On Sun, Feb 15, 2015 at 11:56 AM, Curtis Smale wrote:
Hi Dr. Kreeft,
I enjoyed reading your book, Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing. It was gifted to me by my friend Philippe, who I met at Barnes and Noble bookstore about a year and a half ago.
I discovered C.S. Lewis’ non-fiction when I was 10 years old. (I am now 50.) I have not read his Narnia or other fiction–and also, I don’t at all understand why people love Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings so much.
Soon after, a long time ago, I read several of your books about Lewis and the afterlife.
I also became fairly convinced of inclusivity, at least as a possibility, through your Handbook of Christian Apologetics, which was also a generous gift from my friend Philippe. I had already formulated something very similar to inclusivity on my own, years ago, and I have never liked it when people tried to categorically exclude it (as if they could categorically exclude where the wind would blow).
I grew up Lutheran, but now, for many years, I have been searching for a church that does not have the false Gospel of Lordship Salvation, and is not focused on money, families, only worldly success, entertainment, etc..
I studied for the Lutheran ministry for three years, till age 20.
In watching your You Tube videos and reading your books and about you, I was under the impression that you had gradually come to Roman Catholicism recently, but in fact, I recently found out from a video of your speaking, that that happened well before I was born.
I am wondering if you have ever personally met C.S. Lewis?
It seems that many groups that disagree on basic beliefs, from Roman Catholics to Mormons to Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim Lewis as their own. Just last night, a different friend of mine told me that a co-worker was reading a book claiming that C.S. Lewis was primarily an environmentalist, and that this could be shown by referencing all the parts of his work that promote it.
I certainly understand their and your enthusiasm for C.S. Lewis, as I have read most of his major non-fiction more than once, and I am reading Mere Christianity now for the sixth time (even though I found his several serious flaws years ago: Purgatory, the hinted-at idea that salvation (eternal and irrevocable according to Holy Scripture) can be lost, an early belief in evolution and millions of years, an acceptance of baptismal regeneration, an acceptance of churches that formally teach salvation by human-only works, and his general lack of forthrightness about justification, among a few other things.
Still, C.S. Lewis is my favorite non-biblical author of all time, in terms of prose style, content, general knowledge, Christian insights, warmth and humanity and realism, and, of course, spirituality.
And, much as I admire your writing, speaking and thinking, as happens the more you read an author, I am starting to see flaws in your thinking and writing.
Today I read an article you wrote where you said that it does not require faith to know that God exists. But Hebrews 11:2 clearly says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” I’d say it is clear that even God tells us that we need faith to know that God exists, and that He created the world. Will you recant? 😉
Most significantly, the greatest error that I see in your faith and thinking is that you import works into saving faith in Christ, for salvation.
I am sure you must have heard this before, but my question is: why do you believe that (if you still do)?
It is my current understanding that good works of practical and progressive sanctification are the outgrowth of saving faith in Christ. (I am not here referring to the positional sanctification that Christ immediately gives as a gift to all who believe.) Christ did everything necessary for our salvation that we receive through simple God-enabled faith in Him.
Also, although I really like the argument in the Handbook that the entire Reformation was one great misunderstanding, that argument now seems to me to be more than a bit inaccurate.
I do not see how works of sanctification can be part of salvation without making mere humans co-Saviors with Christ. This “other Gospel” kind of thinking is clearly and doubly condemned in Galatians chapter one in the severest possible terms by Paul.
Thank you and God bless you in Jesus’ Grace (John 6:47),
P.S. I am sending a copy of this letter to my friend Philippe, and I will also post it, and your reply, with your permission, to my blog, www.graceinsightandart.wordpress.com, as I think many people would like to hear what you have to say on these subjects, even if it is true that you have answered them all before. Thank you.
