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An Exciting Collection of Popular Essays on Christian Justification,
This review is from: Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification (Paperback)
Ryan Glomsrud and Michael S. Horton (editors), `Justified: "Modern
Reformation" Essays on the Doctrine of Justification', Modern
This is a nicely presented slim book of essays taken from the on-line
magazine, "Modern Reformation". The essays are therefore for
"thoughtful non-specialists", and are written by authors from a range
of "reformed" evangelical positions, including Lutheran, Reformed and
Baptists. Each of the essays is quite short, and well focused on
making one or two points.
Two minor presentation quibbles are that the footnotes are not
footnotes, but end-of-chapter notes (showing inexcusable editorial
laziness in this day and age!), and there is no information from when
in the magazine's 20 year history these papers have come.
Apart from an introduction by Glomsrud and a conclusion by Horton,
there are 13 essays, divided into four sections: "Covenant and
Justification"; "Law and Faith"; "Shall we Protest? The Debate with
Rome" and "Union and Peace with God".
In the "Covenant and Justification" section there is just one essay
(which is, however, slightly more substantial than the others), by
Michael Horton, entitled "Engaging N.T. Wright and John Piper". This,
for me, was the most important paper in the collection, for it both
helped clarify my understanding of the Bible's covenants, and helped
me to appreciate new ways in which the New Perspective is
deficient. Horton draws attention to the fact that while the terms of
all divine-human covenants are determined by God, the covenants
themselves can be distinguished between those -- like the covenants
with Adam and Moses -- which are conditional, and those like the
covenants with Abraham, David, and the New, which are
unconditional. This is the difference between "Law" and "Gospel" which
the Reformed and Lutherans have seen throughout the Bible. Horton
affirms the "covenant of grace" in passing, but this Reformed Baptist
saw the different natures of the Mosaic and Abrahamic/New covenants
probably required greater disjunction between them than some
Presbyterians have found. Horton goes on to criticise Wright's
monocovenantalism, and Piper's presentation of the doctrine of
justification outside of a covenant framework. For Horton, seeing
Jesus' fulfilling the Mosaic covenant, which itself was a
republication of the covenant of works with Adam, helps ground the
doctrine of the imputation of Christ's active obedience that Piper
rightly contends for. (I said in an earlier review of a different
collection of papers, that a paper by Horton on covenant theology and
justification encouraged me to purchase his books on the subject. This
essay encouraged me to actually start reading them!)
In the "Law and Faith" section there are four essays.
The second essay is by T. David Gordon, "Confusion about the Law in
Paul". This essay talks about the different meanings of the word "law"
in the confessional standards, briefly looks at Paul's various uses of
the word, and then critiques Dunn's "New Perspective" thesis about the
meaning of "works of the law" in Paul, and then surveys the
mono-covenantal tendencies in late 20th century Reformed thought (all
in 7 small sides!) It is interesting to see all these subjects linked,
and the critique of Dunn is all the more powerful for being put within
a wider context like that.
The third essay is "Does Faith Mean Faithfulness?" and is by Simon
Gathercole. Gathercole rightly draws attention to the meaning of
faith, and correctly observes that a "doctrine of justification by
faith alone" depends upon a proper understanding of faith. He reviews
Jewish understanding of Abraham's justifying faithfulness with Paul's
understanding of his justifying faith. He then explores the nature of
Abraham's faith a little more, before giving a mini-overview of the
"pistis Christou" debate over whether Paul teaches we are justified by
faith in Jesus Christ, or by the faithfulness of Jesus
Christ. Gathercole then gives one reading of how James and Paul can
brings out their compatibility. (This was one area where a review of
the options would have been helpful, for example, as can be found in
the essay on the subject in Carson's "Right with God"
collection - Right with God: Justification in the Bible and the World.)
The fourth essay, "The Nature of Justifying Faith" by David VanDrunen,
treats faith more dogmatically, and is an exercise in thrilling
clarity. He helpfully distinguishes the understanding of faith as an
intellectual act (which is then contrasted with reason) - typical of
the Roman Catholic tradition, with faith consisting of knowledge
(notitia); assent (assensus) and trust (fiducia) - the typical
Reformed understanding. He then reviews the biblical evidence for the
Reformed position, and argues that the biblical doctrine of
justification turns upon understanding "sola fide" correctly. I have
argued exactly this point in a number of reviews of books from the
Reformed stable on this subject recently. It is very important.
The fifth essay, "An American Tragedy: Jonathan Edwards on
Justification" by George Hunsinger, quickly identifies how Edwards
departed from the traditional Reformed position by developing a
double-grounded doctrine of justification, that saw faith as itself
fitting of reward. Hunsinger is unconvinced by Edward's attempt to
steer around making having faith a congruent merit. He finds Edwards's
position to be inconsistent.
In the "Shall we Protest?" section there are four essays.
