NOTE: All of the accounts of conversations I post like these are done with permission from my debating partner.
I like debating with people who have very different views than mine. For several months now, I have been debating with a very articulate “New Perspective” Roman Catholic going by the name Adomnan at Dave Armstrong’s blog here.
We seem to be at opposite poles. Here is one of the things he said to me during our debate:
Both Augustine and Luther were attempting to interpret Paul. Augustine was correct (contra the Pelagians) in teaching that, for Paul, Christian righteousness is a gift, because it is a new and higher life, a sharing in the nature of God. He was wrong about using Paul’s polemic against the Law and works of the Law as an argument against the Pelagians. Luther’s take is basically a misinterpretation/exaggeration of Augustine with certain important innovations, too far removed from the real Paul in context to have anything to do with the Apostle’s authentic teachings. Luther was possible only because of Augustine. His thought never would have grown directly out of Paul. That’s why nothing resembling Lutheranism ever grew in Eastern Orthodox soil, which has Paul but no Augustine. (His name is known, but his teachings largely ignored.)
Let me try to sum up our debate in a bit of a nutshell:
Adomnan says that
“[the] Judaizers believed that adhering to the Jewish religion was necessary to attain and retain the grace of God. The works of the Law were the rites, especially circumcision, that made one Jewish, circumcision being the initiatory sacrament of Judaism, as baptism is for Christians. Paul did not think Gentiles needed to become Jews, which is why he focused on the Law (Jewish religion) and the works of the Law (Jewish sacraments) as something to be avoided. On the other hand, he saw value in what he called the dikaiomata or righteous requirements of the Law, interpreted by Christ, as positive ideals embodying love (the “law of Christ”). That’s why Paul could write that love fulfilled the Law.
Thus, Paul had an ambiguous attitude to the Law (the Jewish religion). He admired its ideals, which he saw fulfilled in Christianity, but he rejected it as a way of life, at least for Gentiles. Essentially, it was part of the old world, now superseded by the new age that the Resurrection ushered in….”
My position is the following: The Judaizers missed that circumcision, which pointed to Christ and faith, was a shadow that had fallen away now that the reality had come. Why did they miss this? Because circumcision to them was not something that God had given them to point to Christ, but was a work that they did in order to attain and retain the grace of God. In other words, the Judaizers, probably inadvertently, were trying to be justified not by God’s grace in Christ but by the actions/doings they performed, and therefore, Paul tells them that if they want to be justified that way they must keep the whole law Law – all rites, precepts, commands, etc. (particularly Sinai – see Exodus 19-24 and Hebrews 12:18-24)” – “doing”!
Here is how Adomnan responds to my position:
You are setting up a dichotomy that is foreign to Paul’s thought. I have pointed out that “hearing of faith” is less passive than you suggest, because it’s a way of saying what Paul also calls the “obedience of faith.” The “works of the Law” that are set against this hearing/obedience are Jewish rites, circumcision first and foremost — not “doing” in general or even “doing the Law” in particular. After all, Paul says in Rom 2 that “doers of the Law” will in fact be justified: one of the few — the only? — places where doing (poiein) and the Law are joined.
Thus, for Paul:
1) “doing works/works of the Law” = doing Jewish rites, particularly circumcision.
2) “doing the Law” = doing the dikaiomata/righteous requirements of the Law.”
This is why Paul says one can be justified by doing the Law, but not by doing the works of the Law.
I’m not saying that Paul pushed doing over receiving. I am saying that this tension between activity and passivity that you see in Paul is not there at all. It never enters Paul’s mind. “You don’t need to practice Judaism” is not the same thing as “You don’t need to do anything.”
So my new question for Adomnan in the debate is whether he thinks there is such a thing as passive faith/righteousness at all (see Psalm 22: 9,10 and here as well: http://www.extremetheology.com/2006/06/infant_faith_a_.html ). In our life of faith, we certainly commit to God and decide for Him – but is this the only kind of faith?
I had said of the unbeliever: “They (think they) *deserve* God’s mercy because their good outweighs their bad, or because their good combined with their ‘sincere repentance’ outweighs their bad.”
And he responded:
My point was that Paul says as forcibly as one could wish that perseverance in doing good leads to eternal life and that “doers of the Law” are justified. This is not hypothetical. This is Paul’s fundamental conviction and what he sees as the real situation. Thus, he would agree wholeheartedly with people who believed their repentance and good deeds gained them eternal life: He said as much himself. And nothing he writes about setting aside Judaism as a religion with its rites derogates in the least from this rock-solid principle: “He will pay everyone as their deeds deserve. For those who aimed for glory and honor and immortality by persevering in doing good, there will be eternal life.” (Romans 2:7-8)
For Paul, it is “faith working in love” that justifies.
It’s true that the image of the scales of justice is not frequent in the Bible. However, neither is it utterly absent as a metaphor for judging righteousness: “Let me be weighed in an even balance that God may know my integrity.” (Job 31:6)
Again, this has been a very interesting discussion. You can see that for Adomnan, we are very much justified by our works. This is not the way many Protestant New Perspective persons would really want to put it (as persons like N.T. Wright, for example, are eager to point out that justification in the present gives real confidence of salvation [which Rome does not – see here] while their final justification will be “based on the whole life lived”), but Adomnan, being a Roman Catholic, has no such hesitations.
On the other hand, we talk about how “no one is righteous – no not one” – and how Paul really means this. And we then go on to speak of how the Righteous One and all He has becomes ours by grace when we hear the message that creates faith in our hearts (see Romans 10)
That is, hearing the Word and believing it as would a child.