. Tony Phelps

        Thanks, Paul. I know it’s risky in these parts to invoke Lutheran categories (JK, sorta), but I remember reading somewhere in the Book of Concord, “…where there is forgiveness, there is also life & salvation.” The point, I think, is that the forgiveness of sins secured by Christ’s death is the judicial & forensic basis on which God grants us life, including regeneration. I think that comports with some of the Reformed sources Horton cites in this conversation (I’m only about 45 minutes in so far). Col 2:13 is a possible exegetical basis for this. “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” God declares to us in the Gospel, “You, sinner, are forgiven. Come forth from your spiritual death (like Lazarus!), and receive My Son, crucified and risen for your salvation. You are now justified in My sight, and so an heir of eternal life. All because My Son fulfilled all righteousness and overcome sin and death for you.”

    2. Tony,

      The problem of sin and spiritual death is twofold. It is guilt and corruption. This is why the gospel is both forensic and renovative. You’ve prioritized the forensic on the basis of half a hamartology.

      1. Tony Phelps

        Well, Camden, I don’t think I’m denying a twofold harmatology (guilt & corruption) in anything I’ve written above. I’m simply presenting an argument for renovation (renewal of corruption, beginning with regeneration) on the basis of the forensic (removal of guilt). Cf. Romans 5:18, “justification of life” – Bruce: “‘Justification of life’ is justification which issues in life (just as condemnation issues in death).” Moo offers the translation of the genitive as “justification leading to life.” What kind of death resulted from Adam’s sin? In popular categories, a threefold death – spiritual, physical, and eternal. What kind of life resulted from Christ’s obedience for His elect? A threefold life – spiritual, physical (resurrection), and eternal. Justification is the basis of this threefold restoration of life. That’s all I’m saying. No denial of corruption or renewal here.

      2. Bill

        Hey Camden, first off thanks very much for your contributions. This subject is as tough as tough to get right as predestination! It takes a while but I hope God will provide clarity to all of us, it’s good this has been raised. Now I believe you hit the issue on the nail, when you said the gospel is both forensic and regenerative. I think lutherans and reformed will agree with your statement. The question is whether the gospel is primarily forensic (lutheran / Michael Horton view) and then regenerative or whether it’s equally forensic and regenerative (reformed view). You know I was a calvinist until a few minutes ago! But I think I’m a lutheran now! I will quote scripture to prove the gospel is primarily forensic (forgiveness of sins for eternal life), and only secondarily regenerative (transformative in this life on earth that comes as a result of the forensic nature of the gospel, like lutherans say sanctification is getting comfortable with being in a justified state). No better place to go than 1 Corinthians chapter 15:

        Verse 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

        Verses 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope[b] in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

      3. dgh

        Camden, couldn’t it be that the reason for prioritizing the forensic is federal theology? The covenants of works and of grace are all about the laws demands, failure to keep it, penalties and rewards. The law (hence the forensic) is the 6,000 pound gorilla in the soteriology room.

      4. Bill

        Well I think, I found the answer. Calvin also taught as Luther that justification by grace through faith is the chief or sole benefit we obtain from which all other benefits are derived. So justification is the cause and sanctification the effect of justification, for both Calvin and Luther. Horton is right, the primacy of justification is both a reformed and lutheran tenet. Book 3, chapter 17. section 10 of the Institutes is where Calvin writes that the forgiveness of sins is the only blessedness we receive from Christ:

        “Since, then, all the kinds of blessedness extolled in the Scripture are vain so that man derives no benefit from them until he obtains blessedness by the forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness which makes way for them, it follows that this is not only the chief and highest, but the only blessedness” John Calvin

      5. Darryl,

        If we are to speak about the overall context of the problem of sin and salvation, wouldn’t “federal” or “covenantal” be a more appropriate term rather than “forensic”? I’ve wanted this discussion to go in this direction from the beginning. You are quite correct that the law and disobedience to it brings about the problem of sin. But many, including myself, use the categories “forensic” and “renovative” in the way the Westminster Standards use “act” and “work.” Both God’s acts and works are necessary to resolve the two-fold problem of sin. And I fail to see how one is primary in the light of the overall solution in God’s plan of redemption. Here is some context on my thoughts pertaining to justification as forensic:

        We speak of justification as forensic because it doesn’t change you intrinsically. It does not transform the sinner into one with personal righteousness. Rather, it imputes an alien righteousness. To speak of a declaration of justification that is a work/renovative/intrinsic change is to compromise its very forensic character and to commit the error of Rome.

        Moreover, to speak of a declaration of righteousness in the ordo salutis without at the same time speaking of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by faith is to posit the existence of a legal fiction. Justification of this sort is empty because it has no grounds. This is where some fall into the problem of presumptive regeneration.

        But to come back to the question of overall covenantal context—regeneration, sanctification, and glorification are not forensic. Yet they equally are solutions to the problem of sin that arises out of disobedience to the Covenant of Works. Covenant is not exhausted by the forensic and neither is the solution to sin: Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

      6. Mark G

        Amen to Camden’s desire to move the discussion in covenantal directions. Since we all like throwing around Berkhov (and other’s) quotes here is another. “Calvin repeatedly expresses the idea that the sinner cannot share in the saving benefits of Christ’s redemptive work, unless he be in union with Him, and thus emphasizes a very important truth. As Adam was the representative head of the old humanity, so Christ is the representative head of the new humanity. All the blessing of the covenant of grace flow from Him who is the mediatior of the covenant. Even the very first blessing of the saving grace of God which we receive already presupposes a union with the Person of the Mediator.”

        It is only the sovereign person and work of Christ who transfers dead us from the realm of the first Adam and into life in the realm of the eschatos Adam.

  6. E. Burns

    Very good program, as always. I have been blessed by The Reformed Forum since the first few months it arrived on the seen and continue to be a regular listener. Horton did indeed handle himself very well. I am a Reformed lay person, so certainly have not the training that many here hold. But I read so here are my two cents……

    This is kind of weird because usually I am the one who may get accused of being a theological nit picker, but in this case I do think that some of the Westminster Seminary PA folks (of which Forum principles and Lane Tipton are among) are nit picky here towards Horton. Horton is of course Westminster Seminary California guy.

