RSS

Tag Archives: Law of God (10 comm

Bravehearts and Blackhearts? Milo Yiannopoulos’s and Jordan Peterson’s Divine Gambits

“Anybody who only preaches a namby-pamby God, and not the highly masculine God of Scripture, is leaving young men vulnerable to the monstrous false gods of race and ideology.” –Yiannopoulos

 

Prefatory material: My views alone to be sure. Why give this man any time at all? As my Senator Al Franken puts it, because of “lies and the lying liars who tell them.” Milo is no angel to be sure, but for persons even relatively informed about him the pathetic hit pieces get old (a good response on that one, even if the author is wrong about the Reformation).

+++

I’ll admit it. Men like Milo Yiannopoulos and Jordan Peterson make me think of the popular 1995 movie Braveheart. That award-winning film featured the story of the courageous William Wallace, who, in order to free his people from the British, fought not just a culture war but a real war.

As portrayed by the traditionalist Roman Catholic “bad boy” Mel Gibson, the character of William Wallace is, like Yiannopoulos, not an angel. One of the more dramatic moments in the movie occurs when the dying British King is informed by his unadoring wife that his heir is anything but – she carries the child of William Wallace. All, of course, in the service of goodness — another victory for Wallace and his people!

Wallace is the imperfect hero – imperfect if we take the 10 commandments as our measuring stick that is – that we can’t help but love. Sure, I might not want to have the man around my wife, but look how he fights! Here is a man who knows how to defeat those on the side of the lie… of evil!

“Pope Benedict XVI is still the wisest and most erudite man in Europe, though I’m sure he doesn’t deserve to have me hung around his neck as an admirer.” — Yiannopoulos

 

How he inspires and motivates us! In spite of the flaws of such men, how, some of us might think, can God Himself not be impressed?

I thought of that also when I read Milo Yiannopoulos’s interview with the Jesuit magazine America. Like his interview with NPR, this is one conversation that was never was released for the public.[i] In the interview we read this…

Maybe you mean it’s shocking that I’m always joking about my lack of chastity and my fondness for black dudes, but I still call myself Catholic. And I don’t see what’s so shocking about that, either. One of the most famous saints of all time, sixteen centuries ago, prayed, ‘Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.’”…

You don’t see me disputing the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. There’s no intellectual tension, because I wouldn’t dream of demanding that the Church throw away her hard truths just to lie to me in hopes I’ll feel better about myself. I love the truth, not lies, and I know no one’s feelings are the basis of truth.

That’s why I don’t understand those Catholics — such as, if you’ll forgive my horrid impertinence, this magazine’s editor at large, Fr. Martin — who imply that if people don’t like what the Church says, maybe the Church is wrong or should apologize. The Church was founded on a rock and a cross, not on a hug.

Still, if you insist I talk about feelings, I’ve said before that I feel there’s something wrong with the fact that my lovemaking can’t produce the mini-Milo’s I’d like to have. How’s that for a subjective confirmation of the Church teaching that same-sex attraction is “objectively disordered” because it can’t lead to procreation?[ii]

Yiannopoulos has several conservative fans who will tell you that he doing the Lord’s work, who, after all, has been known to use evil for good. On the other hand, some persons, probably on both the political left and the right, think that Yiannopoulos is a simple attention-seeker: a fraud and a mere play actor.

“My personal motto, ‘laughter and war,’ comes from a passage in Chesterton’s Heretics.” — Yiannopoulos

 

I don’t think that is the case at all (Vox doubts this to, sounding a bit scared[iii]). I think he genuinely believes in God. And as he says in the interview – an interview which lauds Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, Flannery O’Connor, G.K. Chesterton, and Hilaire Belloc – I think that he really does hold that the previous Pope, Benedict – a.k.a, Cardinal Ratzninger, God’s Rottweiler – is the greatest intellectual force of our day.[iv] I also think that he does really believe that God’s law is true – and that homosexual relations are, to say the least, “objectively disordered”.

Yiannopoulos soldiers on under the banner of the Roman Catholic church, seemingly unfazed by the whole situation.

And so, is this how it works in his mind?: I fight on the side of God, in His cause. And He, in return, overlooks my sins.

Ah, but he doesn’t say that at all. What does he say instead? Right after the above quote he says this:

Bottom line: The Church says I’m not culpable for my temptations, but I shouldn’t sin. She’s right. And her founder said He came to heal those who knew they were sick, so I don’t despair.

Humility, you see. By not asserting that he is in God’s good graces, but by saying that he hopes in God’s grace and mercy! “Doing his best,” he “has some way to go.”

Heroes of Milo’s!? Good, but must consider this.

 

Think he doesn’t know anything about humility either? Well, compared with others, there actually does seem to be a bit more self-awarenesss than we often find among the famous….

Growing up Catholic also taught me the value of humility, even if that’s not exactly a forte of mine. This virtue is important for society, because it teaches us to be tolerant of a diversity of opinions, rather than arrogantly trying to silence people we disagree with. And it’s important for me personally, because despite my vanity, I know I’m not as smart as Thomas Aquinas or as good as St. Francis.

There’s a great line from the novelist Flannery O’Connor, who liked to shock and troll a bit herself: “I’m not limited to what I personally feel or think; I’m a Catholic.” She meant the same thing Chesterton did in his famous quip, “Tradition is the democracy of the dead.” Political correctness gives us thin gruel and loneliness. The Church gives us a grand party with red meat and red wine.

Perhaps a word of comfort is in order? Is this not what the Reformation was all about? Grace – “a grand party with red meat and red wine” – for poor sinners oppressed by the heavy burden of the law?

Well, this comes to mind: persons like Martin Luther, the 16th century church reformer, both upheld the law and thought that he absolutely needed to obey it. For someone like Luther, grace could not be cheap. What kind of good and faithful servant disregards His Master’s commands? Who would dare think that the Lord isn’t serious about what He commands? Who would dare think, for example, that His moral law is evolving? Not Luther.

Conceivably, Milo knows about humility in this world – and how to make good jokes about it to boot. The question is if he knows about it before God. Or – if he genuinely just hopes that God, gradually healing him through the grace he finds himself able to cooperate with, will be so good to bless him in the life to come the way He has presumably blessed him here. [v] For example, as he has been blessed with his new husband — something one of his most ardent and sophisticated traditional Catholic supporters, at least, doesn’t seem terribly concerned about.

Lectured by Milo?: “Sins of the flesh, let us remember, are at the bottom of the scale. The Church says self-righteousness is at the top.”

 

In truth, for all the things that a person like Milo might be right about, I get the impression that he isn’t ultimately serious about God or His law where it counts the most.[vi] If he were, he would recognize that human beings must be completely infected by sin (he says human nature is good) and that no one can hope to “win” God’s gracious favor by the grace-empowered good one does — even if that person were, for the sake of argument — actually saving Western civilization.

And lest anyone else get the mistaken idea that this is all about sex — and since Milo apparently doesn’t mind being compared to Jesus all that much — I offer you this short account of our Lord’s fear, love, and trust in His heavenly Father, who fulfilled God’s law on our behalf:

  • He perfectly loved the Lord, His God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind
  • He loved His neighbor as Himself, always doing for them as He desired they do for Him
  • He did indeed! – insofar as He could. Not by excising the First table of the commandments from the “Golden Rule” or notions of the “common good,” for “natural law” minus the first table not only cannot save but teaches wrongly
  • In other words, Jesus Christ always called upon and proclaimed the Name of the Creator who has acted very specifically in history, doing mighty deeds in the world for our good.
  • He always listened to God’s Holy Spirit, who, as Martin Luther said, gives “all truth, wherever it might be.”
  • Finally, Jesus worshiped His Father, God as He truly is and is in our history, from a pure heart, never doubting for a minute the truth of the Scriptures

Evidently, God is not one with the idea that when the scales are weighed in His sight, that any individual’s grace-empowered good deeds — starting with one’s willing cooperation — can outweigh one’s bad…

Acts 24:24b-25a: “he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed…”

 

Lest you think this is merely me talking, I give you the Apostle Paul:

  • For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
  • For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “…who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:32-33, 35)
  • Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being[a] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

Worthless lot. Every one (see the whole of Romans 3 if you don’t believe me!) From Adam, none of us traitorous blackhearts deserve mercy. No matter what kind of deeds we do, think we do, or others think we do.

Then you’ll have to heed Paul brother… “We Catholics are better at clothes, food, and parties. Why shouldn’t we be better at guilt, too?” — Yiannopolous

 

Another man who makes me think about the hero portrayed in Braveheart is the increasingly famous Jordan Peterson (who, as of this writing, just finished another biblical lecture in Canada). And, as I said in the past, he has all “all of the clarity and courage of someone like Yiannopolous, but without the self-proclaimed ‘dangerous faggot’s’ liabilities.”[vii]

Nevertheless, those bulleted lists above can apply to Peterson as easily as they can Yiannopolous. Essentially, Peterson seems to basically share Yiannopolous’ view of what it takes to save a human being – justification through one’s good deeds (and, unlike Milo, when it comes to morality, I have heard very little from Peterson that contradicts the Bible[viii]). In one of his lectures on the Bible from a[n evolutionary] psychologist’s perspective, Peterson even evoked the picture of the fearsome Christ who judges the world — from the book of Revelation! — as a helpful figure for spurring one on to good deeds! Overall, he paints a picture of our commitments and corresponding actions – no doubt done from the purest of motivations we can muster – being able to not only save us from the future we face in this life, but as being that which may very well echo in eternity… They are something that can provide us with a real hope in whatever life there is to come.

This is the Divine gambit.

Seriously though… For the love of God, don’t go there! Instead, hear the Word of the Lord.

“Faith lives in repentance” – Phillip Melanchton, theologian and the father of universal education for all

 

I understand that there are some in the Christian world that think that persons like Milo – and even Peterson, given his lack of Christian profession in spite of his general friendliness to it – should be talked to in a gentle way. Treated with kid gloves (I can’t say, like the “Church Militant” site that published Milo’s interview, that he has not encouraged anyone to act on their sexual inclinations — on the contrary, he consistently promotes extramarital sex).

Well, they are big boys. They, no doubt better than most, can handle it, just like they can dish it out and do. Dig into those Bible passages, men – and think about the experiences of someone like Luther, whose conscience knew what God’s Law demanded!

Give him a read to (start with the Small and Large Catechisms). He was not wrong when he put it this way:

“This, then, is what it means to begin true repentance; and here man must hear such a sentence as this: You are all of no account, whether you be manifest sinners or saints [in your own opinion]; you all must become different and do otherwise than you now are and are doing [no matter what sort of people you are], whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you may. Here no one is [righteous, holy], godly, etc.

But to this office the New Testament immediately adds the consolatory promise of grace through the Gospel, which must be believed, as Christ declares, Mark 1:15: Repent and believe the Gospel, i.e., become different and do otherwise, and believe My promise….”

+++

As far as Yiannopolous is concerned, I’m sure he will continue to say that conservative Christians, in his experience, have been considerably kind and gracious with persons like himself, exploding every myth of their purportedly hateful attitudes towards gays.

If he reads this, he might even say that about me.

“The fact that so many of us think hurting people’s feelings is the greatest evil says all you need to know about the decline of our civilization.”

 

Because I think that he does – at least more than most in the media! – really care about the truth. And he respects those who say hard truths (like Peter Scaer addressing an issue close to his heart!) and who don’t back down – ever.

As he says: “Pray for me. I need it.”

That’s definitely something I need to.

I will pray.

FIN

 

Images:

Benedict pic by Mangouste35, CC BY-SA 3.0 ;  Milo Yiannopoulos photos by @Kmeron ; Milo on throne used with permission from @KingCrocoduck (Twitter).

Notes:

[i] Eventually, only after Yiannopoulos posted the interview, NPR released a few mere minutes of the longer conversation. Vox reports: “A representative for the publication told Vox on Friday, ‘We can confirm that an interview with Mr. Yiannopoulos was conducted by one of America’s occasional contributors and was not accepted by America for publication. As a general matter, America does not comment further on editorial decisions about why articles are not accepted for publication.’”

[ii] Earlier in the interview, he said this: “Frankly, what’s really shocking is that a poor sinner like me has spoken out more on contraception than 99% of our bishops, who seem too preoccupied with diversity and climate change to talk about God.”

[iii] “But if Yiannopoulos is totally sincere about his right-wing Catholicism — a rarity for a man sincere about so little else — that might prove more unsettling still. If he can combine Steve Bannon’s apocalyptic worldview with his ability to manipulate the thoroughly temporal worlds of Twitter and college campuses alike, he might prove almost as dangerous as he wants us to think he is.”

