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Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) Paperback – July 13, 2013
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About the Author
Robert Wilkin (Ph.D., Dallas Theological Seminary) was born and raised in Southern California. After graduating from college he joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, serving two years each at Arkansas State University and North Carolina State University. During his seminary studies Bob served in a variety of ministries including a year each in college and high school ministry, a year as a hospital chaplain, and three years as a pastor. After receiving his doctorate, Bob taught at Woodcrest College in Lindale, Texas and then at Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Oregon.
Feeling that there was a great need for an educational and networking organization for Christians who believe in the freeness of the Gospel, Bob started Grace Evangelical Society in June of 1986. In July of 1987 he left his teaching position to devote full time to heading up this ministry. Since its inception, readership of the bimonthly newsletter, Grace In Focus, has grown from 30 to over 9,500 in 54 countries.
Dr. Wilkin has written three books, Confident in Christ, The Road to Reward, and Secure and Sure, as well as two booklets, and hundreds of newsletter and journal articles. Bob and his wife Sharon live in Lewisville, Texas.
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Wilkin’s position is a nonsensical mishmash of begging the question and selection of evidence. He puts himself most clearly here: “Many would agree that there is a necessary connection between believing in Jesus and obeying his commandments. I would not.” He can therefore safely be dismissed on the evidence of scripture. Schreiner elucidates (mainly from Paul, but also other texts) the interpretation that I am most inclined toward – that “works are necessary for justification, but they are not the basis of justification or salvation since God requires perfection and all human beings sin. Hence, works constitute the necessary evidence of fruit of one’s new life in Christ.” Dunn’s arguments are interesting, but essentially he pushes a non-integrated view of faith and works: “Can we actually reconcile ‘justification by faith and not by works’ with ‘justification according to works’? … Assuredly we can maintain that any good that the believer does derives entirely from God’s grace. … But can we also deny that for Paul, believers do and will bear responsibility before God for their doings? Is it so serious that we cannot fit the two neatly into a single coherent proposition?” He argues well, but I do not see the force of his objections that Schreiner’s position weakens the text by not giving more emphasis to the warnings. Barber, a Protestant-trained Catholic (!) argues for the modern Catholic view from Eph. 3:20 and Matt 19 (among other similar verses) that the grace of God in the union of Christ to the believer is powerful enough to make our works meritorious: “The works that the believer performs in union with Christ are therefore capable of doing far more than all we ask or think – they even have salvific value!” His arguments are creative, but textually unconvincing. Of special note, unfortunately, is the general editor Alan Stanley, whose closing essay, in contrast with those by Pate in 4V: Revelation or by Grudem in 4V: Miraculous Gifts, is boring and unhelpful. Overall, an interesting and useful volume.
My most recent find and soon after review request is Four Views on The Role of Works at The Final Judgment. Edited by Alan P. Stanley, this roundtable of views features:
Robert Wilkin (Free Grace position, works determine rewards but not salvation)
Thomas Schreiner (Reformed Baptist, works will provide evidence that one is actually saved)
James Dunn (New Perspective on Paul, works will provide the criterion by which Christ will determine eternal destiny of people)
Michael Barber (Catholic position, works will merit eternal life)
In terms of contributor selection, I thought this was an excellent roundup. Here we have a true full spectrum all the way from works have no role at the final judgment (Wilkin) to them having a fully determinative role (Barber).
I won’t go blow by blow, but a few comments are in order. First, alongside IVP’s Five Views on Justification, this volume gives readers a good view what is at stake in the debates about how to read Paul. Schreiner and Dunn do not disagree with each other much (at least not to the extent Dunn tears into Wilkin) but there is a sharp contrast between them, and both have authored commentaries on Romans and theologies on Paul. Especially since Dunn was the contributor for the New Perspective on Paul position in IVP’s books, you can get a good cliff notes of his overall position by reading his essays in these two books. The subject matter here though is what makes many evangelicals uncomfortable, and within the book there is much talk of justification. For both Dunn and Barber, works play a determinative role in the final judgment (justification by works), and interestingly for both, you can lose your salvation. In that, Catholics and Arminians are on the same page, though the expositions of Dunn and Barber are not identical.
Second, while each contributor’s position is embedded within his overall system (or in Dunn’s case his refusal to systematize), Wilkin’s is entirely dependent on a certain kind of dispensationalism. Schreiner points this out, but it would be obvious to most readers after reading his essay. Unless you hold to an eschatological system that has multiple final judgments, then much of Wilkin’s exegesis seems strained. Wilkin also relies heavily on John’s Gospel, something the other three contributors don’t do (focusing instead mostly on Paul and James, just like the justification debates), and seems baffled that none of them follow his lead. He does makes some good points highlighting assurance based on faith, but ultimately he has to interpret all passages that seem to suggest believers being judged at the final judgment as applying to a different judgment, an option not open to anyone who isn’t dispensational.
Third, many evangelical readers will be surprised at how Barber’s essay unfolds. I think it is good for evangelicals to read Catholic writers in their own words. It may not change your overall understanding (salvation is still ultimately by works and assurance that you’re saved is not possible), but it does break down some stereotypes (specifically he really likes grace and talks about it a lot!).
Fourth, Dunn’s aversion to fitting his exegesis into a “system” seems to exert the same amount of hermeneutical force as someone else’s attempt to fit into a system. By that I mean it is a presupposition he brings to the text (“we need to allow for diversity and not force unity”) that is not unlike the systematizer’s presupposition (“we need to strive for unity and not allow for leftover diversity”). In both cases, it “colors” how the interpreter reads the text. It is as if Dunn is so weary of forcing the wrong pieces of the puzzle together that he is reticent to allow that the pieces might fit together without forcing. I think that is probably better than thinking “hey this group of puzzle pieces must make a complete picture and I’m going to put it together one way or the other.” But is still shapes how Dunn reads the NT and the end result is a “system” that more or less Arminian that allows for loss of salvation and syncs with Catholicism’s teaching that salvation is by works (even grace empowered ones).
Fifth, I’m not sure I completely follow Schreiner, but I’m definitely not following any of the other three contributors. He is offering a Reformed Baptist position, but I don’t think it is the position. I’m thinking a traditional Reformed position (maybe by someone like Michael Horton) might fit in between Wilkin and Schreiner, but then again they just slightly modify Schreiner to the point that another voice is not needed. His contention that works provide evidence but are not determinative seems correct to me, as well as his insistence that we are justified truly at the moment of faith/repentance/conversion. In his thinking, works will not fail to follow from that initial justification (if we are truly justified in that instant). Christians cannot fall away, but our works have no determinative effect on our ultimate salvation.
On the whole then, I think this is a valuable book. For people up on the contemporary debates concerning the New Perspective on Paul, it provides a stark contrast between how someone in the heart of that movement understands justification/final judgment/works and how a Reformed Baptist and a Catholic would view it. Wilkin feels kind of like the odd man out, mainly because he is the only one who sees works having no role in the judgment of believers (which is also because of his dispensational view of the judgments). But, I did like his voice being part of the conversation because he offered criticisms I wouldn’t think of, even his position is one I would ultimately never adopt. Like most of the multi-view books I’ve read to review on here (ok, maybe all of them), I would highly recommend it to you, especially if you are interested in the New Perspective on Paul in particular or just discussing soteriology in general.
[I was given a review copy of this book by the publisher]