Friday, April 30, 2004

A Great Site, and not what you might expect

Check out Pete Hurst was my pastor for about 8 years. I admire him tremendously, and learned more from him than he realizes.


Ranking low in my esteem, among all the phrases one hears in modern evangelical Christendom, is personal Lord and Savior.

As an aside, it brings to mind the slogan they used to (still do?) have on Pennsylvania license plates: You have a friend in Pennsylvania. One was always tempted, when traversing the Keystone State, to roll down the window and ask a passerby, “Hey, are you my friend?” No—I’m not the one—must be someone else. Keep looking.

Anyway, what really bothers me about personal Lord and Savior is not that the phrase is absent from scripture, but that it projects a view of God’s relationship with man as being comprised of many one-on-one best-friendships. While God certainly enters into personal relationships, the personal Lord and Savior crowd, in my experience, deemphasizes if not outright ignores (denies?) that God also has an (at least) equally important collective (corporate) relationship with His people.

His people, the Church. We (well, some of us) like to say that the Church is the New Testament Israel. It is perhaps more revealing to say the Israel was the Old Testament Church. God has declared covenants with His people, the Church, and it is a mistake to underestimate the redemptive significance of those covenants. To say that they are little more than a tent, inside of which it is every man for himself.

Much more about this in the weeks to come. Having delivered my Intelligent Design talk, I’ll be off the science theme for a while.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Thanks for the help...

After arriving at the train station Cognitive Dissonance, as a self-proclaimed, oxymoronic, paedobaptist Baptist, I want to point out to my many well-meaning friends who feel obliged to tell me:
  1. Scripture does not command that children be baptized, and
  2. An explicit example of an infant baptism is not found in scripture

  1. Scripture does not command that women receive the Lord's supper, and
  2. An explicit example of a woman receiving the Lord's supper is not found in scripture

Monday, April 26, 2004

On Travel

Probably no posting for a few days--on travel.

Friday, April 23, 2004


[Note: the reason I have been writing on old/earth young/earth is I am preparing a talk in Intelligent Design to be given at a local college.]

Young earthers face an unsavory decision: either God continued supernatural creation of new species after He rested on the seventh day (which scripture does not close as it does the first six) or an accelerated evolution occurred following the flood.

The problem is that there are about 100 times more land dwelling species in existence than could have possibly fit on the ark (even by young-earther estimates.)

Furthermore, the fossil record, despite its apparent age, is said to reflect animals that died as result of the flood (but two of which were preserved on the ark). Thus many species (such as dinosaurs) existed at the time of the flood, were presumably preserved on the ark, but have become totally extinct since the flood, requiring even more species to appear since the flood in order to explain today’s vast biodiversity.

Either God continued to create species at a impressive rate after the flood (with no mention in scripture) or evolution works much better that Stephen Gould's wildest fantasy—with new species evolving faster than one per day—even faster considering that it had to cease with widespread human migration, since there are no reports of new (to be contrasted with undiscovered—which itself is rare) species popping up on a daily basis.

On the other hand, old-earthers have a view that takes scripture literally and, instead of proposing a form of super-evolution, actually explains what evolution cannot.

Old-earther’s (at least those with the day-age view) take scripture literally by reading the Hebrew word yôm as age. While today we have a rich vocabulary with choices such as day, era, age, epoch, period, etc., biblical Hebrew had an extremely constrained vocabulary—some estimate only around five thousand words, and the word yôm was heavily overloaded as the only word that existed for day, era, age, epoch etc.

So the old-earthers (day-agers) can take Genesis literally and put it to the scientific test.

At the highest level, the scientific prediction based on the bible is that:
  1. Life should appear in the order that the Genesis account gives (it does—vegetation and then in the oceans, birds, and finally mammals)

  2. New speciation should cease after God's final creation: man. Then God rested, ending the supernatural creation of species. This is what the fossil record indicates: no new species have appeared since man. On the contrary, and opposite to what evolution would teach, the only change in the number of species is a reduction due to those that are becoming extinct.

