Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Justification by faith or baptism?

Back on December 17, Bryan Cross posted a reply to Jason Engwer and me (mainly in response to Jason). I already posted a rejoinder.

Bryan quickly dropped out of the discussion he initiated, leaving the remainder of the discussion to another commenters. And it seems as if they too have now vacated the field. I’ll post some observations I made in private email, in response to what two Catholic commenters said in reply to Jason:


Preslar isn't so overbearing or contradictory as Bryan. However...

"This is a really difficult position to be in, especially when it comes to interpreting Galatians 3.23-29 and Titus 3.4-7, where justification is explicitly linked to baptism."

i) Which assumes that Titus refers to baptism.

ii) I thought Fee offered a perfectly plausible, contextual explanation of Gal 3:27–not that Preslar has read it.

iii) There's a deeper problem, too. It never dawns on sacramentalists that the very nature of symbols and metaphors is such that whatever is said of the thing they stand for can be said of them–within the limits of the intended analogy. That's the point of a symbol or metaphor. For instance, Bible speakers and writers attribute spiritual cleansing to baptism since baptism is a watery rite, and therefore functions as a natural symbol or metaphor for cleansing. But, of course, that's figurative, not literal.

Sacramentalists don't even deal with that possibility, even though it's so obvious.

"On my reading of St. Paul, and Galatians 3 in particular, the ontological (union with Christ)..."

Are we in "ontological union" with Christ? What is that supposed to mean, exactly?

"I think that Bryan has made this point, and it is what I was referring to by the Spirit being given proleptically, in anticipation of baptism, wherein he is promised, and given (since God cannot break his promise)."

Of course, "proleptically given, in anticipation of baptism," is just a face-saving distinction.

"You seem to be assuming that if the Spirit is given before baptism, then he is not given in baptism."

He and Bryan keep playing this rhetorical shell-game. But if the Spirit wasn't given at the time of baptism, then, by definition, he wasn't given "in" baptism.

"...I will abide by the negative principle of not denying anything, least of all when it is only 'contradicted' by silence."

i) Of course, your argument has hardly been limited to the argument from silence.

ii) However, if it's a case of telling someone how to be saved, we wouldn't expect the speaker or writer to be silent on a key condition–without which the individual couldn't be saved. That would be like having an oncologist tell you that you can be cured of cancer by undergoing chemo, but neglecting to mention that unless you also undergo radiation, in addition to chemo, you'll die of cancer.

'If Our Lord intended a New Covenant context for his story of the tax collector, then we know, based upon our knowledge of the New Covenant, that the tax collector in Luke 18 would be expected to receive New Covenant baptism.'

That's hopelessly reductionistic. There are three difference audiences for a parable:

i) The fictional audience (i.e. characters who comprise the audience within the story).

ii) The historical audience (i.e. the audience whom Jesus was addressing at the time).

iii) The implied audience (i.e. the audience at whom the Gospel is directed).

In fact, it's wildly allegorical to read baptism into the parable.

"Baptism is explicitly included in Acts 10.44-48. Cornelius and his household received, in baptism, the same Spirit they had received before baptism."

They received the Spirit twice? Once before baptism, and a second time after (or during) baptism?

"Furthermore, based upon all that we know to be promised in baptism, identification with Christ (Romans 6), rebirth (John 3), forgiveness of sins/justification (Gal 3, Titus 3, Acts 2), salvation (1 Pet 3), we can conclude that the Spirit is given in baptism as a beginning of our identification with Christ in his mystical body, and all that this entails, which includes initial justification."

He's citing prooftexts without bothering to exegete them. Which begs the question every step of the way.

"You will of course want to say (or point to where you have said) some things about what the NT says about baptism, but it is important to begin by simply affirming whatever it says about baptism, as in just reading and saying “yes, Lord, I believe your testimony concerning baptism.” It seems to me that this action is fundamental to further exegetical endeavors. No good holding certain bits at arm’s length."

No, that's not a preliminary step inasmuch as he prejudges what they mean.

"...and the temporal sequence involved in repentance/faith/baptism is not sufficient reason to disassociate the gifts given in baptism from the salvific gifts given prior to baptism."

If the very same gifts are given both before and after, or "in" (i.e. during?) baptism, then how can he avoid saying that all these gifts can be given and sometimes are given apart from baptism?

And in that event, what does baptism add to the transaction?

T Ciatoris

"Your rhetoric here is a misdirection. I pointed out that Tertullian is arguing against a group who seems to have a view of baptism similar to yours, and that this means that you haven’t identified here an example of rejection of baptismal regeneration within Catholic tradition. You’ve interpreted this to mean that I am bound to agree with everything Tertullian says, thereby shifting the burden onto me with respect to Tertullian. That’s a non sequitur. You’ve already admitted that the most popular view of baptism was mine, so the onus is on you to produce counterexamples to show the acceptability of “alternative” views of baptism within the Church. Tertullian does not give you one."

This has strayed very far from what Bryan originally posted on. And it's strayed even further from the exchange over at Taylor's blog which got the ball rolling. Bryan took issue with your interpretation of Galatians because you failed to draw what Bryan then indicated was a key distinction between (bad) justification by keeping the ceremonial law and (good) justification by keeping the moral law. After challenged on that, Bryan fell back on other distinctions: between justification under the OT and justification under the NT, between initial justification and progressive justification.

Not surprisingly, the Catholic commenters are now trying to shift the debate to the patristic theory of justification. While there's nothing inherently wrong with debating that, that's hardly the central issue, much less the original issue.

"With respect to your arguments about 'normative' vs. 'exceptional' cases, you still haven’t produced patristic texts that show that baptism and justification are 'normatively' separate. So I’ll have to withhold judgment on that pending the appearance of such texts."

Red herring.

"I asked again for direct evidence that any of the Fathers didn’t interpret John 3:5, 1 Cor 12:13, or Titus 3:5 as referring to the sacrament of baptism."

A diversionary tactic.

1 comment:

  1. Bryan said "You seem to be assuming that if the Spirit is given before baptism, then he is not given in baptism."

    Steve, you don't see that sacramentalists have put forward a metaphysic where an event can cause something that temporally preceded it? We should all know that a baptism can hop in a time machine, activate the flux capacitor, go back in time, and cause justification before the baptism was ever performed. Dontyaknow?