Justification: God's Plan, Paul's Vision?

Over the past two weeks I have had my annual two weeks of professional development. Usually the two weeks don’t run into each other but this year they did. The first week comprised of our annual ministers’ gathering and although I enjoy the company of my colleagues I rarely find the discussion or input feeds my soul or mind. Nothing personal, it just doesn’t crank my tractor. Week two is usually a theology conference or an intensive at a seminary. Over the past few years I have been fortunate enough to hear Ben Witherington & Richard Bauckham speak & this year I was blessed to hear from Douglas Moo of Wheaton College and the Committee for Bible Translation.

The theme of the intensive was “Justification in Pauline literature: A historical and theological perspective”. I took 11,000 words of notes! However, I might summarise the main theses (there were 12 by the end of the week) as follows,

Justification partakes of the New Testament idea of, “already and not yet “eschatological tension. We are definitively justified at conversion (Roma 5:9, 10) but this decision must be confirmed at the judgement (Gal 5:5) at which time our works are taken into account (Jas 2:14-26).  Our status can never be based on what “we” do (reformation thought). Essentially, as I understood him, Moo believed in justification by faith alone, by grace alone and yet we are responsible in some way to produce works that are valid in the final judgement.  If you hold to the Reformed Calvinist tradition there will be a tension between the sovereignty of God and human decision making.

In short, by the end of the week my brain hurt and my heart was full. Tom Wright has stated that of all those who disagree with the New Perspective view, Douglas Moo is one the one whom he respects the most; and I can see why. He based his arguments on solid exegesis of the relevant texts even if at times it disagreed with his reformation tradition. Of course he came to different conclusions than Wright, but at least I could follow his logic.

I would say this in regards to those who, like Moo, disagree with Wright. Wright is primarily a historian/exegete therefore; he allows his historical research to influence his reading of the text. The two bounce between each other whereas most who try to engage Wright do so from a Reformed theological text only perspective and therefore they cannot see the forest for the trees. I am not saying Wright is necessarily correct but much of the dialogue is misheard because essentially they are speaking different languages.

Doug was a wonderful teacher and exegete. He was knowledgeable, possessed a grasp of the subject like I have never heard, and yet he carried his theology well and with humility. He nearly convinced me to change my mind! At the end of the week I had more questions to wrestle with and it was this I appreciated the most!