Ecumenical Evangelization

In my last post, I discussed that evangelization goes to the essence of who the Church is as Church.  The missionary mandate that Christ gives is not something added to the nature of the Church; the Church is missionary in its very nature.  It is intrinsic to who we are and thus evangelization has an ontological focus.  It is, in the words of Ad Gentes, a “universal sacrament of salvation.”  And, as a Church we need to constantly be of renewal and a visible witness to the salvific love of Christ.  We also need to proclaim the “good news” of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. 

I wanted to emphasis our need to “share” our faith because I do believe that for many within the Catholic Church, this is a foreign concept.  We have come to view evangelization as simply doing good and being good.  The sense that we need to articulate and express our faith is a stretch for many within the Church.  There are many reasons for this due to confusions regarding questions of salvation, Rahner’s “anonymous Christian,” grace versus nature, the necessity of the Church for salvation, and what about those people who never hear or come to know Jesus.  These questions are just a sampling of some of the underpinnings that need to be explained for the Catholic faithful to again capture the evangelization fervor of Pentecost. 

And in my view, I want to help move the body of Christ to understand that our universal call to holiness also includes a universal call to mission.  I believe that we are doing a good job within our parishes to get people to understand their need for and their call to holiness (although we could still do a better job with discussions related to sin and confession), but I think that their is no real sense of people’s call to mission outside of service. 

But, before these theological questions and misunderstandings get addressed, I would again like to focus on what evangelization is and (after reviewing the comments of my last post) to discuss a foundational element of evangelization — ecumenism.

I like to use the title “ecumenical evangelization” because I believe that unity is a means to evangelize the world.  We normally think of ecumenism as separate and in some circles antithetical to evangelization.  In truth, ecumenism is a necessary means to evangelize the world!  Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Redempotoris Missio says,”The missionary thrust therefore belongs to the very nature of the Christian life, and is also the inspiration behind ecumenism: ‘that they may all be one…so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ (Jn. 17:21)”  Ecumenism is necessary to build unity, and unity is important as a witness to the world.  A wounded unity is an obstacle to evangelization.  The Church’s Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (Restoration of Unity), says that the visible division of Christian communion, “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”  

For the Church, ecumenism is a dialogue with those communities of the baptized who profess a belief in the Triune God such as the Eastern Orthodox and those Christian ecclesial communities who have their roots in the Protestant Reformation.  The Second Vatican Council acknowledges that it has a communion, albeit imperfect, with these communities.  It also believes that the Catholic Church has the primary responsibility to reach out to these communities.  To dialogue with these communities the Catholic Church humbles herself through repentance and by accepting some responsibility for the division of the Church.  In doing so, it invites a true dialogue to take place.

The foundation for this unity is found in the Trinity.  The triune God is both the one and the many.  God the Father is both unified in substance and different in relation with the Son.  The Father gives Himself totally to the Son, and the Son gives Himself in return to the Father.  Within this relationship we see the basis for ecumenical evangelization, that is, self-giving love for the other.  In addition, the Son was sent to divinize humanity.  Taking on human form, the Son is able to unite all of humanity to himself.  This unity of humanity and divinity is manifested after his ascension into heaven.  The Church, the body of Christ, is united to the Head, and continues Christ’s mission in this world of unitinig humanity to himself.

Looking towards this Tri-Personal God, we understand that unity is important for our evanglization of the world.  How then do we achieve unity?  How is ecumenism to be practiced?  Well, while there are definitely official channels of dialogue and discussion among Church officials on theological questions, and these discussions seem to be bearing some fruit in some circles, it struck me recently that the challenge is also there for us, the lay faithful, to practice ecumenism and cannot be merely relugated to priests, bishops, and popes.  We too need to work to encourage unity, to dialogue with people outside our walls on issues of disagreement, and to find common areas of agreement that we can work on together (i.e. life issues).  We cannot and should not seek out some sort of false unity.  While both Catholic and Protestant beliefs share in this spiritual mission and are unified in an evangelizing purpose, this unity is perfected in its visible expression to the world. We must work for a visible, unified, Church that holds firm in its beliefs, but perhaps whose expressions may differ.  We cannot forsake or wash over our differences, but should mutually seek out truth.  And, we cannot seek only truth and remove any sense of charity.  Love and truth (Caritas et Veritas) are essential for ecumenism to work, they are essential in building unity, and as such are crucial in our efforts to evangelize the world. 

question-markFor every posting on this blog, we try to incorporate a picture with it that expresses the concept in visual form.  For ecumenism, I am not sure what that picture looks like.  It is for us to figure out and to do so together, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, but in doing so we need to make it a discussion of truth in love.  We must hold both together for ecumenism to bear fruit and ultimately to bring the world to Christ.

