-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

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Friday, October 31, 2008


Happy Reformation Day!!!
Happy Birthday to me!!!

Happy All Hallows Eve!!!

This weekend I will be taking a retreat here:

Don't worry!!!...I'm not turning coat or anything...It is just to relax and to take some God time. And no, I wont try and break too many fellowship practices... :) (I probably wont post until Monday)

Oh...I almost forgot! Look what I got for my birthday!!!:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Walther on the Revival Spirit

"We shall now pass on to the particular point in our thesis which is to engage our attention to-night, viz., that Law and Gospel are grievously comingled by those who assert that assurance of the forgiveness of sins requires praying, struggling, and wrestling until finally a joyful feeling arises in the heart, indicating to the person in a mysterious way that grace is now in his heart and that he can be of good cheer because he has forgiveness of his sins. Now, properly speaking, grace is never in man's but in God's heart [see my critique on this point]. First a person must believe; after that he may feel. Feeling proceeds from faith, not faith from feeling. If a person's faith proceeds from feeling, it is not genuine faith; for faith requires a divine promise which it lays hold of. Accordingly, we can be sure that the faith of those who can say: "I regard nothing in all the world except the precious Gospel; on that I build," is of the right sort. The devil may terrify and harass such people until they have no pleasant feeling of grace, but they will sing nevertheless:--
---------------Though "No!" my heart should ever cry,
---------------Still on Thy Word I shall rely,
--------------I shall trust, though void of feeling,
--------------Till before Thee I'll be kneeling.

"The principle proof-text for this point of doctrine is 1 John 3, 19. 20: Hereby we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before Him. For [Luther: dass] if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things. A Christian may feel the accusation of his own heart, that is, his conscience, and when trying to quiet his heart, he may hear a voice telling him he is damned, that he has no forgiveness of his sins and no grace, is not a child of God and cannot hope for life eternal. To such a person the beloved apostle says: "If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart." That is to say, our heart is indeed a judge, yet only a subordinate one. A higher Judge, namely, God, is above our heart. I can say to my troubled heart: "Be still, my heart! Keep silent, my conscience! I have appealed to a higher court and inquired of God, the supreme Judge, whether I am rid of my sins. From the higher court, which can always reverse the verdict of a lower court, I have obtained a verdict that my sins are forgiven, for I cling to the Word of God." A person who by the grace of God is enabled to believe this is a blessed person. Hell is closed, and heaven opened wide for him. Though all the devils in hell roar at him, "You are lost!" he can answer them: "It is not so; I am not lost, but redeemed forever. Here I have written evidence in God's Word." And in due time the feeling of grace will return. In the very moment when a Christian imagines that he is void of all feeling, cold, and dead, a miserable, lost creature, to whom the Word of God tastes like rotten wood, who does not relish absolution and has not the witness of the Holy Spirit in him, and all is over with him,-- just in such a moment a great joy may suddenly enter his heart. God will not leave him in the slough of despair."

-C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, trans. W.H.T. Dau (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 200-202.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Paradox of Lutheranism: Extra Nos--In Nobis

Adolf Köberle believed that, historically, there are three ways in which man attempts to sanctify himself. Köberle writes:

"The sanctification of conduct by the strengthening of the will; the sanctification of the emotions by a strenuous training of the soul; the sanctification of thought by a deepening of the understanding; moralism, mysticism, speculation, these are the three ladders on which men continually seek to climb up to God, with a persistent purpose that it seems nothing can check; a storming of Heaven that is just as pathetic in its unceasing effort as in its final futility." The Quest for Holiness, trans. John C. Mattes (Minneapolis, Minn: Augsburg Publishing House, 1938), 2.

Köberle especially found Lutherans being polarized between the two extremes of moralism and mysticism. Köberle writes: "[It is] necessary to guard against both [reactions], against a presumptuous mysticism by an anti-mystical, forensic emphasis and against a superficial moral intellectualism by the entire living force of the Lutheran views concerning [the need for] grace." 112

Köberle saw the two extremes as, on the one hand, a type of divine immediacy of union, capability, and activity--mysticism--, and on the other hand, a type of transcendence where holiness is relegated to a future hope, while daily life is solely determined by one's natural ability to live, at least externally, upright--moralism. Of the second, Köberle will write: "There is another [error] that makes so little testimony of the Holy Ghost, Who quickeneth us, that we might think Christ had never risen and Pentecost had never happened. Here the new life appears as a purely transcendental thing, as a mere object of hope and as something quite beyond the possibility of attainment in our present historical situation." viii

The solution to these two extremes is what Köberle calls the "paradox of Lutheranism": extra nos--in nobis, that is, "the more external--the more inward." We read:

"The task is exactly the same for the orthodoxy of today. Mystical religiosity, "German piety," Indian teachings concerning salvation, cosmic transfigurations demand a theology of "contrast." In opposition to utilitarianism, the mechanizing of life and critical skepticism, however, it is necessary to proclaim the Gospel of inspiration through the Spirit of God. The paradox of Lutheranism, "the more external--the more inward" (extra nos--in nobis), is always incomprehensible to natural thinking or party feeling. The one who contends against the dangers now on the right, now on the left, because he understands them, may be accused, by those who fail to understand, of a lack of steadfastness; they will class him now among the mystics, now among those of a Judaizing tendency and then again among the mediating theologians, who travel in "an uncertain twilight." It is the burden of faith that to be obedient to God it can only express itself on earth by means of two contradictory thoughts...[It is] a curious paradox of concealment and manifestation, of the distance and nearness of God, of hope and the present possession of the Spirit." 112

For Köberle the balance of the two extremes of immediacy and transcendence comes through the correct understanding of the mediatorial nature of the condescension of God in his Word (connected with the ever-present Holy Spirit) and the Word made flesh; what is incarnational and sacramental. If you will allow me an extended quote, Köberle writes:

"Lutheranism has built its dykes on both sides. To ward off spiritualism [mysticism] and Spinozism [rationalistic moralism] it has made the statement: "deus non dat interna nisi per externa, deus spiritum sanctum non mittit absque verbo." [Latin is not my thing, but I believe this means: "God does not give internally except through what is external, God does not send the Holy Spirit without the Word] The Word with its judicial claims, with its power of establishing and maintaining communion with God, excludes the idea that the reception of the Spirit has to do with some essential condition based on an existing divine relationship. But in opposition to the abridgement of the Gospel into a purely transcendental faith the Formula of Concord taught just as emphatically in its christology as well as in its pneumatology and doctrine concerning the sacraments the personal, indwelling of the deus ipse [God himself], and even rejected the teachings of those who declared that only the gifts of God were present in the believer.

