Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Temporary Lapse into Reformed Theology lol

"ultimately, since God is sovereign, salvation must depend solely upon His sovereign choice." - Presbyterian Website.

Now you wouldn't think that when a Baptist friend sent me a message at 3am concerned about his salvation that I would speak almost the exact same words to him, as a Roman Catholic. But I did. He was worried about whether baptism saved you or not because he encountered the sinister "Church of Christ" denomination account of regenerative baptism (as an aside, they really should get a new name, that's like calling your denomination "The Real Church").

I tried to explain that I thought it was necessary for you to be baptized but that both my brothers aren't -strangely the baptists I know go around calling baptism a meaningless ritual...maybe they should change the name to "The Church Formerly known as Baptists", anyway, he was worried and I showed him all the verses about Baptism for salvation (Jn 3:5, Mk 16.16, Acts 2.39, Gal 3.27, 1 Pet 3:21, etc) but being a smart kid he started talking about "baptism of the Holy Spirit" - I wanted to shout DAMN YOU CALVIN!!@#@. but I didn't .... strangely I did the opposite and started talking to him about what it means to be saved, and why he shouldn't be worried. I said something like "Ultimately it doesn't matter whether you're baptized or not, Salvation is God's free sovereign choice, it's his house, he decides who to let in (Mark Driscoll said that)" - I shocked myself - A papist pretty much quoting the WCF, it must've been because it was 3am.

The thing is, I -like St. Thomas Aquinas- believe in predestination, God's sovereignty, and while I believe people can choose, God already knows who's "in" and who is "out" and I don't think he arbitrarily elects some for 30 years and then unelects them, which is a strange thing Aquinas taught.

But here's where I think this latent Reformedness comes from for me. I was reading parts of Fr. Louis Bouyer's thoughts on Sola Gratia in "The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism" and he goes on and on about the "gratuitousness of salvation" (which is now one of my favourite phrases) and the fact that salvation is a free gift which is unmerited, etc. So I was just linking the two doctrines I guess.

I had a 2 hour argument with my Dad about justification on Saturday (again) and he just doesn't understand how a Catholic who believes works are a fundamental part of salvation can have any assurance or trust in God, because they're "buying their way into Heaven" (a concept Kreeft decimates). I don't think my salvation has anything to do with me, just because my justification is intrinsic - within me - doesn't mean it's within my power. It's "God working in you" (Php 2:13).

I guess the thing I have in common with Calvin - probably the reason I like him as much as I still do - is that I believe the question of Salvation is a question of God's character. I have a friend named Dan and if I was in prison or in trouble he'd come and bail me out or help me. Dan is just a finite human, and I can trust him for my temporal salvation in situations. God on the other hand is "mighty to save", he has "loved me with an everlasting love", he is the one who saved me while I was yet a sinner (Rm 5:8) and I have full faith that he will save me in the end. For St. Paul says:

"And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Romans 8:30 - also note the word Sanctified which Calvin championed in his distinction isn't even present).

and finally I will quote the great catholic council of Orange which as a Catholic I adhere to:

"[W]e are obliged, in the mercy of God, to preach and believe that, through sin of the first man, the free will is so weakened and warped, that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought, or believe in God, or do good for the sake of God, unless moved, previously, by the grace of the divine mercy . . . . Our salvation requires that we assert and believe that, in every good work we do, it is not we who have the initiative, aided, subsequently, by the mercy of God, but that he begins by inspiring faith and love towards him, without any prior merit of ours."

I guess that's what I was saying to my friend, that God will save him, because God has chosen him, and elected him. But that still sounds like a lapse into Reformed theology heh.


  1. Hello Andrew. As I read your post this question came to mind: When you reword "intrinsic" with the prepositional phrase "within me" what do you mean? Does the preposition within have have a spatial referent or is it something else? If its something else, what is it?

  2. I guess in platonic terms it would be in my soul. It would be the removal of sin from my soul.

    To use a metaphor, it's the difference between cleaning one's room and just sweeping everything under the bed and putting it in the closet just to make it appear clean.

