Romanism, Dispensationalism, and the Soteriology of Dr. John Gerstner

Mar 4th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Ligonier Ministries recently posted an excerpt from the late John Gerstner’s Primer on Justification.  This article, taken together with things he has written elsewhere concerning the nature of faith, manifests an interesting and important inconsistency in Dr. Gerstner’s thinking about justification. Before turning to that problem, I want to make a few comments on the article itself.

Horse and Cart

In this article, Gerstner critiques something that he tells his readers is the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification. Those who would like to learn a little bit about that doctrine, particularly as defined by the Council of Trent, and as compared to the Protestant position, would do better to read Bryan Cross’s “ A Reply from a Romery Person.” As Bryan explains, Protestantism and Catholicism differ on justification not merely in detail, but paradigmatically. Readers of the Ligonier blog will likely miss this important point. Then again, this excerpt from Gerstner has every appearance of preaching to the (Reformed) choir, and none of actually engaging Catholic doctrine.

Most importantly, Gerstner does not present the distinction in Catholic theology between initial justification, progress in justification, and final justification, even though these distinctions are crucially related to the point he is trying to make concerning the role of works before justification. In critiquing the Gospel according to “Romanism,” Gerstner writes:

So all Rome’s error is in putting works before justification, but how fatal the error! The theological cart is hopelessly before the theological horse. Neither works nor justification can function. Meritorious works are no works and an achieved justification is no justification. [Emphasis added]

Compare this claim with the actual teaching of the Catholic Church:

But when the Apostle says that man is justified by faith and freely, these words are to be understood in that sense in which the uninterrupted unanimity of the Catholic Church has held and expressed them, namely, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and to come to the fellowship of His sons; and we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. [1]

In this article, Gerstner and Ligonier Ministries mislead their readers in a fundamental way on an all important aspect of the Catholic-Protestant debate. The reader is left with the impression that the Catholic Church teaches that justification is merited by works which precede justification, whereas the Church clearly and emphatically denies this.

Gerstner and Hodges

Along with his garbling account of the Catholic doctrine of justification, there is an interesting inconsistency in Dr. Gerstner’s own soteriology. When the target of his soteriological criticism is the Gospel according to dispensationalist writer Zane Hodges, Gerstner writes the following:

Hodges fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the issue when he thinks that works are some sort of addendum, something beyond the faith itself. We maintain that it is implicit in the faith from the beginning….

Again, this fundamental failure [of Hodges] to comprehend is evident. Lordship teaching does not “add works,” as if faith were not sufficient. The “works” are part of the definition of faith. [2]

If works are “implicit in faith from the beginning,” as Gerstner claims, then how can he charge the Catholic Church with delivering a false Gospel on the basis of “putting works before justification”? Faith comes before justification, in the sense that we are justified by faith. But if works are implicit in this faith from the beginning, then works come before justification according to Gerstner’s definition of faith (in responding to Hodges), which is contrary to the Gospel according to Gerstner (when responding to Rome).

Faith and Love

There is a possible way out of this dilemma, but it is fairly technical, and I don’t think that it actually succeeds in solving Gerstner’s problem concerning the place of good works in justification. Francis Turretin states the classical Reformed perspective on the relation between faith and love (which is the principle of all good works) in justification:

The question is not whether faith alone justifies to the exclusion either of the grace of God or the righteousness of Christ or the word and sacraments (by which the blessing of justification is presented and sealed to us on the part of God) which we maintain are necessarily required here; but only to the exclusion of every other virtue and habit on our part. [3]

According to Turretin, there is a sense in which “every other virtue and habit” are excluded from justification per sola fide. But notice that he immediately writes the following:

The question is not whether solitary faith (i.e., separated from the other virtues) justifies (which we grant could not easily be the case, since it is not even true and living faith); but whether it “alone” (sola) concurs to the act of justification (which we assert); as the eye alone sees, but not when torn out of the body…. The coexistence of love in him who is justified is not denied; but its coefficiency or cooperation in justification is denied. The question is not whether the faith “which justifies” (quae justificat) works by love (for otherwise it would not be living but dead); rather the question is whether faith “by which it justifies” (qua justificat) or in the act itself of justification, is to be considered under such a relation (schesei) (which we deny). [4]

Thus, Turretin, like Gerstner, insists that agape inheres with faith in the justified person, but excludes this inherent agape from justification per se, which exclusion is also crucial to Gerstner’s Gospel as stated in the Ligonier article. The distinction here can be understood in terms of the different modes of perseity. [5] On the Catholic model, love belongs to justifying faith per se as a matter of definition. “Justifying faith is formed by love” is analogous to “Man is rational.” On the Reformed model, love belongs to justifying faith per se as a matter of material causality. “Love is always present with justifying faith” is analogous to “A living body is always present with the act of sight.” In the first case, love is an essential predicate of justifying faith. In the second case, love is a proper accident of justifying faith.

Obviously, both modes of perseity involve an intimate relation between faith and love. But it remains the case that in Reformed theology love is excluded from faith (sola fide) in the sense that, in the act of justification, faith is not considered in relation to love. This technical distinction underscores the important fact that Catholic and Reformed Christians understand the formal cause of justification in very different ways. [6]

Thus, Turretin’s distinction between the faith that justifies and faith considered as justifying puts a fine point upon an important difference between the Catholicism and Protestantism. However, this distinction does not seem to help Gerstner. If love is part of the definition of justifying faith (per Gerstner), as opposed to simply being always present with justifying faith (per Turretin), then it is not possible to be justified by faith without also being justified by love. Gerstner could say that we are justified by one aspect of faith apart from some other aspect of faith, e.g., the intellectual aspect apart from love, but this would result in justification by something other than faith, since good works (the essence of which is love) are (according to Gerstner) part of the definition of faith.

All in all, it seems that Gerstner has a correct definition of justifying faith (faith formed by love), which he selectively applies. His critique of Catholicism is inconsistent with his definition of justifying faith, and his critique of Dispensationalism is inconsistent with his critique of Catholicism.

__________

[1] Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 8 (emphasis added).

[2] John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1991), 226 (emphasis added); cited in Zane Hodges, “Calvinism Ex Cathedra: A Review of John H. Gerstner’s Wrong Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1991–4:2 (available here).

[3] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Sixteenth Topic, Eighth Question, V-VI.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf. Aristotle, Posterior AnalyticsBook One, Part 4.

[6] Cf. John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, Chapter IX, “The formal cause of justification“.

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  1. […] Romanism, Dispensationalism and an Interesting Inconsistency in the Soteriology of Dr. John Gerstner…. […]

  2. Andrew,

    I remember that whole “Lordship” Debate involving MacArthur, Horton, Sproul against the so-called Dallas School. When I was at Moody years ago that was one of the big issues. It is interesting how you point out so clearly the inconsistency in the late Dr. Gerstner’s approach. On the one hand attaching room for adding to the Gospel, then attacking Hodges, Ryrie etc… for not.

  3. Hi Andrew!
    I’m a Protestant, first off FYI. Thanks for the interesting article.
    You outlined the RC position as “initial justification, progress in justification, and final justification.” Gerstner in the article you sent us to does refer at least to “second justification” in Paragraph 4.

    So then- Protestants say the Biblical definition of justification is that legal, forensic moment where we are declared justified in Christ Jesus- having peace (Ro. 5:1) and no condemnation (Ro 8:1). This “initial” justification then sticks, it is permanent. This permanence is appropriate to ‘peace’ and ‘no condemnation’, as if it were otherwise there would be NO peace , but rather condemnation pending our actions- and we would have not been set free from the law of sin and death afterall. Our works that we do, having been given a living faith, are part of our sanctification, conforming to Christ, having the fruit of the Spirit, and heading to our eventual glorification.
    So just as you faulted Gerstner in his lack of the ‘three justifications’, I want to point out that you lacked the defining of the Protestant justification, sanctification and on into glorification- and think that this would help in the discussion as to where we place ‘works’ in the mix. Afterall, I see no inconsistency when Gerstner is addressing Hodges, if Gerstner is pointing out that the one action of justification which came about (not by works), BUT has a faith that does have works, which works do not lead to any Protestant definition of justification, but rather are definitional of faith and pertain to our sanctification- not justification.

    Hence when you say If agape (good works) is part of the definition of justifying faith (per Gerstner), as opposed to simply being omnipresent with justifying faith (per Turretin), then it is not possible to be justified by faith without also being justified by works. One could say that we are justified by one aspect of faith apart from some other aspect of faith (e.g., the intellectual aspect apart from agape), but this would result in justification by something other than (living) faith, since works/agape, according to Gerstner, is part of the definition of (living) faith.