    On this subject Dr. Horton is right, there is much in common on the topic and the uncharitable reading of Horton is not helpful. Having listened to both broadcasts I do think Dr. Horton’s using the word “uncharitable” to describe Lane Tipton’s descriptions of him were accurate. Horton is no Lutheran, no Pelagian and clearly he meant something very different in the word “source” than that in which he was accused of. Dr. Horton clarifies that on this program and clearly corrected that word “source” in his later more exhaustive systematic book. Further more he is correct about over emphasizing differences and creating caricatures of Lutherans. I am more than satisfied with his response here. While I have no reason to doubt his motives, the tact that Lane Tipton takes in my view is another example of wings within the Reformed camp being overly concerned by antinomianism, attempting to root it out where it does not exist. Best I can tell (yet I have much to learn) Horton puts the right emphasis in the right areas in a way that is in accord with Scripture and our historic Reformed theology. A more charitable reading of his writings and works would show this. I do not have this all figured out, nor am I a defender of Horton as much as I have a desire to see the truth of God reign. If Horton is in error, may the truth come out and may he make a correction. However, I have listened and read with an open mind and yet have heard nothing that gives me great concern about Dr. Horton or his theology. If anything I am now a bit more cautious of the Westminster PA folks. Some of the comments in other posts may be close to the mark regarding the Shepherd influence at Westminster PA and who is closer to being semi-pelagian. It does appear to me that there is much to this behind the scenes in terms of a different ethos in the two seminaries.

    Jack Miller said………….
    “My take away from this interview is that as regards union, interesting enough, the gospel of Christ remains central to the debate concerning it, our justification and sanctification.”

    I say amen to that and I think Horton got it right.

    Thank you to The Reformed Forum for being a gracious host to Dr. Horton and for providing a place to have the conversation. I look forward to brothers in Reformed circles continuing to grow in grace in accordance to our Lord’s Word. May the Lord continue to bless the on going conversation.

    1. Jon

      Sorry to be the “nit picker” but I totally disagree with you guys. I think this episode is a prime example of someone NOT doing Systematic Theology. Systematic theology is not just pointing out who in history may or may not be on one’s side (ala Horton). Systematic Theology includes careful exegesis of our ultimate standard … Scripture (ala Tipton). Just listen to the two episodes again and ask yourself who is doing more exegesis and who is doing more historical theology, Pointing out that Romans 4 sounds like ex-nihilo isn’t exegesis. Also, I didn’t find that Horton answered any of the questions, especially Jim’s. This episode has pointed out that Horton has bifurcated Justification. How was Tipton supposed to know which justification he was speaking of? Forensic Amphitheater? Is it forensic becasue a declarative act = forensic speak? This would mean that Creation is primarily forensic …. ridiculous. The ground of both the forensic and the renovative is JESUS CHRIST’s person. There is nothing more basic, nothing behind him, nothing more normative. What we have in Horton is a justification sandwich. Also, notice how he answered the Murray sanctification question…”I agree with the exegesis, but I am not going to include it in my standards?” WAS THAT A JOKE? It should be.

      1. David

        Does historical theology count for anything? Does having Vos and Berkhof on your side count for anything when it comes to defining what is Reformed?

  7. Bill

    I like Michael Horton, I listen to the White Horse Inn pretty much every episode. His Ministry is very much needed today when the gospel is not preached in churches.

    Nonetheless both Horton and Tipton failed to accurately distinguish between Calvin and the reformed confessions. Both of them quote Calvin as if they are following him, when none of them is. To begin with there was a failure to define Union with Christ, for Calvin union with Christ is attained when we apprehend Jesus Christ by faith. Chapters 1 and 2 of Book 3 of the Institutes explain how a christian is united with Christ, and it happens by faith alone. The benefits that we obtain as a result of our faith (or union with Christ) are sanctification (which Calvin calls regeneration by faith) and justification. In Book 3 chapter 3 of the Institutes of the Christian Religion entitled “Regeneration by faith. Of Repentance” John Calvin spends a whole chapter explaining why regeneration / repentance proceeds from faith, and does not precede faith. Calvin goes onto explain at length that good works follow faith (union with Christ), and this is the true repentance / regeneration that the christian religion ought to concern itself with.

    Both Tipton and Horton failed to identify regeneration / repentance (sanctification) as proceeding from faith, and instead state that regeneration precedes faith. This was never taught by John Calvin. Why is it so important? Because both good works and justification follow from faith (union with Christ), are the fruit of faith, When we say we are saved by faith alone, it is not a faith that is alone since good works are bestowed on the believer by faith. .

    1. Bill, the use of the word “regeneration” has changed since Calvin. What Calvin refers to with the word “regeneration” we now call sanctification. Horton and Tipton were both working with today’s usage. Reference the Westminster Standards on effectual calling if you’d like a more precise definition. One cannot have faith until the Spirit works that faith in them by enlightening their minds and renewing their wills.

      1. Bill

        Good point, agree that what Calvin calls regeneration in the Institutes is called by the Reformed sanctification today.

  8. I think Dr. Tipton wins the clarity award here. I pressed him with hard questions which everyone was asking and he came out and answered them in a very clear way so there was no ambiguity. I think that this thread of discussion has shown that Dr. Horton was not as clear when confronted by hard questions as he could have been. At best he seemed to be on the defensive hiding behind quotes from other Reformed theologians in an attempt to establish his views as having a Reformed – as opposed to Lutheran – pedigree.

  9. David

    First, I’ll say that I’ve greatly appreciated the opportunity you have provided to hear from both Tipton and Horton. I have learned a tremendous amount from listening to, and thinking about, these forums, and have also experienced some shifting in my own convictions. I have always greatly appreciated Dr. Tipton and was therefore willing to hear from him on this issue, and as a result, I have a new appreciation for what Gaffin and he and others are saying. So please keep this in mind as I offer the following suggestion:

    There have been many citations provided from Vos and Berkhof and others in the mainstream of the Reformed tradition clearly demonstrating that Horton’s view is neither idiosyncratic nor Lutheran. Thus far, the only response to these quotes I’ve heard has been to the effect that it is exegesis and not historical theology that decides the issue. So while there has been much interaction with some passages in Calvin, and perhaps with a few WLC Q&As, there has been little to no interaction with other Reformed thinkers. But it seems clear to me that if Horton is “Lutheran,” then Vos, Warfield, and Berkhof are also Lutherans in terms of the clear priority they all give to the forensic over the renovative. So as I’ve said before, it would be very helpful if someone would interact a little with what other Reformed stalwarts have said on this issue, and specifically with some of the citations provided. Horton issued a challenge: Whether or not you disagree with some of what he is saying (and I acknowledge I’m not clear on his view of justification in the announcement of the gospel), demonstrate where he is Lutheran rather than Reformed at any point of theology without also implicating Vos, Warfield, Berkhof, etc.