There are many great stresses on evolution. First, it is now known to have to have far less time than once thought explain the appearance of increasingly complex "simple" life (e.g., bacteria) from random eddies in the primordial ooze. The second stress is to explain the rapid introduction of new species during the Cambrian "explosion"—about one new species per year (~570 million years ago). The third is to explain reintroduction of species after they became extinct (such as horses). The fourth is to explain irreducible complexity (a component of an organism containing multiple parts that only functions when all parts are present—so the question is how did they all evolve at once). The fifth is to account for convergence, where the same design pattern is present in two or more species, even though they "evolved" in different environments and faced different environmental pressures. The sixth is the reversal of the evolutionary tree. Starting from a single node at the top, it should gradually branch and rebranch downward as new species are evolved, at most plateau-ing as resources are maxed out—but even then new species should appear. Instead the fossil record indicated and extremely rapid advance from nothing to huge biodiversity, then relatively little speciation for a long period, and now a shrinking of the width of the tree due to gradual extinction.

The day-age explanation: God created great numbers of species during the first six day-ages, sometimes recreating those that became extinct—all to groom the planet for human habitation. He reused effective design patterns. He "invented" irreducibly complex components. Then He created man and rested, ending the introduction of new species. Without a supernatural infusion of new species, the tree is shrinking as species, as they are prone to do, especially the complex ones, gradually become extinct.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Maybe God HAD to take 14 Billion Years

Sometimes the response to a Christian supporting an old universe is along the lines of "The God I worship wouldn't take 14 billion years to create the universe." The implication, of course, is that the old-earther worships a different god, i.e. he's a heretic. The tempting response is: "The God I worship wouldn't need such a long period as six days, He could do it in six pico-seconds if He wanted."

We all assume that is true. But is it? Is it possible that God had to take 14 billion years to prepare an earth for human inhabitation?

Before you light the torches and storm the gates, let me explain.

Theologically speaking, we know that there are things God cannot do. Principally, He cannot sin.

There are other limitations, as well. Logically (or philosophically) speaking, most agree that God is "above" logic, but whatever that means, it does not mean that God is illogical. The main point here is that He cannot violate the Law of Non-contradiction: God cannot be something and its opposite (A and not-A) at the same time and in the same context. Thus the answer to the age-old conundrum: Can God make a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it? is no, for God cannot be both omnipotent and non-omnipotent at the same time and in the same context.

Present super-string theories postulate that space-time is 10 (or 11) dimensional, and we live in a universe where all but three distance dimensions and one time dimension are "compactified"—which means we can't see them. Anything existing in the other dimensions (perhaps heaven, and hence God, and hell) would be mostly invisible—yet may appear to us by intersecting with our dimensions. This is just like Flatland. A 3D sphere is invisible to the 2D inhabitants of Flatland, unless the sphere intersects the 2D universe, in which case it appears as a circle.

Suppose God created a three-space, one time dimensional universe for us to inhabit, and the laws of physics to go with it. Is it possible that the universe is then destined to evolve by those laws, and it must, because God cannot create laws and violate them at the same time?

Note that miracles and divine intervention in human affairs are not precluded. To the inhabitants of Flatland, a circle appearing out of nowhere was miraculous (and a physical reality). Miracles could involve God stepping into (intersecting) our universe, stepping into time as we like to say.

In other words, what I described is a universe that would evolve by its God-given laws, and in which miracles were possible (even vaguely understood) but which had laws that God could not violate, because He made them. He cannot make moral laws and then violate them; perhaps the same applies to physical laws.

Folks, this is just pure speculation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Death Cometh Before the Fall

One of the exegetically weakest points held by fundamentalists is that there was no death of animals prior to the fall. Old-earthers, who believe God used dead animals to prepare the bio-deposits essential for human life are, according to fundamentalism, disparaging God’s creation, which He called very good, imbuing it with evil and cruelty prior to the fall.

There are many things wrong with this argument, not the least of which it is not taught in scripture.

It also assumes animal death is necessarily evil and cruel, which is not taught anywhere in scripture (and of which there are many counter-examples).

It also assumes there was no evil or sin present before the fall, which is contrary to scripture. Satan was already on earth prior to the fall, so sin and evil were already present (obviously) when the woman was deceived.

