Dr. Josh Moody, in his work Jonathan Edwards and Justification gives us an idea. Enlisting several other Edwards scholars for contributions, Moody goes hunting for answers to the current questions on justification in the works of the greatest theologian born on American soil.
I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Moody a few questions about his book, Edwards, and justification. He was kind enough to give very thorough answers!
I’m giving away three free copies of Jonathan Edwards and Justification! You can learn how to win one at the end of this post.
(Update: the winners have been chosen!)
1. In the recent conversation on justification, most of the historical theology discussions have focused on the Reformers.
Why do you think Jonathan Edwards has been leapfrogged? What contribution does he offer that we have missed?
I don’t know whether he’s been leapfrogged – there’s quite a lot of discussion on it within Edwards scholar circles, to be fair. But I think you’re right that more attention has been given to ‘were the Reformers right on justification?’ I suppose because they were so formative for Protestantism in general and Reformation(al) Christianity as a whole.
I think the critical contribution that Edwards offers is answering the questions that people have about the Reformer’s position. I don’t think Edwards is saying anything new. However, Edwards is creative enough, intelligent enough, and faithful enough to the text to bring compelling answers to questions that we often ask about justification.
2. Early on in your book, you argue, “that Edwards’s view of justification is relevant today because it articulates the Protestant Reformation view of justification in a way that addresses some of the contemporary questions that are posed to that view” (18).
What are some of those contemporary questions?
In some ways the contemporary questions are the same as the older ones, namely, ‘doesn’t the Bible also say that you have to obey God in order to be saved?’
But recently those older questions have been refitted in a way that reflects the ‘new perspective’ on Paul, which itself arguably relies on E. P. Sanders’ tome Paul and Palestinian Judaism. It is usually thought to claim that the Reformers were wrong about what Paul said because they misunderstood the beliefs of those he was arguing against.
Instead, however, what emerges at least sometimes is that those who criticize the biblical doctrine that the Reformers’ preached may have rather worryingly misunderstood what that doctrine was itself in the first place!
Edwards clarifies that doctrine and advances it in ways that implicitly and explicitly answer both the old and the contemporary critiques. Obviously he hasn’t read Nag Hammadi or the Qumran scrolls, so he does not engage in a sort of modern Second Temple Judaism debate. But he does engage with the debate at a doctrinal level in a way that re-tools our response at that level.
3. In his chapter, Samuel T. Logan writes, “Edwards, in effect, asserts an essential unity between justification and sanctification, a unity which the justification disputants in the 1630s in Boston and many modern justification disputants may not have fully appreciated” (109).
How have those who question the traditional Reformed position on justification failed to fully appreciate the unity between justification and sanctification?
Oh! Where to begin. The old formula – used over and over again – is perhaps the easiest. We are saved by faith alone but not by the faith that remains alone. In other words, as Jesus teaches, by their fruit you will know them. A branch that bears no fruit will be cut off; does that mean that the route to fruit is works righteousness? No it is by abiding in him.
Fundamentally, this does not seem to me a tricky idea. It is certainly far easier than complicated sounding phrases like forensic righteousness. Jesus, the Bible, Paul, Edwards, Spurgeon, are all saying that you are saved by faith but if that does not lead to a changed lifestyle than you have no biblical reason for assuming that you will go to heaven.
If you are still struggling with this connection between justification and sanctification, stop thinking about ‘justification’ and start thinking about ‘regeneration.’ If someone is alive they act differently than if someone is dead…or else they are still dead.
4. Kyle Strobel quotes Edwards, saying, “God doth in the sentence of justification pronounce a man perfectly righteous, or else he would need a further justification after he is justified” (52). Yet New Perspective proponents argue precisely for the need for a future justification.
Why is this a misstep, according to Reformed doctrine? In adhering to a future justification, do N. P. proponents confuse justification and glorification?
Edwards’ particular point is well taken: he is exposing the self-referential incoherence of the New Perspective project. To be justified is to be pronounced right; so have I been pronounced right or not? If I have, then I am. If not, I am not. It can’t be half of one and half of the other.
A judge cannot half-acquit me. If he acquits me again at a later point on the same crime it shows I was not acquitted before. It’s a form of double-jeopardy.
I think the language here gets confusing. If someone says that on the last day we will be judged according to your works, then I have no problem with that at one level. For, all our works are Christ’s work in us and through us. So the judgment that is taking place is the ultimate ‘fruit inspection’ as to whether we are really ‘in’ Christ, or not. There is ample evidence in the Bible that there will be a judgment on the last day according to what we have done. But what we have done is evidence of what Christ has done in us by his Spirit.
There are perhaps some technical issues to do with how we understand the Greek word group for ‘righteousness’ in various passages. But basically I think that is a confusing sidetrack. Yes, Jesus will say to the sheep and the goats different things based upon their behavior (Matthew 25). But that behavior is evidence of their new relationship won solely at the cross, and received solely through grace by faith.
5. On page 115, after summarizing Edwards’s argument in the first two parts of Religious Affections, Logan states, “All of this brings us to part 3 of The Affections, the most important section of the most important book ever written by a human being.”
That is quite a claim! Agree or disagree?
I always agree with Logan! One of the books I tell pastors they should read before they accept a pastorate is The Religious Affections.
It diagnoses real spirituality from false and provides gospel remedies and encouragements as appropriate. Few more important, or more tricky, pastoral matters face the budding preacher or pastoral counselor. Eternity is at stake, and that’s more important than anything else.
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