18 thoughts on “Ecumenical Evangelization”

  1. Jason, I agree with virtually everything you have written, yet am at a loss as to how to really achieve unity.

    It’s like one of us is playing Polo, the other Monopoly. The names share some sounds, but that’s it. So too, the theological divide between evangelicals and Catholics is fundamental and vast. We share some concepts, but have very different, likely mutually exclusive understandings of how man is made right with God.

    And the ground rules are different; Regardless of how strong a Biblical case I can make, you can pull a wildcard – an appeal to authority I do not recognize which claims to determine the content and true interpretation of all revelation.

    As an outsider this is briefly how I, honest to goodness, perceive your view:

    A person is justified when grace is applied in baptism (which is necessary). This effects a change in the person which, (should they cooperate) enables them to do good works which satisfy the law and merit heaven. This status may be lost (through serious sin) and regained (many times) through works of penance.

    Justice demands a person provide satisfaction for their own post-baptismal sins, expiating temporal penalty through works of penance. What remains must at death be removed by suffering in purgatory – this, unless the merit of Christ or extra merit accrued by Mary or really good people called saints is applied through indulgences.

    The Eucharist, a true propitiatory sacrifice, is central. In receiving it properly people gain grace and some of the temporal punishment due sins is remitted. Yet, the effect is limited, as one can partake many thousands of times in faith and still die impure.

    Faith and grace are necessary in all of this, but insufficient to save apart from the fulfilling of the above conditions. Upon fulfilling these, a person may enter eternal life. Yet, one’s status is never certain until such time as this happens.

    Where, anyone, am I getting this wrong?

    1. I should add that when I use the words faith and grace above, I don’t necessarily have in mind the same thing that is in view in the evangelical understanding. In fact, they are not equivalent because they have very different properties. So, for example, grace for me means the unmerited gift of something (the righteousness of God in Christ) which is in no sense properly mine apart from union with Christ. This righteousness is received by throwing off all confidence in my own merit or works and resting by faith in the perfect righteousness of Christ alone.
      To put it differently, evangelical faith is not trusting Christ to make a way for me to merit salvation by my own works (apparently empowered by grace and actualized my own autonomous will), but trusting that Christ has by his perfect work done all that is necessary to reconcile me to God. Therefore, one could argue that the nature of grace and object of our faith are quite different.

      “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” ~Titus 3:5-7

    2. Josh,
      We have already started the dialogue and the first step is agreeing that we should be working towards visible unity and to mutually search for truth in love. And, I agree that the gulf between the two theological perspectives can seem large. I became Catholic, because of the differences I saw and when my Crusade friends explained things as “superficially different, but fundamentally the same,” I came to see that as not so. And, I agree with you that “authority” is a huge topic of needed discussion and to that end I think that you and Dr. Jeff Morrow have really done a great job laying out the sides on the issue and I am eager to read the posts and comments going forward. However, it is not fair or right in the discussions for a Catholic to just appeal to an authority that has not yet been established. I think what Jeff is doing is the correct and right approach, by examing the Papacy question from the common and agreeable source of Scripture. Perhaps the dialogue could start even further back on how we each view, read, understand, and value the Bible. Regardless, I think focusing in on one issue of dialogue would be beneficial.

      I definately will have more to say in regards to salvation, grace, faith, works, etc. and I would encourage other readers to jump in on the conversation, but I want also for us to be able at times to discuss areas of agreement, areas we both can be passionate about. Through our discussions we may come to find areas where we do agree (something I also discoverd in becoming Catholic), areas that need further prayer and reflection, and areas where we can learn from each other and grow in our faith.

      Let us not see this as an impossible task, or see the task as to great a work, but rather recongnize, that it starts with the first steps, first steps that we are taking here, and I am glad to have you apart of the discussions.

      Also, I think it needs pointed out, that this blog as Biff said, has ecumenism as one of its ends, but not exclusively so. Some of the postings are written to a strickly Catholic audience where there is already common agreement and a common understanding. These posts are not going to, as an example, establish the authority of the papacy before making their larger point. For example, if you were writing a post to a group of Christians using Scripture you would probably just assume that the intended audience would understand its value, authority, and historical reilability. However, the nonChristian might write objecting to the Bible altogether. Some of my posts, in particular, were written to a Catholic audience and the ecumenical end was secondary. I am not saying this to discourage you from commenting or even objecting, but just for your understanding.

