Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Future of Justification

For those keeping tabs, this is Part 2, following on from my earlier post, "The Battle for the Soul of Evangelicalism".

I'm going to devote a post to each book in turn, Piper's first, then Wright's. Be aware I'm still thinking through a lot of this material, so if thoughts and impressions noted here are half-formed or could use a bit of nuance, that is why.

The first thing to be noted about Piper's book is that, like Wright, he is respectful from the get-go. This is the case even to the extent that it appears Piper sent drafts of his book to Wright for critique to make sure he had not misread or misunderstood where Wright is coming from. That, to say the least, is good form.

Piper, from the outset, lists the disagreements he has with Wright's theology and then tackles them in turn. I won't list these exhaustively, but will note the standouts.

1) For starters, he addresses Wright's cosmic theology- that the gospel is not a soteriology but an announcement that Jesus is now Lord of all things. Piper doesn't disagree that this is true, but is gravely concerned at the theological and biblical (and practical) implications of denying that the gospel is a message about how to get saved. His argument boils down to: gospel means good news; if you tell me that Jesus is now Lord of the universe and I understand what that means, I will fear for my life and soul because I, being a sinner, have no place in that universe; for a sinner, news like this is emphatically bad news until you tell him how to get saved.

Reading that particular chapter I had the peculiar experience of first sympathising and then becoming increasingly distressed the clearer the point became. One may be sympathetic when one reads lines like, "Not until the gospel preacher tells the listener what Jesus offers him personally and freely does this proclamation have the quality of good news." (p86). But then the language becomes progressively creepier- "The good news was not that Jesus died and was raised- that was emphatically bad news at this moment! What turned that bad news of death and resurrection into good news was the teaching- the doctrine- that by faith alone this life and death of Jesus could be the ground of the justification of the ungodly, not condemnation. "(p87-8)- and creepier - "..the sinner will say, 'What good is that for me? How can that help me or any sinner?' If the gospel has no answer for this sinner, the mere facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus are not good news. But if the gospel has an answer, it would have to be a message about how the rebel against God can be saved." (p89)

It seemed to me a disturbingly utilitarian view of the gospel and I couldn't help thinking: if I were one of the disciples on Easter Sunday, having come face to face with the Risen Christ, "What good is that for me?" doesn't quite seem the right thing to ask. I was somewhat gratified to find I was not alone in having this reaction. Wright addresses it himself in his book (which I will treat in detail in my next post on this topic), analogising it to two men who are both agreed on the brilliance of the sun relative to the earth, but one of whom believes the earth goes around the sun while the other believes the sun goes around the earth. An apt metaphor. There is a serious problem if, in my mind, the gospel is all about me. There is a perilous and subtle error here. Where the gospel comes to release me from sin and hell (which is precisely the self turned in upon itself) it will have the effect of opening me to God, not confirming me in my egoism. If I believe that I am so important that God Himself revolves around me and that all of salvation history has been leading up to that glorious moment that is my conversion, my soul is in serious danger. If the Paschal Mystery is not at the centre of my faith, Heaven help me! As Lewis says somewhere, if the Christian looks at himself honestly he will see a small and wretched creature, but it is far better not to look at oneself at all. Fix your eyes upon the Crucified and Risen Jesus. Therein lies joy and salvation.
There is another danger here, I think. Wright identifies it as the belief that we are justified by believing in justification. I think most Protestants would rightly decry such an idea, and I do not believe that all, or even most, fall into that error. But there are some who do. And there are others who come close to it. I would say Piper falls into the latter category. Rightly, he declares that we are saved by trusting in Jesus, not trusting in our own beliefs about Jesus. Nonetheless, dangers lurk. Notice how Piper sees the proclamation of the gospel in the quotations above. To proclaim the facts of the Paschal Mystery is not sufficient. The sinner also needs to be told "how the rebel against God can be saved."; the good news of Christ's death and resurrection is bad news until you are told "the teaching- the doctrine". Only then does it become good news. This is perilously close to saying that the it is not the central events of Christianity themselves that save us but rather ideas about them. The good news stands in danger of becoming the good technique- not news or a proclamation but a how-to. The full extent of this is demonstrated in a later footnote- "'If you believe, then such and such will be true of you,' is how the gospel speaks to unbelievers." (p99) If that is the essence of how you preach the gospel, then you are not bearing witness to Christ crucified and risen, but rather indulging in a peculiarly Christian form of self-help- 'do this and your life will be better'.

