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What Does the 1517 Legacy Project Believe Concerning the Nature of God’s Law and the Atonement?

23 Oct

It is no secret that the writings of the late ELCA theologian Gerhard Forde have impacted the folks at the 1517 Legacy Project out of Concordia Irvine.

Some in that group — at least the ones in charge of making the stickers! — are quite proud of this fact.

Not only does “Forde live” with the 1517 Legacy Project, but one of the celebrated speakers at the recent 1517 Legacy’s Reformation conference is considered, by many, to be Forde’s theological heir, carrying on his unique emphases.

This particular person, along with Forde, was one of the main topics of my last blog post (I did not name him there nor will I name him here), discussing the idea that Jesus was justly accused by God’s law. I argue that Forde’s view of the law (i.e. that it is wholly temporal) and his view of the atonement go hand-in-hand, and result in novel theological statements like “Jesus was justly accused by God’s law”.

As regards that thesis, I want to thank Brad Novacek, who very thoughtfully engaged with the article on the Confessional Lutheran Fellowship Facebook group.

I got Brad’s permission to post our conversation here (I’ve edited the conversation somewhat, fixing spelling errors and the like):

Brad Novacek [Infanttheology], I’m not sure I follow your meaning. Are you saying that there’s something wrong with the article you posted, or are you using it as a kind correction about [this theologians] alleged theological issues?
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[Infanttheology] Brad – here’s what I say: http://www.patheos.com/…/jesus-became-sin-also-become…/
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Brad Novacek [Infanttheology], Okay, I think I understand your point here. This is certainly a complex issue and the terminology must be well defined to convey a proper understanding. This is often not done. I think we actually hold very similar views, but there is a sense in which Jesus became a “sinner” on the cross. To be clear, it is plain wrong to say that Jesus became the “embodiment of sin” or “took on a sin nature,” Just as it is wrong to say that he was a sinner because of some sin of his own. But if we think of the term “sinner” in the broad sense (a person with…or perhaps convicted of…sin) as opposed to the narrow sense (someone who has sinned), we can see a great distinction that can be made in the case of Christ. Jesus was fully man and was therefore under the law just as any of us are. He has a human nature, but without original sin. Also, he never committed actual sin. So Jesus was not a sinner in the narrow sense (one who has sinned).

However, the broad sense is another matter. Here is my meaning. When we receive salvation we receive the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness is not imparted to us so that it becomes ours…inherently part of us. Rather, it is imputed to us…It remains Christ’s, but we wear it like a cloak. Therefore, in the eyes of God and under the accusations of the Law, we are not guilty. We are still sinners, but reckoned as righteous because of Christ’s imputed righteousness. But this great exchange goes in both directions. He remained righteous but was reckoned as a sinner for our sake because of our imputed sin. We remember that Christ’s atonement was substitutionary…he is our substitute. A substitute must by definition stand in our place as sinners. As his righteousness is imputed to us, so also was our sin imputed to Christ on the cross. Again, imputed, not imparted. It did not become his own, but rather he wore it just as we wear his righteousness. In the same way we say that we are righteous (in truth, only reckoned because of Christ’s imputed righteousness in us), so also we can say that Christ was a “sinner” in the broad sense of one who has sin (again, only reckoned because of our imputed sin in him). But that reckoning has meaning. In the eyes of God, we ARE righteous, just as Jesus on the cross WAS a sinner. So yes, the law found him guilty because of our imputed sin, just as it finds us not guilty because of Christ’s imputed righteousness. That’s simply Christ as our substitute. That is Luther’s whole point in calling Jesus a sinner (the greatest of sinners, in fact) in his Galatians commentary. All of this seems to be the main point of the first article you posted, though he didn’t acknowledge the broad sense of “sinner” as it is used by Luther (and Calvin in the portion he quoted), intentional or not, I cannot tell.

The idea of Jesus as a “sinner” can cause confusion, but in the broad sense it is biblically accurate. However, to say that he embodied sin, took on a sin nature, or became a sinner in the narrow sense is simply unbiblical. That is why Jesus as a “sinner” can cause so much confusion if not properly defined. We must determine whether the broad or narrow sense is meant. Both you and the author of the other article were thinking in the narrow sense, and you were correct in your statements, but it’s not the whole story.

