After posting parts 5 and 6 in my series on legalism, I’ve received some feedback that leads me to believe an important word of clarification is needed at this point.
You can go back and read those posts here:
- The Major Flaw in Kevin’s Book (Legalism, Part 5 of 14)
- A Different Kind of Legalism (Legalism Part 6 of 14)
At this point, I’m not necessarily arguing that Kevin is wrong to denounce a work-righteousness approach to Christianity, and I’m not attempting to build an argument that gives us a back door into a work-righteousness approach to Christianity. I believe Paul (and all of Scripture) is clear that we are saved by God’s grace. God is the primary actor in our salvation – not us. We do not “earn our way to heaven”. Kevin and I agree on these points. I’m not attempting to build an either/or case.
My point is this: if we pay close attention to the contexts in Galatians and Romans, it doesn’t sound like the church was arguing over whether or not we can earn our way to heaven by good works. The major questions Paul was dealing with were “who are we allowed to eat with?” and “who can be welcomed into full Christian fellowship?”
My major criticism is not that Kevin is wrong oppose works-based righteousness (in fact, there are lots of really smart Bible scholars out there who believe that even though the Jew/Gentile relationship was the primary question being wrestled with, these texts still contain seeds, which when fully developed, can certainly be used to denounce a works-righteousness approach towards Christianity). My criticism is simply to point out that Kevin approaches these scriptures through the lens of whether or not we earn our way to heaven, while the early church would have read these scriptures through the lens of thinking about Jew/Gentile relations. To really grasp what these verses are saying (and what they are not saying), it is helpful to go back and read them in that light.
If we define “legalism” as whatever it was Paul was arguing against, we should conclude that Kevin’s book addresses a different kind of legalism from that which was addressed by Paul. Again, this doesn’t make Kevin wrong. It just means he is addressing a different kind of legalism.
The change in emphasis can have several important implications when it comes to how we understand several different scriptures and concepts. These implications will be the focus of the next few posts in this series, so it is important to grasp this point.
It is not necessary to disagree with what Kevin says about works-righteousness in Christianity. But we must recognize that when we think of the question of whether or not we earn our way to heaven, we are dealing with a question that scholars have spent a lot of time wrestling with ever since the reformation movement. But that’s not necessarily the same question the church was wrestling with in the first century.
With that cleared up, I invite you to continue reading Part 7 here: