Friday, May 05, 2006

Two exceprts from PZ's most recent "State of the Church" posting:

It is amazing. I heard about a sermon preached recently at a large and celebrated evangelical church (not in Pittsburgh), and it was that massive same-old, same-old. The preacher said that there are two questions we shall all be asked on Judgment Day: One, did we accept Christ? And Two, how did we do after we had accepted Christ? He said that he “guaranteed” that we would all be asked these two questions.

Now here is this preacher acting like Britney Spears: “Oops! I did it again.” Oops, I preached the Law again, to Christians. I started by preaching the Grace of God – that is, before you accepted Christ – but then, after you became a Christian, it’s the Law for you!

This is just the same thing we hear everywhere and Sunday after Sunday, from here to eternity. You preach forgiveness to sinners, then once they respond in joy to that great enabling word, you place their necks securely under the Law.


The best alien story ever written is the story of Christ’s coming to the earth. Why? Because it is truly an alien story. The gift of Grace is alien to the human condition. Grace is not Law. It does not accuse, nor does it demand, nor does it legislate, nor does it require. It sets all that aside. The best tag-line for a science-fiction move that has ever been written was written by St. Paul, when he said, “Christ is the end of the Law, for them that believe” (Romans 10:4).

That is alien wisdom. It could never have come from a human hand.

We would have put in requirements, or conditions, or “tweaked” it (a truly Legal phrase), or talked about “good cop, bad cop,” or put it in our own action-consequence lingo. We could never, ever have come up with something like, “Christ is the end of the Law.” And for Christians, no less.

St. Paul was not a “covenantal nomist.”

Flee churches that place nice Christian sufferers under the Law.

But… where will you go?

Click Me to read it all!


mike burton said...

Where will we go, indeed.

Eve said...

It's only too true, what PZ wrote...
However, what I find sometimes (esp. in my friends' Presbyterian churches) is that grace is offered, even preached and taught,, then the inevitable Law is tacked on.... Then, when equally inevitable sin occurs, the sinning believers are offered nothing but grace.
In other words, grace is taught, then it's negated by Law, then grace is acted out. Does this make sense? Is it peculiar to Presby. churches, or is it only these few I am thinking of?

Anonymous said...

I think that's exactly the point Dr.Zahl was making. . .

Eric Cadin said...

Can I ask why is there such hostility to the LAW? What eve wrote seems well enough indeed, with the very important note of the poor teaching of Law's purpose thereby leading to the phrase "the law is tacked on."

What is the point of the LAW? Is it mere condemnatory? or something else. Rom. 7, does the law hold us captive or is it sin?

certainly we are a people of grace, is the Law then for nothing?

Besides saying everything that the church is diong wrong in a sermon, i.e. saying here we go again with the law, what exactyl does a "grace" sermon look like, what does a graced life look like?

Jeff Dean said...

Hey Eric,

I think you've raised an excellent point. Colton has been sending me very important reflections on the Law for a while now, and I just can't seem to stop thinking about them!

I am very susceptible to getting so frustrated with an idea that I forget why I disliked it in the first place. I suppose that's a little like McCarthyism, and its important every now and a again to take a step back and consider the source of the prejudice.

I know you know most of the things I'm going to write, but my thoughts flow more easily when I read them systematically. Please forgive me for sounding pedantic!

Following the Apostle Paul (who merely made explicit what Jesus showed implictly), all Christians acknowledge that salvation comes by grace and not by works. That is, we are incapable of freeing ourselves from the limitations on our humanity. This is echoed by every great doctor of the church, and remains the creedal belief of the Church even today.

Now, there are two ways that this belief is misunderstood. The first is repugnant to all Christians, but the second is repugnant to Lutherans (and Cranmnerians!)specifically.

There are those who prescribe things that must be done to earn God's favor. These things constitute a category called, in short-hand, the Law. Because this position was declared a heresy by the Church at the Synod of Orange (before any of the major ecclesial reallignments), we can all universally agree that teaching individuals to follow a set of commandments in order to be saved is false.

Now, there are lots more beliefs at stake for Protestants in the teaching that PZ is decrying.

For instance, Protestants do not believe that THE LAW (as in, God's Torah) was given legislatively, but rather judicially. That, God provided the Law not because we could follow it, but because the painful realization that we cannot follow it would put us on our knees before him.

It MUST be noted, however, that this is NOT a problem with the Law, but is rather a problem with US. The very fact that the law condemns us means that it points out our sin and causes us to beg for mercy.

Many theological systems have a high view of regeneration or sanctification. That is, they believe strongly that "those who are in Christ Jesus are a new creation!" means we are now able to fulfill the Law of God. It is not the law that changes, but rather we who are changed by grace such that the law is no longer a judgment upon us, but rather a means of bring glory to God by the holiness of our lives and the efficacy of our efforts at restoring the world.

It is important to keep in mind that, on a purely theoretical level, this conception is an entirely possible interpretation of the new testament. Enough verses exist to support the idea, and it strikes us as entirely rational and becoming.

The problem, however, is that no one who was writing the New Testament ever conceived of a time when men would live entire lifespans as part of the Christian church. To them, Jesus was coming back any moment. The pastoral concern for Christians who fell into sin was not absent, but was rather minimal. This was a rare situation, of course, because Jesus was coming soon, and everyone could hold out until he arrived.

Fortunately, the Church early on realized that life in the meantime needed to somehow provide a means of reconciliation for sinning Christians. I am a collosal fan of auricular confession and penance because this sacrament acknowledges the weakness of the human heart and the frailty of even a restored will! (Oh, would that evangelicals could learn this lesson!)

Protestant thinkers simply read the New Testament differently about the law--with more an eye toward the sinfulness of even Christians as to be expected rather than found surprising. To us, then, maintaining ANY standard of conduct presumes that Christians have been freed from their sinful nature.

Now, I desperately wish that were true. But I know too many guys who masturbate every day, girls who purge every night, sons whose mothers make them cringe, and wives who are terrified by their husbands to be able to accept the radically renewed will. Because of this admittedly radical pastoral concern, I take the position that ALL people need to hear that salvation comes by GRACE and not by WORKS, especially those Christians most prone to believing that their relationship to God somehow makes them better prepared to fulfill his Law.

John Zahl said...


A "grace sermon" looks and sounds like no other sermon. The Lutheran Church- Missouri Sinod have a book that all their ministers in training read, called "On the proper distinction between law and gospel" by CF Walther. It's the be all end all of pastoral theology (especially with regards to preaching) as far as I'm concerned. Dad is referring to something very specific, but that type of sermon is not some strange thing he's invented, it's a classic protestant method, has been lost, almost entirely across the board. TESM seeks to re-train people for the ministry in that tradition/ mode of Christian thought. My next post will be a re-posting of something I wrote on the law a while ago when someone raised a similar question. Thanks for the interest, and stay tuned for Dad's next book: "Grace in Practise" which comes out in Feb 07 and will answer your question directly and thoroughly.

As far as your question is concerned though, in brief, as far as this blog is concerned, yes, the law only serves to condemn because that is it's primary function. The primacy of that function trumps all other secondary purposes of the law. In theological terms, I am positing that the "2nd use of the law" is primary, which is a decisive distinction between Luther and Calvin, making for two entirely different approaches to church. The Lutheran was adopted by much of the original Evangelical wing of the Church of England, but has mostly faded out in since 1979. This particular traditional strand of thought makes for Church at its most radical. I am a big fan, as are most prodigal types. Older brothers tend to prefer Calvin. The quote of Sim's from Pontifications blog about four days ago deals with this same issue. Now we've got our finger on the real pulse of this blog (i.e., lex semper accusat aka no third use of the law, plus also imputation not infusion). Those are the core summarizing theological positions of my Christian theology. Feel free to disagree, but know that this blog exists primarily in advocacy of that position, and was started that such leanings might be promoted in particular. It was / is my main impetus in ministry!

