R. Sungenis: On Amazon.com, book reviews are written by various individuals. One reviewer going by the pseudonym “theologicalresearcher” has reviewed my book Not By Faith Alone. He is a Protestant who lives in Canada. Unfortunately, he doesn’t give his real name, so we don’t know who he is. He’s not unlike another nameless Catholic reviewer on Amazon.com from Missouri who, although the average rating for Not By Faith Alone is 4.5 stars out of a possible 5 stars, always gives my books a 1 star rating with the comment “Welcome to Fundy City,” and then advises Catholics to buy liberal scholarship by the likes of Raymond Brown and his cohorts. Although in the end “theologicalresearcher” gives my book a thumbs up, he also advises his constituents to also read Raymond Brown’s commentary. There is something strange about reviewers who won’t give their name. In this case, I think it is because they know I’m going to rebut their critique in detail.
Since his first review was sent to me by one of my CAI patrons, I responded and put it on our website some time ago. Apparently, “theologicalresearcher” got wind of my response, and thus he decided to mount another rebuttal of my book. I will now respond to his second rebuttal.
The page on Amazon reads:
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
A necessary revised review, April 19, 2005
Reviewer: theologicalresearcher "theologicalresearcher" (Canada) - See all my reviews
It has come to my attention recently that Mr. Sungenis actually wrote an online point-by-point response to my previous review of this book. He accuses me of not having read it (which is false) nor of having understood it (which is also false). I will give a response to his arguments by examining some of the things he wrote in his book to promote his legalistic view of the gospel.
R. Sungenis: I don’t remember accusing him of not having read the book, but not having read ALL of it. As for understanding it, after reading his present response, I don’t think “theologicalresearcher” still understands the book. I will explain below.
Theologicalresearcher: Point 1: On pages 324-336 (in response to Charles Hodge and James White) Sungenis states that the OT did not teach a juridical view of justification/righteousness (Gk. dikaioo, dikaiosune).
Response: What Sungenis does not recognize is that in the OT when a person is righteous before God it is not because he earned or merited his righteousness due to some moral act. The OT understanding of justification is clear that the person is RECKONED (Gk. logizomai) righteous because of God's grace. Abraham was reckoned righteous before God's judicial bar because of his faith even before he did anything morally good. Abraham is an excellent example of someone being "credited" with righteousness even though he was yet inherently righteous or to do moral works (cf. Gal 3:6). Various biblical scholars agree, including N. T. Wright, that justification in the OT has to do with a law-court setting than a familial-relational setting. Sungenis' attempts at turning this around is very clever, but unconvincing, argumentation. For him to assert that he knows more about this issue than well-known biblical scholars who disagree with him (and there are many) is quite arrogant.
R. Sungenis: Well, we can see that “Theologicalresearcher” determines truth by who is the more “well-known biblical scholar.” He then he has the temerity to say that if I disagree with his “well-known biblical scholars” then I’m “quite arrogant.” Why it is “arrogant” he doesn’t explain. Perhaps he feels that his favorite theologians simply cannot be challenged. This tells you a little bit of the mind-set of “Theologicalresearcher,” and it will become apparent as you read the rest of his critique. He merely parrots the views of others without proving what he is saying.
For the record, the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” that N. T. Wright advocates is called “New” precisely because it is the new kid on the block in the face of almost 2000 years of biblical exegesis from the patristics to the medievals right down to various conservative scholars today who reject its methodology. In effect, it is “quite arrogant” for Theologicalresearcher to assume that a novel attempt at understanding St. Paul by the likes of N. T. Wright has won the day. As Not By Faith Alone shows, the exegesis I present has its basis in Church history, therefore, the burden of proof is on those who think they have a better idea of how to understand Paul. If they can’t prove their case, then Theologicalresearcher should call them the “arrogant” scholars.
Now, notice above how Theologicalresearcher tries to prove his case. He merely makes assertions. He asserts that: “Abraham was reckoned righteous before God’s judicial bar because of his faith even before he did anything morally good” but where is his proof? Has he even bothered to exegete one passage of Scripture dealing with Abraham? No.
He then asserts: “that justification in the OT has to do with a law-court setting than a familial-relational setting,” but again, he offers no proof from the Old Testament that this is so. He doesn’t even have a quote from N. T. Wright to back him up. Mind you, N. T. Wright is an Anglican Protestant, and he, like his Anglican colleague Alister McGrath, has an axe to grind against Catholicism, and particularly St. Augustine’s contention that OT and NT justification was not juridical.
The only possible clue that Theologicalresearcher gives us is his statement: “Abraham is an excellent example of someone being ‘credited’ with righteousness even though he was yet inherently righteous or to do moral works (cf. Gal 3:6).” Although his grammar is bad, I’ll do my best to try to understand what Theologicalresearcher is saying. I assume he is trying to say: “Abraham is an excellent example of someone being ‘credited’ with righteousness even though he was yet inherently unrighteous or able to do moral works (cf. Gal 3:6).” As such, he is using Galatians 3:6 in an attempt to say that Abraham was credited with righteousness by faith before he ever did a good work, or, even if he did do a good work, it was not counted in providing him his righteousness. But this just shows that “Theologicalresearcher” has never really understood Not By Faith Alone. St. Paul’s concern in Galatians, as noted by the immediately preceding verse, is “works of the Law.” As Paul says:
5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? 6 Thus Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
In the opening pages of the book I take great pains to show that there is a world of difference between works in the system of law and works in the system of grace. “Theologicalresearcher” has still not understood that distinction, and more or less, refuses to do so. It is works in the system of law that St. Paul is adamant against, and it is those works that he says could never merit Abraham his righteousness.
Theologicalresearcher later refers to “legalism” to describe “works of the law,” but it is not legalism, and therefore he completely misunderstands what Not By Faith Alone is arguing. Works performed in the system of law refer to any work, good or bad, legalistic or not legalistic, that someone does outside of God’s grace in an effort to bind God to pay the worker. Legalists frequently fall into such a trap, but we are not defining the issues by what legalists do, but by what the theology itself demands. Paul himself makes the crucial distinction between “gift” and “debt” in Romans 4:4, and that is why that distinction becomes the paradigm through which we judge his understanding of justification.
As such, we can say very positively that Abraham was not justified by “works of the law.” But this does not mean that no works of any kind or category were not involved in his justification. We already have the stipulation in the epistle of James that Abraham was “justified by works and not by faith alone,” as a general truth about his life, so it is no stretch for us to say that the works that justified him were works that were different than, or in a different category than, or judged differently than, the “works of the law.”
But we don’t need James to prove the case. We can remain with Paul (which is the way Not By Faith Alone was designed). Not only can we do this with Romans 4, we can also do it with the very passage “Theologicalresearcher” brought to his aid, Galatians 3. For in Galatians 3:8 Paul says:
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed."
Now, what passage is Paul quoting? He is quoting from Genesis 12:3, which is three chapters before Genesis 15:6 (the one to which Theologicalresearcher is appealing to prove his case). Yet here in Genesis 12 Paul says that the “gospel was preached to Abraham.” Now, did this “gospel” justify Abraham, that is, did he have faith in this gospel that justified him? He certainly did. As I note in NBFA, Hebrews 10:8 assures us that the faith Abraham had in Genesis 12 was the same faith he had in Genesis 15, and the same faith that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, et al. Apparently, the “gospel preached to Abraham” in Genesis 12 did its job very well, because Abraham believed God in that instance also.
