Dogmatic Theology And Biblical Perspectives On Justification: A Reply To Leithart -- By: R. Michael Allen

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 70:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: Dogmatic Theology And Biblical Perspectives On Justification: A Reply To Leithart
Author: R. Michael Allen


Dogmatic Theology And Biblical Perspectives
On Justification:
A Reply To Leithart

R. Michael Allen

Daniel J. Treier

R. Michael Allen is an adjunct professor in theology at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.
Daniel J. Treier is Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.

Peter J. Leithart’s article entitled “Justification as Verdict and Deliverance: A Biblical Perspective,”1 addresses the evangelical and Reformed reception (or lack thereof ) of the recent “ecumenical consensus” on the doctrine of justification. Whatever the actual extent of that consensus, Leithart’s article presents a distinctly exegetical case for the now popular idea that “justification includes not only a verdict but also a transforming act” (p. 56). Leithart proposes to offer a “crucial ‘Protestant’ modification of the ‘transformative’ justification that is widely accepted” by demonstrating that “in biblical usage ‘justification’ is a forensic or legal term, but that forensic term is extended in a number of places to settings that are not strictly legal” (p. 58). His purpose then is “not to prove that in Scripture the words ‘justify’ and ‘justification’ always imply deliverance, but, more modestly, to demonstrate that they do carry this connotation in some contexts” (p. 59).

Equally modest will be our reply. Rather than engaging Leithart’s extensive exegetical proposal (concerning Ps 35:22–28; Isa 54:11–17; Rom 3:10–18; 4; 5:15–19; 6:7; 8:1–4; 1 Tim 3:16), however sympathetic we might be to aspects of it, we wish to challenge some of his apparent methodological assumptions regarding the relationship between biblical terminology and dogmatic theology. Apart from the merits of its exegetical case, perhaps Leithart’s article should have been subtitled “Biblical Concepts” or “Biblical Terms” rather than “A Biblical Perspective,” because its argument fails to move clearly beyond the strictly semantic to a fully analytical domain of dogmatic theology.

Leithart’s dogmatic case flounders insofar as he fails to distinguish between scriptural language and theological terminology. He maintains that “any doctrine of justification that claims to be exegetically based must integrate these passages. A doctrine of ...

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