[iv] From the Vox piece: “Yiannopoulos praised Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, as “the wisest and most erudite man in Europe,” celebrating his willingness to “declare publicly that Islam’s irrationalism is one of the world’s great problems” — a reference to a controversial speech Benedict gave in 2006.”

[v] Unsurprisingly, Yiannopoulos has expressed sympathy towards types of Christianity which flirt with “health and wealth” doctrines. He’d “like to believe in the prosperity Gospel,” he says.

[vi] From the interview: “I’ve already quoted St. Augustine, who had his own pelvic issues. I once tweeted out an illustrated page from his Confessions that began, ‘I will now recall my past foulnesses.’ That’ll work for my memoirs someday, too.” It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

[vii] https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/why-i-cant-not-love-the-noble-pagan-jordan-peterson-and-be-concerned/

[viii] In a recent Q and A for his Patreon supporters, I did hear him encourage someone who called themselves “asexual” to not only get a sex therapist but to find a partner that they could feel comfortable with and who might be able to ease them into sexual activity. Marriage is presumably not in a picture like this.

Advertisement
 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brad Novacek [Infanttheology], I’m not sure I follow your meaning. Are you saying that there’s something wrong with the article you posted, or are you using it as a kind correction about [this theologians] alleged theological issues?
.
[Infanttheology] Brad – here’s what I say: http://www.patheos.com/…/jesus-became-sin-also-become…/
.

Brad Novacek [Infanttheology], Okay, I think I understand your point here. This is certainly a complex issue and the terminology must be well defined to convey a proper understanding. This is often not done. I think we actually hold very similar views, but there is a sense in which Jesus became a “sinner” on the cross. To be clear, it is plain wrong to say that Jesus became the “embodiment of sin” or “took on a sin nature,” Just as it is wrong to say that he was a sinner because of some sin of his own. But if we think of the term “sinner” in the broad sense (a person with…or perhaps convicted of…sin) as opposed to the narrow sense (someone who has sinned), we can see a great distinction that can be made in the case of Christ. Jesus was fully man and was therefore under the law just as any of us are. He has a human nature, but without original sin. Also, he never committed actual sin. So Jesus was not a sinner in the narrow sense (one who has sinned).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

Because if Forde’s doctrine lives, we die.

FIN

 
6 Comments

Posted by on October 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

Jesus Became Sin – But Did He Also Become a Sinner According to God’s Law?

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Cor. 5:21

+++

Among professed confessional Lutherans, this, it appears to me, has become an issue.

At the end of my controversial review of Concordia Publishing House’s “So-Called 3rd Use of the Law” book, The Necessary Distinction[i], I made the following statement:

“I know the folks at CPH need to eat, but that is not best done by promoting books that say, for example, that Jesus was justly accused by God’s law (157).”

Here, specifically, is what I was referring to. Naomichi Masaki sums up Luther as follows:

“Christ relates to the law passively. He was born under the Law. He voluntarily… subjected Himself to it in His ministry. This He did so that the Law may rage against Him as much as it does against an accused and condemned sinner, and even more fiercely. The Law accused Jesus of blasphemy and sedition. It found Him guilty before God of all the sins of the world. It frightened Him to the point of the bloody sweat in Gethsemane. Finally, it sentenced Him to death, even to the death on the cross” (157, italics mine)

I’ve been reflecting on this more – Masaki, seemingly echoing Luther, is saying that the law actually accuses Jesus of blasphemy and sedition.

VDMA LQ? Hmm… why would anyone say “[The] law is present only where Christ is absent,” the Holy Spirit is “the opposite of the law,” or that “the criterion of the law is the self”?

When one looks at some quotes from Luther’s Galatians commentary that relate to this, one might think that it fully explains why Masaki writes as he does.

For example, in the well-known Christian Dogmatics textbook by Francis Pieper (see vol II: 344ff), we find the same passage of Luther mentioned by Masaki, from his famous “Great Galatians” commentary:

“Christ is no longer ‘an innocent and sinless Person, but a sinner who has and bears the sin of Paul, the blasphemer and persecutor, and of Peter, the denier of his Master, and of David, the adulterer and murderer; in a word, He bears and has all the sins of all men in His body…. He Himself is innocent, but since He bears the sins of the world, His innocence is weighed down by the sins and guilt of the whole world. Whatever sins I and you have done have become the sins of Christ, as though He Himself had committed them. Is. 53:6 says: ‘The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.’’ (St. L, IX: 369ff)” (italics mine)

As an online interlocutor put it to me: “the Perfect is ‘weighed down,’ as Luther says, with imperfection. The Sinless has become sinful. In a sense, on the cross Jesus is simul justus et peccator.”

“How was Christ made sin? Certainly by imputation. And thus we are made the righteousness of God in Him (Examination of the Council of Trent, “Concerning Justification,” 1.7.6.).” – Martin Chemnitz

 

In that same Galatians commentary, speaking of chapter 3, verse 13, Luther writes:

Let us see how Christ was able to gain the victory over our enemies. The sins of the whole world, past, present, and future, fastened themselves upon Christ and condemned Him. But because Christ is God He had an everlasting and unconquerable righteousness. These two, the sin of the world and the righteousness of God, met in a death struggle. Furiously the sin of the world assailed the righteousness of God. Righteousness is immortal and invincible. On the other hand, sin is a mighty tyrant who subdues all men. This tyrant pounces on Christ. But Christ’s righteousness is unconquerable. The result is inevitable. Sin is defeated and righteousness triumphs and reigns forever.

In the same manner was death defeated. Death is emperor of the world. He strikes down kings, princes, all men. He has an idea to destroy all life. But Christ has immortal life, and life immortal gained the victory over death. Through Christ death has lost her sting. Christ is the Death of death.

The curse of God waged a similar battle with the eternal mercy of God in Christ. The curse meant to condemn God’s mercy. But it could not do it because the mercy of God is everlasting. The curse had to give way. If the mercy of God in Christ had lost out, God Himself would have lost out, which, of course, is impossible.

Here, the following questions perhaps arises: is the curse only associated with sin? Or something else? In this regard, his comments on Galatians 4:4 are even more interesting:

How did Christ manage to redeem us? “He was made under the law.” When Christ came He found us all in prison. What did He do about it? Although He was the Lord of the Law, He voluntarily placed Himself under the Law and permitted it to exercise dominion over Him, indeed to accuse and to condemn Him. When the Law takes us into judgment it has a perfect right to do so. “For we are by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Eph. 2:3.) Christ, however, “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” (I Pet. 2:22.) Hence the Law had no jurisdiction over Him. Yet the Law treated this innocent, just, and blessed Lamb of God as cruelly as it treated us. It accused Him of blasphemy and treason. It made Him guilty of the sins of the whole world. It overwhelmed him with such anguish of soul that His sweat was as blood. The Law condemned Him to the shameful death on the Cross.

It is truly amazing that the Law had the effrontery to turn upon its divine Author, and that without a show of right. For its insolence the Law in turn was arraigned before the judgment seat of God and condemned. Christ might have overcome the Law by an exercise of His omnipotent authority over the Law. Instead, He humbled Himself under the Law for and together with them that were under the Law. He gave the Law license to accuse and condemn Him. His present mastery over the Law was obtained by virtue of His Sonship and His substitutionary victory (italics mine).

It almost sounds like, as a Radical Lutheran (a term Gerhard Forde coined) might put it, that God’s Law is a master at getting loose, escaping its chains! What has gotten into God’s “holy and righteous and good” (Apostle Paul) law?

“We know the law is good if one uses it properly.” — the Apostle Paul

 

Well, with Luther’s words ringing in our ears, let’s get back to our question. If the law does “justly accuse Jesus”, what makes this accusation just? One might argue that this is exactly what happens when Jesus “becomes sin” for us – the law is going to accuse and condemn Him, and by God’s intention and design. Just as He who has no sin undergoes John’ baptism in solidarity with us, “fulfilling all righteousness,” Jesus so closely identifies with us that He becomes the “real sinner,” so to speak, whose condemnation satisfies the wrath of God the law demands.

Even as, for example, the thief on the cross recognizes that He, truly, is innocent. The spotless Lamb of God.

There is something missing here though. The primary question this brings up is how and why the law accuses Jesus Himself of things like blasphemy and sedition. Does it really do so as the law of God, as it is wielded by the Holy Spirit? (see John 16:7ff).

No.

Why not? Because this is a case of the law being wielded by Satan (who Luther tells us, uses it for our harm and not our good)[ii], but Satan getting played by God.

“…the Antinomians state[] that the law only shows sins, certainly without the Holy Spirit, so it therefore only shows them unto damnation…[but] the Holy Spirit is in his majesty when he writes with his finger on Moses’ tablets of stone…” — Luther, vs his Antinomian opponent, Agricola

Here is how it works: God, being of perfect character, is the definition of justice. Therefore, if He chooses, from the foundation of the world, for His Son to be slain by sin and evil – something the Son Himself ultimately is determined to have occur – in order to die in our place, “blow up” death and the curse, and win back His creation, then it is, by definition, “just”. Satan’s plan gets co-opted and used in the bigger plan of the One who “works all in all.” Jesus therefore, in spite of being unjustly accused by the law as wielded by Satan, is, in this sense “justly accused.” He becomes sin for us so that God’s justice (broader sense of the term – which includes mercy) – which even uses evil for good! – prevails. Even Jesus Himself, as our Great High Priest offering Himself for us as sacrifice, can say “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

In other words, the answer to the question “Was Jesus than “justly accused by God’s law?” is “Perhaps, but only in a very limited sense.” (the one above)

That said, I still do not think we should say that “Jesus was justly accused by God’s law,” as it is more liable to confuse than anything else – “Are you saying Christ actually broke the law?” — and to be hijacked by others for nefarious purposes.[iii]

Which brings me back to Masaki’s essay. You might be thinking, “this is not specifically what Masaki said anyways (justly accused), so why did I have that in my original review? Was it fair of you to say that?” The reason I said that is because other statements made by him, covered in that review, indicate he follows Gerhard Forde in his belief that most all theologians outside of Luther have considered “the Law,” and not God’s gracious favor, “as the original way of salvation.” Therefore, “[f]or Luther,” he explains, “the Law was not a description of what man is supposed to do within the structure of the eternal order. Instead, he viewed the Law as what it actually does. It kills” (The Necessary Distinction, 153-154). Forde explicitly draws the logical conclusion: Jesus Christ, in spite of His perfect life traditionally understood to have been in complete accordance with God’s law “was quite justly condemned by the law” (Forde, Theology is for Proclamation, 77).

“Satan hates the teaching of piety (cf. 1 Tim. 6:3). This is why he wants to remove the law through such spirits.” — Luther

 

“Justly condemned by the law.” Even though I am unfamiliar with this line of thinking being present anywhere in the church’s history, persons sympathetic or somewhat sympathetic to Forde have expounded on thoughts like this – and not in the way I unpacked it above. Rather, they might say, for example, that in the end Jesus was justly accused as a violator of God’s own law so that all sinners may have assurance of eternal life. In violating the law, Jesus Christ is actually being faithful to his Father’s mission to save the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matt 10:6). Here, Jesus presumably breaks the Law by, for example, dining with sinners![iv] Another — not Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland — has even appeared to say that Christ committed His own, personal sin by not believing the Word of God (when He was on the cross): “He felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him.”[v]

In sum, what it comes down to is this: Christ ends up a damned sinner, “defeated” by that most coercive and even killing of forces: the merciless “order keeping” law!

What do I mean?

By “order keeping” I mean something like this: law is not necessarily associated first and foremost – or at all! — with God’s law, the 10 commandments, but is rather anything which provides boundaries, “makes life work,” and keeps peace – all good things! What really is true, right, and just may not even need to be considered here, as this story from a good friend of mine illustrates:

“In Kindergarten I was accused of and punished for throwing a snowball at recess. I had not done it. Oddly enough, 45 years later, it still kind of hurts to think about.

In other words, even though I was not guilty of the sin for which I was punished, there was significant suffering involved on my part. I didn’t need to be the sinner to suffer for the sin of whoever did commit that sin. Although that is what I, for all intents and purposes, became.

And justice was served. The boy hit by the snowball in the face, and his parents, were satisfied. The teacher and principal upheld the law. My classmates learned from my experience.”

By “merciless,” I mean that the law, though “good” in an earthly sense, ultimately fails because it does not have the good of particular persons in mind – even Jesus!

