Monthly Archives: April 2013

The “two kinds of righteousness”. What does this mean? (part I of III)

2KR(aside: for those wanting the latest on the “Great Sanctification Debate” you can see Bror Erickson’s thoughtful piece and the response to it at his blog here.  Also see this post and the conversation, as Pastor Sonntag and Pastor Matt Richard are having a helpful discussion)

The phrase “two kinds of righteousness”, or “2KR”, for short, is commonly used in Lutheran circles these days to describe the “controlling theological paradigm” (update: my words) put forth by Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, most fulsomely in their book published by Baker, the Genius of Luther’s theology*

Kolb and Arand point to Luther’s use of the term, particularly in his 1519 sermon of the same name and in his Great Galatians commentary, published in 1531, where he said that the doctrine of the two kinds of righteousness was “our theology”.

What is Kolb and Arand’s understanding of this concept?  In brief, Kolb and Arand state that it was “[Luther’s] anthropological presupposition that God shaped human life according to two dimensions (two kinds of righteousness).” Also, they state that while God’s grace and favor alone makes “human beings genuinely human creatures of God in his sight… what makes us genuinely human in relationship to other creatures is our performance of works of love, which God designed to be our way of living out our trust in him” (K&A, 21, 12).

This idea of 2KR has not been without some controversy however.  Persons can get a taste of how people have responded to this teaching by taking a look at this 2009 post from the confessional Lutheran blog, the Brothers of John the Steadfast.

Interestingly, in that post, Pastor Jonathan Fisk, in his pre-Worldview Everlasting days, made a comment expressing how this teaching had been particularly helpful to him.  Here is a slightly abbreviated version what he said (full comment here):

I don’t know how everyone everywhere will use the phrase, “the two kinds of righteousness,” but being a St. Louis grad, I was rather thankful for the distinction at the time, for it helped to englighten my pietistic little head right into confessional Lutheranism. Some may treat it differently, or abuse it, but I think its hard to call it “new” to Lutheranism. Rightly understood, as Luther wrote of it in his introduction to Galatians, I believe it’s little other than what we confess in the Augsburg Confession:

(IE, Passive Righteousness:)

[He quotes Art. IV-V: Justification and Ministry (“as the sum of it”)…]

(IE, Active Righteousness:)

[He quotes Art. VI: New Obedience and Art. XVI: Of Civil Affairs]

…One thus applies the concept of horizontal or active righteousness to what we also/otherwise call “law” or any kind of “civil” obedience. It’s a good thing. It’s observable, good for the neighbor, and should be taught, say, as our Catechism does specifically in the Table of Duties. It is not the chief end and goal of the Church, but it is indeed included in the “all things” our Lord has commissioned us to preach. We could also compare these ideas to the distinction between the 1st article of the Creed and the 2nd/3rd.

Meanwhile, preaching the passive, alien, free gift Righteousness of the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake is the chief purpose and aim of the Church. It’s what we usually call “Gospel”. Not only would I hate to be told I could not preach that, but I don’t see how one paradigm can really replace the other, as they’re two ways of distinguishing the same thing: that there is in fact good and evil, and that we are evil but saved by grace for the sake of merits of our Lord Jesus. Kyrie eleison! Maranatha cum!

Pastor Fisk will also be discussing 2KR this coming Friday, in the third and final installment of his series explaining sanctification (part II, where he looks at Calvin’s teaching of the third use of the law, is here)

After this short series ending on Friday, I plan on publishing, in five parts starting next week, my detailed critique of Kolb and Arand’s book.

* Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology: a Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2008)

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Posted by on April 29, 2013 in Uncategorized


Silent no more: Luther lays down the law on how to preach the law (200 proof version)

Does God want you to read this book?  Diagnose yourself with help from this post.

Does God want you to read this book? Diagnose yourself with help from this post.

(Exclusive paper from Dr. Holger Sonntag*: God’s Last Word: The Third Use of the Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses and Disputations)

More people reading than usual (with the post here, here, here, and here in particular), but few are commenting. Have the last few posts “said it all”?  Or misdiagnosed non-existent “problems”?  Is the “Great Sanctification Debate of 2013” over?  Or has it just begun? 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you to cast aside any weariness you feel towards this issue.  Choose, in synergy, your own adventure!  (you can read Pastor Sonntag’s paper here)

In 2008, Pastor Holger Sonntag translated from the original Latin Martin Luther’s four disputations on his six sets of Antinomian theses, held in the late 1530s and early 1540s.  He says that, being in Latin, “they did not seem to have had a noticeable impact on the discussion on the use of the moral law in preaching and teaching over the past 50 to 200 years” (p. 1)  I note that includes the last five years as well.

Reading these theses it becomes clear that, in spite of the contentions of the 20th c. theologian Werner Elert**, Martin Luther taught a “domesticated” third use of the law, in addition to a political and theological use (pp. 1, 2)

In a footnote (p. 2), Pastor Sonntag reminds us that the Book of Concord commends Luther as “the chief teacher of the Lutheran Church who understood the issues confessed by it in a summary fashion better than anybody else…” (SD RN 9, DS VII, 39, 41)

Yes, but in what way is justification for preaching?

