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

10 May

2KR_IIII. Introduction (and Conclusion)

II. The Passive Righteousness of Faith

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

In Kolb and Arand’s account of the two kinds of righteousness “activities and aspects of human life that constitute righteousness in the web of mutually constitutive relationships” are a part of “Luther’s anthropological matrix” (K&A, 28, 29). That said, insofar as we discuss the “active righteousness of faith”, Kolb and Arand do, albeit briefly, rightly distinguish between the acts of believers and those of non-believers, who also can externally perform the acts of human righteousness that God wills for their neighbor’ sake (K&A 54).*

This is in part attributed to “natural law”, one definition being “the law that God wove into the very fabric of creation itself” (i.e. it is “congruen[t] with God’s design of creation”).  Kolb and Arand perceptively note that in our time “natural law” has several different meanings, therefore the phrase “law of creation” may be preferable (K&A, 64, 65). They also note Gustaf Aulen’s point that the concept of lex creationis [law of creation] originates in relation to God, and is therefore inextricably linked with faith in God as Creator. (K&A, 65). In other words, what is called “natural law” really is the underlying foundation that makes all the other kinds of righteousness possible.

In his Galatians lectures, Martin Luther says “righteousness is of many kinds”, going on to mention, among other things, “the righteousness of the Law or the Decalogue” (in K&A, 53). Therefore, for Luther, the first table of the Ten Commandments – and not just the second – must play a large role were he to want “the two kinds of righteousness” to be a controlling theological paradigm (and not just a teaching that exists for the sake of the doctrine of justification – see previous posts here and here). Although Kolb and Arand do not emphasize this fact, they do show that God has “organized [the] created structures of life” around groups of “fathers” – including biological, fathers of the nation, and spiritual fathers.  This last “order of life” deals with “external religious communities”, or “congregations consisting of pastors and parishoners” (K&A, 62). Kolb and Arand even point out, I think rightly, that the other kinds of human righteousness serve “life in this world” for the sake of this kind of righteousness (see K&A, 57).

Expanding on this point, they say “traces of this walk of life remain [apart from Christianity] even though people do not reflect and do not serve the true God”. Being creatures of a Creator, man has a definite “religious impulse”, and when “considering religious life within the realm of active righteousness, within the world, we are dealing particularly with what might be called ceremonial righteousness” (K&A, 63).

Here, of course, we are not necessarily talking about the active righteousness of faith (in K&A, p. 39, they also do briefly mention “true trust”). Here is where I want to emphasize that apart from God creating faith in his Son through his Word, man cannot but trust in anything other than the false god of his own understanding. On the other hand, I admit that all must really depend on the true God, even if they do not thank or worship him. Even the man claiming atheism trusts the being responsible for all that he can see, hear, feel, etc. – not personally as the giver of all good gifts, but rather as the one who is there – and therefore as the one whom he can and must define himself against. All know, at some level, that making God go away is impossible. Hence the quip about the atheist knowing both that God does not exist and also that he, the atheist, hates him.

In a certain sense then, these to have a “trust that lives totally from reception of God’s gifts” (K&A, 29). Still, I do not know how Kolb and Arand can say that the “two kinds of [human] righteousness” are “two distinct ways in which every human creature pursues existence, two dimensions to what it means to be human” (italics mine, K&A, 25). I do not think that fallen man really thinks that” life and what is necessary for life is given to me” (see last post) – at the very least, this seems an incomplete picture that needs to be explicated further (I am quite sure that Luther himself believed that only Christians knew a passive kind of righteousness). In short, even the most moral of non-Christians – though perhaps we may speak of them having fear, love and trust[1] in God in some sense – do not even begin to have these things properly, i.e. towards the gracious Creator and Redeemer of the world who reveals himself though history – and with simple words – and culminating with the incarnation of the Word himself.  In other words, we must make sharp distinctions between these persons and someone like Cornelius from Acts 10 (see Smalcald Articles VIII. 8).

Again, to some extent creaturely righteousness simply cannot be avoided. All feel a need to – and must – “perform” before God and man on the stage that is life. This is why some want to argue that, really, there can be no “antinomianism” (although I note there can be this towards God’s law!). Even if one claims not to be seeking God’s affirmation (even if on their own terms), they always seek affirmation of human beings (see K&A, 27), Hence, all can and will be helpful in bringing human righteousness to the world. This, however, is the very least that can be said about this concept….

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

V. The Active Righteousness of Faith


*In their account “Luther’s anthropological matrix” demands that the “various activities and aspects of human life that constitute righteousness in the web of mutually constitutive relationships” (including varying concepts and terms such as “human righteousness”, “civil righteousness”, “political righteousness”, “ceremonial righteousness”, “righteousness of the law”, “righteousness of reason”, and “carnal righteousness” see K&A, 29) and the active righteousness of human life – “the righteousness in the world with our fellow creatures” (K&A, 28) – go closely together and almost become indistinguishable.

[1] “Faith lies at the core of human existence” (K&A, 38).

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