Monday, 26 October 2009

Justification: Understanding the Reformed Doctrine - Part 16 Does Premillenialism Corrupt the Gospel?

It's been a while since I dipped into Fesko's tome on Justification. I don't know if you're like me, but when I read a long book, sometimes I just need a break in order to re-new my enthusiasm. Well, a Godfrey book on Calvin, a Zaspel/Wells book on New Covenant Theology and four DVD box-sets of The Wire later I'm ready to resume watching Fesko take up the cudgels in defense of our beloved doctrine.

Boy does Fesko float my boat in chapter 12 when he relates justification to the final judgement. How does one reconcile justification sola fide to the final judgement? It is Fesko's contention firstly, that Christ's resurrection is "paradigmatic for believers" (p300), and he cites support from passages along the way like 1 Cor. 15:20b which describes Christ's resurrection as "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep". Fesko goes on to argue that Christ's resurrection is a forensic event where God both declared Christ 'just' and inaugurated a new status of sonship-in-power.

Bearing in mind the forensic nature of Christ's resurrection, and the fact that it serves as a pattern for the resurrection of believers, serves to support Fesko's thesis that the resurrection and final judgement are one and the same thing. ZOWIE BATMAN! Let that sit for a bit. Fesko supports this thesis by considering:

(1) being raised with Christ according to the inner and outer man. Fesko here stresses that the resurrection is a revelation of a present status believers only enjoy inwardly (Rom. 8:10), while the outer body wastes away (2 Cor. 4:16-5:5). Believer's are already raised with Christ (Col. 3:1-4). Resurrection does not imply a two-stage justification however. It is a publication of what already is.
(2) the immediacy of the resurrection transformation. The above passage from Colossians states that when Christ appears we will immediately appear with him in glory. Another passage says we shall be changed "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15:52). It is when we see him that we shall become like him (1 John 3:2). There is no evidence of our waiting before Christ conducts an analysis on 'the whole life lived'.
(3) the extent of the resurrection. Fesko convincingly shows that the resurrection of the righteous to life is glorifcation just as the resurrection of the wicked to death is judgement (see Daniel 12:1-2 and John 5:28-29)
(4) the ground of judgement. Whereas the wicked are judged according to works the righteous are judged by faith alone. In the judgement scene in Rev. 20:11-12, there is a book of deeds and a book of life, referred to previously as "the book of the life of the Lamb that was slain" (Rev. 13:8). Attempts to see Romans 2:1-3:8 referring to the judgement of Christians fails to take into account the conspicuous absence of the word 'faith'.

Fesko is clear, the cross of Christ is the only judgement the believer will face. Eschatological theories which ignore the symbol laden structure of Revelation and separate the eschaton into distinct stages of resurrection-judgement-glorification lend themselves to undermining justification sola fide. The glory of amillenialism is that, rather than seeing the the eschaton in these distinct stages, it sees them as an organic unity. Who said eschatology was a secondary issue? ;)


John Thomson said...


Thanks for summarising these books. How does Fresko deal with other texts that impinge on judgement.

Matt 25
1 Cor 3:10-17
1 Cor 4:5
2 Cor 5:10
Roms 14:10

One example quoted.

Rom 14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

It is an attractive theory. I do agree that resurrection life is the corollary of a righteous verdict; without righteousness there is no resurrection unto life. yet, I wonder if Fresko is applying his logic too rigorously. Various texts strongly support an actual judgement. I have listed a few. It is hard to view these as metaphorical however strongly the texts that Fresko quotes (texts I have been drawn to myself asking the same questions)seem to suggest the matter of standing is dealt with.

I am not sure that Fresko's equation of resurrection to life = justification/vindication and therefore no judgement seat can sit easily with these texts.

More, if the final judgement of believers is not simply resurrection then the Premils extended timetable after the Second Coming with a 'slot' for the judgement seat is arguably more feasible than amilism where everything does kind of happen at once.
I am not saying I think Fresko is wrong. I would like him to be correct. To persuade me he needs to exegete the judgement texts convincingly.

Nick Mackison said...

Fesko didn't cover Matt. 25, but he did touch upon 1 Cor. 4. He said that the judgement ministers face, and by extension all believers, happens immediately at the parousia too.

Fesko then cited 2 Thessalonians 1:6, 7 "God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels." The fire which burns up the minister's work is revealed immediately with the return of Christ.

For insterest sake, he also noted that the robes which represent the righteous acts of the saints in Rev. 19:8 were given to the church by God. Quite an interesting metaphor. Our righteous acts consist in a covering that is given to us. Fesko believes this refers to an imputation of righteousness i.e. the righteousness of the saints consists in an imputed covering. I think he may be on to something.

I don't know John, I think there's something about this that proves very satisfying to the soul. My heart witnesses to me of my need of this doctrine.

Michael said...

I've been wrestling this topic for some time as well. I initially vehemently opposed a judgment according to works schema since what I imputed to that doctrine was what I find in the NPP - a second justification. However, after further study of the texts (some mentioned above) and Reformation history, there is a consensus on the believer's post-justification works (i.e. sanctification) coming under evaluation by Jesus - and rewarded in the new eschaton. Look at the Parable of the Talents and the Minas for example. Not too difficult to reconcile when we recognize that the Covenant of Grace consists of a double benefit: justification and sanctification (distinct but inseparable). I love Fesko and have been edified by his teaching, but to deny or demphasize the evaluation of our Spirit-wrought works (covered by Christ's righteousness), seems to not comport with the thrust of the of the NT, Westminster Standards, and much of Reformed history.
Humbly submitted,

Brandon said...

I recently ordered Fesko's book and I really look forward to digging into it. It sounds like he is on the right track, because we have to take into account the fact that the judgment is already determined, obviously, without our works being judged (we are already in paradise awaiting the last day).

Michael, I don't think a reward for work done in this life is inconsistent with what Fesko argues (though I could be completely wrong as I haven't read him yet). But the important point is that our judgment will not determine if we are going to heaven or hell, (that is already determined - contra Piper & Wright), but will merely determine levels of reward. Likewise it seems the judgment of the wicked will not determine if they are going to heaven or hell because they are "condemned already." Rather the judgment will determine their level of suffering.

Also, I think the righteous deeds of the saints are absolutely Christ's deeds. See Gill's comments.