Yes, but in what way is justification for preaching?

For the modern confessional Lutheran who believes that “anything other than stern condemnation is… an attempt to manipulate God’s unchanging Word in order to let the sinner get off easy (“and inevitably create secure Pharisees”)”,*** these disputations contain many passages that might cause a measure of cognitive dissonance.  One example:

The law is already mitigated greatly by the justification which we have because of Christ; and it thus ought not to terrify the justified. Yet meanwhile Satan himself comes along and makes it often overly harsh among the justified. This is why it happens that those are often terrified who ought not to be, by the fault of the devil.

Yet the law is nonetheless not to be removed from the temples; and it is indeed to be taught, since even the saints have sin left in their flesh which is to be purged by the law, until it is utterly driven out. For this wrestling match remains for the saints as long as they live here. Here they fight by day and night. There they finally overcome through Christ.

Before justification the law ruled and terrified all whom it touched. But the law is not to be taught in such a way among the pious, so as to accuse and condemn, but so as to admonish to good. For I ought not to say or preach: You are not under the remission of sins. Likewise: You will be condemned; God hates you etc. For these sayings do not pertain to those who have received Christ, but address the ruthless and wild. The law then is to be attenuated for them and is to be taught them by way of exhortation: Once you were gentiles; now, however, you are sprinkled and washed by the blood of Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11, 13; 1 Cor. 6:11). Therefore now offer you bodies to obey righteousness, putting away the desires of the flesh, lest you become like this world (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; 6:13; Eph. 4:22). Be imitators of the righteousness of good works (cf. Tit. 2:14) and do not be unrighteous, condemned like Cain etc.; you have Christ.

Now, what does this mean?  Let’s take a quiz:

a)      Luther was capable of making anywhere from 3-10 false statements in 304 words

b)      Luther was actually a Calvinist, Baptist, or Pietist

c)       Luther could have benefitted from a stint at an LC-MS seminary

d)      All of the above

e)      This explicit statement of preaching methodology seems to fit Luther’s sermons like a hand in glove

Hope you got that one right.  Sonntag comments:

“In other words, there are basically two ways in which the law is to be taught by and in the church. First, in all its sternness to terrify unjustified sinners so as to cause them to seek the gospel’s forgiveness and salvation, but then also in the mode of an “attenuated” exhortation to those who are justified already.

Given the biblical references to which Luther alludes in this section, it is evident that he considered this method of going about preaching the law to Christians to be the apostolic method found in the New Testament itself. In fact, already in the preface to the first disputation, Luther summarized “this method” as that of “Christ himself, John the Baptist, the apostles and prophets.”

This is just the beginning.  The paper does not let up.   From Luther’s antinomian disputations some might be surprised to learn that: the Holy Spirit renders the Law “enjoyable and gentle” to the justified (p. 4) ; the preacher should not make the law overly harsh among the justified but should change into the gentler tone of exhortation (p. 5, see also 17) ; “under Christ the law is in the state of being done, not of having been done”, and therefore believers need to be “admonished by the law” (p. 5) ;  when the Antinomians insisted they taught repentance, Luther conceded this to them (p. 8) ; too much condemning law can lead into despair and to kill completely – the law “should be reduced through the impossible supposition to a salutary use” (pp. 8, 9) ; right method in preaching is no guarantee for success in hearers (p. 9) ; the law’s constant accusation against those outside of Christ is its main purpose or use (p. 14) ; to the extent that a believer is “actively” righteous, the law’s accusatory office has ceased (p. 16) ; under the accusatory law insofar as they are sinners, Christians are also “without the law” because Christ’s fulfillment of the law is imputed to them and insofar as they battle sin in their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit (pp. 16-17) ; we obey more willingly and freely when Christ’s life is shown as the example of the law (p. 17) ; our “active justification” in the world, while imperfect, is still praiseworthy (pp. 23, 24) ; God needs our good works because He is pleased to need them according to His will (pp. 25, 26) ; Luther’s anthropology of the “Thomas Christian”, where we are a twin that is triumphant and militant at the same time, explains how we are called into “lifelong military service and battle array” to expel sin against God’s law in them more and more (pp. 27, 28 ; note this is not the sinner/saint distinction) ; venial sins are done against the renewed will of the Christian, while mortal sins are done with the full consent and pleasure of those who either never had or who have now lost Spirit, faith, and therefore also their renewed heart (p. 29, 30)

Sonntag notes that in Ap. IV, 167**** it says the law always accuses us – but apart from faith in Christ, which silences the accusation of the law (pp. 12, 13)  The law accuses us when considered outside of Christ (p. 14).  He also notes LCII, 2-3, which says that the Gospel (the Creed) is given in order to help us do what the Ten Commandments require of us (p. 31).

