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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful Little Book - Witty, Sound, and Insightful, 15 Dec. 2013
S. E. Paynter (Bristol, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Justification Reconsidered (Paperback)
Stephen Westerholm, "Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline
Theme", Eerdmans (Grand Rapids: Michigan), 2013.

This is a superbly written and important treatment of the Apostle Paul's
teaching on "justification". Westerholm writes with wonderful economy
of words, clarity of thought, and gentle wit. This is a slim book of
only 99 pages. It contains a few footnotes (on the same page as they are
referenced on), and a Scripture index.

Westerholm defends an "old perspective" or "Reformed" understanding of
justification, and he does so primarily using exegetical arguments
concerning Paul's teaching. His arguments interact with various "new
perspective" readings, including Stendahl's, Dunn's and Wright's, and
in a very short chapter he introduces and provides an initial yet
helpful critique of Campbell's attack on what Campbell calls
"justification theory". Westerholm's book is primarily a positive
treatment of what Paul teaches about the justification of believers,
and this book can be used as an introduction to this subject. However,
it does so while making a number of pointed and telling remarks against
the dogmas of "new perspective on Paul" scholarship.

The chapters of Westerholm's book are as follows:

1. The Peril of Modernizing Paul
2. A Jewish Doctrine?
3. Are "Sinners" all that Sinful?
4. Justified by Faith
5. Not by Works of the Law
6. Justification and Justification Theory
7. In a Nutshell

Chapter 1 contains a rapid positive overview of Paul's teaching on
soteriology, and on justification in particular. Stendahl's argument that
justification is not to do with salvation, for unlike Martin Luther,
Paul did not have an introspective conscience worried about his
salvation, and hence his teaching on justification was not concerned
with addressing the problem of finding a gracious God. Westerholm's
principal point is that it was objective judgement that Paul's
doctrine addressed, not subjective worries about judgement, and hence
Stendahl's argument is beside the point.

Chapter 2 addresses E.P. Sanders's arguments that Judaism had a
covenantal nomistic pattern, which recognised grace in the
establishment of the covenant, and hence was not "legalistic", and
hence, Paul's teaching on justification could not be contrasting a
gracious justification with the Jewish legalistic one. Westerholm's
principal point is that there is a vast difference between salvation
by grace + works (in covenantal nomism), and salvation by grace that
excludes works (in Paul). In other words, Paul's concept of grace is
more profound and rigorous.

Chapter 3 addresses Paul understanding of how profoundly sinful human
beings are, and argues that the inability of the Jews (along with the
rest of the human race) to earn a declaration of being righteous
because they actually are righteous, is what necessitates God to use
another basis in the gospel for declaring them righteous - a
justification not based on works.

Chapter 4 addresses what righteousness and justification means - and
shows from numerous biblical texts that N.T. Wright's idea that to be
declared righteous means to be declared to be in God's covenant
community simply cannot be right. Westerholm notes how justification
is conditional on faith and not on works, and argues that this does
not mean that faith has been turned into a work and made the ground on
which God's declaration is based.

Chapter 5 addresses James D.G. Dunn's position that in certain Pauline
texts "the works of the law" means the boundary marker
laws. Westerholm argues instead that they are all the righteous deeds
that the Mosaic law requires. Westerholm is critical of the way that
Luther immediately jumps from "works of the Law" to "all moral works",
but recognises that this is indeed a corollary that follows from
Paul's teaching about the "works of the Mosaic law" not justifying
(because of the sinfulness of human beings, and their inability to
please God in that way).

In chapter 6, Westerholm provides a brief introduction to, and
critique of Douglas A. Campbell's arguments against what he calls
"justification theory" in his massive "The Deliverance of God".
Westerholm's points are: a) contra Campbell, we do not have to choose
between a just God (who acts in justification), and a good God (who
acts to save) - Paul sees the Law as both good and just; furthermore
he sees God's goodness and justice at work in justification too; and
b) justification by faith is not justification on easier terms, as
Campbell portrays "justification theory" - rather faith is itself a
gift from God, called into being by the proclamation of the gospel.

The final paragraph of Westerholm's book helpfully summarises the main
points he makes. Having re-articulated an old perspective understanding
of justification, he writes:

"In spite of recent challenges, I believe that such an understanding
of Paul's doctrine of justification does better justice to the Pauline
texts. It cannot be dismissed by the claim that the ancients were not
concerned to find a gracious God (how could they not be, in face of
pending divine judgment); or that it wrongly casts first century Jews
as legalists (its target is rather the sinfulness of all human
beings); or that non-Christian Jews, too, depended on divine grace (of
course they did, but without Paul's need to distinguish grace from
works); or that "righteousness" means "membership in the covenant"
(never did, never will) and the expression "works of the law" refers
to boundary markers of the Jewish people (it refers to all the
"righteous" deeds required by the law as its path to

He goes on in the paragraph to note a couple of good points that
modern scholars have made about justification, and then reaffirms that
nevertheless, the meaning of justification is that "God declares
sinners righteous apart from righteous deeds, when they believe in
Jesus Christ."

In summary, this is an excellent book - important, sound, and
well-written. It could work as an introduction to Paul's teaching on
justification, but its real merit lies in the way it shows numerous
inadequacies in the "New Perspective" position that some scholars have
argued and adopted. As Simon Gathercole observes in his review, it
"throws down the gauntlet to the New Perspectivists." He then asks
"How will they respond?" One can only hope it will be as brief, witty,
exegetical, and as free of caricatures of its opponents as this little book
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 13 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: Justification Reconsidered (Paperback)
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