Wednesday, October 1, 2008

James Swan on justification

The way things unfold in the blogsphere can at times be quite interesting. For instance, my last thread here at AF (09-27-08) dealt with the topic of justification, with the broader picture of the development of doctrine in the background. In the comments section, “Interlocutor” in THIS POST posed a couple of important questions that I chose not to answer at that time. I started ‘hitting-the-books’, focusing on Lane, McGrath, and Oberman. After lunch, I enlisted the internet, and while browsing, came across THIS THREAD, posted yesterday at the AOMIN blog. Though the thread itself is essentially a diatribe directed at James’ all too frequent internet foes, his link to a THREAD at his Beggar’s All blog, which references three books I had read: Oberman’s, The Harvest of Medieval Theology; McGrath’s, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification; and Sproul’s, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, caught my interest.

In that same post, James’ then links to yet another BA THREAD, and cites two more books I have read: Pelikan’s, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation and his, The Riddle of Roman Catholicism. NOTE: all of these books touch on the questions that “Interlocutor” had posed, and all (with the exception of Sproul’s book) are part of my self-imposed re-reading list for a future attempt at try to address those questions. Interesting indeed!

Now, I still have at least a couple more days of intense reading before I attempt an answer to “Interlocutor”, but in the meantime, feel somewhat compelled to address some of the comments I came across in James’ threads:

In dialoging with Roman Catholics on sola fide, I have sometimes argued from their point of view: that is, the doctrine of justification was not, at the time of Luther’s writing, dogmatically defined in the Roman Catholic sense. In other words, Luther had freedom to hold the view on justification that he did within a Roman Catholic framework.

I think James is substantially correct on this, as long a one keeps in mind that Luther did in fact introduce a theological novum—i.e. justification (soteriologically speaking) via imputation alone.

I share this for one reason: don't get sucked into those silly arguments that "sola fide" was a theological "novum" previous to the Reformation.

Now this depends on how one defines “sola fide”. There is, and has always been, a Catholic sense of the phrase. However, the way in which Luther and Calvin qualified the phrase, one finds a clear departure from the Augustinian and Thomistic understanding, which dominated Middle Age thought/theology. (See Heckel’s informative ESSAY.)

I admit, the historical aspect of sola fide is a difficult issue, but applying a historical test to the Catholic notion of justification has its problems as well. Historically, one can make a case that Augustine didn't know Greek and the entire direction of the Church was redirected away from what the Bible says on sola fide.

This issue has been addressed in a concise and cogent manner HERE.

There is so much more that could be commented on, but I do not want to spend too much time on James’ musings. If others wish to engage the content contained in James' threads and links, please feel free to do so. As for me, time to hit-the-books…

Grace and peace,


1 comment:

interlocutor said...

Hey David,
To be fair, I have not read McGrath's Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation from which I cited so perhaps he adds some more qualifiers/context to that point. In fact, all those books you listed have been on my list for a while (save for iustitia dei which I read a while ago) but I just have not been able to get to them so I'm interested in your findings.

It's just interesting, the diversity of soteriological views in the west leading up to Trent. Do you think that the tendencies towards anti-Augustine/anti-Thomistic/semi-pelagian and anti-Tridentine (a bit anachronistic I realize) views of grace/will/soteriology in the centuries leading to Trent were prevalent amongst theologians and the laity and a big problem? If so, what do you think might have been the causes of that from the 5th-16th century; why do we not have the gradual upward curve from Augustine to Trent, rather than these discontinuities that seem to have affected significant portions of Christendom and helped fuel the Reformation?

Oh, and Heckel's blog is at where he has his published papers available.

Anyways, I leave you to your reading :)