Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why I am a Protestant: Justification by Faith Alone

The reason why I am a Protestant and not an Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic is because of the Gospel. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches rejects the Gospel of Justification by faith alone. I have given many reasons in this blog why all Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics arguments are unsuccessful, but this blog post will be a positive reason for rejecting the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspective and for embracing the Protestant perspective. In this post I will argue that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox understanding of justification is incorrect according to our earliest Christian Testimony: The Bible. Thus, we should have a strong reason to doubt these two Churches and embrace the Protestant position.

The fundamental difference between the Protestant understanding of justification and the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspective is the role of works in justification. The Protestant position is that no type of work can contribute to ones justification, only faith can, whereas in the Eastern and Roman view it affirms that certain works can contribute to your justification. Here are my four arguments for the Protestant position:

1) The Bible teaches that Grace is only compatible with faith and not works:

In order to have a clear understanding of justification we have to have a biblical conception of Grace. This is Grace as Paul defines it:

Romans 11:6 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Works here are generalized and there is no reason in the context at all to limit these works to types of works rather than all works in general. Thus, we see that grace is such that it is incompatible with works. Another reason for thinking that grace excludes all works is Romans 6:1-2 because Paul could not ask this rhetorical question if the concept of grace were such that works could be mixed in with it:

Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 4:16 tells us that the promise has to rest on faith because that is the only thing that is compatible with Grace. All this is really interesting, but how does it relate to the doctrine of justification? Well Paul makes it clear that we are justified by grace, which means not by works, but only faith:

Romans 3:23-24 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his *grace* as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

Thus, justification is by grace and by the definition of grace: by faith alone.

2) Justification by faith apart from works:

The Bible out rightly claims that justification is by faith apart from works of law:

Romans 3:27-31 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Now many objectors to justification by faith alone are quick to point out that they do not see the phrase “works of law” as all works in general and thus this cannot be an argument for sola fide so they say. But the problem is that Paul connects his thoughts in this context from the exclusion of boasting and if any works could contribute to our justification then we would have grounds for boasting, but clearly Paul here would rule out types of boasting and therefore we have good reason to think this is referring to all types of works.

An even stronger argument for “works of law” meaning all works in general is that it fits Paul's argument and context better than any non-Protestant interpretation. The part of Paul's argument that I am referring here to is 3:31 where Paul asks the rhetorical question about whether we even need to follow the law in the first place if Paul's understanding of justification were to be correct. Paul’s view of justification is such that it leads one to ask this rhetorical question: If we really are justified by faith alone then do we need to follow the law? Paul answers that just because we are justified by faith alone we still need to follow the law, but that the following the law does not justify us. The Sola Fide understanding of this text is the most preferable than the alternative for this reason. For if the Roman or Eastern understanding were being taught here then Paul would have no reason to anticipate this question because Paul could have always said “well you need to follow other works and other laws for justification”. And clearly this is lacking from his teaching on works and justification.

3) The Justification of the ungodly:

The Bible clearly teaches that God justifies the ungodly:

Romans 4:5 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Obviously someone who is ungodly is not actually righteous and has not done a sufficient amount of works to be right before God. But God legally counts him as righteous when he has faith. Now the East and Rome will be quick to point out that what justify here means is that God spiritually transforms the believer to make him pleasing to God, but the problem is that the Greek word for justify or “dikaioo” never means that. It either can mean to declare righteous someone that is actual righteous or not actually righteous, but legally so. It seems that given this passage that this is a declaration of righteousness on the ungodly thereby suggesting that the latter meaning (legal) is being used here rather than the former (actual). Thus, this word is being used here as a legal declaration in the context of a court room before God (Rom. 4:2).

4) Salvation is by Grace through Faith:

One of those most popular passages for proving sola fide has been Ephesians 2:8-9, it reads:

Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Christians have been saved, a past reality, by grace through faith and not by works. It could not be any clearer than this. The East and Rome have a hard time arguing that this is referring to only certain works here because salvation as a whole is by faith and grace which is not your own doing, but if we could achieve salvation by any works then it would be our own doing and therefore any works ought to be excluded. Paul in the end seals his argument with saying that because of all this no one can boast, but if this did not rule out all works then someone could boast, but Paul clearly would never intend for us to think that.

Concluding thoughts:

Therefore, since the earliest Christian testimony is clear that justification is by faith alone we should reject any works based systems like Mormonism, the Watch Tower, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, and Roman Catholicism. All of these views reject the Gospel of justification by faith alone. We have to remember that all false religions and Gospels are man centered and are not centered on the person and perfect work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the refutation of all the positive arguments that the East and Rome gives for believing their positions see the following blog posts:

Canon Argument:


Infallible Interpretations:

Scripture Alone:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Refutation of the Canon Argument

Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox use the Canon argument against the Protestant position to show the necessity of an Infallible and Authoritative Church to epistemologically justify what books belong in the Canon (the books of the Bible).

