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:

For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:3-4)

The plain fact is, the righteousness the Jews were striving for was not what God would call righteousness because it wasn’t the righteousness of God in Christ. “Grace” was not viewed within Second Temple Judaism in the Pauline sense:

To say that salvation in Judaism was by grace and imply that “works” in the Lutheran sense were excluded is simply not true to Judaism. Nor should one expect that a Judaism that did not see humanity as fundamentally lost, nor requiring the death of God’s Son for its redemption, would construe the relation between divine grace and human works in the same way Paul did. (Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics, 443-444)

Because of this misunderstanding of grace, the Judaism’s interpretation of “the works of the law” was indeed that religious works were required for salvation. Hence, the offense of the Cross.

Furthermore, there is a big difference between the idea of imputed righteousness (Reformers) and inclusive communal righteousness which is not imputed (New Perspective).

If we take a passage like Romans 9:30-32 perhaps we can see this illustrated better:

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone. (Rom. 9:30-32)

Again, Dunn and Wright would say, “Yes, but the ‘works of the law’ are these external badges of status within the covenant, not religious works or works of merit.” If true, this would entail the verses underlined above would mean that because Israel’s faith was directed toward the emblems of the covenant and not the Lord [Christ] of the covenant, Israel had stumbled over the issue of Jesus and the salvation of the world. They did not realize that faith in the covenant and Messiah was not restricted to Israel. All nations now had access to the covenant people of God in Christ through the exercise of an ongoing faith in Him.

Faith, though, is not accounted as righteousness in a one-time legal sense because imputation is deemed absurd. Even N. T. Wright, for all his language about the propitiatory nature of Christ’s death, cannot accept the doctrine of imputation. As Waters writes,

Wright frequently avers that God at the cross “dealt once and for all with the sin of the world.” A study of his comments on Christ’s death … in his recent commentary on Romans shows Wright’s consistent refusal to articulate Christ’s death in terms of an imputed righteousness … . While Christ’s death may be said to be atoning, punitive, even propitiatory, Wright consistently refuses to detail the mechanism by which Christ’s death comes to be applied to the individual believer in time and history. (Guy Prentiss Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: A Review and Response, 141-142)

However, in Romans 4:4-5 grace is equated with faith in Jesus Christ and is opposed to works. This then means that the supposed ‘grace’ that, according to the New Perspective, the Jews were thinking of when they were speaking of their privileged position within the covenant (i.e. their boundary markers of Sabbath and circumcision and so on), is not the same grace that Paul is speaking about. The grace that he is referring to is something given to a person when they accept Jesus Christ as Savior! Because of this grace, the sinner passes from death to life. Something happens to them; they are taken out of Adam and they are put into Christ! Grace does this, not works.

On another passage in Romans, Seifrid comments:

This Christological understanding of justification is especially apparent in Romans 5:12-21, where Paul summarizes his initial exposition of justification and hope, and restates his preceding argument in a new form. Up to this point in the letter he has presented justification as a matter of the standing of the individual before God; in this passage he sets it in the context of human history, which he defined in terms of divine judgment in Adam and grace in Christ. (Mark A. Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification, 70)

When this idea of “grace in Christ” is coupled with Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-9, one gains a true understanding of what “grace” is, and also what Paul means by “works.” Although Paul is dealing with Gentiles in Ephesians (though there was a Jewish community there), he is working within the same frame of reference as in Romans 4 and 5:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)

So “works” in Paul are either things we do because we are saved and have trusted in Christ, or they are deeds that we do because we’re trying to gain favor with God by them (i.e. “the works of the law” cf. Eph. 2:15). The former are only acceptable to God after we have been “created (ktizo) in Christ Jesus.” Indeed, they cannot be performed until after we are saved. The latter do not justify because they are performed outside of Christ. But in neither case does the term “works” mean emblems of status.

Conclusion

Though limited and simplified, I hope this has been something of a useful orientation to the New Perspective on Paul. The main issue as I see it is, as always, hermeneutical. In short, proponents of this position allow their relative comprehension of facets of Second Temple Judaism (roughly 500 BC to AD 70) to cloud their reading of the New Testament, and especially of the Apostle Paul. Read as sufficient in itself, the New Testament sets out a clear picture of Jewish antagonism to the Gospel; not because of narrow covenantal boundary-markers, but because “seeking to establish their own righteousness, [they] have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).