So, what does this mean?  Is this the right book/article for the right time?  Is this apropos to our current debates?   Have you read the Antinomian Disputations?  If not, why not?

If you think you need a word of Gospel right now – that glorious message of forgiveness for Christ’s sake – you have it!  What next? 


*I asked if I could put this on the web and he concurred.  Here is more on Pastor Sonntag, who has become a dear friend of my pastor and a treasured voice to myself: Born in Germany and originally a member of a territorial Lutheran church in that country, Pastor Sonntag studied at seminaries at Bielefeld and Heidelberg, both affiliated with the territorial Protestant churches in Germany. During his dissertation at Heidelberg, he became acquainted with the works of Hermann Sasse and from there formed a critical opinion about the theological course of his ecclesial home in Germany. At that time, the late 1990s, also the negotiations between Rome and Protestants on the doctrine of justification came to a head in the so-called Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. When he moved to the US in 2000, he first joined the ELCA, despite his questions about the recent ecumenical agreements of that church body with various Reformed and Anglican church bodies. Attending an ELCA seminary was the straw that finally broke this camel’s back, and Sonntag felt compelled to look elsewhere for a church fellowship more friendly to his rediscovered and deepening Lutheran roots. So in 2001, he started attending Concordia Theological Seminary in FW. Then he served a vicarage and pastorate in LCMS congregations in MN. Now he serves as an Non-Commissioned Officer in a helicopter maintenance company of the US Army en route to his second deployment to Afghanistan.

**Elert, who denied the third use of the law (saying the law only instructed man about his sinfulness, p. 12), said that the afterward of the second disputation where Luther specifically talks about a third use of the law was a “plump forgery” (p. 2).  Sonntag shows, among other things, that even if this were the case, it correctly summarizes the uncontested parts of the second disputation.

***Green, “The ‘Third Use of the Law’ and Werner Elert’s Position,” Logia XXII, 2 (Eastertide 2013): 32, quoting W. Elert.  Because of this, “we just ought to preach ‘the law’ and then just let the Holy Spirit use it as he wills – a view also upheld by [Scott] Murray (in “The Third Use of the Law: The Author Responds to His Critics”, CTQ 72 (2008), 108-109)  But what is the Law anyway?  I, not Dr. Sonntag, offer the following view for critique: Mark Mattes writes that Jesus, in becoming sin for us, was “in the end justly accused as a violator of the Torah – God’s own law…”. Mark Mattes, “The History, Shape, and Significance of Justification”, in Virgil Thopson, ed., Justification is for Preaching, (Eugene: Pickwick, 2012), 53.

****Also note Ap. IV, 187-189 (p. 13)


Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


Who is the new man?

Figure3A person might be tempted to think that Jesus Christ, the “last Adam” and “Head of the new creation”, is the “new man” (Romans 6:2-7; Ephesians 4:20-24).  But that is not what the Scriptures say.  Pastor Surburg talks about this and much, much more that is very helpful.  Here’s a clip, but check out the whole post:

The Scriptures teach that the individual Christian is both new man and old man at the same time (Rom 7:13-23; Gal 5:16-17; Col 3:5-15).  In Christ through the work of the Spirit the new man knows God’s will and lives according to it. Because they are individuals in whom the old man still exists, this new life does not occur perfectly and instead occurs in the midst of struggle and weakness.  Naturally, the Lutheran Confessions also present this view of Christians as old man and new man at the same time (for example FC SD II.84-85; VI.6-8).

 While it is true that we must always add all of the caveats about how the presence of the old man impacts the individual Christian, this does not change the fact that in regeneration the Spirit has actually done something to the individual and brought about a change.  Paul writes in Rom 7:22-23, “For I delight in the law of God, according to my inner man (κατὰ τὸν ἔσω ἄνθρωπον), but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind (τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ νοός μου) and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”  Paul goes on to say in Rom 8:5-6, “For those who are according to the flesh think the things of the flesh (τὰ τῆς σαρκὸς φρονοῦσιν), but those who are according to the Spirit think the things of the Spirit (τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος). For the mind of the flesh (τὸ γὰρ φρόνημα τῆς σαρκὸς) is death, but the mind of the Spirit (τὸ δὲ φρόνημα τοῦ πνεύματος) is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6). The subject doing the thinking does not cease to be the individual.  Paul says that they think (the φρονοῦσιν of 8:5a must be supplied in 8:5b). Regenerated by the Spirit the new man now is able to think in the ways of the Spirit, namely, the things that reflect God’s will.  True, it is only through the continuing work of the Spirit that this is possible, because otherwise the old man, the mind of the flesh will gain complete control as he does in the non-Christian. Nevertheless, the existence of the individual as new man is not lost.  Regenerated, sustained and led by the Spirit, the new man is able to begin to cooperate in the new obedience that faith produces.
This is the position of the Lutheran Confessions.
(bolded parts were italicized in Pastor Surburg’s post)

As my pastor has told me, sometimes the new man just needs to take old Adam for a walk (and more).  We fight against him in this way precisely because we already are in communion with Christ.  As His sheep, we desire to huddle close to our Shepherd in the paths that are safe, good, right, true, and beautiful – to the glory of His Holy Name.

