Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The False Protestant Dichotomy of Faith and Works

If you have been following my posts on faith (or if you go and read them now) you have an important key to unlocking the mysteries of salvation theology. The motor that drives the order of salvation, or ordo salutis, is certainly grace; but the power from this motor is put into action through the instrumentation of faith. Thus far, I have concluded that faith, beyond merely inspiring good works, actually includes them. As we continue to discuss salvation theology a governing assumption will be that “works do in fact play a part in salvation.” I will clarify the place of works further as we move forward, but first I would like to round out our initial discussion of faith by addressing one of the greatest theological tragedies in the history of the Church: the false dichotomy of faith and works.

Martin Luther was not just some crazy beer swilling monk, as certain Roman Catholic officials made him out to be. He was a devout Roman Catholic with a keen spiritual sensibility. And Luther was not simply nit-picking when he called on the Roman church to reform. There were real substantive abuses that had grown up through the Middle Ages in the Roman church. Among the worst of these abuses was the state of Roman worship and some distinctive practices that had arisen in the medieval church. Luther’s problem was not that he was over-reacting (these abuses were real and substantive) or that he simply wanted to form his own church (Luther was excommunicated and almost burned at the stake as a heretic); he desired reform and was forcibly removed from the Roman church. Where Luther went wrong was in his salvation theology.

More specifically, Luther linked certain deplorable practices of the Roman church with certain Roman doctrines that were actually quite orthodox and unproblematic. To use an admittedly broad statement, it was as if Luther looked at the abuses of the Roman church and said, “all this exists because we have allowed works to seep into our conception of faith.” Luther strengthened this view with a selective reading of Paul and an almost total discounting of James (He was quite close to dropping this book from the Canon altogether). This resulted in a deceptively simple and seemingly pious mantra, sola fides, or faith alone. Actually, Luther would have agreed that salvation is by grace alone through the instrumentation of faith.

Of course, on one level, Luther is right. Salvation is by grace through faith. The problem is that Luther’s definition of faith appears to be anemic. He falsely separated faith and works and opposed the former to the latter. Luther, and Calvin after him, identified works as that which follow from faith. Calvin’s famous quip, “saving faith is never alone” sounds catchy, but it is less than helpful. Although this view seems neat and tidy, upon closer inspection, it is deeply flawed and incoherent. And, if you have read my last few posts, you know why. Faith is a choice. Yes, it is empowered by grace, but it is a free decision nonetheless. As we have seen, beliefs, even beliefs as lofty as “trust” are, for the most part, completely involuntary. The only thing that can be truly voluntary is a work or an action. The decision of faith is not a decision to believe, it is a decision to do something based on a belief one already has. Where Luther and Calvin’s anemic view of faith forces a showdown between Paul and James, a view of faith that includes works produces an easy synthesis. Yes Paul, salvation is by faith alone. Yes James, faith is not mere belief, but includes works. Salvation is by a faith of “grace empowered works” or “works of faith.” If only Luther and Calvin could have separated the harmful practices of the Roman church from their harmless theology.

As it stands, Luther, Calvin and their Protestant progeny, have to varying extents adopted a false dichotomy between faith and works. As a Protestant I do recognize abuses of the medieval Roman church and I still disagree with some facets of the contemporary Roman church. However, unlike most of my Protestant brethren, salvation theology (at least the general bulk of it) is not an area where I lodge significant protest. Unfortunately most Protestants see this as the main battle ground between them and high church traditions. This perception rests on an incoherent view of faith and the piety that flows from it. And, after all, the Lutheran concept sounds good and pious, “Far be it from me to do anything to affect my salvation. I am merely a helpless sinner, I can do nothing. Salvation is completely a work of God. No work of mine contributes one iota.” This sounds good, but ultimately it is bad theology.