    I think you are using the RC definition of justification, and not considering the Protestant distinctions of justification, sanctification, and on to glorification. I haven’t read the Gerstner to Hodges article- does he make these distinctions?
    Thank you, and God bless,
    Garret Graves

  4. Andrew,

    as the eye alone sees, but not when torn out of the body

    This line is an interesting personification of the Reformed/Catholic error, and Turretin is making a philosophical error. In fact, the eye does not see at all; much less does the eye alone see. The eye is the principal instrument of sight, but if any physical part actually did the seeing, it would be the brain, not the eye (just as it is the man who sees not the telescope). But at the very least, if the eye, when torn out of the body, does not see, then there is no intelligible sense in which we can say that the eye alone sees. The eye alone does not see because the eye alone is the eye “torn out of the body.” This article explains what I’m getting at.

  5. Garret,

    Why do you think a justified man has no peace so long as he retains the free will to reject that justification? It seems to me that a man, set free from prison, does indeed have peace and that he no longer has condemnation even though he fully realizes, as does everyone else, that he may land himself right back in the same place if he deliberately rejects his freedom by committing a heinous crime. What is the argument that our salvation must be entirely different? Is it the eternal nature of the consequence? The gravity of the potential punishment (hell) causes any uncertainty whatsoever to be despair? Or maybe it’s something else that I haven’t considered.

    I’m assuming you agree that a freed prisoner is happy and feels peace even though he might end up in jail again; what I want to know is: why is it that you think a forgiven sinner cannot feel peace if he thinks he still has the ability to reject God?

  6. Hello Garrett, thanks for your comment.

    I noticed Dr. Gerstner’s mention of “second justification,” which Catholics tend to refer to as an increase in justification, leading to that eschatalogical justification (Romans 2.6-16). These latter do more or less correspond to sanctification and glorification, while being intimately related to initial justification, which is once and for all (i.e., regeneration in baptism). It is the notional distinction between regeneration and justification that sets the stage for the Protestant distinction between the latter and sanctification. Catholicism does not recognize this distinction, such that the Church understands justification and the real, inward change wrought in regeneration to be the same gift. The different words denote different aspects of this gift, but not two gifts that can be segregated in the manner required for the Protestant doctrine of a nominalistic justification. That is where the difference emerges, on a systematic level, at least. Anyway, Gerstner merely mentions increase in justification in passing, with no explanation, although this concept is critical, and actually undermines his case re the Catholic Faith, works and justification. Therefore, the article is fundamentally misleading; i.e., this quote

    So all Rome’s error is in putting works before justification, but how fatal the error! The theological cart is hopelessly before the theological horse. Neither works nor justification can function. Meritorious works are no works and an achieved justification is no justification.

    ignores the important point made by Trent: “none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification.” There is place in Catholic theology for merit/rewards, but these always follow justification.

    Regarding peace and no condemnation for the justified, I completely agree that everyone who is justified has peace with God and does not come under condemnation. This is most assuring. The question is, can a man hate God and his neighbor, as is required for mortal sin, and yet be right with God, having agape inherent in his heart? The biblical answer is clearly no. You cannot both hate God and be at peace with God at the same time. For a hateful man to think that he is at peace with God would be presumptuous. God’s love for sinners is first and foremost, and this love is a transforming love, and only when we receive that love through living faith in the promises of the Gospel do we have peace.

    When you suggest that the possible loss of justification is inconsistent with peace and assurance of salvation (no condemnation), you are implying, whether intentionally or not, either that the justified cannot commit mortal sin, which rubs Scripture the wrong way, or that it is possible to hate God and at the same time enjoy eternal life, which is presumption, not assurance.

    Authentic assurance comes from participation in God, whereby we live in his life, which is love, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. Authentic assurance does not come via speculation about the future, but by hope in the mercy and omnipotence of God in each moment. Thus, I can affirm both the possibility of falling from the grace of justification and the full assurance of hope. I describe a Catholic understanding of assurance, following the lead of St. Thomas, in my post, St. Thomas Aquinas on Assurance of Salvation.

    So just as you faulted Gerstner in his lack of the ‘three justifications’, I want to point out that you lacked the defining of the Protestant justification, sanctification and on into glorification- and think that this would help in the discussion as to where we place ‘works’ in the mix.

    My post did not “lack” a discussion of some Protestant construal of justification, sanctification and glorification, since my post was not billed as a critique of the Protestant doctrine of justification. Rather, I intended to show that Gerstner’s article, which is billed as a critique of the Catholic doctrine of justification, fails to adequately present that doctrine, and ends up burning a straw man. Secondly, I intended to show that Gerstner’s own position is inconsistent, given his definition of faith. I did this by pointing out that (1) faith precedes justification, (2) Gerstner (misleadingly) faults Catholicism for placing works before justification, and (3) Gerstner himself places works before justification, by defining faith in such a manner as to include works, and affirming that we are justified on the basis of this faith.

    Gerstner and Hodges are definitely debating the nature of saving faith as it pertains to (intial) justification/receiving the gift of eternal life. Thus, the former’s position on the nature of faith is inconsistent with his critique of Catholicism in the article to which I referred. Hodges’ position is simply inconsistent with the biblical description of faith.

  7. Tim,

    I haven’t read the article, but I think that Turretin is using the eye as an example of instrumental causality, such that the eye is an instrumental cause of sight in a way that, say, the ear is not, although both eye and ear depend upon the (whole) body for their actual operation.

    This raises a further point: Turretin’s position implies that regenration precedes the first act of justifying faith. Hence, although God reckons faith alone as righteouness, there is actually something in man that really is righteous, namely a new, regenerate soul (filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore united to Christ, endowed with the supernatural virtues of love), to which God nevertheless does not refer in declaring the man righteous.

  8. Hi Tim! Re:#5

    You asked: what I want to know is: why is it that you think a forgiven sinner cannot feel peace if he thinks he still has the ability to reject God?

    One in that state of mind (or who embraces that understanding) can ‘feel’ peace, I’m sure you do ‘feel’ that. My point was not of feeling, but of objective state of being- do you actually have peace if God holds you in condemnation and you can then return to a state of condemned? No, not true peace- Shalom. Shalom has no weapons of war, there is not threat of war- the swords are turned into plowshares, the picture of peace given in Isaiah 2:4. The enmity that God held against you for your sins is settled in Christ Jesus when you are justified. You are going to sin, you are going to repent if you are His- if not right away, eventually, soon. But in spite of that, justification has one covered in His blood, you have His peace.

    God bless,
    Garret

  9. Hi Andrew Re #6

    Thank you for the clarifications.
    It is very clear to me that the Gerstner quote you used ( i.e. theological cart before the horse quote) is a reference to the “second”, or “progress in justification” model. We can see this is so, not only by his labeling it ‘second justification’, but because of this statement Justification is by faith, says Rome, attempting to be loyal to Scripture. Faith is the radix or root of justification according to her Council of Trent. That means that true faith leads to good works (which is a correction of the antinomian error); but, alas, the good works become the title to etemal life. This statement leads us directly into the paragraph about Jesus parable in Luke 17 (paragraph 5 from the top) and his overall point in those paragraphs regarding justification is to the ongoing application of real merit to justification in order to gain eternal life. This FITS Trent in the 6th session canon XXIV, but you intend to show Gerstner tries to tie in works prior to initial justification (or that he was not clear about it)- which to me it seems very clear that he is not writing about that at all. Yet another way he makes it clear that his concern is the works that apply towards justification in its continuing stage, is his Martin Luther example. In otherwords, I think your point here-(2) Gerstner (misleadingly) faults Catholicism for placing works before justification, is mistaken in applying it to initial justification, when that was not his intent.

    Further, regarding justification- I need to keep in mind you hold to baptismal regeneration/Justification. If that is indeed the case, then by your view it is only logical that people are constantly losing justification. However, we don’t hold to baptismal regeneration (some do, granted)- therefore we have an ‘out’ that you do not have. If as you say someone literally ‘hates’ God, not just anger, but hates God and neighbor- we would doubt that that person was ever ‘saved’ or ‘justified’ at all.
    Getting tired here, so I’ll stop for now
    God bless you Andrew

  10. If that’s all Turretin is saying then I think we can agree with him on that point per Pope Benedict’s statement last year “Martin Luther’s phrase ‘sola fide’ is correct so long as…” If justifying faith cannot be torn away from agape then we are in agreement just as only the head of the hammer strikes the nail but a hammer head alone could not actually do it. The head is necessarily attached to the rest of the tool (or else it’s not a hammer). So too justifying faith is necessarily accompanied by agape because this faith working through love has been infused into man by God’s grace although (instrumentally speaking) we are justified by faith (alone).

    But if agape is present, then simul iustus et peccator is false. And this is not how the Reformed, in my experience, describe the faith – love cooperation. Saving faith necessarily leads to agape, they say, but they usually think the initial faith can exist alone in man. God first grants man justification via faith alone (not faith along with charity – but absolutely speaking – faith alone – (e.g. Dr. R. S. Clark’s objection to Pope Benedict’s statement above) and this faith necessarily leads to agape, but the agape is not present from the beginning. So that at the exact moment of justification, we are simul iustus et peccator; that is, at the first instance, sight does come by the eye “torn from the body.” So I think Turretin is either inconsistent with Reformed soteriology or he is making a philosophical error.. or both.

