In Gal 3:10–4:7 Paul gives two reasons why works will not justify. One the one hand, he says that justification by works would change the terms of God’s covenant with Abraham. And, Paul adds, one simply isn’t allowed to do that sort of thing with an established covenant (see Gal 3:15–18). On the other hand, he says—or, at the very least, implies—that justification by works is impossible, since one would have to perfectly obey the law in its entirety to be justified (see Gal 3:10). Some think this second point misrepresents Judaism. After all, Paul’s insistence on perfect obedience fails to take on board the law’s own provision for imperfection: the sacrificial system. Has Paul (deliberately?) misrepresented Judaism or did Judaism, as Paul implies, actually require perfect obedience from those who wanted to live (Gal 3:12)? Tom Schreiner nicely slices the onion, noting that “[p]erfect obedience was not required under the Sinai covenant, for the law provided via sacrifices for those who transgressed. In Paul’s view, however (see Gal 3:15–4:7), the Sinai covenant was no longer in force. Therefore, those who observe circumcision and the law to obtain justification (Gal 5:2–4) are turning the clock backwards in salvation history” (Galatians, 213, emphasis added; cf. also n. 65), and are doing so without the benefit of the now-fulfilled sacrificial system. Thus, to borrow E. P. Sanders’ famous (and reductionistic) line, “This is what Paul finds wrong in Judaism: it is not Christianity.”
Note: For Schreiner’s resolution to the tension his solution creates with Paul’s first observation noted above (i.e., inheritance not through obedience but promise), see his comments on pp. 231–33, where he distinguishes between the promises (inheritance) of the Mosaic covenant (see, e.g., “land,” 233) and of the Abrahamic covenant (i.e., “final inheritance,” 231; salvation, 233). One came through obedience; the other through promise (233).
by Bill Combs
I received a phone call from a pastor in Florida a few weeks back who was going to be speaking in his church from the book of Ephesians. He wanted my opinion as to what I considered to be the best commentary on the epistle. I quickly told him to look at Harold Hoehner’s Ephesians, published by Baker, and Peter O’Brien’s Letter to the Ephesians, published by Eerdmans.
This is a question that we often get at the seminary: “What is the best commentary on ______? In order to help students, pastors, and others answer this question, a number of years ago we created what we call the Basic Library Booklist. You can find a copy here. The Booklist has been specifically designed to answer the question of which books are the best on a particular book of the Bible or theological subject. In the case of commentaries, best means those that are the most helpful in exegesis and exposition, as well as understanding the overall argument of a book. The books are listed in order of importance. The first book listed is the one that should probably be purchased first, though it is doubtful that one commentary would be sufficient for adequate sermon preparation.
Besides commentaries the Booklist also rates books in systematic theology, historical theology, and practical theology. Check out the Booklist and let us know what you think.
I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark together with some Christians and “seekers” over the past several weeks. (We’ve been using a fantastic study put out by the folks at The Good Book Company entitled Christianity Explored.) One thing that has struck me while re-reading Mark is that no one in the narrative doubts that Jesus had power. No one doubts he’s a wonder-worker. That part of his identity was really unmistakable. You don’t find anyone going around trying to dispute it, trying to prove that Jesus really didn’t heal the fellow with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45), the lame guy who’d been lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), or the synagogue leader’s daughter (Mark 5:21-43). Maybe some did—though I suspect they would have had a difficult time, considering the nature of the maladies Jesus cured. (They were slightly higher up on the difficulty—and conspicuous—scale than headaches or insomnia.)
What you find instead are his religious opponents waiting around “to see if he would heal [anyone] on the Sabbath” (Mark 3:2), because, in their view, that would prove that he was colluding with the devil. In fact, this is what leads his opponents to make the implausible suggestion that Jesus healed sickness and cast out demons—i.e., that he brought order out of the chaos sin created—by the power of devil (Mark 3:20-30 and par.; see also Matthew 9:27-34; John 8:48-59; John 10:1-21)! Considering Jesus’ unmistakable power and his attitude toward the law, that was the only option open for them.
What I’ve tried to say to my friends throughout our study is that this is precisely how Mark wants to leave his readers. He only gives us these two options: either Jesus was in league with the devil and was justly crucified as a messianic pretender OR he was Israel’s long-awaited messiah, sent from God to do away with humanity’s sin once-and-for-all (see, e.g., Mark 10:45). There’s really no middle ground.* There’s no version that allows readers to conclude that Jesus was simply a good teacher or an inspiring example. His amazing works and attendant claims refuse to fit into such tight quarters. They will not be domesticated like this. They demand a more profound verdict.
