Sunday, October 29, 2006

On Causation (and law and grace)

I've decided that a basic tutorial in causation should be included in any complete theological education. And this isn't just a ploy to work logic and geometry into religion, although certainly those two subjects are void of meaning without theology. But theology also requires causation to be properly understood. Logic requires a God of order behind it, but the study of the God of order also requires logic, specifically causation.

More particularly, I'm thinking of the relationship between law and grace, as outlined in the scriptures. The law has three purposes: (1) through the magistrate, the law works to restrain sin; (2) as a mirror, the law shows us our sin and need of a Savior; (3) finally, the law guides believers in holy living. (If anyone comes up with an "m" term for the third purpose, let me know. . . )

Notice that none of the three purposes is to save us from our sin. The law does not save; rather, it condemns. The second purpose is to drive us to salvation, yes, but it is not our actual salvation. It is to show us that we can't save ourselves through works. The message of the law and all of scripture is that man cannot save himself through his works.

But then, I would also submit that faith, without works (of the law), is dead. Heretic! one might scream. Legalistic, works-oriented salvationist, Phariseeical - pick your favorite adjective. I could also be accused of abandoning three of the five solas of the reformation, namely that we are saved by grace alone, by Christ's work alone, by faith alone.

But of course, no one is going to actually call me a heretic for saying that faith without works is dead, because I carefully chose an exact quote of scripture, as most (or all) of you probably noticed :-). And yes, I know that a text without a context is a pretext, so really I have shown nothing with one little scripture reference. So take a look at the verse in context. First look at the surrounding verses, then the whole chapter (James 2), then all of the Epistle of James. One can easily see that this little statement "faith without works is dead" is far from an isolated statement. Hmm.

We are graciously saved by faith alone - just to reiterate Sola Gratia and Sola Fide :). For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - not by works that any man can boast. But now I'm going to make a statement that is strange. We are saved through works. Yep, that's right. I'm advocating a works-oriented salvation. But, I quickly clarify, those works are not our own. Our salvation is accomplished by Christ's work on the cross, and we are given righteousness based on the perfect life that He lived on earth. So we are saved Solus Christus - by Christ's works alone. I hope that clarifies my standing (and more importantly, scripture's standing) on those three solas :).

But I would still submit that faith without works is dead. The key to understanding how the above three solas mesh with James' statement is to first understand causation.

For example, eating 10 chocolate bars in one sitting will cause a stomache ache. To put symbolically, let E = eating 10 chocolate bars, and S = stomache ache. Simply, E ==> S, or read as "E implies S." In other words, if someone eats 10 chocolate bars in one sitting, they will necessarily get a stomachache.

Let's say Mary ate 10 chocolate bars in one sitting. Well, then we can conclude that she got a stomache ache. This is called Modus Ponens, and is the most basic of logical arguments.

E ==> S
Therefore S.

But let's say that George has a stomache ache. Do we know for certain that he ate 10 chocolate bars in one sitting? No, certainly not. He may have eaten 10 ice cream bars in one sitting, or perhaps he is just feeling ill for no dietary reason. The arrow in the symbolic statement E ==> S shows us that E implies S, and not necessarily vice-versa.

But what if Susie does not have a stomach ache? Can we make any conclusions. Well, yes, actually. If Susie had eaten 10 chocolate bars in one sitting, she would have had a stomache ache, so the fact that she does not have a stomache ache shows that she did not just eat 10 chocolate bars in one sitting. This is known as Modus Tollens.

E ==> S
Not S.
Therefore, not E.

How does this relate to theology, law and grace, and faith and works? Well, look at the following causal relationship:

faith ==> works

True faith results in good works, as is outlined in scripture. See James 1:27 or I John 2:3 or all of Romans 6, for just a few examples. When our salvation is accomplished in Christ, we die to sin and are made alive in Christ. We become slaves of righteousness. Our faith, if it is true faith, will produce good works.

Now, let's look at a Modus Tollens rendering of the above causal relationship:

faith ==> works
No works.
Therefore, no faith.

Aha! Notice the above does not say that works causes faith or works causes salvation. Rather, it says that faith (by which we are saved) produces works, and since works are absent, so is faith.

Therefore, law and grace are intertwined in that the Gospel of Grace, when rightly received, transforms our wills as we want to do works of the law. The works do not save us, but are a consequence of our salvation. Therefore, it now makes sense to say that faith without works is dead, for true faith does not exist without works.

A quote by Luther (who, of all people, certainly wrestled with this issue!) seems appropriate here: We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.

A certain cure for insomnia would be to read my past writings on law, grace, and works:

Under Grace
Under Grace, Part II
Under Grace, Part III
Reflections on Sanctification
The Balance Beam
A Good Quote on the Law
The Middle Way, Age Segregation, and A Bit of Irony
Dirty Hands
The Gospel of Grace


Adrian C. Keister said...

This is great, really great. And not because it's the way I've thought about it! ;-)] You have an exceptionally clear and lucid explanation. I rather think it's better than what I would have come up with on the same topic. Great job!

In Christ.

Adrian C. Keister said...

Oh, and those posts you mentioned would do positively nothing for my insomnia. They happen to be on topics far and away too interesting for me to fall asleep. I remember especially liking all those posts.

In Christ.

John Dekker said...

Yes, this is great. Of course, I think it's perfectly obvious...

And yet - can we talk about faith causing the works? Does the Bible talk in that way? Could they perhaps come from a common source? "Results in" is not the same as "causes".

Susan said...

