On Paradigms Protestant and Catholic

Posted by on November 11, 2012 in Catholicism, Featured, Hermeneutics, Paradigms, Paradigms, Protestantism | 64 comments

Anyone who has followed Catholic/Protestant discussions recently has undoubtedly heard more about “interpretive paradigms” than they care to recall. By the time one is five or six lines into an online debate, the charge of “Well, you’re just answering the question from within your own paradigm” will probably be leveled, and it can cause much confusion and frustration. What I’d like to do here, and perhaps in subsequent posts as well, is to describe how the whole paradigm issue functioned in my own thinking about the claims of the Catholic Church.

First, let me sort of set the stage. While a student at Westminster, Mike Horton had us read Michael Polanyi and (I think) Thomas Kuhn as a way of introducing us to the way presuppositions work in the philosophy of science. While many may believe that scientists simply gather data and extrapolate conclusions from it, the fact of the matter is that what they often do is begin with a broader working paradigm in mind (say, that the earth revolves around the sun) and then seek to interpret the data in the light of that bigger picture. But when the existing data fails to be explained by the operative paradigm — if there just seem to be more and more exceptions to the rule the more research they do — then a point of paradigm crisis is reached. When this happens, the honest scientist must be willing to scrap the old paradigm and come up with a new working hypothesis and test-drive it through the data to see how much explanatory value it has.

As a Protestant, the interpretive paradigm with which I approached Scripture derived from the confessional tradition of the Reformed churches of the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries. According to this paradigm, God demanded absolutely sinless law-keeping from any human hoping to gain eternal life, and since no man can accomplish this, God in his grace provided a solution to man’s plight in the Person of Jesus Christ, who assumed a human nature and rendered to his Father the perfect law-keeping which man could not, and then submitted to death on the cross in order to suffer the Father’s wrath in the stead of the elect. That obedience, both passive and active, is imputed to the sinner through the instrumentality of faith alone.

As I began to take the Church’s claims seriously, however, I started to discover more and more passages in the New Testament that failed to fit the Reformed paradigm well. Now, I want to be clear about something here: I am not saying that there were NT passages that I would read as a Protestant and think, “I don’t believe this” or “I have no idea how to fit this into my existing theology.” Indeed, I believed all the NT had to say, and I could explain each passage in the light of my larger theological paradigm.

But this isn’t really the issue. After all, any Bible-believing Christian can make any verse fit into his theology, that’s easy. For example, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Catholics all have differing positions on what baptism accomplishes, but that doesn’t change the fact that they can all read Romans 6 or Acts 2 and say, “I believe those words and can fit them into my system” (despite the fact that their respective systems are incompatible with each other).

The thing we have to remember is that the earliest Christians didn’t figure out what baptism accomplishes by consulting verses like “As many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” or “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins,” since the Church existed long before those words were penned and then recognized as canonical. No, the early Church had an apostolic doctrine of baptism that gave rise to,  rather than being the result of,  the relevant NT texts.

Here’s why this matters: If the NT was birthed by an already-existing apostolic tradition, then the question, “Can I make this passage fit my theology?” is the wrong question (especially since, as noted above, its answer is almost always “Yes”). A better question, I came to realize, would be, “Would someone who holds my theological paradigm actually say something like this?” And if the answer is “No,” then the follow-up question must be, “What prior-held theological paradigm would most likely give rise to a statement like this?”

I will provide concrete examples in future posts, but suffice it to say that I began to run into passage after passage in Scripture that, on the one hand, could  be forced to fit my Reformed paradigm, but on the other, were passages saying things I would never in a million years think to say. And as I said above, when the data provides more exceptions to the ruling paradigm than it does evidence for it, paradigm crisis has occurred. And when that happens, well, you’re pretty much in a tailspin until you can find another interpretive paradigm through which to evaluate the biblical data.

64 Comments

  1. Your comment about the NT being written to an already-existing church was a critical concept in my own paradigm “transition”. Statements in the gospels about being born of “water and Spirit” or about eating the Lord’s flesh weren’t just transcribed from a tape recorder for people sometime in the future to be clever about figuring out. They were deliberately penned to an audience who already knew what they were referring to (who already had the interpretive paradigm).

  2. Thanks, Jeff.

    It’s weird because it is such an obvious point, but one that few think about. I know that it never really occurred to me to consider the fact that by the time the Church got John 3 or John 6 in writing (two passages that inform our view of the sacraments), the Church had already had an apostolic doctrine of baptism and the Eucharist for several decades.

    This, I think, is Protestantism’s achilles heel. While they can certainly pick up a Bible and make a case for their positions, they simply cannot give an account of their immediately post-apostolic origins that can be taken seriously as an option.

  3. Jason,

    I listened to your conversion story on CTC. Just read your latest posting.

    1. You can say the Church came first and through this Church we get our doctrine, via Apostolic Tradition. Some of this Tradition is written down —- but not all!

    2. When you talked to Mike Horton, did you mention about the debate he had with Pat Madrid in 1995? Did he give you the same old Calvinist answers or were you hoping he would show you something that would blow your mind? You should do a podcast/ interview with him.

  4. Jason,

    Another thing, if you need a speaking engagement, the University of Dallas might be a good place. The college is run by Cistercians from HUNGARY. Just sayin. They would love your story.

    Also, the Norbertines in O. C. were started by Hungarians as well. If you need a teaching job call them.

  5. Rob Bell (see what I did there?),

    If you have contacts within those organizations, feel free to pass along my info to them. I love speaking to Hungarians!

  6. Good points Jason. The Bible wasn’t delivered into a vacuum and sound hermeneutics is based on what the writers attempted to express when they wrote. Of course, if the Scriptures were God-breathed, there is perhaps a depth and ramifications of which the human authors and their readers were not completely aware.

  7. Hey Dave,

    Long time, no see. Hope you’re doing well (and thanks for the Facebook friend request).

    Good points Jason. The Bible wasn’t delivered into a vacuum and sound hermeneutics is based on what the writers attempted to express when they wrote. Of course, if the Scriptures were God-breathed, there is perhaps a depth and ramifications of which the human authors and their readers were not completely aware.

    Yes, I agree. There’s both a literal and grammatical/historical way to read the biblical text, as well as a spiritual reading of it. I have heard it argued (and I am still mulling this over, but I do find it compelling) that in the same way as we must read, say, Romans 3 in the light of Romans 2 (since context is important), so we must read an entire NT book in the light of the rest of the NT. So paying attention to context not only applies on an intra-book level, but on an inter-book level as well. This means that Romans is not a book, but a chapter in a book with 26 others.

    If this approach is legit, then it could mean that even Paul himself did not fully comprehend what certain passages in Romans meant since he did not himself have the full context, the rest of the completed NT. And pushing this even further, it could be said that if we could conjure Paul up from the dead and ask him specifically what he meant in Romans 3:21, his voice would be only one voice at the table among others (since his explanation would be limited to the grammatical/historical).

    This seems to line up with what you’re saying, albeit possibly going further than you’re comfortable with (and admittedly I am not completely comfortable with this either, I just find it intriguing).

  8. Jason,

    I will try and make some contacts. Some of these Hungarian Cistercians teach in the Theology Department.

    P.S. — You must read about the life of Cardinal Mindszenty, a saint.

  9. “Here’s why this matters: If the NT was birthed by an already-existing apostolic tradition, then the question, “Can I make this passage fit my theology?” is the wrong question (especially since, as noted above, its answer is almost always “Yes”). A better question, I came to realize, would be, “Would someone who holds my theological paradigm actually say something like this?” And if the answer is “No,” then the follow-up question must be, “What prior-held theological paradigm would most likely give rise to a statement like this?”

    This point seems persuasive on its face, and I admit to have thought along these lines myself a few times. I would, however, caution that there are other factors that can cause disconnect, or perhaps a pulling-up-short, rather than simply assuming an alternate theological paradigm is in view–factors such as cultural context, most obviously.

    Moreover, I also bear in mind that my theological paradigm has been shaped by a complex history of controversies that the apostles never imagined. “Forgetting” that knowledge would be impossible. Thus there are many instances where I would not state things precisely the same way as the apostles–not without qualifications, at least.

    It seems to me that the approach you have outlined above does not do justice to the complexity of the hermeneutic process. Because of the distance between our horizons, I do not believe that what you referred to as “a better question” is one that can so easily be answered.

  10. Andrew,

    You quoted me as saying, “Here’s why this matters: If the NT was birthed by an already-existing apostolic tradition, then the question, “Can I make this passage fit my theology?” is the wrong question (especially since, as noted above, its answer is almost always “Yes”). A better question, I came to realize, would be, “Would someone who holds my theological paradigm actually say something like this?” And if the answer is “No,” then the follow-up question must be, “What prior-held theological paradigm would most likely give rise to a statement like this?” and then responded:

    This point seems persuasive on its face, and I admit to have thought along these lines myself a few times. I would, however, caution that there are other factors that can cause disconnect, or perhaps a pulling-up-short, rather than simply assuming an alternate theological paradigm is in view–factors such as cultural context, most obviously.

    Well, I don’t want to deny that cultural factors play a role in what people say and how they say it, but when it comes to something like James’s teaching that we are “not justified by faith alone” but by faith and works, you would have to actually back up your claim that differing paradigms might not be in play with some actual evidence. In other words, it’s not enough to make a benign assertion and apply it to a broad swath of issues.

    Moreover, I also bear in mind that my theological paradigm has been shaped by a complex history of controversies that the apostles never imagined. “Forgetting” that knowledge would be impossible. Thus there are many instances where I would not state things precisely the same way as the apostles–not without qualifications, at least.

    Yes, we need to be able to see behind whatever specific words we use and get to the meanings and intentions behind them. But again, my claim is not only about words. If my paradigm were something akin to the Reformed one, I simply would not, under any circumstances, think to say what James said about Abraham’s justification.

    It seems to me that the approach you have outlined above does not do justice to the complexity of the hermeneutic process. Because of the distance between our horizons, I do not believe that what you referred to as “a better question” is one that can so easily be answered.

    I plan to offer specific examples of my thesis, so when I do, then feel free to argue that it is something besides differing paradigms that accounts for the seeming discrepancy between the biblical texts I adduce and the systematic formulations of the Reformed confessions.

  11. Jason,

    You wrote,

    “As a Protestant, the interpretive paradigm with which I approached Scripture derived from the confessional tradition of the Reformed churches of the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries. According to this paradigm, God demanded absolutely sinless law-keeping from any human hoping to gain eternal life, and since no man can accomplish this, God in his grace provided a solution to man’s plight in the Person of Jesus Christ, who assumed a human nature and rendered to his Father the perfect law-keeping which man could not, and then submitted to death on the cross in order to suffer the Father’s wrath in the stead of the elect. That obedience, both passive and active, is imputed to the sinner through the instrumentality of faith alone.”

