Luther1The Australian Church Record has published the latest essay by Rev. Matt Olliffe concerning the nature of justification by faith alone.

From the essay:

‘It is difficult to determine what Dr Bird thinks justifying faith –  meaning the aspect of faith that justifies, rather than what justifying faith also entails – actually is, given that he does not spell out a careful definition in his blogpiece. As stated above, in addition to the possibility that Dr Bird does not understand the difference between ‘passive assent’ and ‘fiduciary faith’, it may be that Dr Bird believes that I should include in the aspect of faith that justifies, obedience, faithfulness and love. It is difficult to understand what Dr Bird means by speaking of ‘the organic unity of faith-faithfulness-obedience’. Does that mean that ‘faithfulness’ and ‘obedience’ justify, because faith includes within it faithfulness and obedience? Or is it still only fiduciary faith that justifies, but that such faith always produces faithfulness, obedience and love?’

Also from the essay:

‘… fiduciary faith produces and results in repentance, dread, love, faithfulness and good works. But these fruits of faith must not be included in the justifying aspect of faith. In this way, faith remains the sole instrumentality for justification, in the way the hymn describes, ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling’.

Download the entire essay here as a 0.28 MB file.


In the most recent ACR Matt Olliffe wrote an article consisting of 285 words in three paragraphs. It was accompanied by a table of direct quotations from authors, some historical, some contemporary.

After this brief article attracted some attention in the realm of Facebook, Michael Bird posted against it in a blogpiece that sadly played the man, rather than the ball. Although Matt Olliffe is of age and will no doubt speak for himself, Bird’s response has prompted me to step into the breach for one of my contributors and suggest that a much more appropriate response lies readily at hand.


The title of Olliffe’s piece has one question mark and the first paragraph consists of nothing but questions and there are five of them. Clearly, and on any plain reading of the punctuation (let alone the content), this brief piece is out to ask a question. The questions of the first paragraph outline the topic of inquiry from several different angles: the place of a believer’s works in justification. By asking ‘what has happened to the Protestant doctrine of justification etc’, the opening question suggests there is change afoot in Protestant circles about this very significant doctrine. The second and third paragraphs document the change.

In the second paragraph, Matt uses 103 of his 285 words to briefly (!) articulate the key features of the Traditional Protestant view of the place of works in justification. He explains this simply and clearly:

‘All works, whether ceremonial or moral, including the acts and attitude of Christian love, which are the fruit of faith, were excluded from the believer’s initial, ongoing, and final justification’.

Here there is no dispute at all that there ought to be works that are the ‘fruit of faith’, but the issue is their place in justification. Justification was by faith alone, from first to last. And despite Bird misrepresenting ACR as saying that ‘faith is nothing more than passive assent’, Matt simply and clearly declares exactly the opposite, namely, that in the Traditional Protestant view (and we can add: explicitly against the Catholic view of ‘belief as assent’, fides):

‘the sole instrumental cause of justification is fiduciary faith, being trust in God and his promises and goodness alone’ (italics original).

The third paragraph uses 99 words to update readers to two things actually being said amongst Protestant biblical scholarship today, namely,

  1. Final justification for Paul is based at least in part on a person’s Spirit-enabled works of love,
  2. That when Paul refers to ‘free’ justification he only refers to the initial declaration of righteousness at the beginning of the Christian life.

The paragraph closes with the descriptive observation that ‘this view bears some remarkable similarities with the traditional Roman Catholic view of justification espoused at the Council of Trent’, noting for those who are not up on their history, that this council was ‘a specific rejection of the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone’.

Given this very brief ‘before and after’ look, with a view to this particular issue in focus (works in final justification), a major question naturally arises to become the title of the article: ‘Has Protestantism gone Catholic’?


Bird’s blog adopts a mocking tone, which I read charitably as a sadly failed attempt at humour. Unfortunately, however, by adopting this tone Bird appears to trivialize some very serious issues of great significance to Protestant history and identity. Rather strangely, Michael Bird recognizes that Olliffe’s piece does not mount an argument, while at the same time claiming that it does, and then critiquing it as if it does not!

The table accompanying Olliffe’s article provides five quotations from John Calvin, the most articulate exponent of the more settled Protestantism of the 16th Century; the quotation of the particular item from the council of Trent addressing the issue in focus in this article; then a smattering of quotations of the actual words of eleven recent scholars on the same issue.