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Joshua Caucutt's picture

knew that only God could forgive sin, that justification only comes from God alone (Luke 5:21). What they assumed was that by virtue of practicing the clean laws and being physically related to Abraham, they did not need to faithfully obey the moral law. (John 8:38) Christ told them that both were necessary.  

"Works of the law" are usually a reference to justification. Under the OC, one needed to practice the clean laws in order to be justified. Faithful obedience to the moral law maintained one's state of justification. In the NC, we justified (placed into a right relationship with God) via faith alone, but just as under the OC, faithful obedience to the moral law is what maintains that state of justification. 

Paul demonstrates this principle and shows the two distinctions in the law (clean v moral) in 1 Corinthians 7:19:

For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

Also, Paul recognizes that the Corinthians had lost or were in danger of losing their justification. Look at 1 Cor. 6:11 where the Corinthian believer were "washed" "sanctified" and "justified." However, when we get to 2 Cor. 6:1-2, Paul is warning the Corinthians that "today is the day of salvation" and that they might have received the "grace of God in vain."

One who claims to be justified by faith, but who does not faithfully obey the moral law risks being severed from Christ and possibly even put into a position where forgiveness is an impossibility.  

formerly known as Coach C

Paul Henebury's picture

Time to come down off that soapbox!

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Joshua Caucutt's picture

If I am reading your conclusion properly,  you consider the immediate historical/religious context of the writers of the NT (500BC through AD70) to have LESS bearing on the interpretation of the NT than Luther's historical context and struggles with the RCC?

In your words: an in-depth understanding of Second Temple Judaism will cloud our reading of the NT? That statement alone greatly harms your credibility from the perspective of a historical/grammatical/geographical hermeneutic. You are essentially saying that we need to take the Lutheran-Reformed understanding and read it back into the NT in order to really understand what Paul was talking about.

I'm not a "new perspectives" defender, but on this point, they appear to have the upper hand when proposing a sound biblical hermeneutic.    

formerly known as Coach C

Paul Henebury's picture

You are not reading my conclusion right

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Joshua, I think it really has more to do with relying more heavily on "internal evidence"... using Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Joshua Caucutt's picture

Aaron, is it logically and hermeneutically proper to discount an accurate understanding of the cultural-historical backdrop to the writing of the NT as germane to interpreting the NT?

Isn't it valid for the NP's to say: Hey, gang we are understanding Paul incorrectly because we are reading the issues of the Reformation back into the NT? Because of his struggles with the RCC, Luther said that the Pharisees/Jews were attempting to earn salvation by keeping the law and that the message of Christ was "just have faith, obedience to the law is not necessary" and we accept this assumption. Yet both internal and external evidence contradicts this assumption. 

Secondly, I am more than willing to discuss this from an "internal evidence" point of view. Scripture seems to support Wright-Dunn (and I would add Sanders) on the issue of justification more than Luther. Faithful obedience to the moral law of God does not merit or earn salvation, yet it is required for salvation. It is our obligation to be faithful slaves. Those who do not faithfully obey will not be saved (Heb. 5:9).

Justification is entered into sola fide (not through circumcision or physical birth), however, faithful obedience to the moral law is still required, just as it was required "from the beginning" as 1 John states. Timothy understood the Gospel and the way of salvation as a child when his only source was the Old Testament. The Gospel that was preached to Abraham is the same Gospel of the NT, with the difference being that the means of justification is no longer physical "deeds of the flesh" -circumcision, dietary laws, animal sacrifices, etc. - justification is now through faith in the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Yet, just as when in the OT, God told the people - if you do not obey, your sacrifices have no effect, the same is true in the NT. If we do not faithfully obey, we no longer have access to the Sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 10:6). 

In a way, Aaron, Paul here is contradicting your article from yesterday.  

formerly known as Coach C

Paul Henebury's picture

Joshua,

 

If anybody's hermeneutics is off it is yours.  I did not discount the Second Temple setting, but the article is about the NPP and their peculiar understanding and use of the setting.  Try to pay attention before accusing another brother of something of which he is not guilty.  I have doubts whether you have even read the previous posts.  Your remarks hardly encourage that conclusion.  