Best, JAZ

Eric Cadin said...

Jeff, oh I wish I had more time to respond, but I have a dinner to go two. a couple of things to consider, though.

1. Would we call Jesus himself a preacher of the Law? Mt 19:16-17

Now someone approached him and said, "Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?" 17 He answered him, "Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."

Second, I would take some issue with your statement "rather a means of bring glory to God by the holiness of our lives and the efficacy of our efforts at restoring the world" For here I would look first at Jesus' teachings to the rich young man. "If you wish to enter LIFE", follow the commandments

Then I would offer this reflection on Law:

"Blessed is the man who takes delight in the law of God" Ps 1

We do not know how clearly the young man in the Gospel understood the profound and challenging import of Jesus' first reply: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments". But it is certain that the young man's commitment to respect all the moral demands of the commandments represents the absolutely essential ground in which the desire for perfection can take root and mature, the desire, that is, for the meaning of the commandments to be completely fulfilled in following Christ. Jesus' conversation with the young man helps us to grasp the conditions for the moral growth of man, who has been called to perfection: the young man, having observed all the commandments, shows that he is incapable of taking the next step by himself alone. To do so requires mature human freedom ("If you wish to be perfect") and God's gift of grace ("Come, follow me").

Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called. Jesus points out to the young man that the commandments are the first and indispensable condition for having eternal life; on the other hand, for the young man to give up all he possesses and to follow the Lord is presented as an invitation: "If you wish...". These words of Jesus reveal the particular dynamic of freedom's growth towards maturity, and at the same time they bear witness to the fundamental relationship between freedom and divine law. Human freedom and God's law are not in opposition; on the contrary, they appeal one to the other. The follower of Christ knows that his vocation is to freedom. "You were called to freedom, brethren" (Gal 5:13), proclaims the Apostle Paul with joy and pride. But he immediately adds: "only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another" (ibid.). The firmness with which the Apostle opposes those who believe that they are justified by the Law has nothing to do with man's "liberation" from precepts. On the contrary, the latter are at the service of the practice of love: "For he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' " (Rom 13:8-9). Saint Augustine, after speaking of the observance of the commandments as being a kind of incipient, imperfect freedom, goes on to say: "Why, someone will ask, is it not yet perfect? Because 'I see in my members another law at war with the law of my reason'... In part freedom, in part slavery: not yet complete freedom, not yet pure, not yet whole, because we are not yet in eternity. In part we retain our weakness and in part we have attained freedom. All our sins were destroyed in Baptism, but does it follow that no weakness remained after iniquity was destroyed? Had none remained, we would live without sin in this life. But who would dare to say this except someone who is proud, someone unworthy of the mercy of our deliverer?... Therefore, since some weakness has remained in us, I dare to say that to the extent to which we serve God we are free, while to the extent that we follow the law of sin, we are still slaves". 27

bpzahl said...

Hi Eve,

It's so cool that your friends' prebyterian church demonstrates grace in action. That is very, very important. My question would be, why the inconsistency? If the presbyterian church (in general) is so interested in the 3rd use, then they should also be demonstrating the 3rd use in their actions (i.e. sinning believers are offered grace and then told to try harder)?

I think it's because the tried-and-true help is grace, not 3rd use of the law! Anyone with any pastoral insight will not tell the sinning believer (especially the believer who has tried to change for many times) to "try harder".

The problem I see is that all too often, Christians who are in sin and feeling judged by the (third use of the) law during sermons or teachings don't get a chance to experience grace extended from their church leaders. It is remarkable that your friend's church is offering grace in practice. That sort of pastoral care and one-on-one attention is wonderful! But if a person is feeling too guilty to approach their pastor or youth leader, all the input they get is the law which ends every sermon or bible study.

For the sake of those who don't experience grace in practice, preaching must end with a word of grace!

Lastly, if anyone is interested, there is a really good criticism of "evangelical christianity" which Simeon and I find so insightful, written by a dude who was involved in CICCU (Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union). If you google "CICCU", it's the second article that comes up, and is titled something like "How I lost my faith" or something like that. It's exactly the problem that PZ was describing.

Sarah B Richey said...

May I use the Jesus Alien analogy for a talk? Or should I ask PZ? I LOVE it! Especially grace being "alien wisdom" and what we would have (and have) done to it. No wonder we have such a hard time accepting grace, we're not aliens! Thanks for passing it along. Sarah

John Zahl said...

My friend Will (author of the White Hall blog) recently raised the following question about Prescription:

"Also: what's the problem with something's being prescribed? Jesus prescribed all kinds of things. Preach the gospel, go in peace, sin no more, baptize, make disciples, fear not, do this, etc. etc. etc."

Here's my attempt at answering this question:

Dear Will,

the short answer to your question on prescription usually runs along the following lines: Prescription does not provide a method for bringing about the thing it requires, but, rather (to quote Romans 7) it "increases the trespass," "making sin utterly sinful". It tells the car where to go, but it doesn't put any gas in the tank.

Where there is prescription, there immediately comes the opposite of the thing the prescription intended, and this is what it means for the will to be bound. Knowing better does not equal doing better according to Paul (foolishness to the Greeks), and, if anything, it increases the doing of worse, or, at a minimum, puts the doing of "worse" into the perspective of not being as good as the standard fulfilled.

So the Law (as prescription) brings rebellion and penitance. Paul calls this "the proper use of the law" in 1 Timothy 1: 8, 9. Jesus further clarifies the law in the Sermon on the Mount in his antitheses, by showing that prescription exposes an impossible angling of the heart, one that mere behavioral adherence cannot meet the standard of (i.e., suddenly adultery is not a behavior, but a motive, etc. That portion of the Sermon on the Mount climaxes with: be ye perfect therefore as your Father in heaven is perfect -- good luck!) -- This exact issue is currently being discussed on in the thread under the post called "An Insight from Jeff Dean"; it's a far from settled hermeneutical matter, but what I describing here is the basic sort of Luther 101 position on the matter. I hope those of you who are sympathetic to such a read, can help me to tighten this us if you think I've gone far astray here. Adherants of this position tend to think the bible must be interpreted and/or read through the lens of the Cross if sense is to be made of its text. You get the drift.

Anway, as a result of this awful conundrum known as the human condition post-Fall,...(drum roll) "thanks be to Jesus Christ" who died to on the behalf of us sinners who know ourselves as sinners in light of the fact that we cannot set the record straight in the way the Law demands through our own efforts (i.e., works based righteousness), and God cannot commune with anything less. According to this view, prescription is always basically a big set-up for "repent and believe the Gospel".

If Jesus' command, and any other commandments in the Bible (especially given the nature of human reception of any kind of command as illuminated by Paul in Romans 7 famously) could simply be followed in the way that their imperative nature requires, then why did Jesus have to die, and so brutally at that? In what sense is Grace really grace, and forgiveness really forgiveness and mercy really mercy and love really love if those qualities are not a response to something that requires them? In the same vein, tolerance and love are obviously not the same thing.

Furthermore, if the law can be fulfilled by us, then the Bible often starts to be interpreted as a rule book of some sort, a ladder for us to climb (rather than the story of one who came down and then climbed up on our behalf while we were busy doing our own thing).

