Is Faith Itself Imputed as Our Righteousness?

Arminians and Roman Catholics will typically argue that Romans 4:5,9 are talking about faith itself as the thing that is imputed, thus avoiding imputation of an alien righteousness. They will translate it something like “faith is reckoned as righteousness.” Sometimes they will use the word “for” instead of “as” while understanding it of identity. There are three insuperable objections to this understanding of the passage. Here are the two verses (translation mine):

4:5 “To the one who does not work but rather believes in the One justifying the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.” 4:9 “Does this blessing, therefore, come to the circumcised only or also to the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.”

The first insuperable objection to understanding faith itself as the thing reckoned is the context, especially verses 3-5. It goes like this: if faith is righteousness (in the eyes of the law), then it is a work. Then works justify us, the very thing Paul explicitly denies in verses 3-5, where he contrasts faith and works, and makes a point of saying that it is NOT reckoned as a reward, but rather as of grace. If in the situation of justification, there is anything in us that is righteous as a basis for justification, then it is a reward, and not of grace. There is no way around this problem. Limiting the scope of the works so that they are boundary markers or ceremonial aspects of the law simply doesn’t fly at all. The contrast is between the one working and the one believing. That is a general contrast.

The second insuperable objection is the nature of faith itself, which has to be determined from the rest of Scripture. The Scriptures usually speak of faith as being in someone. Faith is really not a thing inside us. It is rather our connection to God, to Jesus Christ, to the Holy Spirit, to the Triune God. Faith derives its meaning and substance from the object of faith, not from faith itself. Otherwise, we are saved by faith in faith. Faith is rather our connection to God. The analogy I like to use goes like this: if a person is canning something, then he is faced with a situation of having to get jars out of boiling water. Obviously, he cannot use his hands to do so. Therefore, he must use something to grasp hold of the jars. There are tongs manufactured for just such a purpose. They wrap around the lip of the jar so that a person can lift the jar out without any mishap. Faith is like those tongs. Faith is not the jar with the good stuff in it. Faith lays hold of Christ and all His goodness. It connects us to Him. It is another way of saying our union with Christ which the Holy Spirit creates.

The third insuperable objection (and something that is absolutely fatal to Roman Catholic understandings of justification) is the phrase “justifier of the ungodly” in verse 5. Roman Catholic theology NEVER believes that God ever justifies an ungodly person. Nevertheless, in all the ways that count at the time of justification, Abraham was ungodly in his actions (remembering that faith is contrasted with works in verses 3-5). If faith itself is the righteousness, then God would be justifying the godly, not the ungodly. But Paul says here that God is justifying the ungodly. In a future post I will argue the case that this understanding is not a legal fiction.

Is Imputation Taught in Romans 4?

Nick, over at Creed Code Cult, has thrown down the gauntlet (thrown many times before, of course) that Romans does not teach the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer. I don’t think I will get to all the things he addresses, but I do want to address Romans 4 in particular, since that is the clearest place where Paul does teach the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer.

But let’s summarize Nick’s argument first. He notes that David, in Psalm 32, does not speak about righteousness being imputed. Paul, in quoting Psalm 32, mentions it as a “counting for righteousness.” Therefore, according to Nick, forgiveness of sins is the equivalent of being regarded as righteous. In fact, Nick goes farther than that to claim that this is the “only coherent explanation.” He then adds a reductio ad absurdam argument: “Realizing this, it’s impossible to interpret ‘reckoning righteousness’ with the ‘Imputed Righteousness of Christ’ (as Protectants typically identify it), because then you’d have to say forgiveness of sins refers to Christ’s keeping of the law in our place, which makes little sense.” This is a very brief summary of Nick’s argument, but it will do to be getting on with.

There is another equally coherent explanation of the way that Paul quotes David that does much better justice to the context of the early part of Romans 4 (which Nick ignores), and it is this: Paul regards the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the forgiveness of sin (with the accompanying imputation of our sin to Christ) as so tightly coherent that they always come together. In other words, to say that one happens is to say that the other also happens, because they are the flip side of each other. Let’s see how Paul does that.

