Terry Tiessen is one of my favorite writers because he’s so clear and accessible. At every turn he is careful to write for all of his readers and not just for himself or his peers (a casualty for not a few academicians). He has an excellent summary of Wright’s position, which has been sorely misunderstood. He concludes:

N. T. Wright himself has acknowledged that he overstated himself when speaking of the role of our works in final justification. It was certainly never his intention to resurrect the classical Roman Catholic doctrine of double justification. There, justification is infused in our initial justification, through faith, but we are then enabled to do meritorious works, and those are instrumental in our final justification. At points in Wright’s work, it sounded as though he was echoing that doctrine, but it is now clear that this was not what he wanted to say….

Among evangelicals, however, there now seems to be widespread comfort with reference to final judgment as according to our works, while not attributing to those works any instrumentality in justification. The “not guilty” verdict made by God concerning us, when we are united to Christ by grace through faith, is made on the ground of our union with Christ, and that same verdict will be pronounced at the end, on that same ground. Nonetheless, in the lives of those whom God declares “not guilty,” at the “last day,” their works done in the flesh will bear testimony to the righteousness of Christ that had been practically at work in them, through their mutual indwelling. Justification is forensic, and needs to be distinguished from sanctification as a matter of ongoing experience, but the two cannot be separated. The Roman Catholic concern about antinomianism in the Protestant doctrine of “justification by faith alone,” is a healthy one, and we should share it. But we must not compromise the purely gracious nature of our salvation in Christ, from beginning to end, a truth that has not been well taught to millions of Catholic lay people around the world.

See his Justification: imputation, and final basis.


  1. Thanks for directing attention to this post. I greatly appreciate Terry’s elucidations. Though I wouldn’t dispute that they are valid systematic theology categories, I think the final analysis of justification needs to be broader than keeping justification as only forensic and strictly separate from sanctification (3rd to last sentence).

  2. Carl,
    As I read Tiessen… that justification involves the forensic view is not to say it’s only forensic. And, that justification is to be distinguished from sanctification is not to say they’re “strictly separate.” After all, he did say that “the two cannot be separated.”

    I would encourage you to post your observation on Tiessen’s site. He’s quite good at responding to comments and would appreciate the exchange with you. And, I’d be curious about his response!

  3. Yes, I was thinking about my comment after leaving it and realized I overstated my point. I hope to follow up with Terry soon when I have time to figure out my question.

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