Sent from my iPad
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2015 08:36:51 -0800
Subject: Re: A Few Comments and Questions
From: Peter Kreeft
To: Curtis Smale
Thanks for your email, and your interest. I think the best way to mediate our disagreements will be to start with our agreements: scripture, the historic Christian Church and creeds, and most of C.S. Lewis (though he neither claims nor manifests infallibility!)
Your prime concern seems to be the #1 issue that sparked the Reformation, justification. Have you read the Decree on Justification, approved by both the Vatican and the Lutheran bishops worldwide? It says that our two churches are saying substantially the same thing in different and mutually contradictory language systems. If “justification” means simply having your sins forgiven and going to Heaven, faith alone suffices, as it did for the Good Thief. If “justification” means fulfilling God’s will for your salvation, it includes sanctification too. For God’s angel commanded that His name would be “Jesus” (“God saves”) not merely because He would save us from Hell (the punishment for our sins) but “because He will save them from their sins.” Good works, the works of love, of the love (agape) that comes from God and flows from regeneration, or being born again, are part of the package deal. The very same reality, divine grace, both justifies and sanctifies. And if the good works are not there, this proves that the saving faith was not there either; that is very clear in James 2. Both sides affirm all of that. So the disputes for 500 years were essentially deep misunderstandings of the other side.
Most people who don’t like Tolkien don’t like him because they don’t like the genre of fantasy, or even don’t like fiction. That’s OK. There are also people who don’t like Bach, or Shakespeare, or the New England Patriots.
I never met Lewis. No one can claim him exclusively–certainly not environmentalists, or Mormons, or Witnesses. Or RCs. Or Evangelicals. His belief in Purgatory is very Biblical, following from the 3 Biblical principles (1) that we are sinners, in our desires and habits as well as our deeds; (2) that in Heaven there is nothing sinful;and (3) that the gap between sin and sinlessness is very great and bridged only by divine miracle of grace. Purgatory is for most of us the beginning of Heaven, Heaven’s bathroom where you wash up before dinner.
Scripture itself says you don’t need religious faith to know that God exists. Reread Romans 1 and 2. Because natural reason tells us God exists and demands moral obedience, all are responsible. If only those who received the divine gift of supernatural faith were responsible for their sins, pagans would be innocent!
On Sat, Feb 21, 2015 at 1:20 PM, Curtis Smale wrote:
Hi Dr. Kreeft,
Thank you so much for taking the time to write your thoughtful and gracious reply.
I have taken a few days to read and reread your response, to think and to pray, to read the Joint Declaration of Lutherans and Catholics, as well as to reread the portion in Romans regarding the natural knowledge of pagans, and I also considered what Philippe had to say about our letters. (Plus, I have been busy working for Corporate America, and have not had the time or mental space to reply!)
What I have inescapably come to is that it is a spiritually fatal error to redefine the central Christian article of faith–justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ. I believe, without any flexibility on this absolutely central article of the Christian faith, that practical, progressive sanctification absolutely cannot be included in or attached to any definition of justifying faith. Salvation is a -free gift-. (I like the redundancy of that phrase!) Certainly, believers are saved by the gifted sanctification that is Christ’s alone.
I agree that the Doctrine of Justification is the “first and chief article,” and “the ruler and judge over all other Christian doctrines.”
If one gets this wrong, it is the difference between salvation and damnation (“He that believeth not shall be damned.”)
I have not identified as a Lutheran for over 20 years, so I Iook at this disagreement between these two church bodies, I think, with some sense of disinterested objectivity.
I believe that some parts of the Lutheran-Catholic statement are not just church positions, but the positions of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the New Testament–especially of Paul and Peter and John.
Could it be that the new non-disagreement on certain central tenets about justification was as a result of the transformation of the Roman Catholic Church in Vatican II?
Overall, I was not outraged by anything I read in the Joint Declaration, though I saw errors and equivocations and non-forthright statements, but I am aware that its intent was conciliatory and non-inflammatory, understanding the primary concerns of each side.