2) Another major problem for Piper is imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ. Wright doesn't believe in this at all (contra Luther, Calvin and any Protestant theologian worth his salt), regarding it as a simple category mistake based on a misreading of Paul. Piper goes to work on this, exegeting a number of appropriate texts to support the classical Protestant interpretation of them. His best work here is on 2 Corinthians 5:21, a very close and convincing piece of exegesis in which he builds a very solid argument based on the parallelism between the two parts of the verse, arguing that since Christ is sinless and yet is said to have been "made sin", likewise we, though being sinners, are said to have "become the righteousness of God" in the same way i.e. without affecting or changing our ontological reality. There is more to be said about this verse, and I have a good mind to devote at some point a post to that verse a lone and the different interpretations I have seen of it in various quarters (I can think of at least three quite different readings I have seen of it). Piper in some places seems to say or imply that 'sinner' will remain our ontological reality even after the Parousia. But I'm not sure this is what he means. In other places, he pulls Wright up for merging "the imputation of a new position with the impartation of a new nature." (p126) What would have been helpful in this regard is a discussion of the relationship between justification and sanctification, as Piper sees them. As it is, he doesn't mention sanctification at all, i.e. the ongoing work of the Spirit in the believer to conform him to the image of Christ, not just nominally but truly. This is something I would like to hear Piper clarify (it is possible he does this in other books he has written- I will be keeping my eye out for such treatments). Regarding imputation, I'm not convinced there is as much difference between Piper and Wright as at first appears. Both see righteousness as a status that is given by God, rather than an ontological reality, but whereas Piper sees this as the morally upstanding and Torah-obeying life of Christ being regarded as ours, Wright sees that righteousness as being a covenantal vindication, a declaration that one is indeed a member of the Covenant People of God and an indication that one will be among the elect on the last day. Wright's main beef (and consequently Piper's beef with his beef) lies in whether this righteousness is God's own counted as ours or whether it is not His own but a status, as it were, freshly created, counted as ours.

The real dispute here, I think, is how to regard salvation. Wright comes at it from a very participationist view. We are justified by being in Christ. Since we are in Christ, what is His is also ours. Since we are in Christ, the Spirit of Christ is in us and works to perfect that participation by making us like Him. This naturally leads to synergism, where the good works we do are done both by us and by Him, not as a supplement (I do what I can and He does the rest) but by a paradoxical dual totality (everything I do I do with all the effort and energy I can muster, but in the end everything I have done has been done by Him and I can regard none of it as my own). Piper decries synergism, smelling about it a gospel of works and Pelagianism, but on more than one occasion I got the impression that he didn't quite get the paradox. So when Wright says that we will be judged on the basis of the totality of our life (which, personally, I don't think is sufficiently nuanced as it doesn't leave room for things like deathbed conversions), Piper springs into action to defend the doctrine of grace alone, seemingly under the impression that Wright has denied it. Witness, for example, this passage: "It is unclear whether Wright is merging our imputed position in Christ as vindicated before God with an imparted newness of nature that lives by faith. I don't think Wright would even like this distinction, since both are totally gracious gifts of God."[italics mine] (p127). Piper is probably right that Wright would dislike the distinction he makes, but I think the reason he gives is telling. He seems to think Wright would dislike the distinction because it would mean that God's grace does everything and leaves nothing for me to do; in other words, because the distinction assumes sola gratia. I believe this is both a misunderstanding of Wright's theology and also a symptom of a certain tonedeafness on Piper's part. Actually, it reminds me of nothing so much as the difficulty of explaining the hypostatic union to a Jehovah's Witness: "Look, you can see from these verses that Jesus was a man." "Yes, I agree with that." "So you see he cannot be God as you claim." "Well, no, he is God." "But as you can see the Bible shows that he is a man like any other." "Yes, he is a man like any other but he is also God." "Do you believe that Jesus was a man?" "Yes, I do." "So therefore he can't be God." "No, he can be God. He is God and man at the same time. He is both." "But the Bible says..." and so on and on.

This seems to be a similar blindness to paradox. "Do you believe that you are justified by works?" "Yes. Have you read Romans 2?" "So you deny the gospel of grace?" "No, there is nothing I can do to be saved. God's grace through Christ alone can save." "Then you admit that your life will be irrelevant at the judgement?" "No, I will be judged on the basis of the life I've lived in the Spirit." "So you believe you need to do something to be saved?" "No, it is the Spirit who works in me." "Do you believe what the Bible teaches, that God does everything and you contribute nothing to your salvation?" "Well, I do believe that God does everything but I also believe that I do do something towards my salvation." "But if you do something, then that something is something God doesn't do." "No, God does it and I do it." "That doesn't make any sense. Do you do it or does God do it?" "We both do it." "So you believe you contribute something to your salvation?" "Yes, the life I live in the Spirit." "So you think you need to add something to the grace of God!" and so on. Frustrating.

The need for a clarification on what Piper believes about sanctification becomes more acute later in the book. He says things like, "Whether this right standing with God consists in the imputation of righteousness from beginning to end or consists partly in the impartation of righteousness is a crucial and necessary question." (p182) To which I reply, why partly? Can it not be a total imputation AND a total impartation? Or do we remain partially sinners to the end? Elsewhere, Piper quotes Charles Hodge sympathetically: "Christ bearing our sins did not make Him morally a sinner...nor does Christ's righteousness become subjectively ours, it is not the moral quality of our souls..." pp179-180) A statement like that cries out for a statement about sanctification and the action of the Holy Spirit to balance it. But nothing is said about either. Further on, Piper quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in an effort to demonstrate how close Wright's ideas are to the Church's and therefore why he should be opposed: "God's final verdict of justification is based on the Christian's inherent righteousness , acquired by grace..." Does this mean that Piper believes that the Christian is never intrinsically righteous, but only ever nominally?! Hence the need for clarification.

