Faith v. Works

Faith v. Works, it’s a case that has been on trial among Christians for centuries. Just like many wars, I suspect that some blindly follow its cause. Some followers don’t even know its origin or even what they’re fighting for after being so many generations removed from the onset. For some, it’s a case they were taught to defend from early childhood, but never really understood its purpose and meaning. I suspect that this is the case for some, and likely many. Unfortunately, I think this case has gone on far too long and with unfortunate consequences. Fortunately, I think rational minds may be able to bring this case to a close with a peaceful resolution, even if only among themselves.

The impetus for this discursion is the notion that non-Christians cannot know God if they do not know Jesus, that they cannot be saved (past, present and future) if they do not believe that Jesus is God. Those who hold such a notion often refer to the first two thirds of passages in Romans chapter 10 for support, such as Romans 10:9: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” They even use parts of Romans 10 as a link to Jesus’ Great Commission (see Mark 16:15 and Romans 10:14-15), which they use to reinforce the importance of the confession of the mouth, and consequently faith.

Now, I do not intend to diminish in any way the value of the confession of mouth that Jesus is God, or going into all the world preaching the Gospel. These things when done in the right spirit are precious and bring glory to God. However, if these things are not done, it doesn’t preclude someone from knowing God, or being saved. The common rebuttal to this argument is to quote John 14:6, which says: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'” Yes, I believe this to be true, but in a profoundly different way than the rebutter.

Ironically, the latter third of Romans chapter 10 provides some insight as to God’s character, and how people who don’t know the name of Jesus may know God and may have salvation. Paul cites passages from Psalms and Isaiah (see Romans 10:16-21) almost as if to calm and reassure believers that God reveals Himself to all inhabitants of earth, even if the revelations do not include Jesus by story and name. After all, is it our belief in what God has done that makes it significant, or is it independently what God has done that is significant? I’d argue the latter. Whether or not people know the story of Jesus, it does nothing to diminish the significance of Jesus. It is then in the hands of Almighty God to dispense grace and salvation, afforded to us by the atonement of Jesus, as He deems. Redemption with God is afforded to us by the atonement of Jesus, which correlates to John 4:16, but redemption with God is not reserved to only to those who have heard the story and name of Jesus, or confessed with their mouth that Jesus is God.

If you agree with the last sentence, then wouldn’t you agree that the debate over faith versus works is futile? Of course, one could argue that works are the outpouring of faith, so as to give faith preeminence. And of course, the other could argue that works is proof of faith, so as to give works preeminence. But, does one need to do a particular work to hold a particular faith? Or, does one need a particular faith to do a particular work? I think not. But, what would be the point of doing a particular work without holding a particular faith, or holding a particular faith without doing a particular work?

Faith and works only exist and have purpose when united. There is no dichotomy between faith and works, rather they are symbiotic. It may just be that what you say is not what you do, or what you do is not what you say – that you may place your faith in something other than what you profess, or that you do works that contradict your faith. I suspect that James would agree with me. James 2:21-24 says, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”

So, isn’t the debate between faith and works unnecessary and unproductive? I think so. Would it not be better to focus on the ways in which our worldviews either support or contradict our way of life and visa versa? Wouldn’t we then have a greater understanding for what it is we really have faith in and why we do the works that we do? Again, I think so. It is the only way to increase knowledge of, responsibility to and care for. Of course, there are those who subscribe to the saying “ignorance is bliss,” but if they are capable of knowing, responsibility and care, I strongly believe they’re choosing ignorance at their peril.

And yet, perhaps these questions may remain for some: why become a Christian, or why do Christian proselytize, if knowing Jesus is not required to know God, or if confessing with the mouth that Jesus is God is not required to be saved? First, Christians believe that Jesus is God and that God is the one and only God. Christians believe that God is the one and only Truth and that there are no other gods. Second, just as one cannot know someone fully, even if your spouse, one can know someone more fully. The more one communes with another, the more one understands the other. Christians believe that if there is a faith we ought to hold, and works we ought to do, then there is God we ought to know, trust and obey – and He exists.

– Terrence

* Origin of Discursion: Talking with friends about misunderstandings about Christianity and the significance of Jesus.


Filed under Terrence

32 responses to “Faith v. Works

  1. Holly Hosler

    I might have used different words, but I agree with you.

    Your suggestion that there is no dichotomy between works and faith reminds me of this verse, which was in the lectionary readings two days ago:

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” — MATTHEW 7:21

    I would also argue that we send out missionaries and share our faith with our friends because of Jesus’ command to “go out into the world and make disciples of all nations.” I find it interesting that the emphasis here is on making disciples rather than “saving people.” It is not within our power to save; that’s God’s work.

  2. Holly, thanks for your comments. I not only find it interesting, but I find it strange that some Christians emphasize “saving people” rather than making disciples. I suppose this is why I’m so repulsed by the act of Christians standing on the street corner yelling turn or burn to the masses. I find this strategy tacy and highly ineffective. I’d postulate that it does more harm to Christianity than good.

  3. GCC

    Very nice post, Terrence. I agree that the faith v. works debate is a bit odd. To me, basing theology on the idea that faith and only faith saves is like basing biology on the idea that breathing and only breathing makes us live. Not only can neither stand on its own, but also the idea is so very simple, basic and obvious. For instance, it’s always strange to me when people suggest that we can’t “save” ourselves with our works but only God can save us, thus we must have faith. If one already believes in a creator-God, one necessarily believes that we can’t even exist without God. Saying we need God to do or achieve anything is like saying we need eyes to see and ears to hear, or that we couldn’t do something without our parents. Given that that is so obvious, how could God build a “salvation program” based on it? Does God want us merely to understand that there is a creator-God and that will “save” us? We don’t even need the Bible to come to that conclusion, so that can’t be the crux (so to speak) of God’s plan.

    I currently see faith in two ways: 1.) It’s about having a personal relationship with the creator-God. Obviously, each personal relationship will be different, so while Jesus maybe part of that relationship for some, he need not be for others. 2.) Faith is not about belief in God or God’s identity, but rather belief that God will come through, honor God’s promises and covenants, etc. We carry out God’s will with the faith that God will fulfill God’s end of the bargain. A nice way to describe this sort of faith is this: Imagine your car slid into a ditch on a deserted road at 4am. You call your friend to come help you. You don’t have faith that your friend exists. You don’t have faith that your friend’s identity is one thing in particular. You know who your friend is and know that he/she exists. You have faith that your friend will really come to your aid. It is a matter of faith that your friend will get up, put on pants, and drive out to the middle of nowhere to get you. You know your friend, but you have faith that he/she will come through.

    The analogy of the friendship is interesting to me because of how the world seems to work in that regard. It is uncommon for us to come to the aid of strangers in such a way as described above. Even among friends it is generally only the closest of them for whom we would do such things – or even on whom we would call in such situations. Given that what God does (or can do) for us is infinitely greater that what our friends can do, it seems necessary that we make as much of an effort as we can to develop a closer and closer personal relationship with God. How do we develop more intimate relationships with our friends? We spend time with them. We do things for them. We share things with them. Etc. And the same goes for God. We spend time with God (i.e. prayer, study, etc.). We do things for God (i.e. fulfill commandments or do God’s will). We share things with God (i.e. charity). Etc. Notice, however, that in developing a closer relationship with friends we do not spend much time thinking about how much faith with have in our friend, or worrying about the identity of the friend. Knowing more and more the specific identity of the friend is not what brings us close. Rather, the things we do with and for our friends is what brings us close. And it is the same with God. The things that we do to foster our relationships with God are not matters of faith they are works. The works put us in a position to have faith that God will indeed come through.

    Finally, here’s a quote from an article by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori: “When we look at some of the lives of holy people who follow other religious traditions, what do we see? Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama both exemplify Christ-like lives. Would we assume that there is no grace present in lives like these? A conclusion of that sort seems to verge on the only unforgivable sin, against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:30-32).” The entire article, which centers around the idea of baptism – which in this context is more or less synonymous with “faith” – being necessary for salvation, is worth reading in the context of this post and can be found here:

  4. GCC

    This post also makes me think of a number of questions. Here are some of them:

    How many other citations of scripture for proof of a given theological position might be changed when placed in context – or can be understood very differently in their context, both within the text itself and historically?

    If there can be different understandings and interpretations of things like John 14:6, why don’t we assume that other texts may also be differently, yet adequately, interpreted? (e.g. Romans 1:26-27, Jude 1:7, John 14:11, John 10:30)

    What about the “proof texts” that Paul himself uses – particularly in Romans 10? Paul quotes some important texts there. Does he take things out of context? Does he even translate it very well? Does Paul manipulate texts to change their meaning? Do those texts in reality actually even come close to meaning what Paul seems to want them to mean as justification for his ideas of salvific faith (or other topics)?

    What is the historical impetus for the development of the idea of salvific faith? Is there more than one? Does it come about at more than one point in history? Are there particular leaders or theologians who emphasize it? How does that then fit their other theology? Where does the faith vs. works debate come from? Was “justification by faith” necessary for Christianity historically? Is it now?

    Why is weight given to certain parts of scripture over others? This is particularly interesting in the case of Paul and James. James was apparently Jesus’ brother and knew him personally, throughout his life. It seems one can assume he would have been one of Jesus’ most intimate associates. In contrast, Paul’s relationship with Jesus is arguably more similar to that of Joseph Smith. Paul never met Jesus, but Paul did have a personal and revelation of Jesus – just like Joseph Smith. So, the question takes on another dimension. Not only is it a wonder that we place certain parts of scripture above others – not taking it as whole – but also that many tend to place Paul above James and, in some cases, even Jesus.

    If Christian Scripture can’t even agree on this issue, why is it that so many Christians can? Could it be that they’re reading their Bibles selectively? If that’s the case, are they really just following in Paul’s footsteps, ignoring the overarching message of all of Scripture, while molding it selectively to fit what it is they are looking for?

  5. Grant, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

    I think your question “How many other citations of scripture for proof of a given theological position might be changed when placed in context – or can be understood very differently in their context, both within the text itself and historically?” may have been intended to hint at the answer “a lot,” in which case I’d agree. I’d add that by using the subjective term “a lot,” I mean more than we are aware. A more robust answer to your question may be that it depends on the accuracy of one’s interpretation and theology in relation to Truth. This would give way to a bigger question then, which is who and what is Truth, and how do we come to know Truth? Obviously an enormous question.

    The assumption that “other texts may also be differently, yet adequately, interpreted,” should not be a license to interpret according to your preference. This is what I attempted to address in the article “Interpret Jesus.” Biblical texts had original purpose and very specific meaning at the time they were written. That’s not to say that God cannot use these texts to impact people one different from the other. It’s not to say that someone today cannot encounter and interact with an ancient text, understand and interpret the text entirely different than the original audience or the next person in line and not walk away with something positive that reinforces Truth (righteous living doesn’t necessarily require perfect understanding or interpretation). And, it’s not to say Biblical texts are not interconnected and that beneficial and worthwhile discursions cannot ensue. But, it is to say that I think God has certain parameters around ways we ought to understand and interpret Scripture, and ways we ought not to. So, again, the bigger question who and what is Truth, and how do we come to know Truth?

    I really enjoyed your onslaught of questions starting with Paul – the former Jew, convert to Jesus Christ – and through the next paragraph. These are good questions, proof of a discursing mind. They are questions worth asking and seeking answers for. Perhaps these are questions you need or want to wrestle with strongly and attempt to answer. Perhaps you will find Paul genuine and glorifying to God. Perhaps you will see God in a different light that will enable you to answer questions regarding the soundness of historical and present day Christian theology.

    Your question “Why is weight given to certain parts of scripture over others?” is valid, but who does this? Who places Paul’s writings over James’? Could it be that Paul’s writings resonate more to others than James’? Is there anything wrong with that? Could it be that they enjoy Paul’s writings more and/or find them more impactful, and as a result reference Paul’s writings more frequently giving it the appearance that Paul’s writings have more weight? And, who places Paul above Jesus? I would find that infinitely disturbing, strange, unfortunate and wrong.

    The disagreement among Christians is no different than any other religion, nor is it any different than disagreements people have regarding non-religious matters, nor is it even different than disagreements we have everyday with people close to us. The common denominator is that we are not Truth and we cannot know Truth fully, but that we need Truth and we need to know Truth more fully. I’d argue that we can only come to know Truth more fully by employing intellectual curiosity and honesty, as well as seeking God with all our heart, soul and mind. It reappears again… so, who and what is Truth, and how do we come to know Truth?

  6. Peachey Carnehan

    Opening note: Equality 7-2521 here. I have decided that name is far too political and not fitting for a forum such as this. So, new pseudonym. I found a “Pen Name Generator” that gave me the name “Wilhelm Schnotz” which has a nice ring to it. Then I wanted to use my heritage and combined family names to create Robert Guillaume, but realized that was Benson. Finally I decided on a non-offensive character with no connections political or religious. Anyway, Thank you for the understanding. On with the show.


    There is a great lack of humility in a statement such as “I think rational minds may be able to bring this case to a close with a peaceful resolution, even if only among themselves.” This statement is disrespectful to every biblical scholar, Christian philosopher and soldier in God’s Army that has lived for the past two millennia and argued this same issue. Please do not suppose that you are re-inventing the wheel with this blog.

    Terrence, I think that you are missing the point completely. Faith and Works are not intertwined, they are separate, distinct and each important in their own right. To claim that they are intertwined (at least in the way you seem to be suggesting) is to diminish each. But forgive me if I am confused about your point of view, it was rather hard to follow. You start by stating that you wish to discuss Faith v. Works and then in the next paragraph jump into Universalist heresy.

    I think it is probably the language here that bothers me the most. If you want to suggest that you have a particular belief and that it may or may not be true, then please say so. But please don’t make statements like those in your third paragraph, which suggest that anyone can be saved apart from knowledge of God, and present them as some sort of agreed upon truth. Statements like that can be seen as heresy and the only people who will agree with you are likely non-christians and those that are shaky in their faith and have the childish desire for everyone to go to heaven, regardless of what they do or believe on earth.

    Christianity is a hard nut to swallow. Many people labor under false impressions about the Faith and that leads to some serious doctrinal (or dogmatic?) issues that could potentially lead many into hell. Let’s not compound those problems with more shoddy theology.

    But back to the main point: Faith and Works are separate. Faith saves, works sustain our faith and are the outpouring of God’s grace through us. The epistles are clear on this point.

    “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. “(Ephesians 2:8-9)

    “. . . a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. “(Galatians 2:16)

    “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being made justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. “(Titus 3:5-7)

    I could go on. All of these passages clearly state that salvation is by faith through grace alone, and not of works. But this is not to diminish works. Works are the outpouring of a life lived for Christ. The fruit we bear. This was the point that James was trying to make. Works follow a life lived for Christ. The absence of works is evidence of false faith.

    “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10) So even James is saying that works cannot save you. If you put your faith in works you had better really believe that you have never sinned.

    This brings me to the other side of my point. I believe that the issue of works is two-fold. Where good works are a sign of a life lived for Christ, bad works (or sin) is a sign of just the opposite. We cannot be saved whilst living in impenitent sin and since if we were truly saved God’s grace would flow through us, then we need to re-examine our lives when they are filled with sin. Again, we will be known by the fruit that we bear. This is what James is getting at, and why he seems to be in contention with the rest of scripture. But the following, to me anyway, suggests that he is not in contention with scripture, but rather asking us to put our money where our mouth is. Or put Christ’s Grace where our hands are?

    “But prove yourself doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:22)

    But it seems that the entire point of this blog posting is not to discuss the merits of the Faith v. Works argument, but rather to make a case for Christian Universalism.

    Universal Reconciliation was rejected by the Church in the sixth century by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. The scriptural reasons are obvious.

    “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32

    Revelation 3:5 ‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

    “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:41-46

    Finally, two last issues. Grant, in response to your questions about Paul and whether or not we can believe his writings I have two answers. The first is the scriptural admonition that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16). But this is not a proof that a non-beliver can accept, and certainly might seem flimsy due to the source. Consider then the person and character of Saul of Tarsus. A jew of the tribe of Benjamin, Saul (later known by his greek name Paul) was an educated jew and Roman citizen and a Pharisee. He was fluent in both Greek and Hebrew. For these reasons I believe that we can assume some level of authority in his writings, at least in that he did not mistranslate, manipulate or confuse the scriptures that he was using. But I suppose that is a big leap of faith. How one can one know anything?

    And as the last issue I will address: Considering the issue of the authority of Paul, there should be some basis for establishing the credibility of other quoted sources as well, and the authority of those sources. I have seen consistent quoting of Ms. Katherine Jefferts-Schori by the Discursionists as some kind of expert on Christianity. This is, in my opinion, no different than quoting the Dali Lama or Madonna on the same subject. Although both the Dali Lama and Madonna are “spiritual” people, neither are Christians or biblical scholars. Ms. Jefferts-Schori’s undergraduate work was in biology and aside from her M.Div, her graduate work is all in oceanography. We have no way of knowing the makeup of her M.Div coursework, and whether it was rigourous in biblical exegeis or based more on Episcopal doctrine and new age philosophy. An M.Div can vary wildly in orthodoxy or lack thereof. Her M.Div alma mater is a school of the Episcopal Church in The United States of America, and the ECUSA is generally considered to be one of the most liberal of Christian denominations and their doctrine is widely rejected by not only other denominations but by other branches of the Episcopal Church, with several schisms occuring within the ECUSA in just the last quarter century. Keep in mind that even Ms. Jefferts-Schori’s election as Primate of the ECUSA (and just about every major decision she has made since) has served to place the church in turmoil, to the point that Ms. J-S attempted to claim that schism was a worse sin than heresy. So, in conclusion, if Ms. Jefferts-Schori would like to give advice on maintaining an aquarium or growing sea sponges, I would be all ears. However, when it comes to matters of Biblical and Doctrinal importance I trust more learned sources that do not wantonly pick and choose which sections of scripture and Christian Dogma they will and will not abide by.

    Regardless of what he has to say, I look forward to reading John’s take on this issue.

  7. Peachey Carnehan

    I apologize for taking up so much space but I feel I must make a few additions to my previous post.

    I will probably be accused of making an ad hominem abusive attack on Ms. Jefferts-Schori. Although I think that I showed that her reasoning about grace was faulty in the second paragraph preceding my comments on her, I can see how my statements about her credibility could be cast aside with the simple claim that I was attacking her character. Please bear in mind that I believe that Ms. Jefferts-Schori is likely a fine human being, and truly believes herself when she opines on the scriptures. However, I also think that establishing the credibility and authority of a source is essential to any reasoned debate on an issue and in this case, Ms. Jefferts-Schori is the modern leader of one denomination and has not proven to be a remotely reliable source or authority on Christendom as a whole.

    Paul on the other hand, has generally been seen as an authority on Christianity by almost all Christian denominations throughout history. So just as I attempted to refute Ms. J-S’s comments on grace with scripture, (I know, terrible source) I ask that we would provide evidence of Paul’s inability to properly translate or understand scripture, rather than engage in actual ad hominem attacks on a man dead for almost two thousand years.

  8. czf

    Well, Peachey, quite a post.
    I must say that I can appreciate your hard-line stance (which is what we have here).
    Christianity is indeed a hard nut to swallow. And you remind me of how I came about the decision of leaving the faith rather than continue the attempt to bend Christianity to my will.

    Also, you’ve reminded me why I think that was the right decision.

    On a side note.
    1. I seriously doubt that Paul had a graduate degree in Biblical Exegesis.
    2. Your use of the word ‘liberal’ as a boogey-man term for the Episcopal church betrays your ideological rigidity. Give me a denomination of Christianity who does not have teachings denounced by another. (Accusations of heresy? Really?) If your reading of scripture were the right one, and this were in any way demonstrable, why would there be any differentiation at all, let alone the thousands (and thousands) that exist. Such differences and accusations lie in the heart of Protestant Christianity.

  9. Peachey Carnehan

    Was it ever in question that I am a hard-liner?

    I don’t think that I use the term “liberal” as a boogey man. Rather, it is your interpretation of that word. I use it not in the sense of politics (which has bastardized our words) but in the actual, literal sense and to emphasize the fact that you cannot hold views that are anathema to Christianity and expect to speak for Christendom. Neither can you argue the tenants of Christianity while using such widely rejected source.

    Please point to where I state that Paul had a Masters degree. I must have blacked out while typing.

    I am also sorry that you were unable to accept Christianity for what it is. It takes casting aside some rather childish notions that are, unfortunately, still taught by some denominations of the church.

  10. Peachey Carnehan

    There is also a difference between denominations having a difference of doctrinal belief (which is quite common) and disagreeing an on dogmatic issues. (Which is where the charge of heresy usually comes from)

    But you knew this, right?

  11. czfinke

    I did.

    And I only point the humor I find in criticising Ms. Jefferts-Schori based on a master’s degree she received. I would stick to simply criticising the points she makes.

    I was using Liberal in the same sense you were. Liberal and Conservative are based on where you’re sitting. Much as we may wish it weren’t so.

  12. GCC

    One might also note that a Bishop’s primary role is pastoral. As Presiding Bishop, Dr. Jefferts Shori is the chief pastor of The Episcopal Church, not the chief theologian or chief exegete. With that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that quotes she gives in such articles are more about about shepherding her flock than they are about establishing doctrine. And due to her specific role in The Episcopal Church, I can’t imagine she’d claim to speak for anyone outside that group, let alone such a potentially expansive group as Christendom. Of course, she does have that whole apostolic succession thing going for her, so maybe her pastoral work is imbued with more Spirit-guided doctrinal developments than I can tell.

    When it comes to Paul and other New Testament writers the nice thing is that we can check up on them ourselves.

    The comments above remind me that I don’t think I’ve ever seen definition 0f “Christian(ity).”

  13. Peachey Carnehan

    If KJS’s comments are simply meant to shepherd her flock, then why are they presented here as some kind of a defense for a certain Christian point of view? Either she speaks for and to Episcopalians, or for and to Christendom. You can’t have it both ways.

    But regardless of her role in the Episcopal Church, she must be held accountable for her words, and if those words are grounded in false theology and lead others astray from a relationship with Christ, she is responsible for that. One would hope that the pastoral head of a church would recognize this fact and perhaps be more careful in their voiced suppositions.

    And I didn’t criticize her based on the masters degree she earned, I criticized her stance and used (perhaps inappropriately) her masters degree as the basis to establish her lack of authority in Christian theology.

    It wouldn’t be an issue if she wasn’t consistently quoted as an authoritative source on Christianity, which was my initial point.

  14. Christopher


    You managed to regurgitate the same arguments against the Presiding Bishop as have some primates from the Global South and other non-developed regions, most of whom are still having a difficult time accepting the legitimacy of female ordination, let alone the apostolic succession of women. You state that there is a difference between “rigorous biblical exegesis and Episcopal doctrine,” as if to suggest that one trained in an Episcopal seminary were not subject to the stringent exegesis of advanced theological coursework. You may be correct, but what is your evidence to support such a statement?

    You also point to the diversity of theological understanding within the Anglican Communion as a hindrance to its legitimacy of doctrinal thought. I propose that the only rational response to sacramental Christian faith lie in open debate. This is the beauty of a world communion, one in which even vehemently differing opinions are shared under one roof: people have the opportunity to learn from one another as opposed to just running away screaming “heresy!” The reason why schism is detrimental to the advancement of theological understanding is because it allows us to simply ignore those with whom we disagree – not very conducive to the radical and transformational faith of which Christ spoke. However, the fear of schism should not be a hindrance in holding back parts of the Anglican communion from pursuing even greater theological understanding that what is commonly accepted.

    When you mention that St. Paul has been almost universally accepted by Christians as a legitimate source for theological understanding, might YOUR acceptance of this simply be because he was one of the first? Also, I refute this statement because there is as much theological speculation regarding the legitimacy of Pauline thought as there is toward Katherine. And for you to assume that Paul DID NOT mis-translate scripture is as assumptive as stating that he DID.

    Probably the most preposterous statement that you make is that Madonna is equal as a theologian to an ordained Bishop with seminary training. Your point fails to recognize that while the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist, and Madonna an apparent Kabbalah-ist, The Most Rev. Katherine actually IS a Christian and heir to the Apostolic succession of bishops. And as you so colorfully prove, that in and of itself is no protection from criticism (nor should it be). Out of curiosity, what are the “learned sources” you trust more than a scientist cum cleric?

  15. Peachey Carnehan

    Well czf, the regurgitation of truth is still truth. Perhaps the “Global South and other non-developed regions” that you speak of with such apparent disdain have a greater concept of biblical truth than the so-called developed world that seems more concerned with political correctness.

    Maybe my doubting of her theology was misdirected. I made the poor assumption that because she ignores so many scriptural issues, that she was ignorant of them. It is just as likely that she is just choosing to ignore them. But either road leads to the same destination.

    The reason I pointed to the “diversity of theological understanding within the Anglican Communion” was to highlight the original fact, again, that KJS is not a widely accepted authority on Christendom even within her own denomination, and holds several views that are actually heretical. I don’t use that word lightly, and the reason I brought up the schism within the Episcopalian Church was to highlight that apparently many other Bishops do not take that word, or these issues, lightly either. This is why schism is not a common undertaking in any denomination. The issues are debated endlessly, and when it becomes apparent that one party is set on maintaining a point of view antithetical to the biblical teachings of the church, only then does schism occur. It just happens that this particular denomination has seen a lot of that because they engage in so much heretical teaching. That’s not my fault.

    And thank you for recognizing that my statement about Madonna was preposterous. You actually got that one. My point was that I do not hold the views of Bishop Jefferts-Schori with any high regard because of her repeated and unrepentant attempts to mainline heretical thought within the Christian Church. Someone who acts in a consistent state of opposition to scripture can’t be taken very seriously when they start waxing philosophic on scripture. She obviously has no regard for it. I would trust the words of anyone over her if they speak scriptural truth, which she has a hard time doing.

  16. Peachey Carnehan

    After thinking about it CZF, my favorite part of your post was this nugget:

    This is the beauty of a world communion, one in which even vehemently differing opinions are shared under one roof: people have the opportunity to learn from one another as opposed to just running away screaming “heresy!”

    What about those that run away from the church whilst screaming “enlightenment!”?

  17. Joseph

    What about those that run away from the church whilst screaming “enlightenment!”?

    hee hee 🙂 I dunno, what about us?

  18. czf

    Christopher is not czf. (though my name is indeed Christopher).
    Just so we’re clear. I don’t want to be tagged with anyone else’s argument.

  19. GCC

    The funny thing is that some might view CZF’s departure from Christianity and Christopher’s embrace of The Episcopal Church as the same thing. Indeed, that may even be the source of the confusion!


  20. John

    I’d rather lurk than get into this debate, but I wanted to just make a brief observation that’s neither here nor there.

    I was in Canterbury last year during the Lambeth Conference. Dozens of African bishops refused to attend, so it was a smaller group than normal. But the one thing that most struck me was the deliberate rejection of any attempt to reach consensus on any issue. The bishops broke into discussion groups (a certain African type, but I forget the term) in which all aired their opinions, but they were told by explicit terms by Rowan Williams that no firm position should be reached by any group. The conference ended with a lengthy service, during which the cathedral was off-limits to visitors like me–damn it! 😉

    So, they discussed but reached no conclusions…didn’t even TRY to reach conclusions. I remember most of the British op-eds written afterward remarked on how the Anglican church had essentially decided to table every contentious issue for another ten years and how strange that seemed.

    Just thought I’d throw that out there…back to lurking.

  21. Brandon

    That’s okay, John. The only important thing is whether they fostered dialogue or not. Maybe even some understanding. I totally get why they didn’t want to come to any of those (nasty little divisive) conclusions!– but did they ask the right questions? But, I guess, what is “right?” Oh well, I just hope they scored some pizza and asked some questions.


    No offense to anyone who values, like me, questions and debate, but aren’t they only important insofar as they lead us to conclusions/truth/etc.? (But of course I mean the caricature above slightly tongue-in-cheek.)

  22. Christopher

    Good observations, John! I’m sorry the Cathedral was off limits to you during that time, as I’ve sung there and can attest to its magnificence.

    I think even diametrically opposed viewpoints on a number of issues were discontented by last year’s Lambeth. But what does this really mean?….that people with specific political agendas weren’t able to see them through to fruition. Perhaps this is for the better.

    Archbishop Rowan’s reign seems to be one more focused on dialogue than codifying dogma. Maybe 8 more years of discernment, development, and the progression of life is whats needed right now.

  23. blraatikka

    I suppose I should qualify this a bit. Perhaps the Archbishop wanted to table conclusions until more the African bishops were brought back into the fold in order to push forth initiaives under a broader mantle of unity. Perhaps God told him to direct the confererce in this way. Or perhaps a dozen other factors played into his directive that would make it much more (if not completely) palatable to me. But it’s my opinion that intellectual timidity is too prevalent in these kind of matters, so I’m commenting based on a hunch (which may be unfounded or incorrect)…

  24. GCC

    HA! That sounds just like the Anglican Communion I’m getting to know. It’s too bad some Bishops refused to attend though. They must not be on board with what the ABC has apparently concluded is the most important truth. And given that that truth (as I’m understanding it) is God as manifested in community, those who refused to attend unfortunately dimish the power of that truth.

    Are questions and debate only important insofar as they lead to conclusions/truth/etc.? The way I think you mean this (defining “conclusion” as something like “reaching a firm position”), Brandon, the answer is, Absolutely not.

  25. Dear Equality 867-5309 (aka: Equality 7-2521, Prometheus, Wilhelm Schnotz, Robert Guillaume, Peachey Carnehan), I can understand how you could perceive a lack of humility in my statement “I think rational minds may be able to bring this case to a close with a peaceful resolution, even if only among themselves.” However, I believe you disregarded the operative word in my statement… “may.” I didn’t say “will.” Therefore, I contest that your charge lacks merit. Further, is it really disrespectful to anyone if I’m confident that we can use logic to arrive at the conclusion that faith and works are inseparable? I’d argue not.

    I do not understand why you would assert: “Please do not suppose that you are re-inventing the wheel with this blog.” That accusation seems highly assumptive. At least you used the word “please.” For the record, I do not think I’m re-inventing the wheel, or any wheel for that matter. However, I am trying to restore and/or enhance the way we know and use the wheel. I would call that stewardship – a good thing. Through discursion with others, I sincerely hope I’m a part of something that advances this cause, even if it is me that needs to be corrected. Otherwise, why do this?

    Sure, perhaps my style is a bit hard to follow, but that is somewhat the art of discursion. The example you cite is: “You start by stating you wish to discuss Faith v. Works and then in the next paragraph jump into Universalist heresy.” Whoever said Faith v. Works couldn’t be a part of Universalism? I believe that the Faith v. Works case is inextricably linked with Universalism, which I went on to explain (although likely with a very different definition of Universalism than yours). So, is the “jumping” in the mind of the author, or that of the reader?

    Now, you say that I’m missing the point – completely actually. I’d argue just the opposite. I think the reason you missed my point is that you’re approaching faith and works as stationary objects rather than objects of action. In doing so, I think you’re approaching faith and works theoretically and not practically. What good is faith or works if it is not embodied in something alive and in action? Do faith and works not require a host who is alive and active in order for them to be exercised? Is an alive and active host in the realm of theory or practice? Even if one were to argue theory, wouldn’t you agree that one cannot hold a theory in theory, but only hold theory in practice? This is a practical world. Even theory is predicated in practice. Faith and works do not exist in theory, they only exist in practice.

    Although faith and works are not the same thing, they have no importance or purpose independently. Faith is believed in the mind and works are done by the body. In this regard, sure, they are independent in terms of composition and location. But, they are not independent in terms of action and purpose. When one holds a faith or does a work, where does the action and purpose of the mind end and the body start, or visa versa? How can faith of the mind have purpose without works of the body to support it? How can works of the body have purpose without faith of the mind to direct it? Contrary to your position, faith and works are not diminished by being inseparable, but rather have importance and purpose by being inseparable.

    Faith is a reflection of works, and works are a reflection of faith. People have faith in “this” and therefore do “this,” and people do “this” and therefore have faith in “this.” One could argue that one can do works contrary to their faith. I’d argue that in this case, one’s faith indeed is contrary to the faith they profess to hold. It’s say versus do, which is fairly commonplace. One could also argue that one can do works without faith. However, if one exists, and is alive, then they must think about and do something, even if it is what we call nothing (e.g., sitting still, staring into space, twiddling of thumbs, thinking of empty space, etc…). So, what it is that they do, is that in which they place their faith. Everyone holds faith and everyone does works. Everyone uses faith to direct works and works to support faith. No one can have faith but not works, or works and not faith.

    Really, my main point in this rebuttal is that faith and works are inseparable. They are not primarily stationary objects, they are primarily objects of action. They do not exist in theory, they exist in practice. They have importance and purpose in practice. They must be in practice for all and are in unison in practice at all times. They are cyclically and inextricably linked. Faith and works have importance and purpose because they are inseparable.

    I will soon address your charges of heresy and shoddy theology, charges which you may want to reconsider. I will also interact with some verses you quote. Although I disagree with your style and charges, I do appreciate your contribution to this discursion and at The Discursionists.

    Just as a reminder, I don’t claim to be God or the arbiter of Truth. However, I believe that I know some of who God is and some of God’s Truth. Remember, I’m open to changing my position if convinced otherwise, and believe I have every incentive to be corrected. I desire to know God and God’s Truth more fully, which I hope you and everyone else does too. This is part of my attempt.

  26. I said I would, so here I go…

    You said my position is heretical and you called it Universalism. Now, I will address both in one full swoop. If God wants to save people who have never heard the story of Jesus Christ, could God? Yes, I argue that God could do that if so desired. Should this idea be so anti-God that it deserves the label heresy or Universalism? Who are you to say whom God will and will not save? Are you God? Are you so uncomfortable with God saving those who have never heard the story of Jesus that you are so quick to charge me as a heretic and Universalist? Is it jealousy? Is it that you think you are the arbiter of justice? Something else?

    You said, “Statements like that can be seen as heresy and the only people who will agree with you are likely non-christians and those that are shaky in their faith and have the childish desire for everyone to go to heaven, regardless of what they do or believe on earth.” I understand your concern, however, I wonder who is shakier in their faith, one who thinks heaven is only for those who confess Jesus Christ as LORD, or one who isn’t sure, but believes God knows our hearts and is just. I think the childish theology would be the one that unnecessarily limits God and holds that salvation is attained by faith alone. Somehow you seemed to have missed the implications of these two paragraphs I wrote (think Parable of the Talents and Luke 12:48):

    “So, isn’t the debate between faith and works unnecessary and unproductive? I think so. Would it not be better to focus on the ways in which our worldviews either support or contradict our way of life and visa versa? Wouldn’t we then have a greater understanding for what it is we really have faith in and why we do the works that we do? Again, I think so. It is the only way to increase knowledge of, responsibility to and care for. Of course, there are those who subscribe to the saying “ignorance is bliss,” but if they are capable of knowing, responsibility and care, I strongly believe they’re choosing ignorance at their peril.”

    “And yet, perhaps these questions may remain for some: why become a Christian, or why do Christian proselytize, if knowing Jesus is not required to know God, or if confessing with the mouth that Jesus is God is not required to be saved? First, Christians believe that Jesus is God and that God is the one and only God. Christians believe that God is the one and only Truth and that there are no other gods. Second, just as one cannot know someone fully, even if your spouse, one can know someone more fully. The more one communes with another, the more one understands the other. Christians believe that if there is a faith we ought to hold, and works we ought to do, then there is God we ought to know, trust and obey – and He exists.”

    I never said anything was an agreed upon truth. I’m suggesting something as truth. That’s called holding a position. That’s why I write. I write because I believe certain things to be true and want to share my beliefs with others. I’ve even said several times that I believe what I believe until convinced otherwise, and that if I’m wrong, I have every incentive to be corrected. Now, what is so arrogant in that, and what agreed upon truth am I forcing on others?

    Yes, Christianity is a “hard nut to swallow,” and yes, some and I would argue all, including me and you (unless you claim perfection), have some false impressions of “the Faith.” But, God knows the intention of our hearts, and that is what ultimately matters. I think what leads to shoddy theology is the person who is too lazy and/or timid to ask deep questions about God and be open to good, honest debate. After all, isn’t the purpose of questions and debate to discover things more fully as they are, and in this case God more fully as He is? Doesn’t God say seek me and you will find me? I don’t even think my theology is shoddy, but I would be arrogant to say that it flawless. Same goes for you and your theology. So, if it makes you feel better, go ahead and call my theology shoddy. But, I think it would be more appropriate for you to say that you disagree with me.

    I didn’t even get to the Bible verses you quoted. Perhaps I will get to them in the future. I think they fit in quite well with what I’ve been saying. In fact, I think they support my position further.

  27. GCC


    I think it’s also worth discussing what is meant by heresy. As I understand it, heresy is just unorthodox. And orthodox does not mean “correct,” but rather just “conventional.” So, to be deemed a heretic isn’t all that bad. I think you and I both fit the term “unconventional.” Of course, everyone probably does.

    So, about this heresy business. I find it to be largely meaningless. You’re right to say that God could “save” whomever God decides to save or not and who are we to know. God could just make totally random decisions about that stuff. But, that is “unconventional” within Christianity. So technically, it is Christian Heresy. But for Christian Heresy to have any significance, Christianity must be true. Now, the way you put it, that God could “save” the righteous regardless of their relationship with Jesus, etc. is only heresy for some Christians. That is not a general Christian heresy.

    And here’s where I get to the meaningless part: Christianity (outside of Easter/Roman Catholicism – John, as always, please chime in here necessary) has no central deciding authority. Even worse, any would be authority (again with the possible Catholic exception) is not God-ordained. Obviously, without a central authority to determine what exactly is orthodoxy, we have no real way of determining what is heresy. So, for any Christian who does not subscribe to a central authority, a claim of heresy is merely a statement of “I disagree” or “I don’t like that.” (They do get the benefit of a cool sounding word though.) Moreover, the charge of heresy can only legitimately surface when the two sides agree on the central authority. So, it seems to me that most charges of heresy are simply absurd. It’s a fancy way of complaining about someone’s ideas or disagree with some sort of imagined force.

    As a side note, the Roman Catholics (who determined most of our historical heresies) agree with you on the saving thing. They, for instance, don’t believe Jews need Jesus to be “saved.” But hey, I don’t think we need to refer to them consistently. They could determine what was heresy for a while, but now what they say is heretical.

    It would be nice if everyone who participates here and writes any form of the word “heresy” preceeds it with a full definition of “orthodoxy” so we can actually know what they’re trying to say. So anyway, go stuff your universalism, you heretic!

    Please get to the Bible Quotes. Let me know if you want to tag team it. I think they’re great!!!

  28. John

    Britannica defines heresy as: “a theological doctrine or system rejected as false by ecclesiastical authority.” Note the use of “system” and “false.” On the former, heresy as a system transcends one or many divergent ideas and is rather a coherent theology (Donatism is a good example of this); on the latter, orthodoxy is not merely “conventional,” as you say–the conflict is not heresy vs. authority but heresy vs. Truth (as defended/upheld by authority–Peter’s keys to the kingdom, so to speak).

    Also, heresy is an active thing, not just a disagreement–heretics are nearly always labeled as such after *preaching* their beliefs to others. Simply airing contrary thoughts is not enough to invite condemnation. The church is concerned with the infecting of otherwise heaven-bound souls and has typically stepped in when the spread of heresy has tainted a sizable population.

    I should add that heresy is a sexy subject right now in historical and religious studies (meaning everyone and their mother is publishing on it–I myself am guilty of currently editing a volume of essays on heresy). This means that any definition will meet supporters and critics, both of whom are quite antagonistic and defensive.

    I will disagree with you about central authority, Grant. Condemning ecclesiastical authorities need not be central or even regional. But then again, what is an ecclesiastical authority anyway? The Ecumenical Councils were chaired by the Roman emperors, some of whom were fanatical about persecuting heretics (e.g. Justinian). This complicates the whole issue of heresy with questions of politics, social issues, and even warfare. And it was not just the Catholics condemning heresy–Pope Damasus was not invited to the Second Ecumenical Council and in fact no western bishops attended!

    Catholic belief allows for a “baptism of desire”–those who have not heard the gospel but sense the divine and live righteously may be saved by God. This is not Universalism, which, although being a more modern concept, probably finds basis, as Peachy states, in the Fifth Ecumenical Council. That council condemned Origen’s garbled views that seem to suggest that “the punishment of demons and impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end.” But I think this point relates more to past Discursions on the eternal nature of Hell than the current discussion. Universalism also, as I understand it, denies the Trinity.

  29. GCC

    Interesting, John. Thanks.

    Heresy vs. Truth as Upheld by Peter at the Gates of Heaven. That’s an excellent way to underscore my point.

    And the comment about the politics, etc. of heresy is also a good reminder. I find that to be rather fascinating. It’s especially difficult to discern truth in those matters when it appears that the only reason we know of some of the more ancient heresies is because we have the writings of those who were fighting against them. Take Pelagianism. Do we have any of Pelagius’ works defending himself? Or do we just have the writings that explained what his points were in their effort to condemn them?

    It’s all very interesting to me.

  30. John

    Actually, we do have writings from most of the ancient heretics, not just excerpts in the Fathers. This includes Pelagius. Some of his writings have survived, including his commentary on Paul’s epistles (which was formerly attributed to Jerome, acc. to the Catholic Encyclopedia). Here is the text in Patrologia Latina, but you’ll need to read Latin:,_Hieronymus,_Commentarius_In_Epistolas_Sancti_Pauli_%5BIncertus%5D,_MLT.pdf

  31. GCC

    Nice! I wonder how it was realized/discovered that what was attributed to Jerome was really by Pelagius.

    Thanks, John.

  32. GCC


    It’s a bit strange to go back to this post, but I just ran across something that made me think of it immediately. Above, I asked something that made you say this:

    “Your question “Why is weight given to certain parts of scripture over others?” is valid, but who does this? Who places Paul’s writings over James’?… And, who places Paul above Jesus? I would find that infinitely disturbing, strange, unfortunate and wrong.”

    Well, check this out. It’s a quote from Dr. N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham in a “Christian Century” article from last summer:

    “In his new book, The Great Awakening, Jim Wallis describes how as a young man growing up in an evangelical church, he never heard a sermon on the Sermon on the Mount. That telling personal observation reflects a phenomenon about which I have been increasingly concerned: that much evangelical Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic has based itself on the epistles rather than the Gospels, though often misunderstanding the epistles themselves.”

    So there’s an example: “much evangelical Christianity.” Unfortunately, I have a hard time knowing exactly what that means.

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