A Triperspectival Justification

February 21, 2012 — 13 Comments

[This post is part of the Perspectives on Triperspectivalism series]

Last week, I noted how Peter Jensen presents a triperpsectival gospel in The Revelation of God. I thought I’d extend that a little by showing how that applies to justification.

Consider this a kind of introductory thesis to “frame” (you should see this as a pun) my upcoming progressive review of Justification: Five Views. We’ll get into that next week, but in the meantime, here’s my perspective on the justification debates.

You probably don’t need me to tell you justification has been a hot topic in recent theological discussion (not unlike hell was about this time last year). Granted, at this point John Piper and N. T. Wright aren’t writing books to each other, but its still a dividing line in some circles.

I’ll come back to this, but for a minute, let’s consider what justification is. Here’s how I define it:

Justification is an action by God incorporating the Christian into his own righteousness

People will expand on this different ways, but the point of it all is the God, in Christ, by the Spirit, justifies a person who comes to faith and they are declared righteous. As a Christian, you are now clothed in Christ’s righteousness (which is another way of saying incorporated into) and stand before God justified.

With this as a starting point, let’s tease out some more explanation using a triperspectival framework. Beginning with the definition:

  • Justification is an action by God (normative)
  • Incorporating the Christian (situational)
  • Into his own righteousness (existential)

From here, we can actually parse out another triad within each of these for more explanation.

Justification is an action by God that demonstrates:

  • The fairness of God to all (N, attribute)
  • The power of God in saving people through history (S, activity)
  • The grace of God in giving it freely to all who believe (E, appropriation)

Justification is an action by God that incorporates the Christian into:

  • God’s own righteousness demonstrated by his Son (N, monotheism)
  • A corporate display of God’s own righteousness in the world through the body of Christ (S, ecclesiology)
  • The new creation in advance, awaiting future fulfillment (E, eschatology)

Justification is an action by God that accomplishes on the basis of:

  • The Father’s grace and love
  • The Spirit’s work in throughout the life of the believer
  • The completed work of Christ which is trusted by faith

Taking all this together, I’m arguing for a 9-fold justification. What is summarized above is actually a triperspectival synthesis of the plenary addresses by Tom Schreiner, N. T. Wright, and Frank Theilman from the 2010 Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting (which was subsequently published in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society last March).

In other words, this is what happens if you synthesize the New Perspective Paul (at least as Wright articulates it) with the Old Perspective when it comes to justification. Most of the second set of bullet points comes from Wright (but also Michael Bird’s The Saving Righteousness of God) and the categories in parentheses (monotheism, ecclesiology, eschatology) is Wright’s own triad in Paul: Fresh Perspectives.

As I studied this in more detail last spring, I noticed that much of the debate was an emphasis in perspective. It also didn’t help that Wright was less than clear on what the basis of justification was. As he clarified at ETS though, he means, at least in reference to final justification, what I’ve said in the second bullet point of the last triad above: The Spirit’s work in throughout the life of the believer. Or in other words, your justification is not based on your works, it is based on God’s work.

The first set of bullets (the expansion of the normative perspective) is mostly from Frank Theilman’s address and the last set of bullets (the expansion of the existential perspective) is not directly from Schreiner’s address, but borrows from it as well as Piper.

When all of these perspectives are organized together, I think we have a fuller picture of justification, which is itself the normative perspective under union with Christ. In the larger sense then, justification is God declaring a new norm as part of our union with Christ, while he adopts us as sons and daughters (bringing us into a new situation) and also regenerates us (which changes our existential reality).

As John Frame himself says at one point:

Multiperspectivalism in theology often helps restore the proper balance, because it helps us to see that some doctrines that are apparently opposed are actually equivalent, presenting the same truth from various vantage points (Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 235).

I think this is true in the discussion regarding justification, though I don’t think what I’ve said above is any kind of final word. Another angle that we could take is to examine justification in light of speech-act theory, which does dove-tail nicely with triperspectivalism, but that will have to wait for another post.

Next week then, we’ll start into Justification: Five Views and see if some of the views might nicely be synthesized using triperspectivalism.


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13 responses to A Triperspectival Justification

  1. Unfortunately, this conception chops Romans 5:1, which says that Paul and the saints in Rome, “having been” justified …,go forward, having been justified in Paul’s sense. The “Spirit’s work in throughout the life of the believer,” however remonstrative we are to say it is not our work whatsoever (t.b.d.), refers to something ongoing through the lifetime of the Christian. If THAT is a BASIS for our justification, then Paul in Romans can’t say he and the saints he’s addressing have been already justified.
    A justification, in the sense that Paul means it there, that has not already occured, is incompatible with Romans 5:1.

