Friday, December 09, 2005

Gene Vieth on N.T. Wright

The new attack on justification

N. T. Wright is an Anglican bishop in England. Evangelicals and other theological conservatives like him because, among other things, he wrote a stirring scholarly defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Christ. But he believed that Luther had it wrong with this justification by grace through faith stuff. This is because Luther misunderstood the writings of St. Paul, who, according to Wright, was just talking about freedom from the Jewish ceremonial law, not the moral law. Actually, according to Wright, we are saved by good works after all.

Though this is being called the "new perspective on Paul," this is not particularly new. This is basically the Roman Catholic take on what Paul says. Anglicans have never been particularly strong on justification. But what is remarkable to me is how so many evangelicals are seizing on this. Both liberal evangelicals and conservative evangelicals (including some otherwise hard-core Calvinists).

The Wall Street Journal has a column praising Wright from John Wilson, editor of "Books and Culture." (Click "continue reading" for the article.) I think many evangelicals have been wanting to make salvation a function of good works for a long time, and this gives them a good excuse. Salvation comes from living like Jesus did. That usually gets translated into either conservative or liberal politics, or trivial lifestyle choices like not driving SUVs, recycling, affirming gays, or--on the complementary side--not drinking, smoking, or going to movies. I have yet to see the person who lives with the moral purity of Christ. But go ahead and try. And then when you fail, perhaps you will appreciate how Jesus really chose to live His life. By dying for you.

click for more


Anonymous said...

where is the "continue reading" link?

Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

JZ - al(W)right, I think you are going a little tough on NT here. His work on Paul is not saying we are saved by works, he is definitely Protestant on the issue of salvation by faith alone. His main problem with the Lutheran reading of Paul is that Paul was talking about ecclesiology not soteriology. So when Paul says "justified by faith" he is saying you are a member of the covenant community by faith in Jesus Christ's atonement, not by circumcision. Justification in Galatians is a matter of who's in the covenant community and who's not, it is about what the badge or sign of membership is, not who is eternally saved. If you read his writings (What Saint Paul Really Said, etc.) he is totally Protestant in salvation. His main point is that Paul wasn't talking about salvation in Galatians, he was talking about the community and what it means to be a member (remember the issue in Galatia was table fellowship and who can eat with who).

So NT Wright is clearly Protestant in my reading and others, he just says you find salvation by faith in the Gospels and some of Paul, the other stuff is really about external markers for the covenant community. How do you tell who is in the community? Not by circumcison, but by baptism in the blood of Jesus Christ and faith in his work of redemption on the cross. He is utterly opposed to the Roman gospel (check out "For All the Saints", etc.), so it is a bit misleading to characterize him as one. But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

My word verification is oopsj which I take to mean "oops j(ohn)" although there may be other readings.

E. Twist said...


I'm gonna have to tip my hat to the big Chapman Cheese on this one.

I'm certainly not the Wright scholar that either of you are, but I do think it is time that we listen seriously to what the NPP's are saying in regards to Pauline interpretation. Luther had much to offer, his exegesis on Galatians (and others) is still in need of criticism, though.

Too many have chosen the path of supersessionist ecclesiology from the leading of Luther. (that last sentence was bad english, but you get my point).

NPP lends a focus on Paul that offers the church a sharper understanding of its role. (I'm pretty sure that was bad english as well, I've had a long day.)

E. Twist said...

Johann K. Irmischer, ed. Vol. 63
(Erlangen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854), pp.124-125. [EA 63:124-125]August 1994

Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream
is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though theyspeak and hear much about faith. ``Faith is not enough,'' they say, ``You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.''

They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working,creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, ``I believe.'' That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn't come from this `faith,' either.

Instead, faith is God's work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words.

Faith is a living, bold trust in God's grace, so certain of God's favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God's grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they're smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools.

Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.

Jeff Dean said...

If this New Perspective on Paul is correct, then I'm out of the church for two reasons:

1) I have no real reason to believe that Christianity is the correct faith. Semi-Pelagianism is the unverisal human religion. If Christianity is semi-Pelagian, then it's not unique in any way (that matters). Ultimately, such a Christianity contributes a "viewpoint" rather than an answer--and a fairly shitty viewpoint based on suffering and misery at that.

2) I have no where to stand in Christianity because I'm not getting better. I would say "Count me out," but descriptively, such a statement is superfluous in a semi-Pelagian framework.

John Zahl said...

Dear Folks,

I'm about to post another quote from Westerholm. Check it out in the context (har, har, I used the word "context"; I must be a contemporary academic type..."nuance", "embedded",...) of this discussion.

I refuse to allow contemporary scholarship to slighten the impact of Grace-for-sinner that is all I am to know of hope in this life. Either our Christian faith is unique in what it has to say of God's response to the human condition as Paul only understood it post-conversion, or we are dealing with little that is interesting, radical, or demanding of my whole life. The common love and appreciation of Wright only drives home how little the church has grasped the Grace found in the Gospel for sinners. Not soteriological? My ass! Romans 5:6

John Zahl said...

Furthermore, those of you postulants/ordinands who would appeal to Wright (and the NPP, for that matter) as crucial for understanding the Bible (which, to the extent that you dig on the Second Temple bizza, has no perspicuity), what is your motivation for going into the Christian ministry? What exactly is it that you wish to preach? I am curious.

Joshua Corrigan said...

So is it just Galatians that Luther got wrong? Why stop there? And why not criticize Luther, we would be the first to do so right? And if N.T. Wright has anything to do with the PCA's obsession on "the Church" as the focus of every sermon-class please tell him to stop.

simeon said...

I just can't read all Paul's statements on the Law and think that they can be reduced to ecclesiology/ "the covenant is for Gentiles, too" (thought perhaps a few can). In 2 Corinthians 3:7, etc., he refers to the Mosaic covenant, written on "tablets of stone," as "the dispensation of death" and "the dispensation of condemnation"-- for Israelites. Again, when he says, "the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life," can we honestly he say he only "really" means "the written code, when understood outside of Christ, i.e. as excluding Gentiles from the covenant, 'kills' Gentiles solely by requiring them to be circumcised and keep certain food laws, which are unnecessary in light of Christ"? And when he says "the Spirit gives life," he means, "the Spirit, through Christ, creates a kind of loophole through which Gentiles, too, can have the life which the written code already gives to Jews"? This would be an absurd qualification and misreading of a very clear and straightforward statement about something called "the Law" that, gasp, has spiritual/ existential ramifications here and now, today, rather than merely ecclesiological ones in a first century context that is relevant now only as a significant historical development long ago in the history of our faith. I know "supercessionist" is a very bad word-- maybe "discontinuity" is a more accurate and appropriate one these days-- but our fear of it should not justify blatant under-reading of Paul. He really does refer to the Law of Moses as "the dispensation of death," unequivocally, and for Israelites. Does he not?

jeff dean said...

Here, here, Simeon.

Maybe I've been reading Luther too long, maybe my Bible is mistranslated, or maybe I'm just a worse human being than most other Christians--but I find it hard to read Paul and discover anything other than a powerful, existential Gospel.

Only with Paul can I exhale.

simeon said...

A clarification: my point is not that the NPP is completely off. It is undeniable that the specific context of the "to circumcize Gentiles or not to circumcize Gentiles" debate was real and historical, important to Paul, and did indeed include and involve the issue of whether the covenant with the Jews was, through Christ, to include Gentiles as well. My point _is_ that Paul's view of the Law is not _reducible to_ the historical context, as we see in 2 Cor. 3. Thus, although the Lutheran interpretation of some specific _passages_ does in fact need revision in light of the NPP, it does not follow that the entire Lutheran interpretation of the Law in Paul is to be thrown out entirely. The Lutheran interpretation of the Law should now include, but is not _reducible to_, the NPP insights into certain passages. But the basic point that there is something larger at stake with Paul's discussion of the Law than merely the historical issue that served so often as the occasion for his discussions, stands. A la 2 Cor. 3.

Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

I think these are all valid criticisms of the new perspective. I would hesitate to add that NT does not follow Sanders as closely as many think (hence his "fresh" perspective vs. new). Simeon's comments are especially helpful, as well as JZ's invocation of his ass. One comment only so as not to recieve the total Lutheran mauling.

I think the main and most important point of the new perspective is about first century context. For too long we have been told that Pharisees were trying to earn salvation through works as opposed to Jesus who was offering it free by grace. Paul then in Eph. 2:8-10 rails against this works religion of the Jews and offers the Christian grace religion. To my shame I remember leading Bible studies with this emphasis. Then Sanders et al. came along and said "Hey, turns out the Jews did believe in a covenant of grace and election. They weren't actually proto-pelagians like we have been saying they are!" A bit caricitured (sp?) I know, but I think that is what the new perspective is really about. The Jews always believed in election by the grace of God and the Pharisees were just trying to keep the Torah as a sign of this election. Then Jesus came around and said "Hey, I am fulfilling the Law (well, two parts of it anyways...) as a covenant marker, now faith is what is the mark of the covenant." The Pharisees wanted to stick to "works" of the Torah as signs of their membership, but Paul is railing now against this exclusivity since Jesus has given the new signs of membership: belief and baptism. Now as time went on Pelegianism came up and Augustine conquered it and then the Roman Church brings works back into the salvific picture and Luther conquers that, amen. I don't think anyone is denying the rightness of those conquests, they were mighty and right. The real question is "Were the Pharisees proto-Pelegians or were they first century Jews?" That is the essense of NT Wright's fresh perspective to me from reading his works and I think it is a good one, especially today where there don't seem to be any marks of covenant membership in our Church, it is about time we got with it.

So I don't think this is a new gospel, it says nothing against salvation by grace through faith. It only says that the issue wasn't "entirely" that in Paul's writings and we may be reading to much into it with our Western works ethic. That's it. I don't think that is all that dangerous. But then as a Calvinist I am into covenant so it is a little more reasonable to me. So that's my bias. What's yours?

Joshua Corrigan said...