Getting back to imputed righteousness, one question I would like to see Piper (or for that matter, any Calvinist) answer is, if we are in Christ (and Piper accepts that idea, even if he is uncomfortable with some of the implications Wright, or for that matter the Catholic Church, draws from it), then how can His righteousness be 'alien'?

3) Connected with these points is what is, I think, a common Protestant mistake, which is to get faith and grace confused. I can't count the number of sermons I've heard where the preacher has spoken of sola fide where actually what he meant was sola gratia. So when Wright denies sola fide (at least in the narrow sense that Piper wants him to adhere to), invariably Piper ends by accusing him of denying sola gratia. An example: "What then, in Wright's system, does this description of works as 'signs' point to? Clearly, it points to the fact that union with Christ by faith secures a vindication for us that we have only because of union with Christ, not because of our merit or 'self-help moralism'. But what is less clear is whether it points also to a Spirit-wrought transformation 'in Christ' that also functions coordinately with the death and resurrection of Christ as the ground or basis of our final vindication." (p127) Note what has happened here. Wright has been claiming that Spirit-wrought transformation works coordinately with faith, both of which have as their basis the grace won by Christ through the Paschal Mystery. Piper subtly replaces faith with the Paschal Mystery, making it look like Wright is trying to add to the work of Christ. I don't put this down to any disingenuousness on Piper's part. I think Protestants in general have a habit of getting grace and faith mixed up, treating them as though they were the same thing when in fact they are not.

Now, more positive points.

4) Wright goes to great lengths to demonstrate that first-century Judaism was not Pelagian, was not about earning salvation through works of the law, but was rather built on a doctrine of grace based on God's election of them as a chosen people. Piper, in a very well-argued chapter, demonstrates that, whether or not they believed they could earn their salvation, they could still be guilty of what he calls a 'soft legalism' deriving from their consciousness of the covenant and election, thereby leading to self-righteousness. So, whether, as Wright says, the Torah provided a distinction between them and the Gentiles, a badge of covenant membership or whether, as the Reformers (and Piper?) said, it was a kind of Pelagian instrument designed to merit salvation; in either case, it led to self-righteousness so the different perspectives here are a moot point. In his own book, Wright acknowledges the validity of Piper's argument on this point.

5) Piper criticises Wright's definition of God's "righteousness" in Paul as His faithfulness to the covenant. He says that this is one of the things God's righteousness does, but not what it is in its essence. Wright, in his book, says things which, I'm pretty sure, amount in the realm of ideas to more or less the same thing. So I think this is also a moot point.

That will do for the moment, I think.


Kiran said...

Thank you. This does clarify what you were talking about last Sunday...

1) Yeah. I think this is all connected with the whole "once for all" thing in both creation and redemption. Effectively, what is behind it is a distancing of God from his creation, i.e. to emphasize his transcendence at the expense of his immanence. So, Jesus's resurrection becomes bad news, unless it is later related to me. Whereas, I think part of the point of the Mass is that it emphasizes the point that Jesus (the whole Jesus) is immediately present to his people at every point in time, and "physicalizes" this(at the risk of using language offensive to protestant ears).

Piper himself sounds a little Pelagnian, at least if he is fairly represented as tending toward saying that we are justified by believing in justification. I have thought this for a while about certain strains in protestantism

2) I don't know if you are misrepresenting Luther here. What would someone like Pastor Weedon or David Schutz say to this?

I like the analogy of grace as like being led by a partner in a dance. Everything is mutual.

We are not justified by works. We are justified by God. There is that lovely prayer of St. Augustine's: "Da Quod Jubes et jube quod vis." It is God who grants what he commands, and he commands what he will.

I think the connection between nominalism and protestantism is quite deep.

3) Now this whole adding to the works of Christ thing. This is exactly the whole reformation debate over the Mass (and creation) summarized. How can anyone add to the works of God? How can anyone who is not theologically naive even say that?

5) Now, I think Wright as you have represented him is being a tad voluntaristic here (just a tad, because I don't see him make the denial which would turn his position into voluntarism: the denial of objective right and wrong, and indeed some of his other arguments would militate against it).

Kiran said...

I should have said it is God who moves the will to work, but, as in Augustine (to fulfill part of your request), this means that because God is acting, because God foreknows, and because God is infallible and inerrant and faithful, we are truly free.

GAB said...

