Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (Paperback), Bruce McCormack, editor, (Baker, 2006)
I recommend the book, especially the essay by the editor McCormack. He does a good job of showing how Barth’s doctrine of justification is both like and different from the classical Reformed views of Calvin and Luther. For Barth, there is no imputation to individuals in time: the only transition from wrath to forensic favor takes place in the history of Christ.
The good thing about Barth’s doctrine of justification is that Barth does not make the Holy Spirit the agent who puts the elect into union with Christ. The bad thing is that Barth makes the gift of faith to the elect to be only the recognition of a transition from wrath to favor that took place in Christ; there is no passing from death to life by imputation in the life of the individual elect person. Of course this goes with the idea that all sinners are elected in Christ.
The only truly bad essay in the volume is by NT Wright. While avoiding the difficult questions (was Adam’s guilt imputed to us humans?), Wright again caricatures his critics. But the clear reason he’s so comfortable discarding justification based only on Christ’s finished work is that Wright has confidence in the water of “the church” to make Christians by the Holy Spirit’s regeneration. What this watery birth has to do with “the covenant” is less clear.
I quote from Wright on p 260: “This declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit, that is, it occurs, on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense…just as the final justification will consist not in words so much as in an event, namely the resurrection of the person, so the present justification consists not so much in words but in an event, the event in which one dies with the Messiah and rises to new life with him. In other words, baptism. I was delighted to rediscover…that not only Chrysostom and Augustine but also Luther would here have agreed with me.”
NT Wright has come to the place in his life when he can only keep rediscovering how he is right. But some of us critics still insist that the water regeneration of Luther and Augustine (and NT Wright Anglicans) is in competition with the biblical good news about justification in Christ.