A Wittenberg way of doing theology?: a critique of Kolb and Arand’s “Two Kinds of Righteousness” (part I of V)

06 May

2KR_II. Introduction (and Conclusion)

If you are hesitant to read my five part series critiquing Kolb and Arand’s Genius, I can fully understand.

So I can save you a lot of time by getting to one of the most important points.  Here it is:  For Luther, the point of the two kinds of righteousness doctrine was simply about defending and teaching the doctrine of justification.*  Period. 

Fleshing this out a bit more in response to what Kolb and Arand say…  since all men are God’s offspring (Acts 17), sons of God (Luke 3:38), and even gods (John 10), they are also full and real human beings, in spite of their fallen state.  Though these might be terrified of their sins before the Holy One (made most explicit through the proclamation God’s eternal law by His church through the Holy Spirit) – they can have forgiveness, life and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, who became a human being to save all people. Those who trust in Him also trust they will continue to get better in, with, and through Him.

That’s it.  Something a child can understand, right?

My concern is that Kolb and Arand do not seem to see things that way or at least want to put it that way (and as I basically showed in the last post, it is really does seem to be legitimate to question Do the professors think that their conception of two kinds of righteousness is simply “a Wittenberg way of thinking” or ‘the Wittenberg way’ we need?”)

If you want to know why I say this, please continue reading. 

As I noted last week (see here), Kolb and Arand write: “The crux of the Lutheran Reformation rested on maintaining the distinction between divine righteousness (which is salvific before God) and human righteousness (which is good for the world)” (K&A, 30).  But statements similar to this – as they are found in Luther – were and should be made for the express purpose of securing the sinner’s confidence of salvation before a holy and righteous God – not to establish theologically-driven “anthropological matrix” by which to view all human life and activity.

In the Galatians commentary and before that, Luther was particularly concerned to battle the RC doctrine that we are justified by our works, a doctrine which he maintained, for those who tried to attain salvation in this way, resulted in either pride or despair.  Luther’s distinction is made precisely for the sake of comforting the terrified consciences of those who were concerned their works fell short of God’s glory.  In short, people were consciously believing that they were justified by their good deeds, and Luther’s distinction is made primarily to still the consciences of those captive to this false belief.

Again, that is it.  Luther did not come up with the distinction of the two kinds of righteousness to help us to figure out what sanctification should look like or to define what a human being is.  For Luther, “2KR” was all about justification.  Both an Augustinian doctrine of original sin and the full humanity of the sinner were assumed by Luther.

OK.  Now for you theological eggheads, more critique follows.  This is especially for you if you think that 2KR might still be useful as a kind of theological shorthand of sorts to help talk not only about justification, but sanctification, vocation, “two kinds of goodness/awesomeness” (see Pastor Fisk’s latest here where he talks about 2KR), etc.  I think that is playing with fire.

I recently submitted a paper more or less reviewing this book to LOGIA: a journal of Lutheran theology, and it was rejected.  Admittedly, I probably took on too much for a single paper, but I have a hard time doing theology in a point-by-point fashion – where the parts can’t be considered in relation to what I understand to be the whole enchilada right from the get-go.   Further, some of the questions I asked in the original paper (I have now removed these) undoubtedly distracted from any of the well-supported and substantial points that I made.** That said, in light of some of the recent sanctification debates happening on the confessional Lutheran blogosphere (see the latest from Pastor Surburg here), I decided to slightly modify the paper and publish its core content.

A bit of a warning – it is quite dense stuff.  I have tried even less than usual to “popularize” this…

In last week’s series, I laid out the goals of Professor’s Kolb and Arand in their book.

The book is divided in two parts.***  Though my review mainly covers part I, I maintain that while the approach taken in parts I and II may slightly differ, the theology is the same.

My goals in this book review are as follows:

Regarding the idea of the two kinds of righteousness as a controlling theological paradigm – as it is explicated in Kolb and Arand’s book – certain theological questions of great import naturally arise. Kolb and Arand’s view of the “two kinds of righteousness” is compared with what the author understands as the traditional Lutheran view by focusing on the following topic headings: the righteousness of Christ credited to the sinner through faith, the righteousness that is seen before men, and the righteousness which grows within the Christian. These categories roughly correspond to topics either emphasized or addressed in the book: the passive righteousness of faith, creaturely righteousness, and the active righteousness of faith – and similarities and differences between these concepts are explored.  Finally, a judgment is made on whether the two kinds of righteousness as described by Kolb and Arand is sufficient to be the foundation of a new Lutheran systematic approach.

Again, before any persons object to my saying that this is what the authors are doing, I ask them to read part III of my previous series, where I laid out their stated purposes for promoting 2KR, primarily from their book, but not limited to that. Also, please note that in order to limit the paper to address the concerns and questions that I have, this overview will necessarily be selective (so apologies to Robert Kolb, and Charles P. Arand ahead of time).

Here is how my paper ends:

Kolb and Arand’s understanding of Luther’s doctrine of the two kinds of righteousness is akin to taking Paul’s statement in Romans 13 about love’s doing no harm (thereby being the law’s fulfillment) and using it to say we should understand everything through that very libertarian-sounding summary. Luther’s critical nuances cannot be lost. For example, Luther says of the active righteousness that it is, in part, about “slay­ing the flesh and cru­ci­fy­ing the desires with respect to the self” and “meek­ness and fear toward God.”[1]

As is evident here and in his later work, the active righteousness of faith, for Luther, has much to do with the first table of the Commandments before God – as Creator and Redeemer. Also of concern:

  • the subtle re-framing of justification;
  • the questions regarding the unbeliever’s full humanity;
  • the emphasis on the unbeliever’s trust in God;
  • the issue of how we are sinners;
  • not considering the church as the foremost judge of creaturely righteousness;
  • and a novel doctrine of sanctification.

So I question whether this conception of the “two kinds of righteousness” is really looking at the issues with lenses ground in Wittenberg (K&A, 20).  Over the next few days (every other day), I will publish the body of that paper that fleshes out that conclusion.

II. The Passive Righteousness of Faith

III. Types of creaturely righteousness and the corresponding law of creation

IV. Types of creaturely righteousness and the corresponding law of creation (continued)

V. The Active Righteousness of Faith


*”It is correct to say that in this life believers who have become righteous through faith in Christ have first of all the righteousness of faith that is reckoned to them and then thereafter the righteousness of new obedience or good works that are begun in them. But these two kinds of righteousness dare not be mixed with each other or simultaneously introduced into the article on justification by faith before God. For because this righteousness that is begun in us–this renewal–is imperfect and impure in this life because of our flesh, a person cannot use it in any way to stand before God’s judgment throne… Even following their renewal, when they already are producing many good works and living the best kind of life, human beings please God, are acceptable to him, and receive adoption as children and heirs of eternal life only because of Christ’s obedience.” SD III.32

**Also, I do not spend too much time in the paper (which I had to make 5,000 words or less for LOGIA) quoting from Luther or the Confessions to make my points. I assume that persons who are familiar with these will recognize the validity of the points that I am making.

*** The books contents, which can be explored more here: Part 1 of the book is titled “’Our theology’: Luther’s Definition of the Human Creature though ‘Two Kinds of Righteousness’”, and the authors sum it up as “[Luther’s ] fundamental presuppositions regarding what it means to be human” (K&A, 10). Here, Kolb and Arand go on to develop their previous work in this area, as they discuss “Luther’s Anthropological Matrix”, “The Core of Human Identity”, “The Shape of Human Performance”, “The Subversion of Our Human Identity” and “The Dynamics of Faith”. Part II of the book bears the title “When the Word Is Spoken, All Things are Possible:  Luther and the Word of God”. In other words, this part deals with “[Luther’s] understanding of the way God works in his world” (K&A, 10). In this part of the book, the authors discuss “The Functions of the Word”, “The Enfleshed and Written Forms of God’s Word”, “The ‘Means of Grace’ as Forms of God’s Word”, and “Gods’ Word Takes Form as His People Convey it to One Another”.

[1]AE 31:297-299. The sermon can be found here:

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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


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