Friday, September 5, 2008

The Logic of Faith, Part II: The Law and Anfechtung

In the last post, I attempted to briefly outline the Protestant “logic of faith,” which goes something like this:

Major premise: Everyone who believes in Christ will be saved.

Minor premise: I believe in Christ.

Conclusion: I am saved.

The problem with this is that to have assurance of salvation, I must not only have faith in Christ, but I must also know that I have faith. I must somehow reflect upon myself and determine that I am, in fact, a believer.

Muddling the waters even more is the American revivalist tradition, with its altar calls and “giving your heart to Christ.” Conversion becomes not simply trust in Christ, baptism, repentance, and catechesis, but rather some sort of subjective “conversion experience.”

But not long into one’s Christian life—or not long into mine, at least—the hammer of God’s law starts banging, showing us our own sin. Many will teach that the law’s requirements were done away with in Christ. That’s a lie. Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law; rather, he came to fulfill its requirements (Matthew 5:17). God’s requirements for humans’ loving obedience to him as Lord have not ended, not in the least! As the Holy Spirit does his work in us, teaching us the real weight of the law, we realize that we still live every single day as rebellious lawbreakers. “For I tell you,” Jesus says, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Everywhere we turn, the law points out our ongoing sin and shuts our mouths (Romans 3:19-20). It reminds us that “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10). This is why for so many Christians, St. Paul’s own struggle with the law in Romans 7:7-24 could be taken up as from their own lips: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Martin Luther called this experience Anfechtung, “temptation” or “assault.” As Phillip Cary defines it, Anfechtung is "the recurrent experience of being attacked by an awareness of how offensive I am to God, a consciousness of sin and death and the devil which also shows me the weakness of my faith.* But if, at these very moments of Satan’s attempts to turn us from faith and into despair, how am I supposed to find assurance, if part of my assurance is my own faith? It’s certainly difficult (but not impossible), I would say, to be confident that I am a true believer or that my faith is “strong enough” in times of sin and weakness. What good is talking about faith, if I find little faith within me and my own experience?

There has got to be a better way . . . right?


* Phillip Cary, “Why Luther is Not Quite Protestant.”


Ted M. Gossard said...

Again, Andrew, an excellent, well-worded post.

I think I have to agree with Witherington here:

"The theology of 'simul justus et peccator' promulgated by Luther amounts to a very inadequate view of Paul's understanding of grace in the believer's life and of the power that the believer has by that grace to resist temptation and have victory over sin. While the danger of sin remains for the believer, it no longer reigns. There is no longer the bondage of the will described in 7:14-25." Paul's Letter to the Romans, p 199.

Of course this is not advocating sinless perfection or denying the need of ongoing confession. Along with the early church fathers who understood Greek and rhetoric well, against Augustine, whose exegesis of Romans 7 is actually quite interesting, I believe Romans 7 is alluding to the garden with the single command being broken and sin like the serpent deceiving Eve and both yielding to the temptation to break the single command that came, coveting the one thing there God forbade. So that what is referred to in Romans 7 is a rhetorical device subsuming in it Adam, all in Adam- all humankind: both Jews with the written Law, and Gentiles with the law written on their hearts. Romans 8:2 I think refers to a change in Christ by the Spirit, so that the requirements of the law can be fully met in God's people in Christ. If you tell Christians that Romans 7 is the norm and that they have two natures in a civil war, then I think one is missing the point of so much of what Paul writes, and really misreading Paul in Romans 7. And Christians will live down to that (I believe I've seen that).

The law's place continues to convict us and show us God's will. We're no longer under its curse because of Christ. And it certainly continues as a mirror to show us our true selves, since we are works of God in progress, and involved in God's ongoing work of sanctification.

Alot out there on Romans, and the New Perspective without throwing out the baby of the Reformation with the bathwater, has some important points that I don't see how they can be refuted, and cast Luther and Calvin's reading and theology on Paul, as well as Augustine's view- kind of canonized since it comes across in the great classic, "Confessions"- into question. But that's my view at this time.

