Saturday, August 28, 2010

Excellent Point By Greg!

In the discussion of the last post, we move into talking about the imputation of the sin of Adam to the human race.  I noted that this concept was never universally accepted by Lutherans or clearly defined by our confessional documents.  Pieper seems to suggest it's an open question.  

Greg notes that the concept of the imputation of Adam might very well be important because of its parallel to universal and objective justification.  He writes:

"For many years I saw little value in the doctrine of imputed Adamic sin. Lately I have been seeing more value to the doctrine because of its parallelism to the doctrine of Objective Justification. Perhaps we have a line of historical development in our understanding of the Gospel that goes like this: Augustine imputed Adamic sin to all- Anselm- All sin imputed to Christ- Luther- Christ's righteousness imputed to the believer- Walther- This righetousness imputed to all but only recieved by the believer."

It's an interesting suggestion.  I would take two exceptions (and Greg is free to disagree with me of course).  First, I would not read Anselm as suggesting that sin is imputed to Christ.  Rather, Anselm teaches that Christ won a superabundance of merit which was capable of covering sins by doing more than he really had to do.  He himself was not imputed as a sinner.  That was uniquely Luther's idea in the early Psalms commentary and it later moved into Protestant orthodoxy.  Luther was the first person to claim that the penitential Psalms should be read as the prayers of Christ.  He believed that Christ was simul justus et peccator as well, just the other way around than us.  You can also see this very heavily reflected in the late Galatians commentary.

Secondly, I would suggest (as I did in a number of Luther quote that I have cited several times) that Luther clearly did teach universal and objective justification, even if he doesn't use the terminology.  As Robert Preus also shows, so did Lutheran orthodoxy.  I would recommend people read his piece on Quenstedt's atonement theology.  Quenstedt states in no uncertain terms that Christ objectively justified everyone.

Great comment Greg and very interesting stuff!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Does the Communication of Attributes Really Contradict Divine and Human Nature?

Calvinists (and Roman Catholics too!) continuously complain that the Lutheran doctrine of the communication of attributes contradicts God's nature (who is utterly separate from all created things) and human nature (which is finite and cannot bear the total reception of the divine life). I would argue that this is false, and that, in fact, the communication of attributes (most notably the genus majestaticum) fulfill the essence of God and humanity.

First, Christians confess that God is by nature self-communicating. He is so because he is constituted by his life as Trinity. God the Father possess the fullness of infinite divine glory and therefore is capable of giving all of it in the form of begetting of the Son. The Son is capable to returning all of it to the Father in the procession of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore in God's very nature to communicate himself. He therefore properly expresses his nature in the communication of his glory to the humanity of Jesus.

In the same way, because God is by nature self-giving and communicating, he makes a world. He does so as a pure gift. In the case of humans, he makes them free receivers of his self-giving. He created them originally as receptive to his goodness in perfect faith. Hence, to be receptive is the essence of humanity. Christ's humanity which receives the fullness of divine glory does not contradict its nature, but merely deepens and fulfills what it means to be human- that receiver of God's own self-communicating goodness. Christ restores to humanity its original role as receptive to God's goodness and fulfills it.

Hence, both the communication of the divine glory and the reception of it by Christ's humanity fulfill the original divine-human relationship, they do not contradict it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

But isn't it all Grace?

Interesting discussion here on the 19th century German Catholic Theologian, Johann Adam Mohler:

Mohler is known for melding Romanticism, German Idealism, and old-school Baroque Catholicism into a theology. Nonetheless, he didn't write a system. He mainly wrote on the doctrine of the Church itself. His most famous work was called Symbolik or Symbolism (auf English), where he compared the Lutheran and Reformed confessional writing with those of the Catholic Church.

His theory is that Protestants in general are wrong mainly because they don't understand the state of Adam and Eve before the Fall. Now, that's an interesting angle! Nevertheless, before we explore his interpretation, I need to do some explaining as to how Catholics think about these things (particularly for a mostly Lutheran audience).

Catholics distinguish between what they refer to as "Grace" and "Nature." Nature is the givenness of creation. It's what a creature just is on its own without any divine help or intervention. In a sense, God sort of owes the creature to be what it is. God is a designing subject and he makes a world that will be like himself so that he can desire it along with himself. He gives the world a certain integrity in its desirability that he wouldn't eliminate or transverse. In fact, he really ultimately can't, because it's just not what he wants to do.

Then there's "Grace." Grace is not exactly divine favor like it is in the NT (though it certainly involves favor), but rather it's a capacity which God alone bestows that helps creatures transcend their own nature. God made nature to be "ordered" towards grace. For example, he made human being with certain divinely infused attributes that would help them to relate to God. Now, although it is the goal of human beings to relate to God, it isn't owed to them to do so and it's not naturally part of their capacity.

