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Summer Social Media Break

Repeating what I said in 2018 around this time:

I think I mentioned this on Twitter, but I am not planning on blogging much this summer. I have some projects, home-related and academic, I’m working on and any posts that I do write I’m guessing I’ll wait to publish later on.

I might publish some things that others hand on to me, so it might be worth checking here once in a while if you do that….

Besides the projects I mention above, there are other good reasons to get off, and some of the stuff I talked about here a couple years ago still holds true.

 

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

“What Is the Third Use of the Law?” and Related Questions

Sadly, CPH “so-called 3rd use of the law” book, you are no help at all…

 

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First, a little background for any not in the know who might be reading this post: During the 16th century Reformation, church reformers such as Martin Luther identified, from the Scriptures, three uses of God’s law. Simply put, God’s law is that which He commands, and is often accompanied by the threat of punishment and the promise of reward. The first use of the law serves as a curb (as in the curb on a road) which prevents gross outbreaks of human sin, the second use of the law serves as a mirror to reveal the depths of our sin to us, and the third use helps to guide the Christian believer.

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Now, back to the specific topic of this post…. “What Is the Third Use of the Law?” (and related questions).

For Lutherans, this seems like a basic question that the articles on the Third Use of the Law in the 1580 Formula of Concord should be able to answer!

I asked this question to folks on Twitter and Facebook:

One of the more interesting responses that I got was “Why do you ask?”

Some might say…: Good Lord… So many words and attention to words below! Theology that concerns itself with propositions or what things are in their essence is a theology about the cross, a theology of glory, and not a theology of the cross… Eck…

 

I suppose that’s not really a bad question to ask someone who recently labeled himself on Twitter as a “Mean and Evilly Evil Lutheran Heresy-Hunter Extraordinaire.” So, here is how I responded:

Because I really want to know where people go, look, think. Why? Because I have picked up on things over the years. Because experience teaches me this is a very important issue and related to the problems which face us. Because, back in 2008 my pastor and Holger Sonntag translated the Antinomian Disputations because of their own questions and experiences. Because, back in 2011, because of things I’d picked up on, I wrote a blog series titled “We are all antinomians now” (which I still think holds up). Because, I have my own fairly developed ideas about this but want to test them against others who I know have knowledge, wisdom, and love for Christ. Finally, because of a sense of mission as regards this particular issue, feeling that, more than ever, we can’t shrink back but must engage.

Another good question for the “why do you ask” question is this: Do you think *you* should be asking and answering this question? Why or why not?

So, the question remains: while there are articles about the Third Use of the Law in the Formula of Concord, is the topic really defined there?

It is an important question. One, for example, said it was defined and put it this way: “The 3rd use guides a regenerate in sanctified living. Through that sanctification I’m protected from boastful self-righteousness by following man-made law. But not perfectly, cuz I’m bound to sin. Then I repent & ask for forgiveness.

You can see my response to this gentleman in the tweet below, which I also shared in my response to Pastor Todd Wilken:

The Third Use of the Law is certainly distinct from the other uses of the Law, particularly the Second Use (the revealing of sin), but how can we best determine just where the differences lie in this doctrinal matter?

The Second Use, discussed in Article V, is not concerned with instructing, per se, but with revealing sin. Think of Paul in Romans 1-3, particularly 3:19-21: “…so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God… no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law...through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

 

Another man told me that he always found conversations about the Third Use of the Law to be unhelpful. I strive to overcome that impasse!

Let’s dig in.

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For this post–which I am doing as much for myself as anyone else–I am simply walking through both parts of the Formula of Concord, the Epitome and Solid Declaration (the versions available for free on the internet — clicking the numbers that head each paragraph will take you to the site I got them from), and look for answers to the above question and other critical questions that are related to that first question….

So, we will look at all of the following:

1. What is the Third Use of the Law?

2. Whose Use?: Who is the one “using” the Law in this third way?

3. Why?: What is the goal of the Third Use of the Law?

4. To Whom?: Is the Old Man or New Man of the Christian Being Addressed?

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The goal!: “…this faith [in Christ] is bound to bring forth good fruits… it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but… we should not rely on those works to merit justification.”

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I will bold and highlight parts of the text that address these questions according to how I have colored those questions above (stuff related to definitions in red, stuff that relates to agents in blue, stuff related to goals in green, and stuff related to who is being addressed in purple). Please note that in some cases I struggled to choose which color to highlight in as multiple questions appear to be addressed in each statement!

Also, I am also italicizing any other text that stands out to me as being significant, or to further emphasize what I have already highlighted!

Finally, at the end, we will produce a summary of the results of our inquiry, which will also answer the question about what makes the Third Use of the Law distinct from its other two uses, or “offices” (as Melanththon put it in his 1535 Loci, which first formally discussed the topic).

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Epitome of the Formula of Concord

Comprehensive Summary, Rule and Norm According to which all dogmas should be judged, and the erroneous teachings [controversies] that have occurred should be decided and explained in a Christian way.

VI. The Third Use of the Law

STATUS CONTROVERSIAE.
The Principal Question In This Controversy.

1] Since the Law was given to men for three reasons: first, that thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]; secondly, that men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins; thirdly, that after they are regenerate and [much of] the flesh notwithstanding cleaves to them, they might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life, a dissension has occurred between some few theologians concerning the third use of the Law, namely, whether it is to be urged or not upon regenerate Christians. The one side has said, Yea; the other, Nay.

For your reference — and should defining the third use leave out the user?….

 

[Nathan’s comment: Yes, the purple and green above could conceivably be red as well. Still, should not any definition about the Third Use of the law be, in part, that it actually has something to do with “using or deploying the law in this third way”? And note: the statement in red could also be blue as well, correct? So, critically, ask this question too: Is this controversy really over whether or not the Holy Spirit is to use the law in this way?]

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #1

 

Affirmative Theses.
The True Christian Doctrine concerning This Controversy.

2] 1. We believe, teach, and confess that, although men truly believing [in Christ] and truly converted to God have been freed and exempted from the curse and coercion of the Law, they nevertheless are not on this account without Law, but have been redeemed by the Son of God in order that they should exercise themselves in it day and night [that they should meditate upon God’s Law day and night, and constantly exercise themselves in its observance, Ps. 1:2 ], Ps. 119. For even our first parents before the Fall did not live without Law, who had the Law of God written also into their hearts, because they were created in the image of God, Gen. 1:26f.; 2:16ff; 3:3.

“For even our first parents before the Fall did not live without Law…” No, law and paradise are not opposed….

 

3] 2. We believe, teach, and confess that the preaching of the Law is to be urged with diligence, not only upon the unbelieving and impenitent, but also upon true believers, who are truly converted, regenerate, and justified by faith.

4] 3. For although they are regenerate and renewed in the spirit of their mind, yet in the present life this regeneration and renewal is not complete, but only begun, and believers are, by the spirit of their mind, in a constant struggle against the flesh, that is, against the corrupt nature and disposition which cleaves to us unto death. On account of this old Adam, which still inheres in the understanding, the will, and all the powers of man, it is needful that the Law of the Lord always shine before them, in order that they may not from human devotion institute wanton and self-elected cults [that they may frame nothing in a matter of religion from the desire of private devotion, and may not choose divine services not instituted by God’s Word]; likewise, that the old Adam also may not employ his own will, but may be subdued against his will, not only by the admonition and threatening of the Law, but also by punishments and blows, so that he may follow and surrender himself captive to the Spirit, 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 6:12, Gal. 6:14; Ps. 119:1ff ; Heb. 13:21 (Heb. 12:1).

[Nathan’s comment: I think concern about instituting “self-elected cults” is a problem precisely because it gets in the way of the goal of actual obedience to God’s will. Will address the other stuff in italics below, in the “solid declaration” article]

5] 4. Now, as regards the distinction between the works of the Law and the fruits of the Spirit, we believe, teach, and confess that the works which are done according to the Law are and are called works of the Law as long as they are only extorted from man by urging the punishment and threatening of God’s wrath.

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #2

 

6] 5. Fruits of the Spirit, however, are the works which the Spirit of God who dwells in believers works through the regenerate, and which are done by believers so far as they are regenerate [spontaneously and freely], as though they knew of no command, threat, or reward; for in this manner the children of God live in the Law and walk according to the Law of God, which [mode of living] St. Paul in his epistles calls the Law of Christ and the Law of the mind, Rom. 7:25; 8:7; Rom. 8:2; Gal. 6:2.

“…’spontaneously’ does not mean ‘without effort’ for a creature whose God-given nature is to work. Naturally does not mean ‘without instruction’ for a creature whose God-given nature is to learn….” — Matt Cochran

 

7] 6. Thus the Law is and remains both to the penitent and impenitent, both to regenerate and unregenerate men, one [and the same] Law, namely, the immutable will of God; and the difference, so far as concerns obedience, is alone in man, inasmuch as one who is not yet regenerate does for the Law out of constraint and unwillingly what it requires of him (as also the regenerate do according to the flesh); but the believer, so far as he is regenerate, does without constraint and with a willing spirit that which no threatenings [however severe] of the Law could ever extort from him.

Glory!: Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory… will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? — 2 Cor. 3 (see Christopher Jackson for more).

 

Negative Theses.
False Contrary Doctrine.

8] Accordingly, we reject as a dogma and error injurious to, and conflicting with, Christian discipline and true godliness the teaching that the Law in the above-mentioned way and degree is not to be urged upon Christians and true believers, but only upon unbelievers, non-Christians, and the impenitent.

[Nathan’s comment: Since the law is given for three reasons, the third being to provide the “fixed rule according to which [men] are to regulate and direct their whole life” — i.e. to walk in, obey — it is to be used in this way and urged upon the regenerate. Again, ask yourself: is the controversy rally over whether or not the Holy Spirit should do this?]

