Rewording The Justification/Sanctification Relation With Some Help From Speech Act Theory -- By: Eric L. Johnson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 54:4 (Dec 2011)
Article: Rewording The Justification/Sanctification Relation With Some Help From Speech Act Theory
Author: Eric L. Johnson


Rewording The Justification/Sanctification Relation With Some Help From Speech Act Theory

Eric L. Johnson*

* Eric Johnson is Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280.

Criticism of the Reformation understanding of justification by faith alone has arisen again and again since its earliest articulations. Catholics, of course, were among the first to object, arguing that justification necessarily involved human cooperation with divine grace.1 From within the Reformation, Osiander tied justification to the Christian’s transformation of life.2 In the following century, some Arminians apparently rejected the doctrine of imputation.3 The great Puritan divine Richard Baxter was also critical of imputation and developed a doctrine of justification that shared some features with Catholicism.4 Perhaps unsurprisingly, liberal theologians in the 19th century, like Schleiermacher and Ritschl, and process theologians in the 20th century taught against the classical Reformation doctrine (CRD).5 More recently, New Perspective advocates6 raised some of the same objections, but bolstered them with the hermeneutical criticism that the Reformers misinterpreted Paul, biased by their historical context and personal experiences. Radical Orthodoxy has most recently added its Anglo-Catholic voice to the critical chorus.7

Concerns about the CRD, then, have taken some different forms over recent centuries, but one theme appears to be fairly consistent: since the divine justification of Christians includes the righteous quality of their acts enabled by divine grace, the CRD of justification by faith alone based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness cannot be correct.8

I. A Problem With Terminology

Where there is smoke over centuries, there is usually something burning somewhere.9 While the basic stance of the Reformation on these matters seems sound, in the face of such criticism over long periods of time from very different quarters, humility should lead us to ask, Are there any legitimate weaknesses in the articulations of these matters that may have contributed to the...

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