Rob Bowman on Charis (Grace) as a Reciprocal Covenant Issue

Posted: January 19, 2020 in Grace, Mormon Studies, Rob Bowman

Robert Weingarten, “Jackson Pollock #1” (2007)

compiled by Fred W. Anson
The issue
“As an Evangelical, I’m being told that Charis is a reciprocal ‘covenant’ and also that Strong’s Greek is ‘outdated’. One of the sources that this LDS individual is using is Evangelical, Douglas Moo’s article, ‘John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift and the New Perspective on Paul,’ The other is Latter-day Saint, Stephen O. Smoot’s ‘Saved by Charis: A Review of “Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis”’ (with thanks to Cynthia Debban Petermann and Paul Nurnberg for providing this issue clarification)

Rob Bowman’s response
It’s complicated. This claim is also being made by some non-LDS scholars, although how it is understood or applied in the NT isn’t always the same.

First, I thought Douglas Moo’s article, “John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift and the New Perspective on Paul,” was excellent.1

Second, the Greek word “charis” (χάρις) does not mean “covenant.” Nor is the word necessarily associated with a covenant, though of course, the “new covenant” in Christ has grace as a key aspect. The Book of Hebrews, which uses the term “covenant” more than the rest of the NT combined (see especially chapters 7-10), tells us that Jesus is our high priest seated on the throne of God in heaven, ready and able to give us “grace” and “mercy” with sympathy for our weaknesses (Heb. 4:14-16), having died as a sacrifice for our sins in order to save those who come to him (7:26-8:6). So we can agree that the grace of God is associated with the new covenant, for which Christ is our mediator with God.

Third, describing the new covenant as “reciprocal” requires some explanation. It is reciprocal in the sense that a covenant is a relationship between two parties, in this case, God and believers (the church, if you will, considered as one party). It is therefore reciprocal in that God expects those who have entered into the covenant to remain in it in order to continue receiving the benefits of it. Remaining in the covenant entails continuing to honor the Benefactor in order to continue receiving his generous gifts. But those gifts can never be earned. There is no payment plan for reimbursing God, our Benefactor, for the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.

Fourth, the evangelical doctrines of salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone do not mean that Christians are not expected to do good works. We are not saved by our works (Eph. 2:8-9), but because we are saved we do good works (2:10). Salvation consists not *only* in forgiveness of sins but also in regeneration (the new birth), the indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit, sanctification (being set apart or consecrated to God as his holy people), and eventually glorification in which we become sinless, absolutely holy, loving, good, and righteous people. No one can be saved who wants forgiveness without the rest of the blessings of salvation. You can’t tell God, “I’ll take forgiveness but I don’t want you messing with my life.” Let me re-post some material that I have posted on FB a couple of times in the past:

What is the evangelical view of faith and works? Let’s look at some representative statements.

First, here is Luther’s comment on Galatians 5:6:

Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides.”
The Epitome of the Formula of Concord, a Lutheran confession:
“But after man has been justified by faith, then a true living faith worketh by love, Gal. 5:6, so that thus good works always follow justifying faith, and are surely found with it, if it be true and living; for it never is alone, but always has with it love and hope.
(Martin Luther’s Bible Commentary, Galatians 5)  

John Calvin, in his Antidote to the Council of Trent:

I wish the reader to understand that as often as we mention Faith alone in this question, we are not thinking of a dead faith, which worketh not by love, but holding faith to be the only cause of justification. (Galatians 5:6; Romans 3:22.) It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.

The Westminster Confession of Faith

Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness,
is the alone instrument of justification:
yet is it not alone in the person justified,
but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces,
and is no dead faith, but works by love.
(Westminster Confession of Faith 11.2)

To conclude: Evangelicalism teaches both “faith alone” (i.e., faith is the sole instrument of justification) and “faith not alone” (i.e., faith is never alone but produces love that does good works). This is not a contradiction but merely reflects the fact that the two statements use “alone” in different ways.

This is what evangelical theology teaches.

Jesus did say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; see also 14:21). I think we need to take that seriously. I also don’t think it conflicts with salvation by grace alone. God’s grace saves us not only from the penalty of sin but also from the power of sin. Love and good works are the fruit of genuine salvation.

NOTES
1 Just a clarification: As I just mentioned, the article is actually by Douglas Moo, not John Barclay. Moo is discussing Barclay’s book and the scholarly context in which it was written.

About the author: 
Rob Bowman is the former Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research (IRR). He left IRR in 2019 to pursue a career in theological research, writing, and teaching. Previously he served as Manager of Apologetics & Interfaith Evangelism for the North American Mission Board (2006-2008). For ten years Rob taught graduate courses in apologetics, biblical studies, and religion at Luther Rice University (1994-99) and Biola University (2001-2005). He has also worked with other apologetics and discernment ministries, most notably the Christian Research Institute (1984-91), the Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project (1994-99), and Watchman Fellowship in Alabama (1999-2000). Rob has spoken at over a hundred churches and at some three dozen conferences and debates. He has five years of experience hosting call-in radio talk shows focusing on apologetics, including the nationally famous Bible Answer Man show.

Rob Bowman earned the M.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, did doctoral studies in Christian Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, and earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at South African Theological Seminary. He is the author of roughly 60 articles (e.g., in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Review of Biblical Literature, Christian Research Journal, Moody Monthly, Pastoral Renewal, Mission Frontiers, and Journal of Evangelism and Missions) and 13 books pertaining to apologetics, religion, and biblical theology, including two winners of the Gold Medallion Award, An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World (1997) and Faith Has Its Reasons (2001; 2d ed., 2006). His most recent books are Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (co-authored with Ed Komoszewski, 2007), which received numerous endorsements from such scholars as Ravi Zacharias and Richard Bauckham, and What Mormons Believe (2012).

Rob and his wife, Cathy, have been married since 1981 and have four children, three of them still living at home.

This compilation was derived from the following Facebook discussion threads:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1853695141544362?view=permalink&id=2072500106330530 and https://www.facebook.com/groups/PFAAS/permalink/2249032808677258.
(note this is closed Facebook group that you must be a member of in order to view group content. Click here to apply for membership in the group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/PFAAS)
It has been republished here with the kind permission of the contributors on Facebook. 

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