A Faith That is Not Alone
Since we’re friends I thought I might write to you in response to your article McAtee Takes a look at Dr. Ian Hodge on Justification. You list a number of objections to some statements in my earlier post, Unbelief or Disobedience — Which Is It?
Bret, you and I had some good times of fellowship in each other’s home, and we both had time to explore the other’s respective position and where we both are in terms of our understanding of the faith. More recently, we shared a common battle against atheism and ignorance on Facebook. We recognize that we are co-travellers on a path to try to turn things for the better, and both find ourselves frustrated by the coldness and indifference we see about us.
Now I don’t know about you, but as I get older I’m afraid that that coldness and indifference is closer to home than I care to admit, and that makes me most uncomfortable. I look in the mirror and detect a reluctance to obey every word that comes from God. A good part of the reluctance I excuse because of the culture around me. It makes it difficult, and at times appears impossible, to stand for the faith. A man today can lose his job, his friends, and maybe even his family by standing boldly for the truth.
Yet we both know that a huge part of the cultural rejection of Christian faith is the unwillingness of followers of the Messiah to take a stand. And I thank you for your encouragement and our friendship. I have found it a rewarding experience.
But I have to tell you Bret, that when I read your words, “The phrase ‘non necessary condition,’ strikes me as oxymoronic since if you don’t have the condition you don’t have justification,” I almost fell off my chair. Really! I thought to myself, McAtee can’t really believe what he’s suggesting. Not the Bret McAtee I know.
[A message delivered at Christian Reformed Church, Charlotte, MI. Romans 7:1 – 8:8. Text used is the Complete Jewish Bible, Trans. David H. Stern, available here.]
Read Part 1 of this series on Paul and Law from the book of Romans, The Foundation of Western Culture
We left our last time with the book of Romans at St. Paul’s statement in chapter 3:31, “Does it follow that we abolish Torah by this trusting? Heaven forbid! On the contrary, we confirm Torah.”
In this letter to the Christians at Rome there were a lot of Jewish believers in the Messiah. Jewish believers in YHVH had also accepted Yeshua (Joshua) – in our anglicized Greek, Jesus – as the Savior of the world.
But . . . there was a lot of confusion. It was confusion over their belief system as they understood it as over against the right understanding of what their Scriptures taught. And you see time and time again, that the New Testament never changes or alters the Old Testament, but it certainly corrects misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the Scriptures.
[A message delivered at Christian Reformed Church, Charlotte, MI. Romans 3:1-31. Text used is the Complete Jewish Bible, Trans. David H. Stern, available here.]
One of the very great problems in Christianity today is abstractionism. This is the concept that things or ideas are not related. You can take one thing “out of” an accumulation of things, and have some idea of what it might be.
Consider this illustration. You might take the battery out of a watch. Now, without any reference to the watch itself, you have to understand and explain what this thing is you have in your hand.
Quite impossible, you might say. And you are right.
In the case of the watch battery, abstractionism is bad enough, but if you take this idea to the Scriptures and attempt to “abstract” words from their context, you no longer have exegesis but random guesswork.
In an endeavor to understand the Scriptures, there are at least two important considerations: language and systematics, or systematic theology. They inform one another.
But . . . is there a priority?
Consider this: the word translated “justify” in the book of Romans or the book of James has the same Greek root. Some people suggest that in some instances the word “justify” means “forensic justification” while in other cases it means “vindication.” Now while the two meanings are similar, they are not identical.
The reason for the two meanings is not driven by linguistic issues, however. If it was, there would be some reason within the language itself that would explain the two meanings.
Instead, the two meanings are driven by systematic theology. Thus, when James declares justification by works (James 2:24), the same idea also expressed in St. Paul (Rom 2:13), it is suggested that at these points the word means “vindicate” rather than “forensically justify”. Thus, in this view, James and Paul are not saying you are forensically justified by works, but that you are vindicated by works.
Which, of course, still leaves a thorny problem: how good do my works have to be in order to vindicate me? And what’s the outcome if my works are not good enough to vindicate me?
Such an interpretation drives home the conundrum in hermeneutics, and an unresolved issue in much of Protestantism. How do you get your systematic theology if it is not at first driven by understanding the language? In order to get your systematic theology, you first have to get to the meaning of the words. It cannot be the other way round for the obvious reason: it would imply that systematic theology is developed before you understand the meaning of the words in Scripture.
In order to hang on to sola fide some people are willing to give up sola scriptura. The choice between the two is not a pleasant one, since it has serious implications whichever way you decide.
There are no linguistic reasons to apply two different meanings to the word “justify.” Which should lead you to conclude that somewhere along the way, some theologians have given up what they claim to profess.
Meanwhile, the world around us falls apart because of the loss of duty and obligation to God’s law on the part of His redeemed, who are content to fail the test of “vindication” so long as they can stand firmly on “forensic justification.”
It causes you to wonder what St. Paul might really want us to understand by his words in Romans 6:2: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?”