“…the Law must be preached to the regenerate to teach them certain works in which God wills that we practice obedience… because it pertains to obedience, the Law remains…” — Phillip Melanchthon, last Latin edition of Loci Communes, 1559

 

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The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

VI. The Third Use of the Law

1] Since the Law of God is useful, 1. not only to the end that external discipline and decency are maintained by it against wild, disobedient men; 2. likewise, that through it men are brought to a knowledge of their sins; 3. but also that, when they have been born anew by the Spirit of God, converted to the Lord, and thus the veil of Moses has been lifted from them, they live and walk in the law, a dissension has occurred between some few theologians concerning this third and last use of the Law. 2] For the one side taught and maintained that the regenerate do not learn the new obedience, or in what good works they ought to walk, from the Law, and that this teaching [concerning good works] is not to be urged thence [from the law], because they have been made free by the Son of God, have become the temples of His Spirit, and therefore do freely of themselves what God requires of them, by the prompting and impulse of the Holy Ghost, just as the sun of itself, without any [foreign] impulse, completes its ordinary course. 3] Over against this the other side taught: Although the truly believing are verily moved by God’s Spirit, and thus, according to the inner man, do God’s will from a free spirit, yet it is just the Holy Ghost who uses the written law for instruction with them, by which the truly believing also learn to serve God, not according to their own thoughts, but according to His written Law and Word, which is a sure rule and standard of a godly life and walk, how to order it in accordance with the eternal and immutable will of God.

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #3

 

4] For the explanation and final settlement of this dissent we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that although the truly believing and truly converted to God and justified Christians are liberated and made free from the curse of the Law, yet they should daily exercise themselves in the Law of the Lord, as it is written, Ps. 1:2;119:1: Blessed is the man whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law doth he meditate day and night. For the Law is a mirror in which the will of God, and what pleases Him, are exactly portrayed, and which should [therefore] be constantly held up to the believers and be diligently urged upon them without ceasing.

Seriously, John? What about Steve Paulson?: “….and his commands are not burdensome…” — the Apostle John

 

[Nathan’s comment: Again, in this definition of the what the third use of the law is, naturally, it’s actual use has something to do with it! And is it the Holy Spirit who need to be reminded to “constantly hold up” God’s law to believers so they will really obey it, i.e. “daily exercise themselves in [it]”? Is it really the Holy Spirit who needs to be told to “diligently urge [it] upon [believers] without ceasing?]

Ready to receive it, so let me have it preacher!: “Let the righteous man strike me; let his rebuke be an act of loving devotion. It is oil for my head; let me not refuse it…” – David

 

5] For although the Law is not made for a righteous man, as the apostle testifies 1 Tim. 1:9, but for the unrighteous, yet this is not to be understood in the bare meaning, that the justified are to live without law. For the Law of God has been written in their heart, and also to the first man immediately after his creation a law was given according to which he was to conduct himself. But the meaning of St. Paul is that the Law cannot burden with its curse those who have been reconciled to God through Christ; nor must it vex the regenerate with its coercion, because they have pleasure in God’s Law after the inner man.

“Before justification the law ruled and terrified all whom it touched. But the law is not to be taught in such a way among the pious, so as to ac­cuse and condemn, but so as to admonish to good.”Luther on preaching to the converted.

 

6] And, indeed, if the believing and elect children of God were completely renewed in this life by the indwelling Spirit, so that in their nature and all its powers they were entirely free from sin, they would need no law, and hence no one to drive them either, but they would do of themselves, and altogether voluntarily, without any instruction, admonition, urging or driving of the Law, what they are in duty bound to do according to God’s will; just as the sun, the moon, and all the constellations of heaven have their regular course of themselves, unobstructed, without admonition, urging, driving, force, or compulsion, according to the order of God which God once appointed for them, yea, just as the holy angels render an entirely voluntary obedience.

[Nathan’s comment: And yet note again that God did give law to Adam and Eve who were entirely free from sin… (see above)]

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #4

 

7] However, believers are not renewed in this life perfectly or completely, completive vel consummative [as the ancients say]; for although their sin is covered by the perfect obedience of Christ, so that it is not imputed to believers for condemnation, and also the mortification of the old Adam and the renewal in the spirit of their mind is begun through the Holy Ghost, nevertheless the old Adam clings to them still in their nature and all its internal and external powers. 8] Of this the apostle has written Rom. 7:18ff.: I know that in me [that is, in my flesh] dwelleth no good thing. And again: For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do; Likewise: I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin. Likewise, Gal. 5:17: The flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

“the Old Adam… still clings to them.” It is *other* than them, in the Third Use. They are on the side of the Law here, opposed to the Old Adam.” — Pastor Eric Phillips

 

9] Therefore, because of these lusts of the flesh the truly believing, elect, and regenerate children of God need in this life not only the daily instruction and admonition, warning, and threatening of the Law, but also frequently punishments, that they may be roused [the old man is driven out of them] and follow the Spirit of God, as it is written Ps. 119:71: It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes. And again, 1 Cor. 9:27: I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that, by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. And again, Heb. 12:8: But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons; as Dr. Luther has fully explained this at greater length in the Summer Part of the Church Postil, on the Epistle for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity.

[Nathan’s comment: The key point here, bolstered by Luther’s sermon mentioned in the Formula, is that the Christian ultimately recognizes God disciplines those He loves and is himself eager to discipline His old Adam (who frustrates and wages war against his true desires so much! — see previous paragraph) — with blows even! This is why the third use of the law can be readily and eagerly received with thankfulness… (in addition to the first and second uses as well).]

From the sermon quoted in the text above: “…an admonition for Christians to follow up their faith by good works and a new life… unless Christians offer resistance, they will lose their faith and the remission of sins and will in the end be worse than they were at first… even those who gladly hear the Word of God, who highly prize it and aim to follow it, have daily need of admonition and encouragement, so strong and tough is that old hide of our sinful flesh…”

 

10] But we must also explain distinctively what the Gospel does, produces, and works towards the new obedience of believers, and what is the office of the Law in this matter, as regards the good works of believers.

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #5

 

11] For the Law says indeed that it is God’s will and command that we should walk in a new life, but it does not give the power and ability to begin and do it; but the Holy Ghost, who is given and received, not through the Law, but through the preaching of the Gospel, Gal. 3:14, renews the heart. 12] Thereafter the Holy Ghost employs the Law so as to teach the regenerate from it, and to point out and show them in the Ten Commandments what is the [good and] acceptable will of God, Rom. 12:2, in what good works God hath before ordained that they should walk, Eph. 2:10. He exhorts them thereto, and when they are idle, negligent, and rebellious in this matter because of the flesh, He reproves them on that account through the Law, so that He carries on both offices together: He slays and makes alive; He leads into hell and brings up again. For His office is not only to comfort, but also to reprove, as it is written: When the Holy Ghost is come, He will reprove the world (which includes also the old Adam) of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. 13] But sin is everything that is contrary to God’s Law. 14] And St. Paul says: All Scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, etc., and to reprove is the peculiar office of the Law. Therefore, as often as believers stumble, they are reproved by the Holy Spirit from the Law, and by the same Spirit are raised up and comforted again with the preaching of the Holy Gospel.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship….” — The Apostle Paul, Romans 12 ff.

 

15] But in order that, as far as possible, all misunderstanding may be prevented, and the distinction between the works of the Law and those of the Spirit be properly taught and preserved it is to be noted with especial diligence that when we speak of good works which are in accordance with God’s Law (for otherwise they are not good works), then the word Law has only one sense, namely, the immutable will of God, according to which men are to conduct themselves in their lives.

16] The difference, however, is in the works, because of the difference in the men who strive to live according to this Law and will of God. For as long as man is not regenerate, and [therefore] conducts himself according to the Law and does the works because they are commanded thus, from fear of punishment or desire for reward, he is still under the Law, and his works are called by St. Paul properly works of the Law, for they are extorted by the Law, as those of slaves; and these are saints after the order of Cain [that is, hypocrites].

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “To not preach the third use of the law is break the bruised reed and snuff out the smoldering wick.”

 

17] But when man is born anew by the Spirit of God, and liberated from the Law, that is, freed from this driver, and is led by the Spirit of Christ, he lives according to the immutable will of God comprised in the Law, and so far as he is born anew, does everything from a free, cheerful spirit; and these are called not properly works of the Law, but works and fruits of the Spirit, or as St. Paul names it, the law of the mind and the Law of Christ. For such men are no more under the Law, but under grace, as St. Paul says, Rom. 8:2 [Rom. 7:23; 1 Cor. 9:21 ].

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #6

 

18] But since believers are not completely renewed in this world, but the old Adam clings to them even to the grave, there also remains in them the struggle between the spirit and the flesh. Therefore they delight indeed in God’s Law according to the inner man, but the law in their members struggles against the law in their mind; hence they are never without the Law, and nevertheless are not under, but in the Law, and live and walk in the Law of the Lord, and yet do nothing from constraint of the Law.

Luther: “The reason why seemingly contradictory statements are often made in the Bible about Christians is due to the Christians two-fold nature. The simple fact is that within each Christian two natures constantly oppose each other...” And yet, progress too…

 

19] But as far as the old Adam is concerned, which still clings to them, he must be driven not only with the Law, but also with punishments; nevertheless he does everything against his will and under coercion, no less than the godless are driven and held in obedience by the threats of the Law, 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 7:18. 19.

Family devotions with Dr. Luther? “From virtue to grace”?: “The inexperienced and perverse youth need to be restrained and trained by the iron bars of ceremonies lest their unchecked ardor rush headlong into vice after vice… they are rather to be taught that they have been so imprisoned in ceremonies, not that they should be made righteous or gain great merit by them, but that they might thus be kept from doing evil and might more easily be instructed to the righteousness of faith.“

 

20] So, too, this doctrine of the Law is needful for believers, in order that they may not hit upon a holiness and devotion of their own, and under the pretext of the Spirit of God set up a self-chosen worship, without God’s Word and command, as it is written Deut. 12:8,28,32: Ye shall not do … every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes, etc., but observe and hear all these words which I command thee. Thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish therefrom.

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #7

 

[Nathan’s comment: Again, “a holiness and devotion of their own” describes a way of life —  an ordering of life and its affairs — not in accordance with God’s desires. In other words, this is countering obedience to a false God.]

21] So, too, the doctrine of the Law, in and with [the exercise of] the good works of believers, is necessary for the reason that otherwise man can easily imagine that his work and life are entirely pure and perfect. But the Law of God prescribes to believers good works in this way, that it shows and indicates at the same time, as in a mirror, that in this life they are still imperfect and impure in us, so that we must say with the beloved Paul, 1 Cor. 4:4: I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified. Thus Paul, when exhorting the regenerate to good works, presents to them expressly the Ten Commandments, Rom. 13:9; and that his good works are imperfect and impure he recognizes from the Law, Rom. 7:7ff ; and David declares Ps. 119:32: Viam mandatorum tuorum cucurri, I will run the way of Thy commandments; but enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified, Ps. 143:2.

“I do not say this to condemn you… Imitate me…” — The Apostle Paul, various locations.

 

[Nathan’s comment: Although this involves the revealing of sin in the heart of man, the revealing of sin is ancillary to the key point which is evaluating the content of mans’ actual work and life. In other words, they key point is that God’s Law requires that in our lives we actively obey God from a perfect fear, love, and trust in Him. It shows us in great detail the perfection required of us, the goal that God will eventually fulfill in all believers.]

No. “…It is said improperly, that is, not rightly and not fittingly, that we are obliged to do what is impossible by the law….” — Luther

 

22] But how and why the good works of believers, although in this life they are imperfect and impure because of sin in the flesh, are nevertheless acceptable and well-pleasing to God, is not taught by the Law, which requires an altogether perfect, pure obedience if it is to please God. But the Gospel teaches that our spiritual offerings are acceptable to God through faith for Christ’s sake, 1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 11:4ff. 23] In this way Christians are not under the Law, but under grace, because by faith in Christ the persons are freed from the curse and condemnation of the Law; and because their good works, although they are still imperfect and impure, are acceptable to God through Christ; moreover, because so far as they have been born anew according to the inner man, they do what is pleasing to God, not by coercion of the Law, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, voluntarily and spontaneously from their hearts; however, they maintain nevertheless a constant struggle against the old Adam.

From above, for your reference, so you don’t need to scroll up again to check #8

 

24] For the old Adam, as an intractable, refractory ass, is still a part of them, which must be coerced to the obedience of Christ, not only by the teaching, admonition, force and threatening of the Law, but also oftentimes by the club of punishments and troubles, until the body of sin is entirely put off, and man is perfectly renewed in the resurrection, when he will need neither the preaching of the Law nor its threatenings and punishments, as also the Gospel any longer; for these belong to this [mortal and] imperfect life. 25] But as they will behold God face to face, so they will, through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God, do the will of God [the heavenly Father] with unmingled joy, voluntarily, unconstrained, without any hindrance, with entire purity and perfection, and will rejoice in it eternally.

The preaching, threatenings, and punishments of the Law will pass away, but the Decalogue is eternal (see pp. 75-76 here).

 

26] Accordingly, we reject and condemn as an error pernicious and detrimental to Christian discipline, as also to true godliness, the teaching that the Law, in the above-mentioned way and degree, should not be urged upon Christians and the true believers, but only upon the unbelieving, unchristians, and impenitent.

[Nathan’s comment: To repeat what was said above (see the Epitome above and comment), since the law is given for three reasons, the third being to provide the “fixed rule according to which [men] are to regulate and direct their whole life” — i.e. to walk in, obeyit is to be used in this way and urged upon the regenerate. And again, ask yourself: is the controversy really over whether or not the Holy Spirit should do this?]

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My Final Summary of How the Text Addresses All of the Questions Above.

While the Holy Spirit will ultimately do as he pleases, Christians are to urge the law in this third way upon one another which means not primarily with the goal of revealing sin (this is the second use, article V, which is modeled in Romans 1-3) but for the goal of actual obedience to God (see Romans 12ff, for instance).

The third use of the law can be quickly and effectively defined as “encouraging, exhorting, and admonishing Christians to [actually!] do God’s Law”. Going along with this, only the Gospel can empower a Christian to fulfill God’s law, but one should never imagine that the fulfillment of the law, God’s purposes, cannot encourage the Christian who has the Gospel ringing in his ears.

 

The third use of the law then, while intimately related to the Christians’ new obedience, is not this in its essence. Rather, again, it is about Christians following the Holy Ghost’s lead (and Apostles’ in their writings) in exhorting, admonishing, and even reproving their brethren with God’s law, all with the end that the “old Adam” would surrender himself “captive to the Spirit.” After all, the Christian, according to their pre-fall-Adam-like new man, will not be “vexed by the coercion of the law,” but will “from a free, cheerful spirit” do the “God’s immutable will” — hearing and better learning it, walking in it, and growing in obedience to it.

No: “‘use’ means reception. Its function revolves around how it is received, not how it is preached or ‘used.’” — Pastor Scott Murray

 

These, empowered by the Gospel, will even be pleased to administer not only admonishments and threats to themselves, but punishments and blows to their own body (see all the verses quoted at the end of Epitome VI:4)!

Again, we emphasize that the regenerate are to be continually taught God’s law and that “even our first parents before the Fall did not live without Law.” “[A]lso to the first man immediately after his creation a law was given according to which he was to conduct himself.” Going along with this, we read that one side in the controversy argued that “the truly believing also learn to serve God, not according to their own thoughts, but according to His written Law and Word,” and this teaching is never condemned in the article (even as we also hear about the hypothetical that if we were completely renewed in this life — something God’s word does not tell us will happen — we would be like the angels and need no law [I also note that even if they need no law, Luther spoke about how they would nevertheless eagerly and gladly receive and do commands from God]). In fact, we hear this instead: “the Holy Spirit employs the law to teach the regenerate from it, and to point out and show them in the Ten Commandments what is the [good and] acceptable will of God, Rom. 12:2, in what good works God hath before ordained that they should walk, Eph. 2:10. He exhorts them thereto…” To insist, for instance, that the teaching and learning here in FC VI only are the “old man learning how to die,” or something like this, is certainly an unwarranted interpretation.

Again, from Luther’s sermon above: “Having put away the old man, the apostle exhorts us further to put on the new man, that day by day we may grow as new creatures….”

 

Finally, in places like the end of the Epitome, we also read about the growth of the Christian, albeit indirectly: “the believer, so far as he is regenerate, does without constraint and with a willing spirit that which no threatenings [however severe] of the Law could ever extort from him.” Therefore, the continual renovation or conversion of the Christian is also spoken of here as it is with other parts of the Formula of Concord. Also, the believer not only pleases God for Christ’s sake, because His blood covers our imperfect works, but also “because so far as they have been born anew according to the inner man, they do what is pleasing to God, not by coercion of the Law, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, voluntarily and spontaneously from their hearts”!

How could Jesus grow like this? Check it out….

 

And, hopefully, now that I have carefully unpacked these articles, this Twitter thread I did a while back might make more sense:

And a final clarification: I agree sometimes we can’t distinguish particular uses of the law being attempted. Nor do we need to or should we! That said, sometimes we can. My kids, who are believing but immature Christians, are going to participate in church and family devotions whether their new man is getting the better of them or not at that moment (Third Use, and perhaps even a situation where “he does everything against his will and under coercion, no less than the godless are driven and held in obedience by the threats of the Law”!)! If I were to insist that their non-Christian friend staying over on Saturday night attend worship with us the next day that would be the First Use of the Law.

Dr. Kilcrease, it is not only “civil righteousness” that has to do with habits, right? Cochran’s the man.

 

This, really, gets to the heart of the issue: do you contend that what Paul is doing in Romans 1-3 is actually the same thing as in Rom. 12ff — or that if he isn’t doing the same thing he is nevertheless completely unaware that this is the case?

Why?!

As you can see from this post, I have some pretty firm convictions about this, and have for a good long while now (see this post from 2014, and the detailed conversation that follows, as well — my concerns here though go back long before even this).

Steve Paulson, who teaches that Christ commits sin, also has some real convictions about this topic (and I think his reasons for teaching Christ committed sin and teaching as he does on this topic both relate to his denial that the law of God is eternal — that is that it belongs to who God is)

 

I agree with Paulson that using words like “Gospel Imperatives” is a terrible idea.

That said, when it comes to these Third Use of the Law issues, why, really, does he echo Luther on the one hand and sound so much unlike him on the other?

Why do we? Yes, even me… to this day?

If you feel like it?: “Make duty a pleasure” — Luther

 

FIN

 

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

When it Came to Good Works, Did Luther Want to “Have His Cake and Eat it Too”?

What? How?: “Make duty a pleasure.” — Martin Luther

 

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What is really necessary to produce or empower good works in the Christian?

In his introduction to the book of Romans for the translation of the Bible he did, Luther said the following:

Thus faith is a divine work in us, that changes us and regenerates us of God, and puts to death the old Adam, makes us entirely different men in heart, spirit, mind, and all powers, and brings with it [confers] the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do good without ceasing. Nor does it ask whether good works are to be done; but before the question is asked, it has wrought them, and is always engaged in doing them. But he who does not do such works is void of faith, and gropes and looks about after faith and good works, and knows neither what faith nor what good works are, yet babbles and prates with many words concerning faith and good works. [Justifying] faith is a living, bold [firm] trust in God’s grace, so certain that a man would die a thousand times for it [rather than suffer this trust to be wrested from him]. And this trust and knowledge of divine grace renders joyful, fearless, and cheerful towards God and all creatures, which [joy and cheerfulness] the Holy Ghost works through faith; and on account of this, man becomes ready and cheerful, without coercion, to do good to every one, to serve every one, and to suffer everything for love and praise to God, who has conferred this grace on him, so that it is impossible to separate works from faith, yea, just as impossible as it is for heat and light to be separated from fire.