Obviously, for those who buy into this read of prescription, the implications are pretty major for how you come to understand the Christian life; the Gospel has to do with a lot more than just conversion, it also has to do with sanctification. Salvation and sanctification become seemingly identical in the view of some. The message one preaches to the Christian is no different than the message one preaches to the non-Christian.

Some Christians try to draw different distinctions as to just how far-reaching the implications of this understanding travel. Does this relationship to the Law altar at the point of conversion? Calvin says yes. Most Christians say yes. Luther appears (at least in his notable Commentary on Galatians, which is the thing that Wesley was listening to when his heart was "strangely warmed") to basically say "No", though that's been well disputed. W. Elert argues strongly against any other interpretation of Luther, and makes for a pretty fun read. My favorite, shared by many, is Gerhard Forde's "On Being a Theologian of the Cross". It is short and really worth reading. I can't plug it enough. Others try to draw lines between different kinds of prescription, that some can be adhered to, while others can't. It's basically the history of Protestant denominational break-down.

The most commonly lobbed criticism of this view that Prescription only works in this strange back-handed manner is "antinomianism", which suggests that being set free from the Law's prescriptive quality through Christ's Cross results in dangerous anarchic freedom, and of the most immoral kind at that. This criticism was not stranger to Paul himself: "Should we sin more that grace may abound?"

For what it's worth, no Lutheran accepts this charge of anti-nomianism ("Certainly not!"), and there are many important and note-worthy arguments, Scriptural verses and passages, plus experiences and testimonies that suggest anti-nomian behavior is not a necessary consequence of such an understanding of the Cross in its relationship to the Law. Some even suggest that such anti-nomian behavior is an impossibility given the profound, heart-changing nature of Grace, that, to the extent it has sunk in, nothing but fruit can be born of it.

It is indeed the case that, to go all the way with such an interpretation of the Gospel is pretty radical; it puts a lot onto the shoulders of Jesus for sure! My father's tag line is: "Low Anthropology, High Christology". Personally, my leanings go pretty much all the way with this one, to the displeasure of many perhaps. Christians seem often to hate this understanding of Christianity. Non-Christians (to the extent they identify with the Prodigal son) tend to love it (i.e., it's irresistable)!

For what it's worth, I think Cranmer bought this view pretty whole-heartedly and my favorite Articles 9, 10, and 11 epitomize this type of thinking. They are especially note-worthy b/c they mention "sin that persists in the regenerate" in almost back-to-back succession with a will that is bound (i.e., not free), and justification by faith in Christ.

Obviously the whole issue gets me pretty excited. But I do hope this helps to lay out the "prescription" matter (as many like me see it anyway) in fairly clear terms.

Guess this isn't such a short answer after all. Maybe I'll post it. Yeah, I think I will, Will. Thanks for asking.

Best, JZ

John Zahl said...

Sarah, feel free to use anything from this blog!

Eric Cadin said...

John, ok, ok, ok, I do think I understand your position a bit, and I have read The Forde book, but I have to ask, where on earth do you get the Law’s only purpose is condemnatory? “the law only serves to condemn because that is it's primary function.”

Last time I checked, a couple of minutes ago, St. Paul wrote, “For SIN, seizing an opportunity, deceived me and through it put me to death. So then the Law is holy and righteous and good.” How, logically, rationally, philosophically, or any other way is the law itself (and I mean the law itself, not sin) condemnatory. Is it not sin that condemns? The distinction may seem trivial but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The Law of the Gospel fulfills the commandments of the Law. The Lord's Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure , (cf. Mt 15:18-19) where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues. The Gospel thus brings the Law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father, through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for persecutors, in emulation of the divine generosity.(cf. Mt 5:44, 48) (CCC 1968)

What does this all mean, pastorally, as far as preaching? Simply that the vocation, the goal, the point of everyone’s life is to become a Saint, i.e. one in full communion, full RELATIONSHIP with God. Nothing short of that matters or means anything. That is the truth, and that is life. So again, we look, and all I am doing is looking at what Jesus himself said regarding this question, he said “if you wish to enter life, follow the commandments?”

The problem, lack of understanding/communication stems from, I believe two very different perspectives on the situation.

Your position ( I know this is an oversimplification) seems to continually stress perceive this “following the commandments” as work, as if only I do this I will be good enough for God, or will “please Him” or will somehow work my way into heaven.

The alternative, one, oddly enough held by Christians and the Church for two thousand years, looks more like this. God desires His creation, i.e. us, to be in communion with Him. This desire is not forced but is an extraordinary act of love and completely extravagant gift (grace). So what happens, well he begins to reveal Himself, to reveal truth to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. People found condemnation through the law because of sin, not because of the law. The law is the truth of God revealed to his people. It leads to, it is ordered to HIM. Now obviously we are woefully broken and cannot begin to follow it, so he sends His Son, who can and does, and in so doing frees us from the bondage, not of the law per se, but of sin. The Law is not something to be fearful of, but informs our lives, not so that we don’t become enslaved by it, but because its wisdom leads us to Him, leads us to our Beloved, leads us to full personalization, leads us to the most intimate communion of Love. Why don’t we sin, not because we fear offending God (though this is often the beginning of our walk and is not necessarily the worst way of doing things) but because we love Him so much that to sin is to turn away from Him. Now our we perfect, no, will we ever be this side of the glory, no, that’s why He gives us the sacraments, particularly confession, because without His grace at every moment we are hopeless. But even this grace does not so overwhelm our freedom as to make it null or void. Want proof. The simple but profound Fiat of Mary echoes through eternity this truth.

What we have now if the law of love. The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear; a law of grace, because it confers the strength of grace to act, by means of faith and the sacraments; a law of freedom, because it sets us free from the ritual and juridical observances of the Old Law, inclines us to act spontaneously by the prompting of charity and, finally, lets us pass from the condition of a servant who "does not know what his master is doing" to that of a friend of Christ - "For all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" - or even to the status of son and heir.(Jn 15:15; cf. Jas 1:25; 2:12; Gal 4:1-7, 21-31; Rom 8:15) (CCC 1972)

Hypokrites said...

For me, two questions persist:

Is the law as alien to the human condition as grace?

Can grace exist apart from the law?

Seen that way, can a case be made that the two ought to be considered together, in order to make proper sense of both?

Paul in Galatians certainly considers both in order to make sense of both. He casts law as the nanny that kept us until we could be "legal" (irony intended) heirs, properly matured and emancipated in Christ (Ah, grace!).

I must confess:

This post and subsequent thread provoked me to covet my neighbor's bad preaching.

As someone who sits under the tyranny of radical inclusivity every week in New York City Episcopal Churches (which, it should be noted, are not terribly different from NYC Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist or Reform Churches in this regard, Redeemer Presby notwithstanding), I would steal, kill, fornicate and violate every other tenant of the law that so offends those blessed enough to be parsing the nuances of its theoretical uses (2? 3?), if I could only hear the kind of preaching to which they here object.

As long as we're evaluating proper application of law and grace pulpit rhetoric, may we consider the horrors of NYC Episcopal-style homiletics?

No law, no need for grace.

Grace, what's that!?

No mention of any of the three terms I just named. Law, Sin and Grace have been supplanted by Radical Welcoming, All-Inclusivity, and so-called reconciliation (a.k.a. rubber stamping).

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ: Come as you are, ever to remain as you are, unless you're Republican and then you really are going to need to change party affiliation.

But aside from that, there's nothing a little splash of water, a weekly wafer and vino can't fix.

(We'll call those last two "Christ", because we're not as non-literal as we like to pretend and because we want to be able to continue to claim His/Her presence in our midst.)

The Good News is: everyone is naturally a son and daughter of God, by virtue of first birth. In fact, look around: the face of God is everywhere you turn!