I am the least qualified among you so forgive my lay p-erspective. It just seems that with all the talk of "marks" and "signs" we might be getting lost in the tall grass. The signifier taking the place of the thing signified. And I just cant reconcile what I see as Paul's consistent position on the Christian's "identity" with the NPP stuff. I refuse to lay an external mesh over the gospel that saved my life.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am unqualified to fully participate in this discussion/debate, seeing as how I have not studied the NPP myself. I do want to say, though, that this discussion has been both inspiring and elctrifying for me to read through and follow. Thanks to all of you for offering your thoughts and perspectives. What cool and important stuff this is!

Hans, your second post was especially enlightening. Thanks for summarizing the New Persepctive on Paul in a "NPP for Dummies" kind of way that is very accessible to me. Having read your post twice, I have a question: Historically, hasn't the distinction between a people believing/living in a covenant of grace and believing/living in a covenant of works (pelegianism) been less than clear? If the NPP is claiming that the Pharisees were not all in fact proto-pelegians, does this necessarily have to mean that they all believed in a covenant of grace? Isn't it much more likely that some Jews were living comletely under the law and believing that their salvation depended on their works, while others realized that they were powerless and lived in reliance upon the Father's mercy and grace? And could Paul have been speaking just to one particular group in one passge, while addressing other groups in other passages?

It just seems to me that even before Christ, Jews lived under the law but never were able to fully keep it, so that true righteousness never came from human works, but instead from humbling oneself before the Lord, accepting his grace, and allowing Him to impose His will in place one's own. What I'm saying is that we see this law/grace tension (or what I am incresingly thinking can also be accurately described as a pride/humility tension) AMONG THE JEWS way before Christ's coming, and we see it during Christ's time on Earth, and shortly after he leaves Earth. This struggle within the Jewish people is not unlike the one Christians have been wrestling with for everyday of the past 2005 years (or whatever the accurate number really is)-- and, fact, the two struggles are closely related as well as overlapping. Paul spoke out against a theology of works, as did Augustine after him and Luther after him. And obviosuly, we western Protestants continue to deal with the issue today.

Yes, I am all about some discontinuity. I believe that Jesus really did change things in the most important way, that He was more than a wise rabbi; He is the Son of God and the savior of the world. But let's remember that God's grace was not first revealed in the rescurrection, nor was the Law abolished once Christ atoned for our sins.

So couldn't the asnwer to the "real" question posed by Hans: 'Were the Pharisees proto-Pelegians or were they first century Jews?' be "yes?"


Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

PCH - excellent insights, I agree with them and would only make one correction. I think there were definitely Jews during that time who believed both ("yes" is the answer - good comment), just look at the rich young ruler asking Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. I am not totally sure about the Pharisees, but it seems reasonable, so I will agree. The question then is was Paul talking about these people in Galatians, etc? Good question.
As far as the covenant of grace vs. works, my tradition (reformed) has maintained that the covenant of works went out with Adam's fall and it has been covenant of grace from there on out. This also seems to be what the new Perspective is saying. Now does that mean that every Jew or Pharisee knew/understood/believed in the covenant of grace? Probably not, I mean, does every Roman Catholic believe in transubstatiation? I doubt it. So I think you are right. "On the books" Jewish theology was covenant of grace through and through, but "on the ground" there was probably a whole bunch of mixed views (cf. Rich young ruler again). So I think you have a very valid point. Remember, the new perspective (of Wright at least) is not saying the gospel should be changed, just that there might be more to this justification thing than a law court metaphor only. It is a law court metaphor, but it is also so much more.
Great comments!

Tim Galebach said...

"That is the essense of NT Wright's fresh perspective to me from reading his works and I think it is a good one, especially today where there don't seem to be any marks of covenant membership in our Church, it is about time we got with it."

Hmmmm, maybe the NPP DOES have something liberating to say in the 21st century.

Joshua Corrigan said...

You can have your "marks of covenant membership". I'll stick to the Alien Word that saves. If I am to have a mark, I won't get it through my ability to distingush it in the scripture. I think it is about time that the church prech the Gospel. I'll let God do the marking.

Anonymous said...

Hans, thanks for the insightful and helpful response. I am sure one or more members of the Zahl clan (or perahps one J. David Dean?) have a response to this idea that a covenant of grace has existed since Adam's fall. Specifically, how does this fit in with the theme of discontinuity in the life and teachings of Jesus? Jesus' life, death, and resurrection obviously changed things in a major way, right? If we don't believe that change was a switch from a covenant of works to a covenant of grace, then where is the discontinuity? Is it that He was the final and all-sufficinet sacrifice? Was it that God's covenant of grace was extended to all people (not just the Jews) through Him?

Would love to hear the thoughts of others.


Jeff Dean said...

At the risk of appealing to the wrong source, I think it is important that the "authors" of the Apostle's Creed--perhaps the Roman Baptismal recitation?--did not seem to believe in a convenant of grace before Christ. Why else would they add a little bit of theology about Christ decending into Hades and unleashing the imprisoned souls?

That being said, Luther, at least, believed that grace was plentiful in the Old Testament. Psalm 130 was one of the first bits of scripture he translated into hymnody.

Cranmer mave even have become a Protestant while meditating on the "Penitential Psalms"--which, according to his copious notes, promise forgiveness directly to those who cry out to God, without the mediation of anyone.

If there is so much grace in the Old Testament, though, then the cross is more of a depiction than a sacrifice. There must be something fundamentally different about grace BC and grace today, or else the importance of the cross is somehow diminished.

Since the cross alone is our theology--Christ and Him crucified--then I maintain a difference does exist.

Note, incidentally, that contemporary Judaism offers no sacrifices at the Temple. Just because Second Temple Judaism wasn't necessarily a religion of Law doesn't mean that the Pharisees were actually living in the covenant as established by God. The majority of people have "gotten it wrong" in every generation.

Jordan Hylden said...

Hey, folks--

Allow me to introduce myself. My name's Jordan, and I think I know approximately 1/3 of the people who post on this here blog: Jeff Dean, Simeon Zahl, and Tim Galebach. I'm in J.D. Dean's year at Harvard, and thanks to Simeon and Jeff, I'm in the whole "becoming-an-Anglican-priest/wannabe-intellectual" thing, too. :) I have less theology knowledge in my brain than Jeff has in his little finger, but what I lack in education I make up for in enthusiasm. Anyhow, I thought I'd post an e-mail I recently sent to Jeff, after reading through this thread. As it turns out, I'm a heretic, and I'd love to hear what people have to say in response. Nice to meet y'all...

(Here follows aforementioned e-mail:)

"I was particularly interested to read your bit on the NPP, Jeff: to wit, that you're out of the church if it's right, since it's semi-Pelagian and therefore no different from any other faith in the world.

The NPP, of course, is something I encountered this summer while driving truck for my dad, and became largely convinced of while reading Paul's epistles as I was waiting for the truck to fill. I was convinced as a simple matter of history: I was struck that all my life I had read Paul basically in a vacuum, with no thought to context. And furthermore, that
many people have likely done the same. But, as I learned in Gomes's Bible class, Paul is not an idea or a concept-- he was a real, flesh-and-blood, first-century Jew-- and he was not writing his letters to me-- instead he was writing to real first-century churches with real first-century problems. I think that much of our interpretation has taken too little account of that. When I read NT Wright, it was as a breath of fresh air. He was saying all sorts of stupendously obvious things that I had never even considered before.

Anyhow: a couple of points. First, as that "gadamer" fellow said, it's not necessary to throw out salvation by faith if one accepts the NPP. That person JZ quoted seems to be distorting NTW's position: NTW quite emphatically believes in salvation by grace through faith.

Second, I remain steadfast in my quasi-heretical synergist
semi-pelagianism. You said that you don't see the point of the gospel if it is otherwise. Well, I'll respond in kind: I don't see the point of the monergist gospel. I'll quote a post from my semi-secret blog:

"I don't think that monergism fits with who we are as human beings:
free persons endowed by God with rational thought, the ability to make moral choices, and the ability to love. Now, we are, in fact, unable to become who we were created to be (gain salvation) on our own: Christ's grace and the action of the Holy Spirit are required for that. But this
does not mean that Christ must jerk us around like marionettes on strings in order for us to become saved-- in fact, that notion of
salvation completely undermines the very idea of salvation itself. We are to BECOME who God made us to be... not be instantly TRANSFORMED, through no doing of our own, into something which we are not. Again, an analogy: let's say someone invented a "good person" pill that instantly
transformed people into decent, caring, flag-waving Americans the moment it's swallowed. (It'd certainly help our Middle East policy, right?) Then, let's say that the CIA got their hands on it, and somehow found Osama bin
Laden, shoved it down his throat, and brought him back to the States. Do you think that it would say ANYTHING about the moral worth of Osama bin Laden, even IF he's become a model American citizen and do-gooder? No, of course not-- he had nothing to do with it. The CIA shoved a pill down his
throat, and we'd still regard him as a terrible human being. Now, I think this again is a reasonably apt analogy-- if salvation is just a good-person pill, it's worthless. For a person to truly change, he HAS to be involved in the change, and at least to some extent, make the choice to
repent and turn from his sins. That, in fact, is what the word "repent" means: a "turning around," and a going forward. Now, of course, we can't do this on our own: we NEED God's grace, we NEED God to work in our lives, and we NEED the power of the Holy Spirit. We're still saved by God's grace, because of His power-- make no mistake about that. All the thanks
and praise goes to Him. But if God is just giving us a pill, then we may as well forget about the whole thing."

I think I can anticipate your response. You will say: "The glory of the Gospel is PRECISELY that it takes a sinner mired in sin, whether Osama bin Laden or me (it makes no difference), and imputes righteousness to him, through no merit of his own. And furthermore that if ANY of it
depends upon my choice, then the whole thing is worthless, because I am in bondage to sin, powerless to choose, and I know it. And in fact (you will say to me), if you do not understand that yet about me then you just don't get what I'm on about. I really and honestly CANNOT believe that
any of it depends upon me! I know myself too well, and I know that (to take an example) even if I had been trapped by the White Witch and saw through her disguise to the evil she really embodied, I would still want Turkish Delight. Augustine stole the pears simply because it was sinful to do so, and he knew it. Your semi-Pelagian Gospel, Jordan, means
nothing to me. It doesn't help me one iota. And as long as you maintain otherwise, we'll disagree."