The Formula of Concord, written in 1580 and comprising the teaching of the Lutheran church (It is the “Comprehensive Summary, Rule and Norm According to which all dogmas should be judged, and the erroneous teachings [controversies] that have occurred should be decided and explained in a Christian way.”) quotes just this in its article on good works!

It introduces the quote by saying:

“…of works that are truly good and well-pleasing to God, which God will reward in this world and in the world to come, faith must be the mother and source; and on this account they are called by St. Paul true fruits of faith, as also of the Spirit. 10] For, as Dr. Luther writes in the Preface to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:….”

After the quote, it goes on to immediately say, interestingly, the following….

13] But since there is no controversy on these points among our theologians, we will not treat them here at length, but only explain ourselves, part against part, in a simple and plain manner regarding the controverted points.”

In other words, there is one thing that all serious Lutherans definitely agree on: Good works flow from faith like heat and light come from fire, they are spontaneous!

“…it is impossible to separate works from faith, yea, just as impossible as it is for heat and light to be separated from fire.” — Luther

 

In addition, when the Formula of Concord explains the Third Use of the Law, it also careful to talk about this spontaneity….

On the other hand, that is not all it says. It also recommends that we pay attention to Martin Luther’s Sermon on the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, preached on Ephesians 4:22-28, in order to help us understand how the Christian deals with passages like Ps. 119:71, 1 Cor. 9:27, and Heb. 12:8.* Here is how that sermon begins:

  1. Here again is an admonition for Christians to follow up their faith by good works and a new life, for though they have forgiveness of sins through baptism, the old Adam still adheres to their flesh and makes himself felt in tendencies and desires to vices physical and mental. The result is that unless Christians offer resistance, they will lose their faith and the remission of sins and will in the end be worse than they were at first; for they will begin to despise and persecute the Word of God when corrected by it. Yea, even those who gladly hear the Word of God, who highly prize it and aim to follow it, have daily need of admonition and encouragement, so strong and tough is that old hide of our sinful flesh. And so powerful and wily is our old evil foe that wherever he can gain enough of an opening to insert one of his claws, he thrusts in his whole self and will not desist until he has again sunk man into his former condemnable unbelief and his old way of despising and disobeying God.
  2. Therefore, the Gospel ministry is necessary in the Church, not only for instruction of the ignorant — such as the simple, unlettered people and the children — but also for the purpose of awakening those who know very well what they are to believe and how they are to live, and admonishing them to be on their guard daily and not to become indolent, disheartened or tired in the war they must wage on this earth with the devil, with their own flesh and with all manner of evil.
  3. For this reason Paul is so persistent in his admonitions that he actually seems to be overdoing it. He proceeds as if the Christians were either too dull to comprehend or so inattentive and forgetful that they must be reminded and driven. The apostle well knows that though they have made a beginning in faith and are in that state which should show the fruits of faith, such result is not so easily forthcoming. It will not do to think and say: Well, it is sufficient to have the doctrine, and if we have the Spirit and faith, then fruits and good works will follow of their own accord. For although the Spirit truly is present and, as Christ says, willing and effective in those that believe, on the other hand the flesh is weak and sluggish. Besides, the devil is not idle, but seeks to seduce our weak nature by temptations and allurements.
  4. So we must not permit the people to go on in their way, neglecting to urge and admonish them, through God’s Word, to lead a godly life. Indeed, you dare not be negligent and backward in this duty; for, as it is, our flesh is all too sluggish to heed the Spirit and all too able to resist it. Paul says (Gal 5, 17): “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh … that ye may not do the things that ye would.” Therefore, God is constrained to do as a good and diligent householder or ruler, who, having a slothful man-servant or maid-servant, or careless officers, who otherwise are neither wicked nor faithless, will not consider it sufficient once or twice to direct, but will constantly be supervising and directing.
  5. Nor have we as yet arrived at the point where our flesh and blood will joyfully and gladly abound in good works and obedience to God as the spirit is inclined and faith directs. Even with the utmost efforts the Spirit scarce can compel our old man. What would be the result if we were no more urged and admonished but could go our way thinking, as many self-satisfied persons do: I am well acquainted with my duties, having learned them many years ago and having heard frequent explanations of them; yea, I have taught others? It might be that one year’s intermission of preaching and admonition would place us below the level of the heathen.
  6. Now, this exhortation in itself is simple and easy of comprehension. The apostle is but repeating his exhortations of other places — on the fruits of faith, or a godly walk — merely in different terms. Here he speaks of putting away the old man and putting on the new man, of being “renewed in the spirit of your mind.”

So, do you see a contradiction here? Is Luther wanting to “have his cake and eat it too?” Why or why not?

In the end of the article on the Third Use of the Law, it explains more carefully about the spontaneous works wrought in the Christian. The believer not only pleases God for Christ’s sake, because His blood covers our imperfect works, but also

“because so far as they have been born anew according to the inner man, they do what is pleasing to God, not by coercion of the Law, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, voluntarily and spontaneously from their hearts”

I recommend reading that several times over, and focusing on the “so far”.

And now, this question: Ultimately, what makes the difference here as to why some good works, some fruits of faith, are more spontaneous in one Christian compared with another?  

Or: Is that even an appropriate question for serious Lutherans to ask? Why or why not?

UPDATE: Here, I think, is the beginning of a solid answer:

FIN

 

9] Therefore, because of these lusts of the flesh the truly believing, elect, and regenerate children of God need in this life not only the daily instruction and admonition, warning, and threatening of the Law, but also frequently punishments, that they may be roused [the old man is driven out of them] and follow the Spirit of God, as it is written Ps. 119:71: It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes. And again, 1 Cor. 9:27: I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that, by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. And again, Heb. 12:8: But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons; as Dr. Luther has fully explained this at greater length in the Summer Part of the Church Postil, on the Epistle for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Purity that Endures Forever (sermon text and video)

 

“…we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. ….everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

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Note: This is the first sermon I wrote after taking the preaching class in seminary (the second time in seminary: 2015-2019), and before becoming a vicar. I thought about it again after this past week, where I John 3 was one of the texts for the one year lectionary last week (this is what my church uses…).

 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is so good to be with you this morning. I hope that you, like me, find this text to be interesting. I don’t think it’s a text Lutherans tend to highlight….

I will try to unpack it by speaking about 3 themes:

  • God’s final purification
  • How we are made pure
  • Living in that purity

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1. God’s final purification

Again, our text for this message comes from I John 3:

The pure in heart—that is God’s people—will “see him as he is…”

And the immediate context for this meeting, this seeing God, is the end of the world!

Human beings certainly make their own attempts at purification, but God’s purification, His final purification, stands out!

The Moon the color of blood,

the sky being rolled up like a scroll,

the veil being removed!

…a loud trumpet,

and Angel armies accompanying the King of Heaven and earth, riding on a White Horse.

The Great last judgment of the sheep and the goats.

These are the kinds of things the church talks about now, at the end of the Pentecost season: the “Last Days”… the end of the world!

Here, though, remember: God’s people are not to be afraid, but encouraged!

When this day comes you, the “pure in heart,” are told to “Lift up your heads!”

You are not to fear this judgment, for this judgment is one of your enemies.

The True Judge of Heaven and Earth comes to save those who trust in Him, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted,

The pure.

The time for those who hate us is not long… we will be rescued by our Conqueror when He comes again.

Perhaps it will even be something like from the story the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — where the royal priesthood of believers wield swords and participate in the final battle….

This battle where The Evil One will be defeated forever….

With the result being that people from all tongues, tribes and nations – will be saved by the Rider on the White Horse, Faithful and True, the Son of God.

It will be “Back to the Garden of Eden…. And more

Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with victory.

So we read in the Psalm appointed for today. How can we not rejoice?

For this world, the empty way of life, all which opposes the goodness God brings…is passing away.

Much more awaits us.

And so:

“…we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Now, if you are like me, perhaps you think at this point “Have I ‘purified myself’?

I mean, it seems kind of important.”

We don’t really talk this way, right?

So what does this mean?

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2. How are we made pure?

What does it mean to be pure?

Have you heard the phrase “pure as the driven snow”? Driven snow is snow that has been blown by the wind, into drifts and such.

The kid in me concludes that it’s the kind of snow you can eat.

In any case the expression isn’t used as much these days, but it is used to speak, sometimes disparagingly, about things like moral purity, chastity, and virginity.

(also rarer terms these days).

And of course in our everyday language, pure means something that is uncontaminated.

There is no defilement or spoliation. And to purify something means to bring it to this state.

And if a person has been purified, is pure, this evokes the idea of not only outer, but inner cleanliness… to the very center of one’s being. Through and through.

How, then, does the Bible say this takes place? It says that true purity, purity that lasts and is never faked, is rooted in God.

Only God, after all, is truly good, truly pure.

So, when it comes to us poor sinners, being pure, in the most simple sense, means to believe and hope in God, as opposed to the world, false in its love, which rages against Him.

In I Peter chapter 1, the Apostle says you have purified yourselves. How?

By submitting to what you heard: you believe, Peter says, the words of testimony about Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.

And glorified!

And revealed in these last times for our sakes!

And it is because of this truth, Peter says, that you have true love for each other. Therefore, he says “love one another deeply, from the heart,”

This is what it means to be pure.

Our text in I John says much the same thing and  throughout his book John has a lot more to say:

  • If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with each other, and His blood cleanses us from all sin!
  • Keep His word, His teaching, His commandments, abide in Him… [by this, the love of God is perfected in us…]
  • You know the love of the Son of God who laid down His life for us. So, beloved, let us love one another!
  • Do not love the world, or the things of the world: the lust of the flesh, of the eyes, the pride of life… Even if they hate you because of the paths of righteousness in which you walk!
  • As the Son is, so we are in this world! We love because He first loved us
  • If we abide in the Son and in the Father, we have the promise of eternal life.
  • And we will not be ashamed before Him at His coming….

