Wednesday, February 17, 2016

“Deliverdict”: Peter Leithart’s View of Justification

Editor's Note: The following was prepared as a student academic paper for the class Christ and Salvation, ST 41, December 11, 2015. Please note that Greek and Hebrew characters embedded in this article may not display properly in this web version. To see the complete paper, open and/or download a PDF version here. (Also see Journal Articles (PDF) in the sidebar to the right.)

By Ethan J. Bolyard


Ethan Bolyard
It would be impossible to discover (much less articulate) an official “Federal Vision” view of justification, because—like the so-called “New Perspective(s) on Paul”—it is not a monolithic movement. As Peter Leithart observes in The Baptized Body, “There is as much controversy about what the Federal Vision is and what its advocates teach as about the particular issues involved.” He explains that this confusion stems in part from the “diversity among the Federal Vision advocates themselves.” After all, some (such as Douglas Wilson) “are quite traditionally Reformed,” while others (such as Leithart) “are more critical of some aspects of traditional Reformed theology and suggest revisions, some of which have radical and wide-ranging implications.”[1] For instance, Wilson still affirms the imputation of Christ’s active obedience,[2] but Rich Lusk maintains that union with Christ “makes imputation redundant.”[3]
In light of this kaleidoscopic spectrum of views,[4] it is necessary to select a representative example. With a PhD from Cambridge University and eclectic interests in literary theory,[5] philosophical history,[6] and modern cinema,[7] Leithart offers one of the most provocative and original treatments of justification. Although exonerated by the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest (PCA), he continues to arouse controversy. In 2013, Evangel Presbytery (PCA) denied him permission to labor out of bounds at Trinity House Institute (now Theopolis Institute) and Trinity Presbyterian Church (CREC); thus his ministerial status in the denomination remains dubious at best.[8] This essay intends to accomplish two goals: 1) to present an accurate exposition of Leithart’s views on the subject, and 2) to provide a biblical evaluation. All things considered, his understanding of justification proves fatally flawed. 


Peter Liethart
 Because Leithart is not a systematic theologian, it is difficult to summarize his position in neat, tidy categories. Much of his teaching on the subject is occasional and subsidiary to larger discussions on sacramental efficacy, the objectivity of the covenant, and semi-realized eschatology. Nevertheless, three major tenets rise to the surface. First, he defines justification in significantly broader terms than traditional Reformed theology. In his seminal essay “‘Judge Me, O God’: Biblical Perspectives on Justification,” he argues that “as far as it goes, the Protestant doctrine is correct,” but it fails to go far enough. [9] Whereas theologians have historically defined justification as a strictly forensic declaration, Leithart contends that biblical usage extends well beyond the language of the courtroom.
Following cognitive linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, he assumes that all “our thinking and speech is metaphorical from the ground up.”[10] Therefore, his method involves “examining the ‘root metaphors’ in the context of which the terminology of justification emerges.”[11] In other words, his purpose is “to explore the ‘picture’ (more accurately, the pictures) surrounding the Bible’s use of ‘justification’ and related terms.”[12] Using Francis Turretin as a foil, he takes exception to the scholastic distinction between “proper” and “improper” uses of justification language. According to Leithart, such distinctions are arbitrary and unjustly exclude non-forensic and extra-forensic examples in the psalms (e.g., Ps. 7:6-11; Ps. 35:22-28; Ps. 94:1-7) and prophets (e.g., Isa. 54:11-17; Jer. 51:5-10). Although conceding that “since God is always and everywhere the Judge, any righteousness language used in the context of God’s relation to man by definition has a forensic cast,” he maintains that the concept of “forensic” should be expanded to include “covenantal,” “militorensic,” “forenstorational,” and “liberorensic” contexts. [13]
As a result of these word (and semantic domain) studies, Leithart has coined the portmanteau [14] term “deliverdict”—defining justification as a “declaration that . . . takes the form of deliverance from sin, death, and Satan.”[15] Far from being “simply a declaration that change’s one’s legal standing without changing one’s condition,” it is “a favorable judgment of God rendered through deliverance from enemies.”[16] It is a verdict that delivers. In effect, the sixteenth century distinction between justification and sanctification proves untenable.[17] On the contrary, Leithart claims, “Justification and definitive sanctification are not merely simultaneous, nor merely twin effects of the single event of union with Christ. . . . Rather, they are the same act.”[18]  They are merely “two ways of describing” the same thing.[19] Thus justification is capacious enough to include both declarative and transformative characteristics.