That a “faith of works” takes part in salvation is undeniable (unless you wish to go the way of determinists, in which case you have bigger problems). This does not mean that one earns salvation. It simply means that God will not save us against our wills. He wants His love to be freely accepted and returned in works of love. Works of faith are simply the instrumentation of Gods grace. We could do nothing without grace and God has decided not to save without works. Who are we to question God’s wisdom and demand that we have no part in our salvation, that we do nothing that contributes to it in any way? God saves by grace through faith and this faith includes works (which are empowered, but not completely determined by grace).

This is one area where Protestants need to recognize that our high church brethren actually had it right. We need to relinquish the false faith-works dichotomy (as pious as it sounds) and adopt a more robust and coherent work-of-faith dialectic. Our high church brethren still have flaws worthy of protest, but salvation theology (at least this part) is not one of them.

Until next week, when we dip into grace and the beginnings of sanctification . . . peace.


David said...

Hmmm, so, generally speaking, what sort of works ought faith inspire?

Adam said...

I must ask, are you being sarcastic here in your question? If you are you should include a smiley so I can be sure:)

I ask this question because my post makes it clear (at least I thought it did) that faith does not INSPIRE works it INCLUDES them.

So the answer to your question (sarcastic or not) is that faith inspires no works at all.

However, the works that faith includes are manifold. In my opinion, and the opinion of many smarter people than I, the chief among these works are works of love and mercy. This includes, but is not limited to, giving and service to the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan and the forgotten. Other works included in the category "works-of-faith" are works of piety. This includes worship (including sacraments), prayer, Scripture study and study of other edifying literature.

This is a beginning description of the works included in, or inherent to, faith.

Does this answer your intended question or did it just belabor a point of particularly subtle sarcasm?

David said...

No sarcasm included. trust me, I always include a smiley face when needed ... :) (see)
Actually, that was a useful clarification, thanks. I still have trouble with the philo/theo language.

Kyle said...

Hey Adam,

You make a great case that faith is a human action, enabled by grace - a human work. Lots, perhaps most, Protestants, make it seem like faith is not something we "do," that it is not a "work" in a real sense.
Sometimes, though, and I'd be included in this number, Protestants are not so much opposing faith to action - since, as you argue quite persuasively, faith is necessarily an action and must include works if we are to be held responsible - as much as they are trying to separate the act of faith from holiness or the holy life. Let me try my best to explain.

While I agree that "faith" in the New Testament often includes the entire Christian response - faith, hope, love, holiness, works of love, and the like - sometimes, I think, it is referring to more of a passive action, a surrender, an openness to receive the grace of God that comes before our holy obedience so that we can THEN use that grace which we have received to love our neighbour – an obedience that is required of us, and an essential part of the relationship on the basis of which we will be judged for heaven or hell, and which can be argued is even included in the word "faith" in many NT passages. In other words, before faith is an active action, it is a passive action of reception, of moving our wills humbly to rely upon God (through the means of grace) in order that we might, upon receiving transforming grace, love our neighbors. Let me try my best to clarify this.

I think that some Protestants - I among them - are using a rather narrow conception of the word "salvation" here to point out this very passive movement, this surrender to the gracious work of God, much like someone who submits to an operation. Think of the woman who just reaches out to touch the hem of Jesus' garment. By practicing the means of grace - and I think this does include works of love, since they tend to foster humility and openness to God, if done in a right spirit - we open ourselves to God's further transforming grace, which cannot be reduced to those works and is not brought about by these means of grace – but instead are channels through which God works on our hearts. The means themselves don’t bring about redemption, but open us up so God can work it in our hearts. It is the receiving, rather than the responding, action of faith, and I think faith needs both.

It seems to me that the crucial thing a lot of Protestants want to point out and highlight is this radical need for dependence upon something beyond ourselves - not something that is just injected into the beginning in the form of prevenient grace, after which only human working takes over, but rather an ongoing dependence. In saying that grace comes before and after our works of love, you are essentially affirming this, no doubt.

If the word "salvation" is understood in this narrow sense - that is, the reception of God's grace in order to do works of love - and if works of love are an essential component of the mature and committed faith relationship for which we will be judged, it appears that most of our disagreement was over mere semantics, which is great. I'm convinced that this is regrettably more often than not the case, rather than there actually being disagreement of substance or sentiment.

