Monday, February 18, 2013

What sola fide does and does not mean

Another crystal clear statement from Gerhard. For a while back in the late 1990's it was fashionable in some confessional theological circles to say very provocative things about "sanctification by faith alone"or "sanctification is Christ in action,"etc. Whatever valid points the purveyors of these statements were making, I was always leery of them. Justification is by faith alone and we are purely passive, but in sanctification we are active, though in great weakness, in our will and works. Here is a classic statement of this from Gerhard.

Toward the end of this chapter Bellarmine attributes to us that we claim that “the renewal of man takes place through faith alone,” which is clearly false, because regeneration is one thing and renewal another, although they are very closely connected. Regeneration takes place through faith and indeed through faith alone, but renewal includes many more things, namely, the new spiritual impulses kindled in the heart of a person reborn through the Holy Spirit.


  1. Wait a minute! Wait a minute!

    You mean the Formula of Concordia might be right after all?

    The Formula of Concord, Trigl 929: “For good works do not precede faith, neither does sanctification precede justification. But first faith is kindled in us in conversion..Then, when a person is justified, he is also renewed and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, from which renewal and sanctification the fruits of good works must then follow.”

  2. Back in the 90s? Is that the last time you got out? If only!

    I remember a conversation not in the 90s (though admittedly a few years ago) on sanctification, which ended when one participant declared mightily that, since I am baptised into Christ, I already have His perfect holiness, so what further sanctification could I possibly need.

    The mind boggles.

    1. Ha! It's very true that I don't get out much. . .

      I would say the late '90s was when it became popularized within our circles. It still lingers, and that's why rediscovering our teachers of old is so important.


    2. A turning point in this debate must certainly be the 1997 article in Logia by Prof. Hein, "Sanctification: The Powerful Pardon." The author quotes G. Forde right off the bat and then continually through to the end. Hein found much to commend in Forde and was one of (if not the) first to try to translate Forde's insights in a Confessional framework. I do not believe that Hein succeeded. Forde was forthright in his denial of the Formula and its take on the 3rd use of the Law among other things. That should have thrown up flags of caution whatever the insights (like proclamation versus "talk about") that Forde brings to the table.

      But our readers can judge for themselves. In the following essay does Hein manage to keep the renewed human will free and active (though in weakness) after baptism? Does he sufficiently distinguish justification from sanctificaton? Does he find a way to insert the Formula's key distinctions into Forde's framework? Read all about it, p. 19ff:


  3. Or, as I heard it put: "I don't need to repent. I'm baptized!"

  4. What accounts for otherwise orthodox folks like Adolf Köberle speaking about utter passivity in sanctification? Köberle otherwise orthodox? I remember him being quoted favorably by Veith to this end. I could be misremembering.

    Again, I'm very glad to read your missives here, Pr. Curtis. You do a wonderful job taking the wind out of bad Lutheran straw men. And, again, I'm going to ask as I have before: what truth here is being pushed too far?

    The man Pr. Simojoki quotes above asks, "since I am baptised into Christ, I already have His perfect holiness, so what further sanctification could I possibly need?"

    To me it seems that the problem arises when in the final independent clause, the speaker attempts to dissolve the paradox: does the Christian possess the holiness of Christ like a spotless garment? Yes. He as put on Christ in baptism. His life is hidden in Christ with God. Must he therefore work in order for it to be realized in his this life? Yes. "So what further sanctification could I possibly need?" It would seem that the answer is "All of it." The Apostle tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Indeed, his epistles would make no sense if they were directed to those whose wills were still bound. Ch. 3 of Colossians, quoted above, is a perfect example.

    I'm wondering, though: when we ask the question "who justifies?" the answer is clearly "God." God is running the verbs. When we ask the question "who sanctifies?" what is the answer? God and me?

    Is there a difference between the righteousness that is ours through faith in Christ and the "holiness" that obtains through our cooperation with the Holy Spirit in faith? Do the Confessions distinguish between righteousness and holiness? Is righteousness purely forensic, while holiness is ontological?

