Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Scott Hahn Conversion Story- an excerpt on Sola Fide

The Scott Hahn Conversion Story:

But the more I studied, the more I came to see that for the
ancient Hebrews, and in Sacred Scripture, a covenant differs from a
contract about as much as marriage differs from prostitution. In a
contract you exchange property, whereas in a covenant you exchange
persons. In a contract you say, "This is yours and that is mine," but
Scripture shows how in a covenant you say, "I am yours and you are
mine." Even when God makes a covenant with us, He says, "I will be your
God and you will be my people." After studying Hebrew, I discovered that
'Am, the Hebrew word for people, literally means, kinsman, family. I
will be your God and father; you will be my family, my sons and my
daughters, my household. So covenants form kinship bonds which makes
family with God.

I read Shepherd's articles, and he was saying much of the same
thing: our covenant with God means sonship. I thought, "Well, yeah, this
is good." I wondered what heresy is involved in that. Then somebody told
me, "Shepherd is calling into question sola fide." What! No way. I mean,
that is the Gospel. That is the simple truth of Jesus Christ. He died
for sins; I believe in him. He saves me, pure and simple; it's a done
deal. Sola fide? He's questioning that? No way.

I called him on the phone. I said, "I've read your stuff on
covenant; it makes lots of sense. I've come to pretty much the same
conclusions. But why is this leading you to call into question Luther's
doctrine of sola fide?" He went on to show in this discussion that
Luther's conception of justification was very restricted and limited. It
had lots of truth, but it also missed lots of truths.

When I hung up the phone, I pursued this a little further and I
discovered that for Luther and for practically all of Bible Christianity
and Protestantism, God is a judge, and the covenant is a courtroom scene
whereby all of us are guilty criminals. But since Christ took our
punishment, we get his righteousness, and he gets our sins, so we get
off scot-free; we're justified. For Luther, in other words, salvation is
a legal exchange, but for Paul in Romans, for Paul in Galatians,
salvation is that, but it's much more than that. It isn't just a legal
exchange because the covenant doesn't point to a Roman courtroom so much
as to a Hebrew family room. God is not just simply a judge; God is a
father, and his judgments are fatherly. Christ is not just somebody who
represents an innocent victim who takes our rap, our penalty; He is the
firstborn among many brethren. He is our oldest brother in the family,
and he sees us as runaways, as prodigals, as rebels who are cut off from
the life of God's family. And by the new covenant Christ doesn't just
exchange in a legal sense; Christ gives us His own sonship so that we
really become children of God.

When I shared this with my friends, they were like, "Yeah,
that's Paul." But when I went into the writings of Luther and Calvin, I
didn't find it any longer. They had trained me to study Scripture, but
in the process, in a sense, I discovered that there were some very
significant gaps in their teaching. So I came to the conclusion that
sola fide is wrong. First, because the Bible never says it anywhere.
Second, because Luther inserted the word "alone" in his German
translation, there in Romans 3, although he knew perfectly well that the
word "alone" was not in the Greek. Nowhere did the Holy Spirit ever
inspire the writers of Scripture to say we're saved by faith alone. Paul
teaches we're saved by faith, but in Galatians he says we're saved by
faith working in love. And that's the way it is in a family isn't it? A
father doesn't say to his kids, "Hey, kids, since you're in my family
and all the other kids who are your friends aren't, you don't have to
work, you don't have to obey, you don't have to sacrifice because, hey,
you're saved. You're going to get the inheritance no matter what you
do." That's not the way it works.

So I changed my mind and I grew very concerned. One of my most
brilliant professors, a man named Dr. John Gerstner, had once said that
if we're wrong on sola fide, I'd be on my knees outside the Vatican in
Rome tomorrow morning doing penance. Now we laughed, what rhetoric, you
know. But he got the point across; this is the article from which all of
the other doctrines flow. And if we're wrong there, we're going to have
some homework to get done to figure out where else we might have gone
wrong. I was concerned, but I wasn't overly concerned. At the time I was
planning to go to Scotland to study at Aberdeen University the doctrine
of the covenant, because in Scotland, covenant theology was born and
developed. And I was eager to go over and study there. So I wasn't
particularly concerned about resolving this issue because, after all,
that could be the focus of my doctoral study.


sara said...

