The Deliverance of God – A Summary


Main point of the preface: D.C. gives us the influences behind his work and some sense of the challenges he faced over the 15+ years of its development.

Summary: Preface (xxiv-xxx): In the early 1990’s Alan Torrance gives Douglas some essays by his father, James B. Torrance – which leads to something of an epiphany – especially concerning “theological foundationalism” in the form of “contractualism” (I take foundationalism to mean that certain foundational propositions are held to be self-evidently true – axiomatic  – “properly basic beliefs” and are not therefore subject to proof or critical analysis – I think this is the same as presuppositionalism.)

From that point in time forward to the publication of the book in 2007 – D.C. recounts the development of the ideas found in the book – and the challenges he faced along the way. One such challenge was how he anticipated using Krister Stendahl’s essays (no specifics given) which I take to mean Paul Among Jews and Gentiles – but perhaps he means more than this – e.g. the book, Final Account: Paul’s Letter to the Romans.


During this time he presented exegetical suggestions in academic settings – they were “frequently opposed and rejected for presuppositional, not exegetical, reasons” (emphasis his).

In the further development of his hermeneutical approach he relied heavily on the basic epistemology of Michael Polanyi (cf. chapter 7).

He became convinced that the contractual construal (evidently D.C.’s favorite word – used repeatedly – meaning, “how individuals perceive, comprehend, and interpret the world around them – or, simply, interpretation) of Justification presupposed a rigorous God – who was ultimately “unchristian”.

He states that through the process he relies”heavily” on his mentor, Robert Jewett, whose analyses of Romans can now be found in the commentary series Hermeneia.

“It is one of my central contentions that maintaining a tight grip on Paul’s supposed moves and countermoves – which are often very subtle – is critical to an appreciation of what we have been misunderstanding in his Justification texts in the past, and of how to correct it.”

“Hence we return to my attempt to articulate in nuce [“in a nut[shell]”] just why James B. Torrance’s essays were an interpretive epiphany for me so long ago…”


Main point of the Introduction: Certain “conundrums” in maintaining/harmonizing a Lutheran perspective on Paul make it impossible/contradictory to go forward without attempting a radical revisioning (to a more authentic, non-contradictory perspective) of Paul’s Gospel.

Summary (pgs. 1-8): Classic interpretive conundrums provide a useful starting point:

The traditional perspective has been a “Lutheran” – as opposed to a 19th-20th century German perspective (e.g. Deissmann and Schweitzer) Mystical/Participatory Christocentric Mysticism. The texts for the former being Romans 1-4,10 and Galatians 2-3; for the latter being more basically Romans 5-8.

But how can one fit the forensic together with the mystical? One approach to harmonize has been to see one emphasis on justification over against sanctification.

Since E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism it has been demonstrated that second temple Judaism did NOT believe in justification by works.

Another conundrum is the provenance of Romans – unlike Galatians there is no obvious interlocutor – or obvious issue/incident that evoked the letter.

With the Lutheran reading we are led to a very individualist reading of justification terminology – devolving into a conditional/contractual understanding of salvation. The emphasis leads to an individual, rational decision that is highly anthropocentric – as opposed to the Divine initiative emphasized in Romans 5-8: we are overshadowed and enslaved by sin and ontological slavery and therefore MUST be liberated from outside – through the decisive initiative of God.

This perspective is just contradictory to the Lutheran perspective! And it is evident that the main audience of Romans are converts from paganism – not from Judaism. Something else must be going on here…

D.C. likens the Lutheran reading to a computer virus (a lot like Dawkins “meme”). And the commitments to individualism, rationalism and consent – i.e. a contractual structure are all easily perpetuated via Renaissance humanism and Enlightenment world views and culture. All of this makes sensitivity to the “delicate textual signals” problematic – and leads to a projection into Paul’s Gospel. This is an idolatrous exercise – making God into OUR Western image of Him – indeed doing the same to the Gospel itself!

Instead, maybe we can be radically liberated from these modern assumptions to a more Christocentric, apostolic Gospel…

Chapter 1

The Heart of the Matter: The Justification Theory of Salvation

Main Point:

Summary: This chapter describes a particular theory of salvation. But is this description a straw man? It might just be that Paul is not so rigorous or systematic as this theory assumes.

1.1 Basis

Where does this theoretical account come from? A particular reading of various Pauline texts – which underpins this theory – a matter of sheer rationality. But this construct cannot be developed in a completely coherent fashion because it is internally incoherent – due to internal flaws – and we will see that it is powerful but not perfect. In other words, D.C. is attempting to “steel man” (my words) this theory in what he calls a “thought experiment”.

1.2 Rigor

Against premature caution and objections, Paul must be given the benefit of the doubt that he is rigorous [extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate]. This theory’s claimed strength is coherence.

