Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What must we do to be justified by God? My book The Way of Salvation (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2005) argues that the Protestant reformers were correct about how justification begins in the present age, and Augustine was right about how it ends. According to the reformers, who based their theory on St. Paul (esp. Galatians and Romans), God credits to the bare faith of a repentant sinner the perfect righteousness of Christ our representative, giving us complete confidence in the day of judgment. Augustine, whose view takes in the whole of the New Testament canon, taught that God forgives us our sins at Christian initiation, and thereafter renovates us so that though we were originally bound in sin, we become increasingly free to cooperate with God's grace and bring forth obedience that God can finally declare righteous. If both are true, then justification, like other aspects of New Testament eschatology, has an "already" and a "not yet." God inaugurates it by imputing to us the righteousness of another; he crowns it by recognizing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

Of the many biblical passages that might be cited in support of the Protestant view, we might point to Romans 5:1, "Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God," or Romans 5:18, "Through one act of righteousness [by Christ] there resulted justification of life to all" (NASB). For the Augustinian view, there is Romans 2:13, "The doers of the law will be justified" (NASB) or Galatians 5:4-6, "When you seek to be justified ... the only thing that counts is faith active in love" (NEB). Outside of Paul, whose writings are the main focus of my study because Protestantism has taken its stand on him, the ordinary teaching of the apostles yields equally clear documentation of a future aspect of justification grounded on the good deeds of the redeemed (e.g. Matthew 12:33-37; John 3:19-21; Hebrews 10:36; 12:14; James 2:24; 2 Peter 1:3-11; 1 John 3:18-21; 4:16-17).

Thus far (2007 August 21) several more or less positive reviews of the proposal have appeared: Phillip J. Long, Trinity Journal Vol. 27 n.s. No. 2 (Fall 2006) 340-41; Kent L. Yinger, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69 (2007) 371-2; Nathan Hitchcock, Amazon.com; Timothy Gombis, Review of Biblical Literature 07/2007.

Some who subscribe to the so-called "new perspective on Paul " have not warmed to this book, no doubt partly because my evaluation of the new perspective is measured (see pp. 7-16, 94-5), though not dismissive (cf. p. 70, n. 1; 206 and n. 3; 132 n. 1). Representative is H. C. Bigg of Cambridge in Anvil 24 (2007) 63-4. Typical criticisms are that my approach imposes Reformational doctrinal categories on the pauline material, and is too narrowly focused on individual salvation before God. My answer to the first objection is that while Luther and Calvin underplayed Paul's interest in Jews and gentiles, their main categories (bondage to sin, imputation, regeneration, sanctification, etc.) are firmly anchored in Paul's own terminology and arguments. The charge of individualism is perplexing, given the fact that I can only make sense of imputation against the background of Paul's Adam/Christ antithesis which presupposes the corporate solidarity of the mass of the human race with these two heads. Presumably the pressure is to admit that justification is God's declaration that one belongs to the covenant people, but I am not at liberty to go there, for according to sound lexicography it is God's declaration that one is righteous, i.e. a keeper of the covenantal stipulations.


Those who have reacted most negatively to Way of Salvation come from conservative Reformed circles: see Philip H. Eveson, Evangelicals Now (February 2006 [available online in archive]); Mark W. Karlberg, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50/2 (June 2007) 423-8. Naturally some who judge orthodoxy by reference to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestant confessions such as the Westminster Standards may be inclined to interpret my intentionally constructive proposal as one more attack on the pure truth of the gospel. In fact I stand with them in upholding the reformers' concept of imputation, and I distance myself from the reformers only where the reformers polemically narrow their scope to exclude from the rubric of justification a body of New Testament passages that quite clearly do use the key vocabulary in reference to God's future verdict on lives lived. If an attempt to integrate imputation with the Augustinian soteriology seems self-contradictory or "confused" (better: paradoxical, antinomous, dialectical, or mysterious, in the sense in which theologians have employed these terms), is it not the case that every great dogma of the Christian faith, not least the central doctrine of the Trinity, has a complex structure?