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- Published on Amazon.com
It should be no secret by now that I am fond of multi-view books. Whether they are published by Zondervan, IVP Academic, or even Baker Academic, I’m always on the lookout for a good multi-view book that will explore some interesting and relevant topic.
My most recent find and soon after review request is Four Views on The Role of Works at The Final Judgment. Edited by Alan P. Stanley, this roundtable of views features:
Robert Wilkin (Free Grace position, works determine rewards but not salvation)
Thomas Schreiner (Reformed Baptist, works will provide evidence that one is actually saved)
James Dunn (New Perspective on Paul, works will provide the criterion by which Christ will determine eternal destiny of people)
Michael Barber (Catholic position, works will merit eternal life)
In terms of contributor selection, I thought this was an excellent roundup. Here we have a true full spectrum all the way from works have no role at the final judgment (Wilkin) to them having a fully determinative role (Barber).
I won’t go blow by blow, but a few comments are in order. First, alongside IVP’s Five Views on Justification, this volume gives readers a good view what is at stake in the debates about how to read Paul. Schreiner and Dunn do not disagree with each other much (at least not to the extent Dunn tears into Wilkin) but there is a sharp contrast between them, and both have authored commentaries on Romans and theologies on Paul. Especially since Dunn was the contributor for the New Perspective on Paul position in IVP’s books, you can get a good cliff notes of his overall position by reading his essays in these two books. The subject matter here though is what makes many evangelicals uncomfortable, and within the book there is much talk of justification. For both Dunn and Barber, works play a determinative role in the final judgment (justification by works), and interestingly for both, you can lose your salvation. In that, Catholics and Arminians are on the same page, though the expositions of Dunn and Barber are not identical.
Second, while each contributor’s position is embedded within his overall system (or in Dunn’s case his refusal to systematize), Wilkin’s is entirely dependent on a certain kind of dispensationalism. Schreiner points this out, but it would be obvious to most readers after reading his essay. Unless you hold to an eschatological system that has multiple final judgments, then much of Wilkin’s exegesis seems strained. Wilkin also relies heavily on John’s Gospel, something the other three contributors don’t do (focusing instead mostly on Paul and James, just like the justification debates), and seems baffled that none of them follow his lead. He does makes some good points highlighting assurance based on faith, but ultimately he has to interpret all passages that seem to suggest believers being judged at the final judgment as applying to a different judgment, an option not open to anyone who isn’t dispensational.
Third, many evangelical readers will be surprised at how Barber’s essay unfolds. I think it is good for evangelicals to read Catholic writers in their own words. It may not change your overall understanding (salvation is still ultimately by works and assurance that you’re saved is not possible), but it does break down some stereotypes (specifically he really likes grace and talks about it a lot!).
Fourth, Dunn’s aversion to fitting his exegesis into a “system” seems to exert the same amount of hermeneutical force as someone else’s attempt to fit into a system. By that I mean it is a presupposition he brings to the text (“we need to allow for diversity and not force unity”) that is not unlike the systematizer’s presupposition (“we need to strive for unity and not allow for leftover diversity”). In both cases, it “colors” how the interpreter reads the text. It is as if Dunn is so weary of forcing the wrong pieces of the puzzle together that he is reticent to allow that the pieces might fit together without forcing. I think that is probably better than thinking “hey this group of puzzle pieces must make a complete picture and I’m going to put it together one way or the other.” But is still shapes how Dunn reads the NT and the end result is a “system” that more or less Arminian that allows for loss of salvation and syncs with Catholicism’s teaching that salvation is by works (even grace empowered ones).
Fifth, I’m not sure I completely follow Schreiner, but I’m definitely not following any of the other three contributors. He is offering a Reformed Baptist position, but I don’t think it is the position. I’m thinking a traditional Reformed position (maybe by someone like Michael Horton) might fit in between Wilkin and Schreiner, but then again they just slightly modify Schreiner to the point that another voice is not needed. His contention that works provide evidence but are not determinative seems correct to me, as well as his insistence that we are justified truly at the moment of faith/repentance/conversion. In his thinking, works will not fail to follow from that initial justification (if we are truly justified in that instant). Christians cannot fall away, but our works have no determinative effect on our ultimate salvation.
On the whole then, I think this is a valuable book. For people up on the contemporary debates concerning the New Perspective on Paul, it provides a stark contrast between how someone in the heart of that movement understands justification/final judgment/works and how a Reformed Baptist and a Catholic would view it. Wilkin feels kind of like the odd man out, mainly because he is the only one who sees works having no role in the judgment of believers (which is also because of his dispensational view of the judgments). But, I did like his voice being part of the conversation because he offered criticisms I wouldn’t think of, even his position is one I would ultimately never adopt. Like most of the multi-view books I’ve read to review on here (ok, maybe all of them), I would highly recommend it to you, especially if you are interested in the New Perspective on Paul in particular or just discussing soteriology in general.
[I was given a review copy of this book by the publisher]