As for saying that he was “justly accused by God’s law,” I’d have to read the full context to fully grasp the meaning of the author, but his flowery language there makes me think he may have just misspoke in his effort to be interesting. The whole question is perhaps dubious since I’m not sure we can say from Scripture whether or not Jesus was actually accused. We are accused but not condemned because Christ took our condemnation, but I’d have to determine whether Christ was condemned because of the law’s accusations against us (against our sin imputed to him) or because of supposed accusations against him as the bearer of our imputed sins (if we can determine that from Scripture at all). The point is that there is accusation and condemnation. We are accused of sin, Christ is condemned as a “sinner.

[Infanttheology] Brad Novacek “I’d have to determine whether Christ was condemned because of the law’s accusations against us (against our sin imputed to him) or because of supposed accusations against him as the bearer of our imputed sins (if we can determine that from Scripture at all).” I’m going with the former, because the law’s accusations against us are accusations based in fact. “On our behalf” are key words, I think.

Brad Novacek [Infanttheology], I would lean that way as well since we know that much for sure.

[Infanttheology] Brad Novacek Do you mind if I turn our convo into a blog post? Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

Brad Novacek Absolutely. Thanks for checking. I hope it turns out well for you and can help people understand this particularly tricky situation.

I think that Brad has worked very hard to put the best construction on the statements I discussed in the blog post. That said, my main point is this: given the premise that God’s law is not eternal but temporal, it makes perfect sense that a person’s view of the atonement would be radically altered. To believe, for example, that Jesus becomes a sinner because an imperfect law, not fully reflective of the will of God, accuses and condemns Him as such (go back to my post again for the more fully worked-out argument).

And if you want to follow my reasoning even more closely you can do that in what immediately follows. I followed up with the theologian I was challenging, sending the following email to him (slightly edited):

“I have tried as best I can to discern what you are saying theologically, from your writings. Where might I be going wrong? I really do want to know, as I have no interest in misrepresenting you.:

Luther tells us that “the law’s proper effect…you always ought to remain in the chief (principal) definition of the law, that it works wrath and hatred and despair…”

According to you, Jesus Himself felt this wrath: “[Jesus] felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him”

By its own standard, which cannot be violated (as a friend once told me “When the Law says ‘stone’ you stone!), the law “justly” but falsely accuses Jesus of being a sinner.

([As you say:] “Here Paul’s point is exact: the law is no respecter of persons, it does not identify Christ among sinners as an exception to the rule. Law as “blind lady justice” executes its judgment regardless of race, color, creed—or divinity.”)

Why? Is this perhaps where we say that the law, though good, is weak? It is “good” temporally, and has a practical function for the time being, but ultimately is a creation of this world that is passing away?

Is it because the Law, focused on externals, can’t distinguish between a cry of dereliction that dishonors God and one which, though without faith, was, given the circumstances, in some sense justified?

When[, as you say,] Christ “irrationally comes to confess this crime so vehemently that he believes he has committed it— and as Luther famously said, “as you believe, so it is,” does God, seeing this occur, change His mind about sin?

Is this where the will of God accepts Christ’s lack of trust and cry of dereliction that results when Christ personally takes on the sin of the whole world? – i.e. this unbelief is somehow understandable?!

For you then, does the law falsely accuse Jesus of sinning when, in fact, by God’s judgment (which makes it so!) “ontologically Christ didn’t sin” (not sure where this quote is from, but someone claimed it for you)?