Maybe this is not the right entry in which to comment on this but I'm not sure exactly where I SHOULD put it.

There seems to be a misunderstandig about what Protestants (and boy! is that a broad term) believe about "Faith Alone." I can't speak for all of non-Catholic Christendom, but I can tell you what has been growing in my own heart concerning this topic. I, by no means, have full understanding and I hope you will understand that I am neither a theologian nor a practiced apologist.

Saved by grace through faith, as Ephesians 2:8 says, means that I am saved by no work of my own but am able to receive that gift only through faith, which is itself, a gift. I cannot earn my salvation.

Does that mean I can do any old sinful thing and think I’m covered by grace? I think not. That would be cheap grace. Speaking to this very directily is Romans 6:1-2. There are others but this verse has been a lot for me to meditate on. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

There should be works in the life of a professing Christian, not because those works bring about salvation, but the other way around: salvation brings about good works. Salvation is not wrought by faith plus works; but works are an evidence of faith. If someone claims to be a Christian and does not show the works, then I would think that they are either very immature with not much faith or might be a Christian in name only. “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:20 (and also James 2:17 and well, the whole book of James)

I think another thing that I need to get in here is that even my good works are things that Christ works in and through me and are not of myself. Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

This brings me to the question of what constitutes “good works.” The book of James is a great place to begin. Among other things, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. “ James 1:27

On a personal note: I expect that my understanding of this doctrine will only grow with time since I know that my understanding of it used to be much shallower. I used to say things like, “Works grow out of love.” Well, that’s true but love is not just an emotion: it is gratitude to our Saviour and a yeildedness to His will. It is working even when we’d rather hide under the covers; even when we don’t feel like doing any good thing.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to put this in words – I’ve never done that before!

Erika S. said...

Welcome Sara! Thank you for joining our discussions. It is a great thing to start to put your faith into words. By doing that my faith has solidified and become much stronger. Thank you for posting your thoughts about Salvation Faith & Works. I do believe differently in that I believe works are necessary for salvation, those works are following the will of God. Please, if you are so inclined, do a search of the word works on this blog and read the various stances. Thank you for stopping by.

sara said...

Thanks, Erika. *smile* I have been here before, though. This is just the first time that I have commented about my own beliefs.

sara said...

ok, at your suggestion I did the search. I read this which seemed the most on point.

I'm not looking for an argument but I'd actually like to know: How does Catholicism explain Ephesians 2:8-9, specifically the parts that say "not of yourselves" and "not of works"?

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Not of works, lest any man should boast."

Kelly said...

Sara, we do not believe that we are saved by our works. We believe we are saved by God's grace, though our faith in Jesus, the one Mediator, as is manifest in our works.

I don't disagree with anything that your wrote in your first comment.

I wrote in a previous blog post that there are many places in the Gospels where Jesus speaks in parables about how we will be judged by our works. I don't understand that to mean that we are saved by our works, so much that if we lack works, then it is an indication our faith is false.

Here is where I wrote about that:

Speaking for myself, here, I feel that many born again Christians seem to think that they have earned their salvation by something that they have done. I hear people say "I'm saved because I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior." or "I became saved when I prayed the sinner's prayer."

Salvation seems to hinge, not on God's Grace, or by faith in Jesus, but by MY faith, MY acceptance, and MY prayer.

Again, that is just my perception, but it seems to me that they put just as much an emphasis on their works, just of a different sort.

Faithful Catholic said...


I've been thinking about your first post. Here's a question I have. I read where you wrote that
"There should be works in the life of a professing Christian, not because those works bring about salvation, but the other way around: salvation brings about good works."