Great post, and I look forward to more of what you have to say if you choose to respond to my comment, or if you simply go on, building on what you've said. In any event, I'm sure I'll learn at least something.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Getting up and glancing at this this morning, I realize I didn't even comment directly on Anfechtung. Timothy George in his book, Theology of the Reformers, has some interesting material on this, along with this definition in the back:

"Variously translated as trials, temptations, assault, perplexity, doubt, dread. This word is much stronger than its synonymn, *Versuchung*. Luther's quest for a gracious God was marked with frequent bouts of fear and *angst* which he called *Anfechtungen*. Luther continued to experinence these spiritual conflicts, often characterized as combat with the devil, until his death. He once remarked, "If I were to live long enough I would write a book about *Anfechtungen* without which nobody can understand the Scriptures or know the fear and love of God" (WA TR 4, pp. 490-91)."

When I consider Scripture I consider that we can learn much from Luther in this, or at least can see the importance this can have, from wretchedness and condemnation to deliverance and justification. I think this especially "plays" well before we come to Christ. I remember that the sermons of Billy Graham which I think affected me the most in bringing conviction were his sermons on the law/the Ten Commandments and Christ being the only one who could deliver us from our guilt in breaking its commandments. And this comports well with what Paul writes about as a major part of the function of the Law: to make us conscious of sin, to make sin what it is- utterly sinful (or, so we can see how terrible -and evil CEV- sin really is- NLT), and to lead us to Christ.

My problem would be afterwards, which I think comports with my initial comment. Not to say there is no conflict after we come to Christ, and that there aren't evil attacks, because Paul does speak of them. But we are told that we no longer have a spirit of fear, but the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." (Romans 8). It is interesting though, that we conquer in Christ, yet I think it's against what we face as those in Jesus living in this world, and persecuted as his followers even as the Master was. It's not with reference to God himself and our relationship to him, I would submit.

But just the same your post and direction packs a powerful punch in getting us to find our way to true faith. I might add that in this day it seems like modern/postmodern people are not plagued with guilt as in medieval times, but seem more prone to an angst (if that's the proper word to use here) about relationship and being in God's presence. Like the primeval pair, people nowadays seem to be in a headlong escape away from God. Maybe the passages about reconciliation (2 Corinthians) will connect more with people today, though the underlying premise of guilt under sin is indispensable in understanding why relationship is broken, and how it can be restored by faith so that we indeed have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5 and more there). Of course people have to understand their need and God's diagnosis/sentence, before they can find the cure/counter-sentence(?) or sentence fulfilled for us in Christ.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Over at my blog, Andrew, I've tagged you. Knowing the nature of your blog, you may not want to participate and that's quite alright! But one things for sure- and it had actually escaped my notice when I first thought of you as one to tag- blogging has most certainly changed your life!

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

First - a question - when did conversion consist of baptism or catechesis - trust in Christ, which certainly requires repentance I understand, but not why you would say the others.

As to self-reflection and "knowing" you have faith - I guess I don't think about it as me knowing I have the right faith or sufficient faith - but more in terms of faith being that condition that trusts what God reveals about His own character in Scripture is actually true.

That is, He set out the conditions for the transaction - I went through the transaction and I accept by faith in his character that He will do as He said He would do - save me. And to make extra sure I was clear on it, 1 John 5:10-13 was written.

So, once again, it really has nothing to do with me - it all has to do with God.

Andrew said...

Ted: While there are certainly some strengths to the reading of Romans 7 as a person apart from Christ's Spirit--be it Paul before faith, any Jew under the Law apart from faith, or Adamic mankind in general, I think that conclusion is wrong on a few counts:

(1) Nowhere does Paul say or even allude to the fact that he's switching to a rhetorical device. Most of his readers had never met him, and this shift to allegory or someone prior to or apart from himself would take them all unawares.

(2) He refers elsewhere to humanity in Adam (ch. 1-3, 5), but here he refers to himself.

(3) He is using the present tense, indicating (or at least intending to communicate) a present reality.

(4) He says that he delights in God's law, is aware of it, and wants to do it. Natural man, as revealed in chapters 1-3, does none of these things. If Paul is rhetorically someone who is "in the flesh" and completely apart from Christ's Spirit, then he hates God's law and is hostile to it (8:7).

(5) Romans 7 is the experience of countless Christians throughout history. Face it. What comfort it is to know that even Paul himself wrestled with such things!

