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Duped by Semi-Pelagianism? A Review

Category Book Reviews
Date May 25, 2007

A review by Philip Eveson of The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul by Cornelis P. Venema.1, 2

Yes, this is yet another book on justification! It is a fresh and helpful account of the Protestant understanding of this crucially important gospel truth in the light of the newer, and what some would see as ‘better’, approaches to the subject.

Cornelis Venema, President of the MidAmerican Reformed Seminary, Dyer, Indiana, gained his doctorate from Princeton for work on the theology of John Calvin, and is, therefore, well able to present the Reformation perspective on Paul, which is often misunderstood by proponents of the new perspectives. For instance, for the Reformers, the emphasis on justification in the salvation of sinners was not because of a ‘primarily subjective anxiety’ about finding peace with God, but ‘the objective reality’ of God’s grace in Christ.

There are 11 chapters divided into three parts with an introduction underlining what others have long suggested, that the new teaching on justification is well set to be the great ecumenical doctrine. Part one considers the Reformation perspective on Paul, emphasising that justification is not peripheral to the gospel and that it is central to the message of the whole Bible. The author calls attention to the similarities between the grace plus works teaching of the Judaism of Paul’s day and Roman Catholic teaching, and stresses the importance of Paul’s doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ. A separate chapter is dedicated to discussing the Protestant and Roman understanding of James 2.14-26.

In part two, the newer perspectives on Paul are set out while part three presents a critical assessment of these views. The assessment is written from the position of a systematic theologian. He comments on some of the commendable features of the newer insights but his overall conclusion is that, ironically, the new perspective on the Judaism of Paul’s day confirms the Reformation insight that both Judaism and Romanism are semi-Pelagian in their outlook where human works as well as God’s grace are an essential part of a believer’s acceptance with God.

There is good discussion of what Paul means by ‘works of the law’ and ‘the righteousness of God’. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers is shown to be scriptural and a corollary of union with Christ. Justification by faith alone in Christ alone must also be clearly distinguished from the final judgement according to works.

This is a demanding read, but very worthwhile and informative.

Notes

    • The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ

      The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ

      An Assessment of the Reformation and the New Perspective on Paul

      by Cornelis P. Venema


      price $28.00 $25.20

      Description

      A review by Philip Eveson of The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul by Cornelis P. Venema.1, 2 Yes, this is yet another book on justification! It is a fresh and helpful account of the Protestant understanding of this crucially important gospel truth in the […]

  1. Also available from the Trust is a more condensed response to the New Perspective, by the same author: Getting the Gospel Right – Assessing the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul.
      • Getting the Gospel Right

        Getting the Gospel Right

        Assessing the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul

        by Cornelis P. Venema


        price $9.00 $8.10

        Description

        A review by Philip Eveson of The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul by Cornelis P. Venema.1, 2 Yes, this is yet another book on justification! It is a fresh and helpful account of the Protestant understanding of this crucially important gospel truth in the […]

Philip H. Eveson is Principal of London Theological Seminary. This review appeared in Evangelicals Now, May 2007, and is used with permission.

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