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Confessing the Impassible God

New RBAP title coming this fall

 

Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility, eds. Ronald S. Baines, Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, and James M. Renihan.

 

 

RBAP currently has two books on divine impassibility, God without Passions: a Reader and God without Passions: a Primer. What is divine impassibility? Sam Renihan, in his newest book (God without Passions: a Primer), defines it as follows: “God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by his relationship to creation” (19). That definition might startle you. It sounds as if God were a cold, indifferent divine rock or robot. Notice the words just used to describe God: “cold,” “indifferent,” “rock,” and “robot.” Each of these terms are creaturely; they are borrowed from the created realm. Of course God is not “cold,” “indifferent,” a “rock,” or a “robot”; He is not creature. This is exactly what the Second London Confession of 1677/89 asserts, when it says, “[God is] without body, parts, or passions” (2.1). Each of these terms – “body,” “parts,” “passions” – are indicative of creatures not the eternal Creator. “Passions” are creaturely actions which need a creaturely “body” and creaturely “parts” (i.e., faculties of the soul) in order to exist. “Passions” come into being; God is (Exod. 3:14).  Since God has neither “body” nor “parts” of which He is comprised or compounded, and due to divine immutability and eternity, He is impassible (i.e., “without…passions”).

 

But, someone might be thinking, does divine impassibility mean that God is not love? Of course not, for we are told that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The love of God is a divine perfection, co-extensive with the divine essence and, therefore, eternal. It is not a divine passion (a contradiction). Love is what God is (i.e., actually), not what God can become (i.e., potentially). God can and does reveal His love to creatures but He does not and cannot manufacture more love or deplete Himself of previous love. For to become more or less loving, for example, implies the imperfection of a previous state of existence. God’s perfections are immutable.

 

This leads to RBAP’s next book on divine impassibility, Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility. This book will cover hermeneutics, exegesis, historical theology, systematic theology, the Confession, and practical theology. It will contain a Foreword by Paul Helm and has been endorsed by Earl Blackburn, Walter Chantry, James Dolezal, J. V. Fesko, Ryan McGraw, Fred Sanders, David VanDrunen, Jeffrey Waddington, and Sam Waldron.

 

 

Here is the table of contents:

 

Abbreviations………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Foreword…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Paul Helm

Preface……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The Editors

 

Introduction

 

An Introduction to the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: Why is this Doctrine Important?………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

James M. Renihan

 

Part I: Theological and Hermeneutical Prolegomena

 

  1. Analogy and the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility……………………………………………………..

Charles J.  Rennie

  1. Hermeneutics: Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei………………………………………………….

Ronald S. Baines

 

Part II: Biblical Foundations

 

  1. The Old Testament on Divine Impassibility: (I) Texts on the Nature of God………………

Steve Garrick with Ronald S. Baines

  1. The Old Testament on Divine Impassibility: (II) Texts on Immutability and Impassibility………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Ronald S. Baines and Steve Garrick

  1. The Old Testament on Divine Impassibility: (III) Texts on Apparent Passibilism and Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Steve Garrick, James P. Butler, and Charles J. Rennie

  1. The New Testament on Divine Impassibility: (I) Texts on the Nature of God, Immutability, and Impassibility…………………………………………………………………………………

Richard C. Barcellos and James P. Butler

  1. The New Testament on the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (II) Creation, the Incarnation and Sufferings of Christ, and Conclusion………………………………………………..

Richard C. Barcellos

 

Part III: Historical Theology

 

  1. Historical Theology Survey of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: Pre-Reformation through Seventeenth-Century ……………………………………………………………………..