*Editor’s note: For early non-Christian corroboration of Mark’s portrait, see, e.g., the Jewish tradition preserved in Justin, Dial. 69.7 (cf. Deuteronomy 13:5); Jos., Ant. 18.63–64 [XVIII, iii 3]; and b. Sanh. 43A.
One of the persistent themes of the conservative evangelical movement has been a recovery of a “theology of the cross” from its eclipse by a “theology of glory.” In general, this is a positive development.
The distinction between these two categories is generally attributed to Martin Luther. In brief, a theology of glory reflects in a praxis born out of Pelagian assumptions. Those who hold to it see God’s purposes best achieved through strength and power. In Gerald Forde’s words, theologians of glory “operate on the assumption that what we need is optimistic encouragement, some flattery, some positive thinking, some support to build our self-esteem. Theologically speaking it operates on the assumption that we are not seriously addicted to sin, and that our improvement is both necessary and possible. We need a little boost in our desire to do good works.” He adds that while theologians of glory sometimes speak positively of grace, “the hallmark of a theology of glory is that it will always consider grace as something of a supplement to whatever is left of human will and power” (Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 16). In such a model the best case scenario, in Michael Bird’s commentary, is for the theologian of glory to “see the cross as a means to an end rather than the end itself.” At worst, the cross becomes fundamentally unnecessary—even a stumbling block or object of scorn.
Theologians of the cross, on the other hand, reflect Christian presuppositions. Those who hold to it see God’s purposes best achieved through weakness and death. They begin with the fact that the natural man is totally depraved and thus incapable of mustering the power and energy of will to improve his standing. For this reason, Forde opines, “theologians of the cross know that we can’t be helped by optimistic appeals to glory, strength, wisdom, positive thinking, and so forth because those things are themselves the problem.” Instead of “coddling the sinner with false optimism,” the theologian of the cross insists instead that hearers of the Gospel “all must learn to say, ‘I am a sinner,’ and likewise never to stop saying it until Christ’s return makes it no longer true” (17). In this model, the cross is central to the Christian existence, and all thought of glory is suppressed.
The paragraphs above, of course, leave little doubt as to the superior model of the two. If I have to make a binary decision, the latter is the obvious choice. At the same time I cannot help but feel that I have been forced into something of a false dilemma. If it is true that to be a theologian of the cross I must see the cross as the end of all things (and never the means to a greater end), and can advance in my Christian walk by perpetually reminding myself that I am merely a sinner until Christ’s return, then I am not sure that I am a theologian of the cross in the purest of senses.
There are two primary reasons for my dissent: First, while I am confident that relative to my justification the cross is not a means but the end, the cross is also the means to ends that are other than and greater than my justification: “God was pleased…through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). The great “end” of all things is not my justification, but Christ’s delivery of his kingdom to God the Father, with the result that God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Now, to be sure, such an end could never occur apart from the cross: there is no ethical basis for the restoration of lost glory outside the cross. But the end of all things is not the death of Christ much less my salvation; it is, in fact, glory—both for God and for his elect (Romans 2:7, Romans 2:10; Romans 8:17-18; Romans 9:23; 1 Corinthians 15:43; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; etc.).
Secondly, I find myself critical of any view of sanctification that sees forensic rectitude as its primary impetus. To be sure, justification is a tremendous impulse to godly living, but of itself it offers no empowerment or enabling energy. The vitality of sanctification flows instead from regeneration. The believer does not advance in his sanctification by fixating on the fact that he was once a sinner and is now a sinner saved by grace—i.e., a sinner unchanged save for the legal reception of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Instead, a believer advances in his sanctification by appropriating what Christ has imparted in regeneration: escape from the total inability that once gripped him and participation in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). By the grace of regeneration in Christ, the believer advances from the humiliation that made the cross necessary to a remarkable experience of glory with Christ and in Christ. In short, I count myself a theologian of glory of the stoutest variety—but of a glory that accrues only by means of the cross.
One might of course look at the preceding and complain that I am making too much of a minor issue that, were one to confront the modern evangelical theologians of the cross with it, would largely meet with agreement. But I am deeply troubled that much of what subsists today under the label ‘cross-centered,’ ‘Gospel-centered,’ and even ‘Christ-centered’ is really about being justification-centered. And I find that center to be much too small.
Theologically Driven features insight on Scripture, the church, and contemporary culture from faculty and staff at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. DBTS has faithfully prepared men for gospel ministry since its founding in 1976. As a ministry of the Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, it provides graduate level training with a balance between strong academics and a heart for local church ministry.
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John Aloisi, Assistant Professor of Church History
Bill Combs, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament
Bruce Compton, Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition
Jared Compton, Assistant Professor of New Testament
Sam Dawson, Professor of Systematic Theology
Dave Doran, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology
Pearson Johnson, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology
Bob McCabe, Professor of Old Testament
Mark Snoeberger, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
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