Thursday, April 9, 2009

Inclusivism, Arminianism, and other dirty words...(Romans 2-4)

I swear I'm going to die or get an ulcer from all of this justification debate / thinking stuff. ... Here we go again. So I've examined the argument for Romans 2-3

Catholics tend to only focus on "to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life" - 2:7, and the basic argument up to 3 is that good people get rewarded bad people get punished and St. Paul says "A person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter fo the heart - it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God" 2:29

So it is boastable (if that's a word). I think the fact that Paul talks SO much about boasting, it's important to gather that is an issue. So of this righteous gentile, this 'noble savage' who follows their conscience, God praises them. So they could boast, theoretically.


St. Paul quickly adds in "both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin" (Romans 3:9) and then goes on a quote parade through the Old Testament (using the Septuagint ironically after he says "the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God" - St. Paul, a Jew outside Israel would probably have used the deuterocanonicals). Anyway, the point is he says "For 'no human being will be justified in his sight' by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin" 3:20

Then St. Paul goes on to explain Sola Fide which no one till Luther will understand or teach, but hey, he tried right?

Here's my problem: How is it that he says everyone is under the power of sin (original sin) and yet that those who act righteously are rewarded even without the law... now if all of this was just to teach Total Depravity, why Romans 2, why not just skip to 3.

Here's an additional problem when you flip through the Early Churches view of inclusivism v. exclusivism:

One of my favourite oft-quoted verses where St. Peter sees the Gentiles believe (Cornelius):

"I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation
anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" - Acts

St. Paul in Lystra and Derbe, where they do a miracle and the pagan priests try to offer them a sacrifice:

"turn from these worthless things to the living God...In past
generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways
; yet he has
not left himself without a witness in doing good" - Acts 16:16

And in the Areopagus St. Paul says to the Athenian Philosophers:

"While God has overlooked the times of ignorance, now he
commands all people everywhere to repent" - Acts 17:30 (had to memorize this in
Bible School)

Now it would appear that left right and centre the NT clearly affirms that there are Godly people who don't have the knowledge of the Gospel/Jesus, but are still doing good and apparently being Justified. And only Romans seems to paint this view that no one is righteous, no, not even one. ... So... How does this fit:

The Problem with Augustinian Soteriology:

The issue that all Augustinian Christians agree on (Reformed and Catholic) is that without grace, man can only choose sin. Original Sin, is the key doctrine we all hold, but here we have something completely out of the blue. People "under the power of sin" (Rom 3:9) acting righteously.

Have we been believing a sort of Augustine on steroids and ignored that the bible seems to indicate otherwise?

Are the Pelagian/East Orthodox Original sin deniers right?! Is it true as the Orthodox would have us believe that we don't really have Original Sin, but rather that man is in fear of death and that's what drives him to sin.

Are the Reformed right?

Well I'll be damned if St. Augustine the Inerrant will be scorned. The Reformed obviously hold that St. Paul was just pulling a Socrates and telling the Romans - 'sure all of you 'good people' will be saved..... oh ya... I forgot to tell you, that means NO ONE!!! ahahhaha - gotcha. So about Jesus..." , so if we're committed to the Augustinian ideal then there are a few options we have:


1. Arminianism/Molinism - Make like John Wesley/Molina and doublespeak our way out of it by saying that 'yes, man cannot do good without grace' ... did I mention that God has given grace to every person and that it's just resistible grace.

2. Resistible Sin: But the issue is, that Catholic or Protestant while we disagree about whether grace is irresistible, we all tend to believe in "Irresistible Sin" (my new phrase) whereby anyone without grace HAS to choose sin, when they open the fridge they can't choose Sunny D, but rather, always choose "purple stuff". So one option would be that even the reprobates can choose to reject sin and do good or bad, which basically is Pelagianism... ya.. I just figured that out now. So that's not really an option unless you're Episcopal.

3. Reformed Protestantism - By accepting Romans 3 as the trump of Romans 2 we are then left with the 'crazy idea' that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (where'd they get that one!?...quick don't read romans 3:23), and that apart from God's election, law or no law, you're damned. This of course would have to lead us to some sort of sola gratia & irresistible grace system without equivocation

But of course, sola fide, remains out, and if a Reformed Christian tells you to read Romans 4:1-8, tell him to read Romans 4:8-12, hand him a copy of "What St. Paul Really Meant" by N.T. Wright and ask him to explain why "law", "works", and "deeds" all seem to refer to the Mosaic covenant/circumcision. That'll keep em busy for a while.

But if you want the Patristic/Catholic account of Justification and this whole issue, just go to Dave Armstrong's post here of an entire exegesis of Romans 2-4 all in patristic commentary:
when I read the theological gymnastics of it all, it makes my Baptist/Spider sense go off "traditions of men" "traditions of men" "traditions of men" ... man the Bible is completely confusing and unclear...

So in the end, the only coherent exegete it seems of this whole mess is Bishop Tom Wright of the Church of Henry VIII. Who woulda thunk it?


  1. The solution to the problem of "inclusivism," I think, is to remember that the good works of those outside the visible communion of the Church are still to be considered products of divine grace. It is really easy to forget in all this discussion that God's grace is not exclusive to Christians who express explicit faith, but that from the Sacrifice of Christ that grace is available to all men.

    Now, this is all "in theory." That is why I do not like the word "inclusivism" when talking about this. I do not know if ANY non-Christian (after the time of Christ) has been given the grace of Justification. It may be that there is none. I hope that is not the case, but it may be. This is all theory which attempts to reconcile the justice of God with the love and mercy of God. As to the actuality, who knows but God himself?

  2. People from a variety of backgrounds accept Christian inclusivism, including John Wesley (Methodists), Billy Graham, the Swiss Reformed in 1566, the Second Vatican Council (Catholic) and the Seventh-day Adventists. My web site includes an account of a heathen man who was impressed to call out to the true God and was given a heavenly visitation

    Here is a link to an evangelical inclusivist and his Scripture texts that support it