This is part of an ongoing (albeit sporadic) series related to 2 Corinthians 5:21. For previous posts in the series, see "The Key to the Gospel (With an Unexpected Addendum about My Criticism of NT Wright)"; "The Heart of the Gospel?"; and "Back Again."
n a previous post ("The Heart of the Gospel?") we discussed the historic and biblical importance of justification by faith and the principle of sola fide. It is to the shame and the detriment of the evangelical movement that we have not given this doctrine sufficient stress or suitable attention for the past century or more.
You'll discover an interesting irony if you study the history of the fundamentalist movement at the start of the 20th century: That movement almost from its inception failed to place sufficient stress on this most important of all fundamental doctrines.
The name fundamentalism is derived from a series of articles titled "The Fundamentals"written in defense of several vital doctrines under attack from the modernists. It was a terrific set of tracts. They were not academic papers; they were apologetic arguments accessible to lay people. The complete set was ultimately published in book form (republished in four volumes in the 1990s). Most of the articles stand up quite well almost a century later.
But study the table of contents and you will notice a glaring omission: There is only one brief article in defense of the doctrine of justification by faith. It's a short and succinct article by H. C. G. Moule, then Bishop of Durham. It's fine, as far as it goes, but it stops short of being a thorough and definitive explanation of how Christ's righteousness is imputed to the sinner. It's buried in the middle of the third volume, not at all given the kind of prominence this doctrine deserves (and received from the Reformers and Puritans).
Perhaps our fundamentalist ancestors simply took the principle of sola fide for granted. It's true that the doctrine of justification was not the focus of the modernist attack. (The main 19th-century battle for justification by faith had come much earlier in response to the Oxford Movement.) So the doctrine of justification simply wasn't large on the radar screen in any of the battles the early fundamentalists were fighting.
Unfortunately, the same pattern of neglect continued for almost 100 years.
In 1961, the Banner of Truth Trust published a reprint of a book that was then 97 years old. The Doctrine of Justification, by James Buchanan, was originally published in 1867. The first Banner reprint in 1961 carried a Foreword by J. I. Packer in which Packer wrote this:
It is a fact of ominous significance that Buchanan's classic volume, now a century old, is the most recent full-scale study of justification by faith that English-speaking Protestantism . . . has produced. If we may judge by the size of its literary output, there has never been an age of such feverish theological activity as the past hundred years; yet amid all its multifarious theological concerns it did not produce a single book of any size on the doctrine of justification. If all we knew of the church during the past century was that it had neglected the subject of justification in this way, we should already be in a position to conclude that this has been a century of religious apostasy and decline.It's been some 44 years since Packer wrote those words. And now the doctrine of justification by faith is under attack on several fronts within the evangelical movement. After multiple generations of near total silence on the subject, evangelicals are not well-equipped to defend sola fide.
The ecumenical movement represented by the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" (ECT) document has made serious inroads into evangelical churches for precisely this reason: the inaccurate and watered-down notion most modern evangelicals have regarding justification by faith really isn't all that different from Medieval Roman Catholicism. The typical evangelical these days doesn't understand the doctrine of justification well enough to see how profound and important the difference is between what the Reformers taught and what the Roman Catholic Council of Trent declared. Try this if you don't believe me: Read the council of Trent on justification to the typical evangelical; don't tell him what it is; and in all likelihood, he will think it is perfectly sound.
In fact, that is pretty much what ECT implied, and what some evangelical leaders are now expressly saying: Luther and the Reformers got it wrong. Some actually claim that everyone since the time of Augustine has badly misunderstood what the apostle Paul meant when he spoke of justification by faith. Various New Perspectives on Paul and the doctrine of justification by faith have had a surprising and dismaying influence in Reformed circles, where you would expect men to understand and fight for the central, defining doctrine of the Protestant Reformation.
It seems to me that Paul's teaching on justification by faith is neither as obscure nor as difficult to follow as the new breed of New Testament scholarship wants to pretend. Romans 3-4, Romans 5, Romans 8, Philippians 3, and many other key texts on justification are as clear and definitive as anything in Scripture. Taken together, they give us an understanding of justification by faith that is the ideal anchor and the perfect centerpiece of a comprehensive biblical theology. It is my contention that proper exegesis of all the biblical texts will definitively prove the principles of sola fide, the imputation of Christ's righteousness, the forensic nature of justification, and every other key point that was under dispute in the Protestant Reformation.
But perhaps the best, most pointed, most explicit single text that sums up Paul's view of the evangelistic message most clearly is 2 Corinthians 5:21: "He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
Starting next week (in a series of posts I have been planning and promising and hoping to get to for the past few months) we'll delve into that text and examine how Paul himself boiled evangelical truth down to its bare essence.
So as not to bury this post over the weekend, here, earlier than ever, is
Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The excerpt that follows is from "The Heart of The Gospel," one of five sermons Spurgeon preached on 2 Corinthians 5:21. This message was delivered 18 July 1886 (a Sunday norning) at the Metropolitan Tabernacle:
The Most Fundamental of All the Fundamentals
The great doctrine, the greatest of all, is this, that God, seeing men to be lost by reason of their sin, hath taken that sin of theirs and laid it upon his only begotten Son, making him to be sin for us, even him who knew no sin; and that in consequence of this transference of sin he that believeth in Christ Jesus is made just and righteous, yea, is made to be the righteousness of God in Christ. Christ was made sin that sinners might be made righteousness. That is the doctrine of the substitution of our Lord Jesus Christ on the behalf of guilty men.