  11. Andrew,

    Interesting points on Gerstner’s soteriology. I have noted the same thing before in the apparent inconsistency of the Reformed, depending on which position they are critiquing (some form of easy-believism, or Catholicism).
    An interesting example is found in the Reformed view of texts like Acts 16:31 or Romans 10:9, two verses frequently cited against the Roman Catholic position. In William Webster’s and David T. King’s Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Vol. 1., they refer in one section to Acts 16:31 (“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…”) and ask why Roman Catholics won’t accept the “obvious” meaning of the passage. I recall Dr. Eric Svendsen, another Reformed apologist, giving a long quoted description of what a Catholic must do to be saved (i.e., be baptized, receive Confirmation, go to Confession, go to Mass, do good works, etc.) and then quoting Acts 16:31 and asking if his readers could not see that these were two different gospels.

    Yet if you read A.W. Pink’s (a bona fide Reformed Baptist) “Studies in Saving Faith,” you will find that the whole tone of the book seems to be decidedly opposed to what the above three Reformed authors are saying about salvation. Why? Because Pink is chiefly addressing the book to antinomians (or so it seems). Indeed, at one point he quotes the Puritan Matthew Henry saying this:

    It is as much as the best can do to secure the salvation of their souls; there are so many sufferings, temptations, and difficulties to be overcome; so many sins to be mortified; the gate is so strait, and the way so narrow, that it is as much as the righteous can do to be saved. Let the absolute necessity of salvation balance the difficulty of it. Consider your difficulties are greatest at first; God offers His grace and help; the contest will not last long. Be but faithful to the death and God will give you the crown of life: Revelation 2:10.

    I think that if any Catholic were to say something like this to a (non-Reformed) evangelical today, he would quickly receive a quotation of Romans 10:9 and be asked to reconcile this statement with that. But when the Reformed say this sort of thing, or affirm the Westminster Confession of Faith when it says that “outside the Church there is no ordinary means of salvation,” in the context of critiquing antinomianism, it’s deemed to be alright.

    You said:

    If, on the other hand, God’s declaration of righteousness is predicated upon faith that is, in this regard, exclusive of agape, then it is difficult to understand justification in other than a nominalist manner (i.e., the predicate does not, in reality, correspond to the subject of which it is predicated).

    This seems to be pretty much the “warp and woof” of the Protestant view of justification…Protestants and Catholics do sometimes come close in their view of the formal cause of justification (as you’ve demonstrated here), but it seems to me that the real difference between the two is in whether the righteousness in which we stand before God is actually our own, or Another’s imputed to us.

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  12. Tim, I think that the presence of agape is consistent with simul iustus et peccator if (1) concupiscence remains (which it does) and (2) concupiscence is sin, in the full and literal sense of sin.

    Apart from the falsehood of (2), which falsehood is generally, perhaps systematically, embraced by Reformed theology, Turretin’s construal of the relation of faith and agape in justification is not consistent with the Catholic Faith, which has been defined such that:

    … the single formal cause [of justification] is the justice of God, not that by which He Himself is just, but that by which He makes us just, that, namely, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind,[36] and not only are we reputed but we are truly called and are just, receiving justice within us…. (Trent, 6, 7)

    This endowment of divine justice (I take it that the qualification here regarding God’s justice is intended to affirm that this justice is inherent in us, as opposed to being only external to us, not that it is merely a created justice), whereby we are “renewed in the spirit of our mind” and made/declared righteous, includes the gifts of faith, hope and agape, i.e., faith formed by love:

    For though no one can be just except he to whom the merits of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet this takes place in that justification of the sinner, when by the merit of the most holy passion, the charity of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost in the hearts[38] of those who are justified and inheres in them; whence man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity. (Trent, 6, 7)

    It is this faith, formed faith, that is reckoned to us as righteousness, precisely as formed faith (i.e., the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit). Turretin, to the contrary, insists that faith, as a means of justification, is considered (by God) without reference to its being formed by love (or without reference to the love that is at least present side by side with faith). Furthermore, we can see that, for Turretin, and unlike Gerstner, love is not part of the definition of faith anyway. Thus, Turretin is in a better position to get away with portraying justification as legal fiction, although, because of the logical priority of regeneration, there is actually something in man that could serve as a truth-maker for God’s declaration of righteousness (remember, in the justification of sinners, God is declaring someone other than Christ righteous, so Christ’s righteousness, if considered to be extrinsic, cannot be the truth-maker in the proposition, “Y is righteous”). But it might be the case that Reformed Protestantism cannot stand for any other than a nominalist form of justification, and the business of any business is to stay in business.

    To apply Turretin’s illustration to the Catholic view, I guess we would say that sight does come through the eye, reckoned as alive, which is the case (i.e., to be alive) for every seeing eye. The analogy can be extended such that, if an eye is impaired such that the person can no longer see, it is still an eye, though a dead eye. Likewise, if faith is impaired through the loss of agape such that it no longer lives, it is still faith, though it is a dead faith. The Protestant Reformed position is generally that this faith was never “true” faith. But that “never really believed” language is just a punt; it is not biblical, and the concept is invoked (ad hoc and ad nauseum) to prop up the theological system in despite of Sacred Scripture.

  13. Tom, I had the privilege of meeting both Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges in person. Both are super-intelligent and disarmingly humble men. Rare birds. Hodges died a few years ago. I think that Ryrie is still with us. Both men conducted themselves as gentlemen throughout the “Lordship Salvation” controversy. Although their position is contrary to the Catholic Faith, I honor them for their obviously Christian character.

  14. Andrew,

    Your description of the Catholic take on the justification view seems to be just what Turretin described, at least in that short quote, as the Reformed position (except that you didn’t deny love as a cooperator in justification). According to Turretin above, seeing comes only through the eye but not through a dead eye which is exactly what we say. But it is arbitrary for him to deny love (the body that gives life to the eye) as a cooperator in justification (sight).

    As I said above, the eye does not see; with the process of sight taken as a whole, the body is every bit as involved as the eye. That is why I think there is philosophical confusion on Turretin’s part that leads to his theological error. He arbitrarily denies love (the body) as a cooperator in sight because he thinks it is proper to say that the eye alone sees which it is not. If all he means is that the living eye (faith working through love) is the sole instrumental cause of initial sight (initial justification), then I don’t think he is wrong. But I’m not convinced that’s all he’s saying.

  15. Garret,

    I agree that anyone under God’s condemnation objectively does not have peace. But this in no way entails that once someone is justified, they cannot lose their salvation. If there is no logical contradiction between going from not having peace (being unjustified) to having peace (justified) then there is no logical contradiction in going from having peace to not having it anymore. Or else we cannot say that the elect ever lacked peace (even before justification) since ultimately they were going to be justified. If you disagree, then please explain your argument for why peace cannot be lost (this will require more than simply stating the Reformed position).

  16. Garrett,

    You wrote:

    … you intend to show Gerstner tries to tie in works prior to initial justification (or that he was not clear about it)- which to me it seems very clear that he is not writing about that at all. Yet another way he makes it clear that his concern is the works that apply towards justification in its continuing stage, is his Martin Luther example. In otherwords, I think your point here-(2) Gerstner (misleadingly) faults Catholicism for placing works before justification, is mistaken in applying it to initial justification, when that was not his intent.

    I made no claims about Gerstner’s intent. My claims are about his article. As to my intent (which I am in a unique position to make claims about): I intended to show that Gerstner’s account of the Catholic doctrine of justification is garbled, and that his own account of justification is inconsistent. It might be that you have a clear understanding of the distinctions that the Catholic Church makes concerning justification. It may be that Gerstner likewise had such clarity. But this clarity is not present in the article itself, which is supposed to critique the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning justification. Here is the key paragraph, describing justification according to the Catholic Church:

    Rome’s “justification” (“second justification’’) is fatally faulty. The Bible’s justification is a reckoning or imputing of the righteousness of Christ to the believer. Rome’s justification is an infusing of righteousness into the believing worker who thereby becomes righteous. It was the desperate, but futile, effort of the monk Martin Luther to achieve justification this way that led him to realize that justification is a gift from God and not an achievement of man. He realized that no one could ever achieve the justification that Romanism mistakenly taught as Christian doctrine. Rome’s most obvious error, implicit in her false doctrine of justification, is the position of the works before and not after justification. There is no “minus” before works; that is good. But there are works before justification, and that is fatally bad. Works have become the foundation of justification. How so? Justification is by faith, says Rome, attempting to be loyal to Scripture. Faith is the radix or root of justification according to her Council of Trent. That means that true faith leads to good works (which is a correction of the antinomian error); but, alas, the good works become the title to etemal life.

