Bryan Cross’ response to Nick Batzig on the Reformed view of imputation has kicked up a little dust over at Green Baggins and for good reason, though I plan to go in a direction different from many of the Protestant complaints. Cross contends that Roman Catholics understand justification through the lens of agape while Reformed Protestants use a list paradigm:
From a Catholic point of view, as I explained in “Why John Calvin did not Recognize the Distinction Between Mortal and Venial Sin,” there are two different paradigms here regarding what it means to keep the law. Call one the list paradigm, and call the other the agape paradigm. In the list paradigm, perfect law-keeping is conceived as keeping a list of God given precepts. According to this paradigm, perfect law-keeping requires perfectly and perpetually keeping (and not in any way violating) every single precept in the list. In the New Covenant, we are given more gifts for growing progressively in our ability to keep the law, but nevertheless, nobody in this life keeps the list perfectly. All fall short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness. That’s the paradigm through which Batzig views God’s requirement of righteousness for salvation.
In the agape paradigm, by contrast, agape is the fulfillment of the law. Agape is not merely some power or force or energy by which one is enabled better to keep the list of rules, either perfectly or imperfectly. Rather, agape is what the law has pointed to all along. To have agape in one’s soul is to have the perfect righteousness to which the list of precepts point. Righteousness conceived as keeping a list of externally written precepts is conceptually a shadow of the true righteousness which consists of agape infused into the soul. This infusion of agape is the law written on the heart. But the writing of the law on the heart should not be conceived as merely memorizing the list of precepts, or being more highly motivated to keep the list of precepts. To conceive of agape as merely a force or good motivation that helps us better (but imperfectly, in this life) keep the list of rules, is still to be in the list paradigm. The writing of the law on the heart provides in itself the very fulfillment of the law — that perfection to which the external law always pointed. To have agape is already to have fulfilled the telos of the law, a telos that is expressed in our words, deeds, and actions because they are all ordered to a supernatural end unless we commit a mortal sin. The typical Protestant objection to the Catholic understanding of justification by the infusion of agape is “Who perfectly loves God? No one.” But this objection presupposes the list paradigm.
This is rich given the recent news out of the Vatican that Rome has added to the Church’s list of deadly sins. (Look for the words list and agape.)
After 1,500 years the Vatican has brought the seven deadly sins up to date by adding seven new ones for the age of globalization. The list, published yesterday in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, came as the Pope deplored the “decreasing sense of sin” in today’s “secularized world” and the falling numbers of Roman Catholics going to confession.
The new deadly sins include polluting, genetic engineering, being obscenely rich, drug dealing, abortion, pedophilia and causing social injustice.
So the communion that originally gave us a list of sins is adding to the list. Agape indeed.
And to underscore the point — which is that Bryan Cross has remarkable intellectual gifts that have little purchase in reality — consider that the little, old (not ancient, of course) Orthodox Presbyterian Church, with all of its alleged list mentality, resisted mightily producing lists of sins. One occasion came in 1950 when the church, through a study committee of the General Assembly, concluded that belonging to the Free Masons was a sin. But contrary to some in the church who wanted a constitutional amendment to list Masonry as a sin, the committee opposed the composition of lists of sin:
Although it is unwarranted to condemn all cataloguing of sins by the church, history shows that it ma easily be carried so far as to become fraught with undesirable consequences. This danger becomes especially great when the church in its official book of discipline seeks to enumerate the precise sins which render their doers subject to ecclesiastical censures. . . .
It is obviously impossible for the church to draw up a complete catalogue of sins. Any list is certain to be a partial one. The almost unavoidable result will be that the members of the church will receive an unbalanced view of the Christian life. For example, let us suppose that a church catalogues as offenses certain types of worldliness, as gambling, the performance or viewing of immoral or sacrilegious theatricals, and many forms of
modern dancing. The danger is far from imaginary that the psychological effect of such partial cataloguing will be that other forms of worldliness, which in the sight of God are no less reprehensible, such as the love of money, the telling of salacious jokes by toastmasters and other speakers at banquets, the display of wealth in a palatial dwelling, and the stressing of the numerical rather than the spiritual growth of a church, to name no more, will be condoned and even overlooked. In another respect too the cataloguing of sins is liable to result in an unbalanced conception of the Christian life. It may easily impart the impression that Christian living is essentially negative rather than positive. Church members will be led to stress the separated life at the expense of the consecrated life. Very plainly put, they will conclude that merely not to do this and that and a third thing is the essence of Christian living and is proof of the Christianity of him who abstains from these things. (1950 GA Minutes, 26)
In case you didn’t notice, the church allegedly characterized by the agape paradigm makes lists of sins. And one of the churches that you might expect to draw up a list of sins, given its supposed reliance on the list paradigm, has tried not to make lists.
In which case, I am not sure what Bryan Cross’ point is other than to show the inadequacies of Protestants always in the peace of Christ.
The Baltimore Catechism on sin:
52. Q. What is actual sin? A. Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed or omission contrary to the law of God.
The Shorter Catechism on sin:
14. Q. What is sin? A. Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.
We print, realists decide.