This, however, is mistaken. Why? Luther believed that the law, in its proper use (see footnote 2 as well), always went hand in hand with truth and the Holy Spirit – and that God convicted by it with the intent to deliver the faith-creating Gospel. Lutherans used to talk about this all the time, as John 16:7ff was used repeatedly by the original Reformers. This is why Luther could talk about the law in a way you generally won’t hear from persons attracted to Forde (and certainly not from Forde himself!): “The law does not want you to despair of God,” he said, ratherit wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…”

“For even in His own eyes, Christ was similar to one who has been forsaken, to one who has been cursed, to a sinner, a blasphemer, one who is condemned, and yet without sins or guilt.” — Luther

 

Yes, since we are sinners and remain so until heaven, the good law can’t not accuse and condemn us. That said, from the beginning, the law was not given to threaten, accuse, and terrify us, but rather to inform us of danger and guide us in truth.

Again, the only response to the idea that Christ ends up being a damned sinner according to God’s law is that this is a perversion of the truth that will not do. As the Apostle Paul would have put it: “Anathema!” As another one (this one) put it, “Jesus knew that God knew that Jesus was innocent.” Therefore, Jesus willingly accepts the punishment – the wrath! – we deserved as He bore our sins on the cross.

When Luther, for example, comments on Psalm 51, he writes that

“[T]hat expression, ‘My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ is similar to blasphemy against God, but it is not blasphemy. If, therefore, we were to say that Christ had been made the blasphemy of God, as some translate that passage from Deuteronomy (21:23), ‘he who is hanged is a blasphemy of God,’ or, ‘he who is hanged is an insult of God,’ of which Jerome makes much in his treatment of Galatians, then we would say it in the same sense as that statement (Gal. 3:13), ‘He was made a curse and sin,’ that He felt the blasphemy, the curse, the sin in Himself without the blasphemy, without the curse, without the sin which, in us, was a blasphemy that blasphemes, a curse that curses, a sin that sins. To such an extent was Christ plunged into all that is ours, as it says in Ps. 69:10 and Rom. 15:3, ‘The insults of those who insult you fell upon Me’” (italics mine).

…those with eyes to see can tell that is not the same thing as claiming that, by the law’s judgment (is the law, properly used, in accordance with truth or not? – see footnote 2), Jesus took His experience of God’s wrath as “something truer than God’s own word of promise to him.”

The law does not do its work without God’s Holy Spirit, who gives “all truth, wherever it might be,” for “to forbid the law is to forbid the truth of God” (Solus Decalogus est Aeternus [SDEA] 139, ; see also 55)

Luther also writes “For even in His own eyes, Christ was similar to one who has been forsaken, to one who has been cursed, to a sinner, a blasphemer, one who is condemned, and yet without sins or guilt.” If this is indeed the way to understand Christ’ cry of dereliction, there is, contra Gerhard Forde, no good reason to think that Christ had not, in fact, experienced His Father’s turning away, and thereby let His suffering humanity be known to Him (whom He never ceased to look to in trust!). Is God not holy? Indeed, does He not refuse to abide that which is not? Particularly when all that is not holy has been concentrated in one [very human, very created,] place?

And yet, sin and death — and their judgment in Him — could not hold the God-Man. Perhaps, remembering not just the beginning of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why….”) but its glorious end as well, our Lord ultimately cries out “It is finished!” and then, “Into your hands, I commend My Spirit.” He does not despair of God, but expects good from Him, fulfilling the law.

In sum, Christ never violates God’s law, which some today, misinterpreting Romans 10:4, believe absolutely had to go – not just in the sense of accusation, but totally. This is wrong.

Luther: “These true disciples of Satan seem to think that the law is something temporal that has ceased under Christ, like circumcision.”

 

I close with the following point from Dr. Eric Phillips:

“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”).

To say the least, this is a great mystery! Brothers, from the bottom of my heart, I say this: Let’s remember who we are dealing with… let us trust the Word of God, delivered to us in the Scriptures!

FIN

 

Notes

[i] Also discussed on Federalist writer Matthew Garnett’s “In Layman’s Terms” podcast here and here. Part 3 available this weekend.

[ii] Would this be using the law properly? After all, nowhere are we told in Scripture that Christ commits any sinful action. He is fully without sin, even as, per God’s eternal plan, our sin is imputed to Him. Note also that when Luther talked about law being administered on earth, his understanding of it law is hardly a “wooden” one but is considerably nuanced: that “[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) and that 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). (see here for more). If earthly rulers are to be so careful in their judgements with the law, how much more so God in heaven? (and to point out such a thing is not to say that the law does not also, before God, cause every mouth to be silent, revealing as it does the guilt of all.)

[iii] Having read the text which precedes this footnote, Pastor Eric Phillips, I think, aptly sums up what is at stake in this question:

“For the accusation to accomplish justice (whether the wide or narrow sense of “righteousness”), and for it to be just in itself, are two different things. The former concerns the end and the latter the means. This is a case (the prime case) of justice being accomplished by unjust means, of good coming from evil, because the one who was called upon to suffer that injustice willingly did so instead of insisting on His rights, and offered His suffering for the sin of the world.

To say that the law accused Jesus justly is to confuse the end with the means.

It also demonstrates the danger of talking about the Law as if it were a person, when it’s not. Who used the Law to accuse Jesus? It was “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” The Father bruised the Son by using the devil, not by using the Law. And as the devil wielded the Law, it was unjust.”

Therefore, when Luther writes colorfully about the law in the quotes above in the main text, giving this “force” personality, are we to believe that this is more than creative rhetoric? That he is to be taken literally here, and that he honestly thinks that the law by itself has a personality of sorts? Or that it is operating properly, as it is designed to be used?

[iv] This author goes on to talk about how in Jesus Christ’s ministry, everyone excluded by the law (tax collectors, prostitutes, prodigals, etc) would be embraced by God. It is for that particular reason that the very Son of God is shunned and killed on the cross. Here the law, even in those with good but self-justifying intentions, overcomes God’s promise in Christ alone. The law must therefore have its limits — and even its end! (Rom. 10:4)

[v] Another statement: “[Jesus was] multiplying sin in himself just like any other original sinner who does not trust a promise from God.” This has to do with Christ’s cry of dereliction from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Presumably, we are to understand here that God, did not, in fact, turn away from Jesus at this moment, prompting His cry. Rather, because of the weight of the sins of the world He bore, Christ irrationally confessed our sins by believing that His Father was displeased with Him and thereby sinned all of our sins. In other words, Christ’s willful act of ‘confessio’ is what makes Him truly a sinner who disobeys according to the law, which is to be sharply distinguished from God’s will. For example, in other statements this author says: “[Jesus] wants to take your sins and leave it to no one else; so he sins against the Golden Rule,” that when Jesus took sin by association, he not only transgressed the law, but placed himself ‘under an evil lord.'” More: “If Christ were obedient to the law, rather than obedient to the Father…” and “Christ’s obedience is outside the law, since the Father is not the law.” If this author believes and means to say that “ontologically Christ didn’t sin,” or something like this, then the logical thing to conclude is that God’s use of His own law is, to say the least, wooden (e.g., “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.” [!]) and that it is not in accordance with what is really good, right and true, correct? This,, however, is the opposite of what Luther believes. The great reformer not only notes how “the Spirit first convicts the world of sin in order to teach faith in Christ, that is, the remission of sins (John 16:8)” (SDEA 37), going on to speak about how Adam, David, and Paul are killed by the law. He also says that, in accordance with God’s will, the law does not do its work without God’s Holy Spirit, who gives “all truth, wherever it might be,” for “to forbid the law is to forbid the truth of God” (SDEA 139 ; see also 55).

Luther does speak about the importance of metaphorical and figurative language. For example, he writes vs. Latomus: “So, coming to the point of this discussion, we see that when Christ is offered up, he is made sin for us metaphorically, for he was in every respect like a sinner. He was condemned, abandoned, put to shame, and in nothing different from a true sinner, except that he had not done the sin and guilt which he bore” (LW 32:200). Luther goes on, “In this trope there is a metaphor not only in the words, but also in the actuality, for our sins have truly been taken from us and placed upon him, so that everyone who believes on him really has no sins, because they have been transferred to Christ and swallowed up by him, for they no longer condemn. Just as figurative language is sweeter and more effective than is crude and simple speech, so also real sin is burdensome and intolerable to us, while transferred and metaphorical sin is wholesome and most delightful” (LW 32:200). Thus, “We therefore say that the sophists really do not know what sin is according to the usage of Scripture, for when they talk of ‘penalty’ they dream in an unscriptural way of something very different from sin. As I said, Christ was in every respect similar to sin except that he did not sin, for all the evil which follows sinful acts in us, such as the fear of death and hell, was felt and borne by Christ. The sophists themselves do not understand what they have invented about guilt and the attribution of punishment. Contrary to what they say, Christ felt that attribution, and was similar to one to whom sin is attributed, although without guilt. What is an attribution which one does not feel? Absolutely nothing. So, as I said, Christ differs not at all from a sinner of our own day who has just received the sentence that he must be condemned to death and hell. It was an effective attribution, wholly genuine, except that he did not deserve it, and was delivered up for us without having done anything to merit it. However, this is a thing rather to be experienced than to be discussed and grasped in words” (LW 32:202).

Still, does this not seem to be a far cry from the words in the previous paragraph? See Pastor Cooper’s post on this topic from the other day as well.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

Discussion on “The Necessary Distinction” on Matthew Garnett’s “In Layman’s Terms”

Always have a good time with Matthew. Looking forward to next week for a part II:

https://www.buzzsprout.com/18283/572497-critique-of-necessary-distinction

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Jordan Peterson, the (Gradual) “Return” of God’s Law in the West, and the Future as a Saving Father

“If you were better, the people around you would be less worse than they are.” — Jordan Peterson

 

Sometimes the unbelievers put Christians to shame.

In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul chastises a congregation: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife…”

To the young pastor Timothy, he states: “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

In the second chapter of the book of Romans, he thunders:

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

The message? Again, unbelievers put the people of God to shame. That, in part, is what I think when I watch something like this (yes, the pictures and music play on the emotions, but the message itself is powerful):

.

Indeed, the world needs righteousness.[i] For those involved in the atrocities noted in the videos, there is no doubt that what Peterson says elsewhere about the consequences of our behavior is true:

“The future is a judgmental father.”

Peterson’s answer is that if we believe the world is good we can have hope that we can make it better. We can become the kind of people for whom these kinds of things are unthinkable – people of truth. Is this an articulation of what the fulfillment of the law looks like – without Christ – if that were possible?

I have no doubt that a person like Jordan Peterson brings with him a spiritual awakening of sorts. In many ways, he provides an articulate defense for the importance of God’s law to those who have abandoned it.

Of course, I need to qualify my statement here. In truth, knowledge of God’s law is in all of us. It never left.

It has, of course, been buried deep within. Given the increasing lack of reinforcement in society and the church, very deep within…

  • Some have done much picking and choosing regarding God’s laws – they have chosen some that they like, while leaving others behind. Hence, they now call good evil and evil good.
  • Others have not only picked the laws they like while leaving others behind. They have created many of their own laws. The laws one must follow in society to be a “good person” have multiplied. Hence, as Jesus says “why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”
  • Others go so far as to even doubt the existence of God. The natural result is that they tempt themselves to think about good and evil as being something subjective. They will “flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.”
  • Finally, others even have  the nerve to assert that there is no God. There are laws to be sure, but we are the “gods” who make them up as we go along.

Again, I repeat: in truth, knowledge of God’s law is in all of us. It never left. Peterson’s message – delivered with his peculiar passion and gravitas — puts this in stark relief. He reminds us of what we once were and what we are meant to be again. One hears the divine echo.

What should we as Christians think about all of this? What do we have to add? I submit we should look more intently at the 10 commandments.

What does God’s law demand? How does the Bible describe the fulfillment of the 10 commandments? It says love fulfills them. And how do we see them fulfilled? We see this in those who love God and neighbor.

And the one who loves God, we are told, will love one’s brother, one’s neighbor.

So what does the fulfillment of the law really look like?

In one sense, only Jesus Christ. His perfect life and innocent death for us — taking away our sin.

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again! That is love, the supreme love. Our salvation!

But, being human beings created for a purpose, we nevertheless go on to say more: the fulfillment of the law also manifests itself in love for one’s neighbor (Romans 8:1-4 and Romans 13) – and not apart from a concern to give the neighbor the great message of God, culminating in news of the Great Deeds God has done to save His people.