As for "simul justus et peccator" (at the same time righteous and yet a sinner), I don't think it's an inadequate view of God's grace. Nowhere does the fact that we OUGHT not fear God's wrath, given our adoption (Rom. 8:16), dismiss the possibility that we actually DO fear his wrath. Fearing God when in fact we are righteous can, I believe, be viewed from three valid ways: (1) Jesus himself commands his disciples to fear God, who is able to throw them into hell (Lk. 12). (2) Awareness of our sin and weakness--produced by the "mirror" of the law--is meant to lead us to Christ in awareness of our need (Rom. 3:19-21; Gal. 3:22-29). We are, in fact, no longer under God's curse in Christ. That's the Good News! But we are still exposed as sinners, and that ought to cause us to tremble. If it doesn't, then we should beware. (3) Fear that leads to despair is a form of unbelief. Unbelief happens, and yet God draws near to all who tremble at their own unbelief (Isa. 57:15; "I believe; help my unbelief!" Mk. 9:24).

* * *

When you speak of faith as "that condition that trusts what God reveals about His own character in Scripture is actually true," that's pretty much where I'm headed with this whole thing. Wait and see. I love this: "So, once again, it really has nothing to do with me - it all has to do with God." Exactly.

As far as conversion comprising faith and repentance, along with baptism and catechesis, here's why I add all four: Faith/repentance is obvious from Scripture. But faith is fellowship with Christ, with his body. So we join the body of the church in baptism. Likewise, joining the church is in a way leaving the community of the world--a form of repentance. And catechesis, learning God's revealed will, enables us to turn more and more from the old self into the new. Conversion is, yes, a once-for-all thing (justification), but conversion also means "turning" or "changing"--what is done in a life of repentance from our old idols (Rom. 12:1-2). I guess it's just two ways of looking at conversion, or perhaps the greater scope of what it all encompasses.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

OK, Andrew - so, the difference in what we are saying is because we are using the words salavation and conversion in a different way. I mean them to be exactly the same - interchangeable. At the moment we are converted from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son in whom we have redemption and forgiveness of sins - Col 1:13 - we are saved. I use the term sanctification to refer to the learning of scripture, following in believer's baptism, becoming part of a church body....

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good defense of that position, Andrew. And you may be right.

Good that it's not indispensable either way for us as Christians and for our fellowship with each other. Certain things are nonnegotiables, and this is certainly not one of them.

And I really love how you hold to the truth and to your confession and understanding of it. With grace and in truth, in Jesus.

Keep it up, brother!

Ted M. Gossard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted M. Gossard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted M. Gossard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted M. Gossard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted M. Gossard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted M. Gossard said...

One thing I'd like to underscore is that we agree on so much more than we disagree on. Take any book of the Bible, Romans for a start, and I think that would bear out. I think it's honoring to God, the way you've graciously put up with, and answered me here. How we can discuss those details in which we do disagree.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Sorry to mess up your blog like I did, Andrew. I just thought that my comments while meaning well, were not constructive to true dialogue. So better to remove them, I thought, because people don't need to know of all my opinions on everything, or my thoughts off-hand.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

You have been mentioned and hyperlinked from my most recent post!

ps - you haven't answered your tag from Ted - I will be interested to see what your write! especially based on what I wrote about you on mine!!

Litl-Luther said...

Same comment as in part 1:

I don’t see why it needs to be as complicated as you make it out to be. I have complete confidence in my salvation because my confidence rests in who Jesus is and what He has done on my behalf. I am not looking at my naval to see how much faith I have or don’t have. I am looking at Jesus’ sinless life, his vicarious death and His conquering of the grave. The only way I can be lost is if something is deficient in the work of Christ. Therefore, since He and His sacrifice are perfect I have absolute assurance. My assurance rests on Him—His character and His redeeming work.

The essence of true faith is taking God at his word and relying on him to do as he has promised. Faith is the one human attitude that is the opposite of depending on oneself, for it involves trust in or dependence upon another. Thus, it is devoid of self-reliance or attempts to gain righteousness by human effort. If God’s favor is to come to us apart from our own merit, then it must come when we depend not on our own merit or even on our own faith but on the merits of another, and that is precisely when we have faith.

Litl-Luther said...

I am seriously surprised you would be so against "simul justus et peccator"

What hope could you possibly have of eternal life without this doctrine? God will let nothing enter His presence that is not completely righteous, completely perfect. And yet we know we sin. The Christian loses his hope of salvation without this doctrine, and it also goes against every text (and there are many!) that shows we are “already” justified in God’s sight.

Andrew said...


Just wait and see . . . that's exactly where I'm headed.