    I’m wondering, since you no longer believe that God demands absolutely sinless law-keeping for eternal life, what do you believe God demands?

    I would also be appreciative if you could briefly write out a concise formulation of the paradigm you now hold, in contrast to the above concise Reformed paradigm, that doesn’t necessitate imputed alien righteousness. Sometimes the Catholic position seems so complicated compared to the “simplicity” of sola fide.

    Thank you for your time and help.

    –Christie

  12. Hi Christie,

    I’m wondering, since you no longer believe that God demands absolutely sinless law-keeping for eternal life, what do you believe God demands?

    God is love, and his desire for his children is that we exhibit his divine image by loving him and neighbor. Love fulfills the law as Jesus and virtually all the NT writers say. So it’s not about God setting aside his demands or lowering his expectations, it’s about the new covenant making it possible for him to accomplish his desire for us while bypassing the Mosaic law altogether. This is the “righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” that Jesus said was necessary.

    I would also be appreciative if you could briefly write out a concise formulation of the paradigm you now hold, in contrast to the above concise Reformed paradigm, that doesn’t necessitate imputed alien righteousness. Sometimes the Catholic position seems so complicated compared to the “simplicity” of sola fide.

    That’s interesting, I would say the exact opposite! I think Rom. 8:1-4 is a pretty good paradigm summary, but to put it in my own words, I would go with something like this: The gospel is that the Son of God assumed a human nature and human flesh in order to bear the sorrows and curse of humanity and offer himself as a sacrifice on the cross. He rose again on the third day and shed forth the Spirit, who causes fruit to be borne in our lives by reproducing the image of the Son in the adopted children of the Father.

    Something like that.

  13. I agree that the Catholic formulation is simpler, but coming from an evangelical perspective it SEEMS less clear. I like to phrase the Catholic view of salvation in terms of an Adam/Christ parallel–we become new men in Christ, adopted as sons, and grow with our Father into holiness, without which none will see the Lord (hebrews 12:14)–all as a gift, through the visible sacraments. If we die in the state of sonship, we will live forever. If we go by way of the prodigal son, we will not.

    Now that I am a Catholic, the Protestant view seems really strange. The imputed alien righteousness of Christ is a very specific, even strange, way to read the entire New Testament. It’s not simple.

  14. Ryan,

    Now that I am a Catholic, the Protestant view seems really strange. The imputed alien righteousness of Christ is a very specific, even strange, way to read the entire New Testament. It’s not simple.

    It’s simple given the unique presuppositions that makes it necessary, the biggest of which is that God demands absolute perfection as defined by the letter of the law. And that idea is so axiomatic that Protestants rarely think to question it. In fact, I had never really done so until forced to.

    But you’re right, when that idea is no longer what drives us, then imputation not only fails to jump off the page, but it becomes an extremely uncomfortable straitjacket into which we must squeeze the biblical text.

  15. Jason,

    Thank you for your answer. I’m wondering, though, how this statement by Jesus fits into the Catholic paradigm of not needing to be an absolutely sinless law-keeper:

    “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

    Also, if you have time, can you please point me to verses in Scripture that led you to the conclusion that God doesn’t demand absolute perfection as defined by the letter of the law?

  16. Forgive the brevity but I’m running out the door. I would say the answer is found throughout John’s writings, but especially here:

    By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (I John 4:17ff).

    I’d be happy to elaborate later if you’d like, but basically, love is the perfection of the law, and by having God’s love infused into our hearts we fulfill the law and thus have no fear on the day of judgment.

  17. Jason,

    “Well, I don’t want to deny that cultural factors play a role in what people say and how they say it, but when it comes to something like James’s teaching that we are “not justified by faith alone” but by faith and works, you would have to actually back up your claim that differing paradigms might not be in play with some actual evidence. In other words, it’s not enough to make a benign assertion and apply it to a broad swath of issues.”

    The forgoing would be true in proportion to the amount of clear textual support we have for our existing theological paradigm, which would draw us into a discussion about specifics.

    “I plan to offer specific examples of my thesis, so when I do, then feel free to argue that it is something besides differing paradigms that accounts for the seeming discrepancy between the biblical texts I adduce and the systematic formulations of the Reformed confessions.”

    I probably won’t, because I’m a “broad-swarthy” kind of fellow, and am quite certain I couldn’t keep up with you on exegesis. 😉 I’m simply trying to work through my intial responses to your post.

    Nonetheless, my primary point remains: I don’t think words can be so easily separated from the categories of thought they part describe, part create. A lot of church history has happened since the apostolic age, and many of our theological concepts have, to a greater or lesser degree, been shaped by that history. We should, therefore expect a certain number of interpretational difficulties with certain passages, regardless of our paradigm.

    I wouldn’t, for example, speak of baptism the way the apostles frequently do for fear of being understood as teaching baptismal regeneration, thanks largely to a loss of an understanding of its symbolic richness. Similarly, I feel I can read James in a way consistent with my Reformed views and be in perfect agreement with him–even though I might not say what he says in quite the same way.

  18. Jason,

    I think I understand what you’re saying. But when you wrote “love is the perfection of the law, and by having God’s love infused into our hearts we fulfill the law”, that seems, to me, to imply that works aren’t necessary for justification if we have infused agape. How do works play into this notion of love fulfilling the law?

  19. Andrew,

    I wouldn’t, for example, speak of baptism the way the apostles frequently do for fear of being understood as teaching baptismal regeneration, thanks largely to a loss of an understanding of its symbolic richness.

    I find it interesting that honest Reformed scholars admit that the early church fathers believed in baptismal regeneration, while insisting that the apostles (from whom they learned about baptism) did not. What makes this curious is the fact that the apostles supposedly taught against baptismal regeneration using the exact same language the fathers used to teach in favor of it.

    So maybe the issue is not so much cultural shifts, but rather whether the fact that the NT’s language about baptism lends toward baptismal regeneration is precisely because baptismal regeneration is what the NT teaches?

    Similarly, I feel I can read James in a way consistent with my Reformed views and be in perfect agreement with him–even though I might not say what he says in quite the same way.

    I don’t doubt that you believe you can. What I doubt is whether a Reformed exegete can read James in a way consistent with what James thought he was saying pretty clearly. I mean, it’s just such a nightmarish passage, which is why Luther wanted it removed altogether. “A man is not justified by faith alone”? Yikes! If James held something similar to a Reformed paradigm there is no way he would write something like that!

  20. Christie,

    I think I understand what you’re saying. But when you wrote “love is the perfection of the law, and by having God’s love infused into our hearts we fulfill the law”, that seems, to me, to imply that works aren’t necessary for justification if we have infused agape. How do works play into this notion of love fulfilling the law?

    Love is the fruit of the Spirit and is displayed in concrete acts of love to God and neighbor. So all throughout I John the connection is made between loving God and displaying that love in how we live. So the works of mercy we perform out of Spirit-wrought agape are not just pleasing to God because they’re covered by Jesus’ blood while in themselves being damning, but those works are really and truly pleasing to God because they are the works the law required all along.

    Make sense?

  21. Jason,

    So are you saying that the agape that is infused into us doesn’t itself fulfill the law, but enables us to do works of agape that fulfill the law?

    Why I ask: I don’t see the need for ongoing justification via works after initial justification if the agape itself that is infused into our hearts at baptism actually fulfills the law; that would make works/progressive justification unnecessary. (like sanctification in Reformed theology)

  22. Christie,

    So are you saying that the agape that is infused into us doesn’t itself fulfill the law, but enables us to do works of agape that fulfill the law?

    Why I ask: I don’t see the need for ongoing justification via works after initial justification if the agape itself that is infused into our hearts at baptism actually fulfills the law; that would make works/progressive justification unnecessary. (like sanctification in Reformed theology)

    Here are a couple relevant excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or “justice”) here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.

    Justification establishes cooperation between God’s grace and man’s freedom. On man’s part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent (CCC 1991, 1993).

    As you can see, initial justification occurs before any obedience on our part is offered. Once agape is infused into our hearts we can then perform works that are truly pleasing to God, by which we increase in justification and grow in grace.

    And I am not sure if speaking of increasing in justification as “necessary” is the right way to be looking at it. If a person is baptized and then immediately run over by a truck, he will be saved since he has God’s sanctifying grace. But if he lives for decades after his baptism, he is responsible to obey God by loving his neighbor. This is why James can say that Abraham, who was initially justified long before the binding of Isaac, was “justified by works” when he offered his son on the altar. The living faith by which we are justified is one that works by love.

  23. We certainly ought keep God’s law, but no one does. So we have a problem with God. What do we need to do, then?

    Die.

    And God accomplishes this FOR US, in our Baptisms. He puts the old sinner to death and raises the new man/woman, in Christ (Romans 6).

    So we are “to CONSIDER ourselves dead to sin (even though we remain sinners – Romans 7).

    God accomplishes everything for us, in our Baptisms.

    That, to me, is good news.

    Thanks.

  24. Jason–

    Come on, you know perfectly well that “justification by faith alone” is shorthand for “justification by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone.” Countless Reformed commentators have declared that justification is NOT by faith alone in that the actual ground of our justification is union with Christ. Calvin himself said as much. When I read James, it sounds EXACTLY like what a Calvinist would say (in spite of Luther’s obtuseness). And by that I mean EXACTLY exactly. I don’t have to wiggle my way into it.

    I have been starting to question the very things that Christie brings up concerning the soteriological underpinnings of many conservative Catholics who have converted (or reverted) from Evangelicalism. When I read through Bryan Cross’s “agape paradigm” or your take on habitual/sanctifying grace, they appear to be mere stand-ins for sola fide. (Francis Beckwith, for example, speaks almost glowingly about how Trent doesn’t really controvert justification by faith.) It’s as if the gospel has left a Lady Macbeth-like stain on your hands which you can never quite scrub off.

    Since the whole notion of “agape” is a love which is conceived/initiated/maintained by God alone (without any human cooperation), the very mention of “spirit-wrought works of love [agape]” smacks of the Reformed paradigm. The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love [agape](not circumcision or uncircumcision…or works of the law). I get the impression that Catholics tend to confuse the various forms of love and substitute storge or philia into Galatians 5:6. (If you yourself don’t, that’s fine with me. Welcome back to Protestantism.)

