Augustine gets a pass (1)

From James White’s website:

10/21/2006 – James White

A number of years ago I made a presentation on the impact of the Donatist Controversy and the Pelagian Controversy on the theology of Augustine. I have repeated the essence of that material a number of times in various venues. To encapsulate it, even the most brilliant of Christian theologians and leaders are impacted by the contexts in which they live and minister, and in particular, by the controversies that define their age. The reason Warfield could rightly say that the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the victory of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church is that the one came from his controvery against the Pelagians and the other from his role in the Donatist controversy. From afar, modern readers can sometimes wonder how ancient writers could have been so “blind” to their internal self-contradictions, but distance and time are convenient aids that we do not get to have in looking at ourselves.

From the Outside the Camp website (now defunct):

In “Clueless losers?”, Phil Johnson quotes Paul Owen:

“But please keep in mind that such champions of grace as Augustine and Luther both likewise believed in baptismal regeneration–so this does not automatically make the Mormons legalists.”

Phil Johnson then responds:

“It doesn’t? I’d say on that issue both Augustine and Luther were wrong, and their views on baptism smacked of a ritualistic legalism. In their arguments against Pelagianism and semi-pelagianism, however, both Luther and Augustine gave enough crystal-clear teaching about divine grace to retrieve the core of the gospel from the murkiness of their own legalistic understanding of baptism. I affirm what they wrote about grace; I deplore what they wrote about baptismal regeneration. I regard them as authentic Christians because their defense of grace made it clear that they understood the gospel sufficiently, even though they did not understand it perfectly. In both cases, grace was the central message of their ministry, and what we remember them most for.”

There you go! Phil Johnson admits that Augustine and Luther believed in baptismal regeneration, but this just showed that “they did not understand the gospel perfectly.” Oh, Augustine and Luther just believed in salvation by the work of baptism — ah, that doesn’t really matter, since they were able “to retrieve the core of the gospel from the murkiness of their own legalistic understanding of baptism.” Their beliefs were murky enough to deny salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (and we know that Luther also believed in universal atonement, which means he automatically believed that the work of Christ alone did not make the only difference between salvation and damnation), but Philip Johnson considers this to be a non-essential error, especially since elsewhere they were so “crystal-clear” about grace. Perhaps, as Van Til or Robbins or Clark or Machen or Sproul would say, they were saved in spite of their “blessed (or happy) inconsistency” or they were “wonderfully confused.”

Opposed to this dung is God’s Word:

“Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you are circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man being circumcised, that he is a debtor to do all the Law, [you], whoever are justified by Law, you were severed from Christ, you fell from grace” (Galatians 5:2-4).

To God alone be the glory.

Why not use White’s reasoning above for every heretic under the sun? Because certain men’s faces are being respected while other men’s faces are not being respected.

Phil Johnson’s excuse for Augustine and Luther means that a person gets to decide based on his own standard which legalistic heretic has “retrieved enough of the core gospel from the murkiness of his own legalistic understanding” and which legalistic heretic has not. It’s all about the name. They are respecters of the faces of men. They care more for the glory of man than for the glory of God.