The “faith alone” teaching seems to be short hand for “powerless before the disease of my sin” for many Protestants. It highlights the need for something beyond ourselves. These Protestants, like Wesleyan ones, will typically have no problem saying that we will be judged by our works, but they are less likely to save we are saved by them. The faith that receives is what they are calling “salvation,” though, no doubt, the faith that responds is just as much “faith” in the NT.

It's really good when Christians, or anyone else, can avoid wrangling over mere words. At any rate, I hope this clarifies things, as long as it was!

Kyle said...

Another - more succinct! - way to look at this is that by "salvation," you seem to include the entire relationship, the entire scope of human response to God's divine initiation, including those works upon which we shall be judged. Other Christians, I think, use "salvation" in a different way, as referring to the passive action (but still a work!) of receiving grace through which we can do good works.

Adam said...

It's been a while:) Thanks for coming by and commenting. I will try to offer a few relevant responses to your thoughtful comments.

You wrote: "While I agree that "faith" in the New Testament . . ."

Yes, my point is that both things are a part of faith. The frequent Protestant error is to only include what you term "passive" works (and usually not even admit that these are in fact works) while denying the active works. If you are willing to admit that both types are in fact works (i.e. something we in fact do when empowered by God's grace) then we are in complete agreement. I would simply avoid the term "passive action" as a bit needless and confusing. All acts are active, even if they are not particularly flashy or sweat producing:)

You wrote: "I think that some Protestants - I among them - are using a rather narrow conception of the word "salvation" . . ."

This I actually think is a big problem. I realize you are trying to point out how much of the difference hinges on mere semantics (and I appreciate that), but this is a semantic move with harmful consequences. The fact is that this passive act should not be equated with salvation (I don't even think it should be equated with the beginning of salvation since that is in God's prevenient grace). This is a big problem for many protestants (me included, until the last few years). Too many Protestants view salvation as a punctiform reality, over and done once a "passive" faith commitment has been made. But the term salvation properly construed refers to the whole shebang! Salvation is a process that does not end until we are made capable of inhabiting a resurrected earth, having been sanctified.

You wrote: "It seems to me that the crucial thing a lot of Protestants want to point out and highlight is this radical need for dependence upon something beyond ourselves - not something that is just injected into the beginning in the form of prevenient grace, after which only human working takes over, but rather an ongoing dependence. . ."

Yes, amen. But I am certainly not original in affirming this. One of Kierkegaard's main points is that we are not sufficient for our own fulfillment or salvation. All of orthodox Christianity (including Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) would completely agree with your quote. The problem is that many Protestants mistakenly think that certain high church traditions veer from this core Christian truth. What my post is trying to highlight is that this common (and unfortunate) Protestant view often flows from a deficient view of faith. Once one realizes that faith includes works, then some of that tension (certainly not all) is mitigated.

You wrote: "It is the receiving, rather than the responding, action of faith, and I think faith needs both."

Of course faith needs both of these types of works. The problem is that while high church traditions have normally accepted both, Protestants have normally only accepted one (the receptive works). This has led to a depleted view of faith that Protestants like you and I need to refute.

You wrote: "If the word "salvation" is understood in this narrow sense - that is, the reception of God's grace in order to do works of love. . ."

Kyle, just to clarify: you do include works of love WITHIN faith, do you not? That is, you would agree that faith does not merely INSPIRE a mature life of good works, but is actually made up of these good works? That is at least how I read the first part of your comments. If this is in fact your view, then we are in complete agreement.

Adam said...

Continued . . .

You wrote: "The “faith alone” teaching seems to be short hand for “powerless before the disease of my sin” for many Protestants."

And of course I have no problem with the "faith alone" mantra, as long as we understand that grace comes before and "faith" actually includes (not merely inspires) good works.

You wrote: "These Protestants, like Wesleyan ones, will typically have no problem saying that we will be judged by our works, but they are less likely to save we are saved by them. The faith that receives is what they are calling “salvation,” though, no doubt, the faith that responds is just as much “faith” in the NT."

