Thursday, September 24, 2015

What’s Wrong with the “Joint Declaration on Justification”? (Part 3: Smoke and Mirrors)

One muddle-headed Roman Catholic referred to “The Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on Justification” as “the Catholic Church teaching on justification/salvation”. It is no such thing, and I pointed this out at these links:

Part 1.
Part 2.

I’d like to further pick up what Thomas Schreiner said about this document in his work “Faith Alone, The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught … and Why It Still Matters” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015):

Gerald Bray and Paul Gardner in their evaluation of the Declaration note repeatedly that the document is vague. For instance, it is possible that Lutherans will read the word “imparts” simply to mean that God gives righteousness to someone, while Catholics will almost surely interpret it in transformative terms, so that it denotes infused righteousness. On the other hand, many Protestants today agree with the Catholic definition of justification, defining it in Augustinian terms to mean “make righteous.”

That is their right to agree of course, as scholars and pastors, but it should be clearly explained in the document that these scholars have veered from the traditional Protestant view.

Bray and Gardner make yet another vital observation. The document fails to articulate clearly the Lutheran view of imputation, nor does it unpack the theology of sin in the Lutheran tradition. One cannot understand the Lutheran view of justification without a clear comprehension of the nature of sin.

Again, we see the lack of clarity in the document. By leaving out imputation, one of the main differences between Lutherans and Catholics is glossed over, and the agreement is much less substantial than it appears at first glance. Catholics and walk away believing that justification is based on inherent righteousness, while Lutherans can still believe in an imputed righteousness, an alien righteousness. Ecumenical agreements are not significant if major issues are left unaddressed, unless the Lutheran signatories are suggesting that such matters are no longer important. If this is what they are saying, that should be clearly communicated to their readers (Schreiner, pgs 218-219).

At this point, I’ll say that the motives of the signatories should be brought into question much more than Schreiner does so here. The motives should be to honestly outline each party’s genuine beliefs – not to look for places where equivocation can enable the parties to feel good that they are reaching out to each other.

Someone is right about this, and someone is wrong, and such candy-coated instances of equivocation are simply nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

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