Sunday, May 23, 2004

Biblical Evidence for Annulments

From my notes for The Catholic Answer Bible (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2002):
The Catholic Church teaches that a valid, sacramental marriage between two baptized Christians is permanent, or indissoluble. No power on earth can dissolve it. This is based on the explicit teaching of Jesus. In the passage where Jesus states “unless the marriage is unlawful” (Mt 19:9), Catholics believe He was referring to a situation where a marriage was never actually entered into in the first place. Matthew 19:6 states: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” For this reason, the Catholic Church opposes divorce. An annulment is not merely a “Catholic divorce,” but rather, a declaration by the Church that a valid, sacramental marriage was never present (because several conditions must be met for this to occur: e.g., free will, truthfulness, mental health, etc.). A similar distinction is found in civil law across the entire Christian world. The Old Testament dichotomy between a concubine and a wife is somewhat analogous to our distinction between civil and sacramental marriage (Gen 21:10-14, Jud 8:31, 1 Cor 7:15). Likewise, in Ezra 10:1-19,44 (cf. 9:1-2,14-15), many Israelites “sent away” the “foreign women” they had married, not simply because they were foreigners, but because they caused them to become corrupted by false religions and idolatry (see. e.g., Dt 17:17, Neh 13:23-28). This was essentially an annulment, as opposed to a divorce.

Related Scripture

Gen 1:26-31
Gen 2:18-25
Gen 17:15-21
Gen 21:12-20
Mal 2:14 ff.
Mt 5:31-32
Mt 19:1-9
Mk 10:2-11
Lk 16:18
Rom 7:2-3
1 Cor 7:1-24
1 Cor 7:39
Gal 4:21-31
Eph 5:2,21-33
Heb 13:4
1 Pet 3:1-9

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 1534-1535, 1601-1666 (especially 1629, 1650-1651), 2382-2386
Related reading:

Dialogue: Annulment vs. Divorce

Divorce: Early Church Teaching

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Luther's Error Concerning Justification (N.T. Wright)

From: "Justification: The Biblical Basis and its Relevance for Contemporary Evangelicalism," excerpt from the book, The Great Acquittal: Justification by Faith and Current Christian Thought, Ed. Gavin Reid, London: Collins, 1980, p.13ff.


The Reformed school have tended to stress the objectivity of justification, the fact that it concerns the total achievement of Jesus Christ. Faith is not the reason why I am declared to be in the right so much as the means whereby I am joined to Christ so that his merits and death become mine. This is in some ways a neat scheme, but it is not what Paul says about faith, and it tends to merge justification with the events which it presupposes, thus virtually making faith appear to be a luxury which follows from the justification which occurs in the cross and resurrection. This is symptomatic of a standard weakness in the Reformed approach, however valuable it may be in other ways as a corrective to faulty views elsewhere within Protestantism.

If the Reformed merge justification and atonement, the Lutheran school (including, I suspect, most English evangelicals) have tended to confuse justification and regeneration, to think of 'justification' as the means whereby one becomes a Christian. This looks back, of course, to Luther's insistence, arising out of his own experience, that one cannot earn salvation by good works, but only receive it through faith. But this has raised all sorts of problems.

First, it easily leads to a neo-Marcionite rejection of the law, suggesting in effect that God had one way of salvation for the Jews and another for Christians.

[Note #76: It is difficult to tie Luther down on points of doctrine, because of the often hasty and over-polemical character of his writings. Yet it will hardly be denied that his thought, and that of his followers, tends in the direction of an outright rejection of the law.]

Popular though that strange theology may be, it makes nonsense of Paul and of the Old Testament itself.

[Note #77: See Cranfield pp. 861f. The 'Lutheran' position has had serious results in the field of Jewish studies (see Sanders, op. cit., pp. 33ff) and of O.T. hermeneutics: in this century the distortion has been increased by the continental alliance of Lutheranism with Idealism and Existentialism, which have strengthened the Protestant tendency to set Christianity apart from history and the historical covenant community.]

The renewal of the covenant in no way implies a change in the way of salvation or the abolition of God's holy law. Second, by asking 'How can I find a gracious God?' and answering 'By faith', Luther not only confused justification and regeneration but consequently put faith in the position of a work, the one thing which God requires as a condition of grace. Third, because Luther realized at the same time that justification belonged to the language of the law court, his statement of the doctrine could easily be misunderstood as a legal fiction, in which God declared people to be something they were not.

Our analysis of justification avoids all these pitfalls. Faith is not a ladder to salvation, an alternative to the law: salvation remains a gift of grace, free and undeserved. Justification is no legal fiction, but God's righteous declaration that the believer is within the covenant. I have no desire, as some appear to have, to play down the value of our Reformation heritage: but I believe we are most faithful to the Reformers when we go back to the New Testament and see whether we can understand it even better than they did.

When we come to the debate between Catholic and Protestant we find that the confusions we have just noted have bedevilled it all through. Because justification has not been separated from regeneration, Roman Catholics have accused Protestants of constructing an antinomian doctrine, an immoral legal fiction, or a hopelessly subjective Christianity in which 'my religious experience' takes the place of the objective facts about Jesus Christ. And a good deal of Protestantism over the last four hundred years, including twentieth-century evangelicalism, must plead guilty to these charges.

But these matters have nothing to do with the real point. The charge of antinomianism or of a 'legal fiction' cannot be levelled at the true Pauline doctrine, as we have seen; and, as the Reformed position has always emphasized, 'my religious experience', important though that ultimately may be, is not the centre of Christianity.


C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1975 and 1979.

E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, SCM, London, 1977.

The Historical Case for the "Apocrypha"

Seeing that the Great Debate of 2004 is tomorrow: Gary Michuta vs. Bishop James White, on this topic . . . This is Appendix Three from my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism:

* * *

The Old Testament in Catholic Bibles contains seven more books than are found in Protestant Bibles (46 and 39, respectively). Protestants call these seven books the Apocrypha and Catholics know them as the deuterocanonical books. These seven books are: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (or, Sirach), and Baruch. Also, Catholic Bibles contain an additional six chapters (107 verses) in the book of Esther and another three in the book of Daniel (174 verses). These books and chapters were found in Bible manuscripts in Greek only, and were not part of the Hebrew Canon of the Old Testament, as determined by the Jews.

All of these were dogmatically acknowledged as Scripture at the Council of Trent in 1548 (which means that Catholics were henceforth not allowed to question their canonicity), although the tradition of their inclusion was ancient. At the same time, the Council rejected 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses as part of Sacred Scripture (these are often included in collections of the "Apocrypha" as a separate unit).

The Catholic perspective on this issue is widely misunderstood (insofar as it can be said to be known at all). Protestants accuse Catholics of "adding" books to the Bible, while Catholics retort that Protestants have "booted out" part of Scripture. Catholics are able to offer very solid and reasonable arguments in defense of the scriptural status of the deuterocanonical books. These can be summarized as follows:

1) They were included in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament from the third century B.C.), which was the "Bible" of the Apostles. They usually quoted the Old Testament scriptures (in the text of the New Testament) from the Septuagint.

2) Almost all of the Church Fathers regarded the Septuagint as the standard form of the Old Testament. The deuterocanonical books were in no way differentiated from the other books in the Septuagint, and were generally regarded as canonical. St. Augustine thought the Septuagint was apostolically sanctioned and inspired, and this was the consensus in the early Church.

3) Many Church Fathers (such as St. Irenaeus, St. Cyprian, Tertullian) cite these books as Scripture without distinction. Others, mostly from the east (for example, St. Athanasius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Gregory Nazianzus) recognized some distinction but nevertheless still customarily cited the deuterocanonical books as Scripture. St. Jerome, who translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin (the Vulgate, early fifth century), was an exception to the rule (the Church has never held that individual Fathers are infallible).

4) The Church Councils at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397, 419), influenced heavily by St. Augustine, listed the deuterocanonical books as Scripture, which was simply an endorsement of what had become the general consensus of the Church in the west and most of the east. Thus, the Council of Trent merely reiterated in stronger terms what had already been decided eleven and a half centuries earlier, and which had never been seriously challenged until the onset of Protestantism.

5) Since these Councils also finalized the 66 canonical books which all Christians accept, it is quite arbitrary for Protestants to selectively delete seven books from this authoritative Canon. This is all the more curious when the complicated, controversial history of the New Testament Canon is understood.

6) Pope Innocent I concurred with and sanctioned the canonical ruling of the above Councils (Letter to Exsuperius, Bishop of Toulouse) in 405.

7) The earliest Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament, such as Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century), and Codex Alexandrinus (c.450) include all of the deuterocanonical books mixed in with the others and not separated.

8) The practice of collecting these books into a separate unit dates back no further than 1520 (in other words, it was a novel innovation of Protestantism). This is admitted by, for example, the Protestant New English Bible (Oxford University Press, 1976), in its "Introduction to the Apocrypha," (page iii).

9) Protestantism, following Martin Luther, removed the deuterocanonical books from their Bibles due to their clear teaching of doctrines which had been recently repudiated by Protestants, such as prayers for the dead (Tobit 12:12, 2 Maccabees 12:39-45; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:29), intercession of dead saints (2 Maccabees 15:14; cf. Revelation 6:9-10), and intermediary intercession of angels (Tobit 12:12,15; cf. Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4). We know this from plain statements of Luther and other Reformers.

10) Luther was not content even to let the matter rest there, and proceeded to cast doubt on many other books of the Bible which are accepted as canonical by all Protestants. He considered Job and Jonah mere fables, and Ecclesiastes incoherent and incomplete. He wished that Esther (along with 2 Maccabees) "did not exist," and wanted to "toss it into the Elbe" river. [Note: Luther in the latter quote was actually referring to "Esdras," not Esther, as I later learned, and wrote about. This appendix was from research in 1996 or earlier. His views on the other books may not have been quite as bad as all that, either]

11) The New Testament fared scarcely better under Luther's gaze. He rejected from the New Testament Canon ("chief books") Hebrews, James ("epistle of straw"), Jude and Revelation, and placed them at the end of his translation, as a New Testament "Apocrypha." He regarded them as non-apostolic. Of the book of Revelation he said, "Christ is not taught or known in it." These opinions are found in Luther's Prefaces to biblical books, in his German translation of 1522.

