Review: Justification: Five Views (Spectrum Multiview Books) @ivpacademic

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Before we get into the review proper, let me say that these books are important for at least two reasons. First, the theological topics which the Spectrum series from IVP-Academic are covering is essential to the Christian doctrinal life. We are losing ground in the battlefield of the intellect because theology is no longer being examined, and if not examined, it will not be lived. It needs examined; it needs examined and if found wanting, it needs reformed. By allowing different views to be presented, the reader can gain a pretty sizable view of the angles which need to be used to approach a particular theological issue, and in this case, justification. This feeds into the second. For too long, education has been about regurgitation; with a series like with, where views are presented and responded to in the same volume, it demands that the reader use a book such as this as a foundational source to begin to explore their own theological views.

Michael S. Horton begins with the Traditional Reformed view, which is the basis of the Reformation. Horton’s writing is almost polemical, beginning with the disagreement that the Progressive Reformed should not contain the connotation of Reformed, noting that it is not Progressive to fall away from the truth. This is the problem with Horton and others who insist on the Traditional view, that for them, the dogma of justification is the measure by which to test new exegesis, facts and studies. Horton shows that it is not the fair evaluation of the other perspectives and doctrines which he is after, so much as it seems to be the denial of their validity and the attacks to thwart actual consideration of their views. As several of the respondents have shown, Horton misses the many nuances of the other positions in attempt to defend his own. For instance, his usual anti-Catholic biases come forth when he writes of the Council of Trent and dismisses the importance of the document signed between Rome and the World Lutheran Federation. Further, he is unable to truly handle Dunn’s New Perspective, accusing them, not of misunderstanding Paul so much as misunderstanding the Reformation. As Dunn points out, this is simply not true, as for many in the non-monolithic NPP, he wants to bring an added dimension to Paul’s theology which was missing during the Reformation.

I am almost persuaded by Michael F. Bird’s essay, given his use of both substitutionary atonement as well as hints of Christus Victor and his idea that such an important issue is not so one-sided. Indeed, Bird is able to show that “justification is multifacted” (156) with at least five different angles to examine. While he falls clearly within the Calvinistic-Reformed line of thought, he has reformed this somewhat to reflect current scholarship and gotten under the usual patina to examine verses outright and not through the lens of the fathers of the Reformation. My main issues are with the reading of Romans as the zenith of Paul’s theology. We seem to believe that we know the Apostle’s mind on such matters. Wouldn’t it be odd to find out that Paul thought little of the self-serving Roman Epistle (if Stowers and others, including myself, are correct) and instead saw, say, Philemon, as the height of his own theology? Further, I take issue with the usual focus on Romans 1.16-17 as the central thesis to the entire letter as well as the reading which Bird places on Romans 1.18-32. I do, however, appreciate his enthrallment with Galatians and his grace in such a manner. Bird presents his case supported firmly with a near complete biblical picture. Again, he’s almost persuaded me, and not just because he has the word “progressive” in the title of his position.

My initial bias lies with the New Perspective (NPP), but I was hoping for something more than what Dunn presented. Perhaps, this only solidifies the assertion that not all NPP theologians arrive at the same conclusions and helps me to understand why I prefer Tom Wright’s results, shaded differently, than others in the NPP (and why it seems that Horton spoke forcefully against Wright, who is not included in the book but remains an ever present shadow, instead of focusing his attention on Dunn). One of the most palatable things about Dunn’s essay is his admission that while there are indeed sticking points, the NPP remains open to revision. It’s not forever settled, but picks up where the Reformation left off – reformed, and ever reforming. This apparent when he discusses some of Paul’s “warts.” (200) Further, Dunn allows for tensions within Paul and the New Testament, something that appeals to me in that Paul was himself continuing to explore and to be led by the Spirit in articulating the new life in Christ Jesus. Further, he calls for acceptance of these warts, tensions, and difficult parts in a way befitting a theologian and a scholar. His view is simple, really, that Paul tensely showed that works must be manifested for the life in Christ. Further, he dismisses the notion that Paul was completely set against the Judaism of his day, but allows that Paul saw the Law as something to be done away with. His pays attention to Paul’s historical context, which surprisingly, was not post-Middle Ages Europe with a real forensic justice philosophy developing not just in theology, but in the political realm as well. The focus is still on faith, heating the argument over whether or not it is faith in or the faith of. I tend to stick with the latter. Frankly, I do not know how the Reformed get around the idea of total participation if they continue to rely on the faith in translation, but that is neither here nor there.