The Argument is as follows:

P1: If one does not have infallible and authoritative church to determine the canon then one cannot know what books belong in the canon

P2: Protestants do not have an infallible and authoritative church to determine the canon

C: Hence, Protestants cannot know what books belong in the canon

A Rejection of the Argument:

The Protestant ought to reject P1 because one who holds to the Protestant position can say that the Bible self-authenticating and self-verifying thereby suggesting that when one reads it they just know it is God speaking to them. To use philosophical jargon: It is a properly basic belief what books are divinely inspired and belong in the Canon of scripture. A basic belief is a sort of belief that is reasonable to hold without inference and arguments, but yet these reasonable beliefs are basic or foundational for inference and arguments to start. Here are a few basic beliefs that are reasonable to hold without inference or argumentation: The existence of the external world, the fact that you have existed longer than five minutes, that you have reliable faculties, that we are not in a matrix and that we are not brains in vats. Therefore, it is a properly basic belief that God speaks to me through the 66 books of the Bible when I read them.

A Biblical Basis:

But is this idea of us being reasonable in believing that the Bible is divinely inspired independent of argument and inference itself a Biblical Idea?

It certainly seems that it is. Jesus says of himself to believers that they will know his voice:

John 10:3-6 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Jesus does not say that they will know the Shepard’s voice on the basis of arguments and inference, but merely that when they encounter it they will know it is the voice of God. This is how the Protestant knows that the 66 books in the Bible are divinely inspired by God.

Do we really need a Divinely Inspired Table of Contents?

At this point the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox might say “well you may know the 66 books of the Bible belong in the canon but you do not have a divinely inspired and authoritative table of contents to the Bible.” In short, they are objecting that in the Bible it never says what books belong and do not belong in the Bible.

How should we respond to this?

The Bible does give a criterion for what books belong as scripture in the Canon (John 10:3-6). However, Non-Protestants will be quick to point out that it does not give the content of which books fulfill that criterion. But why think that we need that? I really can think of no good reason for why that is necessary. Admittedly, it may be subjectively preferable to some, but it is hard to see why this is necessary. They might argue that it makes things clear and that thereby entails that the Non-Protestant position is more reasonable, but I have demonstrated in the last post that just because a position is clearer than another does not constitute a good reason for choosing one position over another.

Concluding Thoughts:

Thus, we have seen that the most popular Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox argument is a complete failure and cannot be used to show that Non- Protestant positions are more reasonable than the Protestant position.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Refutation of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Argument from Perspicuity

It is argued that the Roman Catholic (RC) and Eastern Orthodox Church (EO) ought to be preferred over the Protestant (P) position because these churches provide the individual believer with more certainty and clarity concerning claims of Faith and Practice. These institutions, it is argued, can infallibly and authoritatively elaborate and explain doctrine in a way that gives more epistemological certainty and clarity about theological propositions. Thus, from this the RC and EO argue that there positions are more reasonable to believe because they can provide one with more theological certainty than P.

This is how the argument might run:

P1: If r provides more theological certainty than p then r is more reasonable to believe than p

P2: RC and EO provide more theological certainty than P

C: Hence, RC and EO are more reasonable to believe than P

It seems to me that P1 is clearly false. We can think of a counter example to P1 that renders it entirely unreasonable to believe. Let us suppose there was a Christian position where God implanted in our minds *all* infallible and authoritative revelation that could not be doubted in the same way that 1+1=2 cannot be doubted. According to this rationalistic position all theological propositions that are essential for faith and practice were revealed to us in this infallible a priori fashion. Now surely this way of God revealing himself would be far clearer than using our fallible senses that can be possibly mistaken to read or hear infallible propositions. But surely no one believes this position or thinks that because it offers more epistemological clarity and certainty that it ought to be preferred over P, EO, and RC.

Another Problem is that I can find no good reason for even affirming P1, so even if the previous argument were to fail it still seems we have no positive reason for affirming P1. Thus, at best we ought to be agnostic with respect to P1.

