The Dongola Times

(Anachronistic) Dispatches from the Kingdom of Makuria.
12th of June, 2014

Altercation #2.5: Salafist-Reformed

I am feeling like quite the Salafist- (“all innovation is unbelief”)—even a takfiri-!—Reformed Christian of late. How ridiculous that, in the time my anti-Islamism has reached fever pitch, all my favourite musicians are Muslims, and I am acting like a Salafist takfiri jihadi, almost literally, save for creed. It’s not a case of “staring into the darkness … it stares back”, but more a case of myself also having attained religious fanaticism, which is a Good Thing™ (given the Good Religion™).
See what I have done with my interlocutor, since Altercation #2.
I am at a loss as to why you seem to think there is any driving linguistic motivation behind the NPP.
Not so much a driving linguistic motivation as instead a driving linguistic mistake. There are many, many languages (one of them being my mother-tongue) where such distinctions between the subjective and objective genitive *in English* cannot actually be expressed. Now, all the NPP scholarship suffers from this understandable blind-spot, and it is the driving factor.

(There is no ulterior motive, I think, save for people like the author of “The Catholic Perspective on Paul” and the like. But two things need to be noted. The use of the NPP by modern counter-Protestants is a sign that, first, the possibility of this argument is new, and it is absent in the counter-Reformation. Secondly, the idea of pistis christou” is not original to Paul, even when the wording is idiosyncratic, since everybody between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22 affirms “the same Gospel”; when it is interpreted as the NPP does, then it is original with Paul—and heretical. But Paul never affirmed the NPP-style view, so he is orthodox; the NPP is not.)
If anything, it is linguistic justification that NPP folks seek in order to combat the hyper-grammatical, Bible-as-divinely-codified-lawbook gymnastics of the Reformed folks they are always set at odds with.
You mentioned Luther, earlier. Luther wrote extensively about both the message in Paul (“sola fide”) and the insufficiency of the wording of Paul (ironically, in an argument over the “sola” in “sola fide”). He was aware that glosses were necessary, and quite aware of the serious dissonance between the range of, say, genitives in Germanic languages versus in the Koine Greek that was idiosyncratic to a Septuagint-freak like Paul.

See, I detect in the NPP a need to invalidate specific Pauline points, not least because of the selective application of this word-fanaticism. Consider Romans 4. One chapter, but it has verse 3 (« επιστευσεν δε αβρααμ τω θεω », literally “So Abraham believed God”) and verse 12 (« πιστεως του πατρος ημων αβρααμ », literally “The faith *of* our father Abraham”). Why do no NPP people find an injunction to believe in the faithful, pre-circumcision Abraham? After all, it is a parallel situation to Jesus, in the Greek. Besides, how would write “Abrahamic Faith”, either as “faith in Abraham” or “faith typical of Abraham” in Koine Greek? (Well, I would say πιστεως αβρααμου.)
… Bible-as-divinely-codified-lawbook gymnastics of the Reformed …
:o)
I am very traditional Reformed, and I also believe in the Bible as being divinely-codified in every detail. This same scripturology also willingly embraces things like variations, versions, ambiguities, and the like. But is strictly Reformed Christian, just as the manuscript tradition—with all its gospel harmonies, glosses, summaries …—was entirely Christian, even though there was never any such thing as manuscript uniformity. The concerns of the NPP are the result of modern thinking about the Scriptures, and applying undue rigour and expectations of consistency. This doesn’t change that the Scriptures are still the divinely-codified message, in every detail.

What it does change, however, is the comfort level that modern left-brain faux-rigourous pseudo-mathematical grammar-obsessed scholars expect that God would write in the Agda language, since His book is necessarily divinely-codified. It is because the NPP expects that Paul thinks the same that they are reading the “code”. The NPP crowd cannot critique the overly-left-brain Reformed without using their presumptions, as you note. Both camps are wrong in mindset. (This “left-brain” thing is Prof. Iain McGilchrist’s terminology.)
I'm also a bit puzzled why you think that it is the NPP (unfortunate moniker notwithstanding) that is actually new and not, rather, the reading of Luther.
Because Jesus agrees with Luther, and the NPP does not. Jesus predates both Luther and the NPP, but (most-importantly) He is also authoritative.
Have you noticed that nobody ever debates the Johannine idiosyncracies around this same “saving faith” idea? Why do they not see “ek pisteos” (Paulo-Johanine) and “pistis en autou” (commonly Johannine) as impinging somehow on the understanding of “pisteos christou” (Pauline), since they are speaking of the same faith?
Can we tease out a semantic difference between “believe in [him]”, “confess [him]”, and “faith in [him]”?

How would you indicate, in Koine Greek, the difference between “Douglassian faith” (as in ‘Mohammedan’), “the faith of Douglas [is]” (as in ‘Douglas believes [that]’), “the Douglas faith” (as in ‘the faith Douglas referred to’)? —And how would you render them if stenographers are rare, the writing primitive, parchment expensive, minuscules absent. Either way, « πιστισ … δαγαλασου ». A semantic difference would be the problem of those who do not know the range of English.
Why is it exactly that you think Luther's great lightbulb went off in the direction of "faith" as the sine qua non for salvation …
For the same reason the lightbuld went on for Paul, for Nicodemus in John 3, and for the Samaritane at the Well, when the exclusive sufficiency of faith was made plain to them.
There is a sad mistake outside of Protestantism of assuming that the Reformation began this exclusive centrality of faith is a Reformation idea. How was Abraham justified, before even he was given the circumcision and before Isaac? Abraham had this lightbulb, too, without the benefit of Paul.
… vis-a-vis the prior emphasis in the Church on the importance of broader faithfulness, an emphasis that abides today outside of Protestantism?
All religion emphasises broader faithfulness above (or equal to) faith, but Reformed Christianity privileges faith over everything. Does this suffice to prove the Prots wrong, to you, or to prove all religion wrong, save for the Prots?
After all, what is it that makes Christianity different—since it neither dispenses laws nor excuses unfaith. This is different from religion, be it the religion Paul knew and wrote of (“Law”) or those who emphasise “broader faithfulness” beyond faith. —Or is this now faith of super-erogation?

If Christians teach broader faithfulness, the things they are teaching are not from the Gospel. But Paul is discussing the Gospel—as are the Reformed. Note what Peter says in the so-called “Council of Jerusalem,” after the decision is reached of not addingany further religion to the faith. The sufficiency of faith is implied by the fact that the Gospel doesn’t pack a law with it. How to show faithfulness beyond believing the Gospel? This obedience of faith is the office we have in the New Testament.

You refer to the non-Protestants. They tend to affirm the relevance of tradition, and “the Fathers.” Have you checked to see what they have to say (especially the Latins!), and seen that they—who discuss Paul in the Greek—have to say? (The official counter-Reformation response of the Eastern Orthodox, for instance, in spite of its beauty, depth, faith-centrism, and the easy access to Koine Greek that is even preserved in their liturgy, skips the entirety of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It wasn’t germane to what they wanted to emphasise, which is the “broader faithfulness.”)

Unfortunately, even the NPP has missed the point that the counter-Reformation also missed. It is typical for those who privilege religion (what Paul means when he says “Law”) over faith to suspect this emphasis on faith as a laxity about “broader faithfulness,” and to consider the “emphasis [on] broader faithfulness” as somehow enabling or encouraging faithfulness. This is clearly ridiculous, since Paul emphasises the very opposite: namely, that religion/Law is impotent (before Fallen Man), unless faith is first of all potent. (—And that after faith is potent, religion is necessarily potent.)
What the NPP should have learnt, instead, is that faith in God is quite an interesting phenomenon, which is essentially “pistis” on end and God on the other. Consider 1 Peter 1:21.

The emphasis on broader faithfulness is heretical in Christianity, because we are not under the Law. (For this reason, it is absent in Reformed Christianity, present in Roman Catholicism, and central to Judaism.) Broader faithfulness is not a problem for Christianity, since it will happen anyway. (The New Testament insists so. Those “fruits of the Spirit.”) What should be emphasised is simply the Christian faith. Angst about the absence of emphasis on “broader faithfulness” is typical of those who don’t believe the Gospel, which is about faith. It “has the appearance of piousness, but it denies the power” of faith.
The emphasis on the importance of Christ's faithfulness to God in our soteriology is hardly a novel reading.
Of course. But it is not what is being referred to in the genitive verses you mention. Paul was never even teaching that Christ had been faithful; it was never his thrust. It was his assumption, not his message. His message was: “believe!” not “He believed!” If one isolates phrases, one cannot fail to make the NPP-grade blunders, especially if one came at Koine Greek via reading a cold, rigid grammar, and then convincing oneself that this is enough. In this case, you can see that the message of Paul is about faith in Christ, yet the single *word* is about the faith *of* (“belonding-to”, “associated-with”, “exercised-by”, “exercised-for”, “exercised-by”, “exercised-to”) Christ. The moderns were too proud to reunderstand their « -ου », and instead the decided to re-understand Paul.
RCs and EOs yawned at a lot of the Protestant debate over the NPP because they don't recognize such a sharp distinction between faith and faithfulness …
Well, that is why I yawn, too. I find the NPP in particular to be shockingly childish, in light of a faith—Christianity—that is declared as “from faith to faith.” In Christianity, faith is sufficient faithfulness. You cannot “do” the Good News. It is a message, and you believe in it—thereby believing in Him who delivers it—or you reject it. Therefore believing, to quote John, is what God requires of us.
Does the NPP show you what it means beyond this? What is this “faithfulness” in the NPP’s view?
… yet opponents of the NPP typically get hot under the collar because their assumption is that our intellectual assent to certain propositions justifies us and that our efforts damn us, despite the clear evidence that there is much common ground not only in the OT, the Gospels, James, etc. that removes this sharp distinction.
See, the reason I get hot under the collar is because I detect heresy. The OT has no salvation by faith (à la Reformed); so why isn’t it all you use? It has a lot of God being faithful, and a lot of injunctions of faithfulness on the part of the people. So why isn’t it sufficient to demonstrate your point? If the OT is not sufficient to bring about the Christian message, why not? After all, you admit (if you are orthodox Christian) that Abraham believed in the same God that the Christian believes in when he believes in Jesus Christ. So, why did it work for Abraham? (Or not work for Moses? Why the NT? So that we can have yet another 2000 years of more “emphasis on broader faithfulness” which doesn’t even result in more faithfulness?)

Simple intellectual assent is sufficient for justification. This is the Abrahamic faith (which also happens to be the “pistis christou”). Humans have nothing they may present to God, save for faith, hope, and love. Love, being the summary of all the Law, was not attained to by humans. (It is the “broader faithfulness” to which you refer, and at which its advocates also fail even as they insist on it.) Faith, though, we attain to, because God works it in us.

Contrary to popular modern opinions, simple intellectual assent is a very serious thing that actually affects space-time. In 1925, more work (in physics!) showed that “observation” is central to reality. Reality is just a probability (“superposed”) until one observes it. This applies to every single thing in the physical universe; this is the main point of Quantum Mechanics. (See “The Mental Universe”, a short paper in Nature Journal by Prof. Richard Conn Henry.) Some people are oriented towards what they can touch and *do*, and then they believe; we, on the other hand, know for certain, and we believe.

Also, I see that you do not understand James. The example he gives, of Abraham being justified by the work on Isaac, was after he had been pronounced earlier. He is aware that the man doing the work is already righteous, not being righteous because of (almost) sacrificing Isaac. But what James also serves to codify is that works will happen with the righteous. They are not optional. (Paul urges them of those who would be righteous-by-faith, James expects them of the already-righteous-by-faith. Different emphases, same point: the fruits of the Spirit accompany the work of the Spirit. The Reformed teach that faith is the work of the Spirit, as are the works.)

So Christ’s faithfulness is salvific. Of course. Our faith is salvific. Of course. Our faithfulness would be salvific. But it is insufficient. Will we, Reformed, have “broader faithfulness”, in spite of teaching “deeper faith” instead? Yes; James guarantees it, Paul teaches in the same breath that he teaches “deeper faith”, and—of course—we saw it in Abraham who, though already righteous, did the Isaac thing anyway. “We love *because* He first loved us.” I hope the NPP respects the « οτι » in there, at least.