Paul asks the question of whether Abraham was justified by works. Leaving aside for a moment the much-vexed question of the scope of these works, we merely note at the moment that positive works that obey the law are certainly in view here, obviously not works for which Abraham would need forgiveness. This is proven by the introduction of the boasting motif in verse 2. One presumably does not boast of sin. As opposed to this method of being justified, Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith instead. The key phrase here is “eis dikaiosunen” (“for righteousness”). Faith itself is not a fulfillment of the law. The very nature of faith is that it lays hold on Someone Else. So faith itself cannot be the righteousness here mentioned. The “eis” is a telic preposition. Faith, in laying hold of Jesus Christ, lays hold of His righteousness. Let me be plain: the righteousness here spoken of cannot be Abraham’s righteousness. Otherwise, he would be tempted to boast (as per verse 2). Verse 2 also proves that the concept of “righteousness” as used here in the passage CANNOT refer merely to the forgiveness of sins, which is not something about which a person would even be tempted to boast. It is further proven by the case of Adam in the garden. Forgiveness of sins wipes the slate clean. Adam started with a clean slate. So why didn’t he pass immediately into glory? Because he had to prove himself vis-a-vis the command that the Lord had given him. He had to be actively righteous to God’s command to multiply, fill the earth, guard the garden from Satanic intruders and not eat of the tree. Neutrality does not equal the blessedness of David by itself. What Paul is saying is that David’s explicit mention of forgiveness as constituting blessedness is half the picture, and imputation is the always-accompanying other half of the picture. Paul is saying that we need a righteousness. We cannot get it by working, because then it wouldn’t be grace (as verse 4 says so clearly). Faith is the only way to get this righteousness.

As Calvin would say, we need two things in justification: forgiveness of sins and imputation of Christ’s righteousness. An analogy I’m fond of using is the gears of a car. Having one’s sins forgiven is like being taken out of reverse gear and put into neutral. Imputation is like being put into a forward gear. You need both of them to be headed in the right direction.

Lastly, I need to answer Nick’s reductio argument. Christ’s keeping of the law results in two very important facts for the believer. Firstly, it constitutes Christ the perfect Lamb, who can take away our sins (so, you see, Christ’s righteousness is VERY closely tied to the forgiveness of sins: if Christ was not the perfect Lamb, then He could not take away our sins, and He couldn’t die in our place). Secondly, He earned our way to heaven. Nick’s reductio fails because he leaves out the step of Christ’s righteousness constituting Him the perfect Lamb, and thereby achieving our forgiveness.

I will answer also his claim about the phrase “justified by His blood” being absurd to talk about the imputation of righteousness. As I have already noted (and what is a commonplace in Reformed treatments of justification), justification is not just about imputation, but also about forgiveness. Sometimes one aspect is more in view, sometimes the other. In 5:9, plainly forgiveness is more in view, since he is talking about being saved from wrath. Wrath is upon us due to sin, so when that sin is taken away from us, so is God’s wrath. That will do, to get the conversation started.

A Response to Leithart’s “Staying Put”

Over at First Things, Peter Leithart has written a short essay on why he doesn’t want to leave the PCA. This question arose as a result of his participation in the Biola conference which David G commented on here, and I commented on as well.

His reasons for staying put are primarily pragmatic. He would have to navigate an unfamiliar landscape, and figure out who his friends and enemies are. As if in anticipation of possible objections, he writes that “Even pragmatic reasons aren’t entirely pragmatic.” What he mans by that is explained in the next sentence (referring to James Buchanan): “[T]he status quo isn’t decisive, but it does have ethical weight.”