12) Although the New Testament does not quote any of these books directly, it does closely reflect the thought of the deuterocanonical books in many passages. For example, Revelation 1:4 and 8:3-4 appear to make reference to Tobit 12:15:

Revelation 1:4 Grace to you . . . from the seven spirits who are before his throne. {see also 3:1, 4:5, 5:6}

Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. {see also Revelation 5:8}

Tobit 12:15 I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One

St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:29, seems to have 2 Maccabees 12:44 in mind. This saying of Paul is one of the most difficult in the New Testament for Protestants to interpret, given their theology:

1 Corinthians 15:29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

2 Maccabees 12:44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.

This passage of St. Paul shows that it was the custom of the early Church to watch, pray and fast for the souls of the deceased. In Scripture, to be baptized is often a metaphor for affliction or (in the Catholic understanding) penance (for example, Matthew 3:11, Mark 10:38-39, Luke 3:16, 12:50). Since those in heaven have no need of prayer, and those in hell can't benefit from it, these practices, sanctioned by St. Paul, must be directed towards those in purgatory. Otherwise, prayers and penances for the dead make no sense, and this seems to be largely what Paul is trying to bring out. The "penance interpretation" is contextually supported by the next three verses, where St. Paul speaks of Why am I in peril every hour? . . . I die every day, and so forth.

As a third example, Hebrews 11:35 mirrors the thought of 2 Maccabees 7:29:

Hebrews 11:35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life.

2 Maccabees 7:29 Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again with your brothers. {a mother speaking to her son: see 7:25-26}

13) Ironically, in some of the same verses where the New Testament is virtually quoting the "Apocrypha," doctrines are taught which are rejected by Protestantism, and which were a major reason why the deuterocanonical books were "demoted" by them. Therefore, it was not as easy to eliminate these disputed doctrines from the Bible as it was (and is) supposed, and Protestants still must grapple with much New Testament data which does not comport with their beliefs.

14) Despite this lowering of the status of the deuterocanonical books by Protestantism, they were still widely retained separately in Protestant Bibles for a long period of time (unlike the prevailing practice today). John Wycliffe, considered a forerunner of Protestantism, included them in his English translation. Luther himself kept them separately in his Bible, describing them generally as (although sub-scriptural) "useful and good to read." Zwingli and the Swiss Protestants, and the Anglicans maintained them in this secondary sense also. The English Geneva Bible (1560) and Bishop's Bible (1568) both included them as a unit. Even the Authorized, or King James Version of 1611 contained the "Apocrypha" as a matter of course. And up to the present time many Protestant Bibles continue this practice. The revision of the King James Bible (completed in 1895) included these books, as did the Revised Standard Version (1957), the New English Bible (1970), and the Goodspeed Bible (1939), among others.

15) The deuterocanonical books are read regularly in public worship in Anglicanism, and also among the Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestants and Jews fully accept their value as historical and religious documents, useful for teaching, even though they deny them full canonical status.

It is apparent, then, that the Catholic "case" for these books carries a great deal of weight, certainly at the very least equal to the Protestant view.

* * *

For related reading, see:

The New Testament Canon

Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible

Dialogue on Objections to the "Apocrypha"

Reply to a Protestant Counter-Response on Development of Doctrine(Particularly With Regard to the New Testament Canon and the Papacy) (vs. Jason Engwer)

Further Dialogue With an Evangelical Protestant on Various Aspects of Development of Doctrine (Particularly Concerning the Canon of Scripture) (vs. Jason Engwer)

"5 Myths about 7 Books" (Mark P. Shea)

Defending the Deuterocanonicals (Jimmy Akin)

Deuterocanonical References in the New Testament (Jimmy Akin)


"Reformed Catholicism" (Paul Owen)

I found the following comment from Reformed scholar Paul Owen on Cor ad cor loquitur regular Kevin Johnson's blog a succinct summary of the distinction between more sectarian, exclusivistic (usually anti-Catholic) Protestants and those who are much more in touch with their historical theological heritage. Anyone who vigorously opposes the nonsense and illogic of James White (who calls him "Alexander the Coppersmith") and Eric Svendsen, deserves our gratitude and prayers (and of course this makes him about as popular in those circles as I am LOL). Good for you, Dr. Owen.
Those who are complaining about the use of the term "Reformed Catholicism" due so from a position of profound ignorance. The Reformers viewed the leadership of the Catholic church as hopelessly corrupt in their day, but they did not deny a unity of faith with Roman Catholic believers. Calvin is quite representative of the mainstream Reformation in accepting Roman Catholic baptisms as valid, in acknowledging Catholic churches as still being churches of Christ (though lacking the "lawful form" of the church), and in regarding Roman Catholics as God's covenant children. The heart of the problem is the unbiblical sacramentology of Baptist schismatics. Baptist schismatics do not see the proper covenantal function of Trinitarian baptism, and hence they render asunder the visible unity which unites Protestants with their Roman Catholic brethren. They turn what is intended primarily as a God-centered sign of the divine commitment to the covenant community into a man-centered sign of the "faith" of the individual. Hence they exchange the objectivity of baptism as God's pledge to us for the subjectivity of baptism as our "sincere" pledge to God. Because Baptist schismatics hold to a Marcionite interpretation of the Old Covenant, they fail to see the continuity of covenantal structure within the progress of redemption. Hence, they reject the baptisms of those whose individual confessions of faith are deemed suspect because of a failure on the part of Roman Catholics to articulate with hair-splitting precision the precise mechanism of their justification. As if the validity of baptism as a sign of the unity of the New Covenant church (Eph. 4:5) depended upon an individual's theological precision! Trinitarian baptism continues to mark out Roman Catholics as God's covenant children, just as cirucumcision continued to mark out Israel as God's covenant children even in their desparate condition of apostasy and judgment (Gen. 17:7, 10 cf. Deut. 32:18-20). The theology of the Baptist schismatics stinks. Its fumes offend any biblically balanced person like the smell of a contruction site porta-potty at a fancy wedding. It is a subtle form of legalistic justification by works. God's ability to save me is contstrained by the purity of my theological precision. The god of Baptist schismatics sends people to hell for failing to accurately "exegete" all the relevant passages selected from a list of favorite proof-texts. No matter how sincerely one clings to the saving mercy of the Triune God for eternal life, a confusion of justification and sanctification, or a misunderstanding of the nature of free will is sufficient to condemn a person to eternal misery. Thankfully, biblically grounded Christians will reject Baptist schismatic heresy for the inarticulate, clumsy, historically clueless drivel that it is. Speaking as one zealous Reformed Catholic, I am frankly sick of this sectarian nonsense.
Mon May 17, 2004 @ 10:42:54
See also Kevin's own blog entry:

"Our catholic, undoubted Christian faith"

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Revised Fundamentalist Baptist Version (RFBV)

Bishop James White is currently having fun on his blog (5-18-04), with his "New Reformed Catholic Translation" (NRCT), directed towards his fellow Reformed Protestants who don't follow his anti-Catholic line and unbiblical antipathy to sacramentalism and Church history. As a lover of satire myself, I could hardly resist presenting bits of a new translation I am working on, myself, for the benefit of my Reformed Baptist fundamentalist friends like Bishop White: the Revised Fundamentalist Baptist Version (RFBV), to be published by Eisegetical Press (Phoenix, AZ) in 2005. Enjoy!:


Luke 18:18-25 (RFBV): “And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I believe to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said, ‘All these I have observed from my youth.’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Know that the commandments have nothing to do with your salvation because they concern works. Have faith alone in Me alone, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when he heard this he became sad, for he lacked faith alone. Jesus looking at him said, ‘How hard it is for those who lack faith alone in Me alone to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man who lacks faith alone in Me alone to enter the kingdom of God.’”

1 Timothy 3:15: “. . . the Bible, which is the word of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

Acts 16:4: “As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for reading the Bible passages which had been selected by the apostles and elders who were at the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church.”

2 Timothy 1:13-14: “Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have read in the Bible . . ."

2 Timothy 2:2: “and what you have read in the Bible before many Baptist witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

John 17:20-23: "’I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be fundamentalist Baptists; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be Baptists even as John the Baptist was,’”

1 Corinthians 1:10-13: “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same eisegesis. For it has been reported to me by Doug Wilson's people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I belong to James White,’ or ‘I belong to N.T. Wright,’ or ‘I belong to the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was James White crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church?”

James 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by faith alone and not by works.”

(cf. the blatantly heretical RSV: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”)

Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own Bible-reading with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to read the Bible for his good pleasure.”

Hebrews 5:9: “and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who have faith alone in him,”

Matthew 16:27: "For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has failed to believe with faith alone."

Romans 2:5-13: But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his faith alone: To those who by patience in well-believing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not agree with faith alone, but follow wicked Catholic soteriology, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who denies faith alone, the Catholic first and also the Reformed Catholic, but glory and honour and peace for every one who accepts faith alone, the Pelagian first and also the Arminian. For God shows no partiality. All who have followed Christ without faith alone will also perish without faith alone, and all who have followed Christ with faith alone will be judged by their faith alone. For it is not the hearers of the gospel who are righteous before God, but the believers in faith alone who will be justified."

1 Peter 1:17: ". . . who judges each one impartially according to his faith . . ."

Revelation 22:12: "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one according to how much he has believed in faith alone."

2 Peter 2:15: “Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Aquinas, the son of Pelagius, who loved gain from wrongdoing,”

Matthew 7:16-27: “You will know them by their beliefs. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound Baptist has good beliefs, but the bad Catholic has evil beliefs. A Baptist tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a Catholic tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. But you will know them by their beliefs. Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who has faith alone in me, which is the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not place Mary above your name, and perform sacraments in your name, and crucify you again in many Masses in your name?' And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you Catholic evildoers.' Every one then who hears these words of mine and believes them with faith alone will be like a wise man who built his house upon the Bible; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the Bible. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not believe them with faith alone will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand of man's tradition; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”

Matthew 25:31-46: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the Real Christian sheep from the Catholic goats, and he will place the Christians at his right hand, but the Catholics at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for you believed in me with faith alone.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed Catholic idolaters, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for you didn't believe in me with faith alone.’ And the wicked Catholics will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous Christians into eternal life.”

2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has believed.”