This is what it means to be pure.

Our full text for the day is in many ways a great summary of all these things… the King James version did it the best:

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 2Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

3. Living in That Purity

“Keep yourselves pure…” (I Tim. 5:22).

The question of living in God’s purity has to do with what God’s purity and holiness is.

It is this:

He, and He alone, is the Love which burns through Evil en route to rescuing those lost in the darkness.

In Christ’s work, we see the charred remains of sin, death, and the devil.

He did this for us.

And so when it comes to us… the implication is that we have – and create – spaces and places where this message can be heard, believed and lived.

The mission we have is never about God’s people being intrinsically superior to others… this is about True sight, True seeing…

Being blessed to know not only where the bread is which we share – the Forgiveness of sins which heals and nourishes… but also knowing where True Life is in Fullness.

What is that?

There is a King we know who is simple.

Who loves His people, who is loyal… but who does not let sin go unpunished….

Who will not allow us to live in our lies, our lusts, our pride and selfishness….

He is ready to Refine us again, and He will stop at nothing to make us more His…

So don’t say, for example, “am I my brother’s keeper?” They are all your brothers!…

You are to love your brethren in Christ first of all,

and in this world you must look to provide for family first,

but all are your brothers…

The Christian life never has as its goal alienation and cutting one’s self off, but we call people–even our enemies–into our spaces, into our places, to participate with us “in the life that is truly life”.

Though He has hard words, demanding words, damning words, Jesus’ default orientation is not to condemn, but save,

…and His heart is now ours.

This is the life to which he has called us….with these truths we must practically wrestle, in the church… and beyond…

Whoever desires, let him take the water of life – this pure water – freely!

Anyone who is thirsty…

With Him, we’re ready.

We’re pure.

We were washed and we ARE baptized, belonging to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Come Lord Jesus,

Amen.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

The Popularity of Steven Paulson’s Adaptation of Luther’s Theology. Part 4.

And please God, bless me with this first: “Let the righteous man strike me; let his rebuke be an act of loving devotion. It is oil for my head; let me not refuse it…” – David

 

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Are some of you still wondering about the relative influence of 1517/2011 Legacy’s Steve Pauslon—who, again, confesses that Christ committed sin—in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (the LC-MS) (not to mention smaller Lutheran groups like the NALC or LCMC)?

If so, why in particular, are you hesitating?

That was good. Let’s hear it one more time: “Let no one become dismayed at the criticism that the Missouri fathers were a stern, unloving set of fighters, who forgot the gentler aspects of Christianity over their devotion to rigorous discipline. None that raise this charge come into court with clean hands. The love that can see some one err and not tell him of it is no love…” — W.H.T. Dau, 1922, at the LC-MS’s 75th Anniversary celebration

 

What I presented in part 2 in particular and at the beginning of part 3….

…certainly compels and concerns me, convincing me we can’t let up…

How much evidence do you need of his heresy? What will be enough for you?

And how can I prove to you his influence?

“Some may think Lutheranism is staid and respectable, but [Paulson’s Lutheran Theology] shows just how radical and mind-blowing Lutheranism — with its teachings about the Law and Gospel, the Word and Sacraments — really is.”– Gene Veith, in 2014 — but see right below!

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Like I noted in part 3, people do in fact change all the time. Pastor Wilken is one. Gene Veith is another. After I told Dr. Veith that the above quote from him about Paulson could be found on the LCMS website, he told me to share the following:

It was in reading your critiques of Paulson, Forde, and the “radical Lutherans” (as well as those of Pastor Cooper and others) that I became aware of their teachings on the atonement and other issues. I was not aware of those before! So, no, I don’t agree with these people anymore. Where is that quote from me on the LCMS website?!

It is the third hit from the bottom on a search for Paulson. Someone at the LCMS website might want to remove this…

 

There is so much I wish you, like Pastor Wilken! like Gene Veith! could see…

My view is that of John Warwick Montgomery’s back in the mid-1960s about the impending “Battle for the Bible” (“Seminex”):

“Only an inebriated mole would claim that the Missouri Synod is not in theological ferment.”

“Only an inebriated mole would claim that the Missouri Synod is not in theological ferment.” – John Warwick Montgomery, in 1966

 

We in the LC-MS have some waking up to do… Of course the past, to no small degree, has shaped and will shape our future…

And our challenges probably aren’t going to be getting any easier either

…but we, by God’s Spirit, can call one another to repentance… to perpetual repentance… to strengthen what remains!

There is much work to do. In this series of course, we are talking about Steve Paulson’s teaching and influence in particular.

And really, I don’t think that his kind of theology, carrying on the legacy of Forde’s “Radical Lutheranism,” is going away without an ongoing fight – even if his “brand” were sufficiently damaged that fewer people would feel free to be so open about their appreciation and love for it.

Maybe I won’t advertise that sticker after all…

 

I wish that it wasn’t necessary at this point, but let me say a bit more about why I am as concerned as I am:

Paulson is a very impressive, compelling, and likeable figure.

I myself have admitted on this blog, in the past, “I… am quite easily taken by the man… he is also a very interesting writer, to be sure, and I often find myself—against my better judgment, I think—wanting to agree with him…”

This is, in fact, the man who spoke at the LC-MS theological seminary in Fort Wayne a few years ago and received a standing ovation for a speech talking about some of the themes from his 2011 book, Lutheran Theology. As a friend put it For a guy with such heterodox understandings, he’s really got Confessional Lutherans’ number.

Robert Kolb’s recommendations for Gospel Coalition readers…

 

Here is something I said on my Facebook page not long ago to a man I had previously identified as firmly in the tank with the Radical Lutheranism (and who pleasantly surprised me, giving me his ear):

The influence of a man like Paulson is not in question. CPH has published his work. His books and/or articles are read in the seminaries. An Amazon review for the book containing the error says “I highly recommend this book. It also comes highly recommended by many highly respected Confessional Lutheran theologians as well, and was posted as a great introductory boom to Lutheran theology on the LCMS web site.” [This alone speaks…] to the overall prevalence of this teaching in LC-MS circles. It’s pretty systematic really. See this from Kolb: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/lutheran-theology/ ([the] citations at the end). The 2011 book mentioned above was popular for several years before I even heard about some of the horrible things it contained from other concerned pastors and laypersons: https://www.patheos.com/…/problem-steven-paulsons…/

Again, many more theologically-inclined pastors in the LC-MS know that “Radical Lutheranism,” a term coined by Paulson’s revered teacher, the late Gerhard Forde, has been a staple in the LC-MS colleges and seminaries for upwards of the last 30 years… (and see part 3 again as well)

I part 1 here, I talk about my own seminary experience (1998-2000) and the appeal of Forde.

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One man, in fact, described his recent LC-MS seminary experience this way:

“’Radical Lutheranism’ to me is like a mind virus. Especially for the more academic inclined. I’d say the largest influence is probably the Systematics core courses (at least as I experienced them). The younger profs, in the rush to kill [Francis] Pieper, grabbed what was ‘hot’ at the time – Forde. Specifically the Heidelberg Disputation. And there are parts of it that are useful and can be taken in a pious orthodox way. In small doses maybe. But if you marinate in it. It you want the “radical” label. That is where is becomes dangerous. It is the radical label that moves to a lutheran strain of liberation theology. The LQB (Lutheran Quarterly Books) are easy to grab and use. I had several already on the shelf from sem. They are more serious than your typically American Evangelical fluff, but they are usable. They are aimed as parish bible studies. And they are all law/gospel as marxist dialectic. https://amazon.com/s?i=digital-te

Francis Peiper, evidently the Scriptural-Inerrancy-Professing, Progressive-Sanctification-Pushing, Brief-Statement-Writing, Synodical-Conference-Supporting, Atonement-Upholding-Legalist we could all use a little bit less of?…

 

May it never be!

But it is.

 

Other pastors will tell you the same about what seminary taught them and also what vicars they have trained were taught… Forde, Forde, and more Forde (and Paulson carries Forde’s mission forward)!

As one put it: “There was a definite aversion to any 3rd use of the Law preaching. Don’t tell people how to live, trust the Gospel…” Nevermind that nothing squares with Paul’s epistles and the preaching of Luther, Gerhardt, and Walther! – if you have the nerve to care about sounding like the Apostle Paul in the latter half of his epistles, you are practically crazy and trying to “save the law”.

No. You will, must, conform to their method, and hence learn to be comfortable with seemingly reasonable-sounding false dichotomies like the following:

  • God’s law is not a window through which we inspect other people’s sins, but a mirror to reveal our own.
  • You may use your conscience to guide your behavior. You may not use your conscience to guide my behavior
  • Martin Luther believed that the Old and New Adam, or Eve, are clearly bound in a life and death struggle within each person…

Note in that last one how even the fact that Christians are saints and sinners at the same time is being abused, as a theology is now emerging which is applying it to human beings in general (and not just by Nadia Bolz-Webber):

And we saw Steve Paulson do this application of “the Simul” to Christ himself in part 2Christ not just as the one who becomes a sinner by the imputation of our sin but by committing his own actual sin.

“Christ shares in our misery, but does not take our place under God’s wrath. If this were the case, so it is argued, law would become superior to God. According to Forde and Paulson, this cannot be allowed, because law is not eternal and does not belong to who God is. Christ shares in our sin, not by imputation but by becoming one with us. – David Scaer, on Comrade Christ’s solidarity with us replacing the Father’s true wrath, p. 12

 

In the LC-MS Reporter article “ELCA’s Paulson to speak at Ft. Wayne seminary,” Dr. John Pless has said of Dr. Paulson that he “is an outstanding theologian with a deep grasp on insights from Martin Luther for contemporary Christians.”