I am more nearly convinced with Kärkkäinen’s views than I have been before. It, for me, carries the necessary elements of sound theology. First, it is biblically based and allows for a broad interpretation so that the various tensions through images are upheld as equal. Second, it is based in history with both Luther and Athanasius contributing their respective intellects to the development of the overall view. Third, it contains the elements of the Spirit, what I believe would be a sacramental theology (this is somewhat validated with both Horton’s and Bird’s responses), and the call to good works. Finally, it is of an ecumenical, albeit a somewhat cautiously realistic one, nature in that the author begins with the Joint Declaration signed by the Vatican and the World Lutheran Federation in 1999 and moves into broader Protestantism (mentioning the Anabaptists and even Methodists along the way) while seeking to encounter the East as a living and necessary stream to Christianity, something that should not be surprising from Finland. Let me add that this theology seems to be rooted as well in recent biblical scholarship, specifically, from the New Perspective on Paul. It meets the progression of theology with open arms. What I found lacking (and this is echoed in Bird’s response) is that theosis is simply not defined.

History is never as one-sided as the sectarians would have us believe, and the essay giving the history of the still-Roman Catholic debate which led to Luther and from Luther to Trent, shows that the usual Protestant banter around this particular topic is often devoid of an objective view of history. Further, the entire essay by these two authors shows that the movement of Scripture is still alive and well in the Roman Catholic Church. The essay is split in twain, with Rafferty giving the general lead up to Trent, as well as the actual discussion of Trent (although it is light on this subject) and O’Collins adding a theological reflection as well as a personal journey regarding the present topic. If we Protestants continue to see Rome through Trent, we will continue to allow Rome to out pace us in ecumenical moves and theological discussions. Other than the spirituality expressed in this essay, there is not much here to tell. These scholars of theological history show that Trent is often misunderstood, which allows the responders to, rightly, call into question the fact that even with all the change Vatican II put into place, the 16th century council was never revisited. Further, they stress as those before, during, and after Trent, that justification is a many splendored image. If it is misinterpreted, and rarely used rightly, allowing O’Collins to issue his own personal theories, then it should be reexamined and in some way changed. Further, given that both the West and the East have recognized that justification is a theme, an image, that fits into the Scriptural view of salvation, then Trent should be reexamined in such a way as to allow for some of the anathemas to be rescinded, which is a major sticking point for Protestants, and rightly so. But Rome has a great deal to show us in the way it tackles theological questions, often without alienating the factions, but finding a way to strengthen the entire Church.

There are some issues here with this book, however. For instance, the views are selectively picked. Granted, there is only so much space in which to discuss such a deep topic, but the choices are only those familiar to Western theologians. Granted, the deification view is present, but it is not a purely Eastern presentation, as it is written by a Lutheran, himself noticing that no real Lutheran view can be found in the volume. There should have been voices from the outside as well. The book seemingly comes with a warning label, “No Women Where Consulted in the Production of this Book.” I note that while this book is not one which is reviews the sociological impacts of the doctrine(s) of justification, it would have been helpful to hear at least one feminine voice in this theological treatise. The final issue I see with this book is that it does not allow a final response by the essayist. The format used in a previous work in which responders to N.T. Wright were answered by Wright would have worked well here, I think.

Overall, this is an excellent book and one well worth reading over and over again.

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