Monday, April 12, 2004

Loose Ends

• In the post immediately below, responding to my statement: I do know that the Father set aside a people for Himself, The Son came to redeem them, and the Spirit instructs and sanctifies them. I even expect that in the fullness of time, the majority of people who will have ever lived (most of whom, I suspect, have yet to be born) will be saved, Bob comments:
How do you come to this conclusion in light of Matthew 7:14 [But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.]?

I don't think Matt. 7:14 teaches that for all history it will be the exception rather than the rule that one is saved. A full response would require a reposting of all the posts on postmillennialism. I will simply point out that shortly after he uttered the words of Matt. 7:14 above, Jesus spoke the seemingly contradictory teaching:
I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 8:11)

There are two possibilities of reconciliation. One is that the verses don't mean what a plain reading would indicate. That seems unlikely. The better explanation is: some of these verses are prophetic, some are contemporary and ethical. Postmillennialists believe that verses such as Rev. 7:9 and Matt. 8:11 are prophecy. Matt. 7:13-14, on the other hand, is a call to the apostles to get to work—do not sit back and rest on God's Sovereignty. So few in those early days chose to follow Christ, but that does not imply that such will be the case in all ages. Matt. 7:13-14, in this perspective, is the initial ethical motivation of the Great Commission, and Paul's call to witness in Rom. 10: 14-15.

Allow me to turn the tables. If you interpret Matt. 7:14 as teaching that when all is said and done relatively few people will be saved, how do you reconcile verses such as Matt. 8:11 and Rev 7:9?

• In my post on Justification below, Jeremy comments:
This scheme ignores the biggest difference between Catholic and Protestant views of justification -- what the term itself refers to. Catholics use the term to refer to what Protestants typically call sanctification. When Catholic scholars (e.g. Joseph Fitzmyer, Luke Timothy Johnson) began to study the Bible more carefully at the end of the 20th century, they realized that Paul uses the term 'justification' the way Protestants have been using it all along, and then they declared the heretical view they denounced as the Protestant view to be a different view altogether. This doesn't resolve all the differences, but it makes a lot more progress than most Reformed people think.

I have heard this point before and I have to say I do not buy it. In effect, it trivializes the Reformation by saying that Luther (an extremely knowledgeable Catholic), Calvin, and the Catholic bishops at Trent all made the same semantical error. Yet if one reads the section of Trent on justification it seems clear to me that (a) the bishops were writing on justification and not "sanctification under the name of justification", and (b) The Roman Catholic church had a good (but not perfect) understanding of what the Reformers were teaching when they anathematized sola fide. More to the point, it wasn’t so much the details of justification that were important, but the basis thereof. For the Reformers, the grounds were faith alone. Neither the Catholic view of justification nor of sanctification has as its grounds faith alone, so no matter how you slice and dice it the differences are just as big as both the Reformers and Rome saw them to be in the sixteenth century.

Now there is a modern trend in academic Reformed circles to morph justification into a life-long process. This naturally results in a theology much closer to the Catholic view. Whether this movement has the typical half-life of an academic trend (i.e., vanishingly short) remains to be seen.

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