Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Importance of Knowing Theological and Philosophical Terminology

I was looking around at the new Ecclesia Augustana blog (it seems to be a group of college student fixated on the anti-objective justification heresy) and I came across this post:


The gist of what is said here is as follows: Polycarp Leyser states that faith is the "instrumental cause" of justification.  The theologians of the old Synodical Conference said that it was God's Word and the merit of Christ that was the cause of justification, and not faith in and of itself.  Hence, they are out of step with orthodox Lutheran theology and wrong.

This post is very odd because Daniel Baker (the person who wrote it) is apparently unfamiliar with Aristotle's metaphysics and his scheme of four causes (formal, material, efficient, and final). I leave it to the reader to look these up, but put succinctly: If faith were the sort of cause that they want it to be in regard to justification, it would probably be an efficient cause of justification. But Polycarp Leyser doesn't say that.  Rather, he says that faith is an "instrumental cause" (a finer categorization of the categories of cause, divised by the medieval scholastics).  An instrumental cause is a means or organ through which the efficient cause or agent actualizes the reality.  For example, a hammer is the instrumental cause of a table.  It is used by the efficient cause (the acting agent, the carpenter).  It isn't the idea what what a table is (formal cause) or the wood the table is made out of (material cause).  Neither is it an acting agent (the efficient cause).  Rather it is merely the passive means through which the material receives its shape based on the idea of the mind of the builder.  Consequently, Leyser is stating that faith is merely a passive receptacle for the already existing reality of justification, which is to be found in the gracious will of God and in the merits of Christ distributed through God objective word of promise made manifest in Word and sacrament.

Therefore, not knowing this, Baker has totally misinterpreted the quotation as being in favor of the anti-OJ position, when really it's in favor of OJ!  If faith is merely an organ or instrument, then justification is a reality that pre-exists faith.  Faith is therefore only a means of receiving this reality.

Moreover, Baker ridicules Walther and the other theologians of the Synodical Conference for not understanding that faith causes God's verdict of justification.  Nevertheless, when the term "instrumental cause" is understood correctly, Walther and the rest of them are vindicated.  Also, it should be noted that these theologians do in fact did use the term to describe how subjective justification is actualized.  Walther and the rest of the Syncon theologians say this on a number of occasions (when they are getting technical).  Also, it should be observed, that the Baier Compendium (which Walther used in seminary instruction before they had Pieper) describes justification in basically this way.  Here we read:

"The instrumental cause of our faith are the words of the Gospels and baptism." (Baier, 3.11)

In other words, the reality of God's grace in Christ is merely channeled to faith through the means of grace (instrumental causes).  Our faith doesn't cause it's reality, it just receives it through the instruments.  Again we read in the next chapter on justification:

"6. The efficient cause of the act of justification is the triune God.  7. The internal impulsive cause is the goodness or free grace of God.  8. The external impulsive cause, and the principal and meritorious cause, is Christ the mediator, by reason of his active and passive obedience. 9. The lesser principal impulsive cause [a Protestant scholastic sub-category of instrumental cause] is faith in Christ.  10. Besides this faith truly nothing else is able to be held on our part as part of the cause of justification." (Baier, 4.6-10)

There are a number of posts like this on the website, that is, where the author being cited is badly misunderstood because of unfamiliarity with the source material (the one on Augustine's understanding of 1 Cor. is chief among these!). 

I have a suggestion: before a person starts making pronouncements about what the orthodox fathers said (while insulting Walther, who knew them very well, in the process!), bother to read their sources and understand their theological method!  It's also very important to know how certain theological and philosophical terms are being used.  There are many good books out there on theological methods and terminology among the Lutheran fathers. 


  1. I am not a theologian, at this point of my life it is difficult at times to focus mentally due to health reasons. That stated, please have a modicum of patience! One of my main concerns with UOJ is the concept of one's sins being paid for while the individual must still suffer the pains of hell.

    My understanding of the cause for damnation is that we must be holy as God is holy. The Law condemns and shows us our shortcomings. Jesus is our salvation!

    If l was able to live a sinless life there would be no need for Jesus' redemptive work. If sinless l am allowed into heaven. As this is, of course, impossible Jesus' perfection is accepted on my behalf as if l had lived sinless.

    Now, if that is correct then to say l am counted sinless because of Jesus' sinless life, passion and crucifixion yet l must spend eternity in hell makes no sense. If l am made perfect then l may spend eternity with our triune God.

    That is my objection to UOJ. If this is incorrect please explain where my logic falters.

