Over the last twenty to thirty years the reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone has been subject to reformulation by different figures.
The Church of Rome and the Lutheran Church produced a joint statement about justification in the 1990’s. As much as I can tell, the document affirms that if certain terms are understood in certain ways under certain conditions then there really is no certain difference between justification as both churches understand it. Apparently the whole reformation and a bunch of anathemas were all about a variance in emphasis. Who knew?
There have been other formulations which have been popularly described as the ‘New Perspective on Paul’ and the ‘Federal Vision’.
Now the impact of these new perspectives is being felt at popular levels.
Collin Hansen, author of the book ‘Young, Restless & Reformed’ writes an article in Christianity Today about InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a parachurch group that works on university campuses and is also involved in publishing. His basic observation is that the doctrinal basis of IVF has been diluted with the effect that Catholics can subscribe to it in good conscience. He refers to a chapter of IVCF which split over the issue.
The President of IVCF, Alec Hill, responded to Hansen’s piece (also in Christianity Today) denying the charge, as laid, and also countering that Hansen had not given full consideration of the situation and had failed to obtain IVF’s position before publishing.
He refers to IVCF’s Doctrinal Basis, revised in 2000.
A relevant section reads:
[We believe in:]
Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine,
who lived as a perfect example,
who assumed the judgment due sinners by dying in our place,
and who was bodily raised from the dead and ascended as Savior and Lord.
Justification by God’s grace to all who repent
and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
IVCF’s doctrinal statement before 2000 read:
[We believe in:]
The necessity and efficacy of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world, and the historic fact of His bodily resurrection.
The newer statement is more comprehensive, though the replacement of ‘substitutionary’ with ‘assumed’ lacks clarity.
The problem is that the phrase ‘Justification by God’s grace to all who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation’ does not clearly affirm that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone; that is that God works in us by the power of the Holy Spirit to give us new birth and a faith that lays hold of the Gospel and repents of sin and trusts Christ as having been punished in our place and raised for our new life. It could easily be affirmed by those who believe that God’s ‘grace’ is the sacraments and the church and that when we participate in these we are placing our faith in Jesus alone.
Justin Taylor links to the primary sources, but clearly is not convinced by Hill’s defence.
R. Scott Clark (who should be on the blogroll by now) also notes the issue, and points out that he has already identified that the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision could serve as bridging points toward Rome’s formulation of justification.
Why should we aware of such situations, since they take place far away?
Well these things start in academia, where academics basically have to come up with new ways of saying old things, or old sounding ways of saying new things, to justify their jobs. Mostly these formulations are considered by other academics or their students.
Then they get published in more and more popular forms.
Para-church groups with memberships exposed to academic and new ideas adopt and spread those ideas.
Those people settle into local churches and become influential in accountable movements (denominations).
It will get to us eventually.
So that’s why we sometimes have to get into issues, even though they seem far removed from us.
Especially when it involves something as central to the Gospel as justification by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.