"How little the presence of God that is assured to faith has to do with pantheistic immanence theology has shown most effectively under the four viewpoints of the condescension of God, the reality and amissibility of faith and of eschatology. How far the possession of faith reaches beyond a supposedly impassible transcendence of God theology shows most clearly through the maintenance of the doctrine of the unio mystica in Word and Sacrament.

"It is due to the creditable work of John Rupprecht on Hermann Bezzel that attention has again been drawn to the theological significance of the idea of condescension, which had already been stressed by Hamann. God's "condescension" to the world in creation, preservation, incarnation and sacrament [all acts of the Word of God or the Word made flesh] does not come from any rational or natural-philosophical relation between God and man [it does not arise out of an essential connection between God and man, but is purely and freely initiated by God alone]. The humiliation of Christ in the "likeness of man," in the insignificance of "wretched, every-day natural agencies" He used, is an utter paradox; it is the gift of a love that freely gives and sacrifices itself. God's pardoning Word is a real word of pardon on which man has no natural claim. His entrance into the limitations of human speech in Scripture and preaching, with the possibility of being thus despised, is a deep abasement which He has freely chosen for the salvation of the world. This truly evangelical idea of the condescension of God, in which all of Luther's theologia crucis lies hidden, should be applied, as Bezzel does (ch. 5), to the inspiration of men, not because the finite is able by itself to appropriate the infinite, even though it does possess spiritual abilities, but because the Spirit, as well as the Son, humbles Himself in His ministering love, therefore man can become partaker of contact with the divine. Infinitum capax finiti [The infinite contains the finite]. God, Who in freely exercised omnipotence has reached down into time through the sending of the Son, still imparts Himself everywhere where men believe in Jesus Christ.

"By means of the idea of condescension the sovereignty of God is preserved in the evangelical conception of immanence. The emphasis on the real nature of this "in-dwelling" gives to every statement a still stronger note of reverent dependence. As we have already pointed out, mysticism describes the union of God and the soul in sentimental naturalistic terms. It speaks of a substantial marriage of the human and divine spirit that ends in an act of union where all distinctions cease. But wherever the Deus in nobis [God in us] is affirmed on the basis of the Christus pro nobis [Christ for us], Who is accepted by faith, there can be no talk of an absorption and submersion into a state of static being. When the Word becomes the vehicle of the Spirit the ideas of judgement and guilt are not excluded, then the awakened conscience discards the presumptuous idea of identity, and the ecstasy of a being-like-God. Only in the attitude of simple faith can the nearness of the Lord be received, for in all His gracious surrender to man He is never absorbed by him, any more than the Creator disappears in His creation." 104-105

There are a couple of key lines I want to point out: 1) "The Word with its judicial claims, with its power of establishing and maintaining communion with God, excludes the idea that the reception of the Spirit has to do with some essential condition based on an existing divine relationship." 2) "When the Word becomes the vehicle of the Spirit the ideas of judgement and guilt are not excluded, then the awakened conscience discards the presumptuous idea of identity, and the ecstasy of a being-like-God." That is, it is the Word of God that tells me who I am and what my relationship is before God and before man. It tells me I am a saint and a sinner. The law exposes and condemns me and the gospel shows me that I am forgiven and creates new life. The Word of God tells me I am am neither autonomous from God nor that I can become God. It establishes the social and vocational structures of life. In this social and vocational structure, the Word of God shows me the qualitative character of what life is supposed to be like, that is, a life of reciprocal love where I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and where I love my neighbor as myself. As Piotr Malysz points out, it is only through God's relation to us that we can define who we are. He writes:

"The problem is not alien even to the Bible itself. The Psalmist asks, "what is man that you are mindful of him" (Ps 8:4). It must not be overlooked that, in contradistinction to the questions posed from within human experience, this one implies going beyond that experience; that is, a relationship. The theological definition of humanity presupposes involvement on God's part. Humanity can only be defined from the outside, and that because of the mindfulness of God. Only by making reference to this external perspective can the questions that originate within the world be given meaningful answers." "Third Use of the Law in Light of Creation and the Fall," Logia 11, no. 3 (2002), 11.

A little later Malysz will write: "To be human is not so much to have some capacity for God as to have God relate to one and to reflect his being oneself." 13

It is only through this external factor, the extra nos, that we can determine the internal, the in nobis. To say otherwise is to reject the relational structure of our very existence (see my post: The Word, Communication, and Sanctification). Without taking this into consideration man becomes either the autonomous locus of his existence, or on the other hand, expresses a divinization of being where all distinctions between God and man cease.

With this also understood, Lutherans can combat the criticism (often from our own camp) of sanctification being a theology of glory. On the contrary, Köberle's "paradox of Lutheranism" is a rejection of either an autonomous or divinized "in nobis" that exalts the self, and on the other hand, the extra nos gives us the immeasurable glad tidings that God condescendingly loves us and desires to relate to us. The paradox of Lutheranism is the ultimate theologia crucis: the condescension of God and the rejection of "man in himself." The hidden God comes to us, and we are driven to the hidden God in the forms of Word and Sacrament.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Only Time Will Tell

Here are some very interesting thoughts from Helmut Thielicke on the relation between person and structure. I am ever amazed at the timelessness of much of Thielicke's writing. Right now, at this very moment, this is the very ideological and anthropologic struggle that is going on in Iraq. It is a reflection of the old proverb: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Only time will tell how this relation between person and structure will play out.

"Nevertheless, it is also a fact of experience that new structures can change the awareness of men and therefore men themselves. While it can be very dangerous to introduce a democratic system of government before people are ready for it, in some cases the system can itself produce the necessary maturity. Similarly social legislation can foster a respect for humanity and thus help to engender a new state of mind. It is thus correct that structures can change men and open them up to a recognition of their neighbors as fellow-men.

"All the same, one cannot infer from this that the causal relation of "first the person and then the structure" may be reversed. Instead we must ask: Who is pressing for structural change, who wants this first, perhaps by immediate revolution, and therefore who is not ready to begin by creating intellectual readiness for the new structures? Of the initiators at least we must say that they can will the new structures only because their own consciousness has reached a point where their structural postulates are possible.

"If, then, structural changes can change men, the revolutionary or reforming pioneers at least must have been changed or, in some sense, "converted" before they could work out their program of structural change. If not, the role of Karl Marx is impossible to understand.

