Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

Westerholm on Justification

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I recently read Stephen Westerholm’s new book, “Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme.” It is only 100 pages and easy to digest. Westerholm assesses all of the data in the New Testament on justification/righteousness and settles on the traditional view of justification by faith (as articulated by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, et al.), even in spite of recent challenges from N. T. Wright and James D. G. Dunn. In fact, I came away from the book with the thought that Westerholm is simply arguing for the plain sense of the relevant passages about the doctrine of justification. There is no need for revisionist interpretations. His final paragraph is very helpful: 

“[The traditional view of justification by faith] cannot be dismissed by the claim that the ancients were not concerned to find a gracious God (how could they not be, in the face of pending divine judgment?); or that it wrongly casts first-century Jews as legalists (its target is rather the sinfulness of all human beings); or that non-Christian Jews, too, depended on divine grace (of course they did, but without Paul’s need to distinguish grace from works); or that ‘righteousness’ means ‘membership in the covenant’ (never did, never will) and the expression ‘works of the law’ refers to the boundary markers of the Jewish people (it refers to all the ‘righteous’ deeds required by the law as its path to righteousness). Modern scholars are correct in noting that Paul first focused on language of justification in response to the question whether Gentile believers in Christ should be circumcised. They are right to emphasize the social implications of Paul’s doctrine of justification (what it meant ‘on the ground’) in his own day, and are free to draw out its social implications for our own. But the doctrine of justification means that God declares sinners righteous, apart from righteous deeds, when they believe in Jesus Christ. Those so made righteous represent the new humanity, the people of God’s new creation (rom 5:17-19).”

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Written by Josh Philpot

May 19, 2014 at 9:28 pm

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