    The Protestant-Catholic quarrel as I see it revolves more around which one truly embodies sola gratia. They both hold to it, but each has a very different conception of it. C. S. Lewis, asked if Christianity had a distinctive characteristic unique to itself among world religions, immediately quipped, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

    Whose concept of grace fits experience, tradition, and Scripture? We have diametrically opposed answers. To me sola fide is the gospel (because it alone embodies biblical grace). It is the core truth of my very being. To deny it is to deny Christ. I can no more leave it behind than I can change my DNA. How in the world did you do it?

    This is the Christ I know. I do not know your Christ, nor does he appeal to me.

    (That sounds harsh, so let me qualify it. I don’t mean it at all personally. You seem like a great guy. Roman Catholicism used to make no bones about the plight of Protestants: extra ecclesiam nulla salus est. They didn’t sugarcoat it. I like that much better. I do not wish me and mine to be considered “separated brethren” as if the differences between Protestants and Catholics don’t really matter. The Reformation happened for soteriologically serious life-and-death reasons. It may well be that many devout Catholics end up far closer to the throne of grace than I [as Wesley remarked about Whitefield while delivering his eulogy]. As far as I can tell, however, you have given up on biblical grace, and I will say as much. I am pained to have to say it, but I feel obligated nonetheless. I will be praying for you.)

  25. Eric,

    Thanks for the comments.

    Come on, you know perfectly well that “justification by faith alone” is shorthand for “justification by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone.” Countless Reformed commentators have declared that justification is NOT by faith alone in that the actual ground of our justification is union with Christ. Calvin himself said as much. When I read James, it sounds EXACTLY like what a Calvinist would say (in spite of Luther’s obtuseness). And by that I mean EXACTLY exactly. I don’t have to wiggle my way into it.

    I don’t recall going into detail about whether faith or union with Christ grounds our justification, so I am unclear about which statement of mine you’re objecting to here.

    And I’m sorry, but I’m not buying your claim about James. If James’s letter did not exist and you were preaching about justification (or being examined for ordination by a Reformed body), I would be very curious to hear the reactions of those listening if you said “exactly” what James said about our being justified by faith and works. Again, my point is not about whether we agree with this or that already-existing biblical text, but about whether we would voluntarily say what those problem texts say. Speaking for myself, I would never in a million years have said what James said (despite the fact that I have always agreed with James).

    Since the whole notion of “agape” is a love which is conceived/initiated/maintained by God alone (without any human cooperation), the very mention of “spirit-wrought works of love [agape]” smacks of the Reformed paradigm. The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love [agape](not circumcision or uncircumcision…or works of the law). I get the impression that Catholics tend to confuse the various forms of love and substitute storge or philia into Galatians 5:6. (If you yourself don’t, that’s fine with me. Welcome back to Protestantism.)

    Eric, the Reformed paradigm is only 500 years old. To whatever degree our gospels sound alike, to that degree you are simply retaining some of the things that the Church of Luther’s and Calvin’s days was teaching. And that’s great. But we need to be clear, if you listen to what Catholics say and find a harmony with your paradigm, all that does is make clearer the necessity for you to return to the Church. When we sound alike, it is you who sounds like us, and not the other way around.

    Whose concept of grace fits experience, tradition, and Scripture? We have diametrically opposed answers. To me sola fide is the gospel (because it alone embodies biblical grace). It is the core truth of my very being. To deny it is to deny Christ. I can no more leave it behind than I can change my DNA. How in the world did you do it?

    This is the Christ I know. I do not know your Christ, nor does he appeal to me.

    It is pretty incontrovertible that the “concept of grace” that the fathers held to was the formula of exchange according to which God became man so that man could become god. This is a far cry from the imputation of guilt and righteousness. None of the fathers would recognize in the Reformed gospel the tradition that had been handed down to them.

    So if the Christ you know isn’t the Christ who participated in your nature so that he could divinize you by his Spirit and thus enable you to bear fruit by which God is pleased and which will contribute to your gaining your eternal inheritance, then the Christ you know is certainly not the traditional or (I would argue) Scriptural one.

    Roman Catholicism used to make no bones about the plight of Protestants: extra ecclesiam nulla salus est. They didn’t sugarcoat it. I like that much better. I do not wish me and mine to be considered “separated brethren” as if the differences between Protestants and Catholics don’t really matter.

    Was Augustine “sugarcoating it” when he said, “We entreat you, brothers, as earnestly as we are able, to have charity, not only for one another, but also for those who are outside the Church. Of these some are still pagans, who have not yet made an act of faith in Christ. Others are separated, insofar as they are joined with us in professing faith in Christ, our head, but are yet divided from the unity of his body. My friends, we must grieve over these as over our brothers; and they will only cease to be so when they no longer say our Father”?

    The “separated brethren” thing has been around a while.

    As far as I can tell, however, you have given up on biblical grace, and I will say as much. I am pained to have to say it, but I feel obligated nonetheless. I will be praying for you.

    I appreciate your prayers, but I obviously don’t share your diagnosis of me. May God bring us both into a greater and clearer understanding of his gracious gospel.

  26. Jason–

    Thanks for the quick reply.

    The reason an ordination examination would run differently is that it is clearly not the context James is writing in. He’s addressing antinomianism and doing so in perfectly Reformed terms. Here’s a quote from Kevin DeYoung’s recent book, “The Hole in Our Holiness”:

    “Not only is holiness the goal of your redemption, it is necessary for your redemption. Now before you sound the legalist alarm, tie me up by my own moral bootstraps, and feed my carcass to the Galatians, we should see what Scripture has to say. . . . It’s the consistent and frequent teaching of the Bible that those whose lives are marked by habitual ungodliness will not go to heaven. To find acquittal from God on the last day there must be evidence flowing out of us that grace has flowed into us.”

    Sounds a lot like James to me!

    I don’t wish to get into all the back and forth one-upmanship of whose church is older. I guess I could assert that your paradigm is only 50 years old (Vatican II) or at the very most 450 years old (Trent). The point of the Reformation was to re-form the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. When we Protestants recite the creed, we do not have the current Roman church in mind as that church. We believe that we are the authentic continuation of the church Jesus founded among the Apostles.

    The early church was a hodge-podge of various concepts of grace, * only one of which was divinization. Besides, neither Calvin nor Luther had (nor any current Reformed scholar I am aware of has) any problem with divinization as long as the creator-creature distinction is held intact.

    As far as I know, the early church fathers never addressed the Protestant concept of justification (nor the RC concept of initial justification) directly. They wouldn’t have recognized either of our soteriologies, or at least not until they were thoroughly explained to them. There’s nothing particularly Catholic (in the modern sense) about them. You’re reading things into them. I’m sure I do much the same thing with Augustine. Whenever I start reading him, it feels like “old home week” we are so in sync. I rarely find anything to disagree on. I would almost venture that whatever he is that’s what I am. No, he doesn’t technically understand the forensic nature of justification. How could he? He only had the Latin. But I hear nothing from him that contradicts the gospel essence of sola fide.

    I pray for you out of earnest charity. Why else would I? Augustine had great respect for the Donatist scholar Tyconius, but did not ameliorate his polemics against unwarranted schism. He also said, “So many sheep without; so many wolves within [the church].” I have no problem with recognizing brethren from other paradigms once I get to know them well and understand their hearts…as long as they have an actual grasp on the gospel. Certainly, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses would “profess faith in Christ” and utter the Lord’s Prayer on many an occasion without necessitating our welcome of them as brothers in the faith. I believe Augustine was employing hyperbole here.

    One last comment, and I’ll quit. You seem to have abandoned the “analogy of faith.” One of the reasons Reformed folks have so little problem with James is that he is so clearly counterbalanced by Paul. If all of Scripture is authoritative, then Scripture must interpret Scripture. That which is clear must elucidate the murky. Apparent contradictions must be reconciled in natural/rational ways (i.e, without pounding a square peg into a round hole). One of the things that really bothers me about Evangelical conversion to Roman Catholicism is that the Magisterium no longer holds to the conservative hermeneutic it once did. There has been no real push back on higher criticism since Pius X. The Catholic church remains conservative on social issues on the strength of Tradition alone. Otherwise, it strikes me as little different from liberal mainstream Protestant denominations.

    I do believe we share more in common soteriologically than is often admitted. I can see the value of auricular confession or even penance (as restitution). Most of the Reformed have a pretty high view of the sacraments as means of grace. The Catholic concept of habitual grace and the Protestant notion of justifying grace have striking similarities. The main dividing line for me is over Augustine’s stance on perseverance (which for some reason, Catholics misread). And I have that same dividing line with the biggest part of what is termed “Protestantism.” Minus perseverance, one does not uphold the biblical picture of grace. Without it, as far as I can figure, one loses the “all of Christ” attitude toward salvation so characteristic of Augustine.

    Have a great day!

    * JND Kelly: “[W]hile the conviction of redemption through Christ has always been the motive force of Christian faith, no final and universally accepted definition of the manner of its achievement has been formulated to this day. Thus, it is useless to look for any systematic treatment of the doctrine in the popular Christianity of the second century.”

    Alister McGrath: “For the first three hundred and fifty years of the history of the church, her teaching on justification was inchoate and ill-defined.”

  27. Wow, Jason. You articulated my exact experience in a way that I never could.

    “A better question, I came to realize, would be, “Would someone who holds my theological paradigm actually say something like this?” And if the answer is “No,” then the follow-up question must be, “What prior-held theological paradigm would most likely give rise to a statement like this?”

    On and off for 30 years, I asked a version of this question and then found a way to put concrete shoes on the thought, and drop it into the deep sea somewhere in the back of my mind. Turns out it was too shallow every time and it would come bobbing back to the surface almost every time I read Scripture. Ultimately I had to make the same decision you did.

    I also found that whenever I forgot that I was supposed to make certain selective statements of St. Paul the “clear” which the much larger body of “unclear” passages was to be understood in light of, I was in turmoil again. I mean it was always odd to me that I had to subjugate the teachings of Jesus to the teachings of Paul.

    The day I decided, as an experiment, to read any passage I read from a Catholic paradigm was the day I ceased to be Protestant. Why? Because I could see a Catholic saying what I was reading prima facie. I could not see any Protestant coming up with about 90% of the New Testament without a thousand qualifications.

  28. Well said, Dave. The sheer exegetical gymnastics required by some Protestants to adhere to what seem like pretty simple statements of Scripture can be staggering. One that comes to mind is, ironically, Rom. 4 where Paul says that Abraham’s faith was counted for righteousness. What this needs to mean for the Reformed is that Abraham’s faith was NOT counted for righteousness, but rather, Jesus’ righteousness was imputed to Abraham by his (non-contributory and passive) faith.

