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Virtue That Counts

Why justification by faith alone is still our defining doctrine.
2007This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

Evangelicals who visit Rome cannot help but enjoy the stately buildings and stirring sense of history. A few like it so much they never leave. Such is the case with Francis Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society. In April, the Baylor University philosopher rejoined the Roman Catholic Church.

Such defections always provoke a little evangelical soul-searching, in this case about the classic doctrine of justification. Beckwith found the Protestant view, which assumes that sanctification follows justification, inadequate.

"As an evangelical, even when I talked about sanctification and wanted to practice it, it seemed as if I didn't have a good enough incentive to do so," Beckwith told Christianity Today. "Now [in Catholicism] there's a kind of theological framework, and it doesn't say my salvation depends on me, but it says my virtue counts for something."

Beckwith, in describing his confusion, has done us a favor, giving us an opportunity to explore a question that frankly many Christians ask: Why be good?

The Virtue of Christ

Justification by faith, which gives us assurance of our standing before God, is not just a pastoral doctrine. It goes to the very core of our theological tradition. Martin Luther described it as the "first and chief article" of Protestantism "on which the church stands or falls." It is no surprise then that recent affirmations of justification have attracted evangelicals as diverse as Tom Oden and R. C. Sproul, Pat Robertson and Ron Sider. Still, don't be surprised to see more debates about justification unfolding. Next month's cover story, by British scholar Simon Gathercole, will look at how some evangelical ...

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