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

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Gustaf Wingren, Creation, Vocation, and Law

I see Gustaf Wingren's position as the logical conclusion of connecting God's temporal rule of law with the spatial understanding of the kingdom of the world, creation. Part of the problem stems from how we are to interpret God's commands on man within the garden before his fall. It is an inability of separating what the law is and what the law does when it confronts man.

Wingren's position is very reminiscent of Werner Elert's view of the law, with his continual refrain: "The law is always a law of retribution." David Scaer depicts the theological implications of this position very adequately when he writes:

"In Helmut Gollwitz's opinion, "Elert starts from the false presupposition that wrath, judgement, and punishment have an eternal Law of retribution as their basis to have any validity. This would mean that God is wrathful because He is a God of Law, and if this is followed to its logical conclusion it would have to mean that Law of retribution is the fundamental standard by which man's relationship is regulated, and that it was given before and not after the fall as the original form of man's relationship between God and man which was not one of love, therefore that the Gospel could not be the reestablishment of the original relationship." Gollwitz is right! In Lutheran theology the Law's prime purpose is revealing man's wretched condition (SA III.ii.4), but this purpose is defined by man's present condition. The tension exists in man and not in God, whose nature is love. Making Law, wrath, and vengeance part of God's essence before the fall contradicts His love, but also might make it hard to distinguish Elert's position from Calvin's, where hate and love exist side by side in God." (“Third Use of the Law: Resolving the Tension” [A paper delivered at the 28th Annual Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions, Concordia Theological Seminary, January, 2005])

Wingren avoids this representation of God by making it clear that law is not a reflection of who God is but as being inextricably connected with the creation of the world. For Wingren the reality of law on earth is only justifiable, concerning God, by its being overcome through Christ. Therefore human history under the law is only meaningful as the precursor for its being conquered by Christ, but this only exists as an eschatological reality. For Wingren, Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection makes no substantial difference in how we live in the world and before our neighbor; for Wingren, as long as there is earth, there the civil use of the law reigns supreme. Christ's coming frees us from false faith, but not from the law. This only occurs at the eschaton.

"The work of Christ is victory over the law in any form: good works lead to salvation by neither one route nor the other. The conscience alone, through faith in the work of Christ, is freed from false faith. Christ frees neither the hand from its work nor the body from its office. The hand, the body, and their vocation belong to earth. There is no redemption in that, but that is not the idea. The purpose is that one's neighbor be served. Conscience rests in faith in God, and does nothing that contributes to salvation; but the hands serve the vocation which is God's downward-reaching work, for the well-being of men. From the viewpoint of faith, vocation has no relevance. As soon as any outward quality of life claims a place in conscience or in heaven, claiming to be a condition for God's forgiveness, the immateriality of vocation must be emphasized." (Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation, trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press,
1957), 11.)

For Wingren, the whole purpose of creation is service to neighbor, as we read before, "To stress the doctrine of the first use of the Law means not only to affirm that the world belongs to God, but to reject any other religious interpretation of the world." (Creation and Law, trans. Ross Mackenzie (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), 160.) But even this is really only a reflection of the character of our life in creation not its purpose. Wingren saw the whole sphere of creation as the realm that man learns to die to himself through the law and to rise with Christ, in time through faith, and eternally in the victory of the gospel. Wingren inverts Luther's view of Baptism. Luther saw the life of Baptism as dying through contrition and repentance, and then the rising of the new man who is reintroduced to the world and creation. Luther writes:

"It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

"Where is this written?--Answer.
St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

In contrast to this Wingren will write: "The Christian is crucified by the law in his vocation, under the earthly government; and he arises through the gospel, in the church under the spiritual government." (Vocation, 30) We see how different this is from Luther's position. For Luther, the gospel reintroduces us to and renews God's original will for creation; For Wingren, the gospel is what frees us from the rule of the law inherent in creation. Wingren did not see the mortification that occurs under the law as an accident of the law due to the sinful condition of man, but as inherent in the very fact that it legislates.