    Some problems here are: “Second justification” is parenthetically inserted and never defined in relation to initial justification. After this unexplained parenthesis, Gerstner goes on to talk about infusion of righteousness, which pertains to intial justification, and simply “justification,” nowhere else does he qualify the term, although such qualification is absolutely critical to the position he is criticizing. Initial justification itself is never mentioned. The claim that “Works have become the foundation of justification” suggests that someone who is not justified can be justified by works. However, according to the Catholic Church, this is not true at any stage of justification. Only a man justified freely by God’s grace can merit an increase in that justification, which merit, like the increase in justification itself, is the gift of God (Romans 6.22-23). Gerstner garbles his opponents message, and then compounds that problem by proceeding to refute what the Church does not teach, i.e., works as the foundation of justification, precisely on the basis of his own distorted presentation of the Church’s teaching. The equivalent error would be for a Catholic to critique the Protestant notion of a “positional sanctification” (equivalent to justification), but only to mention “positional” in parenthesis, never define it, and go on to speak of simply “sanctification”; i.e., “Protestants deny that the inward condition of the soul, including good deeds, has anything to do with sanctification.”

    I need to keep in mind you hold to baptismal regeneration/Justification. If that is indeed the case….

    It is indeed. In fact,

    With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

    I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

    Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.

    That is to say, I’m Catholic.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  17. Tim,

    I wrote that sight (=justification) comes through the eye (=faith), reckoned as alive. Turretin contends that sight (=justification) comes through the eye (=faith) reckoned apart from its actual life.

    My extension of the analogy, to dead eyes/dead faith needs to be tightened up, such that we affirm that even as a dead faith actually believes, with full assent, though it does not save, a dead eye still takes in light (i.e., does specifically optical stuff), though the brain is not presented with images (i.e., sees). This might get back to your earlier point about the locus of sight.

    I agree, it does seem arbitrary for Turretin to exclude infused love from justification, since the love is there, giving life to faith. But at least he does not define faith by love, so his position is somewhat more tenable than Gerstner’s.

    In any case, the bulk of my last comment, though nominally addressed to you, was just thinking out loud and not really addressed to you, in particular. Don’t want anyone to think that we preach at one another and stuff.

  18. Spencer,

    Well spotted, A.W. Pink and all.

    Re: a righteousness of our own or not: not our own in the sense of originating with us/obtainable by us/ merely natural righteousness. The righteousness that comes by faith is definitely divine righteousness. The key point is that this righteousness inheres in us, through our union with Christ, in the Holy Spirit. Ergo, God the Father, in truth, declares us to be righteous (cf. Trent 6,7).

  19. Hi Tim, Re:15

    If there is no logical contradiction between going from not having peace (being unjustified) to having peace (justified) then there is no logical contradiction in going from having peace to not having it anymore .Or else we cannot say that the elect ever lacked peace (even before justification) since ultimately they were going to be justified. If you disagree, then please explain your argument for why peace cannot be lost (this will require more than simply stating the Reformed position).

    The objective reality of God’s peace is transferred to individuals when they are saved. It’s another thing all together to say once peace is had, that it can be lost. We needn’t get stuck in a philosophical trap where “if I was saved from all eternity, then I was always saved and my decision has nothing to do with it at all” No, the Bible is clear that we do come to faith and are at that time then justified, and that satisfies me, as a finite being who at one time was not, but then I was, and now I type words.

    I agree, but this depends what you mean by peace. Your definition is typical to the world, in that because there is currently no threat of war from nation A towards nation B and vice versa, it does not follow that in the future this condition will still exist. This is the way world views peace- it is there when it is there, and thank God, but war can break out depending on changing conditions, THAT peace is subject to change.

    But then take the view of Messianic peace- ‘shalom’- that the prophets looked to- the wolf and the lamb lay together (Is. Chap 11), the swords no longer exist, they are farming tools, because they will never be used that way again (Is. 2, Joel 3)- the threat is absent and war will no longer exist at all.

    A peace grounded in God, not man, is based on a supernatural quality. The Hebrews broke the Sinaitic Covenant, but it stayed valid upon repentance (a conditional peace) of the Hebrews because it’s continuing validity was grounded in God’s promise to Abraham, not strictly grounded in the Hebrews behavior, until God Himself proclaimed that Sinaitic covenant invalid (Jer 31:31-34). The condition of the New Covenant is faith as you know, some have it, some never will, some claim to have it, yet don’t. The question on the table is- is the Holy Spirit in us able to effectively ‘keep us’ through His guidance? I think Paul is answering yes to that in Romans 8. I think also that there are many people who figure themselves justified by God who never were, and ‘fizzled out’, because the Holy Spirit was not there- a false profession. If Jesus claimed that His sheep will have eternal life, I believe Him (John 10). Yes there is a condition there, and that is a genuine, living, persevering faith, by His grace, the faith itself a grace. But the peace I was writing about comes in this way- once you do have it, you will not lose it- and that is a supernatural peace grounded in faith that is not lost. To say it is lost is to say that Christ was mistaken about His sheep, they can be snatched away, or that they can wander freely into another flock, and permanently choose another shepherd. Shepherds don’t allow that to happen- they go and get their sheep and keep their flock together. This is yet another picture of peace- the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the flock. Can His flock then just wander away, or will he strengthen them and keep them with the Holy Spirit?

    Those are my two cents,
    God bless

  20. Garret,

    Out of what you said, here’s what I affirm: we are justified by faith – those who end up in Hell do not have peace and those who end up in Heaven are at peace.

    But you haven’t adequately answered my question as to why the peace cannot be lost. You restated that it cannot be lost, which I knew you believed, and claimed that since God is all powerful, He will not allow His sheep to be lost. But that doesn’t follow. If I need to explain why it doesn’t follow, I can do that, but I think if you just re-think it you will see what I mean.

    One major assumption that you’re making is that there is no difference between a venial and a mortal sin. I know all of what you say seems very obvious to you from the Scriptures because once you are taught to read the Scriptures a certain way, and the Reformed have a fairly coherent systematic approach, then the Bible starts seeming like it speaks for itself. But does it cause you to pause for even a moment that the Church unanimously affirmed the ability to sin mortally after baptism (that is to turn away from God and reject His grace) until the Reformers? Why is it that something which seems so apparent to you from the Scriptures was unheard of for 1500 years?

  21. Tim, Re:20

    But you haven’t adequately answered my question as to why the peace cannot be lost.

    Well I’ll try this statement then- because if the peace depended on us to maintain it, it is little different than the Law. The Law couldn’t do it, as you know. It is not peace if war can break out at any minute- that is not peace. If I can destroy my salvation in the next ten minutes, that is not peace. How can Paul say you have peace with God through Jesus Christ, if I can stand up, walk outside and do something so heinous as to end that peace immediately? I should hope that the Holy Spirit would prevent me from actually doing such a thing, if I indeed have the Holy Spirit and am a child of God.

    you… claimed that since God is all powerful, He will not allow His sheep to be lost. But that doesn’t follow. If I need to explain why it doesn’t follow, I can do that, but I think if you just re-think it you will see what I mean.

    It does not follow given your theology.

    But it does follow given the direct statement of Jesus our Lord . He said –
    27″My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;

    28and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

    29″My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

    30″I and the Father are one.”

    So now please answer for me, how can I lose eternal life if I am His sheep, and know and follow Christ? It seems He excluded the possibility there. I don’t think I can loose my salvation, because having the Holy Spirit, I can’t imagine there is anything I will do in the coming years that will endanger it. I will sin, I will beg for forgiveness, I will do works that He has prepared for me, but I am already saved, according to the Bible. You will disagree, I know- you will say I just sinned for saying it as though I am bragging. It would seem John wanted you to know it confidently in 1 John though! If i have sinned, Lord please forgive me.

    As to your last paragraph, I do read and consider alternate viewpoints in an effort to understand them. I want to understand Roman Catholicism, so I read Trent, and the CCC and dialog with gents such as yourself.

    the Church unanimously affirmed the ability to sin mortally after baptism (that is to turn away from God and reject His grace)

    I believe that too- I don’t believe in baptismal regeneration. Many false professions exist, and they will walk away from their dead faith eventually.

    I seem to recall that Augustine held to a notion of eternal security. I am thoroughly convinced that Paul believed that, as did John, and hence the Holy Spirit. I am sure in my investigations I could pull up other fathers who seemed to believe it too- a universal teaching was that all who persevered in the faith are saved- questions arose as to those who did not persevere, but shrunk away during persecution.

    As to the reason why something might not be believed for years and by a majority, I would put forth several suggestions- keeping in mind I am a lay apologist, please.

    1. It was not -seen- through a ‘philosophical lens’ that had even considered the possibility, by stopping and asking the question ‘but is he teaching that we can know we are saved for sure and that cannot change?’ Especially if the answer from the Magisterium was ‘no’. Reading the Apostles writings, I do think that they taught this, so this losing salvation idea would be post-Apostolic.

    2. Knowledge of eternal security sounds wrong- overly generous- and lends itself to antinomianism. Paul answered directly to antinomianism in Romans. This does not mean it is false, it is remarkably gracious!