The difficulty with justification and sanctification is that one must go behind the words to work out what is meant much of the time. As an Evangelical, I believed (along with a good many others) that the Redemption does two things. Justification is an imputation, a status, whereby God regards us as morally righteous because of Christ's sacrifice. That happens once at conversion. Sanctification is a process whereby one is actually made righteous, again by grace through the sacrifice of Christ. So there are two things going on (interestingly, I believed in Purgatory as an Evangelical largely because I saw that that process of sanctification would need to be brought to completion at some point, and that its unlikely this would have happened by the time I died).

That seems to be the standard modern Evangelical position. The Catholic position, of course, is that there is only one process going on- that justification and sanctification are the same thing and that you can't divide them. So the Church tends to use the terms interchangably as far as I've seen. Here, I've tended to use the words in an Evangelical sense, just to make my meaning clear.

Regarding where Luther and Calvin stood, I'm not sure exactly where they stood on the question of sanctification (I haven't read the Institutes in ages!). I would be interested in Pastor Weedon's or David Schutz's insight in that regard. The imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ, however, is a thoroughly Lutheran/Calvinist idea.

GAB said...

Thankyou for that bit from Augustine. That does clarify his thought re free will a bit.

Kiran said...

I must add though, keep in mind this is one very non-specialist and very brief interpretation of one aspect of Augustine. Actual Augustinian theology of Grace takes much longer to explain, and then to harmonize with Catholic theology.

Anonymous said...

1. Sounds to me that the guy's arguing using some kind of lovebomab tact which is probably aimed at non-christians rather that towards christians. Maybe I've been arguing with non-christians for so long, because it does sound a bit low.

On the other side though, it is a bit off-putting to see you get that creeped out by what he said. Egoism isn't healthy, but it shouldn't be completely demonised either. Jesus came not to be served but to serve, at least that was what I was taught given the scene where he washed his disiples feet. God may not have given his son for person X per se, but he loved the world that he gave his only son. GAVE. It's a gift. What do you say when someone gives you a gift? "Oh no I've become the centre of someone's universe. My Soul is in danger!" Or should it be "Oh my, I'm flattered. Thank you so much. You must like me, I will respond in kind." God is supposed to be loving. That means it goes both ways. God wants us, otherwise he would have blown the planet up already or something.

Schütz said...


Kiran told me yesterday about your post on this topic. I have only had a short opportunity to glance through it, but think your analysis is very helpful. I will make a link to it from my blog, and hope to discuss it in greater depth when I am at greater liberty!

BTW, you might just want to download a couple of Piper lectures from the internet and have a listen to him. He is sometimes extremely shrill and incredibly passionate in his denunciation of Wright's theology. He really believes that Wright has forsaken the gospel and fallen back into "Catholic" heresy.

Kiran said...

It turns out that for Wright, as for Pelikan, creation and covenant are intimately interconnected. Thus, the suspicion of voluntarism was not fair.

The whole anthropocentric thing is interesting. I shall blog on this...

Kiran said...

Also, I should say, all the Lutherans and Lutheran converts I have spoken to say that Luther's extrinsicism does not rule out internal transformation, and the need for it. Apparently, the whole snow covering dung thing was never actually said by Luther. I wish Schutz would post something on this.

William Weedon said...

Most helpful in getting the Lutheran teaching is to recognize that though justification and sanctification are distinguished, they are never separated. So, for Luther and the Lutheran Church, we can maintain:

For through one's entire life, repentance contends with the sin remaining in the flesh. Paul testifies that he wars with the law in his members, not by his own powers, but by the gift of the Holy Spirit that follows the forgiveness of sins. ***This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person truly pure and holy***...The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so that it is carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants. If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present. SA III, 3, 40, 44.

Completely unaware of this thread (and I do think there are problems with Wright's analysis, but I'd have focused more upon the moral law implications of Romans 7), I wrote on the matter today on my blog, if you'd be interested:


GAB said...

Well, this topic has certainly proven fecund- its drawing the finest minds around!

In order then.

Anon, reading your comments, I do not think there is any substantial disagreement between us. I do not deny that the Redemption was enacted for us. Christ died for me, and there is nothing wrong and a lot right with saying so, although I don't think one should leave it at that. And naturally, as in any relationship, my self must feature in there somewhere. But when someone gives me a gift, especially if it is undeserved, that says more about the giver than it does about me. To say at that point "Help! My soul is in danger!" would still be to make the giving of the gift, in my mind, all about me. Self-loathing and self-aggrandizement are both sins. Far better to focus on the gift-giver and the graciousness of his giving. In the giver's mind, it may be all about me, but there's a problem if I have the same mindset. God saves me in Christ, not because I am particularly good, nor because I am particularly bad, but because He is love.

Don't get me wrong. God loves me. There are a lot of people who desperately need to hear that message, and something abstracted from them is not going to help them at all. The good news must be applied to the individual sinner. But when you start saying that the Passion, death and resurrection (AND the resurrection, note!) are, simply taken as such, bad news, and only become good news when applied to me, I begin to smell something theologically fishy. The Paschal Mystery is good news in itself and, as such, is applied to the repentant sinner (in fact, I might even go so far as to say, hypothetically, that it would still be good news even if no one ever believed, because even given that eventuality, in Christ, humanity - i.e. humanness - has been redeemed, although its possible you might think that was taking things too far). The correct response when meeting the Risen Christ is not, "What's in it for me?" but rather, "My Lord and my God!"

