Review of The Emperor Has No Clothes

The Emperor Has No Clothes: Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.s’ Doctrine of Justification by Stephen M. Cunha, The Trinity Foundation, 2008, 148 pp.
**I started reading this book just before finding out about the Trinity Foundation’s latest essay contest featuring the book. Well, I’m far older than the 17-23 year old age rules on the contest. But if you know a budding theologian in that age category alert them to this contest.**
“Dr. Gaffin’s public support for and endorsement of Mr. Norman Shepherd’s distinctive covenant theology is the elephant in the room within the OPC.” (p. 88) This comment by Stephen M. Cunha in The Emperor Has No Clothes: Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.s’ Doctrine of Justification could also apply to Gaffin’s views on justification in general. The fact that Gaffin remains in good standing in the OPC while Shepherd was long ago pressured out and while other Reformed denominations have made definite stances against such views is more than an elephant in the room for the OPC, it is a great embarassment. Or at least it should be.
It was because of this “elephant in the room” that Cunha, once a lay member of the church congregation in which Gaffin attended, wrote this book. While Gaffin has been allowed by the leaders of his denomination to continue teaching his theology, it was Cunha as merely a lay member that had to call Gaffin out. Thus the title “The Emperor Has No Clothes” in reference to that well-known story.
While I found that I largely agreed with Cunha’s positions, the book is a mediocre-at-best production. Sometimes it was difficult to follow his arguments. Many of his quotes were of unnecessary length. The chapters (in fact there are only sections not even numbered as chapters) were of odd length. In addition to sections of 12, 12, and 7 pages, there was a massive center section of 50 pages, almost exactly one-half the length of the book itself, if the backmatter is removed from the page count. Ultimately, Cunha has some questions about what Gaffin actually believes. Couldn’t he have just asked Gaffin, who apparently attended the same church with him?
On the positive side I liked Cunha’s clear distinction between ground, instrument, and evidence as the three possible categories for the relationship between works and justification. He argues that the traditional Reformed position is that works are evidence of justification. Gaffin, by comparison, is very unclear, but has a tendency towards making works “co-instrumental” with faith.
Since Gaffin’s views are so similar to the view of Norman Shepherd and the Federal Vision it is reasonable to group them together. In so doing, it is apparent that the Trinity Foundation, particularly in the last years of its founder, John Robbins (who passed in 2008), focused its effort on opposing that group’s theology. I count no less that 5 books they published against the supporters of Federal Vision and similar errors.
2003: The Current Justification Controversy by O. Palmer Robertson
2003: A Companion to The Current Justification Controversy by John W. Robbins
2004: Not Reformed At All by John W. Robbins
2005: Christianity and Neo-Liberalism by Paul Elliot
2008: The Emperor Has No Clothes by Stephen M. Cunha
There have been books against Federal Vision and similar errors published by other sources as well. These books include:
Getting the Gospel Right by Cornelius Vennema, Banner of Truth (see my review)
Federal Vision, Heresy at the Root by David J. Engelsma, Reformed Free Publishing (see my review)
But the Trinity Foundation has certainly taken the lead on the topic. And the reason for such work is clear – Federal Vision is an error not respecting just any minor doctrine but with the doctrine of justification. And against this error no ink should be spared.

2 thoughts on “Review of The Emperor Has No Clothes”

  1. Paul against the “Final justification by works” of the Federal Visionists:
    “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” – Galatians 3:3

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