Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JOTGES 9:1 (Spring 96) p. 91
“Justification: A Doctrine in Crisis,” Carl F. H. Henry, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 1995, pp. 57–65.
With this article, theological heavyweight Carl Henry weighs in on the ecumenical effort to bridge the differences between Protestant and Catholic doctrine. Though the differences are numerous, Dr. Henry focuses on the most crucial, the doctrine of justification.
Henry’s presentation of justification allows for no human merit. It is by faith alone, a concept antithetical to works. He also distinguishes justification from the doctrine of sanctification, which he shows was “conflated” with justification early on in church history. It took the Reformers to contend that justification was an imputed righteousness. While Roman Catholicism did not deny that salvation was by faith, they did not believe it was by faith alone. The Council of Trent declared that justification included “sanctification and renewal of the inner man” (p. 59).
Henry eventually gets to the recent ecumenical document Evangelicals and Catholics Together, but offers no hope that its goal of unity will be found at the expense of the doctrine of justification. Comfortingly, his final appeal is to Scripture where he finds no wiggle room on justification as imputed righteousness and faith as non-meritorious.
While appreciating his contribution overall, this reviewer feels that more clarity is needed in his mention of the role of works and the basis of Christian assurance. Henry recognizes that “the eclipse of the doctrine of justification issues in a loss of Christian assurance” (p. 63), but also says that “Good works are evidence of having received justification by faith. They attest the presence of true faith” (p. 62). Does he mean “an evidence” or does he believe they are the necessary basis of assurance? This is not clear. Much to be preferred is what he says near the end of the article: “Personal faith in God’s revealed mercy is the instrument through which God gifts us with internal assurance. Without confidence in God’s sovereign Word humanity has no prospect whatever of pardon for transgressions” (p. 64).
The other inconsistency I noted was Dr. Henry’s effort to distance faith from human merit by calling faith “God’s gift” (p. 65). I do not know why such theological overkill is necessary when Henry has al-
JOTGES 9:1 (Spring 96) p. 92
ready established from the Scripture that faith by nature is totally non-meritorious and antithetical to works to begin with. This is a troublesome aspect of Reformed theology in general.
In a day when Protestant Lor...
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