Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Quick Review of Justification: Five Views (Spectrum Series)

Justification: Five Views is edited by James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy. The five different views are as follows:

  • Traditional Reformed View: Michael S. Horton
  • Progressive Reformed View: Michael F. Bird
  • New Perspective View: James D.G. Dunn
  • Deification View: Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen
  • Roman Catholic View: Gerald O'Collins and Oliver P. Rafferty

Each contributor explains his view of justification for about 30 pages and then the other contributors offer responses.  The conversation is cordial but it often felt like one of these would have been handy:

I agree with Tom Schreiner’s assessment:

It is both enriching and frustrating to have both biblical scholars and systematicians dialogue in the same book. On the one hand, it is enriching to have scholars from different disciplines interact with one another. Too often biblical studies scholars work in one corner and systematics professors in another and never does the twain meet! It is helpful, therefore, to see them interact with one another. On the other hand, since they are in different disciplines, it occasionally feels as if they are talking past one another.

I do not pretend to be anywhere near as advanced in my understanding of justification as men like Tom Schreiner or the contributors in this book.  But I did notice that a few times it seemed as if everybody was talking about something different but using much the same words. 

I am not saying that at the end of the day every contributor basically agrees.  They have huge differences in their understanding.  But what leaves the reader frustrated is that it seems that the contributors are talking about many different facets of justification and never even using the same tools to discuss them. 

Perhaps the scope of the book is a bit too broad and the five views are too varied for this to really have a fruitful discussion.  It may also be my own density in regards to the discussion.  For me I felt that the essays were a bit too disjointed.  It may have been better to have had a separate book (or perhaps separate and smaller chapters) on each facet of justification that was being discussed; i.e. a chapter on the meaning of pistis, a chapter on the Paul’s attitude toward Judaism, etc,.  But as it stands I never felt as if the individual contributors really explained how their position is different from the others or why the differences matter. 

Should You Buy It?

If you are new to discussions on justification in contemporary theology then I would not make this your first book into the discussion.  Except for the first two chapters written by the editors.  I felt that they did a tremendous job of framing the discussion and setting the discussion within its historical perspective. 

However, if you are at least somewhat versed in the present discussions you will be helped by interacting (though not as much as one would like) with these varying viewpoints.  The contributors are very cordial and fair with one another.  And any reader will benefit from the first two chapters. 

I’m not going to say rush out to your local bookstore to buy this book—but I do think that 15 bucks is a pretty reasonable price and for theology nerds like myself its a fun read and provides some helpful perspective. 

You can buy it here.

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