This inclusive definition excludes the traditional notions of merit and imputation. Leithart denies the helpfulness of these categories in light of union with Christ. Just as union dissolves any ultimate distinction between justification and sanctification, so it makes imputation unnecessary and merit unintelligible. Although recognizing that “the merits of Christ play a prominent role in Protestant soteriology,” Leithart maintains that Protestant “merit-talk is different from that of the New Testament.” Indeed, Paul “says nothing in [Romans 5] that connects obedience to ‘worth,’” and Christ certainly “does not share or impute his worthiness” to anyone. [20] Instead of needing double (or even single) imputation, “we are positively righteous because we are united to Jesus, who is declared righteous in the resurrection.” [21]
 Second, in addition to broadening the definition, Leithart teaches that water baptism (not sola fide) is the instrument of justification. He bases this argument on two grounds: 1) his exegesis of 1 Corinthians 6:11, Romans 4:11, and Romans 6:3-7 and 2) his view of covenant objectivity.[22] Exegetically, he argues that the above passages draw an implicit connection between baptism and justification, in which “baptism is an instrument by which we are buried into death, not a mere sign of burial to death that takes place otherwise.”[23] In 1 Corinthians 6:11, Leithart observes that Paul uses the threefold expression avlla. avpelou,sasqe( avlla. h`gia,sqhte( avlla. evdikaiw,qhte (“but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified”) and then links the washing with baptism by indicating that these three things take place evn tw/| ovno,mati tou/ kuri,ou VIhsou/ Cristou/ kai. evn tw/| pneu,mati tou/ qeou/ h`mw/n (“in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”).
 In Romans 4:11, he points out that the shmei/on (“sign”) of circumcision is also the sfragi/da th/j dikaiosu,nhj th/j pi,stewj (“seal of the righteousness of the faith”). Since Isaac and subsequent Jewish infants “received a seal of righteousness before they had any opportunity to express faith,” then “those who are baptized have received the seal, the tattoo and brand, of righteousness. They have been designated as the righteous by baptism,” apart from faith.[24] In Romans 6:3-7, Leithart argues that baptism is the instrument of justification because of the dia. preposition (with genitive) in verse four and its connection with justification language in verse seven. Although most translators render dedikai,wtai as “set free” (perhaps as a reference to definitive sanctification), Leithart maintains that “here, ‘justify’ carries the connotation of deliverance from the power of sin,” because justification and sanctification are ultimately equivalent and correlative.[25]
 Theologically, he links the instrumentality of baptism to the objectivity of the covenant. He not only insists that “baptismal justification must be understood in a corporate, ecclesial context,”[26] but acknowledges that much of his work “is part of a larger effort to integrate ecclesiological factors into an account of justification.”[27] His view of justification is inseparable from his doctrine of the church. Leithart summarizes his ecclesiology under three heads:
  1. “Baptism” is baptism.
  2. The “body of Christ” is the body of Christ.
  3. Apostasy happens.[28]
 The first statement means that New Testament references to “baptism” ordinarily refer to the objective rite of water baptism, not to a subjective spiritual experience. The second statement implies a rejection of the “visible/invisible” distinction.[29] Instead, Leithart affirms that “without qualification or hedging, the church [i.e., the visible church] is the body of Christ.”[30] Because covenant and election are objective and coextensive,[31] anyone baptized into the visible church is automatically brought into union with Christ and becomes a partaker of all His redemptive benefits.[32] On this sociological model, justification is not an individual affair. Rather “to be justified . . . is to share in the life of the justified community, the people whom God regards, because they are in Christ, as ‘righteous’ in His sight.”[33] Baptism (not sola fide) is the instrument of justification, because it initiates the baptized person into the righteous body of the righteous Head.
Third, Leithart believes justification has a future, eschatological dimension. Returning to his threefold summary of baptismal efficacy, the final statement highlights the reality and danger of apostasy. Not all who are presently baptized/justified persevere to the end, and thus it is possible to lose one’s baptismal justification. In the absence of covenant faithfulness, a justified person may fall from a state of grace and be condemned at the last. Hence, Leithart admits, “Our justification/vindication is not completely and fully revealed before the Last Judgment. We are justified in the present, but in another sense we await final public vindication.” [34] As a result, there will be a discrepancy between those historically justified and those eschatologically justified. That is why “justification by faith takes the form of a hope for future justification.”[35] This future “deliverdict” will finally reveal the identity of the decretally elect and reprobate,[36] regardless of who is presently justified.


