Thursday, October 29, 2009

Francis Beckwith disposed of in 60 Seconds? [Or] In Beckwith's Defense: A Short Response to Turretinfan's Short Response

Recently I discovered Turretinfan's latest video dealing with Francis Beckwith's exceptionally short post regarding Trent and Forensic Justification. Turretinfan is an anonymous Reformed blogger who frequently writes for Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Reformed apologetics organization run by Dr. James White. Beckwith is an Evangelical convert to Roman Catholicism, and is a Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University.

The article in question can be quoted in full here, but the original source may be found here:

'It seems to me that in Catholic thought prior to the Reformation there had always been a forensic aspect to justification, insofar as there is a legal component to one becoming an adopted son of the Father at baptism. Even The Council of Trent claims as much: “If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost,[Rom. 5:5] and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema.” If you read it carefully, Trent does not deny that justification involves imputation of righteousness. What it is claiming is that it is wrong to think of justification as "the imputation of the justice of Christ alone," just as it is wrong to think of Jesus Christ as not fully both God and man.'

In response Turretinfan uploaded a video entitled "Francis Beckwith on Trent and Justification Gone in 60 Seconds", a rather confident title to say the least. But does he actually do it? You be the judge. Now that you have read Beckwith's statement, please take a moment [literally] to view Turretinfan's video, then come back and let's review what's been said.

A few things to note.

Turretinfan says at 0:27-0:32,

"Adoption is a theologically distinct concept from Justification, but Beckwith conflates the two."

All a Roman, Greek, Oriental, Coptic, Russian, or any other Christian from any of the Apostolic Churches can do is be amazed at the blatantly manifest heresy in that statement. For the Christian Church, that is, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, 'adoption' can be summed up in the recent Roman Catechism,

1709 He who believes in Christ becomes a son of God. This filial adoption transforms him by giving him the ability to follow the example of Christ. It makes him capable of acting rightly and doing good. In union with his Savior, the disciple attains the perfection of charity which is holiness. Having matured in grace, the moral life blossoms into eternal life in the glory of heaven.

Essentially, anyone who believes in Christ enters the filial adoption. When do people believe in Christ? When they have been Justified. For the Catholic, the Justification of God works by His divine sovereignty mysteriously working with man's free will. At the moment of [initial] Justification he becomes a son of God.

Beckwith quotes one of Trent's canons, which I will repeat here for clarification:

“If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost,[Rom. 5:5] and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema.”

With this quote he asserts Trent is not really denying Forensic Justification.

What is Forensic Justification according to Protestantism?

"Justification is defined as the act of God by which he imputes the righteousness of Christ to a believer and declares that person to be forgiven of all sins, thus pronouncing the person righteous in his sight (Acts 13:38-39; Romans 4:5, 24). It is a declarative and judicial act of God (Romans 8:1; Colossians 1:22), based on the righteousness of Christ, rather than an infusion of holiness into a believer or a change in their character. It changed the position of a believer and puts them into a right standing with God, but is distinct from the dispositional change of that person's heart or the actual altering of their spiritual condition."

"Justification means that God, as the universal judge, acquits us of our guilt and declares us as righteous (Romans 5:8). The very righteousness of Jesus Christ is transferred to our account and we are seen as if we had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if we had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for us (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:18-19)."

"From our human point of view, faith in the finished work of Christ is the only thing that is required for us to be declared righteous (Romans 3:28). We receive this gracious gift of God by faith alone (Romans 3:22; 4:4; Galatians 3:24-24); we do not merit it in any way by good works, reformed behaviour, or resolutions to never sin again (Galatians 2:16)." - Justification: Emphasizing the Distinction Between Protestant and Roman Catholic Thought by Corey Keiting, Proferssor Al Glenn (ST502 Systematic Theology II; Fuller Theological Seminary, Phoenix Extension; Winter Quarter 2002)

The Council of Trent declares concerning Justification,

"Finally, the one formal cause [of justification] is the justness of God: not that by which he himself is just, but that by which he makes us just and endowed with which we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and are not merely considered to be just but we are truly named and are just." (Decree on Justification 7)

Trent's real issue here isn't that Forensic Justification is wrong, but that Forensic Justification alone is wrong, just as Faith for salvation isn't wrong, but that Faith Alone for salvation is wrong. I should insert here that the Roman Church, with the Greeks, the Orientals, the Russians, the Coptics, and all the Apostolic Churches proclaim with one Voice that the holy and glorious doctrine of Justification is not simply a Divine Declaration of the sinner, but rather also effects the inward soul of the one Justified.

We know that St. Paul used a strong legal, forensic element in his epistle to the Romans concerning this issue. The Protestants argue that since the Apostle uses this argument, using the analogy of a Judge justifying a guilty person, the declaration does not change the nature of the guilty person, so it follows that God's declaration of the sinner does not change the nature of that sinner. This is completely heretical, for it puts a limit on God's sovereignty.

