Wednesday 8 March 2006

Karl Barth on justification

“There is no room for any fears that in the justification of man we are dealing only with a verbal action, with a kind of bracketed ‘as if,’ as though what is pronounced were not the whole truth about man. Certainly we have to do with a declaring righteous, but it is a declaration about man which is fulfilled and therefore effective in this event, which corresponds to actuality because it creates and therefore reveals the actuality. It is a declaring righteous which without any reserve can be called a making righteous.”

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, p. 95.


Anonymous said...

Very good. It is a declaration of the making.

Guy Davies said...

If Barth is saying that in justification God makes righteous those he declares righteous, isn't that the Catholic view?

Is Barth suggesting that justification is transformatory as well a forensic declaration?

God does transform those whom he declares righteous in Christ. But that is regeneration / progressive sanctification, not justification according to the traditional evangelical protestant viewpoint.

Guy Davies

T.B. Vick said...

Some great thoughts on justification - this makes me, all the more, want to get a set of Barth's CD and study his views of justification. Thanks for the quote, Ben.

revdrron said...

Let me see now Mr. Barth…

Sinners are justified by Christ's redemptive work alone, and appropriate this justification by faith alone; faith itself is a gift of God. Actually! Right? God does not cooperate with sinners in saving them. God saves sinners; God does not help them save themselves. Actually! Right? So justification, according to Barth, “is a declaration about man which is fulfilled and therefore effective in this event, which corresponds to actuality because it creates and therefore reveals the actuality.” Hence, justification is appropriated by faith alone (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:8-10).

Since sinners are saved solely on the ground of Christ's substitutionary, atoning death and law-keeping life, the passive and active obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24), “it is a declaring righteous which without any reserve can be called a making righteous.”

What do you think?

Worship & enjoy, ron

Anonymous said...

It is almost fifty years since Hans Küng, in Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection (1957), after almost 300 pages of closely argued text, concluded: "It is without any doubt . . . that today there is a fundamental agreement between Catholic and Protestant theology, precisely in the theology of justification - the point at which Reformation took its departure."

It took, however, until 1997 for a formal ecumenical breakthrough on justification between Roman Catholics and Lutherans, when a Joint Declaration stated: "that on the basis of their dialogue the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ." The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was formally signed in St. Anna's Church in Augsburg, Germany on October 31st, 1999. One of the more salient statements in the context of this post reads: "We confess together that God forgives sin by grace and at the same time frees human beings from sin's enslaving power and imparts the new gift of life in Christ. When persons come by faith to share in Christ, God no longer imputes to them their sin and through the Holy Spirit effects in them an active love."

The Joint Statement added that there are still outstanding issues to discuss - e.g. the relationship between the Word of God and church doctrine, authority in the church, and the sacraments and the relation between justification and social ethics. Nevertheless, it concluded, "The Joint Declaration represents a huge stride forward on the road to unity . . . the first time that the Catholic Church has officially accepted the results of a dialogue with a church of the Reformation tradition."

Of course not all major contemporary theologians who have critiqued the document are entirely on side!

Guy Davies said...

I'm sorry Kim, but there is still
no real agreement between historic Evangelical Protestant teaching and Rome on justification by faith. Roman Catholic doctrine still conflates justification and regeneration/progressive sanctification. I quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted to us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us."

This definition of justification suggests that official Roman Catholic thinking has not really altered since Trent. The Tridentine dogma is more polemical in its anti-protestant stance than the Catechism. But in both texts justification is transformatory rather than a forensic declaration that a sinner has been declared righteous by faith in Christ alone.

"If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema."

When classic and contemporary Catholic teaching is compared with the Westminster Confession, the differences between Rome and Evangelicals on justification are thrown into sharp releif.

"Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies;[1] not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them,they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God."

My blog carries a link to an article by Don Carson on justification in Catholic & Evangelical dialogue:

Theological honesty demands that real differences between Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestant teaching on justification be acknowledged rather than swept under the ecumenical carpet.

Guy Davies

Ben Myers said...

I've appreciated all these comments. Just a note in response to Guy's phrase, "swept under the ecumenical carpet." Although some cheap ecumenical efforts have aimed at this kind of thing, this is by no means a fair description of the serious theological dialogue that has been taking place over the doctrine of justification. And certainly Hans Küng's brilliant study had no intention of sweeping anything under the carpet. Instead, the serious ecumenical discussion of justification has tried to achieve a more penetrating grasp of both the Protestant and the Catholic positions, not in order to eliminate difference, but in order first of all to achieve genuine understanding (which is no easy thing!).

You may well be right, Guy, that there is still no full agreement (and a very profound book that argues this point is Eberhard Jüngel's Justification, a book which is nevertheless written in an ecumenical spirit, i.e., a spirit of attempted understanding). But the lack of full agreement shouldn't be taken as a condemnation of ecumenical dialogue, but rather as an indication of the seriousness of the task. If it were just a matter of sweeping a few things under the carpet, then everything could be settled quickly and easily. But because all of us, Catholic and Protestant alike, are interested in genuine understanding, there is no such easy solution. And this is why sober ecumenical discussion remains one of the central challenges of contemporary theology.

Guy Davies said...

Ben, I am not against dialogue and discussion between Evangelical Protestants and Catholics. Not at all. What I am pleading for is an honest approach that recognises that there are real and deep differences between the two sides on justification and other issues.

The problem is not simply one of understanding. The Westminster divines understood Catholic teaching on justification pretty accurateley, but they did not agree with it. Likewise, the Catholic dogmatists behind Trent understood Protestant teaching on justification. For example, I do not believe that justification is transformatory and therefore can be increased by good works. As an Evangelical Protestant,I reamin subject to Trent's ringing anathema.

The joint Lutheran and Catholic Declaration of 1999 quoted by Kim is a good summary of Catholic teaching. Justification, according to the Declaration is transforatory:

"When persons come by faith to share in Christ, God no longer imputes to them their sin and through the Holy Spirit effects in them an active love."

To me, active love effected by the Holy Spirit is a fruit of regeneration, not a part of justification. Faith works through love, but faith alone in Christ alone justifies. The real differences between Rome and classic Protestant teaching on justification are not recognised or resolved by the Declaration. I don't think that it is altogether cynical to say that statement is kind of ecumenical carpet under which differences are swept.

By all means let honest dialogue continue. However, there can be no real agreement between the two sides unless:

1) Protestants accept that there is a transformatory element to justification.


2) Catholics agree that justification is solely a forensic declaration that a sinner is righteous by faith in Christ alone.

Guy Davies

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