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Mark McCulley
Judge by the Gospel


Is it "Many Scholastic Words" Against the "New Perspective" ???

Is it important for those who have been taught justification at once based ONLY on the "alien righteousness" to be re-educated with a new perspective on justification?

Does the NT teaches a distinction between our works (of any kind, not of law but of faith) and what we are used to calling the "finished work" of Christ. Are words about that distinction biblical or simply the imposing of Aristotleís Western logic onto the text? I myself am dogmatic that Romans 5 teaches justification (and condemnation) apart from what we do. Though it may not use the words "foundation" or "ground" to describe the "one act of obedience", I do not think it a misreading of the text to use such words.

We could also talk about what Calvin thought. I think that would be helpful. To look not only at chapters in the Institutes on justification and sanctification but also at Calvinís commentary on Galatians shows that we cannot distinguish Calvin from Luther in the way the new perspective attempts to do. Calvin talks like Luther about ethics.

Calvin does not confine the reference point for ethics to "union with Christ". Without forensic justification, Calvin claims, a sinner cannot do any works which pleases God. Though Calvin can make distinctions between justification and sanctification, he sees the Bible describing sanctification in forensic language. In "definitive sanctification", we stand "holy" and that "based only" on the finished work of Christ.

Another way to say this is that the elect are not sanctified by works. The elect work because we were sanctified by the blood of Christ. (see Hebrews 10:10-14) When the NT says that people are "being sanctified", it is simply saying that various individuals are becoming Christians at different points of time. In the NT, the word "sanctification" is not used to describe improvement of character and conduct, so that Christians are more or less sanctified". But the new perspective does not object to imposing a category like "progressive sanctification" onto the NT. If we say (and we do!) that justified sinners go on to work and grow in grace, they say we contradict our denial that SANCTIFICATION is process.

So we have a controversy about words here. The new perspective wants to used the word "sanctification" to refer to the Christian life that results from sanctification. And the question I want to raise in this essay is not so much about Calvin or about Romans but about the practical difference (if any) such a RE-EDUCATION about words can have. If we could be persuaded to say (or not say)"progressive sanctification", would the results be more faith and love ? If we could get the new perspective folk to stop using the word "sanctification" except to describe our holy position in Christ, would that be a great benefit for the kingdom?

But why ask such questions? Are we pragmatists, willing to test the truth of a theology by our opinion of its results? Of course I do think we must consider the life that results from "holding to" any doctrine. In particular I want to question the assumption that a new perspective which includes the Christian life into the definition of justification will result in greater concern and energy in the Christian life.

To state my thesis boldly: I do not think that those who hold to justification defined ONLY by imputed righteousness need to be re-educated. The tenor of life of such people is not worse than those who include works of faith into that which justifies.

We are now being told by advocates of ECT (Timothy George) that we cannot insist on forensic justification as gospel because to do so would call into question the salvation of all those people before the Reformation. With the last part I agree: if we say that you must believe in Christ as the justifier of the ungodly to believe he gospel and be saved, then we certainly ARE calling into question the Christian status of all those who condition grace on something they do. But my point is that the new perspective cannot call into question our "scholastic" finished work language without also calling to question the experience of those who keep using the language of Calvin and Luther.

If the Reformation should have never happened, then it is clear that we should stop using Reformation language to describe our relation to God. If Reformation language is only a situation gospel, or only an "application of the gospel", then we must ask if the gospel needs to be applied in our day the way it was in that day.

The new perspective tells us that in the NT the gospel is opposing Jewish privilege and is not opposing merit. Since merit is not the problem, we are told that we should not read texts like Philippians 3 as opposing merit. In other words, as long as you say that God makes you different by grace and not by being Jewish, then there is no need to get picky about HOW you talk about the righteousness of Christ. As long as you talk about the righteousness and not about your roots, then it will not matter so much if this righteousness is in you or in the finished work Such a distinction is scholastic, and matters not.

But if it doesn't matter, then why worry about scholastics imposing such distinctions on the text? Why the many wordy attempts to re-educate the next generation so that it will not talk the language of "alien righteousness" and Ďfinished work"? My thesis: I do not think we need to stop saying that justification was achieved at the cross, and not in us.

I think we need to START SAYING IT! My corollary: the words and works of those who advocate the new perspective are evil. They cannot say that they are only quibbling about words: they are bewitching the people of God to not obey the truth about justification. (Gal 3:1)

The assumption of the new perspective is that what matters is "progressive sanctification".The assumption is that "keeping the commandments" has nothing to do with saying that justification is based outside of the Christian in the finished work. Some of us would say that you cannot keep any commandment of God without first "submitting to the righteousness of God", defined by Scripture as that which is revealed in Christís obedience and not in ours. (Romans 7:1-6; Hebrews 9:14)

Nothing else matters if you do not know and obey the truth that Christ was imputed with the sins of His people and bore them away. If you say that Christ died for everybody but saved only some, then you condition salvation the grace of God in us instead of the finished work, then you do not obey the truth and are neither justified nor sanctified and therefore cannot keep any of the commandments of God.