 

Further, you appear to be preaching that although a person is justified by faith, they stay saved by being under the "moral law."  You state:

Quote:
Faithful obedience to the moral law of God does not merit or earn salvation, yet it is required for salvation. It is our obligation to be faithful slaves. Those who do not faithfully obey will not be saved (Heb. 5:9).

 

That sounds like Galatianism.   What is your understanding of justification and hence assurance?  And Hebrews 5:9 says nothing about the "moral law."

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Dan Salter's picture

They say that Doug Wilson is harsh replying to his commenters. I guess "they" have never read much on Sharper Iron. Sharper Iron ought to consider incorporating a Comment Policy. .....oh, it does?....hmmm. 

Thanks, Joshua, for a realistic consideration of NP concerns. One of the problems in this debate (as is ever so magnified in John Piper's misunderstanding of the issue) is that the terms are not defined the same. At the beginning of any debate, term definitions need to be established. The NP people define righteousness as status of covenant faithfulness whereas those of reformation heritage define it as state of holiness. You just can't attack NP ideas on the basis of verses lining up with your definition of what righteousness is. You have to deal with the definitions first. Yes, I can totally agree that a short 4-part series can be only a brief introduction. But even in this brief introduction, presumed definitions of terms have to be acknowledged or the conclusions become meaningless. 

Paul Henebury's picture

Per the harshness issue.  I have already had interaction with Joshua and he is fond of merely mounting a soapbox and setting people straight.  His first response to this post was to tell us about the Pharisees.  It had nothing to do with the article.  

 

His second and third comments included misrepresentations of what I said.  Along with this we get teaching that a Christian MUST keep the "moral law" to be saved (which has nothing to do with the post); and this from a person who criticizes me for not considering Second Temple hermeneutics.  Did Second Temple Judaism divide the Law into ceremonial and moral?

 

As per your observation about the definition of righteousness: well I think I covered that.  Are you saying that all I did was to line up verses to prove the Reformation position?  I think I did a little more than that brother. 

 

I have a high regard for Wright even when I may disagree with him.  If you think I have not represented his basic ideas accurately I would be happy to discuss it.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Dan Salter's picture

Well, perhaps, I did jump the gun on your coverage of the definitions. I need to go back to reread your other parts of the series. If I did blow past that, I apologize. I suppose I could have muddled in my mind the countless others who have done that kind of bypass. As I'm sure you're well aware, staying in touch with blogs and comments is not the focus of our days. However, that is not an excuse for me to post faulty info.

Again, thanks for your study. I've crossed the street back and forth several times with Tom Wright. I admire him immensely, but I also have certain substantial misgivings. 

(I'd also offer, as an aside, the harshness issue is not one that depends on whatever the other person is doing. Obviously, from your resume, you are a seasoned, studious, respected ambassador. I'd just encourage you to rest in that.)

Paul Henebury's picture

Quote:
(I'd also offer, as an aside, the harshness issue is not one that depends on whatever the other person is doing. Obviously, from your resume, you are a seasoned, studious, respected ambassador. I'd just encourage you to rest in that.)

 

You are right and I appreciate being called on it.  My apologies to Joshua and any others who thought I was a bit sharp!

 

Thank you!

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Joshua Caucutt's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

That sounds like Galatianism.   What is your understanding of justification and hence assurance?  And Hebrews 5:9 says nothing about the "moral law."

I'm not sure what you mean by Galatianism, I believe that my position lines up well with Galatians.

As for assurance, I would direct a person to read John 14 and 15, Hebrews and more - assurance is based on faithfulness to the covenant and the covenant community.

Your last statement is the most intriguing. I can see and defend two parts of the law: the clean laws (now replaced by Christ) and the moral law. What other law is there? What are we bound to obey in Hebrews 5:9?

formerly known as Coach C

dmyers's picture

When I saw this article, I thought that I might ask about Joshua's position here, because this is a more appropriate thread for that discussion than the sanctification thread.  But I see Joshua got here first, so that's taken care of.

