Concerns Over Dan Fuller's Theology of Justification

Revised November 3, 1999


This is our attempt to bring together into one place the central texts from the writings of Dr. Daniel P. Fuller that have caused our concern. We do not deny that it is at least possible to construe many of the following texts in an orthodox way. But we think it would take a lot of "massaging" to do so, especially in light of the overall context. Therefore we seriously question whether Dr. Fuller really does mean these statements in an orthodox way.

There are two additional reasons for thinking that Dr. Fuller is not simply communicating poorly but actually stating something very unorthodox—that justification is not by faith alone, but by faith and also the fruit of faith (obedience). First, he continually gives the impression in both his book Gospel and Law and through email correspondence with us that he is "correcting" the traditional Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone. The issue is so central that he sees himself as fighting against the "Galatian heresy," a damnable offense committed by almost all theologians in church history save "the early Luther."

Second, we have repeatedly tried to clarify these issues with him through extensive email discussions. Through this, he has interpreted his own writings to mean that there is no essential difference between faith and obedience. To be sure, Dr. Fuller does not say that he is denying the traditional (and orthodox) doctrine of justification by faith alone, but he does very clearly say that he is reinterpreting it. It is our conviction, which we will try to demonstrate below, that the result is that Dr. Fuller has so merged faith and the fruit of faith (obedience) such that there is really no distinction between the two. Obedience is faith; faith is obedience. The result is a theology that might use the term "justification by faith alone" but actually denies the substance that the term has traditionally signified. Because of the way he includes obedience to God’s moral commandments as part of the essence of faith, Dr. Fuller’s view of salvation amounts to a justification by works under the guise of faith.

And so we submit these texts from Dr. Fuller’s writings to be considered by the careful reader of his books. In the interest of time we have not made all of the comments we could have or perhaps needed to in order to most clearly show why we are concerned. The main goal, however, is simply to bring these texts to light so that we can express the reasons for our concern over Dr. Fuller’s position. Finally, we also wish to point out that, though he wrote the forward to Unity of the Bible, Pastor John Piper does not share Dr. Fuller’s views on justification. At the time of this writing, Dr. Piper is currently preaching through the book of Romans and has done a number of sermons on justification which clearly demonstrate and that his view is fully orthodox (see especially the sermons on Romans chapter four, available through It is unfortunate that so many have failed to make this crucial distinction between Fuller and Piper and continue to refer to Fuller’s view as the "Fuller/Piper view".

Unity of the Bible

I. To "reckon as righteous" is nothing more than "to forgive", thus denying the imputed positive righteousness of God in Christ.

"…Abraham’s being reckoned righteous, or forgiven…" (p. 255.9)

"Romans 4:6-8 leaves no doubt about the meaning Paul gave to the word ‘credited’….Paul emphasized that Abraham was forgiven, despite his still falling short of sinlessness" (p. 256.5).

II. The cross of Christ is not the object of faith in which we trust to be saved but that which enables and strengthens faith in God’s commitment to provide a happy future for us.

"…the faith of Christians is strengthened by the work of Christ accomplished for his people in his death and resurrection" (p. 271.3).

"One difference between Abraham’s faith and ours today, however, is that our futuristic faith in God’s promises is strengthened by looking back to what Christ did for us in the past in his death for our sins and his resurrection for our justification (forgiveness)" (p. 272.4).

"But since it is faith’s past component—Christ’s death and resurrection—that makes possible our justification, we have an even stronger reason to believe God’s promises than Abraham had"

(p. 275.10f).

"Thus Christians today, who know the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, have a much greater encouragement to trust in God’s promises than did Abraham, who accepted God’s forgiveness in Genesis 15:6 with no idea at all of how this offer was possible" (p. 276.3).

We think this is even more clear in Gospel and Law, but in the interest of conciseness we will not include those quotes.

III. The law is said to have the same essential content as the Gospel

"This comparison of law and gospel necessarily implies that the law presented at Sinai was one of faith, with essentially the same content needed for salvation as the message people received in New Testament times" (p. 350.7).

IV. Obedience to God’s commands, not simply faith in Christ for salvation, is the condition of justification.

"…none of the commandments of God is ever to be understood as a ‘law of works,’ a job description, but as a ‘law of faith’ (cf. Rom. 3:27; 9:32), a doctor’s prescription. In declaring that God shows ‘love ["mercy" in the original] to a thousand generations of those who love [him] and keep [his] commandments,’ Exodus 20:6 clearly proves that all of God’s commands are a law of faith, calling for an obedience of faith (Rom 1:5) and subsequent works of faith (1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11). Mercy, or grace, is therefore conditional, though never meritorious" (pp. 52.10-53.3, brackets in original).

This text is especially troubling because in question 8 at the end of the chapter he states that his deduction from this verse (namely, that "grace is conditional but not merited") is "a basic thesis of this book."