I know. (Sigh.) You can't accept a Gospel that depends in any way upon human acceptance. And I can't make sense of a "humanity" that doesn't involve will, choice, and the ability to love. In fact I think the entire Bible makes no sense without those concepts. I'll come back, again, to the principle which you taught me: ultimately I cannot understand the
life and death of Christ otherwise. Why did Christ ask the disciples to follow him? Why did he bother to teach us how to love? Why does He "stand at the door and knock"?

If monergism is true, I can't answer those questions. But if
semi-Pelagianism is true, I can. Remember that I do not believe in
"salvation by doing good stuff." I merely am insisting, as C.S. Lewis did, that ultimately we are all faced with a choice: either we choose God, or we choose ourselves. The door to Hell is locked from the inside. We
are all lost without the grace of God, freely offered to each of us. But grace is no grace if it is forced."

Anyhow, I'm told that's how theology works. You take up an old argument that people first thought of centuries ago, then you see which side wins, and then if you're on the winning side, you get to call the losers heretics. :) Sounds like fun!



Tim Galebach said...

Jordan, 2 things. I'm going to be very unfair to you, so fasten your seatbelt!

"Now, we are, in fact, unable to become who we were created to be (gain salvation) on our own: Christ's grace and the action of the Holy Spirit are required for that."

Phrased otherwise: "God sent Jesus to be our training wheels. As we grow in Aristotelian (sp) virtue, the training wheels will become necessary, and we'll be the bike-riding maniacs God made us to be!"

2. Is it possible that you have conflated consciousness and potency (I can decide to do things that affect my environment) with freedom?

Maybe it's more helpful to think about slaves than the disingenous robot-puppetmen that you always bring up?

Your points about Paul existing in a context are well taken (not being sarcastic). Everyone exists in a context, and issues arise in those contexts. I'm listening to my iPod while I write to you on the Internet. I'm meta-writing about Paul because of my historical time period. RELATE TO THAT PAUL, YOU IGNORANT FIRST CENTURY BASTARD!

Jeff Dean said...


It is so very, very tempting to say that salvation must be based *somehow* on our own merit. My Dad says this is precisely the problem with my theology--I believe God to be arbitrary, willing to make choices that do not consult reason.

Now I've agreed with my Dad that such a God sounds like a monster. If God is completely arbitrary, I have no say in what happens to me eternally, and neith does anyone else.

So why would anyone believe this? I believe it only because the cross argues my eternal destiny rests in the hands of someone who is dangerous and arbitrary, but also hopelessly in love with me to a fault.

My Dad believes very earnestly that faith is a work for which we recieve credit. The problem, as he admits, is that our capacity for faith is like--to borrow a bit from you--a tank of gas, and we can only get to heaven on a full tank. Thus, we must spend our time in prayer, scripture reading, and the doing of good works. If we are able to do these things, we can know we have a full tank of grace. If we are unable, then we must repent, because we have backslidden. To backslide is to be the most damnable sinner of all.

Now I won't say that semi-Pelagianism of the small degree always inherently becomes full-fledged Pelagianism, but, in my family at least, it does. Just as you "quote" me saying: If ANY of my salvation depends on me, then ALL of my salvation depends on me. As Herr Professor Joachim Eckstein said to me in Germany, "If Christ takes ten million steps in my direction, but I still have to take one step in his, then everything depends on my one step. Proclaiming Christ's ten million steps will fall to the side of calling a congregation to take their single steps. The incarnation and atonement will, like everything else, become about *us* and not about *Him!*" In such a case, it all ultimately rests on what I do and whether my work is judged worthy, and that's not a new perspective on all, it's "the same old song and dance, my friend!" (Aerosmith)

Paul most certainly has a context, and NTW and the NPP is correct in pointing that out. The specificity of his context as a Jew should not overcome the generality of his context as a human being. The wisdom of the early church was to interpret the Old Testament in at least two primary ways: forshadowing Christ, and explaining the general human condition through stories of a specific people.

The Law is not only part of Jewish ritual life, but is an existential category of achievement based on merit. The parable of the vineyard workers, of the Prodigal Son, of the Good Shepherd tell us that the accounting system in Heaven is not the same as ours!

NTW once gave an interview on NPR following the publication of his most recent book. He was asked, "Did Paul understand Jesus correctly? Would Jesus have recognized Paul's version of his teaching?" Wright responded to this effect, "Jesus would have seen that Paul was teaching something different, but he would most likely have believed that Paul understood Jesus' teaching better than Jesus had understood it himself--after all, Paul did have formal training that Jesus lacked!"

Now why is it that NTW can assert that Paul was able to see the more profound meaning in Christ's teaching where Christ could not see it himself (due to Paul's different-but-tangential context) but God forbid we say the same thing about Luther and Paul?

Is it absolutely unreasonable to assert that factors like Holocaust guilt play into our profound New Perspective? Is it impossible for us to believe that we have the same sorts of blind spots that we are accusing Luther of? That's the sin of generationalism, against which C.S. Lewis himself railed.

We're sinners trapped in a context ourselves. Does nothing transcend context? Is there no meta-narrative? These are post-modern concessions that I'm not forced to make because, as Jurgen Moltmann writes in Theology of Hope, they are part of the history of the world. But because of Christ, I am no longer subject to the history of the world. Rather, a new narrative and a new context have been opened for me by his death and resurrection. All I have to do is believe I am within that context, and I will be so.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jordan, you know me too! It's Colton. Some like to call me Criz.

I want to respond to one section of your post. You said:

"if salvation is just a good-person pill, it's worthless. For a person to truly change, he HAS to be involved in the change, and at least to some extent, make the choice to
repent and turn from his sins."

Why would salvation be "worthless" if it were just a good-person pill shoved down our throats? To use your own Osama analogy, if the CIA forced him to take the pill, and as a result he stopped being a terrorist and started using his charisma to spread the gospel and do good, loivng works towards others, I would think there would be a lot of worth in that. I know I would feel a lot safer! Even if he was force-fed. I also think that the Christians who beleive God chose them, called them, and compelled them to follow Him without feeling like they had even the option to say "no" would disagree with you and say there is infinite worth in being rescued.

A lot of folks like to use the analogy that we are drowning, and God reaches out His hand to save us, but we have to grab it (we have the choice whether or not to accpet this gift). I say He grabs us around the waist and yanks us to the surface without us having much say in the matter. Is there worth in that? Yes, if you value your life, there is. Another popular analogy is that Christ knocks on the door, but you've got to open it for Him to come in. I feel like a more accurate analogy is that your house is burning, and you are unable to reach the door, but Christ breaks it down, comes in, and saves you from the fire. Without any decision or action on your part. And of course, the logical conclusion of this analogy (which at this point really is not an analogy at all, but true, historical fact-- praise God!) is that we are dead in every way, and Christ brings us back to life. How can a dead person make the choice to accept God's grace?

I think we, as humans, fall into the trap of thinkng there is some sort of power in our will. The truth is, our will is comically inept. Try this: decide, in your deepest of hearts, that you don't want to fall asleep ever again. Try and will yourself to never sleep again. Or just try it for a week. You will not succeed. At some point your body, the very way you are hard-wired (without any regard for your opinion on the matter, I might add), will betray you. Sound familiar? I know it seems like a stupid analogy to draw, but it is representative our condition of bondage, and there are 20 other examples of it from everyday life.

I probably haven't said much that JDD hasn't put forth to you a dozen times already, but I just felt very strongly that this imaginary pill you speak of-- well, I, unlike you, think it would be worth a lot.

(And yes, I realize the dilemma that presents itself as a result of my theology: are we then robots [uck!], and why would God punish those who have no control over their actions??? I guess my take on the matter is that God is wiser than I, and He did create me, so it's really up to Him what He does with me, or anyone else. From my own personal experience, however, I know two things: 1. God loves me. 2. My will is not free.)


Dylan Potter said...


I appreciate your honesty. A good friend of mine, and former Harvard mucky-muck, Miller Peck, speaks highly of you.

Surely by this point in your theological studies you have discovered some titanically (spell checker doesn't recognize that word, and suggests "satanically")important things about anthropology. I believe this is the crux--the proverbial line of demarcation in the discussion between the monergism/synergism dichotomy.

If I believe, as many do, that my will is not really curvatus in se (Latin makes everything taste better!), then I would certainly affirm what you are saying. However, it seems that Scripture itself takes umbrage with the common notion that "free will" extends to salvation in a dynamic way.

Let me put it like this, all people on both sides of the issue maintain that every human being DOES have free will. On the monergistic side, we would simply say that free will means that the individual can only do those things that are in keeping with their character. (A bad tree cannot produce good fruit).

Therefore, someone who is dead in sin (Eph 2:1,5) cannot hit the smelling salts of common sense and revive their will, because...well, they are dead.

This may sound harsh, but what if I told you that God Himself is not free in the way that you seem to be using the terminology? For example, can God do evil? Nope. Why not? Because His actions are predicated upon His character. Can Satan do good? Nope...same reason.

The question I always like to ask synergists is whether or not they pray for a friend/relative to be saved. It usually goes something like this:

"So, have you ever asked God to open your friend's eyes/heart/mind to the Gospel?"

"Yes, of course. I ask Him every day!"

" does that work within the context of your theology? I mean, it sounds like you want God to do something in their life that you know they will not do for themselves."

"Well...yeah. But they still have freedom to accept/reject that."

(Somewhat smugly) "Hmmm. Sometime in the future you need to help me understand verses like Acts 13:48 or the one about Lydia, or (then I list a few more)."

"Dude, I gotta go...I have a thing."

