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Romans (BECNT series) by Thomas Schreiner

Discussion in 'Reformed Book Review Room' started by MechPebbles, May 3, 2015.

  1. MechPebbles

    MechPebbles Member

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    I'm currently reading Schreiner's Romans commentary in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. Now I know that Schreiner is considered by many as one of the top living New Testament scholars and he's also a Calvinistic Baptist, one of the reasons why I chose this commentary to read. But there's something he says about salvation that troubles me. He keeps insisting, in more than one place, that works are necessary for salvation. Yet, he also insists that one is justified by faith apart from works.

    It's all rather confusing. Initially I thought he meant that a person, justified by faith alone would, of necessity, be transformed by the indwelling Spirit to do good works. But that's not the same as saying that works are needed for one to be saved, is it?

    Has anyone read this commentary and experienced a similar unease?:confused:
     
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  2. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran Supporter

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    I have no way of knowing what Schreiner says. But remember, in Reformed theology there’s a difference between justification and salvation. Justification is being put right with God or being recognized as right with God (Paul uses it both ways). It’s permanent. But salvation is more. It’s the whole process of being restored. So it is based on justification, but is shown in sanctification.

    One could well say that justification is by faith alone, but that one isn’t fully saved until your life is rebuilt, which will be shown in what you do. Of course sanctification is God’s action just as much as justification.
     
  3. MechPebbles

    MechPebbles Member

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    Thank you, Hedrick, for the reply but I don't think Schreiner makes that careful distinction between the terms, justification and salvation, in his commentary. For example, he writes:

    "The possibility that Paul speaks hypothetically is attractive, especially since it explains satisfactorily how Paul can say justification is by works in chapter 2 and then disavow it in chapter 3... Paul elsewhere teaches that works are necessary to enter the kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-11, 2 Cor 5:10, Gal 5:21). Since Paul asserts that works are necessary for salvation and also that one cannot be justified by works of the law, it is probable that he did not see these two themes as contradictory. Paul's insistence elsewhere that works are necessary to enter the kingdom suggests that the similar theme here cannot be dismissed as hypothetical." (pages 114-115)

    If you will take a bit of time to analyze his arguments here, you will see that he uses salvation and justification synonymously. Incidentally, the three quotations he gives do not, in my understanding, show that works are necessary to enter the kingdom. Paul is saying that a person who lives in unrepentant sin should not deceive himself into believing that he is saved. That, in my mind, comes nowhere close to saying that works are necessary to enter God's kingdom.

    Your careful delineation between justification and sanctification is affirmed by not only those who subscribe to Reformed theology but by all conservative evangelicals. But let's see what Schreiner thinks of this:

    "The disjunction between justification and sanctification hails more from systematic than from Pauline theology, for in Pauline thought they are overlapping metaphors that portray God's work in Christ for his people." (page 245)

    To be fair to Schreiner, though, I need to point out that he wrote this in the context of a structural analysis of Romans. Some scholars see justification as the theme in chapters 1-5 while sanctification receives prominence in chapters 6-8, which he disagrees with. Still, Schreiner's casual dismissal of systematic theology and the "disjuncture" between justification and sanctification is probably what causes his soteriology to be the unholy mess it seems to be.

    Here's another quotation from the commentary that caused me to shift uneasily in my seat:

    "The emphasis on righteousness being by "faith" alone is famous because of Luther's insertion of the word "alone" into his translation of Romans. On the history of interpretation see Fitzmyer, who agrees that the word "alone" is implied. For other Roman Catholic exegetes who agree that faith alone justifies see, e.g., Kuss, Kertelge, Wilckens... Schlatter is on target: "The effect of the glorification of faith, the sola, was disastrous if it meant the truncation of life that separates action from it and leaves behind nothing but faith." Of course, faith was not such an abstraction for Paul as Schlatter goes on to argue." (page 203, footnote 5)

    I should think that any conservative evangelical, on seeing a Roman Catholic accept this truth, would jump up for joy and welcome them into our sola fides fold but to see this as "the glorification of faith"? Surely something's not right here.
     
  4. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran Supporter

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    I found an article by Schreiner in JETS that explains this issue. http://d3pi8hptl0qhh4.cloudfront.net/documents/tschreiner/Moo-JETS.pdf

    "It seems to me, though, and I argue this case in more detail in my own forthcoming commentary, that Rom 2:28–29 reveals that Paul has in mind the good works that are done by the power of the Spirit. The new-covenant work of the Spirit produces good works in believers’ lives, and those who do such good works will receive eternal life. No contradiction exists with 3:20 because Paul there excludes good works as a basis for righteousness, but in Romans 2 he says that one will receive eternal life according to one’s good works. The distinction is an important one, for earning or meriting eternal life is excluded—but Paul also teaches that one must be changed in order to receive eternal life on the last day."

