The doctrine of justification has drawn much attention lately. A number of theologians, spearheaded by N. T. Wright, have challenged the traditional Reformed understanding in which justification is a legal transaction whereby God declares a sinner righteous. Justification was the watershed issue of the Reformation and the most important doctrine separating the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism ever since. So when someone begins tampering with such a cardinal issue it is a serious matter.
Wright, and others, believe that the Reformers led by Luther and Calvin, overreacted to the excesses of 14th century Rome. In the process they projected the legalism of their day back into the Scriptures of Paul’s day. By doing this they made a number of mistakes. First, they confused the New Testament Judaizers with the medieval monks. Some within Catholicism may have made Christianity into a legalistic faith, but that was not the position of the Judaizers. The Judaizers had justification and sanctification down right, where they error was in their understanding of church (or covenant community). They did not understand that God was doing a new thing and these Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be part of the covenant community. This leads to the second mistake by the Reformers, these theologians say, and that is the New Testament epistles, in particular Romans and Galatians, have been misinterpreted by the church especially since the Reformation. These are not books, we are told, that tell us how we (as sinners) can be right (justified) before a Holy God. Rather they are epistles that explain the makeup of the covenant community. This new understanding of justification has been termed “The New Perspective on Paul.”
Addressing this new perspective, as I have said, are a number of books. This one by Eveson is a good one. This author does two things: he gives the reader a clear, biblically based understanding of justification. Second, he defines this understanding against all challengers. This includes not only the New Perspective proponents, but also those who signed the ECT Agreement, as well as Anglicans and Lutherans who are cozying up to Rome. This is an extremely helpful book.