c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: January 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

More on NT Wright

Thoughts in Response to NT Wright's
4QMMT and Paul: Justification, ‘Works,’ and Eschatology
Wright is, as are most of us evangelical-types, entirely too bound to the Calvinist-Reformed doctrine of SOLA FIDE.  It clouds nearly everything that we do, say, think, or feel.  We exhibit all the qualities of being brainwashed by nearly 500 years of anti-Catholic rhetoric and propaganda.  It blinds us to a true grammatical-historical assessment of the New Testament record.  To counter that pervasive bias I want to make several observations, couched in terms of what Wright has written about 4QMMT.
First, in 14 sources of Pauline thought (13 undisputed letters and Acts) there are only 4 that deal briefly with justification by faith … and those have fallen victim to poor translation, bad exegesis, and over-use.
Second, Paul never wrote, to our knowledge, the words “faith alone.”  They cannot be found in the Pauline letters that we have.  The one place they occur in Scripture says, “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  Would the Holy Spirit inspire diametrically opposed views?
Third, his “deep Jewishness,” as Wright spoke of it, would have never allowed Paul to preach an anti-nomian message.
Fourth, I mostly agree with Wright’s excellent analysis that the Qumran document provides the Jewish covenantal/eschatological sectarian framework for understanding “justification by faith” in Paul.   But I do not agree that it substitutes belief for an appropriate halakhah.  I contend that the “justification by faith” formula of “reckoned as righteous” was early thinking in a pre-70 historical context and eventually disappeared when Judaism lost credibility due to events.  The absence of “justification by faith” in so many of his letters reflects a diminishing threat post-70.  “Faith reckoned,” does not represent systematic and mature thought but a reaction to Judaizing teachers accompanied by calling them dogs and wishing they would cut off the whole of their genitalia!  His loftiest and most affectionate thought is contained in letters from Rome after the Jewish threat was resolved by Titus in fulfillment of prophecy, to which I Thessalonians 2:16 alludes, for instance, which is probably of a later date than popularly assumed.  But while Pharisaic and sectarian forms of Judaism remained viable a Q4MMT-type argument of “reckoned righteousness” within a Jewish context would have had great polemical power for Paul.  His Jewish opponents would have known exactly what he meant.  But previously I said that I “mostly” agree with this analysis.  There is no doubt that Paul’s use of Abraham believing the word of God and thereby being deemed as “righteous” has historical parallel to his own experience of many Gentile converts entering covenant relationship in their initial response to the Gospel.  He was a missionary on the front lines of new spiritual territory.
Fifth and finally, how might belief in the Resurrection provide reckoned righteousness when there is no mention of it in Paul’s most extensive discussion in I Corinthians 15?  Wright observes no textual link with the moral code (despite Romans 8:4).  It would seem that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  But what might resolve the issue?  Two thoughts:
1.       Paul’s insistence on his own apostolic authority does the opposite of what Wright claims.  He rules in several cases of church discipline, instructs successors and emissaries, and writes many ethical passages asserting the rule of a distinctly Christian halakhah in the world.  In that way he is remarkable for the lack of any significant departure from Jewish moralism given his necessarily independent nature, philosophical leanings, and suffering at the hands of the Jews.  In Paul’s personal knowledge of the apostolic tradition (spending two weeks with Peter, attending the Jerusalem Council, and no doubt knowing what Luke had researched) he was thoroughly informed of the Christian moral code handed down by Jesus himself.  He may well have seen the gospels of Matthew, which contains the Sermon on the Mount.  He likewise followed the hermeneutical method of Hellenistic rabbis, Jesus, and the apostles: converting Jewish legal and cultic tradition into universal categories provided by Greek cosmic, moral, and philosophical dualism, especially in references to carnal vs. spiritual living, which is much more prominent in his work than justification by belief.  In Galatians, for instance, the so-called Magna Charta of Christian Liberty, he syncretizes the flesh vs. Spirit principle with arĂȘte behavioral lists made famous in Greek moral philosophy.  Walking uprightly in the Spirit (holiness theology) forms the new “righteousness from God,” or the uniquely Christian halakhah that justifies Gentiles to whom he is sent as the chief apostle, identifying them as part of the new man that God has created in Christ Jesus for good works that we should walk in them.

2.       The so-called “doctrinal chapters” of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians, in which Paul presents  justification by the Faith for Gentile converts, are followed by a corollary, introduced by therefore.  The implication of moral code, exhortation to good works, discipline, warning, encouragement, and behavioral expectation follows the story as night follows day.
In the end I agree with Wright that trusting Jesus points to the covenant community preparing for the end of the world.  Faith is indeed evidence of grace justifying the believing Gentiles as citizens of heaven.  But I do not agree that faith alone is its mark.  An expanded definition of what it means to believe would rightly include characteristic works of the Christian.  This view makes better use of the Q4MMT document than Wright employed.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Thoughts on Salvation by Faith by John Wesley


1. IT is now upwards of forty years since my brother and I were convinced of that important truth, which is the foundation of all real religion, that “by grace we are saved through faith.” And as soon as we believed, we spoke; when we saw it ourselves, we immediately began declaring it to others. And, indeed, we could hardly speak of anything else, either in public or private. It shone upon our minds with so strong a light, that it was our constant theme. It was our daily subject, both in verse and prose; and we vehemently defended it against all mankind.