Don't bring in common response, John!!! ;)

Yes, technically all benefits of salvation, as well as the actual act, flow out of God's sovereign choice, if we want to be quite literal. But the chain of salvation is a dominoes effect of sorts, where many links in the chain cause the other one, though originally begun by God's choice. Hmm. That makes me sound like a fatalist, which I'm not. God is active in all parts of salvation, and man's activity and passivity vary.

And I did say "results in," not "causes" :). A causal relationship doesn't have to be direct causation, as far as I know. I believe common response would still fall under the "causal" category. I should probably make sure of that, hmm? . . . since I'm going to be teaching that in statistics in the not-too-distant future.

I suppose we could be more specific and say that faith unites us to Christ, and our union with Christ is the basis for our good works. Does that work better?

*phew* I must admit, Adrian, that I wrote this post wondering where I failed in my explanation of the logic. I figured it was not unlikely that you would have occasion to correct my explanation of modus ponens, modus tollens, and all that. I'm glad you liked it, though :). I've been meaning to type this up for approximately a month, though the thoughts have a much older origin. I'll have to try harder to compose insomnia cures for you, I suppose ;).

zan said...

I agree, or course, and think you explained it very well. I even followed the math part.

Your timing for this post was impeccable for me. My parent's journey toward Roman Catholism is ongoing and they try to expain to me how you need to work for your salvation.

They have also told me that nowhere in scipture is there a verse that says that the just shall live by faith "alone." They insist that Luther even inserted the word "alone" in his translation of the Bible.

John Dekker said...

I suppose we could be more specific and say that faith unites us to Christ, and our union with Christ is the basis for our good works.

Yes, I think you've nailed it. Though of course Calvin thought of it first. ;) We could also mention the Holy Spirit in there somewhere.

They insist that Luther even inserted the word "alone" in his translation of the Bible.

Which he did, of course...

Lydia said...

A superb post! I have been thinking on much of these things as of late since studying Romans and reading some selections on theology from various sources. You explained it very well.

This post comes at a perfect time on the eve of Reformation Day. We plan to celebrate tomorrow evening with a family from church. The younger children will be presenting reports on Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli (sp?). We will also be singing hymns centered on the Reformation (A Mighty Fortress, etc.) and watching films with reenactments of the lives of Huss, Wycliffe, Luther and others. Nate the Great made a Pilgrim's Progress game that he is eager to try out with the guests. If you know of any hymns by some of these great men or other pertinent resources for Reformation day, you might point me in that direction. Thanks! :)

I wish you an early, joyous Reformation Day! I will have to go back and read your post about this day as I recall a particular post on this topic. Also, check out Tim Challies' blog for his Reformation Symposium concluding tomorrow. He is also presenting a new series on TULIP with a focus on it's application. It looks to be a great read.

Susan said...

Zan, I'm so glad the timing for this post was good. God Moves in a Mysterious Way. That's one of my favorite hymns :).

John, well I haven't read much Calvin, but I'm sure he did think of it first ;). I could pull in the Holy Spirit by stating that He is our guide and enabler in our good works.

Lydia, that sounds like such a great Reformation Day event :). I hope it all goes well. I can't think of any reformation hymns right off the top of my head :( - except A Mighty Fortress, which you already mentioned. That is one of my favorites, and the first we learned harmony to when we started working on parts this year :). Thanks for the tip on Challies. I think I just need to add him to my blog reader :).

zan said...


I know Luther did insert the word, "alone," but that does not negate the truth.

He probably shouldn't have done that, but just because he did, doesn't mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

That is what is so frustrating with dealing with my parents, right now.

My parents also say that Luther thought James and Revelations should be taken out of the Bible. So what? That isn't evidence that your works based system of belief is correct. Agh!

Becky Miller said...

An excellent post. I like the logical explanation of the works-faith connection.

Adrian C. Keister said...

Reply to Susan.

Hmm. I think maybe I need to work on what medical doctors call "their bed-side manner." You know what I mean? I mean, here you are, posting on a good idea (and I love good ideas, no matter who comes up with them), and you're all jittery, wondering how I'm going to pick your piece apart. I do hope that hasn't prevented you from posting things in the past!

We serve a God of grace; yes, there is law and that is important. But grace is equally important. And these aren't things you don't already know. I'm just saying that in the way you and I interact in the blogger world, both should be present. Perhaps I've erred on the side of law a bit.

Really, I meant what I wrote: you did better than I would have done on the same subject. Please don't consider yourself "inferior" to me. We all have our own gifts. I don't like comparing myself to others anyway. The only person I don't mind comparing myself to is Jesus Christ, in which case I fall quite far short.

Truly In Christ.

Susan said...

Now I see that I'm giving the wrong impression, Adrian. You honestly have never offended me by anything you've ever said, which shows that you do have a good "bedside manner," since you've had occasion to correct me many a time.

My *phew* was that I successfully explained basic logic, not that you didn't correct me. If I was wrong, I would hope you would correct me! You've done so in the past many times, and I've appreciated that. A nice balance of law and grace have been present :). So therefore, you mustn't at all alter your "bedside manner."

I don't consider myself inferior to you. I consider myself inferior to Christ, like you. You are right that we each have different gifts. But I do know that you are much more schooled in the area of logic than me :). That is all I meant.

I hope that clarifies what I meant, and feel free to constructively correct me anytime. I wouldn't want to be left unaware of my inconsistencies. Where's the room for growth there? Iron sharpens iron; feathers don't :). One reason I greatly appreciate our interaction in the blogosphere is precisely because you will correct me if I'm in error, and do so in an appropriate manner. So don't stop, okay?

Adrian C. Keister said...

Reply to Susan.

Ah, I see how it is. I think we understand each other, and I won't change my bedside manner... too much. ;-)] I, too, greatly appreciate our interaction. Most invigorating, I deem.

In Christ.