"In the heads of the elite, then, there must have formed a conception of the relation between person and structure. In other words, they must have developed a specific understanding of man which has normative significance for this relation. This understanding will either respect man as unconditioned and see him as an end in himself or it will treat him as the mere bearer of a function and thus evaluate him pragmatically. On this alternative will depend whether man is made for the sabbath (i.e., institutions) or the sabbath for man (Mark 2:27)."

-Helmut Thielicke, The Hidden Question of God, trans. Geoffry Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1977), 83.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Age-Old Myth of Change

I thought these words from Helmut Thielicke express well many of the things many are being fascinated with lately. It is really one of the more human tendencies to dream of change. These words could probibly be read a thousand years from now and mean exactly what they did in the mid twentieth century.

"Utopians have a mobilizing power because they measure the present by the standard of imagined perfection and they condemn it in the name of this standard. They thus give rise to criticism and protest. They do this even when as goals they have no sharp contours but are simply the object of obscure pressure with no clear end in view. Even in this case they trigger the idea of a dialectic of the negative which will later of itself lead from protest to more clear-cut goals.

"Those who see the future in this utopian way, and who are thus critical of the present, can easily play an avant-garde role and downplay all others as reactionaries. Even if they are negative and destructive, few connect this with carping spirit. The shapers of public opinion seem to think that they must be highly visionary and open to the future if they can leave the present and judge it at such a distance. If this were really so, they would be proved right by the future when it comes and they would thus achieve lasting stability. But this is not so. Nothing is more transitory than their programs. Some day a historian ought to write a history of avant-gardists and their criticisms, but I fear that he would need a slow-motion camera to do so. For the fads rise so quickly and then disappear again that the normal organs of sense, even those of a historian, cannot register them. And how comical the idols of the past are when we look back on them."
-Helmut Thielicke, The Hidden Question of God, trans. Geoffry Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1977), 76.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Köberle on "Subjective Grace"

I was interested to find out that the terminology,"obective grace" and "subjective grace," has a history (some of which I agree with, some of which I don't). You know...I just make this trash up, lol.

Here is a quote from Adolf Köberle's seminal work, The Quest for Holiness, reaffirming some of the points in my post, "Hey! Lets Keep It Forensic in Here!". Namely, he states that the experience of grace in the reception of faith (subjective justification) is not dependent on the subject's experience but on the objective Word of revelation. Therefore he want's us to affirm that we should not be suspicious of "subjective grace" (though he doesn't use this terminology) as it finds it's basis outside of ourselves in the objective promises of God.

"For the faith that becomes active in apprehension and emotion does not desire to derive its strength from itself. The "experience" of grace does not put itself confidently into God's place, as it were the actual donor and mediator of grace; it does not depend on its own consciousness; it does not come out of some wellspring of inner nature. It is something purely receptive, begotten and animated by the reality of the divine gift that is apprehended by faith. For this reason we cannot offhand reject the idea of an "experience" of faith as something suspicious and unevangelical, so long as the subjective experience we possess does not come out of some "little paradise of our own domain of the soul," but is begotten and mediated through an objective word of revelation that is accepted by faith."

-The Quest for Holiness, trans. John C. Mattes (Minneapolis, Minn: Augsburg Publishing House, 1938), 78.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Christ, the Mediator of Creation

Gerhard Ebeling writes:

"We have now so to speak two high tension fields: the regnum mundi itself, of which we have said that it is a self-contradiction, and the relationship between regnum mundi and regnum Christi, which we have seen to be a twofold relation and as such to be grounded in the self-contradiction of the regnum mundi. But what is the nature of this grounding link between the two fields of tension? One would expect a simple equation in the sense of the two relations of contradiction and agreement between the two kingdoms being related to the two sides of the self-contradiction in the regnum mundi. That is how it is, too, if the self-contradiction of the regnum mundi is rightly grasped, viz. as a contradiction between the creatureliness of the world and the autocratic behaviour of a world that denies its being created. What we are designating as the self-contradiction of the creature, is thus primarily contradiction between creature and Creator. The creature which denies the Creator, thereby denies itself, although-- indeed precisely because-- it is concerned to assert itself against God. The structure of self-contradiction, it is true, seems to belong to the regnum mundi on its own, without regard to its relation to God, yet it is altogether only in view of the relation to God that it can be grasped as self-contradiction. The designation of self-contradiction thus includes the assertion that the relation to God is not something which is tacked on to the reality of the world, but is the very thing which is truly the reality of the world. If, however, the regnum Christi is nothing else but the coming of the regnum Dei, then the relation of disagreement between the regnum mundi and regnum Christi is in the end the outbreak of the contradiction between the fallen creature and the Creator. And the relation of agreement between the regnum mundi and regnum Christi is the dawning of agreement between creature and Creator." "The Necessity of the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms" in Word and Faith, trans. James W. Leitch, 386-406 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 398-399.

Though a little convoluted, what this means is that the self-contradiction of the world when related to God is a relation of disagreement in that it is in open rebellion against him. But in Christ there is a relation of agreement in that Christ reconciles the world to himself; Christ is "the dawning of agreement between creature and Creator." This talk takes on a creation-wide scope and a scope that encompasses all of history.

This is really the way that scripture talks of the work of Christ. We see in the protoevangelion in Genesis 3 the history that God had planned for mankind. It is a history that is based on the promise of reconciliation, and this only through Christ. Ours is a Heilsgeschichte, a salvation history.

Man has taken this history and made it his realm of self-justification. This, not necessarily before God, but maybe more primarily before the world. It is the task of answering: "Why am I here?" Ebeling tells us that without Christ this is both a self-contradiction-- the creation who denies its being created-- and a contradiction of God through open rebellion.

Therefore, in Christ is wrapped up the whole of creation and all of history. The world and history do not exist in order for us to find our identity in ourselves but to find our identity in Christ. This Christological and Christo-centric view of the world and history is evident throughout the gospel of John and his epistles and Revelation.We have the extremely revealing and graphic opening: "In the beginning was the Word." John tells us that Christ was there at creation, that all things were created through him, and that in him was life (v. 3-4). Having life "in him" is not merely some metaphysical abstraction, but is truly the basis of our life; Christ is the basis of our life.

Therefore Christ is not merely the mediator of our vertical relationship with the Father, but also of our horizontal relationship to the world. It is only through the eyes of Christ that we can see the world properly. Through Christ, the world and history are no longer the realm of self-creation but the realm of reciprocal love, love that finds its basis in and flows out of Christ. We see this new perspective of creation in 2 Corinthians:

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself ." (5:14-18)

Paul explicitly tells us that because of the love expressed through Christ we no longer live for ourselves but for Christ. Because of this we do not see creation (world and history) according to the flesh but through the eyes of Christ. This is why Paul can call us a new creation, our entire lives have found a new basis. As Ebeling puts it, it is "the dawning of agreement between creature and Creator."