    1. Like most things in theology, this is both easy and hard. Let's start with the easy facts that are clear to all men.

      1. Jesus saves us. We will stand in His kingdom only by virtue of his blood.
      2. After we have come to faith in this life and have received the forgiveness of our sins, our sins, and sinfulness yet remain. We are exhorted to live better, to exert ourselves toward living in a manner that is godly; and we can notice that some people are more godly than others, and that over the course of our Christian lives we can also grow in this godliness.

      Those are the facts. I don't think they are controversial.

      Koeberle, Hein, Forde, Senkbeil - I have learned so much from these men, my fathers in the faith, and I do not wish to commit the sin of Ham. But as I have grown in my own reading of the Confessions and the great theologians of the Lutheran heritage, I think that they have made a misstep here that is easily rectified by reviewing the likes of Gerhard and Chemnitz. As always, the fastest way to get up to speed on any point of teaching in the Lutheran dogmaticians is to take Schmid of the shelf (or read it online: and turn to the appropriate section.


  5. Keep in mind that the infatuation with Gerhard Forde at both seminaries is part of the problem here.

  6. I'm but a layman, and have not read Forde's book, but am given to understand by pastor-theologians such as Fr. Charles McClean, as well as lay-theologians such as Dr. Jack Kilcrease, that Forde more or less denies the substitutionary nature of the atonement and attributes near-canonical status to De Servo Arbitrio and Luther's idiosyncratic personal theologizing, over and above the authority of the Confessions, with the result being a-sacramentalism and crypto-Calvinism. Is this a somewhat accurate characterization of him?

    Fr. McCain, I've heard that the "New Perspective on Paul" (a.k.a., not really a new perspective, just rebranded Judaizing) is also gaining ground at the seminaries. Is this a related problem, or indicative of falling off the other side of the horse? Both?

  7. I disagree with neither you, Fr. Curtis, nor the great divine. However, I would like to say a word in defense of a couple of statements. While I am not an advocate of paperback theology, I do find the phrase "Sanctification: Christ in Action" to be unobjectionable if properly understood, and really just a restating of what Paul says in Galatians 2. It does not mean that the Christian is inactive, but that Christ is at work in the lives of His members.

    Similarly, Tapani, you are right in your reaction to your interlocutor's notion that there is no need for the ongoing life of sanctification, but we should affirm his first statement, viz., that in our baptism we have the perfect holiness of Christ. He just inferred wrong ideas from that.

    A final thought before I run to mass. The Gerhard quote mentions the Spirit and not Christ. But let us remember that the christocentricity of some of the statements en vogue in times past do not necessarily deny the work of the Spirit. Christ gives up His Spirit, and where the one is, the other is.

  8. So...

    "Legalism is Antinomianism, just as Antinomianism is a kind of Legalism."

    I know that was really lazy. I'm just trying to stir the pot because I enjoy (and benefit from) reading other people's comments moreso than I do writing my own, so you'll pardon me for adding nothing other than the link to Dr. Kilcrease's blog...

  9. Jack Kilcrease is a big fan of Forde and can't really see his way clear on these issues.

    Here's a better Lutheran theologian's thoughts on this subject:

    “Not all are Christians who boast of faith. Christ has shed His blood. We are justified by faith alone without works. You say, “I believe this.” The devil, you say! You have learned the words you have heard the same way mockingbirds learn to repeat things. Where are the fruits demonstrating that you truly believe? You remain in sins; you are a usurer and more. Surely Christ did not die and shed His blood for the sins that you are intent on committing continually, but so that He might destroy the works of the devil [1 John 3:8]. If you were formerly a usurer, say, like Zacchaeus: “I will give half of my goods, and if I have defrauded anyone, I will restore it fourfold.” [Luke 19:8]. The blood of Christ kills sin; it does not make it alive, which is the work of the devil, who inflames the desire that makes human beings murderers and adulterers. Christ did not die so that you might remain that kind of sinner, but so that sin, having been slain, might be blotted out, and you might henceforth love God and your neighbor. Faith takes away sins and puts them to death, so that you might not live in them but in righteousness. Therefore, show by your works and your fruits that there is faith in you. If not, the blood of Christ does not help. If you are a usurer, disobedient, neglectful of your station, then look to see whether you believe. For faith is victorious, triumphant, a conqueror of the world [1 John 5:4]. If you truly believe, you would not commit usury or adultery; you would not be disobedient. Let each one think: I have been made a believer; I have been washed in Baptism with the blood of the Son of God, so that my sins might be dead. [I will] not be disobedient and will declare this with my deeds.” Otherwise, give up the boast of being a believer. You know that you are a disobedient son, an adulterer; do not boast of faith and the blood of Christ. You belong to the devil, the way you are going, etc. You are bringing the name of the Lord into shame and yourself to eternal damnation.”