Upon examination, Leithart’s views create more problems than they solve. First, he develops his expanded definition of justification using faulty methodology. For instance, in claiming that all “our thinking and speech is metaphorical from the ground up,”[37] he espouses a postmodern conception of language that threatens to diminish justification from a forensic fact to a literary metaphor.[38] The OPC Study Committee rightly observes, “While the forensic nature of justification is indeed analogical . . . , it is not metaphorical. Justification is a forensic act, not merely similar to a forensic act.”[39] By describing God’s judicial actions in terms of “root metaphors,” Leithart comes perilously close to making justification a mere linguistic construct, thereby calling into question whether God’s verdict actually corresponds to objective reality.
Moreover, in “Judge Me, O God,” he commits the fallacy of illegitimate totality transfer. Also known as the “unwarranted adoption of an expanded semantic field,”[40] this fallacy “import[s] all or most of the meanings that a word has into a particular text.”[41] According to Lane Keister, although “Leithart is not necessarily doing that with individual texts,” his method can still be considered a version of this fallacy because it does the same thing “with the relevant word-groups as it feeds into doctrine.”[42] Likewise, Kevin Vanhoozer has criticized N. T. Wright—whose works have influenced Leithart considerably[43]— for committing “on the hermeneutical level what James Barr terms, in regard to the lexical level, ‘illegitimate totality transfer.’”[44] The problem with this approach “is that systematics does not work on the basis of individual words. Rather it works with . . . ideas,” which “may or may not correspond to the words.”[45] As Guy Waters points out, “Leithart appears to read the Bible as a systematic-theological textbook. But it is not. That is why systematic-theological uses of certain terms may legitimately differ from their biblical counterparts.”[46] Hence, Turretin’s “proper/improper” distinction remains valid.
Since “justification” in the Reformed tradition is not simply a word but a well-defined concept within a system of truth, it is erroneous to read every instance of jP'v.mi (“justice”), jp;v' (“to judge”), hq'd'c. (“righteousness”), qd,c, (“what is right”), qyDic (“righteous”), qd;c' (“to justify”), di,kaioj (“righteous”), dikaiosu,nh| (“righteousness”), and dikaio,w (“to justify”) into the doctrine of justification. Although these words are employed in a variety of senses,[47] the primary meaning remains forensic,[48] and that is how the apostle Paul—for whom “justification” was an established theological term—used the language. Hence, it is inappropriate to read non-forensic or extra-forensic contexts into Paul’s discussion. Leithart tries to elude this criticism by expanding the meaning of “forensic” to include military and restorative categories, but in the process the word becomes so plastic and generic that it ceases to communicate anything concrete or distinctive. Instead, it becomes a vague catch-all term for anything remotely associated with salvation.
As a result of this fallacious method, Leithart redefines justification as “deliverdict.” However creative and clever it may be, this novel term confuses justification (“verdict”) and sanctification (“deliverance”) by conflating declarative and transformative categories.[49] He explicitly states, “Justification and definitive sanctification are not merely simultaneous, nor merely twin effects of the single event of union with Christ. . . . Rather, they are the same act.”[50] Although it is true that all redemptive benefits flow from union with Christ,[51] this fact alone does not entail a denial of the traditional ordo salutis. Paul still distinguished between justification and adoption (Gal. 2-4), justification and sanctification (1 Cor. 6:11), and justification and glorification (Rom. 8:30). Although inseparable, they remain distinct. That is why Geerhardus Vos spoke of the one “gift of God” but also recognized the difference “between the objective righteousness which becomes ours through imputation and the subjective kind which becomes ours through the inworking of the Spirit.”[52] That is why Calvin affirmed that “our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ”[53] but also emphasized the duplex gratia.[54] That is why the Westminster divines posed the question, “Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?” The following answer illustrates the importance of making precise theological distinctions:
Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.[55]
By not recognizing this catechetical distinction, Leithart muddies the waters of theological discourse. As Mark Jones observes in his defense of Protestant scholasticism, “We all use distinctions as a basic way of communicating. . . . The point of theological and philosophical distinctions is to disentangle ambiguous words and terms . . . as well as clarify what is meant or not meant.”[56] Leithart’s method, however, only hinders communication. Perhaps this error stems in part from his reluctance to do systematic theology. In fact, he seems to pit exegetical and biblical theology against dogmatics, as if any attempt to systematize Christian belief is inherently rationalistic and reductionist. For instance, he often complains that his critics “are driven more by system than exegesis,” while insisting that his view “is not a piece of systematic theology intruding on the discussion.”[57] In effect, he refuses to read the parts of Scripture in light of the whole, the process in light of the product.[58]
Furthermore, Leithart’s expanded definition excludes any mention of merit or imputation. As with other Federal Vision proponents, he seems to dismiss “merit-talk” as a holdover from the medieval schoolmen. Nevertheless, comparing thirteenth century Roman Catholic scholasticism with seventeenth century Protestant scholasticism is much like comparing apples and oranges. There is a marked difference between the Thomistic distinction of “condign” and “congruent” merit and the Reformed Orthodox distinction of “covenant” and “strict” merit. For Thomas Aquinas, condign merit “must normally be based on the intrinsic value of an act,” while congruent merit “approaches God through works made meritorious by God’s grace.”[59] For the Reformed Orthodox, Adam as a mere man could have earned covenant merit according to the terms of the covenant of works, but only Christ as the God-man could earn strict merit as the foundation of the covenant of grace.[60] Whereas the Thomistic conception smacks of human autonomy and semi-Pelagianism, the Protestant alternative makes a helpful distinction between the First Adam and the Second Adam. Once these semantical issues have been cleared up, there is nothing inherently objectionable to the idea of merit. On the contrary, it highlights the justice of God and the uniqueness of Christ.
