Friday, December 29, 2006

Augustine as "Lutheran"?

Westerholm groups the competing voices in Pauline studies into two broad categories: those who view Paul as "Lutheran," and those who don't. For Westerholm, "Lutheran" readings of Paul understand Paul to be arguing against a Jewish proto-pelagianism. Thus, the Pauline formula of “justification by grace through faith” speaks to how a sinner can find a gracious God and merit eternal life. "Non Lutheran" readings of Paul however, follow E. P. Sanders and the New Perspective, arguing instead that Paul was contesting against Jewish ethnocentrism. Thus the formula “justification by grace through faith” speaks to how gentiles can be included in the Jewish covenants.

In the first part of the book, Westerholm surveys the historical landscape of Pauline studies, focusing on Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Wesley. He concludes that all four theologians read Paul in a "Lutheran" way. (Only a New Testament scholar could be at peace referring to Augustine as a "Lutheran" theologian.) He follows with a look at “Non-Lutheran” Pauline studies, beginning with the works of Schweitzer and Wrede, both of whom prefigure the soon to come New Perspective.

I find Westerholm’s “Lutheran/Non-Lutheran” dichotomy interesting. I have spent most of my theological reflection distinguishing between theologians who share “Lutheran” readings of Paul, most notably between Augustine and Calvin. While it may be helpful in this instance to group Augustine with other “Lutheran” theologians, from a strictly theological perspective, such a grouping can too quickly gloss over the significant differences between these theologians. Augustine understands justifications in regenerative terms. But for Calvin (and Wesley and to some degree Luther), justification is understood in a judicial context and refers solely/primarily to the forensic forgiveness of sins. Further, Augustine upholds the notion of human merit in regard to eternal life, something that Calvin and the others are not comfortable doing. These differences are substantial. (For his part, Westerholm notes these differences, but doesn’t press them). While Augustine certainly understood Paul to be battling against a Jewish proto-Pelagiansim, I’m not certain that one can easily categorize Augustine as “Lutheran” and then use him to support a more traditional forensic/Reformed understanding of justification.

But in fairness to Westerholm, he is approaching the discussion from within the guild of New Testament studies, not historical or theological studies.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Doug Sweeney on Edwards and the Pastor-scholar

Doug Sweeney, resident Edwards scholar at TEDS comments about the legacy of Jonathan Edwards.

"Edwards teaches us that theology can and should be done primarily in the church, for the promotion of Christian wisdom among God’s people. In Edwards’s day, America did not yet have any modern, post-baccalaureate seminaries. Pastors were our nation’s most important theologians, and parishioners understood better how much our lives depend on God’s Word. Today, many pastors have abdicated their responsibilities as theologians. And many theologians do their work in a way that is lost on the people of God. I want to be realistic in making this point. A certain amount of specialization is inevitable in modern, market-driven economies. And the specialization of roles within God’s kingdom often enhances our Christian ministries. But when pastors spend the bulk of their time on organizational concerns, and professors spend most of their time on intramural, academic concerns, no one is left to do the work that Edwards knew is most important: the hard work of opening the Scriptures in ways that deepen the faith, hope, and love of the church" (Trinity Magazine, Spring, 2004).

Doug was my graduate advisor during my tenure at TEDS and has been the sharpest thinking professor I've had to date. If you have an interest in American Church history, particularly Edwards, consider studying under Doug.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Al Kimel on Augustine and Justification: Part 2

In this, the second half of my review of Al Kimel’s post on justification, I need to break away briefly to dicuss Al's portrayal of Protestant theology. I will return to his treatment of Augustine in my next post. For the first half of my review, see here.