Acts 8:27-31: “And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a Baptist minister of the True Gospel, had come to Phoenix to worship 28 and was returning; seated in his automobile, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Baptist elders and fellow bishops said to James White, ‘Go up and join this automobile.’ 30 So Bishop White ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31 And he said, ‘How can I, unless you guide me?’ And he invited Bishop White to come up and sit with him.”

2 Peter 1:20: “First of all you must understand this, that all prophecy of scripture is perspicuous and a matter of one's own interpretation,”

1 Corinthians 11:2: “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the biblical interpretations even as the fundamentalist Baptists have delivered them to you.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the eisegetical traditions of Bible-reading which you were taught by us, either by sermons or by e-mail or by webcast.”

Revelation 5:8: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are not the prayers of the saints (because all prayers go right to God);”

Revelation 8:3-4: “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense did not rise with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God (because John, who gave you this vision, was only hallucinating).”

1 Corinthians 3:11-15: “For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -- each man's belief-system will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of belief each one has believed. If the belief which any man has believed on the foundation of Baptist theology survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's belief is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

[editor's note: this "fire" is not literal -- let alone the abominable and unbiblical papist, Romish doctrine of purgatory, but merely a metaphorical expression of the pain and frustration experienced by those who will be forced to get up to speed in their infallible fundamentalist Baptist theology, before they can be saved and become worthy of heaven]

Acts 2:38: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ without the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

Acts 22:16: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, without washing away your sins, calling on his name.”

1 Peter 3:19-21: “in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which does not correspond to this, does not save you; it is only a removal of dirt from the body and a bare symbolic ordinance, as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

Luke 22:19-20: “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is not my body which is given for you, but only a mere symbol. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is not the new covenant in my blood, but only wine (and you may substitute grape juice after the 19th century temperance movement makes alcohol a scandal in church)’”

1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is not a participation in the blood of Christ. The bread which we break, is not a participation in the body of Christ”

1 Corinthians 11:27-30: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will not be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord, because they are only symbols. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks thinking it is the body of Christ eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I cannot complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, because I cannot add anything to Christ's perfect work on the cross”

1 Corinthians 7:7-9: “I wish that none were as I myself am. All have the same special gift from God. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to get married, unlike myself. Whether they can or cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be a celibate slave of Rome.”

1 Corinthians 7:32-38: “I want you to be free from anxieties. The married man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the unmarried man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please himself, and his interests are divided. And the married woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the unmarried woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please herself. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord . . . So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do worse; especially pastors, who must always marry, so as to secure undivided devotion to the Lord and their flocks.”

For further related reading, see:

The Holy Bible: Revised Fundamentalist Version : “What the Holy Spirit meant to say”, by my good friend Gary Hoge.

Disclaimer: The RFV wasn't consulted in the course of my work on the RFVB. Any correspondence is, therefore, coincidental and purely accidental, except insofar as we are both motivated and guided by the heretical, wicked, apostate spirit of Unbelief and Pelagian Idolatry; thus arriving at the same or suspiciously similar terminology due to mutual guidance from the same demonic conspirators.

Dialogue With a Homosexual

Some highlights from a paper of the same name, from April 1999. My opponent's words will be in blue.


The gay rights movement has nothing to do with seeking moral approval.

It sure does, else why do homosexual activists have a cow when we dare to state our Christian belief that homosexual acts are immoral, and that there is no such thing as same-sex marriage? Why don't they allow us to disagree with them, if they are supposedly so concerned about "tolerance" and "diversity?" To merely assert such beliefs is to assure being accused of "homophobia" (a stupid, typically-modernist term which means, literally, "fear of sameness"). Law inevitably has a moral component; there is no escaping it. That is a whole 'nother discussion, but I contend that this is almost a self-evident point (though often overlooked or applied hypocritically by various political activists).

If you want hypocrisy, look no further than the phrase "Love the sinner, hate the sin".

How is that hypocritical? Of course, if you deny the existence of right and wrong, and sin, then there would be a contradiction. But then if you did that, you would have no grounds for saying I am wrong in my present opinions. If, on the other hand, there is such a thing as immorality, then it certainly is love (and profoundly so) to point out to someone that they are harming themselves, and their relationship with God and other human beings, by engaging in sinful activity.

Are we saying to homosexuals that "you must accept the tenets of Christianity and our traditional lifestyle or else you are obviously Christian-a-phobes (and we will force you to by law)?" I have no legal power to force a homosexual to attend church, but they have (or will soon have) the power to force me to accept them as tenants, or to be my church organist, etc.

You are indeed saying that.

Saying what? That a homosexual must attend my church???!!!!! That a homosexual must be a Christian by force of law???!!! This is ridiculous!

Fundamentalist Christianity unleashes it's syrupy vitriol at anyone who is not following the approved "Christian" way of life.

Why do you equate opposition to homosexuality with "Fundamentalist Christianity," when in fact, this has been the consensus of western civilization for 2000 years now? Granted, that civilization is profoundly Christian in its roots, but there are plenty of "secular" types who have agreed with this understanding of the nature of moral, legitimate sex and marriage. It was indeed a societal consensus until the Sexual Revolution made its appearance some 40 years ago.

. . . forced to deal with the likes of Fred Phelps protesting at FUNERALS.

This man is an idiot and no example of any kind of respectable Christian. I could pick the very worst example of a homosexual activists (say, that crazy group that blasphemed at a Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral a few years back), if I wanted to engage in this sort of rhetorical tactic. But I don't think you would appreciate that. Well, I have nothing to do with a fool like Phelps, either.

As long as a person's beliefs and values do not directly affect you, you have no claim to "punish" people, or attempt to make their lives difficult.

Ah, this is crucial. It does affect me, because such a momentous cultural / moral shift has far-reaching consequences for the whole society. This would undermine the very foundation of Christian sexual ethics, just as abortion already has done. Now the last remnants of Christian civilization are being attacked: the nature of marriage, family, gender, sexuality, etc. Your claim is the libertarian one, which is based on the demonstrably fallacious claim that every man lives for himself, and has no effect on anyone else. That is also another huge discussion, but I am saying that your statement is based on false premises.

You forget that Christianity and Judaism and the rest are johnny-come latelys. The earliest and most venerated religions, goddess worship, naturism, paganism, has no such learned hatred for same sex attraction. It is only after religion developed political appetite did the exclusion start.

So you determine the truth of a religion by its mere chronological age? By that reasoning, the human sacrifice of the Aztecs was more moral than the Catholicism of the Conquistadors, simply because it was there (in that particular region) first. Or the rampant cannibalism in the Caribbean islands before Columbus was acceptable -- a matter of "equal rights." Or the widow-burning of the Hindus was superior to the Christianity the English brought to India (even Gandhi opposed the practice, too). Or clitorectomies in Africa are morally preferable to Gloria Steinem "liberation" and "sexual freedom" because they stem from an ancient tradition of some sort. Or the brutal infanticide (by exposure) of babies in pagan Greece and Rome ought to have been retained, rather than the Christian compassionate ethic of protection from "womb to tomb" (now we have the wanton slaughter partial-birth infanticide, and deign to call ourselves "civilized"). Your reasoning here, therefore, is clearly absurd.

As for your comment "The left always thinks it can overturn the moral consensus of millennia by enough propagandizing, sloganizing, Big Lies (e.g., 10% of the population being homosexual -- Kinsey), fiat court decisions, Ellen shows, Heather Has Two Mommies books for first-graders, etc", this could just as easily be said of the religious right. Homosexuality can be changed, Homosexuals are Pedophiles, etc...

That it can be changed is a demonstrable clinical and sociological fact. There are thousands of former practicing homosexuals out there (we define that by the cessation of sodomy). I agree that it is grossly unfair to paint all homosexuals with the pedophilia brush, but there is certainly overlap. I'm sure you have heard of NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association). But your analogy fails because homosexuality was not the "moral consensus of millennia" -- in terms of Western Civilization. Therefore we are merely attempting to preserve what is left of that culture. The "Gay" Activists are the ones attempting to undermine it. There is no comparison. Both sides have prejudice. I won't make any argument on that. At the same time, I won't stand for such prejudices being projected onto me simply because I have a traditional Christian opinion on the subject.

No one really cares what you think or believe. Your thoughts are your own.

You obviously do. :-)

Your actions, in the public sphere, are what is at issue. I believe you may hold whatever opinion of homosexuality and homosexuals that you like. But that does not mean you should be able to discriminate against someone, or seek to deny them the same EXACT rights that you enjoy, because they do things that make you uncomfortable.

Laws do that all the time. We can't take drugs. We can't kill ourselves. We can't yell "fire" in a crowded building. 5-year-olds can't drive. Teenagers need parental permission to get their ears pierced (but not to kill their preborn child), rape and sexual harassment are considered outrages against women (unless one happens to be the President, and unless one is a feminist defending that President) etc. And in Western Civilization up until very recently, sodomy was considered an objectively disordered, immoral act, contrary to the natural law of normal sexuality (this is arguably evident in the very reproductive anatomy of males and females).

"Unnatural", "unhealthy"? Even your use of those words illustrate my point. Nothing which exists in nature is unnatural.

By that reasoning, you could go have intercourse with a hog, or a baboon, or a duck-billed platypus (if indeed that is possible). You could go stick your toe up someone's nose, or your elbow in their ear. How ridiculous are we gonna get here? I guess you don't think much about the logical outcome of the amazing statements you make. Poisonous mushrooms are natural. Does that mean I should eat them? Swamps are natural. Should I drink from them, or take a bath in one? Niagara Falls is entirely natural, but if I take a boat ride over it, certain consequences will have to be faced. I could get more graphic and absurd, but I trust that you see my point by now.

I see no need to get explicit, because a debate on which sexual acts are unhealthy is purely situational.

It is not in your interest to get explicit. But I must regrettably do so for the very reason that your side does not (for good reason). It is a known fact that anal sex - whether heterosexual or homosexual -- is extremely unhealthy. That is true for the simple reason that the rectum was not intended, or "made," if you will, for these activities, just as a throat is not a receptacle for someone's hand or foot. And it is true because the diseases which result from such activity are manifest (and more than just AIDS and VD). And it is also patently obvious because we are dealing here with human waste. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that that is unhealthy and to be avoided (this is routine hygiene).

Your comparison of normal gay people to child molesters is interesting,

Of course I didn't do that. I was making an analogy to other activities considered "abnormal" by most people, including homosexuals. This is the art of rhetoric and logical argumentation. But listing other deviancies does not imply an equivalence or no difference of degree.

