Saturday, December 7, 2013

Response to Donavan Riley's "Review" of my Book

A review of my book was recently posted on Blogia by pastor Donavan Riley. It can be found here. Normally such a scathing and dishonest review would not be worth responding to, but due to the fact that the word about this seems to have gotten around, I have chosen to do so.

Riley accuses me of "pietism and radical spiritualism" in the second paragraph of his review, but fails to define either of those terms or cite an instance in my work where that is indeed the case. In fact, there are no citations of my book in the review at all. Riley chose to focus on one specific chapter of the book, rather than the entirety of my argument, and consequently attacks my view as somehow connected with Schwenkfeld. 

The heart of Riley's argument is that: "Leaning on the Finns for his critique of the New Perspective on Paul, Cooper ends up launching a similar attack on forensic justification. He argues for an essential form of justification, an ontological change in believers." 

This was certainly a surprise to me, as I hadn't realized myself to be one who disagrees with forensic justification! The purpose of my discussion of forensic/participationist soteriological motifs in Luther's theology was not to negate the historic Lutheran understanding of justification as forensic, but to argue that in Luther's theology, forensic and participationist categories are not mutually exclusive. I write in the book: "Mannermaa's contention that ontological union is part of what Luther means when discussing the concept of justification seems to be contradicted by several statements of Luther. Though they are connected concepts, Luther often distinguishes between ontological union and justification" (P.61). Justification is a forensic declaration which includes the imputation of Christ's righteousness. 

What I argue in the book is that for Luther, ontological union precedes justification. That does not mean that ontological union is justification. This statement may be controversial, as the general ordo salutis in Lutheranism has placed mystical union after justification rather than vice versa. However, I am not alone in arguing this point, as Kurt Marquart argues the same way in his article, "Luther and Theosis." There is also some precedent for this in the Lutheran dogmaticians, as David Hollaz argues that union can in some sense be said to be prior to justification. Schmid writes:

"According to another mode of considering it, it can be said that union precedes justification, inasmuch as faith precedes justification ; and in faith as the organ, by which the union is effected, its beginning is already presupposed. Therefore Holl. (933), after consenting to this view, adds: 'Although the mystical union, by which God dwells in the soul as in a temple, may, according to our mode of conception, follow justification in the order of nature, it is however to be acknowledged that the formal union of faith, by which Christ is apprehended, put on, and united with us, as a mediator and the author of grace and pardon, logically precedes justification. For faith is imputed for righteousness, so far as this receives the merit of Christ, and so unites it with ourselves as to make it ours.'" (Schmid, 497)

It is to be noted that I am not speaking of the mystical union by which believers grow in virtue and love when I am speaking about union preceding justification. This was Osiander's error, which identified the justification with growth in grace. Rather, what I am referring to is the fact that the believer has to be united to Christ in order to receive his righteousness. I have to be "in Christ," in order for God to declare me justified.

Riley further critiques the book writing: "What Luther does not seem to be up to in the Galatians commentary, since Cooper does not emphasize these matters in his book, is distinguishing law and Gospel, the theology of the cross, or the theology of the Word." The purpose of my book is to discuss Paul's view of justification as interpreted by Luther and the fathers, and thus I utilized the Galatians commentary to speak of one particular aspect of Luther's theology that is pertinent to the study. Nowhere have I argued that Luther's theology of the Word or law and gospel are not central to his thought. Clearly, they are. Of course, I was not writing a treatise on the major themes of Luther's Galatians commentary. 

Riley argues again: "Schwenkfeld was the one to start talking among Lutherans about “participation” in Christʼs glorified humanity, or having a union with “heavenly flesh.” This is the very thing the Finns and Cooper are trying to connect to the early fathers and Luther via the tradition of theosis. Theosis is, in essence, enthusiasm, which grasps for God outside the Word, deep in the flesh (logos sarkos) in which we can “participate” in divinity."

I have written a book on theosis that will be released next year. In that work, I explicitly reject the idea that one grasps God apart from Word and Sacrament. That is one of my primary criticisms of the Eastern Orthodox approach to deification. What I affirm is simply the historic Lutheran teaching of mystical union. 

The next point Riley makes is: "But where Cooper emphasizes increased holiness by divine law, there should instead be death and resurrection. Where he emphasizes ontology, there should be eschatology." First, the idea of increased holiness by divine law is not in the book at all. It appears that Riley is reading other things I have written (which don't teach that either) into this work, rather than actually digesting what is in the chapters. Regarding eschatology, I actually have a section in the Luther chapter titled "Luther and Eschatology," where I make the point that Mannermaa misses Luther's eschatological focus. It seems Riley did not read this chapter carefully.

He further claims that: "Cooper grounds his critique of the New Perspective on Paul by following Mannermaa into the Galatians commentary, where the latter emphasizes a theology of love which reflects, not Lutherʼs search for a gracious God, but Schwenkfeldʼs search for pure love, found finally in being formed in Christ himself as our complete and perfected holiness. Sin is then formulated as misdirected love. Faith is redirected love, when Jesus himself effects this in the Christian. Righteousness is an ontological reality." The theology of love that Riley discusses here is completely irrelevant to the purpose of my book and is not even mentioned here. This seems to be a description of a traditional Augustinian approach to sin and love that I do not hold to.

He then states that "This is routinely missed by Cooper in his book, who seems to think that being in Christ is a process of becoming less one thing and becoming (ontologically) more of another thing. In this case, the sinful human passing over into the holy divine." I would affirm, with Lutheran Orthodoxy, that the union with God that the Christian has is genuine and real. This grows throughout the Christian's life, but one is never absorbed into God so that personal identity is lost.

The final claim I want to examine, which is likely the most inaccurate, is where Riley writes:

"Cooper opens a way to argue that deification of human nature in Christ is a prerequisite for justification. Following the Finns allows Cooper to dance lightly around the confusion this then interjects into matters of glory-theology, faith and love, bondage of the will, simul iustus et peccator, and the works of the Holy Spirit."

I have never, nor would I argue that anything within the human person is a "prerequisite for justification." The only prerequisite for justification is the righteousness of Christ. I'm sure that such a theology might affect the areas of faith Riley mentions, but that is irrelevant to my own theology. 

Overall, the position Riley critiques is a gross caricature of my view. His review failed to use any citations, overlooked quotes which would disprove is misrepresentations, and he didn't even engage the argument of the book. The section on Mannermaa's interpretation of Luther is a small aspect of this volume, which is on the subject of the New Perspective on Paul and Patristic theology. Riley seems to have used this book as a means to expound upon his own problems with the Finnish interpretation of Luther, rather than actually engaging the text.


J. Dean said...

I've read your book, Jordan, and the impression I've received from this reviewer is that he spotted certain sentences and ran off with them without reading their contexts.

And we know based upon your podcasts and other things written that you don't advocate the things Riley is asserting.

So let him eat cake :)

Steve Bricker said...

I read Pr. Riley's review and was as surprised as you and Charles Wiese seemed to be. I questioned the use of Mannermaa and Schwenkfeld but assumed they were the best sources you had to argue your specific points.

If you had actually intended what was brought forth in the review, I assume your thesis adviser would have "called you on the carpet" for it during seminary.

Jordan Cooper said...

I did use Mannermaa, but not Schwenkfeld which is a whole other theological tradition that really in't even relevant to the book.

Steve Bricker said...

Of course, you're correct. Sorry about that--not thinking.