    1. Randall Perkins


      Great point point here: “But it seems clear to me that if Horton is “Lutheran,” then Vos, Warfield, and Berkhof are also Lutherans in terms of the clear priority they all give to the forensic over the renovative.”

      G. Vos from “Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation” page 384:
      “In our opinion Paul consciously and consistently subordinated the mystical aspect of the relation to Christ to the forensic one. Paul’s mind was to such an extent forensically oriented that he regarded the entire complex of subjective spiritual changes that take place in the believer and of subjective spiritual blessings enjoyed by the believer as the direct outcome of the forensic work of Christ applied in justification. The mystical is based on the forensic, not the forensic on the mystical.”

      Redemptive History is the ground of our existential experience in Christ. Horton’s discussions regarding speech act and covenantal ontology helps to explain the application of Christ’s “for us”, within us.

      I would add that I think the only way that justification can logically precede regeneration is in the redemptive historical sense of Christ being “raised for our justification.”

  10. Jared O.

    Here’s a great thing to keep in mind going forward: what “Reformed” means is not “a survey of Reformed thinkers”, especially when, as we are clearly aware, many thinkers within the Reformed tradition have competing views on particular theological points. Ok? We can all agree that Reformed thinkers (Calvin, Turretin, Bavinck, Hodge, Berkhof) aren’t unanimously in agreement on every topic, right? So what are we to do when there is disagreement between two Reformed thinkers, both past and present? Keep the quotes going?

    Reformed theology and Reformed principles are true insofar as they are biblical. Period. This should be so patently obvious that not a further drop of ink should be spilled in addressing this within Reformed circles. So when Tipton is arguing that a belief is “Lutheran”, he is arguing that the belief is in keeping with Lutheran theology and Lutheran principles, not whether that person is a self-proclaimed, self-identified, and self-aware bona fide Lutheran. Someone could be making a theological statement that is either explicitly or implicitly more in line with Lutheran theology qua theology (not historically found theology) than Reformed theology. Was Berkhof Lutheran? No. Were particular beliefs he held more in line with Lutheran theology than Reformed? Quite possibly. Whether that’s in fact the case will not be solved by just labeling everything Berkhof says as “Reformed” and thinking the job is done. Nuance is needed.

    For whatever reason there are pockets within the Reformed circles that have catastrophically failed to grasp this. No one should feel as if they have won an argument because Berkhof said it (or any figure within the Reformed tradition). What we mean when we call thinkers to first discuss the exegetical arguments is that this whole discussion is not a discussion of what Berkhof did or didn’t think, but whether a particular belief is taught in Scripture, regardless of what Berkhof thought. So Berkhofian theology is down the road a bit and, granted, a valuable discussion to be had in its proper place. For what it’s worth, if Berkhof or anyone else thought regeneration’s source or ground is “the forensic”, they are wrong because that is not what is taught in Scripture, not *because* it agrees or disagrees with _insert Reformed thinker here_. And to anticipate the objection, I am not saying that we don’t consult historical figures, or can’t learn from them, or don’t consider them in the discussion. We consult history and Reformed thinkers so as not to be ignorant of the historical conversation already going on but we don’t reference those figures as the ultimate stopping point that does the job of an argument.

    Much more can be said but there needs to be some serious tightening of method when discussing these theological terms and beliefs. Historical theology asks and answers different questions than systematic theology, and mixing the two without explicitly stating so results in nothing but confusion.

    1. dgh

      Jared, did you realize that this is a point that John Frame consistently makes against people who think the past has some relevance in how we use theological words? Have you also considered that Lutherans, Baptists, and Methodists also claim to be biblical?

      1. Jared O.

        Darryl, I’m sure Frame sees relevance in understanding the past for how we use theological words and even phrasing it that way stacks the deck and not worth playing on that point (also wondering if that’s a “charitable” read of Frame). And did you even read what I said? “I am not saying that we don’t consult historical figures, or can’t learn from them, or don’t consider them in the discussion. We consult history and Reformed thinkers so as not to be ignorant of the historical conversation already going on but we don’t reference those figures as the ultimate stopping point that does the job of an argument.”

        The “other people claim the same thing” argument is the same argument Franke uses in “Manifold Witness” in making a positive case for an emergent, postmodernism “theology”:

        “What is truth? And if we believe that Christianity is in some sense true, how do we account for its massive irreducible plurality in history?…one of the most significant challenges facing Christian theology in the contemporary setting [is] the sheer, existential reality of Christian plurality.” (MW, p. 3)

        A lack of consensus on a term never means there is no way to determine a term’s meaning. What is often meant to be an objection is actually true but not relevant, nor an argument or an actual objection. It’s a “that’s just your opinion” statement. People disagree on a lot of things, but that doesn’t prove much either way, does it? In fact, believing that a lack of universal consensus means we can’t figure out whether something is biblical betrays the very muddy methodology that I believe is at the root of this discussion. Claiming “biblicism” on those who wish for exegetical answers is also a favorite I’ve often seen used, but it doesn’t stand on its own and needs to be demonstrated rather than just stated.

    2. dgh

      Fine, Jared. The Bible is the norm. So how do you propose to settle the difference between Tipton and Horton on what is the Reformed doctrine of soteriology? You want to say that history along with Scripture will help settle this. But what happens when your reading of the Bible is different from Berkhof’s and Vos’ and Hodge’s? Are you then the one who decides what Reformed is? Or has it come about that you are criticizing the Reformed tradition?

      It’s a free country. You can criticize the Reformed tradition if you want. But it takes real chutzpah to say that the Reformed tradition has been in error and then claim to be the defender of the Reformed tradition.

      1. Jared O.

        The same way Van Til deals with differing Reformed views in his chapter on Warfield and Kuyper in CTK and his comments on Bavinck in ch. 5 of IST. Granted, his purpose is not to make exegetical arguments in either of those sections, but the point is that his methodology is far from “these guys said it so it’s true.” Sure, if you think your select Reformed guys are beyond critique, you’ll naturally conclude that everyone who critically engages with them is some lone gun. I’d also recommend a revisit of WCF I.X., included in this apparently selective Reformed tradition to which you refer.