    This article is also useful: http://cruxsolablog.com/2013/09/16/the-role-of-works-at-final-judgment-schreiner-review-part-3/.

    Given Jesus' various teachings and parables on judgement, which always demands that we show fruit, this seems like a reasonable explanation.

    I should note that I accept at least part of the New Perspective, which Schreiner does not. (Dunn's commentary on Romans is my favorite.) But Wright seems to say something similar about judgement by works, so this is perhaps an area where the approaches need not differ. I suspect that this explanation fits better with the New Perspective though.

    My own understanding of Jesus is that he teaches a fundamental orientation of our life, which he variously refers to as being a follower, a servant, and obedience. This a built on love for God and others, and shows itself in action. I don’t think he ever suggests that the two can be separated. But his parables of judgement are always based on people showing fruit. I believe this is the same thing that Schreiner is advocating. Since Jesus cannot be plausibly understood as teaching salvation by faith alone (which to me is different from justification by faith alone), this has the advantage of making Paul and Jesus consistent.

    This isn’t “works righteousness” because it’s not works for their own sake, and they come out of faith. But I don’t think either Jesus or Paul ever supports the idea that faith can exist on its own, nor that God would value it if it did. Faith is the foundation of being a follower of Jesus, and for Jesus at least, it's the followers that are saved. If you look at Jesus' use of repentance, it always involves a change in the direction of one's life.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2015
  5. MechPebbles

    MechPebbles Member

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    Thank you for the two links. Schreiner's article in JETS is quite a find but it predates the commentary and should not reveal anything new. But I'm particularly interested in Schreiner's review of Moo's commentary. I have much regretted my choice of Schreiner over Moo not just because of Schreiner's garbled way of stating his soteriology but also because in quite a few places especially when the Greek syntax is complex, Schreiner chooses not to unravel it for his readers (I'm beginning to think his Greek is not good enough!) and refers his readers to Moo. Thanks to this tactic of his, I am still unable to grasp Paul's "weird" syntax in Rom 3:8, though Paul's meaning is obvious.

    "The syntax of verse 8 is extraordinarily difficult and complicated. For a discussion of this matter see Cranfield 1975: 185-87; Moo 1991: 194-95." (page 153, footnote 10)

    That was very helpful, I'm sure.

    Anyway I would like you to know that I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have written regarding the role of works in salvation. Which, unfortunately, also explains why I think you have not engaged the matter that concerns me - that "works are necessary to enter the kingdom." Since English is not my native tongue, as I'm sure it is for you, this may be all my fault. It is possible that my comprehension of "X is necessary for Y" carries quite a different nuance.

    Let me clarify what I mean with an example. Let us say that there is a man, who having suffered from some unidentified illness for some time, has gone to the hospital for extensive tests, after which he now meets his doctor for the results. Let's listen in to the conversation.

    Patient: What's wrong with me, doctor?
    Doctor: Well, the scans and blood tests show you have a growth on your liver. We need a biopsy for full confirmation but even without it, we are pretty sure it is a tumor.
    Patient: Oh no!
    Doctor: Don't worry, it's very small. There is an almost certain chance of successfully fighting it.
    Patient: What must I do to be saved?
    Doctor: We intend to prescribe a new, highly effective drug cocktail.
    Patient: Chemotherapy?
    Doctor: That's correct.
    Patient: Is this really necessary?
    Doctor: Yes, chemotherapy is necessary to save you.
    Patient: But won't it be painful?
    Doctor: The drug combo is fairly powerful, so, yes, there will be discomfort and pain.
    Patient: Can we try something else?
    Doctor: I'm afraid not. If you wish to live, this is the only way. Chemotherapy is necessary to beat this cancer.

    Now, in this example, the doctor confirms the patient's fear that the prescribed course of treatment will, without a doubt, be painful. So what if he had said, "Pain is necessary to save you" and "Pain is necessary to beat this cancer"? Does this make sense to you? It is completely insensible to me. This is why I think the assertion, which Schreiner makes in his commentary again and again, that works are necessary to enter the kingdom has nothing to do with what you and I agree about the role of works.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2015
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