Oswald Bayer writes: "The work of Jesus Christ is to restore creation, to validate again its original purpose, the will of God in creation...In this, Jesus Christ is the 'mediator of creation,' through whom all that now is was made." Living By Faith, 62.

Luther tells us that we are now "in the dawn of the life to come, for we have begun to recapture our knowledge of the creatures that we lost with Adam's fall. We can see creatures properly now...Beginning with the grace of God, however, we can know God's wonderful works and miracles even from the little flowers, when we consider the divine omnipotence and the divine goodness. We thus laud and praise and thank God. For we see in his creatures the power of his Word, how mighty it is. He spoke and it came to be." WA TR 1:574, 8-19

The Apology likewise writes: "But Christ was given for this very purpose: that on account of him the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit, who produces in us a new and eternal life and also eternal righteousness, may be given to us." Kolb/Wengert Art. 4, Par. 132

It is quite amazing but the reception of faith in Christ is the culmination of the very purposes of time and creation, it is the dawning of a new age, "the dawn of the life to come."

All questions of identity are therefore inextricably linked to the regnum Christi, whether through a relation of disagreement through the self-contradiction of the regnum mundi, or through a relation of agreement through the reconciliation found through faith in Christ.

The Dark Reality of Sinful Humanity

Pastor Harrison over at Mercy Journeys has just posted an interesting reflection on Nietzche from a quote of his: "Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter."

This is what pastor Harrison has to say:

"Nietzche understood the dark reality of sinful humanity like few others in history, and it drove him insane. Unfortunately this son of a pastor did not recognize the profound divine answer for the human predicament - Christ. Laughter is no human invention by the way, it's a divine gift. And its particularly delightful when its freed by grace to become a full, round belly laugh... above all at ourselves. MH

p.s. You have to appreciate N.'s world class mustache..."

This is what I have always appreciated about Continental secularism in comparison to American secularism. Europeans have an intimate understanding of what the real implications are if "God is dead." Unlike their American counterparts, Europeans don't mask the very dark reality that life takes on when one denies the existence of God. Americans are so inundated with materialism, capitalism, self-sufficiency, self-pleasure, sex, and any other god there might be, that they are oblivious of the complete meaninglessness of existence without God. At least Europeans don't hide it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Where Do We Find Our Identity?

There are two sides of the identity struggle. It is often a comfort to find our identity in Christ where we are weak; It is often uncomfortable when we are told to abandon our identity where we are "strong".

Lets hear what Paul has to say about this:
"Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh-- though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained." (Phil. 3:2-16)

I think that we, especially as Lutherans, are fairly comfortable receiving our identity in Christ as far as our vertical relationship coram Deo, before God, but not neccisarily coram mundo, before the world. But Jesus does not only justify our vertical life but also our horizontal life.

I think subconciously we might accept that we cannot justify ourselves before God, but that we can before the world; and this is where we find, as Robert Kolb would say, our "identity, security, and meaning." I can't help but think what my life would be like should I be deprived of all those things that, in the world's mind, makes me of value to society. I can't help but think that I would be thrown into absolute despair.

We can only experience this complete reliance on Christ that Paul expresses through a putting to death and a resurrection. Let's hear what Luther has to say:

"Human righteousness…seeks first of all to remove and to change the sins and keep man intact; this is why it is not righteousness but hypocrisy. Hence as long as there is life in man and as long as he is not taken by renewing grace to be changed, no efforts of his can prevent him from being subject to sin and the law." Lectures on Romans, trans. Wilhelm Pauck (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), 194.

Until we completely abandon our "own worth," both before God and the world can there be new life. Man cannot remain "intact," as Luther puts it. We need to despair not only of our downfalls and shortcomings, but also our talents and abilities. We were not created because what we do is of "value" to God or the world, but because God loves us. As Luther writes in his Heidelberg Disputation: "The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it."

Though we might not realize it, trying to justify ourselves coram mundo, before the world, is ultimately trying to justify ourselves coram Deo, before God. The reason for this is that we are trying to justify our existence; that we have a right to be here. The fact is life, in its entirety can only be a gift from God.

For this reason we must not be tempted to veiw our talents and abilities as justifications before the world. For, what we really are deserving is death. We don't even deserve the world, fallen though it may be. Rather the world itself is the field through which Christ was to redeem creation to himself, to restore our lives as completely dependent on him; it exists because of him.

It is for this reason that Paul can count it all as loss. It is through Christ's death and resurrection, in which we participate through faith, that our lives receive their meaning. As Paul tells us: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Is the Point of Religion?

I meant to write a original post today, but never got around to it. So...I'm stealing a post from Cruising Down the Coast of the High Barbaree called What is the Point of Religion. I'll let the Fearsome Pirate do most of the talking, but I thought there was a strong parallel between this post and what J.P. Koehler talks about. Mainly I mean when Koehler emphasizes that when anything replaces the clear testimony of the gospel and when we recieve our motivations from the flesh rather than the gospel, this unfaillingly leads to death and stagnation in the church.

Here is the post:

The Newman post was not an isolated incident. For the last month or two, I have been thinking fairly continuously about the ruin of religion, more specifically the Christian religion, and what causes it. By "ruin," I don't mean "death." I mean that steep decline from cultural institution to niche, from a church of generations to a church of white heads, from a church of conversion to a church of self-preservation.

My own assesment of the sharp decline of Christianity under Islam is something I've mentioned before and something many people disagree with. When I first learned of it, my first question was, "Why could the martyr church thrive under and eventually topple pagan Rome, but could not under the sultans and caliphs?" Some people argue that the Muslims were simply much more effective persecutors than the Romans. But I saw an active element that was not present in the 1st century--bishops with social and political responsibility and the accumulation of priceless assets and artifacts. Part of the problem, in my opinion, was that the bishops and other key players forgot what the point of this religion is, thinking instead that social order and the protection of shrines and artifacts is the point.

I think whenever you see a church stumble and collapse, you will that some misdirected vision has already broken its knees. The Church is in the business of preaching the Gospel to all nations. There are things that come along for the ride, things that may or may not get connected to that, but those things are not the point. For example, a church may be a haven for immigrants of a certain nation, but if that church starts to believe and act like it exists primarily as a preserver of ethnic identity, it's just a matter of time before a significant collapse. The same goes when a church decides its fundamental business is in high culture, respectable academia, social reform, or glitzy entertainment.