(Apparently, the Spirit is doing a new thing and making us McCarthyite Christophiles, discerning "holiness" where others just see "ho".)

No new birth, no transformation, no renewing of the mind necessary. No covenant, new or old. No rebellion.

Reconciliation, yes! But it's never clear what we're being reconciled FROM or TO. Or why.

Christian faith is one of many, (possibly?) preferable only insofar as Jesus died so we can have universal healthcare!

This paltry preaching is the extreme opposite of the condition critiqued in the original post. But it's no less disheartening, I assure you.

Perhaps the proper preaching of grace will begin with an explanation of the law and THEN lead to grace - the approach Paul uses in Galatians. (As opposed to teaching grace first, seductively, long enough to get 'em into the fold so we can shackle 'em with the law again.)

My wish? That BOTH law and grace be preached with greater clarity, accuracy and zeal.

If I've been ungracious -- forgive me. I'm demoralized.

Eve said...

Thank you, Bonnie....You seem to be the only one who "got" what I was asking....and in reading back, I guess I was nottvery clear.... If I had thought longer I might have prefaced it by saying, "To the People who have been PZ'd: Here is my query." (In other words, we stipulate that the things PZ teaches, we accept in common.)
My question was about Presbyterians in particular, not about the innate tension between Grace/Law. (Although I always enjoy the amazing discussions it generates on this blog) Is it a thing partic. to Presbyts that they preach/teach law, but can't help but act in grace? It sounds like this is not particular to Presbyterians, which was my question. Also, I understand you to say that it's not made better by the fact that they ACT in grace, bec. many may have already suffered under the Law teaching, and may not be bold enough to go further/dig deeper with a minister.

colton said...

Hi Eric, I want to respond to your last post. I have been thinking quite a lot about the role of the law in our lives, and I think I understand your position. But I also disagree with much of what you say.

John says that the law condemns, while you disagree and said that it is our sin, not the law, that condemns us. In defense of John, let me offer this: Without the law there is no sin. You can’t separate the two. Sin is violating God’s law. How do you know when you have sinned? It is when you have broken God’s law— this is true whether you know the law explicitly or whether you just have a sense of guilt from the law has been written on your heart. There would be no judgment, no condemnation, and no need for a savior if there were no law. (This is not to say, however, that the law is arbitrary, for it is not; it is perfectly designed for us.) So while it is definitely true that God is not at fault for our misdeeds, without his law there would be no measure by which to declare us sinners. (Romans 7 says this very clearly.) It is in this sense that John is saying that the law condemns—it is the means by which God judges us. So the practical function of the law then, is two-fold: to show us right from wrong, and then, when we fail (I assume you agree with me that all men are sinful), to condemn. Hypothetically, if a man were to perfectly keep the law, he would not face condemnation; therefore, you are right to say that it is our sin that condemns us, not the law. But because no man measures up to the law (you yourself admitted than no human ever attains perfection), it is logical and rational to say that the law condemns. God condemns us by judging us against his law and finding that we do not measure up to its standards. From what I gather, the rub here between you and John is this: Is condemnation the only or the primary purpose of the law? I believe John says “yes,” and you say “no.”

I hear what you’re saying about the law being a good thing. It is. It is from God and is perfect. I have been harping on this point to my fellow radical-grace Protestants for a while now. We must not lose sight of the absolutely essential purpose of the law. Like you, I like to use the Sermon on the Mount as an example. As you say, Jesus uses the Sermon on the Mount to reveal the full truth of the law—as He said, He came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. You are also to correct that when brought to fullness, or when stripped down to it’s essential core, the law is a matter of the heart: all the commandments can be summed up in these two: love God, and love your neighbor. Jesus shows us that keeping the law does not mean measuring ourselves against some checklist of do’s and don’ts. This is what the Rich Young Ruler tried to do, but Christ knew that while his “spiritual resume” may have looked good on paper, his heart was not perfect. So, He gave him a command that cut to the very core of his sin, and ruler turned and walked away. In both Matthew and Mark, we are told that the ruler walked away sad, and the clear implication is that he did not sell his belongings and follow Christ. Despite his best efforts, he was condemned, for he could not measure up to the perfection the law demands. Why doesn’t the ruler rejoice in the law? Because the law demands a perfection that no person can attain. The law demands that we never act selfishly and that we always put others ahead of ourselves, in thought as well as in deed. Should we even think about an immoral act or make a disparaging remark under our breath, we are breakers of the law, deserving of the same harsh punishment as murderers, adulterers, and thieves. The ruler is powerless to do what Jesus commands of him. Despite his claims of righteousness, the law ultimately serves to condemn the young ruler.

You very clearly refer to a change that occurs in us upon conversion, when the law ceases to condemn and begins to be something that we want to follow. (You refer to the Old Law and the New Law, but, really, the law has not changed, right? It is we who have changed. So it’s really the Old Man versus the New Man, with the law remaining the same.) You say the following things occur in Christians/New Men: Jesus frees us from our bondage. The spirit infuses us with love. We begin to desire to follow the law more because we love our maker and want to draw closer to him. You also say that we are not perfect, but we are more perfect than before. In other words, you are describing sanctification, the process of becoming more saintly. You add we are helpless with out his grace at every moment (now there’s an idea I can get behind!), but quickly include the caveat this grace does not overwhelm our free will.

The law now, as opposed to before, grants freedom, it “makes us act” in love, it “confers strength” to do what is good. For a Christian, the law no longer condemns; rather, it sanctifies. This is not a new line of thinking, nor is it a strictly Catholic one. It is the “third use” position that the majority of Protestants ascribe to. The problem I have with this view is that it does not align with scripture (I am thinking of Paul in Romans 7) or with my experience as a Christian. I believe that we become sanctified by hearing the Gospel, not the law: there is real power in knowing that while we were sinners, Christ died for us, so that His righteousness could be credited to us, and that even as we continue to sin, God sees not our sin but Christ’s perfection. Our Christian spiritual growth is not constant, nor is it steady, nor is it permanent. For we go through dry spells, we backslide, we commit the same sins over and over. We are given a free gift that we do not deserve, and- this is important part- once we receive it, we continue not to deserve it! God sees us as Christ, blameless and lovely, but we are not, in practice here on Earth, perfect beings.

I could say more and haven’t said anything as well as I want to, but it is late, and I have to go to bed unless I want to have a miserable Monday! So that’s it, and good night!

simeon zahl said...

Just to add to what Colton has said so wonderfully, and to answer Eric's earlier question:

"I have to ask, where on earth do you get the Law’s only purpose is condemnatory?"

Eric, I am surprised that you would ask this question. In the realm of New Testament scholarship, at the very least, it is common knowledge that there appears to be a contradiction in what Paul says about the Law and the fact that he gives a fair number of exhortations that sound a lot like the Law. There is very strong scriptural backing for the view that the Law's primary purpose is condemnatory-- that it brought (and brings) us to our knees in order that we may be opened to acknowledge our need for and receive the grace that Christ has brought us. In fact, the majority of what Paul actually explicitly says about the Law falls into this category. The confusion is that his exhortations would seem to contradict what he has undeniably said about the Law.

Perhaps the best place to start is 1 Timothy 1:8-10:

"Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it properly. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane..."

What this means is that the law is improperly used when it is used for the obedient-- for those who find themselves able to obey what it commands. It's purpose is to bring the disobedient to a place where they can be obedient, which means bringing them to their knees and condemning them. It cannot mean making them obedient or innocent by merely correcting or guiding them, because then it would not be laid down for the disobedient, but for the obedient. It's function is not a guiding one but a transforming one. And the initial, and absolutely necessary, transformation of the individual is to kill them, so that they may be raised again in newness of life.

