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

01 May

robert-kolb-2Part I here.

In this paper Professor Robert Kolb gives some illustrations to explain his view of the “two kinds of righteousness”.  He says:

Four illustrations may help clarify Luther’s distinction of the two dimensions of our humanity. The first is the conversation that your parents had with you nine months before you were born. You remember: when they called you to the kitchen table to offer you conception and birth in return for a promise to clean up your room, help with the dishes and taking out the garbage, and supporting them in their old age. That conversation never happened. That is not the nature of the origin of human life. Parents give the gift of life freely and without condition. But they do have expectations of their children.

Second, do you remember how long the probationary period was that Adam and Eve had, after they had been shaped from the dust of the earth and received the breath of life, to demonstrate that they could do enough of the human things to do well enough to receive the label “human” from God? Six days? Six weeks? Six months? The correct answer, of course, is that there was no probationary period. God made them human apart from any merit or worthiness in them. He did so because he wanted them to be his children. No probationary period to prove their humanity – but indeed expectations for the performance of what God had designated and designed as the human way to live.

St. Peter at the Gates of Heaven Welcoming the Saved

St. Peter at the Gates of Heaven Welcoming the Saved

I note that both of these illustrations fit nicely with the theme of this blog.

A third illustration, from Luther’s Galatians lectures… [me: I’ve edited this out to keep this post shorter]

Finally, a fourth illustration:

Although by the definition of his own theology Thomas Aquinas had sufficient merit to proceed directly to heaven, without having to work off temporal punishment in purgatory, the Dominican saint dallied along the way, visiting old friends and doing research among those who still had purgatorial satisfactions to discharge there. He arrived at Saint Peter’s gate some 272 years after his death, on February 18, 1546. After ascertaining his name, Saint Peter asked Thomas, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” “Because of the grace of God,” Thomas answered, ready to explain the concept of prevenient grace should it be necessary. Peter asked instead, “How do I know you have God’s grace?”  Thomas, who had brought a sack of his good deeds with him, was ready with the proof. “Here are the good works of a lifetime,” he explained. “I could have done none of them without God’s grace, but in my worship and observation of monastic rules, in my obedience to parents, governors, and superiors, in my concern for the physical well-being and property of others, in my chastity and continence, you can see my righteousness — grace-assisted as it may be.” Since a line was forming behind Thomas, Peter waved him in, certain that Thomas would soon receive a clearer understanding of his own righteousness. The next person in line stepped up. “Name?” “Martin Luther.” “Why should I let you into my heaven?“ “Because of the grace of God.” Peter was in a playful mood, so he went on, “How do I know you have God’s grace? Thomas had his works to prove his righteousness, but I don’t see that you have brought any proof along that you are righteous.” “Works?” Luther exclaimed. “Works? I didn’t know I was supposed to bring my works with me! I thought they belonged on earth, with my neighbors. I left them down there.” “Well, ” said Gatekeeper Peter, “how then am I supposed to know that you really have God’s grace?” Luther pulled a little, well-worn, oft-read scrap of paper out of his pocket and showed it to Peter. On it were the words, “Martin Luther, baptized, November 11, in the year of our Lord 1483.” “You check with Jesus,” Luther said. “He will tell you that he has given me the gift of righteousness through his own blood and his own resurrection.”

Got to love that one.  Kolb concludes:

Luther’s anthropology rests upon this presumption that the human being has two distinct though inseparable dimensions. Actively, we relate to God through the psychological characteristics of faith, while passively we relate to him as recipients of his gift of the faith that claims him as the God and Father he promises to be in Jesus Christ. Actively, we relate to our fellow human beings with the love that reflects God’s love for us and conforms to his plan for being human, while passively we are moved by the Holy Spirit to a life that is sanctified by faith. With this framework for defining our humanity we approach the people whom God has called us to serve.

I find much of what is said here – particularly the illustrations – very compelling.  That said, as I mentioned in my post from a couple days ago, this coming week I plan on publishing my detailed critique of Professor Kolb’s and Arand’s book, The Genius of Luther’s Theology.  For part III of the current series, I will talk a bit more about Professor Kolb’s and Arand’s stated purposes in that book. 

Image credits: and

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Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Uncategorized


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