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Monday, April 30, 2012

Did John Calvin preach a false Gospel? The honest Calvinist says yes.

Over at TurretinFan's blog he just posted an exchange between a Cardinal and John Calvin, where Calvin allegedly soundly defeated the Cardinal in the span of a few paragraphs. However, as Calvin was teaching the Cardinal, he seems to have been ignorant of the true saving (Protestant) Gospel. This is a quote of what Calvin said to the Cardinal:
First, We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sift his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.
Here, Calvin is speaking on what takes place at Justification, more or less in line with what Scripture says. But, unknown to him, there is an essential part of justification that Calvin never knew about (and neither did Luther, it seems), and that is the doctrine of Christ's Active Obedience. In the Reformer's mind, Christ's Righteousness, by means of Christ's Obedience, resulted in the forgiving of sins. However, the later Calvinists denied this as heresy, stating not only is forgiveness of sins required, but also a "perfect law keeping" record as well.
 
Consider this analogy: If Adam started his life at "Level 0," he needed to keep the commandments perfectly to reach "Level +1" to be justified. Since he sinned, Adam took himself and all mankind to "Level -1". In Luther and Calvin's mind, Christ needed to forgive man's sin in order to take from from "Level -1" to "Level +1," but in the mind of later Calvinists, Christ's Cross only took man from "Level -1" to "Level 0." Man still needed Christ's perfect law keeping record transferred to their account to bring the "Level 0" to a "Level +1," just like Adam originally required. Clearly, this is two different Sola Fides, two different Gospels! In Calvin's Gospel, the Cross was sufficient; in the Gospel of most of Calvinism today and throughout history, the Gospel is that the Cross was insufficient. We know what Paul had to say about false Gospels (Gal 1:8).
 
Most Protestants are totally unaware that the Gospel their Seminaries and Pastors are teaching is "another Gospel," and indeed many think Calvin taught Active Obedience. See my Calvin & Active Obedience article or my John Calvin & Double Imputation article for more information.

19 comments:

Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

I feel sorry for the Calvinists, they can't honestly sing "Give Me That Old-Time Religion"! But that's true with all the cults and sects that came out of the Reformation. None of them resemble the original Lutheran or Calvinist groups as they were in the begining of their history.

Miguel Sastre said...

Nick,

Without getting into the historical question of if/when Calvin affirmed the "Active Obedience" of Christ, I'd like to first ask why it's an issue for you.

You said:

>>In the Reformer's mind, Christ's Righteousness, by means of Christ's Obedience, resulted in the forgiving of sins. However, the later Calvinists denied this as heresy, stating not only is forgiveness of sins required, but also a "perfect law keeping" record as well.<<

It sounds to me like you're saying that Christ's perfect fulfillment of the law--which he fulfilled both by keeping it perfectly (inferred negatively from the fact that he never broke the law; and inferred positively from the fact that he directly said he would fulfill it) and by "nailing it the cross" is somehow incidental to his redemptive work on the cross.

But pretty much everyone in church history has argued that the entirety of Christ's life was redemptive--not just his work on the cross. We are thus saved by his "life, death and resurrection," and not by his death alone.

But what does it mean to say that his "life" saved us, if not to say--at least in part--that his moral perfection is the fulfillment of the righteous demands of the law? The very fact that God gives a law implies that the law must be obeyed. But if it is never and can never be perfectly obeyed by us, then it has to be obeyed by someone else, or else it can never be fulfilled and God's righteous demands could never be satisfied. Ergo--Christ also fulfills the law perfectly, which is why he was--legally speaking--"perfectly righteous" in the divine tribunal. It is this perfect righteousness that is imputed to the believer by grace and on the basis of faith--so that we can say with the apostle that our hope is to be found in him, "not with a righteousness of my own."

But it is because the entire Roman system is based on having a righteousness of your own and making that the basis upon which one is judged worthy of the beatific vision that seems to be driving your entire crusade against imputation.

But this is precisely the good news, Nick. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. You're kicking against the goad, bro.

Miguel Sastre said...

Nick,

I think I see where you're going with this...

