Faith, Works, and Logomachy

And you thought I only blogged about Anglicans, Catholics and Orthodox. Ya haram!

Southern Baptist extraordinaire David Rogers asks questions about how to square Paul and James:

As I have thought about faith and works, and their relationship to salvation, I have struggled with the apparent conflict between the teaching of Paul and James. If we are honest, and have thought much about it at all, I think we all would admit to struggling with this very same thing.

He then proposes a hypothetical situation which I will let you read. But here is what I wrote:

A good place to start is by realizing that Catholics and Protestants use the word justification quite differently. In Protestantism we view in a very forensic sense, that is, like in a court room. It is the beginning of our salvation when our present, past, and future sins (that last is debated among evangelicals) are forgiven and we move into a curious status that Luther called simul justus et pecatur–at once just and a sinner. After that we move into what we have traditionally called the stage of sanctification, where we cooperate with God’s grace and love and haltingly and in a very broken way, hopefully mature into wise and obedient Christians.

In Catholicism (and Eastern Orthodoxy), the word justification is used in a transformational sense: to actually do the long hard work of teaching one to be just. In other words justification lasts from the moment of conversion until the moment of glorification (the resurrection of the righteous).

One can argue about which side better grasps the NT usage of the word justification. I find that the word us actually used in both ways in different passages. At times it is more forensic (court room declaration) and at other times it is more transformational and gradual.

If you believe that sanctification can occur without good works (which are a gift of God in themselves), then you probably do have a genuine and profound difference of doctrine with the Catholics. Otherwise I doubt your disagreement is fundamental.

If you care to join in the conversation go for it. I am happy to bring intelligent Catholics and Orthodox and Baptists together. I am, after all, evangelical--and that is a label I will accept until the day I die. But I'm also very catholic.


Don said…
It's debates like this which remind me why I don't like straight-up Reformed theology.

The Christian life is one of personal transformation by God. It's impossible for me to conceive of it solely in legal terms of the content of the Book of Life, and frankly I don't think the NT supports such a view.

On the other hand, people never stop to think that there's nothing intrinsic in any good work that would necessarily force God's hand in admitting one into eternal life. In our relativistic society, we can't even get agreement on what's good! What's good for God is God's own uncreated goodness, which comes with his transforming presence and indwelling in our lives. And from there the good works come.

It's interesting to note that, as a general rule, Southern Baptists have significantly altered the Reformed paradigm by combining an Arminian view of election with a Reformed view of unconditional perseverance.
FrGregACCA said…
Abu Daoud, I think you have captured the difference rather well. It is interesting to read the Augsburg Confession and the Roman Catholic rebuttal on this subject. Both sides agree that justification, as the initial act of God in salvation which is synonymous with regeneration, is entirely gratuitous. Calvin, however, took it one step further, positing, as Don alludes, that justification necessarily entails final perseverance. However, even within that problemmatic assertion, Calvinism clearly teaches that sanctification is "synergistic" (while everyone agrees that justification, as defined above, is "monogistic" even if it is believed that it is conveyed by baptism.)

Where it gets even more complicated is that the Roman Church then inserts a theology of merit which states that good works performed after justification carry merit (in a relative sense, since it is acknowledged that in rewarding such merit, as in granting the gift of final perseverance, God is "crowning his own gifts"). However, both Protestants and Orthodox are quite uncomfortable with this language of merit, a discomfort that has also been expressed by certain RC Saints, such as St. Teresa the Little Flower and St. John of the Cross, at least when it came to themselves.

"Catholic and Christian" by Alan Schreck is a fairly readable book which discusses these issues from an RC perspective.
Anonymous said…
Don, love the cat. My wife and I have a sixteen year old siamese ourselves.

Currently I am going to a Southern Baptist Church here in Dallas. It is a huge church, and I basically went there after college because I figured, I have to find at least one friend there. I did find my wife there, so I guess I didn't do too bad. But with my developing understanding I guess it probably isnt the best place for me to stay

I have never heard anything out of the ordinary from the higher pastors. Just the usual Faith alone, but yet that faith is not alone. I have tried to have some conversations on justification and the idea of purgatory with some biblestudy leaders in which I got chastized for, but I guess it wasnt too surprising.

Do you know more what their official view is?
Abu Daoud said…
Brett: do you mean the official SBC view of Purgatory? Or Catholic?

It is good for you (and all of us) to ask questions.
Anonymous said…
No, actually I meant the official SBC version of Justification. I have seen it so long I probably couldn't dissect it like Don has. But I don't really know what Armenianism is.

As for purgatory, Twist gave me an article by a Methodist pastor on purgatory and I sent it to my biblestudy leader and another friend of mine who is working on his PHD at Dallas Theological Seminary. The PHD student was willing to discuss it although he thought it was completely wrong.

And my biblestudy leader, who is also going through seminary, basically said it was garbage and he would have thrown it away after the first few paragraphs. I tried to get him to dialogue on justification and that just because terms like purgatory or even the Trinity are not in the bible does not mean they are not there. He then chided me for using the Trinity and purgatory in the same sentence and commented on how he wished I displayed the same kind of enthusiasm in biblestudy. That was the last time my wife and I went to that biblestudy. I wasnt about to be scolded by a man five years my junior for asking questions.
Abu Daoud said…
He Brett,

Am checking to see about the SBC doctrine question with someone who would know. I am sad to hear you have had such poor experiences as you seek to flesh out your understanding of historical Christianity. It is certainly a weakness of evangelicalism--this historylessness.