        “WCF I.X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”

        A method that sets up an artificial magisterium and canon of writings is wholly inconsistent with the Reformed faith it tries to defend. One can give lip-service to Scripture being the norm all day, but if in practice all the work that is done merely amounts to quote-collecting, the norming norm becomes buried under an impenetrable layer of human writing. Keep quoting, but ground it and balance it with exegesis that determines whether a belief is biblically correct or in error.


      2. dgh

        Jared, let’s play back the tape. Union advocates claim to be not simply biblical but Reformed. Being Reformed is a historical claim and invites comparisons to older Reformed sources. It gets more historical when unionists make claims about Pelegianism and Lutheranism. It is entirely responsible and reasonable for those deemed Pelagian or Lutheran to look to the past to see what older Reformed voices have said. They are not saying that history is more important than Scripture. They are responding to a historical claim.

        Now if you don’t want to use the words, Reformed, Lutheran, or Pelagian, and simply talk about the Bible, then I guess the point about Horton is that he is not biblical. Seems like a warranted conclusion from your argument since you say that Reformed equals biblical. If Horton is not Reformed, what does that leave?

    3. Jonathan Bonomo

      I hear you, Jared, insofar as Scripture is the final authority and that must be the center piece of the discussion. And I’m with WTS PA on Union.

      However, I believe there comes a problem when Tipton claims that Horton is working from Lutheran principles. This leads to the necessity of Horton and those who agree with him to defend themselves and locate Reformed antecedents for their position.

      And the bottom line is: they do have those antecedents. Do you want to throw the whole German Reformed tradition off the Reformed bus? What do you do with the Heidleberg Catechism, and Ursinus’ statement in his intro. that the “entire doctrine of the church is the distinction between Law and Gospel.” Here we have not merely a private theologian, but a confessionally sanctioned Reformed ecclesiastical document. If that doesn’t count in the discussion of what “is” and what “is not” Reformed, then I don’t know what does.

      Of course, that doesn’t settle the substance of the debate–which is, “What is true? What does Scripture say?” But it should at least lead to a toning down of the rhetoric with regard to who is and who is not Reformed. Both Tipton and Horton are Reformed theologians working from Reformed principles. And that’s the case because the Reformed tradition is, from its very inception in the 16th century, variegated on these issues. So we ought to be treating each other as brothers within the same confessional house, because that’s what we are. Let’s stop pointing at each other while shouting the claim that our brother is “of a different spirit” (to use truly Lutheran language).

      1. Jonathan Bonomo

        It ought also to be noted that, while WTS Philly is always fond of saying (rightly) that the locus of the debate needs to be the exegesis of Scripture, it is actually Tipton himself who *shifts the locus of the debate* to historical theology. Because the charge that Escondido and Horton are “Lutheran” is a historic/ecclesiastical claim, *not* an exegetical/biblical one.

      2. Jonathan Bonomo

        It ought also to be noted that, while WTS Philly is always fond of saying (rightly) that the locus of the debate needs to be the exegesis of Scripture, it is Tipton himself who *shifts the locus of the debate* to historical theology. Because the charge that Escondido and Horton are “Lutheran” is a historic/ecclesiastical claim, *not* a biblical/exegetical one.

      3. Mark G

        I believe the labelling of certain views as “Lutheran” and others as “Reformed” predates the Tipton/Horton discussion with respect to union with Christ. It has been claimed/suggested, for example, that the “Gaffin school” is something “new” (read between the lines, i.e., not Reformed), the New Perspective on Calvin, FV and influenced by Shephard. These are attempts at labelling Gaffin et al., heterodox and unreformed.

        From Berkhov, “Lutherans generally treat the doctrine of mystical union anthropologically, and therefore conceive of it as established by faith. Hence they naturally take it up at a later point in their soteriology. But this method fails to do full justice to the idea of our union with Christ, since it loses sight of the eternal basis of the union and of its objective realization in Christ, and deals exclusively with the subjective realization of it in our lives, and even so only with our personal conscious entrance into this union. Reformed theology, on the other hand, deals with the union of believers with Christ theologically, and as such does far greater justice to this important subject. In doing so it employs the term ‘mystical union’ in a broad sense as a designation not only of the subjective union of Christ and believers, but also of the union that lies back of it, that is basic to it, and of which it is only the culminating expression, namely, the federal union of Christ and those who are His in the counsel of redemption, the mystical union ideally established in that eternal counsel, and the union as it is objectively effected in the incarnation and redemptive work of Christ.”

        One side claims the other is more “Lutheran” than “Reformed” at some points. The other claims that any differences are exagerated and thus pointing them out is “uncharitable.” If there are really no significant differences why get offended at being called either Lutheran or Reformed? It’s all the same. Behind the ecclesiastical claim is a theological claim for which “Lutheran” is shorthand.

      4. Jonathan Bonomo


        I understand that such labels predate this particular discussion. And of course there are significant differences.

        But that’s not the point. The point’s that even with those differences, the interlocutors in this discussion do in fact belong to the same confessional/ecclesiastical tradition. And that’s the case because it is possible (contrary to what seems to be the prevailing opinion) to have two difference positions or emphases on certain matters (and this is one of them) and still both be “Reformed” in the historical/ecclesiastical sense. The ambiguity that allows such is embedded within our tradition (considered broadly). So the argument here shouldn’t be about who is “in” and who is “out” of the Reformed house. It should be about what Scripture says, and each side seeking progress, mutual understanding, and concord in our understanding of the Word of God as Reformed believers who’re united by a common history and a common confession. But until it’s recognized and freely allowed that we all belong to the same house, albeit with different theological emphases, the discussion will get bogged down in things like “Calvin v. Calvin,” “Calvin v. Berkhof,” “Westminster v. Heidleberg,” ad nauseam.

        Now, that hasn’t proven very productive. But it will remain absolutely necessary as long as one side keeps insisting that the other has no place in the tradition.

      5. Mark G

        Hey Jonathan,

        I agree with you whole heartedly that labelling can be unhelpful. I only point out that in any human interaction there is never one side to the story.

      6. Jonathan Bonomo


        I’m with you there. Like I said, I’m entirely on the WTS Phila side with regard to the substance of the discussion (centrality of Union). So, I understand the temptation to go tit for tat with the labels. I’m just hoping that one side in this discussion will take the route of being reviled without reviling in return, and that that will lead to eventual concord.