Michael T. Renihan, James M. Renihan, and Samuel Renihan

  1. Historical Theology Survey of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: The Modern Era……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Brandon Smith and James M. Renihan

 

Part IV: Systematic Theology

 

  1. A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (I) Impassibility and the Essence and Attributes of God…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Charles J. Rennie

  1. A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (II) Impassibility and the Divine Affections…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Charles J. Rennie

  1. A Theology of the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility: (III) Impassibility and Christology…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Charles J. Rennie and Stefan T. Lindblad

 

Part V: Confessional Theology

 

  1. Confessional Theology and the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility……………………………….

James M. Renihan

 

Part VI: Practical Theology

 

  1. Practical Theology and the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility……………………………………..

James P. Butler

 

Part VII: Conclusion

 

  1. Closing Comments and Affirmations and Denials……………………………………………………..

Ronald S. Baines and Charles J. Rennie

 

Appendices

 

  1. Review of God with Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God, K. Scott Oliphint……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Charles J. Rennie

  1. Review of God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion,

Rob Lister…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

James E. Dolezal

 

Scripture Index………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Name and Subject Index………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Glossary of Technical Terms and Theological Phrases…………………………………………………….

Bibliography of Works Cited……………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

Here are some brief excerpts from Paul Helm’s Foreword:

 

. . . This book can be said to present an interdisciplinary exposition and so a cumulative defense of divine impassibility and of the doctrine of God of which that is an aspect. Each line of argument strengthens and supports the other. Its foundation in Scripture, and the hermeneutics employed, show the doctrine to be not speculative or abstract but to have its foundation in the varied data of the both Testaments of the Bible. The chapters on history show that divine impassibility is not a recent whimsy or the peculiar invention of a Christian sect, but the historic catholic faith. Those on the confession and the doctrine of God set out its Baptist pedigree, and the connectedness of impassibility with other distinctions made in the doctrine of God, and their overall coherence. Each line of enquiry sensitizes the palate to taste the others. There is a polemical strand throughout the book, contrasting this view with those of Open Theism and aberrant statements from contemporary Calvinists and others. But these arguments are used not to score points but to set forth and make even clearer the positive, historic teaching on divine impassibility, by contrasting it with other currently-held views.

I am honored to have been asked to write this Foreword, and delighted with what I have read. Confessing the Impassible God is heartily recommended.

 

Paul Helm

Former Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion

King’s College

London

 

 

Here are some excerpts from the endorsements:

 

How is the confessional phrase God is  “without . . . passions” to be understood? Is God really without passions? Isn’t he like us or rather aren’t we like God, made in his image? We have passions and emotions, therefore, God must have the same; or so the argument goes. Can God become emotionally hurt or distraught? Does God actually and emotionally change with varying circumstances and situations in human history? After all, doesn’t the Bible say that God repented? These are some questions that have been raised in the past century, but with renewed vigor in the last ten years.

The above questions are skillfully answered in this book Confessing the Impassible God. . . .

 

Earl M. Blackburn

Heritage Baptist Church, Senior Pastor

Shreveport, Louisiana

_______________

 

 

. . . You will find within these covers profound thought that is not all easy to grasp but well-worth the effort.

I am pleased to commend this volume. May it bring much praise to “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

 

Walter J. Chantry

Author of Today’s Gospel, Authentic or Synthetic?,

Signs of the Apostles, and Call the Sabbath a Delight

_______________

 

 

The essays in this volume constitute a wonderful blend of biblical, historical, contemplative, and practical theology all in defense of the doctrine of divine impassibility. The defense mounted is not primarily against the usual cast of detractors—Open Theists and process theologians—but against those evangelicals who imagine that abandoning or reconceiving impassibility can be done with little or no detriment to the edifice of a classical theology proper. The authors are convinced that once one begins to chip away at this crucial piece of the foundation the whole house of orthodox Christian conviction about God and his attributes begins to falter. And they are right.

. . . The result is a richly rewarding study that magnifies our unchanging God.

 

James E. Dolezal

Assistant Professor of Theology

Cairn University

_______________

 

 

Truth sometimes sounds stranger than fiction, which is why Confessing the Impassible God is a welcomed, rigorous defense of the traditional and confessional doctrine of divine impassibility. . . . The contributors provide a significant exegetical, theological, historical, and practical engagement of the issues, which makes this eminently useful for pastors, scholars, seminarians, and even people in the pews.

