February 2007 New Horizons

Getting the Gospel Right

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Getting the Gospel Right

The emergence of the "New Perspective on Paul" is one of the most significant developments in recent New Testament studies. Although advocates of the New Perspective differ on a number of points, they generally agree that the "older" perspective of the Reformation, which emphasizes the teaching of justification by faith alone, misinterprets the apostle Paul. If this central claim is true, something of a revolution is needed in our understanding of the gospel. Although the New Perspective on Paul has been discussed primarily in academic circles, it has influenced some sectors of the evangelical church, including Reformed and Presbyterian churches. It is difficult to measure the extent of this influence. However, it represents an important challenge to churches that stand in the heritage of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Evangelical and Reformed believers whose confessions articulate the Reformation view of justification through faith alone, cannot afford to ignore this challenge. In ... Read more

Justification: What the Debate Is All About

The most important biblical truth recovered by the Protestant Reformation was the doctrine of justification. Reading especially Paul's epistles to the Romans and Galatians, the Reformers taught that justification is by faith alone, in Christ alone. Taking their stand on the Word of God, the Reformers taught a doctrine of justification perhaps nowhere more helpfully summarized than in the Larger Catechism, Q. 70: Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone. Reformed churches have embraced this teaching now for nearly five hundred years. But they have always done so against opposition. Most notably, the Roman Catholic Church has continued to proclaim that Christians, after a lifelong process of inner renewal, can merit ... Read more

Justified Now and Forever

In affirming that God continues to forgive the sins of those who are justified, the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of their being in "the state of justification." This state is one from which "they can never fall" (11.5). This mode of expression points to the present significance that justification has for believers—its ongoing, even daily relevance for our lives. This language also raises a related question, as important as it is vitally practical: how is it that those already justified are sustained in that state and kept from falling away from it? What is it that keeps us from losing our justification and assures us that we will not? For it is apparent that if our justification does not result in a state of our being permanently and irrevocably justified, then our salvation at best remains uncertain and beset with anxiety. In a similar vein, Calvin, in the course of his lengthy treatment of justification in book 3 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion , entitles chapter 14, "The ... Read more

Understanding the "Federal Vision"

The movement that has come to be known as the "Federal Vision" came to the attention of many in Presbyterian and Reformed circles following a pastor's conference at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Monroe, Louisiana, in January 2002. The word federal means "covenantal." Federal Vision proponents seek to revitalize and develop the doctrines of the covenant and the church. There are some legitimate concerns that the Federal Vision has raised, especially in our current ecclesiastical context. Being afflicted as we are, in this land, with a low view of the church, the Federal Vision proponents strike significant chords in support of a high view of the means of grace and of the visible church. They eschew a view of the church that would stress the invisible at the expense of the visible and that would exalt the individual and the subjective above the corporate and the objective. They rightly observe that much of the church is afflicted with a low view of the means of grace (especially preaching and ... Read more

A Review Article: Paul for Everyone, by Wright

N. T. Wright has written a series of popular commentaries on the epistles of Paul, entitled Paul for Everyone , including two volumes on Romans—which we will be reviewing here. [1] Wright presents himself as a Reformed theologian, and elsewhere has claimed to be a "good Calvinist." [2] He also acknowledges that his "fresh interpretations of Paul" have caused "controversy" in evangelical and Reformed circles. [3] This may come as a surprise, but it is helpful to begin reading Wright's commentary on Romans at the end, not the beginning. At the end, he has a glossary that helps the reader understand key terms. For Wright, faith is defined as "both the specific belief that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead (Rom 10.9) and the response of grateful human love to sovereign divine love (Gal 2.20)" (1:167). Wright defines justification as "God's declaration, from his position as judge of all the world, that someone is in the right, despite universal sin. This declaration ... Read more

Catch the Wave: OPC.org

Have you been surfing lately? Since the emergence of the World Wide Web over a decade ago, billions of people have flocked to the Internet in order to reap the benefits offered by the information superhighway. With over 70 percent of Americans having access to the Internet, surfing the Web is now commonplace in most of our homes. However, the Internet can be a treacherous sea. Many of the sites it contains are destructive, and must be avoided by Christian surfers. How can the church minister in such a stormy arena? How can the gospel of Jesus Christ be brought to bear on the Internet? Although it is only a virtual reality, the Internet presents new and exciting opportunities for introducing people to our risen Savior. This is carried out on several different levels. Many local churches maintain an official website, as do most of our presbyteries. The united face of the OPC is presented on our denominational website, OPC.org . This site first went online over a decade ago, and has been a work in ... Read more

Helps for Worship #15: Prayer of Confession (Part 1)

"Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." (Isa. 6:5) All worship has three basic parts. In the first, we consciously and thoughtfully come before the Lord, knowing that he promises to be with us as we are gathered in his name (see Matt. 18:20). In the third (and, by far, the longest part of worship), we sit in the presence of God and hear his Word read and preached. Before we can do that, however, there is the all-important "middle" part of worship: our confession of sin. In the Bible, confession of human sin, failing, and weakness is the invariable response when people come into the presence of God. After God describes and displays his glory to Job, Job's response is, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6). And, lest we think that this dynamic changes in the New Testament, ... Read more