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

29 Apr

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


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