It is simply beyond the scope of this debate to address every single one of Mr. Tierney's arguments. In this rebuttal, I will be sticking with the topics that are most relevant and appear to cause the most "damage" to the Protestant position. I have already provided sufficient exegesis on Romans to demonstrate the Biblical nature of atonement, but let me go ahead and summarize it again:
Paul is taking an in-depth look at how we are saved. The pivotal section comes in Romans 3, specifically in Romans 3:28. "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law." In fact, Tierney agrees with this statement when he writes: "Mr. Pike has not even begun to prove that works of law equals all works in justification. I agree, salvation comes apart from works of the law." This was Paul's conclusion, which he had earlier stated with: "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight" (Romans 3:20).
Why is this important? Because Mr. Tierney wants to keep pressing Romans 2, as if it those very works actually did justify the sinner. I have already demonstrated the context of Romans 2 in my previous rebuttal, and the necessity to remember Paul's emphasis on the universal sinfulness of man. But what Mr. Tierney said is:
"We again ask him, Romans 2 talks about judgment, damnation, repentance from sin, seeking to please God, and eternal life. If this isn't the Gospel, what is?"
Mr. Tierney seems to forget "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight." And lest he speculate that Romans 2:6-11 are not speaking about works of the Law (but some other kind of works-the nature of which must be read into the text), read the context of the passage. The only thing Paul could possibly be talking about is works of the Law.
He writes: "There will be a tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God" (Romans 2:9-11). Mr. Tierney uses this to claim that there is works righteousness. But the very next verse demonstrates Paul's point:
For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified" (vs. 12-13).
What is Paul saying? "the doers of the Law will be justified." This cannot, and must not, be taken apart from Romans 3:28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." Here it is in black and white. Romans 2 says "the doers of the Law will be justified" and Romans 3 says "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." Either Paul is contradicting himself, or my interpretation is accurate in stating that Paul is demonstrating the impossibility of works of the Law actually saving anyone because all are evil. Given the universal depravity of mankind mentioned in Romans 3 ("There is none righteous, not even one" verse 10), the exegete realizes that Paul is demonstrating the hopelessness of mankind without the sovereign grace of God.
In other words, Paul is not saying any works can merit grace, for he is specifically writing about the works of the Law in Romans 2. Instead, he is demonstrating the high standard of the law, and the fact that "he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God" (Romans 2:29).
This shows us that Paul has no intention of using any work as being meritorious. The works he mentions are always linked contextually to the works of the Law, which he specifically says cannot justify anyone. Therefore, Mr. Tierney's use of Romans 2 as a counter-example does not succeed exegetically.
Now we must move on to the other weighty issue that Mr. Tierney brought up. That is the subject of James. Far too often, James is quoted as if it were contradictory to Paul's clear statements. We know that the Scripture cannot be contradictory, however; and it is clear that Paul universally denies salvation by anything other than faith alone. So we must ask, what does James mean?
First of all, we must realize what James' intent is. He is intending to attack empty faith-that is, a faith that produces no works. A dead faith. James 2 is basically one long "show me" argument. James starts out by telling fellow believers how they ought to live. He talks about persevering, humility, and patience. He gives advice on what good works ought to be done.
Chapter Two starts with these words: "My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of a personal favoritism." He is still speaking to believers (brethren), but now he is turning the focus deeply internal. James points out that "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10). This is a very grave position for the one who is sinning. And yet, some thought they were safe simply because they said they believed. James turns to that view in James 2:14ff.
"What us is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" (verse 14). Again, James is speaking to the brethren. The topic is not changing-he is still dealing with the manner in which Christians should live. In fact, everything from verse 14 through verse 26 could be taken as one single argument-you could skip from 14 to 26 and the meaning would be the same.
It is very important to realize that James is specifically defining the kind of faith he is talking about. Is there any benefit to the one who "says he has faith"? What must be evidenced beyond the claim?
That James is speaking of faith void of content is borne out in his illustration: "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'God in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?" (verse 15-16). In other words, anyone can make a claim, but it is the one who walks the talk who demonstrates the truth faith, as James concludes: "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself."
It is very important to understand the context that James is using here. He is attacking empty faith, not the kind of faith that Paul talks about when he quotes the Old Testament in saying "the righteous shall live by faith." That faith is genuine faith, real faith, and a real conversion. It is what Paul means in Ephesians 2:10 when he says we are saved by grace "unto good works."
The next verse is a difficult one to translate into English. "But someone may well say, 'You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.'" Regardless of how this verse is translated, one thing remains clear: works demonstrate faith. "I will show you my faith by my works." It is therefore clear that works are supplied as evidence, and that is the emphasis that James is placing on them here.
