In the last two weeks, I have had the pleasure of an interchange with Thomas R. Schreiner, one of the contributing authors of Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment. I had a chance to review his portion to the book here, and he stopped by to give his thoughts on one of my questions here. Today, I would like to respond to his thoughts and continue to flesh out this conundrum of the role of works at Judgement.
I believe the scriptural authors and most intelligent people respond to specific situations from a particular worldview. In the case of the apostles I would claim, and I think the scriptural authors maintain, that their view is coherent. Paul actually argues that he and the other apostles (including James) proclaim the same gospel (1 Cor. 15:11).
Yes, I agree that we (as a people in general) react to situations from a predetermined set of beliefs and try to have the unique circumstances of that situation conform to those said beliefs. And if, as logic follows, all authors of the New Testament were operating from the same world view, that larger world view could be comprehended by examining how they reacted to different stimuli.
However, I think what this line of reasoning glosses over is the fact that the message (read: scope) of the Gospel was unfolding in the first century. Recall these facts: Peter was instructed by the risen Lord that he was not to hamper the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-23), something not done up until then. Paul had to rebuff Peter because he was segregating the Body (Jews v Gentiles) by his actions (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul was lifted into the heavenlies and shown indescribable things (2 Corinthians 12:2) well after Christ was risen. And Peter himself acknowledged much of what Paul wrote, although Scripture, was hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16).
What I am nervous of, at the end of the day, is not letting each author have a distinct voice so as to preserve the artifacts of this unfolding. Are there distictives that a preacher to the Jews might emphasize as opposed to a preacher to the Gentiles? How can this inform our discussion? While they may be comprehending a larger “whole,” this comprehension was being carried out in real time. (It is something that continues to this day: i.e. monogamy, the ending of slavery, equal rights for women, etc.). I will have more to say, but let’s continue with Schreiner’s comments:
I think one’s doctrine of scriptural inspiration plays a role here as well. I am convinced by the writings of John Frame and D. A. Carson on biblical inspiration and authority and inerrancy, but that is a longer discussion than can be carried out here.
I am grateful to Schreiner for bringing this up. While, for brevity’s sake, he did not allow himself time to elaborate on his position, I will take time to do so. So the next few paragraphs will not be an argument, per se, it is just a chance for me to grab the bully pulpit and expound (author smiles broadly).
The word “inerrant” and “authoritative” are often put together as synonyms. This ought not be. I say this because “inerrant” is a highly provocative term that many times misses the nuances of individual passages and puts on the gloss: “without error by our modern understanding.”
I think one can believe that God superintended the process of compiling the Bible by using the limited capacity of it’s human authors. For example, I do not have to believe in a literal 6 day creation period in order for the Bible to speak authoritatively to me regarding timeless spiritual truths. God could have used the limited capacity of Bronze Age Hebrews to declare that there is One God, One Creator, and One Father of us all. These timeless truths, if not tethered to “inerrancy,” still allow me to be Short Earth, Long Earth, BioLogos, etc.
While this is seen as a slippery slope by many, there is little actual hope of that since you are still accountable to the God of the Bible. His words were not written down with little weight. If He had words penned, they were for a specific reason, and it is incumbent upon us to understand why. Therefore, no matter which side of the camp you fall on (inerrant/authoritative) you must comprehend the author’s original intent, literary styling, and the larger arch of truth that God was constructing. Not doing so is to run afoul of God’s charge to administer His truth with great diligence (James 3:1).
Schreiner continues on:
I would add that if the authors of scripture actually contradict on the role of works in the final judgment, then they don’t agree on soteriology. And if they actually differ on that matter conceptually, I think studying them is of historical interest (sort of like studying Plato’s thought), but it no longer has an authoritative role for my conception of God and salvation. Such a view is not the historic Christian view of the scriptures, and as I remark to James Dunn, the church has not flourished where the view that the scriptures contradict one another has become predominant.
I largely agree. While I believe distinctives can be gleaned from the individual authors – a comprehensive whole must be perceived. Why? Because the Bible is authoritative. It’s creation was superintended by a Guiding Hand. And His eternal truths can be viewed through the lens of the godly men who penned it. So yes, we must advocate for the idea that although 42 authors gave us the Bible, One Person guided it to reveal His Truth.
All in all, on the issue of works at final judgment, I see all New Testament authors being quite clear that works will play a role at the final judgment. I am coming to agree with Schreiner that the best understanding of it’s use is confirmation of a living faith. While different biblical authors provide different emphasis on grace and works, that does not mean that they were not operating from the same broader understanding.
Many thanks to Thomas Schreiner for stopping by. I greatly enjoyed the interchange. I think authors that are willing to jump into the fray and engage the public with their ideas should be commended. So, if you have not already grabbed a copy of Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment I highly recommend it. Wrestle with these ideas, talk back to them, and at the end of the day, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.“