Norman Shepherd is No Heretic

John ArmstrongBiblical Theology

We concluded our ACT 3 Biblical Forum today in Carol Stream. It was a wonderful time for many of us to sit under the teaching of Norman Shepherd. Rev. Shepherd, for those who do not know him at all, was a professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and in the late 1970s came under fire for teaching that the faith by which we are brought into union with Christ in salvation, i.e., the faith that brings justification in the present and at the final judgment, is vital, living, penitent, obeying faith. Shepherd also challenged two other ideas that are held by some Reformed thinkers, though surely not all by a long shot. First, he believes that the is no "covenant of works" made with Adam in the creation by which Adam could have merited his salvation if he had obeyed God. Second, Shepherd believes that we are imputed the righteousness of Christ as forgiveness and pardon but we are not imputed his active obedience, which is an idea that follows the "covenant of works" notion. This second idea says that we are saved by the merit of Christ’s active obedience given to us thus we are, as odd as it sounds at first, truly saved by works, the works of Christ done in our place. Shepherd believes, as I do, that what is imputed to us is not merit at all. We are not saved by merit and this notion is not a biblical one at all. It comes from the period before the Reformation and came to prominence, especially in Holland, after the death of the earliest Reformers as Reformed theology became more and more scholastic.

Several very small and conservative Reformed denominations have drafted statements calling Rev. Shepherd’s teaching heresy. As I listened to Norm teach this weekend, and then heard him answer question after question faithfully, I was struck once again at how clearly biblical his theology of salvation is. It is so easy to put a label on someone’s ideas and then refuse to actually hear them and really deal with what they teach. By this kind of attack on Shepherd many wonderful people in the churches are confused and do not understand what is actually being taught in many cases. A DVD set, as well as an MP3 audio CD, will be available of this wonderful three-day event in a few weeks. If you would like to hear a master teacher explain the teaching of the Word of God on justification and true faith I encourage you to listen to this biblical series. It was the most concise, consistent and well-laid out explanation of Norman Shepherd’s teaching, by Norman Shepherd and not his critics, that he has ever given in one place.

There is room to disagree with Shepherd on several ideas but one thing became increasingly clear to me this week: Norman Shepherd is no heretic. And he is most definitely not teaching that we are justified by our own human works. He is a faithful and clear biblical teacher who ought to be heard by many more people. I found myself seeing my own thoughts come together much more clearly as Norm explained the Scripture by beginning with James 2:14-26. It was a thrilling weekend for many of us.