Aidan Kimel on free will

17 Sep
Header of Father Aidan Kimel's blog

Header of Father Aidan Kimel’s blog

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.



Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Uncategorized


13 responses to “Aidan Kimel on free will

  1. John Bugay

    September 17, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    “Eclectic Orthodoxy” — isn’t that an oxymoron? Don’t you become “orthdodox” so that you can stop being “heterodox”? Maybe he found (as he did on his other stops) “Orthodoxy isn’t enough”? He had to add his own spin to it.

    Ask yourself, “why does he need to bring his own “eclecticism” to Orthodoxy? It seems to me that the “true Orthodox” would reject such a thing.

    Nathan, I think you’d be much better off, and provide more benefit to Christianity, by interacting with someone like “Embryo Parson” (I guess he’s got you beat going back in time as well!):

  2. Fr Aidan Kimel

    September 17, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Hi, Nathan. Thanks for bringing the attention of your readers to my blog series on the Epistle to the Romans. In the article I am elaborating upon the subjective genitive reading of pistis Christos (justified by the faithfulness of Christ) and sharing with the reader the views of Pauline scholar J. Louis Martyn. Martyn’s views do not *necessarily* represent my own, though I have long favored the subjective rendering ever since I first encountered this rendering in the theology of Thomas Torrance. But I do not believe one can properly hold this opinion dogmatically, but as the writings of Tom Wright show, it does open up Paul in a fresh and exciting way.

    Mr Bugay, you are always welcome to come to Eclectic Orthodoxy and to interact with my articles, following the norms of civility. Your ad hominem jabs in your comment above were unwarranted.

    Nathan, I will soon be starting a series on justification and the unconditionality of God’s love, with extensive discussion of Robert Jenson, George Lindbeck, and Gerhard Forde.

  3. infanttheology

    September 17, 2013 at 2:05 pm


    Thanks for your comments. I think I understand your concerns. That said, I think people who read this blog are better off knowing about Father Kimel and his views than not.

    Rest assured, there is much that Father Kimel says that I have great difficulty with. And yet, I also appreciate the fact that he brings up matters like these above. If our words mean anything, the words he have spoken above regarding the primacy of God’s work in these matters of conversion are good and right.

    Father Kimel,

    “Justification and the unconditionality of God’s love” is an interesting topic. Our position of course it that the forensic aspect of justification must be maintained (see here: ) even as there are other ways to talk about the sinners salvation before God. We also maintain that God’s love can be rejected, with all the consequences that entails (won’t go there for now) – and that though we live by grace and grace increases where sin increases, we nevertheless cannot presume on his mercy (see here for my own exposition of this: Those who end in unbelief – whether consciously rejecting Christ or unconsciously adopting “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11) will probably not consider his love “unconditional”.


  4. Fr Aidan Kimel

    September 17, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    ‘Those who end in unbelief – whether consciously rejecting Christ or unconsciously adopting “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11) will probably not consider his love “unconditional”.’

    I suspect they would, and do, experience the unconditional love of God precisely as *hell*. And that takes us right back to the famous words of St Isaac the Syrian: “Those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love.”

    • John Bugay

      September 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      Nathan, you’re right, it’s always better for people to be more informed than less, to understand context.

      And Fr “Aidan”, I’m as glad as can be that you’ve left Roman Catholicism — guys like you and Rod Dreher — vocal “Catholic Converts” for whom it takes a while for the notion of “what they’ve gotten themselves into” really to sink in. Rome has a pretty story on the face, but it’s very bad on the inside. Leads me to believe there is still hope for someone like Jason Stellman.

  5. John Bugay

    September 17, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Fr “Aidan” — you think what I said was “ad hominem”? I wonder how many Orthodox will agree with your statement, “Orthodoxy is theologically more diverse than most Orthodox want to admit.” You may have learned some things in your travels that they haven’t seen, but for you to posit that as “diversity in Orthodoxy” that they haven’t seen, is rather a slap in their collective faces, don’t you think?

    • Fr Aidan Kimel

      September 17, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      What G. F. Chesterton said of the Catholic Church also applies to the Orthodox Church: “the Church is much larger inside than it is outside.”

      I’m not interested in slapping anybody’s face nor in engaging in polemics.

      • John Bugay

        September 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm

        Yes, you have seen this, while many life-long Orthodox have not. Good for you.

  6. infanttheology

    September 17, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    As I have said before:

    “our orientation should be to furiously emphasize our commonalities and to furiously emphasize our honest differences, because the truth not spoken – or rarely spoken – in love is not the fullness of love at all. Even some in the unbelieving world know as much! Do you, like me, think of the pagans’ words recorded by Tertullian: “See how they love one another!”? I say yes! Let us aim to love one another in truth as we patiently work through the tragic reality that there must be differences among us – to reveal who has God’s approval!”

    That is my stance. My model is the true churchman Herman Sasse, both an unbending confessional Lutheran and fiercely ecumenical in the best sense of that word.

    Those words are not written to anyone in particular here, but simply re-iterate my own stance. Certainly, we sometimes must judge that polemics are necessary and we will have different views about how we should go about doing this.


  7. Fr Aidan Kimel

    September 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    “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.”

    I think that Martyn is posing a discontinuity between resurrection life and fallen existence. See his article “The Apocalyptic Gospel in Galatians.” The life of the kingdom is something new. When it breaks into the world through the preaching of the gospel, it slays and raises to new life. I’m not sure what Martyn’s denominational commitment is, but the influence of both Barth and Kasemann upon his exegesis is clear.

  8. infanttheology

    September 18, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Father Kimel,

    Thanks for the link. Read the paper. Do you know if this theologian would consider himself one of the “Radical Orthodox”? Interesting stuff, to be sure, but also makes me very uneasy in that it always leaves one wondering what one does with – how one responds to – the current moral landscape (see my last series on the theology of facts vs the theology of rhetoric). One person’s sin and oppression (either patriarchy or homosexual acts, for example) is intimately connected with that which constitutes another person’s liberation.

    I just don’t see how theology proceeds or helps anyone without people being upfront and explicit about their thinking regarding these issues.

    Part I of the free will series will be done in a few minutes, by the way.


  9. Fr Aidan Kimel

    September 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Nathan, Martyn appears to have restricted his writings to biblical exegesis. It is difficult, therefore, to place him on the contemporary theological map, though as I noted above, he appears to have been deeply influenced by Karl Barth and especially (the Lutheran) Ernst Kasemann. I especially commend to you his Anchor Bible commentary on Ephesians. Challenging stuff!

  10. infanttheology

    September 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Well, I know we have the commentary in our library here. Any particular sections of the commentary that leap out to you? Too many irons in the fire!



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