Friday, August 25, 2006

Mark Seifrid: Tolerance in Justification

In Mark Seifrid’s [1] article, “Luther, Melanchton and Paul on the Question of Imputation” [2], he wishes for more tolerance in the divergent opinions in relationship to justification, in particular those who would like to broaden it to include the transformative aspect of God’s divine grace. He argues for this by discussing Luther and Melanchton historical dispute in regards to justification.

Seifrid describes Melanchton view of justification in the period between 1530 and 1534 as somewhat confusing by which he is able to describe justification as a “being made righteous” (transformative) as well as a “being pronounced righteous” (declarative), but later his view appears to change to a “purely forensic terms over against his earlier writings” [3]

Seifrid describes Luther view of justification as both forensic and transformative, by which “the mercy of God effects a “perfect righteousness “which “swallows up wrath, sin, and death”, thus producing a new reality.” [4] This is not to say that Luther believed that justification is grounded by “good works”, but that justification is “no mere declaration, but rather an effective word of God” [5], creating a new creation.

It appears Seifrid attributes Melanchton’s turn from justification being partial “transformative” to strictly “forensic” and his difficulties in understanding Luther’s “transformative” view of justification are due to the radically different perspectives by which they started from. "Melanchton takes the human being as his starting-point, and thinks of justification in terms of human qualities and response. It is surely for this reason that he has such great difficulty to understanding Luther, who views justification first and foremost in terms of the Gospel, the word of God, which, apart from any contribution from the fallen human being, brings the new creature into existence, in whom faith and all its work are present.” [6]

Seifird writes that even though Luther and Melanchton differ in their view of justification, they were tolerant of each other. He writes: “Surely the outcome of their debate is instructive for us. Although they maintained their differences, Luther and Melanchton accepted one another’s teaching on justification…Don’t the Reformers, therefore, set a precedent for us to follow? Isn’t it sufficient to agree that God’s justifying work in Christ is a forensic act, by which in the Word and faith we are granted an alien, extrinsic righteousness, which is final and unconditioned? On this point, I would very much like to woo all parties to the various disputes on justification.” [7]

[1] New Testament Professor at Southern Seminary

[2] Article found in the book, “What’s at Stake in the Current Debates Justification” pg. 137-152

[3] pg. 142

[4] pg. 141

[5] pg. 145

[6] pg. 143

[7] pg. 150