Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ski Week

This upcoming week is ski-week in New Hampshire. For those from southern states, like Pennsylvania, that means the schools are off all week so that we can go skiing. Me and da boyz are heading to Sunday River in Maine, leaving tomorrow after church.

In addition to skiing, I am looking forward to swimming in one of the resorts outdoor pools.

Been thinking about this incident and decided that, since I'm a Calvinist, I'm going to ski double black diamonds without a helmet. Let him who reads, understand.

So no blogging next week.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Lesson 6: Justification (Part 4)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Justification from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

The Antinomian Way of Justification: Faith → Justification - Works

The Antinomian formula is the same as for the neoorthodox view, but without the italics. The reason is that the antinomian has the correct view of Jesus as the second person of the Godhead, and the correct view of justification by faith alone.

So far, so good. Alas, the antinomian shares with the neoorthodox view the fatal de-emphasis on the importance of works. They do not deny the value of good works—we are not talking about a cultic endorsement of licentious behavior—but they miss the connection between faith and works, between justification and sanctification.

And while the antinomian ditty:
Free from the Law, Oh blessed condition,
I can sin as I please and still have remission
is a caricature, in effect they do not deny the possibility that one could be justified and maintain the attitude reflected in those two lines.

This form of antinomianism—where the proponent is very orthodox in his view of Christ and justification, but who, while endorsing and advising obedience to the commandments while denying their necessity, is fairly common in evangelical, dispensationalist churches. So much so, that there is a bit of a civil war going on—a civil war known as the “Lordship Salvation” controversy.

Lordship Salvation

We now look at an incendiary debate raging, which is related to neo-orthodoxy and more importantly antinomianism, the Lordship Salvation Controversy.

In a nutshell: Once you accept Jesus as your savior, will you naturally accept Him as your Lord as well, meaning you will attempt (perhaps pitifully) to obey and do good works, or is it possible to at first accept the “savior” part and only, at a later date, accept the Lordship part?

Some cast the debate as one regarding the conditions for salvation, some over the necessary consequences of salvation, and others over assurance of salvation.

Let us begin with a scholarly definition. We will use one from Gentry:
The Lordship view expressly states the necessity of acknowledging Christ as the Lord and Master of one’s life in the act of receiving Him as Savior. These are not two different, sequential acts (or successive steps), but rather one act of pure trusting faith—Kenneth L. Gentry, The Great Option: A Study of the Lordship Controversy, Baptist Reformation Review (BRR) 5 (Spring), 1976, pp. 49-79 .
Although this began as a debate within dispensationalism, Covenant Theologians have jumped in, as proponents of Lordship Salvation. As far as I know, no Covenant Theologians argue against Lordship Salvation. So the battle-lines are:

Lordship: Dispensationalists and Covenant Theologians
Non-Lordship: Dispensationalists

This may seem mysterious, because we haven’t yet looked at dispensationalism and covenant theology. So here are two, short descriptions:

Dispensationalism teaches biblical history as a number of successive economies or administrations under God, which it calls "dispensations," and emphasizes the continuity of the Old Testament covenants God made with the Jews through the patriarchs. Dispensationalist eschatology emphasizes a premillennial futurist view of prophecy of the end-times and a pretribulation view of the rapture (i.e. a rapture occurring before the Great Tribulation). Most Baptists are dispensational.

Covenant Theology is also a conceptual overview and framework for understanding the overall flow of the Bible. It uses the theological concept of a covenant as the organizing principle. Covenantalism views the history of mankind's redemption under the framework of three over-arching covenants: one within the Godhead and two betweenGod and mankind (although unilateral imposed by God):
  1. The Covenant of Redemption, is the agreement that the Father would give a people to His son, the Son would redeem them, and the Spirit would sanctify them.

  2. The Covenant of Works, was made between God and Adam, who ultimately represented all mankind in a covenantal sense. It promised life for obedience and death for disobedience.

  3. The Covenant of Grace, promised eternal blessing for all people for trusting in the successive promises of God and ultimately for accepting Christ as a substitutionary covenantal representative.
Now the terms (Lordship and non-Lordship) used here are themselves controversial, because clearly nobody in the non-Lordship camp denies that Jesus is Lord. Alas, nobody has come with a better set of terms that is not viewed as pejorative by one of the camps. For example, the Non-Lordship proponents prefer to label their view with terms like the free-grace position, but clearly their opponents would not deny that grace is free. So for better or worse we will stick with Lordship and non-Lordship with the understanding that the terms are far from perfect.

Another way to cast the same debate is costly-salvation vs. easy believism. Again, the term easy-believism may be considered insulting, but we will use it nonetheless. Here we get a flavor for the debate: it is between those (Lordship) who say there is an immediate and inevitable cost to salvation (imitating Christ, picking up one's cross) and those (non-Lordship) who say that the "cost" of being a Christian does not necessarily begin immediately and in some cases may not be incurred at all.

Yet another way to formulate the debate is over the concept of "carnal Christians". A carnal Christian is one who has sincerely accepted Christ but has shown no change whatsoever in his lifestyle. He continues to live entirely in the world.

Lordship: There is no such thing as a carnal Christian.
Non-Lordship: Carnal Christians exists.

The Lordship position does not hold that every Christian has great piety and is overwhelmingly successful in battling sin from day one. It does say that the process of sanctification, evidenced by good works, begins immediately even if in very small and slowly growing quantities.

Finally, a negative way that the debate is: between those (Lordship) who teach salvation by works and those (non-Lordship) who advocate a form of antinomianism.

The impact of this on evangelism is probably obvious. While one may not endorse the particulars of the following hypothetical encounter, it serves to illuminate further the question at hand:
After we had talked for a couple of hours, the young man seemed to be prepared to give himself to Christ. My friend, no doubt sensing that asked him a question: "In light of all we have talked about this evening, can you think of any reason why you should not become a Christian tonight?"

The young man sat for a few minutes, then looked back at him and replied, "No, I cannot think of any reason."

I was excited by this, but to my amazement, my friend leaned across the table and said, "Then let me give you some!"

For the next few minutes he began to explain the cost of being a Christian. He talked about the young man’s need to surrender his whole life, his future, his ambitions, his relationships, his possessions, and everything he was to God. Only if he was prepared to do this, my friend explained, could Christ begin to work effectively in his life.

… My friend then leaned even further across the table and asked, "Can you still not think of any reason why you shouldn’t become a Christian tonight?"

After another moment, the reply came, "I can think of some now."

My friend responded, "In that case, do not become a Christian until you have dealt with every one of those reasons and are willing to surrender everything to Christ." –Charles Price, Real Christians (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1987), 55-56.
The Non-Lordship observer wanted the witnessing to cease when the young man seemed eager to accept. The Lordship evangelist went on to explain the costs of being a Christian.

Here is a homework assignment: Go read how Christ witnessed, and decide whether he also emphasized the cost of following Him.

The history of the debate is not easy to ascertain. Some have tied the Lordship position directly to Calvinism:
Lordship salvation flows from a Calvinistic foundation. God has chosen a people and He will save them. He regenerates them and grants them the gifts of repentance and faith. Such a work of salvation transforms them. God has also justified them and He has begun the work of sanctification in them which He will also perfect. Through trials, difficulties, and even failures, they are not only eternally secure but will persevere in holiness and faith.—Richard P. Belcher, A Layman’s Guide to the Lordship Controversy (Southbridge, MS: Crowne Publications), 1990, p. 99.
And indeed, those dispensationalists on the Lordship side of the debate tend to be from the Calvinist-leaning wing, such as John MacArthur.

It may be an oversimplification, but the Reformed school has always been on the Lordship side and so there was no raging controversy within Calvinism. For example when (Calvinist) J. I. Packer wrote in one of his most influential books:
In our own presentation of Christ's gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress as Christ did on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness.” –J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press) 1961, p. 73.
it did not cause a stir among Calvinists.

No, the battle didn't really rage until Packer's position was essentially endorsed by someone from within the ranks of dispensationalism: John MacArthur in his book The Gospel According to Jesus.

In his introduction, MacArthur writes:
This new gospel has spawned a generation of professing Christians whose behavior often is indistinguishable from the rebellion of the unregenerate. Recent statistics reveal that 1.6 billion people world-wide are considered Christians. A well-publicized opinion poll indicated nearly a third of all Americans claim to be born again. Those figures surely represent millions who are tragically deceived. Theirs is a damning false assurance.—John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan), 1988.
MacArthur's position in a nutshell: Evangelism based on easy-believism has resulted in many who have a false assurance of salvation, as evidenced by the fact that their profession of faith has not changed their lives.

MacArthur's book generated many responses from within dispensationalism. Two of the more important are Charles C. Ryrie's So Great Salvation (Wheaton: Victor Books), 1989, and Zane Hodges' Absolutely Free. (Zondervan), 1989.

It what follows, it can be assumed that within dispensationalism, MacArthur represents the extreme Lordship position, Hodges the extreme non-Lordship, and Ryrie a moderate, in-between position.

