This short work contains a depth of theological teaching that should be read both cautiously and with consistent consideration. Professor Gaffin (Systematic Theology Chair, Westminster Philadelphia) has given the Christian Church a short, systematic work of Paul's 'Ordo Salutis/Historia Salutis' which illuminates areas which Gaffin feels have been underdeveloped by our Reformation heritage. What Gaffin sets out to do is find the center of Paul's theology then see how this center affects salvation 'accomplished and applied', echoing the famous work by Dr. Gaffin's teacher, Dr. John Murray.
Essentially, Gaffin comes to the conclusion that the center of Paul's 'order of salvation' is seen in 'Union with Christ', which is by faith alone from first to last. Though, as Gaffin voices in agreement with the WCOF, it is a persevering faith which remains until the very end. His understanding of Union with Christ sees lucid explanation of this central truth in Paul's language from 2 Cor. 4:16 and 5:7, where the title of the lectures is taken from. As stated before, Gaffin views the center of Paul's theology as Union with Christ, yet a center which is cloaked in an eschatological expectation and movement of the believer. He sees this expection/movement from key passages on the new creation in Christ which 'already' has inner redemption (faith), but does 'not yet' have final justification/adoption openly, a verdict declared before all of creation (sight).
It is in this anthropological makeup that Gaffin sees Paul stressing His central outworking, that of a Union with Christ that has yet to take place, though Gaffin is careful in his articulation of this sense. So, the thrust he sees is not a schizophrenic, dualistic Christian, but a singular person being renewed `day by day' yet groaning from the `outer man' because it has not yet experienced fully the justification declared upon the total person, though the person is still irrevocably justified in His standing before God. The outer man still consistently feels the affects of the judicial condemnation upon sin from the original fall. I believe his treatment of the one person/nature of the new creation was well-done, clear, and biblically defended.
Other areas of incredible strength and edification: Gaffin's treatment of key theological terms such as 'resurrection', 'death', 'justification', and 'adoption', to name only a few. As Gaffin sees Paul's center as a Union with Christ, cloaked in an eschatological movement towards 'final justification' specifically in the makeup of the new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 4:16, 5:7, Rom. 8:19-25), one powerfully sees how his explanation of a key term such as 'resurrection' plays deeply within his understanding of the whole. I found his treatment of resurrection both as a present/future reality convincing on many levels, though I still question parts of his treatment as I felt the `forensic/judicial' quality of resurrection at the final consummation does not hold the exact same focus as the initial declarative act. I believe he maintains a balance during the majority of his explanation, yet at times, speaking of resurrection as a 'future forensic event' becomes somewhat questionable, even after his many qualifications on the matter.
Another area of strength that cannot be denied here is how well in passing he treats the proposals of the New Perspective on Paul. I believe Gaffin does an excellent job maintaining the orthodox view of imputation/justification, seeing it not a means to extend the boundaries of the covenant community (as the NPP puts it) but as the singular method in which God, by grace alone, gives an individual new life in Him. This is to be highly praised in view of the present situation where the NPP (and others like it) are gaining a lot of ground in Christian scholarship today.
I must also give Dr. Gaffin an infinite amount of credit for the clarity he maintains in his definition of Rom. 1:5, Gal. 5:6, etc. He maintains Reformation orthodoxy by stating that 'the obedience of faith' is not faithfulness to God's commands, otherwise it would be 'the faith of obedience'. He sees 'faith working through love' (Gal. 5:6), as the clearest expression of 'saving faith'. Clearly, Gaffin maintains the primacy of faith as the sole instrument in receiving justification/imputation. In a time where faith essentially has been confused as synonymous to faithfulness/obedience, I find this treatment extremely refreshing and needed. It is faith working in love, not faith that is work. Nor is this obedience of faith a continuing faithfulness to God's covenant commands as the grounds for maintaining justification (as the NPP sees it). Simplistically, it is not 'faithfulness' to God in His covenant(s) (Law), but faith in God's promises (Grace), and works are the manifestation of the primacy of faith alone as saving. Clearly, this is not merely semantical, but substantive for the clarity of the Gospel.
