Monday, June 22, 2009

A Response to Nick on Justification

The following is a response to Nick to his comments on my previous post.

Here is what Nick said:


I'd like to make a few comments on some of what you said.

You said: "For Luther, there are really only two legitimate options to obtaining a right standing before God. The first is to perfectly obey the demands of the Law. The second is to rely on the work of another; namely, the perfect law-keeping merits of Christ in one’s place."

Nick: I believe this is a false dilemma. The Law never was designed to save, even if kept perfectly, so whether you or Christ (in your place) keeps it doesn't translate into salvation. Gal 2:21; 3:17,21,25 explain the Law was temporal and never designed to save.

You said: The Reformers maintained, with St. Augustine, that Adam’s sin was imputed, or reckon, to all his progenies.

Nick: This is incorrect, Adam's guilt was not "imputed" to others, that's not a teaching of Scripture (because it never uses "impute" in that manner) and not accurate to St Augustine. Original Sin is true, it does affect all, but it is not "imputed." Think of it more as a genetic disease, which makes someone physically unable to do good works.

Further, the dispute with Pelagius went deeper than you and most other Protestants realize. The issue was a battle between nature and grace, which Augustine and Catholics see as grace added to nature, with original sin stripping grace from nature. With Pelagius, he denied grace added to nature, and saw only nature, so when Adam "fell" Pelagius saw nothing to fall from. The alternative to Pelagius' conclusion is the path Protestantism took, which was that human nature itself became corrupt. So while it might sound surprising, Protestantism is actually founded upon Pelagianism, because they start off with the same pre-fallen view of Adam.

And this is in fact the heart of the Catholic-Protestant dispute. We have the doctor diagnosing TWO DIFFERENT illnesses (two understandings of original sin), and thus there are TWO DIFFERENT treatments given (corresponding to each disease that needs to be cured). This leads to the two different views of justification.

You said: "In Romans 4:5, Paul tells us that God “justifies the ungodly.” How can this be?"

Nick: The Protestant interpretation doesn't make much sense here, because if justification is a declaration only, then God is saying "you unrighteous man are righteous," which is a lie. If righteousness is imputed to the sinner's account, then God is not looking at a unrighteous man but a righteous one, contradicting the "ungodly" term used.
The Catholic interpretation is that of God transforming the sinner so that they are righteous, seen nicely in 1 Cor 6:10-11.

You said: Here, we move to the center of the doctrine justification; namely, the reckoning of Christ’s righteousness on sin stricken, guilty sinners.

Nick: Though many don't realize it, the Bible never says "christ's righteousness" is imputed. That simply isn't found in Scripture.

You said: "What is meant by imputation? The Reformers often appealed to 2 Corinthians 5:21...there is only a twofold imputation found"

Nick: The main problem here is that the term "impute" is not used here, it's projected on this verse, which is invalid exegesis. The Bible never says sin is "impute" to Christ or that Adam's sin is "imputed" to us, nor that Christ's Righteousness is imputed. It might make the theology easier to speak like this, but Scripture does not use such terminology. Paul was well aware of the term "impute," so given that he never used it in this sense is problematic for your argument.

You said: "The good news of the gospel is that God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves; Christ obeyed the demands of God’s perfect law and he took the punishment that we deserve to present us as faultless before the Father."

Nick: Nowhere does the Bible say Christ obeyed the Law 'in our place', nor does it say Jesus was punished in our place in the Penal Substitution sense. Unfortunately, these things are repeated so often people begin to think the Bible teaches them.

Nick said...
In my study on this topic, the Greek term "logizomai" is the English term for "reckon/impute/credit/etc," (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular Protestant Lexicon here is what it is defined as:

QUOTE: "This word deals with reality. If I "logizomai" or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions."

The Protestant Lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham's faith is "logizomai as righteouness," it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) "I am deceiving myself." This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

The Lexicon gives other examples where "logizomai" appears, here are 3 examples:

Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Notice in these examples that "logizomai" means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul 'reckons' faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 6:11 the Christian is 'reckoned' dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul 'reckons' the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

To use logizomai in the "alien status" way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn't really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (3) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven's glory.
This cannot be right.

So when the text plainly says "faith is logizomai as righteousness," I must read that as 'faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act', and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham's heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and "that is why his faith was credited as righteousness" (v4:22).

Here is my response:

Hi Nick:

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to respond to my post, your zealousness is commendable. I hope to have/continue this stimulating dialogue about the doctrine of Justification. With that in mind, let me respond to some of the comments you made here:

(i) You are correct to point out that the Law does not save (Gal. 2:21; 3:17, 21, 25). Why is this so? It is because humans, affected by the Fall, cannot naturally keep it. This is why it is by faith alone that we are justified, apart from the works of the Law, i.e., we are incapable of fulfilling it. The Law serves to reveal our sinfulness and bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24); the one who fulfilled it for us (Matt. 5:17).

