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By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification Paperback – March 6, 2007
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"If you have been unsettled or impressed by the arguments of the New Perspectives or the Federal Vision-this book is for you. By Faith Alone is a serious and substantial rejoinder to the new viewpoints on justification, imputation, covenant theology, and more."
—J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor and CEO, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi
"The twin pillars of historic Protestantism-the authority of the Bible and justification by faith alone-have been under attack since the beginning of the Reformation. But the recent assault on justification by the New Perspective on Paul and by the Federal Vision is particularly pernicious, cloaked as it is in apparent scholarship and piety. This important book defends the historic Reformation doctrine with better scholarship and more profound piety."
—W. Robert Godfrey, President and Professor of Church History, Westminster Seminary California
"In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther boldly declared that the doctrine of justification is the article by which the church stands or falls. In the twenty-first century, many churches have not stood their ground but have fallen prey to the voices of those who have offered new perspectives on an ancient, biblical doctrine. I am thankful the Lord has raised up faithful men to provide the people of God with a clear, biblical perspective on this most precious doctrine."
—Burk Parsons, Copastor, Saint Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, Florida; Editor, Tabletalk magazine
About the Author
Gary L. W. Johnson (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the senior pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Mesa, Arizona. He has written for Table Talk, Modern Reformation, and the Westminster Theological Journal.
Guy Prentiss Waters (PhD, Duke University) is the James M. Baird Jr. Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, and was formerly an associate professor of biblical studies at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi. Guy and his wife, Sarah, have three children.
David Wells (PhD, University of Manchester) is a distinguished research professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author or editor of a number of books, some of which have been translated into many different languages. He is a member of the John Stott Ministries board, where he has worked to bring theological education to church leaders in developing countries. He is also actively involved in working to build orphanages and provide educational opportunities for victims of civil wars and AIDS in Africa. David and his wife, Jane, live in Massachusetts.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the ninth president of Southern Seminary and as the Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology. Considered a leader among American evangelicals by Time and Christianity Today magazines, Dr. Mohler hosts a daily radio program for the Salem Radio Network and also writes a popular daily commentary on moral, cultural, and theological issues.
Cornelis P. Venema (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) serves as the president of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, where he also teaches doctrinal studies. He is also an associate pastor of the Redeemer United Reformed Church of Dyer, Indiana, and the co-editor of the Mid-America Journal of Theology. He and his wife, Nancy, have four children and twelve grandchildren.
Richard D. Phillips (DD, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He chairs the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology and coedits the Reformed Expository Commentary. He is also a chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, a council member of the Gospel Coalition, and a trustee of Westminster Theological Seminary.
David VanDrunen (PhD, Loyola University Chicago) is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, California.
E. Calvin Beisner (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is a spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and an author and speaker on the application of the biblical worldview to economics, government, and environmental policy. He is a ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and has written over ten books and is a frequent guest on radio and television programs.
John Bolt (PhD, University of St. Michael’s College) is professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the author and editor of several books. John and his wife, Ruth, have three children and nine grandchildren.
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Here is the table of contents, interspersed with my brief comments.
1. What did Saint Paul Really Say? N. T. Wright and the New Perspective(s) on Paul - Cornelis P. Venema
2. Observations on N. T. Wright's Biblical Theology with Special Consideration of the "Faithfulness of God" - T. David Gordon
These first two chapters engage the writings of N. T. Wright, who is probably the highest profile proponent of the New Perspective on Paul (and is also one of the most renowned contemporary Jesus scholars). Their critiques of Wright are very, very insightful and should be seriously considered. Everything really does seem to fall on Wright's embrace of a certain way of reading Second Temple Judaism (as non-legalistic) and his interpretation of the phrase "dikaiosune theou" as "the covenant faithfulness of God" instead of "the righteousness of God." This second question is adequately challanged in the second chapter of this book.
3. A Justification of Imputed Righteousness - Richard D. Phillips
4. The Foundational Term for Christian Salvation: Imputation - C. F. Allison
These two chapters address the recent controversies surrounding the doctrine of imputation. Having read Piper's defense of imputation in Counted Righteous in Christ, as well as Carson's essay in the volume on Justification edited by Husbands, I still found these chapters very helpful and persuasive (I've not yet read Brian Vicker's Jesus Blood AND Righteousness, a recent more in-depth treatment of imputation). These essays were very good.
5. Reflections on Auburn Theology - T. David Gordon
This was a little less interesting to me, probably b/c I'm not Presbyterian.
6. To Obey is Better than Sacrifice: A Defense of the Active Obedience of Christ - David Van Drunen
As I recall, this was also a good essay, defending the necessity and imputation of the active obedience of Christ to believers
7. Covenant, Inheritance, and Typology: Understanding the Principles at Work in God's Covenants - R. F. White & E. C. Beisner
Of all the essays in this book, this one stands out as the most helpful and the one that will repay several re-readings in the future. The authors set out to show why the theological construct of covenant theology (as traditionally understood in Reformed theology) is biblically-faithful and warranted from the texts (even though the language is sometimes extra-biblical). Most helpful was their contrasting the two principles of inheritance, by either personal merit or representative merit, and then tracing these two principles through the various historical covenants. This is the best thing on covenant theology that I've read so far (though my reading in this area has not been very wide).