 

  1. V. Fesko

Academic Dean

Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology

Westminster Seminary California

_______________

 

 

Theology is not static. The church has made progress in its understanding of the Trinity, Christology, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology. However, theological development ordinarily comes through the church combating error rather than choosing a research topic for a new book. In responding to error, the church must build upon and enrich her understanding of Scripture, in dialogue with church history, with an eye toward a new generation, rather than jettison the past in the name of theological progress. This book presents the old view of divine impassibility, using old arguments, against new critics.

 

Ryan M. McGraw

Associate Professor of Systematic Theology

Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

_______________

 

 

A spirited reclaiming of the doctrine of divine impassibility, this coherent, well-edited, multi-author project is unique in several commendable aspects. It is decisively Baptist, but advances its argument in ways that recent generations have stopped expecting from Baptist theologians. These authors are committed to the final authority of Scripture in doctrinal matters, but mastery of their tradition’s confessional resources gives them uncommon access to depths of theological understanding. In particular, they have chased the doctrine that God is “without passions” all the way down metaphysically, relating it meaningfully to the theology of the divine being as pure act, and steadfastly refusing mere voluntarism, the persistent Scotist reductionist temptation to make everything depend on God’s will rather than his nature. Evangelical projects of retrieval are becoming more common as theologians appropriate patristic and medieval resources. Confessing the Impassible God stands out for its commitment to a retrieval of the middle distance, the Baptist confessions of early modernity as the nearby trailhead to the great tradition of Christian theology. Good fences make good neighbors, and I think that, paradoxically, the decisively Baptist focus of this project is what will make it useful beyond its own Reformed Baptist confessional borders.

 

Fred Sanders

Professor of Theology

Torrey Honors Institute

Biola University

_______________

 

 

Confessing the Impassible God addresses a topic that gets to matters at the heart of our understanding of the living God. Exploring the doctrine of divine impassibility through thorough historical, confessional, systematic, and exegetical studies, the authors make a compelling case that maintaining a robust affirmation of impassibility not only secures our continuity with the long patristic, medieval, and Reformation tradition of theology proper but also guards against falling into a range of errors that entail portraying God as something fundamentally other than the God of classical, biblical Christianity.

. . . I recommend this volume to all thoughtful Christians who wish to know and worship God truly, and I expect they will find here great encouragement to embrace impassibility not as a sterile idea of Greek metaphysics but as profound biblical teaching meant to bolster our faith, hope, love, joy, and confidence in the Triune God.

 

David VanDrunen

Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics

Westminster Seminary California

_______________

 

 

Classical theism is under attack in our day. Specifically such doctrines as divine simplicity and impassibility are deconstructed in an effort to achieve a more believable and accessible God. Unfortunately this more believable and accessible God is not the God of the Bible. It would be bad enough if the enemies of Christ led the attack against classical theism, but it is so-called friends who undermine the classical biblical witness to our great and glorious self-contained triune God. The broader church and Reformed community owe a debt of gratitude to our Reformed Baptist brothers for producing Confessing the Impassible God. In this fine book, the classically biblical doctrine of divine impassibility is defined and defended, explored and exposited. . . . This volume covers the whole spectrum of the theological encyclopedia on divine impassibility. I salute the men who have been involved in the publication of this fine book.

 

Rev. Jeffrey C. Waddington
Stated Supply & Ministerial Adviser—Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church Lansdowne, PA
Ministerial Adviser—Calvary Church of Amwell (OPC) Ringoes, NJ
Panelist & Secretary of the Board—The Reformed Forum
Articles Editor—The Confessional Presbyterian Journal
Book Series Editor & Fellow—Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

_______________

 

 

