The Importance of Justification by Faith Alone

In the 19th century, some historians tried to analyze the various streams of Protestantism in terms of a central dogma. Alexander Schweizer thought that it was predestination. He said that the central dogma of the Lutherans was justification. From what I can tell from the secondary literature, he also believed that this was sort of a basic principle from which all other dogmas were deduced. This sort of methodology has been rejected by most modern historians.

However, as I have read classic Reformed theology, I have found that they generally did believe in a central dogma. They believed that it was justification by faith alone. This did not mean that it was a theological axiom from which all other theology was deduced. Rather, it meant:

  1. That the purity of this doctrine was basic to purity in all other doctrines.
  2. That any error in this doctrine was extremely dangerous.
  3. That this doctrine, above all, was to be defended, explained, and meditated upon.
  4. That this doctrine was the foundation of all true religion and holiness.
  5. That the true Church could not be maintained without this doctrine.

In this post, I would like to demonstrate this from the writings of several different theologians from several different regions and eras.

Herman Witsius (1636–1708, Holland), The Economy of the Covenants, 2.8.1: “The pious Picardians, as they were called in Bohemia and Moravia [i.e., the churches of which John Huss was the most prominent example], valued this article at its true price when in their confession of faith, Art. vi. speaking of justification, they thus write: ‘this sixth article is accounted with us the most principal of all, as being the sum of all Christianity and piety. Wherefore our divines teach and handle it with all diligence and application, and endeavor to instill it into all.’” Continue reading “The Importance of Justification by Faith Alone”

Luther on the Great Value of Good Works

Some beautiful quotes from Martin Luther on the value of good works:

  1. Outside the article of justification we cannot sufficiently praise and magnify these works which are commanded by God. For who can sufficiently commend and set forth the profit and fruit of only one work which a Christian does through faith and in faith? Indeed, it is more precious than heaven or earth.
  2. We teach that to reconcile God, to make righteous, to blot out sin, is so high and great and glorious a work that alone Christ, the Son of God could do it and that this is indeed such a pure, special, peculiar work of the one true God and His grace that our works are nothing and can do nothing. But that good works should be nothing or be worth only a penny, who ever heard of such a thing, or who could teach such a thing except the lying mouth of the devil? I would not give up one of my sermons, not one of my lectures, not one of my treatises, not one of my Lord’s Prayers, nay, whatever small work I have ever done or am doing, for all the riches of the world (Cited in Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), 3:59–60

Abductive Reasoning

I have to admit that when I first heard the term “abductive reasoning,” I thought it was a joke. To use the term abduction in relation to reasoning seemed funny to me. This fall, I viewed the True U videos in which Stephen Meyer presents the case for Christian theism. He argued that the best way to answer the question of God’s existence was through the use of abductive reasoning. So, what is it?

I would recommend to you the much better explanation of this matter by Kenneth Samples who recently gave lectures on apologetics to “The Academy” at Kim Riddelbarger’s church in Southern California. I listened to these shortly after I began watching the videos, and I was somewhat surprised to find him presenting exactly the same thing.

However, I would also try to give a brief explanation myself. Abductive reasoning seeks to give an explanation as to why a past even occurred. Deductive reasoning simply draws out implications in a premise. Inductive reasoning seeks to make predictions based on laws and patterns in nature. Abductive reasoning tries to give an explanation of why a specific event that did not have to occur did in fact occur.

For example, let us take the matter of electric lights. If an electric light comes on, then we can guess based on induction that someone turned on a switch. However, if we ask, why was this particular light turned on at this particular time, then I need to use abduction. There is no law that would say that my son must be the one who turns on an electric light. However, if I see him standing near the light switch and no one else is in the building, then the best explanation for the light coming on is that my son did it.

One important tool in abductive reasoning is Occam’s razor, that is, you don’t look for a complicated explanation when a simple one will do. So, for example, in the case mentioned above, it is possible that six people turned on the light, but the simpler explanation is that one person did it. It is also possible that someone turned on the light and then ran out the door before I could see them, but it is simpler to assume that my son did it. So, we are looking for the best explanation that adequately explains the cause.

The argument that Meyer makes in the True U videos as well as in his book The Signature in the Cell is that there is information in DNA that communicates by transferring arrangements of four different combinations. Meyer argues that there is something like that. It is computer language. The simplest and most adequate explanation of this coded information is an intelligent designer.

Further, scientists recognize that this distinction is present in the scientific endeavor. At first, Meyer was in doubt about the distinction between two different types of science, one inductive and one abductive. However, he found that this distinction was actually commonplace among scientists. For example, he notes that Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent evolutionary paleontologist, made this distinction:

Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist and historian of science, insisted that the “historical sciences,” such as geology, evolutionary biology, and paleontology used different methods than did “experimental sciences” such as chemistry and physics. Interestingly, he also argued that understanding how historical sciences differed from experimental sciences helped to legitimate evolutionary theory in the face of challenges to its scientific rigor by those who questioned its testability. . . . [H]e empahsized that historical scientists test their theories by evaluating their explanatory power.

The distinction was not at all uncommon as Meyer had first supposed. He also found it in the writings of Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin.

I have found this distinction to be quite helpful, and I would encourage you to listen to Kenneth Samples’ lectures for a much fuller explanation.