It means that if Adam, prior to the fall, stepped on an ant, the ant survived. Did the ant receive all the attendant injury associated with being crushed, but survived and recovered? Or were ants, prior to the fall, indestructible?

It is unrelated to this argument, but one can easily argue that Adam and Eve would have suffered physical death even without the fall. After all, they were to die the day they partook of the forbidden fruit, yet they lived (physically) far beyond that day (unless, *gasp*, day does not mean 24 hours.) So the death they died, and the death that entered the world through Adam, was not physical but spiritual. No where does the Bible teach that Adam would have lived (physically) forever, let alone the animals. Scripture is silent on the matter.

Finally, while God called His creation very good, He does not call it perfect. In one sense, it is, of course, perfect—in that it is exactly as God intended. But certainly it is not perfect in the sense that, even before the fall, the earth was corrupted by the sin and presence of Satan. And it probably was not perfect in the sense that, although it was paradise, it was not as wonderful as God could possibly have made it, for we are told of a better creation at the end of the age (Rev 21-22).

Lesson 8: Amillennialism: A Golden Age Beyond Time (part 3)

Amillennial Interpretation of the Millennium

Amillennialists are not happy with the name "amillennialism". It is not the millennium that they deny, but rather a literal earthly kingdom or a literal 1000 years. Many prefer names such as inaugurated millennialism or realized millennialism. Exactly what the millennium is, however, is fodder for amillennial in-house debate.

The most widely held view interprets the thousand years to the spiritual reign and blessedness enjoyed by the saints in heaven during the intermediate state.222 This is the newer and dominant position.

An older (Augustinian) view sees the millennium of Revelation 20 as symbolizing not dead saints in heaven but the spiritual reign of believers on earth. It symbolizes the victory now enjoyed by believers and the church.

Amillennial View of Christ’s Return

Amillennialism is both the simplest and most catastrophic of the viewpoints. There is no intervening period between this age and the eternal. This age ends in the twinkling of an eye when Christ returns. Grenz describes what that will be like from an amillennialist's perspective:
At the Lord's return, a conglomeration of events will occur, which complete his redemptive work. This includes Christ’s victory over the forces of the antichrist, the general resurrection, the judgment and the transformation of creation into the eternal state. For the saint of all ages, resurrection will mean that they, together with believers on the earth, meet the descending Lord and enter into the eternal kingdom of the new heaven and new earth. For the wicked, resurrection facilitates their appearance—together with the wicked on the earth—before their judge, followed by banishment into eternal condemnation. 223

Another description is from William E. Cox:
When the trumpet sounds, things will take place simultaneously. Our Lord will begin his descent to the earth, the brightness of this event will put down Satan, and all the graves will be opened…All the saints will go together to meet the Lord and to escort Him to the earth. …The unsaved … will be forced to bow the knee and acknowledge that this is of a certainty the Christ… They will see the suffering Servant reigning now as Judge of the quick and the dead, and they will seek a place of hiding but will find none. 224

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. (Rev. 1:7)

222 Grenz, Millennial Maze, p. 151.
223 Ibid., p. 152.
224 William E. Cox, These Last Days, pp. 80-81.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Hey, my computer works!

Several brothers in Christ, in their comments to the recent science posts, mentioned or linked the preeminent creation-science website.

It is hard for me to be gracious to the creation scientists, it really is. I'll do my best. (They also have trouble with grace, the word "heretic" is not ever far from their lips when discussing old-earthers.)

The creation scientists, many with impressive academic credentials, argue that the scientific evidence, including the fossil record, when properly interpreted—supports a young (~10,000 year old) earth.

They limit their support of the scientific intelligent design movement (IDM) to the biological front. They love to use Behe's arguments for irreducible complexity, but turn around and trash him because he believes in an old earth.

Their insistence on six day literalism as a test of orthodoxy is annoying, not because they hold it, but because they do not offer any explanation as to why creedal 144 hour creation was not popularized until the advent of Darwinism. Widespread insistence on literal six twenty-four hour days creation as cardinal truth is about the same age as dispensationalism. And while the two are often linked, there is also (and most distressingly) a critical mass in the PCA that demands acceptance of a young earth.