    Even Hodge (I think) admits that this is not the most straightforward reading of the text!

  29. Jason,

    Thanks for your answers. This post and Bryan’s imputation paradigm post have helped me understand a little more why/how works are involved in justification. It’s still ax extremely hard hurdle to get past though, coming from evangelicalism. I’m going through RCIA now and appreciate all your help. I think you should write a book about justification from a Catholic view eventually. There don’t seem to be many good ones out there. If you know of any, other than Sungenis’, please let me know!

  30. I was speaking to my poor Aunt the other night and she brought up the idea that she was not sure if she had done enough to be judged favorably at the last judgement.

    I tried to tell her that Christ Jesus did it ALL for her on the Cross, and there was nothing at all that could be added, or needed to be added to His finished work. I felt terrible that the rest and peace that Christ so dearly wants for her was absent, for wanting to know if she had done enough, and for the right motives.

    The truth of the matter is that Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners (the kind we know that we are) was, and is enough.

    “It is finished” means just that. And by God’s grace He will give us the faith in order to believe it and get down off of the spirituality ladder-climbing project.

    Thanks.

  31. Christie,

    I think you should write a book about justification from a Catholic view eventually. There don’t seem to be many good ones out there. If you know of any, other than Sungenis’, please let me know!

    I have been talking with a potential co-author about this very thing. We’ll see what happens….

  32. Dave H.

    I never try to fit some pre-set paradigm to a particular passage. If you do that, you will always end up doing exegetical pirouettes because there are no human systems which are perfectly consistent. Trent had its blind spots. The Westminster Assembly had theirs.

    Catholics and Protestants agree on probably 85-90% of the New Testament, so where are you finding all these passages on which either side has to do mental acrobatics? I constantly use my New Jerome’s…it’s one of my favorite commentaries. I frequently turn to the Catholic Catechism. At least three quarters of it are spot on. If people of good will genuinely seek to understand each other’s paradigms, I believe they can actually achieve it. The only passage I know of that the Reformed really have to struggle with is Hebrews 6. There is no good, straightforward Calvinistic explanation of it that I am aware of. But I don’t know of any other paradigm that deals with it well either. No one–Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists–seems to know quite how to explain those individuals who appear to come to a true faith, who grow significantly in their spiritual walk, and then precipitously fall away, never to return again.

    Some of the apparent contradictions in Scripture make it difficult for all of us. Does God wish ALL to come to repentance, or doesn’t he? Some verses say one thing, and some another. In these cases, everyone finesses their arguments. The Reformed say it means “all kinds of people” (i.e., from every tongue and tribe). The non-Reformed play fast and loose with passages on election (God simply foreknew those who would choose him).

    It’s not a matter of subjugating the teachings of Jesus to the teachings of Paul. (And by the way, since Jesus didn’t write anything and Paul’s epistles contain red-letter direct quotes from Christ, perhaps we should be speaking of subjugating the writings of the Evangelists to the writings of Paul.) At any rate, we shouldn’t be diminishing either one. They are both fully incorporated in the written Word of God. How are they best reconciled?

    Just being honest here, but if I ever attempted to read the contested portions of Scripture from the Catholic paradigm, and were somehow convinced by what I read, I firmly believe I would not only lose my Protestantism. I would lose my faith.

  33. Jason,

    I hope not Hahn or Shea

  34. Jason–

    I turned to Charles Hodge’s commentary on Romans 4. He thinks it represents imputation as clear as the nose on your face. He then goes on and on about what perfect exegetical sense it makes. What else could it mean? I’ve twisted my mind in knots trying to figure it out. (Kind of like the Inigo Montoya’s line in “Princess Bride” but substituting the word ‘straightforward’: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”) There is nothing non-participatory or passive about Abraham’s faith. But he is justified by his faith and not by his works. In other words, in terms of justification Abraham is non-participatory and passive. (Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.)

  35. Christie–

    Why are you abandoning Evangelicalism? Works are clearly NOT a part of justification (as Romans 4 straightforwardly states).

    Take the time to read Galatians 3 again:

    You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

    May the peace of Christ go with you!

  36. Eric,

    You quote McGrath above:

    “Alister McGrath: “For the first three hundred and fifty years of the history of the church, her teaching on justification was inchoate and ill-defined.”

    Do you agree with him? And if you do, what ramifications does the above statement have for believers belonging to that slice of history?

    Thanks,
    S.

  37. Eric,

    I turned to Charles Hodge’s commentary on Romans 4. He thinks it represents imputation as clear as the nose on your face.

    Here’s the passage I had in mind: Concerning the view that it was Abraham’s faith itself that was counted as his righteousness, Hodge says, “[Faith, in this view,] is imputed for righteousness in the sense of being regarded and treated as though it were complete obedience to the law. It must be admitted, that so far as this single form of statement is concerned, this interpretation is natural, and consistent with usage. Thus uncircumcision is said to be imputed for circumcision, that is, the former is regarded as though it were the latter.” (Hodge, Romans, 109).

    Of course, he goes on to present reasons why he does not accept this “natural” reading of the passage, but my point was simply that the Reformed gloss on “Abraham’s faith was counted as his righteousness” is not exactly one that would arise from just reading the passage for what it actually says. The fact that Hodge spends so many pages on this issue goes to show how much exegetical effort is needed in order to not see what’s plainly there.

  38. Christie,

    The best purely *exegetical* book about justification that I have found thus far, the most Biblically careful and thorough one that examines the relevant texts *in* their contexts, is “The Salvation Controversy,” by James Akin– another Presbyterian who became Catholic.

  39. Eric,

    When Galatians 3 is read as part of the larger complete letter to the Galatians, the context is not that of people trying to “save themselves” through doing good works (which is impossible in either the Catholic or Reformed paradigm), but rather, that in the church at Galatia, Jewish Christian converts were attempting to require Gentile Christian converts to be circumcised in order to be considered genuine Christians. St. Paul’s point is that these sorts of works, and/or any other works *alone*, do not justify anyone before God. Faith is Christ is absolutely central to justification. Circumcision, or uncircumcision, counts for nothing. What counts, what justifies, is *faith working through love*. Not faith alone but faith working through love. This is also what St. James teaches, and it is what the Catholic Church teaches.

  40. Eric,

    I appreciate what you are saying, but to add to what I said previously, many times it was not simply pasaages not fiting into my paridgm (essential sola fide and sola scripture) of varying degrees. I Started our typical Arminian, then Reformed, then Luthern. Whether Covenant Theology or Law/Gospel there were huge sections of the NT that made me uncomfortable because they sounded Catholic. That is why I went Lutheran from Calvinist for a couple of years.

    One verse that always bugged me was Acts 22:16 – “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’”

    You also hit on something important. It is a Protestant thing to go either/or with scripture choosing one as the clear teaching over one that seems to contradict it, based on our paradigm. What is so different about the Catholic paradigm is it is both/and. My biggest struggle, believe it or not, was predestination. It is one reason why I was able to become Catholic and not Eastern Orthodox. The Catholic Church had room for my Augustinianism. I did not have to give up be a predestinarian (in fact predestination is De Fide) to be Catholic which was a huge relief because I thought I would be denying scripture if I did.

    Other verses/passages that troubled me: Matthew 16:13 -19. The beatitudes were always confusing, 1 Timothy 3:15, John 6 (the verily verily part), Colossians 1:24, The Epistle of James and numerous things Jesus himself said such as in John 14:15, The Good Samaritan etc.

    I remembering thinking “Man, a lot of well-meaning people are going to go to hell by trying to obey scripture. Because it is very easy to not find Sola Fide when reading the Gospels and Epistles. I had to believe that those who trusted in Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life but also strived to obey him, as if their soul depended on it were going to go to hell for taking him at his word? For an honest misunderstanding of scripture? If someone reads James and tries to live that Epistle out, according to the theology and paradigm I was married to, that person was damned.

  41. Christopher,

    Thanks so much! I’ll look into it.

    Eric,

    I believe the Catholic Church is the one founded by Jesus, that’s the number one reason. I realized the same things about sola scriptura that Jason briefly mentioned in his CtC conversion story. One of my other main reasons is the Eucharist (transubstantiation). And honestly I couldn’t find Biblical data to support justification by faith alone through the imputed righteousness of Christ. In regards to Romans 4, you may see it there, I just couldn’t. It seems to be talking about Abraham’s faith being reckoned/counted in some way as righteousness, not about the transfer/reckoning of anyone else’s righteousness to his account.

    I think I’ll bow out of this comment thread at this point. God Bless everyone.

  42. Sorry for all the typos, Eric. I was typing fast and trying to multi-task. I pity you trying to discern what I was saying in that first paragraph.

  43. Jason–

    Ah, OK, I see what you’re saying. The only trouble is, two lines farther on Hodge says the following:

    “This, however, is not the only sense the words will naturally bear, and it is utterly inconsistent with what the Scriptures elsewhere teach.”

    I don’t believe he is struggling to prove the naturalness of his own interpretation at all. He hammers it home because of its importance. You miss this. You miss everything.

  44. Eric,

    You miss this. You miss everything.

    We agree, I think, on Hodge’s purpose.

    But I just can’t see Paul sitting down to pen Romans 4 thinking, “OK, this is a biggie, so I have to make this super clear. How do I communicate that Abraham’s faith was the instrumental and non-contributory means whereby he laid hold of someone else’s righteousness, and that it was THAT righteousness, and NOT his own faith, that justified him? Because if my readers miss this, they miss everything.” And then deciding to write “Abraham’s faith was counted as his righteousness.” I mean for crying out loud, the object of “impute” isn’t even Abraham!

    The text just doesn’t say what Hodge needs it to.

  45. Christopher–

    Galatians certainly is about those trying to “save themselves” through their observance of the law. Logically, what is the principal benefit of “being considered a genuine Christian”? Paul is not arguing social status here.

    I’ve looked into and looked into it and looked into it, and all I can see is that, in effect, Catholics are doing just that: trying to get into heaven via good works. I really do not buy that, in a practical sense, Catholics actually believe in sola gratia (at least not in any consistent manner). Most of those sitting in the pews certainly do not. But even the most devout, the most educated, the most hierarchically elite come up short. Why else would there be such a push back against sola fide (whose only raison d’etre is to protect against getting confused as to whom all glory belongs)? Could I paraphrase Galatians and say “Neither baptism nor unbaptism, neither penance nor unpenance, neither confirmation nor unconfirmation, neither ordination nor unordination, neither Eucharist nor unEucharist count for anything. All that counts is faith working through love”? Suddenly, I fear, you would be balking at the implications…because you are relying on the rules of man to effect your salvation.