Pastor Weedon, thanks for dropping by. I have been aware for some time that the "snowhill covered with dung" was apocryphal (actually it was Kiran who mentioned that point). I'm glad to get some clarification on the matter of sanctification in the Lutheran church (thankyou, sir!). Particularly helpful is what you said about justification and sanctification being distinguished but not separated. And your post at your own blog about simul justus et peccator was also very helpful. I think I have a better understanding of where Lutherans are coming from on that point now. Interestingly, since you mention Romans 7, I heard in my Evangelical days on more than one occasion the proposition that Romans 7 is not actually talking about our day to day experience as Christians but rather about the experience of the pious Jew under the Torah as seen from a Christian perspective. I'd be interested in your take on that (or anybody else who wants to weigh in on it, for that matter). Also, I'd be interested to hear to what extent a Lutheran would agree with TULIP (maybe you could blog on that on your own blog sometime?)

William Weedon said...

The holy Apostle Paul, of course, doesn't speak of the ceremonial law, but of the moral law, in Romans 7 - he uses the 9/10th commandments. What he describes in this chapter, he also mentions in Galatians 5, note especially verses 16-17.

As far as TULIP goes, a Lutheran speaks usually of total corruption (rather than depravity) as a way of confessing that the entirety of our being is by (the course of) nature diseased and damaged with no part left sound, including the higher faculties and the will (which desires are by nature screwed up) *coram Deo* - we do acknowledge of course that there is such a thing as righteousness *coram hominibus* and that in external matters men can be good. This goodness never rises, however, to the perfections required in God's law, thus leaving all men (even the best by outward behavior) in need of a Savior.

Unconditional grace - indeed, but a universal, unconditional grace, and unconditional in the sense that what God has done in Christ is intended for all. There is no ill in Adam that is not more than remedied in Christ.

Limited atonement - absolutely reject. We confess that what God has done in Christ is for all and that God's will is for all to receive this life.

Irresistible grace - absolutely reject. Grace, to be grace, comes as gift, and gifts are always rejectable.

Predestination - only understandable within Christ and from hindsight. To us this means that the Christian comes to realize and rejoice in the fact that what God did for him in time, God had purposed to do for him from eternity. We do not believe in a predestination to damnation. "Enter into the fire prepared for THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS" vs. "Enter into the Kingdom prepared FOR YOU from before the foundation of the world."

Lutherans are well aware that universality of grace and predestination don't mesh in the human mind; we recognize it as a limitation of our fallen reason since both are clearly revealed in the Word of God.

William Weedon said...

P.S. Here's my "old Lutheran quote" for today:

The fact that no one is so pious as not to have in himself some odor and leaven of the old Adam is enough reason for God justly to reject man. Humility alone, therefore, will preserve even those who live in grace. Their sins will not be imputed to them if they denounce their sins, ask for mercy, and forgive their debtors. -- Blessed Martin Luther, Exposition of the Lord's Prayer (AE 42:70)

GAB said...

Ah, okay. What you say about total corruption sounds very similar to the way I was originally taught total depravity as an Evangelical, i.e. that every element of the human person, every faculty, is affected by original sin and no part of me is untainted (which is rather different from the Calvinist position- interestingly, the pastor who taught us that has since gone down a more Calvinist road). Of course I would still hold to that.

Grace and predestination are a puzzle, but its another of those paradoxes, like synergism and the hypostatic union. As someone once explained it to me, we have to "swim between the theological flags", i.e. hold onto both truths simultaneously without letting go of either one.

Re the rejection of irresistible grace, I must admit I am curious as to how that meshes with De Servo Arbitrio. It always seemed to me that rejection of free will and acceptance of irresistible grace went together. Or perhaps I have misunderstood Luther on this point.

Kiran said...

Well, actually Augustine does say a few things toward the end of his life, which sound like he is speaking of irresistable grace, but I think the problem here is that Augustine is (in his mind, if not in the actual text) considering things under the point of the omnipotence of God. What concerns Augustine over the course of his Catholic life, in all his various controversies is the problem of men (Manicheans, Donatists, Pelagians) claiming credit for what is really the work of God. Hence the insistence upon the theme. So, the question is "Is Luther in the same category?"

William Weedon said...


Well, he was doubtless an Augustinian in so many ways - especially early on. He did come to say though, at one point, "and then I was done with Augustine." It was, however, related to Augustine's approach to the Sacraments, I believe (the whole res and res signata way of thinking about them).