I am not satisfied with Al’s portrayal of the Protestant/evangelical position on justification and sanctification. Al uses the writing of Gerhard Forde as an example of the Protestant view of the relationship between sanctification and justification. Al writes,
There can be no growth in holiness, therefore, for there is no escaping in this life the totality of our sinfulness. Sanctification is simply believing the divine imputation. Here is the evangelical cutting edge of the sola fide. What must we do to be saved? Absolutely nothing, Forde replies! We are saved by faith alone, by believing the imputational promise spoken to us. There can be no more righteousness than that which is given to us, has been given to us, in the gospel. No more can be done; no more can be given.
I am not familiar with Forde or his work, and thus I cannot critique his overall position without a fuller context. But the piece that Al quotes from is short-sighted when it comes to summing up the best of evangelical theology. Neither Luther, Calvin nor those evangelicals who faithfully follow them, would limit sanctification to merely “believing the divine imputation.” While Luther did maintain simul iustus, simul peccator it is not accurate to suggest (as Ford seems to) that there can be no real growth in moral holiness. In my mind, Luther is not the best Reformer when it comes to explaining the nature of good works in the life of a Christian. He too often dismisses them as having value only for this life, and often does not distinguish between God-wrought works and mere fleshly works. Nonetheless, for Luther, good works are a necessity of true faith and a lack of growth in holiness is a sure indication that one has not been justified to begin with. While “progress” in the Christian life may indeed include an increased faith in the divine imputation, it would be unfair to interpret Luther as though he believed this was the only kind of progress that could be made. Luther firmly taught that sanctification (i.e., moral renewal through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit) was the inevitable and necessary fruit of justification. He was regularly misunderstood in his day, and remains misunderstood in ours. Luther writes,
It is not from works that we are set free by the faith of Christ, but from belief in works, that is from foolishly presuming to seek justification through works. Faith redeems our consciences, makes them upright, and preserves them, since by it we recognize the truth that justification does not depend on our works, although good works neither can nor ought to be absent (Concerning Christian Liberty).
As Al notes, the simul iustus, simul peccator expression can be interpreted in ways that are consistent with Catholic theology. For Luther—and for most evangelicals who use the phrase—the expression means that we are justified while we yet remain unperfected, not that we are justified and while we reamin yet unregenerate. In substance, I’m not certain that Luther intended the expression to mean anything different than what Augustine or Aquinas taught. To be sure, the popular interpretation of simul iustus, simul peccator often leads to antinomianism. But such misuse is probably no more frequent than the slide into Pelagianism that occurs through popular Catholic soteriology. Further, I am not at all certain that Luther understood justification and imputation in strictly forensic terms. There is considerable debate about Luther’s position at present, with some scholars suggesting that there is a strong parallel between Luther’s doctrine of justification and the Eastern Orthodox notion of theosis. In my own reading of Luther, it seems to me that he is not willing to ascribe a solely forensic, declarative sense to justification.

Calvin likewise teaches that sanctification always involves moral renewal, and that justification never exists independent of sanctification. In this respect, it is important to keep in mind Calvin’s understanding of the mystical union between Christ and the believer. Through one’s mystical (not ontological) participation in Christ, all that is Christ’s becomes the believer’s—regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification, et al. Thus for Calvin, salvation is an organic whole; and while each aspect of salvation can be spoken of independent of the others, it is impossible for one aspect of salvation to exist by itself. Concerning the inseparability of justification and sanctification, Calvin writes,
Why, then, are we justified by faith? Because by faith we grasp Christ’s righteousness, by which alone we are reconciled to God. Yet you could not grasp this without at the same time grasping sanctification also. For he ‘is given unto us for righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption’ (1 Cor 1:30). Therefore Christ justifies no one whom he does not at the same time sanctify. These benefits are joined together by an everlasting and indissoluble bond, so that those whom he illumines by his wisdom, he redeems; those whom he redeems, he justifies; those whom he justifies, he sanctifies. But, since the question concerns only righteousness and sanctification, let us dwell upon these. Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker of his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. Thus it is clear how true it is that we are justified not without works yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume XIX, Book III, Ch. XVI.1)
However, having defended my Protestant heritage, I do share some of Al’s concern. While it is evident (at least to me) that neither Calvin nor Luther would have embraced Al’s depiction of Protestant thought, I do think that the Reformers’ (Calvin's in particular) articulation of justification as consisting primarily in the forgiveness of sins opened the door to the antinomianism of much of Protestant/evangelical thought. Perhaps Al’s main point in this particular section was to show that the logic of the Reformers' position leads naturally toward antinomianism. I share this concern. But we must not presume that the Reformers themselves embraced or propagated the caricature presented in Al’s post via Forde. While there are certainly circles of Protestant/evangelical thought that do teach a bare legal justification that takes place with or without sanctification, such formulations are neither faithful to the two great Reformers nor indicative of the best of conservative Protestant/evangelical piety.