      1. Jason, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by visible unity. At this point, I think that we share mutual love and a desire for truth, but not truth per se. If one of us is adhering to a false gospel (which is almost necessarily the case) then, paradoxically, love demands we forsake communion for the sake of the other. Embracing visible unity may serve to confirm our friend in error and fatally mislead others, which is not love.

        So, while I rejoice in union with true believers within Catholicism, I acknowledge no communion, imperfect or otherwise, with the modern RC church. (For example, I would not have signed the “Manhattan Declaration.” I care deeply about issues of life, but this gives the impression that the differences between us are minor, cosmetic differences – that we are all truly ice-cream, just different flavors.)

        Yes, an incremental approach to these dialogs is needed. However, it is also necessary to remind ourselves frequently of the macro-result, the overall landscape. That is, we need to see clearly the big picture of where each system leads us. This is what I was attempting in my original comment. Indeed, if things are too incremental we often find ourselves hard-boiled like the proverbial frog in the pot.

        By the way, I would still like to hear (from anyone) if my description above was a fair summary of the Roman Catholic understanding of salvation. I know it’s an approximation, but that’s more or less accurate in a brass-tacks kind of way, right?

        “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” ~ Romans 4:4-5

        1. Josh, dear brother, I don’t have time for a response, so I beg everyone’s forgiveness for this short comment. In your initial comment you ask, “Where, anyone, am I getting this wrong?” In your most recent comment you write, “…I would still like to hear (from anyone) if my description above was a fair summary of the Roman Catholic understanding of salvation.” The words/phrases you use are indeed accurate (impressivly so, I might add). However, what I think you think they imply is not accurate. I will post more on this when I get the chance. An analogous situation would be me saying something like, “Of course a Christian like yourself affirms what the NT teaches that, ‘a man is justified by works and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24), and that ‘unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you’ (John 6:53).” Of course you would adhere to these verses, but you would probably think we interpreted them differently. I think something similar is going on with the phrases you use in your initial post. More on this at some point in the future when I have a moment. Your servant in Christ, Jeff

          1. Jeff, I’m eager to hear what you have to say. I agree words can be freighted with very different kinds of meanings and give faulty impressions – like the old question, “So, when did you stop beating your wife?” Still, even if we are very generous with meanings, I’m not certain how some of those things don’t imply what I think they do. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, maybe it’s a duck. At least consider the possibility.

            While you may be able to place a more palatable spin on RC doctrine, what is really going on in the mind of the average Catholic? (Not that Protestants are much better.) It’s a question worth asking. I’m guessing most would be astonished to see it all laid out in a clear fashion. I know I am.

            As far as misunderstandings go, I would underscore that scripture too can be used in a way that gives false impressions and leads to bogus conclusions. In discerning its meaning we must be cautious not to construct an entire theology on strained readings and scattered, isolated references to a subject divorced from the whole.

            Sometimes instead of going to the main and plain passages (those that that deal with a topic like justification in an extended, explicit way) and following the logic of the text, people go to passing references that are only tangentially related to the question at hand. (This is particularly tricky, because words like “justify” and “righteousness” are used in a variety of ways in scripture.) This is equivalent to or perhaps worse than trying to understand a book by reading all of the footnotes and foregoing the chapters themselves.

            What does scripture, read in an internally consistent way, really say about how man is made right with God? Where is the center of gravity in its presentation? Where does it place the accent?

            “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” ~ John 6:27-28

        2. Quick teaser: example of the complexity involved with the “correct” language you use: it would seem then from your summary that you think the RCC thinks that no one can get to heaven without water baptism. This is false. The Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice? Ok, so I went to Mass today and yesterday. Did I attend two different propitiatory sacrifices? No. There’s only one propitiatory sacrifice……Jesus’ on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago. The RCC teaches that that one sacrifice is perpetually before God in heaven as Jesus reigns (as the lamb looking slain) in His glory, which is made present again at each Eucharist. So, since the RCC sees the Eucharist as the same sacrifice (albeit in an unbloody form) as Jesus’ original sacrifice, and not another separate sacrifice, of course it would be propitiatory, because Jesus’ sacrifice was propitiatory. It’s the same sacrifice. That’s where the debate would be, on the unity between Jesus’ sacrifice on calvary and the Eucharist, not on the propitiatory nature of the Eucharist. Grace? Free gift. Certainly. But by “grace” in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, in Baptism, etc., we do not simply mean “free gift,” but the “free gift of God’s very own divine life.” More on all of this later. Again, one of the best articles on this was written by Richard White while he was still a Reformed evangelical Protestant:

          1. Brother, the article you linked to is very well done. Yet, I think that, while so much truth is there, very significant distinctions are blurred.

