Review: Richard B. Gaffin Jr.’s By Faith, Not By Sight


This second edition of By Faith, Not by Sight by Richard Gaffin comes at a time of relative peace in the theological world. Though the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and theological offshoots continue to make headway in the theological world, the lines have been drawn and welcomed discussion has occurred involving both sides. Still, when it concerns the intricacies of Paul and his theology, guidance remains valuable for both pastors and laymen. It is with this non-scholastic audience in mind that By Faith, Not by Sight is written. Considering this, the level of writing and exegesis in By Faith, Not by Sight is geared toward the church and not professional theologians.

The Content

By Faith, Not by Sight is broken up into four chapters that build upward in their application of Paul’s theology. Opening with exegesis, and incorporating general themes and application, it’s able to move the reader from the lay of Paul’s mind to the outworking of his theology as it applies to the church and her eschatological future.

The first chapter, titled “The Order of Salvation and the theology of Paul,” provides an excellent introduction to the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) as well as providing the lens by which Paul’s writing will be studied throughout the book. Tying together the important definitions and elements of Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology, By Faith, Not by Sight supplies an excellent example of Pauline exegesis and “Problem[s] of Interpreting Paul” (10-19). Far from supporting just a standard in-context approach to Paul, Richard Gaffin brings to light the many complexities that are Paul’s particular writing, intelligence and Spirit driven inspiration. These sections are expounded so finely that the book’s value is almost obtained in them alone.

Chapter two, titled “The Order of Salvation and the ‘center’ of Paul’s Theology,” introduces the reader to definitions that are invaluable to the inspection of Paul’s writing. Far from being simply terms for the “theologians,” the expressive and definitive language of “salvation accomplished/salvation applied” and “order of salvation/history of salvation” (21) brings great refinement for clear teaching of Paul’s theology while consequently expanding the understanding of the church. It’s also within this chapter that Richard Gaffin provides one of the resounding principals for the entire book: “the controlling focus of Paul’s theology, as for Jesus before him, is eschatology” (29). It is with this in mind that By Faith, Not by Sight reveals how justification and sanctification depend upon the doctrines of Christ, sin, and the resurrection. In a brief section, Richard Gaffin aptly demonstrates how tightly knit the doctrines of justification and sanctification are to the doctrine of the resurrection, and subsequently to each other (34-40).

It’s also here in chapter two that two of the only flaws to this book are presented. The excellent inclusion of Biblical theology found throughout the book is surprisingly absent from portions of this chapter. Though Richard Gaffin provides phenomenal insights from 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5 in their appropriate sections, he fails to address Romans 6 and 1 Corinthians 10 and what the role of baptism is in uniting us with Christ. It would seem pertinent for a book that declares “Union with Christ” to be the most central theme of Paul’s theology (41) to explain the expressive role baptism plays in this doctrine.

In the final two chapters, By Faith, Not by Sight turns its sights (no pun intended) on the eschatological realities of union with Christ. This combined understanding of how justification and sanctification flow congruently from union with Christ and His resurrection make an impact on the proper interpretation of Paul’s soteriological language during discourses of eschatology. The application of this exegesis touches upon the bodily resurrection (63-64), the eschatological realities of soteriology (69) and the powerful elements at work in the Christian’s life (76-84). It’s after describing the particular applications that the full purpose of the title, By Faith, Not by Sight, is realized. This verse turn thesis comes from 2 Corinthians 5:7, and is expertly applied to the doctrines of justification, sanctification and resurrection--providing application to the now while maintaining theological assurance for the future.

Conclusion

With respect to its intent, By Faith, Not by Sight is an outstanding success. In a highly condensed style, Richard Gaffin is able to address almost every important subject concerning Paul’s theology, salvation, justification and union with Christ. Though not structured as a systematic theology, this book is an excellent introduction to a systematic approach of the soteriological and eschatological realities of Paul’s writing in the Scriptures. Even the most complex of the eschatological topics are addressed in a way that the modern laymen can understand, appreciate, and communicate for further encouragement to the church.

Individuals seeking to understand some of the finer details of these topics will be pleased with the condensed nature of the book and the particularly excellent sections of exegesis as they are presented. For those seeking an introduction into Pauline studies this book is a must have.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Joshua Torrey is a New Mexico boy in an Austin, TX world. He is husband to Alaina and father to Kenzie & Judah and spends his free time studying for the edification of his household. These studies include the intricacies of hockey, football, curling, beer, and theology. He blogs theological musings and a running commentary of the Scriptures at The Torrey Gazette.