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4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read: scholarly explorations of the development of doctrine of justification, 30 Dec 2008
This review is from: Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (Paperback)
This is a scholarly collection of papers from a variety of
perspectives about the Christian doctrine of justification. Different
papers treat justification from various eras, giving a good
understanding of the various historical debates and positions. There
are also papers by important contributors to the contemporary debate.

The papers are invariably well written, and the book is nicely
typeset, with footnotes at the bottom of the page (where they
belong!), and it comes complete with a Scripture index and a
subject/name index.

The first paper, by Mark Bonnington, is entitled, `The Protestant
Doctrine of Justification: The Heart of Protestant Preaching'.
Bonnington introduces the subject via a rapid overview of the
gospel in the early chapters of Romans.

The second paper, by Nick Needham, is entitled, `Justification in the
Early Church Fathers'. Needham does a careful job of culling telling
quotations on justification from the writings of such `Fathers' as:
Justin Martyr, Origen, John Chrysostum, Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose,
Jerome, Tertullian, Methodius, Gregory of Nazizianzus, Hilary of
Poitiers, Ambrosiaster, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Basil of
Caesarea, and Clement of Rome. Needham shows that `justification'
language in the non-Latin Fathers is primarily forensic, meaning `to
be declared righteous' or `to be vindicated.' He shows that there
furthermore is some use of the concepts of `imputation' and `crediting',
for both the nonimputation of sin, and for the imputation of righteousness.
Needham also shows that most of the fathers were prepared to recognise
a `initial justification', and that some were explicit that this was
by faith alone. Needham is careful to point out, however, that for the
Fathers, forgiveness was mediated through baptism. Needham goes on to
explore how the Fathers understood `subsequent' justification in the
Christian life. There is clear teaching that expresses that `faith
without works' does not justify, and Needham collects some great
`evangelical' quotations which show many Fathers were looking to trust
in Christ's mercy at this stage too. Needham identifies the growing
tendency in the Latin Fathers to speak of `merit'. If one lesson is to
be drawn from this part of history it is do not expect doctrinal
clarity and consistency appropriate to a later age in those writing
before the controversy. No doubt our statements are equally muddied
with respect to controversies yet to occur.

The third paper, by David F. Wright, is entitled, `Justification in
Augustine'. Wright acknowledges that it is difficult to summarise
Augustine on justification, partly because Augustine never wrote a
work which concentrated on the doctrine. However, it is precisely
Wright's careful collecting of Augustine's thought on justification
from across his corpus, which makes this paper important. Wright shows
that Augustine's view of justification was due to the Latin Bible, and
that it was that it involved the making of a person to be righteous,
and he shows how this fitted into Augustine's monergistic
soteriology. Wright draws the cautionary tale from Augustine's
position that people should beware of basing their doctrine purely on
the Bible known only in translation.

The fourth paper, by Carl F. Trueman, is entitled, `Simul peccator et
justus: Martin Luther and Justification'. Martin Luther's relationship
to Reformed and subsequent Lutheran orthodoxy concerning the matter of
justification is highly controversial. Trueman shows that partly this
is because Luther's views were in development until about
1520. Trueman shows this development, and then considers whether there
was any difference between the mature Luther and the `forensic'
teaching of Philip Melanchthon. Truemen argues that there
wasn't. Truemen identifies the strong links in Luther's thought
between baptism and justification, and argues that this aspect is
inadequately appreciated by evangelicals who claim commonality with
Luther's teaching.

The fifth paper, by Karla Wubbenhorst, is entitled, `Calvin's Doctrine
of Justification: Variations on a Lutheran Theme'. Wubbenhorst
considers the development in Calvin's thought on justification by
considering the first (1536) edition of the Institutes, Calvin's
commentary on Romans, and the last (1559) edition of the Institutes.
She identifies Calvin's treatment of justification in the context of
`union with Christ through faith given during regeneration' as being an
important contribution that Calvin made to the doctrine.

The sixth paper, by Anthony N.S. Lane, is entitled, `A Tale of Two
Imperial Cities: Justification at Regensburg (1541) and Trent
(1546--1547)'. The meeting at Regensburg revealed that on some issues
the Reformers and Rome could not be reconciled - however,
justification was not considered one of them. Lane explains that
Calvin, who attended as an observer, saw it as a victory for the
Reformers, and in accordance with Protestant teaching. Luther, who did
not attend, was dismissive of the agreement, believing it to have
been a fudge. Lane favours Calvin's interpretation. Of course,
Rome came to reject the Catholic theologians who made these
compromises, and at Trent the Lutheran position was rejected outright.