(Most of the rest of the post is taken from Mathison's book Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God?)

MacArthur has noted seven fundamental points on which all three agree:

  1. Cross. Christ’s death paid the full penalty for all our sins and purchased salvation. (Rom. 3:24-26, 1 Cor 15:54-57)
  2. Justification by Faith. Salvation is by faith through Jesus alone—plus minus nothing. (Eph. 2:8-9)
  3. Good Works. Sinners cannot earn salvation or favor with God. (Rom. 8:8)
  4. Prerequisites for Salvation. God requires no preparatory works or prerequisite self-improvement. (Rom. 10:13, 1 Tim 1:15)
  5. Eternal Life. Eternal Life is a gift from God. (Rom. 6:23)
  6. Immediate Justification. Believers are saved and fully justified before their faith ever produces a single righteous work. (Eph. 2:10)
  7. Believers and Sin. Christians can and do sin. Even strong Christians are in constant battle against the flesh. Genuine Christians sometimes commit heinous sins (David, c.f., 2 Sam. 11)
On these points, there is general agreement within dispensationalism.

However, MacArthur lists nine points upon which there is disagreement: Repentance, Faith, Faith’s Object, Faith’s Effects, Salvation’s Extent, Christ’s Lordship, Holy Desires, Assurance and Perseverance.

Below we present a table (from Mathison) that shows that radical Non-Lordship (Hodges), moderate Non-Lordship (Ryrie), and Lordship (MacArthur) positions on each of these points of contention
Radical Non-Lordship Moderate Non-LordshipLordship
RepentanceRepentance has absolutely nothing to do with salvation and should therefore never be included in the gospel message. Repentance is not a part of conversion but simply a change of mind about something. It is not meant to be part of the gospel message. The gospel calls sinners to faith in oneness with repentance. Repentance is turning from sin, not a work but a divine grace. Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30, 20:21, 26:18-20;2 Pet. 3.9; Luke 3:8, 24:47; 2 Tim 2:25
FaithFaith is simply the belief in the truthfulness of certain facts. It is solely the work of man and not a gift of God. Faith is primarily being convinced of the facts of the gospel, but it also includes an act of the will and an element of trust in the person. Salvation is all God’s work. Those who believe are saved apart from any effort on their own. Even faith is a gift, not a work of man. Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:1-5,8; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 11.
Faith's ObjectThe object of faith is the collection of facts of the gospel message.The object of saving faith is The Lord Jesus Christ. The object of faith is Christ Himself, not only a creed or promise. Faith therefore involves personal commit-ment to Christ. All true believers follow Jesus. John 3:16, 10:27-28; 2 Cor. 5:15
Faith's EffectsThe only necessary effect of faith is salvation from the eternal penalty of sin. A life of continued growth in grace (progressive sanctification) and salvation from the power of sin are not necessary effects. Some fruit is inevitable in a true Christian life, though it may never be outwardly visible. Real faith inevitably produces a changed life. Salvation includes a transformation of the inner person. The nature of the Christian is different, new. The unbroken pattern of sin will not continue. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6, 1 John 3:9-10
Salvation's ExtentSalvation means gaining eternal life. The other aspects of Christian life are different kinds of ‘salvation’, which believers must experience after conversion. Salvation guarantees justification and “positional” sanctification but not necessarily “progressive” sanctification. The gift of God, eternal life, includes all that pertains to life and godliness, not just a ticket to heaven. Rom. 6:6, 8:32; 2 Pet. 1:3.
Christ's LordshipThere should be absolutely no aspect of submission to the lordship of Christ in the gospel messageA person can accept Jesus as savior without acknowledging Him as Lord of one’s life and without being willing to allow Him control over ones life.Jesus is the Lord of all and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender. He does not bestow eternal life on those whose hearts remain set against Him. Rom. 6:17:18, 10:9-10; James 4:6
Holy DesiresThe scriptural revelation knows nothing of a doctrine in which Christian love is guaranteed by the mere fact that one is a Christian. Ryrie argues that believers my live like unsaved people for extended periods of time, but he does not believe this will be the lifelong state of any Christian. Those who truly believe will love Christ. They will therefore long to obey Him. John 14:15,23; 1 Pet. 1:8-9; Rom 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 16:22
AssuranceWhen a person believes he has assurance of life eternal. A continuous lack of fruit in a believer’s life should never cause him to question his salvation. The bible offers two grounds for assurance. The objective ground is that God’s word says that I am saved through faith…The subjective ground relates to my experiences.Behavior is an important test of faith. Obedience is evidence that one’s faith is real. The person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not evidence true faith. 1 John 2:3-4
PerseveranceIt is possible for a person to cease believing and yet remain a Christian.Ryrie agrees with Hodges: faith is a point in time action and may not continue in a Christian. Genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith. Those who turn completely away show that they were never really born again. 1 John 2:19; 1 Cor. 1:8

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Lesson 6: Justification (Part 3)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Justification from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

The Neoorthodox Way of Justification: FaithJustification - Works

Gerstner’s formula for the Neoorthodox view italicizes Faith and Justification. The reason is that not only is their formula wrong, but what they mean by faith and justification is not what orthodox Christianity means.