For me, it comes down to this: if a person believes (or “trusts”) in Jesus Christ as his or her Savior from sin and Hell, that person is irrevocably saved, based on God’s just substitutionary forensic declaration. It could quite often be that the spiritual fruits of good works of that believer are not always readily seen, though it would seem that it would be common to see them, because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Certainly, it is Jesus’ will that His believers bear much good spiritual fruit.
The problem comes in when those spiritual fruits are used as part of the ground of justification (Roman Catholicism), or when they are -required- as lifetime discipleship, as part of what saves a believer (Lordship salvation).
All the world, every religion, relies on good works, and the myth that the “good moral works” of people will merit them Heaven (if there is one, according to their Scripture-less and faithless speculation). Of course, their fatal flaw is that they erroneously think their external, fleshly, good works of morality can erase or outbalance the sins they have done.
For saved believers, it is only Jesus’ perfect life, death on the cross for all sins, and His resurrection, that will, by themselves, save us.
Our sanctification, never a part of what saves or justifies us, is an outgrowth of that gifted salvation–the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the truth of Scripture, and our willing and doing, led by His gracious Spirit.
In Romans, I don’t think that God showing pagans the glory of creation forces them to believe in Him–only that it is what may be known by the physical creation. A speaker I listened to recently said that “he who seeks finds.” He who does not seek will not have God’s truths forced upon him. God is hidden that man may have freedom. 😉
Because of our vast agreement on so many things, it amazes me that you could be Roman Catholic.
On a very direct level, I am wondering: is not the testimony of Scripture and the Holy Spirit regarding Christ sufficient?
Why would someone need the extra, fallible, and contradictory books and teachings of any church? (I find it impossible to “wholesale validate” the works of Augustine and Aquinas and others, revered though they are, because they got wrong the basic fact of salvation by faith in Jesus that are clearly and simply found in John 6:47, John 3:16, 1st Corinthians 15:1-4, and Ephesians 2:8,9–and also sanctification, in verse 10!)
Isn’t any teacher who gets everything right except for the truth that can save your soul–the most dangerous devil there is?
I know that as a Catholic, you take more than Scripture for truth and guidance, but does it ever bother you that so little attention is paid to the virgin Mary in the Bible? I certainly think that Mary was a devout Jewish girl, and worthy of our respect as the mother of the Son of God. (If she was actually The Mother of God, however, that would make her more than God, would it not?)
As for Purgatory, I think it is a logical and maybe even a beautiful concept, as C.S. Lewis describes, as “washing up.” My problem with this doctrine is that I nowhere find a hint of it in over 1,500 pages of Scripture. Plus, the instantaneous glorification of believers’ bodies seems to be taught so very clearly. So, if the veneration of Mary and Purgatory are such important concepts, why are they not found in the Bible?
I have known several Catholics who believed that their salvation was secure solely based on faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Years ago, I prayed in a Roman Catholic church that was open late at night. The RC churches definitely outshine the Protestant churches in beauty and majesty, and the one I went to was a wonderful place of serenity and reverence. I loved the blue and red candles.
And, because I have not had too many wonderful experiences with women, the vision of a benevolent female person such as The Virgin Mary holds a natural attraction.
What I am here trying to convey, in closing, is that, even though I was raised as a Lutheran with a definite and strong bias against the errors of Catholics, but I have no personal animosity toward them.
Thank you for your time and thoughts.
In Jesus’ justifying and sanctifying grace,
P.S.: Below is part of Wolfgang Pannenberg’s response to the Joint Declaration. I think point #3 nails the heart of the issue.
Articles that Cannot be Tolerated in the Church.
1. That Christ did not assume His body and blood from the Virgin Mary, but brought them with Him from heaven.
2. That Christ is not true God, but only [is superior to other saints, because He] has more gifts of the Holy Ghost than any other holy man.