For the love of God is not only external, but internal as well. Love – the fulfillment of the law – desires to be united with one’s neighbor on the other side of the grave. In, with, and through Jesus Christ!

  • “Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your husbands, so that even if they refuse to believe the word, they will be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.” – I Peter 3:1
  • “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” – I Cor. 7:16
  • “With many other words [Peter] warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” – Acts 2:40
  • “…even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” — I Cor. 10:33)
  • “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” — I Cor. 9:22)
  • “…in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them” – Rom 11:14

And here we might ask: Who do Peter and Paul think they are? God? Who saves? Has Paul already forgotten who the Savior is? The doctrine of election? Or is this kind of thing just preliminary to it (remember, Romans 9-11 is where he discusses it at length):

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,[a] my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Profound. In my mind, that it what a very strong and jarring articulation of the fulfillment of the law looks like in truth. The future is a saving Father. He chooses to use us to communicate his love to the world.

It sounds a bit like Jordan Peterson.

It’s not though. The first table of God’s Law – which would encompass the command to proclaim the Great Deeds of God for the life of the world, culminating in the Word made flesh – is a critical component of the commandments’ fulfillment. Even the Golden Rule is empty without it. We cannot live – the life that is “truly life” that is – without the certainty that Christ’s work for us frees us from sin, death, and the devil and gives us the peace which passes all understanding.

In any case, this piece is a great tribute to Jordan Peterson. I encourage you to check it out and reflect. I plan to mention it again in a future post.

FIN 

 

 

[i] A good friend who watched the video said to me:

“…a question for Peterson would be: But there were those who did resist and resisted immediately, and were imprisoned or executed. So why did they see what was going on and act in such a way? What drove them?

But what Peterson comes up with as a solution (“We need to be better people!”) is, oddly enough, nothing really new, but oddly similar to what–as I mentioned last night–Confucius proposed, living as he did in incredibly tumultuous times in China. So take a look at this brief description of Confucius’ ideal man, the Junzi.

Perhaps the question to pose to Peterson would be to what extent his ideal person is like that of the Junzi.”

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 1, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Dissecting the Readily Hijack-able “Radical Lutheranism” with Todd Wilken

Pastor Wilken in the studio of Issues ETC. with a couple guests.

 

Please note: Pastor Wilken’s comments are in blue alone. The rest is my voice.

First of all, if you need a primer on Radical Lutheranism – the term first coined by the late Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde – you can see this piece that I wrote, explaining why every Christian should be tempted by it!

Nevertheless, don’t be too tempted! — it has its problems. For instance, you can get a taste of them in this interview that Pastor Todd Wilken, of the theological talk show Issues ETC., did with Jack Kilcrease (found on this page – Kilcrease’s is a more sympathetic critique) about Gerhard Forde.

 

One of the Radical Lutherans’ big claims is that later Lutherans domesticated Luther and put him in a straightjacket of sorts. It is they who go back to the vintage, authentic Luther. My guess is that most if not all of the authors of the book The Necessary Distinction: a Continuing Conversation of Law and Gospel would say the same thing (in addition to Martin Luther getting it right where every other person in church history had been wrong!).

I would contend however, that Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations, unpacked in my recent series Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies, should cause anyone to doubt this claim. And Pastor Wilken has also been critical of Radical Lutheranism himself. See, e.g. the talk referenced here by Pastor Cooper and looked at more closely on the Steadfast Lutherans blog.

Wilken, reviewing Pastor Cooper’s book: “As a Lutheran pastor and 20-year Forde disciple, I spent the better part of my parish ministry and subsequent time as a radio host promoting the Radical Lutheranism of Forde…”

 

In this post, I am going to look in more detail at the points that Pastor Wilken made in his talk critiquing Radical Lutheranism in light of my recent study of Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. Since I think Pastor Wilken’s first ten points are his strongest ones, I focus on providing longer comments on those, usually with more sound bite-length comments for the last nine. The immediate text below and numbered comments in blue below are Pastor Wilken’s. My commentary is interspersed between these.

The teachings of Radical Lutheranism can be recognized by any combination of the following ideas:

  1. Sin is reduced to self-justification. The only thing sinful about any thought, word or deed is that it is an attempt to justify oneself before God.

The antinomians in Luther’s day evidently believed that because of Christ’s work, no sin actually remained in the Christian. Therefore, the law was no longer needed. In Radical Lutheranism, sin does remain in the Christian and the law is still needed, but almost always only to convict persons of the sin of trying to earn their salvation before God by being overly concerned about avoiding specific sins and the like. Even though the antinomians of Luther’s day talked about following Christ’s example, they also mocked those overly concerned about particular sins. For the Radical Lutheran, in the end, one often gets the impression that the people who think that they should both be concerned about actual sins and that God’s law should be proclaimed vs. actual specific sins are the only persons who God is really angry at. In other words, since non Radical-Lutherans do not realize that God is not really angry at the world (in Forde’s account, Jesus’ death was not even to atone for their sins!), and so also not angry at them, He is now, in some sense, angry at them for rejecting his goodness (unless the Radical Lutheran is also a universalist, which, yes, we also should be tempted by).

  1. The Christian’s struggle against sin is replaced with a struggle against feelings of guilt.

The antinomians of Luther’s day simply wanted to avoid being condemned and convicted by God’s law (preferring more subtle ethical instruction from Christ’s example – being both less direct and not merely propositional).

What Wilken says directly above though does indeed seem to be what happens in Radical Lutheranism – if a specific sin is talked about, it tends to be the sin of “self-justification,” deriving from original sin, mentioned above. Along with this comes the idea that it makes sense for the Christian to be humble about what he believes about God and particularly God’s law. In Luther’s day, no one questioned that guilt was incurred for actual sins but the guilt of original sin was, for many, in doubt (possibly with the antinomians of Luther’s day as well, though they would have protested this). Again, today’s Radical Lutherans have the opposite problem, with, it seems, many an actual sin being all that is thrown into doubt (or simply being regarded as irrelevant).

While surely not all identifying with Radical Lutheran theology want to toss out God’s law, those who do have a friend in its theology, with its more “hijack-able” system. Focusing on guilt instead of sins allows “old sins,” like traditional sexual immorality, to be replaced by “new sins” like “homophobia,” and all in the name of spiritual humility. More progressive Christians do not even have to say, with the postmodernists, that there is no truth or that truth is evolving, because instead of focusing on the Bible as God’s word they can appeal to something like Platonic ideas. In other words, they can appeal to something like “unchanging Forms in the heavenly realms (or in the mind of God)” that we, as we progress in sanctification (their definition), are coming to better realize and understand with the help of one another (in a “Hegelian dialectic” fashion). Christian thought, in their view, has evolved regarding things like polygamy (well, we’ll see), slavery, and now, marriage and gender.

 

  1. The Christian’s struggle against sin is described as, at best futile, or merely an attempt at self-justification.

Against the antinomians of his day, Luther spoke gravely against their security – how they ridiculed sin, smiling and smirking, treating “innumerable evil desires to be a joke and a game” (SDEA 253). On the contrary, “it certainly is the duty of a preacher to say that lusts, wantonness, greed, and cheating someone else is sin and that God will punish it, even with eternal death” (SDEA 289). But with Radical Lutheran theology at the helm – where no sin is serious enough to demand atonement – things like cohabitation, lustful thoughts, drunkenness, what one watches or views, and the use of the profanity are, to say the least, far more likely to be seen as far less serious than previous generations of the faithful have judged.

Of course, self-justification and the other sins deriving from it – various legalisms – should be avoided by all means. Again, it is far more likely that Radical Lutherans or those sympathetic to them will even find doctrines like the Real Presence and corresponding practices like those of closed communion – meant to protect safeguard the richness of the simple and humble message of the Gospel (Christ’s real body and blood given and shed for you!) and those partaking of Christ’s body and blood – as evincing this legalism.

Very interestingly, Luther suggests that it is not so much what Christians believe – in this case about God’s law – that the world finds problematic, but rather its willingness to act on its beliefs, which we all know tends to, uncomfortably, reveal divisions and distinctions among persons. To the idea that Eph. 2:14 suggests the wall destroyed by Christ is his law, Luther responds as follows:

“And here Paul speaks about the law of Moses proper, not about the Decalogue, since the latter pertained to all nations. For the nations did not hate the Jews because of the Decalogue, but because they separated themselves from the remaining nations by way of unique worship and cer­emonies, and called themselves alone the people of God, all the others they called atheists and unbelievers. The quarrel was about the temple and the ceremonies. Yet finally Christ came and destroyed this obstruction and Jews and Gentiles were made one. But if the Decalogue is referred to, it is well, and it is here removed, and destroyed insofar as it is damnation, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” (ODE, 123)

  1. The Holy Spirit’s uses of the Law are usually abandoned one by one (usually in the order of 3, 1, 2)

3 = law as a guide (to guide the Christian who remains a sinner), 2 = law as a mirror (“bringing down to hell,” to condemn), and 1 = law as a curb (for civil society). In Luther’s day, the antinomians focused on the second, or condemning use of the law. They denied that the Holy Spirit had anything to do with this process, which Christ came to alleviate with his first coming. Perhaps today Satan attempts a less direct route, focusing on third use of the law. Here, conta everything we see in Paul’s letters, the idea is that it is wrong to exhort a Christian to behave in a certain way after they have been told that God puts away their sins (the only message, which when embraced by faith, grants and preserves us in eternal life). For the Radical Lutheran it is this which would not be the work of the Holy Spirit, but the devil himself. If you disagree, you are like Luther’s opponent Erasmus!

Ultimately, of course, Satan would like to eliminate the second use of the law, and so perhaps now he is content to play a longer game. In Luther’s day, perhaps he conceived he could be successful because of the growing popularity of Pelagian and semi-Pelagian theologies (salvation by works). Pelagians and semi-Pelagians have a weakened doctrine of original sin, and the Lutherans emphasized how the law accused us not only of sinning and particular sins, but of being sinners who failed at a very deep level: we are all rebels, enemies of God, etc. Without this doctrine, Christ is no longer needed.

  1. Contrition over sin is assumed, even in unbelievers. People are generally assumed to have a knowledge of, and guilty conscience over their sin.

This claim, which does indeed seem to be assumed by many Radical Lutherans, is simply not credible. In Luther’s Antinomian Disputations he admits that even in his day few are terrified by God’s law and that even when there is a little fear unbelievers in fact need more fear: “the law is also not so great that it could cast love—if it is genuine and not fake—out of your heart. But the more you fear, the more the law is to be urged, until you see that you do not love wholeheartedly as the law requires” (SDEA 167). Just because Luther insists that all persons have a natural knowledge of God, this should not be given too much weight. Luther reminds us that Paul knew much about God’s law and yet was not convicted of His persecution of God’s people. Furthermore, God had to republish the law through Moses in order to help people remember His will. Finally, Luther even makes the comment that a people can get to the point where they are “unnatural” – where the revealed and even seemingly natural knowledge of God seems far from them. There is always a sense in which they know and are still culpable, and yet, that knowledge is being suppressed to an unbelievable degree.

Even granted that some do experience a guilty conscience over sins they really are guilty for –and that God will bring to repentance and faith those who He has predestined for faith in good time – whatever different types of strategies they might choose, Christians nevertheless have an obligation to create an environment where the full counsel of God can be heard by the people of God and the world is welcome to hear it as well.

  1. The Law is confused with the pain and trouble of living in a fallen world. The Law may be described as any bad situation or evil occurrence in life.

It is important to note that when Luther says in the Antinomian Disputations “whatever shows sin, wrath and death exercises the office of the law,” and that “reveal[ing] sin is nothing else – nor can it be anything else – than to be the law of the effect and power of the law in the most proper sense,” what he does not say is just as important, namely, for example: “whatever produces sorrow” exercises the office of the law. Indeed, the matter of a good conscience and bad consciences, seared ones and hardened ones – intextricably related to the written law which correlates with the law written on man’s heart –should certainly be foremost in our mind here. We should not be giving the impression that books like this one by Tim Wengert — which purport to give an accurate view of what Luther taught regarding Law and Gospel — are actually helpful in any sense.

All this talk about 3rd use of the law is a form of omphaloskepsis? What? : ) Well, we didn’t start the fire, as one said. This is a recent, careful evaluation of the roots of liberal theology – by a liberal theologian. The book explains a lot. And so does the paper described (and linked to!) here by my pastor.

 

  1. The distinction between Justification and Sanctification is blurred in statements like “Sanctification is simply the art of getting used to justification.”

