Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Steve Hays and Jason Engwer vs. Dr. Charles Hodge

I finally had some ‘spare’ time this morning to browse a few blogs/websites that I have not accessed in a number weeks. A thread concerning justification at Called to Communion by Bryan Cross caught my attention. Bryan’s thread is a response to certain comments made by two anti-Catholic epologists: Steve Hays and Jason Engwer. Since I am somewhat ‘late-to-the-party’, I have been attempting to trace the original source that has spawned this new round of discussions on justification; I believe that I have done so, and shall suggest that it is this October 30, 2009 post by Jason which has initiated at least 4 subsequent threads (including Bryan’s), and well over 100 comments, on issues pertaining to the doctrine of justification. For those who may be interested, the links to the other 3 threads are as follows:




[If there are other pertinent threads that I have missed, I sincerely hope that readers who are aware of such will provide the link/s to them in the combox.]

Now, to Jason’s 10-30-09 comments (linked to above), from which we read:

The apostle Paul said that one error, the adding of works to the gospel, was sufficient to create a false gospel that doesn’t save. The “only thing” Paul wanted to know from the Galatians was how they received justification (Galatians 3:2). And Evangelicals and Catholics disagree about how justification is received. The difference between justification through faith alone and justification through faith and works is the difference between a true gospel and a false gospel. Catholics can be saved as individuals, but only in spite of their denomination’s false gospel. Catholics can be Christians as individuals, but Catholicism isn’t Christian by apostolic standards.

IMO, after browsing through most of the comments (but not all, my eyes get tired/sore after so much monitor reading), the above is the PRMARY ISSUE that needs to be addressed: is it true that “Catholicism isn’t Christian by apostolic standards”; does the Catholic Church teach “a false gospel”? So says Jason, and so many other anti-Catholic epologists and ‘popular’ Evangelical authors (e.g. R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, James White). Though Bryan and other Catholic posters have been addressing some of the important aspects concerning justification, if one does not deal DIRECTLY with Jason’s charges, the outcome is going to a mixed-bag at best. So, in an attempt to deal with this issue head-on, I shall invoke the scholarship of one of the greatest Reformed minds that Christianity has yet to produce—Charles Hodge. Dr. Hodge penned the following:

Does the Church of Rome retain truth enough to save the soul ? We do not understand how it is possible for any Christian man to answer this question in the negative. They retain the doctrine of the Incarnation, which we know from the infallible word of God, is a life-giving doctrine. They retain the whole doctrine of the Trinity. They teach the doctrine of atonement far more fully and accurately than multitudes of professedly orthodox Protestants. They hold a much higher doctrine, as to the necessity of divine influence, than prevails among many whom we recognize as Christians. They believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and in eternal life and judgment. These doctrines are in their creeds, and however they may be perverted and overlaid, still as general propositions they are affirmed. And it must be remembered, that it is truth presented in general propositions, and not with subtle distinctions, that saves the soul. Protestants, says Bossuet, cannot deny that we admit the fundamentals of religion. “If they will have them to consist in believing that we must adore one only God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost ; and that we must put our trust in God alone through his Son, who became man, was crucified, and rose again for us, they know in their conscience that we profess this doctrine ; and if they add those other doctrines which are contained in the Apostles’ Creed, they do not doubt that we receive them all without exception.” Having quoted an admission to this effect from Daille, he adds : “But though M. Daille had not granted thus much, the thing is manifest in itself; and all the world knows that we profess all those doctrines which Protestants call fundamental.” *

* An Exposition of the Doctrines of the Catholic Church, by the Right Rev. J. B. Bossuet, London, 1685, p. 2. On Justification, Bossuet says : “We believe, in the first place, that our sins are freely forgiven us by the divine mercy, for Christ’s sake. These are the express words of the council of Trent. . . . seeing the Scriptures explain the remission of sins, by sometimes telling us that God covers them, and sometimes that he takes them away and blots them out by the grace of his Holy Spirit, which makes us new creatures ; we believe that to form a perfect idea of the justification of a sinner, we must join together both of these expressions. For which reason we believe our sins not only to be covered, but also entirely washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ, and by the grace of regeneration ; which is so far from obscuring or lessening that idea which we ought to have of the merit of his blood, on the contrary it heightens and augments it. So that the righteousness of Christ is not only imputed but actually communicated to the faithful, by the operation of his Holy Spirit, insomuch that they are not only reputed, but rendered just by his grace.” p. 12. It is easy to see here the unhappy blending of justification and sanctification together; but it is a far better statement of the truth than is to be found in multitudes of Arminian writers ; and unspeakably better than that, which for a hundred years, was preached from the great majority of the pulpits in the Church of England. Romanists teach that Christ is the meritorious ground of our justification. Thus the council of Trent, sess. vi. c. 7, says : Meritoria (causa) est diledissimus Dei unic/enitus, qui cum csseinus inimici, per nimiam caritatem, qua dilexit nos, sua sanctissima passione in Urjno crucis, nobis justificadonem meruit. And in c 8, the council says: “Christum sanctissima sua passione in ligno crucis nobis justificationem meruisse, et pro nobis Deo Patri safisfecisse, et neminem posse essejustum, nisi cui mertta passionis Domini nostril Jcsu Christi communicantur.” In like manner, Bellarmin, de Justificatione, ii. c. 2, says : “We are justified on account of the merits of Christ ;” and in c 7, he says, “If Protestants only mean that the merits of Christ are imputed to us, because they are given to us by God, so that we can present them to the Father for our sins since Christ undertook to make satisfaction for us, and to reconcile us to God the Father, they are right.” Which is precisely what we do mean.
(Charles Hodge, Discussions In Church Polity, 1876, pp. 208, 209.]

[For more insightful reflections on this important issue from Dr. Hodge, see

With all due respect to our epologists, I am going to side with the erudite assessments of Dr. Hodge…

Grace and peace,



Matthew Bellisario said...

A very telling post here. I had no idea Hodge held to this position.

Matt said...

Because this post, I started reading through the Triablogue website. WOW. Thanks. :-)