The father of Neoorthodoxy is the Swiss Protestant Karl Barth (1886-1968). Barth’s theology was a counter to the liberalism that was sweeping across Europe, and was deeply influenced by the pessimism following World War One. Supporters of neorthodoxy often couch it as the perfect balance between liberalism and fundamentalism (for example, neorthodoxy’s rejection of biblical inerrancy.) But as Gerstner correctly points out, while neorthodoxy is a rejection of liberalism (that’s good) it also rejects, not fundamentalism, but orthodoxy (that’s bad.)

The theologian regarded as the prime mover in spreading neoorthodoxy to America is Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). Gerstner describes his encounter with Niebuhr:
In the early forties I was doing my graduate work at liberal Harvard, which had reluctantly begun to admit the existence of anti-liberal neoorthodoxy…Harvard [invited] Reinhold Niebuhr, who was one of the early and powerful American advocates of this style of Christian thinking… Niebuhr pronounced denunciations on Harvard and other forms of liberalism in no uncertain accents…

Niebuhr said emphatically and repeatedly that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Ninety-five percent of that audience was confident that Jesus was nothing more than a man. They were told time and time again [by Niebuhr] that Jesus Christ was God, no mere man…

If one left after that address, he would have though that John Calvin redivivus had been heard on the Harvard campus that morning.

If, however, one remained for the question period, he would have known otherwise. A student immediately arose and said, “Professor Niebuhr, you repudiated the liberal notion that Jesus was merely a man. You said that he was God. What do you mean by calling Jesus Christ God?” Niebuhr explained that he did not mean “ontic deity.” Christ was not eternal. He was not a member of the everlasting Trinity. (Primitive Theology, p 270.)
Under further questioning, Niebuhr renounced the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) decree that Christ was “truly God and truly man.” When pressed further to explain what he meant by God, Niebuhr answered he meant a “symbol.”

Niebuhr, in his lecture, repudiated liberalism. In his question and answers, he repudiated orthodox Christianity. That is why Gerstner italicizes Justification and Faith for the neoorthodox position. They do have faith, but it is a Jesus of their own creation, one who does not bear much likeness to the real Christ. And they are justified, so they believe, by their faith in this fictional savior.

Another famous theologian of the neoorthodoxy school was Paul Tillich (1886-1965). His concept of justification, at first, seems based on solid ground, for he uses Luther’s quotation: Simul Justus, simul peccator (simulateously justified/righteous and a sinner.) However, what Luther and reformed theology means is that while a justified man is still a sinner, he is not the same type of sinner he was prior to conversion. He is acquitted of all guilt, imputed with Christ’s righteousness, and empowered by the Spirit to pursue righteousness, not perfectly but genuinely—which is impossible for the unsaved man.

The difference for the neoorthodox view comes into sharp relief when Tilich describes the prostitute who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair (Luke 7:37-39). Gerstner argues that Tilich’s view is that the prostitute was justified by her faith in Jesus and yet remained a sinner, simul Justus, simul peccator, but that she was the same sinner that she was before. But we know this is not correct. When Jesus forgave the adulteress in John 8, he said “go and sin no more.” If she continued, unrepentant, in adultery, she was not a forgiven Christian and was not justified. Tilich’s view is that even if the woman continues as before, with no change in her sinful behavior, not even an attempt, she nevertheless is justified and has eternal life.

As for works receiving a “minus” sign in the neorthodoxy equation, it is not because the neoorthodox view does not value good works. Indeed, they are highly esteemed, and both Barth and Tillich risked their lives in opposing Hitler. The problem is, like their antinomian cousins, which we will discuss next, they do not think works are necessary or essential.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Lesson 6: Justification (Part 2)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Justification from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

The Roman Catholic Way of Justification: Faith + Works → Justification

This is what the Reformation was all about. We agree with Catholics over the essentials of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, His vicarious death, and the necessity of faith in Christ. We also agree on what constitutes “works.” This includes obeying the Ten Commandments and also Christ’s new commandment (Matt 22:36-39). (Of course, Rome adds duties that are not in the bible: such as confession to a priest and observance of holy days.)