Image from my pastor’s recent paper, mentioned in the previous post.

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


The saint-sinner Christian life: driving out the sin that remains

Luther: we are to drive out remaining sin like Israel was to drive out the Jebusites.

Luther: we are to drive out remaining sin like Israel was to drive out the Jebusites.

(exclusive paper* from the recent confessional Lutheran conference in Bloomington, MN:  “It’s the Law – or is it?: Legalism vs. Antinomianism”)

For children, things are pretty simple.  When dad says “I forgive you” or “do this” they know what that means.  But what should simple Christians do when some of the most well-known Lutheran theologians from the 19th and 20th centuries seem to imply that Christians who strive to excel in love for God and neighbor are almost certainly attempting to justify or save themselves by their works? (this is something I alluded to in my previous post)

Well, getting deep into the word and some good old hymns is undoubtedly some of the best help.  In the process they might also find themselves having to make some fine theological distinctions, though I submit that the answer is not in some new paradigm of the “two kinds of righteousness” (stay tuned – more on this later this week).  Fortunately, Dr. Martin Luther already did this theological work in his day, giving us 21st century men the 16th century insight we need.  It would seem that Luther’s theological anthropology holds the key to our dilemma.

Click on the image for more information

Click on the image for more information

This is another report from the theological conference, “It’s the Law – or is it?: Legalism vs. Antinomianism” that recently took place in the Twin Cities.  What follows is a summary of Pastor Paul Strawn’s** paper, “The Lord’s Prayer as a Prayer of Repentance in the Antinomian Disputations of Martin Luther” (note that the paragraphs above are my own stated views).  Permission has been given by a conference organizer to put the paper on the web, and that paper is here* (the diagrams below are from this paper).

Pastor Strawn notes that there are many elements in the traditional Lutheran worship that require Christians to do something they do not want to do: repent of sin and acknowledge that there is “something within [them] that must be driven out in some way” – and that this can only be done with God’s help.   This is particularly true of the Lord’s prayer.

Click on the image for more information

Click on the image for more information

Using Luther’s insight about the Lord’s prayer being a prayer of repentance***, Strawn shows in his thorough examination that throughout his life Luther taught an extremely robust two-nature view of the Christian, analogous to that of Christ’s two natures****.  In fact, in the beginning of his conflict with Rome, the papacy and its theologians took direct aim at Luther’s anthropology, which Luther considered “a settled and true doctrine” (fn 21, p. 6).

Here is a model of what Luther’s anthropology looked like, a model that was consistent throughout his career.  One will note that Luther drew an analogy between man and the Old Testament temple:


In short, by grace though faith, the new man created and strengthened by Christ is to keep his old man, or old nature, under control by forcing it to do works of service, or love.  This would include not only the second table of the commandments (works done directly for our neighbor), but also the first table of the commandments (works done indirectly for our neighbor)!  All of this would be related not to the “passive righteousness” from above that creates and sustains Christians, but to our “active righteousness of the Law” on earth (not just “civil righteousness according to political laws” or “righteousness of reason” in general).*****  Along these lines, Strawn offers another helpful diagram expanding on the first:


Strawn quotes Luther in his second Galatians commentary saying that “there is great comfort for the faithful in this teaching of Paul’s [about the dual nature of the Christian] … if we sometimes become aware of the evil of our nature and our flesh…we are aroused and stirred up to have faith and to call upon Christ…” (p. 12) “Mindful of our illness”, the Christian constantly and consciously hears and meditates on the word of God, prays, and uses the sacraments to be “purged” and “cleansed of the poison of sin” – until our deaths when we are entirely purged.  We also use rituals and works “like an orderly of sorts” so that our sinful nature can be restrained while we “endur[e] the cure of a living physician, that is Christ.” (p. 13).  In sum, this means the Christian life is to look something like this:


Luther: “[Christians] have sorrow over and hatred of sin combined with faith.  And this is why they cry out with Paul (Rom. 7:24): ‘O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?’….we are reminded that the repentance of the pious is perpetual – yet in such a way that faith and the knowledge of Christ conquer the terrors so that the fear is filial, not servile…” (ODE, p. 125)

Click on the image for more information

Click on the image for more information

In sum, the Christian life is one of continual repentance as the new man created by Christ wars against the old, and this helps explain both the content of the Lord’s prayer and the Lutheran Liturgical Traditions.

Click on the image for more information

Click on the image for more information


*The Association of Confessional Lutherans (PO Box 43844, Mpls, MN. 55443-0844 ; Luther Academy (PO Box 2396, Brookfield, WI. 53008)

**This is my pastor.  FYI, he never asks me to blog anything, especially his own stuff, although he gives me permission to share his work when I ask.  I also posted his paper on cataphatic mysticism in worship.  Many of the books referenced in this post are also published by the press he started.