    3. Church control ‘over’ your destiny, direct pipeline to forgiveness via sacerdotal priesthood and indulgences. This lends itself to later church development. Eternal security sort of ‘pulls the punch’ on the effectiveness of those things there! But it is just such things as indulgences that are so anti-biblical in the concept of grace. I just can’t see Paul so worried about Jewish legalism creeping in, but then developing a complex system of distribution of grace and practices that earn merit in any way at all towards your own righteousness. I am convinced Paul taught an imputation of righteousness rather than infusion.

    Thanks Tim,
    God bless,
    Garret

  22. Garret,

    Would you mind trying to shorten the comments because it takes a lot of time to go through this. If you just want to express the Reformed viewpoint thoroughly, theres really no need. Most of us here are well educated in the Reformed position and most of our readers are pretty sharp. We should cut the fat and try to get to the heart of our disagreement.

    This isn’t crucial to the discussion but I want to point out a reasoning flaw:

    It is not peace if war can break out at any minute- that is not peace.

    On the contrary, war can only break out in time of peace. War cannot break out in time of war – because there is already war! Just as in hot can only ‘break out’ in the time of cold. What you seem to be doing is defining ‘peace’ to mean eternal security. If that’s all you mean, then I agree that eternal security can’t be lost. i.e. everyone who will ultimately go to heaven will go to heaven (have eternal security/peace). So that’s why I didn’t agree with you before (because you were using a definition of peace that is not accurate. And yes, I remember, I’m using the ‘worldly’ definition of peace.) But I don’t believe that it is impossible to lose your salvation nor have you given any reasons for us to think it is.

    you… claimed that since God is all powerful, He will not allow His sheep to be lost. But that doesn’t follow. If I need to explain why it doesn’t follow, I can do that, but I think if you just re-think it you will see what I mean.

    It does not follow given your theology.

    Garret, it does not follow at all (on its own). Again, if I need to show you why, I will – just ask.

  23. Garret,

    The reason why justification can be lost, is because justification is the establishing of a friendship between God and man. And friendships are personal and involve love. They are between persons who freely love one another. No one who does not love God is in a state of friendship with God. But God does not force people to love Him. “Force” and “love” don’t go together. That’s why rape is not love. In this life, when we do not yet enjoy the Beatific Vision, we can choose to stop loving God. We can choose to love something other than God more than God. And when we no longer love God, or love something other than God more than God, we are no longer in a state of friendship with God, and hence no longer justified. So long as we remain in friendship with God, we have peace with God. But we are not yet in heaven. Only in heaven are we confirmed in friendship with God such that we cannot lose it. Otherwise there would be no point to our remaining here in this life, once we came to faith. But this life is a test, just as God tested Abraham and Job. Our whole life is a test: will we love Him, or not. And that wouldn’t make any sense, if we had no choice in the matter. That would make this whole present life, superfluous and pointless.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  24. Everyone needs to get and read N. T. Wright’s latest book, Justification, where he refutes John Piper and the whole Calvinist position, just as E. P. Sanders did the Lutheran. In a nutshell, without spoiling your reading, and in Wright’s own words: “I didn’t write Romans 2! Paul did!” — where Paul teaches a righteous-making by good works vv.1-16 (but get the whole co-text of 1:16-2:20). So also did Our Lord Himself in one logon after another, one parable after another. See, for example, Mark 9:41, repeated by Matthew 10:42. So, Wright says, correctly, there are in Paul two righteous-makings, the first by the faithfulness (a better translation of pistis) of Christ (not as the [otherwise acceptable] RSV mistranslates “faith in Christ), and the second a righteous-proclaiming at the Parousia on the basis of good works. This probably corresponds to Sander’s “getting in” and “staying in”, yet Wright follows Paul more closely.

    For the record, Wright is an evangelical Anglican, eschews Trent (“not Biblical categories”, he says), and considers himself the truer sola scriptura than his Calvinist opponents. He doesn’t use Scripture to prop up a dogma, but explicates what Scripture really says.

    Wright’s book merits y’all’s attention also for the larger picture. Wright see two serious errors, one committed Protestants, the other by all contemporary Christians. … But I’ll keep this short and get back later.

  25. Sid,

    Thanks for the comment. People love and loath Wright for the same reason: his ardent biblicism. Both Calvinists and Catholics tend to be drawn to his work. Wright seems to be way more Calvinistic than Catholic in theology, although some of his more exegetical endeavors (such as the example you give) are helping Calvinists find their way to the Catholic Church. A dude like that has got to be an Anglican. Looking forward to your further comments.

  26. Tim Re :22
    Yes, you are right- I will keep it short, my apologies to all. In post 21 I thought I was doing nothing more than what you asked- explaining in my own words rather than regurgitating reformed theology- seems you think I did not do that. Sorry, perhaps read it again.

    Tim, I did intend to ask in post number 21 what you promised to explain to me- though it is not the topic of this post, so we can take the discussion else where if you or Andrew wants- I have a blog, just click my name, and we can start a new thread there if you wish. That would involve and alternate explanation for what Jesus meant in John 10:27-30 which I quoted there.

    God bless,
    Garret

  27. Sid
    Have you read any rebuttals of NT Wright? Are you aware that to say ‘He doesn’t use Scripture to prop up a dogma, but explicates what Scripture really says.’ is to say the same thing we ALL do?

    God bless,
    Garret

  28. Hi Bryan,
    Thanks for you comments.

    But God does not force people to love Him. “Force” and “love” don’t go together. That’s why rape is not love.
    The irony! I was just reading (theologial Armenian) Norm Geisler in the ‘Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics’ subject ‘Evil, problem of” Page 224
    Since God is love, He cannot force Himself on anyone against their will. Forced love is not love; it is rape.
    Anyway, no one is saying God forces his love on anyone, certainly not me- as you know, the correct way to put it in the reformed camp- regeneration, being ‘born again’ is a gift. You are then not dead in your sin, you have a new heart- and you gladly and joyfully of your own new self choose God, with thankfulness. Not a forcing, but a new birth.
    I used to tell people ‘life was a test’ when I was synergistic, (armenian)- I no longer agree with your view of man, prevenient grace, etc- it DOES sound natural to the ears, and I would have written a paragraph almost exactly like yours several years ago!

    God bless.
    Garret

  29. Tim Re 22 again

    A question- you admit that you are using the worlds definition of peace when I was explicitly denying the worlds definition of peace and insisting on a OT Prophets picture of peace, one that has no threat of war at all. How can we have a dialog if you are going to deny my own definition and insist on using only your own definition? Do you see the problem, that if you insist on the worldly definition, there is nothing to discuss?

    God bless,
    Garret

  30. Hi Garret,

    The “world’s definition” language is not helpful and it’s just misleading and a bit of a low blow. If you review the sentence I just wrote, you’ll notice I used the “world’s definition” for every word in that sentence. The reason for this is because we are speaking one of the world’s languages: English.

    I did not deny your definition of ‘peace’ I just noted that it’s not the definition I was using. I said you were defining ‘peace’ to mean eternal security, and if that’s what you mean then I agree that peace cannot be lost.

    Thanks for shortening the comments, I wasn’t trying to be a jerk it’s just that it can be time consuming to reply to each point. I think a better place to continue the dialogue would be in private email if you’re up for it. These comboxes have the tendency to make us each want to look smart and giving up any ground implies that we’re not all that smart or something.. So, when people are coming from two very different starting points, as you and I are, progress is rarely made here. But maybe in private we could have better luck.

  31. Tim-
    I like the email idea. I imagine you have access to it as a contributer here- or on my blog under my personal profile, just click my name here.
    Thank you,
    God bless,
    Garret

  32. […] N.T. Wright supporter named Sid over at Called to Communion responded to a post about the doctrine of justification, putting forth the new perspective on St. […]

  33. I have written the following over at St. Joseph’s Vanguard

    I thank the writer for his kind words and the posting of my remarks from Called to Communion. For the record, and with reference to the writer’s point #3, I am in fact a Catholic.

    As for using scripture to prop up a dogma, allow me to elaborate: In the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, would-be defenders of the Faith begin to rip Bible verses completely out or context, put them in a quiver, and, as the occasion presented itself, to pull them out, pull back their bow, and shoot them at the corresponding Catholic or Protestant opponents. (It did little good; the Reformation polemic broken down into a shouting match, one that Erasmus correctly predicted would soon lead to blows.)

    So even today. A good friend of mine, a Fundamentalist Baptist and Neo-Calvinist, quoted 1 Corinthians 3:15 as a proof-text for the Baptist doctrine, “once saved, saved forever”, the Baptist version of the Calvinist “Perseverance of the Saints”. (to wit: “verse 15 says that if you don’t have good works, but only bad ones, you’ll get burned up, but you’ll still be saved, because you’re saved by faith”) I did some research on this verse, to discover that Catholic proof-texters used the same verse to prove Purgatory! Both interpretations completely ignore what Paul is talking about in the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, and instead use the verse to prop up a dogma.

