Justification: An Overview of Recent Proposals

My good friend Andy Johnson of Nazarene Seminary has a very helpful overview here of three recent proposals about justification in Paul–those of N.T. Wright, Douglas Campbell, and myself–in contrast to one another and especially to the traditional Protestant view. I recommend it highly.

8 Responses to “Justification: An Overview of Recent Proposals”

  1. Brilliant, thanks for pointing to this, and thanks Andy. I’ll point my students your way.

  2. MJG says:

    It’s a very good piece of work, isn’t it?

  3. John Andrew Kossey says:


    The conceptual map you contributed to Andy Johnson’s paper is memorable and clear.

    1. Concerning individual versus corporate perspective of justification treatments: Robert Jenson’s “totus Christus” for Jesus with his people offers a helpful parallel to “crux probat omnia.”

    You might also note John Polkinghorne’s essay, “The Corporate Christ” in *Who is Jesus Christ for Us Today: Pathways to Contemporary Christology* (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009 pp. 103-111).

    2. In his recently published essay, “The Juridical, the Participatory and the ‘New Perspective’ on Paul in *Reading Paul in Context: Explorations in Identity Formation: Essays in Honour of William S. Campbell* (London: T & T Clark, 2010 pp. 229-241), Terence Donaldson contrasts change-of-status metaphors with Paul’s language of participation in Christ.

    *Objective, change-of-status category includes justified, reconciled, washed, Christ’s, sanctified. “These metaphors describe the new status enjoyed by those who are in Christ . . .” (p. 240)

    *Subjective, experienced process category refers to “a believer’s participation with Christ in a process of dying to this age and being transformed for life in the age to come” (p. 239)

    Recognizing that one enters the eschatological sphere of existence in Christ solely because of divine grace, Terence argues that change-of-status terms “have no independent cash value.”

    “Those who inhabit this new domain are granted a new status; but the new status is dependent on and derived from the new reality of life in Christ” (p. 240). Paul thus urges his readers/auditors not become “grace wasters” (my term).

    3. In building a conceptual map of participating in Christ, we might also describe how God penetrates time from eternity as a retroactive trajectory of atonement, delivering humanity from alienation with God to filial at-one-ment:

    *Objective: What God has graciously accomplished in Christ through his incarnation, faithfulness unto death on the cross, resurrection, and exaltation

    *Spirit-actualized: Believers’ experienced, transforming process of inhabiting the cruciform God by the faith of Christ

    *Fulfilled: Receiving the divine promise of becoming fully conformed to God’s Son as one incorporative inheritance: transformed to imperishable life, unfettered love, and realized theosis

    Please let me know where my thinking is defective and needs improvement. Thanks.


  4. MJG says:


    Thanks for the affirmation of the usefulness of the “conceptual map.” I would certainly agree with Andy that there is overlap. One example that he does not note is that even Tom Wright brings participation into the conversation about justification.

    Thanks for the bibliographic references. I need to read both articles (I’ve got a couple other Polkinghorne pieces to read), especially Donaldson’s–looks interesting and important. I think, however, that where he sees two related categories and sets of semantic fields, one dependent on the other, I would see one reality that has both objective and subjective dimensions. For instance, I cannot separate, and Paul does not separate, justification and participation. (See especially Gal 2:15-21). But I can’t say more until I read the article, though I certainly agree that any “change-of-status terms [if there are any!!] ‘have no independent cash value.’”

    I’m a bit more inclined to like your three categories, as long as they are seen as part of one great soteriological reality, and as long as you say a bit more about the meaning of “a retroactive trajectory of atonement.”

    Thanks for your helpful comment.

  5. [...] Michael Gorman points out a  paper surveying three recent proposals about justification in Paul. [...]

  6. John Andrew Kossey says:


    I heartily agree with your assessment that participation in Christ is a singular reality rather than traditional, somewhat daunting-to-understand “linear” order-of-salvation models. They tend to shuffle calling, justifying, sanctifying, converting, washing, atoning, reconciliation, etc., into a variety of sequences that depend heavily upon subjectivity and losing context with the New Testament.

    Terence Donaldson’s article seeks to advance beyond E.P. Sanders’ categories (state of Christian existence and transfer metaphors; see *Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People*, p. 7) and points out that participatory language appears in both lists. (I just looked at the diagram in Sander’s monograph. It is indeed more complex than clear.)

    When I initially read Terence’s illuminating article, his explanation of “experienced process” resonated for me. Upon more reflection, both the initiating and ongoing personal–indeed interpersonal–life encounter of participating in Christ may more precisely be called “Spirit-actualized cruciform transformation.”

    I suspect that you will appreciate the way Terence outlines participation with Christ (p. 235; I’m not quoting his additional exposition):

    “1. Paul frequently describes the Christian experience as one of being united with Christ in a corporate entity.

    “2. These terms often have negative counterparts, so that together they describe two human solidarities or two domains in which life can be lived–one under the power of sin, the other empowered by the Spirit.

