Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Der Fuersprecher on der faith

I’m going to lift this out of the combox because it makes an excellent stand-alone contribution to the current debate.

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To begin with - the formulation "evidence in the form of deeds [as] a constituent part of saving faith" is your own construction - it is not how I would describe my own position, nor do I think James White would use that precise wording either.

Unless you can point me to something in print that frames the traditional Protestant perspective in that way you may need to revise your understanding of an opposing view point once again.

In any event - the difference between the traditional Protestant understanding of faith and works and the Catholic understanding is this:

Protestant Christians (of the non-Sandemanian variety - which is the vast majority of Protestant Christendom I might add) see works as a necessary evidence of genuine faith, something that follows conversion and subsequently vindicates one as a true believer as opposed to a mere confessor of the faith.

Works function then, much like the fruit of a tree does, they reveal the underlying nature/root. Just as apples on a tree don't make a tree an apple tree (rather they reveal it to be truly an apple tree) so too works (according to traditional Protestant theology) reveal whether one is truly born again or merely one who professes to know God while still unregenerate (cf. Titus 2:15-16).

In other words, according to traditional Protestant soteriology, works follow genuine conversion/justification and they do not precede or cause/contribute to it.

In contrast, Catholics have traditionally understood works as something that contributes together with faith (in an a priori fashion) toward one's standing/justification with God (Catholics also see justification more as a process rather than a one time declarative act as Protestants do).

Works are not to be understood merely as the result of God's salvific action in justifying a sinner through faith alone according to Catholic soteriology - rather works contribute together with faith (all enabled by God's grace allegedly) in establishing the righteous life that God demands for eternal life.

This essential difference between the two perspectives was emphasized repeatedly during the soteriological debates of the reform era.

A grasp of historical theology would immediately make it evident how different of an understanding of sola fide the Protestant Christians of the reformation era had from contemporary Sandemanians/ineffective grace proponents.

# posted by Der Fuersprecher : 1/25/2006 3:02 PM

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6 comments:

  1. The Catholic view is a little more nuanced. They believe initial justification is by faith alone, but after that, it's by faith and works of love. ("Nothing matters but faith working through love")

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  2. Thanks for the reply. I now have access to Dr. White’s book. As I mentioned above (in the original thread), the quote is from a section of his book, The God Who Justifies, where he is dealing with James 2:17. The paragraph referred to is on pp. 338-339 of the first edition. Following is the paragraph:

    [quote]
    Obviously, the reverse of this assertion would be that faith that does possess deeds would be a living faith that, we would then assume, can save. Saving faith, by nature, will eche erga [transliteration mine; the original is in Greek font], possess deeds. Dead faith, by nature, is useless due to the fact that it lacks a constituent part of saving faith, that being evidence of its existence in the form of deeds. Already one conclusion can be drawn: The contrast in this passage is not between faith and works but between dead faith and living faith. [end quote] [emphasis his]

    I am not trying to misrepresent Dr. White. Misrepresenting somebody’s position does not do anybody any good when truth is being sought. This paragraph seems to clearly state that deeds (i.e., evidence of faith’s existence) are, from Dr. White’s perspective, a constituent part of saving faith. He emphasizes that expression, not me. Perhaps I may be misunderstanding what Dr. White is trying to say, but it seems reasonably clear.

    Is there a more precise definition of what it means for faith to "possess deeds" that you would recommend?

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  3. Hello - it depends on what you mean by "the Catholic view" - there isn't a single "Catholic" view [even if we limit this to the Western church] throughout history on anything (or even at the present for that matter) - which is what makes this type of endeavor so difficult.

    Therefore, one can simply jettison essentialist categories of thought (and this may in fact be the only viable option) and speak then of various Catholicism(s) or you can try your best to represent the entity under what you believe seems the most comprehensive and [in the spirit of charity] cogent presentation of the relevant system.

    If one isn't going to abandon the idea of a normative Catholicism (and to be honest I think that is probably the only option available to us) I remain comfortable with the general description of Catholic justification as I've described it (based on Tridentine documents and contemporary presentations offered by more traditional epologists).

    soli - I think I know what James is trying to say in the passage that you’ve cited and his intended meaning turns on 1) an awareness of the position he is specifically trying to refute, and 2) what he intends to communicate by way of “constituent part.” Notice though that he still doesn’t word it as you have done – you have slightly reworded his original by way of inference and I think you have actually twisted his intent by so doing.

    But don’t take my word for it. How about we ask the author himself to illuminate his intent with regard to the passage in question? I will ask him to drop by and explain himself here if he has the time.

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  4. Hello,

    Further, I think I acknowledged that "Catholicism" tends to see justification as a process.

    I might also add, that the granting of an "initial justification by faith alone" may be acceptable to come contemporary Catholics who have ecumenical goals (which only reinforces my earlier point about the reality of multiple Catholicisms) but you will certainly not find such an articulation in Early Modern Catholicism by any authoritative source.

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  5. Unfortunately James White has declined to participate in this thread. He is even more pessimistic than I am (and I didn’t think that was possible!) vis-à-vis the possibility of intelligent dialogue with ineffective grace proponents.

    Therefore we can probably leave aside an unfruitful debate about another person's precise point of view. I’m personally convinced that he sharply differentiates faith and works in terms of justification, although he is concerned (as the majority of Protestant Christendom similarly is) to maintain the biblical emphasis on the necessity of works as something that follows (but does not contribute/cause) justification/conversion. In fact, since you seem favorable to Wilkin I’m far more convinced of James’ orthodoxy than your own.

    If you're still interested in his actual position, you would probably be best served by attempting to take the matter up directly with him (although as I indicated I don't think he's interested in any further dialogue with ineffective grace advocates after the Wilkin debacle).

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  6. Der Fuersprecher,

    I don’t anticipate your seeing this post as it is now buried below numerous other blog entries and comments, but in the event that you do, thanks for trying with regards to Dr. White.

    I have a few questions regarding the Reformed understanding of the relationship between faith and works. If I have understood R.C. Sproul correctly (i.e., in Faith Alone), the Reformed teaching is that works inevitably, necessarily, and immediately accompany faith. My question is, what is meant by immediately? Does the Reformed teaching allow for any time lapse between saving faith and good works? Are good works produced directly by the saving faith? Since saving faith apparently doesn’t even exist without good works, wouldn’t that suggest that, from a Reformed perspective, saving faith and works are somehow ontologically connected?

    Thanks for your time.

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