    (Understand me, unlike circumcision, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with the sacraments. I even believe they are means of grace…and thus have a role in sanctification. I do not believe they have any role in justification.)

    Concerning Catholics and sola gratia: Pelagius admitted to a role for the grace of God. God created him. God granted him his character. God maintained his life. God answered his prayers. The only way to avoid de facto Pelagianism is to rule out the cooperation of man as having a role in salvation. Catholicism does not do this.

    Notice that Galatians 5:6 does not say that one is justified by faith working through love. Romans 3:28 does say that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law…which is all that justified by faith alone means: we are justified by the efforts of Christ alone and not even a smidgen through our own efforts. Sola fide really amounts to little more than appropriate humility…and should raise no true believer’s ire.

  46. Amen, Eric.

    A little bit of ‘us’ and our works, added to the finished (He said it, not me) work on the Cross…is akin to a drop of poison in a clean pure glass of water. Now none of that water is fit to drink.

  47. Dave H.

    Don’t worry about it. I’ve taught middle school and high school. I can decipher just about anything.

    I’m not sure Scripture has ever sounded even the slightest bit Catholic to me. I don’t even have a clue what you’re talking about. As I have said before, Catholicism and Protestantism have a huge overlap, so at times Scripture just sounds generically Christian. But Catholic? Outside of the birth narratives, the Blessed Virgin shows up 5 or 6 times, never again as a main character. If I take Jason’s theory—how would someone from my paradigm have written this?—Mary, the Queen of Heaven, would have shown up twenty times as much just for starters.

    Why does Acts 22:16 bother you? Baptismal regeneration? Both Anglicans and Lutherans believe in some version of it, so you’re covered without crossing the Tiber. (And both more or less allow for Augustinian understandings of the Doctrines of Grace.) Catholicism only allows for semi-Augustinianism (as in Thomism) but rules the Bishop of Hippo out of bounds in terms of his predestinarian extremes (reprobation and perseverance).

    Protestants definitely DO NOT have an either/or hermeneutic. Giving equal authority to two passages, they favor the clearer one because we know what it means. The other must reconcile in some way if it is also true. (If you know for a fact that the earth goes around the sun because you have sent rockets up and observed it first hand, you can dismiss the contrary claim of the appearance of the sun rising and setting around the earth.)

    You’ll have to explain to me how the Catholic paradigm is both/and. At times it throws out Scripture altogether and goes with Tradition (or with a ruling from a Council or the Magisterium or the Pope). When it is not something they care about, they allow for personal discretion within certain limits…but so does Protestantism. Catholic hermeneutics are no longer conservative (except in regards to that which the Magisterium has ruled upon). Is that what strikes your fancy?

    Eastern Orthodoxy is indeed semi-Pelagian (and does not care one hoot for Augustine), so I agree with your decision to that extent. On the other hand, Eastern Orthodoxy probably has a better historical claim to continuity / apostolicity. I don’t rightly think that matters, since it is biblically unorthodox. But some make a big deal about Roman Catholicism being the “church Jesus founded.” (Thumbing their noses, I guess, at the Byzantines, Copts, Armenians, Ethiopians, and whatnot: European Colonialism rears its ugly head! …..j/k. 🙂 )

    Melding history and theology, I would truly like to be able to give Rome the ascendency. But it is just plain too synchretistic. All the bizarre medieval accoutrements added. All the political and sexual corruption. All the genocidal blood on its hands (Crusades, Inquisitions, Auto-da-Fe’s, Pogroms, the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the Thirty Years’ War, the Piedmont Easter, the witch burnings, and on and on and on). This is your candidate for the true body of Christ?

    Matthew 16. If Peter is tapped by Jesus to be in charge of the church, why does Paul exercise authority over him in Galatians? Why is Peter not presiding over the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15? And even if he (and by extension, Rome) were granted the imprimatur of God, surely they have lost it by now! Their lampstand has been removed. Jesus was around in the Old Testament, so the Congregation of Israel has a darn good claim on “the church Jesus founded.” And yet that was taken away, wasn’t it? In spite of a promise for the perpetuity of the line of David.

    1 Timothy 3:15. I guess you’re taking this as a promise for a particular, visible, unified church. Of course, we don’t really see much evidence of such a phenomenon in the Book of Acts…a whole lot of fragmentation already. But it’s there a bit.

    John 6. All the magisterial Reformation churches believe in the Real Presence. They have no problem with John 6. They have a problem with transubstantiation because the risen Christ dwells at the right hand of the Father. He won’t physically return until the parousia. Catholicism doesn’t really deal with the problem. I believe it posits Christ as being in two places at once: two different types of presence. In Lutheran consubstantiation heaven comes down to Earth: the humanity of Christ takes on the Father’s attribute of omnipresence in what is called the ubiquity of his flesh. That seems to stretch the bounds of an actual “humanity” to the breaking point. In Calvinism Earth is brought up to heaven: we are spiritually transported up into the genuine presence of the physical Christ.

    Colossians 1:24. This is the one which at first blush sounds most Catholic. At the end of the day, it is probably the one which is least so. The notion that we are to make up for what Jesus couldn’t manage on his own (the Catholic notion of supererogation) is blasphemous on its face. Historically the concept of the accumulation of merit is introduced by Tertullian at the beginning of the third century. This Colossians passage has been notoriously difficult to interpret. One commentary I consulted spent six pages on just this one verse. No one should rest their theological tenets on difficult verses. It’s just not prudent. My best guess on its meaning is that the compassionate Savior suffers with us through our afflictions. As Peter T. O’Brien puts it: “Though presently exalted in heaven, Christ continues to suffer in his members, and not least in Paul himself.” In other words, the relinquishment of his spirit on the cross was not the conclusion of Christ’s anguish. His task was accomplished, but his pain was not finished. Thus, his suffering over our suffering “fills up what is lacking in his afflictions.” It is a beautiful picture of his sacrificial love and of our participation in it. But no credit or glory accrues to us. He has done it all.

    John 14:15. “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” So what does Jesus command? (Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.”… “Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”) Do you dare to suggest that Protestants have anything against these things? As Augustine eloquently put it: “Give what you command, and command what you will.” The Reformed absolutely love that line!

    A lot of people are misled by those who do not teach the totality of Scripture, making their listeners “twice as fit for hell as they are themselves.” According to the Bible, many people in many regions in many eras are bound for hell. No doubt some of these are slightly well-intentioned in some sense. But God is above all fair and just. You say you believe in the sovereign election of God, so you should have no worries. It is in the hands of God. His sheep hear his voice. He can and will call them away from misinterpreting James. Bank on it! (In the meantime, get yourself into a biblical church.)

  48. Jason–

    If you look at the overarching message of Scripture, there’s no problem understanding what Paul means. The Remonstrants misunderstood the verse in the way you are doing according to Hodge. You wish to preserve the autonomy of mankind as they did. Your paradigm is showing, as is mine. I happen to believe mine fits much better with the bulk of Scripture…and with the whole sense of the gospel.

  49. Eric,

    The letter to the Galatians doesn’t mention baptism, and it doesn’t mention the Eucharist, because the works that are being discussed in the letter are works of the Mosaic law, such as circumcision, which *is* explicitly mentioned. It makes no sense to say that “Eucharist or unEucharist counts for nothing, but only faith working through love,” for the very fact that partaking of the Eucharist is an *example* of faith working though love. Again, the issue in Galatians pertains to Jewish Christian converts who were attempting to require Gentile Christian converts to be circumcised in order for said converts to be accepted into the (still largely Jewish at that time) Cristian community *as* genuine converts. Paul’s answer, in effect, is that these works of the Mosaic law which are creating divisions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians do not ultimately avail for anything, but that what *does* avail is faith working through love (Galatians 5:6). Not faith alone. Faith working through love.

    As a former “Reformed Baptist” Protestant, I am well aware of the Reformed attempts to explain such passages as Matthew 25:31-46 and James 2:14-24 as simply referring to works as the *evidence* of believers as already having been justified by God, rather than those works actually having any role *in* that justification. The problem is, though, that such attempts at exegetical explanation do violence to the actual words of our Lord and St. James. In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus explicitly states that our works of charity and mercy toward others play an important role in whether or not we go to Heaven or Hell. He does *not* say that those works are merely evidence of whether we have already been justified by faith alone in Him alone. (Catholics do hold to faith in Christ alone, but we do not subscribe to “faith alone,” as that concept contradicts apostolic teaching in Sacred Scripture.) Christ also does not say that in the parable, He is speaking merely to the degrees of rewards that believers will receive in Heaven for their works, which come from having been justified by faith alone in Him alone. Nothing in the parable points to Christ teaching any such idea. He does clearly teach that we can and will with go to Heaven or Hell, based partially on our works. If one reads Matthew 25:31-46 without presupposing a Lutheran/Reformed paradigm, it becomes clear that works play a role in our eternal destiny– and *not* merely an “evidentiary” role that we were already justified. *That* idea has to be brought to the passage and read into it in order to be found there. As a Protestant, I did just that. It was reading Scripture in such a way, partially, which allowed me to keep believing for several years that justification by faith alone and imputed righteousness were/are “the clear teaching(s) of Scripture.”

    When I made a conscious decision to read Scripture without my “Protestant lenses,” the Catholic meaning of so many passages became much more clear– but I had to be willing to admit for the *possibility* that Catholicism might be right. I didn’t *presuppose* it, but I admitted for the possibility, and when I did, it became clear to me just how many passages I had understanding as “clearly” affirming Protestant doctrines, when in fact, those passages did no such thing.

    The same is true for James 2:14-24. The brutal truth is that in order to find, in James’s words, the concept of works as being mere “evidence” of our already having been justified by faith alone, one must presuppose a Protestant soteriological paradigm. James explicitly states that man is *not* justified by faith alone! How much more clear he be that… well… justification is not by faith alone?

    As for “baptism or unbaptism counting for nothing,” 1 Peter 3:21 explicitly states that baptism saves. Baptism does not save, however, *in opposition* to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, but rather, *with* that sacrifice. This is yet another example of the fact that the Biblical paradigm of salvation is both/and, not either/or. Faith and works both justify. Christ and baptism both save. Protestantism does not teach these clearly stated Biblical truths, but the Catholic Church does teach them. This makes sense though, because the New Testament came to us, from God, through the divinely inspired, yet still human, members of the Church.

  50. Eric, I’m sorry for the typos in my above reply to you. I was typing after a long Thanksgiving Day and evening, and I obviously did not do the best job of proofreading. However, all of the points in the comment still stand.