Paul, as I understand Joshua's doctrine, yes, he is saying that salvation is initially obtained by faith but is only maintained by works.  Apparently, assuming you obtained initial salvation, you don't know for sure that you are ultimately saved until the final judgment.  On the other hand, God's verdict about you at the final judgment is only going to be negative, regardless of your works, if you were not among the elect who at some point in their lives experience that initial salvation by faith.  It's all new to me, but apparently the approach has been around since about 2005 when Dr. Rainbow of Sioux Falls Seminary published a book advancing it.  It seems to me to be both a third perspective on Paul (in addition to the Reformed perspective and the New Perspective) and an attempted middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism on eternal security and sanctification.  As a practical matter, it seems to me that adherents would be living very much like Nazarenes -- ever conscious of the possibility of "losing" their justification and therefore needing to perform up to a certain standard post-conversion.

Dan Salter's picture

Thanks, Paul! Your spirit in response came through in bright light! Makes me want to read your other articles even more. 

Dmyers-- a little off topic there, but I certainly can understand your concern. The problem is that neither Paul, the apostle Paul, nor Wright and his NP view would embrace an idea of salvation that requires God to intervene for "initial" salvation and then requires human effort to maintain it. Galatians, in fact, counters that idea dramatically in the first few verses of chapter 3! 

Here, in fact, is where I find most difficulty with the trajectory of Wright. I can understand Wright arguing that God's righteousness (his faithfulness to the covenant) is not transferred or imputed to humankind. However, Jesus (the man) is the representation of Adam's descendants--fallen man, and it is his righteousness (faithfulness to the covenant) that IS indeed imputed to us. And with that imputation, we stand in hope, not of our own covenant-gaining works offering security, but of dependence on his perfect life and perfect sacrifice that seals our final declaration of JUSTIFIED! Therefore, covenant faithfulness for us is ALL about faith and nothing about works. Faith is our obligation to the covenant. Works are God's obligation to the covenant. He has performed and performed well, fully, and righteously. In faith, then, we may inherit.

Paul Henebury's picture

Joshua Caucutt wrote:

Paul Henebury wrote:

That sounds like Galatianism.   What is your understanding of justification and hence assurance?  And Hebrews 5:9 says nothing about the "moral law."

I'm not sure what you mean by Galatianism, I believe that my position lines up well with Galatians.

As for assurance, I would direct a person to read John 14 and 15, Hebrews and more - assurance is based on faithfulness to the covenant and the covenant community.

Your last statement is the most intriguing. I can see and defend two parts of the law: the clean laws (now replaced by Christ) and the moral law. What other law is there? What are we bound to obey in Hebrews 5:9?

 

Galatianism is the term given to those who add works to justifying faith:

 

See Galatians 3:1-3

 

and

 

Galatians 3:10-13

 

Ancient Judaism knew nothing of the separation of the Law, and neither did Paul.  I would love to see you prove that in order to stay justified (implying a denial of the sufficiency of Christ's imputed righteousness) we have to keep the law.  If that is true then you can have no assurance because you are not resting on the imputed righteousness of Christ.  I am astonished to be reading comments like yours (and dmyers) at SI!

 

 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Joshua Caucutt's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Ancient Judaism knew nothing of the separation of the Law, and neither did Paul.  I would love to see you prove that in order to stay justified (implying a denial of the sufficiency of Christ's imputed righteousness) we have to keep the law.  If that is true then you can have no assurance because you are not resting on the imputed righteousness of Christ.  I am astonished to be reading comments like yours (and dmyers) at SI!

I don't have time for a longer response, but Paul makes this distinction at least twice (off the top of my head). Keep in mind that with Paul, circumcision is equivalent to initial faith. One marked the entry into the OC, the other marked the entry into the NC. Look at how Paul makes these statements: 

1 Cor. 7:19  For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

And

Romans 2:25: For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

I can also show this distinction in the OT if you like. 

 

formerly known as Coach C

TylerR's picture

Editor

For some perspective - on another thread dealing with sanctification, Joshua had this to say:

---------------------------

Me: Do I take it that your position is that salvation can be lost?

Joshua quote #1:

The writers of Scripture are saying over and over, just because you happen to be justified right now, don't assume that you will remain so, unless you faithfully keep the commandments of God.

Joshua quote #2:

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it clear that those who keep his commandments will "abide in his love." Those who do not keep his commandments will be removed from the vine and cast into the fire.

Joshua: No, those who are elected to salvation before the foundation of the world will be saved. However, justification can be lost. (I can supply biblical support if needed.) The other thing that has added to the confusion is that most people assume that justification = salvation. This is a biblical fallacy. 

