Matthew Koerner's Third Place Essay

An Analysis of Stephen M. Cunha’s The Emperor Has No Clothes

In analyzing the theology of Dr. Richard Gaffin, Stephen Cunha concluded that Gaffin was teaching a doctrine of justification opposed to that of the Bible.  Cunha's book on the subject, The Emperor Has No Clothes: Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr's Doctrine of Justification, detailed how he saw Gaffin to have erred and provided insight into how one might better understand this important doctrine in light of Scripture.  Cunha stated in his introduction that he was much like the young boy of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes" – a person who admittedly did not know everything there was to know, but felt compelled to say something regardless because no one else was speaking up.   Having read his analysis, this author feels that a different children's story may apply better to Mr. Cunha: Aesop's tale of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf."  For anyone who is familiar with this story, it likely has negative connotations, and with good reason.  The boy in question falsely shouts that there is a wolf attacking the flock he is watching multiple times, causing others to rush to his aid.  As a result, when a wolf does attack, no one believes him.  However, the intention is not to compare Mr. Cunha directly with this tale, as though his charge of poor theology is unwarranted and ought to be saved for something worth mentioning. 

Therefore, the old story must receive a twist, and for that, one must look to the words of Jesus.  In Matthew 7:15, Christ warns of "false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."  In this alternate fable, the boy looks out well for the sheep, calling for help in deterring a true wolf in disguise.  The author suggests considering Stephen Cunha as this faithful lad who watches out for the sheep of God's flock, even if he himself is not in a true position of authority over them.  Cunha maintains a respectful tone, but gives astute critique of Gaffin's teachings, showing in various ways that they have unorthodox implications and even fundamentally align with those of Norman Shepherd.

The first concern raised in this book is that Dr. Gaffin teaches believers are still under condemnation for sin.  From the start, Cunha goes to great lengths to show that his point is a valid one, citing one instance after another throughout the book of Gaffin making statements which have the potential to be misinterpreted.  This first chapter sets the tone in this regard.  Among the multiple references to Gaffin's teachings, the most notable (in the author's opinion) are him calling a believer's state of being declared just "still future," and saying that, "In that respect, death, as punishment for and curse on sin, is not yet removed."   These statements both tend to imply that the child of God has no right to consider himself freed from the condemning power of sin and appear to stand in direct opposition to multiple portions of Scripture….

A final passage which immediately comes to mind for the author (and which again was referenced by Cunha, 21) is the beginning of Romans 8, where Paul writes in verses 1 and 2, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death."  We are freed from the law of sin and death!  What a knowledge, and what a comfort for the Christian!  We no longer live condemned; rather, we live as children; "and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."   Mr. Cunha shows that this is a truth that Dr. Gaffin appears to be compromising.

In the second chapter, Cunha shows clearly that Gaffin is teaching some form of justification by both faith and works.  He writes that using the word "integral" to describe a Christian's good works is not appropriate: "[T]he meaning is that faith itself, apart from works produced through faith, is insufficient for justification.  Works must be added to faith to complete a faith/works complex that is requisite for justification.  Faith is only able to justify when it is part of this faith/works complex."   It seems that Cunha has correctly interpreted the implications of Gaffin's statement….

In the extensive third chapter, Cunha shows Gaffin to deny the traditional Reformed view of antithesis between Law and Gospel….

Throughout this chapter, Cunha shrewdly mixes original analogies with numbered lists of his objections on the basis of Scripture to particular quotes from Gaffin.  One such quote includes Gaffin saying, "Eternal life follows upon a future justification by doing the law."   Among Cunha's criticisms is the fact that Gaffin's teaching shown in this quote on "the doers of the law" in Romans 2:13 would not have the desired effect on Jewish people who were still attempting to follow the law.  Rather, it "would only encourage them in their false confidence.  On the other hand, the strong reminder that only those who obey the law perfectly will be justified is well suited to convince Jews and Gentiles alike that they have no hope of being justified apart from the righteousness of Jesus Christ." …

There is one final thing the author must mention from this chapter.  Cunha argues at multiple points that Gaffin's teachings effectively make works the ground of our justification.  At the end of this chapter, he writes, "This is the dreadful result of any attempt to synthesize, even to the smallest degree, the Law means of justification and the Gospel means of justification.  At bottom, a man's own works are made to be the deciding factor on whether or not he is legally accepted by God.  When the onion is peeled back, the result is a doctrine of justification by man's own efforts."   This author can only say, "Amen!"

The final chapter shows that Gaffin (at least implicitly, and at times explicitly) agreed with Norman Shepherd and his unorthodox views on the doctrine of justification.   A portion of this chapter which made this particularly disturbing to this author was a quote from "The Relation of Good Works to Justification," which said that Shepherd's ordo salutis would likely be more accurately represented as "regeneration, faith/repentance/new obedience, justification."   How frightening to think that we must repent and lead a new life of obedience (i.e., sanctification) prior to justification!  If this were true, no one would ever be saved, for apart from the grace of God and His work to save us, we could never do anything: we were "dead in [our] sins," and "We love Him, because He first loved us."   Thanks be to God!

In his conclusion, Cunha shows that attempting to "soften the blow," as it were, of the teachings that Gaffin endorses by cloaking them in ambiguous language is ultimately futile.  He writes, "Non-meritorious causality with respect to justification equates to instrumental causality."   There is no real way to make causality non-meritorious in the context of justification.  If works are the cause, they must merit!  One has to commit to one side or the other; there can be no middle ground.  In the words of Elijah, "How long halt ye between two opinions?"

Throughout the book, it is easy to see that Cunha is on the watch for unorthodox teaching and is not afraid to point out such teaching when he sees evidence of it.  However, in so doing, Cunha always maintains a proper tone of respect for Gaffin.  In his introduction, he writes, "It is not this writer's intention to personally attack Dr. Gaffin."   In the conclusion, he restates his commitment to the truth over against any earthly motivation, saying, "[I]f I could be shown from Scripture that Dr. Gaffin's view were correct, I would submit to that view."   If Cunha's words are to be trusted, there is no ulterior motive here; he simply loves the truth and desires that it be preserved.  Cunha's attitude is an admirable one, and the Church would greatly benefit from having more members like him.

Cunha succinctly describes why all this matters near the end of the book, writing, "What is at stake here?  In a word, the Gospel of God."   This may seem to some an overstatement, but this author feels it to be an appropriate description of the seriousness of the issue.  If the Christian's works begin to have a role in his or her justification, the good news of the Gospel becomes bad news: all are doomed, because one can ever merit with God!  May God help us to preserve the Gospel truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone.  May He also give us the ability to all be "boys who cried wolf" while still maintaining proper respect for those with whom we disagree, as Stephen Cunha so beautifully models in this book.