      7. Jared O.

        Jonathan, great points, sincerely. Would it be fair to say that there could be a case made where the original Lutheran position in its (rightly) historical emphasis on justification in opposition to Rome was then nuanced and progressed to the point where the forensic aspect had historically been addressed and the structure of soteriology and its foundation in union with Christ could then be worked out within the Reformed tradition? Some genuine, card-carrying, unequivocally-termed Reformed thinkers may have continued in a more justification-focused soteriology, which is more characteristic of the Lutheran tradition than some of their brothers within the Reformed tradition who were continuing to fine-tune soteriological structure beyond a justification-centric model. In other words, if there is a difference between Lutheran and Reformed soteriology and they are not identical, I would think it would be this. The degree to which they are similar is another question.

      8. Jonathan Bonomo


        I’d agree that the way WTS Philly parses all out the details is more in line with the *majority* of the Reformed tradition, and that that majority is more clearly distinct from Lutheran dogmatics than the other stream of thought, which wants to draw a sharper disctintion between Law and Gospel. But this latter, (in my view) minority stream of thought was never confessionally *rejected*–there was always room left for it in the tradition. And I admit I could be mistaken, but in my reading of the history, this particular issue hasn’t been until fairly recently (in the grand scheme of things) a point of significant conflict.

        And if we define the Reformed tradition in terms of ecclesiastically recognized confessional documents rather than what particular theologians have said, it really does seem that Horton would be entirely in line with Heidelberg. And Heidelberg is a Reformed confessional document and not Lutheran at all–it’s recognized and confessed by Reformed churches, and it still is.

        My concern is that we not define things too narrowly. We’re members of the same house, sincerely trying to honor the same history while being faithful to the same revealed word of God. This discussion really ought to take the form and tone of brothers seeking mutual understanding and eventual concord. There, of course, *is* a place for drawing lines in the sand. But this isn’t one of them.

  11. David


    I was thinking of you when I made my comment. My point, which still stands, is that there has been no interaction with any of the Reformed thinkers I mentioned. You concede that interaction with them needs to happen “down the road,” but I think it should happen now, especially if there are broad sweeping accusations of “Lutheran” and “semi-Pelagian” being thrown around. No one is saying that exegesis isn’t important and no one is saying that history trumps exegesis. But if this conversation is simply about exegesis, then let’s focus on that. But as soon as someone invokes the label “Lutheran,” then the conversation isn’t simply about exegesis anymore, is it? And regarding your suggestion that Reformed theologians don’t all agree so let’s just forget about citing them, well in fact they do all unanimously agree on certain things, and one of those things they appear to agree on is the priority of the forensic in the accomplishment and application of redemption. But it seems that you have some sort of Platonic ideal of Lutheranism and Calvinism that don’t have to measure up with a historical standard. Sorry, if you claim someone is “Lutheran,” you should be able to prove it.

    1. Jared O.

      Believing unanimous agreement on this (see Calvin, Owen and Flavel, not to mention the WCF references Tipton makes) with an accusation of Platonic references speaks for itself. Whatever proof you’re looking for was capably and clearly explained in episode 200. I won’t speak for Tipton, but I think he would be comfortable in saying that Vos was simply not consistent with his own Reformed theology on that point. And if you go back to episode 200 Tipton provided plenty of historical quotes (and does so in his article in “Justified in Christ”; if you haven’t read it, do so) to satisfy whatever historical standard you’re looking for. If his explanation of Calvin is right, it’s Berkhof and Vos who, at those specific points, are not consistent within the Reformed tradition. I hope that satisfies your desire to have interaction happen now so we can move on from the historical scavenger hunt.

      1. David

        Yes, Jared, that was entirely satisfactory interaction with the Reformed tradition [insert eye roll]. Here’s what you come off sounding like:

        “We are more reliable exegetes than the Reformed luminaries who preceded us. We are the gold standard of what is and isn’t Reformed. We are frustrated by the fact that you fail to recognize our exegetical greatness. Perhaps down the road we might honor the Reformed luminaries of the past with the privilege of being our conversation partners, but until then, shut up and stay out of our way.”

        You’ll forgive me if I’m not persuaded….

  12. E. Burns

    ….”especially if there are broad sweeping accusations of “Lutheran” and “semi-Pelagian” being thrown around. No one is saying that exegesis isn’t important and no one is saying that history trumps exegesis.”

    …”it seems that you have some sort of Platonic ideal of Lutheranism and Calvinism that don’t have to measure up with a historical standard. Sorry, if you claim someone is “Lutheran,” you should be able to prove it.” True indeed!! Well said David.

    An attempt to explain or accuse was indeed carried out in episode 200 and it was the folks on that program who elected to drop Horton’s name with the arrows sent his way, but it was in no way shape or form proved. In fact after this episode Horton proved those claims were indeed uncharitable. I’m getting the impression some WSPA folks believe they are the keepers of all things Reformed. Not helpful stuff. Nor are their many accusations (episode 200), snarky condescending comments (“catastrophically failed”) and ALL CAPS.

    Jarad O. please clarify, besides Horton being Lutheran and semi-Pelagian are you also suggesting that Dr. Horton would disagree with this statement?

    “Reformed theology and Reformed principles are true insofar as they are biblical. Period.”

  13. Jon

    Okay, Is any one going to address how Jared’s point is actually demonstrated at the end of this episode when Horton says “I find Murray’s exegesis to be correct, but I don’t need it as a principle for my ordo salutis.” ? Jared, you hit it right on the head, thanks. I for one, am not as interested in who’s names gets dropped in the historical lineage of Reformed thinkers, AS MUCH AS I am interested in tightly argued exegesis. I knew the comments who go into a “guess who is one my side” debate.

    The only other mention of a biblical text in the comments is 1 Corinthians 15 by “Bill”. 1 Corinthians 15:56 as a proof text for forensic being the grounds for the renovative? So resurrection from the DEAD is first a forensic category? You realize that it is resurrection from the dead that Paul is speaking about. We defeat both the power and the sting of death “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs.57). Why must we continue to prioritize? In my opinion we all need to re-read Gaffin.

    1. Bill

      To everyone, here’s what Calvin had to say in Book 3 chapter 17. Just like Luther, Calvin not only prioritizes the forensic he goes onto say it is the only benefit we derive from Christ, all other benefits coming from the forensic. I believe this closes the case and the Reformation is united in one voice, justification by grace through faith rules supreme being the chief and sole article of the faith on which Christianity stands or falls. Everything comes from justification, included sanctification as Calvin explains. I quoted a couple of paragraphs but now you can read the whole section below written by John Calvin.

