The Justice of God

Written by James D.G. Dunn and Alan M. Suggate Reviewed By Craig Blomberg

The first of two books that Durham NT Professor Dunn has recently penned is co-authored with his colleague in Social Ethics. It falls into two discrete parts. First, Dunn contrasts Luther’s understanding with contemporary interpretations of Paul’s conversion and his ‘gospel’, insisting that there must be a social as well as an individual dimension to justification. (The use of the dik– word group in Greek for both ‘justice’ and ‘justification’ demonstrates this connection.) Second, Suggate introduces three modern case-studies where nationalism has intruded into Christendom in unbiblical ways, just as many Jews were overly ethnocentric in the NT world. These are presented, presumably, in decreasing order of severity: German history culminating in the Holocaust; Western imperial missions and Eastern imperial backlash in Japan; and the confusion between free market economics and Christian faith in Britain under Thatcher.

In the published version of his 1991 Didsbury lectures, Dunn discusses Christian liberty under the headings of ‘Jesus and Authority’, ‘Liberty and the Self (primarily a treatment of Paul) and ‘Liberty and Community’ (an exposition of Rom. 14:1–15:6). As in the previous book, part of Dunn’s argument depends on accepting his claim, by now well known from his more technical studies, that ‘the works of the Law’ in Paul refer not to Jewish (or Jewish-Christian) attempts to save oneself by human merit, but to the identity badges of Jewish nationalism (expressed particularly in circumcision, the dietary laws, and Sabbath-keeping). It is not at all clear that it must be either/or rather than both/and, but this does not affect the legitimacy of Dunn’s principal conclusions. Most challenging of these is the reminder that conservative evangelicals and liberal Christians alike must always be alert to ways in which they may be drawing the boundaries of ‘acceptable Christianity’ too narrowly.

Craig Blomberg

Craig Blomberg
Denver Seminary
Denver, Colorado, USA