In modern American Lutheranism, many "confessional" Lutherans have made the quest for internal purity, whether doctrinal or liturgical, the chief business of the Church. Judging by the vigorous missional activity of the early LCMS side-by-side with its doctrinal rigor, the early LCMS saw doctrine as serving Gospel proclamation and the making of disciples. But when you get to the 1970s and beyond, doctrinal purity is made an end in itself, breeding a culture of suspicion that is exemplified in orthodox policemen rapidly and aggressively shutting down missional activity whenever they hold the reins of power. And like anyone who has completely lost focus, the claim that the new center of the Church is indeed the Gospel itself. Doctrinal purity is the Gospel. Liturgical rules are the Gospel. The hierarchy is the Gospel. Church growth is the Gospel. Ancient religious culture is the Gospel.

If any of them read the above paragraph, they will tar me as one of those "mission over doctrine" folks. Quite the opposite--doctrine serves mission. But what I see among confessional Lutherans, what I saw at seminary, is more along the lines of "doctrine equals mission," or among folks more enchanted with dress-making, "liturgy equals mission." As a fellow student once sneered, "We have the Divine Service every Sunday. How much more missional can you get?"

The business of the Church is preaching Christ to all nations, teaching his words and commandments, baptizing, and making disciples. You can't cut out the "all nations" and "making disciples," as Lutherans are wont to do. You can't eliminate that part about teaching Christ's words, as liberals and post-Vatican II Catholics tend to do (I am not saying that the teaching of Rome prior to Newman was the same as Christ's--but at least it claimed to be). I think you will find that replacing that basic commission with something else is at the root of the decline of many churches throughout the ages.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Thielicke on Identity

First we heard from Piotr Malysz on Identity
Second we heard from Oswald Bayer on Identity
Now we hear from Helmut Thielicke:

"The worth of the self is decided by whether the alien factor to which it is related is above or below it. If it is determined by what is below it, its own rank accords with this. The man who is controlled by things is himself drawn into the world of things. Only he who has the alien dignity which being in relation to God confers can escape the enslaving grip that values him as a thing and drops him when he no longer has utility as such. Here alone do we find the protection, the impregnability, and the sacred privileges which man has when he is recognized as the bearer of an alien worth. Even when he ceases to be useful, he is still the one whom God created. He is still, in the Old Testament term, the apple of God's eye. God himself offers protection, so that to touch him is to touch God.

"Similarly in the New Testament the dignity of man is not found in outstanding people, in the great examples of the race, in the genius or moral hero, but in the lowly, in those who need mercy, in the ptochoi, in the extremes of the opposite and darker side.

"The hidden Christ encounters us in the hungry, homeless, naked, empty, and imprisoned. He makes himself the brother of all these. To receive or visit or feed or clothe them is to do it to him. Along the same lines Paul can speak of the inviolable dignity even of those who want to restrict Christian freedom and lay burdens upon us. Christ died for them and therefore we are not to get angry with them (Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11). The alien dignity is what makes them sacrosanct.

"Here, then, man is not related to self or things or his utility but to the glory of God which wills to manifest and magnify itself in him. He is sheltered in the alien righteousness of Jesus Christ. God wills to see him in his Son. As, therefore, he has infinite worth in the eyes of God, so he is given true humanity in the eyes of men. The humanity of the Son of God who calls us brethren is hidden and shamed herein, but it is shamed and honored precisely in its hidden dignity.

"It is not true, then, that man becomes small because he is a servant, that the excess of God's glory presses him down. God is not like the oriental despot who shows his greatness by degrading the slaves around him. The idea that the greatness and absoluteness of God means the littleness and devaluation of the men related to him is a false one. The very opposite is the case. The greater the object to which man is related (so long as this object is God himself and not a superior created entity which relativizes man), the more unequivocal his humanity is, and the more inviolable as such. We see this from the marginal cases of humanity which will be understood either as the apple of God's eye or as the playthings of human opportunism.

"The Decisive Insight:

"For us, then, this is the decisive insight. The image of man is always vitally stamped by the alienum actualized in it. This is the key to the remarkable and at first surprising fact that Marxism, in spite of its concern for man, eventually makes of him a thing. It sets him in a false relation and it is then unable to get at him through the autonomy of this relation or even find him. It never sees man at all.

"Man can be shaped by what is below him. In this case his humanity is consumed by the material alienum and at the last we find only the glazed face of inhuman nature or the equally inhuman because uncovered mechanism of dialectical puppets. On the other hand man can be shaped by what is above him, by the alienum of the divine image. In this case the goal is the impress of God's glory which chooses us as its instrument. As the glory of God addressed to us, however, this is, in the traditional vocabulary of Christianity, gratia or grace."

-Helmut Thielicke, The Hidden Question of God, trans. Geoffry Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1977), 63-65.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Gesetzlich Wesen Unter Uns - "Legalism Among Us," Part 2

Here is the second section of J.P. Koehler's essay Gesetzlich Wesen Unter Uns, "Legalism Among Us."

If you read the first section you can start to get an idea of the perspective that Koehler utilizes in his theology. I think that this quote, as well, can further our understanding of his approach, it is from an essay he wrote entitled "The Importance of the Historical Disciplines for the American Lutheran Church of the Present” :

"A degree of mental inflexibility (Geistesstarre) has begun to assert itself, coupled with a hyperconservative attitude which is more concerned about rest than about conservation. This is always the case at the end of a period of mental development. The masses get into a rut which has been worn by what had long been customary. In our case it was dogmatics. This mental inflexibility is not healthy, for if it continues it will lead to death. Both in the mental activity of an individual and of a community, fresh, vibrant, productive activity is a sign of health.

"The inertia of which I am speaking shows itself in a lack of readiness again and again to treat theological-scholarly matters or practical matters theoretically and fundamentally without preconceived notions. This is necessary if we are to watch and criticize ourselves. … And if we do not again and again rethink in detail the most important theological matters and our way of presenting them, it can happen that all of this can become mere empty form without spirit or life. As we practice such self-criticism, we shall find that the divine truths which we draw out of Scripture indeed always remain the same, but that the manner in which we defend them, yes, even how we present them is not always totally correct. Here we can and must continue to learn." In The Wauwatosa Theology, vol. 3 (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1997), 434-435.

Here is the second section of Koehler's Gesetzlich Wesen Unter Uns. (Again, you are not able to read this from a feed...you must come to the blogspot site).

Are Our Best Days Behind Us?

