Covenant and Commandment, Bradley G. Green. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
Summary: In light of the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith, Green considers the place of works, obedience and faithfulness in the Christian life.
The Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith has been a doctrine of joyful liberation for so many who have despaired of ever being good enough for God. At the same time, it has been a point of contention, particularly when it is framed in a way that denies any role for works in the subsequent Christian life. Bradley G. Green argues in this installment (#33) of the New Studies in Biblical Theology that the traditional Reformation doctrine in fact supports a vibrant expression of works, obedience, and faithfulness, not as the basis of justification, but as the inevitable outgrowth of union with Christ and the transforming and empowering work of God’s Spirit.
He begins this study with a survey of relevant New Testament texts under fourteen categories demonstrating the reality and necessity of works, obedience and faithfulness. Then chapter 2 turns to the Old Testament books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel to show how the anticipate a wide outpouring of the Spirit and obedience from the heart and how the New Testament sees these prophetic words fulfilled in the first century new covenant people. Chapter 3 goes on to explore the relationship of law and grace and the relation of Old and New Covenants and argues that while we need not argue a radical contrast between law and grace between the two covenants and that believers under both were saved by grace, there is a qualitative and quantitative difference in the experience of New Testament believers of that grace.
Chapter 4 works out the relationship between Christ’s atoning work and the works of the believer. Green argues that the cross is not only outside and for us but works transformation in us, the death of the bridegroom to purify and prepare his bride for her wedding day. Chapter 5 then explores our union with Christ and how it is both we who obey and Christ who is obeying through us. Chapter 6 engages contemporary discussions about the future aspects of justification, the place of works, and the judgment. Green argues, against N.T Wright, that our understanding of justification does not need updating by appealing to the Reformers who in fact argue for the place of works in our ultimate justification.
The concluding chapter seems to tie up a number of loose ends and reiterate some themes demonstrating the contribution of the Reformers in the whole discussion. The epilogue then summarizes the argument of the book.
The great contribution of this book is to highlight how clearly the scriptures affirm that justification by grace and the life of works, obedience and faithfulness are not contradictory. Green’s survey of Reformers from Calvin to Henri Blocher is a valuable contribution. Yet I thought the brief engagement with N. T. Wright’s work was inadequate to demonstrate the superiority of his argument to that of Wright (but he wasn’t writing an 800 page tome but a 170 page monograph!).
A valuable study that demonstrates the richness of the biblical material and the Reformers theological work on the transformation worked in the life of the believer through union with Christ and the work of the Spirit.
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