In Galatians, Paul explains that, "through the law I died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (2:19). The laws function is to kill, not to guide.

You referred to how Jesus describes a law that gives life. We all agree that the law would give life, as Jesus said, were we able to fulfill it's demands. But, like the Rich Young Ruler, we are not able to do so. That is why Paul also says in Galatians that, "If a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. But the scripture [the Torah, i.e. the law] has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (3:21-22).

Paul believes that sanctification and new life comes by the Spirit, not by the law: "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law" (Gal. 5:18).

But the real kickers, along with 1 Timothy, are in Romans. Paul makes it abundantly clear in Romans that, although the law is good, it's good purpose is to condemn, and even to increase sin, in order to force us to our knees and be silenced.

Take Romans 3:19-20:

"Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin."

There you have it! The law speaks only to those who are still under the law, and so that thay may be silenced, not so that that they may be shown what good deeds to do. Law gives us knowledge of sin. It reveals the sin that is already there, so that we can understand and believe that we bring nothing to the table, and that Christ, thanks be to God, has done it ALL for us.

And Paul gets even more radical in the next chapter: "For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression" (4:15). So radical and necessary is this "condemning use" of the law that without it, it would be as if we did not have any sin at all! But we do have sin, and God has shown us that by giving us his law, to show us and even to exacerbate our transgression, so that we can have no illusions about our ability to save ourselves, even the tiniest fraction of a fraction.

Paul goes on in Romans 5: "But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied [!]; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (5:20).

And then there is Romans 7! Paul begins there with an analogy about how death nullifies the law, and then goes on to say that we have "died to the law... so that you may belong to another". Our sinful passions were "aroused by the law", but "now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the written code but in the new life of the Spirit" (4-6). Our new life is defined as being free from the law! Sanctification and all the rest is through the Spirit, in direct contrast to the law.

Paul says it all again, just to make sure he's understood: "If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'thou shalt not covet'. But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me" (7-10).

The law that promised life brought only death, but was this a bad thing? No! Paul says this was a good thing! "So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (12).

The law, which is holy and good, shows sin to be sin, and first increases and then destroys all that is evil. So Paul says in 1 Corinthians (this isn't just a Romans and Galatians thing!), "the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law" (15:56). It is absolutely necessary that we die to sin, that the law destroy us and condemn us, because otherwise we cannot be given new life, we cannot be raised from the dead, and we are still in our sins.

We all acknowledge that there is still something wrong with us, even as baptized Christians (we call it sin, you call it concupiscence). The law is still there in its "second use", or condemnatory function, in order to destroy that sin in us, that God in his grace may raise us to life in the Spirit once again.

I hope that helps answer your question, Eric! Paul talks about the law's good and proper use as condemnatory over and over again-- it really is the main theme of both Galatians and the first half of Romans! (almost forget to mention Romans 10:4: "Christ is the end of the law")

That this role of the law exists and even is primary is beyond proven, scripturally. No serious New Testament scholar has ever denied this! At worst, people conclude that Paul must be confused, to speak so clearly about the law's condemnatory function and its inability to bring about righteousness and its proper role as speaking to sinners only, not those who are under the Spirit, and then to exhort people in various ways.

And those references to "the law of Christ" you refer to are actually extremely few: Galatians 6:2 and 1 Cor. 9:21 are pretty much it, and the latter comes just one verse after Paul says "though I myself am not under the law"! So it is almost universally understood to be a sort of figure of speech, because one can hardly base a whole new doctrine of the law for believers on just two verses, in light of the massive polemic in Paul against that very thing that we have just gone through at such length.

Remember, the question is not about whether it would in theory be good for us to follow the law. Everyone agrees to that! The law is good and right and holy, and if we could fulfill it we would not die and would not be condemned. But for us sinners, the law's use is not to instruct but to condemn and kill, so that we may be made alive in Christ through his Spirit. The condemning use is a good one, a good and wonderful and necessary thing, much as it sucks to be on the receiving end. But our sin is so bad and so pervasive that death alone can do away with it, not instruction.

"The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. 3:6b)

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Colossians 2: "He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us: he took it away, nailing it to the cross." (13-14)

Eric Cadin said...

A few clarifications are in order.

Colton, you wrote “Without the law there is no sin. You can’t separate the two.” I do not intend to separate them, merely to distinguish. And this distinction I think is important or else we lose clearness of thought and, in discussion and practice, proceed to call the law bad. The law is deadly, or “condemnatory” inasmuch as it is the occasion and not cause, sin, is the cause.

Additionally the law, or Old can be good and at the same time imperfect. Which in fact was/is the case. Though the old foreshadowed and promised the new. The imperfection consisted in the inability of the Old law to confer the grace whereby men are able to fulfill what is prescribed. That belongs to Christ. The old law and the new are not different laws insofar as they point to the same end, man’s subjugation to God. But they are different as the old is pedagogical whereas the new is perfective, being the law of love.

Reflect upon the response by St. Thomas to the question of whether the new law justifies:

“I answer that, As stated above ( Article [1]), there is a twofold element in the Law of the Gospel. There is the chief element, viz. the grace of the Holy Ghost bestowed inwardly. And as to this, the New Law justifies. Hence Augustine says (De Spir. et Lit. xvii): "There," i.e. in the Old Testament, "the Law was set forth in an outward fashion, that the ungodly might be afraid"; "here," i.e. in the New Testament, "it is given in an inward manner, that they may be justified." The other element of the Evangelical Law is secondary: namely, the teachings of faith, and those commandments which direct human affections and human actions. And as to this, the New Law does not justify. Hence the Apostle says ( 2 Cor. 3:6) "The letter killeth, but the spirit quickeneth": and Augustine explains this (De Spir. et Lit. xiv, xvii) by saying that the letter denotes any writing external to man, even that of the moral precepts such as are contained in the Gospel. Wherefore the letter, even of the Gospel would kill, unless there were the inward presence of the healing grace of faith.”

Personally I find his distinctions and comprehensive understanding of Law far more satisfactory than the equivocal one offered.

Simeon, I think, therefore, that there is very much agreement on point of the law pointing out, or condemning, us in our sin. However, I think there can be too much of an emphasis upon this aspect of the law, i.e. saying that it only condemns, precisely because it ignores the relationship of the old to the new, as imperfect to the perfect.

To this point, i.e. one in another, St. John Chrysostom remarked: “"He brought forth first the blade, i.e. the Law of Nature; then the ear, i.e. the Law of Moses; lastly, the full corn, i.e. the Law of the Gospel." Hence then the New Law is in the Old as the corn in the ear.

Meditate upon this line from the psalms: “I will run the way of your commands, for you open my docile heart” (ps 119:32) for given grace and charity, i.e. the chief element of the new law, we can be directed in our affections and actions by the commandments.

Finally in regards to this preaching of aspects of Law, and why no just the joy of grace. I will turn to St. Thomas again as he responds to the question of whether the old or the new is more burdensome.

“The other difficulty attaches to works of virtue as to interior acts: for instance, that a virtuous deed be done with promptitude and pleasure. It is this difficulty that virtue solves: because to act thus is difficult for a man without virtue: but through virtue it becomes easy for him. In this respect the precepts of the New Law are more burdensome than those of the Old; because the New Law prohibits certain interior movements of the soul, which were not expressly forbidden in the Old Law in all cases, although they were forbidden in some, without, however, any punishment being attached to the prohibition. Now this is very difficult to a man without virtue: thus even the Philosopher states (Ethic. v, 9) that it is easy to do what a righteous man does; but that to do it in the same way, viz. with pleasure and promptitude, is difficult to a man who is not righteous. Accordingly we read also ( 1 Jn. 5:3) that "His commandments are not heavy": which words Augustine expounds by saying that "they are not heavy to the man that loveth; whereas they are a burden to him that loveth not."