It looks like we have both identified the same Protestant error:) I realize the semantics may be a real obstacle here. In that case I would be fine with saying that works are a part of our salvation or that they play a part in our salvation. In the most technical sense we are saved by grace through faith (which includes works). So it might be a moot point. We don't really need to say we are saved by works. The problem is Protestants usually want to go further and make the incoherent statement that works play no part in our salvation. This is false at any stage in the ordo salutis (except perhaps in prevenient grace).

And in response to your short second comment:

I think you probably characterize my use and most Protestant's use of "salvation" well. I would only add that the normal protestant "restricted" or "narrow" use is a semantic move that results in much harm and misunderstanding.

Ultimately salvation IS the whole shebang and works are a key part of it. Getting Protestants to recognize this will go a long way in repairing Protestant-High church relations.


Matt said...


I have enjoyed following this analysis of Faith that you have offered over the last few weeks.

Here, I would like to emphasize a point you made. Of course, I am speaking from the Catholic perspective, though I am not an authority, this is merely my opinion.

The point of emphasis is the language barrier. I feel this is a huge divider of Christians in general. I sometimes find it difficult to understand what exactly we agree and disagree on because of the various definitions in use. "faith" and "salvation" being to frequent offenders.

For instance, I find that Catholics will use two basic formulas for salvation. Sometimes they will state that we are "saved by faith and works" and sometimes we are "saved by a saving faith".

In the first instance, which seems to be more in vogue in the post-reformation years, I think Catholics tend to emphasis the works part of the formula in response to the defecient definitions of faith that Adam mentioned in the earlier posts. Here, in order to converse with reformers, we define faith as "mere belief" (or one of the mentioned variations) and so must add works.

Whereas, sometimes Catholics refer to a "saving faith" that would, obviously, include works. This would be very similar to Adam's definition (in not identical).

And, I echo Adam in saying that salvation is life long process and not a puntiform event. A failure to realize this distiction will inevitable lead to the two sides talking past each other. That is perhaps one of the most misunderstood issues, at least on the street level, where I operate.

Yours in Christ,


Matt said...


I thought your readers might appreciate a more authoritative review of the Catholic definition of Faith than what I offered above. It might also be helpful to those who wish to compare and contrast what you have written.

This is a fairly comprehensive article from the Catholic encylopedia:

A summary statement from this article on Faith is:

Objectively, it stands for the sum of truths revealed by God in Scripture and tradition, and which the Church (see The Rule of Faith) presents to us in a brief form in her creeds; subjectively, faith stands for the habit or virtue by which we assent to those truths.

God bless your work,


Adam said...

Thanks for your responses. I think they are right on. I like your short summary for subjective faith:

"subjectively, faith stands for the habit or virtue by which we assent to those truths."

I also think it is important to remember, as you noted in your first comment, that sometimes the unfortunate faith/works dichotomy is forced on one's language when they seek to refute deficient forms of faith (i.e. the way some Roman Catholics speak of salvation by faith and works). Technically the phrase "faith and works" is redundant sense faith includes works, but often this rhetorical move is necessary for purposes of argument. I think a similar dynamic is at work when James states"faith without works is dead." Technically speaking faith without works is no faith at all, it is mere belief. However, James is arguing against people who characterize faith in a deficient, belief only, manner.

Thanks for reading the blog and offering your Roman Catholic insight.

Kyle said...

Hey Adam,

I agree completely with you that salvation is not all crisis ("punctiliar," as you put it), but contains both crisis and process. This passive work of faith, of receiving the grace of God, does not just happen once, but throughout one's life as they develop and enact deeper and deeper degrees of surrender to God's transforming love. To act as though salvation only consisted of the first moments would indeed be a destructive error. When I, and other Wesleyan Protestants I know, speak of "salvation," they are identifying precisely these acts of surrender in which we receive God's grace, so that we may then respond in works of love.