He states that his primary reason is theological. I wonder about that. Put simply, his primary reason seems to be that since we don’t know what the church of the future will look like, he will stay put for now, because God is constantly overturning our expectations.I wonder why that is a reason for not joining the RCC. The unknown future cannot determine our actions in the present. There are only some things we know for sure: Christ’s second coming, judgment, glorification, things that the Bible has revealed. But the Bible also has things to say to us about determining our present course of action based on the unknowns of the future (“There’s a lion in the street!”). One wonders why he says later in the essay that we cannot know what the church of the future will look like, but earlier he seems rather confident that “Though both are crucial to the future of Christianity, neither Roman Catholicism nor Orthodoxy is the Church of the future.” How does he know that? (I am here basing my question on his presuppositions, not my own).

He has additional theological reasons (Purgatory, Marian doctrines, Papacy, icons, and “ambiguities” regarding justification and tradition) for staying put. But if these do not constitute reasons for believing that the RCC is a false church, then they also cannot trump church unity, can they? I still come back to the idea that if the RCC is a true church, then we ought to be a part of it. My own position is that the RCC is a false church because of these reasons (though I would not phrase the RCC position on justification as “ambiguous.” There is hardly any ambiguity in Trent’s doctrine of justification). They do not have the gospel. They twist the sacraments into something unrecognizable, and their version of church discipline is surely wide of the mark in the papacy. The marks of the church are therefore either so twisted as to be negligible, or else non-existent. The ultimate reason (for me) for not viewing the RCC as a true church is its own self-understanding as an extension of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is idolatry of the church. It is man worship, church worship. It takes what belongs only to Jesus and gives it to the church, despite its own claims that it does not do that.

He then goes back to the more pragmatic reasons related to what he would have to say about his Eucharistic experiences (this is the by-now familiar charge of his that becoming Roman Catholic would be for him a step backwards in catholicity).

In response to this essay, I would answer that pragmatic reasons, even if he thinks they are not purely pragmatic, are not a reason to trump church unity. Would he use the same reasons about the Eucharist in counseling a person who was contemplating leaving the RCC? Would he counsel them to leave or stay if they said that they would be leaving behind their social group, and that they would have to learn an unfamiliar terrain? The theological reasons he adduces are not enough for him to declare the RCC to be a false church.

A Qualification

As my good friend David has written a critique of Carl Trueman’s comments, and Carl taught me at WTS, I thought that I should go ahead and listen to the whole thing and see if I agreed with David. As these are two very dear brothers in Christ, it behoves me to be extremely careful in what I say. You can listen to the whole thing here. Also, there are a lot of comments on this post that are extremely thoughtful and well worth pondering.

I would say that I agree, by and large, with David’s assessment of the weaknesses of Trueman’s presentation, but that I would want to offer a qualification of it. This qualification is based on what Trueman used to tell me in conversation, and I believe he said it in class as well. He said that we need to have a principled reason for not belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, and that it has to be doctrinal. If we do not have that, then we are living in sinful schism. Schism is a terrible sin. This is why Leithart’s position is, to my mind, completely incoherent. If the differences between Protestantism and Rome are not salvific in nature, then Leithart is living in sin by not being a part of the Roman Catholic Church. Leithart is, in effect, saying that Trent did not anathematize the gospel, a point that Jack Bradley brought up quite ably.

When I use those statements by Trueman that he made before, I come to about the 1 hour 17-25 minute mark, and notice Trueman strongly challenging Leithart on the issues of doctrinal difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. Trueman plainly believes that it is doctrine that separates us from Rome, and that these doctrines that separate us are of a first order nature. They are salvific. They are gospel issues. So, ultimately I believe that Trueman is being inconsistent. He believes that gospel issues separate us from Rome, but he seems willing to admit (or at least refrain from denying) that Rome is a true church. I agree with David that acknowledging RCC baptism is not a sufficient condition for considering Rome a true church (I think that the Southern Presbyterians, particularly Thornwell, got this one right, and that Hodge was inconsistent). For one thing, the Reformers who had been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, were baptized before Trent happened. No Reformer would have said that Rome had completely apostatized before Trent happened. Now, I firmly believe that Rome is no true church. So Trueman is in the awkward position of denying that Rome has the gospel, and yet of admitting (or not denying) that Rome is part of the true church. I do not think that this position can ultimately stand the test of coherency.

