D. A. Carson has recently reviewed Chris VanLandingham’s Judgment & Justification In Early Judaism And The Apostle Paul. VanLandingham has a provocative thesis that will no doubt add fuel to the fire of debates about the New Perspective on Paul. Carson’s review is helpful and devastatingâ€”helpful to those who are trying to decide whether or not to read this book, devastating in its analysis of VanLandingham’s method and results.
One item in the review is worthy of note. VanLandingham argues for the quirky thesis that Christ’s death provides atonement only for the believer’s past sins. Sins committed after conversion will be counted against believers at the judgment. Thus the final judgment is based on the believer’s post-conversion works. If the post-conversion works are good enough, one gets awarded eternal life. If not, then damnation.
Carson comments on this aspect of VanLandingham’s thesis as follows:
“The theological reductionism required to make this thesis hang togetherâ€”Christ’s cross-work pays for our sins up to the moment of our conversion but not for postconversion sinsâ€”approaches the bizarre. It remains unclear to me whether VanLandingham thinks only those who have “followed through” (his expression) with their commitment to Christ in sinless perfection will be saved (in which case postconsummation existence is going to be singularly devoid of human beings) or those who have “followed through” with a respectable balance of good behavior over bad behavior.”
The crucial line from this paragraph is this: “in which case postconsummation existence is going to be singularly devoid of human beings,” which being translated means, “There’s not going to be anybody inheriting eternal life if salvation is by works.” Carson is simply pointing out that VanLandingham’s proposal leads to crass perfectionism, and he’s right. To say that the basis of the final judgment is instrumentally and exclusively good works is to render God’s grace null and void. The interpretation twists the ordinary meaning of so many Pauline texts that it’s difficult to imagine VanLandingham’s thesis winning many converts at all.
See the rest of Carson’s review here.