The main figure in Radical Lutheranism, Gerhard Forde, rightly pointed out how those who are justified and have peace with God are also those who are sanctified. It is most certainly true that those who are justified by faith have a faith that is alive – for they have also experienced the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit (passive sanctification). This said, what, ultimately does it mean to say that “sanctification is simply the art of getting used to justification?” Does it mean that we can say that in this and because of this new relationship with Christ by faith, we begin to act according to the law by loving God and neighbor — and that this flows with and not against the 10 commandments? If not, why not? If the answer is “no” is it because, as regards the proper standard of conduct for the reborn, it can only be said to be their relatedness to Christ, which is not compatible with the unchanging will of God, the Ten Commandments? (“relatedness” vs. “law”).

My guess is that they are not going to like this “old school sanctification” definition provided by Robert Baker:

Sanctification (Greek, hagiasmos : (1) Consecration, purification ; (2) the effect of consecration, sanctification of heart and life. Thayer), in its theological use, denotes the progressive development of the regenerate life in the attainment of conformity to the divine law. It is described in the New Testament as being “conformed to the image of his Son,” the end of predestination (Rom. 8 : 29 ; 2 Cor. 3:18); being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12 : 2) ; “putting on the new man” (Eph. 4 : 23, 24, etc.), besides the usual terms, “holy,” and “sanctify.” Sanctification admits of degrees, unlike justification and regeneration. It is distinguished from justification, also, by bringing an actualized righteousness, while justification brings an imputed righteousness; from regeneration, as this is the impartation of the new life in its beginning, while sanctification is the increase and consummation of the new life. The standard of sanctification is the law of God, particularly as that law is embodied In the life of Christ. Its essence is love (Rom. 13 : 10 ; Col. 3 : 14). It involves the subordination and crucifixion of the “old Adam,” but not, in this life, the eradication of original sin. The error of those who teach otherwise, whether Rome, or an extreme and fanatical Protestantism, is based on a false definition of sin, and a confusion of sanctification with justification. The work of sanctification is effected by the Holy Ghost, the renewed spirit of the believer yielding to his guidance, and co-operating with him. The means of grace are here, as elsewhere in the kingdom of grace, the channel of the efficiency of the Spirit of God. C. A. M.

Source: The Lutheran Cyclopedia, Henry Eyster Jacobs and John A.W. Haas, eds., (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899), 420-1.

  1. Christian cooperation in Sanctification, clearly and carefully taught in the Lutheran Confessions, is equated with cooperation in Justification.

These are clearly not the same, as one can clearly tell from Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. Whereas the unbeliever is in bondage, desiring to not submit to God’s will, the believer has a new heart, and therefore begins to desire good. The Romans 7 and Galatians 5 and I Cor. 9 battle that Paul describes can now actually take place. All thoughout his career, the reformer talked about the two natures of the Christian. For example, at the end of chapter 1 of his book, “On Christian freedom”, Luther says this:

“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. “The flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit wars against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17, “On Christian Freedom”).

Should we be talking about seeing this matter analogously to the issue of Jesus Christ and Christology? Should we be talking about the two natures of the Christian? Luther did not hesitate to do so, and few would accuse him of focusing on the Christian per se instead of Christ!

“Progressive sanctification? The horror!” — Kurt Marquart, sarcastically.

 

  1. Christian cooperation in Sanctification is depicted as resisting, rather than cooperating with the Holy Spirit.

If someone asks what a Christian contributes to their salvation, a good answer is “sin”. That however, is not a good answer when it comes to matters involving sanctification. I’m guessing that what Matthew Garnet talks about here is in the ballpark of what Pastor Wilken has in mind with his ninth point. Garnet asks the question “Does the pastor show you your sin through his preaching?” and goes on to reply:

“Problems to look out for here include the obfuscation of original sin as well as abstracting actual sin. One very famous Lutheran pastor, speaking on original sin in one of his podcasts asserted that anytime Christians try to be good people in accord with the commands of Scripture, they are re-enacting Adam’s fall. Because only God is good, he reasoned, to try and be good is trying to be like God. Thus, for this man, trying to be good is the essence of original sin. I’ve observed variations on this theme as well from other preachers and obviously, it is wrong.”

  1. Encouragement or instruction in Good Works is considered de facto legalism.

In their essay “The Hated God,” Steve Paulson and Nicholas Hopman say:

“The fundamental concern of a legal myth is to motivate hearers to take a journey that corresponds or collaborates with God (along with the various ‘co’s’ like covenant, contract, or ‘the Great Com-mision’ that all assume cooperation between divine and human for salvation). In this way, law is taken as God’s gift to provide direction in life (reciprocation). Grace is empowerment to fulfill law’s movement, which is what sinners want most from the story: what can we do to help?” (11)

Still, Luther, a guy who knew more than anyone about the “legal myths” and “ladder theologies” by which men seek to secure salvation before God, said this:

“Yet Christ,” [these antinomians] say, “has removed your sin. Why are you sad?” This is why they continue to do what they do in an utterly secure manner. They translate the merit of the passion of Christ and of the remission of sins into luxuriousness….

Christ fulfilled the law, but it needs to be added: “Later see to it that you lead a holy, pious, and irreproachable life, as it is fit­ting for a Christian. This is what you have heard so far: Be forgiven. But lest you complain that you are utterly forsaken, I will give you my Holy Spirit, who makes you a soldier; he will even produce mighty and unspeakable cries against sin in your heart, so that you thus finally do what you wish.” But am I not unable? “Pray that I may hear you, and I will make you able…” (SDEA 303, 305, italics mine)[i]

  1. The Law itself is viewed as the source of legalism, rather than man’s sinful misuse of it.

In short, the law doesn’t make people hate God. It reveals that sinful man, familiar with God’s qualities apart from the Gospel, can’t not hate God. Detail.

  1. Scripture’s warnings against falling away from the faith are minimized or ignored.

Luther: “Our Antinomians are so blind that they cannot recognize the doctrine of the law in Paul, e.g., in these obvious words (Phil. 4:8): “Whatever things are chaste, just, etc., these pursue.” Yet they do all things for that reason that they might render us secure and that the window might be opened for the devil in order to overthrow us unexpectedly” (ODE 156, SDEA 287, italics mine)

Again: “[I]t is necessary to admonish, to stir up, and to call as if to battle, so that they may remember in what danger they live. Don’t sleep, don’t sleep and don’t snore! Awake!” (SDEA, 263)”

It’s almost like we walk in danger all the way or something.

  1. Scripture is often searched to find the sinner, rather than the Savior.

As I once wrote: “… they also, seemingly unawares, often give the impression they think they are the ones who are mature.

They are not like, for example, legalistic, cowardly and insipid pastors stuck in the rut of seeking security! At the very least, these deserve to be ignored, not engaged with seriously, not sympathized with, etc.  No, the more radical Lutherans are the true holy ones who will boldly embrace the mission of the church!  It is they who are the brave and righteous heroes – not only willing to embrace but seek out the multitude of sinners… addicts, ex-cons, prostitutes, the LGBT community, etc…  They are unlike the legalistic Pharisee-types concerned only with their own security and the minutiae of the law… simply unwilling to really “get dirty with” and speak the radical gospel to ‘real’ sinners.”

The “I’m not like other Christians you’ve met” pick-up line is getting old. — Todd Wilken

 

  1. The sins of Biblical figures are exaggerated or sensationalized.

Those sins are bad enough — no sensationalism necessary!

  1. Teaching is often guided by a reaction to the errors of moralistic evangelicalism, rather than God’s Word or the Lutheran Confessions.

It is more than understandable why many an evangelical Christian stuck in moralism might find someone like Forde to be “cool waters”. Still, my point is always this: we can see what is good about Forde’s emphasis on the Gospel message and the incredible power it has — unadulterated gospel preaching should be appreciated by all Christians. Radical Lutherans, however, often give the impression that they see nothing redeeming about things we find valuable, and often even seem hostile towards them: evangelical converts who, while delighted by the Gospel they find here, nevertheless see something lacking in contemporary Lutheran preaching on the law (where is the delight in the law we see in Psalm 1 and Romans 7?), the Lutheran scholastics, the Synodical Conference, etc.

  1. Man’s sinful condition is described as though a person’s sin qualifies him to receive Grace, rather than Grace being without qualification or condition in man.

Crassly put: The Gospel is for real sinners who know they need Christ, not those who show they don’t need him anymore by talking about a third use of the law!

  1. The effects of the Law are attributed to the Gospel.

For Luther, the passion of the Christ, for example, may “hit” someone as law or gospel. That said, if it is exclusively preached as law, the gospel is “all used up” so to speak.

  1. The Law may be avoided to such an extent that the Gospel is pressed into service to do the Law’s work (produce repentance, instruction in good works through “Gospel imperatives”).

This would be classical antinomianism. The Antinomians also wanted to get around the third use of the law by saying: We don’t need the law to teach us what to do. We just use Christ’s example! Luther, recognizing that they didn’t live like pigs, laughs at them, because what’s Christ’s example if not a restatement of the law?

  1. The Gospel is sometimes replaced with “We’re all sinners, who am I to judge?”

In Tom Christenson’s The Gift and Task of Lutheran Higher Education (2004) he goes in a direction that I have heard university-level LC-MS theologians tempted to go… :

“We may say about an unmarried couple living together that they are ‘living in sin’.  A reflective Lutheran should not talk that way because, from a Lutheran point of view, we are all living in sin, whether we are married, single, sexually active, or celibate.  Our sexual situation or orientation or practices do not make us more or less sinful.  Any relationship may be self-serving, harmful, abusive, careless, and hateful.  We are certainly not rid of all that simply because we have enjoyed a church wedding” (44).

Whatever truth might be in Christenson’s statement is made null and void by what is wrong with the statement. Later on, he says “Our own efforts to secure our own sinlessness themselves spring out of pride and are marred by sin” (43) which sounds good on one level, but may cause one to wonder whether there is any genuine “pursuit of holiness”…. I wonder if what he states here goes hand in hand with his anthropology, which, among other places, he addresses on p. 74 of his book:

“But what if Luther was right, that we are simul justus et peccator, not only both saint and sinner but both at the same time and in the same respect? What if, for example, human accomplishments and human destructiveness are not expressions of opposite parts of the human, but expressions of the same thing? What if it is the best part of us that goes wrong? Is Is that the meaning of the story about Adam and even in the garden who ate the fruit from one tree that was the tree of knowledge of both good and evil?” (p. 74)

To say the least, whatever Christenson means by “a) “in the same respect;” b) “expressions of the same thing;” and c) “the best part of us,” this is not Luther’s view of either the significance of the fall or Christian anthropology.

FIN

 

Notes:

[i] Sometimes Radical Lutherans go in the opposite direction, giving the impression that we really ought to shy away from talking about the Christian’s active faith at all. Nicholas Hopman states in his 2016 Lutheran Quarterly article on the Lex Aeterna in the Antinomian Disputations, things like “[t]he law (First Commandment) demands faith, which is the presence of the living God, who is not the dead Decalogue (law) written on stone tablets (2 Cor. 3:7)” (167, italics mine)

Here’s the video:

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Review of CPH’s New “So-Called Third Use of the Law” Book

Not the conversation that we need.

 

Update: See my full review of this book here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/justandsinner/review-cphs-new-called-third-use-law-book/ or here: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/review-of-cphs-new-so-called-third-use-of-the-law-book/

+++

For non-Lutherans, CPH is “Concordia Publishing House”.

For upset Lutherans, please consider taking 14 minutes to listen to one of my pastor’s sermons at the bottom of this page: “The law and love”, from Sept. 10. Faith comes by hearing the word! This should help you get a better handle on how he — someone who more or less agrees with me on these issues — handles the word of truth.

So, this book. There were times in the past week or so whether I wondered whether I would have to eat crow for my pre-emptive strikes against CPH’s new book: The Necessary Distinction: a Continuing Conversation on Law and Gospel.

I honestly wish that would have been the case, but I don’t think an apology is necessary. In fact, the book is worse than I ever thought it would be! In sum, it is a mass of confusion for scholars to deal with, much less your typical layperson.[i]

While the book contains much valuable information and I even enjoyed much of what I read – I loved reading about Stephen Lee (97-99) and Stephen Hultgren’s scholarship is really quite amazing (more below) – there is also much that is misleading and certainly un-Luther-like, which I’ll talk about below.

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little portion which the wold and the devil are that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.” — Luther

And let me be absolutely clear so there is no mistake. I do believe it’s a good thing a dialogue like this took place between the LC-MS, NALC, ELCA folks, etc. Really, I do — there is no doubt in my mind such talking is desirable and good.

