“The Gift Of Salvation”: Its Failure To Address The Crux Of Justification -- By: Mark Seifrid

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 42:4 (Dec 1999)
Article: “The Gift Of Salvation”: Its Failure To Address The Crux Of Justification
Author: Mark Seifrid

“The Gift Of Salvation”: Its Failure To Address The Crux Of Justification

Mark Seifrid*

I. Introduction

In the fall of 1997, a group of evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics agreed upon a statement concerning the nature of salvation, which was subsequently published in First Things under the title, “The Gift of Salvation.” A central aim of the discussions which led to this document was to find “firm agreement on the meaning of salvation, and especially the doctrine of justification” which had not been addressed in a 1994 statement known as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” 1 The “Gift of Salvation” therefore takes its place alongside quite a number of recent attempts to find agreement between Catholics and Protestants on the doctrine of justification. 2 It is difficult to assess what impact the statement might have, given the informal nature of the discussions which produced it, the variety of the participants in it, the confessional diversity of evangelical Protestants toward whom it is addressed, and the response of the Vatican to the “Joint Declaration” of Lutherans and Catholics released in July of 1998. Moreover, additional statements from participants to the discussions have appeared, describing something of the meaning of various aspects of the “Gift of Salvation.” 3

Despite the priority which we ought to allow to “authorial intent,” confessional statements such as this one do come to have lives of their own. It therefore seems fair to treat the document as it stands for what it says or does not say. In doing so, I do not intend to focus entirely upon faults which in my view appear within the “Gift of Salvation.” I wish rather to use the document to highlight some of the basic issues at stake in Protestant dialogue with Catholics. I shall therefore briefly consider the way in which the “Gift of Salvation” addresses the doctrine of justification, and then set out several positions which I regard as fundamental to the current discussion.

* Mark Seifrid is associate professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280.

II. The Gift Of Salvation

As is well known, the gratuity of salvation has never been a matter of debate between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Both have always affirmed that salvation is a gift. The question has been how grace operates in justification. Does “justification” signify the transformation of the sinner by the grace of God? Or does it repre...

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