And lest anyone think empty doctrine could save, James continues: "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder" (verse 19). This demonstrates that orthodoxy, devoid of content, is dead. As Dr. James White puts it:
"From this we can gather a vital element of James's polemic: the confession of dead, empty faith that he is attacking, which he plainly says cannot bring salvation, is not to be condemned for its error as to orthodoxy, but is condemned for its abnormality in lacking deeds as evidence of its vitality" (The God Who Justifies pp. 342-343)
In other words, confessions of faith are not substitutions for a living faith. And in the spirit of offering proof, James continues: "But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?" (verse 20-21).
Here James brings out the evidence, starting with Abraham, whom Paul also used as an example due to the prominence of Abraham in the Jewish culture. Again, it is important to note that James' context is different from Paul's. While Paul is referring to saving faith, James is referring to empty faith. Likewise, his use of the term "justify" is different from Paul's usage, as we shall see.
Justify has, as I have demonstrated earlier, a legal sense of the word, which is how Paul often uses the term. It also, however, has another sense of the word: one of demonstration. We use the word similarly today. If I were to ask you to justify your position on abortion, you would not be expected to atone for your position's sins, but instead offer evidence as to the validity of your position.
James is making the same point here. Abraham was justified (that is, his faith was proven) by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar." This idea fits in perfectly with the context of "Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works" just three verses prior to this statement. James' context is not suddenly shifting in the least, which is made clearer as we continue:
"You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,' and he was called the friend of God" (verse 22-23).
James starts with the phrase, "you see that" which indicates the demonstrating aspect of the word justify. It also rebuts the argument that some Catholic apologists have made that no one was there to see Abraham offer Isaac. Despite that fact, James still uses that example to demonstrate the faith of Abraham.
But what is important to see is that "faith" is the subject of the first part of the sentence. It says, "faith was working." That means that faith was already present in Abraham. So what does the phrase "and the Scripture was fulfilled" mean? It is another demonstration. Scripture had previously stated, in Genesis 15, that Abraham believed God and was credited as righteousness; but the sacrifice of Isaac didn't happen until Genesis 22. It was then that "the Scripture was fulfilled"; that is, the Scripture was shown to be right in already having proclaimed that Abraham was just.
James concludes this thought with the phrase: "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (verse 24). And as we have already seen that James is seeking evidence and a demonstration, it is rightly so that a man does not prove himself by claiming to have faith, but by demonstrating it. This fits right in with the rest of what James has been saying. But James gives us another example to work from too:
"In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?" Again, it is the demonstration of faith that is in view here. This is specifically seen in the fact that Rahab lied; something that was against the Law; and yet that action is listed as evidence that she had faith. No one will say that lying and hiding spies is grounds for justification; instead, the text clearly states that these actions proved Rahab believed God.
And so it is not surprising that the theme continues through to the last verse in chapter two: "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."
What James is saying is essential to understand. Although we may prefer that James had used different words to illustrate his point of view, the fact remains that he did not use any of the words incorrectly, and we must determine their meaning from the context. James is not speaking in the same context that Paul is speaking. While Paul is speaking of the legal declaration from God (the technical justification), James is speaking of the works that flow after faith-genuine faith-exists. In other words, James is describing the act of sanctification, not justification.
Real faith must produce works. It is impossible for it not to. When a sinner is justified, he is born again and given a new spirit. The fact that he is justified is his grounds for entering into the Kingdom of God; but that does not mean that God will leave him where he lies!
And more importantly, because living faith must produce works, we have the grounds to judge someone's profession of faith. We are to judge people based on their fruit, based on what they do, because that will demonstrate what their heart already is. It is the nature of their heart that saves or condemns, and it is the works they do that demonstrate where their heart is.
So, let me summarize what we know so far from both James and Paul. According to Paul, justification in the legal sense of the word occurs on the basis of faith alone. That is, the only necessary ingredient to justification is whether faith is present or not. However, there can be false forms of faith (which is why Paul says in Ephesians 2:10 that God has prepared good works for us to do, if we truly have faith). Therefore, in order to demonstrate that we have a genuine faith, works must be present. If someone claims to have faith but has no works then we are free to disregard that claim. Living faith always produces works, but justification before God is based on whether that faith exists, not whether works exist to prove that faith.
This is the clear and unambiguous teaching of Scripture. The only way to avoid contradiction between Paul and James is to take the Protestant understanding of this issue. As such, since both Catholics and Protestants agree that the Bible is inspired by God, the Protestant interpretation must be accurate. There is no alternative. It is up to Mr. Tierney to prove his position, and not just to "sling mud" over the debate.