That said, I just don’t think that the LC-MS dialogue partners were chosen wisely, and, more importantly, that this book ever should have been published by Concordia Publishing House, which is devoted to providing only the best and purest teaching for not only pastors, but us laypersons.

They seem to know that themselves, at some level. We’ll call it a felicitous inconsistency.

And the best construction is?...

And the best construction is?…

The argument I have about the book’s content is simple really, and I’ll take some time to unfold it here after some initial set-up.

First of all, it is interesting that you have many person who are friendly to the late Gerhard Forde and yet seem to deviate from him not only when it comes to his ideas about the atonement, but also when he says that the law of God is temporal.

Luther (not to Dr. Forde): “These true disciples of Satan seem to think that the law is something temporal that has ceased under Christ, like circumcision.”

For example:

  • Stephen Hultgren, in his condensation of his book chapter, states “We can understand divine law for the Christian believer not as the opposite of freedom, but as the proper form by which true freedom is to be shaped.”[ii]
  • Mark Mattes writes: “[t]he new person in Christ truly delights in God and in His ways, how God has ordered the cosmos and the limits he has established for our behavior which fosters our own well-being as well as the well-being of others” (133).
  • James Nestingen writes that the law’s “eschatological significance always remains,” and that it is eternal in this sense, revealing “the shape of life God intends for the creation and the new creation….[Luther’s catechisms] “spell[] out the elemental requirements of creaturely life…” (175, 183).

This all sounds pretty good. However, one also notes this from Dr. Nestingen:

“Augustine, with the Early Church, took the Greco-Roman tradition of natural law. An order built into the shape of life by creation, in the Christian interpretation of it, arranges everything that has being in a hierarchical order from top to bottom. The law, the lex aterna, preserves this order so that all things will move toward the end assigned to them by their status in the hierarchy of being. Natural law is thus inherent in life and necessary to the shaping of existence.

This has important consequences theologically. To begin with, it makes the Law the original way of salvation…. (170).

Giving into paganism? Or…. do we believe that man needed to be “saved” even when “very good” in the Garden?

Let’s stop right there. That last sentence of Jim Nestingen clears up a lot of things right away. It is why, for example, Wade Johnston can write in his harsh critique about Jordan Cooper’s Lex Aeterna book the following:

“Cooper’s scholasticism is too abstract to preach and not concrete enough to fully confess Christ as a person, flesh and blood, whose incarnation, when it comes to us, was not primarily about being something, but about doing things.”

Why? Because Forde is assumed to be correct while Cooper, in embracing “scholasticism,” has fallen to a law-focused “legal scheme” that basically kills the Gospel. As another Forde disciple, Nicholas Hopman, has put it, when a static lex aeterna—“a theological projection of divine, eternal, objective order”— “becomes the framework for the whole theological system, [it] destroy[s] the inherently eschatological nature (Rom. 10:4) of the law-gospel distinction.”[iii]

But assuming that is a fair way to sum up what the older, post-Luther Lutherans believed (there is room to question here!), why, exactly, do they think this is the case? Why, for example, did the late Gerhard Forde believe that any person who upheld the third use of law inevitably took the position of Erasmus? I suggest the answer is very clear: it comes back to the matter of their view of how the First Article of the Creed should fit into our theology.

Like the 3rd use of the law? The “Western tradition” based on creation, fall, and redemption? You are with Erasmus.

As Forde sees it, Erasmus stood with the “entire Western tradition by and large” in his traditional rendering of the fall of man, where the creature was “given a relative perfection in the creation.”[iv] This, he gravely warns “means nothing but trouble for the understanding of sin and freedom” – the “very word ‘fall’” “is not…a good biblical term” (Captivation of the Will, 70).[v]

And this brings us to Naomichi Masaki’s essay in the book on Luther’s Galatians commentary. He says that Luther was not only fighting the “papacy, the enthusiasts, the sacramentarians, and the antinomians alike,” but

“was also fighting against the most powerful and attractive opinion that is inherent in man at the same time: the Law as the original way of salvation. This is what human hearts say. This is also the entire theological tradition both before and after Luther” (italics mine).[vi]

Is this true? That is the core question.

Is Masaki, like Forde, saying that no one previously in church history (post Apostle Paul) had understood that God did not intend for man to live by the law of God, but from the favor of God? Did no one before Luther believe that, in Christ, man could have the peace with God once again that Adam and Eve had had with him in the Garden? Did everyone prior to Luther believe that man, even when perfect in the Garden, needed to be “saved”?

Actually, as I read persons who identify with men like Gerhard Forde, all of these kinds of questions do not seem to occur to them (they do, however, occur to Stephen Hultgren, whose essay really does stand out in this volume). And I think it is because they fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of the original creation and Eden – and many (not all!) early church theologians. In a sense, they think the same things that they claim these old theologians did! The “entire theological tradition… before… Luther” they say Luther found himself fighting against!

My argument here is that they, like Masaki does above, are projecting their own false viewpoint of the creation, fall, and redemption on to all the church’s theologians prior to Luther. They look at Luther’s statement that God threatened Adam and Eve by saying “you will surely die,” and they find this threatening. The law always accuses!

A false structure: “[Law and Gospel] are against each other as life and death” (quoted in 316 of TND).

In other words, man, from the beginning, had to deal with a kind of foreign or alien attitude from God: not a pure love which Jesus would demonstrate and could be solely associated with freedom. Rather, they had to deal with something other than a pure love —something which could only be associated with coercion. In short, when God says “you shall surely die,” that is a threat, and that is all you need to know. Period. As Masaki puts it, “The way of the Gospel is not by coercion. The Gospel does not demand; it bestows [God’s] gifts freely” (159).[vii]

The Gospel, in other words, saves us from coercion — even the coercion we feel from God.

For some then, it makes sense to go immediately to what Naomichi Masaki writes here:

“When Luther confessed that the Law was not given to justify but to terrify, accuse and kill, he put himself in enmity against the rest of the theological world. For Luther, the Law was not a description of what man is supposed to do within the structure of the eternal order. Instead, he viewed the Law as what it actually does. It kills” (pp. 153-154, italics mine).

But, as Nestingen acknowledges, Luther talks about how the Decalogue, apart from other parts of the Law, is eternal. This, of course, means that it somehow remains in heaven, revealing as it does “the shape of life God intends for the creation and the new creation”. And so when Jim Nestingen says:

[Augustine’s lex aterna] makes the Law the original way of salvation. The Law must be fulfilled if human beings, who hold a status just below the angels, are to come into the unity with God that is their ultimate purpose. The Law lays down the categories within which grace functions. As Augustine said, ‘Grace gives what the law demands.” (170)

…one notices that for him, the problem, once again, is coercion: “The law must be fulfilled….” Roland Ziegler quotes Werner Elert saying the same thing: “Law denotes our entire reality as the realm ordered by God, but therefore also as a realm of coercion (CE, 81)” (312, TNP).

Getting this right!: “How does (or can) one reconcile the freedom and spontaneity of life in the Spirit with the concept of a Law for the justified, which ought to be noncoercive? This, indeed, is how the Formula [of Concord VI] itself frames the debate” (Hultgren, 191, in TND).

The problem with this view, however, is that Luther — unlike many modern Lutherans — did not believe that the commands given to man in the garden actually threatened him. He did not believe that Adam and Eve felt any pressure to “be saved”, much less that there was the constant pressure of being critiqued, judged, and assessed! For Luther, even though man did have a “relative perfection in creation” (contra Forde) and could progress in the Garden from a lower state to a higher state, this would not have been because they were attempting to gain salvation, that is, attain peace with God. For man already had everything that he needed with his Creator. And good works for the neighbor’s sake were to flow from the peace found in the knowledge and worship of God.

Teleology, or the purpose of our design, is in view here to, as Luther notes: “What advantage is there in knowing how beautiful a creature is man if you are unaware of his purpose, namely, that he was created to worship God and to live eternally with God?” (AE 1, 131)

Sure, if “Lutheran theology” is not in any sense Luther’s theology!: “Christ has set us free from the teleological life, the life that aims at some kind of ideal” (quoted on 324 in TND).

But doesn’t Luther himself, at other times, seem to contradict my thesis? After all, in his Genesis commentary, while discussing the negative effects St. Augustine’s view of the image of God[viii] had in the history of the church, Luther, ever concerned to guard the doctrine of justification, says the following:

“…although I do not condemn or find fault with that effort and those thoughts by which everything is brought into relationship with the Trinity, I am not at all sure that they are very useful, especially when they are subsequently spun out further; for there is also added a discussion concerning free will, which has its origin in that image. This is what they maintain: God is free, therefore since man is created according to the image of God, he also has free memory, mind, and will. In this way many statements are carelessly made, statements that are either not properly expressed or later on are understood in a wicked way. Thus this was the origin of the dangerous opinion that in governing men God permits them to act under their own impulse. From this assertion came many inconvenient ideas. It is similar to the quotation: ‘God, who created you without you will not save you without you.’ From here the conclusion was drawn that free will co-operated as the preceeding and efficient cause of salvation. No different is the assertion of Dionysius, though more dangerous than the former, when he says that although the demons and the human beings fell nevertheless their natural endowments, such as the mind, memory, will, etc., remain unimpaired. But if this is true, it follows that by the powers of his nature man can bring about his own salvation” (60, 61, italics mine).

Hultgren, defending FC VI: “A third use of the law calls the justified to something higher than the first use does; the latter applies to all people, justified or not” (243).

Is Luther saying that even in the Garden of Eden man needed to reach an ideal to be saved? Not at all! Here, Luther is simply concerned about the way that the issue of “free will” has been understood by most in the Western tradition. The idea has developed such that, in his time, even respectable theologians in the church believed that they could be saved by their own efforts apart from grace – by doing what one could.

But everything that Luther writes in his Genesis commentary gives the exact opposite impression — for him, there was no pressure or coercion here! This, I think, can easily be proved (a brief summation and a much more detailed summation). And this is at the root of our controversies about the third use of the law, which is, at bottom, a matter of Christian anthropology.

Et tu Dr. Scaer? Well, the rule is that if you clearly defend the 3rd use and you are over 70 (“so-called” is derisive!) we let it go. : )

There are, by the way, in this volume, essays which uphold and attempt to defend the third use of the law (though preaching is not mentioned), from both Mark Mattes and from Stephen Hultgren (non LC-MS folks). Both essays are not without their problems however – Hultgren’s, for all its many strengths, even says that Romans 7 is not Paul as a Christian![ix] – and therefore, this is a small consolation. Roland Ziegler’s essay is particularly disappointing. It sets up strawmen (329), lacks depth (What are the implications of insisting that one should not preach like Paul’s letters? How are those who want the legal institution of same-sex marriage nevertheless against the Law? – see 330), and neglects, for example, to mention Edward Englebrecht’s 2011 book Friends of the Law at what would have been an opportune time (312).

Dr. Hultgren, you’ll have to pry Luther’s understanding of Romans 7 away from our cold, dead hands.

Again, I think that the LC-MS should have gotten partners for this dialogue from its own house who were vigorous defenders of the third use of the law (like Dr. David Scaer and Dr. Joel Biermann), and also that they should have published the papers for free on the internet, without any real fanfare. I know the folks at CPH need to eat, but that is not best done by promoting books that say, for example, that Jesus was justly accused by God’s law (157).

In sum, despite the contrary impressions given on the internet – particularly by the editors of this book who have been hawking it – this book is clearly not something to celebrate. Perhaps if Mattes’ and Hultgren’s and even Nestingen’s essays had served as jumping off points for others who clearly uphold the third use of the law to respond (and rebut), this would have been a great book. As it stands however, the book just gives us another duty for us to fulfill.

“Make duty a pleasure!”

FIN

Note: I have changed the text above somewhat (5:45 central time) for the purposes of clarification, filling in some blanks.

Notes:

[i] In sum, I stand by everything I said, when I had only read all the preliminary materials that were available and had heard a podcast interview with the editors.

[ii] As reader Jon Alan Schmidt observes about this paper, “Skimming through it, he does not appear to address the question of whether paraenetic exhortation is appropriate within the sermon.” Jeff Mallinson, from Concordia Irvine has recently written a paper for Concordia Seward’s education journal (where he, incidently, really gets one of my writings wrong in a footnote) where he also argues that exhortation in the sermon is never really necessary if it is being done in other venues.

