Thursday, November 22, 2007

Books on Judgment by Works

The subject of a final judgment by works (and its relationship to the topic of justification by faith) tends to be a severely under-discussed subject in Christianity. So I have been pleased to see and read a few recent works on the subject:

Kent L. Yinger, Paul, Judaism, and Judgment according to Deeds, 1999

Alan Stanley, Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works?: The Role of Works in Salvation in the Synoptic Gospels, 2006

Chris VanLandingham, Judgment & Justification In Early Judaism And The Apostle Paul, 2006

Michael Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective, 2007

(If anyone has recommendations of any other works dealing with this topic, please do let me know!)

Each of these works approaches the topic from a different angle, and so provides various insights.

Yinger is interested in seeing how Paul and Judaism compare in their treatments of judgment according to deeds. He analyzes a variety of Jewish and Pauline passages and concludes there is no difference between Paul and Judaism on this issue - both teach a final judgment in accordance with deeds. Yinger strongly emphasizes throughout his work that such a judgment should not be understood as a simple counting up of good works and bad (as many Protestants seem to interpret it as), bur rather a holistic judgment that takes into account one's entire life, deeds and attitude, and takes into account repentance and forgiveness and mercy. Yinger is a strong advocate of the New Perspective on Paul and attempts to explore how Covenantal Nomism can be used to reconcile an affirmation of final judgment by works with the idea of justification by faith. He appeared to be firmly convinced it could, but I couldn't fully follow his explanation. He continually asserts that there is no conflict between the idea of justification by faith and judgment by works, yet I wasn't sure I understood why he thought this. My rating: 4/5, a good balance between simple and comprehensive with a tad of unclarity in his systematic theology.

Stanley is interested in the teachings of Jesus in the synoptic gospels which at face value appear to teach a final judgment by works, and he is interested in exploring the conflict with his Evangelical heritage. He analyzes these passages, very often coming to conclusions in his exegesis that he admits are unusual, and concludes that a final judgment according to works is indeed taught by Jesus. In order to reconcile this with with notions of faith and grace, he draws up a systematic theology in which believers gain faith through grace, and then with the power of the spirit and Christ are sanctified in order to pass a final judgment according to deeds. He seemed keen to affirm that only Christians can thus pass the final judgment, and non-Christians lacking grace, faith, Jesus and the spirit couldn't gain a positive judgment simply out of their own efforts and works-righteousness. On occasion this concern looked in danger of driving the exegesis. My rating: 3/5, some interesting thoughts, book could have used a good editor.

VanLandingham dismisses Yinger's analysis of the Jewish texts as insufficiently thorough, and embarks on his own extremely extensive analysis of Jewish texts (strongly reminiscent of Paul and Palestinian Judaism) which after a while demands judicious skim-reading. He concludes that Judaism does indeed teach a final judgment according to works. VanLandingham's foil for his project is E.P. Sanders, and VanLandingham takes Sanders to task for attempting to turn Judaism into a religion of grace rather than works. I found VanLandingham's interpretation of Sanders theses in PPJ quite different to my own impression of Sanders from my reading of PPJ, so I was a bit unsure here. VanLandingham makes clear he likes the notion of a final judgment by works (since it shows God is just, good and non-abitrary), and he is upset that the New Perspective has bought into the 'grace is good, works are bad' concept promulgated by the Reformation. He notes that the idea of a final judgment by works doesn't at all exclude things like repentance and forgiveness from being taken into account. The second part of the book turns to Paul's theology. After analyzing texts from Paul, he concludes that Paul teachings a final judgment according to works just like Judaism. He rejects the notion that this is a judgment of what the holy spirit or Christ has achieved in the believer and asserts that it is a judgment of the individual and what the individual has done. VanLandingham is concerned about how this can be reconciled with justification by faith. He (naively) accepts that faith means belief, but thinks that 'justification' has been misunderstood, and that justification by faith is simply that a person is forgiven their past (but not future) misdeeds when they become a Christian and given a (temporarily) clean slate. Thus justification by faith is roughly equivalent to the Jewish concept of repentance and forgiveness, and is not related to final judgment (which is by works). My rating: 5/5, yes it's a tome and hard-reading, but that's because it's got more quality content than you could shake a stick at.

Bird is a 'card-carrying Calvinist' who is interested in the New Perspective on Paul and would like to take a middle position between it and the Reformed tradition in order to get the best of both worlds. Unlike the previous works mentioned, Bird spends only a chapter on the theme of final judgment by works, and his interest lies in reconciling it with salvation by faith alone. He thinks the view that Christians receive the Spirit's assistance in doing good works and therefore being able to attain a positive judgment is a view that has much to commend it, and yet one which ultimately leaves no room for Christ. He therefore emphasizes Christ as the originator of good works and sees our union with Christ as the means by which Christ's works are done by us. My rating: 1 / 5, he doesn't really make arguments or give evidence so much as simply state his own view on various issues.


Blogger Dane Ortlund said...

Andrew - another one is Paul Rainbow, The Way of Salvation: The Role of Christian Obedience in Justification (Paternoster, 2005). I'll be posting a review of it in the next few days. Dane Ortlund

Blogger Andrew said...

I would be interested in seeing your review of that book. A couple of months ago I had a look at some reviews of that book and browsed its contents and decided it was focused on hair-splitting within Calvinism so I didn't bother to read it.


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