During the last couple of decades, I have had occasion to reflect a little on the ambiguities and challenges surrounding what is sometimes called “polemical theology.” From time to time I shall use this editorial column to develop some of these reflections. Here I shall offer five initial observations.
Every year a few students ask me my thoughts about whether they should pursue doctoral studies and I respond with what has come to be known as ‘The Speech.’ Essentially, ‘The Speech’ runs something like this: ‘Do not do it if you think you are going to find a job at the end of it; do it for the sake of doing it.
We begin with a question of translation. Many translations place a period after the word “conviction” in 1 Thess 1:5: “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” Then a new sentence begins, “You know what kind of men we proved to be . . . .” But there is a conjunction in Paul’s text: “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction, just as [καθώς] you know what kind of men we proved to be . . . .” If we overlook the logical hinge, we miss the force of what Paul is saying. If we include it, the whole passage opens up.
Of the many questions currently surrounding the discussion about justification, the relationship between justification and spiritual fruit merits attention. In particular, once the declaration of righteousness has been pronounced upon the sinner when personal faith is exercised,2 does this reality have any effect upon the lifestyle of the new believer?
The name of Martin Luther is perpetually linked to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Indeed, the mere mention of this great Reformer’s name conjures up thoughts of sola fide. For the leading service he bequeathed to the Church “was the entire destruction of the doctrine of human merit, and the thorough establishment of the great scriptural truth of a purely gratuitous justification, through faith alone.”
July 10, 2009 was the 500th birthday of the acclaimed French Reformer John Calvin. For many the mention of his name immediately calls to mind an image of a stern, bearded systematician whose compassionless logic and doctrine of predestination represent all that is bad about theology.