I think this: We either are able to profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and be assured of our salvation by His grace or we're not. I think we're "not" because, even though His grace is a gift which cannot be bought and is not deserved, through faith we are able to receive it. I believe it is our faith which becomes evident in our works which opens us up to His grace. One can reject His grace. How do we reject His grace? I think by continuing to seek our own will rather than His. Through faith, we seek His will. To seek His will, "works" become necessary, do they not? We are to follow Him. If we have faith, we will follow Him, will we not? Following Him takes on the form of works, does it not? So, while following Him, works become the fruit of our faith. When we have faith, we are open to receive His grace. With His grace through our faith which manifests in our works, we are saved. So, for me, it seems we cannot be assured of our salvation just by proclaiming our belief in Him and our faith in him, we must live our faith. We are still human and still sinners and will continue to need to confess and seek forgiveness along the way. If we just simply say that we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and acknowledge that He died for our sins that we may have eternal life, if it really was as simple as that, we could then go along our merry way, sin here, there and everywhere and delude ourselves into thinking that we're "covered" but, we're not. Does this make any sense? It's hard for me to articulate this and I don't know if I've really said what I mean.

As a Catholic, I can tell you most assuredly that I don't believe that I can earn my way into heaven by my "works" but that, for me at least, my works are born out of my faith and my desire to follow His will. And that is something that I have surely not perfected and expect I never will perfect. I am constantly seeking His will and trying to do what He would have me do because I have faith in Him and love for Him above all else. I believe anything good that comes from me or comes to me is from Him a gift from Him, His grace working through me and through others for all of us. Without His grace would any of us ever be able to do that which we sometimes feel is most difficult, if not impossible, that is love each other as He has loved us? Oh what a struggle that is for me sometimes. Whenever I struggle with this, what automatically goes through my mind is "whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, this you do unto me." To see Jesus in every other person is not easy. Well, in some people it is quite easy to see Jesus but, it's the people in whom it's difficult to see Him that I have to redouble my efforts. Opportunities abound and I fall short over and over again but, if I can keep trying to get it right, if I keep trying to do His will, follow His teachings, recognizing His grace and His blessings, my faith increases, my burden is lifted, my hope increases. You are right that love is not just a feeling. Love is an act. Love is a commitment. Love is a choice we make.

I'm not acting to create "works" to be counted up to amount to enough to get me into heaven. I have hope in salvation but, I don't believe my salvation is assured. I feel it would be presumptuous of me to think I am already saved.

Now, please understand that I am not saying this to disagree with anything you've said but rather, just to explain how I look at it. I think there really are very small differences between what you've said and what I've said.

sara said...

Kelly, I think your perception about works righteousness among some Protestants is accurate and I've heard (read) it discussed among Protestants. It is taking ME quite a long time to get it into my head that I am not saved because I was smart enough to recognize a good thing - rather I am saved just because He chose me. Many do not take God's sovereignty and His grace seriously. I know I didn't and it is still something that I am trying to understand.

Anyway, thank you. I read the post you pointed me to and I certainly agree with the comment you've written to me here.

I am still confused, though. Erika wrote, " I believe works are necessary for salvation" and you wrote, "we are saved by God's grace, though our faith in Jesus, the one Mediator, as is manifest in our works." (Or perhaps I am not understanding the meaning of what one of you has written, please correct me if that is so.) Please don't think I am trying to set you against each other, but I am only asking: Is this a matter of opinion or is there a unified belief about this from the Catholic Church? Which comes first: salvation or works?

Also, since I have your ear (thank you!) I read this "The Catholic Catechism paragraph #183 states "Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mk 16:16)." " written by you here Does that mean that a person who is a Catholic but does not believe in his heart is condemned?

Anonymous said...

It would seem that the Bible says that one is saved through grace, through grace and works, and through works alone.

How does one statement hold more weight than another?

Salvation is by faith only: Romans 3:28: "... man is justified by faith without the [necessity of] deeds of the law."

Salvation is by works and faith: James 2:24: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."

Salvation is by works only: Matthew 25:34-45: "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me...Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels..."

sara said...

Faithful Catholic, I must have been typing at the same time as you. Will you give me some time to mull over what you've written? And yes, I "hear" your gentle tone. *smile*

Kelly said...

I am still confused, though. Erika wrote, " I believe works are necessary for salvation" and you wrote, "we are saved by God's grace, though our faith in Jesus, the one Mediator, as is manifest in our works." (Or perhaps I am not understanding the meaning of what one of you has written, please correct me if that is so.)

I think that Erika and I are saying the same thing in a different way. Works would be necessary for salvation because faith without works is dead. We aren't saved because of our works, but lack of works means lack of faith, and lack of faith means lack of salvation.

I'll let Erika speak up, too.

Does that mean that a person who is a Catholic but does not believe in his heart is condemned?

I don't know if there is an official doctrine on that. Elena is better than I am with Church documents, so I will defer to her.

My personal opinion is that yes, if a Catholic has an insincere faith, then they could be condemned. I know many non-practicing Catholics, who aren't really much of anything. I don't think that they would be saved just because they were baptized Catholic. The Church would still consider them Catholics, unless they formally left the Church.

Erika S. said...

Yes Kelly explained it better than me. Grace is what saves because without grace salvation would NEVER be possible, but I consider faith a state of mind that compels me to do good works (obey God, help the poor, even just being kind to others) and that good works are a manifestation of my faith, my faith comes to life if you will, faith moving from a human feeling, which we all know are very fickle, to a verb, an action that is pleasing to God. So therefore if my human nature causes me to doubt my faith I am still able to manifest my faith by doing good works and as they say actions speak louder than words.
That is why I cringe when people say that Mother Teresa maybe in hell. She doubted, she had dark places in her mind as we all do but she did not falter doing the good works that God showed her to do in spite of her human frailty. She kept doing good works for Jesus and thus her faith through works shows through.

Faithful Catholic said...

Sometimes, I think, because Catholics are frequently challenged on the "faith" vs. "faith and works" issue, a Catholic might say works are necessary. True but, not a complete explanation. My belief is that works are the result of faith. So, if you look at "by grace through faith and works" it's because works are dependent on faith and the result of faith.

If I have faith, but do not practice that faith, what benefit is it to me or anyone else? My faith must be fruitful, productive, the results of works. What are works? Are they not acts we commit based on our faith, on our desire to live as Jesus taught? What about the attitude with which we perform our works? Is that not critical? Are we performing works in order that they may be counted? Are we performing works in order that they may be opportunities for us to learn the true meaning of sacrifice? Do our sacrifices not show us the awesome magnitude of His sacrifice for us? Would we not need to sacrifice to be able to try to understand and try to appreciate the sheer magnitude of His sacrifice for us all? Could we ever, ever really, truly appreciate the magnitude of His sacrifice? Are our crosses not miniscule in comparison? If everything or anything we do comes easily, is it really a sacrifice, is it really a "work" if it "costs" us nothing?

For me, the "cost" is the opportunity to increase my faith, the opportunity to choose to love, the opportunity to try to begin to understand His sacrifice.

sara said...

Thank you everyone. I feel like I've been understood and have done my best to understand your views as well.

The only thing left hanging in my mind and heart is FC's assertion that she is not sure of her (her, right? not him?) salvation. This weighs heavily on me. (I know there are scriptures to support what I believe about assurance but I think if I started with all of that now they would fall like Bible bombs. I really dislike when people start launching scripture grenades and forget what the intial purpose was and then just want to be "right." That's fine if we're debating for exercise but I think we all take these things seriously - a matter of life and death in some cases. OK, now I'm losing track of my thought. Oh yes:) I take great comfort in knowing that the God who saved me for His purpose and to His glory and by His power is able to keep me in the same way. Not because I am strong enough to hold on to the end, but because He is able.

Blondie said...

Many "faith-only" believers don't really have the assurance of salvation. They say they know they are saved, but if you point to a person who is living a worldly life, or who have become atheist, and if that person at one time had accepted Jesus Christ, they will tell you that it must not have been a "true" conversion.

So here's my question: How are they to know they won't turn away themselves? It's sad, but I know several people who accepted Jesus, were "on fire" for the Lord, got baptized, and today are no longer walking with God, and have completely lost their faith. When they first went through the conversion process, they would NEVER have thought they would be where they are now. Are they "backsliding"? Is a self-proclaimed atheist going to heaven, because they sincerely accepted Jesus and confessed their faith before becoming atheist? I don't believe so.

ALSO I've known many Protestants who have had more than one "backsliding" experience, and have been baptized and rebaptized, because they weren't sure their first conversion was real. I've also heard non-Catholic Christians say, "I'm not sure I'm really saved...did I say the right can I be sure?" I went through this constantly before I became Catholic, and I've known many others who have also.

Doesn't sound like assurance of salvation to me. This is what Catholics mean by saying we cannot have assurance of salvation. We do NOT KNOW what the future holds - we hope we will keep the faith and walk with God for the rest of our earthly lives, but we simply don't know. We do believe that if we turn away and die in this state, we will not go to heaven.

Faithful Catholic said...


I, for one, appreciate it when people use scriptures to discuss and ask questions and justify their thoughts and beliefs. I think it depends on how you use them whether or not they are viewed as "Bible bombs" (I like that expression. Never heard it before.) Here's something that strikes me: if I have assurance, what is the need for hope? I believe that God wants us all in heaven. That is part of what gives me hope for my own salvation. I believe I have to cooperate, be open to His grace, receive His grace and have faith in Him. Could I ever be thankful enough for the promise of, the hope of salvation by His sacrifice if it were a sure thing?

This sort of discussion is profitable, I think. So nice to not feel like I'm arguing or that my statements are not being rejected outright. Thank you, Sara.

Oh, I almost forgot. Sara, yes I am a woman.

sara said...

OK, OK. *chuckle* I'm dragging out the concordance.

sara said...

Blondie - These are good questions that I really don't have the answers to. It's what I meant by saying that I was still figuring out His sovereignty. I will say that whether or not someone is just backsliding or is redeemable is up to God. It is He who hardens the heart. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking Hebrews 6:4-6. If I were a backslider (and I was) and I found myself drawn back to the Lord, I'd praise His holy Name that repentance was granted unto me again; that it was not impossible for me to be renewed.

Faithful, I'm getting to you. ;-)

sara said...

OK, DH is on his way home so I'm trying to hurry.

Faithful, Could I ever be thankful enough for the promise of, the hope of salvation by His sacrifice if it were a sure thing?

As a matter of opinion, I don't think we can ever be "enough" of anything. That's where grace comes in. But as far as gratitude goes I think Luke 7:41-47.

Now about assurance I am currently looking at two scripture passages. The first one seems to be very familiar in this kind of conversation. It is John 10:27-29. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and thy follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." Of course the response to this is usually something along the lines of "...but we can willingly walk away." To which I say, there's that "will" thing again.

Also Hebrews 11:1. (All of this chapter is great for seeing that faith must be belief in action. It's really wonderful.) "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." or in the NIV "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

Hubby's home and baby is fussing and it's ONE IN THE MORNING! so that's all I'm gonna do for tonight.

Thanks all. Good night.

sara said...

y'know I think I made it sound like I was coming back so in case anyone is still watching this...

Perplexity, I don't think it's a question of which verse or passage carries more weight or even a question of faith OR works. Most Christians, at least verbally, will say that both are necessary. The question is about the relationship between faith and works - how do they work together.

I believe that faith, real faith, the confidence that what God has said is REALLY REAL will produce works. If I believe that Jesus died for my justification, if I believe that while I was yet a sinner Christ died for me, if I believe that my vile body shall be changed and "fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to sudue all things unto himself," if I believe that God is not a man that He should lie, then I will live my life for Him, I will "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." As my faith increases, as I continue to be transformed by the renewing of my mind, I begin to resemble Jesus more and more. I am not being blasphemous about this - it has nothing to do with my own righteousness which is as filthy rags - it is according to His grace and by His sacrifice and for His glory.

So I believe that faith brings works but I don't believe there is any reciprocity of works for faith. There can be outward conformity but it will not create faith.

Faithful Catholic,
I've given more thought to the idea of assurance.

I've thought of two other verses.

"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen." Jude, verses 24 and 25


"Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6

Leaving aside for now the question of potential future falling away on my part, if I die right now, do I know where I am going? Is Jesus my Saviour or is He only my possible Saviour?

There is surely lots more to be said on both sides of this issue but I think I'll be retiring for awhile. :-D I have really enjoyed chatting with all of you.