Like the GOP leaders, I imagine you feel frustration akin to "But WHY doesn't everyone see that we are RIGHT!??", never ever seeing how wrong you truly are in your hate, and in the lonely direction you are dragging your supporters in.

How do you define "hate," pray tell? You claim that I am entitled to my opinion, yet now the true colors come out, you drop all the pretense, and flat-out accuse me of hatred.

Religious fundamentalists are using whatever tools are at their disposal to prove that they are not. The difference is, homosexuals are trying to show that they are just as human and worthy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as anyone else. You, however, are trying to deny them this right, or even worse, trying to make those choices for them.

Societies have always had codes of right and wrong. The prohibition of homosexuality has been one of these codes in many societies, including our own. One has to draw a line somewhere. There are still a few things which virtually everyone (including yourself) agrees are wrong: pedophilia, wife-beating, child abuse, rape, incest, murder, theft, torture, etc. Child-killing and fornication and divorce, on the other hand, are now fine in our society at large. Homosexuality is somewhere in the middle: on the way to being accepted as a valid "lifestyle choice."

My question is, how come it took so long to grant equal rights to a community who's only "crime" is to love someone of the same sex?

Because people have an innate sense that this is unnatural and wrong, based on not only Christian teaching, but natural law, per my arguments above about what is "natural and healthy," and what is not. People even today (in our thoroughly secular society) have the same instincts about things like bestiality, incest, or child molestation (I suspect you would agree about those, too). So this sort of thing is not unusual in societies. Homosexuality has formerly been one of these things which most people deemed to be wrong, whether or not they could articulate why. You may not like that fact, but it is a reality, and you will never completely change that, anymore than the feminist movement could effect a fundamental change in how women viewed themselves.

I will point out to you that homosexuality is fundamentally identical to heterosexuality. A person's sexual identity is part of who they are. What they do is a reflection of that, and as such, their public actions should be subject to the same standards of conduct.

So if someone wants to engage in bestiality, would you acknowledge that as a valid form of "sexual identity"?

Normal is as normal does. I suppose you would consider yourself, hatred and all, normal?

No, because I am a sinner. Complete "normalcy" is a sin-free existence, in perfect union with God. But it is one thing to acknowledge that one sins and falls short, quite another to redefine certain sins so that they no longer exist. And there is the hatred charge again. You merely prove my point that the bigotry is just as much on your side as it is on our side, by casually throwing out an outrageous charge of hatred, based on mere disagreement.

All forms of discrimination are NOT illegal. Churches are still allowed to fire or deny advancement to gay members, discriminate on the basis of who they allow to be married.

This is not discrimination. It is a failure of the "member" to be in conformity with the beliefs of the Church (therefore a form of dishonesty and subterfuge). A church is not the state (we have "separation of church and state," remember? The left loves that when it suits their purposes). You talk about us compelling you to adopt our beliefs, yet you think nothing of forcing a Catholic or other Christian to allow members whose beliefs are diametrically opposed to our teaching! You want to force us to deny our heartfelt religious beliefs for the sake of your politico-social agenda. This is no different than the pagan emperors demanding idolatry from Christians. You know what the Christians chose to do in that quandary.

I agree, you cannot legislate morality, any more than you can legislate maturity or enlightenment. Morality is a personal decision, and thoughts cannot be legislated. It is only public action, after objective scrutiny, that can be legislated. Feel free to provide even one, unquestionable, objective reason why homosexuality is any less worthy of public protection as heterosexuality.

I have already given them. Sodomy should be outlawed on health grounds alone, if not moral, religious, and philosophical. These abnormal acts are what Christians oppose. I don't care if two men love each other as long as they are chaste and abstain from immorality. Jonathan and King David did that! This is the Catholic position.

You may most certainly act on what you believe in, for YOUR life. You cannot expect to be supported when you attack ME for living MY life.

Not if my Church is forced to "legitimize" what it believes to be immoral. You can't have it both ways. You spout your libertarian, supposedly "tolerant" and "enlightened" rhetoric, but when push comes to shove -- despite yourself -- you are quite willing to compel Christians to adopt your viewpoint, by force of law and coercion, not the force of moral and philosophical persuasion.

Your view of homosexuality is irrelevant. You are not a homosexual, and therefore speak only from ignorance as to the mind of a homosexual person, of which there are millions anyway.

Well, then all your opinions about Christianity are "irrelevant" since you are not a Christian! There are many more millions of Christians than homosexuals -- if numbers must be a criterion of truth.

You have not objective basis on which to label homosexuality for the rest of the thinking public.

So you say. I have given my arguments, but you obviously are not addressing them. Prove to me, e.g., that sodomy is a healthy thing (the moral and health equivalent to vaginal sexual intercourse), and that no one has to worry about it harming them. I would love to see you attempt that.

I am neutral towards most Catholics, or people of any faith, even of people who are fundamentalist or conservative. Their beliefs are their own, and it is not my place to think for them.

If this is "neutral," I would hate to see "hostile" or "opposed."

Their public actions, which seek to try and deny a community equal rights, are worthy of the highest contempt, as are those of racists, and other dictatorial movements.

But of course homosexuals aren't ever bigots, right? And that's because they are victims, and so it is impossible by definition, just as we are told that by some leftists that black people can't be bigots, either.

I can take it that you are definitely not black.

Correct. We have to find something we can agree on . . .

10,000,000 people can still be wrong.

Of course. And one can be right, if that is all that is left. Athanasius contra mundum.

You cannot even see what you are saying as venomous hatred, because you think you have the omnipotent god on your side. So how could you be wrong? Simple. Your positions attempt to strip people of the basic rights that you enjoy because they make you uncomfortable.

You confirm precisely what I have critiqued: the attitude of scorn and derision directed towards all who merely take another view from yourself. In your black-and-white humanist world without nuance of philosophy or the accumulated human wisdom of religious reflection, a disagreement -- by its very nature -- becomes "venomous hatred." I guess there really is no dialogue here after all. My initial impression was that you were a very intelligent, thoughtful person, with whom I could dialogue and reach some level of understanding. But your persistent charges of hatred, bigotry, spiritual pride, etc. will not make that possible. Constructive discourse cannot exist with such extreme charges being cavalierly spewed out.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Christian Filmmaker's Creed

I was asked to write this by a friend and filmmaker, Dr. Stanley Williams, for use in his work (his stated purposes and outlook, etc.). It is always an interesting discussion to go over the relationship of Christianity to art, and responsibilities of Christians in the arts in presenting their material in a fashion consistent with their Christian beliefs and ideals:


The primary goal of the Christian filmmaker is to promulgate -- with all the artistic means at his disposal -- truth, from a broad-based, biblically grounded Christian perspective, or worldview (Philippians 4:8). Positively, this entails a presuppositional adherence to those theological doctrines agreed-upon by virtually all Christians, formulated classically in the Nicene Creed.

In a negative sense, the Christian filmmaker should always seek to avoid the cinematic glorification, gratuitous use, or "normative portrayal" of (from a broad Christian view) morally and theologically objectionable ideas or acts (e.g., clear violations of the Ten Commandments, nihilism, unnecessarily explicit sexuality, prejudice and bigotry, hedonism,
narcissism, ethnocentrism, etc.).

Such morally or theologically "objectionable" elements will ordinarily be present in a Christian film, in the antagonists and to some extent in the protagonists (as all human beings are fallen and flawed, and legitimate drama demands this), but in such a way that they are ultimately contrasted against the backdrop of a Christian ethos or framework. They are not, therefore, in the Christian filmmaker's work, sanctioned or condoned in any way, shape, or form, and furthermore, the negative results flowing from sin are made manifest in some fashion in the script (perhaps only at the end of the movie, but obviously so, in any event).

In other words, typically non-Christian traits must be leading characteristics of the "bad guys" and shown (in the final analysis) in their true, repulsive colors, as both sinful and harmful to the individual and others. Many "secular" films indeed exhibit this aspect in many ways, some quite effectively and profoundly, but the Christian film makes the true nature of reality, beauty and love, the benefits of grace and discipleship, and the consequences of sin its primary goal, whether this is portrayed implicitly or explicitly (truth can be set forth in many different ways, depending on the filmmaker's purpose and intended target audience).

Even a fantasy world ought to contain (or at least not blatantly contradict) a transcendental God (i.e., a theistic universe), as in, e.g., the fantasies of C.S. Lewis, because God is the root and ground of all reality (Colossians 2:3; Acts 17:27-28). Adultery or murder would, therefore, be just as evil in a fantasy-world as in a cinematic presentation of a "real world," just as a parable of Jesus does not and cannot contain a moral falsehood, even though it is purely fictional.

Some popular movies (though usually not totally devoid of moral or artistic merit, by any means) in effect glorify (biblically forbidden) white magic, or sorcery, and present it as normative to everyday reality, whereas the Christian movie (by nature) could not do this, and would ultimately ground beneficent supernatural or (to use a better word) miraculous acts in the divine will and power; in God, as opposed to (famously) a so-called "force." Theism need not always be explicit in a film, but the overall worldview of a "Christian film" must be consistent with a biblical, Christian understanding of reality in all its aspects.

The presentation of historical events and figures -- particularly Christian or biblical persons and history -- poses peculiarly difficult and complex problems of historical accuracy, insofar as that can be achieved, given the usual and inevitable bias of individuals. At the very least, the Christian filmmaker must avoid all tendentious or ideological distortions of the known, widely-accepted facts of history. Historical fiction is valid and plausible insofar as it dramatically builds upon more-or-less accepted facts, so that it doesn't distort (a half-truth being almost as bad as a plain lie) essential characteristics of persons and events.

Beyond that, the Christian film cannot present as truth doctrines or viewpoints which are widely rejected among Christians. An example of such distortion would be the portrayal of (what Christians know as) the Two Natures of Christ (or, Hypostatic Union), in The Last Temptation of Christ. In an erroneous (even if well-intended) attempt to "humanize" Jesus, to help us to better "relate" to Him (according to the director's and screenwriter's own stated goals), our Lord, the incarnate God, is shown to possess certain Nestorian-like traits such as doubt or inner turmoil, and enticement towards sin, which are blatantly contrary to the orthodox Christology which is accepted by all three major branches of Christianity (developed in its final form at the Council of Chalcedon in 451).