The seventh paper, by A.T.B. McGowan, is entitled, `Justification and
the ordo salutis'. McGowan explores the role that various Reformed
theologians have given to justification in the ordo salutis (that is,
in the `logical' order that exists between the actions that comprise
salvation's affect on the believer). Typically justification is placed
after faith and before sanctification. McGowan distinguishes those
that concentrate on the ordu salutis from those that make the
believer's Union-with-Christ central, and who see the various elements
of the ordu salutis as aspects of what it means to be united with
Christ. McGowan notes the differences between the Barthian
neo-orthodox position on this, and the positions being advocated by
the teachers current at the Westminster Seminary. McGowan favours the
Westminster approach, but believes that it need not necessarily lead
to ignoring the ordu salutis. A very wise conclusion in my humble
opinion.

The eighth paper is by Bruce L. McCormack, and is entitled, `Justitia
aliena: Karl Barth in Conversation with the Evangelical Doctrine of
Imputed Righteousness'. McCormack is a world renowned Barthian scholar,
and he works hard in this paper to make his deep insights into Barth's
theology (and philosophy) comprehensible to evangelicals. I thought
he succeeded at the time, but, alas, the insights have since slipped
away from me.

The ninth paper is by Henri A. Blocher, is entitled, `The
Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on Justification'. Blocher brings his
enviable clarity and insight to dissect the 1999 agreement between the
Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Congress on
justification. Blocher digs deep and finds a few areas where the
issues were fudged, or difficulties were simply ignored. A balanced
and insightful paper.

The tenth paper is by Simon J. Gathercole, and is entitled, `The
Doctrine of Justification in Paul and Beyond: Some Proposals.'
Gathercole has the impossible task of trying to elucidate Paul's
teaching on justification in a single paper, where the interpretation
of practically every verse is contested. Gathercole finds a more or
less Reformed doctrine taught by Paul, except he is not convinced that Paul
teaches the imputation of both Christ's active and passive obedience
to believers. He interacts with N.T. Wright's view of the
righteousness of God in articulating his position. A paper with many
insights, but ultimately unsatisfactory where it deviates from
orthodox Reformed teaching.

The eleventh and final paper is by N.T. Wright, and is entitled, `New
Perspectives on Paul'. In this, N.T. Wright is careful to dintinguish
himself from other `New Perspective' scholars on justification, such
as E.P. Sanders and James D.G. Dunn. Furthermore, he is keen to
emphasise his Reformed, Calvinistic, and evangelical credentials. In
particular, he emphasises that he is trying to be faithful to
Scripture alone in the exposition of his understanding of the doctrine
of justification. Careful reading nevertheless shows how far Wright's
views are from Reformed Orthodoxy. Perhaps the most shocking sentence
in the paper is the following discussing a future justification: `We
now discover that this declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It
occurs in the future, as we have seen, ON THE BASIS of the entire life
a person has led in the power of the Spirit--that is, it occurs on the
basis of `works' in Paul's redefined sense' (emphasis added, page 260)
If `on the basis' is really meant (and remember `basis' has a
technical sense in most literature on justification), it is hard to
see how Wright's position avoids the worse kind of
`works-righteousness'. I suspect, however, that Wright is being loose
in his writing -- unfortunately, there is not enough in the rest of
the paper to require such a generous reading of his position. This is
why the whole `New Perspective' debate is so crucial, and ends up
being about how sinners may stand before their God.

This is a fascinating collection of papers, a number of them being
absolutely first class, and they make the whole book well worth
purchasing. However, it should be pointed out that there have been
three other slightly more recent books of the same kind, but which are
more consistently written from the Reformed perspective, that should
also be considered as possible purchases. These are:

(1) Johnson and Waters (eds), `By Faith Alone: Answering the
Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification', Crossway Books (Wheaton:
Illinois), 2007. (2) R. Scott Clark (ed), Covenant, Justification and
Pastoral Ministry: Essays By the Faculty of Westminster Seminary
California, P. and R. (Phillipsburg: New Jersey), 2007; and (3)
Oliphint (ed), `Justified in Christ: God's Plan for Us in
Justification', Mentor (Fearn: Scotland), 2007.

All four contain important insights into the biblical teaching about
justification, and complement each other in important ways. God,
through numerous scholars, is providing the church with a profound
reflection on the heart of his holy Gospel. To him alone be the glory.
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