Matt Harrison has created the best LC-MS blog around. If you have not stopped by, I highly encourage that you do. He is always posting things from the early days of the synod (translating them on a drop of a hat it seems). This post from him: Are Our Best Days Behind Us? Schwan 1865, is a great self assesment that we should always be asking as a synod. This is Harrison's introduction:

"H.C. Schwan was president of the LCMS Central District in 1865. As the Synod was approaching its twentieth anniversary, he honestly asked the question: Are our best days behind us? Schwan aludes to Luther's comment that he gospel is like a "passing rain shower," which does not return where it has passed. All five of the German born presidents of the Synod knew this passage of Luther, and all used it as a call to repentance for their day. Lord have mercy upon us. Matt H"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: Gesetzlich Wesen Unter Uns - "Legalism Among Us"

Probably more than any other theologian, John Philipp Koehler has influenced me the most. His approach to theology and his keen insight into human behavior is astonishing. Gesetzlich Wesen Unter Uns, "Legalism Among Us," is a great example of his thought. Not only has he had a big influence on my own thought, he is also timeless in his observations. His intimate awareness of man's opinio legis, man's law bent mind, is always applicable, for there is nothing new under the sun. Though written in 1914 his words speak directly to what is going on (in many camps) in the LC-MS today. These words from another essay from Koehler seem especially applicable in our situation:

"Every kind of society, church groups included, is seized by the hurrah phenomenon and as such it becomes apparent generally at a time when a certain goal is to be reached quickly by a drive with external blatant means. All this hurrah business has certain traits which make it evident in arising out of the flesh; they are: 1) It appeals to the natural brutal sense in man, indicating that those who make use of it are willing to accommodate external brute force. 2) In a rousing attack, force is applied to accomplish with the might that which quiet, sustaining and thorough work cannot be relied on to produce. 3) Mass agitation is the object and the individual must be swept along by force with the crowd, because there is no confidence in the spontaneous decision of the individual personality. 4) The promoter, by noisy conduct, attracts attention to his own person. 5) Thus he would put himself across together with his concepts and aims, yet indeed not by an inward conviction of his fellow men but by the use of external means. 6) By so doing, love toward neighbor is forgotten, while selfishness, disaffection and malice have an open field. 7) Finally, hurrah sentiment always has the nature of clever fabrication. Headlines there are, true enough, and slogans that would give the impression of genuine value. Yet it does not carry the imprint of something which grew out of the unencumbered understanding of intelligent men of character and blossomed forth into an overwhelming truth...Now, sanctification, our actual Christian business, doesn't agree with that sort of thing. When once it becomes apparent that sanctification is in every point the direct opposite of hurrah sentiment, then every Christian ought to see for himself that we must avoid this general ruling spirit of the time."

J.P. Koehler was a highly original theologian. He was the prime formulator of what would become known as the "Wauwatosa Gospel." In part, this approach was a critique on the blind dogmatical acceptance that was going on in American Lutheran theology, especially in the Missouri Synod. He believed that "dogma" was not something one just blindly accepted because it was taught to him, rather, it is something that every theologian has to struggle through himself. Rather than blindly accepting what someone else says, Koehler encouraged students to figure it out for themselves, to go back to Scripture and the sources to make it "their own" theology. When this is not done, theology becomes merely a dead orthodoxy rather than a living and vital proclamation of the truths of Scripture. Koehler's mind was very unique and intuitive. He studied under C.F.W. Walther and Georg Stoeckhardt. From them he took back to Wisconsin a love for the practical and living theology of law and gospel from Walther, and a love for and an urgency to return to the Bible through exegetical theology from Stoeckhardt. Koehler drew on his vast and eccentric loves and knowledge for his thought, he was a very talented historian and exegetical theologian, he was also a very talented musician, artist, and architect. He was the designer of St. Johannes Lutheran Church in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Also, according to musicologist Walter E. Buszin, Koehler was the first American musicologist to edit professionally published Reformation and Baroque music like Perlen alter Kirchenmusik (1905) and Das Gemeindelied (1911).

Unfortunately much of the fruit of Koehler's work, and the implications that his work probably would have had in American Lutheranism were stifled when in 1930 he was dismissed from the Wisconsin Synod due mostly to the political and personal strife and controversy he spent his career writing against. He never really, personally speaking, recovered from this blow.

His essay comes in two installments due to the length. (I don't believe you are able to read the essay from a feed; you must come to the blogspot site in order to read.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Hey! Let's Keep it Forensic in Here!" Towards an Objective and Subjective Understanding of Grace

I want to talk about how Lutherans understand grace.

I think there is an increasing trend in Lutheranism to talk of the grace of God in increasingly safe terms. And by safe, I mean in purely forensic and objective terms.

The term forensic is a general term. The Latin forensis generally means: "of a forum, place of assembly." It is used in the sense of things "pertaining to legal trials." (Online Etymology Dictionary) As Lutherans we understand it as our trial or standing coram Deo, before God. We say that justification is forensic, meaning that our justification has its basis outside of ourselves. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, our debt is paid and we are decalred righteous in the eyes of God.

We now say: "Well this is all well and good, but what is all this about grace?" In order for me to continue we need to make a distinction between objective justification, subjective justification, and sanctification.

The increasing tendency, to which I am writting against, is to define grace solely as gratia gratum faciens, that is, grace that makes us acceptable before God. We read from the Apology: "And because this faith alone receives the remission of sins, and renders us acceptable to God, and brings the Holy Ghost, it could be more correctly called gratia gratum faciens, grace rendering one pleasing to God, than an effect following, namely, love." (Tappert par. 116) This quote does not mean that faith itself makes us pleasing to God, but rather that this faith (subjective justification) receives the grace that makes us acceptable before God (objective justification/"objective grace").

The how this faith comes and the subsequent sanctification is what I feel is eroding in Lutheran circles. Part of this is because of understanding grace solely as divine favor and the related misunderstanding of how to define grace outside of this conception. It is the difference between the what of the gospel and the how of the gospel.

The what of the gospel we have down pat. We understand the implications of Christ's life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. And we are very comfortable declaring this in absolution, the sacrament of the altar, and through baptism. Luckily, in spite of ourselves, these just happen to be the how of the gospel, that is, how God comes to us and ministers to us, creating, sustaining, and enlivening faith.

The how of the gospel, though, is what I feel us Lutherans have been increasingly shying away from. Declaring what God has done is safe enough; Declaring what God is doing is dangerous. What God has done (in Christ) is safely complete in the past, is safely forensic, and stays safely away from all the subjective realities of the life of faith. Talking about what God is doing is dangerous. It means talking about the Word of God and the sacraments working in the lives of believers, about people's hearts, people's faith, the spirit and flesh, the very dangerous Holy Spirit, and the struggles of daily life.