I would like to ask Ken Ham and his colleagues a few questions:
  1. How is it that the computer you use to write your articles works? How is it that the copper wire and fiber optic links that transmit the data to your website work? How is that the satellite links used by some of your readers to download the articles work? After all, these technologies all are, in large part, made possible by the same quantum mechanics that, according to you, not only fails but fails conspiratorially (different isotopes giving the same wrong answers) when it comes to carbon, uranium, and thorium dating. It surprises me that you would ever trust (even to the point of trusting your life if you ever had an X-ray or MRI) any device based on quantum mechanics (which today is essentially anything that contains electronics.)

  2. OK, suppose geological (of several varieties), radiological (of several varieties), cosmological (of several varieties), astronomical (of several varieties), and astrophysical dating all are in error. Why do they give the same wrong answer? They all say the universe is billions of years old. None gives a result in the thousands, millions, hundreds of millions, hundreds of billions, or trillions. Each different method tells us that the earth and the universe are billions of years old.

  3. Why did God fine tune the Universe for life if He simply materialized the earth in situ? No need for the amazing, inexplicable and precise balance of energy levels inside stars. That balancing, if slightly altered, would leave us without (through super nova explosions) the elements we need for planet formation and life. But in light of the fact the God created the earth intact, and that no stars have ever actually exploded, why the amazing and fortuitous nuclear chemistry?

The above line of questioning could go on ad nauseum. The point is, creation scientists accept and champion the biological design arguments, yet disdain all the incredible cosmological design arguments that so beautifully demonstrate Romans 1:20. Cosmological intelligent-design is only meaningful when viewed against the backdrop of an old universe. When taken in the context of a young universe it is something of an embarrassment; it is inexplicable to the point where it is better to ignore it altogether, lest you insult God's character by positing that science has no other purpose than to test the faith of the scientists.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Fat Chance

What is the a priori probability that we are here? It is interesting how the problem breaks into three pieces.

We can write an equation for the probability that we exist1:

Pwe exist = Psomething instead of nothing x Nplanets x Pplanet supports life x Plife evolves

The first piece is Psomething instead of nothing is the probability that there is something instead of nothing. This has been a point of great contention, with theologians and some philosophers declaring that it is absurd that nothing can produce something, and physicists countering that the laws of quantum mechanics permit it. Arguing over this factor is pointless. Might as well concede that it has a value of 1.0.

The third piece, Plife evolves, the probability that life evolves, is also hotly debated. There is much to attack in evolution, and virtually every scientific discovery, apart from witnessing an actual speciation, will stress rather than support evolution. Why is that? Well, evolution needs time. More than anything, it would like it to be that complex life does not appear until late in the game. The problem is the earth's crust was molten to about 3.9 billion years ago, and fossils of cells have been dated to 3.5 billion years. Limestone (formed by dead organisms) has been dated to 3.8 billion years ago, and ancient sediments even older. So evolution, instead of having a billion or so years to produce life, may have only 100 million years or less. Any future discovery cannot give evolution more time, only less. Compound this by the fact that investigations into the biochemistry of single cell creatures continues to reveal more complexity, not less. There is rarely a good news day for the evolutionists.

However, the interesting game to me is the middle term. If evolution can be likened to a tornado assembling a 747 from scrap in a junkyard, the middle term, ignored by biologists, is the probability that right scrap just happens to be lying about. For years, the large value for the number of planets in the universe, Nplanets, which is about 1022, gave people great confidence that the number of earth-like planets must be large. SETI receives funding because 1022 is a large number. Pplanet supports life, the probability that a planet can support life, was ignored. After all, even if it were one in a trillion, that would still leave 1010 earth-like planets.

The amazing development is that it looks like Pplanet supports life is not 1 in a trillion, or 10-12, but more like 10-180! (This sources argues that it is even much smaller that that, more like 10-215! ) This makes the likelihood of even one earth-like planet, arising accidentally, to be vanishingly small.

How small is 10-180? There are ~ 1019 grains of sand on earth. Suppose that is typical. There are ~ 1022 planets. With these assumptions, there are ~ 1041 grains of sand in the universe. Suppose there are four special grains of sand hidden anywhere in the universe. The chance to pick randomly four grains of sand anywhere in the universe and get the right four is about 1 in 10164. This is still far more likely that the possibility of an earth-like planet.

