Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sola Fide in Patristic Literature

I have had numerous emails and comments about the sources I have recommended for seeing a "Lutheran" doctrine of justification in the Church Fathers. This is an attempt to put together a list of Patristic sources which I think approach a Lutheran doctrine of justification.

I had mentioned on my podcast, two apostolic fathers. First is Clement of Rome, who writes,

"All these, therefore were highly honored and made great, not for their own sake, or for their works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of his will. And we too, being called by his will in Jesus Christ, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men." (I Clement 32)

Second is the anonymous author of the Epistle to Diognetus who clearly teaches imputation of Christ's alien righteousness:

"This was not that he at all delighted in our sins, but that he simply endured them; nor that he approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that he sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached it’s height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting his own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great longsuffering and bore with us, he himself took on him the burden of our iniquities, he gave his son as a ransom for us, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible one for the corruptible, the immortal one for the mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than his righteousness? By what other thing was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hidden in a single righteous One, that the righteousness of one should justify the many transgressors." (Chapter IX)

The best resource for the Apostolic Fathers is the translation: Holmes, Michael. The Apostolic Fathers in English (Baker, 2006) The old J.B. Phillips translations in the Schaff ANF series still hold up as well.

I would particularly point to the writings of St. Ambrose. His treatise On Jacob and the Happy Life is very significant in this regard. Look at the following quote for example,

"Nevertheless, the law was of help to me. I began to confess what I used to deny, I began to know my sin and not to cover over my injustice. I began to proclaim my injustice to the Lord against myself, and you forgave the impurities of my heart. But this too is of help to me, that we are not justified by the works of the law. Thus, I do not have the wherewithal to enable me to glory in my own works, I do not have the wherewithal to boast of myself, and so I will glory in Christ. I will not glory because I have been redeemed. I will not glory because I am free from sins, but because sins have been forgiven me. I will not glory because I am profitable or because anyone is profitable to me, but because Christ is an advocate in my behalf with the Father, because the blood of Christ has been poured out in my behalf. My guilt became for me the price of redemption, through which Christ came to me. On account of me, Christ tasted death." (On Jacob and the Happy Life, 133)

This quote is merely a sample of Ambrose's Christ-centered pastoral heart. You will find a lot of talk about justification by faith and the condemnatory use of the law. The English translation of this can be found in: McHugh, Michael P. St Ambrose: Seven Exegetical Works (Washington D.C: Catholic University of America, 1972)

John Chrysostom's commentary on Galatians expounds upon the law/gospel distinction rather clearly. He defines the purpose of the law as follows,

"the Law commands all its precepts to be performed, and punishes the transgressor; therefore we are all dead to it, for no man has fulfilled it. Here observe, how guardedly he assails it; he says not, 'the Law is dead to me' but 'I am dead to the Law', the meaning of which is, that, as it is impossible for a dead corpse to obey the commandments of the Law, so also it is for me who have perished by its curse, for by its word am I slain." (Comments on Galatians 2:19)

He also writes,

"For the Law requires not only Faith but works also, but grace saves and justified by Faith." (Comments on Galatians 3:12)

Speaking of Abraham, Chrysostom states, "And if he who was before grace, was justified by Faith, although plentiful in works, much more are we. For what loss was it for him, not being under the Law? None, for his faith sufficed unto righteousness." (Comments on Galatians 3:6)

Chrysostom's Pauline commentaries can be found in the NPNF series edited by Phillip Schaff. There are numerous editions.

Other works I would point to are Augustine's treatise On the Spirit and the Letter, which demonstrates a pretty clear law/gospel distinction. This work was especially important for Luther, as was the work The Call of All Nations by Prosper of Aquitaine, which I have often referenced.

I will probably do a part two to this post, because there are so many resources that could be referenced. My upcoming book deals only with the Apostolic Fathers, but I would like to write one dealing with Chrysostom and Ambrose, who are two of my favorite writers and preachers.

