In-Justification by Faith Pt 1


Reading Caputo, Kearney, and what I consider to be helpful postmodern midrash has been helpful in imagining being church here in North America.  A great discussion in preparation for the 2007 Emergent Theological Philosophical Conversation is taking place over at the Church and Postmodern Culture site.  Their work is within the vain of a sensibility called “deconstruction.”  What we learn from Caputo, Kearney, et al. is that justice is deconstruction.  As Tony Jones points out in this post regarding the effect of deconstruction in our context: deconstruction should lead to transgressive Christian practices and beliefs that would effect deep interrogation into our complicity with in-justice.

One of my conversation partners in the world of deconstruction has been  Theodore W. Jennings.  He has written an excellent book titled Reading Derrida/Thinking Paul: On Justice.  

What Mr. Jennings has helped me with is to imagine a more robust understanding of justification by faith.

Traditionally passages like this:

Romans 5:

 1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a]have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we[c] also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

The sacrificial death of Christ brings about the decree of God towards sinners as justified or declared righteous in God’s sight.  Theologians and really smart folks call it the imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon the sinner.  When God sees us, we are told, God sees Christ’s righteousness on us.  Normally, in my experience, at the local church level, we tend to over-emphasize this over and above sanctification (being made holy by God’s Spirit).

Jennings points out (along with many others), in his reading of Paul with Derrida, that the challenge begins with the English use of the word righteousness for the greek word in the New Testament text.  Which is dikaiosune (pronounced dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay).  What is suggested is that the proper English word would be ‘justice’.

What’s the big deal?  For me, the big deal seems to be that the word righteousness, in our North American culture, often means individual piety or morality.  Righteousness doesn’t give us the larger meaning that the word justice seems to imply.  So, in our sermons and conversations being made ‘righteous’ by faith in Christ simply becomes the individual sinner finding right-standing with God through the sacrificial death of Christ.  This understanding of God and justification could easily bracket off salvation, justification, and sanctification from the larger issues of justice-making in God’s creation.  Suppose justification by faith is about God infusing us, by the Spirit, with the capacity to give concrete (real life) expression to the Eschaton (or the final coming of God’s justice).

What if justification by faith was taught in our churches as more than the individual sinner finding some abstract imputation of righteousness by God and was invited to join in Christ’s death and resurrection to bring about the kingdom today?  Anything less, to me, would mean that justification by faith, without participation in God’s justice in the world, could become, easily, in-justification by faith. 

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8 thoughts on “In-Justification by Faith Pt 1

  1. It would be nice!

    Yyou may or may not be aware of the seminal work by Krister Stendhal on the “introspective conscience”, it is definitely worth a read. Thanks for reminding me of Jennings, It has been on my wish list for a long while now.

  2. Bryan,

    Actually I have read Krister Stendahl’s work on the ‘introspective conscience’. Mind-blowing stuff! I found Stendahl through reading missiologist David Bosch’s magnum opus “Transforming Mission.” There’s also a great compilation book edited by Krister Stendahl and Richard Horsley dedicated to the work of Stendahl: “Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperuim, Interpretation : Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl”.

    Now that you’ve mentioned it I need to pick it back up.

    Thanks.

  3. hebrew tsedek(ah), is rendered “justice” in NRS etc and dikaiosune in the septuagint. as far as I can tell, it basically means the actuation or incarnation of Torah-law upon the land, thereby subjecting the world to the Law (which is liberty). even as the Law has both individual and communal/social aspects, so has “righteousness.”

    you are right that we incorrectly read a prominence of *individuality* into “righteousness,” particularly as the passage you cite has “we” and “us” all through. and that we often fail to proclaim the gospel with a sense of “salt of the earth” or “light to the world” – that is, missionally.

    i wonder, though, if you think that the larger aspects of righteousness, as you’ve described, are also imputed?

  4. So, PN, if you’re right about an overemphasis on individualism in our talk of justification, then how much of that overemphasis would you attribute to the Calvinist-Protestant-work ethic-cultural tradition rather than just to the most common translation of that word? Won’t a translation’s power come more from its cultural overtones than it’s technical correctness?

    I agree with you in your assumption that the Church here seems to be satisfied with individual and occasionally local salvation and “justice-ication” — the Church is happy to be insular. But I see that relative insularity with other elements of the society as well, hence my suspicion that there are other factors at work than just this particular reading of the Septuagint.

    (Of course, I don’t have a great background in Derrida et al…)

  5. What if justification isn’t by faith, but by works, like James 2:21-24 states (ergon edikaiothe & ergon dikaioutai)? What if it’s our works that creates justice in the world, and not our faith? Isn’t that what Jesus claims in Matthew 25:31-46, anyway? In other words, who cares what Paul said? I think James & Matthew were more on the mark here- it doesn’t matter what you believe (which in itself is an ergon), it’s what you do that matters most.

    -Crazy Catholic!

  6. Anthony…great to see you at the march.

    Justice…ts’dakah. It’s a thing one fits into. Squeezes into but is not his/hers. Ts’daka is a reality. It doesn’t “belong” to anyone but God. Ts’daka means in the biggest sense, “Salvation” in Hebrew. In the narrow sense, “Charity”

    “Justice” and “Salvation” are synonimous in Heb.

    Smoosh “Justice”, “Salvation” and “Charity” together and you kind of see what Paul means by what it means that it is a thing to be imparted. You are blanketed with that reality. That reality just smothers you.

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