The mathematically astute will notice that we approximated [1 - (1 - P)N] as N x P, a very accurate approximation when P is small.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

How Awful

Today I saw a student wearing a tee-shirt that bore the message The only time I support gay marriage is when both of the chicks are hot. Now one could wear a shirt sporting a slogan that slandered God explicitly. But apart from going that far, one would be hard pressed to come up with a single sentence more vile. Not that I want anyone to try.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004


Prior to about 1920, most physicists believed in an eternal, steady state universe. The reason is clear. A universe with no beginning does not pose a creation problem. Everything that begins has a cause, but something that "always was" has no cause. God has no cause.

Starting more-or-less with Einstein's general relativity, evidence for an expanding universe mounted. This was buttressed by impressive and ever-improving evidence of a big-bang-like beginning.

The only real hope to justify a continued dismissal of the creation problem was an oscillating universe. If the expansion slowed down and then reversed, due to gravity, the universe would ultimately collapse in a big crunch. Perhaps this explosion-implosion cycle has been going on for all eternity.

There are some real theoretical problems with such a model, but all that is moot. Recent measurements have confirmed that the universe will continue its expansion. There will be no big crunch. This is a once-only universe.

Physicists must face the reality of a universe that had a beginning. They can choose to ignore the question, relegating it to theology, or they can try to find possible quantum mechanical and quantum gravitational explanations. Enter conjectures of infinite parallel universes, or that the universe was created as a result of a fluctuation in the quantum vacuum.

Let's spin the dial a bit. For most of the history of Christendom, belief in a literal six twenty-four hour day creation occurring six thousand to ten thousand years ago was not considered a plank of orthodoxy. To be sure, many held that view, but few saw it as a line in the sand. Augustine, for example, believed in an exceedingly non-literal "instantaneous creation". Another common belief was that each day in Genesis represented 1000 years.

Then in 1859, Darwin published his theory of evolution. As a response, many Christians, correctly recognizing that evolution requires enormous time if it has any chance to be correct, began to emphasize and elevate the literalistic creation account. Perhaps four billion years is long enough for life to assemble itself and then evolve into humans (it isn't) but certainly ten thousand years is wildly insufficient.

In some way I can't quite vocalize, I see similarities in the scientific reluctance (but ultimate acceptance) of a universe with a beginning and the Christian denial of an old earth.

I wonder if the enmity between science and Christianity is inevitable. My gut tells me that it is not, although attitudes need to change, mostly among Christians. In my experience, scientists are less antagonistic toward Christianity than Christians are toward science, although they are usually quite happy to avail themselves of the benefits of scientific research.

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.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Free Will Followup

In my post on Free Will below, Tim asks the following fair questions in the comment section:

This is a lovely [antinomy]. Let me see if I have it straight. If God doesn't regenerate me I will never choose him and be condemned to eternal punishment for something which I am incapable of doing in the first place. This regeneration takes place without my [assent]. There is no quality of my person which would permit me to merit it. There is no way of knowing how or why some are regenerated and others not. Curious. So why doesn't God regenerate everyone? Or why does God regenerate anyone?

Why doesn’t God regenerate everyone? Why does God regenerate anyone? Good questions. Unfortunately I don’t know. I don’t know why God doesn’t save everyone. He could if He wanted to. I know that He doesn’t, because the Bible teaches that some are lost. And I know that He regenerates some, because the Bible teaches that some are saved. About the only thing I can say is that Paul views the question as bordering on the impertinent. When anticipating the "that’s not fair" response to his teaching on predestination, he writes, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' "21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Rom 9:20-21)

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:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9)

I will just point out that Arminians have an (at least) equally difficult question: Why are some people lucky enough to hear the gospel, while many others do not? And of those who do hear, why do some have the right background, frame of mind, intellect, environment, and experiences so that they do their part and assent, while others do not?

Thursday, April 08, 2004


Justification: The means by which an unjust sinner is made acceptable to a Holy God.

The difference between the Roman Catholic view and the Reformed view on justification is shown in stark relief when one considers the following statement:

By grace, God reckons Christ's righteousness to us.

