List Paradigm Versus Agape Paradigm

Over on Called to Communion, Bryan has critiqued my friend Nick Batzig’s post on imputation in justification.

In this post, Bryan Cross attempts to delineate two different paradigms for understanding what it means to keep the law. What he describes as the Protestant paradigm is the “list” paradigm, which he describes in these words:

In the list paradigm, perfect law-keeping is conceived as keeping a list of God given precepts. According to this paradigm, perfect law-keeping requires perfectly and perpetually keeping (and not in any way violating) every single precept in the list. In the New Covenant, we are given more gifts for growing progressively in our ability to keep the law, but nevertheless, nobody in this life keeps the list perfectly. All fall short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness. That’s the paradigm through which Batzig views God’s requirement of righteousness for salvation.

Cross compares and contrasts this paradigm with what he calls the “agape” (Greek word for “love”) paradigm:

In the agape paradigm, by contrast, agape is the fulfillment of the law. Agape is not merely some power or force or energy by which one is enabled better to keep the list of rules, either perfectly or imperfectly. Rather, agape is what the law has pointed to all along. To have agape in one’s soul is to have the perfect righteousness to which the list of precepts point. Righteousness conceived as keeping a list of externally written precepts is conceptually a shadow of the true righteousness which consists of agape infused into the soul. This infusion of agape is the law written on the heart. But the writing of the law on the heart should not be conceived as merely memorizing the list of precepts, or being more highly motivated to keep the list of precepts. To conceive of agape as merely a force or good motivation that helps us better (but imperfectly, in this life) keep the list of rules, is still to be in the list paradigm. The writing of the law on the heart provides in itself the very fulfillment of the law — that perfection to which the external law always pointed. To have agape is already to have fulfilled the telos (Greek word for “end,” “purpose,” or “goal,” LK) of the law, a telos that is expressed in our words, deeds, and actions because they are all ordered to a supernatural end unless we commit a mortal sin (bold and italics original).

Cross’s critique of Batzig’s exegetical arguments are examples of his explication of this list paradigm versus agape paradigm difference.

He argues:

He (Batzig, LK) uses the list paradigm in order to argue for the extra nos conception of imputation. Catholic doctrine, however, is formulated within the agape paradigm. So using the list paradigm to construct an argument against the Catholic doctrine of justification presupposes the Protestant position in the very methodology by which the argument is constructed. It loads the premise “Protestantism is true” into the very argument by which one attempts to show that Protestantism is true and Catholicism is false.

I would encourage people to read the comments. Nick Batzig and Jerry Koerkenmeier have done an excellent job responding to Bryan Cross, especially on the exegetical points. I want to talk about the whole paradigm argument.

First point (regarding the last paragraph quoted above): one can turn this argument right on its head. A Romanist paradigm assumes the Romanist position in the very methodology by which the argument is constructed. Without actually arguing for the paradigm itself, Cross is simply saying that there are two different paradigms. No doubt he would say that he has argued for it. Does he argue with exegesis? Well, his point concerning “Christ our righteousness” doesn’t have any exegesis to go along with it. He only quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. In answering Batzig’s exegesis on Romans 4, he only quotes Trent. That is not exegesis. Again, read Batzig and Koerkenmeier’s comments and you will find some exegesis.

Secondly, even if his description of the two paradigms is true, that does not make the Protestant position circular. This is because assuming a list paradigm is simply not the same thing as saying or assuming that “Protestantism is true.” Those are two completely different statements. Again, assuming the list paradigm is true for the moment, that hardly constitutes the totality of Protestantism. Cross is here guilty of extension. This is what happens when a person looks at a statement or assumption and extends it beyond what the original statement or assumption meant, and then refuting the extension, instead of the actual statement or assumption. Protestantism includes Sola Scriptura, for instance, not a doctrine directly implied in the list paradigm.