3. That our righteousness before God consists not in the sole merit of Christ alone, but in renewal, and hence in our own godliness [uprightness] in which we walk. This is based in great part upon one’s own special, self-chosen [and humanly devised] spirituality [holiness], and in fact is nothing else than a new sort of monkery.
Date: Sat, 21 Feb 2015 19:45:59 -0800
Subject: Re: A Few Comments and Questions
From: Peter Kreeft
To: Curtis Smale
There are 2 issues here. One is whether justification is only forensic or also metaphysical (regeneration). That is crucial, for if God only “sees” us as justified rather than actually making us justified, He is deceiving Himself. The second is the use of words. I was using “justification” and “sanctification” in the Protestant sense, as distinct. (Catholics often use the 2 terms synonymously.) Justification is indeed by grace alone, not by our own works. Protestant fears of Pharisaical self-righteousness in watering down that fact are quite right–that is a great danger–but Catholic theology, rightly understood, repudiates it just as strongly. Read the decrees of the Council of Trent: very Augustinian on grace Ongoing sanctification, on the other hand, is a cooperation between God’s will and our own. Jesus, after all, was not called Savior because He would save us only from the punishment due to our sins, but from our sins.
On Sun, Feb 22, 2015 at 4:55 PM, Curtis Smale wrote:
Hi Dr. Kreeft,
I think the crux of our disagreement comes down to this: I, biblically, believe that anyone can be forensically justified and irrevocably saved, ultimately sanctified and guaranteed to be glorified at death, in a moment, through a moment of saving faith in Jesus as Savior from sin and Hell, even if they have zero good works after they believe (John 6:47). (Yes, they are immediately indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and it is God’s will that believers obey Him, and He works in believers to increase love and belief and willing and doing.)
I think anyone who believes in Christ has some works that result, even if he speaks some words or gives someone a glass of cold water, but his salvation, and his saving faith, is not based on or validated by, whether his good works exist or not. Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection is what has -saved- him, and this is exactly the clear and simple language used by Jesus and the New Testament writers.
I read part of the Council of Trent. To me, it sounds like a bunch of power-hungry control-freaks trying to lord it over the faith of others.
Very cold and judgmental and unChristlike and unBible-like.
Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom to the apostles based on people’s acceptance or rejection of the Gospel, not to make a huge list of Canons and anathemas. Who did these evil and prideful men think they were to damn people to Hell based on their exact doctrinal ideas?
Paul himself only did that once (twice) and that was over people preaching a false Gospel.
*Who did the Catholic theologians think they were to fuse together justification and practical sanctification in violation of clear Scripture?*
My strong feeling is that most of the books and preaching of Luther and the “Reformers” also was unnecessary.
The Lord Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John had already clearly laid out the simple Gospel and the way to be sanctified. All they had to do was to preach the Bible out loud and all major controversies would have been over very quickly–or at least things would have been clarified.
The Word of God is clear and needed no “elucidation” by these prideful, angry, controlling, loveless, intellectual men of mere flesh.
This reminds me of the loveless way I was treated when I confronted the Lutheran college administration about their unbiblical doctrines.
I devoted seven years of my life toward pursuing the goal of becoming a Lutheran pastor, and after one sermon of disagreement, they were ready to throw me out the door in a moment–and did. I thought they would have been delighted that I was just like Luther in confronting them with the truth of Scripture. That’s a 20-year-old for ya.
God is not “deceiving Himself” to -impute- Christ’s righteousness to believers. Do not slander holy God. Scripture clearly says that this is what He does.
If Christians and Catholics are actually in agreement, as you keep saying, why do you and I not agree?
Or, if you agree with everything I have said here, then I will say that we agree on salvation.
What do you think?
In Jesus’ grace and salvation,
Thanks for clarifying. We are far, far farther apart than I thought. I can’t take time now to sort it all out but I believe you have a magical and legalistic notion of salvation by fiat and power that is based on the theology of the Koran rather than of Christianity. It would take a book or half a lifetime to wade through it. Maybe another day.
Under The Mercy,