However we greatly differ when it comes to the great mystery of salvation: justification. How are we made acceptable to a Holy and perfect God who demands an unattainable perfect compliance with His law? Clearly we can never, on our own, meet such a demand.

The problem is not that our sins are not forgiven. The problem is that the price of admission to heaven is an unblemished record. And once one has sinned, the record can never be expunged. Christ said “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13). The (mythical) righteous man has no need of justification.

Justification is like being acquitted of a crime, though not because the accused is innocent, but because an innocent third party (Christ) has made a satisfactory restitution to the offended (God). We get off on some clever legal maneuvering.

So exactly how does this happen? There is a substantive difference between the Roman Catholic view and the Reformed or Evangelical view.

More than a quibble over the word “alone”

The difference between the Roman Catholic and evangelical views of Justification is sometimes cast as the “mere” addition of the word alone:

RCC: Justification is by faith.
Reformers: Justification is by faith alone.

However, there is another big question here, above and beyond the nontrivial insistence on the word alone. To wit, how does justification happen? And here we find another substantive difference between the RCC and the Reformers. It is not “just” the “aloneness” of justification, but also that way it happens.

The question is whether we can actually become righteousness (and are therefore acceptable to God) or whether God treats us as if we were righteous. The former is the view of the RCC, the latter was the position held by the Reformers.

Neither side teaches that any sort of justification can occur apart from God’s grace (the heresy of Pelagianism.) Both the RCC and Reformed position is that grace is necessary for justification. There is a difference as to whether it is sufficient.

Calvin wrote, summarizing the reformer’s view:
Thus we simply interpret justification as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favour as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.
Calvin also writes that the justified is “deemed righteous” and “regarded not as a sinner.” This makes it clear that the evangelical view is that man himself does not have inherent righteousness even after justification. The righteousness with which we present ourselves to a Holy God is by imputation; it is not inherent or infused into us. It is symmetric with the view that our sins were imputed to Christ on the cross and he was punished as if they were His own even though they were not.

Contrast Calvin’s view with what Rome declared at the Council of Trent:
… the instrumental cause [of justification] is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which no man was ever justified finally, the single formal cause is the justice of God, not that by which He Himself is just, but that by which He makes us just, that, namely, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and not only are we reputed but we are truly called and are just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to everyone as He wills, and according to each one's disposition and cooperation.
We see here a very different view from Calvin’s. The RCC view is that we are justified not by an imputation but by an infusion. We acquire inherent righteousness, initially from the instrumental cause: baptism. Justification also requires cooperation. Furthermore, the state of being justified can be lost through the commission of sin and must be restored by another sacrament: penance. This is turns leads to the idea of congruous merit that is so alien to the reformed view and that Luther so despised.

The RCC disputes the evangelical view of Justification and holds that if we must be righteous before God then we must have a true, internal righteousness which, though accomplished through grace, is nevertheless “ours”.

In addition to denying that our salvation is through Christ’s work alone, this view overestimates the value of our works, even if they were perfect, which they aren’t. Christ teaches the inadequacy of hypothetically perfect human works by a parable:
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10)
Man, as the creature, is obligated to obey God. If he did so he would still not deserve a reward; one is not rewarded for fulfilling an obligation.

It was the doomed effort of Luther, as a monk, to become righteous and achieve justification that led him to his insight of a simple biblical truth: that justification is not an achievement of man but a gift from God.

The RCC and the evangelical views on justification are very different-- different enough to be the primary cause of the Reformation. It is very important to appreciate that these differences are not superficial (some have said that the only difference is the Reformers and the RCC interchange the meanings of Justification and Sanctification). There are additional ramifications when it comes to other doctrines such as predestination, perseverance, the atonement, original sin, types of merit, purgatory, and virtually all other salvation related topics. Whether or not these differences are substantive enough in our eyes to warrant the greatest schism in the history of Christianity, they were without question considered very important to both the Reformers and Rome.

Sola Fide

The doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is often attacked on two fronts. The first is the fact that the phrase never appears in scripture, except in the epistle of James. The second and more difficult front of the attack is that the one time the phrase does occur, it appears that James is refuting “faith alone”.

When Paul talks about justification, primarily in the book of Romans, he never states explicitly that justification is by faith alone. However, what is not explicit is nevertheless abundantly clear.

When we say justification is by faith alone, it is understood that the faith itself is by grace. So grace is not excluded, obviously, from the restriction: faith alone.