    I guess I meant that in Catholicism God actually removes sin, not just covers it. But i'm sure there's a reason why I'm wrong which you're just aching to tell me lol.

  3. A similar example would be a dentist actually cleaning my teeth which would be occuring within me rather than just smashing out my teeth and giving me dentures. Salvation in the latin (here comes a greek definition) means to make whole, rather than to make new or different.

    There's 2 strange metaphors for the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic justification which I know you understand as well as I (probably better).

  4. I think you are inaccurate to pit Catholicism against Protestantism based on the doctrine that "God actually removes sin, not just covers it." Historic protestant theology teaches that God actually removes our sin. I believe God cleanses the souls of sinners.

  5. is putting snow on a dung heap considered cleansing?

    I thought the historic protestant stance of imputation stopped God from actually cleansing. In Catholicism there's a two step process, removal of sin and the making righteous, I thought in protestantism it was merely the sole imputation of Christ's righteousness over everything.

  6. Nope. We believe God actually cleanses his people from sin. We call it, along with Scripture, sanctification.

  7. And we Catholics, along with Scripture, also call it sanctification, though, also along with Scripture, we do not imagine a sharp distinction between this cleansing and the act of justification.

  8. I think it is inaccurate to characterize the Protestant understanding of the distinction between justification and sanctification as "sharp." I do not confess a "sharp" distinction between the two. I confess that justification and sanctification are fundamentally united while also distinct.

  9. Philip, trust me, I've discussed this issue with Jay for about 90 pages of emails, it's not a separation it's a distinction. It's the same as the Catholic distinction between initial justification (done by faith alone) and continual justification (sanctification for Protestants) of faith working in love. So we all agree on that, all we disagree on is Imputation or Infusion.

    Basically Catholics believe God declares and makes a man just and as he becomes more Christ-like he is more perfect, Protestants believe God declares a man just and at that moment he is as righteous as he will ever be, forever covered / imputed with Christ's righteousness.

  10. This formulation is still a bit inaccurate. Roman Catholicism teaches that a man is justified by God on account of his being made righteous. In other words, God justifies the godly. Protestantism teaches that a man is justified by God on account of the righteousness of Christ alone, not on account of anything intrinsic (whether in nature or infused supernaturally) to them. In other words, God justifies the ungodly.

    Nonetheless, Protestantism does not teach that a man is as righteous as he will ever be the moment he is justified. We still hold that an aspect of the work of Christ for his people was to purchase their cleansing from sin in the sense that the Holy Spirit working along with the Word progressively sanctifies the justified over time, a process that is completed when we enter into glory.

    The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches this beautifully:

    "Sanctification is a work of God's grace, whereby they whom God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life."

  11. I still disagree that you would say that you believe man becomes more righteous as he does good works. I thought in your interpretation our "good works are as filthy rags" and as Calvin said, everything that falls short of God's glory is sin "we need to repent of our repentance", etc. How do filthy rags increase our righteousness?

    As per Catholicism or Roman Catholicism as you insist on calling it (I hope you don't meet an Armenian Catholic or Ukrainian Catholic), anyway, we're just going with St. James who said "therefore a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" so yes, we d
    believe God makes a man righteous, but those in a state of grace (what you'd call saving faith) will be saved regardless, they will simply be made righteous in purgatory. Once a person is baptized and has faith, they have crossed the line, they can walk back themselves and recant their salvation but there isn't a set number of works necessary to get to Heaven, etc.

  12. as per justifying the godly or ungodly I'd like to quote St. Augustine to clear it up:

    "God makes the ungodly man godly, in order that he might persevere in this godliness and righteousness. For a man is justified in order that he might be just, not so that he might think it is all right to go on sinning." - Commentary on Romans 21 (referring to Rom. 4:5)

    that's the Catholic view, declare and make just. Protestant view is declare just and accidentally/resultingly he acts just but this has no connection to his salvation. I hope thats the dicotemy or the reformation was for nothing.

