Saturday, May 12, 2012

Studying Romans (Part 3)

This is part of a continuing series of posts concerning a Facebook Bible Study in which I am participating. Those involved are almost exclusively Protestant, but non-Protestants (including even non-Christians) have been encouraged to join and I received an invitation myself. (To read more search my old posts for the Studying James and Studying Romans posts.)

Throughout this Protestant Bible Study I have seen very little participation. This surprises me since Protestants pride themselves on their love and knowledge of the Bible. So as the first thread I started on Romans 1-4 died out, I posted a second thread to get the ball rolling again. And in the process I wanted to make clearer the James vs. Romans contrast on "Faith and Works":

We have studied James, and now we are beginning on Romans. I would be interested to see what others here have to say about these two passages (one from Romans; the other from James):
"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…" (Romans 4:2-5)
“But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:20-24)
I can almost imagine this as a “conversation” between Paul and James. Paul is stressing the importance of Faith in our salvation. And Paul is exactly right, as far as that goes. But James is driving home the point that our good works must also be at play. “[A]re you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” He says that we are NOT justified by “faith alone.” So both verses are correct, as long as we recognize that “Faith Alone” is false just as much as “Works Alone” would be false.
I wonder, if any of you accept the Protestant notion of “Faith Alone,” how do these two passages work together in your mind?

I got this brief reply:

could it be that James is unifying faith and works as one?
Also, the person who wrote this comment gave a link which lead me to a page giving a Protestant handling of James vs. Romans. Among the arguments there, I found the admission that Martin Luther was perhaps wrong about his reading of James. It was an honest re-evaluation of Faith Alone...but stopping short of outright rejecting the doctrine. I did appreciate this round-about answering of my question. So I responded:

I think that what you say here about James "unifying" Faith and Works is a part of answer. He certainly says that the two work together: on the one hand, Faith produces Good Works, and on the other hand Good Works "perfect" our Faith. So the two have a close connection - each working to build up the other. But James also insists that the two can be separate, and that such a separation is dangerous to our souls. He says that even the demons believe in God "and shudder". So it is possible to have "faith" without "works" (as the demons do) - but James says that such "Faith Alone" is not what justifies us before God. It is not enough for us to say "Faith and Works are the same thing. If you have Faith then Works will just flow out of that." James insists that that is not the case. That is why he sees the need to stress doing good works to the Christian community. Apparently many BELIEVERS to whom James wrote his letter lacked GOOD WORKS; they were treating fellow Christians harshly. James is telling them, you may have FAITH in Christ, but you have a dead faith if you don't start treating each other with love. You must do good works to be justified.

So, Christians are certainly called to live out Faith and Works together (unified, as you say), but it is not appropriate to say that Faith Alone is enough to cover that unity. And therein lies my question about the "Faith Alone" doctrine. Was Martin Luther wrong? Is it wrong to stress "Faith Alone" and elevate it to the status of Christian doctrine, when obviously James insists that it is not a valid doctrine?

The article you posted is very helpful. It seems to hint at an answer to my question: "Martin Luther seemed to think that James contradicted Paul; modern scholars question that view."

Indeed Protestant scholars are re-examining Luther's teachings on many issues, and I am always interested in where these new theological opinions are leading. But if the basis of the Reformation is now being questioned, the where does that leave Reformed Christians?

He replied:

When you talk about the demons believing in God and shuddering; are you equating belief and faith? I don't think belief and faith are the same. Faith is something you acquire when you start believing The demons shudder because they are powerless against God, 
And my rebuttal:
James uses the demons as an example to show that faith without works is dead: "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?" (2:19-20)

Now, the use of “belief” instead of “faith” could be significant. I don’t know the original Greek, but I agree that in the English there is a subtle difference. However we also use these two words interchangeably in English: “I am a believing Christian; I hold the Christian faith.” – The words are not so radically different that they are unrelated. – “I believe in Christ; I have faith in Christ.” – They can have a similar meaning.

Is there a difference? …Perhaps. But more importantly, the Bible itself uses “believe” in a very strong context: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” (John 6:47) So “belief” is not necessarily a weak form of faith. Jesus says that “believing” will gain us eternal life. That seems pretty powerful to me. So I wouldn’t make too much out of the difference between faith and belief.

Now James says that “the demons believe and shudder.” Obviously the demons “belief” has not won them eternal life. But Jesus says that our “belief” can gain us eternal life. So what is the difference? James says that it is Works. Faith/belief can gain us eternal life if we have Good Works. You can say “faith” or “belief” – but the bottom line is that it must not be Alone. Faith must include Works for it to be a saving Faith.

So is the “Faith Alone” doctrine false? Was Luther wrong?
Or to make it more specifically about Romans (the focus of our current study) can Luther's "Faith Alone" doctrine be supported by Romans when we compare it to what James says about "NOT by faith alone"? If yes, how? Does it trouble you that Luther wanted to remove James from the Bible and does that cause you to question his ability to formulate sound doctrine?

Thus further response.

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