    If my understanding is grievously erroneous and copious space is necessary, and if willing you could contact me directly at lesbaker53@gmail.com

    Though l have issues with mental focus these days l am always eager to discuss and learn about my beloved savior! (I am also willing to admit when in error.)

  2. In the first paragraph l stated "paid" for.More accurate would be forgiven. Jesus did pay for all sins.

  3. Les, Thanks for the question.

    I'm afraid that you've been confused by the terminology here. This is, I would suggest, why the OJ debate has any traction whatsoever.

    God declaring a thing and us receiving it are two different things. Likewise, making dinner and eating it are two different things.

    When God declares that in Jesus that the whole world is forgiven, such a declaration must be received by faith. If it is not, then it is rather like having dinner made, but not eating it. In other words, it doesn't change the objective reality of the dinner- it only changes whether or not it ends up in my belly.

    Therefore, the promise that God makes in Jesus is objectively true (OJ) whether or not I believe it. Nevertheless, I only receive it if I believe it (SJ). If it wasn't, faith would be a kind of requirement to make God well disposed towards me. The gospel would be "if you believe, then you will be forgiven" rather than "you have been forgiven, so receive it." It's just that simple.

    The confusion I think is that people are misunderstanding the word "justify." Justify means in OJ, God act of declaration and not our reception of it. In SJ, it means our receiving and individually being counted as righteous before God.

  4. My reply: http://ecclesiaaugustana.blogspot.com/2013/02/revisiting-faith-is-cause-and-four.html

  5. Doctor, thank you for your reply. May l ask one more? If God declares me righteous (That is OJ?) then would l not be righteous? (SJ?) What l mean is that what God declares happens. So if God declares me righteous wouldn't it happen? But that sounds like what some declare that all go to heaven. (I know you are not saying that.) So where is my understanding wrong?

  6. Les, No problem. I understand that this is very technical stuff for some people.

    I think that you're getting too hung up on the metaphor of "declare." We really can only talk about God in metaphors or analogies (that is, apart from his actions in history). When we say God "declares" the whole world innocent, we are using the courtroom metaphor of God as a sort of judge. Paul implies this and the Reformers used this.

    I think the issue is that you're taking the metaphor too literally. When a judge judges someone with their verdict, it's irrelevant whether or not a person accepts it. A person can be sentenced to death and say to the judge "I don't accept that" and it of course won't matter- the sentence is carried out anyways.

    That's why I used the analogy of dinner. In dinner, the making of the dinner (objective atonement), the calling out that dinner has been made (objective justification), and the actual eating of the dinner (subjective justification) are distinct realities.

    The whole point of objective justification and atonement is that your act of eating doesn't make the dinner real- just as our faith doesn't cause God's forgiveness, but rather receives it. These things exist first, and then we receive them.

    Some people like Paul Rydecki say that they believe in objective atonement (dinner is made) but not objective justification (the calling out to the members of the household that dinner is served). But how do we know that there is a dinner and how do we receive dinner if no one tells us that dinner is served? God must declare that dinner is made as a complete reality. Also, although dinner is made, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is for us. The person who makes it must tell us that it is for us prior to us eating it. Hence, the object of our faith is the fact that we are forgiven. The already existing word of promise is what we place our faith in. If it didn't exist, there would be nothing to believe in!

  7. Wow, Dr. Kilcrease, we have really become quite lazy and imprecise in our theology. Thank you for pointing this out. I am glad that the seminary (at least my profs) made us learn that faith is fiducia cordis, organon leptikon, fides quae, fides qua, etc. ad infinitum. I hope we don't lose this heritage. This stuff helps terrified consciences and will terrify your conscience if you jumble it all up.

  8. Great point Rev. Hayes. My main goal in this is to make it absolutely certain that people trust in Christ and his promises in Word and sacrament- not in the quality of their own faith!

  9. I really like the "dinner" metaphor, Dr. Kilcrease (I've used a similar, slightly humorous version involving slices of pie.)

    I think my objection is when, concerning objective justification, some say that "all the starving people have been served dinner whether they believe it or not." The metaphor unfortunately deflates in that situation, but it reflects my confusion when Lutherans say that "You all are justified whether you believe it or not." How can this be so, when the confessions don't seem to talk about being justified before faith? Certainly faith doesn't merely "impart benefits"?

  10. Benjamin, Thanks for the comment.

    I realize that your objection is a common one, but I find it absolutely mind blowing. Absolutely no one says that people appropriate forgiveness prior to having faith. The point is that faith receives the already existing reality of God's forgiveness in Christ as a promise rather than a condition. We say "your sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus" we do not say "if you believe, your sins will be forgiven for the sake of Jesus." Therein lies the distinction between law and gospel.