8. Why the Covenant of Works is a Necessary Doctrine: Revisiting the Objections to a Venerable Reformed Doctrine - John Bolt
As with the chapter 7, this was a very, very helpful treatment of covenant theology, specifically the covenant of works. Bolt is an excellent and lucid writer and I finished the essay wanting to read more of his material.
9. The Reformation, Today's Evangelicals, and Mormons: What Next? - Gary L. W. Johnson
This essay was good, but seemed a little bit displaced in this volume.
Overall, this is a very good volume and worth reading for those engaged in the current debates over justification. However, if you are only going to read one book on the New Perspective on Paul, get Stephen Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New: The Lutheran Paul and His Critics. It is much more comprehensive and has been the most important book I've read on the issue.
The above statement hardly qualifies as news. In the five centuries since the Reformation, its theology has been pilloried by from without by Roman Catholics, Arminians, and liberals. That is nothing new.
But what is new is the attacks that have come from *within* (i.e., by those who claim the title of "Reformed") via proponents of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and the Federal Vision (FV).
What makes these movements particularly dangerous is twofold: first, unlike the critics from outside of Reformed theology, proponents of FV and NPP embrace classic terms like "justification" and "covenant." The danger arises when they re-define what these words mean. Second, they deny essential aspects of theology proper like the imputation of Christ's righteousness, the active obedience of Christ, and the covenant of works.
Furthermore, N.T. Wright, who is the strongest proponent of NPP, is a winsome scholar who elsewhere provides strong and articulate defenses of Christ's resurrection. If Christians read Wrights' defense of arguably the most essential aspect of our faith and then come across his books on what Paul "really said," they cannot help but be lulled into accepting his definitions about how salvation works.
Hence, Reformed theologians have their work cut out for them.
"By Faith Alone" is the latest of many attempts to do so. It consists of nine essays by leading Reformed scholars and pastors. Given that their goal is the defense of Reformed soteriology, the stakes are high.
Following is my analysis of the book. First, I will evaluate what is good about it. Then, I will present my concerns.
Five of the essays are extremely effective in their goals. Taken alone, these are worth the purchase of the book.
In the Introduction, Guy Prentiss Waters ably states the problem: the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and hence other doctrines related to it, are under attack.
Cornelis Venema then offers a cogent analysis of Wright's claims, and then very ably refutes them from Scripture.
T. David Gordon analyzes one of Wright's most controversial claims: that Paul's use of the phrase "righteousness of God" refers to "God's faithfulness to His covenant," which is particularly dangerous since it leads to an effective redefinition of our standing before God, pre- and post- Christ's atoning work. This is contrary to Reformed theology, which teaches that "righteousness of God" must be understood judicially/forensically. Gordon effectively counters Wright's thesis on this important topic, and gives the reader Scriptural-based confidence in the Reformed view.
Possibly the strongest essay in this volume is Richard Phillips' defense of imputation. While perhaps over-relying upon recent work by D.A. Carson, Phillips fights vigorously for the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the elect, never giving an inch to his theological opponents.
Aside from imputation, the active obedience of Christ is likely the most roundly attacked Reformed doctrine. Which is why David Van Drunen's defense of it is so crucial. He explains why perfect obedience to God's commands is so important, how Christ fulfilled this for believers, and why this necessitates Christ's active obedience.
A final area of great confusion for novice theologians is FV and NPP proponents usage of the concept of "covenant." How do the various biblical covenants (i.e., Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic) relate to one another, and find their fulfillment in Christ? The essay by White and Beisner clearly answers these important questions (full disclosure: this writer studied under both of these men).
Had just these five essays been the full content of "By Faith Alone," I would not hesitate to give this book five stars. However, due to concerns I have with the other four essays, I cannot.
Overall, Gordon's essay on Auburn Theology is helpful, featuring an extended critique of John Murray. Granted, there is room for criticism, especially when it comes to Murray's rejection of the covenant of works, which many believe led directly to the FV. But while Gordon makes some solid points, his essay makes the audacious claim that Murray never wrote on Galatians (p. 120). That's a pretty explosive accusation to make, given that Murray is widely considered one of the great Reformed exegetes and theologians of the 20th century.
To be fair, Gordon is careful to say that this issue regarding Murray needs further debate and discussion.
Allison's essay on imputation has some helpful things to say. But in my opinion, it is not necessary given Phillips' able defense of it.
Bolt's defense of the covenant of works is fine, as far as it goes. However, he is defending it not from proponents of FV and NPP, but from two theologians from Calvin Seminary whose critiques of this doctrine are fairly weak: while they deny it, they nonetheless adhere to many of the principles inherent in it. Thus, while Bolt does ably defend the doctrine, his essay would have been more useful if it had been directed at, say, proponents of FV.
The volume closes with Johnson's essay on Roman Catholics (and Mormons!) recent claims to the title of "evangelical." While interesting, it is sadly out of step with the rest of the book.
In closing, "By Faith Alone" provides an assertive biblical defense of justification. Again, the five essays mentioned above are worth the purchase of the book. Unfortunately, the problems associated with the other essays bring down its entire quality. Therefore, it merits a 3 1/2-star rating. I do recommend this book, in spite of the concerns listed above.
The chapters that are especially good are the two by T. David Gordon. Even if you just bought the book for those to contributions, it would be worth every penny.
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