But regarding the designation of “….“Lutheran” – and hence my consistent use to this point of quotation marks. This designation is simply unfair, both to Luther and to many Lutherans….It is, in brief, both more: accurate and more responsible to refer to the theory in terms of “Justification” (And other appropriate theoretical designations may be used from time to time -e.g., individualist, conditional, contractual Western or European.)” (p.14) 

1.4 The Contribution of Federal Calvinism

Regarding “Federal Calvinism” (from the Latin foedus for “contract) – James Torrence has done a classical analysis of its major controversies including the critical pastoral and theological dynamics [e.g. assurance]. “Those observations underlie my detailed description of the inner workings of the Justification model here, along with its possible problems and cultural affinities, because the theory of salvation as it is adumbrated by some of Paul’s texts is essentially contractual as well…. Federal Calvinism and Justification share the same basic model…. This model has a pronounced binary structure: one is supposed to move from an unsaved, “unjustified” condition to a saved, “justified” condition by means of the exercise of “faith“.”

§2. The First Phase: The Rigorous Contract

“The Justification model presupposes a rational, self-interested individual. The model derives both its general negative pressure toward the individual’s conversion and its distinctive judgments about the law from the same basic premise: that a God of justice is known to everyone. This premise is extremely important. God’s existence and power are deduced from the cosmos without; God’s ethical concerns, from the promptings of the conscience within. God is thus perceived not only as omnipotent but also as a cosmic lawgiver and judge…. Equally important, this justice is understood in a specifically retributive sense… arguing for the necessary prior perception of a forensically retributive God; this is the (in)famous iustitia Dei… the basicality of this premise can hardly be underestimated”

[Another indicative of the prevalence of “Justification’ is even found in the preferred translations of evangelicals e.g. nomos is translated as “law” – not “teaching”.]

Significantly, this approach gives any statement of the model a characteristic conditionality and, as a result, an essentially contractual structure: “If you do x (which is good), then you will be rewarded. The conditional grammar departing from God’s ethical demands and followed by a consequence estimated in relation to individual fulfillment or lack thereof conveys the rational, conditional, and voluntarist dimensions in the model nicely, along with its basic ethical dynamic. The description thus far can be summarized in simple propositional form:

1a. Humans are rational.

1b. Humans are self-interested.

1c. Humans are therefore ethical, in order to be saved ( and this largely in relation to 1b).

2a. God is omnipotent (and presumably also omniscient and omnipresent).

2b. God is just.

2c. 2a is known to everyone from the cosmos without.

2d. 2b is known to everyone from the conscience within.

3a. The content of righteousness derives from God’s nature (see 2b).

3b. God’s ethical demands are revealed to Jews through written legislation.

3c. God’s ethical demands are known to everyone else innately (2b via 2d).

4. Reward and punishment will be apportioned by God (so 2a) in relation to individuals’ fulfillment or not of God’s ethical demands (so 2b), that is, in accordance with righteous actions, which constitute righteousness, or their converse, and hence on the basis of desert. “If you do x, then you will be re-warded; if you do not, and/ or do y, then you will be punished:’ Note the salience of proposition 2b in the foregoing followed by 4. In a very real sense, ethical legislation based on retributive justice is the fundamental structure of the universe, as well as of the divine nature. But we must now address an important complication in this model.

2.2. The Future Eschatological Caveat

Late contributors to the Old Testament, and many occupants of intertestamental Judaism, were well aware that the imposition of this meritocratic calculus during earthly existence was problematic. As the book of Job points out at some length, the wicked appear to prosper and the righteous at times to suffer and die in pain,

“…one solution hinted at by Job seems to have received widespread, although
not universal, adoption in Paul’s time… God will raise the dead and judge all at the end of present… history, apportioning reward and punishment in the form of future positive and negative states, namely, heaven and hell. This will allow the apparent injustices of
the present age to be eliminated and the equations of desert to hold, despite contrary

5a. The injustices of life on earth will be rectified by a final judgment at the end
of the present age.
5b. Those dead will be resurrected in order to take part in the judgment
(through 2a). I 5c. The future age will be constituted in positive and negative states ( again
through 2a).
5d. God will determine on this “day” (through 2a) which state each individual
will enter on the basis of desert (see 4, effected at sa through sh).

“So ultimately reward or punishment will be based on desert, desert itself being
measured out as we would expect in relation to the performance of righteous actions
in the light of their specification, or their converse. As one supposedly definitive
exponent puts it: “For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those
who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will
give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth
but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress
for everyone who does evil . . . but glory and honor and peace for everyone who
does good” (Rom. 2:6-10). Good cosmic citizens will be saved and cosmic criminals
condemned. This is at bottom simply a strictly meritocratic approach; no
positive discrimination here (see 2:11)! It is usually known in the New Testament
trade as legalism, works righteousness, or justification by works of law. ”

2.3. The Introspective Twist

There is great commonality here with other models and even other religions.

[to be continued]





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