one more for today

Fr. Dwight Longenecker muses on the difference between Catholics and Protestants vis-a-vis grace and faith.  He criticizes “pile of dung” theologies (a phrase he borrows from Luther).

First I should explain what I mean by ‘Protestant pile of dung theologies.’ This is a reference to Luther’s idea that because of original sin we are totally depraved and are worthless in God’s eyes. However, because of the death of Christ God looks on us and does not see our sin and depravity, but Christ’s righteousness. Luther likened this to a pile of dung that is covered by snow.

This is more technically (but less colorfully) called ‘imputed righteousness.’  Catholics do not believe this. We believe that through faith and baptism, and the continued sacramental life of grace, Christ’s righteousness is infused into us, not imputed. In other words, it doesn’t just cover us, making us superficially and outwardly good in God’s eyes. Instead, God’s grace really does get into us and transforms us from the inside out. It gets down deep to the very foundations of our being and re-makes us into the image of Christ.

I get a lot of the former position (the Protestant imputed righteousness) at work and I don’t really feel comfortable with it.  It seems to assume that God is pretending to believe something that He doesn’t really believe about us.  The latter position (the Catholic one) has a lot to commend it, even if I would quibble with some of the details.  I particularly like this statement:  “Instead, God’s grace really does get into us and transforms us from the inside out. It gets down deep to the very foundations of our being and re-makes us into the image of Christ.”  It would seem to me that this is a fair description of the process of sanctification that begins at baptism.

What do you think?

8 responses to “one more for today

  1. I’ll take dung and snow over imputed righteousness any day.

    On baptism, “yes.” Now where does the Eucharist fit? Does it have a sanctifying role?

  2. The Greek term “logizomai” is the term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” but when you look up that therm here is what it is defined as:

    QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”

    The Lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteouness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

    The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are 3 examples:

    Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

    Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

    Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

    To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (3) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
    This cannot be right.

    So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” we must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22).

    Thus the notion of ‘imputing’ and covering dung simply isn’t found in Paul

  3. Why can’t we simply say that Christ’s blood cleanses us of our sin when we respond to his grace, without trying to get in over our heads with all the hows and wherefores? I suppose that is just too simplistic!

    • Not at all. I completely agree with how you put it, Gardner.

      Of course, there are some (see above) who do want to talk about the hows and wherefores…

      • I got your email by the way. I hope to sit down this weekend and type up a response. I’ve got a few more questions for you.

  4. Gardner,

    You actually believe the statement, “that Christ’s blood cleanses us of our sin when we respond to his grace” is simple?

  5. I could have sworn I posted something.

    Basically, I think Gardner’s statement is not as simplistic as it seems, even though it is a very good statement. I think it relies upon a large amount of background information for it to make any sense.

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