Third point, and this point regards the whole list paradigm-agape paradigm: this is, quite simply, a false dichotomy. What Protestant fails to recognize that the heart of the law is love? Isn’t this what Jesus says when asked which is the greatest commandment? He says that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second greatest is to love neighbor. Protestants have almost universally understood this to mean that the first four commandments have as their heart the love of God, while the second six commandments have as their heart the love of neighbor. So, law-keeping has NEVER been solely about keeping a list of commandments, although it certainly includes that, as I think even Cross acknowledges. Law-keeping has always been about loving God and loving neighbor. That is the heart of the law. It is also a clear reflection of the character of God, Who is love. The moral law, therefore, is an expression of the very character of God.

The point, then, is that the Protestant position has NEVER assumed what Cross says it assumes. Imputation is NOT just about Christ’s obedience to a list of commands, which obedience is then imputed to us. It is also about Christ’s love for His Father, and His love for His neighbors, which is imputed to us. It is, therefore, BOTH Christ’s obedience to a list (which the TEN Commandments certainly are!), AND His love for God and love for neighbor that is imputed or reckoned to us. It is the fulfillment of everything the law is, including its very heart of agape. Quite frankly, Cross has not understood the Protestant position very well here. On other occasions, I have seen him do fairly well describing the Protestant position, but I don’t recognize ANY Protestant position in what he describes.

The real question is this: does the Protestant doctrine of imputation itself assume a list paradigm? How can it? The idea of imputation doesn’t directly address the question of how Jesus obeyed the law. It rather addresses the question of how Christ’s righteousness becomes ours. So, Jesus could have obeyed the law any number of ways, and that would be immaterial to whether we get that righteousness by imputation or infusion. What Cross has not even remotely demonstrated is that imputation itself assumes a list paradigm. This, I would think, would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove.

In looking at the comments, there are a couple more things necessary to say. Firstly, though this is indeed debated in Protestantism, I would disagree with Cross’s claim that Protestants do not believe that a person can be truly righteous internally. This made me think of a very important thing that Rick Phillips said at the recent Gospel Reformation Network conference in February. He said that when the Holy Spirit comes to dwell inside of us, we are no longer totally depraved. The remnants of sin still cling to us, yes. However, wherever the Holy Spirit is inside us, that place (if you want to think spacially as metaphorical) is no longer totally depraved. This follows from the doctrine of regeneration. We have a new nature. Sometimes Protestants are so gung-ho about total depravity, that they forget the nature of the change wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. It is a real change. The doctrine of “T” in TULIP, then, is NOT true of the believer. This does not mean that we are ever perfect. Perfection is for eternity. However, it does mean that we can be really righteous internally, the imperfection also being covered by the blood of the Lamb.

Secondly, Nick and Jerry surely got the better of Cross exegetically when it comes to Romans 4. Cross’s claim that when Paul uses Abraham as a paradigm for believers in Romans 4 and Galatians 3, that it was not in every respect that Abraham was a paradigm is an evasion. The particular aspect in which Abraham is a paradigm is with regard to imputed righteousness apart from any aspect of his own law-keeping and apart from any ceremony or sacrament! This is explicitly true in Romans 4:11 (Cross’s claim that the New Testament sacraments are greater than the old is ably answered by Jerry in comment 77).

One last point. Cross claims that justification is a process because imputation happens more than once in Abraham’s case. Firstly, it is startling to see any Romanist speak favorably of imputation. Secondly, Abraham was not reckoned righteous before God in the justificatory sense more than once. To simply quote James 2, as if that settled the matter without any exegesis or acknowledgment of the reams of Protestant exegesis, simply ignores the issue. “Dikaioo” can be used in more than one sense. When wisdom is justified by her children, it does not mean that wisdom was declared not guilty on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. It means that wisdom was shown to be in the right. This is an evidentiary sense of “dikaioo,” not a declaratory. I would argue, therefore, that James is talking about showing faith to be genuine, when he uses the word “dikaioo.” This is supported by the contextual factors of the (false) claim to have faith in verse 14, and the explicit reference to “show me” (twice, no less!) in verse 18. James is not talking about being right before God, but about being shown to be right before God. So, in Abraham’s case, he was declared to be justified in Genesis 15. He was shown to be righteous in Genesis 22 (which fact James references in 2:21, the actual event that proved that Abraham was in fact justified).