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

12 May

2KR_IVI. Introduction (and 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)

Again, Kolb and Arand say that “in this life a person is a sinner in the eyes of the law, the world, and oneself” (K&A, 49, italics mine). We have previously noted that God is excluded from this statement (see here). At this point, we also note that they say that “living only on the basis of Christ’s righteousness involves the recognition that God’s judgment contradicts the judgment that others make about us, as well as the judgment we render on ourselves”, and go on to quote Oswald Bayer saying much the same thing (K&A 50, 51). These statements are particularly interesting when compared to what they say elsewhere, namely,

Other people (parents, teachers, employers, and others) will judge us by how well we carry out our creaturely responsibilities… For this reason, Luther could actually state that in our human relationships the law justifies people on earth inasmuch as the law defines our responsibilities (even though the law does not justify in the eyes of God) (K&A, 31).

From this statement it is clear that there are other judgments besides God that matter in some sense.  The key point they are missing however is this: We are especially accountable to those who are called and ordained by God to speak his word to us. Insofar as they speak in accordance with the One who sent them, we are to gladly submit to their judgment. On the basis of God’s word, they discipline the flock – even taking steps to excommunicate persons when they refuse to hear and heed the words of God’s law and gospel. When God promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church, this promise does not exclude men of good faith and conscience vigorous to defend the truth (see my series here). Therefore, when discussing how in “human relationships the law justifies people on earth inasmuch as the law defines our responsibilities”, we are first and foremost talking about the church’s judgment – not that of the pagan world, however “reasonable” the judgment.  And we Lutherans must admit that the late Richard John Neuhaus had a point: ideally, the church should not only be a vehicle for faith but an object of faith.  In other words, we should be able to have confidence in the church and what it teaches at all times, even if we children of the Lutheran Reformation know, more so than others, that what ought to be is not always what is.

Again, creaturely righteousness is first and foremost about the first table of the Decalogue – not at all the impression given throughout Kolb and Arand’s book. This is the judgment of the church – which is the only judgment that matters – as it is in accordance with the judgment of God. It matters not whether the church is very small or very large. When matters are boiled down, we see what truly matters: everything is about the joyous proclamation and confession of the Lord and his marvelous deeds. And with the person of Jesus Christ breaking into history, we see more clearly than ever that the God of creation is the God of redemption – the world’s redemption from sin, death and the devil. To trust the creator God rightly is to trust the Savior, for Christ is indeed the Creator as well as Savior. Not only this – but the Father is also the Creator of the life-giving human flesh of the Son of God. Therefore, all of the offspring, or children of God (see Acts 17), are “one blood” bought with the blood of the one Divine Son, who took on created flesh for our salvation. As the Eastern Orthodox say, “Salvation is created.”

Therefore, what Kolb and Arand only go on to say in part II of their book (about how the Word of God works in the world) should actually be spoken of here as well. There, they quote Luther saying in a sermon that believers “have no other reason for living on earth than to be of help to others…. [God] permits us to live here in order that we may bring others to faith, just as he brought us…”, and “Thus you should also teach other people how they, too, come into such light.  For you must bend every effort to realize what God has done for you.  Then let it be your chief work to proclaim this publicly and to call everyone into the light into which you have been called.”[1] Elsewhere, Luther said that the Christian had “no other object in life than to disseminate God’s honor and glory among the people, that others may also receive such a spirit of grace.”[2] This is the main fulfillment of the first table of the Decalogue –creaturely righteousness at its finest – whether or not the world sees it this way.[3] 

Of course even the performance of such creaturely righteousness is not necessarily “the active righteousness of faith”. Again, this is because a person claiming Christ as their Savior may only have “historical faith” – that is, they may believe the historical and theological facts about Jesus without knowing him in the way that is eternal life (see John 17:3). And this same “false Christian” (see II Cor. 11) may indeed, at times, give a witness to Jesus Christ in spite of their unbelief. This brings us to our final section, a deeper exploration of the Lutheran view of the active righteousness of faith.

V. The Active Righteousness of Faith

[1] “Sermons on 1 Peter, 1522,” AE 30:11,64-65, in K&A, 186.

[2] “Sermons on John 14, 1537,” AE 24:87-88, in K&A, 187.

[3] Here, the matter of conscience is worth exploring, particularly what happens when man’s conscience in the larger society is no longer formed and shaped by the Word of God as in previous days. When Luther says the Christian must tell the law to “not touch [his] conscience” (in K&A, 77), he is presuming a properly-formed conscience, one that is captive to the Word – including the law – of God.

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Posted by on May 12, 2013 in Uncategorized


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