OK, so it isn't cool to
"checkmate" people all the time, but I really can't understand what synergists are praying about. I mean, how much "wooing" is God allowed to do? 50%? 20%? 99.9% as some evangelists say?

I apologize if this sounds shrill, I am seriously tired after getting back from a Penguins game...right now the gray matter is more interested in sleep than esoteric discussions about philosophical theology...normally I would mollify the language to sound a bit more diplomatic.

Anyway Jordan, I hear nothing but good things about you and (ICHTHUS?) your publication.
I'm pleased to hear that you are wrestling with this "issue of issues" at this point in your life. I'll let Miller know what a raving heretic, er, I mean, conscientious thinker you are. 8>)


Tim Galebach said...

Wow, looks like it was time for a good old-fashioned...Lutheran Mauling!

Jordan, thanks for adding to the discussion. It's great to have someone here who's not a lame yes-man like me, but who also understands the nuances of both sides (teams?).

Anonymous said...

heh heh...he said nuances

Zadok said...

I think it is impossible to reject the gospel if you understand it. Thus there is no acceptance either, there is just an eye-opening by the revelation of God (removal of scales).

Perhaps before the moment of conversion there is some action on our part; a longing for God and wanting understanding - though this is normally, in my experience, a battering of suffering without God's sanctification, which then crushes you to your knees at the foot of the cross - not much choice there... But in the actual act of redemption/ justification/ salvation there is no participation on our part.

As for the Osama-pill. Only God sees the pill-popper as righteous etc. Of course everyone else is still gonna think he's a a**hole - he is. Worse, he's still gonna act like an a**hole. Though by the power of the H Spirit some decent fruits can start replacing the fruits of Osama.


Jeff Dean said...


Depending upon how you define "understand," I would say that's precisely why there exists so much division in the church today. I know so many wonderful Christians on the spectrum from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal who implicitly understand the Gospel, but who reject the "ultra-Lutheran" terminology as too, well, "ultra-Lutheran". As a friend of mine once said, these people might not sign their names to any statements, but they "get it" neverthelesss.

On the other hand, a serious issue for me has been meeting Lutherans who can recite the catechism word-for-word (some in German) and have no idea what the Gospel is.

"Understanding" the Gospel somehow transcends the particular context of language, but how wonderful when our language (the form) and our faith (the substance) agree!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Dean, you have come a long way baby. Have a Virginia Slim.

JDK said...

For whatever it's worth. . . I think Jeff Dean should have a virginia slim too. . . oh yeah, I completely agree with everything he said too!

Anonymous said...

I know I used "too" twice. . but the . . . seperated thoughts. . . so it's not like I was trying to rhyme. . .
I make that mistake all the time. . .

Jordan Hylden said...

Hey, all--

My goodness but this blogging business is fun. It's like CI-discuss, only with a website! I have a hunch that I will be spending FAR, far too much time here in the future...

Anyhow, thanks for the points, all. I think I'll enjoy being the semi-Pelagian gadfly on this website. I hear what you're saying: it IS in fact very tempting to make salvation depend upon our own merit. Even my brand of synergism, which is ever so careful to point out that we are absolutely dependent upon Christ's grace for our salvation (for no one could be saved without it), can quickly turn into full-on salvation by works. The simple reason for this, of course, is pride, which is the deadliest of the big bad seven.

And I also hear the other point, which Dylan correctly pointed out comes down to a question of anthropology. If I am "trapped" in my sin, how trapped am I? So trapped that I can only be unwillingly yanked out of the muck by force? Or am I still able to reach my hand out for a rope if I'm offered one?

The motivational drive behind monergism is completely salutary, in my opinion. Its goal is to magnify the grace of God and the sinful neediness of man. Well and good. But is it NECESSARY to carry it to the point which you have? Does it somehow diminish the gospel to say that God offers us a rope, rather than saying that God forcefully yanks us out by our belts? I, for one, don't see how it does. We still NEED the rope if we are to be saved, and the glory and praise still goes to God.

Now: what about those of us who, out of our sinful pride, begin to say, "Ah, well, I know that God offered me the rope, and that was nice of Him and all, but wasn't I a terrific person for grabbing hold of it?" Or what about the people who make an entire religion out of grabbing hold of the rope, write books about Grabbing Your Best Rope Now, or 17 Ways To Hold On Tight All The Way To Glory, or nonsense like that?

Certainly, human pride will lead (and has led) many Christians to do so. Religion is all about reading the Bible, praying, do-gooding, etc.-- essentially about ways to hold onto the rope. I see the danger in this, and I acknowledge it.

But whoever said that humans would do otherwise? We're proud people! We're sinful! Of course we'll all puff up with pride given half a chance. But why does this mean that the theology is wrong? Just because we humans tend to screw something up and make nonsense of it doesn't mean it isn't true. If that was the way we evaluated doctrine, we'd have to throw out the entire Christian faith.

I think that monergism is good in that it builds a fence around this tendency, by its very definition. I just don't see how it's necessary to build the fence.

I'm absolutely willing to say that we're trapped in our sin, and that we're dependent upon God's grace for our salvation. That's scriptural, and to say anything otherwise isn't Christian. But I maintain that it is not scripturally necessary to take the logic all the way and become a monergist. Furthermore, monergism creates problems of its own, both scripturally and theologically.

I don't really need to hash them all out, since you've all surely heard them before. Like you said, Jeff, it does indeed make God out to be an arbitrary monster. You said that at least He's an arbitrary monster who loves you. Well, that's nice for you, but not so nice for the guy down the road who'll be spending all eternity in perdition. You've heard this all before, I know. But it's still a problem I can't get around. What's more, I think the problem itself is entirely unnecessary.

Theologically, I don't think monergism is necessary in any way. It does in fact come down to a question of anthropology: did, or did not, God make us such that we could respond to His calling? I think this question can be rephrased thusly: did God make men, or didn't He? He could have made robots or field mice, I suppose, and arbitrarily saved them if he so wished. But I think the Scriptures teach us that God made Men. And that He loved them so much, He was willing to take the chance that they wouldn't love Him back. Love, after all, is no love if it is forced.

A few loose ends: as a matter of scriptural interpretation, I think that predestination is essentially a great big misunderstanding. That, anyhow, is the way I read N.T. Wright. Jeff, you made the usual criticism of Wright, which is the same one I'd like to level at him at times: that in over-emphasizing Paul's context, he does not allow him to rise above it. Essentially, that the reading does not allow Paul to speak to US; to the larger meta-narrative of salvation history. I know. But I don't think the criticism ultimately is valid. Understanding Paul in context does not remove him from our own. It merely helps us better understand what he means for us today. Paul of COURSE was talking about Christ's Gospel; and of COURSE it remains relevant to us today. Nothing in the theology and scriptural interpretation I'm putting forward does otherwise.

Also: how much "wooing" is God allowed to do? 99.9%? Does our contribution asymptote towards zero? And if so, is my position void of all content?

Answer: God can do as much wooing as He wants. I'm really not sure how to define it in terms of percentages. The question really is one of anthropology: how much percentage do we get? Given that we're all by nature sinful and unclean, selfish and fallen, I'd say not much. (Which is why I'd reject the training-wheel analogy.) But it doesn't do God any injustice to say that He made us with the ability to make some sort of choice, however small. I'm not wise enough to know the extent of that choice yet: I imagine only wise old Christians who have spent years in ministry will really be able to answer this question. Certainly not me.

As for Aristotle: I love Aristotle. And Thomas Aquinas, too. Salvation is indeed about becoming who we were made to be. Aristotle's anthropology was too high: virtue, as it turns out, is actually not very habit-forming. Alcohol and mean-spiritedness are habit-forming. But that doesn't mean we should reject Aristotle altogether.

Jeff: is it really the case that "one small step" in God's direction, even if He took a million in ours, is the "same old story" of salvation by works? How so? Is the act of falling into the arms of grace, when we realize that we cannot make it on our own, the same thing as building a "Stairway to Heaven"? (Led Zeppelin) I don't think so. Really, they are quite different concepts.

Colton: yes, I imagine that Osama WOULD like to get himself a good-person pill, if it meant the difference between hell and a forty-virgin paradise. But I still maintain that such a concept drains the meaning altogether out of salvation. If the whole story of the Church is just an arbitrary God passing out good-person pills, I'm not sure it's worth our trouble. Let's just hope that God decides to give us one, or we're all screwed!

Finally: what does a synergist like me pray for? Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I pray for grace and forgiveness, and lots of it. I need all I can get! But of course I do maintain that --I-- am doing the praying, at some sort of level, even though I could not pray at all without the Spirit teaching me how. Here's my question for you, seeing as turnabout is fair play: how does the monergist pray at all? In what sense are YOU doing the praying? How does it work if you're totally depraved, and inclined only toward sin? I realize that you might answer that, due to the Spirit's working in your life, you have come to a point now where you can truly want to pray. But if so, then you believe in a sort of monergism-of-the-moment, where God initially grabbed you by the belt and now allows you to hold on for yourself, to an extent. Doesn't that sound an awful lot like synergism? And why couldn't God have simply created you in an initial condition in which you were able to grab hold of the rope and pray, responding to the Spirit's movement in your heart?

Anyhow... I doubt I'll have the time to post much in the near future (thesis and all), but thanks very much for all of your comments and criticism.

All the best,


simeon said...


Thanks for yet another awesome post. It is so refreshing for a blog discussion on something as important as the issues we are dealing with here to remain friendly and non-antagonistic or mean. You are a trooper for posting what you post here, at one of the only places in the world where someone is actually at risk from time to time of a "Lutheran mauling"! And I agree, this is fun :)

It seems to me that you have two primary problems with the 'monergistic' point of view, one being its apparent lack of scriptural warrant, and two being the way it makes God a "monster" and us "robots," most significantly by predestining people to Hell without giving them any say in the matter.