    On “sola gratia,” the Catholic Church does indeed teach grace alone. We do not “earn salvation” with any works that we do. In our works, we live out the reality of our verbally professed faith in, and love for, God. However, our faith, our love, and our works are all from God. They are all due to His grace working within us.

    As St. Augustine writes, “If then your merits are God’s gifts, God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as His gifts.” Also in the same vein: “What then is the merit of man before grace by which merit he should receive grace? Since only grace makes every good merit of ours, and when God crowns our merits, He crowns nothing else but His own gifts.” St. Augustine is Catholic and, as such, he holds to grace alone. http://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/AUGUSTIN.HTM

  51. Christopher–

    You clearly don’t like your list of rules being taken away! No, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the sacraments, and we should practice them. But they are not necessary for salvation. As Jesus clearly said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

    Being genuinely united with Christ is all it takes. Faith, working through love, because it binds one to the Redeemer, the source of all true love, will suffice.

    The relationship between the words of Paul and the words of James has been explained far too many times. The only way Paul’s notion of justification by “faith apart from works” will not totally contradict James’ concept of justification “not by faith alone” is if Paul is speaking of Protestant justification (RC initial justification) and James is speaking of Protestant sanctification (RC progressive justification). Any other interpretation does irreparable damage to the text!

    As I explained in another post, the parable of the sheep and goats does not teach any sort of salvation by works. The sheep and the goats were not separated by who did and did not do the will of the Father. They were separated into SHEEP and GOATS. None of the goats were faithful. None of the sheep were faithless. They were separated by nature/character rather than just actions.

    In reading all of Scripture, I have found nothing clearer than this: Christ and Christ alone saves. I believe I fairly thoroughly understand Catholic soteriology. I can put on your “Catholic lenses.” But all that happens to me when I do is that everything goes blurry and I get a headache. Nothing at all becomes clearer.

    Catholicism teaches “grace alone” only within its own terminology of ‘grace.’ Grace is unmerited favor. Even our cooperation with the divine does not merit this favor. Augustine has it right. (Oh, how I love that man!) He has it right, however, only because he believes in perseverance. This is what allows him to call meritorious obedience a gift. It is all of Christ. It is not cooperative. We don’t have to stay the course on our own strength and effort as in Tridentine Catholicism. Augustinian Catholicism is biblical. Tridentine Catholicism is not.

  52. “So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now faith that is come, we are no longer under a tutor. For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.”

    Galatians 6:25-27

    I would say that Baptism is pretty prominent in that one.

  53. Hi Eric,

    I’ve been intrigued reading some of your comments because you have clearly spent an awful lot of thought on these issues and yet remain a convinced Protestant. I just wanted to ask one question of you, regarding your statements about Augustine. You claim that he shares your Calvinist view of perseverance, and that Catholics misread him. I think you mentioned that point more than once. I find this perplexing because Augustine is the same person who said a man would have to be mad to deny that the individual who is living well, if he dies in that state, would go to heaven, but if he stops living well and then dies a day later, he will go to hell. This forms a major part of his argument on the question of perseverance, and it has nothing in common with Calvinism. In my reading of Augustine, I have often thought that the general tenor of his piety leans a little towards Protestantism compared to the Medieval and post-Tridentine Catholic church, but not on this particular point.

    Also, Augustine has a massive difference with Calvin in particular, as Calvin states in no uncertain terms in book 3 of the Institutes, on the all important question of the nature of sin. Augustine believes in mortal sin precisely because he believes that the motions of concupiscence (at least after baptism) are not sinful until consent is given. He also believes that it is (or may be) possible not to give consent to any of these motions. The Calvinist teaching on perseverance depends on the theory that it is impossible for a human in this life ever to be without damning sin, therefore it is necessary for imputation to cover all sin at once. Augustine clearly does not hold this. He believes in a making righteous at the fountainhead of the Christian life which is a substantial and real making righteous and which leaves no sin per se behind.

    The curious ambiguity of Augustine on this point consists in his insistence that before justification, concupiscence is sin, whereas after it is not. That actually sounds an awful lot like Lutheran imputation. But he does not explicitly speak of imputation or nonimputation. He’s a bit of a wax nose on this point, able to be bent in either a Catholic or Lutheran direction. But he’s certainly not a Calvinist.

  54. Hi, Mr. Anonymous Without a Name!

    Yeah, I prefer anonymity, too. The internet is a dangerous place.

    You’ll have to furnish me with a citation for the Augustine quote. I can’t exactly respond without context. (Christ himself told the rich young ruler–who was certainly living well–that he was headed anywhere but heaven. Something tells me St. Austin wouldn’t have called his Savior “mad.”) Perseverance assumes one makes it to the end and doesn’t quit a day ahead of time. Nothing in the quote as given speaks of the apostasy of the elect.

    I have heard Augustine scholars speak of his belief in the opportunity to pray for perseverance without assurance that one will receive it. But in his essay “On Perseverance” that is clearly NOT what he says. He speaks of God granting it to the elect without fail. Yes, they need to pray for it, but undoubtedly they will. He states that reciting the Lord’s Prayer with its petition “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” is quite enough to do the trick.

    Of course, everybody loves to read things into Augustine. I am well aware I may be doing that, but I have nothing invested in my interpretation. He is just a man like any other. If he is wrong, he is wrong. No skin off my teeth.

    No, Augustine is technically not a Calvinist. On that we are agreed. But neither is he a Lutheran or a Tridentine Catholic. On the other hand, it is my guess that were he alive today, he would join up with the us Reformed. It is also my guess that he would be more welcomed by the Reformed than by anyone else.

    In so many areas of theology, he simply started the ball rolling. It’s mere conjecture where these beginnings would have taken him once fully developed. We have to read between the lines. Without a background in Greek, he can hardly have been expected to come to Erasmus’ conclusions on dikaiosune.

    When I read Augustine, I am trying to intuit his heart on these matters. In terms of justification as a whole, I believe in some sense that we must intuit rather than philosophically analyze. Sola fide, to me, is first and foremost about the attitudes of humility and assurance it instills in us. Augustine has those qualities, and therefore I count him one of us.

    My own version of the Doctrines of Grace relies more on perseverance than on imputation. If one’s entire sanctification is inevitable (though infused rather than imputed), I have no complaints. For if it is inevitable it does not depend on us. It is when we can opt out (as in Tridentine Catholicism and Arminian Protestantism) that legalism invariably ensues. Besides, I would count such an “infusion” as indistinguishable from imputation. If I am a prisoner, it doesn’t matter to me whether I am serving a predetermined five year sentence or serving five-to-ten with the assurance that the parole board will let me off after I have served the first five.

    Augustine is neither always consistent with himself nor consistent across the various stages of his writing life. Kind of like the rest of us.

    Thanks for the questions!

  55. Hi Eric,

    Sorry for the late response. Holidays and such.

    You wrote:

    “I’m not sure Scripture has ever sounded even the slightest bit Catholic to me. I don’t even have a clue what you’re talking about. As I have said before, Catholicism and Protestantism have a huge overlap, so at times Scripture just sounds generically Christian. But Catholic? Outside of the birth narratives, the Blessed Virgin shows up 5 or 6 times, never again as a main character. If I take Jason’s theory—how would someone from my paradigm have written this?—Mary, the Queen of Heaven, would have shown up twenty times as much just for starters.”

    John 6, 1 Corinthians 11 and again Acts 22:16 just for starters. All these passages read more naturally Catholic on Sacramental efficacy.

    As for Mary, quality not quantity. There is nothing else in the NT like the Magnificat for example. While her mentions are fewer than others the mentions themselves are very significant. We do, after all have far more Paul than Jesus in the NT too. Does that diminish Jesus or make him a lesser figure than Paul? Is Paul greater than the 12 because he wrote far more of the NT? Mary’s role is not limited by the frequency of her appearances in the Gospels. Who else was the mother of Jesus? If we know and believe nothing else that it is enough for her to be esteemed above all others.

    Acts 22:16 does not bother me now. But it sure did when I was broadly Evangelical and later Reformed. I did make stops in both Lutheranism (briefly) and Anglicanism (less briefly). But the train doesn’t stop until it reaches the station.

    Not to get bogged down in the Augustine debates but he was critical in my becoming Catholic. I always claimed him as a Reformed Christian based on snippets. Then when I read him more fully I realized his overall theology is Catholic to the core. That his doctrine was not fully developed in some areas that the Church has now officially spoken on is par for course with most Saints. I can point out where Aquinas and others had a limited understanding in their day that the Church has since clarified. It has been this way since the first church Council.

    Also I am very comfortable saying Orange reflects a fleshed out Augustinianism. The Cahtolic Church affirms Orange. The Reformed really do not as they tend to misunderstand what semi-Pelagianism actually is. There is an anachronistic tendency to see it as a deviation from TULIP.

    You really will have to point out where the Catholic Church has thrown out scripture. I do acknowledge that Catholic hermeneutics in recent years in some circles, have suffered from bias and to much reliance on textual criticism. But the current pope has also criticized this. Let’s remember such thinking came out of Protestantism. Shame on the Catholics who adopted it. The difference? The Church is protected from error. Protestant split into factions. The split P’s and all that.

    I agree with your first statement, in part, about Estern Orthodoxy. But not the second. Jesus founded the Catholic Church (not the Roman Catholic Church). His Church includes Byzantines etc. My wife is a Byzantine Catholic so I certainly do not regard the Latin Church as “the” Church, but it is the largest sui juris in the Catholic Church. You know the one Christ founded. 😉

    I see your point with the references to Catholic attrocities, both real and exagerated. I raise you a Henry VIII, and some Scottish Covenanters. The history of the Reform is quite bloody as well. All this proves is there are tare about the wheat.

    Now for the flip side. The Catholic Church is the largest and oldest charitable organization on the planet. It has fed and clothed millions (billions more likely) it stands alone in Christendom on moral clarity regarding abortion, contraception and the sanctity of marriage.

    I will respond to the rest of your post later.

    Blessings,

    Dave

  56. Dave H.–

    John 6:53-58, 1 Corinthians 11:29, Acts 22:16 only read more naturally Catholic if you already believe that RC’s have said the last word on sacramental efficacy. I’m an extremely sacramental guy. For example, I much prefer transubstantiation to mere memorialism (a thoroughly unbiblical notion). The Real Presence, however, is the standard belief of Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. They, along with Catholics, try to make sense of the biblical data which seem to say that the communion is actual flesh and blood though it is neither fleshy nor bloody, that it is the whole Christ though quite compact in size, and that in some sense it is no longer bread and wine though it can still sustain the body nutritionally, impair someone with celiac disease, and render the mind drunk. Personally, I believe Calvin did the best job speculating about this pure mystery, but I have no great problem with the other attempts. That being said, as yet, I cannot wrap my mind around whether or not the Catholic formulation is borderline idolatrous. The veneration of the cross probably crosses the line, but transubstantiation is a gray area. One is not worshiping a stand in, some kind of representation, but that which one purports to be Jesus himself. It could go either way in my mind. (Although, to be frank, perpetual adoration chapels weird me out.)

