Where’s Waldo 2016 Update

Since some of the comments of late are echoing the union-with-Christ-centric reading of Reformed soteriology that animated many posts here, I offer a refresher on Calvin’s understanding of first-importance matters when he was explaining to Cardinal Sadoleto what Protestants believed about salvation. Note first the priority of forensics — this is about sin, guilt, law, legal verdicts:

We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sift his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.

Oh, yes, he talks about communion. That’s not union, at least in the English language I use.

Second, the obedience boys should observe Calvin’s understanding of works in relation to faith:

What have you here, Sadolet, to bite or carp at? Is it that we leave no room for works? Assuredly we do deny that, in justifying a man, they are worth one single straw. For Scripture everywhere cries aloud, that all are lost; and every mans’s own conscience bitterly accuses him. The same Scripture teaches, that no hope is left but in the mere goodness of God, by which sin is pardoned, and righteousness imputed to us. It declares both to be gratuitous, and finally concludes that a man is justified without works, (Rom. iv. 7.) But what notion, you ask, does the very term Righteousness suggest to us, if respect is not paid to good works ? I answer, if you would attend to the true meaning of the term justifying in Scripture, you would have no difficulty. For it does not refer to a man’s own righteousness, but to the mercy of God, which, contrary to the sinner’s deserts, accepts of a righteousness for him, and that by not imputing his unrighteousness. Our righteousness, I say, is that which is described by Paul, (2 Cor. v. 19,) that God bath reconciled us to himself in Jesus Christ. The mode is afterwards subjoined — by not imputing sin. He demonstrates that it is by faith only we become partakers of that blessing, when he says that the ministry of reconciliation is contained in the gospel. But faith, you say, is a general term, and has a larger signification. I answer, that Paul, whenever he attributes to it the power of justifying, at the same time restricts it to a gratuitous promise of the divine favor, and keeps it far removed from all respect to works. Hence his familiar inference — if by faith, then not by works. On the other hand — if by works, then not by faith.

Funny how far union with Christ was from Calvin’s explicit explanation of Protestant soteriology. Maybe union comes in the Development of Calvinist Doctrine. One man’s development is another’s change.

The "Good" News of Obedient Faith

Msgr. Charles Pope (how’s that for a name?) explains:

3. The Gospel is not merely noetic (informative); it is dynamic (transformative). God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Thus when God says “Be holy,” His words contain the actual power to effect what they announce, provided we receive them in faith.

4. The Gospel is no mere written word. The Gospel is Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh. Therefore the Gospel saves all who receive it (Him) with faith and heed its warnings and teachings with the obedience of faith.

Thus, the term “gospel” means more than “good news.” And given our cultural setting and its presuppositions related to the word “good,” the notion that “gospel = good news” can be downright misleading. It is better and richer to understand the term “gospel” to refer to the life-changing and transformative utterance of God, which is able to save us if we obey its demands in faith. It is in fact Jesus Himself who is the Word made Flesh. Perhaps this is less memorable, but it is more true and less misleading.

But given our historical setting post-fall, good news that promises we will be saved if we obey God’s commands doesn’t sound very good. (Why should the gospel be only “Good News” instead of like awakenings “Great News” or revolutions “Glorious News”?) That’s why the first Protestants (read Lutherans) were known as evangelicals. Obedience Boys take note.

From DGH on Christ's Temptation Submitted on 2014/10/27 at 4:45 am

Mark, Mark, Mark,

Yet another post about Jesus as the “best believer who ever lived.” Why? You write:

The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness furnishes us with clear evidence that the life he lived he lived by faith in God. He trusted in the God who was able to help him in his time of need (Heb. 2:13). Jesus had to live the life of faith in order to bestow upon us the gift of faith. As the second Adam, Jesus rectified Adam’s first sin. And what was Adam’s first sin? Unbelief, not pride.

Are you suggesting again that Jesus is like us and a model for how we live a life of faith?

What seems odd is that when you describe Jesus in ways that we might describe a regular believer you sound like Roman Catholics in the way that they describe (and revere) Mary as “the Greatest of Saints”:

Catholic belief is that all of us, Mary included, need a Redeemer because of our fallen nature and that no one can attain Heaven without His Blood. We are saved from our fallen nature by His grace alone through faith that worketh in charity. Mary, though, because God knew how she would use the free will He gave to her, was saved, by His grace, from having a fallen nature at the moment of her conception. She was redeemed from her mother’s womb, an act planned from Genesis 3 so that she could act as the New Eve and so that Christ could be born of vessel even more pure than the Ark of the Covenant. Christ would not have been born from that which is impure! God knew of Mary’s will to serve even before she was conceived. He knew she would say yes to Him, and He saved her at her first moment.

