Sanctification, Faith and Works: An Index of Recent Web Debate

Updated 6/13/14

Debates about various aspects of the doctrine of sanctification have been around for a long time. In the summer of 2011, a fresh round of debate on sanctification, works, faith, depravity, justification and union with Christ broke out on the Web and has continued, in one form or another up to the present.

Because the exchange has featured skilled and articulate participants, it has also been insightful. The following is offered as a tool for the benefit of anyone interested in studying the matter from the perspective of recent interactions among theologically conservative, mostly (but not entirely) Reformed leaders.

A few notes appear below, randomly. I hope to eventually annotate most of these entries more fully and fairly.

Despite the length of this list of links, it is not comprehensive. Feel free to post other links of importance in the comments. Read more about Sanctification, Faith and Works: An Index of Recent Web Debate

Theology Thursday - Anathema! The Council of Trent on Justification

Following the deep division in the church which had resulted from the Protestant Reformation, there was a widespread desire, which grew stronger and was expressed in a variety of ways, for an ecumenical council. Its aim would be to reject errors against faith, add strength to the official teaching, restore the unity of the church, and reform the standards of the Roman curia and of church discipline.1

SIXTH SESSION, held January 13, 1547.

Decree on Justification2

CANON 1. If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ: let him be anathema.

CANON 2. If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free-will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty: let him be anathema. Read more about Theology Thursday - Anathema! The Council of Trent on Justification

What is the "New Perspective on Paul"? A Basic Explanation (Part 4)

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

NPP righteousness versus Pauline righteousness: The “Works of the Law”

In an excellent piece for Christianity Today entitled “What Did Paul Really Mean?” (thanks, Filops!) Simon Gathercole called attention to the way New Perspective scholars interpret the phrase “the works of the law.” He writes:

According to the new perspective, Paul is only focusing on these aspects of Jewish life (Sabbath, circumcision, food laws) when he mentions “works of the law.” His problem isn’t legalistic self-righteousness in general. Rather, for Jews these works of the law highlighted God’s election of the Jewish nation, excluding Gentiles. Called by God to reach the Gentiles, Paul recognizes that Jews wrongly restricted God’s covenant to themselves.

Gathercole’s comment matches Dunn a little more than Wright, but neither scholar thinks “works of the law” means the achieving of merit through religious deeds. Certainly we can say it is doubtful if many Jews in the Second Temple period were “legalistic” in the sense that they truly believed their works were good enough. But they were still going about to establish themselves by the law: Read more about What is the "New Perspective on Paul"? A Basic Explanation (Part 4)

What is the "New Perspective on Paul"? A Basic Explanation (Part 2)

(Read part 1.)

The Affect on Exegesis

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Gal. 3:10)

From what has been said already we may view the NPP as an attempt to adjust Christian understanding of the way First Century Jews saw themselves in relation, first to God and second to the Gentiles. To God they apparently did not think, like the Reformers believed they did, that they could earn merit with God. Instead it is claimed, they held that by grace they were in the grace covenant which assured national blessing to Israel. Hence, by observing the rites and solemnities of circumcision, Sabbath observance, kosher practices, etc., they were showing fidelity to the covenant. Hence, when they read “works of the law” as in Gal. 3:10 above, the Jews understood it to mean these exclusivistic observances. Read more about What is the "New Perspective on Paul"? A Basic Explanation (Part 2)

What is the "New Perspective on Paul"? A Basic Explanation (Part 1)

Reprinted with permission.


The influence of this movement is increasing within evangelicalism, and I believe many people are in the dark about it. The subject is important also because we tend to view Scripture through the lens of the Reformation instead of the other way round. Although the Reformers got the gospel right, their successors have sometimes appealed to them and not the Bible. At least the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), whatever its merits or demerits, has directed us back to the Bible again.

The so-called “New Perspective on Paul” would be better called “New Perspectives on Paul.” But in whatever variation, and whatever its problems, the New Perspective offers an important and robust challenge to traditional Reformation views of justification and Pauline theology. I should say that I do not dismiss everything the New Perspective has to say. While I am completely in agreement with the Reformers on justification by grace through faith, I am not ready to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Read more about What is the "New Perspective on Paul"? A Basic Explanation (Part 1)

The Trouble with Gospel Centered Sanctification

Used with permission from Theologically Driven.

The blogosphere has been humming lately with questions of Christian freedom and Christian depravity, the role of faith and works in sanctification, the priority of law or Gospel in sanctification, and the like. Some have seized the “Gospel-Centered” banner and have used it to wage general war on law and works—after all, they argue,

  • Major Premise: The Gospel is Justification.
  • Minor Premise: Justification is destroyed by law and works.
  • Conclusion: The Gospel is destroyed by law and works.

So what’s wrong with the syllogism? Well, the logical structure is fine, so if an error is to be found, it has to be in one of the premises. In this case, it is the major premise. The gospel is not reducible to the forensic reality of justification. It also includes the experimental reality of regeneration. Together they comprise what the Reformers described as the duplex beneficium of union with Christ—two distinct benefits received simultaneously in the Gospel. And whenever we minimize either of these benefits, the Gospel disappears: Read more about The Trouble with Gospel Centered Sanctification