It makes evangelicals sound dogmatic and stuck up when they talk about other churches' doctrines because they (the evangelicals) rarely actually understand the historical reasons for the practice or doctrine.
Don said…
Brett, there's more about the cat where that came from.

I don't think the SBC has an official position on this. My information on this comes from a) experience (I was a member of an SBC church for 2 1/2 years) and b) a speech given by a Southern Baptist historian at their seminary in Louisville. It's the rare Southern Baptist that would deny "eternal security."

As far as the ahistoricity of Evangelicals is concerned, I agree that this is a serious defect. You might find this back and forth of interest; I was indirectly challenged on the relevance of evidence from Anglican and Catholic history as applied to my own hierarchal church from an historian at my own denomination's seminary.
Anonymous said…
I can't say that I was surprised by the reaction. I am in the thick of it here in Dallas. Where you have more conversations on Word of Faith theology and speaking in tongues than anything else. I had one guy almost want to fight me because I spoke ill of Benny Hinn and Joel Olstien.

There are all different kinds of people who go to seminary. Those who go because they are searching for a God they don't believe in. Those who see it as a formality to getting their own pulpit. And those who go to genuinely want to pursue and deepen their relationship with God. I meet a lot of the second. They know everything they already want to know. They just have to struggle through. I remember Twist even said he found much of the same even at Oxford.

It has been a joy though, to learn more about the historical church and i know I have a long way to go in trying to understand. As frgregacca pointed out, the language of merit can be very confusing. And the idea of transubstantiation is a hard struggle for me.

Fr Kimmel's articles on Justification have been very helpful. I made it through part I without my brain exploding and I am working on reading through part II now.

Don, I will check out the article. Love the cat pics. I need to post some of mine to my wife and my website. She is only 7lbs., almost 17,has a heart murmur,asthma, three fangs left, and has outlived three pit bulls. She MUST have found the fountain of youth somewhere in the backyard.
Abu Daoud said…
Official SBC doctrine on Justification, from here:

Section IV on Salvation reads:

Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.

B. Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.

C. Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life.

D. Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.
John Stringer said…
I have been in a Bible Church for over 30 years. I love personal focus on faith, Christ and the Scriptures. But throughout the years I developed an ever stronger resistance against the fact that this personal faith was always defined in an anti-historical and anti-ecumenical context.

Until I gave up... and became an Anglican three years ago. What a relief...

To be part of God's Church of all ages, to be able to openly say that you enjoy Ambrose, Benedict XVI and JI Packer, to pray for all churches, to have an open heart to all Christians...

Thanks Abu Dawud for this posting.
FrGregACCA said…
John, thanks for the E-mail; I have responded. As one who grew up and was first introducted to Christ in such an environment as the one out of which you came, I appreciate your comments above. To the names you mention, I would add C.S.Lewis, Severus of Antioch, Isaac of Nineveh, Dorothy Day, Mother Maria of Paris, John Maximovich, and many, many others, including A.W. Tozer.

The stuff from the SBC is interesting, but not surprising. Sounds like they are "monogistic" all the way, and of course, there is absolutely nothing about sacraments or even "ordinances" in this context. Purely optional, apparently (except that adult baptism by full immersion is required for church membership, but I guess that is optional as well).
Abu Daoud said…
For those of you haven't read it, Fr Alvin Kimmel and David the Baptist missionary in Spain have an interesting dialogue going on over in the comments at the original post (at You may want to check it if you haven't.
Don said…
Actually, the Faith and Message Statement is more explicit than I thought.

They definitely take an Arminian view of election: "Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour..." Traditional Reformed theology teaches that there are those who are predestined to be saved and those who are predestined to be lost, and that "getting saved" consists in discerning whether one is one or the other. Wesley broke this mould and it was (and still is for some) a serious bone of contention in Evangelical Christianity.

The Calvinistic view of perseverance is detailed as follows: "All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end." I'll spare the extended discussion on this, but the consequences of this kind of theological juxtoposition have some intereting theoretical and practical consequences.

Fr Greg:

Baptists do have two ordinances: the Lord's Supper and Baptism. Baptists traditionally are very consistent in linking getting saved, being baptised, and joining the church. Southern Baptist church life is different in many ways from what you're used to, but it is very structured; the SBC would never have become the predominant denomination in the South had this not been so.

To balance one of my earlier comments, I've written or co-authored two books for my Pentecostal denomination and have larded both with Catholic authors (I also mentioned the Thrice-Holy Hymn and the 39 Articles in this one, along with quoting John Jewel.) The only objection I've had on this kind of inclusion has come from my Hispanic translator; the Hispanics are very sensitive on the subject of the RCC for obvious reasons.

Finally, as an aside I had some fun with Baptist-Catholic relations on a personal level when writing this.

Popular posts from this blog

Islamic State: We're coming back to take over Spain