This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

by
Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday



Monday, August 14, 2006

An Exercise for My Readers

I found the following statement in the comments portion of Whiling Away the Hours here.

Faith is inseparable, but distinct, from its fruits. Works are never, never part of faith. We must avoid language that in any way melds them together.


I have an exercise for you, my readers. For the sake of the exercise, works are faith's fruition. Something is wrong with this statement at a level before we get to the theology of the statement. What is the error?



Here is my commentary on what is wrong with the above statements. In response to Adam, I posted this in the comments attached to this blog entry.

Faith is inseparable, but distinct, from its fruits. Works are never, never part of faith. We must avoid language that in any way melds them together.

The author of the above words is offering a lesson in theology and the grammar of theology.

Let's highlight the key words in the three statements. Faith is inseparable, but distinct, from its fruits. Works are never, never part of faith. We must avoid language that in any way melds them together.

The author is wanting to teach us proper theological grammar. Yet, the author has committed a fallacy that has three aspects to it: (1) grammatical, (2) logical, and (3) theological.

The three-fold fallacy occurs in the first two statements. The two statements contradict one another.

Given the context of the statement, works (as "good works") are regarded as faith's fruit. The two following statements, then, are mutually contrary.

Faith is inseparable . . . from its fruit.

Works are never . . . part of faith.

If faith and faith's fruit are inseparable, as the first statement asserts, then how is it conceivable that works (a fruit of faith) are never part of faith?

In other words, there is a logical problem that gives birth to a grammatical problem that poses a theological contradiction. Faith and works, according to the first statement, may be distinct from one another but not separable from one another. This statement, then, qualifies the uses of separate and distinct so that the two terms are not to be taken as synonyms as they sometimes are used. Given, then, that the author is using distinct in a manner that does not and cannot mean separate from, anything that the author says thereafter about faith and its fruits must agree with the nuanced use of words in the first statement. Yet, the second statement contradicts and thus nullifies what the first statement concedes. The second statement asserts that works and faith are not simply distinct but actually separate.

To correct the juxtaposition of the two statements, one would have to offer one of the two following statements.

Option 1. Assume that the author actually intends that the first statement expresses a theological truth (Faith is inseparable but distinguishable from its fruits.), then, the second statement needs to be corrected to read something like this, Works, an aspect of faith's fruits, is integrally and organically an aspect of faith, yet distinguishable from faith.

Option 2. Assume that the author actually intends that the second statement expresses a theological truth (Works are never, never part of faith.), then, the first statement needs to be corrected to read something like this, Faith is not only distinct from but also separable from its fruit. This, however, seems to say something that the writer does not want to say.

The fallacy, then, is grammatical-logical-theological in nature.

I regularly find theologians, novice and seasoned alike, who fail to understand that when they say that something is distinct from something else they too frequently push the statement to say too much. Consequently, as in the example I have cited, the person who makes the statements asserts too much, namely, that the two things that are distinct are separated or disconnected. By saying this, people often contradict themselves. Even worse, the author of the statements I cite presumes to be our grammar instructor.

Belief and repentance are distinct from one another, but they are hardly separate from one another. Are not belief and repentance an organic whole? Likewise, are not faith and good works biblically conceived as an organic whole? Is it possible to have one without the other?

In my estimation, one of the basic reasons we have so much difficulty formulating our theological statements on any number of issues, but in particular on justification, is that we are not careful enough at the level of grammar and word meaning assignment. If in one sentence we say that faith is distinct from but inseparable from its fruits, then we bind ourselves so that we cannot equivocate by saying that an aspect of faith's fruits, namely works, are never, never part of faith. Once our statement uses the phrase distinct from distinguished from separate from, we retreat into logical and grammatical error if we assert that distinct from means apart from.

2 comments:

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Erm, it uses a double negative?

A. B. Caneday said...

Faith is inseparable, but distinct, from its fruits. Works are never, never part of faith. We must avoid language that in any way melds them together.

The author of the above words is offering a lesson in theology and the grammar of theology.

Let's highlight the key words in the three statements. Faith is inseparable, but distinct, from its fruits. Works are never, never part of faith. We must avoid language that in any way melds them together.

The author is wanting to teach us proper theological grammar. Yet, the author has committed a fallacy that has three aspects to it: (1) grammatical, (2) logical, and (3) theological.

The three-fold fallacy occurs in the first two statements. The two statements contradict one another.

Given the context of the statement, works (as "good works") are regarded as faith's fruit. The two following statements, then, are mutually contrary.

Faith is inseparable . . . from its fruit.

Works are never . . . part of faith.

If faith and faith's fruit are inseparable, as the first statement asserts, then how is it conceivable that works (a fruit of faith) are never part of faith?

In other words, there is a logical problem that gives birth to a grammatical problem that poses a theological contradiction. Faith and works, according to the first statement, may be distinct from one another but not separable from one another. This statement, then, qualifies the uses of separate and distinct so that the two terms are not to be taken as synonyms as they sometimes are used. Given, then, that the author is using distinct in a manner that does not and cannot mean separate from, anything that the author says thereafter about faith and its fruits must agree with the nuanced use of words in the first statement. Yet, the second statement contradicts and thus nullifies what the first statement concedes. The second statement asserts that works and faith are not simply distinct but actually separate.

To correct the juxtaposition of the two statements, one would have to offer one of the two following statements.

Option 1. Assume that the author actually intends that the first statement expresses a theological truth (Faith is inseparable but distinguishable from its fruits.), then, the second statement needs to be corrected to read something like this, Works, an aspect of faith's fruits, is integrally and organically an aspect of faith, yet distinguishable from faith.

Option 2. Assume that the author actually intends that the second statement expresses a theological truth (Works are never, never part of faith.), then, the first statement needs to be corrected to read something like this, Faith is not only distinct from but also separable from its fruit. This, however, seems to say something that the writer does not want to say.

The fallacy, then, is grammatical-logical-theological in nature.

I regularly find theologians, novice and seasoned alike, who fail to understand that when they say that something is distinct from something else they too frequently push the statement to say too much. Consequently, as in the example I have cited, the person who makes the statements asserts too much, namely, that the two things that are distinct are separated or disconnected. By saying this, people often contradict themselves. Even worse, the author of the statements I cite presumes to be our grammar instructor.

Belief and repentance are distinct from one another, but they are hardly separate from one another. Are not belief and repentance an organic whole? Likewise, are not faith and good works biblically conceived as an organic whole? Is it possible to have one without the other?

In my estimation, one of the basic reasons we have so much difficulty formulating our theological statements on any number of issues, but in particular on justification, is that we are not careful enough at the level of grammar and word meaning assignment. If in one sentence we say that faith is distinct from but inseparable from its fruits, then we bind ourselves so that we cannot equivocate by saying that an aspect of faith's fruits, namely works, are never, never part of faith. Once our statement uses the phrase distinct from distinguished from separate from, we retreat into logical and grammatical error if we assert that distinct from means apart from.