      Book 3, chapter 17, section 10 Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin:

      “10. In this way we can admit not only that there is a partial righteousness in works (as our adversaries maintain), but that they are approved by God as if they were absolutely perfect. If we remember on what foundation this is rested, every difficulty will be solved. The first time when a work begins to be acceptable is when it is received with pardon. And whence pardon, but just because God looks upon us and all that belongs to us as in Christ? Therefore, as we ourselves when ingrafted into Christ appear righteous before God, because our iniquities are covered with his innocence; so our works are, and are deemed righteous, because every thing otherwise defective in them being buried by the purity of Christ is not imputed. Thus we may justly say, that not only ourselves, but our works also, are justified by faith alone. Now, if that righteousness of works, whatever it be, depends on faith and free justification, and is produced by it, it ought to be included under it and, so to speak, made subordinate to it, as the effect to its cause; so far is it from being entitled to be set up to impair or destroy the doctrine of justification. Thus Paul, to prove that our blessedness depends not on our works, but on the mercy of God, makes special use of the words of David, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered;” “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.” Should any one here obtrude the numberless passages in which blessedness seems to be attributed to works, as, “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord;” “He that has mercy on the poor, happy is he;” “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,” and “that endureth temptation;” “Blessed are they that keep judgment,” that are “pure in heart,” “meek,” “merciful,”, they cannot make out that Paul’s doctrine is not true. For seeing that the qualities thus extolled never all so exist in man as to obtain for him the approbation of God, it follows, that man is always miserable until he is exempted from misery by the pardon of his sins. Since, then, all the kinds of blessedness extolled in the Scripture are vain so that man derives no benefit from them until he obtains blessedness by the forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness which makes way for them, it follows that this is not only the chief and highest, but the only blessedness, unless you are prepared to maintain that it is impaired by things which owe their entire existence to it. There is much less to trouble us in the name of righteous which is usually given to believers. I admit that they are so called from the holiness of their lives, but as they rather exert themselves in the study of righteousness than fulfill righteousness itself, any degree of it which they possess must yield to justification by faith, to which it is owing that it is what it is.” John Calvin

      1. Jon

        Great quote Bill! Here is another Calvin quote !!!!

        “But since the question concerns only righteousness and sanctification, let us dwell upon these. Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish then to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ: but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces. Since therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us thee benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. Thus it is clear how true it is that we are justified NOT WITHOUT WORKS yet not through works, since in our sharing IN CHRIST, WHICH JUSTIFIES US, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness.”

  14. Bill

    OK, and I thought I’d check up what Calvin says when he starts his detailed presentation on justification in chapter 11 of book 3. He again mentions the two benefits, but he also mentions that sanctification is based on justification, justification being the foundation. I do have to say that Horton’s interpretation of Calvin where justification is the chief article of religion, which some consider a lutheran interpretation is the correct one.

    Book 3 chapter 11 section 1 of the Institutes of the Christian Religion:

    “1. I TRUST I have now sufficiently shown how man’s only resource for escaping from the curse of the law, and recovering salvation, lies in faith; and also what the nature of faith is, what the benefits which it confers, and the fruits which it produces. The whole may be thus summed up: Christ given to us by the kindness of God is apprehended and possessed by faith, by means of which we obtain in particular a twofold benefit; first, being reconciled by the righteousness of Christ, God becomes, instead of a judge, an indulgent Father; and, secondly, being sanctified by his Spirit, we aspire to integrity and purity of life. This second benefit–viz. regeneration, appears to have been already sufficiently discussed. On the other hand, the subject of justification was discussed more cursorily, because it seemed of more consequence first to explain that the faith by which alone, through the mercy of God, we obtain free justification, is not destitute of good works; and also to show the true nature of these good works on which this question partly turns. The doctrine of Justification is now to be fully discussed, and discussed under the conviction, that as it is the principal ground on which religion must be supported, so it requires greater care and attention. For unless you understand first of all what your position is before God, and what the judgment which he passes upon you, you have no foundation on which your salvation can be laid, or on which piety towards God can be reared. The necessity of thoroughly understanding this subject will become more apparent as we proceed with it.”

  15. Jeffrey Gordon

    It seems that this ordering of things as Bill cites from Inst.3.11.1 also parallels Paul’s organization in Romans. He deals with (1) sin’s judicial guilt and just condemnation before God and His holy law (culminating in the sentence passed on all in 3:19-20), (2) the solution to this problem in the propitiation of God’s wrath by Christ and appropriating of justification (status change from guilty/condemned to righteous/accepted) by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (particularly his atoning sacrifice, 3:23-26; 4:23-23 — culminating in peace with God in 5:1), (3) identification with Christ in His death and resurrection life as both a completed act of God effecting positional (“definitive”?) sanctification, and the foundation on which progressive sanctification rests (ch 6), not to be pursued through mediation of the law (ch 7), but by the ongoing immediate power of the Holy Spirit (ch 8), (4) grounding this all in God’s sovereign gracious election (ch 9-11), all (5) as the benefits in Christ by which we live our lives in Him (ch 12ff).

    Through about 6 hours (so far) of lectures by Dr. Tipton, I really like his emphasis on union with Christ from a devotional and pastoral point of view. As a polemic against Horton, Luther, Melancthon, et. al., it’s less convincing. In particular, the differences seem exaggerated more than substantial, kind of like a scholastic dispute. I have a few more hours of stuff to listen to, so maybe I’ll eventually get it.

  16. Hi Jonathan,

    Just to be fair to Dr. Tipton, I did not hear him label Horton himself with “Lutheran.” He did say that his theological formulation with regard to just and union is structurally Lutheran. The connections to Lutheran dogmatics is there and documented in Tipton’s article in “Justified in Christ.” Furthermore, he never called Horton semi-Pelagian. He asked a question: If justification occurs outside of union, then how does faith not precede regeneration? Yet one more point. Tipton tied a semi-Pelagian anthropology to Lutheranism, not to Horton. So, we not only have to be careful in our critiques of other men in the same house, but we also need to be careful in our critiques of our brothers’ critiques!

    1. hughuenot

      Amen & amen.
      (I erred on another Ref-Forum page in confusing Lane’s videos on the subject of union with the material here!)
      Maybe some trouble stems from shorthand, sound-bites, and shortcuts we take in conversations and on blogs?
      Since we are condensing hundreds of years and thousands of pages of theology into very brief bits, might these bits easily confuse and aggravate?

