Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel: A Review of Tim Challies’ Article – Part 3
We continue on in our review of an article written by Tim Challies in 2014 entitled, “Anti-Catholic or Pro Gospel”. Challies states in his introduction, “What I have found is that the Roman Catholic Church understands my theology very well.” But by contrast, those of authentic reformed theology also understand Catholicism very well. This should really come as no surprise to us, since the reformation boiled down to nothing more than two packs of wolves vying for the mutton. The argument has always been about progressive justification and whether or not believers have anything to contribute to the mix.
In an interesting twist, Challies doesn’t argue against Catholicism directly. In fact, he offers very little in the way of support for his own views which he simply claims Catholics reject. This conveniently allows him to frame the argument any way he wishes without having to back it up. It is one thing to say “you reject what I believe,” but it is an entirely different matter to say, “here is why you reject what I believe.” Really, it serves as nothing more than a distraction, getting our attention off the real issue. While we are busy evaluating what Catholics say about Protestants, we are ignoring what Protestants are saying.
Challies cites select canons from the Council of Trent. To be specific, these citations come from the Sixth Council of Trent of January 13, 1547 [i]. The canons on justification are only one section of a larger body of work. The first section contains a lengthy affirmation of the Catholic doctrine on justification. The canons that follow are then the resulting refutations based on what is taught in section one. Challies cites the canons only while ignoring the specific doctrinal statements in section one.
So having said that, let’s continue our review by looking at Challies’ third point. Quoting from his article:
“If anyone says that man is absolved from his sins and justified because he firmly believes that he is absolved and justified, or that no one is truly justified except him who believes himself justified, and that by this faith alone absolution and justification are effected, let him be anathema. (Canon 14)”
“This may require some nuance, because I do not believe that I am absolved from sin because I believe I am absolved from sin; however, I do hold, as the Council says here, that faith in Christ alone does absolve sin and justify sinners. (Rom 5:1)”
So far this is one of the most confusing statements in this article! There is a reason his reply is “nuanced”, and I give him some credit here for at least being honest about that. Let’s parse this out. Challies says, “I do not believe that I am absolved from sin because I believe I am absolved from sin”. Said another way, simply believing that one is absolved from sin does not absolve from sin. In that sense, it would seem that Challies would find agreement with Rome, for that is what it appears that Canon 14 declares. And I seriously doubt that anyone in their right mind would say they are absolved from sin simply because they believe it. The must be some basis for absolution other than simply declaring it.
But look carefully at Canon 14. It states, “absolved from sins AND justified.” Both are related. The former is dependent upon the latter. Catholicism rejects the notion of justification by “faith alone” and that furthermore such a justification should be the means or the basis of absolving sin. But it goes even farther than that. The last part of Canon 14 states, “by this faith alone absolution and justification are effected.” Once again what we have is the idea of an ongoing absolution of “present sin” in the Christian life, and such absolution is only obtained by “faith alone”, which Catholicism rejects. Whereas in Catholicism such absolution, such maintaining of justification, would be obtained by the sacrament of confession (among others).
Challies’ “nuanced” first part of his reply only references absolution with regard to “faith alone” and conveniently leaves out a reference to justification. Therefore he feels he can honestly say, “no, I don’t believe I am absolved of sin simply because I believe I am.” At face value, it is a purposefully obtuse understanding of Canon 14, and Challies knows this, thus the need he feels to “nuance” his reply.
Yet he turns right around in the second part of his reply and says, “faith in Christ alone does absolve sin and justify sinners.” It would seem as if he has just contradicted what he said in the first part of his statement. Which is it Tim? Are you absolved of sin because you “believe” you are or not? When one understands that with Protestants, “faith alone” is needed to maintain justification, it all become pretty clear. In the Protestant construct, “faith alone” does absolve sin because then the “active obedience of Christ” is applied to the believer’s account. If believers are still sinners, Christ’s work of keeping the law must be constantly imputed, and that only happens by “faith alone”. As that happens, justification is maintained.
This is yet one more example of just how both Catholics and Protestants believe in a progressive justification. What Challies calls “nuance”, not only in this example but in his entire article, is better referred to as “doublespeak.” It is language used to deceive usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth. It is also a technique used by teachers of reformed theology whereby they allow the laity to assume that they mean something other than what they are really saying. We will continue to dissect the doublespeak as we examine point number four in the next article.