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

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Nick's Question about Justification Now and Not Yet--Part 6

Technically, this is not a direct response to Nick's question. It is, however, in connection with his question.

You may find the following comment exchange here.

My comments in this blog entry addressed comments from the comments segment of Whiling Away the Hours here. I offer the following exchange because the distinctions made in this discussion are crucial to the discussion I am engaging in my responses to Nick's question.

Stephen posted the following response concerning my comments in "An Exercise for My Readers."

Barb - I guess I'm flattered that a college professor would take the time to parse my words. However, what is our education system coming to when college professors assign comments made by bloggers to their students? :-)

One of the most important tasks in understanding meaning is to look at context. It doesn't appear that your friend, Mr. Caneday, has actually read the entire discussion. If he had, he would have understood what I meant. To clarify, I meant that works are never, never -- to use the well chosen words from the OPC Report On Justification -- "a part of what faith itself is." If your friend looks up the word "meld" in the dictionary, my point will become more clear to him, though I gather from the content of his web site that he still won't agree with it.

By Stephen, at 8/15/2006 11:28 PM

Following is my response to Stephen.


I understand what meld means. I offered no quibble with your use of meld. That was not and is not the point that I addressed.

Instead, I addressed your first two sentences, where your error is. I said, The three-fold fallacy occurs in the first two statements. The two statements contradict one another.

Here is your statement: 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.

If faith and faith's fruits are inseparable but distinguishable, then the two cannot at the same time be separable, which is what you are saying when you state, Works are never, never part of faith.

If Works are never part of faith but at the same time works are the fruit of faith, then you have contradicted your earlier statement. Have you not? You cannot have it both ways at the same time. Can you?

What is my point? It is simply this. You overstate your case when you say, Works are never, never part of faith.

It seems to me that we need to be very careful how we express the relationship between faith and works, lest we contradict Scripture. This is my point.

Indeed, faith is not faith's fruits. James distinguishes faith from works, but he does not allow us to say that they are separable. Is this not James's burden in 2:14-26? It seems to me that any reasonable understanding of your statement, "works never, never are part of faith" poses a rather large problem in view of James's argument. James's expressions surely indicate that faith and works are organically inseparable in such a manner that to use any language that separates the two does injury to both. To say that the two are organically inseparable is not to say that works is simply another designation for faith, or vice versa. They are distinguishable, and in this sense, then, the two are not merged into one indistinguishable unit. Keep in mind James's imagery of the body and the spirit and his use of words such as, "the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead."

Grammar matters, especially in doing theology.

By A. B. Caneday, at 8/19/2006 12:36 PM

1 comment:

Nick Nowalk said...

This is an important distinction, and not just being picky with words. Whole theologies (and lives) can stand or fall by getting this right or wrong. Obedience and faith clearly are radically distinct from one perspective (we are justified by faith in Christ, not justified by the obedience of faith), yet from another perspective faith IS obedience, and faith and works are like eggs and omelettes.

I find myself increasingly wary of both NPP and traditional reformed scholars who go far to one extreme or another. Those who see no difference at all between the forensic and transformative in Paul (and I agree they overlap a lot at times, but always distinguishable), I think, miss the centrality of the death and resurrection of Christ and instead substitute our new covenant obedience as, in and of itself, fulfilling God's covenant stipulations so that God declares us righteous because we actually ARE righteous (I have heard Don Garlington say this several times, and I think he tends very much to this extreme). And I believe Scripture teaches very clearly Christians, through the Spirit, fulfill what the law demands of them--but let's not put this in the place where only Jesus' atonement and vindication belong, or we are in trouble.

Yet, on the other hand, I think it is very telling that much that flows out of reformed theology only stresses the forensic, and seems genuinely puzzled at how James and Paul fit together (if only they saw Romans would solve so much!). If justification by faith and judgment according to works feels like tension to us, we are probably on the wrong track. Anyway, that's my two-cents worth for now.

BTW Dr. Caneday, I think you make a crucial point in your previous post (#5) when you point out that the good works of a believer (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 2, Romans 8, Galatians 5, etc.) need to be carefully distinguished from the works of the law and dead, pre-Christian works. Many of the errors and misunderstandings in the current debates on justification flow out of using the term "works" generically, as if it were basically only positive (NPP) or only negative (Lutheran), and miss the nuances the NT writers give to these realities. I think it is interesting that in Romans, for instance, the word "works" is almost always negative, while the word "obedience" is almost always positive. I love Titus 3:4-8, in which you see this distinction so clearly:

"But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works."