Justification: A New Series

Justification has been described in various ways by Reformers we respect and admire.  Luther spoke of it as the foundation of the church and Calvin said it was the main hinge on which religion turned.  However, we say it the doctrine is central.  What is more, it’s as beautiful as it is ministerial.  It was when he was nearing his death that J. Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, cabled John Murray saying, “So thankful for the active obedience of Christ, no hope without it.”  Machen was obviously emphasizing one aspect of what we receive in the grace of justification.   

However, the good old doctrine of justification has been opposed for about thirty years now.  Its primary contender is the New Perspective on Paul or the New Perspective on first century Judaism, whichever moniker you prefer.  So, for a while we have had proponents of the New Perspective saying things like, “Well, what Luther or Calvin taught about justification, Paul and Judaism was not accurate.  They didn’t have first century Judaism in mind but the Roman Catholic Church.”  In other words, advocates of the New Perspective believe that Luther and Calvin (not to mention those in their wake) committed the hermeneutical error of eisegesis.  They read their own situation into the text rather than reading the text on its own terms.  This has led to confusion.

So, we are beginning a new series on Theology for Everyone.  It’s a series on justification, the old perspective. I have assembled a group of capable writers who are going to address things like the Old and New Perspective on Paul, Luther on justification, Arminians and how they construe the doctrine. We are also going to look at things like justification and assurance, union with Christ and imputation. What is more, we also want you to see the practical value of this doctrine and so we are going to explore why justification is important to disciplines like Biblical counseling as well as others. 

I am excited about this new series because it takes us back to the old perspective on Paul’s view of justification.  Now, not everything that is old is good.  Old socks and shoes that have seen better days need to see the bottom of the trash can.  However, the old Perspective on Paul only gets better with age.   I think I love the doctrine of justification today more than I did at first.  As I have understood my own failure and need it has been the balm of Gilead just as it was for Machen.  Now, I can hear some you now, “Oh, here is another fella who thinks that the doctrine of justification saves.”  My dear friends, let me assure you, Christ saves and we are justified in Him which means that His justification is our justification before God.  No, the doctrine doesn’t save, Christ saves.  But Christ does not save us apart from doctrine of justification.  Praise be to God.

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is Professor-elect of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.