Sunday, June 11, 2006

Braaten on Justification

Having finished with the Finns, I’ve moved on to Carl Braaten’s Justification: The Article by Which the Church Stands or Falls. Braaten is an unapologetically Lutheran theologian who argues for an unapologetically Lutheran view of justification. Of course, the Lutheran articulation of justification is up for grabs and that’s what this book is about. If I’m not a Luther scholar (and I’m not), I am even less of a Lutheran scholar, so much of the book has been an interesting and somewhat challenging foray into the intramural debates taking place within Lutheranism. A couple of things stand out thus far, the first of which I will address here. I will save the others for another post.

Braaten is very concerned that recent trends in Lutheran theology have moved Lutheran soteriology toward a synergistic relationship between grace and human effort. Indicative of this trend for Braaten is the refusal of many Lutheran theologians to place justification (defined as God’s forensic declaration of the forgiveness of sins) as the first step in the ordo salutis (order of salvation). For Braaten, justification by faith does not mean that justification follows faith. He writes,
Justification is objectively prior to faith . . . Justification precedes faith, whereas faith is the corresponding acknowledgement of itself as gift and of God as gracious giver of that gift through creative for . Faith is by all means not the cause of forgiveness and not a prior condition of justification (26).
And again,
The free and full forgiveness of sins is proclaimed as an objective gift of God, on account of Christ, to sinners, not because they repent and believe but in order that they may believe and repent (24).
To make faith a condition of justification is, for Braaten, to open the door to the very synergistic semi-Pelagianism that Luther was trying to avoid. For Braaten, no matter how you slice it, “faith is a work. . . It is an act,” and therefore cannot be a condition of justification.

My initial reaction to Braaten's concern here is that he is positing a false dichotomy between faith as a human work and justification as a divine work. There is a third option: both faith--and the justification which stems from it--are gifts of God. Braaten acknowledges this option in theory, but seems to lack the ability to see how it really does preserve the gratuity of God’s gift. To insist, as Braaten does, that faith is a really a "work" is to upend the whole Pauline distinction between faith and works. If they are the same, then Paul could just as easily have said that we are justified by grace through works, as that we are justified by grace through faith. But he chose faith over works precisely because faith is not a work, but rather a recognition that we cannot work.

Further, I’m not at all certain that Luther would agree with Braaten on this point. From what I’ve read of Luther, he seems to have no problem ascribing justification to faith, in as much as faith itself is understood to be a divine gift. Even Braaten has to admit that “there is a certain unclarity in Luther’s own manner of expressing himself” which might incline one to “misunderstand” Luther to be teaching that justification follows faith. Yet perhaps this unclarity stems from trying to foist something upon Luther that isn’t there.

Further still, Augustine has no problem pointedly ascribing justification to faith (being understood that faith is a gift of God’s infallible grace). Surely Braaten wouldn’t accuse Augustine of succumbing to semi-Pelagianism!

And lastly, what else does Paul mean when he says that “justification is ek (by) faith”? It seems that the simplest reading of Paul is that he intends us to understand that justification is the result of faith, and therefore follows after it.

But does it really matter? I think it does. Braaten's hesitancy to ascribe justification to faith runs the risk of perpetuating the very synergism that he wants to avoid. Braaten makes faith a human work, and having done so, insists that it cannot precede justification. But to insist on protecting the graciousness of God in justification by disconnecting it in a causal way from human faith is to undermine the graciousness of God in his free giving of faith. Faith, even if it is human work of sorts, is infallibly called forth by the free and gracious call of God. Faith, justification, and even the works which stem from them, are all sourced in God’s gracious gift. To make faith a "work" is to loose sight of the fact that it is a God-wrought reality.

Yet in this I agree with Braaten-justification is the article by which the Church stands or falls.

5 comments:

David M said...

If you get a chance to get to them in your readings/lectures, I believe both Gordon Fee and N.T. Wright both have an interesting take on Justification, in particular, the Church's stance on justification.

For example, Fee makes the observation that "justification" is a metaphor that is typically only used in the context of the Jewish-Gentile issue. Yet we have made it, as you say, "the article by which the Church stands or falls."

I am currently working my way through Paul's writings to find the metaphors for 'salvation' he uses and the context they appear in, based on this Fee idea. I'm a bit surprised already! Not what my system of thought was expecting!!

Gerald said...

Thanks David,

I have read some of Wright, and though I haven't read enough of him to evaluate his overall soteriology one way or the other, I find myself agreeing with only some of his thoughts on justification (though I think he is dead on when it comes to merit--see post below). I don’t agree that “justification” is primarily a declarative/judicial metaphor for Paul. Wright seems to think so, if I read him correctly, arguing that justification is God’s eschatological declaration of our right standing with Him, pronounced here, in the present, of those who have faith in Christ as Lord.

I'm inclined to think at present that Paul does not use the term "justification" in such a strict doctrinal/technical sense, with only had one primary meaning. It seems to me that he uses it much like he uses the term "saved"--it is just a general word used to speak of God's deliverance. Trying to foist a singular definition upon every occurrence of "justification" in the Pauline corpus gets, I think, a bit strained. Both Braaten and Wright (as I understand him) want to see justification in a strictly declarative sense (though Wright differs from Braaten even in this, in as much as he denies imputation). Yet I think that for Paul, the term is not as much about the declaration of the divine verdict (though there is some of this (Romans 2:13), as much as it about "being brought into God's redemption/salvation."—which for Paul includes regeneration, sanctification, and judicial deliverance. The context needs to determine which has aspect of justification he has in mind. In other words, the term is a general "catch-all" for salvation.