[iii] pp. 153, 172, Lutheran Quarterly, Spring, 2016. This leads to other interesting conclusions on Hopman’s part:

  • “[T]he content of the commandment/law is always a weapon attacking human sin” (159).
  • “Where there is no accusation, there is no law” (164)
  • “Only where there is freedom from law… can there be love of the law” (167)
  • “[T]he law and delight in the law are two mutually exclusive realities” (167)
  • “The Christian, in faith alone, is beyond the law” (160)
  • The Christian is successful vs. sin because the Christian and Holy Spirit are not law (171)
  • “[The] law is present only where Christ is absent” (164), and the Holy Spirit is “the opposite of the law” (166)
  • “[T]he fulfillment of the law actually empties the law of all its content, namely, its threatening teeth” (160, italics mine)

[iv] This is exactly what Luther says in his commentary on Genesis (see AE 1). Perhaps what we have here is an “immature very good” (able not to sin) which, through growth in God’s word, moves towards a “mature very good” (not able to sin). See FC VI: 11 ff. One also can consider the Lord Jesus, always free from sin, as regards his growth according to His human nature. We consider that as a child even our Lord “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (NIV), and, as a part of this experience, gladly heard teachers of the law and, undoubtedly, his parents. This aspect of our creatureliness should surely be kept in mind vs. any interpretation of the  new man which, improperly elevating passages like Jeremiah 31: 34, I Cor. 2:15-16, I John 2:27, etc. might insist that the new man never learns through teaching (seeing this as synonymous with coercion!).

[v] Elsewhere in the book we read the following description of this larger Western creation that Forde is critical of:

“The larger Christian tradition begins theologically with creation and the fall. There are certain inherent human characteristics, present by creation, that distinguish humanity from the other creatures of the earth, such as reason and freedom of the will. These powers function in the context of God’s all-embracing law, also inherent to the creation, promoting obedience or turning in the fall toward disobedience. Self-seeking, the force of disobedience, has become the condition of created humanity since the fall, releasing the forces of disorder implicated in the fall.”

[vi] Later he writes: “What we observe from Luther’s confession of the doctrine of the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel is that unlike the medieval scholastic theology that had gone before him and the default position of the human heart that goes on as long as man exists in the world, the Law is not the ultimate any longer; the Law is not the way of salvation. The Law is now replaced by Christ” (p. 161).

[vii] See also footnote 103 of his article, p. 159.

[viii] Augustine had said that “the image of God is the powers of the soul – memory, the mind or intellect, and will” (60). More: “Augustine has much to say in his explanation of this passage [Gen. 1:26], particularly in his book On the Trinity. Moreover, the remaining doctors in general follow Augustine, who keeps Aristotle’s classification: that the image of God is the powers of the soul – memory, the mind or intellect, and the will. These three, they say, comprise the image of God which is in all men.

Moreover, they say that the similitude (or likeness, as distinct from image) lies in the gifts of grace. Just as a similitude (likeness) is a certain perfection of an image, so, they say our nature is perfected through grace. And so the similitude of God consists in this, that the memory is provided with hope, the intellect with faith, and the will with love. In this way, they say, man is created according to the image of God; that is, he has a mind, a memory, and a will. Likewise, man is created according to the similitude of God; that is, the intellect is enlightened by faith, the memory is made confident through hope and steadfastness, and the will is adorned with love” (60).

[ix] See 190-191, 219-226. Hultgren abandons Luther’s simul, which, somehow, is able to incorporate both “totus-totus” and “partim-partim” dimensions. He also states that FC VI can be nothing other than a “compromise document”. More work needs to be done here, to say the least! All this said, Robert Benne is right when he says that this is the “definitive essay” in the book. There is much valuable and clarifying information in this essay, which should be read by persons who feel a need to delve deeply into FC VI, or, particularly, feel tempted to deny it. As I have been saying, CPH should not have published this book for profit, but the LC-MS should have made these papers freely available without fanfare.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Completely Impartial Book Review of Pastor Jordan Cooper’s Lex Aeterna

What does this mean?

 

Yes, its not impartial. : )

Anyway, as I said in a recent post, about the new book on Law and Gospel now being released by CPH….(see above):

If someone in the Confessional Lutheran house spoke about the “so-called doctrine of justification,” you could bet that every head would turn.

But say “so-called 3rd use of the law” – using the church’s publishing house meant to provide the most excellent Christian doctrine to the laypersons – and many will yawn, talk about the variety of definitions of “so-called,” yada, yada…

Why don’t people with some real clout fight? Do some housecleaning? Say anything?

[this is the cue to unveil my new book review of Jordan Cooper’s Lex Aeterna…]

And for a less intense review of Pastor Cooper’s last book, see here.

 

[Because] they are afraid. The ideas of Gerhard Forde have infiltrated confessional Lutheran seminaries and colleges in many a local. Dissent may cost you — perhaps not your job, but relationships to be sure. If you criticize at all, make sure you are exceedingly generous with praise as well – and don’t appear like you want any boats rocked.

Jordan Cooper, however, doesn’t belong. He is a convert to Lutheranism who came to the faith largely by reading not 20th century Lutheran theologians, but everyone before that time. As his podcasts show time and again for any with ears to hear – and either the knowledge or research skills to verify – Cooper knows his stuff.

And he knows Gerhard Forde’s theology is trouble. He sees what so many do not want to see. No one in their right mind would deny that Gerhard Forde was a stand-out human being. The trouble, however, is that he is one of the primary forces responsible for letting lose a virus that has given strength, aid, and comfort to Fake Lutheranism everywhere in its most sophisticated forms.

But this is a book by Jordan Cooper, who, in spite of some of what you may have heard, is not only a very loyal confessional Lutheran we are blessed to have on our side, but a warmhearted and ecumenical theologian extraordinaire. If you are looking for fiery and rhetorical-loaded polemics lacking critical nuance, you will be very disappointed with this book.

Cooper does a very nice job of dealing with this topic and breaking it down in a simple way. I never had noticed all the connections he makes, namely how for Gerhard Forde defining absolutely everything by *doing* and not *being* is the rule: “being is defined by act. Everything is defined by what it does, rather than an essence that has independent existence behind that action” (Cooper, 82).

Like the 3rd use of the law? You are with Erasmus. — Forde

 

In this sense, Forde is completely in line with the pragmatic postmodernist existentialist Hegelian currents which dominate academia and elite circles today. Don’t worry! This doesn’t need to be complicated at all – that is what Forde and those who follow him have done. Cooper will methodically unveil that to you, reducing things to essentials. Like a good butcher, he carves up things where the joints are.

A sample of his getting to the meat:

“[Forde] purports that if the gospel contains specific doctrines about Christ’s life and death as a substitutionary act then it simply becomes another kind of law which one must accept in order to be saved…. Forde argues that theology which concerns itself with propositions, or with things as they are in their essence, is a theology of glory, or a theology ‘about the cross,’ rather than a theology of the cross….

Forde is even bold enough to say that Christ ‘was not doing anything else in his death but dying’” (92).

Yes, you read that right (and there is more where that came from, including Forde’s contention that Adam and Eve’s being “very good” [i.e. “original righteousness”] prior to their fall has no real relevance for theology).

Well, confessional Lutheran – don’t complain that you live in uninteresting times! You live in an age where, in your house, the thoughts of someone like Cooper seems threatening and foreign while many in our academic circles snuggle up closely with Forde.

 

In spite of the gravity of the threat, I must say that Cooper’s usual irenicism and willingness to assume the best in those he so effectively counters — while giving them an escape hatch for their mistakes — come through. All would not be so generous in the covering of faults, for our ignorance often carries with it great culpability as well.

Don’t believe the bad reviews. They are one-sided views at best, and, I believe, hit sloppy hit pieces at worst. Today, on Pastor Cooper’s Just and Sinner blog, I am putting up this review as well as a short evaluation of what Jack Kilcrease says above.

Get the book for yourself and check it out.

[end review, which will be found at Amazon.com under the title “It Takes an Outsider like Cooper to Really Begin this Sacred Cow Slaying”]

And now, as a bonus, here is an evaluation of Jack Kilcrease’s complaints about Pastor Cooper’s book, also on Amazon.com, simply by using the quotes from Pastor Cooper’s book:

Kilcrease: “First, when I affirm the eternity of the law in my writing, I do not do so only insofar as God eternally wills to punish sin.”

Cooper: “Instead, God’s eternal will is to punish sin, and thus, the law is both eternal and condemnatory.”

Kilcrease: “I affirm that the law that God revealed in nature and Scripture represents an eternal good that in time God wills for his people, irrespective of whether or not it condemns them under sin”

Cooper: “Kilcrease draws upon a distinction made by Theodosius Harnack between the essence and the office of the law … the office of the law differs before and after the fall, as well as in the present and eschatological ages. Forde rejects this distinction by defining the essence of the law by its condemning office.”

Kilcrease: “I do indeed affirm (in accordance with the early Wittenberg Reformation) that habituation to virtue is valid. Nevertheless, my criticism of Biermann is that this does not apply to sanctification, but only to civil righteousness. Sanctification is not something someone develops by repeated practice- that is the position of Thomas Aquinas and not Luther.”

Cooper: “While Bierman argues that Luther only rejected the ideas of habituation and virtue in the context of justification, Kilcrease purports that the Reformer rejected these concepts altogether. To adopt a frame work of virtue ethics is to argue that God gives man some kind of potentiality which he can then use in a process of self-creation or self-actualization.”

Kilcrease: “Thirdly, Cooper suggests that I believe that the law possesses a purely negative role in the Christian life. This is utterly false and slanderous. In the article cited by Cooper, I very clearly state that the law is a necessary channel for human gratitude for the salvation given in Christ. That being said, in our fallen state, the Formula of Concord and the Apology (which I quote!) state that it is impossible to disentangle this use of the law from the law’s condemning and coercive effect. This is simply a byproduct of the simul of Christian existence.”

Cooper: “He approaches the third use of the law in almost exclusively negative terms.”

Kilcrease: ” Lastly, Cooper seems to suggest that Forde and my view of the Christian life is one in which there is no genuine renewal. According to Cooper, I agree with Forde that “sanctification is getting used to justification.” Although I never use this slogan, I would actually agree with its content. That being said, what Cooper and many of his followers imply is that what this means is that one can simply live a life mired in sin and rely on justifying grace as a free pass. This is not merely a caricature of Forde’s (and my) position, it is flatly slanderous.”

Cooper: “While distancing himself from Forde in a number of ways, Kilcrease does not significantly depart from Forde’s perspective on the Christian life. Like Forde, views the Christian life as a process of getting used to the fact that one is wholly justified by faith.”

In sum, the point of controversy seems to be what the proper standard of conduct for the reborn is: Is it their relatedness to Christ or is it the unchanging will of God, the Ten Commandments? From Kilcrease’s own words in the review, it seems that he sides with Forde against the Formula by preferring the former (“relatedness”) over the latter (“law”). (update posted 7/10/2019: Jack’s own response to me about this is was as follows: “There’s no difference between ‘getting used’ to one’s new relationship with God in Christ and obeying the Ten Commandments. Being a new being in Christ means to fulfill the original purpose of creation, which is to live in accordance with the Ten Commandments.”)

“If you’re more Lutheran that Luther and the Confessions, there’s a problem.” — Christopher Jackson

 

Here, I point to the introduction to the article on the third use of the Law in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord:

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.

I don’t know — its just a guess, but I don’t think that the writers of the Formula of Concord were concerned that the Holy Spirit might not want to urge the law on Christians these ways!

“Yea” — in spades.

FIN

 
6 Comments

Posted by on September 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

Previews of CPH’s New “So-Called Third Use of the Law” Book

“There is a time for everything…,” but here, now, in this way?

 

Yes, I know that the book is not only about the third use of the law. But we all know that this is where the controversy lies today.

If someone in the Confessional Lutheran house spoke about the “so-called doctrine of justification,” you could bet that every head would turn.

But say “so-called 3rd use of the law” – using the church’s publishing house meant to provide the most excellent Christian doctrine to the laypersons – and many will yawn, talk about the variety of definitions of “so-called,” yada, yada.

I have two sneak previews for you — for this book that anyone who cares about the future of the LC-MS will be reading in the next few days (this is rhetroric by the way, hyperbole deliberately employed to make a point).

The first is from the Thinking Fellows podcast. A couple of these thinking fellows interview James Nestingen and John Pless, two of the authors who in the book’s introduction talk about the “so-called 3rd use”.

