Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cruciality or Centrality?

At the risk of scandalizing my Reformed readers, I just have to get something off my chest (and please feel free to stop reading at this point if questioning the tradition makes you queasy).

Is justification really as central to Paul as we have made it?

I'm not questioning the doctrine's status as the artculus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae or anything, nor am I loath to insist upon our strict, confessional understanding of the doctrine. But I sometimes wonder if our emphasis on it can can skew—and even bias—our reading of the rest of the New Testament, especially our reading of the law.

Take the law/gospel antithesis for example. Is it crucial? Absolutely. Is it Reformed and not simply Lutheran? Without a doubt. But should it apply to all of Scripture as a hermeneutical straitjacket? Perish the thought.

There is no question that the distinction between the law and the gospel is indispensible for maintaining a Protestant doctrine of justification, for when the question being considered is how a sinner can secure divine, heavenly blessings, the only answer is that his works, be they ever so sincere and even Spirit-wrought, are of no avail.

But is the question of how a person can be acquitted before God's holy bar the only question ever asked in the Bible? Of course not. And yet when the law/gospel antithesis is applied to every Pauline imperative (placing those commands into the theological category of "law" which, in turn, accuses us and drives us to the gospel), the implicit message is that yes, justification is the only thing Paul was ever concerned with.

Is it me, or is this an example of legitimate, albeit misguided, devotion?