D.A. Carson is next up, and he takes on N.T. Wright’s views on “faith” and “faithfulness.” He begins by acknowledging that the Greek word pistis can legitimately be translated either way. As Carson notes, this is universally acknowledged, but I want to ask a question that can be derived from that simple fact. If the gospel itself hinges on whether we keep faith and faithfulness absolutely distinct, then what was God thinking using the same word for both of them?
Lest anyone derive the wrong conclusion from the fact that I asked this question, I do agree that faith and works do need to be kept absolutely distinct. But I admittedly have trouble trying to keep faith and living faith as distinct concepts in my mind.
Carson’s first point is one of agreement. He acknowledges that Wright teaches that what is offered to us in and through Christ is appropriated by us by means of faith. “It is important to recognize that [Wright] does not deny that human beings must place their faith in Christ.”
His second point has to do with whether we should understand certain passages as referring to faith in Jesus Christ or the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22, 26; Gal. 2:16; 3:22; Phil. 3:9). If the former, then the passages are talking about the instrument by which we come to salvation. If the latter, then they are talking about the ground of our salvation, the obedience of Jesus Christ. The odd thing here is that Wright takes them as referring to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, and it seems to me that this reading provides a strong argument for the imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ. But Wright doesn’t go there, and many theologians who do go there do so without the strong confidence they could have from this reading. If Paul had said that we could be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness at all, the kind that comes from pitiful attempts at law-keeping, but rather a righteousness (not our own) that comes through the faithful obedience of Jesus Christ, the righteousness which is of God by our faith in Him, it would seem to me to be relevant. Suppose he had said that. Wouldn’t it be cool? I think so.
Carson offers (what I think is) an odd argument against this. “A fair reading of the contexts of these passages shows that wherever the verb ‘to believe’ is used, the object is invariably Jesus or the gospel; it would take extraordinary evidence to hold that the cognate noun ‘faith’ is used in some different way.” Really? The usage of a verb sets the burden of proof for all uses of a cognate noun? And Carson does not just set the burden of proof this way; he says that the burden of proof established by this rule is one that requires “extraordinary evidence.” To set such a strong burden, it must be a strong rule. But where did this “rule” come from? Does it have a name?
Carson’s third point was much better, and not an example of special pleading. He shows that in Romans 4 when God justifies Abraham (Rom. 4:3) — contrary to the teaching of the rabbis who thought he received this blessing because of his faithfulness — God was actually justifying the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). Abraham was a sinner, and his salvation was all of grace, just as it is for all his descendants.
One last word on faith and faithfulness. The reason Scriptures can weave them together in one word is that they are no more separable than body and soul. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without faithfulness is dead. But before anyone freaks out, I am saying nothing other than that faith, when called into existence by God, who alone is wise, will be the kind of faith that does what it Creator tells it to do. Now what it is told to do is believe (John 6:29). If it starts to bustle about to do good works to earn merit before God, this is not obedient faith, but rather disobedient faith — and hence is not the kind of faith that the Spirit creates. Living faith gets no credit for being alive, and gets no credit for being faith, for that matter. Why would it? It is the gift of God so that no one can boast.