Ultimately, isolated quotes are not enough. You will have to read the works themselves, look at the context, and place these ideas into the overall theological system of these particular writers. This is what I attempt to do with my work, and hopefully some others will take up the task as well, looking at other early writers who I have not had the time to study.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How Christians Should Respond to Suffering and Tragedy

In light of the recent shootings in Newtown, CT, I spent the program talking about how Christians should deal with suffering in light of the gospel. Here is the program.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Refutation of Limited Atonement Part 2

On today's program I got back to the discussion of limited atonement. I primarily dealt with 1 John 2:2 and discussed John MacArthur's comments on the text which are used to support limited atonement. Here's the program.

I am still looking for financial contributions if you are able.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

St. Paul on Homosexuality

Continuing my examination of this popular image supposedly refuting a traditional Christian approach to sexuality, I come to the following claim:

The original language of the NT (dealing with the issue of homosexuality) actually refers to male prostitution, molestation, or promiscuity, non-committed same-sex relationships. Paul may have spoken against homosexuality, but he also said that women should be silent and never assume authority over a man.

What I find particularly interesting about this statement is that it presents two contradictory arguments. On the one hand, the claim is made that Paul had nothing to say about homosexuality, but on the other it is claimed that Paul has an antiquated moral world view which should be ignored. This demonstrates the fact that consistency is not usually the primary issue in such discussions. Proponents of same-sex relationships will often throw out every possible argument, even if the logic of various arguments contradict one another. I have heard public moderated debates with advocates of homosexual behavior who first argue that Paul allowed homosexuality, and after being refuted, retreated to the claim that Paul's morals are outdated and irrelevant. I will deal with both of these assertions separately.

First is the claim that Paul's statements about homosexuality are not about committed same-sex relationships. Paul has several statements about homosexuality, but look at the most clear one in the beginning of his epistle to the Romans.

"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." (Romans 1:26-27)

The language is pretty straight forward. The text doesn't say anything about prostitution, promiscuity, or non-committed relationships. The men in this text are described as giving up natural relations "with women" for those "with one another." Thus, the issue is one of gender. Rather than sex with women, men have sex with men. It's not that these men exchange natural homosexual relations with more abusive forms of homosexual relations. It may very well be the case that some of these people were involved in rape, promiscuity, or pedophelia, but the primary point that Paul is making is one of gender confusion. This is especially clear because of the creational context in which Paul is speaking. In Paul's argument, sinners invert the purpose for which they have been created. Humans were created to worship God, but through sin that worship is misdirected toward creation itself. Men and women were created for one another, but sin has misdirected sexual desire toward others of the same gender.

The second argument that is made here, which contradicts the first, is that Paul's ethics are irrelevant because he supported the idea that a woman cannot have authority over a man. There are a couple of problems with this argument.

First, it assumes that Biblical morality should be judged by some broader standard. Thus society, reason, cultural change, or some other factor establishes the nature of morality. This moral framework is then placed over Scripture which then judges what is and is not correct. For the Christian, the opposite is the case. The Bible defines moral truth, and the broader societal norms are then judged on that basis. I, as an autonomous creature, do not first decide what the role of a woman should be, and then evaluate the Biblical text accordingly.

Second, the writer misunderstands Paul's meaning when giving authority to men rather than women. Examine what Paul says regarding this issue,

"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." (1 Timothy 2:11-12)

1 Timothy is a pastoral epistle. Therefore, this statement must be placed in its ecclesiastical context. A woman is not permitted to teach or have authority in the church. Or, put in other words, a woman cannot be a Pastor. This does not negate the importance of women within the church. God has simply created men and women for different roles. One is not better than another. Paul was not implying that women aren't allowed any sort of authority in a broader social context. Surely, Paul was aware of Deborah's role as a judge! To argue that Paul's view of gender would disallow a woman's voting rights, hold civil office, or refuse a woman to work outside of the home is anachronistic and irrelevant to Paul's teaching in 1 Timothy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hyper Calvinism, Bishops, and Christology

On this week's program I answered lots of listener questions. I read an argument against limited atonement, defined hyper Calvinism, answered some questions from Roman Catholics, and discussed the differences between Lutheran and Reformed Christology. Here's the program.