I have mentioned Aidan Kimel before. After hosting the popular theological blog “Pontifications”, several years ago, this Anglican-turned Roman Catholic-turned Eastern Orthodox blogger has a knack for writing well-researched, thoughtful and interesting (quite popularized) posts. Also of interest to me is the fact that he is familiar with several Lutheran authors and often, in theological discussions, makes points Lutherans would be eager to make (and he even invited me via email to contribute to some of his recent posts on justification, telling me that the conversation there would benefit from a Lutheran voice). For example, in a recent post called “Faithing in the faith of Christ” from his “Ruminating Romans” series, Kimel not only said the following….
“trust in the faithfulness of Christ is more than a human deed. God’s saving work in the death and resurrection of Jesus precedes the human act of faith, and it is the actual event of gospel proclamation that makes possible and generates the response of faith”
…but also quoted a theologian named J. Louis Martyn, who, in his exposition of the book of Galatians, goes even a step further:
“Those who believe in Christ are not puppets,” Martyn elaborates, “moved about and made to speak by others. But, just as these persons are not puppet believers, so they are not believers as a result of an act of their own autonomous wills, as though the gospel were an event in which two alternatives were placed before an autonomous decider, and faith were one of two decisions the human being could make autonomously. … Thus when Paul speaks about placing one’s trust in Christ, he is pointing to a deed that reflects not the freedom of the will, but rather God’s freeing of the will. In Christ, the Son of God whose faith is engagingly enacted in his death, God invaded the human orb and commenced a battle for the liberation of the human will itself. And in the case of believers, that apocalyptic invasion is the mysterious genesis of faith in Christ” ([Anchor Bible – Galatians], p. 276)
Finally, eager to show that “trust in the faithfulness of Christ is trust in the God who is active in the gospel”, Kimel says
“the gospel is itself an invasive event, not merely the offering of a new option. It is in the gospel-event that Christ’s faith elicits our faith. Thus, Paul can even include faith in the list of the fruit that is borne by the Spirit of Christ (5:22), suggesting that the act of trust does not have its origin in the human being. On the contrary, as we have noted, that act springs from the proclamation of the risen Lord. It is incited by the preached message (Gal 3:2; Rom 10:17). It is empowered by the Spirit. (pp. 276-277)
Just as salvation is not an existential possibility for us—we do not save ourselves; we do not heal ourselves; we do not liberate ourselves from Satan and the powers of the world; we do not raise ourselves from death—so faith itself is existentially impossible for a humanity enslaved by the powers of sin and death. Trust, too, is a grace of the apocalyptic invasion. If we think that we have believed in Christ by our own power and autonomous decision, then perhaps we have attended one too many revivalist tent meetings. We are not righteoused by our faith in Christ; we are righteoused by the faith of Christ.”
Martyn’s exegesis of Galatians opens up fresh possibilities for theological reflection on the Incarnation. I am reminded of St Gregory of Nazianzen’s famous saying “For that which he has not assumed he has not healed.” Surely this assumption must include the diseased human will, which is healed, purified, liberated, and sanctified through our Lord’s obedience unto death. In the Incarnation, the eternal Son not only comes to us as God in love and grace; but he also representatively offers to the Father, as our great high priest, in our human nature, the perfect life of obedience and faith that we were unable to offer. As St Athanasius wrote, Christ became our Mediator that “he might minister the things of God to us and ours to God.” The Son and Messiah thus fulfills in himself the covenantal vocation of Israel and of all created being, and by the Spirit we are granted participation in his freedom and faithfulness.”
A caveat here – what allows Kimel to take this approach, I think, is because of the way he has framed the conversation. Note these words in the post as well, which follow his mention of Romans 3:21-22 and Galatians 2:15-16:
What I do know, or at least suspect, is that if pistis Christou is properly rendered as either “the faith of Christ” or “the faithfulness of Christ,” then our understanding of St Paul and his teaching on justification will be dramatically affected….
J. Louis Martyn has also adopted the subjective genitive rendering of the pistis Christou: a person is not rectified by observance of the commandments of Torah but by “the faith of Christ Jesus.” Christ himself, in his faithfulness to the Father and obedience unto death, is the source of our rectification. Paul places before us two alternatives—rectification through human activity and rectification through the act of God in his Son. Paul also speaks of the faith of the believer, but as Martyn notes, he places it in a “decidedly secondary place” (p. 252). Our faith rests upon the faith of Christ. Jew and Gentile alike stand before God with empty hands….
In response to his opponents, Paul does not pose two different human possibilities—either obedience to Torah or faith in Christ; rather, he poses an antinomy between human act and divine act, between human doing and the atoning work of the Messiah… The latter has the power to rectify, to make things right; the former does not. Understanding this antinomy of the new creation “is crucial,” Martyn writes, “to an understanding not only of Galatians but also of the whole of Paul’s theology. God has set things right without laying down a prior condition of any sort. God’s rectifying act, that is to say, is no more God’s response to human faith in Christ than it is God’s response to human observance of the Law. God’s rectification is not God’s response at all. It is the first move; it is God’s initiative, carried out by him in Christ’s faithful death” (p. 271).
I am not sure what Martyn means by antinomy of the new creation, but I suspect that it posits a quite radical discontinuity between the old and new testaments. Lutherans of course, would not see it quite that way, talking about how faith in Christ has been critical from first to last (Romans 1:17) – even as with Christ’s Advent much that was more mysterious has now been unveiled with His taking on human flesh.
No doubt, I’ve posted a lot of the post, but there is still more – again, you can see the whole thing here. Even as I have expressed some real concern regarding some of the directions Aidan Kimel has gone on his blog (see the second to last paragraph of this post for more), I do think that what he is saying here is promising – and I wonder if what he is saying is resonating with his readers, many who I think would be Eastern Orthodox. It is with this promising post in mind that I am going to launch into a six-part series on free will, in which I try to unpack the Lutheran perspective on the issue. I hope you will join me for that tomorrow.