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Friday, June 08, 2007

JD Crossan - Faith or Works

In Christian theology, justification is God's act of declaring or making a sinner righteous before God ..... The extent, means, and scope of justification are of significant debate for all in the Western church. Justification is seen by historians as being the theological fault line that divided Catholic from Protestant during the Reformation .... - Wikipedia

I've been reading PamBG's Book Blog, and the latest post is on chapter 2 of "The Story of Atonement" by Stephen Sykes, which deals with the idea of justification by faith.

Coincidently, today I also saw a post at Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway Weblog - Faith and Works with Crossan, Wright and Others - about just that topic. Mark mentions a column at the Washington Post/Newsweek site, On Faith, that asks the question (for this week) - What's more important from a faith perspective? Being saved, or doing good works? - and has that question asnwered by a number of interesting people, including John Dominic Crossan, NT Wright, Thomas Reese SJ, and Paula Fredriksen, plus readers comments. ... link.

Here below is the beginning of JD Crossan's reply to the question ...

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Both/And not Either/Or

The answer from within my Christian tradition is both/and rather than either/or. And, for me, no one ever expressed better than the apostle Paul that creative dialectic of “being saved” and “doing good."

It was Paul who took the message of Jesus out into the wider Mediterranean world and proclaimed Christ’s biblical vision of peace through non-violent justice against Rome’s imperial vision of peace through violent victory. That former program was, as he said in to the Corinthians in southern Greece, power and wisdom for God but impotence and stupidity for this world; just as that latter program was power and wisdom for this world but impotence and stupidity for God (1 Cor 1-4).

Here, then, is Paul’s own answer to this week’s question: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” he wrote to the Philippians in northern Greece, “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:12b-13). I make four comments on that text—which is, by the way, my favorite text from the seven authentic letters of Paul ......

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4 Comments:

Blogger Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

Great post. You've stolen my thunder on this one a little bit, because I've been percolating a post about it in my own mind for a long, long time. The only thing that delays me is that it would be a lengthy one.

I've read literally hundreds and hundreds of pages of arguments between Catholics and Protestants over this issue, each side trying mightily to reconcile what Paul said with what James said. I was pretty much coming to the conclusion that it couldn't be honestly done. I was increasingly convinced that Paul and James just weren't on the same page on this matter despite all of the apologetics thrown around it by each side trying to harmonize them (although,it should be noted, that even though Catholic and Protestant controversialists love to go on and on about this, theologians at the highest level have at times been able to come to a consensus about it, as in the Joint Declaration by the Catholics and Lutherans on Justification).

Even though a lot of people consider scholars like Wright, Crossan, and Fredriksen to be "heterodox", they were in fact the ones who wound up being especially helpful to me in regard to this issue, especially the guys who write about the New Perspective on Paul. Looking at Paul's thought in a new kind of way was a sort of key in unlocking the puzzle for me.

11:58 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Jeff,

I look forward to what you have to post on the subject. I don't really understnad it, so I was intrigued when I saw that link at the NT Gateway.

One of the most interesting things about it that I read in the wikipedia page about justification was the eastern orthodox stance, which is different than both catholic and protestant ... The Eastern church sees humanity as inheriting the disease of sin from Adam, but not his guilt; hence, there is no need in Eastern theology for any forensic justification - link

12:11 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

In regard to Justification, many Protestants highly emphasize that righteousness is imputed to us in a forensic sense. In their view, the verb “dikaioo”, is a declarative term, and the the tenses in which it is used (dikaios, dikaiosune, dikaiow) clearly indicate that this is a legal, alien, external covering of our sins by Christ’s righteousness.

Catholic teaching is that we are transformed through Baptism, and that Christ’s righteousness is infused in us. We believe that what God declares righteous, he makes righteous.

As you said and as the wiki article points out, the Orthodox position emphasizes “theosis “. Justification to the Orthodox seems so obviously a matter of being "made" righteous it looks to my unfamiliar eye like they barely have even found it necessary to write about soteriology at all outside of what has been written by St. John Chrysostom. As a matter of fact, some Orthodox are inclined to criticize the entire Western tradition in looking at it too much like a Roman law court. As for all the tenses of 'dikaioo' and what they can or cannot mean, I find it interesting that we in the West are so comfortable in presuming to tell the Greek Orthodox how to understand Greek. Still, it seems to me that Paul belabored the justification point constantly in his letters, and the EO don’t seem to engage it much for some reason...

Maybe it’s because of their Augustine problem... St. Augustine wasn’t proficient in Greek, and the EO claim that he misread Romans 5:12 as "and so death spread to all men, through one man, in whom all men sinned" instead of "Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned." (They say that in Latin the Greek idiom eph ho which means because of was mis-translated as in whom.) They believe that we inherit death and corruption from Adam, but not his sin.

1:57 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

It sounds like you have a really good understanding of the whole subject, Jeff.

I know it's probably just that I still don't get it, but I have to say that, like atonement, it seems to be so contrived and convoluted that I have a hard time seeing it as anything but an artificially constructed theory. The wiki article mentions that the gospels don't have Jesus talking about justification in any way that substantiates such a theory.

I guess it's meaningful in a way because the different theories show the different ways each religion sees God. In this particular instance, I like the EO view of God best.

2:41 PM  

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