  17. Jonathan Bonomo


    I’ve heard much from Tipton on this (as he was one of my seminary profs–I’m going on what I’ve heard from him in class). And I’ve tried hard, but I can’t help but hear in his critique of Horton the idea that Horton is theologically Lutheran and *not* Reformed. Maybe it’s just hyperbolic rhetoric and Tipton would like to qualify that contention more. But I haven’t heard that qualification from him.

    And the point isn’t that there’s no connection with Lutheran soteriology. There is. But that connection is also embedded in the German Reformed tradition, and in the Heidelberg catechism. And the point’s that just because there’s a connection doesn’t mean that Horton’s soteriology doesn’t have a place in the Reformed tradition. It’s like me saying, “Jim, since I see a connection between your view of inspiration and Al Mohler’s, you must be a closet Baptist.”

    1. Jonathan Bonomo

      Ok, Jim. I don’t see where or how I’m being uncharitable. I hear/read Tipton saying that Horton’s soteriology is not Reformed but essentially Lutheran. Are you saying that’s not what Tipton is saying? I’m open to correction. Point me to where Tipton says that Horton’s soteriology has a place in the Reformed tradition and isn’t essentially and distinctively Lutheran, and I’ll gladly go back on what I’ve said.

      1. Jared O.

        I think if you’re going to use that knife it needs to cut both ways. Mark’s right; the “Gaffin-school” language Fesko uses is unhelpful and inaccurate. If the discussion is about a charitable read, the degree to which one finds Tipton uncharitable is the degree to which a few others are as well. My point in bringing this up is not mud-slinging, but an attempt at balance for this particular “charitable read” question. And a critique that claims an opposing view is wholly innovative is not the same as a critique that claims the opposing view is not innovative but more consistently at home within a similar, neighboring tradition.

      2. Jonathan, I direct you to my previous, previous post. Whatever you may have heard in class or in private conversations with Dr. Tipton is besides the point. What he said *on the show* was a critique of the structure of one aspect of Horton’s soteriology, not the man himself. Nor, his theology as a whole. Tipton was actually pretty careful and guarded in how he said what he said, in my opinion.

        As an aside, Van Til was treated in a similar way in his day. His criticism were leveled against particular aspects of other men’s theology, but evangelicals painted him uncharitable thinking that he was condemning the objects of his critiques. And that was itself, ironically, an uncharitable read of VT.

      3. David

        Dr. Tipton said the following in the Reformed Forum interview:

        “What I think Horton and others have done, is kind of give a traditional Reformed ordo salutis a Lutheran make-over, and replace the centrality of effectual calling and the union that it effects with justification. And so, it’s in his work that I see—the most charitable way I can put it is—a kind of unstable disequilibrium, or a dialectic between Lutheran and Reformed motifs with the Lutheran getting the structural primacy.”

  18. Jonathan Bonomo


    Very true. But I say these things as one who’d be classified as belonging to the “Gaffin school.” I appreciate Tipton, and I almost entirely agree with him on the theological particulars. As such, I’d assume it’s a given that I disagree and take issue with mischaracterizations and pejorative labels from the other side.

  19. Jonathan Bonomo


    I didn’t mean to say that Tipton’s argument is about Horton as a person or his theology as a whole. So, I apologize if my language was ambiguous and/or misleading in that regard. It’s my contention that Tipton characterizes Horton’s soteriology specifically as something other than Reformed, and essentially/necessarily Lutheran as over against Reformed.

  20. Speaking as one sympathetic to the theology and apologetics of Gordon H. Clark, I have to say that all this emphasis on “union with Christ” as if it were some sort of mystical, existential encounter with a “person” rather than an intellectual apprehension, comprehension, and assent to the propositional truths of Scripture and what Scripture teaches about Christ is a serious bone of contention. If what Tipton is saying about union with Christ is true, then what he is teaching is essentially a non-doctrinal personal encounter. That’s simply neo-orthodoxy rehashed.

    Second of all, to confuse the forensic justification imputed to the believer with infused sanctification is to deny the very Gospel itself. Even Charles Hodge was not so blind as to confuse imputed righteousness with the imperfect, filthy rags of sanctification. Of course we obey the moral law out of gratitude to Christ for what He did for us on the cross and for His perfect and sinless life. But that obedience is not now nor will it ever be part of our ground or basis for salvation. It is a “result” of a credible profession of faith but not the cause of salvation.

    Even the late Archbishop Thomas Cranmer got this. The 39 Articles, Articles 11 and 12, on justification and good works say this:

    Article XI
    Of the Justification of Man
    We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.


    Based on the Confession of Würtemberg.

    Article XII
    Of Good Works
    Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God’s judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

    If anything, to emphasize sanctification above justification by melding the two together in a new sine qua non of the “gospel” in the doctrine of union with Christ is to commit the error of Osiander where justification and sanctification become infused. In fact in your earlier discussion with Lane Tipton the heading said, “Transformative aspects of justification.” This is the Roman Catholic position. There are no “transformative aspects of justification”! Justification is imputed and forensic and without that forensic, declarative justification there is no salvation and no acceptance of good works as pleasing to God. The 39 Articles of Religion refutes good works as acceptable before justification and the Articles also refute the idea that there is some sort of higher life of total sanctification, i.e. supererogatory works through “union with Christ” or any other such compromise with Rome. (See Articles 13 and 14).

    If union with Christ is essentially sanctification and obedience then the implication is that new believers need to prove themselves before the judgment. That begs the question, “Is faith alone enough to justify the believer?” If not, then new believers, death bed conversions, and others who simply accept the Gospel are in for a hell of a time. My contention is that Tipton’s view–along with Norman Shepherd, the theonomists and reconstructionists and a whole host of other neo-legalists–has more in common with Rome than with Geneva or Canterbury or Wittenberg.


  21. I should also point out that anyone studying the English Reformation should know that the Lutherans DID influence the English Reformers. If you notice several of the 39 Articles were inflluenced by the Confession of Wurtemberg (a Lutheran document), particularly Articles 10, 11, and 12. If you know your church history you know that the Irish Articles of Religion drew from the 39 Articles and that the Westminster Confession itself draws from the Irish Articles and from the Lambeth Articles of 1595. Therefore Tipton’s assertion that Horton depends on Lutheran theology could be said to be substantiated to some degree. But then that would mean that Tipton is the one who isn’t Reformed and Horton is Reformed.