Truth has an inherent power, and is able to be ascertained by any individual who seeks it, by the grace of God (Romans 1:18-20, 2:13-16). It can, and should, therefore, affect viewers of well-made,
artistically meritorious Christian films in a special and profound way. The Christian film might choose to emphasize a particular aspect of truth (aesthetic, metaphysical, scientific, moral, relational, emotional, spiritual, etc.), utilizing a full and free artistic and technically proficient expression, yet the goal is to always base the dramatic vision within a truly Christian framework and worldview, so that the viewer can walk away with a better grasp of one or more aspects of the truths of Christianity and the gospel or (more generally) a theistic universe, than he or she possessed before having watched the film.



Dialogue on The Last Temptation of Christ and the Responsibility of Moviemakers to be Historically and Theologically Accurate + Christian Filmmaker's Creed (Dave Armstrong and Stanley D. Williams)

See other movie reviews of mine:

Meditations and Dialogues on The Passion of the Christ and its Cultural and Ecumenical Effects (Dave Armstrong with Kevin D. Johnson and P. Andrew Sandlin -- both Reformed Protestants, and Dr. James White)

Catholic Response to the Movie Luther (2003): "Good to Hear Both Sides of the Story"

Titanic as a Springboard for Cultural Analysis

Also, movie (and music) links:

My Favorite Rock, Pop, and R & B Singles, Albums, Bands, and Singers + Music and Movie Links

Friday, May 14, 2004

SOLA Scriptura vs. SOLO Scriptura, or, "Why History is Important For All Christians"

This was originally an explanation as to why I was writing about Luther's Mariology, when many Protestants today would say it was irrelevant, that they go by the Bible, etc. I have expanded the initial reply and added the quotations and subsequent remarks:


Yes, of course many Protestants think like that, but they are not representing the best of their own tradition. Sola Scriptura, rightly-understood, does not entail an "a-historicism" or denial of any role for tradition and
non-biblical authority whatsoever (that view is the distortion of SOLO Scriptura). The legitimate position of sola Scriptura simply claims that Scripture is the sole infallible authority (they deny that attribute to the Church and Tradition and councils). It is not:

"No Tradition or Church authority whatsoever."

It is, rather:

"No INFALLIBLE authorities other than Scripture."

A thoughtful, reflective Christian outlook (whether Catholic or Protestant) is interested in the history of doctrine. Protestants who care about history think it is highly relevant to hearken back to their "Reformation heritage" by studying Luther, Calvin, and other leading figures. They believe that these men were "Reformers," who were instrumental in bringing the Church back to its early state (I deny that, but I am describing Protestant views, not my own). This is all the more important in light of charges from within Protestantism that much of that heritage has been lost or distorted after the Enlightenment and liberal theology.

I would also point out as a Catholic that it is relevant to study their views because if they were the exemplars and teachers of sola Scriptura and were applying that rule in their lives, it is interesting to see where they come down on the various Catholic-Protestant differences, to see if there is more common ground than is often supposed.

So there are all sorts of reasons justifying such analyses. For me it is, first and foremost, an important historical question, because I am very interested in development of doctrine, history of doctrine and theology, and the 16th century and all that went on then. For those who think Christian history is of no importance or relevance, then I would say, "ignore my historical writings." They have serious problems that have to be dealt with on other grounds.

The "a-historical" solo Scriptura types will never understand what it is I am trying to achieve by these papers (establishment of historical fact and analyzing the relationship between history and dogma, and principles and behavior -- also finding common ground wherever possible).

I've cited the following five Protestant scholars many times, in an effort to highlight the
differences between historic sola Scriptura, as held by the mainstream Protestant Founders (who are sometimes referred to as the "magisterial Reformers"), and an extreme "Bible Only" mentality (which is a distortion and cardboard caricature of legitimate sola Scriptura), but it will be worthwhile to do so again (especially since I am still being absurdly accused of not comprehending these major differences to this day):

How do we know that what the church says is true? The Roman Catholic answer to this question is the clearest answer that has ever been formulated . . .

Since the Christian faith is an historical faith, and since Christians are rooted in history, . . . the gospel must be "handed down" from generation to generation. Protestants who refuse to concede the fact for fear that it may have Roman Catholic consequences are living in a dream world.

The "Roman Catholic consequences" begin to emerge with the assertion that the Church, through its bishops, is the guardian of tradition. The task of the church is to see that the gospel is handed down without being corrupted. Since not all the nuances of the faith are explicitly developed in the Bible, it is the contribution of tradition to take what
is only implicit in Scripture, and make it explicit in the church. Thus tradition is creative and dynamic, and the church sees to it that tradition neither contradicts itself nor becomes inconsistent with the Biblical witness. This means that Scripture and tradition are two sources of truth and must not be separated. If they are, so the view maintains, disaster follows. The Reformers asserted that tradition had distorted the Biblical witness . . .

Roman Catholics believe, more fervently than Protestants imagine, that Scripture and tradition are complementary rather than antithetical sources of truth.

(Robert McAfee Brown, The Spirit of Protestantism, Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1961, 172-173, 214)

A Bible-only mentality virtually equates spiritual reality with the text of Scripture itself, whereas the Scripture is a pointer to or a witness to that reality . . . There is a difference between being biblical and biblicistic (i.e., employing the Bible-only mentality). There is a difference between honoring sola scriptura and bibliolatry (the excess veneration of Scripture). . . . On more than one occasion it has been pointed out that the Bible-only view of Scripture is very much like the Muslim view of Scripture . . . Muslims believe that the earthly Qu'ran is a perfect copy of an actual Qu'ran in Paradise . . . The Christian view of Scripture is that there is a human and historical dimension to Scripture . . .

Scripture is not the totality of all God has said and done in this world. Scripture is that part of revelation and history specially chosen for the life of the people of God through centuries. Sola scriptura means that the canon of Scripture is the final authority in the church; it does not claim to be the record of all God has said and done . . .

Patient research in the matter of tradition has brought to the surface the good side of the concept. Paul himself uses the language of tradition in a good sense (1 Cor. 11:23, 15:3). Both Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars have been coming closer and closer in a newer and better notion of tradition on both sides. For example, they agree that much of the revelation given in the period of time contained in the Book of Genesis must have been carried on as tradition . . . In the Christian period the bridge between Christ and the written documents of the New Testament was certainly tradition.

The sola scriptura of the Reformers did not mean a total rejection of tradition. It meant that only Scripture had the final word on a subject . . . If we reject church tradition we have no idea what the New Testament is attempting to communicate. There is no question that the great majority of American evangelicals are not happy to have such a large weight given to tradition. Even so . . . might we not be heirs of tradition in such a manner that we are not aware of it? However we vote on this issue, it remains true that scholars no longer can talk about Scripture and totally ignore tradition . . .

If a Christian could not have his own Scripture until the time of printing and its translation into modern languages, then the kind of Christianity the Bible-only mentality accepts could not have existed until the sixteenth century . . . If copies of the Holy Scripture were rare because of the expensive cost of reproduction by hand-copying then there must have been other valid sources through which the laymen could know the contents of the Christian faith. Such may be: the preaching of the bishop in the early church . . . ; the sacraments and the liturgy which used biblical themes, biblical personalities, and quotations from Scripture so that solid biblical truth could be learned indirectly . . . ; church architecture, decorations within a church, and other forms of Christian art which reflected biblical themes and materials.

This is not an exhaustive list but it does show how the millions of Christians . . . could have had a substantial understanding of the Christian faith prior to the invention of printing. And if one has such a perspective on the whole history of the church he need not be caught in the logical box to which the Bible-only mentality leads . . . I strongly believe that the current effort to make a certain doctrine of Scripture the Wesen ["essence"] of Christianity represents a Bible-Only mentality which cannot be supported because it is so narrow that it becomes self-defeating.

. . . We have tried to show that there is a difference between a Bible-Only mentality which is limited and limiting and a healthy, strong, theological stance on sola scriptura. The latter is in total accord with the theology of the Reformers and is compatible with a genuinely contemporary evangelical theological scholarship.

(Bernard Ramm, in Jack B. Rogers, editor, Biblical Authority, Waco, TX: Word
Books, 1977, "Is 'Scripture Alone' the Essence of Christianity?," 116-117, 119, 121-123)

The sola scriptura principle does not exclude a respectful listening to the wisdom of the past. For we stand in a community of faith and cannot leap over two thousand years of Christian history in disregard of the prodigious labors already done . . . Biblicism is an antitraditional preoccupation with the Bible. It limits its interests to the Bible alone and does not seek nor accept the guidance and correction which the history of exegesis affords. There is something audacious about such a leap from the twentieth century back into the first century without even a glance at the ways in which Scripture has hitherto been understood. Indeed, in such a case there is the real danger that the interpreter will bring the Bible under his own control. Every explicit denial of tradition involves a hidden commitment to a personal brand of tradition.

(Clark Pinnock, Biblical Revelation, Chicago: Moody Press, 1971, 118-119)

The Reformers did not in the least mean to say that Scripture was of no value to Rome. As they saw it, however, the teaching and practice of the Roman Catholic Church did not seem to consider Scripture "sufficient." It could be demonstrated, so the Reformers thought, that certain "truths" and "values" had been adopted that appeared to have no essential relationship to the gospel of Scripture . . .

Had that which was "entrusted" (I Tim 6:20) to the church been preserved in the course of the centuries? Thus we face the problem of "tradition," . . . It became a central question whether the deposit of faith had been handed over from generation to generation in a pure and undefiled manner . . .

The "preservation," . . . is not in the least a concern peculiar to the Roman Catholic Church. Every church is concerned with it if it indeed wants to be the church; . . . Furthermore, it is a complex question, since the church is not and cannot be an exact replica of the church of the New Testament. It entered history and was naturally influenced by its own life through history in numerous new situations. Tradition plays a decisive role in this development. The gospel, heard and accepted, is not being carried along as a rigid and erratic block . . . It is a living thing with its own dynamic . . .

One must be on guard, therefore, not to approach the problem of "biblical tradition" in a reactionary manner, as if to claim that the gospel would be present in different periods and cultures without human mediation and without "tradition." . . .

The function of the sola Scriptura in the Reformation was to focus attention on God's Word as a principle of interpretation over against human arbitrariness.