You said: >>In Calvin's Gospel, the Cross was sufficient; in the Gospel of most of Calvinism today and throughout history, the Gospel is that the Cross was insufficient.<<

So if I'm following you, you're saying this:

1. Calvin believed the cross was sufficient for salvation.
2. Calvinists believe the cross (Christ's "passive obedience") is not sufficient because they also require Christ's fulfillment of the law ("active obedience"). [This is your bogus premise, as we shall see]
3. Ergo..there are two gospels going on here.

Reply:

There's a huge fallacy in your thinking here, Nick. Let me illustrate with a counter example:

1. Calvinists (and Roman Catholics, by the way) believe that both Christ's death and Resurrection were necessary for our salvation.
2. But if both are necessary, then one by itself must be insufficient.
3. Therefore, either the cross or the resurrection (taken by themselves) is insufficient for our salvation.

I think you can now see the problem:

First, there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. The two events are mutually interpretative and integral to our salvation.

Now extend that logic further. There is no Good Friday without the Incarnation and the subsequent life that Christ lead that got him nailed to the cross.

These too are also redemptive--the Incarnation and the life of Christ.

So should we argue that the cross is therefore "insufficient" for our salvation?

Of course not! For what when we speak of the sufficiency of the cross we are speaking specifically of the penalty for sin that was satisfied there. But there is more to our salvation than the mere payment of a penalty. That is just one aspect of salvation--once facet of a much larger diamond.

The problem is that you are confusing the sufficiency of the cross for the penalty of sin with the totality of salvation which includes more than the cross.

Yes--the cross was sufficient payment for our sins. No--salvation cannot be reduced to the atonement for sin--it also includes the moral perfection demanded in Christ's command to "be perfect."

And that perfection comes to us by imputation when Christ's righteousness is credited to us.

Christopher Ference said...

Miguel,

Where does the Bible teach that the alien righteousness of Christ is imputed to anyone?

Miguel Sastre said...

Hola Christopher,

You asked: >>Where does the Bible teach that the alien righteousness of Christ is imputed to anyone?<<

Before answering, I think we ought to define our terms. First, what do you mean by "impute?" Here's what I mean by it: God credits to us something that is his and not properly our own. Second, you spoke of Luther's "alien righteousness." My understanding is that this refers to an extrinsic righteousness that comes from "outside" of us rather than an intrinsic righteousness that we merit through our good works or our faith.

Now, with that in mind, I would refer you to Romans 4:4-6 as teaching the concept of imputation rather clearly.

Some have tried to get around the clear meaning of the text by arguing that Abraham's righteousness consists of his faith, meaning that Abraham's faith is his righteousness. But this interpretation breaks down rather quickly when read in context, for clearly the God who justifies the ungodly is the same God who credits righteousness to the one who has faith. Thus faith isn't the cause of one being righteous, but rather the means by which it is received.

The entire burden of Paul's argument is to show that Abraham wasn't considered righteous because of anything he did, for then he would deserve it; rather it was because of God who gave him the faith to believe. In other words, it is God's grace that causes him to be righteous and nothing in Abraham himself that moves God to be gracious toward him.

Nick said...

Miguel,

You are correct about what I was getting at regarding Calvin preaching a different Gospel.

Your analogy was fallacious though because you conflated "necessary" with "sufficient". Two or more things can be 'necessary' without either of them being sufficient on their own.

The point is that Calvin effectively saw Active Obedience as unnecessary since he didn't even have it on his radar. He very well could have had various other things in common with later Calvinism, but Active Obedience is not one of them, and that fact alone is significant.

Calvin saw justification as fundamentally a forgiveness-aquittal, where as this is an insufficient definition of justification for later Calvinism.

Christopher Ference said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christopher Ference said...

Miguel,

Thanks for your response.

First, what do you mean by "impute?" Here's what I mean by it: God credits to us something that is his and not properly our own.

I don't see the word/concept "impute" (logizomai?) being used that way at all in the Scriptures. Perhaps you could point me to a verse where this word/concept clearly must have the definition that you seem to be assigning to it? Just to be clear, you seem to be saying that the word/concept of impute/imputation (logizomai?) means that something is credited to someone that does not belong to himself, no?