--------------------------------

I haven't had time to respond to this yet, but if anybody wants to go down this rabbit trail this thread may be a bit more appropriate than the other one.

I am not sure how Joshua can Biblically sustain a disconnect between justification and salvation. They are inexorably linked together - one follows the other (Rom 8:28-30). 

Joshua's position also denigrates the doctrine of election, and makes works the ground of continuing perseverance in Christ. 

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Paul Henebury's picture

Joshua writes

Quote:
Keep in mind that with Paul, circumcision is equivalent to initial faith.

 

There is no point contending with him.  Circumcision was the token of the Mosaic Covenant as a sign of being bound to the Law.  Faith is not a token!  One could be circumcised and have faith.  The two texts he cites do not say the Christian is under the Law (how could they without Paul contradicting himself?).  They both teach that obedience to the Law outdoes national identity.  but no one is or can ever be justified by the Law, either before or after faith.  Galatians 3:3 ought to wash away this nonsense, but...

 

Joshua complained above that we should take into consideration the interpretations of the Second Temple period.  Well, no Jew of that period sundered the Law into ceremonial and moral.  Galatians 3:10-13 says if we put ourselves back under the Law we must keep all of it.  Even supposing people like Joshua are right and we must obey the "moral law" to stay justified (!!!), that would mean we would have to obey perfectly to keep our salvation!  This is heretical teaching pure and simple.  I am not casting aspersions.  I am identifying a clearly unbiblical "gospel." 

Thanks to Tyler for the added references from Joshua's oeuvre.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Joshua Caucutt's picture

TylerR wrote:

 

I haven't had time to respond to this yet, but if anybody wants to go down this rabbit trail this thread may be a bit more appropriate than the other one.

I am not sure how Joshua can Biblically sustain a disconnect between justification and salvation. They are inexorably linked together - one follows the other (Rom 8:28-30). 

Joshua's position also denigrates the doctrine of election, and makes works the ground of continuing perseverance in Christ. 

 

I agree - one who is saved will also be justified - but a present state of justification does not guarantee a future state of justification. What Scripture makes clear is that justification is mutable. Your and my state of justification can be lost. I have supplied numerous place of support, but three here for sake of argument: Paul's statement in Galatians 5:4 that we can be severed from Christ, the fact that we can be removed from the Vine in John 15 and the Hebrews 6 reference to the fact that a person can be at one point justified (benefit from Christ's sacrifice) and then at a future point be restricted from that Sacrifice.

See also 2 Peter 2:20-21 -  "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them."

These are people who once escaped the defilement of the world, but then turned back. Are you trying to say that they escaped defilement through the knowledge of Christ, but were not justified? 

formerly known as Coach C

dmyers's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Ancient Judaism knew nothing of the separation of the Law, and neither did Paul.  I would love to see you prove that in order to stay justified (implying a denial of the sufficiency of Christ's imputed righteousness) we have to keep the law.  If that is true then you can have no assurance because you are not resting on the imputed righteousness of Christ.  I am astonished to be reading comments like yours (and dmyers) at SI!

Paul, you've completely misunderstood my comments.  I vehemently *disagree* with Joshua's theology of justification.  Please don't lump me in with him.  Thanks.

Greg Long's picture

Thank you, Paul, for your clear and direct contention against Joshua.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

TylerR's picture

Editor

Briefly, I'll make these points for your consideration:

Scripture is not contradictory. Therefore, when it teaches election as the sovereign choice of God (Rom 9) and grounds the future glorification of all believers in His own sovereign purpose (Rom 8:28-30), then we must evaluate statements such as 2 Pet 2:20-21 and Heb 6:4-6 in light of these truths.

I would also state that we see here, in very stark terms, the difference between man-centered and God-centered worldviews. You look at 2 Pet 2:20-21 and Heb 6:3-6 and divorce them from the doctrine of election and the finished work of Christ.

To you, the good works commanded of Christians seem to be prescriptive - "If you are a Christian, you must do . . . " Your view of God is man-centered, focused on what you must do to remain in His favor.  

The orthodox view is descriptive - "If you are a Christian, you will do . . . " Works are the fruit of authentic salvation, the practical outworking of a regenerated heart; not the means of salvation or, as you erroneously term it, continued justification.