There was a time when it was my opinion that the Doctrine of God or Theology Proper was settled. It seemed to me that, except for the debates over God’s eternal decree between Reformed and Arminian Christians, the Doctrine of God was of little polemic interest. If that was ever really the case, it is surely not the case now. The onslaught of Process and Open Theism, the claims that the classical Christian doctrine of God was seriously infected with Greek philosophical ideas, and the consequent and widespread proposals to modify the traditional Theology Proper of classical Christian theism are provoking widening discussion. Confessing the Impassible God provides an important, deep, and thoughtful response to the proposed revisions to the doctrine of divine impassibility—one of the hot-spots in the polemic furor among Reformed evangelicals over the Doctrine of God. I am grateful for the theologically careful and historically informed hermeneutics and exegesis of the present volume. I am grateful especially for the reminder that this book contains of the importance of recognizing the revelation of Scripture as analogical, and sometimes anthropopathic, and the importance of recognizing this in our teaching. Confessing the Impassible God deserves close study and appreciative discussion among Reformed Christians.

 

Sam Waldron

Dean of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary

Pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church

Owensboro, KY

_______________

 

 

Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility, eds. Ronald S. Baines, Richard C. Barcellos, James P. Butler, Stefan T. Lindblad, and James M. Renihan, coming soon from RBAP!

 

Confession-OldCOver Overlay

A Brief Statement on Divine Impassibility

A Statement of the Doctrine

A standard definition of the doctrine of divine impassibility (DDI) asserts that God does not experience emotional changes either from within or effected by his relationship to creation. He is not changed from within or without; he remains unchanged and unchanging both prior to and subsequent to creation. The doctrine of divine impassibility is generally treated under the doctrine of immutability in the standard books on systematic theology. Immutability means that God is without change. The Scripture is clear on the doctrine of immutability (see Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17) and the logic regarding impassibility should be clear: if God is unchangeable, then He is impassible. If God did in fact experience inner emotional changes, He would be mutable. To suggest otherwise would be to affirm that God was less than perfect to begin with: if He changes it is either for the better or for the worse, neither of which is consistent with the biblical data concerning God.

What the Doctrine Does Not Mean

The doctrine of divine impassibility does not mean that God is without affections. The Bible is clear: God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). The Bible consistently teaches that God does relate to His creatures in terms of love, goodness, mercy, kindness, justice and wrath. An affirmation of divine impassibility does not mean a denial of true affections in God. However, these descriptions of God’s character are not to be understood as changing or fluctuating things. For example, the 2 London Confession of Faith of 1677/1689 affirms impassibility (God is “without passions”) and then goes on to describe God as “most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute…most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth…” The affirmation of impassibility does not result in removing affections from God; rather, the affirmation of impassibility upholds the fact that God is most loving because He cannot decrease nor increase; He is love! The doctrine of divine impassibility actually stresses the absolute-ness of affections in God.

Objections to the Doctrine

Some modern authors have challenged the classical doctrine of impassibility. While there are several reasons for this, two of the most persuasive ones seem to be (1) the biblical descriptions of change occurring in God and (2) the fact that Jesus Christ suffered.

In the first place, when Scripture speaks of change occurring in God, these passages do not describe actual inner emotional changes in God, but rather these passages are a means whereby God communicates “in the manner of men” so that He can effectively reveal His unchanging character to man. For instance, when Scripture speaks of God “repenting” (Genesis 6:6; Judges 2:18; 10:16; etc.), these are called anthropopathic statements. An anthropopathism is when the biblical author ascribes human emotion to God. While this may be a new word to many, most Christians are familiar with the word anthropomorphism. An anthropomorphism is used by the biblical authors when they ascribe human characteristics to God; i.e. when the Scripture says God has eyes, or a mighty right arm, or that He comes down to dwell on Mount Sinai (2 Chronicles 16:9; Isaiah 62:8; Exodus 19:20). Such descriptions are accommodations to man that are designed to communicate certain truths to man. In the same way, anthropopathisms are not descriptions of actual change in God, but are a means to communicate something concerning the character of the infinite God to man in language designed to be comprehended by man who is limited by his finite capacities.