    Only someone blind to church history could possibly say that Lutherans and Calvinists do not have some affinity on the doctrine of justification by faith alone and imputed righteousness. The appropriate sections of Calvin’s Institutes bear this out. Also, compare that to the Consensus of Tigerinus and one cannot help but notice that Calvin himself sought a consensus on doctrinal essentials with both Lutherans and Zwinglian Reformed theology.

    Hey, why not invite R. Scott Clark or Carl Trueman to discuss the historical and theological roots of the Westminster Confession? Who is really the revisionist here?


    1. Charlie,
      In addition, Robert Letham’s book on the history of the Westminster Assembly bears out your assertion regarding the roots of the Westminster Confession/Catechisms being firmly in the English Church’s Articles of Religion, Lambeth Articles, and Ussher’s Irish Articles.

    2. Ray Charles

      Don’t these guys know that Reformed essentially means agreeing with our former Reformers on every subject and jot and tittle? Tipton is clearly not Reformed with all the exegetical talk. He is totally a nuance revisionist extraordinaire. You’re right Charlie, I have never heard him agree with Calvin, Turretin, Bavinck, Owen, Edwards, Hodge, Warfield, or Luther. He hates those guys. He is all “Paul says this…” and “Peter said this …” or “John writes this…”. What an emergent neo-orthodox nut case. He’s all “the gospel is primarily a person … Christ” (crazy!). We all know that Jesus never talked about himself being the way, the truth, or the life. Jesus was all “salvation is noetic assent about abstract truths, hence Babies and people with Alzheimer disease are clearly not saved.” Well done soldier. Keep it Jazzy …Ray

  22. “Nor the faith also does not shut out the justice of our good works, necessarily to be done afterwards of duty towards GOD (for we are most bounden to serve GOD, in doing good deeds, commanded by him in his holy Scripture, all the days of our life): But it excludes them, so that we may not do them to this intent, to be made good by doing of them. For all the good works that we can do, be imperfect, and therefore not able to deserve our justification: but our justification doth come freely by the mere mercy of God…” (Thomas Cranmer – Homily of Justification)

    1. Jonathan Bonomo


      Brilliant! Because Tipton everywhere says that we’re justified by works! It’s all coming together for me now. Thanks… that was so helpful and productive. I’m glad you wasted… err… took the time to copy and paste that.

  23. Bill

    Charlie Ray is correct. Calling Horton or lurtheran pelagisns, or claiming that making justification by grace alone through faith alone the SOLE cornerstone of the christian faith is lutheran is going through a red light. When it comes to justification, Luther set the standard, and Calvin followed it 100%. Luther set the foundation for the Reformation, and Calvin as a second generation reformer built on it. Calvin did not touch a single stone of the perfect foundation set by Luther. Those in the reformed camp that disagree with Luther as to the centrality of justification need to understand that they have left the reformed camp and the reformation altogether. And this certainly applies to Dr. Tipton.and others that don’t seem to get it that the Reformation is about justification by grace through faith, it’s about imputed righteousness. This is the article of sola fide on which the calvinistic and lutheran reformations are founded. Michael Horton makes this clear in every White Horse Inn program and in all his books. Those that find this lutheran I’m sure will be very welcome back by Rome.

  24. Bill

    And let me add that good works / personal holiness / sanctification are much more central to budhism, hinduism, and new age spirituality than they are to reformed christianity. Some pietists, roman catholics and wesleyan groups have also given prominence to sanctification. But this is not the case with christianity as understood by the protestant reformation.

    And let us be clear, my spiritual non-christian former boss was proud how he overcame drugs and alcohol, it was a non-christian testimony of personal transformation. My yoga teacher friend has more positive energy, is more productive, and harder working than most people I’ve seen. She used to do drugs and be involved in promiscuous sex, today she’s overcome all that. A testimony on the power of yoga to change lives some might say. Gandhi is one of the most charitable and peaceful leaders of the 20th century, a testimony of the power of hinduism to produce good works. And I can go on and on, but the bottom line is that personal transformation is not the hallmark of christianity, justification by grace alone through faith alone is. Christianity is all about imputed righteousness, not good works or inherent righteousness. For anything that is not of faith is sin, no matter how good the works appear on the eyes of men. And anything that is of faith God will accept, because the tree is good, so the fruit is good as well. The tree is made good by the imputed righteousness of Christ, apprehended by faith..

      1. Bill

        The total depravity of man was described by Luther in his famous “sin boldly”, which Rome and the enemies of grace never understood in its context. Here’s below how Luther described the total depravity of man, and his famous sin boldly but believer more boldly!

        “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.”

    1. Pseudo-Calvin

      Thanks for this Bill. Maybe this would be a good place to confess that I’ve always struggled with the canonicity of Romans 6:3-7 (to much sanctification and all that). I mean, see for yourself: “3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.” All this talk about walking in newness of life – gimme a break. The real Paul would just stick to the gospel!

  25. E. Burns

    “What I think Horton and others have done, is kind of give a traditional Reformed ordo salutis a Lutheran make-over, and replace the centrality of effectual calling and the union that it effects with justification. And so, it’s in his work that I see—the most charitable way I can put it is—a kind of unstable disequilibrium, or a dialectic between Lutheran and Reformed motifs with the Lutheran getting the structural primacy.” —Dr. Tipton

    Throughout this discussion I have yet to see clarification (from those in agreement with Tipton) in properly answering this question…………..Besides Horton being Lutheran and semi-Pelagian in “structural primacy” are you also suggesting that Dr. Horton would disagree with this statement……“Reformed theology and Reformed principles are true insofar as they are biblical. Period.” Are you Tipton supporters saying that Horton would disagree with that fact?

  26. VJ Loredo

    I would like to hear a response to what E. Burns is asking.

    Throughout this discussion I have yet to see clarification (from those in agreement with Tipton) in properly answering this question…………..Besides Horton being Lutheran and semi-Pelagian in “structural primacy” are you also suggesting that Dr. Horton would disagree with this statement……“Reformed theology and Reformed principles are true insofar as they are biblical. Period.” Are you Tipton supporters saying that Horton would disagree with that fact?

    Do you have to be a professional theologian to ask questions on this site? If so I will keep my place as a reader. Just wondering so that I do not speak out of turn.

Leave a Reply