Likewise, the doctrine of imputation poses no real problem. Although Leithart seems to think that union with Christ makes imputation unnecessary, the apostle Paul brings the two concepts together. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, he teaches that God imputed our sin to Christ, i[na h`mei/j genw,meqa dikaiosu,nh qeou/ evn auvtw/| (“in order that we ourselves might ecome the righteousness of God in Him”). The believer is constituted righteous, because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to him through union. Paul makes this truth explicit in Romans 5:19, where he argues that dia. th/j u`pakoh/j tou/ e`no.j di,kaioi katastaqh,sontai oi` polloi, (“by the obedience of the One the many will be constituted righteous”). Just as Adam’s guilt was imputed on the basis of federal union, the Second Adam’s active obedience is imputed on the same grounds. According to John Murray, this forensic transaction includes both a constitutive and a declarative aspect, whereby God “constitutes the ungodly righteous, and consequently can declare them to be righteous.” [61] In this way, imputation makes God’s declaration a legal fact rather than a legal fiction.
Second, Leithart’s conception of “baptismal justification” is hamstrung by interpretive problems. Exegetically, he fails to distinguish between the sign and the thing signified in 1 Corinthians 6:11, Romans 4:11, and Romans 6:3-7. According to the Westminster Confession, “There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.”[62] Hence, the apostle can say in 1 Peter 3:21, nu/n sw,|zei ba,ptisma (“now baptism saves”), while qualifying that the rite does so ouv sarko.j avpo,qesij r`u,pou (“not [as] the removal of the dirt of the flesh”) but rather as suneidh,sewj avgaqh/j evperw,thma eivj qeo,n (“an appeal [or pledge] of a good conscience unto God”). The sign always points beyond itself to the thing signified. In other words, “the sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.”[63] Apart from Christ’s benediction, the Spirit’s working, and the receiver’s faith, baptism is not savingly efficacious; in fact, it becomes an occasion for greater condemnation (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20-22; Heb. 6:4-8; Heb. 10:26-31).
Moreover, “the efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered.”[64] Isaac’s circumcision did not become effectual to salvation automatically—ex opere operato (“from the work worked”) or ex opere operantis (“from the work of the worker”). The whole point of Romans 4 is that justification is sola fide (“through faith alone”). In this respect, Abraham, who hq")d"c. ALß h'b,îv.x.Y:w: hw"+hyB;* !miÞa/h, (“trusted in Yahweh, and He reckoned it to him [as] righteousness”), is the paradigmatic example (Gen. 15:6). He applied the shmei/on (“sign”) of circumcision to Isaac as the sfragi/da th/j dikaiosu,nhj th/j pi,stewj (“seal of the righteousness of the faith”), because he believed the promise of the covenant (cf. Gen. 17). He circumcised the foreskin of Isaac’s flesh in confident expectation that the Lord would circumcise the “foreskin” of his heart (cf. Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4) “according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time.”[65]
Theologically, Leithart recasts covenant theology in terms of contemporary social theory and continental philosophy.[66] In stressing the objectivity of the covenant and the performative power of baptism, he collapses soteriology into ecclesiology (i.e., sacerdotalism) and ecclesiology into sociology (i.e., naturalism) as if they were a series of nesting dolls. This postmodern approach to language and ritual involves a “philosophical skepticism toward the nature of being and a preference in expression for . . . relations or activities.”[67] In other words, it favors economic relations over ontological realities. As a result, Leithart redefines salvation in corporate (vs. individual), mediate (vs. immediate), sacerdotal (vs. evangelical), natural (vs. supernatural), and immanentistic (vs. transcendental) terms.[68] Waters concludes, “What Leithart is offering us is not a refinement of certain Reformed doctrines. Nor is he effectively supplementing a soteriological understanding of the sacraments with a sociological one. What Leithart offers us is . . . revolutionary.”[69] It is nothing short of a different worldview. Ironically, this means that Leithart does not have too high a view of the sacraments; rather he has too low a view of salvation.[70] He has reduced justification from a soteriological declaration to a sociological construct.
Third, his understanding of future justification raises insuperable pastoral problems. On the one hand, the view that baptism automatically justifies the receiver leads to presumption. It encourages the covenant member to trust in the bare fact that he was baptized and removes the need for improving one’s baptism by a credible profession of faith.[71] On the other hand, it destroys any foundation for assurance. Leithart stresses that “saying ‘baptism justifies you’ doesn’t imply that baptism is a guarantee that one will pass inspection at the final judgment.” Those who eventually apostatize “God regards . . . with favor, counts . . . as just, for a time” but not for eternity.[72] By equivocating between historical and eschatological justification, Leithart leaves the believer in epistemic knots—wracked by the dilemma of simultaneously knowing yet not knowing his ultimate destiny.[73] The believer must simply try to be faithful and hope for the best, because the final verdict (based on decretal election/reprobation) may or may not erase the baptized/justified from the book of life. Concerning Leithart’s exegesis, the relevant passages (e.g., Rom. 2:13) are more consistently interpreted as hypothetical statements or as the demonstrative aspect of justification. Although “at the resurrection, believers . . . shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment,”[74] final judgment according to works is not the same as final justification on the basis of works.[75]


