The Other Paul
The Errors of Dr. Douglas Beaumont on James 2:24 and Protestantism
I recently discovered a Romanist convert and apologist named Dr. Douglas Beaumont, who converted from the Evangelical tradition to the Roman communion while he was a professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary (see his conversion account here). Having perused some of his content, including the conversion story, I can only conclude that - with all due respect - Dr. Beaumont was another Evangelical victim of Romanist apologetics preying on rudimentary theology and historical understanding, so much so that I was genuinely surprised to hear some of his most bizarre claims due to them coming from a professor with training in these fields. I'm not just going to throw this criticism out and not substantiate it either: I have already reacted some of his content (including this video) in the latest fortnightly chill stream on my channel, joined by my friends Fr. James (Barely Protestant) and Geoff (A Goy for Jesus). And the best way to keep informed of my upcoming content and collaborations is on my official Discord server here.
But I also hope to substantiate my criticism of Dr. Beaumont in this post by responding to a specific video asserting some type of conflict between James 2:24 and Sola Fide. He doesn't give the usual argument and acknowledges the Protestant response, but, somehow, he more "advanced" argument seems to be even worse than the usual apologetic.
His argument is as follows. James 2:24 presents a "direct verbal contradiction" to the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. Protestants will usually respond with reading "justification" as "vindication," i.e. a man is vindicated by works along with faith, not justified as per the Pauline use of our standing before God. At this point the Romanist could grant this as a possible interpretation of the passage, but now there are two problems for Protestants. First, they often rely on small prooftexts against Romanism, and yet here is a prooftext that presents a "direct verbal contradiction" the doctrine of Sola Fide (justification by faith alone). Second, and most importantly, the Protestant has just shown that he relies on "tradition" for his view, not merely reading the text. As Dr. Beaumont says (6:03):
... once you do that ["theologizing" around the text], you're not simply relying on scripture, you're relying on an interpretation of scripture, and therefore it is really your particular tradition that is guiding the authority of those passages and not the passages themselves.
Ergo, the Protestant does the very thing he faults the Romanist for.
Now, to any Protestant exegete or apologist, the problem with this claim should be immediately apparent. Dr. Beaumont portrays the Protestant reading of James 2:24 as just "theologizing" an external tradition into a text, when in fact we appeal to the text itself and the language it is written as justification for our reading, not a naked "because my church says so," as per Romanism.
One can find many Protestant commentaries on the passage, be they online articles or within published books, and - as far as I have read such - not one of them "theologizes" the passage with their tradition apart from the text itself. And the reason is simple; the text supports our harmonisations. The primary Protestant response (in my experience) and the one I adopt is as follows:
I. James is chastising those who hold nominal faith without good works (2:14 - 16), which, from the context, includes deeds like visiting the orphan and widow (1:27) and aiding those who are hungry and without clothing (2:15 - 16). This is already disanalogous to "faith alone" in that it is purely nominal, whereas saving faith is a true disposition of the will that necessarily leads to good works.
II. This nominal faith involves mere assent to facts, such as that God is one (2:19).
III. James' ultimate challenge to the one without works is one of demonstration; show your faith without your works (2:18).
IV. James appeals to the example of Abraham and Rahab as figures whose works justified them (2:21 - 25).
V. James concludes that Abraham was not justified by faith alone, but also by works.
Now, what is the theme that permeates this entire passage? It is not enough to merely claim to have faith, but also to show it when the need arises. Thus, one's claim to faith is vindicated by the reality of works. That is, when James says Abraham was "justified" (δικαιόω) by works, he uses it in the sense of vindication; proving his existing claim to faith. This same sense of vindication is used elsewhere, especially in Luke 7:35, wherein Jesus speaks of wisdom being "justified" by her children. And so, this example provides precedent for rendering δικαιόω as an external vindication, rather than the Pauline sense of internal change.
I wrote this in combined time of mere minutes, and all from the top of my head and a fresh glance at the passage. Yet even this is sufficient to show that a vindication reading is visible within the text, and not just an alien tradition shoehorned into the text, contra Beaumont. Now, he can challenge that reading if he likes, I'm all for that, but to assert as he does that Protestants make this reading merely by shoehorning their tradition into the passage is utterly false.