That leaves only one other thing that could possibly contribute to justification: keeping the law, or works. Thus we have three possibilities:
  1. Justification is by works alone.
  2. Justification is by faith and works.
  3. Justification is by faith alone, sola fide.
The first option is rightly rejected by all Christians. The debate is really between the second and third choices.

So if Paul wants to teach sola fide he has two possible basic strategies at his disposal: He could affirm it explicitly, or he could eliminate option 2, justification by faith and works, so that only sola fide remains as a possibility.

That is exactly what Paul does. He eliminates works as a contributing factor. If works do not contribute to justification, then the only thing left is faith, and faith alone.
he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Rom. 3: 26-28)

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. (Rom. 4:2)

know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)
In light of these passages (and the book of Romans as a whole) one sees how weak the argument is that Paul does not teach sola fide simply because he never names the doctrine that he so clearly espouses.

The James Problem

The often quoted apparent refutation of sola fide:
Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (James 2:21:24)
Here is the dilemma in a nutshell:
  • Paul teaches that justification is by faith alone.
  • Paul teaches that Abraham was justified by faith (Rom. 4:2). So does Moses (Gen. 15:6).
  • James seemingly denies sola fide, especially in James 2:24.
  • James teaches that Abraham was considered righteous for offering Isaac (James 2:21).
As an aside, this problem is always posed as a "James" problem for the sola fide crowd. It is equally (if indeed it were an actual dilemma) a "Paul" problem for those who deny justification by faith alone.

There are really only three possibilities.
  1. James is wrong.
  2. Paul is wrong.
  3. James and Paul are talking about different things.
Clearly the first two options are not open for consideration. Although Catholics and Protestants disagree on the sufficiency of scripture, both agree on its inerrancy. The only real possibility is that Paul and James are using justification differently. This is the only solution that preserves the integrity and harmony of scripture.

In discussing this, it is vital to remember the context in which Paul and James speak of justification. Paul is laying out a treatise of the forensic view of justification, forensic because we are declared "legally" righteous before God by claiming Christ's perfect righteousness as our own. Paul is always discussing the theological grounds for justification, which is faith and faith alone.

James' epistle is a much more practical, down-to-earth, in-your-face exhortation. James is addressing a dead orthodoxy and its cousin, antinomianism. James, unlike Paul, is not teaching first principle apologetics on the theological ground of justification, but its practical and inevitable manifestation.

This is most clear in the conflicting discussions of Abraham. Paul refers to Gen. 15:6, where Abraham is made (credited) with righteousness because he believed. James refers to an event much later, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac.

The fact that Paul and James refer to Abraham's justification as occurring at different times, and as the result of different events, either worsens the dilemma or, as I believe, is additional evidence that Paul and James are talking about different things.

Note further what James wrote: Abraham was considered righteous for offering Isaac. Considered by whom? God does not consider, God knows a man’s state. God knew Abraham was righteous because He made him (credited him) righteous earlier in his life. Abraham’s obedience made his justification manifest to himself, to Isaac, and most importantly to us. That is what James meant. For further evidence (and not dependent on the use of considered in the NIV) we note that James clearly views it as a display of righteousness (or justification), not the actual act of being justified, by also referring, in James 2:23, to Abraham’s ground for justification: faith.

In this view, James' teaching is clearly understood and in no way in conflict with Paul’s teaching of sola fide. James is telling us that if there is no fruit (works), then we are not justified, because justification (though by faith alone) always bears fruit. Both Paul and Jesus agree, teaching that, for example, a good tree is known by its good fruit (Matt. 12:33). God already knows which tree is good. Man does not know, except by the fruit, which then glorifies God.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Lesson 6: Justification (Part 1)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Justification from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.


April 1521. Pope Leo had done all he could do. After excommunicating Luther, the Church had played her best ecclesiastical hand. The only thing left was to turn to the secular arm, which meant to seek Luther’s execution. (This maintained the illusion that the Church never executed anyone—only the state executed. Of course, the Church controlled the state…) To this end, the pope requested, and Emperor Charles V agreed, to summon Luther to the Diet of Worms.

Protected by an offer of safe-conduct, Luther left for Worms on April 2, 1521, convinced that he would never return. His journey was like a victory parade with crowds lining the street, waving and cheering as he passed by.

At four o’clock in the after noon on April 17, Luther appeared before the diet. Before the Emperor, noblemen, and the papal prosecutor stood a poor and powerless priest, the son of peasants. Charles V was twenty-one and dressed in splendor. Luther was thirty-seven, and wore the robes of an Augustinian monk.

