Final Thoughts -- By: John H. Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 11:2 (Spring 2002)
Article: Final Thoughts
Author: John H. Armstrong


Final Thoughts

John H. Armstrong

Thinking clearly about justification is often problematic, especially when many Protestants and Catholics are convinced that the argument was settled in the sixteenth century. All who seriously enter into this doctrinal discussion should read Professor Alister E. McGrath’s magisterial study, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge, 1986). This work, originally published in two volumes, was revised and brought up-to-date in a single volume issued in 1998. It is the first major study of the history and development of the doctrine of justification since 1870 and is invaluable for serious Christian discussion.

Dr. McGrath provides a detailed assessment of the development of the doctrine during the medieval period, and a careful analysis of the sixteenth-century debates over this important doctrine. One thing you soon discover when you read this work—the church has never spoken with one single voice on justification. Augustine plainly did not understand it the way Luther did. And Luther and Calvin had some disagreement, at least in emphasis. Since the Reformation, Catholic and Protestant biblical scholars have found some amazing common ground when they studied the doctrine with an open Bible. New developments in Pauline studies are being published almost every day. McGrath gives a brief overview in his new edition of his work and handles with great care some important debates. The effect is that he provides for the discerning reader a clearly and carefully outlined overview that sets the modern debate in its wider historical context. I highly commend this volume.

The central issue at stake in the present discussion of justification boils down to this: What kind of faith justifies a believing sinner? I want to argue that the Bible plainly answers this question by telling us that justifying faith is “obedient” faith (cf. Romans 1:5; 16:26). The faith which saves (justifies) is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). This is not confusing faith and works in the biblical sense. Faith, which is real saving faith, is trusting Christ. It is not agreeing to a set of salvation texts or propositions. Faith, by biblical definition, trusts the promises of God in Jesus Christ and thus banks one’s whole eternal future on Jesus alone, thus on nothing one can do. But when one trusts Jesus, the faith given by God himself, yields obedience. This is the only way to make sense of Hebrews 11 and the great roll call of the faithful.

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