One might think that when he says that mercy is conditional, he means conditioned upon faith. But that cannot be what he means, because Exodus 20:6 is his proof text. Does Exodus 20:6 speak of faith? No, it speaks of "keeping God’s commandments." Since Fuller concludes that God’s mercy is conditional from the fact that Exodus 20:6 says that God shows mercy "to those who love him and keep his commandments," it follows that he sees the condition as keeping God’s commandments—not faith. Thus also sheds much light on what he means when he calls the law a "law of faith"—he seems to mean not simply that we are to obey the law out of our faith, but that the obedience which the law calls for is faith. How can Fuller, though, say that the law calls for faith and only faith when Exodus 20 reveals that the law calls for things such as not stealing, not killing, not slandering God’s name? The answer must be that, in his mind, doing these things that the law calls for (such as not killing) is the same as faith.

Fuller would probably respond that we are wrongly dividing keeping God’s commandments from faith. But that is exactly our concern with Fuller. He sees keeping God’s commandments as faith. The problem is that they are not faith (Romans 3:28). Faith is to be the source of our obedience, but obedience is nonetheless not faith. It is different in essence and kind from faith. Unless we make this distinction, then there is no difference between justification by faith and justification by obedience.

V. Persevering faith is a condition for justification

"These two facts from Abraham’s life thus lead to the thesis that the condition for justification is persevering faith" (p. 310.7).

Of course it is possible that all he means here is that faith is the condition, a faith which perseveres. But in light of all he has said (such as that the law has the same content needed for salvation as the gospel), we think that he is using "faith" here to include obedience. In Fuller’s mind, "persevering faith" means continuing to do what God commands out of a desire to get well.

Gospel & Law: Contrast or Continuum?

Many of the problems we see in Dr. Fuller’s writings are evident in Unity simply in a "seed form." They are there, but they are not developed or made as explicit as they could be. In his book Gospel and Law, they are made explicit and developed. Thus, understanding how Fuller expounds on his view of faith and obedience in Gospel and Law will shed light on the less developed statements from Unity (such as, "mercy, or grace, is therefore conditional, though never meritorious" [Unity, 53.3]). Fuller himself would acknowledge this, and often does in the endnotes of Unity.

I. Obedience (i.e., things like loving your neighbor) is a necessary means (not just evidence) of obtaining justification.

Fuller says that the realization of all God’s promises to us (and, therefore, the promise of salvation and justification) is dependent upon the obedience of faith. We think it can be shown that in Fuller’s mind, the obedience of faith means "doing what God commands, such as loving your neighbor, from a heart of trust." If so, then it follows that Fuller is teaching that our receiving the promise of justification is dependent not on faith alone, but on faith and the fruit of faith (obedience, such as loving your neighbor). We will now seek to show this in the following subpoints.

A. All God’s promises are conditional upon the obedience of faith

"The conclusion, then, is that instead of two sets of promises in the Bible—conditional and unconditional—there is only one kind of promise throughout Scripture, and the realization of its promises is dependent upon compliance with conditions which are well characterized as ‘the obedience of faith’" (105.2-3).

"…God’s blessings come only through the obedience of faith (105.3).

B. The obedience of faith includes what traditional Protestantism has called faith, but it also includes what traditional Protestantism has called genuine obedience.

"We avoid legalism to the extent that we acknowledge how truly sick we are and look away from ourselves and, with complete confidence in the Doctor’s expertise and desire to heal us, follow his instructions (the obedience of faith!) in order to get well" (118.3).

The parenthesis shows very clearly that, in Dr. Fuller’s mind, the obedience of faith equals following the instructions of the doctor—that is, obeying the commands of God. Further, just a few sentences later he restates his point saying: "we must still keep our whole attention focused on the task of following the guidance of the Great Physician in order to become completely healed." This becomes even more disturbing if it is indeed the case, as it seems it is, that being "completely healed" is a reference to justification rather than sanctification.

"For those who would be served by God (who unlike all the other ‘gods’ ‘works for those who wait for him’—Isa. 64:4), the works of faith involve doing all that is commanded in Scripture. That is why the Mosaic law is a ‘law of faith’…" (110.8).

"As one became a Christian by submitting himself to the care of the Workman, so one learns to live like Jesus and receive a continuous stream of blessings from him simply by faith, that is, by an obedience which keeps him in the place where he can always benefit from the Workman’s skill" (115.5, emphasis added).

C. Therefore, since Fuller says that the obedience of faith is necessary for obtaining all of God’s promises, including justification (point A); and since Fuller defines the obedience of faith as doing God’s commands from a heart of trust (point B), it follows that Fuller is teaching that obedience is a means of obtaining justification.

II. Dr. Fuller teaches that obedience is a means of justification by distinguishing works into two kinds and excluding one kind (which is sinful) but not the other (which is righteous) from the means of justification.