Now, did Abraham do any “works of the law” in Genesis 12? No. There wasn’t even a law established quite yet. But did Abraham do another kind of work that we don’t associate with the “works of the law,” or a work that God looked upon differently than someone who performs “works of the law”? Yes, indeed. According to Genesis 12:1f, Abraham was told by God: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.” Did Abraham obey? He certainly did. Was his obedience a work? Why would it not be? After all, Abraham had to leave behind all that he knew and had built up. He packed up his whole family to go to some unknown place, just because God told him to do it. Is this obedience any different than when Abraham, in Genesis 22, obeyed God’s command to take Isaac up to the mountain to sacrifice him? Hardly. And does not James see the example in Genesis 22 as another instance in which “Abraham was justified by works and not by faith alone”? Yes, indeed. Why can he do so? Because, as I repeatedly said in NBFA, Abraham did all these works under the auspices of God’s grace, and thus they were not “works of the law” that put God in debt; rather, they were works in which God rewarded Abraham from His grace.
So we can safely say that, in Genesis 12, the gospel was preached to Abraham, and he had both faith and works in order to be justified before God, just as Catholic theology teaches as what is necessary for justification. All the Scriptures tie in very nicely. Of course, the Protestant, not liking how all these passages dovetail together and support the Catholic position, will begin separating them from one another, and give each passage an interpretation that is independent of the other. Thus, for the Protestant, Genesis 15:6 becomes the only time Abraham was justified; Genesis 22 becomes only a demonstration; Hebrews 10:8 is only a ‘preliminary’ kind of faith for Abraham; James really doesn’t mean that Abraham was justified by works; and just forget about Genesis 12, since Paul doesn’t quote from it in Romans 4. Unfortunately for them, that is not the way to exegete Scripture. Taking things out of context and dividing one text from another is a tool of the devil, and he blinds people to the truth by that very means, although they think they are being so clever.
Theologicalresearcher: Point 2: In chapter 2, Sungenis attempts to show that James 2:24 does not teach "justification before men" but "justification before God."
Response: What Sungenis forgets is that when James says "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (ESV) he uses the word "justified" in the demonstrative sense. This is drawn from the context of James 2:14-26. What James is trying to do here is to show the interlocuter in vv. 18-19 that even though faith cannot be seen by human eyes our works do reveal whether we have true faith or not. He demonstrates this by citing the examples of Abraham and Rahab. As a result of their obedience to God all those who knew them recognized their faith through their actions.
R. Sungenis: This is just another case of Theologicalresearcher making mere assertions without any proof to back him up. Besides, all his objections were dealt with in NBFA, but he doesn’t address any of them, which again makes me wonder how much of the book he actually read. Interestingly enough, he says that I claim that James 2 is a “justification before God” rather than a “justification before men” but he doesn’t show us how James 2 is NOT speaking about a justification before God. He says that James is concerned with “true faith,” but where does James mention the words “true faith,” or any term even similar to that? The whole essay in NBFA pointed out the fact that James makes no such adjectival modifier of faith. In reality, one can have true faith and yet still not be justified, simply because he has no works that follow his faith. This is the crucial point that Theologicalresearcher simply ignores, and that is probably because he doesn’t understand it or want to accept it.
He says that James “uses the word ‘justified’ in the demonstrative sense,” but that is just begging the question, for where does James make such a claim? James is quoting from the same verse from which Paul quoted (Genesis 15:6) so how can they have different understandings of justification, a point which I belabored in NBFA but which Theologicalresearcher simply ignores. In fact, I painstakingly went through the entire New Testament to show that “justification” is not used in the demonstrative sense. Suffice it to say, Theologicalresearcher is not a good theological researcher. He is just another in a long line of Protestants who simply don’t want to accept the Catholic explanation of these passages, no matter how much sense they make. If Theologicalresearcher wants to prove us wrong, then I suggest that he stop making mere assertions without proof and start dealing with the detailed rebuttals to his Protestant exegesis that permeate NBFA.
Theologicalresearcher: Point 3: In Appendix 3, Sungenis attempts to show that the phrase "works of the law" (Gk. ergon nomou) refers to legalism (or meriting salvation) rather than the law as a whole.