As Newman once noted,

"God's word, I say, effects what it announces. This is its characteristic all through Scripture. He calleth those things which be not, as though they are, [Rom 4:17] and they are forthwith. Thus in the beginning He said, Let there be light, and there was light...So again in His miracles, he called Lazarus from the grave and the dead arose; he said, Be thou cleansed, and the leprosy departed; He rebuked the wind and the waves, and they were still; He commanded the evil spirits, and they fled away... It would seem, then, in all cases that God's word is the instrument of His deed. When, then, He solemnly utters the command, Let the soul be just, it becomes inwardly just." J. H. Newman, Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification. 3rd ed. (London: Rivingtons, 1874), 81-2

Indeed Almighty God's holy word is always powerful and effective in every declaration: What He declares comes to be.

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." - Isaiah 55:10-11, ESV

In short, Trent focuses on the inner workings of Justification, at the same time noting the Forensic side. Dikaioo cannot be used alone to define the doctrine of Justification; we must consider from Whom that word proceeds. Considering that it comes from God's own mouth, we know for certain it will execute what it declares: the righteousness of the sinner, which consists of changing his nature. We must also note that guilty persons, though justified by their judges, may easily break the Law again and require to be justified again. For Christians, specifically of the Apostolic Churches, our Justification is a process called theosis, viz. the deification of the Christian. But let us leave that for another time.

Getting back to the original point of this post, if Turretinfan attempts to refute Beckwith's assertion he'll have to deal with Trent here:

"Finally, the one formal cause [of justification] is the justness of God: not that by which he himself is just, but that by which he makes us just and endowed with which we are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and are not merely considered to be just but we are truly named and are just."

I think this lone passage speaks for itself. You decide whether Beckwith has been disposed of in 60 seconds. I think the answer is obvious.


  1. Nice work.

    You fully understand what I was driving at.


  2. Dr. Beckwith,

    Thanks for the compliment, but more so thanks for your ministry in spreading the Gospel, especially to Protestants :-)

    Peace of Christ


  3. It has always been part of the Reformed position that saving faith (i.e. the imputation of Christ's righteousness) is accompanied by regenaration and sanctification. Saving faith works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). Just because justification and sanctification are viewed as distinct (undivided but unconfused, so to say) doesn't mean that there is no place for theosis or deification in Protestant thinking. While justification is an forensic act, sanctification is an ongoing ontological process.

    Pax tecum,

  4. TimCHebold,

    Would you say Sanctification is an absolute necessity in the Christian's salvation?

  5. Yes, indeed!

    And so did Luther:

    "Christ has earned for us not only God's mercy, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit, that we should have not only forgiveness, but also an end of sins. Whoever remeains in his earlier evil ways must have another kind of Christ. Consequence demands that a Christian should have the Holy Spirit and lead a new life, or know that has not received Christ at all."


    "Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever."

  6. TimCHebold,

    Okay, so would you say the Greek Orthodox's doctrine concerning Justification is the same as the [traditional] Protestant's, but just explained differently? How did you put it? Undivided but unconfused? In a way, one needing the other? Would you say that is accurate?


  7. In a way.

    But a difference remains: Faith, as the channel through which the alien righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, is the only "causa instrumentalis" for our right standing with God, i.e. Justification.

    So while Sanctification is necessary for salvation, it remains distinct from Justification.

    Like Calvin put it:

    "Sola fides iustificat, sed non fides quae est sola."

    Justification is not a process, but a legal declaration - even though it's inseparably connected with a growth in actual righteousness, love, and mercy, i.e. Sanctification (or Theosis, if you like).

    You asked: "In a way, one needing the other?"

    Sanctification does not constitute or contribute to Justification! But it accompanies/follows Justification. If it doesn't, there is no justifying faith in the first place.

    So while it's definitely true to say that you can't have one without the other, it would be wrong to imply that Sanctification somehow adds to Justification.

    -- My understanding of the matter ;-)--


  8. Interesting. 'Theosis' for us doesn't really distinguish between Justification and Sanctification. Essentially it just means we become more and more like God (but not in the Mormon sense, obviously) through Christ's grace. East and West are two different worlds altogether, but two parts of one whole.

    The Roman [Tridentine] Church tried to bring this ancient, eastern, doctrine into modern western scholastic understanding, I think. Whether they actually did a good job of it or not is a different matter.

    Suffice it to say as long you acknowledge the inner renewal of the man in his walk with Christ, Greek Catholics - or Roman Catholics for that matter - don't have a serious issue with forensic justification teaching, just as long as it isn't forensic alone.

    Peace of Christ eh :-D