Essay on Luther’s Doctrine of Justification Online (Updated)

My essay in the Concordia Theological Journal is now online as a PDF.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Oh that is article we had to read in Med-Ref. This is a fantastic article. Reading this article really helped me to have a clear and robust view of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Good stuff Dr. Clark.

    God Bless,


  2. Yes, thanks for this. I enjoyed it and have filed it for future reference. Unfortunately, there are Reformed folks (i.e. NAPARC) who’ve also been taken with the Finnish interpretation.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    I have been calling you Scott is that OK? Thank you for suggesting that I read that essay from a Reformed guy. It was well worth my time. It was written in the same vein (I am using that expression a lot lately) as Korey Maas’s “The Place of Repentance in Luther’s Theological Development.” I am sure Rod has given you that essay to read. All I need to read now is a scholarly essay on how Luther came to see the distinction between Law and Gospel and I will have covered his three main theological breakthrough’s from the medieval Church. Luther is definitely the giant on whose shoulders we now stand on. Even more so than Augustine who still held some theotic union beliefs- or am I wrong about that?

    My take on the paper is that it was a rather long argument that came to the conclusion, like a crescendo in a piece of music, that we are justified before God only by the gracious imputation of Christ’s righteousness for us. It took Luther awhile to arrive at that conclusion. For us being the key words- not in us. It is extra nos not something done inside of us. Our intrinsic righteousness flows from this imputed righteousness like rays emanate from the sun- it is something that results naturally from the gift of imputation. A question I would have here is the following: Does our will play any role in this intrinsic righteousness? What I gathered from the paper is that justification and sanctification are so intimately entwined that to try to separate them causes more confusion than clarity.

    It was interesting to read about how the current scholarship about Luther came about and all the confusion that has resulted. I will now be more critically aware of the various positions taken. And I can be more confident that the book of Concord still is accurate on Luther’s theological positions regarding justification by faith alone. No matter how someone I am reading may try to persuade me in another direction.

    Another question I had while reading the paper is what do you think are the problems and implications that occur when you do not ground justification upon Christ’s imputed righteousness for us? My own answer would be that we retain some of the glory for our justification. Do you think that is accurate?

    There was a lot of Latin phrases in the paper that you did not translate because it was written to other theologians and I was going to ask you to translate them for me but I think I will bypass that. I am pretty sure I was able to “get” the main point for why you wrote the paper. Namely, that Luther based his doctrine of justification by faith alone on the imputed righteousness of Christ. No matter what some other scholars may try to lead you to believe.

    I was also struck by the disputation method used back then. If we need anything today it is to resurrect this method when dialogging with each other. I get very frustrated when debates meander into each person trying to justify their positions rather than really seeking the truth about the issue involved. This causes more confusion than clarity and wastes a lot of time.

    I do not see any difference in how a Reformed guy looks at justification by faith alone than a full orbed confessional Lutheran. Why all the fuss?- it seems like a lot of sound and fury amounting to nothing.

  4. Dr. Clark:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I was working on an essay for my Eastern Theological Tradition class with Dr. Bradley Nassif on the issue if deification, and your essay was very helpful in my research. You said, “If justification is divination, then we are not justified” (309). I think, in the final analysis, this is what’s at stake in the Orthodox/Reformed dialogue, either we are right before God or we are not.

    Thanks again for your essay.


  5. Your article seems to no longer be available at this link. Is there another way to see the article. Thank you. -Peter

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