            A core issue is that RC’s conflate justification and sanctification, which we see as inextricably linked, yet distinct. Now, is this distinction biblical or contrived? I think it’s biblical, and quite critical. Get this wrong and the New Covenant stops looking so new. ( Maybe the most beautiful expression of this is Heb. 10:14 -“by one sacrifice (Christ) he has made perfect forever (justification) those who are being made holy (sanctification).)

            This is everywhere. The very structure of many NT books is based on this distinction. In Romans Paul’s entire point is: Because you have been justified apart from works and given the free gift of righteousness, do not serve sin any longer but offer yourself as a living sacrifice to God.

            How do you make sense of “the free gift of righteousness” apart from works? Or Paul considering his works rubbish that he may in Christ “not having a righteousness of my own that comes through the law, but through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil.3:9) How can this find a place in the RC system apart from some kind of strained double-speak?

            Ask yourself how the RC system does not in fact place a person again under the Law as a covenant of works? If you swap out the ceremonies of Israel for the rituals of Rome, it is almost exactly the same in every respect. The ethos is the same. I fail to see any significant difference. The thrust is still “do this and live, do it not and you will suffer, be cursed and lose your status .” You can dress it up with language about grace, sonship and so forth, but so could Israel.

            But there is a better way, the way of the “blessed man” of Romans 4 whose sin the Lord will not credit to him. Only this man can truly live life as a free son of God.

          2. Dear Josh,

            I’m overjoyed you read White’s article! I agree that justification and sanctification are distinct. We RC’s would view justification as becoming a son or daughter of God and sanctification as growth in holiness. At the same time, we would hold too that justification and sanctification are like two sides of the same coin, so while they are distinct, and are the work of God, God also assists us to become His co-workers, not to our merit but to His glory. I agree with you that the distinctions are indeed biblical, but I think the connection between both is more closely tied together (in the Bible…in fact in Paul, in fact in Romans) than you probably think. Moreover, I think as we’ll see (hopefully) when I get to the series on salvation in the Bible, that even when we get to Paul (and to Romans) justification itself is viewed (like sanctification) as not simply a point in time but also as a process. Hence Abraham was not only justified by faith (an obedient one I might add) when he believed God in Genesis 15, but even earlier when he believed God placing his trust in Him, and left his country to move to the promised land. More on this later.

            Your bro,


          3. Josh:

            I really enjoy reading all of the conversations that go on here. While we do have some very serious disagreements, and it is clear that at times both of us are probably saying in our heads “How don’t you get it?!”, it is nonetheless hopeful that in the future, the whole Christian community may be one. Moreover, please be assured of my prayers (even though I don’t know you), and I ask that you pray for me–especially as we await the coming Easter celebration, where we remember Christ’s great Passion. Peace be with you, brother!

            Anyway, there have been so many times where I have wanted to write developed responses to some of the discussions and comments that have occurred here, but I simply cannot; I just do not have the time. Nonetheless, I want to ask you a question. I would love to know, according to you: What is faith? (Perhaps this necessarily involves the question: What is belief?) I know that this is far from a one-word kind of answer, and indeed, books and books can be answered in attempt to genuinely answer this question. But, perhaps you can give a somewhat brief, but honest and authentic answer as you see it.

            Peace and grace!

      2. WOW! Thanks Joe and Sue for contacting me. When I poestd the article I did a little internet searching and could not find any information about the design of the church, but I never thought that the article would actually make it to you, the architect. I am honored that you liked my pictures. The church is a stunning work of art and I would love to talk to you more about it. I recently found an old booklet about the church that does actually have your name in it. I will send an email to your email address with a pdf of the booklet attached. Thank you again for contacting me! It really is an honor.

    3. Josh,

      As always, it is a pleasure to read your posts. I greatly appreciate your desire to help myself and others understand your point of view. This is my first post since the character limit so I’ll try to be brief. =) Also as always, I will preface this with saying that I also am still learning, so I apologize if I mis-state or under-represent a teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

      I would like to see if I can offer a few “Catholic verses”, verses that probably get interpreted very differently when read by a non-Catholic. Fundamentally, our issues center around things such as the nature of Justification / Salvation, the nature of Faith and how works are (or are not) a part of faith, the nature of the Sacraments, etc.

