Justification by Justification by Faith

In his Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification, Newman complains that, in practice, the Protestant doctrine of justification sola fide results in “substitut[ing] faith for Christ” (Genius of Newman, 188). That is, when the test of your salvation is your subjective awareness of yourself as having faith in Christ, “religion is made to consist in contemplating ourselves instead of Christ” (188). For a certain kind of evangelical, we aren’t so much justified by faith in Christ as by faith in justification by faith alone — the mark of salvation is not the wholehearted devotion of a life given over to the crucified Savior, but whether you can pinpoint the moment at which you were converted from reliance on works to a radically different subjective state, called “faith.” If you have lived through the anxious dialectics that this introspection generates — “Did I really mean it when I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer? Do I know that I know that I know?” — you can understand how distracting and frankly un-Christian it can be. But “true faith,” Newman insists, “is what may be called colourless, like air or water; it is but the medium through which the soul sees Christ; and the soul as little rests upon it and contemplates it, as the eye can see the air” (189).

A well-formed faith, on Newman’s terms, is bound to yield something like what Paul Griffiths has recently called “the end of experience,” my ceasing to layer my experiences qualitatively and possessively, to reflect on them as a particular kind of experience and as particularly mine (this from the relevant chapter in his Decreation). Justifying faith is taken up utterly and heedlessly with Christ alone; it has no time for attention to itself. Justifying faith simply says, with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2).

This entry was posted in Experience, Faith, John Henry Newman, Justification, Paul, Paul Griffiths, St. Paul and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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