"The fact that the Law "puts to death" is sometimes interpreted as a by-product of its primary function, which is to legislate concerning right behavior in society, or to protect and preserve life. But the Law "puts to death" precisely when it demands the required behavior in society and protects life."

The kingdom of the world, for Wingren, is the most fundamental form of the law gospel dialectic. Unlike Elert who saw the law as primarily a "law of retribution" (2nd use of the law), Wingren saw the civil use of the law as the primary use of the law. Wingren saw it as our cross that prepares us for the gospel. "God has ordained many different orders, in which man is to discipline himself and learn to suffer and die." (Vocation, 29)

Therefore legislation and gospel are completely contradictory, "The content of the Law cannot therefore be derived from the Gospel, which by its very nature is always opposed to the Law and judgment, just as Christ’s Resurrection reverses his death." (Creation and Law, 128) For this reason, Wingren saw the kingdom of heaven as a realm where no law exists, no vocation, and no service: "In the heavenly kingdom Christ is king, and there gospel alone rules: no law, and therefore no works." (Vocation, 10) There can be no: "That I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness." (Small Catechism, The Creed, Second Article) Wingren talks so little of the problem of sin as our alienation from God, and talks so much of the civil use of the law that it seems almost as if Christ came more to free us from the law than to free us from our bondage to sin and to restore our original relationship with the triune God and the rest of humanity and creation. In fact, these relationships seem to completely leave off, for, which Wingren most certainly knew, to live in relationship is to give of self, but for Wingren giving of self is a reflection of law not of gospel, therefore the necessity of the end of all relationships:

"In heaven man has neither wife nor children, for all offices leave off, and human beings are all alike, since the rule of the law is put away. The realm of vocation is temporary. It is only in the present, short life that we are concerned with the endowments and responsibilities of office. The transitoriness of vocation can be called another aspect of the fact, already stated, that vocation has nothing to do with salvation. The gospel, as the promise of salvation, is also the promise of eternity, of a kingdom which will never pass away. On earth we receive from God gifts which we are transitory; but in the heavenly kingdom we receive God himself, who never passes away." (Vocation, 19)

This, of course, excepting God's giving of self; heaven becomes a state that man just sits around and receives from God his eternal gifts, anything above this is a reinstatement of the law.

What needs to be analyzed is the essential character of what we have come to know as "law." It boils down to whether the law is seen as something that always coerces and condemns, or whether it has a reality beyond this. Wingren sees the law only as to its negative aspects, thus the need for him to deny a lex aeterna and to envision a heaven completely devoid of man's service. David Scaer has done a wonderful job of explaining the character of the law as it is in its essence. Let's hear from him:

"God does not set arbitrary moral standards for good and evil, but good works are an extension of who or what he is and revive what is already inherent in creation and corrupted by sin. Defined in this way the Law does not stand in an antagonistic relation with the Gospel. This is not simply a return to paradise to what the Law was then, but a republication of the Law in Christ." (Scaer, "Resolving the Tension")

For Wingren, the law's connection with creation is in a way arbitrary. It is not inherent in it but rather is inseparably connected to it because of God's purpose of revealing the gospel through it. Scaer makes it clear that the law's connection with creation, while it can be said to be "inherent" to it, is not so much due to the fact of creation, but to the fact that, in creation, we are set into a relationship before God and before fellow man. To be created for Scaer means to be set into relation. The divine will in these inter-personal relations is to give of self, if this were otherwise, we would not live in relation. This self-giving, under Christ, can at one and the same time be called law, but behind this essentially, love. This is where Wingren's view of the law completely falls apart. Christ's declaration that all the law is wrapped up in love of God and love of neighbor breaks down all arguments that the law is essentially God's way of "putting to death," or that the law is only a "law of retribution" (Elert). Sin gives the law its characteristically negative function: "The commandment which was to life, this was found to be death to me" (Rom. 7:10) But essentially, as we see from Christ and Paul, it was a commandment unto life.

