McGrath on Iustitia

This is from Old Jamestown Church.

The history of the development of the Christian doctrine of justification lends support to such a suspicion. In particular, it can be shown that thwi major distortions were introduced into the corpus of traditional belief within the eastern church at a very early stage, and were subsequently transferred to the emerging western theological tradition. These are:

1. The introduction of the non-biblical, secular Stoic concept of autoexousia or liberum arbitrium in the articulation of the human response to the divine initiative in justification.

2. The implicit equation of tsedaqa, dikaiosune and iustitia, linked with the particular association of the Latin meritum noted earlier (p.15), inevitably suggested a correlation between human moral effort and justification within the western church.

McGrath further notes,

The subsequent development of the western theological tradition, particularly since the time of Augustine, has shown a reaction against both these earlier distortions, and may be regarded as an attempt to recover a more biblically orientated approach to the question of justification. . . .

The emerging patristic understanding of such matters as predestination, grace and free will is somewhat confused, and would remain so until controversy forced full discussion of the issue upon the church. Indeed, by the end of the fourth century, the Greek fathers had formulated a teaching on human free will based upon philosophical rather than biblical foundations. Standing in the great Platonic tradition, heavily influenced by Philo, and reacting against the fatalisms of their day, they taught that man was utterly free in his choice of good or evil. . . . (Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, Vol. I, pp.18-19. Emphases mine.)

It’s claimed that the Protestant view of justification is foreign to the historical church and even Augustine held to a transformational view (truer of the earlier Augustine).  So, what of it?  At the end of the day words have to mean what words mean, otherwise are in a most vicious form of nominalism.  Romans says that God justifies the “ungodly.” If people are insistent on the “legal fiction” charge, then please direct it at Paul, for that is where it is most crass.  If justification equals transformation or theosis (and I affirm those categories have a place), then Paul has no business saying God justifies the ungodly.  Rather, he ought to have said, “God justifies the godly,” which is completely tautologous.


2 comments on “McGrath on Iustitia

  1. Jnorm says:

    Mcgrath was out of his field of study when talking about the Greek Fathers and where they got free will from. One can find free will or synergy among the Jews too! And not only that the Greeks were all over the place! Most of them believed in a form of fate, some of them were determinists (both materialistic and theistic) and some believed in free will. Mcgrath is not the go to guy when it comes to this topic. In fact I don’t see him as a real scholar when it comes to that issue. It’s out of his field and he was just repeating out dated reformed protestant scholarship from centuries ago.

    • Olaf's Axe says:

      At this point we are lobbing assertions at one another, though I think lexically and exegetically McGrath is right on the basics. Even NT Wright, a man not friendly to reformed theology, argues that Justification is a forensic declaration.

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