Related to this is the Lutheran understanding of law and gospel. I think more and more we have lost faith that God is the one working through these proclamations. It is as if we were merely trying to convince people that they're sinful, and merely convince them that they're safely and forensically forgiven. No! To preach law and gospel is a divine activity where the Holy Spirit comes to us and literally puts to death and brings forth new life. It is the difference between preaching about Christ and preaching Christ.

The Church is the body that proclaims Christ to the world. We have been promised that these are not just empty words that appeal to the mind. I think we have become more and more rationalistic in how we approach the Word; we forget that we can only receive the things of God through the Spirit of God. To the natural man, the preaching about Christ means nothing, it is foolishness, it is only because of the active and dynamic presense of the Holy Spirit in this Word that makes it mean anything.

We read from Isaiah: "So shall My Word be, which goes out of My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in what I sent it to do!" (55:11)

In response to 1 Cor. 4:7, "And what do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive?" Augustine writes, as recorded in the Formula of Concord: "I erred in this, that I held that the grace of God consists only in this, that God in the preaching of the truth reveals His will; but that our consenting to the preached Gospel is our own work, and is within our own powers. Likewise, St. Augustine writes further: I erred when I said that it is within our own power to believe the Gospel and to will; but it is God's work to give to them that believe and will the power to effect something." (SD, Art. II, Par. 27)

How often do we approach the Word of God like this? That we think its proclamation is merely the telling of certain truths that we need to convince our congregations of? Augustine tells us that the grace of God is to be found in this: That through the Word of God, God is the one who is active as he gives us a new will and new powers to respond to this Word.

The what of the gospel is perfectly objective, as it should; what a trajedy it would be for this to be obscured. Reading of the lives of the saints, and even about Luther's early experiences is terribly depressing. The fear and anguish that led them to such extents to assure themselves of the graciousness of God, compared to what I know of the promises of God leads to great relief. I can only rejoice in the complete termination of the need for self-justificatory activity. The words, "It is finished," never grow old. I am daily reminded of the complete impossibility of basing my life on myself and not on Christ. This is the pristine message of the righteousness of Christ that, back in the 16th century, changed the world forever. It is the pure gospel. It is objective. It is sure. I base my faith on nothing less.

But this is only half of the story. Oswald Bayer writes:

"Luther says in the same passage of the Large Catechism that "faith and God" belong together. This is to be understood precisely in the sense of the "and" in the formula: the God who justifies and the human who sins (deus iustificans et homo peccator)." (Theology the Lutheran Way, 20)

Once we start addressing the sinful man, the other half of the theological equation, things get hairy. The God who justifies is pristine, pure, perfect, complete, objective; how the God who justifies interacts with the sinful man is dynamic, scary, life-and-death. But, until we start to recognizing who the object of our message is, we will not be addressing them, but speaking past them. We will not be preaching Christ, but about Christ.

This does not mean that we stop being Christocentric, rather, indeed, we begin to show how truley central Christ really is. Being Christocentric is not merely to say: "you are a sinner; Christ forgives." Paul is a great example for us. For Paul, Christ is not merely some concept of the forgiveness of sins, rather, Christ is a vital and dynamic reality that brings forgiveness and new life. We read from Paul:

"But if Christ is in you, the body indeed is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of the One having raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One having raised the Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies live through the indwelling of His Spirit in you." (Rom. 8:10-11)

"I have been crucified with Christ, and I live; yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith toward the Son of God, the One loving me and giving Himself over on my behalf." (Gal. 2:20)

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." ( Phil. 1:21)

"Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so also we should walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4)

"So that, my brothers, you also were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ, for you to become Another's, to the One raised from the dead, so that we may bear fruit to God." (Rom. 7:4)

"For the love of Christ constrains us, having judged this, that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that the living ones may live no more to themselves, but to the One having died for them and having been raised. So as we now know no one according to flesh, but even if we have known Christ according to flesh, yet now we no longer know Him so. So that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new!" (2 Cor. 5:14-17)

"And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness. Therefore, I will rather gladly boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may overshadow me. Because of this, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in dire needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for the sake of Christ. For when I may be weak, then I am powerful." (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

We are told that God's grace is sufficient because his power is perfected in weakness. This is the major problem behind the Roman Catholic understanding of grace. Catholics see grace as a gratia infusa, an infused grace. Paul tells us that grace is not something that empowers us, rather, grace comes through our weakness so that the power of Christ overshadows us.

The problem with the common Lutheran understanding of grace is that we have not clearly replaced the Catholic understaning with our own. We have a clear definition of God's grace as his divine favor, that is, an external, forensic, "objective ("existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality" - Dictionary.com) grace;" but we have not clearly defined how God's grace is shown through his internal work in heart, mind and abilities; "subjective ("pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual"- Dictionary.com) grace."

I believe Werner Elert offers a very good distinction that should be adopted as the Lutheran replacement for the error of gratia infusa. We read:

"The change is not effected by the infusion of an object by grace (gratia infusa), but by the personal presence of the Spirit in the Word of grace. Whether this Word is a real force or not can only be answered by those who know they live by grace alone. The righteous shall never perceive it. The poor sinner under sentence of death who has fallen to his knees to be judged hears at this very moment the words, “You are forgiven, rise.” When he finally arises, still shaky and unsteady because his knees seem unable to hold him up, he takes his first steps into the new life which has been granted him a second time. He receives the strength to do it through the perceived Word of grace. No one will ever convince him that his strength was a product of his imagination. The strength to live a new life in grace is the strength of the Holy Spirit." The Christian Ethos, trans. Carl J. Schindler (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), 217.

That is, a renewed understanding of "subjective grace" in the Lutheran Church is to talk of "the personal presence of the Spirit in the Word of grace."

Though the subject, ourselves, are sinful, fallen, prone to distort, and ego-centric, "subjective grace" in itself is nothing to be wary of. This is because subjective grace does not have the subject as its center, but rather the objective promises in God's Word; it is Christo-centric. It, in a very personal way, deals with and in the subject, but it does not have its basis in the subject; it is not dependent on my own thoughts, feelings, faith, rather, it often works in spite of these things. Bringing back what Paul says 2 Cor. 12, subjective grace puts to death the subject and raises him in the power of Christ; God's grace is perfected in weakness.