***Strawn summing up Luther’s view expressed there:  ”the praying of the Lord’s Prayer by Christians is the tacit confession that the Christian life is still beset by sin.  What is more, it signals that the Christian must daily drive out that sin through perpetual repentance” (p. 3).

****Strawn demonstrates that Luther uses “a type of genus idiomaticum in which the attributes of either [the old man and the new man] are ascribed to the entire Christian”.  Luther also explicitly made the analogy between the Christian’s two natures and Christ’s two natures in his “Freedom of the Christian” and expanded on this in detail in his “Commentary on the Magnificat” (p. 5, from where the first old/new man diagram above is drawn)

*****Something I would add: the church of course relies on external evidence in order to make imperfect evaluations of a human being’s spiritual state.  If we are to talk about the righteousness that is in the eyes of the world, we must first of all think about the church, who determines what good works are with the help of the Scriptures.  More on this in my upcoming series on the “Two Kinds of Righteousness”.

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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in Uncategorized


Deepening sanctification in antinomian times – always be prepared

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.—Psalm 44:22

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.—Psalm 44:22

In the Lutheran blogosphere, the “Fearsome Pirate”, has always been a bit of a loose cannon who marches to his own drummer.  But I suggest the man makes some good points and his perspective is worth paying some attention to.  See here and here for some recent bombastic but informed commentary.

If you want a more refined, reasonable, and respected voice saying much the same thing – i.e. the church’s faith and love is weak – see Pastor Peter’s latest post.

Although I have said that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, rightly understood, has had relatively little influence among the leaders of men – even in the past times” (see here for context), there is no doubt that the influence of the Word of God in the churches of the western world is waning.  There is a famine of the word in minds and hearts.

I think this is very true of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, of which I am a part.  In the LC-MS, missions have been cut back as churches as a whole are increasingly self-focused.  The church is “weak on sanctification”.  We listen to the word, but do not seem to hear it.*  And there is little courage to do it.  I to, am to blame.

I went to a conference for confessional Lutherans the past two days near the twin cities in Minnesota, where the topic was “It’s the Law – or is it?  Legalism vs. Antinomianism”.  There were some very good talks, but apart from a few who began to tackle tough questions, few delved deeply into this issue (again, I have done a series entitled “We are all antinomians now” and I will stick to my guns on this).

Professor David Maxwell, from Concordia seminary in St. Louis, at one point asked: “How to extol God’s Law without undermining the Gospel?”  It seems to be the question only a modern confessional Lutheran could ask – if they dare to haul the elephant out into the room.  In our healthy zealousness to defend the doctrine of justification, I believe it is our unique temptation as serious Lutherans to wonder about how to extol God’s Law.  

Professor Maxwell put forth the teaching popularized in recent years by Dr. Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, also from Concordia seminary in St. Louis, the “two kinds of righteousness”.  I will not explain it in detail now, but suffice it to say I think one of the weaknesses of this teaching is that it allows the world’s reason to define what a “good work” is.  And we know, according to human reason that teaching your children the catechism, attending weekly worship, and simply proclaiming the deeds of the One True God are not a good work!

But do we even think that it is?  Do we even believe that we can talk about these First Table things as being God’s Law – things we should do for our neighbor’s sake? (see this post).  Yes, we know that we cannot make the law of God do-able such that we can be saved.  And yet, should we – as men and women saved by the Lord Jesus Christ and called to serve Him by serving my neighbor – seek to know and do God’s love more and more – unto the perfection that we will only know on the last day?

Should I, for my neighbor’s sake, be actively seeking to be where He is at – about His Father’s business in the world?  Should I, for my neighbor’s sake, strive with all my heart to increasingly live within (not by) the 10 commandments according to their positive applications? (the possibilities are endless!)  Should I, for my neighbor’s sake, strive to consistently discipline my “old man” by fasting, praying, and giving alms?  And above all, should I, for my neighbor’s sake, seek to it at my Lord’s feet more and more that I might grow in my understanding and realization of every word that proceeds from His mouth? That I might more deeply be found in Him in the profound intimacy of His supper?

And If I catch myself doing these things to be saved or simply to make God “get closer” to me so I can feel Him, should I not simply repent?

But perhaps some might say that “when the law is do-able the sinner is in charge”.   I respond: didn’t the  16th century Lutherans believe that they should always strive to love God and neighbor more and more precisely because they were saved?  To bring the “two kinds of righteousness” back into this, that is precisely why Luther distinguished these as he did – for consciences who were striving to love God and their neighbor!  Why?  Because those who truly do strive to love God more and more see how short of God’s love they fall – and sinners perpetually need to be assured that God continues to forgive us, heal us, and give us peace in spite of our failures – and even our tainted good works!

For we are not to live by the law, but by His Spirit!  This means we live in the love of Christ who lived in the law – that is, in that objective form of life where our relationships with God and neighbor are nourished and are brought to fulfillment. 

