Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dr. Beck on Justification Theory

I regularly read Dr. Richard Beck's blog. He has the ability to take Ph.D level theological issues and write so a layman like me can understand. I have been enjoying his review of The Deliverance of God by Douglas Campbell.

The focus of the review is Justification Theory. The book asserts that common defenses of this theory are based on mis-readings of Paul. Dr. Beck states that "Justification Theory is, at root, a rhetorical device for evangelism."

Therein is where Justification Theory started to fall apart for me years ago. As I began to see the case for Universalism being made throughout scripture, Justification Theory eroded. In this new context, what was the point of evangelism? For me, Justification Theory and the Christianity it had spawned showed it Achilles's Heel. I have actually heard Christians articulate it "What is the point of telling people about Jesus if there is no Hell?"

What point indeed....

Here is a piece of the review:

Recall, for Justification Theory to work the human person must complete a tortured inward journey culminating in the realization that he stands condemned before God. But if the doctrine of election is operative this introspective and epistemological journey seems to be a bit irrelevant. Further, given the condition of total depravity how could humans even begin or complete the journey? And here's the deal. Most of us are well aware of these problems. Justification Theory is, at root, a rhetorical device for evangelism. Through bible study or preaching you lead the listener through the critical realizations:
  1. I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And this includes you! "All" means all.
  2. The wages of sin is death.
  3. In light of the aforementioned realizations, you're screwed.
  4. But you can have grace if you accept, through faith, Jesus as your Savior.
But if faith is a matter of election it seems that evangelism is problematized. Evangelism presupposes a clear head and a clear heart. It presupposes the ability to volitionally respond. But if faith is a matter of election is any of this necessary? And if total depravity is in play is any of this even possible? Depravity and election throw a monkey wrench into the machinery of Justification Theory, rendering most of the theory irrelevant.

These are very old debates. Witness the tensions between the Calvinistic and Arminian attempts to resolve these questions. The point is, Luther and Calvin were no simple and consistent advocates of Justification Theory. Important aspects of their theology (e.g., their anthropology, the role of God in granting faith) greatly complicated their espousal of Justification Theory, so much so that the children of the Reformation are still debating the issues. The tension between evangelism and election is still very much with us. Consequently, it would be silly to assume that Justification Theory has been handed to us by Luther and Calvin as anything other than a partial and incomplete soteriology.


Redlefty said...

Yes, that has been one of my favored series of his. Right now I'm sorta in my silent period, like Paul's years in the desert, but I'm feeding the soul and mind and curious to see where and when it's time to speak again!

But when I do, you can bet it won't be on facebook.


Brook said...

does he go into problems with JT if you're not a Calvinist? Right off the bat I can't follow along with his "if"s (TOTAL depravity, election, etc) that are the basis of his argument against evangelism. To use your comparison from other conversations to your experience as a father, it's like saying there's no point in teaching your children how to behave well because they're rotten to the core and you've already decided which one you're going to punish and which one you're going to praise beforehand.

Don said...

He intrigued me enough to shell out the bucks for the book. Hope I can get through it.

Andrew said...

Red - looking forward to your continued writing.

Brook - The article is in 5 or 6 parts, so I would need to go back and see how he addresses it though.

It is interesting to see how some popular evangelicalism borrows from Calvanism without taking the whole enchilada. They tend to want to make use of the "you are a scum sucking slime ball and god is gracious enough to tolerate you" part, but then bypass the election part and some of the other circular logic bits. Of course the other half of evangelicalism views Jesus as Tony Robbins out to make you the best you that you can be. But each agree that God will torture you forever if you get this wrong.... because he loves you unconditionally. :)

Don - We look forward to your take on it.

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