This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Now and Not Yet Aspects or Phases of Justification

In the comments portion of my last blog entry, "The Piper Approach on the Wright Approach," JGB has raised some important questions to which I have offered responses. JGB's observations and comments concern the futurity of justification, which is close to the title of John Piper's latest book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright.

This question concerning the futurity of justification brings back memories from twenty-four years ago. At that time my wife and I, with our two sons, were attending a Reformed Church where the senior pastor was a member of the Board of Trustees for Westminster Theological Seminary (East). The Board of Trustees, as was the seminary, was deeply engaged in a theological discussion (dispute?) concerning Professor Norman Shepherd's paper, "The Grace of Justification," written for and presented to his faculty colleagues in 1979. I had a copy of the paper. I had received it from a friend who had been a student at Westminster Seminary.

The senior pastor of our church, whom I deeply respected then and now, was a great encouragement to my wife and to me at a very critical and difficult period of our young lives. He was a wonderful mentor to me at a time when I most needed one. During conversations with me and with a couple of other young men, all seminary graduates, our pastor spoke to us about the theological conflict at Westminster Seminary. He expressed great frustration with Norman Shepherd's views concerning justification. Especially perplexing to him was what he represented as Shepherd's belief in "two different justifications, one in the past and another in the future on the Last Day." Given my minority relationship to our senior pastor, a wise and godly and grayhaired gentleman, I did not presume to become his instructor, though it was evident that I had a much better understanding of Shepherd's beliefs than he did.

If I had been foolish enough to presume to offer instruction to our senior pastor who sat on the Westminster Seminary Board of Trustees, I would have kindly proposed something akin to what I have said in my comments by way of reply to JGB.

Norman Shepherd does not believe in two separate justifications, one now and another on the Last Day. For Shepherd, justification does not consist of two separate parts. To reduce his understanding of justification now and not yet to the notion that justification consists of two separate parts, we have part now and we will receive the other part later, is to fail to do justice to the singularity of justification as Shepherd understands it and explains it.

Replace the word parts with aspects. The word parts, for most people, tends to connote "the idea of division." Thus, they think of justification now as separate from justification not yet. If you will replace the word parts with the word aspects, you will help yourself to avoid the wrong implications concerning what Shepherd is saying and meaning.

The term aspects tends to connote phases of one singular thing, as in aspects or phases of the moon. The not yet justification is of a piece with the already justification. Justification is singular. There is not a past justification that is separate from a future justification. Not yet justification is simply the Last Day phase of what God has already declared over us in and through the gospel in the present time.

There is no more separateness or division between the now and the not yet phases or aspects of justification than there is between the first quarter and the last quarter aspects or phases of the moon. It is the same and singular moon with distinguishable phases or aspects. It is the same and singular justification with distinguishable aspects or phases, one now and the other not yet.

Can anyone reasonably argue with this expression concerning justification? Justification is singular, just as eternal life and salvation and redemption each are singular, even though each of these expressions biblically portrayed has distinguishable aspects, both now and not yet aspects. Concerning these biblical portrayals and more, all with discernible aspects of both now and not yet, I commend chapter 2 of
The Race Set Before Us.

Mention of Norman Shepherd reminds me that I will be taking part in an
ACT Biblical Forum in Carol Stream, Illinois, November 1-3. The forum will consist of an engagement of Shepherd concerning his beliefs with conversational style responses.

In 1984, when visiting Minneapolis, I had the privilege and opportunity to meet Norman Shepherd when he was pastoring First Christian Reformed Church (now dissolved, its church plant, Calvary, survives) in Edina, Minnesota. He graciously welcomed me into his church office to speak with him for about 45 minutes. During our conversation, I asked him if he would be willing to correct my understanding of his beliefs concerning justification. This, of course, required that I articulate for him my understanding of his views. When I had finished summarizing his beliefs, I was pleasantly and warmly commended by Norman Shepherd, who said, "I have never heard anyone articulate my beliefs more clearly, more accurately, or more concisely than what you have done. I have no corrections to offer." It is good when one has such an opportunity as I had, to be able to speak with the man, represent his beliefs to him, and then be told that I have correctly understood him and that I have correctly represented him. It is even more commendable, if someone can do this and still not agree with the views addressed, not that this latter statement describes my beliefs in relation to Norman Shepherd's.

By the way, I did not come to my own beliefs concerning justification now and not yet by reading Shepherd's "The Grace of Justification." I had already come to my beliefs a few years earlier, quite independent of Norman Shepherd. I had no knowledge of his views until I heard about them from my friend from Westminster Seminary, a few years after I had already come to my own beliefs now expressed in The Race Set Before Us.


jgb said...

Dr. Caneday,

Are there "schools of thought" related to justification especially related to its eschatological nature? I ask because I would like to read opposing views for the sake of my theological development. After all, one can't fully support his view without understanding opposing views.

What did you read that was helpful when you were forming your own conclusions 24 years ago?

At the end of your post you said, "It is even more commendable, if one can do this and still not agree with the views addressed." This somewhat confused me because until that point I thought you were endorsing and agreeing with Norman Shepherd. Is that not true? If not, where do you differ with him?

A. B. Caneday said...

Sorry, JGB. I wondered if my statement would confuse. I actually agreed with Shepherd, though I would express matters with greater crispness and with greater clarity. That was my objective upon meeting him, to express back to him his own beliefs but in words and phrases that he had not used. When he heard me, that is when he made his statement about the clarity of my expression of his views.