Recent Book on Trent

There are very few full-length books on the council of Trent. There is an historical reason for that, in that the pope forbade any commentaries from being written about the council, since he wanted to control the reception and implementation of the council. With the opening up of the Vatican archives in the twentieth century, Trent is finally fair game for historians. In this regard, John O’Malley has done it again, and the scope of his achievement is rather mind-blowing to me, especially when one considers how much research he also has done on Vatican II. In both cases, he not only read the complete series of books that document the councils, but also most of the secondary literature as well. This may not seem huge until one realizes that in both cases (Trent and Vatican II), the documentary series of books runs to over 30 volumes. O’Malley certainly seems to have read everything of importance, and the result is a highly compact, incredibly fact-dense, but also very readable history of Trent. I thought I was going to run out of the world’s supply of lead, I underlined so much. Now, his being Roman Catholic means, of course, that I am not going to agree with him in many places. However, that does not take away from the fact that this is an incredible book. It will give you an excellent handle on what happened at Trent. Given the situation of the RCC at the moment, which is in large part determined by Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II, it is exceedingly important that we know not only what happened at Trent, but also what did not happen.

He does an especially good job making distinct the actual acts of the council from the reception and perception of the council. His delineation of the political situation was a real eye-opener. The reason why the council took so long and was interrupted, was due to the highly volatile political situation involving the two most powerful political entities (France and the Holy Roman Empire) in their various relations and machinations with the popes of the day.

The only thing I wish he had done was to analyze the Joint Declaration that the Lutherans did with the Roman Catholics. O’Malley seems to think that the entire discussion of whether the anathemas of Trent still apply is to be referred to those ecumenical discussions. I’m not so sure about that, to put it mildly, and I would have liked to see his own evaluation of that in the light of his own mastery of the history of Trent. Still, this is only a minor blemish on a work of fantastic historical value. If you want to know what happened at Trent, you really need to read this book.

Traditions 1, 2, and 0

I’ve been reading in Timothy Ward’s excellent little book Words of Life, and he has a very helpful and clear description of the three main view of Scripture and tradition that were circulating at the time of the Reformation. In this description he builds on Heiko Oberman’s very important work in his Harvest of Medieval Theology. What Oberman calls Tradition I (T1) is the view “that tradition is a tool to aid in the faithful interpretation of Scripture, expounding the primary teachings of Scripture, with Scripture remaining the only source of infallible divine revelation” (Ward, 144). Tradition II (T2) is the view “that there are two distinct sources of divine revelation, Scripture and church tradition, with the latter being handed down either orally or through customary church practices.”

Ward argues that T1 was the position of the early church, and that T2 developed only in the twelfth century, appealing (in his view wrongly) to Augustine and Basil in so doing. The Reformers were therefore advocating a return to T1 in their rejection of T2.

The Anabaptists rejected both T1 and T2 in what Ward calls T0 (this comes from Keith Mathison and Alister McGrath). This view elevates individual interpretation above the corporate, which T1 and the Reformers did NOT do, contrary to Roman Catholic accusations. It is a failure to distinguish these various views of tradition that has prompted so much misinterpretation of the Reformed tradition, and this misinterpretation comes from various quarters.

From the perspective of Roman Catholicism, any view that is not T2 (though there have been some rather widely differing interpretations of T2 in modern Catholicism) elevates personal interpretation above corporate. When Reformed folk respond with T1 views, the typical Roman Catholic response harps on the situation where an individual disagrees with the church. What happens then? The ultimate authority for the Christian is the Bible. Furthermore, Reformed folk believe that the Bible actually means something objectively considered. It is not all just a matter of interpretation. Otherwise, God should never have given us the Bible in the first place. The Christian needs to be patient in asking his church what the church’s real position is, and needs to show that interpretation great deference. However, since the church can err, the church cannot bind anyone’s conscience. If the church contradicts the Bible, then the church loses. This is not making the individual higher than the church. It is making the Bible higher than the church. Remember that the Reformed position holds that the Bible objectively means something apart from our interpretation of it. This is, I believe, one of the great sticking points when Roman Catholics and Protestants speak about authority. What is the nature of the Bible? Does it have any objective clarity on any issue? Does it have any inherent authority? The Roman Catholic typically believes that the Bible doesn’t exist except as interpreted by the church. We demur and say that even if there was no soul on earth existing at all, the Bible would still be there, and would still be clear on the matters of salvation, would still have the authority of God behind it (since He wrote it), and would still mean something.