“Dr. Paulson is an outstanding theologian with a deep grasp on insights from Martin Luther for contemporary Christians.” — John Pless

 

And, as David Scaer reports, in 2018 Dr. Pless also wrote an article titled “Twenty-Five Titles in Twenty-Fives Years,” that touts Paulson’s 2011 Lutheran Theology book: “Paulson’s Lutheran Theology is listed by Logia as one of the twenty-five best books in the last twenty-five years” (in Scaer, David, “Is Law Intrinsic to God’s Essence?”, p. 11).

Et tu, LOGIA?

 

We have some big problems here.

Paulson and a plethora of Forde-friendly-fellows within. Read the above and below. A little cognitive dissonance?

 

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Or do we? Remember how I started parts 1 and 2 of this series with this statement?: I firmly reject as extremely wrong and unhelpful the notion that any severe criticism of Steven Paulson is alarmist and divisive.

There is a good reason for that.

In spite of men like Brent Kuhlman, Paul McCain, Jordan Cooper, Eric Phillips, Mark Surburg, David Scaer, Christopher Jackson, Peter Scaer and Todd Wilken sounding the alarm, few seem to want or be willing to make a huge stink about this issue…

“This bizarre and totally unacceptable interpretation cannot go unanswered. Jesus’ plea to God in the moment of his greatest desperation was the most profound expression of faith ever spoken.” – David Scaer, on the Radical Lutheran heresy, p. 14

 

So… how bad can it really be? Just one little popular pastor teaching that Christ committed His own personal, actual, original sin?

Indeed, some proponents of Forde and Paulson might try that route (“It is only a few who are mildly protesting this…”), or, even say the following: “Shouldn’t pastors be exposed to this stuff? Shouldn’t they understand what the best inerrancy-denying (or inerrancy-de-emphasizing) theologians are able to pull off in the secular academy? What better place to do all of this than a seminary?”

ELCA/LCMC/NALC –friendly, academically respectable, and more Marxist-friendly Lutheran Theology – access practically guaranteed at a University near you!

 

One pastor, for example, said this to me:

“It shouldn’t be an ‘either/or’ but rather a ‘both/and’. I remember when the new ELCA dogmatics came out way back when I was at [LC-MS] sem[inary]. We spent some time comparing and contrasting it with [Francis] Pieper and [John Theodore] Mueller. It was quite helpful to see both, side-by-side, and has proved to be an invaluable endeavor in being able to show lay-folk the differences, succinctly….”

I replied:

“Of course. At the same time, there is only so much time for reading. And you know the story about the [government agents] who study the real money so they immediately know the fake money. If we are taking so much time to read the unorthodox and even heretical, there is less time to devote to the reading of very good books and to lay a firm foundation. Those book Kolb recommends in his article should not be at the top of anybody’s list. [And, also,] to the best of my knowledge, th[e] kind of comparison and contrast [that you are talking about] is not happening today. Nor are false teachers who are being read being primarily identified as false teachers. Again, see Kolb’s recommendations above. See any caveats? No. And this is the way it usually goes. Names could be named, but because those in the know know who these persons are, it is not really necessary to do so on this public forum. For now, [I want to] deal with the influence of Paulson.”

“A student who does not want his labor wasted must so read and reread some good writer that the author is changed, as it were, into his flesh and blood. For a great variety of reading confuses and does not teach. It makes the student like a man who dwells everywhere and, therefore, nowhere in particular. Just as we do not daily enjoy the society of every one of our friends but only that of a chosen few, so it should also be in our studying.” — Luther

 

+++

Because of all of the things that I have presented in parts 1-3 and in this post, I recently came to the realization that all my own efforts to kindly and patiently persuade Radical Lutherans were not having the needed effect.

It was a particular event that pushed me to do this:

I started being even more aggressive in my attacks on Radical Lutheranism, and on Good Friday, I posted the following on my Facebook page early in the morning:

 

And, very interestingly, on the face of it, I appear to have gotten what I wanted shortly after I posted that meme (at least that is when someone tipped me off).

Steve Paulson responded to one of his friends–another 1517/2011 Legacy pastor Craig Donofrio–who asked him at my prompting about his teaching that Christ committed sin.

Paulson responded (his response was in part 2 also) and Pastor Donofrio posted the following in the Lutheran Facebook group that he runs:

It is my prayer that this will put the controversy regarding the theology of Steve Paulson to rest. In keeping with the 8th commandment, I approached Dr. Paulson directly – like a grown-up and in an attempt to avoid gossiping.

I received an answer from The Rev. Dr. Steve Paulson regarding that article on Patheos which takes him out of context. If any of you are in touch with Nathan, please share this with him at will.

I asked Dr. Paulson what he meant by Christ sinning and if Jesus actually committed sin or if he was referring to the imputation of our sins to Christ’s account even as Christ exchanges and imputes His righteousness to ours.

This is his response in his own words…

“Craig, the sins are really ours and never Christ’s, until he takes the sins, and becomes sin. He is innocent, sinless. Yet became sin.

We can understand this a little, since even now others can take our sins in their bodies, but not each and every one. And then not only took them, but became them. Who can believe that?

But what people really can’t believe is that there and then the law ended. But that is what faith is, which is faith in Christ, not law. I hope that helps, especially when you are defending me out there. But it is more important to defend Scripture.

Steve”

Now may we never heard disparagement of this man or any other again. If someone seems to be at odds with the Gospel, please approach that person directly and with humility that we might reason together and come to the joy of God’s grace and mercy for sinners as one.

God’s Peace be with you all!!!

– Craig

The question I would have for people who were upset with me about pressing this issue the way I did during holy week and finally on Good Friday is this:

Do you think I should be satisfied? Are you? Again, like I said at the end of part 2: “eventually, you have to take men’s words — yes, in their full context — seriously…

And you will need to decide.

I understand that Pastor Donofrio, who is LC-MS, thinks that everything is just fine (just like John Hoyum, and presumably Caleb and Scott Keith [see parts 2 and 3]).

In fact, before he even posted that response from Dr. Paulson, he warned me and those sympathizing with me about my persistent posting and vigorously defending my posts in his group:

 

+++

So, what can we learn from posts like part 2,3, and now part 4? It is pretty obvious, isn’t it? The attitude seems to be:

“Be assured that I am a Förde and Paulson fan and will defend them (knowing a problem or two in them, to be sure) to any audience, anytime, anywhere. If LCMS folks see that as somehow ‘confused,’ I don’t care! I will not be an un-loving meanie like you!”

(in other words, we can learn nothing from presumably narrow-minded pastors Mark Surburg, Brent Kuhlman, Paul McCain, Jordan Cooper, Eric Phillips, David Scaer, Christopher Jackson Peter Scaer and Todd Wilken about what it means to be the body of Christ).

.

After Pastor Donofrio posted this, I asked the following:

Pastor Donofrio, I interpret this to mean that you don’t think my recent posts here have been particularly helpful. I can try, I suppose, to better regulate the meat and milk I try to bring. If you would though, please let me (and others) know where you stand: if a pastor teaches that Christ committed sin, is that Lutheran? If I as a very concerned layperson insist on calling attention to this fact — and insist on telling those who appreciate and love said pastor (and want to defend him) that I won’t speak with them until they contact said pastor themselves and ask for clarification — *is that beyond the pale for this group?* Furthermore, if I continue to bring up this point from time to time and in less bombastic ways — and am nevertheless hounded about doing so — will I be allowed to defend my position (and sometimes my reputation) so long as I do not resort to name-calling?

I was then banned from the group on the basis of the rule about being a jerk.

 

I do want to point out that I had joined the group by the invitation of a friend and had been under the impression the group would be favorable to the kinds of matters I was bringing up.

Honestly and truly, it is not my nature to go into people’s China shops like a bull…

But what is done is done.

+++

So, what, ultimately, should we think about all of this? In my mind, this shows what happens when the “missional” impulses of the church overwhelm the “confessing” impulses…

And, perhaps, all in the name of evangelism? No!

 

In truth though, there is no need for contradiction here.

If you are concerned what the world thinks—and let us admit that all of us should and must be to one degree or another, in one context or another—note that even many more clear-headed people in the world will certainly will have no respect for you if you as a Christian won’t even fight back against a fundamental doctrine like the sinlessness of Jesus Christ.

Paulson opponent: We have the victory in the ever sinless and innocent Son of God! He bore our sin and its punishment, just as much as if He himself had committed them!
Paulson proponent: Congratulations, you just denied the atonement, the Bible and Luther.

 

If that is your orientation, why should they ever take you seriously? And why, even more importantly, would your own people?**

Is not the sinlessness of Jesus Christ at the absolute heart of the Christian faith?

I don’t know how many times in the past I have heard 1517/2011 Legacy’s grandfatherly Rod Rosenbladt say that his approach is to begin with the most central truths of Christianity, and to work outward from those (going then to specifics about creation through eschatology, inerrancy, etc.).

Rosenbladt, with sound advice: “Begin with the most central truths of Christianity, and to work outward from those…”

 

Well?

Evidently then, either Daddy Rod does not know what Steve Paulson really teaches or, alternatively, has very little influence in the organization his son Ted founded!

In any case, whatever your view of the church’s public relations vis a vis proclamation (and the sadly necessary task of heresy-hunting*), of course we can’t be satisfied with the explanation Dr. Paulson has offered, which is no explanation at all (again, see part 2 if you want to dig very deeply).

I gravitate towards pastor and professor Peter Scaer’s very direct and honest approach, and it seems like I am not the only one!:

 

That is the kind of bold and joyful leadership that I–and I know many others–will follow!

+++

Again, what can I do to convince you that this is no small issue?

See here again, from part 2, for a piercing theological critique of Steve Paulson’s book from Dr. Eric Phillips.

Or see here for my own personal efforts to understand and talk with Dr. Paulson.

This issue can’t go away…

The voices of great saints like Ignatius, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine Cyril, Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard, and Walther will continue.

The remnant, much to the disdain or “modernizing theology,” will indeed live.

But what kind of “confessional Lutheran” LC-MS church are my kids going to know? What kind of tradition will they receive? Legacy inherit?

