Fesko’s Beyond Calvin (13), Metaphysics and Justification, pt. 9 (Conclusion of Essay)

In this post we complete our review of this first essay in Fesko's Beyond Calvin by looking at the Conclusion (pp. 50-52). For the most part, I will take each of the sentences or points of the Conclusion under consideration seriatim, assessing each with a view to the question whether or not the author has demonstrated what he concludes. N.B.: In many cases, my responses will assume what I have covered in previous posts.

1. The Conclusion opens with the following statement: "This study began with claims of Garcia's identifying causal language as the trademark of historic Lutheran theology. The evidence gathered here challenges the viability of such a thesis." But, as demonstrated repeatedly, I have never "identified causal language as the trademark of historic Lutheran theology," and nothing the author has noted in my writings suggests otherwise. There is no such thesis. Nor has he identified any other author who has proposed this thesis.

2. "While lines of division can certainly be drawn between Lutheran and Reformed theologians, the employment of causality and metaphysics in the doctrines of justification, sanctification, and union with Christ is not one of those lines." Indeed, and I submit my own work as further evidence of this.

3. "Aristotelian metaphysics is common to both camps." But the author's conflation of "causality" and "metaphysics," and the general language of "Aristotelian metaphysics," confuses more than it explains, since we have not seen much evidence in this essay of a sense of "metaphysics" that means more than "causal language" and the like. Neither does this conclusion reflect a grasp of the various ways Aristotelian language was used among the Lutheran and Reformed theologians of the early modern era, as well as even within each tradition.

4. Fesko continues,

"This raises important questions that are best illustrated by one of Garcia's claims. Garcia argues that Melanchthon's cause and effect explanation of justification and good works later became standard in the Lutheran tradition; he then goes on to quote Charles Hodge (1797-1878), 'There has never been any real difference of opinion among Protestants... It was universally admitted that good works are not necessary to our justification; that they are the consequences and indirectly the fruits of justification, and therefore cannot be its ground.' Garcia argues that Hodge's statement is 'rather remarkable,' implying that at minimum, the statement has more in common with Lutheran expressions, or at maximum, that Hodge is Lutheran at this point."

a. Fesko has read the statement incorrectly. In the context of my remark (in the Conclusion of Life in Christ, p. 267, n. 24), it is clear that what I find "rather remarkable" is Hodge's statement that "There has never been any real difference of opinion among Protestants..." regarding the relationship of justification to good works. And it is indeed remarkable, given the considerable variety of views on this relationship not only among the sixteenth-century Protestant theologians I discussed at length in my book, but also among Protestants between the Reformation and Hodge's day - including Nevin, with whom Hodge was of course in polemical conflict over the idea of union with Christ and Calvin. Simply from a historical perspective, Hodge's sweeping denial of any real difference among Protestants is, as I say, remarkable. In other words, Fesko obscures that I am not referring to the view that justification is the cause, in some sense, of good works as remarkable, but to Hodge's sweeping historical error.

b. Yes, Hodge's way of characterizing the relationship of justification to good works here does have "more in common with Lutheran expressions," but as my statement makes clear, I refer specifically to Melanchthon's way of relating these graces, particularly in his Romans expositions which I had discussed at length in the book and which are the background for my observation here. That way of expression did in fact become characteristic of the Lutheran tradition, evidenced in the Symbols of that tradition and in Melanchthon's relationship to them. My remark only makes sense if someone has read Hodge in light of my discussion of Melanchthon's expositions.

c. Fesko is here referring to a footnote in my Conclusion, and he is not the only one to refer to it (and to misuse it badly without regard for its context). Thus I might add here another "remarkable" note: it is remarkable that this footnote - the point of which continues to hold in view of the evidence - has received this attention, when other, more pertinent footnotes, and in fact most of the body of the book as well, have not.

5. Fesko will now proceed to capitalize still further on his misreading of the point in my footnote regarding Hodge. He states,

"Given the uncovered evidence, Garcia's claim actually makes an important, albeit unintended, point. While space does not permit a full elaboration of the point, Hodge's expression has a great deal in common with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century expressions. Given Hodge's commitment to the Westminster Standards (1646), a confession written during a time when Aristotelian metaphysics was quite common in Reformed theology, it is only natural that he would retain such expressions in his theology. In other words, Hodge seems to be more in tune with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century expressions than Garcia."

a. Given that Fesko has mistaken what it is that I find "remarkable" in Hodge's statement, I simply observe that nothing in my footnote regarding Hodge so much as suggests his expression regarding justification and good works is unique to him or without precedent in the Reformed tradition.

b. I am not sure why Fesko is as liberal with "low blows" as he is in this essay, but I will resist the temptation to enter into a Pauline "I speak as a fool" mode regarding my allegedly being "out of tune" with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century expressions, particularly the Westminster Standards. Quietly shaking my head and moving on to the next matter will have to do.

