Thursday, 24 March 2011

Dunn on Faith Alone

"It was confidence in God, a positive acknowledgment of God’s power as creator, a calm certainty that God had made known to Abraham his purpose and could be relied on to perform it without further question or condition. Here from another aspect is the same reason why Abraham’s faith should not be thought of in terms of covenant loyalty or as incomplete apart from works, for faith is confidence in God’s loyalty as alone necessary, as alone able, as alone sufficient to bring God’s promise to full effect."
James D.G. Dunn, Romans, Word Commentary, (1990) 1:239 [italics mine].

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Dunn is a leading British New Testament scholar whose work has contributed to the so-called 'New Perspective on Paul' (NPP) that originally derives from E.P.Sanders's claim that the Reformation tradition, from Luther onwards, had mis-read Paul on Judaism and the relation between faith and works. The NPP has been cited by some former Lutherans and Reformed as influential in their decisions to convert to Roman Catholicsm, on the grounds that the NPP's reading of Paul shows that the Roman Catholic view of salvation as a process that includes growth in justification/sanctification through good works correctly interprets Paul's thinking. Yet here, in his commentary on Romans 4, Dunn is saying the opposite - Abraham's faith - cited, of course, by Paul, as paradigmatic for the Christian's justification by faith alone - was "alone sufficient to bring God's promise to full effect".
We need only add the caveat that faith is instrumental, not causal when it comes to the justification of the sinner; i.e. faith is the open hand that receives God's grace in and through Christ, it is not meritorious in and of itself (lest we have something in which to boast!).

Soli Deo Gloria!

17 comments:

Lvka said...

I guess what the man was trying to say is that Abraham was actually healed physically by his faith... not merely "declared physically healthy": and it's the same with our spiritual healing and justification by faith... Faith is (at first) "the hope of the things unseen" -- but, as time goes by, its fruits (of repentance) become obvious and visible...

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Lucian,
No, the question at issue in both Romans and subsequent debates in the post-Reformation Western church is how did Abraham receive the promise - by works or by faith? It has nothing to do with being healed at this point. Paul, of course, will explicate that teaching in ch8ff of Romans. To the extent that Orthodoxy has not really grappled with these questions, it reflects the Orthodox mis-understanding of Romans 5:12 and the relation between Adam's sin and the death that came upon all humankind. Rather ironic, really, that a Greek church should mis-read the Greek!

Lvka said...

Rather ironic, really, that a Greek church should mis-read the Greek!


The fact that no Greek-speaking Father ever understood Romans in an Augustinian manner should normally trigger off all sorts of alarm-clocks... especially given the fact that Augustine himself admitted to having a significant deficiency in understanding Greek.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

No...not an "Augustinian" manner, Lucian, but a grammatically correct manner.

But you are quite right, Lucian, that Augustine had no Greek, and he subesequently misinterpreted Paul, taking the Pauline analytic/declarative doctrine of justification for a synthetic doctrine of justification. That error was not correced until Luther and Melanchthon came along some 1300 years later, returning ad fonte3s, to the sources, courtesy Erasmus's Greek NT.

There are reasons for the Greek Orthodox misreadin gof Paul, which I hope to post on soon.

Pax!

Lvka said...

It's absurd to say that Germans know Greek better than the Greeks. (It would be funny, if it weren't such a serious issue). Luther was an Augustinian monk, and his doctrine was, well, just that: Augustinian.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Lucian,
There are two erroneous assumptions in your response:

1) There is no mystery about koine Greek. Melanchthon was a brilliant linguist -probably the best Greek scholar in Europe at the time - who assisted Luther with the NT; Luther was more at home in the Hebrew, but also knew Greek. So, yes, Lucian, these Germans could know Greek just as well as the Greek fathers, who had their own pre-conceptions to overcome. Just consider Luther's translation of the NT for evidence of that.

2) Luther's theology was Augustinian only in the broad sense of being an anti-Pelagian theology of grace. But in fact Luther departed from Augustine's views when it was clear Augustine had erred. The best example is on justification, where Luther, following Paul in the Greek, held to a forensic doctrine, while Augustine, following the Latin, taught a transformative doctrine.

I've found it a common error among Orthodox to label Western theology as "Augustinian" without making the necessary distinctions as outlined above. Some accessible theological authors to read which would easily correct this error would be Heiko Oberman and Alister MCGrath.

Lvka said...

If it's in the Greek, no Greek ever saw it.

And it makes no sense blaming either "the Latin" or "Augustine" for a "transformative" view of justification, when ALL other Fathers [whether they spoke Greek, or Aramaic, or both], saw it in the same "transformative" light.