Response: Though Sungenis is correct to assert that "ergon nomou" does not only refer to the ceremonial aspect of the law (a la Thomas Aquinas) he miserably fails to demonstrate that the phrase only refers to legalism. Some Protestant scholars like Daniel Fuller and Charles Cosgrove have also argued the same. However, many NT scholars who reject the New Perspective (e.g., Thomas Schreiner, Frank Thielman, Douglas Moo, A. A. Das, Stephen Westerholm, Robert Gagnon, etc.) have concluded that the phrase "works of the law" cannot mean "legalism." In fact, they state the phrase is not used for the meaning of legalism by Paul but as referring to the law in its entirety. Thus, justification before God cannot be by law-keeping (moral or ceremonial) in anyway or degree (even by "gracious" works).
R. Sungenis: Yes, and if they conclude that “works of the law” does not mean “legalism,” they are correct, because it means much more than legalism. I never said one word about “works of the law” referring to legalism in NBFA. In fact, I said myself in NBFA that “works of the law” refers to the law in its entirety, so I have knocked that straw man out of his arsenal. But then Theologicalresearcher makes another point that I don’t remember reading in his above references. He says that the above authors would not even allow “gracious” works as a justification before God. I’d like to see him quote one of the authors to that effect. I know few Protestant exegetes who would place works in the category of grace, and create a hybrid term “gracious works.” Alister McGrath refuses to do so, since he realizes that once he does, he’s going to become Catholic. Most Protestants worth their salt realize that if works are put in the grace category then they can’t be in the law category in regards to justification, and therefore they have no basis for concluding that the works are non-salvific.
Moreover, as I state in NBFA, the Protestant has just as much a dependence on grace for his faith as the Catholic depends on grace for his works. If God did not look upon the Protestant’s faith with his gracious eyes of mercy, would the Protestant’s faith be sufficient to please God and to procure justification? Hardly. If Jesus says that we have faith smaller than a mustard seed, how is that going to be acceptable to God who is perfect? The only way God can accept faith is through his gracious mercy. But the same is true with works. We don’t come to God thinking that our works are so great and thus we demand payment for them. We offer God our works knowing that he is not obligated in the slightest to accept them, for we have signed no contract with him. Rather, we await God’s gracious acceptance of our menial work. So there really is no difference between faith and work, since both are accepted based upon God’s graciousness. The only thing God won’t accept is someone who tries to force his hand by legal contract. THAT is the “works of the law” that are so repugnant to Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers.
So Theologicalresearcher can make all the assertions he wants, but he hasn’t proven a thing. He can claim that “gracious” works won’t justify, but he hasn’t shown us HOW that is so. In fact, the only thing he has done is show us that he is cognizant of the proper distinctions but simply refuses to accept them.
Theologicalresearcher: Point 4: Sungenis attempts to demonstrate using Romans 4:4-8 that David was justified AFTER he confessed his murder and adultery (he even boldly states that he is the first Roman Catholic to offer this unique interpretation).
Response: Sungenis believes that God's justification of David is a result of his confession of murder and adultery. He twists Romans 4:4-8 to mean something it does not mean. He believes that David (quoted by Paul) is saying something like "blessed is the man whose MORTAL sins are forgiven after he has confessed, repented, did acts of contrition, paid the necessary sacrifices, etc." This cannot be the right interpretation. Why? Read verse 4: "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due" (ESV). David was forgiven by God's grace, pure and simple. Even in his ungodliness David was justified (just like Abraham before him). There is no hint of inherent righteousness as synonymous with justification here (is it no wonder that no Roman Catholic has ever interpreted the passage the way Sungenis does?).
R. Sungenis: Unbeknownst to Theologicalresearcher, every Catholic to whom I have given the above interpretation, scholar and layman alike, has accepted it without reservations, since they immediately see that it fits like a glove with Catholic theology, and thoroughly and completely denies the Protestant interpretation of Romans 4. Protestants are completely stymied by the Catholic exegesis of David in Romans 4. In fact, I can hardly get Protestants to deal with this passage.
