Five Views on Justification

February 28, 2012 — 3 Comments


IVP Academic was kind enough to send along Justification: Five Views for review, and over the next several weeks, I’m going to split up my review of it. I’ve decided the weeks leading up to Easter would be a good time to focus on this subject, which has ramifications for my reading plan, but that will wait for another post.

To really dig into this book, it seemed best to separate out the views on comment on each one before offering a summary post. A rough outline of what I have in mind looks something like this:

This takes the chapters of the book out of order, but it is helpful for my purposes here, as I have ordered them 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 open to having the initial thoughts revised.

We’ll start then with the opening two chapters of the book. The editors, James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy are joined by Steven E. Enderlein to frame the history of justification as well as the contemporary debates before the individual contributors take center stage.

Historical Perspectives on Justification

In chapter 1, the authors trace as clearly as I think you can, the doctrine of justification from the early church all the way to recent ecumenical conversations between Lutherans and Catholics. Augustine and Origen feature prominently in the early church discussion, and Anselm and Aquinas are the key figures in the discussion of the Latin Middle Ages. Luther of course dominates the Reformation discussion, but from there the tracing fragments into Anglican, Catholic, and Lutheran branches. The next section in the chapter examines streams of thought in the modern protestant conversation, which of course brings Karl Barth to the table. From there, several interesting conversation partners are brought in. A brief survey looks at Anabaptist, liberation, feminist, and Pentecostal theologies of justification before closing the chapter with the aforementioned ecumenical dialogues.

Contemporary Debates about Justification

Then, chapter 2 comes into even more recent history, particularly with the last three decades of research mounting on the apostle Paul. Unless you’ve been blissfully unaware, this refers of course to the “New Perspective on Paul.” Before getting into the thick of that cluster of views, the authors give a short summary of the precursors that led to the paradigm shift. They then offer a brief exposition of the general contours of the perspective, letting N. T. Wright, James Dunn, and E. P Sanders clarify. Before getting to the crux of the debate, they note several of the critical responses to the New Perspective. Then, they outline what key issues frame the debate:

  • Paul’s attitude toward Judaism
  • The role of works in final justification/judgment
  • Justification/righteousness in the Old Testament
  • Justifying righteousness: Imputation, transformation or incorporation?
  • The meaning of pistis

The chapter then closes with a plea for charity and love in the debate. The authors point out that scholars with equal commitments to the authority of Scripture and historic orthodoxy can still come to divergent conclusions on some of these issues. But as they put it, “at stake for all concerned is a proper understanding of Scripture and, particularly, the thought of Paul (82).

So, as we move forward here, I’ll try to survey each of the positions in the book, as well as the responses from the other perspectives before offering my own thoughts. I think this needs to be on-going discussion characterized by mutual respect and desire to see God’s glory in the person and work of Christ more clearly revealed in Scripture. It is an important conversation worth having and clarity of thought is much needed. The last thing we need is polarizing rhetoric and the demonization of opposing views. Hopefully, that won’t be what we find in this particular book.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Christian Philosophy, Prosperity Gospel, and Lutheran Insults | Marturo - March 4, 2012

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  3. Justification: The Roman Catholic View | Marturo - March 8, 2012

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