Secondly, the sufferings that Jesus Christ went through were real. He was despised and rejected by men, He was betrayed by Judas, delivered into the hands of the Romans, and at the request of the unbelieving Jews, He was crucified. It is important to remember that Jesus Christ was unique: He is one glorious Person with two natures, human and divine. Christianity from the New Testament period on always predicated the suffering of Christ to His human nature. In other words, Christ as God did not suffer and die, but Christ as Man. There are not two Christs, but one Christ who has two natures. To confine the suffering and death of Christ to His humanity protects divine impassibility. Conversely, impassibility protects from the notion of a God who suffers and dies.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is much more that can be said. The goal with this post is simply to provide a basic definition, explanation, and to highlight why the doctrine is essential. It is crucial to understand that it is the doctrine of impassibility that secures God’s relational character to His creatures; it alone provides the foundation for the confession’s declaration that God is “most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute…most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth…”

 

 

after_the_rain

The Believer and Discouragement

Contrary to some notions that often affect the church, believers face difficulties and discouragements in the Christian life.  The Christian “must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  The Christian who lives godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12).  In a world that opposes God and His Christ, how can believers even think they will escape the difficulties and discouragements that are part and parcel of such a system?  Added to this, the believer’s Master was described by the Prophet Isaiah as a “Man of sorrows” and one “acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3).  The book of Hebrews states that our Lord “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb 5:8).  In light of these truths, the question is not “will I have difficulty and discouragement” but rather “what am I supposed to do in the midst of difficulty and discouragement?”

The Prophet Micah faced difficulties and discouragements during his ministry in Judah in the 7th century B.C.  In chapter 7 of his book, Micah begins with a lamentation because he had no godly companionship.  He laments that “the faithful man has perished from the earth” and that there was “no one upright among men” (v.2).  The leadership of Judah was also ungodly (vv.3-4) which further highlighted the extensive corruption of society.  Added to this, there was no comfort to be had even in family relations as this basic institution of society had also disintegrated.  I daresay that most Christians who read this blog have at least one person they can turn to in their churches or in their families; such was not the case for Micah.  If we ask the question:  “what did Micah do in order to deal with these difficulties he encountered?” we must acknowledge that he did not leave Judah for a better society, nor did he seek aid from professional counselors.  In fact, the question “what did he do,” is better put, “in Whom did he trust?”

As Micah continues in chapter 7, we find that it was theology that pulled him through the difficulties and discouragements facing him.  We tend to think that theology and biblical truth are the possession of the academic elite or of the teachers in the church.  We desperately need to recognize that theology is the stuff that not only informs us of who God is and what He does, but it is also the stuff that steadies the believer when faced with the trials of life.  For instance, Micah’s understanding of who God is and what God does enabled him to declare, “Therefore I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me” (v.7).  He understood that while Judah would in fact fall (probably a reference to coming exile), she would in fact rise by the power of God (v.8).  He understood that those who made fun of Judah (v.10b) and challenged their God, would be brought to certain judgment (vv.9-10a).  He understood that the remnant would expand (vv.11-13), and that due to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ which he had previously reported in chapter 5.  He understood that the people of God would triumph because the God of the people – the Lord, would shepherd them (vv.14-15) and that He would destroy their enemies (vv.16-17).

Micah’s theological understanding comes to glorious expression in the final verses of his prophecy.  In a play on his own name, he asks the question that Israel posed after having been delivered from Egypt (cf. Ex 15:11), “Who is a God like You?  Pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?” (v.18). Micah is not seeking information; Micah is rejoicing in free grace!  God passes over the transgression of His people (v.18) and “does not retain His anger forever; because He delights in mercy.” His character is such that He delights to demonstrate mercy to His people.  His conduct is such that He passes over their transgression.  It is important to remember that God does not pass over His people’s transgression by pretending they do not sin or by turning a blind eye to their sin.  Rather, as Paul will later explain in Romans 3, God passes over His people’s transgression because He set forth His Son Jesus Christ as the propitiation who bore the wrath of God for His people’s sins.    Micah ends by recounting more of God’s character, “He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (v.19), and God’s covenantal faithfulness, “You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from days of old” (v.20).