(G.C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Holy Scripture, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975, translated from the Dutch edition of 1967 by Jack B. Rogers, 299-300, 306)

The Reformers did not despise the treasury of church tradition . . . But the difference is this: For the Reformers no church council, synod, classical theologian, or early church father is regarded as infallible. All are open to correction and critique . . .

The two primary thrusts of Sola Scriptura point to: 1) Scripture's uniqueness as normative authority, and 2) its uniqueness as the source of special revelation. Norm and source are the twin implicates of the Sola Scriptura principle.

(R.C. Sproul, in James Montgomery Boice, editor, The Foundation of Biblical Authority, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978, ch. 4: "Sola Scriptura: Crucial to Evangelicalism," 109)

If there remains any doubt about my views on the matter, here is what I wrote about it in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2003, 4), in Chapter One, "Bible and Tradition":

The concept of sola Scriptura, it must be noted, is not in principle opposed to the importance and validity of Church history, Tradition, ecumenical Councils, or the authority of Church Fathers and prominent theologians. The difference lies in the relative position of authority held by Scripture and Church institutions and proclamations. In theory, the Bible judges all of these, since, for the evangelical Protestant, it alone is infallible and the Church and popes and Councils are not.

This chapter was first written in 1991 and revised in 1994. The entire book in its revised form was completed in May 1996, so I have obviously believed these things for many years, and in fact, I did as a Protestant also, prior to 1990, as I had these books I cite in my personal library during the 1980s. In the footnotes for this section I mentioned all five of these sources, with full bibliographical information, in addition to some further sources:

1 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 4, ch. 10; . . . Martin Marty, A Short History of Christianity (New York: Meridian, 1959), 216.

2 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 1, chs. 6-9 . . .

3 Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Churches, 1539; . . .

This is the last time I will point this out. The next time someone foolishly "argues" (i.e., tells lies, corrected times without number) that I don't understand the difference between sola Scriptura and the corrupt cardboard caricature of solo Scriptura, I will simply direct them and their readers to this paper. If they wish to then continue lying and misrepresenting my views after having been thoroughly disabused and corrected, that is up to them. One tires of being lied about.

I have believed what I have written here, for some 23 years (that includes nine years as a Protestant). Of course, I now reject sola Scriptura, as a Catholic, but that doesn't mean that I don't (or didn't) know the definition of the term or the nature of the concept. I've held to the same definition and understanding all along; I simply no longer believe what I once did about it, as to its truth and implications and effect.

But I continue to believe that it is of the utmost importance to accurately describe our opponents' views when critiquing them (especially since Catholic views are so often distorted and molded into straw men with little resemblance to our actual dogmatic beliefs -- not doing the same to our Protestant brothers is a straightforward application of the Golden Rule, as well as good scholarship and dialogical method).

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Trent Doesn't Necessarily Exclude All Variants of Imputation (Kenneth Howell)

The following comes from some e-mail in my files from Dr. Kenneth Howell (July 1996). He was a Presbyterian minister from 1978 to 1996, and converted to the Catholic Church in June 1996. Dr. Howell holds a Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Seminary, and Ph.D's in General Linguistics (Indiana) and History (Lancaster Univ., U.K.). He was Associate Professor of Biblical Languages and Literature at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi for seven years.

* * * * *

Trent does not exclude the notion of imputation. It only denies that justification consists solely in imputation. The relevant canons are numbers 9,10,11. Canon 9 does not even deny sola fide completely but only a very minimal interpretation of that notion. I translate literally:

If anyone says that the impious are justified by faith alone so that he understands [by this] that nothing else is required in which [quo] he cooperates in working out the grace of justification and that it is not necessary at all that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his will, let him be anathema.

Canon 9 then only anathematizes such a reduced form of faith that no outworking of that faith is necessary. This canon in no way says that imputation is not true but only that it is heretical to hold that justification consists solely in imputation.

I am puzzled why anyone would say that extrinsic righteousness might be excluded by Trent. The only righteousness that justifies is Christ's. But Catholic theology teaches that what is Christ's becomes ours by grace. In fact Canon 10 anathematizes anyone who denies that we can be justified without Christ's righteousness or anyone who says that we are formally justified by that righteousness alone. Here's the words:

If anyone says that men are justified without Christ's righteousness which he merited for us or that they are formally justified by it itself
[i.e. righteousness] [per eam ipsam], let him be anathema.

Canon 10 says that Christ's righteousness is both necessary and not limited to imputation i.e. formally. So, imputation is not excluded but only said to be not sufficient.

With regard to imputation, if Trent indeed excludes it, I am ready to reject it. But the wording of the decrees does not seem to me to require this.

How could I become a Catholic if I still thought imputation was acceptable? Because I came to see that the rigid distinction between justification and sanctification so prominent in Reformation theologies was an artificial distinction that Scripture did not support. When one takes into account the whole of Scripture, especially James' and Jesus' teaching on the necessity of perfection for salvation (e.g. Matt 5;8), I realized that man cannot be simul justus et peccator. Transformational righteousness is absolutely essential for final salvation. Once one realizes this, the entire Catholic system of sacraments, purgatory etc. fits into a coherent pattern.

But does this mean that "imputation ... is totally foreign to Catholic thought?" I am not sure it does. I find it even harder to believe that Christ's righteousness declaring us forgiven is "totally
antithetical to transformational righteousness."

Perhaps it is very important to clarify definitions at this point . . . One is the Reformed/Lutheran idea of an account with God that has no direct bearing on our real state in life. Let's call this the strong imputation thesis. I have no doubt that this was rejected by Trent. But a softer form -- call it the weak imputation thesis -- is that imputation is a declaration of forgiveness of the kind implied in Jesus's words to the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Other examples are our Lord's words to Zaccheus, "Today, salvation has arrived at this house because he himself is a son of Abraham." Or to the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you." This declaration is what we receive when, having confessed our sins sincerely to our priests, we may be confident of the forgiveness of Christ. The words of the human priest are Christ's words of forgiveness. We have been declared forgiven.

* * *

There can be no doubt that Trent stressed transformational righteousness as that which Christ infuses into our souls. The frequent references to baptism clearly speak of a real justice that results from Christ's meritorious work. Furthermore, it's evident that the idea of being thought of as righteous by God, without really being so, is unacceptable. This is particuarly emphasized in chapter 7 when speaking about the formal cause of justification. As with Aristotle's use of this category "formal cause", Trent meant that which shapes us (i.e. gives us form) into righteous people, not simply being thought of as righteous (non modo reputamur sed vere justi nominamur et sumus). To put the matter in another manner, God thinks of us as righteous only when we are in fact righteous. There is no legal fiction.

Having said that, it seems to me that there is also a place in Trent for a declaration which not only recognizes but also confers that righteousness of Christ which is the ground of our justification. In chapter 14 "On Lapses and their Restoration" Trent insists on the necessity of sacramental confession as the means of restoration and it explicitly says that sacramental absolution is the only means of remitting eternal punishment and guilt. The Latin here is somewhat convoluted and the standard English translation (Deferrari) is so literal that it is difficult to follow. So, I'll retranslate the relevant section in a less literal but hopefully more comprehensible form:

A man's repentance after falling ... contains not only a cessation from sins by hating them (or a contrite and humble heart). It also requires a sacramental confession of those same sins, made at least in desire and at a proper time. This involves sacramental absolution as well as satisfaction by means of fasting, almsgiving, prayers and other pious exercises of the spiritual life. These pious acts do not pay for eternal punishment because that along with guilt can only be remitted by the sacrament or the desire for the sacrament. They pay for temporal punishment which is not always fully remitted (as is the case in baptism) for those who have grieved the Holy Spirit by their ingratitude for the grace of God they once received.

Here the Council Fathers go out of their way to stress that our standing before God in this life without guilt and eternal punishment comes from the declaration and conferring of forgiveness found in sacramental absolution. I am reminded of something I heard about Mother Teresa. She supposedly said when we come out of confession, we are without sin just for a little while. Belief in the objective nature of the sacraments requires us to say that the priest's declaration confers what it signifies. And what does it signify? That Christ our High Priest is granting us pardon on the basis of his own merits.

How does this bear on imputation? The Protestant doctrine, it seems to me, has at least two sides. Imputation is the declaration of forgiveness on God's part because of Christ's work but it is also a legal fiction that has nothing immediately to do with real (subjective) state of the penitent. Now I think the declaration side of imputation is acceptable to Trent but not the legal fiction side. The difference between the Tridentine and the Reformation views, in addition to many other aspects, is that in the latter view God only sees us as righteous while in the former, Christ confers righteousness upon (and in) us.

There is another reason why I think imputation is not totally excluded but is acceptable in a modified form. Canon 9 rejects sola fide but, as we know, Trent does not reject faith as essential to justification. It only rejects the reductionism implied in the sola. So also, canon 11 rejects sola imputatione justitiae Christi and sola peccatorum remissione. Surely Trent includes remission of sins in justification. Why would we not say then that it also includes imputation of Christ's righteousness? If faith (canon 9) and remission of sins (canon 11) are essential to justification, then should we not also say that imputation of Christ's righteousness is also necessary? Indeed, it seems to me that this is precisely what is being emphasized in requirement for sacramental absolution in chapter 14.

What is wrong with the Reformation view then? It is the sola part. Faith is essential but not sola fide. Remission of sins is essential but not sola remissione. Imputation via absolution is essential but not sola imputatione. I remember well how this hit me one day in my journey. So much of Protestantism represents a reductionism of the Catholic faith. The Protestants added their qualifiers (sola) and thereby threw out the fullness of faith.

There is no doubt that the Protestant theory of legal fiction is just that, a fiction. That must be rejected. But the declarative side of justification does not need to be thrown out completely.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

N.T. Wright: Rutherford House Lecture on St. Paul (With My Reactions)

Rutherford House, Edinburgh
10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference: 25–28 August 2003
N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham


This will be excerpts, highlighting the more "Catholic" and less "traditional" Reformed elements of Wright's thoughts (I won't bother always adding ellipses but I will at least separate material from different paragraphs). My comments will be in blue:


There are several different agendas coming together at this point. The issue is sometimes treated as a variation on old modernist controversies, at other times as a clash between a Christian absolutism and a religious relativism, and at other times as a variation on a perceived protestant/catholic divide (or even a high-church/low-church divide), with the so-called new perspective focusing on ecclesiology rather than soteriology and being condemned for so doing. And that’s just the beginning. From time to time correspondents draw my attention to various websites on which you can find scathing denunciations of me for abandoning traditional protestant orthodoxy and puzzled rejoinders from people who have studied my work and know that I’m not saying what many of my critics say I’m saying. Go to and look at the comments which anonymous correspondents have appended to some of my books.