I do believe faith in a broader sense includes works of love, but it is important for me to stress that we need to receive before we can respond. While humanity does have some capability to love after the Fall - due to prevenient grace - this is limited, and I don't think it grows through a closed system of virtue ethics in which we become virtuous by acting virtuously. I don't think we are saved by being what salvation makes us capable of being - does that make sense? :)

I think there is some room for practice and habituation here, but I think it has more to do with habituating a posture of dependence upon God's grace, in order that we might love. The former is the "passive" work of faith, the latter the active. I separate them in order to highlight our radical need of further grace outside of ourselves in order that we might progress in holiness. The effort in the Christian life to progress in holiness has more to do with increasing degrees of surrender to God's grace than it does works of love, I think. It is still a work, but it is a work that precedes works of love, and it is not really a work that "saves" or "enables" us.

Kyle said...


In short, "salvation," then, in my understanding, is precisely what ENABLES works of love, those works upon which we will be judged. And I am comfortable calling this a dimension of faith "faith" as well, so long as "faith as surrender to God's gracious transformation" (in an ongoing way) is a precondition for works of love.

I'm still uncomfortable saying that we are SAVED by works, because it seems to me that the work of surrender itself does nothing to change us: it is God's gracious work that changes us. We will be JUDGED by our works that flow out of God's transforming grace, to be sure, and they are indeed a real part of faith. They are and essential part of our responsibility and accountability, and they determine heaven or hell. But I wouldn't go so far as to say they are what save us. God saves us.

So I would differentiate that which we are accountable for and that which is part of our relationship to God and one another (works of love, obedience), and that which is the condition upon which we receive the grace of God, or what I'd call "salvation" (increasing surrender to God's love and grace through the means of grace).

In my understanding, and many Wesleyan Protestants, salvation itself is what enables us to be the people God calls and requires us to be. Our sanctified character is then seen as the product of this salvation, and indeed is a necessary part of robust Christian commitment (and faith). We are just hesitant to say that such works (either surrender or love) are themselves what save us, or what transform us.

I hope this clears up some things in terms of distinctions.

Kyle said...

In short (another summary post), by "salvation," many Wesleyan Protestants are specifically picking out the communication and appropriation of God's grace through a continued surrender and abandonment to God's loving transformation in our lives. It is salvation ITSELF (the reception of grace) that enables the active dimension of faith, the faith as response and works of love. Passive faith leads us to Christ to receive grace, active faith leads us to respond in love for God and neighbor.

By "salvation," you (and perhaps many others) seem to mean EVERYTHING for which we are responsible, and ALL parts of the relationship between God and human beings - that is, a sanctified character expressing itself in works of love. I would be willing to include these latter components in "faith," as I think the NT does, but I'd be more comfortably referring to them as the FRUIT of salvation (since salvation, in this understanding, is precisely what enables us to do good).

The point of this seemingly quibbling and technical distinction is so that we might highlight that we must receive before we respond, we must surrender to God in humility to receive transforming grace before we can live transformed lives. I'm trying to avoid telling people that they must become something (become more good, holy, or sanctified) BEFORE they experience the redeeming graces of God (in an ongoing way, to be sure). The condition of salvation, if salvation is understood as that which enables us to be good people, is not being a good person, but is rather a wholesale dependence upon and surrender to the grace of God.

So again, I am sure you affirm all of the substance of what I am saying. I believe we just parse it out differently and use different words in order to highlight different things. If you still see something potentially harmful in my parsing, let me know.

Kyle said...

By the way, I hope my points were not all that lengthy. Essentially, I am just trying to make them as clear as possible, not to inundate you with several distinct arguments. They all overlap.

Adam said...

I definitely agree that the act of receiving grace must continue throughout life. An engine cannot run without gas. In the same way Faith has no fuel without grace.

You wrote:
"it is important for me to stress that we need to receive before we can respond."

Yes, all orthodox Christians maintain this.

I am a bit unclear concerning your "virtue ethics" comments. Are you claiming that one cannot become more virtuous without having Christian faith? I doubt you are claiming this, as this seems untenable. Perhaps you are saying something different?