The believer will certainly face his share of difficulties and discouragements in this world (see Jn 16:33 if you’re still not convinced).  The believer must not grumble, complain, play the victim, or call into question the goodness and mercy of God.  The believer must arm himself with the knowledge of the Bible and good theology in order to navigate through such trying times.  The believer must not let circumstances or bad experiences rob him of confidence in God.  The believer must, like Micah the Prophet, look to the character and conduct of God and rejoice in Him who “does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.”

Fesko - Justification

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine by J.V. Fesko

The doctrine of justification by faith alone is foundational to biblical Christianity.  The doctrine has been a constant target of heretics and was central to the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.  A study of church history shows that the attack upon the doctrine did not cease after Paul wrote to the Galatians.  The church therefore has had to contend earnestly for the truth of justification and Dr. Fesko has provided the church with an excellent resource to aid her in the presentation, defense, and propagation of the doctrine.  The book is comprehensive in its scope and details the various aspects of the doctrine, namely the doctrine considered historically, exegetically, and theologically.

In chapter 1, Dr. Fesko sets forth justification in church history.  He deals with the patristic era (100-600) under the following subsections:  the Augustine-Pelagius debate, semi-Pelagianism and later Augustinianism.  He then treats the Middle Ages (600-1500) giving specific attention to Aquinas, Scotus, and broader theological developments.  The third section of the historical development is the Reformation and Post-Reformation era (1517-1700).  He ably handles Luther, Calvin, the counter-reformation, and post-reformation era.  The section on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries proved especially helpful as Fekso highlights some inconsistency in Jonathan Edwards.  He finishes the historical survey with the twentieth century to the present and deals specifically with Barth, Bultmann and Kasemann, and the New Perspective on Paul.

The second chapter deals with matters concerning prolegomena.  There is an area where I disagree with the author’s treatment.  He emphasizes that “Reformed theology has recognized that theological language about God is not univocal but ultimately analogical” (p.62).  On p.65 he rightly points out, “Because soteriology, and more specifically justification, is inextricably bound with Christology in the concrete reality of the incarnation.”  When comparing these two statements though, I wonder if we only know the “concrete reality of the incarnation” analogically?  This difference notwithstanding, Fesko competently shows that justification is not one “among many metaphors of our redemption” (p.91) but that it is “at the center of Paul’s thought” (p.92).

After a helpful discussion of the structure of redemptive history (chapter 3), Fesko then addresses specific theological issues relative to justification.  Chapter 4 is an excellent presentation and defense of the covenant of works.  After some introductory and definitional comments on covenant, Fesko sets forth an able treatment of covenant in Genesis 1-3 with appeals to other passages for support (i.e., Gen. 6:18; Hos. 6:7; Rom. 5:12-19).  As Fesko says later on in the book, “as we have seen throughout our study, one’s soteriology must begin with a consideration of protology” (p.401) and his treatment of Adam in the Garden is stimulating.  The first Adam was a type and under the covenant of works.  The last Adam was the antitype who fulfilled the covenant works and secured the redemption of His people.

Chapter 5 naturally leads to “Justification and the Work of Christ.”  Fesko shows how Christ completed the dominion mandate (1 Cor. 15:20-28) and through His obedience laid the foundation for justification.  Since the opponents of justification by faith alone have vigorously attacked the covenant of works and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, Fesko provides a welcomed antidote with which to combat the detractors.  His treatment of the active and passive obedience of Christ is both biblical and confessional and will stand the scrutiny of the gainsayers.

In chapter 6, Fesko takes up “Justification in its Historical Context” and basically disposes with the historical revisionism of Sanders, Dunn, and Wright with their insistence on covenantal nomism in second temple Judaism.  Pertinent to this theme, Fesko sets forth a historically accurate and exegetically sound interpretation of Paul’s use of “works of the law.”  Fesko rejects the notion that justification was for Paul an ecclesiastical (or sociological) concern and sides with the Protestant reformers (and Paul) who defined justification as the answer to the question as to how a sinful man can stand before a holy God.