Poor guy. I can relate on a very minor scale -- see the denunciations of me on the sidebar which make me resemble a cross between Attila the Hun and Vlad the Impaler. I look at some of this stuff, look around the room, and think, "is this ME they are talking about"? I admire Wright for seemingly accepting the nonsense written about him with such cheer. Good for him.

When I began research on Paul, thirty years ago this autumn, my aim was to understand Paul in general and Romans in particular better than I had done before, as part of my heartfelt and lifelong commitment to scripture, and to the sola scriptura principle, believing that the better the church understands and lives by scripture the better its worship, preaching and common life will be. I was conscious of thereby standing methodologically in the tradition of the reformers, for whom exegesis was the lifeblood of the church, and who believed that Scripture should stand over against all human traditions. I have not changed this aim and this method, nor do I intend to.

So Wright comes to his conclusions essentially from Scripture alone, not from a nefarious, heretical, jesuitical "Romish influence".

I believe that often both sides were operating with mistaken understandings of Paul. I believe that Luther, Calvin, and many of the others would tell us to read scripture afresh, with all the tools available to us – which is after all what they did – and to treat their own doctrinal conclusions as important but not as important as scripture itself. That is what I have tried to do, and I believe I am honouring them thereby.

Luther's and Calvin's arbitrarily dogmatic attitudes towards their own proclamations and dissent against them often contradicted their own stated principles, but as far as their theoretical statements on authority, sola Scriptura, etc., Wright is, I believe, correct.

I was puzzled by one exegetical issue in particular, which I here oversimplify for the sake of summary. If I read Paul in the then standard Lutheran way, Galatians made plenty of sense, but I had to fudge (as I could see dozens of writers fudging) the positive statements about the Law in Romans. If I read Paul in the Reformed way . . . Romans made a lot of sense, but I had to fudge . . . the negative statements about the Law in Galatians.

. . . it dawned on me, I think in 1976, that a different solution was possible. In Romans 10.3 Paul, writing about his fellow Jews, declares that they are ignorant of the righteousness of God, and are seeking to establish ‘their own righteousness’. The wider context, not least 9.30–33, deals with the respective positions of Jews and Gentiles within God’s purposes – and with a lot more besides, of course, but not least that. Supposing, I thought, Paul meant ‘seeking to establish their own righteousness’, not in the sense of a moral status based on the performance of Torah and the consequent accumulation of a treasury of merit, but an ethnic status based on the possession of Torah as the sign of automatic covenant membership? I saw at once that this would make excellent sense of Romans 9 and 10, and would enable the positive statements about the Law throughout Romans to be given full weight while making it clear that this kind of use of Torah, as an ethnic talisman, was an abuse. I sat up in bed that night reading through Galatians and saw that at point after point this way of looking at Paul would make much better sense of Galatians, too, than either the standard post-Luther readings or the attempted Reformed ones.

This fits in with my own longtime understanding, both as a Protestant and as a Catholic, that the New Covenant was a continuation and consistent development of the Old, that Grace was not unalterably opposed to Law, but rather, that Jesus came to "fulfill" the Law, not abolish it (Matthew 5:17-18). I hadn't worked it all through as Wright has, of course, but what he is saying is perfectly consistent with my more typically "Reformed" (and Catholic) -- rather than dispensational or revivalistic or "pietistic" -- understanding of the relationship between Law and Grace.

In other words, this makes a great deal of sense to me and strikes me as a very helpful exegetical insight that transcends the Catholic-Protestant debate (since I myself would have agreed with this while on either side of the fence). And I cited my friend Al Kresta at length in my first book, expressing a lot of this same kind of thought (because he had hundreds of commentaries in his library and kept up with the field of professional exegesis, as a pastor and Christian talk show host).

I came to this position, not because I learned it from Sanders or Dunn, but because of the struggle to think Paul’s thoughts after him as a matter of obedience to scripture.

Amen! May we all be afflicted with this disease!

It is blindingly obvious when you read Romans and Galatians – though you would never have known this from any of the theologians we discussed yesterday – that virtually whenever Paul talks about justification he does so in the context of a critique of Judaism and of the coming together of Jew and Gentile in Christ. As an exegete determined to listen to scripture rather than abstract my favourite bits from it I cannot ignore this. The only notice that most mainstream theology has taken of this context is to assume that the Jews were guilty of the kind of works-righteousness of which theologians from Augustine to Calvin and beyond have criticised their opponents . . . What I miss entirely in the Old Perspective, but find so powerfully in some modern Pauline scholarship, is Paul’s sense of an underlying narrative, the story of God and Israel, God and Abraham, God and the covenant people, and the way in which that story came to its climax, as he says, ‘when the time had fully come’ with the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

This is excellent analysis. In other words, Paul's concern is with narrative, story, salvation history, development of historic soteriology and of the Jewish understanding of eschatological salvation along with the new Christian expansions upon and development of same, with the fuller revelation of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete -- as opposed to mere abstract formulae (which is a far more "Greek" approach than a biblical, Hebraic one).

Like America looking for a new scapegoat after the collapse of the Cold War, and seizing on the Islamic world as the obvious target, many conservative writers, having discovered themselves in possession of the Pauline field after the liberals got tired of it, have looked around for new enemies. Here is something called the New Perspective; it seems to be denying some of the things we have normally taught; very well, let us demonize it, lump its proponents together, and nuke them from a great height. That has not made a pretty sight. Speaking as one of those who is regularly thus carpet-bombed, what I find frustrating is the refusal of the traditionalists to do three things: first, to differentiate the quite separate types of New Perspective; second, to engage in the actual exegetical debates upon which the whole thing turns, instead of simply repeating a Lutheran or similar line as though that settled matters; and third, to recognise that some of us at least are brothers in Christ who have come to the positions we hold not because of some liberal, modernist or relativist agenda but as a result of prayerful and humble study of the text which is and remains our sole authority.

It is ironic that many of the same folks who engage in anti-Catholic propaganda and slander, now turn their sights also onto the cutting-edge of current-day Protestant exegesis. They assume that any exciting new development must be a corruption of what came before. But this isn't surprising, given their overall fundamentalistic, sectarian, exclusivistic mindset. They are bound by their own categories, while those of us who remain orthodox within our own historic Christian traditions (and more in tune with the actual heritage, rather than post-Enlightenment, post-liberal caricatures and bastardized versions of it) can freely talk about this stuff without all the ludicrous charges flying around.

To give the devil his due, however, I can see how many elements in Wright's thought do overturn many centuries of cherished Protestant traditions (even in some key areas). So in a sense, one can understand a strong reaction against this. It appears at first glance (from one perspective) just like all the usual liberal attacks on received precedent and doctrine. But if one assumes, like Wright, that even Luther and Calvin could have been wrong on some things, then it shouldn't pose a problem within a Protestant perspective. Wright could be disagreed with, but shouldn't be demonized and hung in effigy.

Like Calvin, we must claim the right to stand critically within a tradition . . . if we are siblings in Christ there are, I think, appropriate ways of addressing one another and of speaking about one another, and I regret that these have not always characterized the debate.


I begin where Romans begins – with the gospel. My proposal is this. When Paul refers to ‘the gospel’, he is not referring to a system of salvation, though of course the gospel implies and contains this, nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all, but rather to the proclamation that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead and thereby demonstrated to be both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. ‘The gospel’ is not ‘you can be saved, and here’s how’; the gospel, for Paul, is ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’.

I have been stating this (or something close to it, at any rate) for 23 years now, both as a Protestant and as a Calvinist. I fought Protestants on this point as one of them, and continue to do so as a Catholic, having little success. So it is refreshing to hear a prominent Protestant exegete agree with me. Thus I wrote in my 1997 paper, "What is the Gospel?":

It's quite curious to me that so many Protestants want to define the gospel in the strict sense of "justification by faith alone," when the Bible itself is very explicit and clear that this is not the case at all . . . St. Paul defines the gospel in Acts 13:16-41 as the Resurrection of Jesus (vss. 32-33), and in 1 Cor 15:1-8 as His death, burial, and Resurrection . . . The gospel is -- as Paul teaches -- the death, burial and Resurrection of Jesus. This is the "good news," not some technical soteriological theory. Even common sense would dictate that this "good news" is comprised of Jesus' redemptive work for us - the great historical drama of His Incarnation and Atonement, not forensic,
"legal," imputed justification! And the Prophets foretold these events, not a fine-tuned theory of application of those events to the believer -- irregardless of whoever has the correct theory. How could a mere theological abstract reasonably be called "good news"?

. . . Catholics and Protestants both hold to the gospel as biblically defined above. We differ on questions of justification, which is the application of salvation and the gospel and Jesus' work to the individual, not the gospel itself. Nor is TULIP (Calvinism) the gospel, strictly speaking. The key is the absolute primacy of grace and the utter condemnation of Pelagianism in both systems.

. . . since the gospel is the heraldic proclamation of Jesus as Lord, it is not first and foremost a suggestion that one might like to enjoy a new religious experience. Nor is it even the take-it-or-leave-it offer of a way to salvation. It is a royal summons to submission, to obedience, to allegiance; and the form that this submission and obedient allegiance takes is of course faith. That is what Paul means by ‘the obedience of faith’.

How different from the usual "four spiritual laws" presentation of the "gospel" in so many biblical quarters today. Catholics have other problems. As individuals we scarcely proclaim the gospel at all. So in one camp it is skewed and wrongly-defined; in the other it is hardly heard except in church.