But the main problem with your view, as I see it, can be reduced to the fact that you do not take into account the primary place where this issue is dealt with explicitly in the Bible: Romans 9-11. It is here that Paul wrestles with the question of whether the Jewish people have been "predestined" not to believe in Christ-- whether their hearts, like Pharoah's were hardened, at least for a time, so that the gospel might go out to the Gentiles as well. Now, the NPP will be quick to remind me that Paul here is dealing with a specific question about the covenant of the Jews, not with the question of Gentile Christian predestination. However, his main question in Romans 9, especially, is whether it would be unjust for God to harden hearts against belief in him, and this point is really a question about God, and one that therefore transcends the specific context of the question. And the pottery metaphors about a destiny for wrath or for glory clearly make the issue soteriological, as if the issue of "belief" didn't already.

So then, I quote: "And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, she was told, "The elder will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy. ... So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me thus?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?" (Rom. 9:10-21).

Here both of your problems are dealt with, to my mind, unanswerably. Paul specifically raises the robot/ monster question, which he knows his rhetorical partner will raise on the basis of the view of arbitrary election he has just made, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" I.e. How can he damn someone for conforming to his omnipotent will for them to be worthy of damnation, when they of course can have no say in the matter? For me, the fact that Paul explicitly acknowledges this counterargument, and then rejects it on the basis of God's radical freedom in relation to man to do whatever he wants-- to have mercy on whom he will have mercy-- puts the synergistic model you so eloquently defend forever to rest as a reasonable but scripturally absolutely impossible position. If someone wanted to argue against the robot/ monster question, how could they possibly do it more clearly than Paul has done here? And because we are dealing with a question about God's character in general, not just God's character in relation to the Jew/ Gentile issue, the point cannot be contextualized away.

I understand that this does apparently make God a "monster"-- but theologically we must also say that far more important than the metaphysical objections our puny reason can come up with, it is far more significant that God, when he wanted to reveal his full character, his very self, to man, he did so as the humble Jesus of perfect love, who came not to be served but to serve, and not to judge but to save. Let us then, with Paul, trust on the basis of Jesus that God is good, whether his specific manner of being good makes sense to us or not, and give over our questions-- our very real and even pastorally significant questions-- like Paul to the humility we must face before "the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God" (Rom. 11:33).

Two further points. First, it is not as if this issue is dealt with only here in the Bible. Job's situation begs these same questions about God-as-monster, and God's response is basically to say, "I'm God, I can do whatever I want," and that is the answer Job accepts: "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).

More significantly, the theme of predestination on the basis of promise instead of behavior (or at the very least on the basis of the righteousness of another, Abraham) suffuses the entire salvation history of Israel. The Jews are elected on the basis of their ancestry, not their behavior. Why did God choose the Jews instead of, say, the Assyrians? Is he not a monster for not electing the Assyrians as well? And even if you say it was on the basis of Abraham's faith, that still does not make him any less of a monster when you get just one generation away from Abe, when people start getting elected because of their relation to one who had faith, not because of their own faith. Paul, too, cites this example when he makes the point about Isaac and Esau already cited.

Finally, although I fully agree that there are many people who feel strongly that they "made a decision for Christ" at some clear turning point, there are just as many who feel that they just kind of got caught along in what their parents believe and gradually came to discover that they, too, believed. More significantly, I raise my own case: I became a Christian at a healing service when I basically out of peer pressure went up to pray for a friend's Dad who had just died, with no intention whatsoever of "making a decision for Christ" myself, and found myself completely overwhelmed as I was being prayed for by an experience of the reality of God's infinite love for me in Christ, "wretch" that I was. No person in a million years could have said "no" to what I experienced. It was so overwhelming that it never occurred to me until years later that there even could have been a "question" or "decision" involved. Frankly the idea seems silly to me, looking back. It just was. I was called, not by a rope thrown to me but by a divine tractor beam. Although I know this is not necessarily the "norm" in terms of how people experience conversion, nevertheless the example must be explained by advocates of the "synergistic" view. Why was I given no decision?
I final point against the whole monster thing: Paul also says in the same section of Romans (quoting Joel 2:32) that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. It is not as if people will call on the Lord to be saved and he will say "no, sorry, you were a vessel of wrath from the start, no exceptions I'm afraid." One would have to conclude that, descriptively, the vessels of wrath will have to be those who at no point call on the name of the Lord to be save-- because God wills it that way.

So would love to hear your thoughts, though I confess the case to me on the basis of Romans 9 seems profoundly closed. The fact that he addresses and then rejects the very objection you raise, as explicitly as he possibly could, right there in the middle of one of the key texts of the NT, is a rock against any view other than predestination must shipwreck, or else deny the Bible. No? The "is God a monster" question must be asked from within the context of the undeniable biblical predestination view, not beforehand in order to determine whether God predestines or not.

Zadok said...

Did Paul take hold of the 'rope' or was the rope thrust down his throat and tied to his innards and yanked so hard that he was turned completely inside-out, his whole view on life, God, theology completely changed. And by him? I think not.

Jordan, I would like to comment on your question about reaching out a hand from the miry clay. Firstly I would say that there are many problems with analogies (see below for more) one of which is that God/Jesus cannot be reduced to a mere rope, in fact I would say that there are many ropes out of the mire; Judaism, Islam, in fact any Law, but our hands only get tired and we fall back in. Christ is more active than a rope. He himself enters the clay and actually grasps hold of us whilst himself holding on to the rope more powerfully than we could. Before he does this we are smacking his hands off of us and thrashing wildly at his attampts to get us. Only when we stop fighting, can he get us. It is by our very inaction or stopping of action that we are saved not by a positive action.

In Adam's action we are all slaves to sin, as in Christ's actions we are saved, he clung to the 'rope' for all humanity.

As an apologetic or evangelistic approach, telling someone they can grasp salvation is inevitably frustrating. Only when one submits one's will and efforts does the rescue occur.

Thanks for the critique Jeff, by understanding, I think I just meant being saved; whether one holds Synergist or Monergist nuances (get in), both proclaim 'Jesus is Lord' and believe on his name. I hope.

Salvation is a spiritual transformation, or rebirth, so in fact all of our physical analogies of ropes etc fall short. I think though that it is sad human pride that can lead one to believe that we can have any active part in performing spiritual transformation, in fact, really I don't believe any Christian truly believes that at all, though pride may like us to think that.

It is God's will that we are saved, our free will tends away from God's through Adam. Thus Jesus' statement of not my will but yours be done, is a clear example of how inactivity is the way forward. In John 7:17 ff. Jesus says 'if anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I speak from my own authority'

Lastly in answer to your question Jordan about what do Monergists pray for. One's prayer does not affect salvation, thus has nothing to do with 'holding on' (which as I have said in turn has nothing to do with salvation). Prayer is a bonus. It is grateful thanks, communication now that we are in Christ, and more, but that is a whole new topic and I too have a thesis to do.



Disclaimer: I have less theology than in the hairs on the little finger of Jeff, but also have much enthusiasm.

Zadok said...

Damn it. And Simeon's nasal hairs.

Joshua Corrigan said...

Jordan, Thank you so much for your articulate posts. Thanks everyone else (Simeon especially) for your insights.

One connection that I cannot help but make relates to the attitude described in Forde's book On being a Theologian of the Cross which I am sure almost all of you have read and loved or hated. Forde has this same dialogue and presents similar objections. In your latest comment on Osama you said: "But I still maintain that such a concept drains the meaning altogether out of salvation"
Here you have set up rules of fairness by which God must adhere. Is this a fairness criterion that isnt met by God handing out pills? This post exudes the fallen desire for control. I want to control my destiny, even if it just a little bit my work and a whole lot God's. Your statement suggests that in order for salvation to have meaning it must have a cost. I maintain that a cost was indeed paid on the cross. Not only this but as we have seen, God chooses for whatever reason to save through killing and making alive again. Thus, monergism is a belief that I was only able to hold after I had died to(and paid the cost of) my self, my moral fairness criterion for the value of salvation, and to my desire to have control of my destiny.

I write this not in order to convince anyone of anything as it is clear to me that to embrace monergism a death must occur-one that I cannot provide.

You are right, anthropology is important, but how far did we fall? In your 99.9% response you speak of how God made us with an ability to choose. He also made us with an ability to talk to animals and to talk to GOD in perfect continuous harmony with Him. Is is not possible that one consequence of the fall is that our will is bound? Why, aside from our own fallenness, do we hold on to our choice? Forde would call it desperation. Eventually our grip will fade, now or at Sunny-Vale nursing home. To me it is not a question of "if" but "when".

One last thing, I think Martin Luther wrote that in order to study Aristotle one must first become a fool in Christ.

Anonymous said...

Hey all. This discussion is just exhilirating! If you all don't mind, I'd like to repost a question I had earlier that was never addressed once we started discussing ropes, innards, synergism vs. monergism, and Simeon's nasal hairs.

Here it is, verbatim:

"Hans, thanks for the insightful and helpful response. I am sure one or more members of the Zahl clan (or perahps one J. David Dean?) have a response to this idea that a covenant of grace has existed since Adam's fall. Specifically, how does this fit in with the theme of discontinuity in the life and teachings of Jesus? Jesus' life, death, and resurrection obviously changed things in a major way, right? If we don't believe that change was a switch from a covenant of works to a covenant of grace, then where is the discontinuity? Is it that He was the final and all-sufficinet sacrifice? Was it that God's covenant of grace was extended to all people (not just the Jews) through Him?

Would love to hear the thoughts of others.


Would STILL love to hear the thoughts of others.


Jeff Dean said...

At the risk of obscuring Colton's comments again, I'm posting a favorite Luther quotation:

"I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want “free-will” to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities, and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground and hold fast my “free-will”…; but because, even were there no dangers, adversities, or devils, I should still be forced to labor with no guarantee of success, and to beat my fists at the air. If I lived and worked to all eternity, my conscience would never reach comfortable certainty as to how much it must do to satisfy God. Whatever work I had done, there would still be a nagging doubt as to whether it pleased God, or whether He required something more. The experience of all who seek righteousness by works proves that; and I learned it well enough myself over a period of many years, to my own great hurt. But now God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. “No one,” He says, “shall pluck them out of my hand, because my Father which gave them to me is greater than all” [John 10:28-29]. Thus it is that, if not all, yet some, indeed many, are saved; whereas, by the power of “free-will” none at all could be saved, but every one of us would perish."