This gets us back to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve, according to Catholicism, didn't naturally have the capacity to relate to God. Rather, God gave it to them as a grace, that is, he gave them a bunch of supernaturally infused qualities. Eventually they would have earned enough merit by using them in order to ascend into heaven and be with him, participating in his act of self-enjoyment and knowledge.
Why do they suggest this about Adam and Eve's natural capacities? Because according to their thinking if Adam and Eve had naturally been able to relate to God, then the Fall would have actually damaged their nature. If that's the case, then God would be unjust for having taken something away from them, something that he owed to them, that is, the integrity of their nature. Instead, he took away from them after the Fall what he never really had to give in the first place, grace. Secondly, if human being naturally would have been able to merit their beatification, then they would naturally been able to make a claim on God regarding salvation. In other words, if you believe that free will + merit+ grace= salvation, then getting ride of the grace part will take away your fail safe mechanism that is supposed to guard divine sovereignty and militate against Pelagianism.

The Reformers all rejected this way of thinking. They claimed that human beings prior to the Fall had naturally been able to relate to God. Consequently, the Fall really had damaged human nature and humans were radically dependent on God for their existence. God, at the end of the day, didn't owe human being anything- even the integrity of their nature.

So, Mohler claims, this shows why Protestantism is messed up. It means that human beings can never be touched by the grace of God as he understands it. They either don't need it (before the Fall) or they are imputed with Christ's righteousness, and therefore don't need it in the era of redemption (Mohler apparently doesn't get the distinction between justificaiton and sanctification, but I've known many Catholics who don't understand Reformation teaching on this point). This ultimately means that human beings will never be able to transcend themselves. They will always be stuck with their own finitude and justification will become a sort of "external mechanism" as he puts it.
I've read some this before in Henri De Lubac's book Augustunianism in Modern Thought. De Lubac takes it a step further and suggests that if human being could actually naturally relate to God prior to the Fall, then it would mean that they could naturally control God by their merit. Grace means that God allows them to make a claim on him by meritorious behavior, but at the end of the day, it's all dependent on God.

The amusing thing about all this is that none of these guys get that their critiques only work if you assume the premises of Catholic thought: 1. Humans can merit things. I.e. they can lay some sort of claim on God. 2. Nature itself is a given- that is, that much is owed to us, etc.

Read Luther's Small and Large Catechisms. Everything is grace- that is, grace defined as divine favor. Creation isn't something that God had to do (though I don't think that De Lubac or Mohler want to say that exactly), it's a perpetual gift. God doesn't have to continue sustain creation. Everything is a perpetual gift. The natural response to God, Luther tells us, is the receptivity and gratitude of faith. This is true of our faith in God the creator and God the redeemer. Faith in Christ actually continuously receives a new creation in Word and sacrament.

So, with Luther, the whole distinction of grace and nature breaks down. Everything is grace, both new creation and old creation. Our sin is that in our unbelief we are unreceptive to it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Top 10 Theologians List

I thought an interesting exercise might be to list my favorite theologians. After about the first 5, I don't think I could put an order to them according to degrees of favorability. Also, bear in mind that saying that I like them does not mean I agree with everything they say.

1. Martin Luther
2. Johann Gerhard
3. Martin Chemnitz
4. Franz Pieper
5. Philipp Melanchthon
6. Oswald Bayer
7. C. F. W. Walther
8. Herman Sasse
9. Gustaf Wingren
10. Gerhard Forde

Yes, you got it, Gehard does trumph Chemnitz. But not by much. Overall, I really, really like both Examination of the Council of Trent (particularly Part 1) and The Two Natures in Christ as pretty much as I do the Loci Communes Theologici of Gerhard. Confessio Catholica (to the extent I have read it) is not as good as Chemnitz on Trent. Nevertheless, Gerhard's typological reading of Scripture is very appealing to me and that puts him over the top.

I might also point out that I really do like and have been strongly influenced by both Charles Potterfield Krauth and also (for all his major flaws) Werner Elert. But I wouldn't raise them to the level of the top 10.

Perhaps some of you might like to add your own lists?

Update: Some people have asked me if this about Lutheran theologians or do non-Lutheran theologians count as well?  Couple of things.  First, it's anyone you like, it doesn't matter whether or not they're Lutheran.  Secondly, it's who you enjoy most, not who you consider the most significant historically.  Obviously, within the wider context of the history of Christian thought Cyril or Athanasius is a much greater theologian that C. F. W. Walther (dare I say it!).

