Monday, August 18, 2008

Justified in Christ

Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification is a collection of essays written by members of the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. K. Scott Oliphint, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology, serves as the editor. The book is largely meant to be a response to the teachings of the New Perspective of Paul on the matter of justification by faith. There are implications here for Federal Vision theology as well but it seems to me that the book is more focused on the former. I thought I would give a quick article-by-article overview for this anthology.

1. Introduction by Sinclair Ferguson – Normally I would not comment on this but as the Introduction runs for seventeen pages it is pretty lengthy and informative. Most importantly, the introduction sets the stage for the goal of the book as every author does not spend much time trying to describe exactly what the New Perspective on Paul (or occasionally, Federal Vision theology) teaches and so Pastor Ferguson’s introduction gives the reader some background to help place the deeper articles that follow into the current context. Pastor Ferguson is a clear writer and so I think the introduction is very important and helpful to the anthology as a whole.
2. “Justification and Eschatology” by Richard Gaffin – This essay is a summary of material from Dr. Gaffin’s book, By Faith Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation. Dr. Gaffin can be difficult to read at times as he has a very formal writing style and is very selective in his choice of vocabulary. Still, there is a lot to learn from this essay about Paul’s views on justification and taking the time to understand it will be very rewarding.
3. “Union with Christ and Justification” by Lane Tipton – This was one of my two favorite essays in the book. Dr. Tipton shows six key ways that the Bible teaches the forensic import of our union with the resurrected Christ for our justification. The essay is very well-organized and reads easily. There is a lot here that is very important in light of the current justification controversies.
4. “Calvin’s Development of the Doctrine of Forensic Justification: Calvin and the Early Lutherans on the Relationship of Justification and Renewal” by Peter Lillback – The title really sums up the subject of this essay. It is interesting for the historical context but I’m not sure that it’s all that helpful for the present debate aside from providing some additional context to how Calvin, Luther, and Melanchthon approached the doctrine of justification in Paul given the New Perspective's rejection of their views on Paul. Dr. Lillback tries to show that the Lutheran understanding of justification does not reduce to psychological guilt and that Calvin was even further from this view of Paul's teaching.
5. “John Owen on Justification” by Carl Trueman – Dr. Trueman is one of the most knowledgeable scholars on John Owen's theology. He is very helpful in understanding and explaining Owen’s views. That said, this essay did not really seem to move the case against the New Perspective forward in the anthology. The section explaining Owen’s rejection of eternal justification was interesting as Owen is often misunderstood by proponents of that doctrine who claim him for their side.
6. “The Active Obedience of Christ and the Theology of the Westminster Standards: A Historical Investigation” by Jeffrey Jue – This was a very informative essay explaining what the Westminster divines believed about the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to believers. I think that this essay is very relevant to the current debate over Federal Vision theology. Dr. Jue explains the views of the delegates who rejected the idea that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to his people and then explains the response of the majority of the delegates. This essay should also be helpful as questions are raised over whether or not a rejection of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience should be allowed as an exception to the Westminster Standards. It would have probably been good to put this essay before the one on John Owen as it provides the context for Dr. Trueman’s work.
7. “Justification and Violence: Reflections on Atonement and Contemporary Apologetics” by William Edgar – This essay by Dr. Edgar was a very good inclusion in this anthology. Dr. Edgar is usually very good on cultural application of Reformed apologetics and he does not disappoint here. Given the tendency of some proponents of New Perspective theology, such as N.T. Wright, toward issues of social justice Dr. Edgar shows that it is only by holding to a true Biblical understanding of justification that we have a response to violence and social injustice in the world. A very good essay.
8. “Covenant Faith” by K. Scott Oliphint – This was my other favorite essay in the book along with Dr. Tipton’s. Dr. Oliphint makes the case that human beings are always in a covenant relationship with God and that all knowledge requires covenant faith. So even unbelievers have faith in the sense that they know God (Rom. 1). In the course of the essay Dr. Oliphint evaluates parts of the epistemologies of Abraham Kuyper, Cornelius Van Til, Alvin Plantinga, and Thomas Reed. He then shows that the unbeliever lives in rebellion against God and the covenant even as he must have faith to know anything. So saving and justifying faith is not an addition to original faith but instead makes that faith obedient to the demands of God’s covenant.
9. “The Pastoral Implications of the Doctrine of Justification” by J. Stafford Carson – The last essay in the book is a reminder that the Reformed doctrine of justification is extremely practical in pastoral ministry and that it can only be given up at a high cost to the sheep. So Dr. Carson gives a number of reasons why this doctrine needs to be taught comprehensively from the pulpit.
10. The Imputation of Adam’s Sin by John Murray – The last thing in this book is a reprint of this short book by Professor Murray. I will note that Professor Murray can be difficult to read in his simplest writings and that this is on a whole probably the most complicated of any of his books. But it is also extremely valuable for those who want to understand what the Bible has to say about our justification in Christ. I highly recommend it with a pencil and a highlighter and prepare to read sections two or three times.

This was a very good book on a whole. The essays by Lane Tipton, William Edgar, Scott Oliphint, and Stafford Carson in particular were excellent and very helpful. I also think that all of these essays should be very accessible to the lay reader who does not have a great background in theology. Some of the others were far more technical and may need some additional explanation or reading. Reading this book will not give a sufficient background on all the teachings of the New Perspective on Paul or Federal Vision theologies. It will, however, help to ground the believer so that he understands what the Scriptures teach about justification so that he can learn to spot the errors in both and other mistaken views on justification.

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