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

08 May

2KR__III. Introduction (and Conclusion)

II. The Passive Righteousness of Faith

When it comes to the life-and-death question of whether or not a person is on “God’s good side”, “the entire discussion of justification” is, in one sense, “limited to the question regarding one’s salvation” (contra K&A, 22). Contra Kolb and Arand, the doctrine of justification, being a reality of how man stands before God – a matter of “right relationship” – is not at all a question of anthropology or original sin, although these things are certainly related to it. After all, historically the church has taught that even those who reject God’s justification are men – human beings. As Kolb and Arand rightly point out (K&A, 22), the doctrine of justification was formulated as it was for pastoral reasons.  As Luther said, “…Christians do not adequately understand it or grasp [the doctrine of justification] in the midst of their temptations. Therefore it must always be taught and continually exercised.”[1] This – and this alone – is the whole point of “separating” the two kinds of righteousness!

Let us explicate this further. When it comes to our standing before God – when it comes to the either/or question of truly being his child or not –we must only look at Christ, grace, and faith (which also is a gift he provides). In the Large Catechism, Luther even states that we are already forgiven prior to receiving it in faith. We speak this way in order to safeguard justification for those with a terrified conscience before God, who justifies the wicked via the external righteousness of Jesus Christ given in his Word. Though those God declares righteous (by faith alone) he makes righteous (faith + love), justification and sanctification are rightly kept distinct in our theology. We do not, for example, say [subjective] justification = sanctification. Rather, we say we are reckoned righteous by faith in Christ, grasped in the external word – and not even because of the perfect righteousness of Christ that begins to dwell in our hearts when justified. Kolb and Arand’s presentation of this topic simply does not make this clear (K&A, 38-41, 43).

When it comes to receiving this gift, young children are a fine model (note: child-likeness) – the ultimate display of the passive righteousness of faith. Infants in particular are simple, unassuming, unpretentious, and unreflective: they, in direct faith, receive persons and their good gifts freely, allowing these to form them wholesale. There are times this simple joy of child-like trust spontaneously comes to us…as the Word washes over our hearts and makes us confident that we are his and clean by his blood. Like simple children we call sin what he calls “sin”, and what he calls grace, “grace”. We believe his words of law and gospel and certainty is ours. Simple things like the absolving word are fully sufficient to both create and renew faith – which then motivates us to joyfully go on to “sin no more” – even making amends and restitution as we able. We know a new day has dawned in us. 

As we grow in the faith however, leaving childishness behind, it is difficult to continue to be like a child (K&A agree, see 78). As we grow in the love of God, believing that he is eager to forgive my neighbor is easy. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that we are justified by faith apart from works of the law! It is difficult to believe that we can’t be more justified than we already are, having full salvation with Christ. It is challenging to believe we can be real Christians when we do not really seem to suffer or experience persecution (II Tim 2:13) Why? It is because Old Adam clings to us – we do indeed remain, on some level, unbelieving and unholy sinners – ever in need of hearing the Word of Christ’s blood and righteousness for us. Since the law always accuses, we must learn to rest in security and peace, like a child nursing from his mother – willing to be “nothing but given to[2].

But Kolb and Arand state “Luther’s simul Justus et peccator means that in this life a person is a sinner in the eyes of the law, the world, and oneself, while at the same time completely a saint in the eyes of God on account of Christ” (K&A, 49). On the contrary, in this life we must remain sinners before the eyes of God.  On this side of heaven Jesus is only the friend of sinners (who commit real sins) that they might be, in his presence, saints. In other words: real sinners not just before men and oneself, but before God – who before he calls into existence the things that do not exist, also calls things as they are – as they truly exist in the empirical world – according to his holy law. While it is true that in his powerful and justifying word God defines “the fundamental reality of the believer’s existence” (K&A, 44), this does not mean that the believer is not also a sinner. As regards justification, the believer is both fully a sinner and fully a saint – even as their primary identity is saint.  To use the language of the philosophers, justification has to do not with the category of essence or nature, but with the category of relation. Yes, the “sinner-saint reality” that is created out of the “original sinner reality” by the faith-creating word of God can be said to be “subjective justification” or “passive sanctification”, but when the law is accusing full force, this is not to be spoken of.

Kolb and Arand further claim “faith constitutes the core of our very being and existence before God” (K&A, 51). They go on to quote the Erlangen theologian Oswald Bayer saying that “faith is not something attached to the human person. My very being is faith, that is, my trusting that life and what is necessary for life is given to me.”[3] (more on this later) Kolb and Arand also talk about how “the forgiveness of sins…is the restoration of our humanity… [it] has brought us back to being real human beings” (K&A, 157). Is the man rejecting Christ still a man, or something less? What is the advantage of using this kind of non-biblical and non-confessional language? The Scriptures and the Confessions uphold all humanity as being truly human – this is precisely why Christ died for his enemies while they were still sinners. Sadly this means that hell will also be full of those who are “fully human” – those who do not believe in the One who reveals himself in empirical history to destroy the devil and his work. The fact that even the Christian might like to have some of these persons as neighbors – which will be explored in the next section – cannot overcome this.

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

[1] Martin Luther, “Lectures on Galatians, 1531-1535”, in K&A, 33.

[2] Statement often made by Lutheran theologian Norman Nagel.

[3] Oswald Bayer, “Justification: Basis and Boundary of Theology.”, In Joseph A Burgess and Marc Kolden, ed., By Faith Alone: Essays in Honor of Gerhard O. Forde, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2004), 70, in K&A, 68.


Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


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

  1. Curt Day

    May 9, 2013 at 2:10 am

    I think the relationship between justification and sanctification will always be tough to explain. They are both distinct and yet tied together. Justification always leads to sanctification otherwise faith would be nothing more than an after-life insurance policy that we click to maintain our selfishness.

    At the same time, Justification is never based on our sanctification, it is based solely on the work of Christ to which we are joined by faith alone.

  2. infanttheology

    May 9, 2013 at 12:08 pm


    Amen to all of that!



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