    BTW, the Confessions do actually speak this way. Melanchthon quotes Ambrose in the Apology stating that the whole world's sins have been canceled and forgiven. Luther states in the Large Catechism that we are forgiven before we believe.

    Your difficulty, as well as other people who are on this bandwagon's difficulty is that you are behaving as if the word "justify" is being used in exactly the same manner in both cases. It's not.

    OJ= God pronouncing a sentence.

    SJ= Human beings receiving the pronounced sentence and gaining salvation through it.

    Basically, the anti-OJ crowd plays the game of pretending that when we say that God pronounces a sentence, the sentence is communicated and received automatically by those over whom it is pronounced. The entire argument (as I have pointed out on many occasions) falls apart if you don't assume that and recognize that the term "justify" is being used differently in the two different contexts.

    Also, I think part of the issue here (since this seems to be primarily a WELS problem, even if it is infecting people in Missouri) is that the WELS have had the problem since the 19th century of having a higher rates of Pietism than other Lutheran synods. Remember that it was the Pietists who objected to unconditional absolution and therefore sparked the first debate about OJ in the 1850s. Every time that the WELS has a crisis over this thing, I've noticed that they jack-up the language of universality and objectivity to the point that if you didn't know better that it often sounds like universalism (Kokomo being the supreme example of this). This confuses laypeople (especially moralistic ones) into thinking that the Lutheran synods are teaching universalism. But of course that's not true- and everyone knows it's not true. It's absurd to think that's true. The main issue is that people are misunderstanding the language being used.

  11. Dr. Kilcrease, thank you for your replys. I may have to eventually concede and say that Jesus will make it all plain to me in eternity. I know he will forgive me for my lack of understanding. (The love and forgiveness of our triune God CIS the one absolute l do understand!) Now, let me ask one more thing. Actually the fact that led me away from UOJ was the explanation given by Dr.Becker to the Kokomo Paper. Dr. Becker stated that it was unfortunate and that he would prefer not to use such an example, but he said that those in hell were justified. (I may be hung up on the image of people being innocent and being in hell.) It brings me back to if l have no sin l can go into God's presence. Am l being redundant? What am l missing? Isn't it true that anyone righteous can enter heaven, and only the sinless can do so? So if Dr. Becker states that those in hell are righteous why are they in hell?

    By the way your comments to Benjamin hit close to home with me. I try to shy away from such things but the tendency is there.

    Also this issue is of paramount importance to me also because of my son. You are acquainted with Daniel? I thought l should mention that as l do not want to be under false pretenses. I do not always agree with Daniel, but he can be very convincing. Also much of what he believes probably stems in part from my beliefs and actions. I do tend to have some pietistic "leanings".

    I hope that will not cause you to dismiss my questions. There was a time that l had a good mind. Now with pain and pain pills clouding my thought processes it can take longer for me to grasp an issue. I do notat any time presume to be a theologian. (Though all of us Christians are in a sense involved in theology as we delve into God's mysteries.) It is difficult while talking about Godcto remember that the greatest minds are nothing compared to God, so it is humbling to think what l must be compared to Him. His love and concern for me and all humankind is awesome.

  12. Mr. Baker- No problem. It actually never occurred to me, but it makes sense that there's a connection between you two.

    The Kokomo statement is a rather unfortunately badly stated version of OJ. The author's statement that "Judas is justified in Hell" is extremely misleding. What it makes it sound like is that God has communicated forgiveness to Judas in hell, which is not correct at all.

    All objective justification states is that God promises forgivness to the whole world for the sake of Jesus. Only people who believe that promise are saved. Nevertheless, that promise is unconditional and universal. It is objectively good apart from me believing it or not.

    People in hell obvious cannot appropriate that promise because they cannot hear it and believe it. Moreover, such a promise is obviously only good for people on earth, since as Hebrews says, we die once and then comes judgment.

    I hope this makes sense. Many blessings!

  13. Thank you Doctor. I am going to reread and digest you words. Your comments on the Kokomo Paper is especially enlightening. I thank you for taking such time with me. I am truly searching for truth and appreciate the knowledge of people such as yourself. I may come back in a few d says with other questions. (By theway, l do prefer Les to Mr. Baker. I am a simple man exploring elevated mysteries and certainly need guiding.) It is true that my ears are filled with the opposing view. What matters to me is Truth. I appreciate how you make Truth easier to comprehend. Thank you.