I hope to post more elaborate comments on Newman's classic and challenging Lectures on Justification (recently reprinted by Wipf & Stock), but a few tidbits with have to suffice.
1) Newman frames the whole discussion by distinguishing between justification and faith as they are in idea and terminology, and justification and faith as they are in concrete reality. One need not agree with his every application of this distinction to recognize the usefulness of the distinction, and the way it lends itself to what I've called a "thick description" of faith (Newman himself uses similar terminology).
2) Newman gets Luther badly wrong, collapsing Luther into 19th-century evangelicalism even though he includes at least one extended quotation from Luther that makes the differences clear. If the Finns like Mannermaa are correct, Newman and Luther are bosom buddies, both insisting that justifying righteousness is the righteousness of Christ who dwells in believers through the Spirit.
3) Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Newman's work (written while he was still an Anglican) is his claim that the Protestant doctrine of faith is an abstraction. Faith, for Protestants, is more than assent but less than obedience, and Newman claims that this understanding of faith lends an air of abstraction and unreality to Protestant theology in general. He writes, "There is nothing precise, nothing to grapple with, when we are told, for instance, that faith justifies independent of its being a right and good principle, - that it justifies as an instrument not as a condition, - that love is its inseparable accident, yet not its external criterion, - that good works are necessary, but not to be called so in controversy or popular preaching; and that nothing in us constitutes our being justified. Such a doctrine is, what it makes justification to be, a shadow." The Protestant doctrine of faith is not so meager of Newman claims, but this critique hits enough soft spots to deserve close consideration, and a more extended discussion than I can offer here.
One line of response could pick up on Newman's own description: "Love and fear, and heavenly-mindedness, and obedience, and firmness, and zeal, and humility, are as certainly one with justifying faith, considered as a thing existing, as bones, muscles, and vital organs, are necessary to that outward frame of man which meets the eye, though they do not met it. Love and fear and obedience are not really posterior to justifying faith for even a moment of time, unless bonse or muscles are formed after the countenance and complexion." All of which might well be a helpful analogy, but Newman must also admit that musics and bones and organs are not sight.
4) Newman anticipates in interesting ways some of the thinking of NT Wright. Newman affirms "justification by faith alone" but says that it doesn't describe the manner by which we are justified, but rather serves as a symbol and emblem of the fact that we are justified apart from any merit or worthiness on our part. Teaching justification by faith tells us that God alone justifies us through Christ. Faith, he says, is an instrument of justification, but not an instrument for the initiation of justification. Rather, for Newman, baptism initiates into a state of acceptance and justification (and, for Newman, is the moment when the Spirit of Christ indwells), but one continues in that state through faith. This appears to be close to Wright's idea that justification is not "entry language" in Paul.
Much to contemplate and argue with in Newman. Hopefully, more later.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, April 15, 2005 at 02:51 PM
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