It has long been understood by sound Christians that the Scriptures are the Word of God, yet, as Peter expressed it, they were spoken by men. “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” is Peter’s phraseology. Everyone knows that the language Paul uses in Ephesians, for example, differs in tone from Galatians, reflecting the fact that this is a real human being speaking, and he was in a very different state of mind when writing the one than when he wrote the other. Only those who hold to some kind of dictation theory where a mechanical method of inspiration is posited struggle with the reality of the different styles found in Scripture. So the fact that Scripture is a divine revelation that enters into human existence through human agency is the teaching of that divine revelation itself. It is traceable through the “thus says Yahweh” of the Tanakh into its fuller explication in the New Testament.
Next, it is likewise understood by sound students of Scripture and theology that the Bible teaches (note, I did not say tradition teaches) certain truths about the person of Jesus Christ that cannot be compromised. His deity, His eternal pre-existence, His full humanity, His incarnation, etc. These biblical revelations have provided the guide posts, the walls, so to speak, outside of which we dare not wander, in thinking about the Person of Christ. Fully God, and fully man, without sin, the perfect sacrifice.
Recently Frank Beckwith sought to defend Rome’s gospel by reference to the above truths. Though he never explains the basis upon which he does so, he makes an argument that just as the Bible can have a divine and a human component, and Jesus likewise is divine and human (though, I would argue, there are differences between those two), salvation must share the same divine/human combination or dichotomy. For the argument to hold, however, it would require us to have some particular reason to parallel the hypostatic union with justification by faith, and Dr. Beckwith does not provide us with any basis. He presents the parallel, based upon Rome’s confusion of justification and sanctification, denial of the imputed righteousness of Christ, etc., but he does not tell us why we should think that because Jesus was the God-Man this means the gospel has to be partly God’s work and partly man’s (a synergistic system). Further, in quoting the Roman Catholic position Beckwith embraces not only the concept of infusion, but that “Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” Of course, only God’s grace makes it possible for this to happen, however, we are still doing the meriting and, of course, there are those who do not “cooperate” and thus lose the grace of justification, becoming enemies of God. And so the real issue of the Reformation remains the same today as it was then: it is not the NECESSITY of grace that is at dispute, it is the SUFFICIENCY of grace that is the focus of the debate. And, of course, so many of those who are non-Roman Catholics today actually agree with Rome against the Reformers on that topic, and are thusly crippled in resisting Rome’s teachings. Beckwith makes the assertion:
So, if one mistakenly insists that Catholicism embraces “works righteousness” because justification requires human cooperation (though performed in sanctifying grace), then one must be prepared to abandon the idea that the Bible is 100% God’s Word, since the theory of inscripturation requires human cooperation. Conversely, if one accepts the theory of inscripturation while insisting that the Bible is still 100% God’s Word, then one must abandon the idea that Catholicism is semi-Pelagian because its view of justification requires human cooperation (though performed in sanctifying grace).
Beckwith attempts to parallel primary and secondary causality in salvation with the same concepts in inscripturation, though he does not provide us with any biblical foundation for doing so. Divine Scripture is a revelation from God, given for His purposes in the edification and guidance of His people. Salvation is the central act of the Triune God’s self-glorification in the redemption of a particular people in Christ Jesus. Evidently, if God chooses to use men as the means by which Scripture enters into human experience (since, of course, it partakes of human language so that it may function as God chooses) then everything God does must have this same kind of divine/human cooperation motif, including the gospel itself, so that God is precluded from saving monergistically, perfectly, without possibility of failure.
But the problem with such a theory are manifold. Not everything God does is synergistic. God created all things ex nihilo. He had no partners, no one to cooperate with. Does this “violate” the paradigm? God’s providence over human affairs is surely not synergistic, either, is it? Psalm 33 would seem to indicate it is not. And when we speak of the role of the human person in the writing of Scripture, are we to parallel this with the ability of man’s free will in Roman Catholicism to refuse to cooperate with God’s grace, resulting in his eternal loss? Could there be errors in Scripture due to the wills of these free creatures refusing synergistic cooperation? Beckwith is well aware that many, many modern theologians have gone down that road. Is he willing to do so as well? If not, why not? And if God can unilaterally determine the content of Scripture, can He likewise unilaterally determine the identity of the elect, and the content of saving faith?
But there is by far a more pressing reason to reject Beckwith’s syllogism: the Bible speaks directly to the issue of the fact of God’s solitary and unique role in salvation. Not only are we told that salvation is of the Lord, but that all of salvation is of the Lord, from beginning to end, and that God, and God alone, is to be glorified as a result. Consider these words:
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1Co 1:26-31)
Further, the problem with Rome’s gospel can be illustrated by asking Frank Beckwith (and any other follower of Rome) the same question I asked Fr. Peter Stravinskas in 2001, a question that a truly honest Roman Catholic cannot answer as the Bible does. Dr. Beckwith, are you the blessed man of Romans 4:7-8? Are your sins imputed to you? What does your priest say when you ask him? You know the answer from Rome’s teachings, but surely you must know that Paul’s answer would be, “the blessed man is every believer in Jesus Christ.” So how do you answer this question?
Finally, I note with some sadness that while we have sought to respond to Beckwith’s attempts to defend his move to Rome forthrightly, strongly, but fairly, it really does not seem that Dr. Beckwith takes these issues seriously. Note this question asked of him, and his, well, to use his own phrase, snarky response:
And I read through your book excerpt, but perhaps I’m missing it in there somewhere: Can you point me directly to the scriptural basis that shows I can “merit for myself and others the graces we need for sanctification and eternal life”?
I’m surprised you don’t know where it’s found in Scripture. It is in that same apostolic letter that includes the parameters of sola scriptura, the list of books that are supposed to be in the Bible, a detailed account of the philosophical and theological bases for Trinitarianism, definitions of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism, and the phrases “total depravity,” “unconditional election,” “irresistible grace,” and “limited atonement.” If I’m not mistaken, you can only find that apostolic letter in the Bible that rests in night-stand drawer of each room in the White Horse Inn. 🙂
Dr. Beckwith’s long-term problems with the sufficiency of Scripture, however, are beyond the topic of this particular blog entry, though, they speak loudly to the depth of his previous commitment to “evangelicalism.”