If so, the law of God here, on the other hand, does not accept this. Because, ultimately, the law of God is not the will of God – in the end it is distinct from, apart from, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

[As you say:] “As long as God’s anger at sin, his law, is his righteousness, then his righteousness is in the process of destroying the whole cosmos”

“[A]ll laws that regulate men’s actions must be subject to justice [Billicheit], their mistress, because of the innumerable and varied circumstances which no one can anticipate or set down.” (LW 46:103; WA 19:632)

When it comes to law, good decisions are made “as though there were no books.” “Such a free decision is given, however, by love and natural law, with which all reason is filled ; out of books come extravagant and untenable judgments” (LW 45:128 ; WA 11:279)

In the end then, Jesus did not just, as the Scriptures say, “Become sin” for us – He also became a Sinner according to God’s law, which now passes away…

E.g. [as you say:] “The law is eternally in the past for those who have been put to death in baptism; it is a memory. Their future is without any law, since a good heart does the works of the law—without any law at all— perfectly freely.”

My conclusion: Per you, God’s will does not see Him as a sinner. The law falsely does. What happens here though? What is the inevitable result? Now is it harder for us to see Him as God to…. Or is that just our theology of glory talking, which can’t stomach weakness in God, who should be strong?”

Unfortunately, I have been told that this particular theologian does not appreciate being challenged at all, and will generally not answer emails from his own students. I hope that he will reconsider this policy, and let us know what he really does believe, teach, and confess regarding these issues.

And I am sure that many of us think that a statement from the 1517 Legacy Project regarding the same would be in line as well.

+++

Because if Forde’s doctrine lives, we die.

FIN

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6 Comments

Posted by on October 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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6 responses to “What Does the 1517 Legacy Project Believe Concerning the Nature of God’s Law and the Atonement?

  1. Jon Alan Schmidt

    November 4, 2017 at 12:11 am

    That said, my main point is this: given the premise that God’s law is not eternal but temporal, it makes perfect sense that a person’s view of the atonement would be radically altered.

    Nathan, do you see this as the prevailing order of logical progression? Or is it the other way around, as Robert Baker seems to be suggesting: Given the premise of a radically altered view of the atonement – i.e., not vicarious satisfaction – it makes perfect sense that a person would conclude that God’s law is not eternal but temporal.

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      November 4, 2017 at 9:49 am

      Jon,

      I don’t know the answer to that question. I do think that there is a relation, of course, the constellation of denials that Pastor Baker describes. I tend to think that as far as causality goes, things could go both ways, but I haven’t thought about this matter all too much.

      +Nathan

       
      • Jon Alan Schmidt

        November 4, 2017 at 3:02 pm

        It is not so much a matter of causality as logical dependence. Arguing about the third use of the Law will only go so far if the conflicting views on it turn out to be grounded in some other, more basic disagreement. While recognizing the interdependence of the various issues, I am wondering if it is possible to identify the most fundamental denial in the constellation. Vicarious satisfaction and eternal law both seem like viable candidates, so I am trying to figure out if one leads to the other or vice-versa.

        In a 2012 paper (http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/KilcreaseFordeJustification.pdf), Jack Kilcrease described Forde’s thought as following the order that you suggested: “As it pertains to the nature of atonement, Forde primarily registers his dislike of the doctrine of lex aeterna because it seems to place redemption within the structure of eternal law. According to Forde, if the gospel only comes about as a result of the fulfillment of the law, then the gospel is necessarily subsumed under the form of the law. As a result, the law becomes God’s primary reality and the gospel is, at best, merely derivative and, at worst, something of an afterthought.”

         
      • Jon Alan Schmidt

        November 4, 2017 at 3:21 pm

        On the other hand, Jordan Cooper proposes in his book, Lex Aeterna, that “The essential difference between Forde and the confessions is that Forde defines both the law and the gospel by their effects rather than their content.” This gets at Robert Baker’s point about “theological frameworks” being the real root of the disputes, rather than any individual issue. Different definitions of Law and Gospel obviously lead to different teachings about them.

         
  2. Jere

    August 15, 2018 at 10:59 pm

    But Jesus became sin. OUR sin. He knew no sin but took upon Himself the reality of a condemned sinner. Luther says this himself in his commentary on Galatians. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding you?

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      August 28, 2018 at 1:12 am

      Jere,

      I don’t know how to address your concern other than to point you to the post again. And perhaps also the post that preceded this one.

      +Nathan

       

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