Can this, indeed, be stopped?

 

Paulson and 2011 Legacy are basically doubling down on the teaching that Christ committed actual sin.

And the “clarification” we saw Paulson issued is anything but.

Let’s be honest: everyone can see that. To not see that is to not show his own words, born of his own serious convictions, the proper respect.

And so, why play games?

I’m not OK with anyone saying my Lord committed sin.

Period.

I don’t care how popular or charismatic, compelling, creative, or even compassionate—in the world’s judgement—you are. I don’t see how pastors can want to be associated with that kind of a teaching, by being unwilling to make an issue of it.

Got issues like me? We are blessed…

 

Or anyone, for that matter.

Anyone who knows and loves our good and innocent Lord who took our own punishment on Himself!

In the event that this issue seems to have gone away, ending with a whimper, you will know that church bodies like the LC-MS have hit the road of no return, and that you will need to look elsewhere to nourish those you love with the pure milk of God’s Word…

“For behold by the wood of your cross joy has come into all the world…”

 

FIN

 

*”Heresy-hunting” – what does this mean?:

I’d say the goal of the heresy-hunter is to hunt down and kill the heresy…

This does not mean that the heresy-hunter has to look very hard or that others don’t see the job that needs to be done. It is just that others are unwilling to do it, perhaps for the reasons given in my original post and re-iterated here by me recently. It’s not really anything like a full-time job that anybody wants or should want. So the heresy-hunter then is very unlike the inspector [] whose job it is to go into a building and find something wrong that no one else can see. Rather, he is willing to be persistent in fighting, through a variety of methods and means – perhaps some respected by wider society and some frowned on by society (and perhaps depending on the nature of the heresy hunted and also the amount of Christian influence in society) — what others all see but do not address.

In my view learning God’s truth more leads to a greater appreciation of the same and a desire to fight against forces that would mean to undermine the Word of God, particularly from within. This is done first and foremost by confessing the truth which gives us life but also by recognizing error and countering it.

You will have nothing to give if a foreign disease penetrates the body and kills the organism.

[More:]

One may become a reluctant heresy hunter. For example, one attempts to have such conversations and really does have some such conversations for years. And one sees that conversation doesn’t help much, either because the one trying to start the conversation is resented, seen as being an annoyance, not really having the place to question them, etc, or, alternatively, because it becomes more clear how deep the rabbit hole goes, and how deeply the heresy is held….

And then, it dawns on them that the heretic has really been quite clear all the long! And all this talk about conversation, following Matthew 18, etc, while well-intentioned, is really not all that helpful. It would have been more helpful if, right from the beginning, you had enough respect for the theologian to take his words seriously. To believe of the heretic-theologian that they said the words they said and meant what they said because they have a very well-developed theological outlook, even if they are not John Calvin. There are very good reasons why they said what they said.

And what they said, again, on the face of it, was clearly heretical. And now, like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, no one is saying much about it, and people are letting it slide because of power, position, charisma, indifference, apathy, whatever.

And the heresy hunter is born… Why must I do this? Why must I defend my Lord in this way?

And wait… I can’t say that. I can’t make myself out to be the victim! I just must do this. I just must see this as a strange honor, as something that perhaps I should do. I now must fight. Until the scourge is removed.” (originally posted on the ALPB Forum)

** I am encouraged rather, by the comment of my friend Keith Horrigan, who said: “As a layperson, it is actually comforting for me to know that even among the academics there are conflicting opinions being worked out among you…”

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on April 30, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

The Popularity of Steven Paulson’s Adaptation of Luther’s Theology. Part 3.

 

+++

So, just in case the last post wasn’t clear enough in the point it was trying to make…

There is still a lot of work to do regarding the 1517, er, I mean 2011 Legacy Project.

More and more people need to know who Steve Paulson is, what he teaches, and that such teaching will cannot be tolerated.

On the other hand, for the 2011 Legacy Project though — at least for some of them! — Steven Paulson’s #FakeLutheranism really shows the way forward for Lutheran theology…

Don’t back down, double down. Message from 2011’s John Hoyum: Gerhard Forde has his problems when it comes to the atonement, but here Paulson shows us a helpful way forward…

 

 

Paulson opponent: We have the victory in the ever sinless and innocent Son of God! He bore our sin and its punishment, just as much as if He himself had committed them!
Paulson proponent: Congratulations, you just denied the atonement, the Bible and Luther.

 

+++

In some ways, this post is just going to read like an advertisement for all things Steven Paulson, the man who has taught us that Christ committed sin.

 

No, he doesn’t have the influence of Christian celebrity pastors in America who hold sway over tens of thousands, even millions, but he is heavily influential among important and highly visible conservative Lutheran theologians.

In spite of what some folks, including some people I like very much, might tell you.

“No Forde and Paulson don’t matter. People don’t know them. People don’t care.” — LC-MS pastor George Borghardt (please see note below, at the end of this post, at *).

 

No, Paulson has the ear of many people who exercise a lot of influence in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LC-MS). And in this respect, he is just like Gerhard Forde, the father of Radical Lutheranism…

And yet, “Hallelujah!”

We all know change can, and does, happen. Will happen.

Finally, before jumping into the flurry of tweets below, I also want you to know that what follows was not easy to do, given that on my main computer I am now blocked from most of these Steven-Paulson-pushing accounts…**

…but we make sacrifices, don’t we?

Love wins.

+++

Tweets are chronological. Keep in mind that these tweets are simply meant to show Paulson’s influence and appeal.

And Paulson too.

 

Oh, another thing: many of the statements below, on the face of it, are unobjectionable or even good.

It is only when one understands them through the lens of “Christ committing sin” though, that one sees they do not necessarily mean what they appear to mean.

Oh, and yes, by the way, for those of you who cannot get enough of my wild-eyed and evilly evil heresy-hunting, fear not!

“Let no one become dismayed at the criticism that the Missouri fathers were a stern, unloving set of fighters, who forgot the gentler aspects of Christianity over their devotion to rigorous discipline. None that raise this charge come into court with clean hands. The love that can see some one err and not tell him of it is no love…” — W.H.T. Dau, 1922, at the LC-MS’s 75th Anniversary celebration

 

There will be a part 4 as well…

Tweet interlude — see here.

 

+++

Again, there isn’t anything wrong with a lot of those tweets. The issue, however, as is often the case, is what is not said or said very little… you need to listen carefully to everything that is being said in the sometimes not-so-prominent places…

To end this post with some good tweets, I’d like to commend these recent ones from Pastor Todd Wilken and layman Lex Lutheran:

FIN

 

*I let Pastor Borghardt know about this quote and he said the following: “I believe the context of my quote is important.. If memory serves I said this on Good Friday evening during a pandemic, correct?” I replied: “Every other day would be OK, huh? : ) Seriously, let me know, and I will add whatever information or clarification you want me to add…” The full context of the quote can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/pjscaer/posts/10163365005320252

**@1517, @ThinkingFellows, @Caleb_E_Keith, @JohannesFlacius, @birdchadlouis, and @dan_vanvoorhis. Also Radical Lutheran sympathizers and those who sympathize with them and more modern Lutheran forms of theology like @TullianT, @RevMattRichard, Steve “The Old Adam” Martin (@pudicat11), Jack Kilcrease, and Peter Malysz (on Facebook)

Note: Radical Lutheran and Radical Lutheran sympathizing friends, I have never blocked anyone and can’t see myself blocking you in the future (by the way, I don’t think there is anything wrong with blocking someone, its just not something I plan on doing or have ever wanted to do). You can block me all you want (you are a growing number), but it won’t change me. Again, to be clear, any Christian is certainly permitted to do this, but I won’t do it to you. I’ll always listen to you and your concerns. I might not respond or change, but I will listen and take your words with the utmost seriousness.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 28, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

The Popularity of Steven Paulson’s Adaptation of Luther’s Theology. Part 2.

What does he mean? How difficult is it to discern?

 

+++

First of all, I want to repeat: “I firmly reject as extremely wrong and unhelpful the notion that any severe criticism of Steven Paulson is alarmist and divisive.” And, furthermore, I want to thank everyone who has offered public or private support for my unauthorized holy inquisition. It is greatly appreciated!

Now….this longer post is all business — for the seriously theological types. 

The last part of the post (the seventh part!) will definitely look at the influence Steven Paulson’s theology has had on some up-and-coming theologians of 1517 Legacy, which again, I am re-labeling as 2011 Legacy (the year Paulson’s widely acclaimed Lutheran Theology was published)

The first several parts of this post, however, will take the time to look at some of Steve Paulson’s words as well as interpretations and severe critiques — which I believe are fully justified — of the same.

First however, we will take a look at a bit of what Luther said about Galatians 3:13, since this is where those who defend Steve Paulson’s remarks that “Christ committed sin” go first.

“Whenever someone tries to out-Gospel the Gospel, it always destroys the Gospel.” — Todd Wilken (tweet out the quote)

 

One Paulson proponent offered the following passages:

“Without any doubt, the prophets in the Spirit saw that Christ would be the greatest transgressor, assassin, adulterer, thief, rebel, and blasphemer that ever existed on earth. When He was made the sacrifice for the sins of the entire world, He is no longer innocent and without sin. He is no longer the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary but a sinner…”

“I answer, if you deny Him as a sinner and accursed, you should also deny that He was crucified and put to death because it is no less absurd to say that the Son of God (such as our faith confesses and believes) was crucified and suffered pain of sin and death than to say that He is a sinner and damned.”

“Every sin that I, you, and we all have committed, and will commit from here on, are Jesus’ own sins, just as much as if He himself, had committed them. In brief, our sin should become Jesus’ own sin Otherwise, we are lost forever” – Martin Luther, Commentary on Gal. 3:13 (emphasis mine)

These passages of course, which in turn echo and amplify certain Biblical passages, have always been interpreted by serious Lutherans — and not only them! — as Jesus bearing the whole weight of the sins of the world, as they are credited, or imputed, to Him.