"Jesus identified love of God and neighbor not only as the Law's greatest commandments, but also as the ones into which all the Law is assumed. Law in all its functions determines relationships between men with God and with each other. By assuming the entire Law into love, Jesus showed that the Law in its first and final form has no negatives. Love as the content of the Law (Scriptures) is not a matter of arbitrary divine choice, but reflects what God really is. In requiring love of us, God only asks us to become like him." (Scaer, "Resolving the Tension")

Compare this statement from Scaer--"By assuming the entire Law into love, Jesus showed that the Law in its first and final form has no negatives."-- with this statement from Wingren: "But when it summarizes the Law as love of one’s neighbor, it is stating something about the power of the Law to compel all men to act on their neighbour’s behalf." (Creation, 151) We see how Wingren's view of the law negatively affects his view of love. Love takes on an almost unrecognizable character; love becomes boiled down to a mere outward act.

Therefore we must separate law, as it exists in its essence as love, from God's rule of law (regimente); that is, we must separate space from time. God's law is inherent in being created in relation to God and man, in the world (reiche); God's rule of law (regimente) is an accident of man's fall into sin, its bondage to Satan, and its fate under judgment.

With this understood we can affirm that God's rule through the gospel (regimente) is not antithetical with our existence on the earth (reiche). With this understood, the gospel becomes more than a "word-event" and more than an eschatological hope; the gospel becomes a very present reality that enters our hearts and connects us with Christ and recreates and renews us in the divine will of Christ our King. Only in this way can a real understanding of sanctification be affirmed. It is not an accident that the very term cannot be found (at all!) in either Wingren's Creation and Law, or Luther on Vocation. (How can you write a book on vocation and never bring up sanctification?) When the two kinds of righteousness--civil and imputed-- and the two kingdoms--inseparably connecting God's rule of law with creation-- are set forth, no real understanding of sanctification can exist. Listen to how Wingren talks: "What is effected through these orders of society is not due to an inner transformation of the human heart. The corruption of the heart is amended in heaven, through the gospel of Christ." (Vocation, 6)

"The gospel is thus an eschatological message, in the sense that it promises something that belongs to the future, life after death. This is evident in Luther's way of differentiating between iustitia civilis (civil righteousness) and iustitia christiana (righteousness in Christ). Civil righteousness is promoted by the law and is relevant in courts, in general, before man, as an adequate righteousness. Righteousness in Christ is a given righteousness, and can be said to consist of the forgiveness of sins." (Vocation, 20)

Wingren sets creation, the kingdom of the world, and salvation, the kingdom of God, in an antithetical relationship where the law is conquered by the gospel. A correct understanding, rather, tells us that salvation is an affirmation of God's original will in creation, that he desires for us to live before him, and before our neighbor and the rest of creation in relationships defined by self-giving love. God's will in creation was not a "lesser good" until the "greater good" through the gospel could be revealed; God's will in creation was "very good" and salvation is a restoration of that good that is envisioned in God's perfect will. It is our bondage and guilt under sin that is the problem with creation, not creation itself. Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection that we receive in his Word is the perfect love letter that tells us that God loves us and desires to live with us in eternity. In the same way, creation tells us the same thing, it tells us that it was God's utmost desire for us to live in relation to him and the rest of creation, that our creation was "very good."


Augustinian Successor said...

As always your posts are illuminating and intriguing! These are precisely my "pet" subjects in theology. This is why I love Lutheran theology! Or why I love Lutheran more than Reformed theology. I'm still thinking through though about whether there was Law prior to the Fall. Or is there a way to separate command from Law? What is your thought on this, Joel?

Joel Woodward said...

I have no short answer. I think I'll pull together some different Lutheran positions and then state my own in a future post. We'll see from Forde, Althaus, Elert, Lazareth, etc. It is certainly something that has been tossed back and forth for a long time.

Joel Woodward said...

It'll probably take a while and will come in instalments, no doubt.

Augustinian Successor said...

I guess with the exception of Althaus, Forde, Elert and Lazareth are among some of my favourite theologians.