Am I Justifed in Talking About Sheep & Goats

kinnon —  December 3, 2009 — 6 Comments

WARNING: I'm not a theologian. Though I occasionally attempt to play a feeble one on these interwebs. This would be one of those times.


This post was triggered by the response to the Manhattan Declaration on the part of many in the 5 Solas Camp(s) – those young, old, restless, resurging and reformed. For these folk, the only bona fide Christian is a Sola Fide Christian – justification by grace alone through faith alone.

For them, anything else, is another gospel. Any mention of works, immediately moves the purported believer into the non column, tarred with the Social Gospel brush, feathered with pages ripped from the Apocrypha. 'And there's absolutely no way we're gonna sign a Declaration with THOSE kind of people.'

I'd been a Christian for more than 20 years before I heard my first discussion of Sola Fide. (Ed: Bill think's he's a Christian, we won't know if he's one of the elect until the day of judgment, eh!)

As one whose theology is Wesleyan/Arminian, my understanding of soteriology (doctrine of salvation) is as a free will response to the prevenient grace of God, freely offered by Him to all – good works the natural and expected response after salvation. I believe Jesus' younger brother, James, when he says, 'faith without works is useless.'

Eugene Peterson poetically paraphrases Jesus words in Matthew 23 : 23-24,

"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God's Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment — the absolute basics! — you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that's wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons? [Ed: emphasis added by that heretic, Kinnon]

I do NOT believe in a works-based salvation, but confess that I am more than a little suspect of those who make statements like this, (from an attack on J.I. Packer that Challies approvingly linked to)

the Manhattan Declaration represents another step toward accepting the false notion that being a Christian is demonstrated by doing something about social issues. [emphasis reflects author's original emphasis]

My friend, Jared Wilson (firmly Reformed in his faith), made this comment this morning @ the Boar's Head Tavern

I will go down swinging against the confusion of faith and works. But being a Christian IS demonstrated by doing something. Being a Christian isn’t accomplished by doing something. But doing something demonstrates we’re being something. This is basic James stuff. Basic “vine/branches” stuff. [emphasis added]

One wonders whether the Challies-friendly writer two quotes above would question Jared's salvation. Probably.

I found this Q&A exchange about Jim Belcher's book, Deep Church @ The Gospel Coalition rather telling

TGC: Speaking of the traditional church, you have gotten some pushback on your definition of the Gospel. Some contend that you have expanded the definition too much. How do you respond?

Belcher: I think they are right to point out that my definition of the Gospel includes more than justification. If they equate the gospel with justification then my definition is different; it is broader because the Bible’s view is broader. For example, for Jesus the Gospel is the announcement of the Kingdom and our call to be part of it. [emphasis added]

Let me give a graphic response to those who want to make the Gospel = Justification, full stop. (My commentary continues below.)


Jesus judges and separates the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25: 31-46. And perhaps I just can't find the secret gospel = justification message of Jesus in this passage, but it certainly seems that he's judging what we've done – and sending us to our appropriate rewards. (And yes, this passage scares the stuffing out of me. Oh. Wait. That must mean I don't have assurance and thus haven't been justified.)

Again, in my not humble but accurate opinion, Jared Wilson nails it when he says, "doing something demonstrates we’re being something."

This feeble studier of theology would suggest that there won't be a test on the day of judgment as to whether we have our doctrine all worked out.



Oh my dear Bill. 2.5 Solas. I'm so sorry. Off to Purgatory with you.


Ahh, Jesus. We only send the Catholics to Purgatory. This one claims to have been a Post-Evangelical Anglican.


Oh my. Well then. You'll just have to go to Hell, now won't you.

To those thoroughly middle class preachers who want to question the theology, in fact the salvation of your brothers and sisters in the trenches feeding the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty, befriending the friendless, clothing the naked, tending to the sick and visiting the prisoner; as Peterson paraphrases scripture above, "Do you have any idea how silly you look… nitpicking over commas and semicolons?"



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

6 responses to Am I Justifed in Talking About Sheep & Goats

  1. Not bad for a non-theologian. I think this stuff is supposed to be obvious, but somehow the argument gets clouded. “I am the vine and you are the branches. Bear fruit IN ME of get tossed into the fire.” Add James’ “faith without works is DEAD” and I think you are all set. No one can earn their way into the family, but man, if you don’t act like your Father and older Brother, then you are not from the same family. Simple stuff. Or you would think so.

  2. I’m not a theologian Bill, but I think in our myopia of a personal salvation, we are justified by faith…and justify our myth that it’s all finished. We excuse ourselves from transforming the broken and fragmented spaces of “all” creation. I think our salvation is also part of our working with Jesus to reveal,restore and build his Kingdom now, and as a revelation to a future truth.I agree with Jared statement, “doing something demonstrates we’re being something.” I find it fascinating that Jesus spoke these radical scandalous parables of profound theological truth…but also lived out the truth.We can talk about how we are justified by faith…but if faith is not lived and seen. Really, then I don’t think were justified to talk about anything. Great post!

  3. The quote at that blog just blew me away. I mean, set aside the requisite Reformed stewing over “Are Catholics real Christians?” just for a moment, and think about that quote: the “false” notion that being a Christian is demonstrated by doing Christian things. That’s a false notion? I was flabbergasted, really, that it appeared to say what it appeared to say. I kept staring at it, hoping I was missing something. I’m wondering if it’s all loaded into that “social issues” phrase and the blogger means that being a Christian isn’t demonstrated by devotion to particular popular social justice causes. If that’s the case, it’s still a weird thing to write, but it could be chalked up to bad writing. As it is, though, it’s bad theology. And it’s not even good Reformed theology. :-/

  4. Al Mohler, Tim Keller, Lig Duncan and J.I. Packer endorse it. What more do they want?

  5. There’s more going on in this debate than the specifics of theology. What is not said is that these are really ecclesiastical issues. If you are a conservative Reformed pastor or theologian, to wander away from Sola Fide is put your ordination and place in the denominational pecking order in jeopardy.

    I don’t have any problem with the Sola Fide doctrine. I have no problem with a simple understanding that we are justified by grace alone by faith alone. The problem occurs when we define the words justification, grace and faith.

    These doctrines are not Scripture. They are human interpretations of Scripture and should, therefore, be treated with some circumspection, and great deal of humility. However, because these are not simply theological questions, but ecclesiastical ones, they become political questions. At the heart of the political is power, and in this instance, it is the power to determine who is in and who is out.

    As a life-long Reformed Christian, what I find most problematic about my brethren is their stridency in defending their theology. In effect, to believe a particular way is to do the work that earns one’s justification by believing correctly. Thank God that I don’t have to be right, that Jesus is my righteousness, and I’ll go to my grave grateful for that truth to live by each day.

  6. It just occurred to me that this discussion, possibly more than most theology must baffle non-Christians. It’s “Catholics are likely going to hell” vs. “social conservatives agree that they support socially conservative ideas” as the great debate in modern Christianity.

    My temptation now is to not even write about this stuff any more, to not feed the fire of this kind of debate (though, whoops, I already posted on it myself).


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