    I’m glad the writer has ordered Wrights Justification. It’s a reply to John Piper’s The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. It’s not necessary to read Piper first.

  34. I was unable to finish my comment #24. I’ll try again. I said that Wright sees, in his book Justification, two serious errors, one committed by Protestants, the other by all contemporary Christians. Actually Wright sees four. I’ll deal with two here.

    1. Wright following E.P. Sanders in his fine book Paul, the English Language adds to the confusion about “righteous-making” We have “just, justly, to justify, justifying and and justification”, but no noun *”justeousness”; yet we also have “right, righteous, righteously, and righteousness” but no verb *”to righteous” or “to make righteous” or a noun *”righteous-making”. Greek, Latin, and German are better.

    2. In the 20 centuries of Christian thought, the words “justification, sanctification, redemption, getting saved, and going-to-heaven” have come to be used as synonyms, different words for the same thing. But the NT, Wright says, uses the terms for different things.

    3&4 on the way.

  35. 3. Now the bigger error about which Wright notes in Justification, the error of Protestantism, error that Wright finds in Piper.

    Sola Scriptura! is the Protestant war cry, but in fact the classic Protestant use of Scripture is very, very selective. The classic Protestant says “The whole Bible is scripture, but the ‘canon within the canon’ is the NT. But not all the NT!! The canon within that canon is Paul! Paul is the Gospel! Oh, but not ALL of Paul!; only Galatians and Romans! Oh, but not all of Galatians and Romans! Only Galatians 3 and Romans 3&4! That’s the real gospel! Those texts (alone) tell truly how to get saved!” The result, says Wright, is that the rest of Paul is ignored, and the gospels are cherry-picked for pretty stories. ( To be fair, I know Catholics who’ve found their own “canon within the canon” in John 6.) Wright (and Sanders) follows Schweitzer’s discovery a century ago in his books on Paul — a discovery ignored not only by Evangelical Protestants but also by Neo-Orthodox Protestants — that Paul’s main teaching isn’t about justification at all, a topic that’s a sideline issue, subordinated, even in Galatians, to Paul’s main teaching.

    In passing: Wonderful just how long a shadow Schweitzer has cast. The New Perspectives on Paul folk are his offspring (and the offspring also of W. D. Davies).

    Also in passing: Wright holds, against most 20th C German Protestant scholarship, the Paul wrote Colossians and Ephesians, and he suspects the denial of Pauline authorship is because this scholarship doesn’t like what these two epistles have to say: with their high Christology , their high ecclesiology, the emphasis on the the sacraments, and the full elaboration of the Pascal Mystery, found in embryo in Romans 6. Wright goes on to speculate, What if, instead of Galatians and Romans, the emphasis in the 15th C had been on Colossians and Ephesians? For my money, the Reformation would not have happened.

    #4 coming soon

  36. I add to the 3rd error Wright’s observation that the Kingdom of God — the NT’s central concept — gets ignored all together my the “canon within the canon” people, both Protestant and Catholic.

  37. Hi Sid
    I haven’t read NT Wright on Justification. But I will say that point number three sounds like a parody of Protestantism and the history of how it has actually dealt with the text of the Bible regarding exegesis. There are volumes of works from multiple theologians that exegete every book of the Bible, including dealing with the hard sayings that just don’t seem to fit the theology being propounded. That is not cherry-picking, that is wrestling with uncomfortable issues, hard sayings and passages, and seeing where the truth lies.

    Also, to say Schweitzer was ‘ignored’ shows that maybe you haven’t examined the issue very carefully. The liberal German theologians were vigorously attacked, and many papers and books were written to address those issues.

    Here is a link to multiple reformed responses on the NPP issue-
    http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/New-Perspective-on-Paul/General-Essays-Critiquing-NPP/

    Happy reading- let me know what you think of some of those responses if you get the time, as I’m sure since you read Wright, you will have a unique position to do so.

    In Christ,
    Garret

  38. Now for the 4th and most profound error that Wright exposes, one that might afflict all Christians. I call it the Ptolomaic vs. Copernican views.

    Wright argues that Christian thought — popular and scholarly, Catholic and Protestant — for 500 years has the view that everything revolves around the believer, around ME, that God’s plan is all about MY redemption (“He died for ME”), MY being-made-righteous, MY sanctification, MY being saved, My going-to-heaven. In fact, Wright says, the Bible, the NT, Paul himself say emphatically that everything revolves around Him, we revolve around Him, and that my role is only a part of His Plan. His Plan Wright calls — with his regrets for the clumsiness of the phrase — “God’s-plan-through-the-faithful-Israel(Our Lord)-for-the-rescue-and-transformation-of-THE-WHOLE-WORLD. Than plan is what the Christian Gospel is about. It’s even what the OT is about. This is the chief of Wright’s rebuttals to Piper. And this means that the The Bible, the NT, Paul, and Our Lord’s own preaching and work are principally and fundamentally about eschatology.

    Schweitzer strikes again! He discovered NT’s central eschatology a century ago. About 35 years ago in a book titled Eschatology written by a university professor in Regensburg, Germany, (Ratzinger by name), the author observed that having made this discovery, that the NT in general and Our Lord’s preaching in particular was about eschatology, Schweitzer really didn’t know quite what to do with his discovery. N. T. Wright is doing something.

    Wright in passing observes that the NT doesn’t have much to say about souls going to Heaven — a few verses here and there only (though he certainly doesn’t deny the survival of the soul or Heaven). Yet the NT has much indeed to say about what’s commonly called “The End of the World”, but what ought to be called “The Ultimate Rescue of the World” (my words).

    So, with respect to the topic of this blog, being-made-righteous is only a corollary, not the central part, of the gospel. And being-made-righteous must be understood first within the larger picture. Y’all read Wright’s Justification.

  39. Garrett,

    To call Schweitzer “liberal” is incorrect. The man’s spent his theological career attaching liberalism, particularly and pointedly the liberalism of Reimarus, Paul Renan, Albrecht Ritschl, Ernst Troeltsch, Wrede, von Harnack, and the man behind them all, the man who cost Nietzsche and Feuerbach their faith: David Strauß. Doubtless Schweitzer would have abhorred John A. T. Robinson, Hans Küng, and John Shelby Spong. Wright himself is a sharp critic of Liberalism.

    I thank you for your list of rebuttals. Tell me which ones refer and rebut directly N. T. Wright’s Justification.

  40. Hi Sid
    Try near the top the Cornelius P Venema link to 17 articles. The first is meant to be a thorough outline- you can confirm that to be true, and see whether he has an accurate portrayal or not. Then file through those to get a sense of rebuttals to the thesis. I seem to recall the bottom 5 articles or so start to get to the meat.

    By the way your first major paragraph in #38 betrays a lack of understanding of the Reformed position. Soli deo Gloria (wikipedia “the 5 solas of the reformation”). You are portraying a later and modern perversion of protestantism which tends to focus on man, and THEY see the gospel as you portrayed- MY salvation ME- ME- ME. Songs like “open the eyes of MY heart Lord, etc. The focus on man. As you rightly point out- Paul was constantly and always giving thanks to God.
    Thanks you
    In Christ,
    Garret

  41. Sid,

    It can seem a somewhat cramped thing to read Sacred Scripture through the lens of later controversies, e.g., imputation alone versus infusion and imputation. The thing is, these controversies do crop up, and that leaves us with the question of how Scripture applies, if at all. The question of whether or not a man who is justified is thereby cleansed from his sins and given a new heart, or not, is far from an arbitrary question, and cannot be elided by any appeal over the heads of the disputants to the bare text of Scripture, taken apart from that Tradition, and its history, wherein these conflicts occur and dogma is developed. From an ecclesial standpoint, that is, for someone whose stake in Christ is not planted outside the Church, Wright’s biblicism, while often illuminating, is simply too limited.

    Wright is attempting to draw doctrinal conclusions on the basis of private interpretation, and as a Protestant, he is subject to no authority whatsoever by which to check the veracity of his interpretive opinions. Wright’s opinions concerning the meaning of the Bible are fascinating, and sometimes helpful, but they need to be integrated into the bigger picture, the deeper insight, of the total life of the Church, which is what we mean by Tradition. In her Tradition, the Church explores the meaning of Sacred Scripture and discovers aspects of that meaning that elude mere critical scholarship (Wright’s bread and butter).

    Furthermore, Wright’s own philosophical presuppositions (see the first section of NT and the People of God) lead him down an interpretive path that is bound to preclude some of these ecclesial insights, even were they generally available to private interpretation. Thus, for example, his description of the Council of Trent as subscribing to an “unhelpful ontology” is based as much upon of his own (helpful? true?) philosophy as his exegetical findings. The ontological question: “What happens to the individual in justification?” (and we can add, “What happens to the eucharistic elements at the consecration?” etc.) is not only exegetically non-arbitrary, in the sense that the text of Scripture easily lends itself to this sort of question, it is all but unavoidable, in the sense that the mind hungers for being, to know (by some means) what is.