Another attack from another quarter comes from the “no creed but Christ” crowd. They, like their Anabaptist forefathers, reject all tradition, as if the Holy Spirit never instructed anyone else in all church history before they came along, and as if they have nothing to learn from church history. This is the T0 crowd. Among them, the Hebrew Roots Movement has shown itself definitively to be in this category. They despise the church, and they despise all forms of extra-biblical tradition, whether those traditions are elevated to the level of Scripture (T2) or not (T1). And they cannot distinguish between T1 and T2. To them, everything that is extra-biblical is automatically T2 if appealed to in a debate. Usually the only time they quote the early church fathers, for instance, is to find fault with them. The entire church was completely heretical until they came along. There never has been the seven thousand who did not bow their knee to Baal until they came along. To put it mildly, this is sectarianism in its worst form. For them, the gates of Hell prevailed against the church until they came along.

The Reformers were very different in their approach to church history. They believed that the Roman Catholic church, by excommunicating the Reformers (who didn’t leave of their own volition (another myth initiated by Roman Catholics), but were expelled) and anathematizing the gospel at the Council of Trent, thus broke themselves off from the true church.

There are those even in the PCA who have a great deal of sympathy with the “no creed but Christ” crowd. Whenever any confessionalist quotes the Westminster Standards to address any question whatsoever, they will immediately charge us with T2. For them, there is no intermediate, fallible authority present in church creeds at all. Therefore, the creeds should never be used in any church controversy. The problem with this, as Ward demonstrates so clearly and helpfully, is that we need a rule of faith as a summary of what the Bible is saying. Creeds and confessions provide the church’s agreed upon Rule of Faith. It constitutes the analogy of faith as we understand it. And, as Trueman in his book The Creedal Imperative says so well, everyone has a creed! The question is not whether you will have one or not. The question is whether your creed is visible or not, and thus can be used as a means of accountability, and for unity in the church. People who desire to have unity by scrapping the creeds are therefore whoppingly wrong. There can be no unity without truth. And without creeds, we have no way of agreeing on what that truth is. So creeds and confessions are T1, fallible authorities that nevertheless have more authority than an individual, but less authority than the Bible. It is as we are abandoning the Westminster Standards, for instance, that we are having the unity problems in the PCA right now. The abandonment of the Westminster Standards will presage not the salvation and progress of the PCA, but rather its destruction.

Whither Roman Catholicism?

I was reading Robert Strimple’s outstanding article on modern Roman Catholic theology (in the book on Roman Catholicism edited by John Armstrong), and I was faced with a whopping conundrum. That conundrum can be simply phrased: who speaks for Roman Catholicism? For many people, that answer is simple: the magisterium speaks for the church. The problem is that the magisterium is becoming increasingly liberal. One only has to look at the state of Roman Catholic education in the United States to see this. The vast majority of the major voices in American Roman Catholic education are liberal. It is only a matter of time before the Pope is a liberal, and there are some who are claiming that Francis is a liberal.