To the Reformed, this statement is the gospel. We are acceptable to God because Christ's righteousness is credited or imputed to us, not because we actually become righteous. To the Roman Catholic Church, as is made clear in the Council of Trent, the same statement is viewed as a legal fiction, one that impugns God's character. To Rome, God is not deceitful, declaring the unjust as just. God declares the just to be just.

There is a modern trend to discount the importance of the differing views on justification. To say, in effect, that the Reformation was much ado about nothing. But once you see that what one side views as the gospel, the other side views as worthy of excommunication (see the articles on justification in the Council of Trent) you should be dissuaded of the notion that the differences are trivial.

Catholicism does not teach salvation by works. Rome agrees with the Reformed that the righteousness of Christ is required for justification. The difference is that in Rome's view, our Lord's righteousness is sacramentally infused into the sinner—which is to say that by grace (not by works—no need to slander the RCC) the sinner actually becomes just (or righteous). In this way the "legal fiction" is avoided. In Rome's view, the just are justified. In the Reformed view, regenerated man is declared justified while still a sinner.

It should be clear from the Atonement that imputation does not constitute a legal fiction. On the cross, our sin was imputed to Christ. Our sin was not infused into Christ—that would make Christ actually sinful, and His death would have accomplished nothing. In a like manner, His righteousness is imputed to us. It is not a legal fiction, because in both cases the one who gets the short end of the stick (Christ) (a) possessed a perfect righteousness and (b) voluntarily agreed to the imputation.

In the table below, I list some of the similarities and differences between the Reformed and Roman Catholic views on justification.

Reformed View Roman Catholic View
Instrumental Cause Faith (alone) Baptism
Restorative Cause N/A Penance
Just and sinner simultaneously? Yes No
Grace Required? Yes Yes
Faith Required? Yes Yes
Regeneration Required? Yes Yes
Become just through one's own power? No No
Cooperation Required? No Yes
Process or Forensic? Forensic: We are declared just Process: We actually become just.
Analytic or Synthetic? Synthetic: Our faith PLUS Christ’s righteousness credited (imputed) to us Analytic: Just men are justified—they become just by faith and grace through sacramental infusion

For the Reformed, a saved person will undergo a process of sanctification, but will never arrive at a point where he could be justified by his inherent righteousness, even though that inherent righteousness is not really of himself but is the result of the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. For the Reformed, the basis of justification always rests on the imputed righteousness of Christ.

One criticism of the Reformed view of justification is that it is a change in status only. That is, God declares you to be justified, but you are still the same person after the declaration. Technically this is true, but it is not the complete story.

In Reformed theology, there are three steps that occur in logical if not actually temporal order: regeneration, faith, and justification. Both coming-to-faith and justification are reserved for those whom God regenerates. With that in mind, it is clear that a justified man is radically different from his former, unregenerated self. Furthermore, the process of sanctification inevitably begins. There is no room in Reformed theology where one can sneak in the perversion of antinomianism.

There are many passages on justification in scripture. Let us examine two of the more important.
9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."
10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; (Rom 4:9-10)

Here is one of the proof texts of justification by faith alone. For before he was circumcised, before any good works, righteousness was credited (imputed) to Abraham for one reason and one reason only: faith. Sola fide.

Another important passage comes from James:

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

This passage is important to answer the common slander of Reformed theology, already discussed, that the Reformed view is inherently antinomian, given that imputed righteousness in and of itself demands no change in a person's life. James makes it clear that God only justifies regenerated men, and such men will produce fruit. A person who never bears fruit is not regenerate and hence not saved, even if he, like the demons, intellectually believes.

The Reformed mantra of "Justification by Faith Alone" is really a shorthand for "Justification by a Saving Faith Alone", and is perfectly consistent with the teaching of James.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004


Thank you for all the prayers and emails. I am doing much better. The low point came last Saturday AM when I ended up in the ER. Since then I have been feeling much better, and will resume blogging very soon, perhaps tomorrow. I have an MRI scheduled for next Wednesday. Hopefully that will be diagnostically illuminating.

Again, I thank you for your prayers and concern.