    — Martin Luther, Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity on 1 John 4:16-21.

    Preached in St. Mary’s Church, Wittenberg, Germany June 7, 1545.

    Translated by Christopher Boyd Brown. Pr 2002; WA 49:80-87. Copyright Concordia Publishing House, 2011.

  10. Really? I've been reading Dr. Kilcrease's work for quit some time. All I've ever read by him on Forde and his theology has been strongly critical.

    To whit:

    Critique of Forde Part 1

    Critique of Forde Part II

    Are there any pieces that you know of in which he indicates agreement with Forde? I'd really like to read them.

  11. I wonder if our tendency toward a myopic view of the Law is a culprit here. We tend to view the Law only in a negative sense. For it reveals our sins and condemns us. But it was not so from the beginning. The Law, and specifically I have in mind the Ten Commandments here, was given in order to bless the Israelites with protection from defilement. Thus they could attend the Divine Service without incurring judgment against them. But also, defilement removed them from the community as a whole. It cut them off from family and friends. A person's individual defilement brought defilement to the whole people. Relationships were affected by impurity. The Law blessed them with order and how they were to regard not only God but one another. And thus how the entire community was affected by their actions. The Law was not just about the individual. It was about the entire people. For when one suffered defilement, so also did the whole.

    So also the Law in the life of the Christian. It not only shows us our sin, where we individually have done wrong. But it is given as a protection for the whole community. It protects us from defilement individually and communally. I tells us how husbands and wives are to regard each other. It teaches us how we are to interact with those God has placed in authority over us. It protects the community of believers from defilement, from receiving a collective defilement that makes interaction with the community deformed and disordered.

    So the individual Christian seeks to keep the Law not for himself, per se. For the individual is justified by grace through faith apart from the works of the Law. The individual Christians seeks to keep the Law for his neighbor, to benefit them, to keep the community of believers from defilement, from giving the devil a foothold in the Church. And this we can do albeit with great weakness. But we seek to do it out of love for them.

  12. Jason, YES. You nailed it. If we equate Law=bad, then we are set off already on the wrong path. I do notice that we tend to consider the proper "distinction" between Law and Gospel to be more of a "separation" of Law and Gospel, almost in the simplistic way of Law=bad news only.

    The Law does not merely protect us, it informs us and guides us because it is God's perfect and holy will for us and that is a good thing.

    We seem to have developed such an allergic reaction to Christian parenesis that we have lost sight of the fact that striving to conform ourselves to Christ's perfect holiness and image is a GOOD thing.

  13. "Jack Kilcrease is a big fan of Forde and can't really see his way clear on these issues."

    Granted, there are some things that I think that Forde says that are valuable, but I think it would be inaccurate to characterize me as being a "big fan."

    In any case, I can't really see how my argument is particularly antinominian. If anyone is interested, I have several peer reviewed articles published where I am critical of Forde's view of the law. I have also argued in print and in public debates and lectures in favor of Lutheran Confessional principles regarding the law- particularly in regard to the third use of the law.

    I guess it's not clear to me why I keep on being slandered in this way when I have repeatedly made my position on these issues very, very clear. The blog post mentioned above is an argument against antinomianism after all!

  14. From reading Quest for Holiness a couple times (and always returning to it in sections), I don't think Koeberle is "passive on sanctification"; to my mind, he is one of the few who holds justification and sanctification together without denying either.

    Timothy Winterstein


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