However, lest we forget that the grace is an essential element of the new Law, Augustine notes “"love makes light and nothing of things that seem arduous and beyond our power." This love is the same of which the law consists.

At the end, however, where we will likely disagree, as always, is the teaching that we really are changed through Baptism and that as Jesus himself said to Nicodemus Unless you are born from above you cannot see the kingdom of God, and we cannot enter the kingdom without being born of water and the spirit (re: BAPTISM). Catholic teaching, upon which all the above, as Colton called, process of sanctification is based, proudly proclaims a true rebirth and new life of grace in Him whereby “He teaches us how to fulfill the teaching of the Gospel; viz. by imploring the help of God; by striving to enter by the narrow door of perfect virtue; and by being wary lest we be led astray by evil influences. Moreover, He declares that we must observe His commandments, and that it is not enough to make profession of faith, or to work miracles, or merely to hear His words.”(1a2ae. 108, 3)

colton said...

Eric, thanks for the response and the clarification. I think I understand your position better now than before, but I still have some questions for you.

I think we are in agreement that what you call the "Old Law" and what I call the law serve the same purpose: to condemn sinners. I like this quote from you: "... the inability of the Old law to confer the grace whereby men are able to fulfill what is prescribed. That belongs to Christ. The old law and the new are not different laws insofar as they point to the same end, man’s subjugation to God. But they are different as the old is pedagogical whereas the new is perfective, being the law of love."

Where I need some clarification is with this "New Law." I agree that the law as interpreted by Christ (the "New Law") is tougher to keep than the law as it was interrpeted before (the "Old Law"). It is "more burdensome" for us, as you say. I like that phrase. As John Zahl points out, the "new Law" requires that we be perfect as our father in Heaven is perfect! But you also posit that the New Law, unlike the Old Law, engenders an ability within us to keep it. The New Law sanctifies. This is what makes it different from the old, right? You explain this change by saying that the New Law, unlike the Old, is a "law of love," and the Holy Spirit gives us the power needed to keep it.

I agree with you on one thing for sure: that our ability to keep God's law exists only insofar as we are loved _before the fact_-- loved as if we were _already_ keeping the law perfectly, even though we are not. This undeserved, unconditional love is grace, which you yourself admit, saying, "grace is an essential element of the new Law."

Here's where I am confused as to where exactly you stand: You talk of a "law of love," of a grace that gives us the power to do good things that we could not do on our own. At the same time, you also talk about "striving" and about keeping the commandments and about the process of sanctification that is so vital to our Christian lives. Yet you admit that we will never fulfill all the commands of the New Law this side of Heaven. Additionally, you seem to be saying that we can fulfill the New Law (which is stricter than the Old, remember) only insofar as we receive grace beforehand. It seems that you perceive the Christain life as one in which we are being constantly improved and moved closer to perfection (although we never fully attain righteousness), and somehow this sanctification has to do with our own efforts, but also with the love of God. If I seem to have stopped making sense, it is because I am confused. Is it God who sanctifies us? Do we sanctify ourselves through striving? Does God expect Christians to keep his law becasue he has given them the power to do so, or does he compel them to do so by overwhelming their will? What about Christians who continue to sin, who do not seem to be progressing? What happens when don't feel like doing good? What does it say about us? About the Church? About God?

To me, your distinction between Old Law and New Law is very revealing. According to you, the difference in the Old and New Laws is that the New is a "law of love," a law which contains grace, whereas the Old does not. This in turn leads to the practical difference he New and Old Law: unlike the Old Law, the New Law engenders in Christians who receive it the ability to keep it (though not completely-- I am still confused on how much of the New Law we are expected to keep.) What I am getting at is that, if you look at what you're saying, it seems obvious that it is GRACE which holds the power to change people. It is loving people in the midst if their sin (not their striving, not their good deeds) that causes people to do good, to break out of themselves. As you seem to be saying, the Law only engenders good deeds when it is a law of grace and love. In terms of sanctification, it is the GRACE and the unconditonal LOVE that are important here, not the letter of the LAW. So do you see where we (John, Simeon, Jeff, etc.) are coming from? We embrace the law. Without it there is no sin. As Christians, we are fully expected to keep it, and we will be judged according to it! We are asked to be perfect. But as Paul says SO forcefully in SO many places (thanks to Simeon for pointing this out), the letter of the law (Old and New) brings death only- it does NOT give us the power to do good, to stop sinning. This power comes from grace, the knowledge that Christ has already died for me, and that He loves me fully in my sin; the knowledge that no matter what I have done, am doing, or will do, when God looks at me he will see the perfection of Christ, spotless, perfect, and deserving of all the riches of Heaven. Therefore, we belive that good preaching and counseling, to Christians and non-Christians alike, invloves preaching the law, followed by preaching grace. Law that is not followed by grace leads to despair; grace that follows law leads to hope and repentance.

Joshua Corrigan said...

Fantastic Colton y Simeon.

I would only add that using Aquinas (especially when he wreaks of "the Philosopher" Aristotle) is a dangeropus source of citation. I have yet to hear a good argument that Aquinas' theology is not thoroughly infected with his primary goal of reconciling Aristotle with Christendom. This ulterior motive discredits him in my book. God does not live by Scholastic (or Greek) reason alone.

Eric Cadin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric Cadin said...

Colton, before a lengthier response, I have to note that while the "aspect" written about is burdensome, the new is NOT more burdensome than old.

Joshua, does this help, or is this more blind obedience to the Angelic Doctor:

‘The teaching of the Savior is perfect in itself and has no need of support, because it is the strength and wisdom of God. Greek philosophy, with its contribution, does not strengthen truth; but, in rendering the attack of sophistry impotent and in disarming those who betray truth and wage war upon it, Greek philosophy is rightly called the hedge and protective wall around the vineyard’”(Fides et Ratio, no. 38).

Even more:

More radically, Thomas recognized that nature, philosophy's proper concern, could contribute to the understanding of divine Revelation. Faith therefore has no fear of reason, but seeks it out and has trust in it. Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfilment, 45 so faith builds upon and perfects reason. Illumined by faith, reason is set free from the fragility and limitations deriving from the disobedience of sin and finds the strength required to rise to the knowledge of the Triune God. Although he made much of the supernatural character of faith, the Angelic Doctor did not overlook the importance of its reasonableness; indeed he was able to plumb the depths and explain the meaning of this reasonableness. Faith is in a sense an “exercise of thought”; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice. (Fides et ratio, no. 43)

Eric Cadin said...

Colton, I will try to explicate more later, but I think you actually state very well exactly what i am trying to say,

"It seems that you perceive the Christain life as one in which we are being constantly improved and moved closer to perfection (although we never fully attain righteousness), and somehow this sanctification has to do with our own efforts, but also with the love of God."

The but also is key. As I tried to point out the New law, i.e. the Gospel of Christ, the Economy of salvation, is both law and grace. There is a big difference bewteen separating them, which is often done, and distinguishing them, which I think might be the better way.

We are judged, I believe, not on our actions per se, but on our love. This, I think is the key to unraveling the confusion. LOVE.

From Deus Caritas Est (no. 18)

The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its real- ism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a “commandment” imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love. Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

Eric Cadin said...


(no. 17)
He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has “loved us first”, love can also blossom as a response within us.