 With regard to definition (“what”), instrument (“how”), and eschatology (“when”), Leithart’s view of justification departs from Scripture and the Westminster Standards. Although he is rightly critical of pietistic and revivalistic tendencies within the church, his solutions create more problems than they solve. In fact, they do not even arise from his own tradition. Instead, they reflect an eclectic mix of Anglican, Russian Orthodox, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Methodist influences.[76] Leithart himself has asked, “Why not become Anglican?” or “Why not drop ‘Reformational’ and become just ‘Catholic’?” His reasons “for staying contentedly on the Wittenberg/Geneva side of the Tiber and to the West of Constantinople” (i.e., staying Presbyterian) involve both pragmatic and theological considerations—one of the most significant being the problem of closed communion in Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.[77] In the meantime, Leithart’s ministerial status in the PCA remains unresolved. As the president of Theopolis Institute and a teacher at Trinity Presbyterian Church (CREC), he seems content to labor without any accountability to the Pacific Northwest and Evangel Presbyteries (PCA). Nevertheless, his teachings continue to influence those within the PCA and within other Reformed denominations. It will be interesting to see how long he remains a leader in good standing in the PCA and the CREC. It will be interesting to see how long he remains a Presbyterian at all, because even now his view of justification is “Reformed” in name only.


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[1] Peter J. Leithart, The Baptized Body (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2007), viii–ix.

