Justification By Ignorance: Neo-Protestant Motif? -- By: Carl F. H. Henry

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 13:1 (Winter 1970)
Article: Justification By Ignorance: Neo-Protestant Motif?
Author: Carl F. H. Henry


Justification By Ignorance: Neo-Protestant Motif?

Carl F. H. Henry*

Of all the New Testament doctrines mythologized by neo-Protestant theologians, none has fared worse than justification by faith.

One ploy of recent modern theology has been its constant appeal to the majestic Reformation principle of sole fidei to divorce Christian belief both from the certainty of objectively revealed truths (in the inspired prophetic-apostolic Scriptures) and from any firm grounding in external historical events (particularly the substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ).

To be sure, the Bible’s rejection of salvation by human effort rules out man’s ability to relate himself acceptably to the Living God by the genius of the human mind no less than by the energies of the will and emotions. God’s thoughts and God’s ways are higher than man’s—higher still than sinful man’s, who can not achieve Divine acceptance whether by intellectual ingenuity or moral striving.

But the lifeline of the Protestant Reformation was its rediscovery of the Scriptures—truth that God offers to penitent beievers, hopelessly guilty in their strivings to achieve salvation by works, the benefits of Jesus Christ’s meditation on the Cross. God acquits sinners, solely on the ground of a righteousness which He himself provides, a righteousness made known by intelligible Divine revelation and embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, a righteousness: available to sinful men by faith alone.

But recent modern theologians have extended the Protestant principle of soteriological justification into a perverse speculative theory of epistemological justification by skepticism. Many neo-Protestant writers contend that the religious-ethical principle of justification solely by faith must be expanded to include a religious-intellectual corollary. In deference to Divine revelation, man must not only renounce speculative rationalism, but supposedly must also repudiate all cognitive knowledge about God in order to give faith the right-of-way. Some recent statements consequently expound justification by faith in a manner that would destroy both the indispensable historical content and the indispensable knowledge content of revealed religion. “Justification by faith” becomes an

*An address by Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, president of the Evangelical Theological Society, to the annual dinner meeting of The Society on Monday night, December 29, 1969, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Henry is Editor-at-Large of Christianity Today and Visiting Professor of Theology in Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pa.

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