Therefore, it seems that this argument is unsound and ought to be rejected when it is used for positive support for RC and EO against P. If one were to accept RC and EO they would have to offer independent reasons for doing so rather than pointing out that if one where to accept it they would have more epistemological certainty concerning doctrine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Defending The Law/Gospel Distinction: Revelation 14:6-7

In this post I will be addressing an argument against the Law/Gospel distinction from Eastern Orthodox blogger MG's post “Breaking down the Law-Gospel dialectic”. His argument tries to show that the Law and the Gospel are not distinct theological categories. I will distinguish the two in the following way: Gospel is believing in the promises of God especially as it relates to our salvation in Christ alone and the is Law the commandments of God. In short what distinguishes these two: the Gospel is “believing” and the Law is “doing”. In Pauline thought believing is never doing and doing is never believing. Now that we understand the distinction let us take a look at MG's supposed counter example to this distinction:

Revelation 14:6-7 6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal *gospel* to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his *judgment* has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."

MG writes, after quoting this verse:

“If law is observance of commandments (fear, give glory, worship), and the everlasting gospel teaches us to obey God’s commandments, then are the two really in opposition?”

The first theological mistake that MG makes is by pointing out that people who hold to the Law/Gospel distinction think that there is actually opposition between the Law and the Gospel. This is far from the truth because most Reformed/Lutheran accounts of the Law and The Gospel never say that they are opposed to each other but rather they are distinct from one another. The Law and the Gospel work together to bring about God’s redemptive historical plan and thus there is no opposition here, but only a distinction here.

Secondly, why does MG assume that when it speaks of the Gospel it has to be referring to all the imperatives mentioned (fear, give glory, worship)? My contention is that John is only referring to God’s judgment or justice being displayed to believers and non-believers. The Gospel does contain, after all, God’s justice and righteousness (Rom. 1:17) and surely John is talking about God’s justice which is the Greek word “krisis” used in this passage (in the ESV translation above it is translated as judgment). It seems that this is all John is trying to say: that the eternal gospel is God’s coming justice. This is something that Protestants who hold to the law/gospel distinction agree with. This is a statement of fact about God’s righteous purposes and not an imperative for us to follow.

The reason why MG took the verse in this way is because as an Eastern Orthodox person he rejects the follow Protestant positions: 1) The clearer passages of Scripture ought to interpret the unclear; 2) the Gospel is that of believing and not doing.

Paul states clearly that an aspect of the Gospel is justification by Faith alone (Rom. 1:16-17). Also, that those who reject the Gospel and try to add any works to it, as Paul's Jewish opponents did, are condemned to hell (Gal. 1:8-9). If we would let the clear scriptures define what is the Gospel rather than some difficult apocalyptic imagery in Revelation then one would clearly see that what John was talking about was God’s righteousness and justice as an aspect of the eternal gospel rather than bundle of imperatives. But MG did not do this because his church rejects the Gospel and rejects the reasonable interpretive principles that lay at the heart of the Reformation.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Do we need a Infallible Interpretation of the Bible?

Roman Catholics claim that Protestant theology is deficient because one cannot have infallible certainty about doctrine from scripture because they do not have a infallible church to interpret the Bible infallibly. All they have, according to the Roman Catholic, is the fallible opinions of men. In this post I hope to show that given this line of reasoning that Roman Catholics are in the same position as Protestants and that if there reasoning were consistent then this would require a infinite regress of infallible interpreters.

Roman Catholics are in the same position as Protestants:

If the infallible church infallibly interprets a statement x then the infallible interpretation is going to be interpreted by you, a mere fallible person. In short, the Roman Catholic has to fallibly interpret the infallible church, just like the Protestant has to fallibly interpret the infallible Bible.

A Infinite Regress of Infallible Interpreters:

The Problem is that if the Roman Catholics were consistent with their claims then they would end up having a infinite regress of infallible interpreters. Here is how:

If one lays out a condition for theology that for any statement of faith and practice, that statement ought to be infallibly interpreted.

Here is how such a condition would lead to a infinite regress: For every statement x that is interpreted that interpretation becomes a statement y about a statement x. Furthermore, since that infallible interpretation is a statement y then it needs to be infallibly interpreted by another statement w and once it is infallibly interpreted then w has to be infallibly interpreted and on and on.

The Roman Catholics might object and say that "well there comes a point were you just have to interpret the statement x". But if this is true then it becomes a fallible human opinion and no longer a infallible interpretation of the Church.

The problem with this infallible interpretation principle is that it leads to a unnecessary infinite regress and thus a violation of Ockham's Razor.


In conclusion we do not need a infallible interpretation of the Bible because the principles behind it lead to a unnecessary infinite regress. There is no reason to think that we cannot know the meaning of scripture without a church infallibly interpreting it. This is why I think it most reasonable to think that we interpret the Bible as fallible creatures before God, we know what it says but we know it as creatures and not as God.