Yes, I know that the book is not only about the third use of the law. But we all know that this is where the controversy lies today.
If someone in the Confessional Lutheran house spoke about the “so-called doctrine of justification,” you could bet that every head would turn.
But say “so-called 3rd use of the law” – using the church’s publishing house meant to provide the most excellent Christian doctrine to the laypersons – and many will yawn, talk about the variety of definitions of “so-called,” yada, yada.
I have two sneak previews for you — for this book that anyone who cares about the future of the LC-MS will be reading in the next few days (this is rhetroric by the way, hyperbole deliberately employed to make a point).
The first is from the Thinking Fellows podcast. A couple of these thinking fellows interview James Nestingen and John Pless, two of the authors who in the book’s introduction talk about the “so-called 3rd use”.
I didn’t need to listen to more than the first ten or so minutes of this podcast to come to Lando Calrissian’s conclusion:
Before we know it, we’ll be learning that Nadia Bolz-Weber also has an essay in the book (even though that is certainly not an endorsement!).
Now the second preview — mine. We do know that the LC-MS was founded with the belief that the Confessional Lutheran Church is the true visible church on earth, right? Crazy? Might that be kind of important to some of us who have come to Lutheranism or, after a struggle, decided to stay? We must be pretty serious then about defending our confessions.
Well….let’s take a look. It says in the book’s preface (download the excerpt I read here):
We have also included “God’s Word Forever Shall Abide: A Guiding Statement on the Character and Proper Use of the Sacred Scriptures” as an appendix to this volume. This statement, adopted by the dialogue committee made up of representatives from the NALC, LCC, and LCMS, asserts the necessity of rightly distinguishing the Law from the Gospel for a proper understanding of the Holy Scriptures.
Well, there is no doubt that this is true. That said, being that the book grew out of LC-MS/NALC dialogues I certainly hope that in the book there is some real honesty about the very different understandings those distinct bodies have when it comes to understanding the Scriptures as God’s word… Hmmm. Maybe they will say more about that below.
In our conversations together, we have recognized that the significance of the Law/Gospel distinction is downplayed, questioned, and rejected by some within American Lutheranism. Others have misused the distinction to promote an allegedly more liberated sexual ethic. The place of the so-called “third use of the Law” remains a contentious issue in some circles…
In the Smalcald Articles, Luther notes “that the law was given by God, in the first place, to curb sin by means of the threat and terror of punishment and also by means of the promise and offer of grace and favor” but “the foremost office or power of the law is that it reveals inherited sin and its fruits” (SA III 2).1 These are commonly identified as the first two uses, or functions, of the Law. The Formula of Concord clarified a dispute that had arisen among Lutheran theologians over the place of the Law in the life of the Christian, asserting in Article VI a “third use” that is a guide to the good works that the Christian is obligated to do in his or her vocation. Several of the essays in this volume take up this topic.
The editors of this book are firmly committed to the Lutheran assertion that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a necessity if the Scriptures are, indeed, comprehended according to the mind of the Lord who inspired them. (bold mine)
There it is again: “The place of the so-called “third use of the Law” remains a contentious issue in some circles.”[i]
As far as I am concerned, that statement says all you need to know about this book, which yes, I plan to read. I could care less is this statement was made in an Augsburg-Fortress or NALC publication. I expect that kind of language from them. But this kind of statement certainly gives the impression that John T. Pless and Albert B. Collver III, who co-wrote the preface with Jim Nestingen, don’t really think vigorously defending the ‘third use of the law’ is that important.
We’re all good confessional Lutheran brothers though who agree that the law is good and the Scriptures are God’s Word[ii] though, right?
No. Not at all. In sum, my sense is that this book would probably be a Godsend in the hands of many an ELCA laymen, but not so with us and our house.
When Mark Tranvik from Augsburg writes: “This book is a cool drink for those thirsty for new perspectives on the proper relationship between Law and Gospel,” I’m happy for ELCA folks to get that but not for LC-MS folks to get the idea that ELCA views like those of Gerhard Forde have a perspective that does not deserve a vigorous rebuttal and brotherly rebuke within the same book – at least in a book by CPH, which is meant to be an organ for the promulgation of unadulterated truth to the LC-MS and beyond. When WELS professor (!) Wade Johnston writes “[b]oth pastors and laypeople will benefit from the essays contained here,” I read that as saying that Gerhard Forde’s disciples aren’t just content to bring their ideas into LC-MS seminaries — ideas they no doubt believe can help an LC-MS that they see as overly legalistic. I am not even sure how Robert Bugbee can seriously write, “These authors take Christ, the Scriptures, and our confessions seriously” when we are not talking about the same confessions.
Frankly, in my view, the infections of some of these authors — note I didn’t say these authors themselves — need to go back to Bad Bol, Germany from where they came. We should not be so laissez–faire toward the viruses that have created so much Fake Lutheranism in the ELCA. Luther certainly would have not stood for this nonsense.
Another more conservative ELCA gentleman, Robert Benne says: “All you want to know about the distinctive Lutheran witness to the proper relation of Law and Gospel is in this volume.”
To Robert I say: We shall see. Things aren’t off to a good start however, in the mud that I see on our carpet floor. Why shouldn’t I think myself to be naïve for hoping it will be somehow cleaned up by the rest of the book?
Why don’t people with some real clout fight? Do some housecleaning? Say anything?
Finally, if you are reading me to say that I do not think that we should be talking to persons from the NALC and ELCA about these issues, you have not understood people like myself at all. In fact, we need to have a conversation! No, I would delight to have conversations with people who have honest disagreements over these issues, even if we must agree to disagree.
Lord, in these last days when you said faith would be rare, give us faith. Much faith.
[i] In John Pless’ essay in the book, available for free here, he also says: “Within the last decade or so, there have been significance publications and conferences on Law and Gospel, particularly with reference to the so-called ‘third use.’” “So-called” can refer to how something is publicly known, or, more often nowadays, be used derisively. Why introduce possible confusion here, if not to stir the pot? Well, pot stirred.
Pless also quotes Murray, who indirectly implicates Walther and Peiper: “The theologians who provided articles for The Abiding Word were deeply affected by the orthodoxy they inherited from Walther and Pieper. They emphasized the Law as an objective standard that provides instruction for Christian holiness. Unfortunately, their viewpoint tended to accept a tamed Law” (Murray, Law, Life, and the Living God, 73).
[ii] The editors of this book are firmly committed to the Lutheran assertion that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a necessity if the Scriptures are, indeed, comprehended according to the mind of the Lord who inspired them.