Justification By Faith Alone In Contemporary Theological Perspective: -- By: Fred A. Malone
RBTR 1:1 (Jan 2004) p. 105
Justification By Faith Alone
In Contemporary Theological Perspective:
A Critique of “New Covenant Nomism”
There are several challenges today to the Reformation’s understanding of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. These come from the New Perspective on Paul movement,1 hypercovenantalism in the Reformed camp,2 Evangelicals and Catholics Together,3 and theological confusion in the general evangelical scene.
These challenges are so significant that, if the theories being proposed are true, we will have to revise our understanding of Jesus’ conflict with Jewish leaders over self-righteousness salvation, as well as our historical understanding of the Bible’s doctrine of justification by faith alone (especially in Romans and Galatians). Inevitably, if these new challenges prevail, we will need to change our evangelistic message, doctrine of assurance, and application of God’s Law and Gospel in pastoral care.
The New Perspective movement, influencing the others, theorizes that first-century Palestinian Judaism was not a works-righteousness religion by which men earned salvation. Rather, supposedly according to Rabbinic sources, it was a covenant salvation entered by grace and kept by non-meritorious obedience. Therefore, final
RBTR 1:1 (Jan 2004) p. 106
justification is reserved for the final judgment when one’s non-meritorious works are revealed as part of true covenant faith. So, Jesus and Paul did not oppose a works-righteousness concept of salvation versus their grace concept, as Luther taught; rather, they opposed the idea that doing “the works of the law” (i.e., ceremonial circumcision, food laws, etc.) was necessary for Gentiles to enter the covenant in order to be justified. Paul’s “justification by faith” and James’ “justification by works” are thus harmonized because justification by faith includes non-meritorious works at the final judgment when one is finally justified by a faith that worked.
This theory also asserts that someone may be a Christian, or new covenant member, yet truly apostatize from the faith, having no non-meritorious works to evidence that faith is true. Thus, covenant members may break the New Covenant by not persevering in obedience. This theory supposedly maintains a faith that works and explains apostasy from covenant membership. This breakable covenant membership, called “covenant nomism,” serves well covenantal paedobaptism and hype...
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