Re: justification

From: george murphy (
Date: Thu May 02 2002 - 15:27:33 EDT

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    Robert Schneider wrote:

    > My further comment follows George's response below.
    > Bob's comment:
    > Perhaps the statement I was trying to reproduce from memory came in =
    > one of the accompanying documents to the final Joint Declaration.=20
    > To repeat Paragraph 37 of the Joint Declaration:
    > 37.We confess together that good works - a Christian life lived in =
    > faith, hope and love - follow justification and are its fruits. When the =
    > justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring =
    > forth, in biblical terms, good fruit. Since Christians struggle against =
    > sin their entire lives, this consequence of justification is also for =
    > them an obligation they must fulfill. Thus both Jesus and the apostolic =
    > Scriptures admonish Christians to bring forth the works of love.=20
    > I wonder if George and I are in part talking past each other. I =
    > have been emphasizing the notion in this statement that "this =
    > consequence of justification is also for them an obligation they must =
    > fulfill" but I seem to be misunderstood as saying that I think works can =
    > justify, period. I don't believe that. Nor am I trying to interpret =
    > Eph. 2:10 apart from 2:8-9, just the opposte: I am criticising those =
    > who interpret 2:8-9 apart from 2:10. I think that walking the way of =
    > good works is the heart of the Christian life and that it is simply =
    > wrong to downplay them. So much of the polemic regarding justification =
    > by faith, in my view, has resulted, perhaps as an unintended =
    > consequence, in that very consequence. That is the point I am making.

             I understand that you are not arguing for justification by works. But
    as I said in an earlier post, this is an issue that requires absolute clarity.
    As much as possible it's necessary not only to speak correctly but to speak in
    such a way that it cannot be interpreted _in_correctly - because people's
    natural tendency _is_ to think in terms of works righteousness. It is the
    natural religion of humanity.

    > As for interpreting Matt. 25:31ff in the light of Romans and =
    > Galatians and not the other way around, I reject as a hermeneutical =
    > principle that the gospels should be interpreted as a matter of course =
    > in the light of Paul's gospel. Sorry, the NT is multivalent, in my =
    > view, and I don't think we should reduce its theology to Paul on any =
    > question, including justification and salvation. While it is too =
    > sweeping an assertion, I think there is some justice to John Dominick =
    > Crossan's remark that "If you come to Jesus through Paul, you will =
    > understand Jesus incorrectly; if you come to Paul through Jesus, you =
    > will understand Paul differently."

             There are 2 problems with this. First, it is not a matter of Paul or
    Jesus but of Paul's and Matthew's understanding of Jesus. E.g., Gundry in his
    Matthew commentary introduces the parable
    by saying flatly, "Matthew himself is responsible for the description of the
    judgment of the sheep and the goats." This does not mean that the significance
    of the parable is lessened, a la red letter Bible or Jesus Seminar approach,
    but OTOH it does not trump Paul.
             & second, one ought to try to interpret relatively obscure passages in
    light of relatively clear ones. The Matthean parable, as I noted, can be
    interpreted in different ways. Romans & Galatians
    really can't. So while, as I said, one has to be careful with such theological
    harmonization, this is the direction in which to go if one wants an answer to
    the basic question at all. If someone asks "What must I do to be saved?" it
    won't do to say, "Would you prefer a Mattheanor a Pauline answer?"

    > I find the remark fits so many of my =
    > former students who always read Jesus through the lens of Paul, and so =
    > often do understand Jesus incorrectly. Perhaps, George, what is going =
    > on here, is that I am writing in terms of those experiences, and you are =
    > writing in terms of your strong convictions about the Lutheran =
    > interpretation of Paul. Do forgive me if I am misreading you. I =
    > respect your convictions and don't mind a little polemic.

             Yes, that's pretty much right. But I'd also add that my emphasis is
    sharpened by the kinds of experiences I've mentioned in which, no matter what
    one says about grace, free acceptance &c, people think that being salvation is
    a matter of trying to obey the Ten Commandments.

    > If there is a misreading of my thinking, it is in your thinking =
    > that I am treating faith as "assensus." I would rather say that it =
    > seems at times that many Protestants treat "justification by faith" as =
    > "assensus": all you have to do is believe that, and no works, please. =
    > In fact, the notion of faith as "assensus" is a point of view that I =
    > often challenge, because, while it is not absent from the notion of =
    > "faith" in its broader sense, the primary and guiding meaning of "faith" =
    > ("pistis") is trust.

             I don't think that you are understanding faith as assensus. But the
    what seems to be in view in a challenge like 'Are we to say, "Lord, Lord" and
    "well, I'm saved and that's all that matters"?' is a doctrine of "justification
    by assensus".

    > The question I think needs to be asked, and I =
    > think it is a valid one is that if good works are absent, and granted =
    > that they are the fruit of faith, then where is the faith? or what kind =
    > of "faith" is it? If a Christian believer has no sense of obligation to =
    > do good works, where does the problem lie? In a lack of faith (trust)? =
    > In a lack of responding to the kind of exhortation to the Christian life =
    > that Eph. 2:10 gives? In a notion of faith as "assensus" to the =
    > doctrine of justification by faith, as stated above?

             I suspect that it lies to some extent with all three. & while
    "Imitation of Christ" and "WWJD" have their limitations, I think that preaching
    Christ both as "as a sacrifice for sin and a model of the godly life" is likely
    to produce better results than nagging them with the law.



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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