But it is always important to remember that Luther's private opinions are not the teachings of the Lutheran Church (anymore than the private writings of a pope constitute the dogma of Rome). I believe that the only part of his Bondage of the Will that is binding on Lutherans is this point cited in the Formula of Concord:

"In these words Dr. Luther, of blessed and holy memory, credits our free will with no power at all to qualify itself for righteousness or strive after it. But he says that a person is blinded and held captive to do only the devil’s will, and to do what is contrary to God the Lord. Therefore, there is no cooperation of our will in a person’s conversion. A person must be drawn and born anew by God [John 6:44]. Otherwise, there is no thought in our hearts that of itself could turn to the Holy Gospel for the purpose of accepting it. Dr. Luther also wrote this way in his book The Bondage of the Will [1525], in opposition to Erasmus. Luther clarified and supported this position well and thoroughly."

The point was not that grace was irresistible, but rather that we cannot cooperate in our regeneration anymore than a child cooperates in its conception and birth. We are gifted with new life, and THEN we have a will that is freed - and sadly freed also to reject the life so given!

When it comes to those who reject the Gospel, Lutherans confess: "But the reason some are not saved is as follows: they do not listen to God's Word at all, but willfully despise it, plug their ears, and harden their hearts. In this way they block the ordinary way for the Holy Spirit so He cannot perform His work in them. Or, when they have heard God's Word, they make light of it again and ignore it. But their wickedness is responsible for this, not God or His election." Ep. XI:12


GAB said...

So we can reject grace but of ourselves we can't accept it. So its not so much a matter of actively taking something offered as it is removing obstacles that prevent it from reaching me. Is that more or less it?

William Weedon said...

The rejecting comes from ourselves (and Satan); the accepting (or better, receiving) comes from the power of the gift that God offers. We know it doesn't make logical sense (the way Calvinism does). We have no one answer to "cur alii, alii non?" We answer rather with two answers: why some? Divine grace. Why not others? Because they persist in rejecting the life being offered them.

Think of Matthew 25 and the implications:

"Come, you blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared FOR YOU from the foundation of the world."

"Depart from me, you wicked, into the eternal fire prepared FOR THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS."

Heaven is prepared for us; hell is not. God wills no one to end up with the devil and his angels, and His will is never the CAUSE of any who end up there, for He wills for all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. But He also wills that His life should be offered only as a gift, and gifts are always rejectable.

Kiran said...

The "rejecting, but not accepting" bit, actually echoes Augustine, who uses the analogy of a falling stone. And further, I think it does make perfectly good logical sense. Does it go along with Catholic theology? I shall have to sit and think...

GAB said...

Hmm....makes sense to me. I like the Matthew 25 contrast particularly. I can't see any reason why that wouldn't square with Catholic theology, off the top of my head. The Church does teach prevenient grace after all. As long as it doesn't undermine synergism and the will's collaboration with the Holy Spirit- which it doesn't (as you said, grace, far from undermining this, actually enables it), this all seems pretty sound.

It seems I shall have to review my estimation of Lutheranism. Apparently there is a greater gap between it and Calvinism than I had hitherto realised.

William Weedon said...

If you've not read it, you might enjoy this article too. I thought it quite hopeful:


Anonymous said...

Ah, thanks for clarifying that for me, GAB. However, if you want further discussion (although at 21 replies I don't know if it's needed) there's another question in there;
To say at that point "Help! My soul is in danger!" would still be to make the giving of the gift, in my mind, all about me. Self-loathing and self-aggrandizement are both sins. Far better to focus on the gift-giver and the graciousness of his giving.

I think you're saying the right thing for the wrong reason. Self-loathing is (or I'd figure it would be) a sin, not because it focuses on the self more than God, but because God wants you to love your brother, as well as loving your brother as you would. In the end, doesn't that mean God wants you to love yourself?

GAB said...

Well, of course, we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves, which must imply that we do love ourselves and should do so. But self-love must accord with the nature of the self according to the heirarchy of goods. So I can't love myself more than God, obviously. Nor, on the other hand, can I love nature more than myself or, a bit closer to home, my job more than myself (with the consequence that I work myself into the ground to the detriment of my health). I love each thing according to its nature, desiring that it should exist in accordance with that nature and working towards its good as such, and that includes myself. So no, I'm not denying that self-love is a good, properly understood.

With loving our neighbour as ourself, the ideal is that ultimately we will deal with our neighbour in exactly the same fashion as ourselves, i.e. wishing their good and working to bring it about whether or not we happen to find them particularly appealing as people. I don't know about you, but where I usually fall down is emphatically not in loving my neighbour more than myself but precisely the opposite. So I suppose my focus is more on the negative, but this isn't the only way to look at it.

Our Lord doesn't give us a dichotomy here. Loving God, loving neighbour and loving self are all linked (Matt 24 treats the first two as practically identical) and when we get one wrong, we tend to get the others wrong as well. Likewise if we get one right, though those occasions (for me at least) are rare, and are only possible by grace.

All of which is to say, in answer to your question, yes.

William Weedon said...