[2] Douglas Wilson, “The OPC Report on Federal Vision,” Blog, Blog and Mablog, June 18, 2006, accessed November 20, 2015,

[3] Rich Lusk, “A Response to ‘The Biblical Plan of Salvation,’” in The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision, ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004), 142.

[4] With a reputation for enjoying his beer, Wilson comically refers to the polar extremes of this continuum as “FV amber ales and FV oatmeal stouts.” “Federal Vision Controversy, R.I.P.?,” Blog, Blog & Mablog, April 5, 2013, accessed November 21, 2015,

[5] As a literature professor at New St. Andrews College, who majored in English at Hillsdale College, he has done extensive studies on Greek myth, Dante, Shakespeare, Austen, and Dostoyevsky. For an illustrative example, see Peter J. Leithart, Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy, & Hope in Western Literature (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2006).

[6] See Peter J. Leithart, Solomon among the Postmoderns (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press-Baker, 2008).

[7] See Peter J. Leithart, Shining Glory: Theological Reflections on Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books-Wipf and Stock, 2013).

[8] These developments may be followed at The Aquila Report,

[9] Peter J. Leithart, “‘Judge Me, O God’: Biblical Perspectives on Justification,” in The Federal Vision, ed. Steve Wilkins and Duane Garner (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2004), 209. This essay is one of the few pieces in which he specifically addresses the doctrine of justification and represents his most thorough treatment.

[10] Ibid., 203.

[11] Ibid., 205.

[12] Ibid., 204. This word group includes jP'v.mi (“justice”), jp;v' (“to judge”), hq'd'c. (“righteousness”), qd,c, (“what is right”), qyDic; (“righteous”), and qd;c' (“to justify”) in Hebrew and di,kaioj (“righteous”), dikaiosu,nh| (“righteousness”), and dikaio,w (“to justify”) in Greek.

[13] Ibid., 230, 234.

[14] In his commentary on “Jabberwocky,” Humpty Dumpty uses this word to describe the combination of “lithe” and “slimy” to form “slithy”: “You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.” Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, The Windermere Series (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1916), 187.

[15] Leithart, “Judge Me, O God,” 211–12. Emphasis original. Likewise, he defines righteousness as “a covenant term, describing loyalty within a covenanted relationship.” Ibid., 209.

[16] Ibid., 216, 227.

[17] Alister McGrath traces the lineage of this distinction back to the magisterial Reformers, especially Philip Melanchthon. Alister E. McGrath, “Humanist Elements in the Early Reformed Doctrine of Justification,” Archive for Reformation History 73 (December 1982): 5.

[18] Leithart, “Judge Me, O God,” 211. Emphasis added.

[19] Ibid., 227.