You wrote:
"In short, "salvation," then, in my understanding, is precisely what ENABLES works of love, those works upon which we will be judged."

Here we have a substantive disagreement. Salvation is not simply what enables works of love (that would simply be grace + reception of grace). This is surely an unnecessarily narrow view of salvation, even if one qualifies this by saying that this is a repeated process. Salvation is the whole shebang. One is not "saved" in the strict sense simply after surrender, but when surrender has led to faith-acts and these acts lead to further surrender and so on until we are entirely sanctified either before, at or after death (a debate for another day:)

You wrote:
"I'm still uncomfortable saying that we are SAVED by works, because it seems to me that the work of surrender itself does nothing to change us:"

But without the work of surrender we would not be changed and without the works of love we would surely not advance in holiness. I recognize the characteristic Protestant hesitation to attribute anything of salvation to the believer. It flows from a good and pious impulse, even if a bit misguided. My view is, if God has decided to use our works as a key part of getting the process of salvation done, then why not openly admit that. We need not fly off into fancies of prideful pelagianism to simply admit that God decides to use our actions as a component of salvation. I have already written that I don't mind letting go of the phrase "saved by works". Technically we are saved by grace, through the instrumentation of faith (which includes works). So while I am glad to admit that we are not saved BY works, I want to stress to my Protestant brethren that works (both works of reception AND works of love) ARE A PART (an indispensable part) of salvation. Works are included in salvation. The only way a Protestant (or anyone else for that matter) can avoid this conclusion is by either: (a) artificially limiting the scope of salvation or (b) harboring a deficient view of faith. I reject both of these moves and simply admit that works contribute to salvation.

After all, James baldly states that works contribute to justification. And no matter how you want to construe the term as used in this context, justification will be at least some part of the larger category of salvation. . .

Adam said...

Continued . . .

You wrote:
"It is salvation ITSELF (the reception of grace) that enables the active dimension of faith, the faith as response and works of love."

Again, you are artificially restricting the scope of salvation. There is no reason to do this, other than so we can say "works in no way contribute to salvation." But this is flatly contradicted in James; unless of course you wish to claim that Justification IN ANY SENSE OF THE WORD is not part of salvation (a claim that no Protestant will want to make I am sure:)

You wrote:
"The point of this seemingly quibbling and technical distinction is so that we might highlight that we must receive before we respond, we must surrender to God in humility to receive transforming grace before we can live transformed lives."

But Kyle, my view does not diminish this. If we do not restrict salvation as you are doing here, we can still easily maintain this core Christian truth that we must receive before we respond. At every stage in the process of salvation this is true (not just the beginning), even if salvation includes everything from birth to events after death. Each advance in this process will always be preceded and followed by God's grace. So, in short, I do not think this (quite important) concern is a point of distinction between our two views.

You worte:
"If you still see something potentially harmful in my parsing, let me know."

The main thing I still identify as harmful is your unnecessarily restricted view of salvation. This just won't go through coherently if we take James' comments seriously (and perhaps quite a few other comments littered throughout the Bible and Church tradition). Also, you have yet to show why your view is necessary to preserve the valuable truth that we must receive before we can respond. My view preserves this quite well and has the added bonus of a fully orbed conception of salvation. Why must we pick one element of salvation and elevate it to represent the whole thing?

Adam said...

Thanks for your comments. They are refreshingly nuanced and certainly advance my thinking on these issues. If most Protestants thought as deeply and carefully about these issues as you did I would have much less concern for their theology:)


Kyle said...

It looks like at the end of the day, this is mostly a terminological dispute. I actually wouldn't put "final justification" in the salvation category - to me, final justification is essentially "final judgment." We will be judged by our works, and we cannot be saved without them. Salvation, to me, pertains to the work God does. Our work - which constitutes the relationship flowing from salvation - is in response to God's saving work. Final justification is related to salvation, but I wouldn't call identify it with salvation. It is the assessment of our redeemed life, whether or not we are actually obedient and loving people by grace.