I would also suggest that the men in question in 2 Pet 2:20-21 are the very false teachers Peter has been speaking against in the entirety of 2 Peter. Therefore, they were never Christians to begin with. They escaped the defilement of the world (2 Pet 2:20) in the sense that they heard and fully understood the Gospel, but purposely turned away from the knowledge of this glorious truth (2 Pet 2:21). Therefore, they fulfilled John's comment in 1 Jn 2:19 in a very literal way. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Paul Henebury's picture

dmyers wrote:

Paul Henebury wrote:

Ancient Judaism knew nothing of the separation of the Law, and neither did Paul.  I would love to see you prove that in order to stay justified (implying a denial of the sufficiency of Christ's imputed righteousness) we have to keep the law.  If that is true then you can have no assurance because you are not resting on the imputed righteousness of Christ.  I am astonished to be reading comments like yours (and dmyers) at SI!

Paul, you've completely misunderstood my comments.  I vehemently *disagree* with Joshua's theology of justification.  Please don't lump me in with him.  Thanks.

 

Then I apologize.  What is it you had problems with?

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

dmyers wrote:

When I saw this article, I thought that I might ask about Joshua's position here, because this is a more appropriate thread for that discussion than the sanctification thread.  But I see Joshua got here first, so that's taken care of.

Paul, as I understand Joshua's doctrine, yes, he is saying that salvation is initially obtained by faith but is only maintained by works.  Apparently, assuming you obtained initial salvation, you don't know for sure that you are ultimately saved until the final judgment.  On the other hand, God's verdict about you at the final judgment is only going to be negative, regardless of your works, if you were not among the elect who at some point in their lives experience that initial salvation by faith.  It's all new to me, but apparently the approach has been around since about 2005 when Dr. Rainbow of Sioux Falls Seminary published a book advancing it.  It seems to me to be both a third perspective on Paul (in addition to the Reformed perspective and the New Perspective) and an attempted middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism on eternal security and sanctification.  As a practical matter, it seems to me that adherents would be living very much like Nazarenes -- ever conscious of the possibility of "losing" their justification and therefore needing to perform up to a certain standard post-conversion.

 

Mea Culpa!  I misread your "that's taken care of" as a support of what Joshua was saying.  Please accept my apologies brother. 

 

I would disagree that this is a middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism.  For starters, many Arminians hold that one cannot lose ones salvation.  Those who believe you can would say that it is because of a high-handed denial of the Gospel in belief and practice.  Five Point Calvinists hold that the true elect will persevere.  The identity of those who will finally persevere is hardly resolvable now, but some obedience in the faith is grounds for saying one IS justified.  Joshua's "gospel" advocates an initial justification, which is in actuality just a conditional "pass".  Final justification depends on how one has scored against the "moral law."  This implies that Christ's righteousness is not sufficient to justify a sinner utterly.  It is not forensic.  

 

Anyway, I do apologize for misreading your remarks!  I am juggling baby-sitting, housework and work for a few days and it's showing  :-) 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Joshua Caucutt's picture

TylerR wrote:

Briefly, I'll make these points for your consideration:

Scripture is not contradictory. Therefore, when it teaches election as the sovereign choice of God (Rom 9) and grounds the future glorification of all believers in His own sovereign purpose (Rom 8:28-30), then we must evaluate statements such as 2 Pet 2:20-21 and Heb 6:4-6 in light of these truths.

I would also state that we see here, in very stark terms, the difference between man-centered and God-centered worldviews. You look at 2 Pet 2:20-21 and Heb 6:3-6 and divorce them from the doctrine of election and the finished work of Christ.

To you, the good works commanded of Christians are prescriptive - "If you are a Christian, you must do . . . " Your view of God is man-centered, focused on what you must do to remain in His favor. 

The orthodox view is descriptive - "If you are a Christian, you will do . . . " 

I would also suggest that the men in question in 2 Pet 2:20-21 are the very false teachers Peter has been speaking against in the entirety of 2 Peter. Therefore, they were never Christians to begin with. They escaped the defilement of the world (2 Pet 2:20) in the sense that they heard and fully understood the Gospel, but purposely turned away from the knowledge of this glorious truth (2 Pet 2:21). Therefore, they fulfilled John's comment in 1 Jn 2:19 in a very literal way. 