I didn’t need to listen to more than the first ten or so minutes of this podcast to come to Lando Calrissian’s conclusion:

 

Before we know it, we’ll be learning that Nadia Bolz-Weber also has an essay in the book (even though that is certainly not an endorsement!).

Now the second preview — mine. We do know that the LC-MS was founded with the belief that the Confessional Lutheran Church is the true visible church on earth, right? Crazy? Might that be kind of important to some of us who have come to Lutheranism or, after a struggle, decided to stay? We must be pretty serious then about defending our confessions.

Well….let’s take a look. It says in the book’s preface (download the excerpt I read here):

We have also included “God’s Word Forever Shall Abide: A Guiding Statement on the Character and Proper Use of the Sacred Scriptures” as an appen­dix to this volume. This statement, adopted by the dialogue committee made up of representatives from the NALC, LCC, and LCMS, asserts the necessity of rightly distinguishing the Law from the Gospel for a proper understanding of the Holy Scriptures.

Well, there is no doubt that this is true. That said, being that the book grew out of LC-MS/NALC dialogues I certainly hope that in the book there is some real honesty about the very different understandings those distinct bodies have when it comes to understanding the Scriptures as God’s word… Hmmm. Maybe they will say more about that below.

More:

In our conversations together, we have recognized that the signif­icance of the Law/Gospel distinction is downplayed, questioned, and rejected by some within American Lutheranism. Others have misused the distinction to promote an allegedly more liberated sexual ethic. The place of the so-called “third use of the Law” remains a contentious issue in some circles…

In the Smalcald Articles, Luther notes “that the law was given by God, in the first place, to curb sin by means of the threat and terror of punishment and also by means of the promise and offer of grace and favor” but “the foremost office or power of the law is that it reveals inherited sin and its fruits” (SA III 2).1 These are commonly identified as the first two uses, or functions, of the Law. The Formula of Concord clarified a dispute that had arisen among Lutheran theologians over the place of the Law in the life of the Christian, asserting in Article VI a “third use” that is a guide to the good works that the Christian is obligat­ed to do in his or her vocation. Several of the essays in this volume take up this topic.

The editors of this book are firmly committed to the Lutheran asser­tion that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a necessity if the Scriptures are, indeed, comprehended according to the mind of the Lord who inspired them. (bold mine)

There it is again: “The place of the so-called “third use of the Law” remains a contentious issue in some circles.”[i]

As far as I am concerned, that statement says all you need to know about this book, which yes, I plan to read. I could care less is this statement was made in an Augsburg-Fortress or NALC publication. I expect that kind of language from them. But this kind of statement certainly gives the impression that John T. Pless and Albert B. Collver III, who co-wrote the preface with Jim Nestingen, don’t really think vigorously defending the ‘third use of the law’ is that important.

We’re all good confessional Lutheran brothers though who agree that the law is good and the Scriptures are God’s Word[ii] though, right?

No. Not at all. In sum, my sense is that this book would probably be a Godsend in the hands of many an ELCA laymen, but not so with us and our house.

When Mark Tranvik from Augsburg writes: “This book is a cool drink for those thirsty for new perspectives on the proper relationship between Law and Gospel,” I’m happy for ELCA folks to get that but not for LC-MS folks to get the idea that ELCA views like those of Gerhard Forde have a perspective that does not deserve a vigorous rebuttal and brotherly rebuke within the same book – at least in a book by CPH, which is meant to be an organ for the promulgation of unadulterated truth to the LC-MS and beyond. When WELS professor (!) Wade Johnston writes “[b]oth pastors and laypeople will benefit from the essays contained here,” I read that as saying that Gerhard Forde’s disciples aren’t just content to bring their ideas into LC-MS seminaries —  ideas they no doubt believe can help an LC-MS that they see as overly legalistic. I am not even sure how Robert Bugbee can seriously write, “These authors take Christ, the Scriptures, and our confessions seriously” when we are not talking about the same confessions.

Frankly, in my view, the infections of some of these authors — note I didn’t say these authors themselves — need to go back to Bad Bol, Germany from where they came. We should not be so laissezfaire toward the viruses that have created so much Fake Lutheranism in the ELCA. Luther certainly would have not stood for this nonsense.

Another more conservative ELCA gentleman, Robert Benne says: “All you want to know about the distinctive Lutheran wit­ness to the proper relation of Law and Gospel is in this volume.”

To Robert I say: We shall see. Things aren’t off to a good start however, in the mud that I see on our carpet floor. Why shouldn’t I think myself to be naïve for hoping it will be somehow cleaned up by the rest of the book?

Why don’t people with some real clout fight? Do some housecleaning? Say anything?

Finally, if you are reading me to say that I do not think that we should be talking to persons from the NALC and ELCA about these issues, you have not understood people like myself at all. In fact, we need to have a conversation! No, I would delight to have conversations with people who have honest disagreements over these issues, even if we must agree to disagree.

Lord, in these last days when you said faith would be rare, give us faith. Much faith.

FIN

 

 

[i] In John Pless’ essay in the book, available for free here, he also says: “Within the last decade or so, there have been significance publica­tions and conferences on Law and Gospel, particularly with reference to the so-called ‘third use.’” “So-called” can refer to how something is publicly known, or, more often nowadays, be used derisively. Why introduce possible confusion here, if not to stir the pot? Well, pot stirred.

Pless also quotes Murray, who indirectly implicates Walther and Peiper: “The theologians who provided articles for The Abiding Word were deeply affected by the orthodoxy they inherited from Walther and Pieper. They emphasized the Law as an objective standard that provides instruction for Christian holiness. Unfortunately, their viewpoint tended to accept a tamed Law” (Murray, Law, Life, and the Living God, 73).

[ii] The editors of this book are firmly committed to the Lutheran asser­tion that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a necessity if the Scriptures are, indeed, comprehended according to the mind of the Lord who inspired them.

 

 
46 Comments

Posted by on September 9, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Where Did the Antinomianism in Today’s Christianity Come From?

Pastor Jordan Cooper’s new book, just patiently chipping away at a small part of the larger problem.

What is an “antinomian,” a term which appears to have been in invented by the 16th century church reformer Martin Luther? According to Merriam-Webster, an antinomian is someone “who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation.”

Modern Christianity is full of such antinomians. These days, for example, it is not difficult to find people who identify as evangelical or non-denominational Christians but also think that:

  • Differences between men and woman are basically insignificant — perhaps not universal and stable at all — and there are no significant issues, for example, with woman being pastors.
  • Divorce can and perhaps should take place when one of the participants in a marriage does not feel happy or fulfilled.
  • Christians should not tell members of other religions that, when it comes to the significance of Jesus Christ, “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
  • Homosexual behavior is acceptable so long as it takes place within “committed” relationships (even as “committed” is getting re-defined…)
  • All nations that want to identify with Christianity in some way must allow within their own borders all who claim refugee status because “Jesus was a refugee.”
  • Being sexually involved with another prior to marriage, previously derided as “living in sin,” and “shacking up,” is to be expected.
  • “’You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian,’… a fancy way of saying ‘I follow Christ except for where He goes.’” – Hans Fiene

Yeah, yeah, I know. Some of you think I am a total jerk (to say the least – that is being nice!). Being as civil as you can be, you want to respond with something like the following, which was said in a tweet by a couple pastors considered by many to be quite conservative:

“You may use your conscience to guide your behavior. You may not use your conscience to guide my behavior.”*

Huh. I guess some pastors need continuing education credits, but to whom shall they go?

Let’s be clear: by rejecting God’s law, today’s antinomians do not want to embrace the God, who, through the work of Christ, would once again recreate man in His image. And how did we get to this point? In one sense, the answer is quite simple: we have flat-out rejected God and his Word given to us, the Bible. In short, we really do not find Him—at least as we find Him in that book!—all that impressive or attractive anymore.

Evidently much more attractive to evangelicals of the “thoughtful” variety!

If that answer seems overly simplistic to you—or, yes, just something that an asshat like me would say–I urge you to read the paper on the issue that my pastor, Paul Strawn, recently presented at a theological conference.

According to him, it is completely understandable that antinomianism is running wild today. After all, among our elites, not only is the Christian faith unreasonable, but the notion that history itself can be known is unreasonable! He write that because of “the best of reason accepted today, history cannot truly be known, and the texts of history can only be a record of what was understood to have happened within history…” As such “God working in history through Jesus Christ, and the record of that working, i.e. the Bible, cease to be sources for our knowledge of God”. This means that modern Christian antinomians:

  • Have a god whose “existence certainly can be deduced from the human experience in one form or another, but he simply can never be known.”
  • Must exclude “the God who takes on definitive shape and form in nature, in history, in Jesus Christ.”
  • Ultimately reject the “law understood to be given by God within any context, and thus, of God defining human life and existence.”
  • Must reject “Christ fulfilling the law, and the crucifixion of Christ satisfying the demands of the law for mankind.”

So, unbelief in the Word of God—taking along with it the possibility of knowing human history!—is to blame, with figures like Caspar Schwenkfeld (16th c.), Immanuel Kant (18th c.), Friedrich Schleiermacher (19th c.) and Karl Barth (20th c.) all helping things along.

“…you don’t necessarily have the Word of God itself, but the fallible “witness” of man to God’s word” – Paul Strawn, on Karl Barth’s (pictured) view of the Bible

Some of you who know your church history might be thinking: “This is pure Gnosticism!” Indeed. As the Apostle John warned us years ago:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. – I John 4:1-3

Today’s Gnostic Antinomians do not need to insist that Jesus has “not come in the flesh” – they simply say it doesn’t really matter whether he did or not. As I pointed out in a recent post on my own blog, even contemporary figures who speak well of the Bible and are largely embraced by “conservatives” in the West are clearly flirting with such Gnosticism.

But again, the roots of this monster, born from a Christian cradle, are ultimately to be found in a lack of faith in God’s word, pure and simple.  

“The law and gospel cannot coexist. They are mutually exclusive.” — Paul Strawn (pictured with a Nigerian theology student) on the view of contemporary Lutheran gnostic antimomianism

A few more quick words about my pastor and this paper of his. As a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, his paper (here is the link again) gives a very short historical account of how this modern antinomian spirit, present in less overt forms since the days of the Reformation (no Roman Catholics – Luther himself is not to blame here!), has been embraced by many today who claim the Lutheran mantel. You will learn more about:

  • Martin Luther’s and the early Lutherans’ battles vs. their antinomian opponents.
  • How Werner Elert’s work was strategically used in the LC-MS by men like Ed Schroeder, Richard Baepler, and Robert Schultz to counter the doctrine of the Bible’s verbal inspiration (Jaroslav Pelikan recommended it be used for this reason!) and the third use of the law.
  • How C.F.W. Walther’s brilliant book on Law and Gospel was also hijacked and used as a relatively Barth-friendly wedge to counter Francis Peiper’s Christian Dogmatics and Walther’s own work on pastoral theology!
  • David Yeago’s 1993 paper in the journal Pro Ecclesia: Gnosticism, Antinomianism, and Reformation Theology: Reflections on the Costs of a Construal,” where he, among other things, says some teach that “The law oppresses because of the kind of word it is, not because of the situation in which we encounter it.”
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) rejection of Yeago’s warning and full embrace of antinomianism at their 2009 convention via Timothy Wengert’s completely novel “bound conscience” doctrine (echoing the conscience quote from the Lutheran pastors quoted above).
  • interesting facts about the battle in the LC-MS from the last 15 or so years (including the burying of Kurt Marquart’s paper on the 3rd use of the law by Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne).

In short, Strawn speaks of a “gradual, almost imperceptible, adaptation of the usage of the law/gospel distinction” as a “foundational dialectic epistemology” in the LC-MS where there is a “rejection of the law — of God working through creation, even shaping and molding creation[,… this being] a fundamental epistemological assumption”. He even notes that more conservative ELCA folks located the origins of some of their own problems as coming from the LC-MS (i.e. Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis and “Seminex” in the 1970s)! Don’t let terminology like “foundational dialectic epistemology” frighten you away. My pastor takes the time to unpack it more in the paper.

Thankfully, a lot of LC-MS Lutherans have not embraced this “hard antinomianism.” At the same time, I have heard another relatively conservative Lutheran pastor tell me that he taught his young children to cover their ears and scream whenever they heard a pastor try to tell them what they should be doing after hearing the message that Jesus had put away their sins.

In that case folks, I guess you might as well close your Bibles as well. Do you think that kind of thinking might just possibly be related to the problems described above?

A popularized summation of Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses, from Lutheran Press

FIN

 

*For a more nuanced critique of that quote, see here.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,