Apropos "antiquity": it's not exactly a "coincidence" that the forensic view of justification did not appear prior to the rise of nominalism in Western Europe.

And as far as "universality" or catholicity is concerned, both these views are restricted to Western Christendom. (Rather odd, isn't it?) The concept of Roman Law had nothing to do with later theological legalism: right? It's probably all just a BIG series of coincidences... All Christendom just 'missed it' for 1,500 years (and half of it still does).

Pr Mark Henderson said...

And, by the way, Lucian, it is no more absurd that Germans should have excellent Greek than it is that a Romanian should write excellent English! :0)

The Rev. Donald V. Engebretson said...

In studying the NPP this past summer I discovered that when it comes to justification and faith N.T. Wright has become the most radical voice of the New Perspective to challenge traditional Reformation thinking. For him Abraham's faith turns into "the badge of God's redeemed people" and the "exact model of the faith of the Christian" [Justification, 209]. After reading Wright and others of this 'school' I can see, to a degree, how those sympathetic to their argument could become more enamored with Roman Catholicism. Wright certainly contributes to this when he writes about the Spirit enabling the Christian "freely to become that which is pleasing to God" (189). In opposition to Piper and other traditional Evangelicals he resists seeing justification in a forensic, declarative sense. It seems that his model is far more progressive in nature, again, favoring a more Catholic view.

I am glad, therefore, to see that Dunn breaks with the herd on this one.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Thanks Donald. I think Dunn's exegesis here is very important.

Lucian,
You'll have to come up with better argument sthan that (in fact I know you can't, because the evidence does not support your position). You present argument flies in the face not only of the New Testament text of Paul's letters but significant exegesis by the Fathers. E.g. "The patriarch Abraham himself before receiving circumcision had been declared righteous on the score of faith alone: before circumcision, the text says, “Abraham believed God, and credit for it brought him to righteousness.” John Chrysostom, Fathers of the Church, Vol. 82, Homilies on Genesis 18-45, 27.7 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990), p. 167.

Lvka said...

...yet John Chrysostom didn't believe in Sola Fide...

There's a difference between faith and "faith ALONE". God demands us bringing Him fruits of faith and repentance, as spiritual offerings and sacrifices. It's NOT something `optional`. Saint Paul includes good deeds in his understanding of the term faith (Galatians 5:6). A non-good-deeds-producing faith is simply not "faith" as far as he's concerned. Saint James feels the same way. And both of them opposed the necessity of the works of the Law in salvation. Good deeds are not works of the Law. It was the letter of the Law that kept the Priest and the Levite from helping out the fallen man (Leviticus 21:10-11). And it was a good deed that justified the Samaritan in Christ's eyes. Faith without love is nothing according to Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 13:2). It cannot justify. And it is only through love that faith works (Gal. 5:6). And the fruits of this love are called charity and good deeds. God Himself is Love. When Christ was asked to "reduce" the Law, He said to *love* God and neighbour (Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). You guys picked the wrong Sola! If you were just dying to pick one, it should have been "Sola Amore". (Sorry!)

Pr Mark Henderson said...

"...yet John Chrysostom didn't believe in Sola Fide..."

I wouldn't be surprised if Chrysostom doesn't exhibit a unity in his theology on this point, Lucian, as few of the Fathers did. There was a lot of confusion on this question beginning with the post-apostolic period. And yet I have a string of quotes from his Biblical commentaries that reveal that sometimes the text is so strong for Chrysostom that he gives expression to something that looks very much like the Reformation doctrine. That's all I would claim, Lucian. I'll be posting those quotes soon over at Lutheran Catholicity.

And you're quite right there is a difference between faith and faith alone - that was the whole poibnt at issue between Luther and Rome -did faith alone justify, or was it faith "formed by love".

Lvka said...

did faith alone justify, or was it faith "formed by love".


According to Saint Paul, it seems to have been the latter.

(Gal. 5:6; First Corinth. 13:2).

[I mean, you can't just steal the man's word, without also endowing it with the same meaning which he assigned to it: it's dishonest!]

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Now, now, Lucian, we're all friends here at the old manse, and friends don't call friends dishonest without placing that friendship in jeopardy. It might be better to say that in your view we're "honestly mistaken". Anyway, I'm thinking of writing a post called "Misreading Paul with the Orthodox". Stay tuned.

Lvka said...

friends don't call friends dishonest without placing that friendship in jeopardy


Uhm...

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I fear you watch too many American movies, Lucian.

Lvka said...

I fear you watch too many American movies

...are you surprised, Father? :-)