As Bird so easily recognises, this table is ‘a compilation of raw data’, and — continuing his mocking tone by adopting a poetic posture— ‘a list of quotations does not an argument make’.

Well, exactly. By simply providing actual quotations ‘from the horse’s mouth’, the table is a fair way to allow authors, both historical and contemporary, to speak for themselves. The ‘raw data’ shows to anyone who simply listens to it that the quotations from recent scholarship sound more ‘remarkably similar’ to Trent, than they do to Calvin. Surely, then, given this ‘raw data’, the evident difference between the 16th and 21st centuries quite rightly generates the question in the title of the article: ‘Has Protestantism gone Catholic?’.

As Bird would know, any research project 1. begins with raw data; that 2. generates a research question. Further investigation then 3. mounts an argument on the basis of that raw data and other relevant evidence; in order to 4. draw a cogent conclusion. When mapped against this process, we can say that Olliffe’s article has presented some raw data (in the table) and generated a ‘research question’ that naturally arises from it. If there is to be an argument mounted, then this article doesn’t even purport to do this work.

In fact, the argument should come from elsewhere.

logical argument

Michael Bird is one of the scholars quoted on the table, that is, his actual words form part of the ‘raw data’ that generate Olliffe’s ‘research question’. Rather than ‘playing the man’ by casting mud on Matt from all kinds of dirty puddles, it would have served the wider community better if Bird used his blog piece to himself mount an argument in order to give insight into this important question from at least one representative of the NT scholarly world under Olliffe’s spotlight.

We can imagine the kind of argument that could have been mounted:

  1. Explanation of the raw data: Since Reformation days, scholars have spent a lot of time working on the NT teaching on justification and, on this issue of the place of works in final justification, we can now say that Calvin was wrong. His teaching as represented by the quotations in the table should be rejected, because it is sub-biblical or even unbiblical.

At this point two possible answers to Olliffe’s research question could be given.


  1. Acceptance of the implications. On this issue of the place of works in final justification, Catholicism (as represented by Trent) was entirely right to reject the Reformation formulation. On this issue, contemporary NT scholarship affirms the Roman Catholic teaching on this issue. Yes, to this extent, Protestantism has become Catholic.


  1. Rejection of the implications. On this issue of the place of works in final justification, Catholicism (as represented by Trent) was entirely right to reject the Reformation formulation. But, despite the ‘remarkable similarity’ between the statements from recent scholars listed in the ‘raw data’, Protestantism has not become Catholic. In fact, it has moved to a third view which is … X, Y, Z; and this third view differs from Catholic teaching on this issue by … A, B, C.

Surely if we are all in the quest for a proper and appropriate expression of biblical truth in our doctrinal formulations, then Olliffe’s ‘research question’ raised by his ‘raw data’ could have at least been answered by Bird’s argument, rather than simply being inappropriately dismissed as ridiculous.

The ACR looks forward to healthier theological discussions in future.

Peter Bolt
Executive Editor, Australian Church Record

The latest issue of The Australian Church Record, number 1914, October 2014, has been released.

From ‘Faith Under Attack

“So Protestants should be alarmed at recent trends in scholarship presenting fine-sounding arguments for faith + something else.  And Anglicans need to be alarmed at even small additions to their liturgy that confuse those praying it in this same direction.”

From ‘Faith Alone v. Faith at work

“The tendency of the human heart to want to boast in its own achievements is all too prevalent.  But there is nothing that we do to merit our justification before God.  Like our forebears, contemporary Protestantism must continue to work carefully and clearly in defining the place of faith.”

Download the entire issue here as a 0.98 MB File.

new-lifeChrist’s resurrection from the dead changes the trajectory of human life.  In 1 Corinthians 15:32, the apostle Paul hypothesises that if the dead are not raised then “we should eat and drink for tomorrow we die”.  This is not difficult to understand. If this life is all there is, if our existence is limited to this temporal experience, then it makes sense to do whatever we can to adorn whatever time we have left with whatever morsels of leisure and pleasure might come our way.  Nor is this an unfamiliar philosophy in our world. Slogans like “you only live once” abound, bending our minds into thinking we need this experience, or that possession, to be truly human. Putting this differently, if the resurrection is not real, then there is no real impetus to change the way we live: we might as well continue living what seems to be the sensible and familiar way.