How profoundly they are linked is showed in the Incarnation: our God became our neighbor! In Jesus, we meet the two commandments as one. And He, as you pointed out, links the two together by taking every kind act we do for others as done for Him.

GAB said...

Oops. Just realised. That should be Matt 25 (not 24).

Anonymous said...

sorry if this has already been said - i haven't read all the comments here

regarding this comment -
"So when Wright says that we will be judged on the basis of the totality of our life (which, personally, I don't think is sufficiently nuanced as it doesn't leave room for things like deathbed conversions), Piper springs into action to defend the doctrine of grace alone, seemingly under the impression that Wright has denied it."

how do you see the theory of being judged on the basis of a life lived, working with the doctrine of grace alone? they seem to be incompatible to me - so I don't think Piper is out of line to feel the need to defend grace alone.
Romans 4:3-8, 5:18-19, Philippians 3:9, 1 Corinthians 1:30, and 2 Corinthians 5:21 seem to be clear on the fact that our righteousness is not from ourselves but imputed to us from Christ. I don't believe there is any biblical support of the theory that we are justified by works.

GAB said...

Being judged on the basis of a life lived and sola gratia are only incompatible if you believe in monergism.

I don't, and I think it is clear that Wright doesn't either. His theology, whatever else it may be, is clearly synergistic and participationist. What I find fascinating (not to mention odd- Piper is by no means a stranger to nuances and fine distinctions, or opposing views for that matter) is that Piper doesn't seem to get that. A good deal of his argumentation seems to assume that Wright is a monergist and that he is contradicting himself, whereas in fact it is simply that he is working from different presuppositions.

Anonymous said...

off the topic of wright and piper for a bit..

why do you believe in synergism over monergism?

GAB said...

Several reasons.

Firstly, it makes sense of the totality of the biblical data. Texts like Mark 16:20, Rom 15:17-18, 1 Cor 3:9-10, 15:10, 2 Cor 6:1 and 2 Peter 1:10 make no sense on a monergistic view. To reconcile them with it means doing violence to the biblical text. Phil 2:12-13 makes the paradox explicit. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Yes, I must work. But the work I do is done by God, through His strength and that alone. Since God works in me, does it cease to be my work? No. Since I am doing it, does it therefore cease to be God working? No. It is a paradox, but a scriptural one. Both truths must be held onto. Neither can be abandoned in favour of a simpler solution.

Secondly, logic requires it. Monergism must lead to a belief in total depravity. Total depravity is insupportable biblically (how many Psalms speak of longing for God and for His Law?- and yet these are written by people who are unregenerate) and cannot be squared with human experience. As Aquinas teaches us, no one seeks after evil for its own sake, but immorality consists in seeking a good but by wrong means or in wrong amounts or without respect to its nature or to that of other goods. If mankind were totally depraved we would seek after evil for its own sake. In addition, monergism, if taken to its logical extent, must lead to irresistible grace and therefore to double predestination.

Thirdly, monergism cannot be squared with our experience as Christians. I don't know about you but my experience of the nitty-gtritty of sanctification as lived on the ground is very much of a "three steps forward, two steps back" character. How is this to be explained? On a monergistic scheme, since I am not cooperating with the grace of God, the fault must lie with that grace itself. Therfore the only answer can be that God wills for His grace in me to be now more effective, now less. But this is a repugnant suggestion. On a synergistic scheme, however, it is quite clear what is going on. I am not allowing that grace to be effective in me. For sanctification to go ahead, I must stop throwing up obstacles and let God's grace enter in and do its work.

Fourthly, the authority of the Church through the ages on this matter is clear. Monergism is a specifically Protestant invention and has no pedigree with any of the apostolic Churches in the East or West, either Catholic, Orthodox or Copt. It will naturally be argued that there is a precedent with Augustine, but I am by no means convinced that Augustine's soteriology can be classified as as Calvinistic as has sometimes been claimed. I have read passages of his that would indicate otherwise (eg. "God created you without you but He cannot justify you without you"- Sermon 169). Naturally I submit to the opinions of those who have read more widely in Augustine than I, but even if it could be shown otherwise (and I doubt very much that it could), in the end Augustine is only one theologian.

To be clear, synergism is not Pelagianism. We cannot save ourselves by our own efforts. Nor does grace make it easier for us to save ourselves by our own efforts. Our salvation is all grace. Prevenient grace precedes my seeking after God. His grace brings me to conversion, regenerates me in baptism, sanctifies me through the Holy Spirit and will make me ultimately a new creature in Christ. None of this can I do unaided. None of this can I contribute to. But I am not saved in spite of myself. Nor is anyone damned in spite of themselves. Grace is given to each but each must receive it and each must cooperate with it.

William Weedon said...

From a Lutheran perspective, Köberle's work on *The Quest for Holiness* offers a way beyond the monergism, Pelagianism, synergism impasse that preserves what is true in all three and yet rejects where all three overreach the revelation given in Sacred Scripture. It's a most worthwhile read.