The problem it creates for Protestants like me, who wish to write on Roman Catholicism, then, is which documents and writers to engage? David Wells, in his book Revolution in Rome (written quite a while ago!), believed that the future of Roman Catholic theology was liberal, not conservative. And so, he decided to engage the liberal Roman Catholicism. What seems to me to be happening is that the conservative element in the magisterium is becoming increasingly isolated and marginalized. If I decide to use the historical documents of the RCC as the basis for engagement, then I won’t engage the majority of Roman Catholic authors who are writing today. If I engage the McBriens of Catholicism, then I risk being accused of distorting the Roman Catholic faith. While it is true that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a very authoritative document (indeed, one of the few lynch-pin documents available today that seems to be well-loved and well-used by all Roman Catholics), it still doesn’t seem to be getting at the disagreements between the liberals and the conservatives. It is, despite its length, a fairly basic document. That is not a criticism of it, per se. It is a catechism. Catechisms are supposed to be basic! But that limits its effectiveness in solving the problem I have just outlined. The effect of the problem on writing, then, is that I would almost have to write two books, one on historical Roman Catholicism, and the other on Roman Catholic theology today. If I wrote only one, then I would have to choose, or else risk writing a disjointed book that would have two different sections, and that would involve a lot of repetition wherever the historical Roman Catholicism and the modernist Roman Catholicism overlapped.

Equal to the effect this bifurcation in Roman Catholicism would have on my writing is the effect this would have on the readership. The majority liberals would probably not be terrifically interested in a Protestant book on historical Roman Catholicism. They would just respond by saying, “But he doesn’t engage modern thinkers like Rahner and Schillebeeckx.” If I engage Rahner and Schillebeeckx (and that’s only the tip of the iceberg, of course), then the conservatives will retort, “But that is not the magisterium, that’s only individual theologians, who don’t speak for the magisterium.” Again, the problem is this: who speaks for Rome? Technically speaking (de jure), the magisterium does speak for Rome. Practically speaking, the magisterium is becoming increasingly ignored, such that (de facto) the liberal theologians speak for Rome. I know that the Called to Communion folk would probably advise me to ignore Rahner and Schillebeeckx. They have already advised me to ignore McBrien. I don’t think I can do that. But it might mean two books, not just one. They could profitably be divided according to the Roman Catholic distinction between the magisterium and theology (which distinction Strimple helpfully points out as one which evangelicals often ignore, to their great detriment).

The last question is this: what caused this problem and division? Strimple believes that the floodgates were opened with Pius XII’s encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu (1943). This encyclical, while including some conservative-sounding language about Scripture, stressed the need for biblical criticism. Whether Roman Catholic biblical theologians were rightly interpreting it this way or not, the effect was a mass transit to the methods of modern biblical criticism. I would argue that this change was the largest change in Roman Catholic history, and resulted in a great fragmentation of Roman Catholicism into many different groups (a fragmentation largely paralleled in Protestantism, of course). I think that discussion about whether Vatican II changed Rome is actually a moot question in the light of the far larger sea-change that happened after that encyclical. It is, of course, far easier to time-stamp Vatican II than it would be to investigate the changes that modernist biblical methods brought about, but it seems to me that anything that did “change” with V2 is dependent on the prior change of modernism. I would certainly refer the new ecumenical stances in Roman Catholic theology and even magisterial documents to these changes. Having read two histories of V2 so far (Faggioli and O’Malley), the struggle between the curia and the majority of the bishops over the agenda of V2 seems to bear out this thesis.

De Chirico’s Assessment of Berkouwer

Chapter 2 of Leonardo De Chirico’s book Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism (which I regard as the single most important Reformed work on Catholicism published since Vatican II) deals with various treatments of Roman Catholicism pre- and post-Vatican II.

The first theologian De Chirico treats is G. C. Berkouwer. Berkouwer wrote three books on Roman Catholicism, two of them before V2 and one after. De Chirico’s overall assessment comes at the end of the section: “Berkouwer’s studies on Roman Catholicism enrich Evangelical theology in terms of providing a model of serious scholarship, fair interpretation of Roman Catholic sources, and passionate concern for the Gospel’s sake” (65). Berkouwer recognizes at least one of the two pillars of Roman Catholicism that De Chirico mentions: the self-understanding of the Roman Catholic Church as an extension of the incarnation of Christ. For De Chirico, this seems to be the main reason why he describes Berkouwer’s work as a fair interpretation.

