The issue for Alan Spence is that the Western world for a long, long time taught what I called last week a “justification worldview,” one in which humans are sinners and God is judge and those sinners are called to account before God in a grand final judgment. How they fair in that judgment determines their eternal destiny. Spence argues that was the Western world’s worldview from Augustine through Michelangelo. (Spence, Justification: A Guide for the Perplexed.)
The question he wants to ask is if the New Testament has the same worldview. So he turns to Jesus’ parables and to Romans.
What factors need to be at work in a “justification worldview”? Do you think those are the major factors at work in Jesus’ kingdom vision? In Paul’s theology?
In the parables of Jesus he finds a customary ambiguity about a number of elements, but the one clear element is that parables of Jesus routinely frame a story through a judgment, with Jesus (Son of Man) as the judge. He’s right — there is plenty of judgment in the parables of Jesus. Jesus and John also call to repentance and baptism, and that means they regularly warn about sin. The kingdom entails – begins with — “when the divine government of the one true king will be manifest on earth, the people of God will be vindicated openly and the unrighteous condemned” (20).
For Paul, he sketches Romans 1:18-3:20, and argues that what Paul does here is show that all people, Gentiles, the moralist, and the Jews stand condemned before God.This leads to Spence to a conclusion that the New Testament has a justification worldview.
I have problems with his sketch in this chp and so I will detail them here:
1. Kingdom is decontextualized from Jesus’ world — there are so many other themes to bring up when the kingdom comes up, not the least of which is David and promise — into the justification worldview in order to prove the latter.
2. Judgment in Jesus for Spence has nothing to do with the real world of Jesus, namely, with the warnings of the judgment on Jerusalem Jesus predicted. Again, “judgment” for Spence means personal judgment at the end of time to determine one’s eternal status. He equates what Jesus says about judgment with judgment in his justification worldview, and it’s not that simple.
3. There is no grace whatsoever in this sketch of judgment in spite of his claim that Jesus’ warnings of judgment are set in the context of love and grace — and to describe Jesus’ view of judgment must mean he should do the same thing. In other words, judgment gains clarity if it is done the way Jesus does it — and Paul too.
4. He will get to the New Perspective, but it needs to be observed here that inclusion of Gentiles is not how Spence understands Rom 1:18-3:20, it is all about judgment against all — and inclusion has to be part of the picture to understand this.
5. We are far enough into the discussion to ask other questions: Where is “righteousness of God” as God’s saving righteousness? Where is righteousness as covenant faithfulness on God’s part? Is it fair to the last two generations of scholarship to ignore their gains?