Tom Becker said...

From RC Sproul - the pelagian captivity of the church - a great article I'd recommend.

Here's a snippet.

God’s Sovereignty in Salvation

This is the issue: Is it a part of God’s gift of salvation, or is it in our own contribution to salvation? Is our salvation wholly of God or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter, that it ultimately depends on something we do for ourselves, thereby deny humanity’s utter helplessness in sin and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder then that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being, in principle, both a return to Rome because, in effect, it turned faith into a meritorious work, and a betrayal of the Reformation because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the reformers’ thought. Arminianism was indeed, in Reformed eyes, a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favor of New Testament Judaism. For to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle than to rely on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other. In the light of what Luther says to Erasmus there is no doubt that he would have endorsed this judgment.

And yet this view is the overwhelming majority report today in professing evangelical circles. And as long as semi-Pelagianism, which is simply a thinly veiled version of real Pelagianism at its core — as long as it prevails in the Church, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I know, however, what will not happen: there will not be a new Reformation. Until we humble ourselves and understand that no man is an island and that no man has an island of righteousness, that we are utterly dependent upon the unmixed grace of God for our salvation, we will not begin to rest upon grace and rejoice in the greatness of God’s sovereignty, and we will not be rid of the pagan influence of humanism that exalts and puts man at the center of religion. Until that happens there will not be a new Reformation, because at the heart of Reformation teaching is the central place of the worship and gratitude given to God and God alone. Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory.

Tom Becker said...

PS - why aren't you guys Lutherans?

: )

(Coming from a former Prebyterian, but now Confessional Lutheran)

Anonymous said...

because I dont like drinking the presence of God any more than blood.

bonnie said...

I finally sort-of read throug this whole thing and wondered if what it boils down to isn't a question about God, but about ourselves: whether we're _able_ to be a part of the salvation-by-grace process, no? As in, whether we have the ability, ontologically, even with the help of God, to become better people.

You would be surprised by how much it can change. One year you can be the all-star Christian, and the next you can hate God so much you think church is the loneliest place on earth.

Ask Jordan, Jeff, or Colton about my spiritual life two years ago, and they would probably say it was pretty darn good. I was pretty happy with God, feeling like I was as purposeful as I could be, as close to God as I could be. And two years later I would curse and be utterly unable to trust Him as a loving God.

So, 2 years ago I was cruisin' it on my training wheels (to take Galebach's metaphor), and now I'm trying to call the triple-A. Or trying to hitch hike to the next town. But I'm hardly praying. So where does that leave me?

When one is doing well spiritually, when one feels so completely in tune with God, it _feels_ like it's synergistic. It really feels like you're in this thing that's much bigger than yourself, and of course you wouldn't ever say you're the cause of it all, but you feel like you're a pretty darn good first lieutenant. You and Jesus are in it together.

But when you feel completely out of touch with God (never mind antagonistic towards Him), you feel like you've either exhausted all the grace God can give, or you're just so screwed up that even God won't help. And you feel so totally alone and you wonder if all the good things that you did for Jesus and moments of synergy with God didn't buy you enough grace.

To be honest, I _need_ a God who will do it all, even if I don't want to. Someone said it's not a matter of whether, it's a matter of when. It really is a matter of "when" until all you know of God comes crashing down, and Aslan lies stone cold on the table, dead.

I guess what I'm trying to say is not so much whether I want to "partner with God" - we all _want_ to, and props to those of you who can and are - but for me, at _this_ point in time, I need not only them training wheels, but anything that will help me back on my feet again.

On the question of whether God is a monster or not: for a while it felt like He was one. But He is also a monster without whom I would die. That leaves me at a great place, huh. I guess it's up to you to decide (just kidding!) whether you want to live with the monster or to not live at all. To be honest, even with a wonderful family and a loving husband, it STILL sucks to live without the monster.

As for the covenant of grace extending from Adam, I think you can see it two ways. Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, David, etc. (all the OT giants) were living under God's grace all the time, for if they weren't, they'd be seriously screwed. As in, if they were treated as their sins deserved, they would have been long gone. So yeah, I would say that GOd has been gracious to human kind since Adam's fall. But if that grace was enough, why weren't/aren't those goats and sheep and cows enough? In other words, why aren't we still sacrificing those things? (or are we? As in, are we "sacrificing" our time and resources and money and intellect and all that for the same reason as the Isrealites sacrificing their cows and sheep and goats?)

Okay that was a totally jumbled mess, and I am now leaving the office. Woohoo. Simeon, I'll see you in 5 minutes. I know you're checking the comments every 30 seconds.

BPZ said...

Oh, and the second way of seeing the covenant of grace is that it's a new covenant that began with Jesus. Sorry I forgot to type that in. Was too excited about the end of the work day. :)

simeon said...

(you geniused me)

Dylan Potter said...


Mmmmkay...pretty wonderful questions, especially the one where you made a verb out of the word asymptote--don't think that I'm not going to use that bad boy in my next paper for PZ without giving you an ounce of credit!

(Question: Uh, do mathematical terms ever qualify as bad boys? Answer: Yes, provided that they refer to dynamic graphing functions within a Cartesian plane.)

Anyway, I was planning to head for those green pastures in Romans 9 in this post, but it looks like Simeon stole my thunder.

So, from one Christian brother to another, I would highly recommend reading Luther's "Bondage of the Will" over Christmas break if you have not done so is relatively short and thoroughly Scriptural. In the book, ML has a remarkably similar discussion with Erasmus where he answers many if not all of your questions--truly nothing new under the sun is there?

Anyway, I'm totally typed out due to a 3 hour essay-a-thon in Synoptics class today on Jesus' use of the crypic phrase "Son of Man" I guess I'm all mauled out for today.

Anonymous said...

You guys are all such geeks. I love you

mattie said...

Oh, I'm a bit intimidated to jump into this discussion, but here goes.

I am (drum roll, please) a former LCMS Lutheran who has been confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church (collective gasp). I graduated from Harvard the year before SMZ, BPZ, PCH, et al. I'm studing theology at a Jesuit institution right now.

I only have a few minutes, and this discussion is so wide reaching I don't know where to start. But here are a couple questions I'm dealing with:

1. What is "salvation"? What precisely was accomplished through the life and death of Jesus, if not freedom from sin and death? If that freedom exists, mustn't it be present in this world as well as the world to come?

2. Why did Jesus do things like heal, work for justice, befriend the worst of sinners if only the cross matters? Why did he live for 33 years if only Good Friday makes a difference?

3. How can one interpret statements of Jesus like "take your cross and follow me" and "feed my sheep" if we are completely incapable of goodness?

4. Can we understand "original sin" in a corporate context, rather than in just a personal context?

5. Is there a difference between good works having salvific power and good works having redemptive power?

Okay, have to go to a meeting, but I'm jumping in the fray...

Dylan Potter said...


Well, I'll choose #3 "Various and Sundry Stuff that Jesus Did" for $100 please.

If I understand the implications (nuance?) layered within your question, you are asking "So why didn't He just go straight to the cross? Why did He do all the other stuff?"

Well, part of understanding Jesus, as you know, lies in reading His context as well. What I mean is that Jesus represents the perfect Israel. He is acting as a corporate representative of the nation in part (hence His reference to Himself as the temple that would be destroyed, the lamb without blemish, the Good Shepherd of Ps 23, He speaks of being sent to the lost sheep of Israel only, weeps over Jerusalem, and cleanses the temple).

He picks 12 disciples to correspond with the 12 tribes, reinterprets the Sabbath, the Passover, the temple, and even the Law, etc. In other words, Jesus' transection of Israel's history fulfilled prophecy (Deut 18's Prophet, Is 53's suffering servant, et al) but more than prophecy, it fulfilled all righteousness (Mt 3:15). Theologians call this Christ's "active righteousness"...doing all that the Father required in the Law. The cross is referred to as His "passive righteousness"...where He receives the condemnation for our sins.

I mention all of this because I feel it is relevant to the question you asked about Christ's healing, working for justice, and befriending put it simply, Jesus does all of these things as the embodiment of what a perfect Israel looks like. He speaks of these things as signs that the kingdom is upon them, or in their midst.

You have correctly noted that Jesus' mission did involve healing, but He does not heal everyone, most obviously John the Baptizer who He claimed was the greatest man to ever live. The reason we know the cross is central and not healing is due to the fact that Jesus continually uses language about "my time" or "the time." Sometimes He says that it [time] has not yet come, later He states that it is coming, then finally He announces that it is at hand, etc. Obviously, this “time” is about the cross—it was clearly His focus because He came as the lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8).

Throughout the Gospel narratives, Jesus does indeed make some road stops to show the people that the kingdom has come—this is why healings occur, but they are only a by-product of having the God-man living in your cul de sac for the time being. It seems that if the cross was not the ultimate, then Christ would have surely stuck around to continue healing, etc.

So, reading the NT means that we see Christ as the one who introduces a new age--again to use theological terms, Jesus ushers in the "already" (the kingdom is upon you) and the "not yet" (the kingdom is yet to come). Therefore, the implication of the incarnation is that where God is, life is. The theology of the cross says that that life actually comes (sub-contrario) through the death of our Representative.

Zadok said...


A short response to no.2 if I may.

If Jesus had not performed miracles, lived a sinless life, etc (a) we would not know much about God's kingdom - we would only have Adam's example at work in us, and the Law to condemn us. But mainly, (b) the cross would have meant absolutely nothing had he not done all that good stuff which is unachievable by us. Notice he doesn't do many amazing works after he dies (except the miraculous catch of fish - and that has obvious ministerial connotations), he only reveals himself to people.

Also, questions 1 and 5 are interesting.

1. What is "salvation"? What precisely was accomplished through the life and death of Jesus, if not freedom from sin and death? If that freedom exists, mustn't it be present in this world as well as the world to come?