I sure hope you don’t go overboard on Jesus as the model for our faith. If you keep our sinfulness in mind, you should be A-okay.

Why Republication Matters

What exactly is so threatening about this?

Every Reformed minister loves preaching from Romans and Galatians. Presenting the Mosaic law as teaching a works principle really helps in explaining Paul’s doctrine of justification: what sin is all about, why people can’t rely on their own law-keeping, how faith is radically different from works, how Christ fulfilled the terms of the law so that we may be justified. That’s the gospel as I see it, but you can’t explain the gospel without understanding the law. Or take all of those Old Testament passages that call for Israel’s obedience and promise blessing and threaten curse in the land depending on their response. For example, the beginning of Deuteronomy 4, which tells Israel to follow the law so that they may live and take possession of the land. Or Deuteronomy 28, which recounts all sorts of earthly blessings in the land if the Israelites are careful to obey and all sorts of earthly curses if they aren’t. I don’t want a congregation to think that God was holding out a works-based way of salvation here, and I also can’t tell the congregation that this is the same way that God deals with the New Testament church when he calls her to obedience, for there’s nothing equivalent in the New Testament, no promise of earthly blessing for the church today if we meet a standard of obedience. Saying either of those things might by simple, but of course they’d be misleading, and damaging for the church to hear. (The Law is Not of Faith, 5)

Could it be that this view seems to allow Christians to think that law-keeping does not contribute to their salvation? Well, if the law requires “personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he owes to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it,” who is up to that challenge? Don’t be bashful.

Isn't It Really Justification by Baptism?

The substitute caller for Jason of the Callers has tried to reverse the table and claim Roman Catholicism as the real home of justification by faith:

In the Protestant view, for man to enter Heaven he needs to have kept God’s Law perfectly. This means Salvation for the Protestant is purely based upon human “works,” the catch is that since sin has tainted all we do, it’s impossible for man to keep God’s Law perfectly. This is why Protestants say we need Jesus to keep God’s Law perfectly for us, and impute this “work” to us as if we did all this “work” ourselves. Hence why Protestants say our only hope to stand before God and be seen as “righteous” (i.e. a perfect keeper of the Law) is to trust in “Christ’s finished work” alone. So what does any of this have to do with faith alone? Protestants say the way we ‘receive’ this “work” that Christ did is through ‘the empty hand of faith,’ which reaches out and lays hold of and applies that work to our account.

In the Catholic view, for man to enter Heaven requires that he be in communion with God before he passes from this life. For Catholics, Salvation is not so much about ‘doing’ as it is about ‘being’. Communion with God is principally characterized by being “in a state of grace,” that means us possessing the divine gifts of faith, hope, and charity, as well as the Indwelling of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our souls. In this view, faith implies the possession of all these other divine gifts for the Catholic. And the means by which a person first acquires all these is through “the washing of regeneration,” also known as Baptism.

Could be, but that would not explain the partial and plenary indulgences which are still very much available. Just imagine how many users of McCheyne’s schedule for reading Scripture entirely in a year could benefit from this one:

50. Reading of Sacred Scripture (Sacrae Scripturae lectio)

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who with the veneration due the divine word make a spiritual reading from Sacred Scripture.
A plenary indulgence is granted, if this reading is continued for at least one half an hour.

But then again, it could be that faith is really a form of obedience (as Norman Shepherd tried to argue):

Just as Abraham is the model of “the obedience of faith” offered to us by Sacred Scripture, the Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment (cf. CCC, n. 144). “By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that ‘with God nothing will be impossible’ and so giving her assent: ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:37-38)” (CCC, n. 148). Mary’s response perfectly expressed the disposition of complete and unconditional obedience — she is the model for what our response should be to God’s will in our daily lives. Her faith never wavered, and for this reason “the Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith” (CCC, n. 149).

