Friday, September 22, 2017

Are Protestants Closer to Catholics than Martin Luther? A Response to the Recent Pew Study (Part 2)

“On a fundamental level, the survey options do not allow for a very important distinction the Reformers made, namely the distinction between the instrument of justification (faith) and the results of justification (good works). Reformed folks would certainly affirm that faith alone is the instrument by which God justifies a sinner.  But, this does not mean that faith is the only characteristic present in the life of a true believer. “


Last week, I posted the first of a two-part response to a recent Pew study which claimed that modern Protestants sound more like Catholics when it comes to issues like sola scriptura and sola fide.

While modern Protestants certainly have some significant theological weak spots, I pushed back against the results of this study on the grounds that the questions being asked were fundamentally misleading.  Indeed, the theological descriptions of the Protestant (and Catholic!) positions were flat out wrong.

Having already dealt with the sola scriptura issue in the prior post, we now turn to the issue of sola fide.  Here is the summary of the Pew survey about the way Protestants view that issue:

For example, nearly half of U.S. Protestants today (46%) say faith alone is needed to attain salvation (a belief held by Protestant reformers in the 16th century, known in Latin as sola fide). But about half (52%) say both good deeds and faith are needed to get into heaven, a historically Catholic belief.

Again, this statistic, if true, would be quite discouraging.  But, just like the issue of sola scriptura, it all depends on how the question is worded.  Here are the two options given by the Pew survey:

1. Faith in God alone is needed to get into heaven (sola fide).

2. Both good deeds and faith in God are needed to get into heaven.

While the wording here is not as problematic as the wording of the sola scriptura portion, it is still quite confusing.

After all, the average Protestant might read #1 above and naturally think of all those people who profess faith in Jesus and yet don’t live a life of holiness or obedience.  Such a person might naturally ask (along with James): “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (Jas 2:14).

Moreover, the average Protestant might read #1 above and think about a verse like Heb 12:14: “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  How does a verse like that square with option #1 in the survey? Doesn’t a person have to have some good deeds to go to heaven?

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