Okay, this is helpful - I agree that he is very likely speaking of false teachers and you are saying that the never really "escaped the entaglements"?  And that in Hebrews 6, those individuals who are seeking to "crucify Christ anew" never really crucified Him or benefited from that sacrifice in the first place? And those who are "severed from Christ" were never really joined to Him in Galatians 5:4? 

Aren't you contradicting the plain sense of these words? 

As far as being man-centered - yes, we must "do" - not because our efforts earn or merit justification, but because it is our obligation, our sworn duty as it were. In the same way that we promise/swear to be faithful to our spouses - not because it earns anything, but because it it our obligation to the covenant. If we are found to be unfaithful, the covenant will be broken. 

Jesus threatens "do, or else" in Revelation 2:5 (and other places): "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." Jesus said to the Jews that “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did." When Jude 21 says "keep yourself in the love of God," is he not echoing Christ's words in John 15 that those who wish to abide in the love of God must "keep his commandments"?

Also, this was a large part of Paul's gospel: "And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed." And again, befor another king, Paul said:  "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance." Acts 26:20 See also 1 Corinthians 7:19 - what matters is keeping the commandments of God. 

In what way have I been unbiblical here? I affirm justification through faith as well as the biblical, repeated commands and warnings against unfaithfulness - disobedience. Why? Because all of us will be judged according to our deeds - were we faithful to what we promised? Justification is given freely on the basis of faith, however eternal life is clearly reserved for those who "do not grow weary in doing good." 2 Thessalonians 3:13

formerly known as Coach C

dmyers's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Mea Culpa!  I misread your "that's taken care of" as a support of what Joshua was saying.  Please accept my apologies brother. 

I would disagree that this is a middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism.  For starters, many Arminians hold that one cannot lose ones salvation.  Those who believe you can would say that it is because of a high-handed denial of the Gospel in belief and practice.  Five Point Calvinists hold that the true elect will persevere.  The identity of those who will finally persevere is hardly resolvable now, but some obedience in the faith is grounds for saying one IS justified.  Joshua's "gospel" advocates an initial justification, which is in actuality just a conditional "pass".  Final justification depends on how one has scored against the "moral law."  This implies that Christ's righteousness is not sufficient to justify a sinner utterly.  It is not forensic.  

Anyway, I do apologize for misreading your remarks!  I am juggling baby-sitting, housework and work for a few days and it's showing  :-) 

Paul, no problem.  I was not offended, just concerned that anyone might think I was agreeing with Joshua.  

Perhaps I painted with too broad a brush in using the term Arminian.  I thought the belief that you could lose your salvation was a distinctive of all Arminians.  It was certainly true of the Nazarenes (and of my high school friends who were Assemblies of God).  Interesting to know otherwise.  As for what specifically would result in the loss of salvation, that was something that was never clear to me in the Nazarene church.  Privately, I concluded that it would be the inverse of the "decision" to be saved; just as you had to affirmatively accept Christ to be saved, you would have to affirmatively, consciously reject Christ to "lose" that salvation, as opposed to simply committing one too many sins post-conversion.  But that was my own logic in attempting to come up with a defensible answer to my own questions.  Of course, to get there, you have to view salvation as essentially a gift box that you carry around with you and can give back, rather than (as is actually the case) a combination of a legal declaration by God that He makes with full knowledge of your future conduct and that He promises not to revoke, a changed nature that can't be unchanged, etc.  It's a deficient understanding of the glorious extent of the changes wrought by God when He saves us.

I don't see how Joshua's approach, as a practical matter, is any different than the Nazarenes' -- you're saved, but then you have to continue to measure up to some undefined standard in order to remain saved (or to be ultimately saved).  That the standard is undefined even under Joshua's approach is clear from his admission above that the moral law is the standard but of course you don't have to keep it perfectly to pass the final judgment (because of course no one can do so).  That begs the question:  just how imperfect can you be and still pass at the end?  I assume there's no hard and fast (i.e., clear) answer to that among Joshua's tribe.  Not substantively different from the Muslims who have to hope that their admittedly imperfect good works and law-keeping are held to be sufficient by Allah, or the cultural American "Christians" who think salvation depends on their good works outweighing their bad over time and hope God's accounting squares with theirs when they die.