The purpose of the pastor is not to lead their parishoners back to themselves (ego-centricism), but to direct them to the promises of God in Word and sacrament (Christo-centricism). As Kurt Marquart says: "It is through these blessed Gospel-channels that the divine life of faith is transmitted to us sinners." "The Third Use of the Law as Confessed in the Formula of Concord." The gospel is not merely a forensic declaration, rather it is also a life-principle that subjectively creates, sustains, and enlivens faith and impels us toward righteousness unto sanctification (Rom. 6:19)

Talk like this as scary for us Lutherans. We cannot point to it, define it clearly, or say it will behave in this way rather than that; "The Spirit breathes where He desires, and you hear His voice; but you do not know from where He comes, and where He goes; so is everyone having been generated from the Spirit." (John 3:8) While all these things are true, we should not fear the Holy Spirit. This is because he is always connected to the promises of God, to his Word, and does not have his basis in the subject.

We have faith in this promise. The Solid Declaration says as much, that we can have faith in the activity of this Word, not based on the subjectivity of self, but on the based on the objectivity of God's promise. We read:

"Therefore, neither the preacher nor the hearer should doubt this grace and activity of the Holy Spirit, but they should be certain that when the Word of God is preached purely and clearly according to God's command and will and people listen to it seriously and diligently and meditate upon it, God will certainly be present with his grace and give, as has been said, what human beings otherwise could neither receive nor take on the basis of their own powers. For the presence, effectiveness, and gift of the Holy Spirit should not and cannot always be assessed ex sensu, as a person feels it in the heart. Instead, because the Holy Spirit's activity is often hidden under the cover of great weakness, we should be certain, on the basis of and according to the promise, that the Word of God, when preached and heard, is a function and work of the Holy Spirit, through which he is certainly present in our hearts and exercises his power there." (SD, Art. II, Par. 55-56)

We need to renew this understanding of subjective grace as "the personal presence of the Spirit in the Word of grace." In neglegence, I fear we have ignored this and have not made clear how the means of grace, through the work of the Holy Spirit, effect our daily lives, strengthening and enlivening faith, keeping us from sin and temptation, and impelling us towards righteousness. May we once again be reminded of these words of the Formulators:

"Moreover, this doctrine points us to the means through which the Holy Spirit wills to begin this conversion and effect it. It also reminds us how these same gifts are retained, strenghtened, and increased, and it admonishes us not to let God's grace have no effect in us, but to exercise ourselves diligently in considering what a grevious sin it is to impede and resist the working of the Holy Spirit." (SD, Art. II, Par. 72)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Lutheran Quote of the Day: The Three Offices of Christ

"The communicative relationship between God and humans that is salvific and not destructive is grounded in the word and takes the form of an exchange of words (in sermonibus tuis). When Luther emphasizes that "Christ is present" in this word, he is defining the mediation more precisely. Christology explicates who is connected, the basis of the connection, and the medium of this connection. To put it more precisely, it identifies who is active and who is passive, who comes and who is brought, who makes the connection and who is connected. The three "offices" of Christ are nothing else than the three interrelated aspects of the one office of mediator (munus triplex). The prophetic office especially is the means of mediation (the word), the priestly office shows who is mediated (God and humans), and the royal office is the power of mediation: Christ's victory over hell, death, and devil. The saving communicative relationship between God and humans is an exchange of words. This is no harmless self-evident correlation and correspondence, but the felicitous outcome of a life-and-death struggle."

-Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, trans. Jeffrey Silcock and Mark Mattes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), 19.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Third Use of the Law

This is a section out of my senior thesis on the broader topic of sanctification (in the context of law and gospel).

I think it is a fresh look at the text of Article VI. As I note in the document, the tone that the modern debate has taken is based on how it began in the 60's and 70's. That is, it was started with the focus on the authority of Scripture and the continued relevence of the law. I don't think that we have gotten much past this over the last 4 or 5 decades. What I try and do is get at the spirit Article VI is written in.

It seems that people engaging in the debate, who uphold the third use, either focus on 1) "Like a stubborn recalcitrant donkey," or 2) the prevalent aspects of the new man, the fruit of the Spirit, taking delight in the law, the renewing of the mind, and the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit. That is, they either focus on the law or the gospel, (very) indirectly trying to answer whether the third use is law or gospel.

The answer to this largely depends whether we consider those passages that describe the teaching and instruction in the law (not the Holy Spirit's teaching/instruction, mind you) as being discriptive of the third use, or not (namely par. 9, 21, and 24). The highly negative discription in these sections, including the concepts of threats and punishments, leads me to believe that they are not describing the third use in these sections. I think the proof of this (yes, I think it is pretty pursuasive) lies in the conclusion of Article VI where we are told this type of instruction in the law is not only to be used with Christians but also with non-Christians. This, in spite of the fact that the very definition of the third use tells us that it is a function of the law exclusive to Christians.

This also supports a common complaint against talk of the third use, that is, where we are frequently reminded that we do not "use" the third use, but the Holy Spirit (c.f. par. 3). Therefore, it is not a function of the external preaching and teaching (that par. 9, 21, and 24 are about), but the internal preaching, teaching, and guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Also of note is the language of the definition of the third use in the Solid Declaration: "[The law] is also used when those who have been born anew through God's Spirit, converted to the Lord, and had the veil of Moses removed from them live and walk in the law." Now compare this to how Article VI describes the inner man (not the flesh, mind you), namely they say that he is "not under the law but in the law; they live and walk in the law of the Lord and yet do nothing because of the compulsion of the law." (par. 18) This is obviously not a coincidence. Therefore, when we are talking about the third use, we are not talking about the flesh that is under the law, but the inner man who is not under the law.

The purpose of writing Article VI was to show why the law should continue to be preached and taught in the Churches. This includes all three uses, which I mention in my paper. Where the third use comes in, is that they are saying that because the Holy Spirit teaches and guides the inner, renewed man, the Christian therefore needs to know the law, thus he needs the external preaching and teaching of the law, which can include threats and punishments (the 1st and 2nd uses). The actual function (uti) itself, though, is reflective of the gracious work of God as the Holy Spirit renews our hearts and minds so that we delight in and gladly engage in the the will of God.

Obviously this is a very different interpretation then most have given, and many might not agree with it. I probably have read Article VI a few dozen times, and have read dozens of articles on the matter, including Murray's book, and I can't shake these arguments I have given. Maybe you can shake them; I'd love to hear peoples' thoughts.

Sorry that the introduction is so long, but I think these thoughts will help you read and understand the paper.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Confessional Life

(I don't mean to bury my final installment on the will, so make sure to scroll down and take a look.)

May these words of David be our words as we live the confessional life, proclaiming and defending the gracious work of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ our Lord.

I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications.
Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.
The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.
The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me.
Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.
For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
I believed, therefore have I spoken; I was greatly afflicted:
I said in my haste, All men are liars.
What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?
I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.
I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the LORD'S house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the LORD.

-Psalm 116 (KJV)