Understanding Forgiveness

In response to Doug’s post, I have a few things to say.

Firstly, this isn’t the first time Doug has accused me of unwittingly denying justification by faith alone. What Doug seems to do in this post is say that I have basically turned understanding a doctrine into a work that then merits justification. What this accusation does, in effect, is deny that there is any notitia element to saving faith whatsoever. No doubt Doug would deny such a charge. But by his argument, it doesn’t really matter what one believes in terms of understanding. As long as there is this nebulous trust in Jesus, one is saved. Again, this is not something Doug would come out and say, and to some extent this is an extension of what he says. I am merely trying to point out here the logical consequences of denying the notitia element of faith, which, by the way, is all I’m arguing for.

When someone like me makes the claim that one must understand justification in order to be saved, what typically comes to mind in the view of critics of my position is that someone must understand Berkhof, Bavinck, Calvin, Luther, Owen, Buchanan, and Fesko in order to be saved. I am saying nothing of the sort. Can any adult (we’ll get to the problem of infants in a bit) be saved without any understanding at all of the mechanism by which one is forgiven? Can he be saved without knowing that Jesus died for him on the cross and took his guilt upon Himself, that it was a substitutionary sacrifice for sin? This is not jargon, nor is it esoteric. It is nothing less than the heart of the Gospel. I would argue that an adult cannot be saved without knowing this, and it is the lion’s share of the doctrine of justification. The double imputation is not all that hard to grasp either, but surely we would all agree that someone who believed and understood that Jesus died for him as a sacrificial offering is saved. Of course there are varying degrees of depth in which a person can understand this. But Doug seems to be denying that one even needs to understand this in order to be saved.

On the question of infants, I grant that notitia develops. Of course, we often give them too little credit for what they understand. Who is to say that an infant doesn’t know who Jesus is? An infant can certainly know (within minutes of birth!) who is mother is. John the Baptist understood who Jesus was, at least in a nascent way. So no, there is no denial of justification by faith alone in my theology, either explicitly, or implicitly.

Once more, John 15. There are several indicators of what Doug said isn’t there in the text, but actually is. First of all, Doug’s position that the branches are dead because they are fruitless, not fruitless because they are dead (which thus denies an ontological distinction between the fruit-bearing branches and the non-fruit-bearing branches) simply does not do justice to the terms of verse 2 and verse 5, and the whole passage. First point: the criterion of life is fruit-bearing (synonymous with “abiding”) in this passage, not sap. Doug does not do justice to my argument, because he does not see my point, which is that the non-fruit-bearing branch is ontologically different, having no ability to produce fruit, and is therefore as good as dead. Because they do not believe, they are condemned already. Verse 2 indicates that the criterion for whether the branch is taken away is whether it bears fruit or not, not whether it has sap or not. When Jesus continues his metaphor, fruit-bearing is explicitly linked with “abiding” (verses 4-5). Abiding equals fruitfulness, and not-abiding equals fruitlessness. Abiding equals life equals fruit. Therefore, any branch not bearing fruit has no life in it. Abiding always produces fruit. Therefore, if a branch is not producing fruit, it is not abiding, and therefore is not alive in the sense of fruit-bearing. What is tripping Doug up here is my language about not being alive because it is not fruit-bearing. The only kind of life that is important in this passage is the fruit-bearing life. Again, other kinds of life are simply not important here.

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