In chapter 7, Fesko highlights the nature of justification by faith alone.  Through methodical and thorough exegesis of relevant passages, Fesko demonstrates the accuracy of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s emphases concerning justification:  1) it is by faith alone, 2) it involves the remission of sins, and 3) it entails the imputation of righteousness.  There are certain things that happen in history that should not try and be improved upon, and one of those things is question and answer #33 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  Fesko does not try and improve upon, but he ably demonstrates the exegetical foundation for the divine’s definition.

In chapter 8, Fekso takes on “Justification and the New Perspective on Paul” which should be of great benefit to Reformed Baptists.  N.T. Wright is embraced by a large number of evangelicals and reformed people alike.  I have personally heard people say, “I know he gets justification wrong, but he sure does a great job with the gospels.”  I believe as Reformed Baptists we should go with those who are good with the gospels AND get justification right.  Fesko’s book is a helpful antidote to the New Perspective on Paul and its “presbyterian” cousin, the Federal Vision.  Fesko’s point is well stated on pp.235-236, “Justification, therefore, is not about the vindication of the people of God before the world as Wright maintains.  Rather it is about the verdict that God passes upon the person who stands in his presence, the verdict of guilty or innocent.”  Amen and amen.

In chapters 9-11, Fesko treats justification relative to other doctrines in the ordo salutis.  Chapter 9 is an excellent treatment of “Justification and Imputation” where the author deals with all of the relevant texts.  The opponents of imputation (Wright) miss the doctrine in 2 Cor. 5:21 and neglect Rom. 5:17-19 in the discussion of imputation.  Fesko provides thorough exegesis which establishes the biblical foundation for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to His people.  In chapter 10, Fesko treats “Justification and Union with Christ” and shows the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed view with reference to the placement of union with Christ.  Fesko argues that union with Christ undergirds the entirety of the ordo salutis.  Chapter 11 is an able explanation of the connection between “Justification and Sanctification” with attention given to James 2:14-26 (p.291ff.).

Chapter 12 is intriguing as Fesko deals with “Justification and the Final Judgment.”  He shows that justification does not straddle over the already – not yet, but that “the one declaration of justification in the present is revealed in the future by means of the resurrection” (p.323).  He goes on to say,

“In other words, it is not that justification has two parts, present and future, but rather that it has two levels of publication, the resurrection according to the inner and outer man, or in terms of the ordo      salutis, justification and glorification.  When the believer is justified by faith alone, he is immediately  raised with Christ.”  (323)

The opponents of the biblical doctrine of forensic justification speak of “final justification” or “eschatological justification” which usually means there is a place for our works in the completion of our justification.  Fesko however, maintains “the unity of the parousia—resurrection—final judgment,” and thus “preserves the eschatological nature of justification and that the believer’s righteousness in the present is revealed by the resurrection on the last day” (331).

Chapters 13-15 take up the doctrine of justification relative to the church.  In chapter 13, Fesko explores justification from a pastoral perspective and how it relates to the corporate body, missions, pastoral counseling, and baptism.  I was in agreement with his section on baptism until of course he includes infants.  In explaining baptism relative to infants, Fesko writes,

“This means that when an infant is baptized, the grace exhibited in baptism becomes effectual to his salvation after his justification by faith alone, and his faith is further strengthened as he witnesses others who are baptized.”

It is unfortunate that he cannot have his faith strengthened by witnessing his own baptism.  Chapters 14 and 15 deal with justification and the Romans Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church respectively.  Both chapters are very helpful and further demonstrate the need for Protestants to have a biblical and confessional understanding of this great doctrine.

Dr. Fesko has done the church a great service with “Justification:  Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine.”  The book has staying power as it deals with an on-going threat to the church of Christ.  Whether the opponents are the Judaizers, the Pelagians, the Roman Catholics, the New Perspective on Paul, or the Federal Vision, the net result is the same:  an attempt is made to distort the truth that in an act of God’s free grace, He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone.  Dr. Fesko helps us to respond to the threat.