An additional problem is his repeated appeals to a "direct verbal contradiction" between the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide and a single verse of scripture provided without context. He is a former professor in a seminary; he of all people should know how this statement makes an absolute mockery of linguistics. Words in a text (broadly speaking, incl. speech) gain their meaning from various contexts, including and especially the context of the text around it. We recognize this without thinking all the time, which is why if I were to say "I beat my little brother in Mario Kart" nobody would assume I meant that I physically assaulted my brother in a bright red go-kart. But, according to Dr. Beaumont, this statement would be a "direct verbal contradiction" to me in another context saying "I have never beat my little brother!"; after all, the same words are used, yet one claim is affirmed and the other is denied, and thus there is a contradiction.
Now, let's remember, Beaumont acknowledges that Protestants have ways to read the passage in harmony with Sola Fide, and he grants it for argument's sake, so don't take me as saying that he really believes James 2 is an irreconcilable deboonking of Protestant belief. However, he is claiming that there is a logically prior statement or meaning in the text which is in contradiction to Sola Fide, and that Protestants therefore layer on an additional coat of meaning to smooth over the tension. But as I said above, this is patently false; we deny that there is any prior contradiction in the passage to begin with, precisely because of the above considerations of letting the passage define its terms as per linguistics. It is in fact Dr. Beaumont who illegitimately inserts a specific soteriological definition into James' use of "justify" in James 2:24 without ever consulting the text's own meaning of justification, and thus creating a contradiction from his imagination (as does every other Romanist who asserts this contradiction).
But let's show another way Beaumont's attempt to equate Protestant harmonization with Romanist methods fails. Let's say there was no other context behind James 2, let's say James actually wrote a tiny Greek note that says "A man is justified by works and not by faith alone," preventing us from making contextual arguments to harmonize it with Sola Fide. First, the lack of context would still put the meaning of the passage up in the air, since Beaumont's reading as justification-proper is not a given; it's a known fact that the word is used in senses like vindication elsewhere in Greek literature. But more importantly, we Protestants would do what we also do now with James 2; read it in light of Paul's voluminous discussions on the intricacies of justification and sanctification. Don't forget, we argue that Paul explicitly teaches the doctrine of Sola Fide, so simply saying "but muh James 2" doesn't mean anything, and can even be flipped back on the Romanist with an accusation that they're pitting Paul against James. So, really, the mere use of James 2 against Sola Fide likewise relies on the colossal presupposition that Protestant readings of Paul are wrong, which is where the vast majority of the debate is centred to begin with!
One last problem (of many) with Dr. Beaumont's video is his conflation of fundamental authority with hermeneutics, which is insufferably common among Romanist and Eastern apologists. That is, he claims that since Protestants use an external tradition to interpret scripture, they therefore must throw away Sola Scriptura. First, as explained above, we (ideally) come to our readings and traditions by appeals to the text itself, not a naked presupposing of our traditions and slapping them over the text. But second, it's absolutely true that we use our traditions, historical facts, hermeneutical principles, etc. to interpret scripture in everyday contexts. I need only ask, how does this use of other sources beyond the biblical text contradict Sola Scriptura? The only way it does is if one adopts a bastardized definition of the principle. Nothing in the simple claim that scripture is the sole ultimate and infallible authority even implies that we cannot or even that we won't have to appeal to external "traditions" broadly defined. This was a problem invented by Romanist and Eastern apologists out of thin air.
That is all I need to say on this video. It's pretty bad, and simply adds to many points of errors and even egregious dishonesty in Dr. Beaumont's content, as we pointed out in the chill stream reaction linked above, but also as Fr. James demonstrates in his own response to Dr. Beaumont's response to Dr. Gavin Ortlund.
This is another bright-as-day example of why I handwave appeals to "muh scholars" in online debate, because of their ability to make such erroneous claims as the ones discussed above, even within their own fields. Let this be a case study for all to heed.