You mean that we must assent and trust in particular redemption? Of course. There is no redemption which is not particular. Isaiah 53 is the presupposition of everything the NT has to say about redemption: those who are redeemed will be redeemed, and those who think of their redemption as based on what grace will enable them to do are still in darkness.

Is this "justification by words"? Does it matter if somebody knows anything about the cross, if one keeps the commandments anyway? Does it matter if one knows anything about Christ, just so long as God gives them the grace to keep the commands? Obviously I think it does matter but to get back to THEIR claim: does it matter if we are ignorant of the new perceptive, if we keep the commandments whole holding on to "Aristotleís logic" about the finished work?

Why all the words against scholasticism? Are the new scholastics of the "new perspective" saying that their words promote the keeping of the commandments? I remember what Wesley wrote:" if you want to still promote the Christian life, be sure not to go too far with such things as election and imputation."

Neither side in this controversy hss achieved wordlessness. On my side, we are very concerned to say that Christ has achieved all the blessings for salvation at the cross and that this achievement means that all for whom Christ died will repent of ever being bewitched by a perspective which includes our works into the righteousness revealed in the gospel.

Christ died for our sins according to the words of Scripture. Christ did not die of those who either die ignorant or reject the words of the Scripture concerning the death of Christ. We do not invite folks to believe that Jesus died for everybody. We command people to believe that only those for whom Christ finished a work will be saved. Jesus saves. Jesus saves those who believe that Jesus saves. Those who believe that Jesus died to save everybody do not believe that Jesus saves. Those who do not believe that Jesus saves believe that they are their own saviors We should not tell such people that what matters is the keeping of the commandments. We do not invite them to call upon a Christ of their own choosing. We command them to believe the gospel of a finished work for the elect, because if they do not, they remain in their sins and their works are evil.

To the Galatians, Paul expresses himself in very strong words. "If you get bewitched by the words of a false gospel, then you are under the curse which comes with a false gospel." It will not matter that you used to have the apostle Paul (or John Calvin) as your pastor, if you look to your doing for your "progressive sanctification". Then you will not only be less fruitful. You will not be justified. You will be cursed.

So the new perspective is right to warn us not to separate justification from the Christian life. (At this point I will try to avoid the disputed word "sanctification".) If you attempt to live the Christian life by works, you make justification by works and to do so is to be under the curse. But wait, says the new perspective, the problem in Galatians is not merit-works but privilege-works, and concern about merit is only application. OK. Let me use my old forensic language and say it this way: if you "ground" your assurance on anything but "Christ crucified" then you are making something else besides the finished work the condition of your salvation. If you say that Jesus died for everybody but that only some are justified and that this is conditioned on grace working in you, then you are under the curse. If you say that you are justified by Christ crucified but that assurance depends on your Christian life, you may be a very good Calvinist but you still are under the curse.

Like the system of interpretation advocated by new perspective, what they call the "scholastic system" claims to best fit all the NT data about justification. Let me show you... When Christ judges our works at the judgment, He will declare if Christ died for us. The declarative justification of that day will not look at the quantity or quality of our works in order to say if we were justified by the blood of Christ. Works of faith are NOT included in the justification of sinner, because God justifies the elect while they are still ungodly.

Though the mere decree of God makes certain the justification of the elect, the ground of justification is the blood shed for the elect. Though Christ died for his people after and before His people lived, the elect do not receive justification until they are called by the gospel and believe it. So the judgment of works is a declaration of whether the people doing the works were justified by the blood while doing the works.

The judgment is not about how many works needed for you to get justified. It is about justification: the works of those who did not believe the gospel were dead works and fruit unto death. (Romans 6:14;7:1-6; Hebrews 9:14) To by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13) is not simply about not stealing and killing anymore; it is about working while abiding in the gospel of justification. It is about working without in any way including your works in your justification. This is what the apostle John calls "practicing righteousness" (I John 3:7).

The one who includes his works into his justification does not believe the gospel and cannot do any works which please God. We cannot tell by "outward appearance ( II Cor 5!) if somebody believes the gospel: all we have to go by is their abiding confession that they believe the gospel of Christ crucified as having finished the work. But all the works advocated by the new perceptive are works of unbelief in this finished work of Christ. Only if our assurance is not in Christ did, may we say that Christ died for all. Only if our assurance is not in what Christ did, may we include our works into our justification.

This is how I think we Ďapply" Galatians. Even if you avoid Jewish parochialism or roman catholic merit theology, if you set aside Christ crucified when it comes to living the Christian life, then you give evidence of still being fallen from grace and lost in your sins.

There is no mystical know-nothing-ism in Galatians. Paul says that "Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified" When it comes to ANY favor with God, Paul knows nothing but Christ Crucified. There were words, he writes, and you understood them and those of you who give evidence of the effectual call heard those words with the "hearing of faith". This faith was not in your faith, this assurance was not in your assurance.

Faith is not what causes the difference between saved and lost. The difference between saved and lost is caused by Christ crucified: those for who Christ was crucified will be saved, and to be saved they will be given faith not in faith nor in their works of faith but in the work finished at the cross.