2. But in doing this we met with abundance of difficulty; we were assaulted and abused on every side. We were everywhere represented as mad dogs, and treated accordingly. We were stoned in the streets, and several times narrowly escaped with our lives. In sermons, newspapers, and pamphlets of all kinds, we were painted as unheard-of monsters. But this moved us not; we went on, by the help of God, testifying salvation by faith both to small and great, and not counting our lives dear unto ourselves, so we might finish our course with joy.

3. While we were thus employed, another storm arose from a quarter whence we least expected it. Some of our familiar friends declared open war against us for preaching salvation by works! This we could not in anywise understand; we wondered what they meant. We utterly disavowed the charge; we denied it in the strongest terms. We declared, over and over, both in public and private, “We believe, and constantly preach, salvation by faith. Salvation by works is a doctrine we abhor; we neither preach nor believe it.” But it did not avail: Say what we would, the same charge was still repeated; and that not only when we were at a convenient distance, but even before our face.

4. At first we were inclined to think, that many who affirmed this, did not believe themselves; that it was merely a copy of their countenance, spoken ad movendam invidiam. And could we have been fully persuaded of this, the difficulty would have been solved. But we did not dare to give way to the thought: Whatever they might think or say of us, we could not but think they were upright men, and spoke according to their real sentiments. The wonder therefore remained, how they could impute to us a doctrine which our soul abhorred, and which we were continually opposing, and confuting with all our might.

5. I was in this perplexity when a thought shot across my mind, which solved the matter at once: “This is the key. Those that hold, ‘Everyone is absolutely predestinated either to salvation or damnation,’ see no medium between salvation by works and salvation by absolute decrees.” It follows, that whosoever denies salvation by absolute decrees, in so doing (according to their apprehension) asserts salvation by works.

6. And herein I verily believe they are right. As averse as I once was to the thought, upon further consideration, I allow there is, there can be, no medium. Either salvation is by absolute decree, or it is (in a scriptural sense) by works. Yea, this I will proclaim on the housetop, - there is no medium between these. You must either assert unconditional decrees, or (in a sound sense) salvation by works.

7. This deserves a fuller examination: Let us consider it more attentively. If the salvation of every man that ever was, is, or shall be, finally saved, depends wholly and solely upon an absolute, irresistible, unchangeable decree of God, without any regard either to faith or works foreseen, then it is not, in any sense, by works. But neither is it by faith: For unconditional decree excludes faith as well as works; since, if it is either by faith or works foreseen, it is not by unconditional decree. Therefore, salvation by absolute decree excludes both one and the other; and, consequently, upon this supposition, salvation is neither by faith nor by works.

8. If, on the other hand, we deny all absolute decrees, and admit only the conditional one, (the same which our blessed Lord hath revealed,) “He that believeth shall be saved;” we must, according to their apprehension, assert salvation by works. We must do this, (in a sound sense of the expression,) if we believe the Bible. For seeing no faith avails, but that “which worketh by love,” which produces both inward and outward good works, to affirm, No man is finally saved without this, is, in effect, to affirm, No man is finally saved without works. It is plain, then, if we affirm, No man is saved by an absolute, unconditional decree, but; only by a conditional one; we must expect, all who hold unconditional decrees will say, we teach salvation by works.

9. Let none, therefore, who hold universal redemption be surprised at being charged with this. Let us deny it no more; let us frankly and fairly meet those who advance it upon their own ground. If they charge you with holding salvation by works, answer plainly, “In your sense, I do; for I deny that our final salvation depends upon any absolute, unconditional decree. If, therefore, there be no medium, I do hold salvation by works. But observe: In allowing this, I allow no more than that I am no Calvinist. So that, by my making you this concession, you gain - just nothing.”

10. I am therefore still consistent with myself, as well as consistent with the Bible. I still hold, (as I have done above these forty years,) that “by grace we are saved through faith;” yet so as not to contradict that other expression of the same Apostle, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Meantime, those who maintain absolute predestination, who hold decrees that have no condition at all, cannot be consistent with themselves, unless they deny salvation by faith, as well as salvation by works. For, if only “he that believeth shall be saved,” then is faith a condition of salvation; and God hath decreed, from all eternity, that it should be such. But if the decree admit of any condition, it is not an unconditional decree. Either, therefore, you must renounce your unconditional decrees, or deny that faith is the condition of salvation; or (which is just the same thing) affirm, that a man may be saved without either faith or works.

11. And I am consistent with myself; as well as with the Bible, when I affirm, that none shall be finally saved by any “faith” but that “which worketh by love,” both inward and outward holiness. I fear, many of them that hold unconditional decrees are not sensible of this. For they seriously believe themselves to be in the high road to salvation, though they are far from inward (if not outward) holiness. They have not “put on humbleness of mind, bowels of mercy, brotherly-kindness.” They have no gentleness, no meekness, no long-suffering; so far are they from the “love that endureth all things.” They are under the power of sin; of evil-surmising; of anger; yea, of outward sin. For they scruple not to say to their brother, “Thou fool!” They not only, on a slight provocation, make no scruple of rendering evil for evil, of returning railing for railing; but they bring railing accusations unprovoked; they pour out floods of the lowest, basest invectives. And yet they are within the decree! I instance in the two late publications of Mr. Rowland Hill. “O,” says Mr. Hill, “but Mr. Wesley is a wicked man.” What then? Is he more wicked than him that disputed with Michael about the body of Moses? How, then, durst he bring a railing accusation against a man, when an archangel durst not bring one against the devil? O fight, fight for an unconditional decree! For if there be any condition, how can you be saved?