But as regards God’s Law – being perfect as He is perfect – is there much striving going on today?  Do modern understandings of Lutherans theology even allow for it?  (note in this passage about perfection Jesus is not using the Law to try and show us our sin, even if that does happen in the process)

It should, for this is the way it used to be understood.  For this is how we grow in sanctification! This recent post on the Brothers of John the Steadfast is good in that it shows there is growth in sanctification.  But just how do we mature?

The answer is as simple as it is profound: hearing the Word of God, participating in the sacraments, and exercising ourselves according to the whole counsel of God. This goes hand in hand with the drowning of the old Adam that is daily repentance. Knowing that we live by them, we seek out every word from his mouth, and these comfort and help equip us, so that we leave childhood behind and attain to the “mature manhood” mentioned in Eph 4: 13-15. Since “the word of God…is at work in you believers” (I Thes. 2:13), this is the kind of activity we actively run to, and initiate ourselves as well.

I suggest that confessional Lutherans everywhere – including me – need to “grow into” this teaching.  Saying that “reverse progress” is how we should be talking is not sufficient, for what Pastor Kleinig says is not opposed to what I have said here.   Further, in his recent post where he says the “Lutheran sanctification debate is completely unnecessary”  Issues ETC. host Pastor Todd Wilkin recommends his article “Sheep Don’t Keep Track”.  It’s a great article, but “keeping track” is not what this debate is about.  It’s not that confessional Lutherans who speak of progressive sanctification (or “deepening sanctification”, which sounds great to me) are “keeping track” of their sanctification, it is that they want to, by the grace of God, to be faithful witnesses to Christ – even unto death.  It’s about being ready for the slaughter at any time, even as we are ready to share God’s mercy – in its manifold forms – with our enemies.  It is about being those whose trust is increasingly not in one’s self and one’s own strength, but in Christ.  For the sake of our neighbor.  Like Paul, in Christ, we become less concerned about ourselves (see Rom. 9:1-5)

I submit that is God’s program – and it’s something we should get with.  If you want to debate me on this, I suggest you read through this debate first.  Here I discussed with Scott Diekmann this quote from Pastor Bill Cwirla: “You can only say you’re weak on sanctification if you view sanctification as your work.”

No.  When it comes to sanctification, we exist in synergy with God.  Full stop.


*-I volunteer I Cor. 5 as one of the most relevant but ignored Bible passages of our day.

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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


If you would be so kind….

enlightenmentPlease take the time to check out part I, part II, and part III of an article I’ve posted at my other [well-intentioned but perpetually neglected] blog entitled “Should libraries ever be ‘neutral’?  Can any library? One Christian’s perspective” – even if you aren’t interested in the topic! : )

I would love for word to get out on this one.  If you know of persons who might be interested in this topic, please forward this post or the link below, which summarizes the article.

As some readers of this blog may know, I am a librarian at Concordia University St. Paul.

This series of posts is basically a response to the book Libraries and the Enlightenment After reading the posts, the author of that book, Princeton librarian Wayne Bivens-Tatum (who also writes the well-known blog the Academic Librarian), said “We seem to be the perfect foils for each other”

I have also produced a summary of the article at Concordia University library’s blog, and that link is here.


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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


Who are our good works for?

kidinpew“Does God need our good works?”

Lutherans like to say that our good works are for our neighbor, but there is more to be said here, even if the answer to the above question seems obvious.

Think about this: what is the fulfillment of the first table of the law (describing the believer’s duties before God), if it is not good works?  Yes, the first commandment includes trust in God, which we associate with faith, which we distinguish from the works of the law – but it also includes the fear and love of God.  Although our fulfillment of the first table of the law does not benefit God in anyway, it certainly is of benefit to all of God’s people.

Our good works are about God because we want to obey God.  And God desires works not because they are of benefit to Him, but benefit His people.  His people benefit from seeing others faithfully fulfilling the first table of the law.

Let me give an example.

My five children who accompany me to worship certainly benefit when they see others faithfully coming to sit at their Lord’s feet week after week. And they benefit when they see persons not taking God’s name in vain, but rather faithfully praying, praising, proclaiming and singing his Name and deeds. And of course they benefit hearing those very words that they say – words testifying to the One True God who alone is light, love and life.

Are they always paying attention? No. Might they doubt the sincerity of those around them? Sure – but less so those they know better. When they are paying attention, they will be convicted according to their old man, and encouraged according to their new man.

When I said this, someone else added the following wisdom:

“Notice the first person plural nature of the Lord’s Prayer. We do works in love for God and love for the neighbor but I don’t think we can ever separate the two and say that anything is done purely out of love for God without regard to the neighbor.”

Or vice versa, I would add.  In sum, faith is busy in good works the world does not necessarily see as such, and while we cannot use them to secure our justification, they often place us exactly where we need to be.

