Saturday, 14 March 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 3 The First Among Equals

In chapter 2, Fesko continues exploring presuppositions regarding justification. He is exploring whether justification is at the centre of Paul's theology. Yet to talk of a 'centre' is a little ambiguous. One needs to define what one means by 'the centre' first. Fesko dismisses the mistaken notion of 18th century 'Reformed' theologians who described justification as a central dogma. He describes a central dogma as: "a principle of sufficient reason" upon which the entire system could be built. This means that from one principle, an entire system of thought could be logically deduced. (p73) This means in effect that justification becomes the key that unlocks everything (Tillich was an example of a theologian who constructed a 'system of justification'(p73)).

Fesko argues that this way of thinking was not the thinking of the 16th and 17th century Reformers and that it was an historically anachronistic way of doing theology (p74) for the Reformers and by extension, the apostle Paul. The Reformers organised their theology around various loci as opposed to gathering into a cohesive whole only those doctrines which relate to particular dogmatic premises (p73 - quoting Richard Muller). The dogma theory was a gift for liberals. They could quietly eject doctrines they didn't like because they didn't relate to the central dogma, and it gave them God-like knowledge (trampling over the archtypal and ectypal distinction) as they had this controlling presuppositional key unlocking everything.

In contrast Fesko states that it seems more reasonable to say that there are central emphases in Scripture, or especially in Paul, as we look to place the doctrine of justification in his thought and within our theological system (p75).

We should view justification as a first among equals. It IS the article by which the church stands or falls (p79). Fesko reminds us that it was so important to the Reformation because it is at the heart and proclamation of the gospel (p78). Justification marks the entry point to the great salvation. Fesko reminds us that whenever the question of "what must I do to be saved" is raised in Scripture, as in the story of the Phillipian jailer, it is not union with Christ, sanctification or predestination, or all of the other elements of the ordo salutis that come to the fore (p78). (Wow. Smokin' hot stuff!) Paul doesn't remind the Galatians of their union with Christ when faced with the Jadaizing threat. He points them to justification.

The clarity and force of Fesko's argumentation really is astounding and enthralling.

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