The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ
by Cornelis P. Venema
A number of excellent responses to the challenges of the NP(s)P debate have been published in the past two years and more are expected this Fall. The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ by Cornelis P. Venema (Banner of Truth: 2006) is one example of a thorough response written for a broad readership. Venema (PhD. Princeton) currently serves as President and professor of doctrinal studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary.
The first quarter of the book lays out the Reformed perspective on Paul (pp. 27-92), the second quarter lays out the new perspectives on Paul and the century-old roots behind the current NP theology (pp. 93-142). The second half is a critical assessment (pp. 143-307). In part, Venema concludes:
“One of the most vexing features of the new perspective is its failure to explain the connection between the justification of believers and Christ’s atoning work. In the Reformation perspective on Paul, there is a close and intimate connection between Christ’s obedience, cross, and resurrection, and the benefit of free justification which believers derive from their union with him. Christ’s objective work on behalf of sinners (his death for their sins and his resurrection for their justification) constitutes the basis of the verdict which justification declares. Since the sinless Christ bore the sins of his people upon the cross and was declared righteous before God in his resurrection, believers now enjoy through union with him a new status of acceptance and life in fellowship with God. The righteousness of God, which is revealed in the gospel and received through faith, is demonstrated in God’s judgment upon sinners in the death of Christ and in God’s vindication of sinners in Christ’s resurrection.
In the Reformation perspective on justification, the revelation of God’s righteousness in the work of Christ provides a sure basis for the acceptance of sinners joined to him by faith. Justification is the subjective benefit granted to believers on account of the objective work of Christ on their behalf. The righteousness of God requires that sinners be set right before God. In order for this to occur, their sins must be atoned for and their righteousness established.
However, in the new perspective, no comparable account is provided of the intimate conjunction between Christ’s saving work and the believer’s justification. Justification merely identifies those who belong to the covenant family of God, but no adequate explanation is provided as to why this identification required nothing less than the cross and resurrection of Christ on their behalf. The new perspective offers no satisfactory account of Paul’s emphasis that believers are justified by the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9) or through the redemption and propitiation he provided (Rom. 3:23). Nor does the new perspective’s explanation of the righteousness of God explain why Paul insists that, were righteousness to come through the law, Christ would have died in vain (Gal. 2:21).
The point of these observations is not to suggest that advocates of the new perspective have no doctrine of atonement or explanation of Christ’s representative death and resurrection. The point is that, unlike the Reformation perspective on Paul, the new perspective offers no coherent theological explanation of the interrelation between Christ’s work on behalf of his people on the one hand, and their enjoyment of the benefit of that work on the other.”
– Cornelis P. Venema in The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul (Banner of Truth: 2006) pp. 303-304 (emphasis is mine).