Alister McGrath, part II: his work on justification...
Note from Tim: Under Pastor David Wegener's prior post concerning Rev. Dr. Alister McGrath, Bill R. asked Pastor Wegener for an evaluation of McGrath's $80 volume titled, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. Did I mention this work lists for $80?
Rather than bury Pastor Wegener's response in the comments under his post, it seemed good to put it here on the main page with the hope that many more will read it than otherwise might.
Dear Bill R.: Sorry for the delay in responding to your question about McGrath’s book on justification. I have a copy of Iustitia Dei and have studied parts of it. It is one of the few treatments of the history of the doctrine of justification, so maybe that is why people regard it as seminal.
It is a pretty accurate truism of historical theology that justification by faith alone was one doctrine the Reformers recovered from the Scriptures. Yes, you can find comments in a number of earlier authors that would line up with Protestant doctrine, but by and large, it was a key truth that the patristic (including Augustine) and medieval theologians got wrong.
However, I’m not convinced that McGrath is correct on the Reformed teaching on this topic. He tries to pry apart the unity of the Reformers on justification (p. 188). It is easy to do that with Zwingli and Bucer. Neither were so reliable as theologians. But it is more difficult to do that with Calvin and Luther and the evidence McGrath presents can be used against his attempts to pry them apart.
McGrath’s conclusion to the book is much more troubling...
He says that most histories of doctrine serve as a mere “prolegomenon” to a presentation of the author’s personal views. Well, McGrath wants to make it clear that he is far above such egocentric book writing. He is a professional historian and, as such, he gives a dispassionate presentation of the facts. I won’t be giving my views here, he claims, to the accompanying sound of someone thumping his historical chest.
Then he comments, “the real purpose of the work has been, quite simply and unashamedly, to allow its author to spend ten years of his life researching a fascinating subject, in the hope that it will encourage others to do the same” (p. 395).
Well. That couldn’t be clearer, could it? Nothing about serving the church here. He is a priest, remember? And pastors can serve the church by teaching true doctrine and refuting the false. But McGrath isn’t doing that in Iustitia Dei. Instead, his goals are self-focused (doing this research is fun), with a tip of the hat to fellow researchers (maybe it will be fun for you too). And he just presents the results of his research, without comment and evaluation. Again this is not the work a pastor serving the church for which Christ died; these are the scribblings of one who is far removed from the church.
Isn’t it ironic that as we’re “talking” about this, the Anglican Church is self-destructing? Articles on a number of web sites this morning (26 September 2007) were about The Episcopal Church issuing a statement on backing off on ordaining practicing homosexual bishops and not performing blessings at same-sex unions. Some articles said this was a break-through that would keep the Anglican communion together. Most conservatives, including African conservatives, were not taken in by this deception. This is the same old, same old, business as usual Episcopal Church. They are going to keep doing what they have been doing. No repentance here. Read Revelation 2-3 and then try to imagine what Christ would say to The Episcopal Church.
Why are the Anglicans in this shape? Because “evangelical” priests like McGrath have failed to instruct in sound doctrine and to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). Instead they’ve been doing fun, dispassionate research. They haven’t been correcting opponents with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:25). How do I put this one gently: does McGrath think he has any opponents? Anglicans find themselves in this mess because they refused to discipline those who do not follow the pattern of sound words (2 Timothy 1:13).
Will Christ remove the lampstand (Rev. 2:5) of the Anglican Church? Maybe it was removed some time ago.