Despite some odd recent attempts to deny this, if you want to understand forensic justification you must go to the law-court and find how the metaphor works. In the Jewish lawcourt Paul would have known, there is no Director of Public Prosecutions; there is a judge, with a plaintiff and a defendant appearing before him. When the case has been heard, the judge finds in favour of one party and against the other. Once that has happened, the vindicated party possesses the status ‘righteous’ – not itself a moral statement, we note, but a statement of how things stand in terms of the now completed lawsuit. As someone said to me yesterday, it all depends what you mean by ‘righteous’. But this status of righteousness has nothing to do with the righteousness of the judge. For the judge to be righteous, it is necessary that he try the case fairly, refuse bribes or other favouritism, uphold the law, and take special note for the helpless, the widows, and so on. When either the plaintiff or the defendant is declared ‘righteous’ at the end of the case, there is no sense that in either case the judge’s own righteousness has been passed on to them, by imputation, impartation, or any other process. What they have is a status of ‘righteous’ which comes from the judge. Let me stress, in particular, that when the judge finds in favour of one party or the other, he quite literally makes the righteous; because ‘righteous’ at this point is not a word denoting moral character, but only and precisely the status that you have when the court has found in your favour. If this had been kept in mind in earlier centuries a great deal of heartache and puzzle might have been avoided.

Fascinating. I love stuff like this, that gets back to the culture behind the biblical metaphors.

Is there then no ‘reckoning of righteousness’ in, for instance, Romans 5.14–21? Yes, there is; but my case is that this is not God’s own righteousness, or Christ’s own righteousness, that is reckoned to God’s redeemed people, but rather the fresh status of ‘covenant member’, and/or ‘justified sinner’, which is accredited to those who are in Christ, who have heard the gospel and responded with ‘the obedience of faith’.

More than enough to rattle more than a few Protestant cages . . . :-)

. . . it seems that there has been a massive conspiracy of silence on something which was quite clear for Paul (as indeed for Jesus). Paul, in company with mainstream second-Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works. He says this clearly and unambiguously in Romans 14.10–12 and 2 Corinthians 5.10. He affirms it in that terrifying passage about church-builders in 1 Corinthians 3. But the main passage in question is of course Romans 2.1–16 . . . here is the first statement about justification in Romans, and lo and behold it affirms justification according to works! The doers of the law, he says, will be justified (2.13). Shock, horror; Paul cannot (so many have thought) have really meant it. So the passage has been treated as a hypothetical position which Paul then undermines by showing that nobody can actually achieve it; or, by Sanders for instance, as a piece of unassimilated Jewish preaching which Paul allows to stand even though it conflicts with other things he says. But all such theories are undermined by exegesis itself, not least by observing the many small but significant threads that stitch Romans 2 into the fabric of the letter as a whole . . . The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation . . .

I am fascinated by the way in which some of those most conscious of their reformation heritage shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works . . . he is still clear that the things he does in the present, by moral and physical effort, will count to his credit on the last day, precisely because they are the effective signs that the Spirit of the living Christ has been at work in him. We are embarrassed about saying this kind of thing; Paul clearly is not. What on earth can have happened to a sola scriptura theology that it should find itself forced to screen out such emphatic, indeed celebratory, statements?

Praise God for this!! I have made this point (when I didn't know N.T. Wright from one of the brothers who invented the airplane) in my chapter on justification in my first book, pointing out how Paul has many statements about works in this sense (without denying the primacy of grace). I also stressed in a failed dialogue with an anti-Catholic Calvinist, that all the scenes of judgment that I could find in Scripture always talked about works alone, and never about faith. I didn't know I was perfectly in line with some of the best Protestant biblical scholarship today. Now I do. And this shows, too, of course, that the Catholic conception of the relationship of faith and works is eminently biblical -- as I have contended for over thirteen years now, to the guffaws and smirks of our beloved anti-Catholic brand of Protestants.

Paul uses ‘justify’ to denote something other than, and logically subsequent to, what we have often thought of as the moment of conversion, when someone who hasn’t before believed the gospel is gripped by the word and the Spirit and comes to believe it, to submit to Jesus as the risen Lord. Here is the central point in the controversy between what I say about Paul and what the tradition, not least the protestant tradition, has said. The tradition has used ‘justify’ and its cognates to denote conversion, or at least the initial moment of the Christian life, and has then debated broader and narrower definitions of what counts. My reading of Paul indicates that he does not use the word like that; and my method, shared with the reformers, insists that I prefer scripture itself to even the finest traditions of interpretation . . . For Paul, ‘justification’ is something that follows on from the ‘call’ through which a sinner is summoned to turn from idols and serve the living God, to turn from sin and follow Christ, to turn from death and believe in the God who raised Jesus from the dead . . . the final verb in Paul’s sequence is not ‘sanctified’. He would say that this has already happened to all baptised believers (see 1 Corinthians 6.10f.). It is ‘glorified’.

. . . this declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit – that is, it occurs on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense. And, near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the ‘call’ of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. This is the point about justification by faith – to revert to the familiar terminology: it is the anticipation in the present of the verdict which will be reaffirmed in the future. Justification is not ‘how someone becomes a Christian’. It is God’s declaration about the person who has just become a Christian. And, just as the final declaration will consist, not of words so much as of an event, namely, the resurrection of the person concerned into a glorious body like that of the risen Jesus, so the present declaration consists, not so much of words, though words there may be, but of an event, the event in which one dies with the Messiah and rises to new life with him, anticipating that final resurrection. In other words, baptism. I was delighted yesterday to discover that not only Chrysostom and Augustine but also Luther would here have agreed with me. Traditional protestants may not like this much, but it is I submit what Paul is saying.

This thought has much in common with the fashion in which I have analyzed justification in many papers and book chapters: as more of a process; not a one-time event. And he describes justification as the result of baptism. I wove many of these same strands of Scripture together in my lengthy dialogue on baptism, showing that Paul's interplay between sanctification and justification, and their relation to baptism was far different from the usual Protestant paradigms. One of my arguments was as follows:

Titus 3:5 (NIV):

he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

Compare this to John 3:5:

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (cf. 3:3: "unless a man is born again ...")

The two passages are almost exactly parallel:

Titus: "saved" / John: "enter the kingdom of God"
Titus: "washing of rebirth" / John: "born of water"
Titus: "renewal by the Holy Spirit" / John: "born . . . of the Spirit"

This is how one interprets Scripture: by comparing it with itself when there are obvious parallels, to help determine what the less clear passages might mean. I think this one is undeniable. What is "washing" in one verse (with two other common elements) is shown to be "water" in the other. Thus, baptism is tied to salvation, in accord with the other verses above. The evidence is strong. 1 Corinthians 6:11, is also similar to Titus 3:5:

And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

So the "justified" is the parallel of "kingdom of God" and "saved" in Titus 3:5 and John 3:5; "washed" goes along with "washing of rebirth" and "born of water," and all this was done by the "Spirit." Once again, it is a striking threefold parallelism (now for three passages). Baptism is again being discussed. Furthermore, it is notable in that baptism, justification, and sanctification are all mentioned together. The past tense justification fits in with the Catholic notion of initial justification (cf. the discussion of Abraham's three justifications, above). But in Protestantism, justification (for any true, "saved," elect Christian) is past, and sanctification is in the future, or (more accurately) ongoing. Paul -- not seeming to understand the rules for Protestant theology, places sanctification with justification, not apart from it, and also in the past tense.

According to Romans 6, when God looks at the baptised Christian he sees him or her in Christ. But Paul does not say that he sees us clothed with the earned merits of Christ. That would of course be the wrong meaning of ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’. He sees us within the vindication of Christ, that is, as having died with Christ and risen again with him. I suspect that it was the mediaeval over-concentration on righteousness, on iustitia, that caused the protestant reformers to push for imputed righteousness to do the job they rightly saw was needed. But in my view they have thereby distorted what Paul himself was saying.

It should be noted that the late medieval period was not noted for its sterling teaching on soteriology. There were several versions of Pelagianism floating around among the prevailing nominalists at the time, which ran contrary to the legitimate Catholic orthodox tradition of sola gratia, from the 2nd Council of Orange and St. Thomas Aquinas. Whatever was the cause of these misunderstandings, the early Protestants got it wrong, as Wright contends, because they misinterpreted Paul.

. . . if we are thinking Paul’s thoughts after him, we are not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith. We are justified by faith by believing in the gospel itself – in other words, that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead . . . One of the sad ironies of the last four hundred years is that, at least since 1541, we have allowed disputes about how people become Christians – that which we thought was denoted by the language of justification – to divide us, when the doctrine of justification itself, urging us to unite across our cultural divides, went unheard . . . justification by faith tells me that if my Roman neighbour believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead then he or she is a brother or sister, however much I believe them muddled, even dangerously so, on other matters.

Excellent; music to my Bible-loving, ecumenical ears.

I discover an irony in the anti-New Perspective reaction in specifically Reformed circles. The New Perspective launched by Sanders and taken up eagerly in many American contexts was always a reaction, not to Reformed readings of Paul, but to Lutheran ones and the broader protestantism and evangelicalism that went along for the Lutheran ride, particularly in its negative assessment of Judaism and its Law. Had the Reformed reading of Paul, with its positive role for Israel and the Law, been in the ascendancy rather than the Lutheran one, the New Perspective might not have been necessary, or not in that form.

In this case, the Protestant tendency towards false dichotomies has prevailed. Good for Wright, that he refuses to fall prey to that.

I end with a plea. I have lived most of my life in and around evangelical circles in which I have come to recognise a strange phenomenon. It is commonly assumed that Luther and Calvin got Paul right. But often when people think of Luther and Calvin they see them, and hence Paul, through three subsequent lenses provided by western culture. The Enlightenment highlighted the abstract truths of reason over against the messy facts of history; many Protestants have put Lessing and Luther together and still thought they were reading Paul. The Romantic movement highlighted inner feeling over against outer, physical reality; many have thence supposed that this was what Paul, and Luther and Calvin, were really saying (hence the knee-jerk protestant anti-sacramentalism). More recently, existentialism has insisted that what matters is being true to my inner self, rather than being conditioned by history, mine or anyone else’s; many people, not only Rudolf Bultmann, have read Paul and Luther in that light. At a popular level, this mess and muddle shows up in a general sense that anything inward, anything to do with strong religious emotion, anything which downplays outward observance, must be striking a blow for the Pauline gospel of justification by faith. This is as worrying as it is absurd. All these movements are forms of dualism, where Paul believed in the goodness and God-givenness of creation, and in its eventual promised renewal. Together they reinforce that gnosticism which is a poison at the heart of much contemporary culture, including soi-disant Christian culture. It is time to turn away from all this; to rub our eyes, and look clearly at the path by which we and our culture have come.