[20] Peter J. Leithart, “What Does Christ Merit?,” Blog, First Things, last modified May 12, 2014, accessed November 24, 2015,

[21] Peter J. Leithart, “Double Imputation,” Blog, First Things, last modified May 14, 2015, accessed November 24, 2015,

[22] Leithart’s doctoral dissertation at Cambridge teased out the social implications of baptismal theology and has been republished as The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003).

[23] Peter J. Leithart, “Does Baptism Justify?,” Theopolis Institute, 3, last modified 2013, accessed October 20, 2015, Emphasis added.

[24] Peter J. Leithart, “Baptism and Justification,” Blog,, last modified April 20, 2005, accessed September 7, 2015,

[25] Ibid.

[26] Leithart, “Does Baptism Justify?,” 4.

[27] Leithart, “Judge Me, O God,” 211.

[28] Leithart, The Baptized Body, 53.

[29] In fact, Leithart denies various perceived “dualities” within the Reformed tradition. These “dualisms” include the visible/invisible, external/internal, formal/vital, legal/living, and administration/substance distinctions. Instead, he prefers to speak of the “historical” and “eschatological” church. This redemptive-historical model transplants the traditional spatial one. Ibid., 55–56, 59-60.

[30] Ibid., ix. Emphasis original.

[31] To be fair, most Federal Vision advocates distinguish between covenantal and decretal election; thus, Leithart stresses, “What’s at stake here is not, it must be emphasized, the doctrine of eternal election. . . . I fully agree with the Reformed tradition on that point.” Ibid., 97. Without this caveat, his view would logically collapse into Arminianism or Lutheranism.

[32] Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “almost all,” since final perseverance is not a guarantee.

[33] Ibid., 78.

[34] Leithart, “Judge Me, O God,” 231–32.

[35] Peter J. Leithart, “Job and Justification,” Blog, First Things, last modified January 15, 2015, accessed November 24, 2015, http://www.firstth Emphasis original.

[36] “Reprobation is actually a theory of apostasy.” Leithart, The Baptized Body, 99. Emphasis original.

[37] Leithart, “Judge Me, O God,” 203.

[38] Compare Nietzsche’s view that truth is nothing but “a mobile army of metaphors.” Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense,” in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann, trans. Walter Kaufmann, Viking Portable Library no. 62 (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 46. Although Leithart would reject Nietzsche’s skepticism, he must demonstrate how his presuppositions avoid the same conclusion.

[39] Justification: Report of the Committee to Study the Doctrine of Justification (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2007), 13–14. Emphasis original.

[40] For a helpful discussion of this fallacy (with illustrative examples), see D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic-Baker Publishing Group, 1996), 53, 60–61. This book distills many of James Barr’s key points from The Semantics of Biblical Language.

[41] Lane Keister, “General Response to Leithart’s Article on Justification: Part 2,” Blog, Green Baggins, June 27, 2007, accessed November 28, 2015,

[42] Ibid.

[43] Peter J. Leithart, “Reading List,” Blog,, last modified June 22, 2007, accessed September 7, 2015,

[44] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation: The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and Protestant Soteriology,” in Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright, ed. Nicholas Perrin and Richard B. Hays (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2011), 240.

[45] Keister, “General Response.” Emphasis original.

[46] Guy Prentiss Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 85.

[47] Morton Smith lists the following uses: stative, demonstrative, causative, and forensic (or declarative). Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Greenville, SC: Greenville Seminary Press, 1994), 455.

[48] Smith lists three reasons: “contrast to condemnation” (Deut. 25:1; Prov. 17:15; Isa. 5:23), “context of judgment” (Ps. 143:2; Gen. 18:25), and “equivalent expressions” (Gen. 15:6; Ps. 32:1-2). Ibid., 2:455–56.

[49] See Paul Fowler et al., "Report of Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theology," report presented at and approved by the 35th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (Memphis, TN, June 2007), 2225.

[50] Leithart, "Judge Me, O God," 211. Emphasis added.

