Galatians: An Interview with Doug Moo Regarding Justification and Preaching

Greg Strand – February 2, 2015 Leave a comment

Books At a Glance interviewed Doug Moo about the publication of his recent commentary on Galatians and other issues related to the book. (This is part of the excellent Baker Exegetical Commentary series edited by Bob Yarbrough.) Two questions and responses interested me, which I have excerpted from the longer interview.

In this question he is asked about soteriology in general and justification in particular. This has been the heart of the discussion in the New Perspective on Paul. Is justification just forensic and declarative, an end-time verdict brought to the present time through faith in Jesus Christ so that “having been justified, we have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1)? Or is there any sense in which justification has any future connotations whatsoever? Are the two biblical and theological notions antithetical?

Without undermining that justification is a “definitive, once-for-all verdict pronounced at the time of conversion,” Moo concludes there is some future aspect to justification, which has been the position of some in Reformation theology. But he notes, “the integration of this future aspect [of justification] with the pretty clear suggestion of a definitive verdict at conversion is a challenge.”

Books At a Glance:
You’ve become quite famous for your Romans commentary. Is there anything about Paul’s soteriology that you’ve modified in your Galatians commentary in comparison to something you may have written in your Romans commentary (e.g. Justification, law)?

Moo:
I am either unimaginative or stubborn (or both!), but I have not changed much in my “take” on Paul’s soteriology – except at one point. When I wrote my Romans commentary, I took what might be called a “standard” Reformation approach, arguing that Paul sees justification as a definitive, once-for-all verdict pronounced at the time of conversion. And texts such as Rom. 5:1 and 5:9 can certainly support such a view. But as I entered deeply into the argument of Galatians, and especially the exegesis of 5:2-6, I began to see a different perspective. Here, I concluded, Paul suggests that “righteousness” (the verdict of “being justified”) is pronounced in the future for the believer. This future element of justification also seemed to me to make sense in the context of the argument of Galatians generally. So I am working to integrate this future aspect of justification (a perspective we find also, I think, in James 2) into my overall understanding of justification in Paul. Of course, it should be said that, as R. Gaffin has pointed out, a future element of justification has had a solid place in certain strands of Reformation theology – so I don’t think I am departing from the tradition. But the integration of this future aspect with the pretty clear suggestion of a definitive verdict at conversion is a challenge.

In this question, Moo is asked about what advice he would give to those preaching through Galatians. His response: “integrate with historical and systematic theology,” because in order to understand the central element of Christian theology one must get a “sense of how Galatians ‘plugs into’ larger historical and theological frameworks.”


Books At a Glance:
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to pastors who plan to preach through Galatians?

Moo:
Integrate with historical and systematic theology. It goes without saying that Galatians, like any other book of Scripture, must be set in its first-century context, with due regard for the issues Paul and the “agitators” were fighting about. And the relevance of these issues and the answers Paul gives for the contemporary church will very much depend on our understanding of those contextual matters. But the ultimate “point” of Galatians is to form our views of central elements in Christian theology: the place of the law, justification, the work of the Spirit, etc. Understanding and effectively proclaiming these theological issues cannot be effectively done without a sense of how Galatians “plugs into” larger historical and theological frameworks.

 

Moo addressed the topic of “The New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Bridging Christocentric and Christotelic” last week at our EFCA Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Scriptures. Recordings of all the messages from the Conference will be posted soon.

 

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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