To close this installment, I invite you to reflect on an inspiring excerpt from Fr. Michael Gaitley’s recently published book 33 Days to Morning Glory: “She [Mary] is perfectly united to the Holy Spirit, because she was conceived without sin, never sinned, and always does the will of God perfectly. She allows the Holy Spirit to overshadow her, take possession of her soul, and bear fruit through her. The Holy Spirit delights in always working in and through Mary to save all other creatures made in God’s image” (p. 110).

Is it just (all about) me I or do these guys seem to view Roman Catholicism through a Protestant paradigm?

Jamie Smith Gives, and Jamie Smith Takes Away

Erik has already commented that neo-Calvinists could learn from the Vatican, but the affinities between neo-Calvinism and Rome were even more striking in Jamie Smith’s recent post about Lumen Fidei. His remarks suggest that the real gateway drug for Protestant converts to Roman Catholicism is the sort of comprehensive Christianity that fuels every-square-inch transformationalism. Part of what makes neo-Calvinism appealing to evangelical Protestantism is that it offers so much MORE than salvation from sin and the need to evangelize daily. It talks about redeeming the whole world and promotes the value of every legal walk of life.

But just imagine how much more comprehensive Rome looks when it has 1500 more years of history, and an institution that (in addition to opposing the French Revolution, a neo-Calvinist requirement) put the Holy in Holy Roman Empire. If you want a culturally influential Christianity, Dutch or Dutch-American Calvinism looks like a piker compared to Rome.

This may explain why Jamie was so pleased by Francis’ first encyclical:

. . . the Pope rightly argues that the standpoint of Christian faith is not opting for un-reality—to believe the Gospel is not an irrational escape from “the real.” To the contrary, it is an invitation to participate in the One in whom all reality holds together. And this is an incarnational faith: tangible, sticky, concrete, embodied, in contrast to the vague Gnosticism that too often passes itself off as “Christian.”

So if Christians practice an otherworldly faith because Christ has gone somewhere else to prepare a home for his people, or because Paul tells us to set our minds on things above, or Calvin prays that we should not become too deeply attached to earthly and perishable things, these otherworldly saints are simply gnostics or fundamentalists.

And Smith goes on to quote approvingly Francis’ depiction of faith as a common (as opposed to a Spirit-wrought) good. Here’s Francis:

Faith makes us appreciate the architecture of human relationships because it grasps their ultimate foundation and definitive destiny in God, in his love, and thus sheds light on the art of building; as such it becomes a service to the common good. Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope.

To which Smith adds:

I can’t imagine a better articulation of the faith that animates our work here at Cardus. The Reformation isn’t over, but the protest that has separated us might not be as significant as the Gospel that unites us. This Protestant is deeply grateful for the witness of Pope Francis to the light of faith for the common good.

I know it is a sign of doctrinalist, logo-centric nit-picking to compare Smith’s words to the confessional standards he subscribes. But how exactly does faith become a common good when you define it the way Heidelberg does? (Can’t you at least show that you know what the Three Forms teach and then try a form of reconciliation?)

Question 21. What is true faith?
Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

And what comes of the protest that separates Protestants and Roman Catholics when Heidelberg goes on to describe the centrality of faith to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness?

Question 60. How are thou righteous before God?
Answer: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

I understand and even admire the desire of Christians and NPR listeners to make the world a better place (even if I also think that desire can look fairly naive or self-righteous at times). But if you do grasp the otherworldliness of Christ, Paul, and the Reformers, you do understand that the good of a common life together on planet earth is remarkably inconsequential compared to a separate existence in heaven or hell. Gussying up the goods of western civilization, the humanities, Christendom, or social and political solidarity in talk of “the permanent things” still doesn’t cross the gulf that exists between the life that believers and unbelievers share in this world and the separate worlds they will inhabit in the world to come.

Forensic Friday: Talking about Holiness with a Protestant Accent

The following excerpt from Martin Luther’s 1525 sermon (W.A. 17.1.155f) should be a reminder to would-be perfectionists and neo-nomians about the dangers of misconstruing personal righteousness:

This is the main article which we have to learn. It gives us authority, even if we feel the lust of our flesh or even fall into sin, to say: “Howbeit, it is my will to be rid of the Law, neither am I still under the Law or sin, but I am devout and righteous.” If I cannot say this, I must despair and perish. The Law says: “thou art a sinner.” If I say, “Yes,” I am lost; if I say “No,” I must have a firm ground to stand on, to refute the Law, and uphold my “No.” But how can I say it, when it is true and is confirmed by Holy Scripture that I was born in sin? Where then shall I find the “No”? Of a truth, I shall not find it in my own bosom, but in Christ. From Him I must receive it and fling it down before the Law and say: “Behold, He can say ‘No’ against all Law, and has the right to do, for He is pure and free from sin, and He gives me the ‘No,’ so that though if I look on myself I should have to say ‘Yes’ because I see that I am a sinner and could not stand before the Law, and feel that there is nothing pure in me, and see God’s wrath, yet I can say that Christ’s righteousness is my righteousness, and henceforth I am free from sin.” This is the goal, that we should be able to say, continually, we are pure and godly, for evermore, as Christ Himself can say, and this is wrought through faith.

Luther explains well why some of us find faith in Christ to be much more comforting than the terror that comes from pursuing righteousness as sin-bedeviled saint. (I hope you’re reading Doug and Richard.)

Where's Waldo Wednesday: Reformed Monopoly?

. . . faith does not merely mean that the soul realizes that the divine word is full of grace, free and holy; it also unites the soul with Christ, as a bride is united with her bridegroom. From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body, so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse. This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul; and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ. Thus Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul. The soul possesses lots of vice and sin; these now belong to Christ. Here we have a happy exchange and struggle. Christ is God and human being, who has never sinned and who’s holiness is unconquerable, eternal and almighty. So he makes the sin of the living soul his own through its wedding ring, which is faith, and acts as if he had done it himself, so that sin could be swallowed up in him. For his unconquerable righteousness is too strong for all sin, so that it is made single and free from all its sins on account of its pledge, that is its faith, and can turn to the eternal righteousness of its bridegroom, Christ. Now is this not a happy business? Christ, the rich, noble, holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil, and bestows all his goodness upon her! It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ and is swallowed up by him, so that she possesses a rich righteousness in her bridegroom. (from Alister McGrath’s The Christian Theology Reader, p. 441)

Where's Waldo Wednesday: Machen on Regeneration

Regeneration, or the new birth, therefore, does not stand in opposition to a truly scientific attitude toward the evidence, but on the contrary it is necessary in order that that truly scientific attitude may be attained; it is not a substitute for the intellect, but on the contrary by it the intellect is made to be a trustworthy instrument for apprehending truth. The true state of the case appears in the comprehensive answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to the question, “What is effectual calling?” “Effectual calling,” says the Catechism, “is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel.” That does justice to all aspects of the matter; conviction of sin and misery as the prerequisite of faith, the enlightening of a mind blinded by sin, the renewing of the will; and all these things produced by the Spirit of God. (What is Faith? pp. 135-136)

Forensic Friday: Calvin on Osiander

Osiander objects that is would be insulting to God and contrary to this nature that he should justify those who actually remain wicked. Yet we must bear in mind what I have already said, that the grace of justification is not separated from regeneration, although they are things distinct. But because it is very well known by experience that the traces of sin always remain in the righteous, their justification must be very different from reformation into newness of life (cf.. Rom. 6:4). For God so begins this second point in his elect, and progresses in it gradually, and sometimes slowly, throughout life, that they are always liable to the judgment of death before his tribunal. But he does not justify in part but liberally, so that they may appear in heaven as if endowed with the purity of Christ. No portion of righteousness sets our consciences at peace until it has been determined that we are pleasing to God, because we are entirely righteous before him. From this it follows that the doctrine of justification is perverted and utterly overthrown when doubt is thrust into men’s minds, when the assurance of salvation is shaken and the free and fearless calling upon God suffers hindrance – nay, when peace and tranquility with spiritual joy are not established. Thence Paul argues from contraries that the inheritance does not come from the law (Gal. 3:18), for this way “faith would be nullified” (Rom. 4:14, cf. Vg.). For faith totters if it pays attention to works, since no one, even of the most holy, will find there anything on which to rely. (Institutes, III.xi.11)

Looks like Calvin also teaches the priority of justification (i.e. first grace) to sanctification (i.e., “second”). And for that matter, if union is drawing attention to good works because it is always calling attention to the simultaneity of legal and moral benefits, why would you want to emphasize the importance or controlling perspective of union on soteriology? In other words, Calvin sure seems to be saying that justification needs to be the controlling paradigm for understanding salvation. Otherwise, faith totters.