Now, with that in mind, I would refer you to Romans 4:4-6 as teaching the concept of imputation rather clearly.

I don't see this verse as implying (since it's clearly not being asserted) that an alien/extrinsic righteousness (be it Christ's or anyone else's) is being imputed to anyone/the account of anyone here. Would you say that the Greek is saying that righteousness (more specifically, the "extrinsic righteousness of Christ") is what is being "logizomaied" in this verse? That's not at all clear to me...

Thanks.

Miguel Sastre said...

>>I don't see the word/concept "impute" (logizomai?) being used that way at all in the Scriptures.<<

I wouldn't translate "logizomai" as "impute," since the two words do not have a one to one correspondence. My sense is that the English word "impute" is often used negatively, whereas the more theological use of the term can be both negative an positive. Most translations go with "reckon" or "count" or even "consider."

Nevertheless, "logizomai" is one of the words that historic Protestants point to when they speak of the "imputation" of guilt or righteousness. So it is important to get a sense of how Paul is using the term.

>>Perhaps you could point me to a verse where this word/concept clearly must have the definition that you seem to be assigning to it? Just to be clear, you seem to be saying that the word/concept of impute/imputation (logizomai?) means that something is credited to someone that does not belong to himself or be credited to him, no?<<

Yes. That is one sense of logizomai--and I would argue it is the sense that Paul is using in Romans 4. That argument, however, can't be made in a comment box. I'd be happy to blog that argument for you on my own blog, as I don't think I could do justice to it here.

That said, both Genesis 31:15 and Numbers 18:27 use logizomai in precisely this sense. Jacob "reckons" Rachel and Leah as foreigners when in fact they are his daughters. The are thus "credited" with being something they are not. The same holds true for Numbers where the offering of the Levite is "reckoned" as if it were grain and wine, but in fact it wasn't. So yes--on purely lexical grounds "logizomai" can have the meaning you seem to think it can't have.

That said, it remains to be seen whether or not it has that kind of meaning in Romans 4.

>>I don't see this verse as implying (since it's clearly not being asserted) that an alien/extrinsic righteousness (be it Christ's or anyone else's) is being imputed to anyone/the account of anyone here.<<

I do. Clearly the righteousness in question isn't Abraham's, since he (at the time) was "apart from works," which is the parallel concept to "ungodly" in Paul's argument. (Here I'll assume that you would agree that in his ungodly state the sinner is not yet righteous).

So if the righteousness isn't intrinsic to Abraham (who lived "apart from works" and was "ungodly"), then it must be extrinsic to him. This is why those who argue that Abraham's faith is what is considered to be his righteousness are so quick to add, "but his faith isn't itself a work." But that's special pleading. For the very logic of the argument--considered as a whole--is that if Abraham had done something meritorious, then righteousness would be his due, even if that meritorious act was simply his belief.

In other words, Paul isn't saying, "It's not Abraham's works that earned him his wage, rather it was his faith that earned it for him." On the contrary, Paul is saying that his righteousness is entirely a work of grace.

>>Would you say that the Greek is saying that righteousness (more specifically, the "extrinsic righteousness of Christ) is what is being "logizomaied" in this verse? That's not at all clear to me...<<

Yes, I would. Righteousness is the object being "credited" or "reckoned," and "faith" is the means by which Abraham receives it. This seems to be the reason why Paul cites the Psalm in support of this contention: "Blessed is the man..." etc.

Miguel Sastre said...

Nick,

You're missing the point:

>>Your analogy was fallacious though because you conflated "necessary" with "sufficient".<<

Try again, Nick. I did not conflate them; I carefully distinguished them. It is your argument that conflate them. You're saying that a modern Calvinist would have to consider Calvin himself heretical because Calvin didn't require the "active obedience" of Christ (which is a bad reading of Calvin, by the way, but neither here nor there), but only his "passive obedience."

I'm not interested in debating the history of the distinction but only whether or not the distinction is true. You don't think it is precisely because you fail to distinguish what is necessary for salvation (as a whole) from what is sufficient for one aspect of it.