    Similarly, salvation has an already accomplished aspect in Eph 2:8. There, depending of course on your views of Paul’s authorship of Ephesians, Paul helpfully adds “not a result of works.” Of course this is a “base” of Protestantism, speaking purely historically, of course, not using Protestantism at this moment as a badge of honor, which would be Preposterous…. 😉

  2. What do you think of this quote, from Michael Bird’s book “The Saving Righteousness of God” which you extracted some from? This is from p. 177.

    “No one will be justified if they do not persist and persevere in faithfulness.”

    (This is the author presenting his own view, not someone else’s.)


    • I’ll have to look at the surrounding context, but given his essay in the Five Views book, which is building on SRG and refining it, here’s what I think he means:

      “No one who fails to persevere will be justified, because if they fail to persevere, they weren’t justified in the first place.”

      Which, I would agree with.

  3. Did you listen to the discussion with James White and NT Wright on Unbelievable radio? Wright was clear that he felt future justification (eschatological justification) was based on a life lived. This, as white rightly pointed out, was where people have problems with his view.

    Thoughts on this?

    • I think if that was a recent radio interview then Wright is inconsistent. I’m basing my assessment off of his published monographs giving priority to most recent works, and then most priority to his ETS Plenary address. He went to great pains to emphasis the Spirit producing that life lived, which maybe isn’t inconsistent. If you take faith to be the cause of the life lived, then you’re still at justification by faith alone.

      It’ll be interesting to see how he expresses this in his volume on Paul coming out this fall. I know that Dunn is adamant that justification is mainly (or even solely) based on the life lived since that’s the position he is representing in an upcoming Zondervan 4 views book coming this summer (he is contra Schreiner, Robert Wilkin, and Michael Barber)

      • He did mention the work of the Spirit but never when he made the statement that it was based on the life lived. I will grant him that that is what he meant.

        I am really looking forward to both of those new books!

    • Craig, Nate, I downloaded the podcast from Unbelievable and listened to it.

      Furthermore, I think their differences on 2 Cor 5:21 are resolvable, with a couple things I’d like to offer in observation, toward that end.

      On 2 Cor 5:21, Christ was _made_ sin, and James White says in this debate, to use that verb as the meaning of _become_ in the latter part of the verse. N.T. Wright says that is not the meaning of _become_.

      The question to ask ourselves about this, is the time frame question, about the purpose clause. Have Christians, now, become, OR, have we been _made_, the righteousness of God, either one, in Christ?

      Does it depend on the noun, or the meaning of the genitive there?!That’s my second idea, the classic distinction within the genitive between the righteousness which is God’s, and the righteousness that comes from God. If the phrase “of God” in 2 Cor 5:21 refers to a righteousness from God, similar to the Philippians 3:9 “from God” elaboration, then I think N.T. and James could agree that this is the present posession of every believer.

  4. Could you say that justification is when we believe, by our works and finally when we enter glory. There is a one time justification when we put our faith in Christ. There is ongoing proof of that justification through our good works- being justified by our works that declare we are christians. There is Gods final justification when we enter glory when the whole universe hears God declaration of us. The first is a secret work that only God knows but we experience. The second is as it were a proof of the pudding if you like, where we realise we are christians through our good works. The third is where the whole universe sees gods final verdict on us.The first justifcation is the foundation of the others, which we cannot lose, the second is the experience of that in our changed lives, the third is the future promise that is guaranteed, Knowing these three are guranteed will hlep us persevere. Only those who are justified firstly will be saved. All are of God through us (in some way?). They deal with past present and future.

    I like your 9 triads and i will have to think about them.

    i have also tried to collect triads from the influence of John Frame- its great!

    I will look at you other ones

    • I think that works, I’ll have to put a little more thought into it, but on the surface, I like it.

      Glad to meet another Frame fan!

      • Yes I would like to buy his new systemtatic theology for my birthday. I think I need to tie the scriptures firmly to my last use of justification (at Christs return). Perhaps it is the worng term to use for that? Not sure. Vindication perhaps. I think douglas Moo mentioned soemthign about this in his commentary on James- will have to look.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Justification: Historical Perspective and Contemporary Debates | Marturo - February 28, 2012

    […] in terms of least agreeable to most agreeable. I am hopeful that this will also shed light on the 9-fold parsing of justification I laid out last week. It may ultimately undo it, but as part of my on-going research, I’m […]

  2. Theological Interpretation, Justification, Lent, and Death Metal | Marturo - March 4, 2012

    […] A Triperspectival Justification Taking all this together, I’m arguing for a 9-fold justification. What is summarized above is actually a triperspectival synthesis of the plenary addresses by Tom Schreiner, N. T. Wright, and Frank Theilman from the 2010 Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting (which was subsequently published in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society last March). […]

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