Open Letter on the Kinnaird Controversy

When I penned the phrase, "ignorant commentators," I was not thinking of those who have studied the issues carefully. You may have appropriated the label to yourself, but I used the phrase to refer to the many voices who were condemning the OPC simply because Kinnaird was acquitted, without any real knowledge of his views. Those who condemn without knowledge are properly called ignorant. If you have studied Kinnaird's views carefully, then you may be a knowledgeable commentator, and while you seem to have a major blind spot in your theology, I would not call you ignorant.

I am curious about one thing. Do you reject the idea that good works are a condition for standing before God on the judgment day? If you are a knowledgeable commentator, I assume that you are familiar with the distinction between a necessary condition and a sufficient condition (or an efficient condition, for that matter). I would call your attention to Francis Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology, volume II, pages 702-705 (17.3), where Turretin affirms that good works are "required as the means and way for possessing salvation." (17.3.3). Turretin insists that "although works may be said to contribute nothing to the acquisition of salvation, still they should be considered necessary to the obtainment of it, so that no one can be saved without them." (17.3.4). Turretin sounds exactly like Kinnaird when he says, "Although God by his special grace wishes these duties of man to be his blessings (which he carries out in them), still the believer does not cease to be bound to observe it, if he wishes to be a partaker of the blessings of the covenant." (17.3.7).

Please read carefully what Turretin says in 17.3.12:

"This very thing is no less expressly delivered concerning future glory. For since good works have the relation of the means to the end (Jn. 3:5, 16; Mt. 5:8); of the 'way' to the goal (Eph. 2:10; Phil 3:14); of the 'sowing' to the harvest (Gal. 6:7,8); of the 'firstfruits' to the mass (Rom. 8:23); of labor to the reward (Mt. 20:1); of the 'contest' to the crown (2 Tim. 2:5; 4:8), everyone sees that there is the highest and an indispensable necessity of good works for obtaining glory. It is so great that it cannot be reached without them (Heb. 12:14; Rev. 21:27)."

The necessity of good works for obtaining glory is so great, that glory cannot be reached without them. Let me just remind you of the statement from Kinnaird that you found so objectionable: "These good works are a required condition if we would stand in the Day of Judgement and they are supplied by God to all His people."

What is the difference between a required condition (which Kinnaird himself said was a necessary, but not sufficient or efficient condition) and an indispensable necessity for obtaining glory?

Compare the following statements with what you have read from Kinnaird:

"It is not sufficient that Christ died and lives for us, unless he also mortifies the old man in us after the likeness of his own death and vivifies the new man, so that what was done in the head is done in the members." (17.1.17) How is this different from Kinnaird's comment that the imputed righteousness of Christ is insufficient to conform us to the likeness of Christ?

"Works can be considered in three ways: either with reference to justification or sanctification or glorification. They are related to justification not antecedently, efficiently and meritoriously, but consequently and declaratively. They are related to sanctification constitutively because they constitute and promote it. They are related to glorification antecedently and ordinatively because they are related to it as the means to the end." (Turretin, 17.3.14)

Did Kinnaird ever have the guts to say that good works are the means by which we obtain eternal glory? Remember that all of the passages used to condemn Kinnaird came from sections where he was talking about sanctification and glorification. If Kinnaird is a heretic, then so was Turretin. Can you now understand why some of us think that Kinnaird's critics sound like Lutherans?

I believe that the problem was that Kinnaird had nuance in his theology. Like his Reformed forefathers, he attempted to make careful distinctions. Unfortunately, he was surrounded by people who had no time for careful distinctions. They practiced "slogan theology," and could not recognize orthodoxy when it was proclaimed with historic Reformed nuance.

I know that you have read Kinnaird carefully. Please take the time to compare Kinnaird and Turretin with equal care.

Perhaps you will object that Kinnaird uses the language of justification both for initial justification and also for the final judgment. But recall first that Kinnaird clearly distinguishes these uses, and emphatically insists that initial justification is absolute and unchangeable, and that the eschatological justification (or open acquittal) is the declaration of the same justification that we received at our effectual calling. (As Kinnaird said at his appeal, "The final acquittal does not change the status of a man, because his status was changed at his initial justification.")

With that in view, compare this with Turretin. In 16.9.11, Turretin explains that "justification can be viewed in a twofold aspect:" either with respect to the "eternal destination"--God's eternal purpose, or "as to its execution in time which again can be regarded on the one hand as to its obtainment, which was made by the death of Christ on the cross....On the other hand it may be viewed as to application, which is made in the heart by an intimation of the absolving sentence (referred to in Mt. 9:2). Or it may be viewed in general as to the state of the believer when he is first called; or in particular as to the act when he obtains the pardon of particular sins; or as to the sense and certainty of it, arising in us from a reflex act of faith (called consolatory); or finally, as to its declaration, which should be made immediately after death (Heb. 9:27) and publicly on the last day (which is not so much justification, as a solemn declaration of the justification once made and an adjudication of the reward, in accordance with the preceding justification)."

Turretin is not entirely comfortable calling the final acquittal "justification," but he includes the final open acquittal as being a part of the doctrine of justification. As he goes on to say in 16.9.12: "Hence it is evident in what sense justification can be called an undivided act; not on our part and with respect to the sense of it (which is produced by various and repeated acts according as this sense can be interrupted; or increased or diminished, by reason of interfering sins); but on the part of God, not only by reason of his decree (by which our justification was decreed) and by reason of his merit (by which he obtained it), but also by reason of the application when the absolving sentence is intimated to us. This is done by a unique act, not by many successive acts, just as inherent righteousness is wont to be infused into us (although this act is often applied to particular everyday sins)."

Do you hear this? Turretin is saying that the unique unrepeatable act of justification is applied "often." Justification is not a repeatable event. It is a once-for-all act. But that once-for-all unique act "is often applied to particular everyday sins." And the final judgment is the final application of that once-for-all act of justification. As he puts it previously, "that final judgment is nothing else than a public and solemn manifestation of preceding judgments," and thus is properly referred to as "the declaration of justication," rather than justification itself. (16.9.7).

How does Kinnaird go beyond this? I, for one, am delighted that the OPC has not so degenerated into slogan theology that we would condemn a man for making careful distinctions!


Rev. Peter J. Wallace