The new perspective is a gospel for fools because it looks away from Christ crucified to us and begin to look to our imperfect keeping of the commands. When we on the "scholastic" side try to say that it matters how you keep the commandments, so that you must do it from duty or gratitude but not include it in your justification, the new perspective is so convinced that we are wrong that it also concludes that we really don't think it matter if you keep the commandments.

And when we say that it is the blood of Christ that saves those all for whom Christ died, then the new perspective worries that we "scholastics" worry too much about words, so that we don't think it matters if you believe the gospel or not. When we say that blood is the ground or condition but that faith is the necessary fruit, then they say that such distinctions are neither biblical nor necessary either for becoming a Christian or for living the Christian life.

Of course they say more. Like the Judaizers in Galatians, they say we do not deny anything Paul has taught you about the Scripture or about the resurrection more even about justification. Yes, justification IS based on the blood and is by faith, but we only want to add something to the definition, include something in without of course taking anything away from it.

Just So. Circumcision also matters. We agree with Paul that circumcision does not matter for entrance into the covenant community. We certainly agree that there is no merit in circumcision If you make circumcision a matter of merit, then you are acting as if the law did not command faith and are making circumcision into a "work of law" (Romans 9:32) But we are not advocating any of that. We are only saying that circumcision is a commandment and that it matters as a "work of faith".

This sounds a lot like the Arminian false gospel: we are not denying that the blood of Christ is what saves people. We are only saying that Christ died for everybody and that a work of faith is the difference between the saved and lost at the judgment. After all, the judgment is according to our works, and therefore not ONLY according to the finished cross. We know that Christ fished the work for everybody. And yet the final judgment IS according to works.

Am I trying to say the new perspective is inherently either Arminian or universalist? Yes of course, but let me explain: you can hold to election and still hold the new perspective. The Judaizers certainly believed that it was their election which made them different. I will say something stronger: I think you can "hold to" particular Atonement and still be a Jew rejects Christ.

(I am not talking about Judaizers at this point. Judaizer "accepted Christ". They were under the curse because they accepted Christ on their own Arminian terms instead of Godís terms.)

But my point is not about the Judaizers. Even Jews who rejected Jesus as the Christ did not take lambs to the temple for the sake of everybody: the lambs were slaughtered for particular sinners. Redemption IS particular; there is no other kind of redemption in the Bible. The Atonement is personal. There is no other kind of atonement.

The problem with the new perspective is not solved merely agreeing with the Bible about particular redemption. Although that would be a good start! But the greater problem is if you will not rest on the particular blood and Godís promise about the blood as that which entitles you to all the blessings of salvation. The new perspective does not want to include into justification merit or circumcision but it DOES want to include in it the imperfect Ďtenor" of the Christianís life.

It does not want to stop singing "Jesus thy blood and righteousness". It just want to further glorify God by getting into the question of whether Christians are less likely to steal wallets than are non Christians. Yes, the blood. But also assurance that even if you are not more moral than your neighbor at least your motives are better.

So the false gospel to the Galatians. No circumcision without faith. But then again, no assurance without circumcision either. While the Gentiles may show their faith without circumcision, let us show you my faith in Christ by my circumcision. Don't tell us that circumcision doesn't matter. We never said it was meritorious. We never said that the blood was not the "ground". We just said that you are being scholastic if your worry so much about Uncircumcision. This scholastic law/grace antithesis may have had some application once upon a time, Paul, but you know very well that itís not the gospel and that you can teach grace without saying anything about law or righteousness. We feel that you can teach Christ without getting into details about circumcision.

At the very least I hope I am exhibiting the instable dialectic of the new perspective. It claims to be a practical gain for the church, but it doesn't see any way it could in any way be calling into question the cross or the gospel itself. Of course, circumcision doesn't matter but neither does uncircumcised, so therefore when you get on your scholastic high horse and say that we are cursed if we get circumcised, then you are being very sectarian.

Of course we can appreciate your interpretation on the question, but surely you are not saying that we are not Christians. While we may accuse you of justification by words, surely you will not consign us to hell for saying that works must be included into our justification. Of course our words matter and you need them to straighten you out, but even if we are wrong, Paul, surely you can't be serious that we are cursed. We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He died and rose again.

Even so Arminianism. It claims to be more evangelistic and more honoring to Godís universal love, but it doesn't see any way it could be saying anything one way or the other about the nature of what happened at the cross to take away sins. We are all Christians here and all believe the same thing about substitution, as almost any Calvinist would agree. Of course, universal atonement doesn't matter but neither does particular atonement, so therefore when you get on your scholastic high horse and say that we are under the curse if we condition the application of the universal atonement on something done in the sinner, then you are not only NOT exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit but probably even saying that the fruit of the Spirit doesn't matter.

We can appreciate your interpretation on these things then if we do say that your God is a monster if He demands us to believe the gospel if Jesus didn't die for everybody. Surely we all need to grow in knowledge but no sane man would say that we need to change Gods. We all believe in the same God, but some of us show our faith by being circumcised. We all believe in the same blood, but some of us show our faith by saying that our faith is what makes the blood of Jesus effective. For we all believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He died and rose again.

Mark McCulley

Copyright © 2000 by Mark McCulley. All rights reserved.