Sunday Reflections (9/15/13)

    1. The Gospel according to Sproul
    2. Bearing false witness
    3. Real insights, distilled


“Calvinist Tipsy,” my former self, was surprised by how often he’d get a “yes” answer to “Are we saved by faith alone?” The correct answer, all should agree, is “no.” Calvinist Tipsy was quite certain that we were saved not by faith, but by grace through faith. Gotcha! (Calvinist Tipsy could be a real pedant at times.)

But no less a Calvinist than R.C. Sproul (of Ligonier Ministries, which got so successful that it abandoned Ligonier for sunny Florida) prefers is perversely adamant about the Tipsy’s “wrong” formula:

At the moment the Roman Catholic Church condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, she denied the gospel and ceased to be a legitimate church, regardless of all the rest of her affirmations of Christian orthodoxy.

(Is the Reformation Over?, quoted by Robin Phillips, emphasis added by Tipsy)

The gravamen of Sproul’s argument is that Protestants must remain separate from Rome notwithstanding the fruits of dialog:

There have been several observations rendered on this subject by those I would call “erstwhile evangelicals.” One of them wrote, “Luther was right in the sixteenth century, but the question of justification is not an issue now.” A second self-confessed evangelical made a comment in a press conference I attended that “the sixteenth-century Reformation debate over justification by faith alone was a tempest in a teapot.” Still another noted European theologian has argued in print that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is no longer a significant issue in the church. We are faced with a host of people who are defined as Protestants but who have evidently forgotten altogether what it is they are protesting.

To embrace [Rome] as an authentic church while she continues to repudiate the biblical doctrine of salvation is a fatal attribution.

But Robin Phillips sees a chink in Sproul’s armor:

Part of the problem here is that the reformed doctrine of “justification per fidem propter Christum” (justification by faith on account of Christ) has morphed into its parody “justification propter fidem per Christum,” (justification on account of faith through Christ). While the difference is subtle, the second actually leads to a denial of the historic Protestant doctrine.
In their book Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings, Gritsch and Jenson have suggested that if one is justified by believing that one is justified, then we have unwittingly embraced “a works-righteousness that makes medieval Catholicism seem a fount of pure grace” by comparison.

I cannot disagree with that “gotcha,” but it still seems a bit academic to me. Let me give it a shot of my own. “Sproul doesn’t believe in ‘salvation by faith alone’ but in ‘salvation by salvation by faith alone.'”

Read Sproul’s penultimate paragraph carefully if you doubt me, and tell me what he possibly means by the following if not that you’re damned if you hold the wrong soteriology (doctrine of salvation):

From the sixteenth century to the present, Rome has always taught that justification is based upon faith, on Christ, and on grace. The difference, however, is that Rome continues to deny that justification is based on Christ alone, received by faith alone, and given by grace alone. The difference between these two positions is the difference between salvation and its opposite.

So you’re saved by faith alone – oh! and by holding the right view about it!

Such is the desperate nonsense to which a smart man will resort to retain the right to be schismatic, and to set up one’s own little religious fiefdom outside historic Christianity as he misunderstands it.

I probably shouldn’t fuss so much over someone else’s fight, but check the Catechism of the Catholic Church on justification and see if you don’t think the “erstwhile evangelicals” are onto something about the disappearance of serious distance between Rome’s view and Protestant views of justification.

I’m also incredulous that guys like Sproul should be so adamant about righteousness being “imputed” and only imputed:

[T]he biblical and Protestant view of justification is that the sole grounds of our justification is the righteousness of Christ, which righteousness is imputed to the believer, so that the moment a person has authentic faith in Christ, all that is necessary for salvation becomes theirs by virtue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The fundamental issue is this: is the basis by which I am justified a righteousness that is my own? Or is it a righteousness that is, as Luther said, “an alien righteousness,” a righteousness that is extra nos, apart from us — the righteousness of another, namely, the righteousness of Christ?

Righteousness remains extra nos and “alien,” a divine fiction flying in the face of palpable facts to the contrary; and they fancy that fiction a glorious thing!

Look folks, if righteousness remains external – if not a damned thing about you changes when you “get saved” – just what makes you think you’re going to enjoy heaven when God lets you in on account of your fictitious righteousness? Do you think heaven’s going to be all about you, with 70 virgins to deflower for men and an endless stream of pool boys and tennis coaches for women?


Another fairly common form of sin that victimizes sexual minorities, and one that is unfortunately quite common among professing Christians, is the bearing of false witness that amounts to slander. Much of the time, the people are not actually aware that their claims are false, but that doesn’t reduce their harmful impact, and as Christians in particular we have a responsibility to be careful with our words …

Perhaps the most serious form of false witness is the accusation that sexual minorities are generally a danger to children …

Many Christians also make other untrue claims about sexual minorities. For example, some claim that gay relationships are always based entirely on lust and do not display any self-sacrificial love. In addition, some claim that gay people are always promiscuous and are incapable of forming monogamous relationships. These types of claims are not only morally problematic due to their falsehood, but actually work against making a credible case for traditional ethics. People who know loving, monogamous gay couples will not lend any credibility to those making false claims about them. I’ve also seen it claimed that someone who is truly following Christ can’t be attracted to the same sex, which is direct slander against people like myself …

(Jeremy Erickson, Sin and Sexual Minorities Part 3: Sins of Word and Deed)


I found myself in one of those little chotchky shops where they sell ylang-ylang hand-soaps and inspiritational calendars. There were a selection of plaques available with cutesy phrases on them like “Friends are like flowers in the garden of life,” “Live as if it were your last day,” “Dance like there’s noone watching.” Shuddering silently, I said in the recesses of my thoughts Oprah bullshit. Ali immediately took me to task, translating several of the inspirational phrases into various academic dialects: Foucauldian Postmodernism, High Scholastic, Contemporary Vaticanese. As soon as the idiom changed, they went from sounding like cheesy commonplaces to sounding like profound truths. For the first time, I realized that these little sentimental phrases that folks like my Mom hang on their walls are actually real insights boiled down to the point where they can be accessed by people who never read Kierkegaard.

The fact that intellectuals feel the need to sneer at such simple explications of truth is hardly a point in our favour. On the contrary, our knee-jerk reaction against emotional appeals, against appeals to empathy and common wisdom, is really just a form of elitist pride. In lamenting that others cannot reason as we do we join in that damnable prayer of thanksgiving that we are not like other men.

(Melinda Selmys, Ratio ad Absurdum)

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.