Here's what I would put in the necessary column for salvation: Jesus's life, death and Resurrection (which must include both his active and passive obedience)

So if all these are necessary, does that mean any one of them by themselves is insufficient?

It would seem that way. But in fact when we speak of the "sufficiency" of the cross for salvation, we're speaking very specifically about it's sufficiency as an atoning sacrifice. What we're not saying is that the cross alone is the entirety of salvation.

But your entire argument seems to be based on a failure to make that distinction because you're arguing as if we believed that the cross was the sole basis for our salvation, as if Jesus' life and Resurrection were somehow optional in our redemption.

Nice try, Nick.

Nick said...

Hello Miguel,

The issue is having two different definitions of justification. Obviously, someone cannot say that a Justification involving acquittal only is equal to a Justification involving acquittal plus active obedience.

When speaking of the sufficiency of the Cross, this is where the problem is highlighted. To some Reformed (including Calvin), the Cross was sufficient for Justification; for most Calvinists, the Cross is insufficient for Justification.

The Resurrection is a tricky issue here, because it is not at all clear how the Resurrection applies to the Passive/Active Obedience that we need to be justified. If Justification is based on atoning for sin and living a life of perfect obedience, it is not apparent how Resurrection plays a role in JUSTIFICATION.

Miguel Sastre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miguel Sastre said...

Nick,

You're botching things badly again.

You said: "The issue is having two different definitions of justification. Obviously, someone cannot say that a Justification involving acquittal only is equal to a Justification involving acquittal plus active obedience."

Where to begin? It is true that later Calvinism distinguished more clearly between Active and Passive Obedience than Calvin himself. But it is not true that Calvin didn't make the distinction at all.

Calvin said this regarding our justification and Christ's obedience: "What is placing our righteousness in the obedience of Christ, but asserting that we are accounted righteous only because His obedience is accepted for us as if it were our own?"

Calvin too saw Christ's obedience as being imputed to us. But here he doesn't distinguish between Active/Passive as clearly as later theologians did. That doesn't mean, however, that Calvin thought only in terms of (what would later be called) "passive obedience" since clearly he has in mind here Christ's obedience of the law (i.e., "active obedience"). Note well the words, "His obedience is accepted for us as if it were our own." This here refers to Christ's perfect record of keeping the law.

Nick: When speaking of the sufficiency of the Cross, this is where the problem is highlighted. To some Reformed (including Calvin), the Cross was sufficient for Justification; for most Calvinists, the Cross is insufficient for Justification.

I can see how you might jump to this conclusion. But you're overlooking one thing. The cross includes both the passive suffering of atonement and the obedient fulfilling of the law/God's will. Recall the words, "obedient unto death, even death on a cross" form the Carmen Christi of Philippians.

Your error, here, is in separating passive obedience from active obedience at the cross, when in fact it includes both aspects. That is why--contrary to your assertion--we Reformed believe the cross was sufficient for our justification.

Nick: The Resurrection is a tricky issue here, because it is not at all clear how the Resurrection applies to the Passive/Active Obedience that we need to be justified. If Justification is based on atoning for sin and living a life of perfect obedience, it is not apparent how Resurrection plays a role in JUSTIFICATION.

And yet the apostle says, "raised for our justification" in Romans 4:25. This is why I've been saying all along that you cannot separate Christ's life, death and resurrection from our justification. To be counted righteous in Christ is to have all three imputed to you.

Nick said...

Miguel,

What is the source of that quote? Often times I found the number one problem when it comes to people approaching this issue is taking a sentence here or there of Calvin rather than study the context. My older posts I linked to show all the context.

Also, I don't buy the idea the Cross includes an active obedience component. That's the epitome of begging the question since dying on the cross wasn't a normal part of obeying the Law, it was strictly a punishment.

Lastly, how do you interpret "raised for our justification"? What does resurrection itself have to do with keeping the law perfectly? I don't even see how that plays into the Covenant of Works.

Miguel Sastre said...

Nick,

The exact citation is from A.W. Pink's work, "The Doctrine of Election and Justification." I took it from the internet, not the book itself. If you google the exact quote, you'll find it in a number of places.

