Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment (Review)

Published: RTR 73, no. 2, 2014

Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment

Alan P. Stanley, ed., Counterpoints: Bible and Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

ISBN: 978-0310490333

I have noticed students already using this little book (little in comparison with some of the literature on the subject), as they struggle to find an easy way into the New Perspective’s teaching on works and final judgement. Multiview books excel at condensing complexity to a manageable size.

The editor, Alan Stanley, writes a helpful introduction that quickly brings the reader up to date on the debate, especially as it has taken place between Piper and Wright. Two evangelical perspectives are then presented. Robert Wilkin argues that works relate to the bestowal of rewards, but not salvation itself. Also, Christians appear at a different judgment to non-Christians—an obviously dispensational argument. Is there boasting to be had with regard to rewards, then, and are not rewards still part of salvation? In fact, the texts that Wilkin cites as being about ‘rewards’ are rather about salvation itself, and are set over against judgement (e.g. 2 Tim 2:12). The other contributors are quick to point out the flaws in the argument.

Thomas Schreiner takes the evidentiary line, in the more familiar Reformed approach. The weakness of the chapter is the lack of focus on the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is the only solid formulation over against the Roman Catholic one. Also, discussion of 1 Tim 3:16, that Jesus was ‘justified in the spirit’, would have been illumining. The verse is not mentioned anywhere in the book.

From the Reformed perspective, the views of James Dunn and Michael Barber will seem to be principally the same. Dunn has a judgement ‘depending’ on works, in the context of holding in unresolved tension the two metaphors of justification by faith and justification by works. Barber is a Roman Catholic who has works as meritorious, but not forgetting that such works are connected with union with Christ, and so are the product of grace. This is in accord with the traditional Roman teaching, which was not Pelagian, but blended the graces of justification and sanctification.

The book is commended as eminently useful. This reviewer will not add any more—other than to say that the difficulty revolves around the degree to which there is a parallel between the judgement of the wicked and the righteous. It is assumed that the wicked are judged based upon their demerit, which creates the problem as to whether the converse holds true with regards to the righteous. Is the first assumption legitimate, though? As one would expect, Samuel Rutherford rejected condign merit, but he also sensed the need to maintain the parallel back to the reprobate, and so rejected condign demerit, if such an expression can be used. There is no natural right to reward, but God is not bound to punish sin, either, even though he chooses to do so. Patrick Hamilton before him argued in related fashion that works neither make a person righteous or unrighteous, but are only ever the fruit. From a bad tree comes bad fruit. This is not to endorse these views, but it is to point out that there are wider parameters to the debate than the four-views book countenances.