My few objections overall: I find Gaffin to be thoroughly within the Reformed tradition on many aspects, specifically to the Law's core as the model for fellowship with God. I, not being Reformed, of course would disagree as I see Grace, not Law, as the motivation for the Christian life (Rom. 6:14). Gaffin essentially sees the Law almost as the final say in the Christian life, yet somewhat confuses by saying the Christian's salvation is one all of grace. I find this somewhat confusing for the Christian because it certainly blurs the Law-Gospel distinction. Gaffin, though he sees only minor problems in his treatments (viewing everything in the vein of grace), tends to blur this important distinction which becomes especially problematic at the pastoral level. It is not a life of obedience to the moral core of the Law of God (Mosaic) 'because of grace'. That is somewhat contradicting unless you have allowed the two to become somewhat blurred, as Gaffin has. Neither is my rebuttal antinomian, as I see the NT 'Law of Christ' (1 Cor. 9, Jas 2) and the 'Law of the Spirit' (2 Cor 3) superceeding the Mosaic Law in all areas as the sole rule of life for the Christian by grace alone (Rom. 6:14).
Further, as stated before, the majority of his understanding of 'final justification' is essentially similar to the 'glorification' of the Christian spoken about from the common pulpit. Gaffin even says that the term he's using (final just.) lacks prominence in scripture. Yet in his understanding, it could be implied (such as 2 Tim. 4:1 for an example). I find no issue with his expression of 'open declaration' as a sort of 'final justification/adoption', since this is clear from scripture (Rom. 8:19-25). However, to link this as he does to the forensic nature of justification (connected from his understanding of resurrection, Christ, and the believer), and place its final verdict/outcome upon the works of the believer (as he does from Rom. 2:5-13, etc.) makes it impossible for someone truly to have assurance of salvation presently, let alone for future justification. He qualifies it saying (in Reformed fashion) that grace through faith alone will keep the person. However, I find this qualification devoid of pastoral consideration. Preaching this can never give assurance when you say to your congregation that unless they have perseverant works till the end, they will not reach their 'final justification'. How does this not come across as legalism at best? I find these problems inherent in Gaffin because of his Gospel-Law blurring. He qualifies both Law/Gospel (as well as Just/Sanc) to keep the distinctives, yet it seems only superficial. There really is no distinction in his fuller treatments.
Finally, I see this same problem playing out in Gaffin's muteness on rewards. Essentially, Gaffin denies rewards based on Christian merit/works flat-out. Passages on 'rewards' essentially become texts on works evaluated at the singular final judgment for the Christian's 'final justification' (Rev. 22:17, 2 Cor. 5:10). Gaffin tries to qualify this in different ways (you can read this explanation), but works are contingent for this final hearing. If you had enough works till the very end, by grace through faith, you'll be at the final hearing, essentially is what he says. The rewards question always plays heavily into the Law-Gospel dichotomy, those who see rewards usually maintain clearer (not simply qualified) distinctions here. Gaffin, though he attempts to keep a distinction in word, continues to explain this 'distinction' as if there never is one. Law is Gospel, Gospel is Law and forms some sort of blurred Law-Gospel-Law chain in God's plan for the saved, when it seems to be Law-Gospel, with Grace being the final word from God to man.
Overall, I find Gaffin's work excellent on so many levels. He is faithful to the majority of Reformed/Reformation teachings found in the WCOF and other confessions. However, I find his blurring of Law-Gospel to create a multitude of issues for Protestant theology. The Protestant tradition is built on this distinction, and Gaffin, though attempting to maintain it, explains his work in a manner that almost seems devoid of it at times (specifically in the areas of final judgment, rewards, and the Christian Life).
I find this final evaluation to be faithful to Gaffin since throughout his work he attempts to reform the Reformation center of `Justification by Faith' to being something more present/future and not past (Union with Christ presently with eschatology as its central focus). Though he carefully qualifies himself throughout, he essentially has moved the center of Pauline theology to exclude the all-important distinction of Law-Gospel in Protestant teaching. Yes, these are interrelated in areas (type/shadow), but they are not to be as blurred as Gaffin, in the end, concludes. He cannot have both, a Law-Gospel distinction and a singular economy only of grace manifested by law-keeping, which is essentially what he attempts to maintain. Still, an excellent read for a very serious and well-discerned student or minister of the Word.