Instead, I would note an inconsistency in the approach of Fesko which mirrors a more general issue in recent rhetoric: when I or others refer to the importance of the language found in Calvin or in some other writer, Fesko and others with him protest with a finger-wagging, tsk-tsk reminder of the facts that no one Reformed theologian should be confused with the tradition, that only the Symbols of the tradition speak for the tradition, etc. (I call them facts because I generally agree with this protest, incidentally.) But if this holds for Calvin and others, surely it holds for Hodge too, does it not? Why then is Hodge's view - his own view on justification and good works, or his view of what Protestants "always" believed - representative? What makes it "more" representative than, say, Calvin's? Or if one is going to argue that Hodge's view is Calvin's view, why is Hodge's view more representative than Garcia's? Or Gaffin's? Or (fill in the blank)? Why Hodge and not Nevin, for instance? Appeal to the Symbols begs rather than answers the question, since all of these figures relate positively (I will assume, for the sake of argument) to the language of the Westminster Standards - as well as to various models found within the history of the Reformed tradition. So, again, if it is invalid to appeal to Calvin as representative, despite his historical importance for the shaping of the Reformed tradition in its infancy (cf. the alleged Calvin-onlyism with which Fesko is so concerned), why is it then valid to appeal to Hodge as representative, despite his lesser historical importance for the shaping of the Reformed tradition? Is it because he says what Fesko says? I disagree with some of what Calvin says in his theology and exegesis, but I find him instructive on many other things. So my motivation in studying Calvin isn't due to my need for a prominent voice to back me up. I can agree with Calvin and disagree with Hodge on a question, and vice versa, and so on with a host of other Reformed theologians. How, on the grounds of his objections to Calvin-onlyism, can Fesko appeal to Hodge at all? Or to Calvin? Or to Zanchi?

c. To demonstrate his point regarding my ignorance of the use of Aristotelian-type language in the Westminster Standards, Fesko refers to the use of "secondary cause" and other "causal language" in the Westminster Confession. Apparently this is designed to persuade me and the reader that the Westminster Standards use the causation language I am thought to deny to Reformed theologians and the Reformed tradition. To which I reply, yes, of course, not only do the Standards use the language of causation, etc., and I also note this sounds a lot like what I described in chapter 3 of Life in Christ (et al.) regarding Calvin's exegesis of Romans and his use of the notion of secondary causation.

6. We then read, "In fact, some of the recent literature that has eschewed metaphysical explanations and sought to eliminate the use of the ordo salutis in favor of a model that employs union with Christ as the controlling paradigm, begs the following question: What philosophical paradigm is being employed in contemporary formulations?"

The example the author cites for this point is a comment by Julie Canlis in which she refers to Gaffin as one who has prioritized "union over a traditional ordo salutis." Fesko then notes that Canlis refers to Gaffin's book on the resurrection. If Canlis's own work is Fesko's concern, it is a new concern raised in the Conclusion and even here Fesko does not deal with her arguments at all. And since Gaffin does not, in fact, seek to eliminate the use of the ordo salutis by way of his theology of union with Christ, this bears no actual relationship to Gaffin except apparently to offer some more guilt by association. Fesko will do this again in the next essay. Two pages later, on p. 53, in an essay on the ordo salutis that uniquely and extensively illustrates the root fallacy (professors and teachers, take note), the author will blend Gaffin (and Evans) together with Otto Weber, Barth, and Pannenberg on the way to including Schweitzer in this mix.

7. Then,

"Garcia's conclusion and even desire to eliminate causal language from historic and dogmatic soteriological formulations has more in common with post-Enlightenment theology than that of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. To say, for example, that to employ cause and effect language to explain the relationship between justification and sanctification is to admit that they can be separated is more indebted to Enlightenment views of causality than those of the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Reformers and Early Orthodox theologians knew nothing of effects without causes."

a. Granted it is a broken record, but I have made no such conclusion nor expressed any such desire.

b. It is noteworthy that Fesko works throughout the essay, as here, with the tacit assumption that Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment ways of speaking or thinking are necessarily to be rejected, particularly if they are different from Reformation and post-Reformation forms. Related to this is his un-argued assumption that Enlightenment views on causality are necessarily inferior to pre-Enlightenment views. I grant no such assumption. This needs to be demonstrated rather than assumed; otherwise we are dealing with naive primitivism that assumes what is older is necessarily better - a view which, importantly, denies that the Spirit is at work in history and in the Church sanctifying her in her grasp of the truth. What is new is not necessarily better, but what is old is not necessarily better, either. To appeal to a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century theologian saying what you wish to say is not the same as making a biblical or theological argument.