  13. You're still a bit off the mark in your characterization of historic Protestant theology Andrew.

    Isaiah writes: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." I agree that our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. Nonetheless, they are still righteous deeds. In other words, the doctrine of total depravity does not mean that we can do nothing righteous or that we cannot grow in righteousness. It simply means that sin's presence remains with us, corrupting every part of our being until we reach glory.

    I call the tradition "Roman" Catholic for the sake of lingual and historical accuracy.

    Linguistically speaking, to be catholic is to be part of the universal church on earth (typically defined according to its visible aspects). Historic Protestantism is thoroughly catholic in this sense of the term.

    Historically speaking, Roman Catholicism, as defined contra Protestantism, began with the completion of the Canons of Trent. There is also the issue of fairness with respect to Eastern Orthodoxy, but that is a bit beyond our discussion at this point.

    With respect to good works following our justification, it is inaccurate to say that Protestants believe good works have no connection to a sinners salvation. We believe certainly believe our good works are connected to our salvation. They are the gift of God procured by the blood of Christ for us. What we do not believe is that our good works are the basis or ground of our salvation. This is a key distinction to keep in mind when describing historic Protestantism.

    As the Apostle says in Ephesians 2:8-10: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

    What does Paul mean by "not as a result of works"? Historic Protestantism would say he means not on the basis of works. Does that mean works are unimportant or that our works are disconnected from our salvation or that there is no sense in which we should be growing in righteousness? No, of course not. We have been "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

  14. well then against every gut instinct I have, I'd say then I almost completely agree with you Jay. I think our works are only valuable because as Eph 2:10 says God predestined us to do them, and as Phil 2:13 says it is God working it is Him working in us for salvation as he did on the cross.

    But you're also mischaracterizing Trent, it says FAITH is the beginning, ground, and root of all justificaiton, so though works are necessary, faith is first and sufficient for initial justification. James still says "therefore a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" and I still can't in good conscience make that verse mean "therefore a man is justified by faith alone and not by works" as Calvin did.

    But I know that you're coming close to trapping me with your Socratic method lol.

  15. I'm not sure what mischaracterization you are referring to Andrew. Could you point out what comment I made that is a mischaracteization of Trent?

  16. "What we do not believe is that our good works are the basis or ground of our salvation"

    I assumed that was your interpretation of Trent.

  17. I apologize, that's not what I intended. I intended to only teach the historic Protestant viewpoint.

    Trent doesn't teach that our good works are the basis or ground of our salvation. Trent teaches something far more subtle: Both our faith and our good works are the ground of our receiving the salvation merited by Christ. If we don't cooperate with the Spirit's work, which is at all points resistible, then we will not be saved. If we do, we will. It's ultimately up to us.

    Should I assume you have recognized the inaccuracy with which you presented historic Protestantism at this point, which is the reason why I initially commented?

  18. I still understand your argument that in Historic Protestantism justification and sanctification are distinguished and not separated, and that you were simply emphasizing the point that sanctification is a part of Protestantism and that it is the removal of actual sin from the lives of believers, but we still disagree on imputation. so I think I get what you were trying to say.

  19. "If we don't cooperate with the Spirit's work, which is at all points resistible, then we will not be saved." - that's one way of phrasing it, I would prefer, the faithful must be made just before they see God, so they will be sanctified either in this life or this life and the next (purgatory) until perfection.

    It also leaves out the fact that anyone with faith who fails to work is still in the eyes of the Church justified, and that only grave sin done with full intention and knowledge and without extenuating circumstances can remove a person from a state of grace, but even if I dislike your phrasing, it is still fairly accurate.

    So I think we agree on what we disagree on. And of course you'd say it's an issue of salvation, but I personally find it to be 2 small differences: 1. extrinsic v. intrinsic , and 2. what the good works which we all believe must be done by the elect specifically mean.

    But I'm not that smart and I still have alot to learn, so who knows if one day I'll fully agree with you or not.

  20. I'm glad you see that Andrew. In Protestant theology the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to believers does not undermine their progressive sanctification. They are both aspects of what Calvin called the duplex gratia.