D. A. Carson on Perfectionism

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 devastating—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 together—Christ’s cross-work pays for our sins up to the moment of our conversion but not for postconversion sins—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.

7 Responses to D. A. Carson on Perfectionism

  1. Jesica December 4, 2007 at 9:42 pm #

    Carson’s comment regarding VanLandingham’s work…
    “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.”

    Sounds much like a definition of Mormonism or the Muslim religion, from what I’ve studied about them.

  2. Kris December 4, 2007 at 10:03 pm #

    If VanLandingham believes that Christ ATONEMENT is only up to the moment of conversion, then… well…, he hasn’t believed the gospel of God.

    If he hasn’t believed the gospel then it’s understandable why he doesn’t understand Paul’s letter to the saints who were in Galatia which utterly blows this line of thinking out of the water.

  3. Barry December 4, 2007 at 11:34 pm #

    Man, as you remarked, “postconsummation existence is going to be singularly devoid of human beings.” That is hilarious–in a Carson sort of way.

    Why is this book getting press? Surely this will not gain a serious hearing in academia?

    Barry

  4. stephen shields December 5, 2007 at 7:07 am #

    interesting. it’s my understanding that some in the early churche believed that you could sin *once* after salvation, but no more after that.

  5. russ December 5, 2007 at 11:19 pm #

    I haven’t read CV’s book, and I don’t know if anyone here has, but I’m curious…

    If he is saying that the work of Christ on the cross only applies at the point of conversion to our sins up to that point, then that does not necessarily qualify as a bizarre position. I realize that the protestant evangelical position is generally that at conversion all of our sins past and future are automatically forgiven at that point. But, this isn’t the only view. The Catholic position, for instance, would be that Christ’s work cleanses us from all of our sins at our baptism only up to that point. Sins committed after that need to be confessed and forgiven. When they are, it is still only by the work of Christ on the cross that forgiveness is possible, but nevertheless, that work must be appropriated.

    I wonder… is CV saying that after our conversion any sin disqualifies us from forgiveness/salvation without any recourse (such as confession/forgiveness)? Is he saying that the work of Christ on the cross cannot be appropriated to post-conversion sin at all?

  6. James December 6, 2007 at 11:02 pm #

    Strange.

    I can’t seem to find Carson’s review on Amazon.

  7. Bryan L December 7, 2007 at 10:11 pm #

    It’s in Review of Biblical Literature. I think Denny just mistakenly linked to Amazon.

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