St. Paul's doctrine of righteousness by faith, which was powerfully revived in the Reformation, has suffered serious erosion in the contemporary church. In some places the doctrine of imputed righteousness has been lampooned as a legal fiction, as a pasted-on "as if" righteousness. Scholars have desperately sought ways to express the doctrine of righteousness by faith in a way which is more compatible to our modern religious sensibilities.
In a quite recent and significant monograph entitled The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul, J. A. Ziesler says, "More commonly today, the language of imputation is avoided, partly because of the difficulties to which it has led . . . " -(Cambridge University Press), p.8. He goes on to propose a new synthesis between the Catholic and Protestant positions.
In current Luther studies there seems to be more interest in the young Augustinian Luther. This is significant because much of the theology of the young Luther is in harmony with the Augustine/Tridentine1 view of justification by faith. Some Roman Catholic scholars are making good capital of this—so much so that it is amusing to imagine that it may not be long before the rebel monk is proclaimed a Catholic saint!
The Pauline doctrine of righteousness by faith can only be preserved by eternal vigilance. If the Fathers one generation removed from Paul could show so little understanding of Paul's theology, what might be said of us who are many generations removed from the Reformers? If the powerful and revolutionary truth of righteousness by faith is going to live in the church, it must be rediscovered in every generation. Present Truth Magazine is dedicated to that objective.
In this issue of Present Truth Magazine we begin a series of articles on righteousness by faith. We will not only review our Reformation heritage, but we will discuss some of the major modifications and deviations which have been put forward. We will also review the genuine progress which has been made by Christian scholarship.
The Reformation doctrine of righteousness by faith is being revived in all sorts of surprising places, and we must add that it is meeting some stiff twentieth-century opposition. We hope to report on this soon and would like to receive reports from our readers on how the gospel emphasis is faring in their churches. According to our policy of willingness to judge material on its merits, we are including in this issue an essay entitled Is Luther's Doctrine of Justification Compatible with Orthodox Catholic Theology? It is written by a theology student who wishes to remain anonymous. We regret that a situation exists where a church claiming to be foremost in the Protestant heritage has a climate where a man cannot identify himself without being in jeopardy. But it is a sorry fact that we have come to the place where the gospel cannot be presented in certain "Protestant" circles without offense. We think that the author of the essay has handled his subject with surprising skill. We might criticize the article on a couple of points—but these are not fundamental to his thesis. Certainly most of our readers will give the young scholar three cheers for his incisive paper.
Come, let us reason together.
1 The theology of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent.