Scholasticism and Justification
I have said it before, but I really don’t think that you can do Reformed theology without Scholasticism. Mark Jones recently wrote about that here. You can see this in Reformed writing on the different biblical covenants, one substance but two administrations. Substance is that which makes a thing what it is and not something else. Accidents are those things that don’t change the substance but they do make for noticeable differences.
See, for example, the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 7 "Of God’s Covenant with Man." There is a difference between the substance of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. However, the difference between the time of the law and the time of the gospel is only a difference of administration. These are extremely important distinctions within Reformed theology. Even more important than that is the Scholastic distinctions made in justification. In his post on scholasticism, Jones’ rightly says:
“In the realm of justification, one must know the formal cause, material cause, and instrumental cause.”
The efficient cause is an agent that brings a thing into being and initiates a change. The material cause is the matter or substance that constitutes a thing. The formal cause is the pattern that determines the form taken by something. The final cause is the purpose or aim of an action or the end toward which a thing naturally develops. Lastly, the instrumental cause is subordinate to the efficient cause. I know this gets messy but Calvin, Witsius, Ball, and many others use this shared language. It is helpful to know, you won’t be doing Reformed theology without this language.
I must confess, Mark Jones is my favorite living theologian. My brother-in-law and I once drove ten hours just to hang out with him for a weekend. Mark may not be as comfortable defining Reformed theology as broadly as other experts (like Oliver Crisp or Jay T. Collier). Still, Mark’s view of Reformed theology is broader than many others on the west coast. Mark may be right about not broadening it too far but I am focused on the same methodology of broadening on a different scale. For example, Reformed, Lutheran, and Baptist theologies are not the same. But they are all Protestant. But how far does this go?
For instance, in his article, Mark says something that makes me wonder what he thinks of Arminius’ concept of acceptilatio. I will permit that it isn’t Reformed but is it unchristian? If no, then great! I can finally go on my merry way. If yes, then I have a lot of questions. I have always assumed that Jones would call this view Christian but not Reformed. I could be wrong. The problem is that most of the people that I interact with, previous pastors included, think that this view is completely unchristian. For example, Mark writes:
“One must know the difference between an “aestimatio” and “secundum veritatem” – for it was at the heart of the debate between the Remonstrants and the Reformed concerning the doctrine of justification by faith. Arminius made us of a concept, known as acceptilatio. Imperfect faith is accepted (by God’s gracious estimation) as righteousness. Or, to put it another way, the human act of faith is by grace counted as evangelical righteousness, as if it were the complete fulfillment of the whole law. This genuine human act comes forth from the ability to choose (liberum arbitrium). God has a “new law” in the evangelical covenant, whereby faith answers to the demands of the covenant. On the so-called “formal cause” there was an important difference between the two camps. As noted, for the Arminians, imputation is an aestimatio – God considers our righteousness (i.e., act of faith) as something that it is not (i.e., perfect). The Reformed, however, view imputation as secundum veritatem – God considers Christ’s righteousness as our righteousness, precisely because it is, through union with Christ. The verdict that God passes on his Son is precisely the same verdict he passes on those who belong to Christ, but only through imputation. This debate shows that both sides could use scholastic categories, but ultimately it was exegesis that led to different positions.”
The difference here is obvious enough to say that Arminius, or anyone who agrees with him, is not Reformed. But Arminius’ view certainly seems Protestant and Christian. As Scripture says:
“What does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)
“Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:9)
Now, what does the surface reading of a text like this teach us? It seems completely fair and logical to assume that God accepts our faith, as imperfect as it may be, as righteousness. How can God do that? Because Paul teaches us, through David, that our sins are not counted against us (Rom. 4:7-8). At least here, nothing is mentioned about Christ transferring us his sinless life. Even if “God considers Christ’s righteousness as our righteousness, precisely because it is, through union with Christ,” I don’t see how one could be unchristian for saying, “Faith is accepted (by God’s gracious estimation) as righteousness.”
So my question in the midst of talk about Reformed Scholasticism is thus: are we justified by precision alone? Mark Jones seems to answer here but the question still stands for many others to answer.