Reflections On Salvation And Justification In The New Testament -- By: D. A. Carson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 40:4 (Dec 1997)
Article: Reflections On Salvation And Justification In The New Testament
Author: D. A. Carson


Reflections On Salvation And Justification
In The New Testament

D. A. Carson*

* D. A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2065 Half Day Road, Deerfield, IL 60015.

I. Introduction

This subject is impossibly vast for a brief paper. To make sense of the treatment that follows, three assumptions must be appreciated, for they determine the focus.

1. This is not an attempt at a comprehensive and representative treatment of salvation and of justification in the NT prepared for, say, a catechizing class in one of our churches, or for a class of seminary students. It has been prepared specifically for this Catholic/evangelical dialogue. 1 That means the points of historical difference between Catholicism and evangelicalism, in the light of what the Bible says, receive more attention than they might in some contexts. 2

2. We live and think within a particular historical setting. We can no more return to the patristic period and ignore the disputes of the Reformation than we can ignore the Enlightenment. This does not mean we should not listen to the early-Church fathers (or, for that matter, to Thomas or Calvin). It does mean we must frankly recognize our historical location. We cannot retreat to an earlier period and pretend later disagreements have not occurred. They must be either resolved or dismissed as unimportant (which of course implies that it was a mistake to fight over them at the time). That is part of the responsibility of speaking from our own place in history. Similarly we must eschew formulations that mask honest divisions (e.g. formulations in which different parties quite knowingly mean opposing things, which is of course no genuine agreement at all). For evangelicals the return to Scripture, however much we recognize that all interpretation of Scripture cannot entirely escape the historical contingency of the interpreter (as some wag has put it, “There is no immaculate perception”), is foundational.

3. As there is considerable diversity of opinion among evangelicals, so is there considerable diversity of opinion among Catholics—a fact sometimes overlooked because of Catholicism’s institutional oneness. The views of, say, Billy Graham are not the same as those of R. C. Sproul. The views of the current pope are not isomorphic with those of Edward Schillebeeckx. I enter this observation not to stir up strife but to acknowledge that dialogue is more difficult where the partners are shifting. As erstwhile confessional Protestantism has produced many scholar...

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