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Five Views On Justification

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Those who have been following the justification debate, as well as those who have been somewhat bamboozled by what exactly everyone is disagreeing about - I still think of the guy who asked me, at the end of my seminar on it at Together on a Mission, what the seminar had been about, so he knew what to tell his wife! - may be interested to hear of the arrival of "Justification: Five Views" (IVP, 2011). 

Edited by James Beijlby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, the book begins with a historical overview of the doctrine of justification, and then moves on to individual essays articulating the Roman Catholic view (Gerald O’Collins and Oliver Rafferty), the traditional Reformed view (Mike Horton), the New Perspective view (Jimmy Dunn), the Progressive Reformed view, a middle way between the Reformed and New Perspective views (Mike Bird), and what is termed the Deification view (Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen). As is customary in the Multiple Views series, each author then gets to respond briefly to each of the other scholars’ essays.

Tom Schreiner has a helpful review of the book here. Here’s an excerpt:

James Dunn is famous, of course, for his work on the new perspective over the years. Certainly Dunn is right in emphasizing the inclusion of Gentiles in Pauline theology and in calling attention to the role that the boundary markers (circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath), played in the first century. Dunn has moderated his language regarding the old perspective, so that his reading now seems to be “both-and” instead of “either-or.” The polemical language against the old perspective, which was quite common with the inauguration of the new perspective, is largely gone. Dunn seems to say that the old perspective is not so much wrong as incomplete, claiming that the new perspective supplements issues that were ignored by the old perspective. I still think Dunn puts the emphasis in the wrong place, but we do see a movement where old perspective interpreters see virtues in the new perspective and vice-versa. Bird rightly responds that there would not have been as much fuss when the new perspective first came out if the issues are framed as they are by Dunn here.

Dunn’s moderation of his view means that he and Bird are not very far apart. There is still a difference between them. Bird is closer to the Reformed view than Dunn, but it is telling that Dunn says that his disagreements with Bird are minor. And Bird’s response to Dunn breathes the same spirit. They do part ways on some matters. Bird rightly notes that Dunn underemphasizes the nomistic stream in Judaism, though I think Dunn has it right on “faith in Jesus Christ” over against Bird. Dunn argues that the call for good works and perseverance indicates that salvation can be lost, but Bird takes such texts seriously without endorsing such a conclusion.

I am a Reformation Protestant and thus it is not surprising that I am most sympathetic with Michael Horton’s read of the evidence, though I wish he would explain in more detail the role of good works in the final judgment. Horton doesn’t do much exegesis here, and there are more texts on the matter than Romans 2. Even if Romans 2 is “an empty set” (with which I disagree), many other texts must be accounted for in Paul, and Horton doesn’t comment on these texts. When it comes to imputation, it seems that Bird and Horton aren’t that far apart. They use different terminology, but both of them see imputation in terms of union with or incorporation into Christ. Bird worries about scholasticism and crude accounting. Horton counters that Bird misunderstands the tradition. In any case, this is a place where further conversations between systematic and biblical scholars could be most fruitful. There is no virtue in talking past one another, and it seems to me that Horton and Bird concur that the believer’s righteousness is theirs in Jesus Christ.

It’s obviously too soon to speak of any sort of consensus forming, but it does seem that some disagreements are being ironed out (see my posts here, here, and here  a few months ago on this topic), and a helpful conversation is being had by all. May the debate continue!

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