"In what sense, then, are works to be excluded from that attitude which is indispensable for receiving God’s grace? Depending on the context, the word ‘works’ in Paul’s vocabulary means either (1) those actions such as a workman like the supermarket checker would perform, or (2) the things done by a client, customer, patient, or employer in order to benefit fully from the expertise of the workman" (109.9-110.1).

Fuller goes on to say that we cannot ever do the first kind of works for God, for "neither in his decision to become a Christian nor in his subsequent walk as a follower of Christ should a man think of himself as working for God in the sense of supplying God with some need, so that God should be obligated and grateful to man."

The problem is that the question "in what sense are works to be excluded…," followed by a distinction between two kinds of works—one kind which is evil and the other kind which is good--and then the statement that the first kind (the evil ones) are excluded implies that the second kind of works (i.e., the good ones) are not excluded from "that attitude which is indispensable for receiving God’s grace."

The second kind of works includes what is traditionally called obedience, not just faith, because he refers to it as "things done," not just believed. This is supported by the fact that just a few sentences later, in describing this kind of "work," one of his descriptions is that it is the expression of faith in love (citing Gal 5:6). Perhaps most disturbing is when he describes this kind of work (which is what he also calls "the obedience of faith") as follows: "For those being served by a physician it means being confident and adhering to the cure and the health regimen prescribed by the physician." The "health regimen" is clearly a reference to God’s commands. Thus, the works Dr. Fuller is speaking of include doing what God commands—not just faith.

That Dr. Fuller sees these second kind of works as the means for justification is also evident from the following quote: "When one understands what a ‘work of faith’ is, he cease to be troubled by those Bible passages which stress the works one must do in order to be saved, or more fully blessed, while others speak only of believing" (113.2).

III. Dr. Fuller explicitly identifies faith and obedience

"As one became a Christian by submitting himself to the care of the Workman, so one learns to live like Jesus and receive a continuous stream of blessings from him simply by faith, that is, by an obedience which keeps him in the place where he can always benefit from the Workman’s skill" (115.5).

"It should also be clear why the obedience of faith is sola fide (‘by faith alone’), for obedience is impelled wholly by faith and is not something added on to faith as though it were coordinate with it" (119.10).

If faith and obedience are, in essence, the same then justification by faith is actually justification by obedience under the guise of faith.

IV. The law is the gospel, and vice-versa, and both can impart righteousness

"[By citing Deut. 30:11-14 in Rom. 10] Paul was showing that the righteousness set forth by the law was the righteousness of faith. Since the wording of the law can be replaced by the word ‘Christ’ with no loss of meaning, Paul has demonstrated that Moses himself taught that Christ and the law are of one piece. Either one or both will impart righteousness to all who believe, and thus the affirmation of Romans 10:4 is supported by Paul’s reference to Moses in verses 5-8" (p. 86.4)

In our opinion, this is one of the most disturbing statements. This denigrates the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. As Paul said, "If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21).

Online Material from The Berean Corner web site

I. Commenting on Gal. 5:6

"Paul says this faith avails everything (contrasted with the ‘nothing’ in the two preceding clauses), and so it is arbitrary to remove justification from ‘everything.’ Hence the faith spoken of in Gal. 5:6c must avail for justification as well as produce the works of love."

This means that "faith working through love" is the means for justification.

II. The doctor’s analogy applied to justification

He is quoting Luther before he made his realization about the righteousness of God, but his insertions between the brackets indicate Fuller’s view: "…He is sick in fact [many sinful tendencies remain] but he is well [accounted as righteous] because of the sure promise of the doctor, whom he trusts and who has already reckoned him as already cured…[The sick man] has the beginning of righteousness, so that he continues more and more always to seek it…" (

As neither of us had read enough of Luther to respond as to whether or not the bracketed portions are accurate construals, we can comment on what Fuller means by citing this passage. It is significant that Fuller is quoting this statement with approval (see context). This means that, in Fuller’s view, the initial act of the doctor making the pronouncement to the sick patient ("You are not guilty") is based upon the foreknown and sure, real, personal righteousness of the patient. For in this quote being "accounted as righteous" is the declaration not of what Christ did external to the patient, but a declaration of what the patient will be in himself one day through Christ (namely, well). In other words, we are set right with God on the basis of the fact that we will one day be transformed into the image of Christ—not on the basis of the obedience that Christ lived on our behalf (Romans 5:18-19).


In our opinion, the use of the doctor’s analogy is a Biblical one and very helpful if it is relegated to the sphere of sanctification. However, if one applies it to justification, then it leaves out any mention of imputation, and implies that we are justified by our works of faith. An issue such as this caused the Protestant Reformation.

We take no delight in working on a summary calling into question the orthodoxy of the formulations of a beloved teacher. It is our hope and prayer that Dr. Fuller will see the errors in his formulations. If we have grossly misread Fuller, we are open to correction, and sincerely hope that we are wrong on many counts. It is with a trembling and expectant spirit that we right this in order to do our small part in preserving the purity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Scripture quotations are generally from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, by the Lockman Foundation.

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