As for Theologicalresearcher’s attempt to deal with it, I frankly don’t know what the man is trying to argue. I suggest he take a writing course before he delves any further into such things, because as it stands now, his words are obtuse. Further, he has simply missed the most significant part of the passage. We all agree that David didn’t “work” for his justification. That is not an issue. The issue is this: David was a justified man prior to his sin of murder and adultery. So then why is Paul using David as an example of someone who now becomes justified after he repents of his sin of murder and adultery?
If David was still justified after he committed murder and adultery, then why does Paul treat him as if he has just received justification after he repents?
Now, notice the way Theologicalresearcher tries to deal with this. He makes the outlandish claim that “Even in his ungodliness David was justified (just like Abraham before him).” Oh really? Since when are ungodly men also justified men? Can Theologicalresearcher show us anywhere in Scripture where a person labeled “ungodly” is at the same time said to be “justified”? I can save him the time. There is no such Scripture. This is just another ad hoc explanation; an assertion without a shred of proof; the inevitable trap created by a system of theology that is erroneous at its very foundation.
Folks, it’s really very simple. David lost his justification when he committed murder and adultery. When he repented to God for his sins, his justification was restored to him. THAT is why St. Paul can use David as an example of someone who is receiving justification, just as he says Abraham received justification. If David remained justified after he committed those horrible sins, how would that prove Paul’s case that repentance, not works, bring someone justification? I rest my case.
Theologicalresearcher: Point 5: In chapter 7, Sungenis attempts to show that God elects individuals and at the same time man is free.
Response: Besides being contradictory, the Bible clearly states that NO man seeks after God unless drawn by God's grace (cf. John 6:44; Rom 3:10-18). All men before they are drawn by the Holy Spirit are dead in their sins and unable to receive Jesus Christ. Also, for Sungenis to argue that Calvinism turns God into a sinner because he must judge unrepentant sinners who cannot move to God demonstrates that he does not understand Calvinism at all. He merely paints a caricature of Calvinism and the God revealed in Scripture. This is a very modernistic argument against Calvinism.
R. Sungenis: Yes, the Bible “clearly states that NO man seeks after God unless drawn by God's grace (cf. John 6:44; Rom 3:10-18),” but how does that prove that man has no free will to come to God? It doesn’t. Calvinists have used these verses so many times to try to prove their theology, yet without ever understanding what the verse is saying or what it allows. The very logic of the passage argues against them, for if “no man seeks after God unless drawn by God’s grace,” then ipso facto, if God’s grace is drawing them, then the man can decide to seek after God. There is nothing in this passage that says that man will inevitably seek after God if God draws him. THAT is something that Calvinists incessantly ‘read into’ this passage, but it’s not there.
As for “painting a caricature of Calvinism,” or that I “don’t understand Calvinism,” again, these are mere assertions. Zwingli, a Calvinist, himself said that “God is the sinless author of sin,” which I quote in NBFA. THAT, my friends, is a contradiction of the highest order. I rest my case.
Theologicalresearcher: Point 6: Sungenis attempts to show that 1 Cor 3:15 teaches the unbiblical doctrine of purgatory.
Response: The fact that there is only a hint of it in an uninspired Apocryphal book is very suspect to conclude that the Apostles believed this nonsense. Also, if people have to make some atonement in purgatory to get to heaven I guess Jesus' statement "It is finished" is a lie. And Paul was lying when he states that we are justified by faith in Christ apart from the works of the law (cf. Gal 2:16). Paul clearly states that those who build wood, hay, and straw will be saved "as through the fire" (ESV), not some temporary holding place.
R. Sungenis: Where do I begin? Let’s try Theologicalresearcher’s attempt to settle the issue by saying that Purgatory contradicts Jesus’ statement: “It is finished.” This is the typical superficial way biased Protestants deal with Scripture texts. In context, the phrase “it is finished” is referring to Jesus completing his task to go to the cross. If it means more than that, then why is Theologicalresearcher still struggling with his Christian life and trying to get to heaven? If “it is finished,” as he would have us define that phrase, then shouldn’t we all be in heaven now? Obviously, he has taken the passage out of context, specifically so that he can use it as a demagogic tool.
