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October 16, 2010

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A couple of points. First, I don't understand how one can be evangelical and deny that justification is an imputation of the righteousness of Christ. This is basic to Luther's understanding ("The first is alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith, as it is written in I Cor. 1:30: 'whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.'") and to Ellen White ("The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven.").

Second point. I asked Olson in the Q&A about the history of the term "prevenient grace" prior to Arminius. Through this conference, it was as if this term was invented by Arminius. It wasn't. It goes back to the Synod of Orange (529 AD) http://www.crivoice.org/creedorange.html -- it was also fundamental to Trent's understanding of justification. http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct06d1.htm

The Council of Trent put it this way:

The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.

Olson didn't want to get into this. He acknowledged that this was one of the reasons the Reformed had a problem with Arminius--he sounded to them like he was preaching the Tridentine dogma. Olson noted that he thinks that merit was a more critical difference between evangelical and Catholic positions. I agree. It still is. Still, I'm a historian, and I like more context.

I ran this by Keith Stanglin later in the day, and he agreed that indeed, there is a long history for the idea of prevenient grace. He acknowledged also that this is one of the reasons that Arminius' opponents were suspicious of him, and thought he might be a closet Jesuit (!). He also went into some of the other historical issues--this was the period of the Dutch War of Independence, in which the Netherlands were struggling for liberation from Spain. Religious issues could indicate which political side you were on--someone spouting Jesuit ideas would be suspected of being a Spanish agent. This is fascinating background, and I wish we would have had a broader historical survey. I appreciated Stanglin's paper, then, because he rooted Arminius' teachings on assurance of salvation in the issues he confronted as a pastor in his churches.

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Memory, Meaning & Faith is a blog covering Christian history in light of contemporary issues.

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