    The Magnificat aside, Mary’s presence in the NT suffers not only from a lack of quantity but quality, as well: upbraiding Jesus on the way home from the Temple at age 12, goading him into a somewhat frivolous miracle at the Wedding in Cana, being metaphorically disowned by Jesus in Mark 3.

    Sure, if Revelation 12 speaks principally of Mary, perhaps you have a case. Otherwise, you’re grabbing at straws. I am thankful for Marian dogmas after a fashion: they keep a whole lot of reasonable people from considering the claims of Rome.

    I love Mary and seek to see her appropriately honored. But I believe she would be the first to be deeply offended by hyperdulia, much preferring to see her son glorified.

    I’m not coming down on Mary because the Magnificat was the only thing she wrote. Paul may have written a sizable portion of the NT, but almost all of what he wrote concerned Christ and his glory. Old and New Testament alike are saturated with the second person of the Trinity. Mary’s role is miniscule in comparison, but one would never know that upon entering most any Catholic sanctuary. (Muhammad mistakenly surmised that Mary was part of the Trinity.)

    Why exactly did Acts 22 bother you so much? I’ve never known any Protestants, even serious exegetes, who give it a second thought. Evidently, you were Catholic at heart long before you ever got there. Paul was baptized as an adult. There are no unambiguous baptisms of infants in the NT. Did that fact make you question Catholic (or Lutheran or Anglican) practice? You seem to be seeing what you want to see.

    My devotion to Augustine is not based on snippets. The more I read him, the more Reformed he sounds. I agree with Bryan Cross–and against many Reformed interpreters–that Orange represents semi-Augustinianism and not Reformed thought. It’s not as extreme as Trent, but it’s headed in that direction.

    I’m not sure what you mean concerning semi-Pelagianism. It depends upon how technical you want to get. Technically, perhaps, Jesuits, the Eastern Orthodox, and modern Arminians are not semi-Pelagian, but they might as well be. Thomism itself, with its heavy reliance on prevenient grace, doesn’t strike me as all that far out of the circle. That might be what you’re picking up on. Perhaps the Reformed writers or speakers you’re reading/listening to know the difference, but just really don’t care. Semi-Pelagianism posits man’s ability to make the initial movement towards God. To many Reformed folks, Catholics and the others may say something different from that…but don’t mean anything appreciably different from that.

    The current pope is a major figure in the movement known as Nouvelle Theologie, which includes the likes of Rahner and Kung (who are certainly not conservative). Like Balthasar, the current Pope could be termed moderately conservative, I guess, but it it is a stretch. If you compare him to Pope Pius IX and St. Pius X, he is a modernist. There really isn’t anything analogous to Evangelicalism on the Catholic side of things anymore unless you want to include the Lefebvrists.

    I wish Catholics would be a little more careful throwing the word “Protestant” around (to mean anything semi-religious that is not specifically Roman Catholic). When I say Protestant, I refer to conservative/traditional adherents to magisterial Reformational groups: sometimes they are termed “confessing Evangelicals” (i.e., evangelical Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and perhaps, Reformed Baptists). Schleiermacher and his descendents, on the other hand, are neither Protestant nor Christian. (Therefore, what some Catholic theologians, even in your opinion, were drawn astray by was apostasy, pure and simple.) So, the Catholics are “protected from heresy” by an avowed modernist being on the seat of Peter? How so? (The only thing really protecting Rome is the weight of precedents. Once Vatican III rolls around, all that might be out the window.)

    I would be the first to admit that confessing evangelicals have split entirely too much. But at least fairly often it has been as a result of caring dearly for theological purity. Plus, if you fairly evaluate these groups, you will find that there is a great deal of camaraderie and joint ministry, not to mention broad agreement on theological issues. Why don’t Catholics ever discuss their own problems with schism? Eastern Orthodoxy has stayed mostly intact since 1054. Western Christendom split into thousands of pieces on Rome’s watch. If Wittenberg and Geneva are responsible for Adventists and Mennonites and Campbellites and Nazarenes, then Rome is responsible for Anglicans and Lutherans and Presbyterians and Zwinglians. And the motivations for pushing so many out during the Reformation look surprisingly political and ethnocentric rather than theological.

    Actually, Christ founded the Congregation of Israel long before his Incarnation, which then morphed into the Church Catholic during his earthly ministry. It includes everyone who actually trusts in the actual Jesus.

    Henry VIII was theologically Catholic to the end of his days. Elizabeth killed as many Catholics in 45 years as Mary Tudor killed Protestants in 5. The Thirty Years’ War was fought entirely on Protestant soil, pretty much a Catholic attempt at genocide. Do Protestants have blood on their hands? Sure. Is there any reasonable comparison in the amount of blood on each sides’ hands? Absolutely not. I’m sorry, but up until the Peace of Westphalia, the Catholics were the bad guys. (The “wheat” at this point in time in the Catholic Church was very tare-like!)

    After the Peace of Westphalia, wars became much more secular and nationalistic, rather than religious. The British and Dutch were atrocious to native populations to be sure, but in general this was not religiously motivated. (And the Spanish and Portuguese were just as brutal…though again, not backed by supposed Christian principles.)

    The Catholic Church is fantastic at social ministry, no doubt. And it no longer takes part in genocide. But the cold, hard fact is that at one time, it did.

    Evangelicalism does speak with one voice in opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. In general, it also stands against any contraceptives which are abortifacient. But I have heard way too much willful ignorance and fuzzy thinking, especially concerning birth-control pills. Sometimes personal convenience simply wins out over conscience. Up until about 1930, the rest of Christianity joined Rome in a blanket hostility toward contraception. Perhaps we should indeed rejoin you on that one. I would also give you kudos on resisting divorce…if it weren’t for the ubiquity of annulments. Still, all in all, the Catholic stance on marriage is probably stronger. Thank you for leading the way.

  57. Hi Eric,

    I think my memory may have taken the “insane” part out of context (if this is the quote I was thinking of – I’m not sure that it is), but still, the content of the quote below is hardly Calvinist. This is the first quote I found when looking for such ideas in my notes. It’s from On Rebuke and Grace, chapter 19. Of course Augustine did develop considerably from the beginning to the end of his career, but he very consistently maintained what you see below, that individuals who are “living well,” if they depart in that state, will go to heaven, and if they departed later having left that state, would go to hell. That’s some kind of doctrine of mortal sin, at least. Note also that there is a great big difference between holding to the perseverance of the predestined and the perseverance of the justified. Augustine seems to be in line with the overwhelming stream of church history prior to John Calvin in separating the two.

    “For we are discoursing of such as have not perseverance in goodness, but die in the decline of their good will from good to evil. Let the objectors answer, if they can, why, when these were living faithfully and piously, God did not then snatch them from the perils of this life, “lest wickedness should change their understanding, and lest deceit should beguile their souls”? Had He not this in His power, or was He ignorant of their future sinfulness? Assuredly, nothing of this kind is said, except most perversely and insanely. Why, then, did He not do this? Let them reply who mock at us when in such matters we exclaim, “How inscrutable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”For either God giveth this to whom He will, or certainly that Scripture is wrong which says concerning the immature death of the righteous man, “He was taken away lest wickedness should change his understanding, or lest deceit should beguile his soul.”Why, then, does God give this so great benefit to some, and not give it to others, seeing that in Him is no unrighteousness nor acceptance of persons, and that it is in His power how long every one may remain in this life, which is called a trial upon earth? As, then, they are constrained to confess that it is God’s gift for a man to end this life of his before it can be changed from good to evil, but they do not know why it is given to some and not given to others, so let them confess with us that perseverance in good is God’s gift, according to the Scriptures, from which I have already set down many testimonies; and let them condescend with us to be ignorant, without a murmur against God, why it is given to some and not given to others.”

  58. Sine–

    You’ll have to explain to me this “big difference” between the perseverance of the predestined and the perseverance of the justified. Sounds the same to me.

    You may remember in that the Third Act of “Hamlet,” the revenge-minded Prince of Denmark gives up a chance to slay his blackguard uncle Claudius because that guilt-ridden murderer is in prayer. Instead, Hamlet decides to kill him…

    “When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
    Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
    At gaming, swearing, or about some act
    That has no relish of salvation in’t;
    Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
    And that his soul may be as damn’d and black
    As hell, whereto it goes.”

    Right before he enters into prayer, Claudius is engaged in setting up Hamlet’s assassination with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. No one is going to mistake the man for regenerate on his best of all possible days.

    God knows us, stem to stern, top to bottom. Whether or not we are elect may be inscrutable to us, but it is clear as day to our Creator. I don’t see Augustine here uttering a single syllable that runs against that. He acknowledges (using the quote from Wisdom of Solomon 4) that God protects some who might otherwise fail to reach the end faithfully. Augustine knows it is all in the hands of God.

  59. Hi Eric,

    I guess I thought it was pretty clear in the quote – I’m not sure anyone could speak much more clearly than to say, “Let the objectors answer, if they can, why, when these were living faithfully and piously, God did not then snatch them from the perils of this life, “lest wickedness should change their understanding, and lest deceit should beguile their souls”? Had He not this in His power, or was He ignorant of their future sinfulness? Assuredly, nothing of this kind is said, except most perversely and insanely.” He says in no uncertain terms that they were in fact living faithfully and piously, and that if they had died in that state, they would have gone to heaven, but they did not, and therefore went to hell. What does that have in common with Calvinism?

    The difference between the perseverance of the justified and the perseverance of the predestined on the Augustinian and Medieval position is that predestination is something only in God, while justification also requires something in the individual. Whereas the divine will cannot be altered, the subjective state of the individual can be, and so the individual can cease to be justified and then become justified again, his predestination having remained fully intact all the while. Luther also held this view, and Lutherans following him, although for them mortal sin is more fundamentally a failure in the act of faith rather than a simple failure in love/obedience. Calvin appears to have been something of an innovator in this area.

  60. Hi Eric,

    As this thread is stale compared to more recent ones I will just touch on a few points.

    Acts 22: This bothered when I vehemently anti-Catholic and anti-sacramental. It goes back to my Assemblies of God and Baptists days. I was seeing what I did not want to see, not what I wanted to see.