Theologicalresearcher: Point 7: Sungenis attempts to show that the death of Jesus Christ was not a COMPLETE atonement for the sins of believers.
Response: This is no surprise since Sungenis does not like the idea that grace is free to those who believe. For some odd reason, he likes to add some legalism to the gospel to make sure people do not get into heaven "the easy way."
R. Sungenis: This is another case where Theologicalresearcher sets up his straw man so that he can knock it down. I never said that the death of Jesus Christ was “not a complete atonement for the sins of believers.” I said just the opposite. The question is: what is ATONEMENT and what did Jesus attempt to accomplish? If Theologicalresearcher thinks that Jesus paid the legal price for the sins of believers, then he has two problems: (a) he won’t be able to find that idea in Scripture, and (b) if Jesus paid the legal debt, then no one should go to hell, because God can’t exact double payment for the same sin.
Oh, but the Calvinist thinks he has a clever answer to the second problem. The Calvinist claims that Christ didn’t die for or atone for the sins of all people; he only did so for a certain few people. Thus, the “double jeopardy” objection is answered. Unfortunately for the Calvinist, Scripture doesn’t agree with him, because it is crystal clear that God sent Christ to be the propitiation for everyone’s sins, as 1 John 2:2 says: “Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” Hence, this is why the Catholic position is the only correct one, since it allows Christ to be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, yet also allows the possibility that not everyone will accept Christ as their propitiation, since they have a free will to accept or reject God, as Scripture plainly teaches.
Theologicalresearcher: The more serious issue is exegetical. Did Sungenis forget that Paul stated that Christ became sin (who had no sin) so that believers can become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21)? Or that Paul was incessant to point out that true righteousness comes through faith in Christ rather than in one's own righteousness (Phil 3:9)? How about Hebrews 10, where the author talks about the "once for all" sacrifice of Jesus Christ compared to the continual sacrifices of Judaism? Does his Bible even include the Epistle to the Hebrews? Christ did not die only to appease the wrath of God but to be a full propitiation (Gk. hilasterion) for the sins of believers (Rom 3:21-26).
R. Sungenis: Perhaps Theologicalresearcher is the one who is “forgetting,” since I dealt with all these passage in NBFA, and thus, I again question whether Theologicalreseacher has read much of NBFA. All one need do is look at the Index of Scripture in the back of the book. I don’t think he has read much of NBFA, because he wouldn’t be asking the above questions if he did. Rather, he would be dealing with the answers I give, not only in Not By Faith Alone, but also in Not By Bread Alone.
Theologicalresearcher: Overall, I believe that this book gives a good presentation of the Roman Catholic understanding of justification but also shows that the Roman Catholic understanding of justification is highly flawed and based on tradition, papal decrees, and catechetical statements rather than biblical exegesis. If you want a good Roman Catholic argument on justification then a book by a recognized scholar like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, Karl Kertelge, Karl Schelkle, or Michael Gorman will do a better job.
R. Sungenis: As we have seen, what is “highly flawed” is Theologicalresearher’s interpretation of Scripture, but I don’t expect people like him to be able to see it. He is too enamored with his own view. He needs to stop separating one Scripture from another, and needs to stop thinking that certain Scriptures carry more authority than others. He needs to see in Paul in a different light, the case of David in Romans 4:5-8 being a prime example. He needs to stop his knee-jerk reactions to Catholic theology and begin answering the Catholic arguments rather than merely asserting his own beliefs without proof. And he needs to understand that Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer are theological liberals that not only deny that Scripture is inerrant, they also believe Paul was in error in many places. They are not representatives of Catholic tradition, but of their own views, which are permeated with modernism.