Up next: Did Augustine teach that we are justified by works? Did he teach that justification was both an event and a process? Stay tuned . . .

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thoughts on 1 Peter 3:7 and the "Weaker" Vessel

In my estimation, marginalization and oppression can ultimately be traced to a combination of sin and raw physical power. White Europeans oppressed Native Americans both because they wanted to, and because they could (they had greater physical superiority through weaponry and numbers). We in the United States enslaved Africans for the same reason. It is latent within the fallen psyche for the greater to oppress the weaker. Simply put, to the strong goes the spoils.

In my mind, this same dialect between physical power and oppression applies to the relationship between the sexes. In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter refers to the woman as the “weaker” vessel. It seems evident that the weakness Peter has in mind is physical (as opposed to moral, intellectual, or spiritual weakness). It is because of this weakness that women so often suffer under the hands of men. And I am not referring simply to physical suffering. Historically speaking, virtually every culture has marginalized women. At a root level, it is because men are physically stronger than women that women are marginalized. If women possessed the same physical power as men, oppression and marginalization would be not take place. Of course, the relationship between physical power and oppression is masked in our civilized, Christian/post-Christian, law-abiding culture. But the privileged status of women within our culture is only there because of the thin veneer of civilization that masks and restrains the Beelzebub that lies beneath the male psyche. It is in fact, only in a civilized culture that protects the equality of women with the use of force that we can even have a discussion about the equality of men and women. So what are we to make of the inherent physical inequality that exists between men and women? Should we be for it or against it?

Lest we suppose that the greater physical strength of the man is a product of the fall, it seems evident that the vulnerability of the woman is part of God’s original design. Too often the complementarian/egalitarian debate gets lost in a discussion about what should be, rather than embracing what is. Peter is not saying that women should be vulnerable before men; he is saying that they are. There is nothing that we can do to change this reality. I often get the sense when interacting with egalitarians that they resent the vulnerability of the woman before the man. For many egalitarians, equality of power is the ultimate goal. As long as the woman is vulnerable before the man, the egalitarian goal has not been realized. Complete independence from the dominance of men is what this form of egalitarianism seeks. But God does not desire the woman to be independent from the man (or man from the woman). He detests the abuse of power to be sure, but the imbalance of physical power is by his design. I fear that many egalitarians are balking at an inevitable God-ordained inequality, when what they should be fighting against is the abuse of this inequality.

In light of such chronic abuse, one appropriately wonders why God created women with an inherent physical weakness that so easily translates into marginalization. Why make one sex vulnerable before the other? I think that there is no way of satisfactorily answering this question—or the questions regarding “gender roles”—without considering the typological relationship that exists between human gender and the divine anti-type. God created the woman to be vulnerable and dependent upon the man as a reflection of the Church’s vulnerability and dependence upon Christ. It should not be our goal to help women be less vulnerable before men—which is physically impossible anyway—but rather to work toward the realization of the image of Christ’s self-sacrificial relationship to the Church.

Women by their very nature will always be vulnerable before men. The call of Christ is not to pursue an ill-fated attempt to abolish this vulnerability, but rather to protect and honor women in the midst of it . The man is to use his God-given strength for the exaltation and honoring of the woman. This is the way of Christ, who used his greater power for the exaltation and honoring of his beloved.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Al Kimel on Augustine and Justification

Al Kimel at Pontifications solicited my thoughts on this article. Al’s blog has become one of my favorite places to visit, and while we don’t agree on everything, I usually come away enriched. The post in question discusses the Catholic teaching on justification, and uses Augustine as representative of the Catholic position. I won’t attempt to summarize the article beyond stating that Al (himself a relatively recent convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism) argues that the Catholic Church’s teaching on justification by works is consistent with both Scripture and the early church fathers—most notably Augustine. While I certainly won’t attempt to critique Al’s post in reference to Catholic teaching in general, I do have a few thoughts in relation to Augustine (which is likely why he solicited my thoughts in the first place). I will try to keep this post short, but I can already feel it getting away from me.

