Sunday, March 20, 2005

Augustine and Justification - Part IV

Mr. Jacob Daniel Galloway, former youth group student and generally brilliant young man, has asked a number of good questions here, and I have decided to answer his comments at length in this post with the thought that it might be of interest to others. Perhaps I am deceived. Regardless, I press on.

Jacob wrote:
..are you saying that Reformed theology allows for salvation to occur without regeneration at all?


Yes and no.

No in that for the Reformed paradigm, justification and regeneration, though two separate acts, must occur together or not at all. Everyone whom God justifies, he also regenerates (and sanctifies). It is imporatant to keep in mind that in the Reformed paradigm, the terms salvation and justification are not wholly equivalent. Justification (which Reformed guys have defined purely in a legal/forensic manner - contra Augustine who saw justification denoting spiritual regeneration) is but one part of salvation (which includes regeneration, sanctification, and glorification, etc.) So in this sense, salvation cannot occur without regeneration/sanctification, for the “faith that justifies is the faith that sanctifies.” In true Reformed thought, though salvation can be broken down logically, it must be embraced holistically or not at all. Calvin's concept of mystical union (note point 3) is important here in holding together these diverse aspects of salvation (See also his Institutes, book III, ch. XI, sec. 10).

But on the other hand, yes. Though essential change is a non-negotiable of a holistic Reformed conception of salvation, the Reformed paradigm does not maintain that all aspects of salvation serve as the final basis of inheriting eternal life (see Charles Hodge, Sys Theo, Vol. III, [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1973] 119). Though regeneration, sanctification, and glorification are all aspects of salvation, none of these serve as the ultimate ground of eternal life – only judicial/forensic justification. Consequently, the emphasis in the Reformed gospel (and thus wider evangelicalism) is upon a forensic justification. This judicial justification decidedly does NOT involve any kind of ontological change. In my opinion, this is why these other ontological aspects of salvation are often minimized in wider evangelicalism.

Jacob wrote:
..can I not have justification mean something volitional and regeneration mean something ontological and then hold them both as necessary and complementary parts of a whole picture of salvation?


Yes, but how are they both necessary? It is one thing to say that regeneration is necessary (which all reformed guys do) and to say that it is necessary as the ground of eternal life (which reformed guys don’t). The Reformed paradigm very staunchly denies that ontological transformation serves any basis as a ground of eternal life. The difference, in my mind is significant, and the implications of which seem to be lost on most of the reformed guys I’ve read/talked to. We can talk all we want about how regeneration is necessary, but if we do not maintain its necessity as the ground of eternal life, it is invariably neglected in gospel proclamation (as is seen the four spiritual laws, bridge illustration, Romans road, etc. – nary a mention of the resurrection or regeneration is usually seen in any of these). With Augustine, such an overlooking is not possible, since for Augustine the ground of eternal life is linked to one’s participation in the essential righteousness of Christ via the indwelling Holy Spirit (i.e. regeneration).


Keeping the above in mind, I don’t have any problem with - and in fact maintain - the position that both judicial forgiveness and spiritual regeneration are necessary grounds of merit regarding eternal life. This forces regeneration to the fore of gospel proclamation in a way that the reformed paradigm fails to do.

But one further obsevation: I don’t think that the biblical term justification is best understood in a merely forensic/judicial context, as your questions suggests. My reading of scripture (not just Augustine) compels me to view justification as much more closely linked to regeneration than forgiveness. Thus I would prefer to speak of essential justification and judicial forgiveness, rather than judicial justification and regeneration, and maintain that both serve as the ground of merit in inheriting eternal life.

1 comment:

J Daniel said...

Thanks, Gerald, I feel like the zoom in on essential justification made things clearer for me.

-a "generally brilliant" fellow