Photo credit:


Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Uncategorized


Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller on the doctrine of vocation and doubt

Last week I learned a bit more about Timothy Keller, the pastor of Presbyterian of Redeemer Lutheran Church in New York city from the Lutheran satirist, Anthony Sacramone, who used to attend there…

And yesterday on Gene Veith’s blog, a commenter named Abby talked about how while watching live-streaming of the Gospel Coalition Conference, she saw Tim Keller carefully explain Luther’s doctrine of vocation – and also say that “Lutherans (Luther) have this right.”

More from Abby:

“He described how a “milk-maid” is called by God to do her job. He said the people who do the simplest work are the fingers (masks) of God. And he said “Be the best at what you do,” and “Faith is our moral compass.”

It’s great to see ideas that Gene Veith has done much to popularize are being discussed more in non-Lutheran quarters.

And here is something I think Tim Keller gets right.  Take this question: “is doubting God always a bad thing?”  I think that this 1.5 minute video clip is convincing.

I, for one, am convinced that “wrestling with God” – as we seek to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind – is a good thing, even if, strictly speaking, I do not think that the doubts of a Christian are a “good thing” (of the unbeliever – yes!).  Nevertheless in, with, and through Jesus our questioning can be sanctified, as questions born of adult-like doubt and cynicism give way to questions born of child-like curiosity and desire to understand instead.

A process indeed though…

This second [3.5 minute] video is excellent as well.  In it, he talks about what reading N.T. Wright’s 800 page book on the resurrection of Christ did regarding his own faith (and corresponding doubts).  How great it is to see doubt lose its grip…. :


Posted by on April 12, 2013 in Uncategorized


Broken Lutheranism? My comment on Anthony Sacramone’s recent blog post

John Starck, 17th/18th century othodox/pietist hybrid

John Starck, 17th/18th century othodox/pietist hybrid

Over at his blog Strange Herring, Anthony Sacramone has really written an excellent post challenging views of sanctification all too common among even confessional Lutherans (I have done this to, and the most popular post on this blog has actually been about sanctification: The Christian life is like chutes and ladders.*)  Here is the comment I left at that post:

One of the reasons I know my sanctification levels are so low is that I am often spending more time on the internet than I should be.

That said, need to do it now…  : ) This is a very thoughtful post and it seems to me there is a bit of “convergence” happening right now regards these things…

In addition to your post, a convert to Lutheranism from the Reformed, Jordan Cooper, also posted “Progressive Sanctification- A Lutheran Doctrine” on this blog yesterday:

It’s a very compelling post, and I’ll give you this one clip:

“This type of teaching has practical consequences. I know of Lutheran pastors, theologians, and lay people who use as course language as they can, drink excessively, watch pornography, blow smoke in people’s faces who don’t approve of the act, just to proclaim their “Christian liberty.” I don’t think this is what Luther or Paul had in mind when they discussed the concept. I seem to remember someone answering the question, “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” with the answer “by no means!”, or as the Cotton patch paraphrase puts it: “Hell no!” I think many Lutherans today would answer that question by saying “of course!”

I recommend subscribing to his blog.  An AALC Lutheran, he’s definitely a guy to keep an eye on.

Also, last Friday Issues ETC had a guest who really talked a bit about the idea of progressive sanctification (he distinguished between passive and active sanctification):   This man, Holger Sonntag, is the translator of the new edition of Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses (see : )

Incidently, regarding that Issues ETC last Friday, the guest right before him talked about Christian freedom, and it made for a very interesting – jarring? – back to back… Its interesting to listen and to ask whether or not the two views are compatible, and if so (I think they are, with some caveats) how?  Here’s that interview:

I recently saw Pastor Heath Curtis, who is translating Gerhard, point out that there is a “good kind of synergism”:

Of course Pastor Paul McCain is often talking about these issues.  As has Pastor William Weedon:

Back when Issues ETC host Todd Wilken still blogged for the Brothers of John the Steadfast (it looks like all of his old posts have now been removed for some reason) he asked about modern worship songs that had good words.  I posted some that I thought were pretty good from the Gospel Coalition folks and I didn’t get much of a response – except from a guy who told me that the songs encouraged an unhealthy view of sanctification (I’m a pretty decent theologian, and the words to those songs were fine).

Tullian T., Billy Graham’s grandson who pastors the church James Kennedy used to be at, has recently been influenced much by conservative ELCA theologians like Gerhard Forde (and perhaps Paulson, who kind of carries on Forde’s work?) was also recently taken to task on the Gospel coalition website for some of the things that he has said that they believe undermine sanctification:


I also wonder if you are aware of Jonathan Fisk’s background specifically.  He touched on this more in a very interestingly titled talk “I’m Lutheran, but….” (where he talked about growing up Lutheran, losing faith, and coming back through a Calvinist preacher….)