      No one here will disagree with how we are saved. It is purely gratuitous on the part of God. But how is that Grace applied to our lives? For a Catholic, that Grace is applied to our souls through the sacraments. Not that the ritual has any power in and of itself, but that God has ordained them to be the vessel that transfers his Grace to our souls. For example, Ezekiel 36 :25 -27 prophecies Baptism, re-iterated in the first letter of Peter (talking about the flood and water corresponding to Baptism, which saves us now).

      The thing is, salvation is not a momentary decree or a judicial ruling alone. Salvation is your relationship with Christ. God the Father acting as a father, and we as his children. Nothing you do can ever earn your place in a family or in a marriage, but your actions are what make you a part of the family. I work to keep my marriage alive, not thinking that my works earn my marriage, and not doing them in a mindset of “I have to do these or my marriage isn’t a marrage”, but rather doing them because the actions are what makes a marriage a marriage. For that matter, a marriage isn’t even valid (or completed) until an action (consummation) has taken place. In like fashion, loving actions must be taken for salvation to be completed.

  2. I wrote that I was going to write on some verses that would offer insight into the Catholic position, but then offered only one verse before hitting the character limit. So on to other passages from the Catholic point of view.

    John 15:1-15 is a very good insight into the relationship aspect of salvation. Verse 3 hints heavily at the gratuitous nature of salvation. The rest of the passage speaks heavily on works/love/obedience and remaining faithful. Verse 5 seems to imply that good deeds are a fruit of salvation, but I would argue that the passage as a whole says that you must remain actively faithful to be in a state of justification. The works are inspired and enabled by God, but it is still our free will that allows us to cooperate with God’s plan. The passage clearly states (to the Catholic eye) that remaining in God’s love is voluntary, not mandatory, and that remaining in his love is the key to remaining saved. You must work at a marriage to make the marriage work. However, you don’t think “I’m doing this action to score points in the positive column of my marriage.” But you do (implicitly) think “I love my wife and I want to do this for her.” A similar mindset exists in the Catholic position.

    This 2K character limit is tough. One passage uses up most of my space. So rather than full-blown explanations, I’ll offer some comments on passages and would ask you to read them with a Catholic eye.

    Col 1:24 speaks of Paul’s suffering making up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. This echoes the working nature of salvation and how we can aide others in their journey. Luke 11:9-13 also indicates the nature of prayer and how we can aide others. Among others, those passages indicate how our faith, prayers, and actions can move the Holy Spirit in other people. Catholics read from 1 John 4:6-21 that love is integral to attaining salvation (much as we see in John 15).

    I wish I could write more on the marriage aspect of salvation. Perhaps later. God bless, take care.

  3. Tommy,
    Thank you so much for your kind words and prayers. And I would be very honored to pray for you.

    For now I will say that faith is a gift of God that no man can work in himself. It’s a kind of beautiful, self-conscious emptiness that, in poverty, reaches out to God to give it in full what it needs. It is the heart that has understood “the Lord is Salvation.” It is the empty hand that reaches out and lays hold of the promise of God manifested in the person and work of Christ. Faith is the mind that has understood, as we read in 1 Corinth. 1:30, that Christ is himself our “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.”

    In one sense, faith is emphatically not work, for it is trusting God to give it freely all life, holiness and righteousness as a free gift, purchased at the cost of the eternal Son of God. It “does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked,” believing in a God who parts seas and raises dead men. Indeed, it is pleased to die to the old man, the written code and the Law, having no righteousness of its own, save the perfect righteousness of Christ. Faith clothes itself in the standing of Christ, indeed Christ himself. Faith owns God as Father. It may receive fatherly discipline, but never condemnation (Rom. 8:1) or wrath. It lives in freedom, as Christ has borne all sin and curse on its behalf.

    To be sure, true faith necessarily bears fruit, working in love. Yet, it never confuses cause and effect, root and fruit, for it works not to gain or maintain anything it does not already possess in full by union with Christ, in whom is fullness. Indeed, it has learned the deep things of God, that apart from this gift of perfect fullness, everlasting sonship and safety, it can not truly obey or love. Therefore, true faith works not for life, but from life. And so this thing that is no work is the work of works, the sole way man achieves lasting peace with God.