    Here is precisely what bother my Protestant mind: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’”

    The “be baptized” with the “wash away your sins” part. The most obvious reading of the text screams baptismal regeneration. It is as simple as that.

    As for the bad things Catholics have done. That Catholics have done evil does not mean the Church has. The bad bevavior of some says nothing about the truth of the Church. I could easily point to Reformed and Lutheran European countries leading the world in secularism, abortion, euthenasia and homosexual “tolerance”. Protestant Germany? Orthodox Russia? There is plenty of horror and millions of lives taken unjustly by “members” of every branch of Christendom – okay I will exclude the Amish. So, respectfully, I do not think a “my guys killed less people than your guys so you guys are wrong” is a valid argument. The Church did not take part in genocide. Evil men took part in genocide. Christ’s Church did not and could not.

    I have an pretty close inside view of Orthodoxy (my wife was raised Orthodox and I was married in the Orthodox Church) there is a lot more the Orthodox story than you may have yet read. In fact the Crusades began as a plee for help from Constantinople.

    I agree that Christ founded Israel. This was a big deal for me when I was Reformed as a Hebrew Christian.

    I hear you about broadly painting all Protestants. Typically, I think of Reformed, Lutheran and other conservative Evangelicals. But, but liberal protestants are a part of the legacy and and fruit of the Reformation, certainly unintended.

    Call the Pope a modernist is a bit unfair. However, the Chair of Peter is not dependent on his personal impeccability. 2,000 years and counting. We have had some genuinely controversial men occupying the chair and the Church survived them. See what Dante had to say about such clergy so long ago.

    That is the beauty of the Church – He uses flawed servants to protect His Church. It is a testimony to the truth of the Church, not an arguments against it.

    So come on home, brother! 😉

    Pax,

    Dave

  61. Magister Nomine,

    Augustine, of course, answers your query by pointing out that the will of God is inscrutable. Why does God not protect some and yet protects others? I, like Augustine, have no answer. Calvin has no answer either. Some are elect and some are not. It is as simple as that.

    We simply cannot know when someone is living faithfully. We cannot know whether or not they would have retained their faith had they lived longer. God knows.

    You will have to provide a quote where Augustine speaks of the perseverance of the justified. Is he speaking of the hills and valleys of (Protestant) sanctification? In Reformed thought, there is really no such thing as losing and regaining one’s justification. One either never had it until the second time around, or one kept it in spite of a “rough patch” in one’s sanctification. Justification is a permanent state.

    Yes, Calvin is an innovator in all of this. He and Paul both.

  62. Dave H.–

    I agree. It sounds like baptismal regeneration. But is also sounds like an act of the will and an act of faith.

    I can’t remember the last time I saw an infant “rise and be baptized and wash away his or her sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” I guess nowadays we could make that happen digitally, but it cannot be what that verse meant. Why does that not make you question Catholicism (and Lutheranism and Anglicanism and Presbyterianism) on their practices of baptism?

    There are no Reformed or Lutheran European countries. These are purely secular states and have been for a couple of hundred years. There are no Catholic European countries either. France has got to be one of the most secular countries on earth, with decidedly few Christians of any stripe. Liberal (Mainstream) Protestants are not Christian, let alone Protestant. If confessional Protestants are responsible for their apostate “brethren,” then Catholicism is responsible for them all.

    Lutherans are indeed responsible for the slaughter of Anabaptists. Puritans are responsible for the regicide of Charles I. Orthodox Russians are responsible for some vicious anti-Jewish pogroms. The holocaust, however, was foisted upon the world by pagans and secularists (some with a bit of a Christian “twinge”). Now, the church Hitler helped establish, Die Deustchen Christen, certainly had blood on its hands, but it was not actually Christian. (It kicked out all ethnic Jews, scrapped the Old Testament, and pronounced National Socialism as the completion of the Reformation.) As far as I have been able to determine, there was no appreciable presence of Evangelicalism anywhere in the country at the time. (On the other hand, Catholics are Catholics, one visible church. Hitler was never even excommunicated. I don’t hold them responsible really at all, but I don’t know exactly what you do with that. I happen to believe that Pope Pius XII, in spite of speculation to the contrary–for example, the Zuccotti book, “Under His Very Windows”–was a decent fellow. )

    What I was saying in that previous post was not just that Catholics killed more than Protestants did, but that Catholics killed far, far more than Protestants. Comparatively, Protestants and the Orthodox look like perfect little angels. Not only that, but popes, bishops, and priests took an active role. Ecclesiastical leaders were involved on the Protestant side, as well, but with far less influence. That’s my take on it. You may see it differently.

    Certainly, the Roman Catholic church today is mostly a force for good. Perhaps one of the greatest social forces for good there is. Believe me, I don’t overlook that, but Rome claims to be infallible throughout all eras. Some very powerful popes were influences for extraordinary evil, including the promotion of slavery and torture and genocide. Until Rome acknowledges its very palpable fallibility (as every single Protestant denomination would–though they likewise believe that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church), I cannot stomach Roman Catholic sin. Pope John Paul II may well have apologized to the Jews for the church’s comparative inaction during the Holocaust, and to the Muslims for the Crusades. But no pope has ever really repented the totally un-Christian monstrosity of the Counter-Reformation, including the Thirty Years’ War. Not one has apologized for its complete lack of necessity. The major Reformers would have acquiesced to reasonable flexibility on Rome’s part, but Rome doubled down and went nuclear.

    It is true that magisterial teaching has been far more consistent than Catholic behavior. But anyone who believes it has been infallible is just sticking his or her head in the sand. When Rome repents its arrogant (and perhaps even blasphemous) claim to infallibility, some headway may at last be made toward unity.

    Get rid of infallibility, and I’ll give them a pass. Keep infallibility, and they’re guilty in my book.

    I have much more empathy for Eastern Orthodoxy. If it weren’t for the fact that it was never touched by the Reformation (and retains a ferocious antipathy for Calvin, and even, to some extent, for Augustine), I could spend more time in Byzantia. My wife and I go every year to the Easter Vigil. Glorious pageantry. They are far more restrained in their Mariology and slightly more in their claims for the sacraments. They’re so apologetic for not being able to share the Eucharist, and–as you know–distribute unconsecrated bread to us non-partakers.

    I really take umbrage at the contention that liberal “Christianity” is a fruit of the Reformation, per se.

    In a history-of-philosophy sense, perhaps it is true. To some degree, the Enlightenment was a continuation of the humanism in the Protestant Reformation (and corresponding Catholic Reformation) which were continuations of the humanistic tendencies of the Renaissance.

    But theologically, liberalism is rebellion against (and rejection of) Protestantism. For Schleiermacher, this was specifically a rebellion against his own Pietistic upbringing. There is no building on Protestant theological developments going on here, but an abrupt shearing away of all identifying distinctives. Perhaps, some blame could be lodged at the door of the Radical Reformation, which “birthed” the Socinians (modern-day Unitarians). But here again, they denounced these anti-Trinitarians. How can we hold them responsible for others’ rebellious actions? (And why not just blame the Catholics, who–in one way or another–birthed all these groups. It was the West that splintered, not Orthodoxy.)

    Besides, it is Richard Simon, a French Catholic scholar, who is usually pointed to as the “father of higher criticism.” His “Histoire Critique du Vieux Testament” appeared in 1685, followed by a companion volume on the New Testament in 1689. Catholicism was a major component in the rise of liberalism. Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X held the line for a short time around the turn of the twentieth century, but that’s long gone now. Evidently, you’re just unaware of it.

    I would admit that Pope Benedict XVI is a “moderate” modernist. I really like him, even more, I think, than I liked John Paul II. Compared to many who could have been nominated, these two are true conservatives. They have staved off the ascendancy of liberalism in the Catholic church. (With all the bishops and cardinals they have installed, full-blown liberalism might not rise again for a good long while). But I’m telling you, it’s coming.

    John Paul II actually helped establish a joint Catholic-Evangelical youth mission in Poland (with Campus Crusade!), but had harsh words to say to Evangelicals when he visited the U.S. during his tenure as pope. For their part, Evangelicals admired him greatly, right along with the rest of the world. For me, his obsessive devotion to Mary was deeply troubling. He was a real mix of modernism and traditionalism, as is Benedict. Perhaps a few of the Catholics involved in ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) have views of Scripture as authoritative, but it would be an extreme minority view among Catholic scholars in general. (Just as “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” colleges, here in the U.S, are in a distinct minority.)

    Unfortunately, Dave, I have found far more beauty of spirit in Reformed churches (which are supposedly afforded no exceptional supernatural protection like those within the Apostolic Succession). We have just as many flawed servants for him to use as you do! 😉

    I continue to look for the beauty you speak of in Catholic and Orthodox parishes. I have visited at least ten since I moved to my present location three years ago. For now, however, I sense his Spirit far more profoundly right where I’m at.

    I am securely in the arms of Christ. How could I not already be at home?

    (Be that as it may, I deeply appreciate your welcoming invitation….)

  63. A better question, I came to realize, would be, “Would someone who holds my theological paradigm actually say something like this?” And if the answer is “No,” then the follow-up question must be, “What prior-held theological paradigm would most likely give rise to a statement like this?”

    That’s exactly what I started doing and still to this day do. Take the authors at face values. Assume they are all expressing their ideas fairly clearly and then find a time appropriate theological system that would fit that expression of those ideas best.

    Now if I can see if you limit your choices to all-Reformed or all-Catholic how you picked all-Catholic. Between the two I probably would have gone the other way, but you made a reasonable choice. What I don’t see is why you limit yourself to those two. Neither one fits the evidence very well, you must be getting a whole list of “doesn’t fit my paradigm” verses before and since you’ve become Catholic. Why not explore other options that are lead to an even more natural read of the text? I can understand how someone can see the Catholic paradigm as a better fit than the Reformed paradigm but why stop there?

  64. Thanks , I’ve just been looking for information about this topic for ages and yours is the best I’ve came upon till now.
    But, what concerning the bottom line? Are you positive concerning the supply?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Jason Stellman on “Paradigms” | Reformation500 - [...] On Paradigms Protestant and Catholic: Anyone who has followed Catholic/Protestant discussions recently has undoubtedly heard more about “interpretive paradigms”…
  2. Paradigms, Tradition, and the Lexicon, Part 1 | Reformation500 - [...] is how Jason Stellman steps in it, er, portrays the issue, in his blog post, On Paradigms Protestant…
  3. The Cross: Creating a Context for Grace | Creed Code Cult - [...] the purposes of our consideration, I will take a page out of my Paradigms Handbook and posit a general…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

wordpress visitor