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Southern Seminary journal examines key applications of James’ epistle

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The Epistle of James is not for the spiritually faint of heart.

Early in the New Testament book, James admonishes the reader to consider life’s trials as occasions for joy. In another place, he writes that good works are the validating grounds for true Christian faith. Throughout the book he analyzes the tongue, calling it a restless evil that is full of deadly poison.

The Fall 2000 edition of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, published by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, explores the Epistle of James, with writers examining the book from practical, theological and exegetical standpoints. The journal is a resource for LifeWay Christian Resource’s January Bible Study, which also focuses on James. Overall, the seven SBJT essayists agree that James has written an epistle that speaks to — and often corrects — the day-to-day behavior of individual Christians and also the entire church.

The journal includes articles by four Southern faculty members: professors Robert Stein and Thomas Schreiner, associate professor Mark Seifrid and school of theology dean Daniel Akin. It also includes articles by Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School; Ron Julian, teacher of biblical studies at McKenzie Study Center; and Dan G. McCartney, associate professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Stein, Southern’s Mildred and Ernest Hogan Professor of New Testament, tackles the oft-discussed passage in James 2:24, which states that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” It has been seen by some scholars throughout history (including Martin Luther) to sit in direct contradiction with Paul’s writing in Romans 3:28, which says, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

Stein gives careful attention to the exegesis of the two passages and demonstrates that their teaching is in unison — that salvation by faith alone produces good works.

“The debate all too often loses sight of the fact that justification is not synonymous with Christian conversion,” Stein writes. “If, when a person is justified, he is also born again and made a new creation through the gift of the Spirit, the issue of whether faith must be accompanied by good works is a moot one.

“Good works are not an option for the believer, but a necessary fruit. A ‘good tree bears good fruit’ (Matt. 7:17). A true faith, unlike mere intellectual assent, must bear good fruit. Such good fruit or works can never be the cause of salvation. Here, the Reformation cry of ‘justification by faith alone’ must be affirmed at all costs. But James’s warning that the faith that saves cannot be alone but will be accompanied by works must also be affirmed.”

In “Practical Christianity,” Schreiner writes: “James is a spiritual tonic for us, since we can easily confuse ‘hearing the word’ with ‘doing the word’ (Jas. 1:22-27). We might think that we are progressing well in the Christian life if we read our Bibles and pray daily, and regularly attend services where God’s word is proclaimed. James warns us against a disconnect between our hearing and doing, reminds us that without the latter, ‘religion’ is useless.”

Seifrid analyzes James 5:13-18, which shows that the great task of the church is to live with the future return of the Lord in view.

“Even though the parousia is imminent, it is not subject to calculation,” he writes. “James regards the present hour as eschatological by virtue of the gospel itself. … Waiting for the end time brings responsibilities toward one another in the meantime. One of the chief concerns of the letter is the conduct of believers in Christian community. James frames his admonitions mainly in negative terms, as warnings against the tendency to live by human wisdom.”

The journal concludes with a sermon by Akin. Each of the five chapters of James deals with the tongue in one way or another, Akin points out. The tongue is the body part with perhaps the most lethal potential, James shows. Accordingly, Akin says the tongue: tests our teachers, measures our maturity, determines our direction, inflames our iniquity, reveals our rebellion and compromises our confession.

“A hateful heart will not produce helpful and healing words,” Akin says. “No man can tame the tongue, but God can. It is my hope and prayer for me, and for every person who calls Jesus Lord, that God will so fill our heart and thereby control our tongue that Proverbs 16:24 will truly be said of us, their ‘pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.'”

Excerpts of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology can be viewed on-line at http://www.sbts.edu/news/sbjt/sbjt.html. The SBJT can be purchased by calling 1-800-626-5525, ext. 4413.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SBJT.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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