    “3. The passage from one sphere to the other is initiated by faith and effected by means of the believer’s participation in Christ’s sufferings, death and resurrection.”

    “4. Finally, this transition is eschatological in nature, a transition with Christ from this age to the age to come.”

    You asked for some elaboration on what I called the retroactive trajectory of atonement. (I’m now seeing benefit in revising this to apocalyptic trajectory of atonement to avoid Barthian overtones.)

    If you prefer to regard salvation as the big picture and delimit atonement of Christ to his death and resurrection, that’s fine. You can see that I conceptually prefer to accept atonement as the encompassing totality of God’s act in Christ through the Spirit. The gift of salvation is one outcome of atonement.

    Life in Christ is apocalyptic because God intervenes from eternity into human history. He sent his Son as effectual, once-for-all embodiment of atonement.

    From the perspective of life “between the ages,” Paul uses language of “not yet,” “already/now”, and “no longer/once” in reference to divine transformation of believers. Comprehending the “not yet” aspect brings hope and clarity to the “already/now” condition of participation in Christ.

    “Trajectory” is a metaphor for the coherence and certain results of atonement that God graciously provides in Christ. By faith of the crucified and resurrected Christ, the Spirit of Christ incorporates believing human beings into the body of Christ.

    I understand atonement as the Father’s broadly encompassing “blueprint” (or “project plan”) for bringing the gracious gift of salvation to humankind. The Father’s inexhaustible self-giving love initiates the divine plan of atonement, which the Son personally mediates and lovingly exemplifies, especially through his incarnation, faithful death on the cross, and resurrection.

    Atonement through Christ delivers one cruciform, faith-filled people from both Jews and Gentiles. In Spirit-actualized participation with Christ, that body of believers is becoming fully conformed to Christ as Lord and Savior through the Spirit. United in sonship, the perfected people together with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God will be all in all.

    In his essay, “From Faithfulness to Faith in the Theology of Karl Barth” [*The Faith of Jesus Christ--Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies* edited by Michael F. Bird, Preston M. Sprinkle (Paternoster/Hendrickson, 2009) pp. 291-308], Benjamin Myters suggests the term “retroactive” rather than “retrospective”:

    “. . . Barth finds in Paul a framework which is close to Douglas Campbell’s ‘retrospective account of salvation’–although one might rather describe this as a *retroactive* account of salvation, since, for Barth, history itself ‘works backwards’ as it is reconfigured by the resurrection, so that all continuities with history and creation are established only in the radical continence and singularity of this event” (p. 297).

    I now prefer the phrase, “apocalyptic trajectory of atonement” to emphasize that God as Father, Son, Spirit initiates, mediates, and empowers all aspects of cruciform transformation.

    Thanks very kindly, Mike, for helping me clarify.


  7. MJG says:


    I’m glad my question was helpful, but it was offered not as a criticism or suggestion of something lacking, but as a simple question of clarification.

    I am happy to use the term atonement rather broadly. (If you wish, I can send you my recent essay on the atonement, which will be published in Ex Auditu this spring.) In any event, I love your description here of the soteriological project. I also like Donaldson’s summary as you present it.

    I don’t know if you know the work of Morna Hooker on Paul (“interchange in Christ”), but I think she’s right–and rightly getting renewed attention since the republication of her 1990 book in 2008 (From Adam to Christ)..

  8. John Andrew Kossey says:


    1. I certainly look forward to reading your paper on atonement. Thanks for the opportunity to read in advance of publication. Yes, I have studied Morna Hooker’s thoughtful treatment of interchange and find it very valuable.

    (Decades ago, I read parts of a published dissertation, I’m fairly certain it was from the Pontifical Biblical Insitute in Rome, that had a subtitle that stuck with me: “From Alienation to At-one-ment”.)

    2. FYI: Peter Lampe’s essay, “Hypostasis as a Component of New Testament Christology (Hebrews 1:3) in *Who is Jesus Christ for Us Today: Pathways to Contemporary Christology* (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009 pp. 63-71) makes a compelling argument for consistently translating hypostasis throughout the NT with the semantic sense “plan/project/intention”. In 1:3, Peter translates (p. 67), ” . . . who, because he is the radiance of glory and the executor of his plan (of creation) and sustains everything with the word of divine power, sat down to the right . . . “)

    3. When you mentioned your paper on atonement initially to us, I made a mental connection with an everlasting covenant of peace (Exekiel 37:26-27; Isaiah 54:10). Covenantal peace seems to suggest an outcome that divine atonement delivers. At-one-ment with God and and his eschatalogical kingdom community characterizes the depth and permanence of shared peace, love, joy, glory, sonship, and theosis.

    Is it fair to recognize a theological “link” with these OT references for an everlasting covenant of peace with the covenant included in the final supper accounts? A direct exegetical connection is not involved (as far as I can discern).


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