5. Is there a difference between good works having salvific power and good works having redemptive power?

By holding salvation separate to redemption, are you placing one as life in the world to come and the other in this life?

For this life, I have never met anyone without at least a thorn still in his flesh, have you? I think that knowledge of salvation from the guilt of sins from this life in the life after death certainly leads to freedom and peace in this life. Perhaps that could be called redemption? I wouldn't separate them.

I'm not sure good works have any power salvific or redemptive.
I think someone more articulate and intelligent should take over now.
I'm going to bed.

mattie said...

Dylan -

Thanks for your remarks. One thing I find suspiciously absent from general "Protestant" theology is the lack of emphasis on the dual nature of Christ's identity - God and man. You write "the implication of the incarnation is that where God is, life is." Amen. The question is whether or not something was irrevocably altered with respect to our anthropology by God becoming human. Catholics (Eastern & Roman) assert that by becoming flesh Christ fundamentally alters who we are as human beings. Many call this divinization; I dislike the implications of such a title, but appreciate the insight. Because we are "saved" by the complete and full gift of grace that comes through Jesus Christ (which is presented not only in his crucifixion, but also in his incarnation and resurrection), we have the ability to "become adopted sons and daughters of God." As children, we take on the characteristics of our parents, and we are empowered to be "the body of Christ" here on earth, doing "good works," as it were.

We all have thorns. I have a few very crippling ones that I struggle with daily. I am under no illusion that I have been given complete and utter freedom from "sin." However, I also think it ignores the message of the life of Christ and the inherent identity of God to say that the blood of Christ covers us rather than transforms us.

And Zadok - what if "good works" are important to the Christian life not because they have salvific or redemptive power for the actor, but because they have such power for the one being served? As Peter Kreeft says, if we are the "body of Christ" then as Christians we are "the extention of the incarnation."

Joshua Corrigan said...

First of all, FABULOUS questions!
I have said before that I am not as qualified to speak to these issues as everyone else here but I do share the passion. So I’ll let others directly speak to your questions but I would like to say something about the tone of them. I am not imputing anything to you personally Mattie, in regards to your questions. I just think that it is important, in answering, to address the motivation behind these types of questions. They all share an implied desire to be part of “the process”. I am suggesting that these seemingly benign, morally neutral, or even good sounding desires may in fact be a product of the fall. So when addressing the questions specifically I must also address their fallen perspective. For instance:

In regard to number 5: If we take the human problem seriously, and the solution seriously, the question of good works in relation to redemption or salvation will be decisively answered. Good works are then a fruit of God’s grace to us that have no bearing on our redemption or salvation. I keep telling myself that I must have something to do with my saving. “Am I just to stand here and accept that God has done everything when he gave me creative faculties? Aren’t I supposed to do something? I want to do something! I demand to do something!” As my thoughts proceed, the cross gets smaller and smaller while the role of good works is artificially inserted into the eschatological picture-where they don’t belong.

I see this as being empirically undeniable in my own life as well as a perfect match with the implications of a “more radical gospel”.

And again, thanks for the great questions.

Joshua Corrigan said...

And what a great question about the alteration of our anthropology as a result of the incarnation! (Simeon?)

Tim Galebach said...

I'd really like to see someone tackle (from an opposing point of view) what Simeon said regarding Romans 9. I find it fascinating that in Romans 6 and 9, Paul specifically addresses the criticisms most often levelled against (for lack of a better term) Zahlian/Lutheran/Augustinian theology, and doesn't blink.

It's fascinating because it shows that the questions never really change. But they also seem to actually be addressed in the Bible, and aren't out there as vagaries we need to debate for the rest of our lives.

Thoughts from the unconvinced? I don't really care what the convinced have to say.

Dylan Potter said...


OK, South Park is coming on soon, so this will be quick. By intimating that Christ changes us, are you speaking ontologically? I'm assuming that you are speaking about the topic of "infusion" versus the Protestant "imputation"?

By the way, love your name...very cheery ring to it. 8-)

CEW said...

Is it or is it not remarkable how long some of these comments are!?

1. I think that we all, along with jeff dean, deserve many Virginia slims.

2. Isn't it wonderful knowing that, despite having 54 comments on one entry in his blog, all of this 'blog-populartiy' is not going to go to JAZ's head...

3. We say that we believe in miracles. Well, I propose this question: do you think it is possible for Jesus himself, through the Holy Spirit, to "post a comment" on this blog? And, no I dont mean in the whole "spirit speaking through a human being". I mean an actual supernatural, mystical blog entry that would, in the least likely of times, just simply appear. What do you think it would say? Better yet, what do you think His "identity" would be? Do you think He would check "other"? Perhaps the font would be completely different- I mean, surely He could change that or at least enable Himself to use the italic or bold faced features that seem to be missing in the blog-o-sphere.

4. I love jokes! They are fun.

mattie said...

Okay, Tim: a few tentative insights about my dissenting perspective on Romans 9-11. It's late, and I'm tired, but here are a couple things that jumped out at me as I was rereading the passages.

First, in Romans 9:15, Paul quotes Exodus, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." The tentative conclusion (again seemingly implied in Rm 11:7-10) is that God must be un-gracious and un-compassionate to some. However, elsewhere Paul states very clearly (ie. Rm 5) that the offer of grace through Jesus Christ is universal, applicable to all, so I don't see this as defininitive proof for some sort of double predestination absent human action.

Thus, one key passage for me is Rm 9:22-24: "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles."

This passage seems to say to me that God remains sovereign, with the power to both elect and condemn, as it were, but, through Christ, has manifested God's ultimate desire: that of mercy rather than wrath.

Moreover, the interpretation of Rm 10:4 is incredibly important to this discussion: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Does this mean that by believing, Christ becomes for the believer the end of the law, thus granting "salvation"; or, alternatively, does it mean that Christ is definitively the end of the law and belief simply empowers the believer to live life in a state of grace rather than in a state of law? It seems to me that in v. 14 Paul implies the latter by calling to mind a sort of "tree falling in the forest" argument. Paul seems to be saying that Christ is the end of the law for all, but by confessing faith in Christ, we claim that truth for ourselves. Christ's death and resurrection have inherent meaning, yes, but if the truth of the incarnation is not believed, preached, and practiced, God's saving work loses efficacy. This does not undermine the power of God, it only affirms a God who desires love beyond blind obedience.

This absolute and universal brand of salvation is brought home in Rm 11:25-26, 32: "a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved...For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all." We don't have to turn God into a monster to assert that predestination exists. God foreknew all and, through Christ, extends salvation to all. However, that grace can be rejected and that grace can be lost through human action (losing faith, failing to live in grace) not God's changing whims. It seems to me that Rm. 11:20-24 is pretty clear that salvation can be lost over the course of one's lifetime.

I guess my contemporary analogy would be something like this: Grace is like WiFi. I think God has an unsecured network and as long as I turn on my wireless card (which God gave me), I can tap into it. However, if I shut off my computer or go out of range or screw up my internet settings, I lose access. It's not God's fault, but my free decision to reject God's gift, a gift that empowers me.

The other perspective sounds more like this: Grace is like WiFi, but God has firewalls and ridiculously high security settings and unless God picks you for some arbitrary reason and whispers the secret password in your ear, you're just out of luck. I don't think that's how God works. It just doesn't jibe with how Jesus ministered and that throws up red flags for me.

Or maybe, I should restate it like this: God's network is secure, but he goes around screaming "The password is JESUS you moron! JESUS, I tell you. Don't you hear me? I said: JESUS IS THE PASSWORD." I still have to type in the password to access the network.

And Joshua, impute all you want about my personality. You betcha I wanna be part of the process. I think God wants that too. God knows I can't do it on my own, only Jesus can do that, but God really hopes I'll believe in what happened through Jesus and partner with the Trinity to change my life and the world. If we think we can garner insight into a pre-lapsarian perspective on God via Genesis 1-2 (which I am skeptical about, but nonetheless will use to further my argumentation if it is useful :)) we see that God really wanted Adam to be a part of this whole creation shebang. Naming animals, tending the garden, the whole dominion thing. Sounds like cooperation to me.

Anyway. In a subsequent post, I will develop some of these thoughts more cogently. It's 3:45 am here in Nebraska and I'm supposed to be writing my soteriology paper. Alas, Anselm, here I come...

simeon said...

hi mattie! glad to have you here with us! this blog is the best thing ever.

i know you have just contributed two massive posts, so please don't feel obliged to answer my question until you have time.

that said, i would be very interested to hear more about the catholic view of how precisely the incarnation changed our anthropology. how did the _incarnation_ make it fundamentally more possible for us to be like Christ? is it just through example? i suspect it is more than that, but confess my ignorance. i trust it is _not_ a full-fledged rahnerian position, because he seems to ignore the cross and the resurrection almost entirely in favor of the "divinization" idea. but i have some conservative catholic friends here who assure me that rahner is hardly the be-all and end-all of catholic theology.

i understand how someone could interpret the cross as changing our anthropology in some way (for instance, through the sacrament of the mass, actual infusion), or the Spirit doing so (a la the classic pentecostal view of second baptism), but would be very interested to hear the arguments for how precisely the incarnation on its own terms works out to effect us in that way. in my protestant bubble i have managed to learn very little about this. so please enlighten me/ us! it sounds like to miss this aspect of RC theology might be for protestants to miss the point?

i hope you are well!

Anonymous said...

cew, you are a genius.

bonnie said...

Hi Mattie! I'm so glad there are other girls on this discussion. For a while I was feeling like the single (chinese) female on this post, much like sitting in on the systematic theology seminar a few months ago...

I only have one comment about the WiFi analogy: I don't think grace is like WiFi (that has a limited range). If we say grace is like range-less WiFi, then I continue with the analogy: my perspective is that it's not the WiFi that is predominately the problem, but our wireless internet cards. I think that "All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved" pretty much rules out the idea that if I've tuned up my computer and my internet card is in place, it can still ultimately fail because of God's firewall or security settings. If that is the case, then God probably has a reason for shutting down the connection for a time; but ultimately the connection will be open (so I hope!) On the other hand, it's equally possible that we have faulty internet cards that work half the time.