So in as much as justification has become a theological category that speaks to how we are brought back into relation with God, then yes--this is the article on which the church stands or falls. To be wrong on soteriology is to be wrong on everything. But justification as a narrow Pauline metaphor for salvation?--then no--Paul uses many other metaphors "risen with Christ", etc., and we need not fixate on this one to the exclusion of the others. Most of his letters don’t even mention the word. This is because it is not his only way of speaking about salvation.

big african said...

It could be that the "ek" in Romans 5 is used in a periphrastic way, that is, ascribing faith, which is a genitive to be one that is partitive; a part of the whole. It could be, based lexically and syntactically, that faith is a part of the whole of justification and neither precedes neither.

Of course justification is used in more ways than one. BDAG has 4 uses and Liddell/Scott lists 5.

I don't think that there are any lone articles that cause the Church to stand or fall, especially ones penned by those in the 16th century who missed so much because of their tendency to "theologize" texts. You could say the same things about inerrancy or the deity of Christ, or the incarnation. I don't need to tell you what really holds the church together but I will say this. Faith is never defined as a God given entity in any reliable lexicon. I know many like to make it this way because it makes their tight knit theology a little tighter, but in reality, faith, when used this way, means something that YOU have - a firm commitment. Faith in Romans 12 is different than what is being said here. Faith in Romans 14 is different than the two. So is justification from/out of/by/ a part of faith? Does it precede the other or vice versa? Does it matter? Yeah, I think it does but I, as is the case in so many other pertinent theological issues must confess I don't know.
Gerald you r da man

Gerald said...

Big African,

You wrote,

It could be that the "ek" in Romans 5 is used in a periphrastic way, that is, ascribing faith, which is a genitive to be one that is partitive; a part of the whole. It could be, based lexically and syntactically, that faith is a part of the whole of justification and neither precedes neither.

First of all, don’t be dumping all of your “periphrastic blah blah blah” on my blog. No one here knows what you’re talking about. However, if I did know what you were talking about I think I would respond thusly: the syntaxical (is that even a word?) definition you are suggesting would be translated something like “justified in/of faith,” but I’m still not sure that this wouldn’t indicate that faith precedes, and in some way serves as the basis of, justification. I think you would have to acknowledge that the renderings by, from or out of are the far more likely rendering of the word in this context.

Of course justification is used in more ways than one. BDAG has 4 uses and Liddell/Scott lists 5.

Right. Which is why we have to be careful about forcing one definition onto the word when we encounter it in Scripture. As I said above, I’m inclined to believe that the term “justified” and it derivatives (righteous, righteousness, justification, etc.) are often used by Paul to speak of our being “righetousfied,” i.e, being brought into contact with God’s redemptive righteousness/salvation. In as much as Wright and Gundry (both of whom I’ve read very little by) along with many others, have correctly seen “righteousness” as a parallel with “salvation,” I’m inclined to think that Paul has this meaning in mind when he uses the term “justified.” Thus when Paul says that we have been “justified by faith” he simply means that we have entered into God’s salvation “by faith.” The nature of this “salvation” must be determined by context, but I think that Paul tends to link justification together with regeneration and ontological renewal, more than any other category. See in particular Titus 3:5-7. There’s more to be said here but that’s fodder for a future post.

I don't think that there are any lone articles that cause the Church to stand or fall, especially ones penned by those in the 16th century who missed so much because of their tendency to "theologize" texts. You could say the same things about inerrancy or the deity of Christ, or the incarnation.

Good point. Perhaps it is better to say that it (meaning soteriology in general—not just a narrow understanding of justification) is one of the articles by which the Church stands or falls.

I don't need to tell you what really holds the church together but I will say this. Faith is never defined as a God given entity in any reliable lexicon. I know many like to make it this way because it makes their tight knit theology a little tighter, but in reality, faith, when used this way, means something that YOU have - a firm commitment.

I agree here that faith is a human thing. This of course does not discount it from also being a divine gift. Augustine taught that faith is a firm conviction about the truth of God. But having been separated from God, we can only truly believe in him if he infallibly reveals himself to us. Thus faith is our own—it is we who believe—but it is also a gift from God in that we cannot believe in him unless he grants us supernatural knowledge of himself. We cannot believe in something we don’t properly know. And the fact that faith is not defined as God given entity in the lexicons means little. We do not define a car in any way as to suggest that it is inherently a gift, but a car could be given as a gift nonetheless.

Gerald you r da man

Truest thing you said here Big D. Miss you my friend.

big african said...

ok, one more thing and I will sign out. Lexical definitions, as you know, are much different than ones found in a dictionary. Good ones give extensive meanings, derivitaives, uses in history, etc. So to say that because it isn't defined that way in a lexicon doesn't matter is to discount so much. Unfortuneately, I have been looking at certain lexicons almost as canon, and have erred on that side.