Idem velle atque idem nolle 9 —to want the same thing, and to reject the same thing—was recognized by antiquity as the authentic content of love: the one becomes similar to the other, and this leads to a community of will and thought. The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God's will increasingly coincide: God's will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself. 10 Then self- abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy (cf. Ps 73 [72]:23-28).

Joshua Corrigan said...

Regarding Aquinas, I am no expert, I have only read a little. I would not feel comfortable, however, grouping "the Greeks" together in their attack on sophistry. For instance, I think that Socrates was on to something very different than Aristotle. Socrates had a bit of an existential streak to him that is found less in Plato and even less in Aristotle. Socrates would have abhored the "system" of an Aristotle/Aquinas/Hegel.

The problem with Aristotle, and I believe Aquinas/natural theology, is that Christianity, at its core, cannot be discerned by nature. There is a fundamental disconnect between the God/Man on the Cross and "Marty Staufer's Wild America". As Aquinas proceeds to force a naturalist/intuitive framework over the very counter-intuitive actions of God he develops his own sort of sophistry-one that was perfected several centuries later ( paging Mr. Tetzel). Notice his lip service to Jesus' authority in one place, and conflicting comments about rational ability in the next.

Here is the disconnect: "grace builds on nature"(from your post) vs. strength in weakness?

And I'm sorry but that last thing that faith is for me is an "excercise of thought".

Aquinas, to me at least, has no room for a redeeming God-a perfecting God maybe- but not a Redeemer, and thats what I need. My world is too broken for Aquinas, Aristotle, and even Socrates(although I like him the best).

John Zahl said...

Thank you Josh Corrigan! I could not agree more with your angle here. I personally have no time for Aquinas. Has anyone here read Luther's devestating critiques of Aquinas in the Heidelberg disputations? Nothing better draws out the completely foreign terrain of Christian thought from that of the Fallen world's inclination. For what it's worth, know that I was obsessed with Aristotle and even wrote papers on Aquinas' Ethics while I was in College,...then I read Luther. Please read the quote from Holl that I posted last night; it relates. JZ

bpzahl said...

I find the idea of an "economy of salvation" in which we play any part to be problematic, because it implies a sense of managing our checks and balances. If salvation works like my bank account (and involves the same mentality in keeping that account) then I'm pretty screwed! Just like no one who is wealthy think they're wealthy enough, and everyone who is poor wants (to some extent) to be richer, or at least have enough to sustain them, so an "economy of salvation" would engender the same fears and insecurities. It also implies that in practice, God's grace was not enough in this economy of salvation.

To say that both law and grace are needed in the economy of salvation would be like I told Simeon I would be love him for the rest of his life without condition, but only if he promises to love me for the rest of my life. The second half of that sentence nullifies the first and renders the first a whole load of rubbish. Salvation cannot be on the basis of economics, balancing check books, getting in and out of debt, or saving up. If it were, how is it ever any different from anything else in this world?

Eric Cadin said...

"And I'm sorry but that last thing that faith is for me is an "exercise of thought"."

This is a very interesting statement in that says more about your limitations, than Aquinas’, upon the redemptive work of Our Savior. It is true that absent grace we cannot come to know fully God, for in this fallen state, our intellect is clouded, reason suffers from ignorance, our will malice and our passions both weakness and concupiscence. However, Jesus comes to redeem our whole person—heart, mind, soul and body—to restore us through faith, a type of knowing, to know Him and to bring into the created order and beauty of God. Rom 1:20 “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made”.

Furthermore, I realize that it doesn’t matter what I may or may not say regarding Aquinas, (though in truth I cannot believe I would have to defend him, and that anyone could seriously write “I have no time for him”. While the writings of Luther may seem persuasive it is important to recall that his teachers were terrible scholastics who had deviated so far from Thomas that they shouldn’t even be considered Thomists, and it is these specifically with whom Luther, himself a terribly scrupulous man, had a problem.) that being said, I would have to say that while I do agree and find extremely satisfying Thomas’ insights this assent is honestly secondary, and I mean this. My primary assent finds its groundings in The Church’s decree that she is justified in consistently proposing St. Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology. I pray daily for the humility to admit that which I don’t know, and not to assume that my ignorance or failure to understand bespeaks a fault or an error on the part of the Church, founded by Christ, and His Bride. Additionally I pray for the grace of obedience to assent to those doctrines and Truths she holds as True.

I can only hope to utter such final words as his:

I am receiving thee, O price of my soul's redemption: all my studies, my vigils, and my labors have been for love of thee. I have taught much and written much of the most sacred Body of Jesus Christ; I have taught and written in the faith of Jesus Christ and the holy Roman Church, to whose judgment I offer and submit everything.

mattie said...

Hey Bonnie -
I think you make some really important and compelling points in your post. I want to explain, though, why I find the sense of the "economy" so important. When Eric refers to the "economy of salvation" is doesn't refer to what we think of when we think of financial economy. In fact, discovering the "oikonomia" was transformative for me in understanding the way the early church saw Christ's redemptive work and, in turn, how I related to God. So I want to share it with you.

Two of my favorite Creighton professors, John O'Keefe and Rusty Reno write in their book "Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible":

"The word economy expresses a concept central to patristic theology... it is unfortunately a work that the contemporary mind inevitably associates with the complex forces that drive commerce. The ancient Greek use is more commonsensical and the application is much broader. Oikonomia denotes good order and arrangement of affairs. Economy can refer to the well-run household, as well as a well-constructed story... [The Christian understanding of economy] is the sacred outline or table of contents of scripture. The divine economy is the detailed plan by which the [pieces in the]mosaic have been placed by God to bring us to see..." (36-38)

In other words, the economy refers to the way that all our scripture, experience, and tradition predict, inform, and explain the salvific event of Christ Jesus. While the term economy comes from classical rhetoric, Irenaeus explained it as the "rule of truth, that there is one almighty God who founded everything through his Word and arranged it and made everything." (qtd in O'Keefe/Reno book, p. 37)

So what this really means is the economy is how it all fits together - creation, fall, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the promised land, the captivity and exile - all these things can really only be understood in light of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of our Lord. That's what I hope Eric means by economy, anyway ;)

So, Bonnie, believing in "an economy of salvation" doesn't mean we play any role whatsoever. It's not an idea based on capitalism, especially since it predates any sort of capitalism by hundreds of years. In fact, it is ONLY the act of Christ that makes the economy of salvation (ie. the divine and eternal plot line) make sense. If it were as you described it, Bonnie, I couldn't support it either. But I think Lutherans/Anglicans can get behind the patristic understanding of the economy of salvation just as readily as Catholics. We definitely disagree on precisely how Christ explains and changes the story, but we all agree with out him, it makes little to no sense!


John Zahl said...

Luther's last words:

"We are beggars."

Joshua Corrigan said...

This is it!: "we are beggars" vs. "all my studies, my vigils, and my labors have been for love of thee. I have taught much and written much of the most sacred Body of Jesus Christ; I have taught and written in the faith of Jesus Christ and the holy Roman Church..."

This sounds like "yonger brother/older brother"? Where is my fatted calf? If the scriptures were not so perfectly and utterly clear on this, and in so many ways and so many contexts, I would continue.

mattie said...

Joshua -

You make a great point. This is younger brother/older brother. Frankly, I've been the "younger brother" and now I'm happy to be the "older brother." As it says in scripture: "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'" (Lk 15:31-32)

Yes, the older brother struggles with anger and resentment and needs the grace to overcome those sins. But, ALL THE FATHER HAS IS HIS. Frankly, the older brother gets a bad rap. The Father loves and respects his striving as the story clearly says. Why is the Prodigal Son considered the exemplar? What this story shows that IF you run from the gracious and kind Father, you will be welcomed home. But never is it considered a given that the younger son is determined or destined or forced to stray.