But I can do better for you. I actually found where in the Institutes Calvin says this:

It comes from Book 3,XI.23.
In my version (Library of Christian Classics, John T. McNeil), it's found p. 753 in the first volume, at the end of the second paragraph.

You can also find Calvin speaking on the obedience of Christ in our justification in 2, xvi, 5 of the Institutes.

But note well: Calvin is not as refined as later Calvinism on this issue. Still--read what he says.

Here's the McNeil version of the same quote:

"To declare that by him alone we are accounted righteous, what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ's obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own?"

Nick said...

I did see some Pink quotes of it, but I could not find any clear direct reference to Calvin's work.

As for the Institutes 3:11:23 and 2:16:5, I have addressed both of those in the articles I linked to above. That's precisely where I came to this conclusion, because those sections are speaking specifically on justification. Calvinists are repeatedly told to look to those sections for proof of Active Obedience, but they don't often read the actual quotes.

Take these key quotes scattered throughout those sections:

-In short, from the moment when he assumed the form of a servant, he began, in order to redeem us, to pay the price of deliverance.

-Our acquittal is in this that the guilt which made us liable to punishment was transferred to the head of the Son of God.

-we are justified not by works, but by faith, since carnal infirmity is an impediment to works, but errors of conduct are covered by the brightness of faith, which merits the pardon of faults

That McNeil quote proves nothing, because obedience in Calvin's thought is strictly of the Passive sort. See the original quote of this post again:

Calvin:"we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains"

Miguel Sastre said...

Nick,

It's as if you were distracted when you were reading.

First...the quote isn't from Pink himself; it's Pink's citation of Calvin. Since you asked for the source, I wanted to tell you where I got it from. But I wanted to go one step further and give you a primary source, not a secondary one. That's when I referred you to the Institutes, which you called "the McNeil quote." McNeil didn't write that--Calvin did [sigh].

That said, if the active/passive distinction was the product of later Calvinism and not Calvin himself, then we have to be careful about reading later theological developments back into Calvin.

I don't think you're reading Calvin correctly when you say he only bought into the passive side. Consider the quote I gave you:

"To declare that by him alone we are accounted righteous, what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ's obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own?"


If this is only the passive obedience of Christ, then Calvin is saying that the only obedient act of Christ that is counted "as if it were our own" is his death on the cross.

But that makes no sense in the larger context of the discussion. Nor does it make any theological sense. God doesn't call each of us to the cross to atone for our sins. But He does demand our obedience. So it seems to me more likely that Calvin is thinking of the obedience of Christ's entire life, which surely includes his perfect keeping of the law.

Otherwise the cross only imputes forgiveness to us and not also righteousness. If Christ wasn't perfectly just when he went to the cross on our behalf, then there is not righteousness that can be imputed to us. But we are declared righteous, and the apostle reminds us that this is not our own in Philippians 3:, but rather that which comes "from God."

Nick said...

Hello Miguel,

(1) I know the quote isn't from Pink himself, I'm asking where in Calvin he was quoting. It doesn't do anyone any good if Pink quotes Calvin but wont give a source so we can see the context.

(2) My point about the McNeil quote was that it doesn't matter how McNeil rendered it, my point is the term "obedience" for Calvin is strictly "passive".

(3) The quote you're talking about should be read within the context of where Calvin was saying that, and that's precisely where I argue he didn't have anything more on his radar. A 'positive righteousness' can result from the Cross alone, this just has nothing to do with perfect law keeping. For a solid proof of this, consider Romans 3:21-26 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 - both mention righteousness and yet both are clearly speaking of passive obedience. When Galatians 2:21 says "if righteousness came by the law, then Christ died for nothing," this directly entails righteousness came by Christ's death.

This is really about one thing, exegesis of Scripture, and I'm pointing not only to Calvin's theological musings, but more importantly to Calvin's interpretation of the Bible! So when Calvin comments on Romans 5:19 and 2 Cor 5:21 and such and speaks about it in "passive obedience" terms, then that's where the real meat is.

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