I did a short post on this article ( ) and here is part of what I said:

“And when I went to Slovakia in 96-98 as an English-teaching “missionary”, it was not lost on many of us at our “missionary orientation” in St. Louis that many of us going overseas who actually seemed grounded and eager to share our faith (one guy I talked to wasn’t sure he believed in the Trinity, I recall) had been heavily influenced by Campus Crusade for Christ and Intervarsity Christian fellowship. I had even read Senkbeil’s “Sanctification: Christ in Action” in the summer of 1995, and while it helped some, his picture of evangelicalism did not seem to line up with the evangelicals that I knew…”

As I reflect on what brought me back to a more committed Lutheranism from my 6-year flirtation with evangelicalism, it occurs to me that a lot of it probably had to do with this guy named Don Matzat…. If a guy who was obviously so “spiritually alive” (he had been a charismatic after all) could come back to Lutheranism….

As regards Fisk’s book, I don’t think it’s totally fair to say he ignores sanctification.  The Baptist reviewer you cite may have missed the fact that Fisk says there is “higher level of faithfulness to pursue”, “[the] possibility of finding actual true growth”, and “objective maturity” (Fisk, 210).

That means to say its not that its absent, but it really does get lost in the rest of the book.

Actually, when Pastor Fisk did his interviews for the book, I noticed this as well, and it prompted me to offer these two critiques (and two others) of his interviews on my blog:

“To say that the devil convinced Adam and Eve that what God called good (namely them) was not quite “good enough” certainly rings true (they were right where God wanted them to be!), but at the same time, I think Lutherans have historically believed that they were to ultimately become better, meaning more mature (i.e., being not able to sin was and is the goal), albeit only through God’s giving even this to them.”


“While it is certainly true that “Christ for you” is the primary message we preach to fallen man, “Christ in you” – put in the proper context – is a very important topic to discuss as well.  Living from our justification (“Christ for you”), God certainly would have us delight to grow in our sanctification as well (“Christ in us”) – to increase in righteousness with Him and to increasingly will, from the heart, to run the way of His commandments – and not only to will but to do.  Again, talking sanctification here, not justification! (Hebrews  10:14)”

Fight the good fight Anthony.  I think there is much truth to your remarks.  I think a lot of us would really benefit from getting out hand’s on an older version of Starck’s** prayer book (the newer version has had a lot of it taken out).  This guy was on friendly terms with both the Orthodox and the Pietists and his prayer book underwent 100s of editions and printings.  It was a staple of the Missouri-Synod in its early years.

Here it is:

It is definitely intense, intense, intense!  Doesn’t sound like a lot of the Confessional Lutheranism today though I think its just fine.  I think balancing it with John Kleinig’s more recent work is helpful….


P.S.  I will now continue the pursuit of holiness today by abstaining from blogs on the internet!

* I have talked a bit about sanctification on this blog elsewhere as well in the series titled: Holiness.  What does this mean?  Part I and Part II

** Here is some more on Starck: (you will have to press “translate” as there is only a German Wikipedia article on this very influential man)


Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


“Mama” vs. ecclesiological dementia and pornography

wilkenSome illustrations really stick.

From Todd Wilken:

A person is losing his memory, he no longer able to think clearly as he once did, and no longer behaves the way he once did.

His doctor would diagnose that person with Dementia. According to the textbooks, dementia involves a loss of memory, and of patterns of thought and activity.

What if it isn’t a person, but a church?

A church that doesn’t remember its past. A church that has lost the ability to think the way it once thought. A church that no longer acts the way it once acted.

Loss of memory, patterns of thought and activity. When these symptoms occur in a person, it is considered tragic. But when these symptoms occur in a church, it is often considered progress.

But shouldn’t the diagnosis be the same for a church as it is for a person?

fiskFrom Jonathan Fisk:

No matter who she is, she is never able to live up to the image he believes she must be, not because she is a failure or unlovely, but because he is addicted to women who don’t exist….

Just as pornography feeds young men and women falsely perfected images of impossibly idealized sexuality until they cannot find contentment in any real relationship, so also trying to compel God’s blessings into the Church through “IfWeCanJust” theology preaches a falsely perfected vision of an impossibly idealized “Church” until no congregation can live up to its expectations…

we treat our congregations the way young women are being trained to treat themselves.  We try to squeeze our “Church” into a tighter dress, thinking this might better turn the eyes of visitors who glance our way.  We put fake eyelashes on her… lipstick a brighter red… “You need to lower her bodice even more,”… “That is what the young men are looking for…” (pp. 170, 171)

Back to dementia:

Forget that two thousand years of Christians were comforted in her arms, calling her Mother.  Forget that she has always been imperfect because she has always been made up of sinners.  Forget that her true beauty has always been the hidden faith of a gentle and quiet spirit, steadfast in comfort, graceful in blemishes, wise in age, and in God’s sight very precious.  Forget all that…. (p. 172)


Today, expecting her to be a trophy wife..the only thing we’ve gained is a spirituality that excels in training Christians to worship their covetousness…

What we once found beautiful we now call average, at best.  What once could make the blood race now stifles and bores… (p. 172)

But not to the child….


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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Uncategorized