If there were no Fall, for instance, there would be no need for salvation, but we would still be responsible for loving God and neighbor by God's sustaining grace. This is another reason why I differentiate "saving work" from our obedience and loving response.

Think of God's saving His people from Egypt. The people had to cooperate, but who was the principal actor there? It was God. Holiness was then a response to God's work.

My issue with full-blown virtue ethics is that I'm not so sure we become holier by holy actions. I'm alright with habituation and practice (typically an essential component of virtue ethics), but what is habituated, in my view, is a humble dependence upon God's grace, which then results in good works. God has to do an inward work before we can do outward works (ongoing).

This is why I single out "empowerment of grace" and call that "salvation." Even when we do work of love, I don't think it's the works of love themselves that accomplish salvation, so to speak. Otherwise, what is the need for empowering grace? We simply have to exercise the tools we have, kinda like going to the gym. Then, it seems to me, we do have occasion for pride.

The Pelagian bogeyman is a concern of mine, of course. I don't think we automatically have Pelagianism if we have a role to play, both in surrender and in works of love, but there definitely is a way to construe "grace" such that it becomes a rather empty concept, and it is all human working from start to finish (or once God injects prevenient grace at the beginning).

What do you think would constitute Pelagianism? To me, if we have grace as empowerment that comes from beyond ourselves, we are safe from this error. I do not believe the means of grace THEMSELVES bring about moral transformation (salvation) - I believe they open us up to God's work. This is "disciplined grace."

So, I would still continue to call the moral transformation itself "salvation," with the holy life being the resulting relationship and character for which we will be judged. We still have to cooperate with this work (through the means of grace and surrender), but it is principally God's work. And of course I agree that faith encompasses both.

Kyle said...

It is certainly true that, by "salvation," many Protestants mean the whole thing - that is, everything we are responsible for. I'm just not so sure that makes much sense of the word "salvation." In a salvation metaphor, one person is saved, and the other a savior. What the person then does as a result of this salvation is something distinct from this. And once again, I would make this distinction in order to highlight the fact that we do not bring about salvation; we can painfully surrender to it (ongoing), but at the end of the day, the enablement to live a holy life comes from beyond ourselves - "power from on high."

And of course, I would include the works that flow from salvation as part of "faith," and I would agree with you that they are absolutely necessary. In fact, they constitute the relationship itself - the relationship of heaven!

Kyle said...

One way to understand my view of grace, I suppose, is to see the means of grace as likened to drinking medicine. The medicine is what heals us, though we must exert effort to appropriate it. This is why I distinguish between "salvation" (drinking the medicine), and what flows from it: "love" (being healed / healthy). Any Biblically adequate notion of grace, I believe, must interrupt human working and, perhaps most importantly, go beyond its capacities. Hence the means of grace not themselves having the intrinsic power to transform us.

Adam said...

I am glad to see in many ways we are quite close. However, your concept of salvation and grace is still somewhat incoherent.

Your conception only works if we unnecessarily limit the scope of salvation. It is odd indeed that you do not include final justification within the scope of salvation, the Bible seems to (not to mention the majority of theologians throughout Church history). Is salvation really complete before judgement? Also, you should keep in mind that James does not indicate a "final justification", that distinction is one pushed by Protestants in order to separate faith and works. If (as I think I have shown) we have no need to separte these realities, then we might not have a reason to identify James' usage as "final" (but this is another point that I don't necessarily need to make at present).

Even if we set final justification aside, I think we still have to admit that the process of salvation encompasses our works. Unless you want to assert that salvation proceeds in fits and starts (i.e. we are being saved by God's grace, then all of the sudden the process of salvation stops while we appropriate that grace, then once we are done with our faithful works, salvation resumes with God providing further grace). This just seems like an artificial and needlessly complex division. Would it not make more sense to simply admit that the process of salvation encompasses and includes our works? God's grace is of course the most important part (BY FAR) of salvation, but it is not the whole. WOrks of faith are a part, or are Paul's words "saved by faith" to be set aside?:)

Salvation includes our free appropriation of grace. As far as I can see we have no reason (other than a well intentioned uneasiness about attributing anything to ourselves) not to include these works within the scope of salvation.

