Sunday, June 05, 2016

When are we justified?

This is a follow-up to my previous post:

I was reading Oliver Crisp's sympathetic exposition and analysis of eternal justification in Deviant Calvinism, chap. 2. Although I think eternal justification has an element of truth, the way proponents formulate the position is fundamentally flawed, and Crisp is no improvement. 

1. If God is timeless, and justification is a divine act, then there's a straightforward sense in which justification is eternal. That, however, is misleading without further qualification.

2. God doesn't justify the elect in isolation. Rather, justification is contingent on other factors like faith in Christ and the redemptive death of Christ. Although God has eternally decreed to justify the elect, he has decreed that justification is contingent on other decrees. Within God's plan, there's a teleological relationship between different decrees. Some decreed events are a means by which other decreed events are realized. Although God has decreed to justify the elect, God has also decreed justifying faith, as well as the death of Christ–which provides the moral warrant for justification. He decrees justification in conjunction with other decrees. Justification is not independent act or event, which occurs apart from all other considerations. To the contrary, God has decreed that certain conditions must be met for justification to obtain. Faith in Christ, as well as Christ's sacrificial death, are necessary conditions. 

3. God's eternal decrees include his decree to eventuate the world, the Exodus, the Incarnation, and the Crucifixion. But, of course, that doesn't mean creation, Exodus, Incarnation, and Crucifixion are eternal events. They didn't take place in eternity. Strictly speaking, nothing even happens in eternity: that's a timeless state. Jesus was crucified in time, not eternity.

4. Although God eternally decrees every event, he decrees them to happen in time. He decrees some events to happen before or after other events, in a cause/effect relationship. He timelessly decrees a temporal sequence. You might say it's a delayed effect of the decree. 

5. To say God eternally decreed justification, or that justification, as a divine act, is eternal, doesn't mean the elect are justified before they are born; doesn't mean the elect are justified before they exist. Time and eternal don't range along a common continuum. God's timeless acts or timeless decrees aren't earlier events on a timeline. They aren't events at all.

A divine "act" is a mental act. In this case, a plan or resolve to bring something about. It can't be synchronized or coordinated with the historical process. There's no direct linkage. 

6. Crisp says:

Possession of faith makes no material difference to one's elect status, because it is an effect, not a cause of justification. The act of justification must logically precede the act of faith, whether in time or eternity, for a person must be just in the sight of God before they can be given the gift of faith in God (48).

I don't know if that simply represents Crisp's exposition of the position, or his agreement. The claim itself is puzzling:

i) The syntax in the first sentence is ambiguous. Presumably, he doesn't mean election is the effect of justification; rather, he means faith is the result of justification. 

ii) The act of justification is a timeless divine act whereas the act of faith is a temporal human act. Given the difference in principle, it's unclear how one can logically precede the other. The act of justification belongs to a different domain than the act of faith, so they can't be arranged like points on a common line.

iii) It's unclear what it even means to say the act of justification must enjoy logical priority, whether in time or eternity. At the very least there seems to be a failure to distinguish teleological order from temporal order. 

If, moreover, the act of justification is timeless, then what does it mean to say it must logically precede the act of faith in time? This seems to confound timeless and temporal relations. We can distinguish between the timeless act of justification and its temporal realization.  

iv) Finally, why must a person be just in God's sight before he can be given the gift of faith in God? In Reformed theology, justification is an "alien" righteousness. It presumes that the object of justification is a sinner. The object of justification is personally unrighteous, both before and after he is justified. The object of justification is actually guilty. So how could his innocence or righteousness be a precondition for the gift of faith? 


  1. Hey Steve,

    This was awesome. Thank you.

    In point 6. iv) you said "The object of justification is personally unrighteous, both before and after he is justified."

    Did you mean strictly in this life or even in glorification?


    1. It's true that in glory, the saints will be personally righteous.

  2. Does it make sense to talk about "eternity past" or "eternity future"?

    1. i) There's a distinction between technical precision and popular language.

      ii) There's a difference between past/future in relation to timebound creatures and past/future in relation to a timeless God. The former is accurate.

      Although God has no direct past or future actions, he causes past and future events.

      iii) Eternity in reference to God is a timeless state. But eternity future in reference to the saints is a synonym for an everlasting future. It's a temporal state, with chronological succession.