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 . . .


Anonymous said...

"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."

My own Anglican/Wesleyan tradition would vehemently reject this understanding.
Wesley saw new birth as the 'first moment' of sanctification, that (usually) occured at the same time as justification (which he, following Calvin, see in terms of forgiveness) so that the two are in Wesley's thought linked as steps toward the goal of the salvation process - which is restoration of the image of God, and conformity to the image of Christ, the second Adam. I wonder what you think of this vis-a-vis Augustine's understanding of the relationship between (fusion of?) justification and sanctification?

Gerald said...


Your portrayal of Wesley's understanding of the simultaneous nature of regeneration (the first moment of sanctification) and justification (forgiveness of sins), is substantively the same as Calvin's, as I understand him. We are agreed that Forde's comment above does not--in and of itself--represent the best of the Protestant tradition.

Regarding Augustine, I'm not entirely sure that he understood justification and sanctification in Reformed/Wesleyan categories. The debate as to whether justification is properly understood to be punctilliar or progressive is--I think--foreign to Augustine. The common consensus argues that Augustine fuses justification and sanctification (so McGrath, Iustitia Dei). I'm not certain this is true. It seems to me that Augustine distinguishes between justification (i.e., regeneration) and growth in holiness (i.e., what we call sanctification) much like how Calvin/Wesley distinguish between regeneration and sanctification. Using Wesley's words, for Augustine, justification is the "first moment" of sanctification. It is important to recognize this distinction, because Augustine is adamant that justification is by grace apart from works. He is also adamant that the eternal reward is merited according to good works. If we fold all of Augustine's soteriology into his justification language (including his doctrine of merit), these two theses of Augustine become incoherent. From my reading of Augustine, he limits the term "justification" to initial conversion and regeneration.