    What Wright gives us is a story, that is, a really interesting reading of a story, with some important applications, some relevant insights re some really important doctrinal questions, and perhaps some new questions. What he does not give us is some sort of substitute for the questions that have already been asked, nor for the dogmatic answers that have been given. Those answers (found in, e.g., the rule of prayer, the interpretations of the Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils), since they are true, can usefully be applied to the text of Sacred Scripture in order to better understand its truth. This is, at least in part, what we mean by reading the Bible with the Church. We can read the Bible with Wright too, but it is as well to be fully aware of the nature, and inherent limitations, of his interpretive methodology (critical) his philosophy (critical realism) and his creed (sola scriptura), and the impact that these inevitably have on his conclusions.

  42. Andrew
    If I may butt in with a comment on #41.

    The Roman Catholic ‘private interpretation’ stance is anti-intellectual. Everyone interprets spoken words and written words- the nature of language is communication from one mind to the next. The same methods we use to read everyday things can have application to the Bible. You folks PLEASE need to stop being selectively skeptical on the ability of language to actually communicate a particular intended message- and that we can understand it, oftentimes with much effort, and through diligent study. There is such a thing as legitimate Biblical theological discourse outside of the walls of Vatican City.

    The psuedo-gnostic notion of your Church holding a mysterious Tradition that somehow gives you the magical power to avoid private interpretation is laughable. It does not fit the history of your Church at all. There are many passages and verses that are not dogmatically defined inside of the Roman Church, and many ‘interpretations’ that are accepted. Recently Tim Staples said this about Matthew 5:32. (Very short audio clip) http://tquid.sharpens.org/staples_infallible_1.mp3
    I wonder how many thinking people get into your Church, see the theological ignorance that is just as prevalent in Protestant churches, and tell themselves gee- people are just people. People tend to be disobedient, careless, disinterested, doing what they want and ‘confessing’ it later etc. I know this to be true because I know many Protestants and Catholics that couldn’t spell out what their Church believes on X and why- if their lives depended on it. This is how I know that in good conscience you shouldn’t continue the ‘private interpretation’ non-sense. You know in your hearts that the real issue is that many simply ignore the plain commands and teachings of the Bible- because they want to do what they feel like, and God will ‘understand’. Disobedience, plain and simple.

    In Christ,
    Garret

  43. Hello again Garrett. You seem pretty angry. Anger often makes one hasty, and haste leads to misapprehension of claims and arguments, among other things.

    My comments about the relation between scientific exegesis (critical scholarship) and Holy Tradition do not imply any necessary antagonism between the two. In fact, I explicitly said that we can read the Bible in both ways, with the Church and critically. So, I am not sure how the charge of “anti-intellectualism” applies. The goal of the intellect is to apprehend truth. If we can apprehend more of the truth of Sacred Scripture through faithful recourse to Tradition, then it seems that the hermeneutic which I am advocating is perhaps more conducive to the life of the intellect than otherwise.

    As I indicated, Tradition is the truth of divine revelation as experienced in the total life of the Church. It is the divine transmission of the economy of salvation to, in and through the Church (to borrow some phrases from Yves Congar). This might sound magical to you, but I would ask you to remember that the Church is the Body of Christ, and is animated by the Holy Spirit, being constituted the pillar and foundation of truth. You can call that magic, or deep magic or deeper magic if you like, but like Galadriel I must say that I am not sure what you mean by the term.

    As far as the confines of “legitimate biblical and theological discourse,” if you are referring to scholarly examination of the ancient texts, than, yes, I agree: there are scholars living and working outside Vatican City. If you are referring to biblical and theological discourse in that more profound sense of reading the Bible with the Church, i.e., in harmony with, and guided by, Holy Tradition, then I would once more agree: there are people, scholars or otherwise, doing this all around the world.

    Of course the Church does not issue a definitive interpretation of every text of Scripture. It is strange that you would point this out. This is the thread running through my last comment. In fact, I described what it means to read Scripture with the Church (i.e., in the context of Tradition) as follows:

    Those answers (found in, e.g., the rule of prayer, the interpretations of the Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils), since they are true, can usefully be applied to the text of Sacred Scripture in order to better understand its truth. This is, at least in part, what we mean by reading the Bible with the Church.

    Tradition acts as an authoritative interpretive guideline, not an exhaustive source of exegetical answers. In fact, Catholics believe that the meaning of Sacred Scripture, since Scripture is the word of God, is inexhaustible. That is one of the reasons why the Church continues to read it, over and over and over in the Mass, the Breviary and other settings, to great profit. Catholics do in fact believe that individuals can read and understand the words of Scripture. We just like to point out the facts that (1) individual interpreters do make errors (i.e., wrongly divide the word of God), (2) the word of God is so profound, teeming with meaning and significance, that the individual must have recourse to the mystical Body in order to more fully (though never completely) explore its depths, and (3) in the event of serious confusion or dispute over the right interpretation of the word of God, the apostolic kerygma is not reduced to the uncertain note of scholarly opinions; the Church can, through the objective channels of her teaching office, issue a definitive and irreformable doctrinal decision.

    Individual interpretation, i.e., interpretation of Sacred Scripture by individuals, is not quite the same thing as “private interpretation.” The latter involves the closely related errors of elevating oneself as an interpretive authority higher than the Church and reading the Bible out of the context of the life of the Church, i.e., apart from Holy Tradition. Exegetes do have an important role in the transmission of the deposit of Faith and in the Church’s developing understanding of that Faith. The Church constantly consults scholars, though her final decisions are not finally predicated upon the wisdom of man.

    Finally, I agree that many people do ignore the plain (and the not plain) teachings and commands of the Bible. Such people include biblical scholars and really smart theologians, and myself, whenever I disobey.

  44. Andrew,with respect to #41
    I agree, with some nuances. Something perhaps to discuss Friday at L&L.

  45. Yes indeed, Sid. I have in mind a discussion more than a presentation of material (though we can get into some of the relevant encyclicals). Specifically, I want to hear how my fellow Catholics read the Bible, and why, and (for converts) in what ways (if any) reading the Bible is different for you after conversion. We can get into some particulars on Wright and justification, for their own sake and because this illustrates the topic.

    Any CTC readers in the Charlotte, NC area are welcome to join us, just follow this link for information.

  46. HI Andrew,

    I’m sorry if I seemed angry, I certainly was not. I regret if I came off that way, and reading my reply again, I see how you could pick up a sense of anger. You did a fine job there of defining what you mean by Tradition.

    the Church can, through the objective channels of her teaching office, issue a definitive and irreformable doctrinal decision.

    Which, if the Reformers were correct on the nature of Justification (as I believe), the Council at Trent locked in error, which error cannot be corrected, not if the Churches claims are to remain coherent. Naturally, this idea makes the notion of an infallible teaching office potentially dangerous, as you place your trust in less than 60 men of that Council. Those men could have been motivated either by the Holy Spirit (your claim) or theological pride and duty to the popes need to counteract the Reformation. You cannot infallibly know which of these options are true, you have to trust it in the same way I trust Scripture, by faith. Either way, you cannot get rid of the middle man making the decision by faith- fallible you. The notion that fallible men can proclaim themselves infallible for doctrine X, with no option for correction is a huge claim. For instance- Prophets were proven or disproven by whether their prophesies came true or not. But these Prelates were not prophets. There is no such confirming mechanism with these councils- only the bare proclamation of infallibility.

    Enough of my rambling- God bless,
    Garret

  47. Garret,

    No sweat on the angry-sounding stuff. Assuming that we have moved beyond charges of anti-intellectualism, selective skepticism, etc., let me quickly address the new issue you have now raised. As you point out, the putative infallibility of the Church does not yield the individual believer infallible. But it is precisely the gift of ecclesial infallibility that makes it possible to be a believer, in the sense of “making the decision of faith” that one interpretation of Scripture is true, and its contradiction false. Scientific exegesis, i.e., the interpretive opinions of fallible men, cannot command the assent of faith. This is why all Protestant doctrines are merely opinions, and anyone who puts his faith in these opinions has loaded them with more than they can bear, like trying to put 10 gallons in a 5 gallon bucket. The “bare proclamation of infallibility,” on the other hand, makes room for the assent of faith, and rewards that assent with the assurance of sound doctrine.

    This is the other half of the good of the Magisterium re the intellect: not only are we led into more truth (which is what I was emphasizing earlier), we have a basis for assenting to that truth with the obedience of faith.

    [Last thing: the “confirming mechanism” of the teachings of the Magisterium is Apostolic Succession, which is grounded in Our Lord’s institution of, and promises to, the apostolic college. “I am with you always, even to the ending of the age.”]