And, admittedly, my Powerbook is worse at picking up the wireless internet signals that Simeon's iBook.

JDK said...

Hello everyone,

Three cheers for John Zahl!

Great discussion. . . I’m a monergist, so I don’t mind people disagreeing because ultimately God will change their hearts/minds to the truth or they will perish unredeemed. . .( ha ha ha heh. . . heh ha ha? . . . oh my)

(Although I only want to be Jeff Dean) I’ll try responding to the question:

I am sure one or more members of the Zahl clan (or perahps one J. David Dean?) have a response to this idea that a covenant of grace has existed since Adam's fall. Specifically, how does this fit in with the theme of discontinuity in the life and teachings of Jesus? Jesus' life, death, and resurrection obviously changed things in a major way, right?

The classic Augustinian/Reformation position is that the covenant of Grace existed alongside the covenant of Works since Adam's fall. The idea of one huge overarching covenant of Grace has always existed in the Orthodox church and is now coming back into vogue w/in Protestant churches almost exclusively through Barth via New Perspective Guys.

The allure of the "one covenant" is that it ultimately undermines any real need for atonement and, thus, corrects all of the world's problems. . .just like that. Christianity becomes a religion about community and reciprocally defined interpersonal relationships based on mutual submission and love. While this last part may, in fact, be true (as it is Barth’s “Social Doctrine of the Trinity”) it is my contention that the horizontal can never be rectified until the vertical .

To say that Jesus was discontinuous is correct, but not with the Covenant of Grace, just with its human interpretation and manifestation. . .The promise (ie: Covenant of Grace) has always existed since Gen 3 and was fulfilled through Jesus. So, Jesus did not bring a new covenant, rather he ratified and redefined (in a manner of speaking) ONE of the old.

some thoughts. . .

Dylan Potter said...

I want to allow Scripture have a say in this too...because on one hand, it does seem to suggest that there is a new covenant. However, this is understood based upon the act of Christ's fulfillment of the covenant of works...JDK is correct that this new covenant is really just Christ's fulfillment of the old. The fact that He is the only one who actually passed the test, allows us to join Biblical authors in speaking of it terms of its "newness", and to experience the great exchange at the cross.

Jeremiah 31:31
"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

Luke 22:20
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Hebrews 8:13
By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

Hebrews 9:15
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Hebrews 12:24 Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

mattie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mattie said...

Bonnie -

I'm glad to be here too. Estrogen is really key to fully understanding deep analytical argumentation :)

I agree with your point; the true questions are anthropological, rather than theological. Extending the wi-fi analogy, these questions then, remain:

Did God give us faulty cards?

Did Satan come and implant some sort of virus?

Are the cards really refurbished and we're paying for the lack of competence on the part of the previous owner?

Or (my understanding of Roman Catholic theology) did God give us perfectly working cards (through Jesus because before Jesus we all had to put up with 56k modems), but because God wants us to play a role in accessing the network, he spends our lives taking us through a sort of tutorial, where we gradually learn how to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of our cards? Unfortunately, we have the occasion to freqently tune out and ignore God, wanting to go back to our good 'ole dial-up or pretending God couldn't possibly know anything about networking.

And, Bonnie, perhaps it isn't that your card works less well than Simeon's, but that we go through phases of discovery which change how effective or how ineffective our ability to connect is. This could be due to our own rebellion or it could be because of God's role as a loving parent. Perhaps there are seasons when we think (whether consciously or not) that we want to try to a different way of connecting because we heard or read that it is better than the way God has been teaching us. That results in disconnection, but perhaps it is an imperative part of the process of growing in love. Or, perhaps, like a loving Father, God puts on filters once in a while. Maybe Simeon can have the capacity to look at certain sites that you can't because God has given him different (not better or worse) gifts and calls than He has given you.

Okay, enough with the forced analogy. Point being: human life is inherently developmental, and our relationship with God seems to need to mirror our relationships with others and the world.

Back to the paper. Ugh. My thorn is clearly procrastination.

Oh, and SMZ - explanation of divinization to come post-paper completion. It requires more citation.

Tim Galebach said...

Ah Mattie, thanks for the post. I think I can address our points of departure, but these comments are getting clogged already, so I'm going to spend today writing something up, and then post it on my blog, which I know you check, because I couldn't figure out who my visitor from Nebraska was until today.

Jeff Dean said...


Mattie can certainly answer this better than I, but I recall an example given in my grace tutorial with Julia Lamm.

A question Catholic theologians have wrestled with is whether man would have died had Adam not sinned. Thomas asserted that man would have died, because death is in the nature of human beings.

The incarnation, by joining the divine nature to the human nature, allows for communcatio idiomatum --the communication (possibly, the "confusion") of the idioms. As a result, God could take on human nature (ie, death) and man could take on divine nature (ie, eternal life).

Think of Athenasius, "God became [as] man so that man could become [as] God."

Julia Lamm suggested a "fat guy in a little coat" analogy, though I know you are all too classy to have ever seen Tommy Boy (except for you, Mr. Koch, which is why I feel so close to you). Maybe the episode of Seinfeld in which George expects an apology from a friend in AA because the friend claimed that George would stretch out the neckhole of a cashmere sweater? Jesus stretches out human nature and expands our capacity.

Basically, it's not fundamentally different than the Reformed argument that those in Christ are "new creations" able to fulfill the Law. The difference, though, is that it fundamentally affected >all< humanity.

Would you agree, Mattie?

Jeff Dean said...

Just to play my cards, I find the Catholic/Reformed position infinitely more appealing than the Protestant.

I just experience it to be untrue. How's that for liberal Protestantism? I'll be advocating gay marriage next...

bonnie said...

what's the difference between reformed and protestant?

mattie said...

bpz -

reformed tends to refer to traditions derived from calvin, whereas protestant just means anyone not Catholic. reformed thought is characterized by double predestination, total depravity, irresistible grace, etc.


bonnie said...

oh.i thought reformed = luther's view cuz of "reform"ation. oops. thanks for clarifying, mattie!

on that note, and in light of John's black coffee without luther, i think i'll take the "low anthropologian" option, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Jeff. . .
for whatever it's worth. . I think that the Reformed/Catholic approach IS more consistent and is infinitely easier to argue scripturally. . .
but I, like you, find it impossible in light of who I know I am. . .


mattie said...

what i don't get is how the reformed and catholic approaches are being lumped together...

Jeff Dean said...


Both the Reformed (ie, Calvinist) and Catholic positions maintain that baptized Christians are ontologically different from the remainder of humanity, therefore more able not to sin. Both Roman Catholics and Reformed Protestants believe that works of the individual cannot be absent from salvation (I realize how entirely faulty that sounds viz. double-predestination, but it's there nevertheless).

Luther may be the sole figure who maintains that one can be fully justified without being at all sanctified. He might be totally wrong and taking me to hell with him, but, right now at least, his position seems to be the only one that has a remote chance of getting me into heaven.

Dylan Potter said...

C'mon...80 comments...80 comments...wait, I know what might work. Stand back everybody, call me crazy but I'm about to unleash the only thing that may just get us to 80 comments: "JABEZ!"

Anyway, is anyone familiar with Augustine's four states of humanity?

Pre-fall (a) able to sin, able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare)
Post-fall (b) not able not to sin (non posse non peccare)
Post-justification (c) able not to sin (posse non peccare)
Post-glorification (d) unable to sin (non posse peccare).

Is Luther just stuck on (b), while Calvin is properly chillin' on (c)? Just playing the gadfly...

Tim Galebach said...

Ok, I'll bite, briefly. Augustine's point c) is correct. The only question then becomes, does this mean that a 3rd use of the law is appropriate?

Taking that as a point of departure, people much smarter than myself have written great things (in this thread even!)

Et le voila, the endless debate within Christianity, that is completely boring and meaningless unless there's something real going on. But everyone likes to rehash, so this whole thing will continue for awhile...

Dylan Potter said...

Well, as you well know, it is a matter of motivation at that point Tim. Even many Lutherans would say that the 3rd use of the law is somewhat fulfilled via the 2nd use. Instead of exhortations to do this or that in order to live your best life now or whatever (as if Christianity was nothing but morality), we hear that we have failed, and flee back to the source of our justification viz. Christ & His cross, apprehend the fact that "He first loved us" and as a reflex, love Him, which is quite helpfully, the fulfillment of the law.

Therefore, the Gospel is all about ad fontes and ab initio (shameless PZ rip-off!)...I might write about that later.

Anyway, one of the problems with the 3rd use is that it generally breeds a very robust semi-pelagianism. Which begs the question, how do the Reformed folks feel about that since they are pro-tertius usus on one hand, and anti-semi-pelagianism on the other? Anyone?

Zadok said...

I dunno if this is anything to do with anything, but I've been pondering this whole topic of law, good works, salvation and evangelism.

A friend of mine once said that Christians are selfish. 'Why?' I asked him in a shocked and defensive tone. And then suddenly it dawned, even before he answered. Because he thought that we do good things in order that we might benefit, i.e. by gaining eternal life.

I'm not sure I gave him a perfect answer, I was not perfect back then as I am now (ahem), but in the context of this discussion (well I think it is slightly in context at least) a total belief in salvation by faith ALONE discredits any accusation of selfishness of Christians. Unless we believe that we are WHOLLY justified only be faith, then any good works we do are tainted by selfishness, as we see them as for our benefit, which in turn means we are not truly dead to ourselves.

So what purpose have good works? Well I would tentatively say that they have evangelistic power (not conversional power but at least they show a contrast), that they are for the redemption of the community rather than the doer of the works. 'n other stuff too probably.

Tim Galebach said...

Great post Zadok!

I would add that another possible purpose of good works is that people generally like it when good things happen... :)

Jeff Dean said...

Good works also herald the Kingdom of God, in which all things are made new.