At the forefront of Berkouwer’s work, especially in the volume written after V2, is the discussion of continuity and discontinuity. This question became quite acute, given that many people thought of V2 (and many people still think today) as ushering in great changes. De Chirico quotes Berkouwer’s description of the semper eadem (“always the same”) as “no more seen in isolation but correlated in Roman Catholic fashion to the ever changing tempora” (61). It is unchangeability within all the variations of history. I could be wrong, but this sounds quite a bit like what Newman describes more simply as development of doctrine. After all, what promotes this development if not the historical circumstances? As De Chirico himself says elsewhere, the proper interpretation of V2, when seen within a Newmanesque viewpoint, is that the Roman Catholic Church did not change at all at V2: the RCC has always had the additive impulse.

To use a specific example of how the RCC is continuous while developing, the assertion of vestigia ecclesiae (remnants of the church) in bodies outside the RCC still assumes the unica ecclesia (62). This leaves the real ecclesiological problem untouched. After all, vestigial churches are not the same thing as the church. This must qualify our interpretation of the infamous “separated brethren” phrases in the V2 documents. In fact, this admittedly new way of speaking about non-RC folk doesn’t even (supposedly) contradict the dictum of Cyprian: extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church no salvation). Instead, there is a “narrow” and a “broad” view of what constitutes the church. The fact of the matter is this: if one starts with Newman’s development of doctrine standpoint, there will be no contradiction between pre-V2 and post-V2. If one does not hold to the Newman development of doctrine, there will be contradictions. The Nouvelle Theologie fully embraced Newman, and this is why JPII and Benedict can assert continuity within renewal.

To end with an aside, my problem with Newman is that he doesn’t seem to distinguish between two different kinds of development. One kind of development comes from the logical inferences that are based on the texts themselves. This may be called “good and necessary consequence.” The doctrine of the Trinity is surely the prime example of this. The Bible tells us that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and that there is only one God. We have to have some way of describing these facts, and the church logically came up with the Trinity. However, a second and different kind of development happens when the church looks at, say the virgin conception of Jesus (which, by the way, is a more accurate description of what happened than “virgin birth” if you think about it), which is explicit and logically derived, and then, based on a particular view of what sex could and could not do to Mary, proclaims that Mary was a perpetual virgin, despite the substantial biblical case that can be made against the position. There is no biblical evidence that Mary was a perpetual virgin, and it is certainly not logically derivable from the biblical texts. To me, these two cases are vastly different, because one is based on logical inference from the text, and the other is based on logical inferences from tradition that have no basis in the text.

Great Book on Canon

This book is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and that for a number of reasons. I tire quite easily and quickly of theologians who, being experts in one discipline (say, Old Testament), look down on the other theological disciplines (like, say, systematic theology). Kruger will have none of that. He mixes in exegetical, systematic, historical, apologetic, and practical disciplines in one happy feast. Of course, that might be grist for criticism from some reviewers, but this reviewer found it quite refreshing. We need more generalist theologians rather desperately.

A second reason I really like this book is the wealth of scholarship on offer. Kruger has really done his homework, and there is no doubt that he is one of the world’s experts on canon. And yet, this scholarship never overwhelms the prose, which is compact, pithy, and accessible.

A third reason (and the reason I picked up the book to read in the first place) has to do with his treatment of Roman Catholicism vis-a-vis the canon. Kruger is always quick to point out strengths and truth in opposing viewpoints while pointing out the extremes. In his treatment of Roman Catholicism on the question of canon, for example, he points out that the community does have a role in the formation of the canon. It just doesn’t have the exclusive role. The primary driver in the Reformed position on the canon is the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. But that does not meant that history and community play no role whatsoever.