[51] Contrary to modern Lutherans and some faculty members at Westminster Seminary California, the believer is both justified (2 Cor. 5:21) and sanctified (Rom. 6:1-14) “in Christ.” As John Murray put it, “Nothing is more central or basic than union and communion with Christ,” because “it underlies every step of the application of redemption.” Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 161.

[52] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, Reprinted. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2012), 394.

[53] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, 2 vols., The Library of Christian Classics 20 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960). 2.16.19.

[54] Based on the language of the Westminster Standards, one could even speak of the triplex gratia of justification, adoption, and sanctification. See WCF 11-13.

[55] WLC Q. 77.

[56] Mark Jones, “We Distinguish: The Importance of Theological Distinctions,” Blog, Reformation 21, last modified August 18, 2015, accessed November 28, 2015,

[57] Leithart, “Does Baptism Justify?,” 3–4.

[58] See Vos’s discussion on the proper relationship between biblical and systematic theology in Biblical Theology, 4–5, 15–16. In his assessment of the value and task of systematics, Vanhoozer argues that “to answer [certain] questions we must move beyond exegesis to ontology, conceptually elaborating the reality and the logic of that about which Paul speaks.” He contends that this procedure is “not an imposition of some foreign conceptual scheme onto the text but rather a conceptual elaboration of what is implicit within it.” “Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation,” 247. Emphasis original.

[59] Richard D. Phillips, “Covenant Confusion,” in The Covenant: God’s Voluntary Condescension, ed. Joseph A. Pipa and C. N. Willborn (Taylors, SC: Presbyterian Press, 2005), 110–11.

[60] Andrew M. Elam, Robert C. Van Kooten, and Randall A Bergquist, Merit and Moses: A Critique of the Klinean Doctrine of Republication (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014), 52. These OPC pastors persuasively argue that “strict” merit includes both moral and ontological considerations.

[61] Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, 123.

[62] WCF 27:2.

[63] WSC Q. 91.

[64] WCF 28:6.

[65] Ibid.

[66] At Cambridge, his dissertation adviser was John Milbank, the founder of “Radical Orthodoxy,” whose Theology and Social Theory Leithart acknowledges “is a fairly constant presence in [his] theology.” Leithart, “Reading List.”

[67] Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology, 181.

[68] B. B Warfield delineates several of these categories in his classic work The Plan of Salvation, 2nd Reprint ed. (Ashland, OH: Simpson, 1997).

[69] Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology, 197.

[70] This is where Leithart’s radical language about baptismal efficacy can be misleading. Much like an optical illusion, the statement “baptism saves” appears “magical” and “miraculous” only if one assumes the supernatural character of salvation. But if salvation is merely a social reality, then supposedly “high” views of the sacraments are not so high after all.

[71] See WLC Q. 167.

[72] Leithart, “Does Baptism Justify?,” 1–2, 6.

[73] One thinks of the “Schrödinger's Cat” paradox. This illustration was used in a different but related context by Renton Rathbun, “Training up a Child in the Way: A Covenantal View of Proverbs 22:6” (Presentation presented at the 67th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Atlanta, GA, November 17, 2015).

[74] WSC Q. 38. Leithart cannot appeal to Richard Gaffin’s “future justification,” because Gaffin clarifies, “The future aspect of justification . . . no more compromises the definitiveness and irreversibility of the justification . . . already realized than future resurrection compromises the definitiveness and irreversibility of resurrection with Christ already experienced.” Richard B. Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1987), 134.

[75] By defining righteousness as "loyalty within a covenanted relationship," Leithart gives the impression that final justification is ultimately based on the believer's lifelong faithfulness. “Judge Me, O God,” 209.

[76] To name but a few, N. T. Wright (Anglican), John Milbank (Anglican), Alexander Schmemann (Orthodox), Robert Jenson (Lutheran), Henri de Lubac (Catholic), Geoffrey Wainwright (Methodist), and Stanley Hauerwas (Anglican). Leithart, “Reading List.”

[77] Peter J. Leithart, “Staying Put in the Presbyterian Church,” Blog, First Things, last modified May 23, 2014, accessed December 10, 2015,