But of course, as 1 Corinthians 15 so richly communicates to us, the Christian faith rests upon the reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead, a resurrection that we are told is the first of many (1 Cor 15:20-23).  Christ’s resurrection secures a resurrection future for those who are cleaved to him in faith (Rom 6; Eph 2).  And so the ethical principle “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” — the principle so prominent in our world — is itself put to death in the resurrection of Jesus.

As far as the apostle Paul is concerned, the resurrection plays a vital role in the way a Christian chooses to act here and now.  The resurrection changes the way we live life, because it changes the way we view life.   Two features of the surrounding context — namely Paul’s example and Paul’s exhortation — provide insight into the primary ways the resurrection informs our life choices.

empty_tombFirst, is the example that Paul’s own ministry presents of the resurrected life. Paul faced mortal danger continually. This danger was so frequent that he can describe it as an hourly experience in 15:30.  The phrase ending v.31 “I die every day” suggests that Paul woke every morning expecting to be killed that day for his faith.  This daily threat to his life came on the back of his unrelenting proclamation of the gospel, the product of which was the conversion of the Corinthians, who were his pride in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 15:31).  In addition, he goes on to describe his ministry in Ephesus (where he spent a number of years proclaiming the word of God (cf. Acts 19) as a fight with wild animals—evidence once more of his perilous ministry.  This life of perpetual struggle and persecution, contrasting so strongly with a life of epicurean pleasure, is not lived on the back of some temporal human hope (15:32b).  Rather it is lived on the back of Paul’s knowledge of the resurrection.  The resurrection of Christ, and the promise of the resurrected life that comes for his followers, allowed Paul — indeed, drove Paul — to do his gospel work in the face of daily threat of death.

Second, is Paul’s exhortation that follows in v.33 and v.34.  “Do not be deceived …come to your senses …stop sinning”.  The three imperatives here work together. The deception that says there is no bodily resurrection leads to a way of life that is contrary to God’s desire.  And yet it is a very real, and a very tempting, deception, as noted in the opening paragraph above.  It is a deception that gives vitality to the modern advertising industry. But Paul’s exhortation aims to break apart this deception.  “Do not be deceived …come to your senses”.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead jolts us into re-evaluating. It rattles the cage of our minds, awakening our senses to this end: that we stop sinning.  For the believer, the resurrection of Jesus, and so both the resurrected status that they have with him now and the resurrection future that they are assured of, provides the motivation (under the power of the God’s Spirit) to stop sinning.  It provides the impetus to stop living for selfish pleasures and desires, and instead motivates a lifestyle that greets every new day with the attitude “today I am going to die to myself, live for Christ and share him with others for their sake”.

There is more to be said about the influence that the resurrection has on our ethical framework.  But just a brief look at 1 Cor 15 shows something of the resurrection priority for Paul.  The primary impulse of Jesus’ resurrection is to promote self-sacrifice for gospel ministry on the one hand, and to promote the cessation of self-centered sinful living on the other.  Collapsing this into the one statement: the resurrection encourages us to die to self and live for Christ.

Giotto_TheLastJudgementIn this third instalment the point of discussion will be centred upon the relationship between the resurrection and judgement. It may seem odd to associate resurrection with judgement, especially in a world that considers ‘judgement’ as some kind of swear word, but Jesus’ resurrection actually has much to say about judgement.

The first thing to realise is that Jesus’ resurrection marks him out as the judge. God has assigned a day when he will judge the world by the man he has appointed, and he has revealed who that man is by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). Jesus himself declares this truth when he says in John 5 that, ‘The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son’. What the resurrection does then is affirm that Jesus is the one who judges all the earth. He is the one who will gather all the nations before him and separate the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:32). It is because of the resurrection that we can be assured of the coming of judgment day.

The second thing to notice is how this revealing of Jesus as judge in Acts 17 is tied to God’s command for all people to repent. Having overlooked the times of ignorance, God has now revealed his judge and commands all people everywhere to repent. In light of Christ’s resurrection, now more than ever, there is no excuse for continued defiance. Judgement is coming and the sins of the world will be held to account.

It must be asked however, has this kind of godly command slipped from gospel proclamation today? In trying to be sensitive to our world, have the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus been diluted, or worse still, forgotten? Are people made aware of their need to turn from sin and the eternal importance of responding correctly to Jesus? Does ‘repent and believe’ still resound as part of gospel proclamation today, and if not, can we still call that ‘the gospel’?