c. In this statement, Fesko supplies a footnote that reads, "To see how Garcia takes the historical conclusions of his work and employs them dogmatically, see..." and refers to one of my journal articles on imputation. In this article I propose that Calvin's critique of the aberrant views of Andreas Osiander points to profitable ways to think Christologically about the relationship of imputation to union with Christ. (I later concluded the proposal in a more focused way here.) Again it would appear that, for Fesko, it is invalid to use historical conclusions from historical research in a dogmatic context. I do not know how it is possible to do otherwise, at least if one believes the history of the Church's theological reflection on Scripture and the Faith has any contemporary relevance at all. And if it does not, are we not then re-inventing the Faith over and over again? Is there nothing we can learn today from what our Fathers have said and taught before us? Furthermore, what is Fesko doing throughout this book if not employing his own historical conclusions for a dogmatic end, that end being the dogmatic claims of what belongs to the Reformed tradition and what does not? This holds even more fundamentally when Fesko turns soon to the question of the ordo salutis and argues an explicit dogmatic point from an explicitly historical analysis.

8. He continues, "Or to claim that to employ cause and effect language implies that it corrupts justification as a forensic declaration because justification becomes generative of sanctification has more in common with Enlightenment mechanistic views of causality than sixteenth- and seventeenth-century metaphysical models."

a. Yes, so we should not read early modern theologians such as Calvin or Vermigli or Zanchi as though they have a generative model of causation in view but understand their use of "cause" and "effect" in early modern terms. In other words, we must stop doing what the author has been doing throughout even as he has told us not to do it.

b. Furthermore, given our own historical location, we should thus also clearly and insistently refrain from pretending that our own use of causal language is necessarily empty of that generative or mechanistic sense which was occasionally present but not dominant in the early modern era. Instead, if we are going to use that language, we are obliged to clarify what we do and do not mean by it.

c. If we refuse to clarify what kind of causation model we intend, then, given our historical location with regard to causation language, it is not sufficient simply to deny that one's doctrine of justification - when it is a doctrine of justification as the cause of sanctification and its good works - does not have a transformative, non-forensic core. One must demonstrate why it does not within the causation model one has proposed. I have suggested my own proposals for how this might be done, but I have yet to see an example of such a demonstration among those who, like Fesko, still retain, in their rhetoric, the productive or generative notion. To say this is an Enlightenment or post-Enlightenment concern is not a reply, not least since we speak in an Enlightenment or post-Enlightenment environment.

9. After some remarks on faith, passivity, and causality that I confess I do not understand, we read, "Garcia, therefore, appears to be using an Enlightenment grid to analyze the causal language of the sixteenth and seventeenth century and hence produces questionable results." If necessary, see above for a response to this claim.

10. In the closing remarks to his Conclusion, Fesko asks, "In the age of quantum physics and theories of relativity, are there better paradigms to be employed in the explanation of soteriology? Has Aristotelian metaphysics seen its best and brightest days?" Given that he does not suggest otherwise, it would appear Fesko is rather confident that there are no better paradigms at hand and that Aristotelian metaphysics has not yet seen its best days. But this is a curious point since he has emphasized the differences between the Aristotelian paradigms at work in the Reformation and post-Reformation eras, and the modified Aristotelian paradigm at work in the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment eras. So which Aristotelianism is the better one: the older one that only relates ideas in terms of consequent necessity and the like, or the later one which includes clear notions of production and mechanism? And why? And how should one use Aristotelian terms like cause and effect in this era in a way that avoids the pitfalls of whichever version of Aristotelianism we wish to reject? We are not told. Instead we are reminded that, in the sixteenth century, this was a "common sense" way to explain the facets of salvation (pp. 51-2), as though it is still common sense today in the same way.

The author will move on to discuss the ordo salutis in his next essay, so this concludes the review of this first essay in the book. I have reviewed the introduction and this first essay at such length (13 posts and nearly 30K words) because the matters are of such great importance - not only the matters of theology and history, but of scholarly rigor and responsibility. I should hope that that much is clear in what has been examined so far. The other essays in this book, which I will continue to review in turn, evidence the same problems as this opening essay does. But it is critically important to recognize these problems as more than technical and, thus, to understand the reason for these many review posts: this is nothing like pedantry, and in the context of current debates and publications, as well as ecclesiastical realities, these essays contribute fuel to the sober sentiment that, however much we may wish to believe otherwise, we face in our day a complicated crisis in contemporary confessional Reformed scholarship.