Paul Helm on Word and Spirit in Conversion

Tim Brister —  November 1, 2007 — 2 Comments

Paul Helm has posted on his blog an important article entitled “Word and Spirit in Conversion” (incidentally something I have been studying in regards to pneumatological inclusivism). He explains, “In this paper I should like to explore the moral side to conversion and to set out two models of this aspect of conversion which have been widely influential in the history of the Christian church but which, as I shall argue, are at fundamental odds with each other.” What is particularly crucial is how Helm lays out a clear disparity between these two models of justification, viz. justification as inherent righteousness and forensic justification. Here is Helm’s conclusion (emphasis mine):

A widespread current view is that the Reformation conflicts over the nature of justification are now chiefly of historical interest. So Alister McGrath:

On the basis of the above analysis, it will be clear that, there exist real differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics over the matter of justification. The question remains however, as to the significance of these differences. How important, for example, is the distinction between an alien and an intrinsic justifying righteousness? In recent years, there appears to be an increasing sympathy for the view that these differences, although important at the Reformation period, no longer possess the significance they once had.

I happen to think that this view is profoundly wrong. And that, as someone has said, justification is ‘the main hinge on which religion turns’. Important differences about important matters should not be labelled [sic] ‘insignificant’ and then moved off stage. There are still mountains between Geneva and Rome, or rather between the view of justification by an intrinsic righteousness, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, and justification by an alien righteousness. These mountains continue to impede the achieving of a common mind on the fundamentals of the Christian gospel. But even if you do not share this conviction of mine, but rather agree with Alister McGrath, you may nonetheless be persuaded, by what we have discussed, that although such differences may no longer be of much theological significance, they are nevertheless of considerable ethical importance, and that one feature of this importance is that they profoundly influence views of the place and the character of word and spirit in conversion.

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  • http://www.triablogue.blogspot.com Arminibot3000 Model 666

    I might also point out that there is another, often overlooked, and quite subtle result of the view that faith itself is that which constitutes our righteousness before God as opposed to the alien righteousness of Christ imputed to us.

    What is it you ask? Believe it or not, it also relates to the view that “justification by faith alone is the article by which the Reformation stands or falls.”

    Some Reformed theologians throw this out there and don’t stop to think that this isn’t; really true. In Reformed theology, we are justified by faith alone, saved by grace alone. This makes Sola Fide a species of Sola Gratia.

    While Lutherans and Arminians do affirm justification by faith alone, they do so by severing it from Sola Gratia.

    We take our position in the Reformed tradition, expressed negatively as follows:

    1. Against the Lutherans, we deny gratia universalis.
    2. Against the Arminians we deny universal prevenient grace.
    3. Both make the mistake of view grace as quantiative,not qualitative.
    4. The natural result of this is to ultimately infer that something in us, our faith, is either mixed with the righteousness of Christ or stands before God as our righteousness. Both constitute a denial of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ alone, so
    5. The final outworking is to consequently deny Sola Christus.

    As you study and write on this, I would encourage you to point this out.

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    Mr. Arminibot3000,

    Nice breakdown. In regards to Spirit and Word in inclusivism, a similar Christological fall out occurs, but the division comes when they argue that Christ is an ontological but not epistemological necessity. Inclusivists promote pneumatology to the point of being pneumatocentric (contrary to Christocentric) to uphold universality; the fall out comes when they attempt to reconcile universality with particularity, especially in how the atonement of Christ is connected to those with whom Christ is not an epistemological necessity (the unevangelized who are saved via the mediation of the Holy Spirit and his independent saving mission). In the end, not only does Christ not become an epistemological necessity, but he becomes no longer an epistemological necessity. Ergo, salvation is binarian (of the Father and the Spirit) and not Trinitarian.