Sunday, March 12, 2017

Don Johnson

Talking about justification makes a lot of sense to a relatively small subset of Protestants we are a bit nerdy about theology. I happen to be on of those but most people are not. I was listening to Don Johnson on The Journey Home and he talked about justification in a much more compelling way for the average person. 
His story was interesting because he talked about justification without using any of the same language. He got into it because he had arrived at essentially the Catholic position on justification without knowing anything about the historical controversies. He arrived there mostly contemplating the book of Exodus. That our story parallels the story of the Israelites. We are enslaved to sin like they were enslaved to Egypt. God saves us miraculously. The we receive the law like they did right after the Red Sea. Then there is a journey through the wilderness. In fact, the journey lasts 40 years because they are slow to learn what God is trying to teach them. The Red Sea was not the end of their salvation. They had to be transformed over time before they could enter the promised land. Likewise we can't be saved just by a one-time event but must journey towards heaven after that initial commitment. 

People are not well versed in theology these days so his protestant church just loved this teaching. It was quite a while before anyone pointed out that this is precisely the opposite of what the reformers said about justification. So he started to read. He read Alistair McGrath's book on the reformation where he said this idea, which he called forensic justification, was completely new around the year 1500. Maybe you can find it in Jan Hus but not earlier. He started reading major Christian thinkers before that and saw that this was true.

The interesting thing is he did all this without any influence from Catholics and any notion of becoming Catholic. He did eventually convert but it took him a long time. He didn't even want to refer to the pre-reformation Christians as Catholics. He called them historical Christians or orthodox Christians or some such phrase. 

While Exodus is an interesting angle from which to approach the justification from it is not as strange as I first thought. Paul and the other apostles were Jews. They knew the Old Testament first. So they would approach everything starting there. Paul explicitly draws the same parallels between our Christian journey and the journey in Exodus. 

The other point he brings up is how the implausibility of forensic justification has led some to reject Christianity altogether. He spent a lot of time arguing with atheists and heard this often. Why should a good man go to hell because he believed the wrong thing and a bad man go to heaven because he had said the sinners prayer at some revival once? Is that really fair? I know grace is inherently not fair but any God that declares someone righteous when they are not seems quite strange. 

For me, it teaches me the value of using ordinary layman language. When we are talking about heaven and hell there can be no more important topic to anyone. If they are real and our lives determine which one we go to then we need to be very concerned. Yet finding the real information in the midst of all the falsehoods is quite a challenge. Really impossible without God's help. I can see people saying God would not leave us like that so He must not exist. I can see people saying God would not leave us like that so Catholicism must be true. To say God did leave us like that seems like the only choice a Protestant has.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

If Paul Was A Protestant

Following the last post I wanted to give a few more details on why I thought the Protestant reading of Paul was problematic. I ran into passages in Paul's writing that if Paul was thinking like a Protestant as I understood Protestantism he would not have written like he wrote them. Not really searching for unexplainable defeater passages because lots of theological gymnastics are possible. The question is does Paul write like someone who believes in Faith Alone or does he write like a Catholic who sees faith as important but also that it needs to be expressed in love and action before it does us any good? It started with this passage from Gal 5:6:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
This seems simple enough. Yet what would a Protestant say? He would not say "faith working through love." He would say "faith alone." I know he would. If that is what Paul believed this would be the time to give the summary statement. Why does he back away and bring in works? Supposedly, Christianity took 1500 years before figuring out that Paul really meant Faith Alone. If he was really thinking Faith Alone and the Holy Spirit was guiding him to communicate Faith Alone then why didn't he write "faith alone?" Not only did he not use the phrase here but he never uses it.

That was not a big deal. You can't read to much into what a person did not say. Yet the question kept coming back. Look at Rom 2:6-8
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.
Can a Protestant explain this? Of course. Yet we are in Romans. This is the place Paul allegedly teaches Faith Alone most clearly. Right here he is doing a terrible job. He seems to teach exactly the opposite. God will repay each according to what they have done. Not according to faith. Now a Protestant would say Paul overthrows this in later verses. That the faith talk later should be taken seriously and this should be ignored. Yet if Paul believed in Faith Alone and wanted to teach Faith Alone in this document why would he talk like this? I can't imagine Protestant phrasing things this way.

Then there is the famous verses from 1 Cor 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Here he pits love against worship and love against alms-giving and even love against martyrdom. That is OK. Protestants would do that. Yet he also pits love against faith. Really? Can you ever imagine a protestant going there? Faith is supposed to be central and love is supposed to be inevitable once you have faith. So how does this make any sense? I know it is hyperbole and all but it still seems like a statement not Protestant would make.

Once you open you eyes to these sorts of statements you find them all over the scriptures. Paul has many more. Jesus has some huge ones. You stop unconsciously fitting everything into the Faith Alone mindset and start noticing that the bible was written by someone who did not have that mindset.