    1. Tommy,
      I thought I would pass along a couple of quotes regarding faith from one of my spiritual heroes, a 17th century man by the name of Walter Marshall. His work, “The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification,” while no easy read, is to my mind one of the greatest texts ever penned. There he speaks a great deal of the nature of faith and says among other things:

      “Believe in Christ as alone sufficient and all sufficient for your happiness and salvation, despairing altogether of any attainment of happiness by your own wisdom, strength, works of righteousness, or any fleshly, worldly confidences whatever. Be as a dead man to all other confidences, and account them loss for Christ. We must not be grieved that we have nothing to trust upon besides Christ for our salvation; but rather rejoice that we need nothing else, and that we have a sure foundation, incomparably better than any other that can be imagined. And we must resolve to cast the burden of our souls wholly on Christ, and seek salvation no other way, whatever becomes of us.

      Faith itself is very precious in the sight of God and most holy. God loves it, because it gives the glory of our salvation only to the free grace in Christ, and renounces all dependence upon any conditions that we can perform to procure a right to Christ, or to make ourselves acceptable to Him.

      The excellence of faith lies in this, that it accounts not itself, nor any work of ours a sufficient ornament to make us acceptable in the sight of God. Though it desires the free gift of holiness, yet it abandons all thoughts of practicing holiness before we come to Christ for a holy nature. It puts on Christ Himself, and in Him all things that pertain to life and godliness. Thus every true believer is clothed with the Sun of righteousness, the Lord Jesus, who is pleased to be Himself all our spiritual and eternal happiness.”

      1. Dear Josh,

        I love the quote, and of course would agree with it wholeheartedly, if by “faith” Marshall means the living faith which is a faith working together with works and not a faith without works (which for James is still real faith, it’s simply a dead faith, a useless faith, James 2:14-26), or by that obedient faith (obedience of faith, faithful obedience) that is the faith Paul speaks of in Romans, clarifying that his discussion of faith throughout the letter is precisely the obedient faith with which he opens and closes his letter (Romans 1:5 and 16:26).

        But let me share one of my favorites, written by the Holy Spirit (and St. James):

        “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:14-26, NASB).

        1. Short on time, but both passages you cite in Romans actually speak of “the obedience of faith.” (Look at the Greek) I would submit Paul here is speaking about the obedience that is faith. In other words, belief is precisely the obedience required by the gospel. We obey by believing. Evidence this is the way we are to understand this is found in Romans 10:16 where he says that not all obey in conjunction with the prophecy from Isaiah about not believing the message. That is, he directly equates obedience with belief.

          I’m sure we’ll address the James passage more later, but for starters I think Paul and James have very different concerns and are addressing different errors. (We agree there must be ultimate harmony between them) No one disputes there is a kind of spurious, empty profession that cannot save. This is clear. But, I don’t think that this is all that Rome is saying. Rome is saying that works themselves are somehow justifying, no? To talk about a living faith is one thing, but I think the claims Rome is making are of an entirely different order.

          From Paul alone we understand that true faith is always accompanied by evidence of authenticity. He just tells us that those works are not the effectual cause of justification. In fact he explicitly tells us justification is “apart from works.” Why? Rom. 11:6 – “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” That single verse should make you seriously question Rome’s paradigm. The idea we are justified by works produced by grace? I read Paul to say that this is definitionally not possible.

          Put differently, I think the Biblical model sees all sanctification, all true good works as based on our justification. Rome, I contend, inverts this, making our justification, ever uncertain, contingent on our sanctification, our satus dependant upon our holiness. Think about it.

    2. Josh,

      Sorry for not getting back to you for a while. I loved reading your response/answer. At times, it really sounded like poetry even! You wrote very beautifully. Thank you for your time in answering the question.

      I am finding myself with less and less time to put forward a response. I hope that this summer I can be a little more involved with the discussion.

      There is a quote by Joseph Ratzinger, I do not have it with me at the time, and he defines faith as such: a fundamental orientation of our being. Belief is a way of life. It is a trust that, though eschatological, transcends and transforms the present. (Note: I am not writing this as a disagreement to what you said, just wanted to share it.) I would love to type it up a bit more in full. Perhaps later I will try to leave a comment as such if the time proves right.

      Thank you also for the quote by one of your favorite theologians.

      I’m sorry I cannot write more and/or adequately respond. I do promise that in the future I will be more efficient with responses and so better contribute to the conversation!

      Pax et gaudium tecum!

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