The simple truth is, how people respond to Jesus now is of eternal significance. As Jesus declares in John 3:36, ‘The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him’. The way in which people respond to God’s appointed judge now, depends on whether God’s wrath remains on them or not. It is a question of true life and true death. And so it is of absolute importance that the call of repentance and the reality of the coming judgment remain a part of our gospel proclamation today. God has appointed Jesus as judge, and this judge will judge the world, and he will separate those who love him from those who have rejected him.

One final implication is that, with the resurrection judgment has already begun. Those who know Jesus and confess faith in him have already passed over from death to life. As Jesus declares in John 11:25-26, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever’. Those who are in Jesus now already know the verdict of the judge! They have already been declared righteous before God. This is a great truth that all Christians can find abundant comfort and assurance in.

This great truth of course is only of comfort for the believer. The verdict for the non-believer is not so positive. In fact, the verdict for the non-believer is ‘guilty’ – which means an eternity spent in hell. This is a reality that should grip our hearts and bring us to tears. It is also a reality that should lead us to gospel proclamation! That is why Paul exhorts us to abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). In calling Corinth to the specific work of proclamation and edification, Paul asked them to join him, under God’s sovereignty, in bringing people from death to life. The same is true for us today. The resurrection gives us a task to do. It declares that Jesus is risen, and that he is Lord and judge, and that by this judge God will judge the world. It is through this gospel that Jesus draws people near to him so that they too can know the comfort and assurance of salvation in him. The resurrection teaches us that the judgement day is coming and that only those who hear and trust in the risen Jesus through the gospel will be saved.


carav10The last instalment looked at how Jesus’ resurrection shapes our thinking on sin and death. This instalment discusses the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Now the first thing to affirm is that Jesus’ resurrection really was bodily. Thomas was able to observe and touch Jesus’ hands and side (Jn. 20:27). Jesus himself declared that he was ‘flesh and bones’ and not some ghost (Luke 24:39). Jesus was even able to eat (Luke 24:43). And lets not forget that the tomb itself was empty.

In a world that has always been sceptical about the resurrection this great truth must continue to be proclaimed. The temptation to alter what the Scriptures say must be resisted just as strongly. And so even though most find it absurd to think that Jesus rose from his tomb (let alone that every dead corpse will one day rise!), attempts to make the message more palatable should be rejected — Jesus rose bodily!

Having said this, the focus in what follows will not be on the reality of the bodily resurrection (this is taken as given), but rather on its significance. Again, as in the previous instalment, amongst the many aspects that could be explored, two will receive consideration: Jesus’ bodily resurrection in relation to our own bodily resurrection, and Jesus’ bodily resurrection in relation to creation.

Jesus’ bodily resurrection and ours

Who wouldn’t love a new body! It seems that most of the world today is in search of a new, better, stronger, younger looking body. From the latest cross fit seminar, to yoga paddle boarding (yes, yoga paddle boarding!), to mums and bubs work out groups, it seems that most of us are trying to stop the natural ageing process of our bodies. The problem is, we’ll never be able to stop our perishable bodies from doing exactly that – perishing.

But what if someone was to guarantee us a body that was not only perfect, but also immortal? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Almost like every second infomercial on those morning shows! But this is exactly what Paul claims in 1 Corinthians 15.

In verses 42-44 Paul declares that our perishable bodies will be raised imperishable, and from dishonour to glory, and weakness to power, and our natural bodies will be raised as spiritual bodies. Furthermore, in verse 52-53 Paul tells us that when the dead are raised this mortal body must put on immortality.

Sounds unbelievable doesn’t it? But Paul insists that our bodies on the day of our resurrection will be perfected and made immortal. Like the relationship between a seed and a plant, so will our current bodies change (vv. 36-37). And it is important to notice that it is our current bodies that will be transformed. It won’t be some new creation. It is our current physical bodies that will change. This means that our eternal state will be a physical, bodily, affair. We will not be some fluffy spiritual existence, but rather a perfected bodily existence. As Michael Horton puts it, Paul’s point here is ‘not disembodiment versus embodiment, but this body in its mortality versus this body in its immortality’.1 Our decrepit, decaying, wrinkly bodies (depending on how old you are!) will be perfected and made immortal!

Now, what gives Paul such confidence to make such a bold claim? Well, it’s because of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. It is because Jesus is risen that we can be confident of our resurrection to come. Jesus, in his resurrection, is the firstfruits of our resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20). That is, like the firstfruits of the harvest guarantee the rest of the harvest, in the same way Jesus’ resurrection guarantees our resurrection to come.

