Jonathan Edwards and Justification by Faith -- By: Brandon G. Withrow

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 11:2 (Spring 2002)
Article: Jonathan Edwards and Justification by Faith
Author: Brandon G. Withrow


Jonathan Edwards and Justification by Faith

Brandon G. Withrow

During the World Wars it was not uncommon for the enemy to infiltrate the United States military by posing as American soldiers. The fear of being shot in the back by someone they thought was one of their own led U.S. soldiers to ask questions such as “Who is Mickey Mouse’s girlfriend?” in an attempt to unmask the enemy. In a similar situation in the Old Testament, the Gileadites attempted to keep the Ephraimites from crossing the Jordan by making them say “Shibboleth” (a word meaning a stream during the flooding season), and due to their dialect the Ephraimites would say, “Sibboleth.” The wrong pronunciation gave away the ethnicity of the Ephraimites and their enemies slaughtered them.1

The discussion over justification sometimes leads to this type of mistrust or suspicion. The word spread through various media claims that evangelicals are failing to maintain the Gospel as formulated within the historic creeds and confessions of the Reformation. Some say evangelicals are using the wrong words or siding with the wrong groups in their discussions. The focus of this concern is found in the debate over the language of justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Though Protestant-Catholic dialogue has existed for some time, recent discussion has focused on evangelicals and

Catholics. Those evangelical leaders (such as Charles Colson, J. I. Packer, John Woodbridge, Harold O.J. Brown, and Bill Bright, as well as Catholic leaders such as Richard John Neuhaus and Avery Dulles) at the forefront of the document known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together (hereafter, ECT), have been busy defending their orthodoxy to their respective communities. Critiques of this dialogue by such theologians as Michael Horton, James Boice, R. C. Sproul, and others include members of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (hereafter, ACE).

These new discussions over ECT have opened up the way for evangelical debate over justification. This debate has left theologians asking, “What is the essential evangelical understanding of the Gospel?” Within the massive and growing list of evangelicals entering the discussion on justification, there is one from the past who should not be forgotten. Jonathan Edwards, the famous preacher of the First Great Awakening and America’s greatest theologian, wrote on the language of justification to such an extent that his ability to aid in contemporary discussion should not be ignored.2

Edwards has captured more than...

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