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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Struggle to Keep Justification Pure

The Harrowing of Hell as depicted by Fra Angelico

I was re-reading a LOGIA article written by Armin Wenz entitled ,,Justification and Holy Scripture: Sola fide et sola Scriptura" (LOGIA, Vol. XIV, No. 2 [Eastertide 2005]).

Two points (among many) struck me as very pertinent:

1. The principles of Scripture alone and faith alone are inseparably connected, and justification must be reflected in these distinctions concerning holy Scripture (Wenz 5).

2. Every approach to holy Scripture which emancipates itself from the christological approach would be nothing less than a relapse into a humanist, rationalist, or works-righteous approach (Wenz 6). These three approaches strike against justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Humanism wasn't always against the article of justification. In the 14th century, European universities (starting in Italy) began stressing humanism over the traditional scholasticism. The Reformation began at a time in the Middle Ages when the Renaissance and humanism were blooming. Humanism sought to return to the classical languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and going back to the original texts. Humanism soon influenced concepts of freedom, religion, history, science, and other academic disciplines. Humanism helped further things like the Textus Receptus (the Received Text, which was the first compilation of the Greek New Testament that was the forefather of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testaments that pastors and theologians use today). The University of Wittenberg was established as a humanistic university. Philip Melanchthon was a humanist scholar and he was the first Greek professor at the University of Wittenberg.

Rationalism grew out of humanist philosophy. Reason reigns supreme in rationalsim, and as such, miracles and the supernatural tend to be downplayed or rejected. Rationalism lead to the Enlightenment (examples of Enlightenment thought can be seen in the writings of the early American founders, like Washinton, Jefferson, and Madison, etc.). Rationalism lead to the 19th and 20th centuries fascination with historical criticism, which is a Biblical exegetical process that attempts to critique the holy Scriptures using a variety of source theories. Unfortunately, historical criticism leads to the denial of Christ.

Strictly speaking, humanism and rationalism are not antithetical to the article of justification. They are merely tools that theologians have used to mine the depths of holy Scripture. However, when humanism and rationalism are allowed to run amok, the article of justification suffers. This occurs when humanism and rationalism focus solely inward on the mind and intellect of human beings as the answers to all things.

Works-righteousness is the exact opposite of justification by faith. Works-righteousness is the approach that by our works we can merit or help merit our justification before God. As such, works-righteousness is a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian heresy whereby we do our part in meriting justification.

Unfortunately, our sinful human flesh is drawn to our own reason and works to merit or help merit our justification before God. Justificaiton, therefore, is revealed in the written Scriptures, and justificaiton must be received by faith.


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