Book Reviews

Book Review: The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls (Matthew Barrett, ed.)

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

Matthew Barrett (Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) has put together an impressive array of scholars to write about what Johann Heinrich Alsted called “the doctrine on which the church stands and falls”–justification–to celebrate the five hundredth year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The book is divided into four parts:

  1. Justification in Biblical Perspective
  2. Justification in Theological Perspective
  3. Justification in Church History
  4. Justification in Pastoral Practice

Crossway sent this to me as a review. However, Crossway only sends out review books as PDF files. I knew this book was large, but it was hard to believe until I actually borrowed the book from my school’s library. It is 866 pages before the list of contributors and indexes. There just wasn’t time to read all of this before I had to review it. The hard part was narrowing down which chapters to focus on. Part One examines the two Testaments and how justification is seen in the Pentateuch, the Wisdom literature, the prophets, the Gospels, Romans, Paul, and James. One chapter is dedicated to the intertestamental period, which many scholars such as E. P. Sanders have used to verify their New Perspective on Paul (NPP) theology. In the two final chapters there is a critique of the NPP and a look forward to how we should think of justification since the NPP and the newer apocalyptic reading of Paul.

Part Two begins with a chapter by Stephen Wellum on how penal-substitutionary atonement is the best theory of atonement to explain justification and imputation. The other contributors tie justification with union with Christ, Christ’s resurrection, Christ’s active and passive obedience, sanctification, and the Law and the new covenant. What role does the Law have in the new covenant, and how does it affect our justification? The old covenant produced death, but the new produces life through the life-giving Spirit who enables us to gaze on the glories of Christ in whom we have been released from the law. 

Part Three brings us around to historical theology and how justification has been viewed throughout the history of the church, in the patristic fathers, the medieval tradition, Luther and Lutheranism, the Reformed tradition, the eras of the enlightenment and post-enlightenment, and how the Catholic church has viewed justification from the Council of Trent (1545–1563) to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) in 1999. 

Part Four ends with two chapters on the relevance of justification for pastors and believers today. Chris Castaldo’s writes about the relationship between justification and conversion and shows why some protestants  have been attracted to the Catholic church. He offers ways to think about people’s conversions and the pastoral implications involved in individuals. Sam Storms ends the book explaining why a proper understanding of justification is crucial for the individual Christian and the corporate body of Christ.

There isn’t really enough time or space to do this book justice. This book takes a long time to read. The chapters are long, and it requires a slow read (or at least you won’t be able to skim it). I’d like to update this review, or write up some other posts as I make my way further through the book.

Recommended?

By and large, yes. This book is a one stop shop for justification. There are plenty of heavy hitters here, all who have done their research and who will help you to understand the glories Christ’s death and resurrection, and the one who for our sake made him who knew no sin to be sin, so that we could become the righteousness of God. Through no goodness of our own, God saved us, justified us, and declared us righteous in Christ. How can one be just before a holy God? This book deals with our life now and of our future life to come. Read this and learn more about our good and merciful God who makes us his own.

This book is deep waters. If you want to begin wading more carefully, pick up these works:

Begin here

  • Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness (Brian Vickers)
  • Justification by Grace Through Faith (Brian Vickers)
  • Counted Righteous in Christ (John Piper)
  • Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification (Tom Schreiner)

Then go here

  • Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul (Robert Cara)
  • Justification: Five Views (Beilby and Eddy)

End here

  • (This book would go here)
  • Justification. Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (Horton)
  • Justification and Variegated Nomism. Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (Carson, O’Brien, and Seifrid)
  • The Righteousness of God (Charles Lee Irons)

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon or Crossway!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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