  48. Hi Andrew.
    Sounds nice, but it rings hollow. We are so far apart on so many things here, it is hard to know where to start. For one, there are many foundational ideas about God and what He does, how He works in man, and how He reveals Himself clearly in Scripture- that we don’t see eye to eye on. I will return in a few days to tackle some of the things you have put forth here- I’m pressed at work until Friday, and just wanted to acknowledge I got your reply. I will also try not to repeat myself too much here.
    God bless you Andrew!
    Garret

  49. Garret,

    Don’t feel like we have to hash out all our differences in this combox. Some of the things you allude to have been addressed in other articles on this website, and many others will follow. As for sounding good but ringing hollow, I trust that you are not referring to the quote at the end of my last comment.

    One of the things you might consider responding to, though I think you have already alluded to this, is John Gerstner’s claim that works are part of the definition of living faith. Do you think that is true? If not, what is the difference between living faith and dead faith?

  50. Hi Andrew re 49

    As for sounding good but ringing hollow, I trust that you are not referring to the quote at the end of my last comment.

    NOTE: I am not angry, but I am going to cut to the point.
    I reject as absurd your apostolic succession, you hold it with confidence only by making excuses for the many evil, ungodly men that populate that list, especially through the middle ages. A favorite term to throw around on CtC is ad hoc so let’s see where the RC makes ad hoc statements, a partial list. To point out the promise that Christ is with us until the end of the age, and take that to mean the Roman Catholic Church is ad hoc. To say that you can assent to faith fully and completely only through the Roman Catholic Church is ad hoc. To say the interpretive opinions of fallible men cannot properly understand Scripture, but rather you need an infallible interpreter (RCC) to do so is ad hoc. To fail to recognize that you do not need an infallible interpreter to read this comment and understand it, but that you do need one for Scripture, is to betray common sense logic in favor of obfuscation. The sole purpose of this obfuscation is to drive one into the arms of Rome, which afterall, does not deliver that infallible interpreter to your needs, but rather to it’s own ad hoc needs. For instance, why raise the objection that the ‘Church interprets the Church’ if it was clearly following what it had taught before? No, the ad hoc concept of infallible interpreter saves the paradigm and allows the Church to make changes as it sees fit.

    This blog confirms that I am a Protestant for good reason, the reasons that God Himself called out a people who will be true to His word, and reject the traditions of men- the Roman Catholic Church. I have read several of the articles here- every one of them that I have read has many errors based largely on false assumptions. You falsely assume inconsistency in Gerstners theology in spite of clear statements in the text in question which show and heavily imply he is writing about ongoing ‘justification’ in RC theology. I have addressed Tom Brown on my blog in regards to ‘the Canon Question.’ TurretinFan, on his blog, totally deflated solo/sola Scriptura by Bryan Cross, showing the big picture idea and the small details of that idea are false.

    In Christ,
    Garret

  51. Hi Andrew #42

    is John Gerstner’s claim that works are part of the definition of living faith. Do you think that is true? If not, what is the difference between living faith and dead faith?

    Yes, because that is Biblical. The overall theme of the Epistle of James addresses that concept of living faith with works. Paul as well in many places.
    God bless,
    Garret

  52. Well, Garret, I’ll just assume that the appearance of petulance is in reality something else. However, I can judge for myself about the non-appearance of evidence or arguments in your comment # 50, which is a series of bald assertions, laced with charges of absurdity and obfuscation, and, lest we forget, numerous “ad hocs.”

    For now, I will be content to respond to just the following accusations:

    You falsely assume inconsistency in Gerstners theology in spite of clear statements in the text in question which show and heavily imply he is writing about ongoing ‘justification’ in RC theology.

    Actually, the charge of inconsistency in Gerstner’s theology pertains to his definition of faith coupled with his denial that works precede justification. Gerstner’s presentation of the Catholic doctrine of justification is susceptible to the charge of being unclear, and therefore misleading. I explained this in comment #16.

    I have read several of the articles here- every one of them that I have read has many errors based largely on false assumptions.

    I am glad to hear that you are reading the articles, and even interacting with Tom’s excellent article on the canon. That is one of the goals of Called to Communion–helping Catholics and Protestants come together in order to carefully make and evaluate arguments, in the spirit of charity, seeking unity in truth.

    It might be helpful if you shared, preferably in the comment boxes of the respective articles, what errors and false assumptions that you have discovered there, together with the evidence and logical reflection that led you to discover these things.

  53. Garret,

    I second Andrew’s request to show us the errors you mention. So far, you haven’t shown us any errors.

  54. Hi Andrew and Tim (sorry- this is long)

    Andrew said Actually, the charge of inconsistency in Gerstner’s theology pertains to his definition of faith coupled with his denial that works precede justification. Gerstner’s presentation of the Catholic doctrine of justification is susceptible to the charge of being unclear, and therefore misleading. I explained this in comment #16.

    I will grant that the Gerstner article could have been clearer- its target audience was Protestant laypersons. I had argued in #9 that the article was sufficient in coming to a proper placing of Gerstners Roman Catholic justification as that of ‘ongoing justification’ NOT initial justification- and that the paragraphs themselves describe what can only be properly understood as ongoing, NOT initial justification. It is your insistence that Gerstner means initial justification that is confusing the issue. By forcing him to mean only initial justification, you then can portray him as a man who does not understand the RC position. But when you take his descriptions as that of ongoing, and not initial justification, the clouds open up, the sun shines through, and we can see he is not so confused afterall.

    Many of your objections in number 16 relate to the refusal to see merits as works, and that Gerstner is calling merits ‘works’ that bring actual results (increase in grace) in justification. One has to understand what Gerstner means by what he says, and that he draws on the implications of RC theology without using RC terminology- appropriate to his target audience, Protestant laypersons. This is very common in writing articles to Protestant laypersons who are unfamiliar with RC terminology. Cutting through unfamiliar RC terminology to instead use common terms that draw on the actual implications of the doctrines is valid as far as it goes. Frequently, if you don’t use the exact terminology in the inter-faith discussions, you are painted as an ignoramus who needs to go away and study before you speak. So I did that and continue to do it, and then realized the RCC teaches what I said they teach in the first place, only, I didn’t (and still don’t fully) ‘know the lingo’.
    REGARDING OTHER ARTICLES I MENTIONED
    Click my name for my response to Tom Brown- I give my reasons there.

    TurretinFans deflating of solo/sola Scriptura is found here, in convenient index form #’s 2-6 apply to the article in question -http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2010/02/bryan-cross-index-page.html

    God bless you all,
    Garret

  55. Garret,

    I am glad that you agree that Gerstner’s article features a lack of clarity. That is my point. However, I have not insisted, nor even once written, that Gerstner “means initial justification.” Quite the contrary: I have insisted that he omits an explicit account of initial justification, or of how progressive justification is related to it, or that there is such a relation. This is the problem. When a writer sets out to describe and critique the Catholic view of justification, he should not describe only one part of that view, omitting others, unless he specifically tells his readers that he is only critiquing one part of that view, and not the whole thing. A parenthetical insertion partway into the article does not suffice for notice that one intends an incomplete appraisal. But I do not think that Gerstner intended to be incomplete. He merely intended to be concise. The confusion, I am sure, was unintentional.

    You go on to write:

    One has to understand what Gerstner means by what he says, and that he draws on the implications of RC theology without using RC terminology- appropriate to his target audience, Protestant laypersons.

    One does have to understand what a writer means by what he says. Quite. A writer, especially in a teaching context, also has to say what he means. And he has to say it in such a way that his words clearly represent what he is talking about. Otherwise, the result is confusion. It is no good using familiar terms if the result is an inadequate description of the subject.

    Frequently, if you don’t use the exact terminology in the inter-faith discussions, you are painted as an ignoramus who needs to go away and study before you speak. So I did that and continue to do it, and then realized the RCC teaches what I said they teach in the first place, only, I didn’t (and still don’t fully) ‘know the lingo’.

    Actually, ignorance of the terminology that a group uses to describe its position does reflect a degree of ignorance of that group’s position. The Church uses particular words for a reason. The thing to do is to learn what the Catholic Church teaches, which obviously includes the words she uses and the meaning of those words. Then, if one wants to tell someone else what the Catholic Church teaches, he will have the advantage of being able to (1) use the words the Church actually uses, and (2) explain, to the beginner, what those words actually mean. The approach that you seem to be advocating sounds a lot like the interpretive fallacy of eisegesis coupled with the rhetorical strategy of putting words into someone else’s mouth. But that is not the same thing as understanding.

    Regarding the other articles you mentioned:

    I am glad that you have read Tom’s canon article. You might better engage the audience here by making a few points in the combox of that article. Of course, one cannot cover a lot of ground in a comment, but one can join the conversation, and see where that goes.

    This is the second time you have asserted the deflationary character of Turretinfan’s posts vis-a-vis Bryan and Neal’s solo/sola article. I remember reading those posts. Allow me to assert in turn: the original article is holding steady. If you would like to discuss particulars, we can do so in the combox under that article.

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