Passion of the Christ, 2004

 

Those who would like to read more quotes like this from Luther’s Galatians commentary can also see my blog post “Jesus Became Sin – But Did He Also Become a Sinner According to God’s Law?”

So, to underscore the reason for beginning the post in this fashion: A big question about this debate — in the minds of Radical Lutherans, at least — is whether a special degree of latitude is being offered to Martin Luther that is not being offered to Steve Paulson. I’d contend that that is most definitely not the case, and I hope that this post better helps you to answer that question as well.

+++

Second, we move onto what Paulson says, beginning with what Pastor Jordan Cooper quoted from Pages 103-105 in his book Lutheran Theology in his post “My Problem with Steven Paulson’s Theology” (all italics are Pastor Cooper’s):

“[Jesus] wants to take your sins and leave it to no one else; so he sins against the Golden Rule.” (Lutheran Theology, 103).

“When Christ took sin by association, he not only transgressed the law, but placed himself “under an evil lord.” (Lutheran Theology, 104).

“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.” (Lutheran Theology, 104).

“Christ comes to believe he was guilty.” (Lutheran Theology, 105).

“Confessing made it so, and thus Christ committed his own, personal sin—not only an actual sin, but the original sin.” (Lutheran Theology, 105).

“Fifth, Jesus could not seem to stop himself once this sin began rolling downhill, not only did he confess our sins as his own (and believed it), but he proceeded to take on every single sin ever committed in the world: “I have committed the sins of the world” (“Ego commisi peccata mundi”).” (Lutheran Theology, 105).

Pastor Cooper ends his brief post: “Read the section yourself, and come away with whatever conclusion you will, but as far as I know, Paulson has not publicly corrected these comments.”

+++

Third, Pastor Todd Wilken offers his own quote from Paulson’s 2011 book with the following view and appraisal:

Again:

  • “Confessing made it so, and thus Christ committed his own personal sin–not only an actual sin but the original sin.”
  • “He felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him.”
  • “He looked upon himself on the cross and believed in his own belief!”

Does one really need anything more than this?

Why!?

Are these not plain words that are going far beyond anything Martin Luther would have said, dared to say, or ever dreamed of saying?

+++

Fourth, in his journal article, “Lutheran Theology by Steven D.Paulson: A Review Essay”, Dr. Eric Phillips gives Steven Paulson’s careful words (this is an academic book folks) the attention they deserve, and goes on to interpret Paulson in the following way:

Because Paulson is a gifted communicator, you can usually follow him from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph, but when it comes time to summarize and evaluate his big-picture ideas, the reader has to do a lot of synthesis, drawing from all over the book and figuring out how to resolve the contradictions that arise….

How did Jesus save us? By breaking the Law Himself:

Christ goes deeper yet into flesh to take our sin. Although he did not commit a sin, he not only ate with sinners, but acknowledged sins as his own, that is, he confessed (confessio) them. This is like a man whose son has committed a crime, and out of selfless love the father steps in to take the punishment, but then goes too far— he 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.” …Unfortunately, Christ suffered on the cross the cost of anthropological projection of the heart’s faith, where he came to believe that his Father was not pleased with him, thus multiplying sin in himself just like any other original sinner who does not trust a promise from God. …Then finally in the words on the cross, “My God, my God…” he made the public confession of a sinner, “why have you forsaken me?” Confessing made it so, and thus Christ committed his own, personal sin—not only an actual sin, but the original sin. He felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him (“This is My Son, with whom I am well pleased”). (104-5)

Here is a contradiction much more confounding than the one mentioned above. “He did not commit a sin,” Paulson writes, and then less than a page later, “Christ committed his own, personal sin.” The first statement is what we expect to hear any Christian confess, but the second statement, the blasphemous one, is carefully justified and explained much differently than the confusing stuff in the middle about “irrationally coming to confess” the crime of a loved one. “He felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him.” That’s exactly how Paulson defines Original Sin in another part of the book: “It is to receive a word from God in the form of a promise, and then to accuse God of withholding something of himself—calling God a liar” (152). Paulson attempts to resolve the contradiction by distinguishing between obedience to the Law and obedience to God: “This does not change the fact that the Son was obedient to the Father; it only confirms the fact that obedience to his Father is not the same thing as obedience to the law…” (107). But even that doesn’t work, because he has accused Jesus not only of violating a commandment, but of “calling God a liar.” That is, the sin Paulson accuses Him of was committed directly against the Father, so what does he hope to gain by suggesting that Jesus could disobey the law while obeying the Father? It seems he must mean that the Father told Him to sin, and so by sinning He was really obeying the Father, even if the Law had to condemn Him, not being in on that little secret.

And how is this supposed to work salvation for sinners, that the spotless Lamb should join them in the mud? Paulson says that by identifying so deeply with human beings as to take their sin and actually experience the act of sin, He confessed not just that He was a sinner, but that He was every sinner, the only sinner. The result of this confession, for some reason, was that “once the Law accused Christ, it looked around and found no other sin anywhere in the world and suddenly, unexpectedly, when Christ was crucified, its proper work came to a halt” (110). It is not clear at all by what principle this works. It seems a bizarre and inadequate theory to prefer to the Substitutionary Atonement taught in the Lutheran Confessions, but this is what Paulson means when he says that Christ “fulfilled the law” (e.g. 183).

His use of this terminology is misleading at best, because the way you fulfill a law is by obeying it, and that is the opposite of what he means. He means only that the law is spent, used up, passed away. “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” (225).

Note that this interpretation coincides with Pastor Cooper’s and Pastor Wilken’s points and concerns. And note also that this interpretation certainly appears to do justice to all of Paulson’s words, also taking into context the rest of what he says in the book.

“To call Christ a sinner, and to treat Him as such, is to number Him with sinners. To call Christ sin is to call Him a sin offering, because this is how the OT sacrifices consistently speak of it (“sin offering” is simply the word “sin”).” — Pastor Eric Phillips

 

+++

Fifth, in my own blog post, “What Does the 1517 Legacy Project Believe Concerning the Nature of God’s Law and the Atonement?” I offer the following summary of what I believe to be Paulson’s viewpoint, and bring in other Luther quotes and Radical Lutheran beliefs as well:

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 [Paulson], 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 [Paulson] say[s]:] “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 [Paulson] say[s],] 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 [Paulson] 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 [Paulson])? [update: see Lutheran Theology, 109]

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 [Paulson] say[s]:] “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 [Paulson] say[s]:] “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 [Paulson], 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?”

+++

Sixth, before moving on to what the 1517/2011 Legacy folks say about this, I should also point out that Steve Paulson, when asked about this by Pastor Craig Donofrio, said the following:

“…the sins are really ours and never Christ’s, until he takes the sins, and becomes sin. He is innocent, sinless. Yet became sin.

We can understand this a little, since even now others can take our sins in their bodies, but not each and every one. And then not only took them, but became them. Who can believe that?

But what people really can’t believe is that there and then the law ended. But that is what faith is, which is faith in Christ, not law. I hope that helps, especially when you are defending me out there. But it is more important to defend Scripture.”

This seems to be in line with what he said in another one of his books, “Luther for Armchair Theologians”:

“Jesus knew no sin, but for our sake God made him to be sin. Luther saw the problem in the subsequent Bible commentaries. They agreed Jesus knew no sin, but balked at the bald assertion that Jesus became sin for us. Yet if you take that out then you remove forgiveness itself. Then heaven is dependent on your finding ways to get rid of the sin you still bear (like the church’s system of penance).”

And, *significantly* I think:

“Luther said, Jesus is not only a sinner, but he became a ‘curse for us’. On top of that he ‘has sinned or has sins’. Moreover, Jesus was ‘sinner of sinners’ and ‘the highest, the greatest, and the only sinner’. And in near madness (were forgiveness itself not at stake) Christ became sin itself. If your trust lies elsewhere, such as in logic’s fundamental principle of ontology (that a thing cannot have one attribute and its opposite at the same time), then Christ who is sinless and sinful at the same time must be rejected.” (italics mine)

Paulson seems to be wanting a specific kind of “two natures in Jesus Christ”… sinner and saint… perhaps making our life-and-death struggle his life-and-death struggle? Is this how He becomes like us in every way, even, in some sense, with sin? Even committing actual and “the original” sin?

I think it is clear that none of this novel theology would be possible if men liked Paulson believed, like Luther, that “only the Decalogue is eternal” (see my Concordia Theological Quarterly paper on this topic, vs, Paulson’s student Nicholas Hopman, here).

Luther had some very direct words about this, which he uttered in his dispute with the antinomians of his day: “These true disciples of Satan seem to think that the law is something temporal that has ceased under Christ, like circumcision.”

Seventh, and finally, what do some of 1517/2011 Legacy’s people have to say about this? One can find hints of what they believe, but not in any one place or article. Here are some examples of what you can find if you know where to look…

First of all we see Pastor John Hoyum, challenging Pastor Jordan Cooper on his promotion of Dr. Eric Phillip’s article, in part quoted above:

What also is clear is that John Hoyum believes that Paulson has support for his teaching in LC-MS seminaries:

Here is 1517/2011’s Caleb Keith on the topic:

As one can clearly see, Keiths’s interpretation, though on the face of it perhaps believable, does not really deal in any seriousness with the fuller picture that Paulson painted in his 2011 book Lutheran Theology. When challenged, he, like Paulson himself, simply refuses to address the very clear and controversial remarks (for the whole thread where these tweets appeared, see the original post/tweet)

John Hoyum also presumably thinks that Paulson’s critics have been less than fair, and is not shy about saying so…

Again, whatever you think about it, Hoyum says this theology is now in the very heart of LC-MS theological formation:

At the end, eventually, you have to take men’s words — yes, in their full context — seriously…

And you will need to decide.

Part 3 in a few days…

FIN

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2020 in Uncategorized