An official asked Luther, pointing to a stack of books and pamphlets, “Are these your writings, and do you wish to retract them?” Luther spoke, first repeating the two questions. He answered yes to the first question, and asked to be given twenty-four hours to consider his answer to the second. Luther’s request for twenty-four hours was not a sign of wavering but a sly political move. The papal delegation wanted an immediate decision and tried to persuade Charles V. Charles, on the other hand, did not want to appear as a papal puppet, so he granted Luther’s request. Luther, in effect, helped Charles to assert imperial authority over papal wishes.

The following day, April 18, Luther returned. He spoke at length, after which the Emperor demanded a plain, straightforward answer to whether Luther would recant. To this Luther gave his famous response:
"If the Emperor desires a plain answer, I will give it to him. Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. God help me. I cannot do otherwise."
The Emperor gave a sign that the meeting was over. Luther turned and left the tribunal. A few days later, Luther was ordered to leave Worms and return to Wittenberg. The plan was, after the promise of safe conduct was nominally provided, that Luther would be seized and put to death as a heretic.

There is a small gate in the wall of Worms. By that gate, Luther left worms on the night of April 26. The gate is now known as Luther’s Gate.

Luther traveled toward home, at times stopping to preach (which he had been forbidden to do.) On May 4, after preaching and enjoying dinner, he set out on the road. In the forest, five masked riders kidnapped him from his carriage and took him to Eisenach. This was done on the order of Luther’s benefactor, Frederick the Wise, who knew Luther would be seized when his safe conduct expired. Luther stayed in Frederick’s protection for ten months, before returning to Wittenberg to deal with excesses in reformational behavior.

Luther had transformed the world by holding fast to a doctrine known as Justification by Faith Alone, or sola fide. It is useful to look at this in detail.

Today, many Christians do not know what Justification means, even though it is, in the final analysis, the doctrine over which the Reformation was fought. The modern ignorance of the concept of justification is humorously described by John Gerstner. He once spoke to a group of businessmen on the topic of justification, a meeting that was covered by a local reporter. The next say, the newspaper reported on Dr. Gerstner’s speech on “Just a Vacation by Faith!”

In his Primer on Justification, Gerstner lists, in equation form, five views on justification. The equations connect Justification (being made acceptable to God) with faith and works.
  1. Liberalism: Works → Justification – Faith
  2. Catholicism: Faith + Works→ Justification
  3. Neoorthodoxy: Faith → Justification – Works
  4. Antinominanism: Faith → Justification – Works
  5. Evangelicalism: Faith → Justification + Works

1. The Liberal View on Justification

Gerstner denotes Liberalism by the equation: Liberalism: Works → Justification – Faith. He points out that this can be a little misleading. Liberals are not without faith. In fact they have enormous quantities of faith. The subtraction of faith is for a very specific type of faith: faith that they are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

The liberal claims to be Christian, in fact he often claims to be the only true Christian because he has absolute faith in Jesus’ central moral teaching: The Golden Rule. Liberal faith in Jesus is not in the good news that his shed blood has paid for our sins, but is confined for the most part to two verses:
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Luke 6:31)

Judge not, that you be not judged. (Matt. 7:1)
The second of these is taken as a blanket endorsement for absolute tolerance. Rarely does the liberal look ahead five verses:
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (Matt. 7:6)
and explain how, if Jesus is teaching us never to judge anyone, are we supposed to follow the instructions of verse six without making a judgment about who is a “dog” and who is a “pig?”

Indeed, the liberal does even believe in a pathological form of Justification by Faith. His faith, however, is placed in himself and his fellow man. The liberal believes that he has the ability to justify himself before a Holy God by being a good enough person, and perhaps acknowledging that there was a Jesus whose job was to teach us how to live. Perhaps surprisingly, the examples of liberals from Jesus’ time are the Pharisees. The Pharisees trusted in their own righteousness for their salvation. Like the modern liberal, they were insulted by the concept that they could not save themselves, and were especially outraged that another truly righteous man would have to die in order to secure their salvation. Ironically, the Pharisees played their part through in complicity in Jesus’ murder, and today the liberal continues the insult the gospel by denying Christ’s necessity.

Liberals, as described here, regardless of their claim to authenticity, are not Christians. Now this is a very serious charge. We do not want to go around willy-nilly saying this or that person is not a true Christian. However, while not tightening the circle too much, we must remember that there is a circle that defines the essentials. And among the essentials nothing is more important than the gospel: We cannot do anything to pay for our sins, only the finished work of Jesus Christ can make that payment. Liberals deny the very gospel—as such they cannot be considered Christians. Loosely speaking they might be described as followers of Jesus in the sense that they accept some of His moral teachings—but they are not Christians given that they do not place their faith in His blood, but rather their good deeds.

