Justification: Reply to Jordan Cooper

Justification: Reply to Jordan Cooper April 23, 2024

Highlighting Love as the Fulfilling of the Law & Commandments, in Relation to Justification & Salvation

Rev. Dr. Jordan B. Cooper is a Lutheran pastor, adjunct professor of Systematic Theology, Executive Director of the popular Just & Sinner YouTube channel, and the President of the American Lutheran Theological Seminary (which holds to a doctrinally traditional Lutheranism, similar to the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod). He has authored several books, as well as theological articles in a variety of publications. All my Bible citations are from RSV, unless otherwise indicated. Jordan’s words will be in blue.

This is my 16th reply to Jordan (many more to come, because I want to interact with the best, most informed Protestant opponents). All of these respectful critiques can be found in the “Replies to Jordan Cooper” section at the top of my Lutheranism web page.

Bishop Barron’s words will be in green.

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This is a response to some earlier portions of Jordan’s YouTube video, “A Response to Bishop Barron on Justification” (4-20-24).

3:26 we’re justified or saved —  set right — not by works of the law but by faith, so Luther says by grace through faith, and he intensifies it by saying gratia sola: by grace alone. By faith alone we’re saved and not by the works of the law.

Catholics don’t disagree with this Protestant understanding at all; particularly if we are talking about initial justification. The Council of Trent, in addressing justification, made this very clear:

CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.

CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.

Man can do absolutely nothing to obtain initial justification (a position that is contrary to semi-Pelagianism); therefore, at this point it is monergistic:

CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

[see also Decree on Justification: chapter 5]

Man’s free will to do any good is “moved and excited by God”: at which time man can then cooperate, in this grace:

CANON IV.-If any one saith, that man’s free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.

Justification is by grace alone (sola gratia): Decree on Justification: chapter 8; Canon 10:

CANON X.-If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.

Good works and merit proceed wholly from the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf (not from ourselves). They are necessary but they do not earn salvation, which is by grace alone: Decree on Justification: chapter 16; Canons 18, 19, 20, 24, 26, 32, 33.

Vatican I also expressed our doctrine in a beautiful way:

Wherefore faith itself, even when it does not work by charity [Gal 5:6], is in itself a gift of God, and the act of faith is a work pertaining to salvation, by which man yields voluntary obedience to God Himself, by assenting to and cooperating with His grace, which he is able to resist (can. v). (Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, ch. III, “Of Faith”)

6:20 you have the text like Romans 4 and Romans 3 in particular dealing with justification apart from works of the law or the one who is justified apart from works . . .

I thoroughly dealt with Romans 4 in reply to Jordan:

Abraham’s Justification By Faith & Works (vs. Jordan Cooper) + Catholic Exegesis Regarding St. Paul’s Specific Meaning of “Works” in Romans 4 [3-1-24]

But he has recently stated on my Facebook page that he doesn’t have the time to dialogue with me. That’s fine if he doesn’t (we all prioritize and are busy). I just want my readers to know, for the record, that I have addressed this and many other claims in his talks. They are by no means unanswerable.

6:32 and then you do have texts that speak for example about the final judgment and the role of good works in the final judgment . . . 

See: Final Judgment & Works (Not Faith): 50 Passages [2-10-08]

7:20 I really don’t see any issue within Romans 13 that would even pose a difficulty at all regarding the question of justification through faith, because this text says nothing whatsoever about justification it simply says that to love one another is to fulfill the law

I completely disagree and say that it is related to the overall question. Love is not faith, let alone “faith alone” in the larger sense, in which Protestants (the Lutheran Melanchthon initiated this) separate sanctification from justification and make it non-obligatory for salvation. A quick search of “fulfill” in Romans is highly instructive (and a new motif that I was unfamiliar with):

Romans 8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4] in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 9:30-32 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; [31] but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. [32] Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. . . .

Romans 13:8-11 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. [9] The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [10] Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. [11] Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed;

The commandments are fulfilled by love. Lest anyone think that the commandments are irrelevant to salvation itself (and are relegated only to non-salvific sanctification — as in Protestant theology), note what Jesus thought about it:

Matthew 5:16-20 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. [17] “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. [18] For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. [19] Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:16-19 And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” [17] And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” [18] He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, [19] Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Note how in both sayings, keeping the commandments (i.e., basically good works and expressions of love as opposed to faith alone) was central in the process of salvation and attaining to heaven and eternal life.

8:02 love is the fulfillment of the law, so I don’t really understand what the problem there would be in terms of the doctrine of justification through faith alone. because this particular text in Paul says nothing whatsoever about justification. He simply says that the love is the fulfillment of the law and therefore Christians are called to love one another and these various Ten Commandments are fulfilled in love. That’s what we are called to do.

Of course we are. All agree on that. The problem here for faith alone is that the keeping of the commandments is directly tied to salvation, which is contrary to Protestant teaching. This connection is made more clear in the cross-referencing of Matthew 5 and 19, but “salvation” is also alluded to in Romans 13:11.

8:35 it’s not the case that [the] Lutheran would say that the Christian does not begin to fulfill the law through love

I know. Again, he misses the point, which is the tie-in to salvation itself, contrary to sola fide and Protestant imparted, external  justification. In Lutheranism and general Protestantism, good works are required and urged, but wrongly relegated to the non-salvific category (in their view) of sanctification. Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and the Church fathers do not separate justification and sanctification in this manner. It was a 16th century novel innovation and false teaching.

Jordan consistently assumes (falsely) — if I am interpreting him correctly — that every reference to “works of the law” is the equivalent of “good works” generally. It is not. This gets into the “New Perspective on Paul” which is a Protestant movement that has many affinities with traditional Catholic soteriology.

14:09 it’s a question of what is the human’s role in justification; what is it by which I receive the love of God in Christ, and that is faith not my love

He again refers to initial justification. We fully agree about that, as seen in the citations from Trent that I provided above.

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Photo credit: Portrait of Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), originator of the faith alone doctrine, (c. 1535), by Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Summary: I interact with Lutheran YouTuber Jordan Cooper’s defenses of the Protestant doctrine of faith alone: particularly the motif of love fulfilling the law (Romans 13:8-11).

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