Among the many insights that Kruger offers, I want to point out some of the most important answers to Roman Catholic objections to Sola Scriptura. First of all, he notes that there are plenty of Roman Catholics out there who do not believe that the church created the canon (see p. 41). Even Vatican I states that the church holds these books to be canonical no because of the church’s authority but because they have God as their author. To put it lightly, this is not the position of most Roman Catholic apologists today who argue against the Protestant position. In addressing Patrick Madrid, for instance, and his objection about the “divinely inspired table of contents,” Kruger rightly notes that this objection is artificial, since, even if there was a divinely inspired document that was a table of contents, that also would need to be authenticated by the church, and would never satisfy Roman Catholic objections, “because they have already determined, a priori, that no document could ever be self-attesting” (p. 43).

He mentions that the early Christian church did have a canon: it’s called the Old Testament now (p. 44). So, unless the church wants to claim that it created the Old Testament canon as well (before the church was even officially in existence), we fall back to the Protestant position that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20).

This raises the question of how the Roman Catholic church establishes its own authority. If the church is to be infallible, then it must have an infallible foundation for its infallible authority. Where is this infallible foundation? Kruger remarks on the three possibilities: 1. Scripture is the source for the infallibility of the church (which would be rather viciously circular if the church grounds the canon, and the canon grounds the church); 2. external evidence from the history of the church (his reply here is that historical evidence cannot be infallible. His footnote 79 on p. 47 is particularly telling); 3. the church is itself self-authenticating (the church is infallible because it says so, to which Kruger responds that the Roman Catholic church chiding the Reformers for positing a Sola Scriptura self-authenticating model seems a bit hypocritical when it is advocating a self-authenticating Sola Ecclesia model).

This book is essential reading on the canon, all the more so for those engaged in Roman Catholic-Protestant debate. Tolle lege.

Conversions to Roman Catholicism

As I have been reading more about Roman Catholic theology, I have been noticing something about recent conversions to Roman Catholicism (and I want to be careful about this statement, so that I am not making an over-generalization). What I have noticed is that converts to Roman Catholicism from Protestant denominations tend to be much more “old-school” Catholics. They don’t tend to talk much about ecumenical endeavors, and they nearly always emphasize continuity of Vatican II with what came before, as opposed to discontinuity. In other words, they don’t believe that much changed at Vatican II.

Those who have been Catholics their whole lives tend to be much more on the discontinuity side of Vatican II. They tend to say that a lot more changed. There is a good psychological reason for this contrast. Those who have grown up in Roman Catholicism are much more tempted to the “familiarity breeds contempt” for the old-school pre-Vatican II theology and practice. They like the changes. They embrace ecumenism and do not feel that they are threatened by it. Converts (especially those who went to seminary, like many of the CtC crowd) feel very differently about Roman Catholicism. I’ve seen it even in the book recommendations that Bryan Cross gave me. The systematic theology book he recommended to me (Ludwig Ott) was pre-Vatican II, very scholastic in tone, old-school Catholic. To put it mildly, this is not where most Roman Catholics are today. The 2 volume set on systematic theology by Schüssler Fiorenza and Galvin is much more what modern post-Vatican II systematic theology looks like.

Similarly with views on Vatican II. Guys like Bryan Cross will tend to emphasize the continuity aspects of Vatican II almost to the exclusion of any idea of change. Many other analyses of Vatican II will say just the opposite, emphasizing the key words aggiornamento (“renewal”), and ressourcemont (a word like “fountain” that was used to emphasize an abandonment of scholastic methods and a return to a more pastoral tone, and was a keyword of the Nouvelle Theologie). If there was a huge change at Vatican II, and if there is such a huge emphasis now on ecumenical endeavors, then it renders their conversions a bit more suspect. If, after all, Martin Luther is not such a bad guy (as many Roman Catholics today will say), and if they will even use Luther’s hymns in the Missal (I once saw “A Mighty Fortress” in a RC Missal, even though Luther wrote the hymn against Roman Catholicism), then why is a huge, flashy conversion to Rome really all that necessary? I definitely see the CtC crowd trying very hard to justify their conversions. As a result, they are in a place most other Catholics are not.

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