Friday, January 20, 2012

Justification: Five Views Review

Ever have one of those conversations that just won't end? Like you can't wait for it to be over and yet it just drags on and on. You look for ways to get out and eventually, you just have to groan and get through it.

I really feel that way about the whole justification debate. It just keeps going and going. People keep fighting over it and writing different perspectives on it.

You have the Reformed position on one side and the New Perspective on another side and the mediating position and the Catholic position. They keep quoting the same passages and making reference to Second Temple Judaism and after a while the weary reader just wants to step back and say, "Uh, can we move on yet?"

The whole thing is a shame because justification is a central doctrine for the Christian faith. If we miss the mark on this thing we can go into some dangerous territory such as salvation by works.

Which is why I sometimes get frustrated with books like Justification: Five Views. It isn't that the contributors aren't fantastic. You have Michael Horton, James Dunn, Michael Bird, Veli-Matti Karkkainen, and Gerald Collins and Oliver Rafferty. It is like a dream team of theologians coming together to debate justification. You know the essays are going to be, for the most part, solid (with the odd exceptions of Karkkkainen's and Collins/Rafferty's).

The problem is that at the end of the day, there is almost no progress made in the debate. There simply is not enough room in each essay to cover the topic well. This is a complex debate and, sadly, there just isn't enough room to cover the topic well. Worse, the reader can get the impression that each view is equally, possibly, correct. There can be no real exegesis done and most of the time we are left with summary statements. But then again, I suppose the five views books are really just supposed to be introduction. As an introduction, the book does ok.

But at times it just seems like it makes an already long conversation go longer. Take that for what you will.

I mentioned above that Karkkainen and Collin/Rafferty's chapters were not quite up to par. Let me be a bit more forceful--they are not good chapters. While the first three contributors do a really good job given the restrains the second half of the book is just weak. Karkkainen does no exegesis and Collin/Rafferty's chapter is a weird mix of a historical overview and an autobiography. I had no feel for what the contributors actually believed. It was just baffling and sadly, they lower the overall quality of the book.

So should you buy the book? Believe it or not, I think the answer is yes. Why? Because, to date, there is no book I am aware of that provides a side by side look at each view. For those who are "up" on the conversation, there is some clarity provided--I found it beneficial. I think those who have not read much in the justification debate are going to walk away a bit confused at points but will find it overall useful.

So let the conversation continue...and continue...and continue...
 *I received a review copy from IVP Academic in exchange for a fair review*

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