Five Views on Justification?
As we noted several days ago (here), there is a new book out, Justification: Five Views. The contributors include Michael Bird (Progressive Reformed), James D. G. Dunn (New Perspective), Veli-Matti Karkkainen (Deification), and Gerald O’Collines and Oliver Rafferty (Roman Catholic). The fifth view, the traditional Reformed view, is represented by our own Dr. Horton. This book is quite helpful in a number of ways. First, you can read a terrific essay by Dr. Horton, one that sets forth a biblically sound and faithful account of the doctrine of justification. Second, there are a number of troubling trends that one finds in the other essays.
For example, one of the repeated mantras throughout the book by the other essayists is that justification is but one metaphor for redemption; there are other important metaphors (124, 133, 234-35). Justification, it is claimed, cannot take precedence over other metaphors, such as sanctification, adoption, or reconciliation. Metaphor? Really? If the antonym of justification is condemnation, are we to believe that condemnation is just a metaphor for not being saved? What of Jesus’ justification? Is that a metaphor too? What about standing in the presence of a holy God and being declared righteous is metaphorical?
As a group, New Testament scholars do not read historical theological texts and the entries from the NT scholars in this volume only confirm this statement. If you read these contributions you might be led to believe that the church began with Bultmann and Kaseman and throw in a light sprinkling of Calvin. For those claiming to being indebted to Reformed theology, there is little to no interaction with classic Reformation and post-Reformation texts. In a word, there is no historical depth (145, 146n 17, 150, 150n 29, 180, 200). For example, one of the repeated ideas is that union with Christ (120, 135, 211, 232, 241) is superior to the idea of the “straight jacket of the ordo salutis” (131, 152). Yet, no attention is given to the fact that countless theologians, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Arminian, have all embraced the doctrine of union with Christ. The doctrine did not arise with the NT guild in the nineteenth century. Arminius, for example, embraces the twofold grace of union with Christ, justification and sanctification. And everyone, whether they like it or not, has an ordo salutis. Who believes that election and glorification are identical? Does not the former come before the latter? And for Dunn, for example, who believes in an initial justification before a final justification, is not the former before the latter? And for those such as Bird, who argue that one must be incorporated into Christ in order to be saved, do not the believer’s good works come after incorporation into Christ, not before? However, there is a wholesale rejection of the ordo without any research given into how Reformed theologians actually use the doctrine. There is no Reformed theologian of which I am aware that uses the ordo to indicate a temporal or chronological sequence or parceling out of the benefits of redemption. There are numerous instances where classic Reformed texts indicate that the ordo is another way to express, surprise, surprise, union with Christ. For all of the claims to read the Scriptures communally and covenantally, too many NT scholars read the text isolated from the rest of the church. As G. K. Chesteron once quipped, consulting tradition is to give a vote to the most disenfranchised constituency in the church—the dead!
Another element that we find is the clear rejection of perseverance of the saints. Dunn writes: “A major weakness in many of the responses to the ‘new perspective’ at this point is what appears to be the assumption that the justification of conversion will assuredly be ratified at the last judgment; that those born of the Spirit will, of course, be led by the Spirit and produce the good works which are the (inevitable?) fruit of grace. Paul himself did not make that assumption” (166-67; cf. 218). So much for the eschatological nature of justification—it might not be that final verdict after all. It might just be a mistaken verdict. You’ll die, ascend to the presence of Christ, hang out for a while, and then you’ll get that tap on the shoulder, “Umm . . . I’m so sorry . . . things didn’t quite work out as we all had hoped. You may collect your things and quietly leave the New Jerusalem. Oh, and please do not take the towels or the complimentary robe of Christ’s righteousness. It was only temporarily yours.”
One last pet peeve is the continual misuse of the semper reformanda slogan. Semper Reformanda does not mean that we always change our doctrine. True, our doctrine must always be subject to the testing and final authority of the Scriptures. But, as Richard Muller explains, “the true sense of the old Reformed maxim, Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda—[is], that the doctrine of the church has been reformed but the life of the Christian is always to be reformed, guided by the teachings of the Reformation.”
To say the least, this book is certainly worth the read—it is eye opening in many ways. But in the opinion of this writer, it is also a testimony to the abiding validity of the classic Reformed doctrine of justification. Tolle et lege (take up and read) and judge for yourself.