Brian Vickers is Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While Justification by Grace through Faith: Finding Freedom from Legalism, Lawlessness, Pride, and Despair is not technically a sequel to Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation, it does cover some overlap material. As Vickers differentiates:
That book deals specifically with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and this book focuses more generally on justification, but it was inevitable that many of the biblical texts studied in that book (e.g. Rom. 4:1-8; 5:12-21; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Phil. 3:8-10) would appear here too. When those texts come up in the course of this book, I often refer readers to specific sections in Jesus’ Blood. I realize that doing so suns the risk of giving the impression it is necessary to read that book first, but that is certainly not the case. I tried to keep such references to a minimum, and they are meant only to point readers to the more detailed and technical exegesis that lies behind many of the conclusions and assertions found here. (9n4)
As far as how this book related to contemporary debates about justification (a hot topic in recent years to say the least), Vickers does not “devote either chapters or major sections to direct engagement in the contemporary debates,” but “many of the emphases found here are clearly influenced from the context and climate in which they are written, and the debates are undoubtedly beneath the surface of this book in several places.” (8) If you’re familiar then with the conversation that has been happening regarding justification and specifically the New Perspective on Paul (Wright, et al.) then you’ll likely here “echoes,” but that is not the focal point in Vickers exposition. What is the focal point is tracing the “basic contours of justification in the Bible from Adam to Abraham, through Israel, and into the New Testament.” (4) Hence, it is a biblical theology of justification. Rather than drawing a strictly straight line through the Bible, Vickers adopts a cyclical approach. Explaining how this works he says,
For instance, the chapter on Adam is followed by a chapter on Christ as the second Adam. In this way, the events in the garden, particularly Adam’s disobedience, are followed directly by a study of Christ, with particular focus on hsi obedience. So the primary covenantal heads, one the head of the human race and the other the head of the new covenant, are considered side by side without recounting the entire Old Testament history that lies between them. (4-5)
This format continues on with a chapter on Abraham in the Old Testament (chapter 3) and Paul’s interpretation of Abraham in the New (chapter 4); the establishment of the Mosaic covenant in the Old (chapter 5) and a chapter on God’s righteousness available through Christ by faith (chapter 6). The final two chapters looks at the life of the justified, first from the perspective of how our faith “works” (chapter 7) and then from the perspective of how freedom is our justification applied (chapter 8). Along with the expected conclusion, Vickers also offers study/reflection questions, a list of resources related to justification, and then an additional list of resources for further study. And all this in just over 200 pages.
As far as the tone and feel of the book, this series (Explorations in Biblical Theology) is similar to New Studies in Biblical Theology. While both are series dedicated to offering evangelical (and broadly Reformed) studies in biblical theology, this series (if this book is any indication) seems more accessible to the average interested lay person. Since the occasional volume in the NSBT is a reworked dissertation and other volumes can be a big taxing in their exegetical thoroughness, they do not make for light reading. Profitable reading yes, but light reading, hardly. Though I did read some of Justification by Grace through Faith at the beach (something I would never attempt with a NSBT volume), it is not light so much as it is more clear and concise and a bit easier to follow. While not lacking exegetical detail, it is not as detailed, but it is still rich in biblical wisdom and theological ruminations.
For Vickers’ book, it would make a great companion reading for engaging N. T. Wright. Though as he said he is not writing polemically, he draw different conclusions in his exegetical journeys through Romans and is doing so aware of arguments made by authors like Wright. As Tom Schreiner is quoted as saying on the front cover, “This is the first book I would give to a scholar or a layperson desiring to learn more about justification.” I’m inclined to agree regarding the layperson and I’ll take his word for it on the scholar part (not sure I could think of a better starting point, I’m just not sure if this is what I’d give an asking scholar). It has the added benefit of also serving as a kind of intro to covenant theology, in the lower case sense. Maybe a “theology of covenants” is better since Vickers, being at SBTS, is probably a New Covenant guy (at least many of his colleagues are). 1 In any case, his choice to arrange the topic of justification by alternating between old covenant heads (Adam, Abraham, Moses) and our single new covenant superior head (Jesus) makes the topic much easier to follow and being to digest. That’s probably why (in addition to Vickers’ clarity of writing) this is good starting point for exploring the subject (which obviously helps it fit well into the series it is a part of).
So, if you’re enjoy a good book on biblical theology in general, and/or are interested in justification in particular, I’d recommend giving this book a try. It is definitely a starting point in your study, but not necessarily a final word. The lists at the end of the book imply as much. But as far as starting points go, this is a good one. Vickers is attentive to the flow of redemptive history and the implications of Christ’s person and work. He situates the doctrine of justification into that larger picture and truly does deliver on the subtitle of the book. If that sounds like something you’d be into, then go ahead and add this book to your list.
- Author: Brian Vickers
- Title: Justification by Grace through Faith: Finding Freedom from Legalism, Lawlessness, Pride, and Despair
- Publisher: P&R Publishing (March 1, 2013)
- Paperback: 224pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Anyone interested in having a better understanding of justification
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of P&R Publishing)
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- If nothing else, he is not a paedobaptist, which per a conversation I had with Burk Parsons, means you cannot truly hold to covenant theology. If you deny the practical implications of covenant theology when it comes to the sacrament of baptism, you don’t truly hold to the theological system underlying and leading to those implications. ↩