Gerstner describes a Unitarian minister who understood this. Invited to speak to one of Gerstner’s classes at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, The Rev. Cahill of the First Unitarian Church said:
“Dr. Gerstner is a Christian. I am not a Christian. Christianity is a religion of redemption, and your professor believes in it and is entitled to the name Christian. I don’t believe in the supernatural events of divine salvation through Jesus Christ, which I admit is the definition of Christianity. I am, frankly, not a Christian. I am a liberal and I have a religion which is quite different from your professor’s, as he understands and I also understand.”
The fact that the liberal equation, unlike the other four views, doesn’t start with faith represents that this view cannot, even in principle, be Christian.

Monday, February 13, 2006

500 Miles and 400 Churches

Snow, snow, too much snow!

While I was away:

My beloved Pittsburgh Steelers won the Daytona 500 of football. And next Sunday is the Daytona 500. Our youth group has its annual snow camp this coming weekend, so I'll miss the Saturday races and the start of the 500. Among the leaders, several of us (the intellectuals) are devoted NASCAR fans. When our snow camp was planned, back in early fall, we lobbied hard for a different weekend, but our Supreme Leader, a cruel Scottish taskmaster of the warlike Campbell clan, insisted on this particular date.


I was amazed but not surprised by the hypocrisy of the Panda's Thumb. They were overjoyed to trumpet the four hundred churches that devoted a Sunday sermon on Evolution Sunday (February 12) to the compatibility between evolution and religion. Yet if you go on Panda’s Thumb, as I and others have, and claim the bible is compatible with science, you’ll be excoriated. They might, as they did in my case, even devote a forum topic to discussing how stupid you are.

Their message is clear: we will tolerate you (barely) and exploit you (shamelessly) if you make vague statements about the compatibility of evolution with religion. If you claim, however, that the bible is accurate even when it (in rare instances) makes scientific claims, we will ridicule you (unmercifully).

Did anyone else comment on the irony of the four hundred number? That is roughly (when I last checked) how many scientists had signed the Discovery Institute’s sensible dissent, wherein the signatories (myself included) affirm this statement:
We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.
Panda’s Thumb has milked and mocked the number of signatories, repeatedly comparing four hundred to the total number of scientists. I did not see any comment on their site comparing the four hundred participating “churches” to the total number thereof.

Yes, those are sneer quotes around "churches." If you question the legitimacy of someone who claims to be Christian and support fully naturalistic evolution, then the PT crowd will claim you are guilty of the "True Scotsman" fallacy. (They, of course, are free to imply that the scientists on the DI list are not "true" scientists. ) Not knowing what churches are among the four hundred extolling evolution, and not really interested in investigating, I will nevertheless claim:

A true Christian Church, or indeed any theistic church, cannot accept fully naturalistic evolution, for it both eliminates the need for God and, even worse, repudiates God's sovereignty, which means he is not God at all.

A Christian Church, in my opinion, might hold the view that God used genetic engineering in such a way that one could view and study the diversity of life as if evolution was both purely natural and the cause of the diversity. But a true theistic church (such as the Catholic Church) would affirm that man, being the central creation of God as revealed in scripture, was inevitable.

Furthermore, they (a true church) would not rule out the possibility of a discontinuity, of which "irreducible complexity" is an example, that is ultimately inexplicable by evolution. They might disagree as to whether such a discontinuity has been discovered, but any theist must affirm that God has the power to decree such an event, and that the origin of life is probably in that category.

Any church on the list of four hundred that affirms that our species was an accident is not a church at all, at least if "church" means a body of believers of some sort of theism.

(By the way, some evolutionists will argue that they do not claim that man was an accident, and that there is nothing random about evolution. This is false. What they mean is that there is a fitness function driving the process and providing a bias. But there is randomness in the system, a great deal of it in the form of mutations, and nobody knows how biologically diverse the landscape of local minima really is. A random solar flare on a critical day might have caused the mutation that ultimately resulted in man.)

At any rate, the churches, unwittingly or not, will serve indefinitely as useful idiots for the Panda's Thumb fundamentalists. Now Elsberry et. al. don't have to present their most prized marionette, Brown Professor Kenneth Miller, alone. Now they can back him up with a virtual choir of robed partisans singing the praises of Charles Darwin. Of course, they'll be sure to lock them in the attic, out of sight out of mind, like a lunatic aunt, when the singing is done.