New/Old Perspective on Justification 7

The last major study in James Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy’s new book, Justification: Five Views, reveals why we need historians of theology, because Oliver Rafferty’s study of the history of justification that set the context for the Council of Trent, where the definitive rejection of the Lutheran view of justification was stated in bold letters, is just what we need. This chp also illustrates why we need New Testament historians who care less for later theology and more for the New Testament, which is why Jimmy Dunn’s final response says so much. [You may have already noticed the snazzy new buttons Patheos has installed on the blog; they make "sharing" easier. Thanks Patheos. And they help spread the word in these posts.]

On Jan 13, 1547, the Council of Trent rejected Luther’s view, but that Council was the climax of centuries of discussion about justification. Until Augustine — don’t forget that — justification was not a big issue. In fact, prior to his encounter with Pelagius, Augustine’s view was not even Augustinian! Total depravity, the need for grace to awaken a person unto faith, and lack of freedom to believe … all these things developed in Augustine’s arguments with Pelagius. But don’t forget that Augustine saw justification as not only forensic but also transformative.

What is the difference between Catholics and Protestants on justification? do you think that debate creates a dichotomy the NT authors — e.g. Paul — would not recognize?

Again, not all that much debate about justification … esp the stronger elements of Augustine, until Luther. A big development was the connection of justification to baptism and to penance in medieval theologians. It wasn’t a big or central issue.

Trent repudiated Luther and sought to articulate justification in that context. The big issue is that Trent connects justification and sanctification, and humans had to cooperate with God.

A highlight of this book is a second Catholic statement, this one Gerald O’Collins’ (an Aussie) story of his own life and connection to justification debates. He doesn’t highlight anything new here but he does set his own studies in the context of all this debate.

I wish to highlight a few points in the responses:

Michael Horton irenically discusses issues with the two presentations; so does Michael Bird and neither of them is as sanguine about the Joint Declaration as many are today. So both see major issues still to be settled, and here Bird sounds more robustly Protestant at times.

Jimmy Dunn’s essay is the highlight for me for he says it well: the two Catholic studies don’t discuss Paul enough and therefore don’t get to the issues carefully enough. What’s more, the whole justification vs. sanctification debate is simply not Pauline. Anyone who reads 1 Cor 6:11 sees that Paul just does not use the later Lutheran and Calvinistic radicalized separation of terms: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” He gives other examples, but it illustrates that it is not just the new perspective that does NT history well but good exegesis of the NT uncovers later hardened, reified categories that need to be nuanced with the text on which they are supposed to be relying.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Richard

    Scot,

    You said, “Jimmy Dunn’s essay is the highlight for me for he says it well: the two Catholic studies don’t discuss Paul enough and therefore don’t get to the issues carefully enough.” Does that mean that they studied what Jesus had to say too much?

  • http://www.kingdomroundtable.blogspot.com Dru Dodson

    Any time intelligent, well intended people come to such loggerheads, my first suspicion is that our assumptions and frames have gotten us off to a bad start and led us to a false dichotomy.

    Much like the evangelical “lordship salvation” tempest some years ago, I think both Jesus and His apostles would be bewildered by our dilemma.

    You mentioned Corinthians. Also in Galatians 2 and 3 justification by faith, reception of the Holy Spirit, and being perfected are all used essentially interchangeably, in contrast to works of the law. Something else is going on . . .

  • Scot McKnight

    Richard, no, it means they are discussing what theologians and councils decided and not enough what the Bible says.

  • Geoff

    Where does Heb 10:14 fit into this discussion?

    “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    “Augustine saw justification as not only forensic but also transformative.”

    So did Calvin.

  • Richard

    @ 3

    Thanks for clarification

  • Jon G

    Scot #3 said “it means they are discussing what theologians and councils decided and not enough what the Bible says.”

    The same could be said for the doctrine of the Trinity. So where is the line drawn? Who trumps who (Bible vs Councils)? I don’t think you can have it both ways.

  • Jon G

    Sorry, I just realized that sounded a little abrasive.

    In all seriousness, as one who believes the Councils have made something Dogma where the Bible does not, I’m genuinely wondering where the authority lies.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com Peter G.

    “The big issue is that Trent connects justification and sanctification, and humans had to cooperate with God.”

    Might that more accurately read, “conflates justification and sanctification”? Luther saw a connection didn’t he? But he never would have connected them the way Trent did.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    ISTM that it’s intrinsically difficult, if not fundamentally impossible to frame justification and sanctification in human terms. Any time we use words, we freeze the ongoing spiritual work of God in Christ, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit into law, do we not? The passage Jimmy Dunn references is one that came to mind last night regarding a conflict-related issue in which condemnation figures prominently. I was working through Paul’s theological thought in 1 Cor. 6 and Rom. 7, today. He just blew the who’s in / who’s out human framing out of the water. Or, should I say, Paul pointed out that the cross of Christ and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit operate in another realm, altogether.

    Whether “hardened, reified categories” are Dunn’s words, or yours, Scot, it seems to me they are wrestling with the same “freezing” I was noticing in the conflict.

  • Dana Ames

    Hmmm. It seems that Paul is using washed, sanctified and justified in parallel form, akin to OT explication: three words used to “dance around” or apprise from different angles the *one thing* that is meant. Sounds like baptism to me.

    Dana

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    LOL, Dana! Maybe ongoing baptism (“I die every day!”) as a theological version of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – the more accurately we try to calculate the position of a particle accurately, the less we can calculate its speed, & v.v. The mere act of observation affects what is observed. As soon as we systematically “set” the principles of justification and sanctification, we’ve changed them.

  • Jared

    Dana & Ann F-R…. nice.

  • http://Trinitygracechurch.com AJ Sherrill

    “But don’t forget that Augustine saw justification as not only forensic but also transformative.”

    Just ordered your book rec.

    I cannot say enough about the influence Tuomo Mannermaa and the Finnish School of Theology has had on my view of justification. Is it possible we have gotten Luther wrong as many herald his forensic view while omitting his transformative view. “Christ Present In Faith” is a great book on recovering justification for all it’s worth.

  • Mike Bird

    Bird is “more robustly Protestant,” I may need to quote that in my defense at a heresy trial one day!


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