You say (and I would agree) that we cannot be saved without works. So does it not make most sense to simply admit works are a part of salvation? Grace empowered and prompted works are vital to sanctification; without them sanctification could not proceed. I just cannot fathom how one could accept this fact (as we both do) and yet also say works are not a part of salvation.

Adam said...

All that said, I am quite pleased that our views are so close. Certainly our shared conviction that faith includes works (not merely inspires them) is key. Unfortunately most Protestants do not share our view on this key issue. As a result scores of issues within salvation theology suffer from a deficit in clarity and coherence.

Anyway, in light of our significant agreement, it doesn't bother me too much that you do not wish to include works within the scope of salvation. I guess I will just encourage you to consider that it is in fact more coherent to do so, and nothing significant is lost in the process (i.e. my framework preserves the core truth that we must receive in order to do).


Kyle said...


A few things.

If the faith that receives salvation/transformation is seen as a work - albeit not a work that CAUSES or brings about salvation/transformation (this is the real issue) - there is nothing incoherent in my view, even if you think the semantics are off. I agree with Dr. Dongell (as he explained in class), and also Richard Foster in "Celebration of Discipline" that our work in the means of grace does not effect or cause the change (salvation), but puts us in the position for God to change us. I don't believe God can even empower us to change ourselves. It is the work of God alone (though we must exert effort to receive and appropriate it). We have to be very careful not to trust in our works to save ourselves, even if we strongly gesture to prevenient grace and the like while doing it.

Salvation, in my mind, is the rescue plan. Salvation (Eph 2:8-10) is what makes us holy, and our holy life is the fruit and result of it (the distinction is not faith vs. works, but faith as surrender vs. holiness) - I think this is the most biblical view (I have no idea what the majority of theologians have thought on this particular point, but the majority of theologians have been wrong before on both relatively important and unimportant points of doctrine - this distinction being one of the more unimportant ones...the legitimacy of slavery or the impassibility of God being relatively more important ones).

There could be a final judgment without any need for salvation, if we never fell, to illustrate the point of my distinction. Judgment is closely related to salvation, but salvation presupposes and addresses that which we need to be saved from. Judgment doesn't save us from anything, it is just God's assessment of our lives and ratification of our choices.

You may preserve the notion that we do not cause transformation with your preserving of the notion that we must receive before we respond. Perhaps the issue of causation will narrow down the discussion of the role of works in salvation. My main concern is not to tell fallen persons that they have to become good before they experience saving graces of various kinds - hence my concern to separate salvation from the fruit of salvation (love, heaven). We don't receive grace (salvation) by becoming holy...we receive grace in order to become holy!

Yes they do have grace already, but the bondage of sin requires that they surrender and receive more grace - you cannot be saved from the bondage of sin by practicing virtue with only your current resources, even if those resources include current graces. Experience shows that unless persons surrender to further grace, straining and striving cannot break the chains.

I'm not really troubled with our difference in terminology here. Broadly speaking, the life we live as a result of God's grace may be included under "salvation" without obvious problems, since they are so closely related. The main issue for me is causation, and some of the temporal dimensions of salvation. My distinctions are an aim to make it all clear.

Kyle said...

Your point about the means of grace being part of salvation itself is a good one though, and in ONE sense I would grant it - that they are the condition, the means, of receiving grace, of cooperating with God's salvation. But in ANOTHER I wouldn't: that they are the cause of transformation. So as the condition yes, as the cause, no. They have a role to play, both as the condition and as the fruit of God's work in our hearts, even if, strictly speaking, they are not sufficient or intrinsically capable of bringing about salvation - even if they are empowered by grace, in my view. I suppose when I hear "works play a part in my salvation!" I hear "I am saving myself!" or "I am causing my salvation!" Avoid the issue of causation, and I think you'd make many, perhaps most, Arminian Protestants happy.