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Al, my point is not that the question of justification no longer has relevance for us now. It is that Paul constructs his argument about justification to deal with a particular, historically framed eschatological crisis—and that we have so much difficulty with his argument because we exclude this contingent dimension.

An argument for justification becomes necessary whenever the “rightness” (righteousness, integrity, credibility) of either God or his people is brought into question. That is exactly the situation that we find ourselves in today: the rightness of our story about God is widely impugned, therefore we have a problem of justification.

Abraham was counted righteous not simply because he had faith but because he believed in the particular promise that he would be the father of a great nation even though humanly speaking this looked unlikely. Being counted righteous, being justified, is contextualized. We have been taught to expect these core theological notions to function as absolutes: justification is the same yesterday, today and forever—and that is not entirely wrong. But it misses the historical dynamic of Paul’s argument, and my view is that by recovering this dynamic, we will gain a much clearer sense of our own situatedness and of the crisis that the modern church faces.

The church still has to ask: What is the basis for its sense of rightness?

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