The sixth essay, "Not by Faith Alone: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of
Justification", is an interview with the Roman Catholic theologian,
Robert Sungenis. Sungenis is allowed to articulate the Roman Catholic
position without censor or judgement. It is seen that it has not
changed at all from the Council of Trent.
In the seventh essay, "What `Evangelicals and Catholics Together'
Ignores: The Inseparable Link Between Imputation and Gospel",
R.C. Sproul reviews the now rather dated argument between those who
endorsed ECT1 and ECT2, with those like Sproul who criticised them.
Having read Sproul previously on the subject, and not knowing when
this essay was written, it is hard to assess this essay fairly. It
explains his view (now well known) that the evangelical signatories
missed the fact that the Catholic position is unchanged from that
articulated at the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Overall, this
is a helpful warning that quite different positions can be made to
look similar by those who are trying to paper-over-the-cracks. In
these debates, care must be taken to reflect on what is not being
said, as well as what is.
"Ten Propositions on Faith and Salvation" Edited by Michael Horton.
These propositions set out in short compass a clear statement about
the nature of saving faith which justifies, and gives some warnings
about mistakes people make, such as defining faith so that it includes
works, or imagining that saving faith can exist apart from
works. Excellent stuff.
The next essay is "The Doctrine of Justification: The Article on which
the Church Stands or Falls" by J.A.O. Preus III, a Lutheran
theologian. This essay equates justification by grace on account of
Christ through faith with the gospel and calls for us to be committed
to its proclamation. I admit, I found this essay disappointing. I was
looking for a much more exegetical work, which would seek to
establish, not just assume, the equation between the doctrine of
justification with the gospel. N.T. Wright makes the (valid?) point
that no-one is saved through faith in the doctrine of justification,
but through faith in Christ. What is really being claimed by calling
it the "article by which the Church stands or falls"? That we should
separate from those that don't hold to the imputation of Christ's
righteousness by faith, and seek to evangelise them? If not, what?
In the "Union and Peace with God" section there are four essays.
"A More Perfect Union? Justification and Union with Christ" by John
V. Fesko, points out that some (N.T. Wright and Rich Lusk are
mentioned) treat "union with Christ" as an alternative or more
biblical and relational replacement for the wrong-headed and
legalistic talk about "imputation of Christ's righteousness to a
believer". Fesko rejects the dichotomy, and briefly articulates a
biblical and Reformed response which relates "union with Christ" to
the Christian's "order of salvation", and shows that in justification
the legal element is relational and that justification is the legal
aspect of our union with Christ, and is the ground of our
sanctification. A helpful and exciting little essay, which presents a
satisfying biblical synthesis of truths that are not in contention.
"Christ at the Center: The Legacy of the Reformed Tradition" by Dennis
Tamurello. This is a fascinating essay by a Roman Catholic priest who
sets out what he sees as particularly helpful or insightful in Calvin
in particular. He identifies the emphasis on Christ's grace and our
union with him; the emphasis on what happens to us as we come to
communion (rather than on what happens to the elements); the emphasis
on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian; and the emphasis on
religion as thankfulness. Not only did this help me appreciate and see
my own "tradition" more clearly, it also humbled me that someone from
outside of it should have such a deep knowledge and appreciation of it
which in some ways surpasses my own. An encouragement to renewed study
and celebration indeed!
"The Discomfort of the Justified Life" by Jerry Bridges talks about the
discomfort of always having to struggle for holiness ... but not
for acceptance. He argues for a constant focus on the gospel, so that
we do not displace faith in Christ with either despair or
self-satisfaction in our progress in holiness.
In "Holiness: God's Work or Ours?" Harold L. Senkbeil argues that
sanctification grows out of our justification. He warns against seeing
sanctification as our contribution to our salvation. Like Bridges,
he calls us to follow the New Testament and focus on Christ's action
not the Christian's.
In Conclusion-Does Justification Still Matter? Michael S. Horton
laments the lack of understanding or awareness of justification in the
contemporary (evangelical) church, and he points to a few of reasons
why such a central doctrine to the gospel is neglected. He identifies
the culture that sees Christianity as "self-help moralism"; to the
belief that justification addresses a problem that people don't (think
they) have; and to the belief that talk about justification by faith
alone dangerously undermines obedience, sanctification and
holiness. Horton shows the error of this, and argues that we must "get
the horse before the cart" again, so that God's salvation may be
experienced in the church again, and so that true renewal will come.
The short nature of the essays, and the fact that they are sharply
focused on single issues, and aimed at the non-specialist made these
essays fresh, direct, and easy to read. They also left this reviewer
with a desire for more. Much more, and much better footnoted and
referenced, and much more interaction with the alternatives. However,
I guess then they would then have been less focused, less fresh, less
direct, and less easy to read, and no-longer aimed at the
non-specialist. This "specialist" was happy to learn from these
essays. Bravo! A fine achievement! A must read.
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