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