(ii) I am astonished with your claim that “Protestantism is actually founded upon Pelagianism, because they start off with the same pre-fallen view of Adam.” This claim is unsubstantiated in my opinion. Reformation theology maintains that Adam was created holy and upright in nature contra Pelagius, who taught that Adam was created neither upright nor evil. Furthermore, contrary to your assessment, Augustine believed that humans were born with a fallen nature as a result of the Fall, which is upheld by the Reformers. In this regard, the Reformers do not start with Pelagius’ “pre-fallen view of Adam”, but Augustine’s view.

You said, “think of it more as a generic disease, which makes someone physically unable to do good works.” It seems to me that Scripture goes beyond a physical incapability. It further asserts that humans “became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. 6, cf. Eph. 2:1; Tit. 1:15; Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:10-18 etc.). Moreover, the Scriptures teach that Adam’s sin is counted on our behalf. Take for instance Romans 5:12-19. Here we are explicitly informed that Adam’s trespass led to condemnation to all men. It is as if all men were present in Adam’s sinning.

(iii) Romans 4:5, I maintain, is a passage that demonstrates man’s utter need for the grace of God. It says that the ungodly cannot in any manner contribute to their salvation. Imputed righteousness here does not annul Paul’s claim that God “justifies the ungodly,” as you supposed. Once a sinner believes (he is justified on account of Christ righteousness), yet he is not immediately, intrinsically perfected at that moment. Hence, he may be considered justified because of Christ and, simultaneously, “ungodly.” This is paradoxical, but not contradictory.

It seems that your interpretation may in fact be the one in error. Nowhere in the passage is “transformation” being discussed. If God justifies according to our righteousness, then he is not “justifying the ungodly,” but the “godly.” If your analysis is correct, then you must employ the same with Romans 4:7-8. It says, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against the Lord will not count his sin” (emphasis mine). Furthermore, your citation of 1 Corinthians 6:10-11 does not support your position here. Yes, unrighteousness will not inherit the kingdom of God, but the Paul does not appeal to our own righteousness for justification. He appeals to believers being “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11).

(iv) True, Scripture never says “Christ’s righteousness” is imputed, but the idea is there. J.V. Fesko rightly points out, “One of the most common theological contructs that theologians employ is the term, ‘Trinity.’ The term occurs nowhere in the Scriptures, yet it is universally employed to give expression to the idea that God is one in essence and three in person. The same may be said of the righteousness of Christ” (Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, p. 154).

(v) Again, your objection to my exegesis of 2 Corinthians 5:21 is unfounded because you fail to recognize the connection between the theological terminology and the meaning of the passage. The meaning of the passage is conveyed in the theological terminology. Therefore, they are compatible.

(vi) Once again, you are transfixed on the idea that because the word is not there, the meaning is not there. There are plenty of passages that present the message of “Christ obeyed the Law ‘in our place,’…Jesus was punished in our place in the Penal Substitution sense.” Here are a few of them: 1 Pet. 2:21-25; Gal. 3:10-14; Isa. 53; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Rom. 3:21-28.

(vii) I appreciated your word study of “logizomai.” However, there seems to be some problems with your exegesis here. You mentioned that “if Abraham’s faith is ‘logizomai as righteousness,’ it must be an actually righteous act of faith.” Do you mean that faith then justifies in its own act or essence? I think not. To separate faith and its object, namely Christ, would be totally absurd. Listen to what Herman Bavinck has to say: “If faith justified on account of itself, the object of that faith (that is, Christ) would totally lose its value” (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, p. 211).

Furthermore, you failed to mention that “logizomai” can also mean “to pass to one’s account.” However, Reformation theology never regards all the places where “logizomai” occurs as having such meaning, therefore, your examples are invalid cases against Reformed theology. The meaning of the word is rendered according to the context. Again, Bavinck is helpful here:

“The word Logizesthai can certaintly mean ‘to hold or consider a person for what he or she is’ (1 Cor. 4:1; 2 Cor. 12:6). However, it can also have the sense of ‘to credit to a person something one does not personally possess.’ Thus the sins of those who believe are not counted against them although they do have them (Rom. 4:8; 2 Cor. 5:19; cf. 2 Tim. 4:16); and thus they are counted against Christ, although he was without sin (Isa. 53:4-6; Matt. 20:28; Rom. 3:25; 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Tim. 2:6).” (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, p. 211-212)

Certainly, when closely examined, your case for using “logizomai” in the exact same way is incorrect. It must be understood according to the context.

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