We have all been younger brothers, but the gift of our redemption in Christ is to be welcomed home and given the opportunity to try to be older brothers (sans the anger and resentment, of course!). I was a "beggar", but I have been washed in the blood of Christ. Now I can attempt to love as I have been loved, to truly "submit" to Christ. Praise God for that!


Tim Galebach said...

Apparently you have to continue Joshua.

Eric Cadin said...

As an addendum, Aquinas words were spoken not as some kind of entitlement but upon receiving Viaticum, upon really receiving the Body/Blood/Soul/Divinity of His Lord, Savior, Beloved.

Joshua Corrigan said...


My understanding of the Prodigal son(s) story is that both the younger brother and the older brother are equally off the mark. The younger brother's sin is obvious but the older brother's sin lies deeper, but deserving of the same punishment. I submit that the older brother is not just "[struggling] with anger and resentment and needs the grace to overcome those sins" as you have written. Rather, the older brother is lost-not in drunkenness or illicit behavior, but in his own self-righteousness. After all, he never even got so much as a goat for a cocktail party he was throwing for his friends!

There is no progression here. The story does not indicate or espouse or suggest in any way that the older brother is "in better shape" than the younger. It is not proposed that the younger brother should or will become like the older brother.

I ought to repent of my older brother-ness as much as my younger brother-ness. I think THIS is the message of the parable.

You ask: Why is the prodigal son considered the exemplar?

I dont know! This is the mystery of all mysteries. Why God would choose the "foolish and weak" of the world to instruct the "wise" is beyond me. All I do know is that HE HAS. Therefore, I, in my older brotherhood or my younger brotherhood am left right where Martin Luther found himself in his last moment-A beggar in need of a Redeeming (not assisting, not perfecting) God.

Many others can speak to this better than I, and I hope they will. Simeon has already, so eloquently, explained that we are operating under fundamentally different readings of the text, different paradigms if you will.

Tim Keller has a great sermon on this and PZ's "Type A/Type B" stuff is great too.

bpzahl said...

Mattie, thanks for explaining the "economy of salvation" concept to me.
It makes much more sense now. Although I still find it sort of silly for me (lil' human me) to talk about the economy of salvation because well, I bring nothing to the table! It's a little bit like when I was in college and could use my parents' credit card. It's not really right for me to talk about economy! Hehehehe :)

Leigh said...

The "church" thing is what it is...not sure this is anything new. But to PZ's question, why MUST we go anywhere and DO anything? Are we not "doing it" right now? I feel pretty affirmed, anyway. :)

mike burton said...

I'm not sure if what is going on in my church is going on in any of your churches, but it really is a paradigm shift in our whole theology, I think.

The "new" theology in my church strips Grace of any power to change an individual. I mean it makes it utterly impotent. The new theology is at best semi-pelagian and at its worst, downright pelagian.

It seems that Grace is no longer "free". It is the RESPONSE to whatever this idea of "grace" is that empowers and changes a man/woman.

Grace is not bestowed, it is offered, and the RESPONSE to this offering is what makes a man/woman worthy of receiving it. So, "grace" - The undeserved favor bestowed upon sinners, a gift from God giving us Christ's riches which we do not deserve nor can earn - is no longer "grace" in that by the proper response made by the individual, the individual now deserves it. This is huge!

Now, I do believe that there is a response to Grace. I myself have responded to Grace. Grace illicits a response. But Grace does not demand one. Grace changes but does not require change.

Maybe this doesn't seem like that big of a deal to some of ya'll out there. It means a brand new religion, void of any resemblance to orthodox Christianity to me.

I feel like that's what PZ is on to here. It is not merely teaching a third use of the Law. It is stripping Grace of it's power to save... and change.

colton said...

It is a HUGE deal, Mike Burton!

Jeff Dean said...

Could someone define grace for me?

Eric Cadin said...

Jeff, as could be expected, I offer St Thomas, the first article regarding the essence of grace

According to the common manner of speech, grace is usually taken in three ways. First, for anyone's love, as we are accustomed to say that the soldier is in the good graces of the king, i.e. the king looks on him with favor. Secondly, it is taken for any gift freely bestowed, as we are accustomed to say: I do you this act of grace. Thirdly, it is taken for the recompense of a gift given "gratis," inasmuch as we are said to be "grateful" for benefits. Of these three the second depends on the first, since one bestows something on another "gratis" from the love wherewith he receives him into his good "graces." And from the second proceeds the third, since from benefits bestowed "gratis" arises "gratitude."

Now as regards the last two, it is clear that grace implies something in him who receives grace: first, the gift given gratis; secondly, the acknowledgment of the gift. But as regards the first, a difference must be noted between the grace of God and the grace of man; for since the creature's good springs from the Divine will, some good in the creature flows from God's love, whereby He wishes the good of the creature. On the other hand, the will of man is moved by the good pre-existing in things; and hence man's love does not wholly cause the good of the thing, but pre-supposes it either in part or wholly. Therefore it is clear that every love of God is followed at some time by a good caused in the creature, but not co-eternal with the eternal love. And according to this difference of good the love of God to the creature is looked at differently. For one is common, whereby He loves "all things that are" (Wis. 11:25), and thereby gives things their natural being. But the second is a special love, whereby He draws the rational creature above the condition of its nature to a participation of the Divine good; and according to this love He is said to love anyone simply, since it is by this love that God simply wishes the eternal good, which is Himself, for the creature.

Accordingly when a man is said to have the grace of God, there is signified something bestowed on man by God. Nevertheless the grace of God sometimes signifies God's eternal love, as we say the grace of predestination, inasmuch as God gratuitously and not from merits predestines or elects some; for it is written ( Eph. 1:5): "He hath predestinated us into the adoption of children . . . unto the praise of the glory of His grace."

Eve said...

Jeff Dean, In the South, we have a great definition of grace: "Honey, it's just like grits...You don't ask for it, you don't pay for it, it just comes...."

bpzahl said...

Hi Jeff: there is a line of psyc research on gratitude, which is a cognitive emotional response tied up to receiving something that one does not earn (Grace!).

Bertocci and Millard define gratitude as "the willingness to recognize the unearned increments of value in one's experience", and Solomon defines it as "an estimate of gain coupled with the judgement that someone else is responsible for that gain." Bob Emmons (at UC Davis, friend of Brian Little!) defines it as "an emotional response to a gift...the appreciation felt after one has been the beneficiary of an altruistic act." Many definitions (such as the one on wikipedia) also relate it to indebtedness, but Gray and Emmon (2000) have found that gratitude and indebtedness are different dimensions.They have found that indebtedness (compared to gratitude) is related to higher levels of anger and lower levels of appreciation, happiness, and love.

When we talk about receiving God's "free gift" do we feel gratitude or do we feel indebtedness? I think that, given that grace is something freely and altruistically given, gratitude (and not indebtedness) should be the response to grace. If grace is really just a debt we can't ever repay, then, well, it sort of sucks.

Jeff Dean said...


I know this is my sola and not yours, but can you point me to a scripture that says grace is a substantial entity that we receive from God and are changed by?

mike burton said...


1 Corinthians 1:4,5
1 Corinthians 15:10
2 Corinthians 1:12
2 Corinthians 4:15
2 Corinthians 9:8
2 Corinthians 12:9
Hebrews 13:9
1 Peter 4:10

...for starters.

Jeff Dean said...

Dear Mike,

Those are very helpful. Thank you!