In my opinion, Gathercole has a unique view of how God justifies the ungodly. Normally, I think of justification as occurring after regeneration and faith, but Gathercole seems to have justification as creating the latter two.
Gathercole, speaking on the “potential dangerous” of Protestant view, writes:
“The principal trouble is if one supposes that God can declare something to be the case (namely, that the sinner is righteous) but that in reality the opposite state of affairs persists: in God’s eyes, that believer is justus (“righteous”), but his or her real being is fundamentally as peccator (“sinner”). We should more properly consider that God’s “speech-acts” are what determine reality; they do not merely create an alternative, Platonic reality. If God declares a sinner to be righteous, then he or she really is righteous. Reality at the forensic level (justus) is no less real then the reality made up of human actions (peccator).” [pg. 226]
Later Gathercole writes:
“In the light of the explanation of justification as a declaration with creative power, it is proper to see it as constituting a true definition of the being of the believer. The believer has not had an infusion of moral righteousness but is determined by God- in the cross- to be righteous. The righteousness here should not be understood either as an infused moral power or as covenant membership (as we will see in discussion with Wright below). According to Paul, when we are reckoned righteous, it is not that we have done what God requires, such that he is recognizing the status quo. Rather, even as we are ungodly, he declares us righteous. By God’s creative word, then, we stand as embodying everything that God requires. In our identity and being we have been determined righteous by God”. [pg 227].
Towards the end of the Gathercole’s essay, he states that “God’s creative word” gives faith in order to allow Christians to meet God’s entire requirement:
“Paul says “yes” to the alternative “instrumental cause” of faith, which he understands as trusting God’s promise. By divine decision, this reckoned as righteousness. That is to say, the believer is reckoned as having accomplished all that God requires. Justification then is not merely a reckoning as being in covenant membership. It is something bigger- God’s creative act whereby, through divine determination, the believer has done everything that God requires. [pg 240]