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.


Joao Leitao said...

thank you for your writings on an amazing blog you have!

i added you to my blog rool, please tell me if that's ok.

happy new year.

Gerald said...


Thanks--feel free to add me to your blog roll.