That is to say, Jesus’ resurrection begins our resurrection. It is not that there are two resurrections. There is only one. Jesus’ bodily resurrection marks the beginning of the great end-time general resurrection.

We get hints of this general resurrection in Old Testament texts like Job 19:25-27 and Daniel 12:2. Job tells us that at the last the Redeemer will stand upon the earth, ‘And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God’ (19:26). Daniel also declares that ‘Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt’ (12:2). Furthermore, in the New Testament John 11:24 indicates that there was an expectation concerning an end-time general resurrection.

What we have in Jesus then is the arrival of this end time expectation. His resurrection marks the coming of the last days and thus the resurrection has now begun with Jesus. As B.B. Warfield puts it, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead ‘drags ours in its train’.2

But Jesus’ bodily resurrection holds still more lessons.

Bodily Resurrection and Creation

Canestra_di_frutta_(Caravaggio)It may come as a surprise but Jesus’ bodily resurrection actually says something about creation. This was especially important in Jesus’ day. At a time when some taught that matter was inherently evil, Jesus’ bodily resurrection spoke a different message. Instead of teaching that all things material were to be rejected in pursuit of the spiritual, the bodily resurrection affirmed the material.

What we have in Jesus’ physical resurrection is an affirmation and approval of God’s creation. In opposition to the teaching that humanity needs to be redeemed from creation, Christianity teaches the redemption of creation. The bodily resurrection shows that God has not abandoned his good creation but rather has redeemed it in the person and work of Jesus. God is not in the business of writing off creation or humanity. This becomes even clearer when we consider God’s commitment throughout the scriptures to such a rebellious humanity.

So, the bodily resurrection of Jesus reveals God’s commitment to what he has created. God will not do away with human physicality or creation. Rather, He will transform and renew it.

One of the best places to see this truth is in Romans 8:19-23. Here Paul describes creation as being subject to frustration. Creation is pictured as being in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘groaning’— which is not too hard for us to imagine. But Paul also says that creation is waiting ‘in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed’. That is, tied up with the revealing of the people of God, and the redemption of our bodies, is the renewal of the whole creation. In this way, just as at the resurrection of our bodies, we will be changed and clothed with the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:51-54), so too creation along with us will be liberated and made new. Thus, because Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the first fruits of our coming resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20), in turn, Jesus’ bodily resurrection is then also a guarantee of the renewal of creation to come.

At this point, however, care must be taken about the ethic drawn from the affirmation of creation through Jesus’ bodily resurrection. It is important to remember that creation still groans and has not yet been redeemed. The redemption of creation will not come until God’s sons are revealed. Jesus’ bodily resurrection simply affirms that it is to come and that it is guaranteed to come. On this point there are two potential errors.

One is to say that, because creation will be renewed and is passing away (2 Pet. 3:10) and will be ‘new’ (Rev. 21:1), then we can use and abuse creation all we want. But this is to misunderstand the responsibility we have to rule and subdue creation (Gen. 1:28-31). It also misunderstands what it means to love our neighbour. If we abuse creation and ruin it for others, then this is not loving towards our neighbours now, or those in future generations.

On the flip side, however, the eternal value of creation must not be so over-emphasised that the value of works done now for eternity is misplaced. Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15 is to highlight the eternal value of the work of proclamation and edification in light of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:58), not of the eternal value of all work. Creation will be made new. This puts the things done now, and the time spent upon them, into eternal perspective. We must not get so caught up in the problems associated with creation in the present that we forget that God will set the creation free from bondage at the resurrection of our bodies. God is bigger and far more powerful that the problems we have created in creation. If God is able to give us renewed glorious bodies (1 Cor. 15:35-44), then surely He will also be able to gloriously renew creation. Again, as stated above, this is not to say that we can abuse and misuse creation. But care needs to be taken about the ethic drawn from Jesus’ bodily resurrection. What can be affirmed with all confidence is that God is committed to His creation and will not abandon it.

These two truths, the guarantee of our bodily resurrection to come and the guarantee of the redemption of creation, bring with them great excitement for the believer. We will have gloriously transformed bodies and creation will be perfected and redeemed. These are truths worth celebrating! But we must also remember that the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of judgement day. The third instalment will consider how the resurrection of Jesus and judgement fit together, and the implications that this has for our world today.