Paul Henebury's picture

Quote:
Not substantively different from the Muslims who have to hope that their admittedly imperfect good works and law-keeping are held to be sufficient by Allah, or the cultural American "Christians" who think salvation depends on their good works outweighing their bad over time and hope God's accounting squares with theirs when they die.

 

Roman Catholicism is the greatest exponent of this kind of "He loves me.  He loves me not" conditional salvation.

 

God bless you and yours,

 

Paul

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Joshua Caucutt's picture

I would like to question and biblically explore the assumption of "forensic-only" justification and the assumption that the standard for covenant faithfulness is perfection. Maybe that is for another day/time/place . . . maybe no one is interested in questioning these assumptions . . .

God didn't say: "Obey everything" and then leave us hanging. He also didn't say: "Obey everything, but ha, ha, you can't really do it." There is clear instruction from Scripture for all.

The standard is faithfulness to all that God has commanded. In neither the OT nor the NT is perfection the standard for covenant faithfulness. We find the command to obey even in the Great Commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you." Matthew 28:19,20 Over and over, we are told that a disciple must die daily, must keep his body under submission, must deny himself - must be faithful. Why? Because the unfaithful slave is cast into hell. "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell." Luke 12:5

Our good standing with covenant community - a church led by godly elders who teach the true Gospel and sound doctrine is key to assurance as to whether or not we are walking faithfully. The church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15) and we are to submit to our elders because they watch for our souls and our elders will give account for the way in which they have shepherded and they will give account of what they observed in our lives (Hebrews 13:17). One who is outside the covenant community, the Body of Christ, the church can be certain that he is not justified - whether he gained it and lost it or whether he never had it. 

Furthermore, we can be faithful to the covenant. Deuteronomy 30:14 says,  "But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it." Paul quotes this verse in Romans 10:8 in order to make the same case - we can be faithful if we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Romans 8 shows us how the Spirit is a key partner in our obedience.

Paul also promised that the bent of the world and false teachers will be against this truth when he says, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." 2 Timothy 3:12 Note the use of the word "live" and not "have faith."

Scripture makes perfect sense. It is a complete system where everything is clearly laid out. 

I know that I am likely to eventually be forced off of SI for carrying on conversations like this, I understand that the verses that I use are not popular and that they undermine many assumptions of the majority of modern Christianity. I'm well aware of that, but please at least note that I have made no statements without support from Scripture.  

 

formerly known as Coach C

TylerR's picture

Editor

Nobody here has advocated that the "standard for covenant faithfulness is perfection." If that is the case, then we're all done for! That is the very point - perfection is not possible. Justification is appropriated by faith alone, by the grace of God. It is a gift, which will manifest itself in a zeal to do good works and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-14).

To cite one example, Martin Luther was tortured with the guilt of his own sin, and resolved to earn his place in heaven by his own zeal as a monk. "If ever a monk got to heaven by monkery, I would have gotten there." He was renowned for his piety and self-mortification. Yet, Luther couldn't shake the feeling of utter despair which gripped his heart. This was a man who truly personified Rom 3:19-20. He was completely conscious of the depth of his own sin, and tormented by the wrath of God and his own inability to please God in his own power.

As Luther pondered Rom 1:17 over a period of years, he eventually realized what justification by faith actually meant, in contrast to the Roman Catholic conception of earning justification. The complete feeling of relief and happiness Luther experienced is very sobering, and completely flies in the face of your scheme of earned justification:

"This experience acted like a new revelation on Luther. It shed light upon the whole Bible and made it to him a book of life and comfort. He felt relieved of the terrible load of guilt by an act of free grace. He was led out of the dark prison house of self-inflicted penance into the daylight and fresh air of God’s redeeming love. Justification broke the fetters of legalistic slavery, and filled him with the joy and peace of the state of adoption; it opened to him the very gates of heaven," (from Schaff's History of the Christian Church). 

I think you are terribly confused on a number of issues. No, I will not secretly petition that you be "banned" from SI.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Joshua Caucutt's picture

TylerR, I have said repeatedly that we cannot earn justification.

Let me ask you plainly then, is covenant faithfulness required for final salvation or not?   

I'm not sure what to do with your Luther story . . . what he might have thought or felt or experienced is really pretty irrelevant unless it agrees with Scripture. I am confident that neither you nor I agree with Luther 100%, so to use him as some kind of evidence or proof simply muddies the water. 

 

formerly known as Coach C

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