The first point of agreement; Al points out that Augustine does not teach justification by imputation. This is true. For Augustine, justification is not based upon the imputation of righteousness. Rather, imputation is a temporary covering that covers one’s concupiscence until final glorification. In a classic passage on imputation Augustine writes,
Carnal concupiscence is remitted, indeed, in baptism; not so that it is put out of existence, but so that it is not to be imputed for sin. Although its guilt is taken away, it still remains until our entire infirmity be healed” (On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book 1, chp. 38).
In order to properly understand Augustine on imputation, one needs to understand his distinction between concupiscence and volitional sin. The two are distinguished in that the former is the ontological reality that gives birth to the latter. Concupiscence is the “tinder” of volitional sin--it is the remaining indwelling corruption that clings to regenerated humanity. Further, this corruption is sufficient to merit wrath. If carnal concupiscence merits wrath, and if regenerated believers do not shed their concupiscence until the resurrection, how can the dilemma of indwelling concupiscence be solved? For Augustine, the answer is the non-imputation of concupiscence at baptism. For Augustine, imputation looks forward to the pending glorification of the Christian. In other words, God treats us now based upon what we will be. In contrast, Reformed and Lutheran construals of imputation look back toward Christ’s active and passive obedience. Further, it most be noted that Augustine teaches only a non-imputation of concupiscence. He does not teach double imputation, nor does he even teach the non-imputation of sins (in as much as all sins are remitted at baptism and subsequent sins are remitted through alms giving and prayer).

A second point of agreement; Al notes that for Augustine, final salvation is merited according to good works. This is true. Augustine repeatedly affirms the notion that it is one's God-wrought righteous deeds that merit eternal life. Pelagius and Augustine did not debate whether good works merited eternal life; on this they both agreed. Rather they were debating the source of those works. For Pelagius, good works were wrought in self, apart from supernatural, internal grace. For Augustine, good works were wrought in God through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Augustine writes,
If eternal life is rendered to good work, as the Scripture most openly declares… how can eternal life be a matter of grace, seeing that grace is not rendered to works, but given gratuitously…This question seems to me to be by no means capable of a solution, unless we understand that even those good works of our, which are recompensed with eternal life, belong to the grace of God, because of what is said by the Lord Jesus: “Without me ye can do nothing.” (On Grace and Free Will, chp. 19).
It is important to note however, that Augustine is, well . . . Augustinian when it comes to grace and freewill. (He is later followed by Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, et al.) For Augustine, divine grace enables/woos the freewill to infallibly choose the good. Thus for Augustine, the good works by which the elect merit eternal life are infallibly wrought in God. Much of contemporary Catholicism (though not all) fails to follow Augustine and Aquinas on the relationship between grace and free will, adopting more of a Molinist/Arminian approach. For me, Augustine’s high view of God’s sovereignty protects salvation from the subtle suggestion of human autonomy in ways that the Molinist/Arminian paradigms do not.

And lastly, Al is correct that Augustine’s understanding of justification is identical to that of spiritual regeneration. For Augustine, justification is not a declaration of one’s legal (or even moral) righteousness before God. To be justified is to be made morally righteous. Augustine frequently uses the expressions “born again,” “regenerated” and “justified” as synonyms. The passage that Al quotes from makes this plain. Augustine writes,
The word “justified” is equivalent to “made righteous”—made righteous by him who justifies the ungodly, so that he who was ungodly becomes righteous (On the Spirit and the Letter).
For Augustine, the righteousness of justification is ontological/moral. It is not imputed or forensic. Evangelicals,who generally affirm Augustine as an ally, too often forget this fact. Those segments of evangelicalism which insist upon a Reformed/Lutheran doctrine of double imputation as the only pure expression of the gospel should be aware that when they do so, they are cutting out Augustine (not to mention Luther and likely Calvin as well—but that’s a different post).

In my next post I will note a few points of disagreement that I have with Al’s article.

Sunday, December 03, 2006