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The Justification Reader (Classic Christian Readers) Paperback – July, 2002
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Top Customer Reviews
Oden sets himself the task of demonstrating that during the first five centuries of the Church there existed a clear consenual teaching on justification that looked very much like the teaching of the Reformers. Unfortunately, I do not believe that he has accomplished his task. Specifically, I am not persuaded that he has shown that the imputation of righteousness is a consensual patristic understanding.
My big disappointment is that this book is so very Protestant. Oden ends up quoting Reformation and Protestant sources almost as much as he cites the Fathers. It's as if he could not make up his mind as to what he wanted this book to be.
Oden presents a good summary of the Reformation understanding of justification, with which I find myself in strong personal concurrence. But I wanted to hear the voice of the Fathers interpreted on their own terms, not filtered through Reformation conceptuality and distinctions. Can one really say that St. Augustine held the same view on justification as Luther, when the former understood justification/sanctification as a process? Can one say that the Eastern Fathers understood justification as an imputation of righteousness, when they understood salvation as our incorporation into the risen humanity of Christ, as theosis? I'm trying to keep an open mind. Indeed, I want to be persuaded that Oden's interpretation is true. I just don't think he has made his case yet.
So I do not think that Oden has accomplished the goal that he explicitly sets out for himself. And so I am disappointed. On the other hand, I am grateful and delighted to have before me now the patristic texts that he does cite. I suspect that many of them have been ignored by everyone, whether Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant. I just wish he had given me more of the Fathers, and much, much less of the Reformers and their heirs.
Our harsh reviewer criticized Oden for not interpreting the cited patristic texts in their historical context. But I do not think this is a fair criticism. What Oden is doing is in fact very Patristic. He is providing us the words of the Fathers, on the assumption that the Holy Spirit has inspired the Fathers and that they therefore all speak, despite differences in language and vocabulary, with one voice. This hermeneutic is quite different than the historical-critical hermeneutic that we moderns typically operate from. The latter is not necessarily superior to the former.
I recommend this book. It is worthwhile to read and to have in one's library. You will find in it an excellent presentation of the Protestant understanding of justification. I'm not sure, though, that this Protestant understanding is identical to the Patristic understanding.
Many of the fathers spoke wonderfully regarding grace and how we are saved by grace. Sometimes they were merely parroting the words of the apostle Paul, but that is certainly not always the case. It was not until the Pelagian heresy arose in the West that the fathers spoke ever more cautiously about how important the grace of God is to our salvation. In that sense there is doctrinal development in the early church as heresies compelled the Church to speak ever more clearly about hot topics. It is also safe to say from a Protestant perspective that certain forms of late medieval thought had lost sight of the fathers' works and words on grace. That would explain why those who began to read Ambrose and Augustine in their entirety during the late Middle Ages began to see themselves at odds with the scholastic theologies of their day. And so while the Fathers are not as Protestant as Oden would have them be, there is still good cause to provide citations that demonstrate the fathers' emphasis on grace. Ambrose, for instance, held a concept of justification that was close to that of Augustine and one even sees a gradual theology of grace developing as early as the third century. It is more difficult, however, to make the Greek fathers sound Protestant given their penchant for describing salvation with the metaphor of "deification," rather than the legal one St. Paul uses in his epistles. (Justification itself is a legal metaphor that was not so readily apprehended by the Greek mind with its platonic mindset. The Latin mind of the West found it easier to grapple with a legal metaphor given the Roman penchant for law and order.)
The fathers are sui generis. Neither fully Protestant nor Roman Catholic. They should be understood on their own terms, but I still recommend this work as a source of patristic citations on a much debated topic.
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