GAB said...

I'm intrigued. I'll have to see if I can get a hold of that.

Anonymous said...

to be honest i don't really have a grasp on the arguments that are out there so a lot of this is new to me, so at the moment there's a limit to what i can say in response.

on your second point -
Romans 8:6-8 -
"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."
Romans 3:10-12
"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
Looks like biblical support of total depravity to me. Is there biblical support that we are not totally depraved?

Also - what is the alternative to double predestination??

GAB said...

There are some initial problems with those texts actually. The first one (from the NIV, I see) mistranslates σάρξ as 'sinful nature' rather than 'flesh'(likewise 'sinful mind' would be better translated as 'carnal/ fleshly mind'). This is problematic not only because this is a mistranslation of Sacred Scripture but because a sinful nature is a philosophical impossibility. I have a human nature. A dog has a canine nature. Our Lord has both a human and a divine nature. There cannot be such a thing as a sinful nature i.e. a being whose created essence is sin. Sin is a deprivation or twisting of a good and has no independent existence. Thayer's Lexicon defines the sense in which Paul uses σάρξ here as "mere human nature, the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin and opposed to God." If we go by Thayer's definition, then, the text cannot be used to support total depravity. It indicates the impossibility of salvation apart from grace (there is a nice parallel with Heb 11:6 actually, but even faith is a gift from Him), the enmity that naturally stands between fallen man and God, and our ongoing experience of concupiscence (our tendency towards sin). None of those ideas require total depravity.

The second text is, unfortunately, taken out of context. Paul is talking about the relationship between Jew and Gentile and their respective relationship to the Torah. His thesis is in v9- "For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin." and he then quotes from the Psalter the text you quoted. He is not talking about individuals here but about races, as it were. The Jew claims to be righteous. But neither Jew nor Gentile is righteous before God. If Paul were talking about individuals here, then it proves too much. Apart from the obvious exception (surely Christ at least is righteous?), is it really true that there has been no individual who has sought after God? Not Abraham, not Job, not David, not any of the Prophets? And in any case, unrighteousness does not automatically equal total depravity. I submit that neither can this text, then, be taken as support for total depravity.

Regarding biblical support that we are not totally depraved, as I said earlier, there are innumerable Psalms written by unregenerate men which speak of longing for God, longing for the Temple, longing for the Torah. Indeed the whole of Psalm 119 is an extended paean to the Torah. If we were totally depraved, it would be impossible for fallen man to long for God. The only reaction to God would be revulsion. There are also texts like 2 Chron 19:2-3. How can that passage be understood if one denies the possibility of unregenerate man seeking after God, or of there being any good left over in human nature after the Fall? The Scripture assumes, in spite of our fallen state, that we still have free will and can choose to accept or reject what God gives- eg. Matt 23:37 & John 5:40.

Re the alternative to double predestination, Pastor Weedon, earlier in this discussion, made the excellent point that Scripture says "Enter into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels" but "Enter into the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the world." To that, I can only add 1 Tim 2:3-4: "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." The offer of salvation in Christ is universal. God desires the damnation of no man. He desires the salvation of all. How can the damnation of some be reconciled with both the universality of grace and the sovereignty of God? This is a paradox that we cannot grasp. But when we find two seemingly contradictory truths borne witness to in Scripture, we are not at liberty to reject either.

William Weedon said...

The language of Holy Scripture though does permit us to speak of a sinful nature (not in essence, of course, but in the sense of a corruption that inheres in the nature): "and were by nature children of wrath, as the rest of mankind." Eph 2:3. Surely it is an experience universal to mankind (excepting our Lord) that we have a corruption inside of us that afflicts us from birth. We need not teach a child to be selfish; we each manage that perfectly well on our own. Lutherans would not speak so much of total depravity, but of a complete corruption - a corruption that afflicts us in both lower and higher faculties.

GAB said...

And I would agree with that completely. There is no part of my nature, no faculty, left untouched by sin. Alas. Complete corruption in the sense you mentioned is completely consonant with Catholic teaching (in fact, I think we have discussed this somewhere already, haven't we?). I am assuming (subject to correction of course) that kt-rae is referring to total depravity in a more classically Calvinist sense.

Incidentally, the tendency of a child to do the wrong thing without having been taught it I would regard as concupiscence. Which, while not sin in itself, inclines to sin and is a symptom of the Fall. I have heard rumours to the effect that Lutherans regard concupiscence as actual sin and would be interested to hear if that is so or not.

William Weedon said...

Yes, we regard concupiscence as sin - though not as actual sin, but as source sin. We equate it with the damage that original sin has wrought within our nature. We see it as the foul fountain from which the actual sins of our lives spring forth. We think this is what the Prophet Jeremiah was speaking of when he decried the heart as desperately wicked, and when our Lord noted that from the heart comes forth the evils that makes us unclean.

To us, sin is not confined to acts, but the acts manifest a sinful condition and fallen state that precedes them and from which such sins take their origin.