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Tim Enloe entitled his post, “Nicholas of Cusa on Justification by Faith Alone,” giving me the impression that he thinks the Reformation doctrine sola fide was taught 30 years before Martin Luther by Nicholas of Cusa. Unfortunately, it appears to me to be a misunderstanding (read my comments in the thread). It really all depends on what you mean by sola fide, what you mean by justification, what you mean by faith alone, and how you understand the nature of justifying righteousness, whether you distinguish between present and future justification, etc. The doctrine of justification was not articulated exactly the same way by all the famous Reformers during the Reformation (read: they didn’t believe the same thing), although it was crystalized later in orthodox creeds. Much confusion surrounds the debates about sola fide and historical investigation is usually highjacked by people with noticeable agendas other than historical objectivity (and this is human nature).
In the spirit of Trevin Wax’s helpful “gospel definition” posts, I offer Eric L. Johnson’s articulation of the simple gospel message from his impressive magnum opus Foundations for Soul Care:
The good news of the gospel is an articulation of the free gift of divine salvation and soul-healing, accomplished through Christ’s life, death and resurrection and offered to all who consent to it from the heart.
A few things are interesting about this definition. 1) it defines the gospel as “an articulation of” certain truths, 2) it includes what we would normally call sanctification in protestant lingo (“soul healing”), 3) rather than saying, “offered to all those who believe,” he spells out faith as “consent of the heart.” Very interesting.
Eric L. Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2007), 33.
—————————–HT: Kingdom People——————————-
Barth attempts to explain in his Church Dogmatics, that the problem of justification consists in how man can be at the same time sinner and just. Therefore, Barth surmises, the doctrine is unique and important. Here are some excerpts:
How can he be simul peccator et iustus? And how can God for His part (the omniscient and righteous Judge of good and evil) give right to man when man is obviously in the wrong before Him, and God Himself has put him the wrong? … To what extent is this justification not a mere overlooking or hiding of the pride and fall of man, a nominalistic “as if”—which is quite incompatible with the truthfulness of God and cannot be of any real help to man—but God’s serious opposition and mighty resistance to the pride of man and therefore the real redemption of fallen man? How in this justification can God be effectively true to Himself and therefore to man—to man and therefore primarily to Himself? How can He judge man in truth and even in that judgment be gracious to Him? How can He be truly gracious to him even in the fact that He judges him? This is the problem of the doctrine of justification which we now have to develop. (CD, § 61: 517)
But whether we are dealing with a divinely true actuality depends upon whether in this alteration of the human situation in the atonement—as the work of grace and mercy of God—we are dealing with that which is just and right. It depends upon whether—however strange it may seem to us—there is a genuine justification: that is, whether the right of God which gives right to man and the right of man which is given by God to man is a true and indisputable right. If we do not have an indisputable divine right, and (for all its difference) an indisputable human right, how can the conversion of man to God be true, and how then can it be actual? … [The task of the doctrine of justification] is the task of finding a reliable answer to the question: What is God for sinful man? And what is sinful man before the God who is for him? The basis of the community and the certainty of faith stands or falls with the answer to this question. (CD, § 61: 518)
There is no doubt that the unusual difficulty of the doctrine of justification is an indication of its special function. In it we have to do with the turning, the movement, the transition of the existence of man without God and dead into the existence of man living for God and therefore before him and with Him and for Him. … There is no part of dogmatics, no locus, where we can treat it lightly. At every point we are dealing with the one high Gospel. What we can and must say is that in the doctrine of justification we are dealing with the most pronounced and puzzling form of this transition because we are dealing specifically with the question of its final possibility. … But in the doctrine of justification we have to do with the original centre of this crisis, and to that extent with its sharpest form, with what we can describe provisionally as the crisis which underlies the whole. If we find it running through the whole with all kinds of repetitions and variations, at this point where we grapple with the peculiar difficulty of it, it has to be seen and handled as the main theme—the question: How am I to lay hold of a gracious God? And it is from here, and along the line which runs from here, that in different ways it works out everywhere. (CD, § 61: 520-21)
Under “The problem of Justification,” in Barth’s treatment of the doctrine in Church Dogmatics, he explains that although in studying justification, one is dealing more specifically with the positive aspect of God’s two-fold judgment and sentence, the negative aspect of God’s judgment and sentence belong together with the positive.
Therefore the positive sense of the sentence executed in that judgment belongs together with the negative. … And what we have to show is that this is possible, that the two belong together: our real sin and our real freedom from sin; our real death and our real life beyond death; the real wrath of God against us and His real grace and mercy towards us; the fulfillment of our real rejection and also of our real election. … the No of God behind the Yes of God before, but the Yes of God only before as the No of God is behind. This history, the existence of man in this transition, and therefore in this twofold form, is the judgment of God in its positive character as the justification of man. (CD, IV, §61: 516)