Among non-Lutheran theologians I like and have found very influential I list the following in no particular order:

1. Hans Urs von Balthasar 
2. Irenaeus of Lyons
3. Cyril of Alexandria 
4. Peter Leithart
5. N. T. Wright
6. Athanasius of Alexandria
7. Augustine of Hippo
8. Anselm of Canterbury
9. John of Damascus
10. The Cappadocian Fathers (yes, I know, there's three of them.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lutheranism and the Classics Conference

Please take a look at this:

I would encourage any of you interested in this subject (particularly those interested in the interaction between the Humanist tradition and the Reformation or in Lutheranism and higher education's comitment to the liberal arts) to attend this conference.

It should be very interesting. I myself will be attending and I discovered yesterday that I will presiding at one of the sessions, though I don't know which one yet.

It's well worth checking out.

The Name of Jesus.

More from the 4th chapter of the book:

As we know from the inspired Scriptures the name of "Jesus" was given to him by God.  In addition, he was revealed to be and designated as God’s Christ by his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:3).  Because the name “Jesus Christ” is therefore divinely sanctioned, it is worthy and necessary to explain insofar as it is the task of dogmatic theology to give expression to all that the Word of God has sanctioned.  As we shall see, the name of Jesus reveals his office and person as the anointed God-man who is the redeemer of the whole creation.

In the historical accounts of the birth of Jesus that we possess from the New Testament[1] both of Jesus’ human parents are given specific instructions to name him “Jesus” (Mt 1:21, Lk 1:33).  Jesus means “God is our salvation”[2] and this fact is reinforced in St. Matthew’s account by the angel’s statement to Joseph: “. . . give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21, Emphasis added).  In the next verse, he is also called “God with us” (v. 22).  Matthew cites one of the messianic texts in Isaiah, which we examined earlier, which promises redemption through the child born of a virgin (Isa 7:14).[3]  “God with us” as we have examined in our discussion of the kavod/Angel of YHWH in the Old Testament, is highly suggestive of God’s own special presence, but also his saving presence.  His saving presence goes ahead of Israel into the land as the Angel of YHWH and conquerors (Exod 32, Josh 5).  This makes sense in the context of the Gospels, because Jesus’ proclamation is primarily of God’s kingdom and his own work in establishing it.  Much like the Angel of God’s presence, (who was the pre-incarnate Christ) who established Israel in their temporal kingdom, so Jesus will lead a new exodus and establish the Church in a heavenly kingdom (Heb 2-3).  He can do this because he is “God with us” and “God our salvation.”  The fact that “Jesus” is simply the Greek form of “Joshua”[4] also draws these connections to conquest and exodus.  As Johann Gerhard notes, Joshua is a type of Christ, who was the earthly agent of the conquest of the land of Palestine (much like the Angel of YHWH was the heavenly agent).  He thereby prefigures Christ's victory and the Church's exodus into eternal kingdom of heaven (Heb 2-3).[5]

The name “Christ” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah” and means anointed one.[6]  As Gerhard notes, the “anointing” that the Christ received was prefigured by the kings and priest of the Old Testament.[7]  In that the Messiah, as we have observed in our section on the Old Testament, was to be a fulfillment of all the mediators of the Old Testament, his is alone and most truly the anointed one which they all point to.  Hence, he is often referred to as simply the “anointed one” (Ps 2:2, Isa 53:1, Dan 9:25).  Christ himself was not anointed with physical oil, but was anointed with the “oil of gladness” (take from Psalm 45:7 and applied directly to Jesus in Hebrews 1:9), that is, according to Gerhard, the Holy Spirit (which he possesses without measure (Jn 3:34) and also the fullness of divine glory which Christ possesses according to his human nature (Mt. 28:18, Col 2:3, v. 9).[8] 

This interpretation is not a kind of typological-prophetic excess on Gerhard’s part.  First, as we observed in the chapter one, the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings received an anointing with oil in order to imitation the divine kavod.  This also accounts for the high priest’s gold garb.  All of these figures as we saw represented a unity between God and Israel/humanity.  They represented the unity of God and humanity in the law and promise of the covenants.  Therefore, they all properly prefigured Christ who is the true fulfillment of God binding himself to humanity and redeeming it. 

Secondly, these two anointing are directly revealed in the Gospel record of Christ in two separate and important coronation scenes. First, at his baptism, Jesus is visibly anointed with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.  The words “you are my son” bearing much similarity to Psalm 2 (which is about the royal coronation and anointing of the David and his descendants, as it prefigures the anointing of the Messiah) are echoed in the speech. This anointing with the Holy Spirit was dramatically show at Christ’s baptism (which as we have shown in chapter two, demonstrates his office as priest and king), though this was not the first time that Christ received the Holy Spirit.  As the gospels suggest, Christ’s baptism is merely his public coronation, it does not bestow upon him what he did not previous have, anymore than a prince receives what he did not previous have by right of birth at his coronation.  As the second person of the Trinity, Christ is also a source of the Holy Spirit’s procession (Gal 4:6).  According to his humanity, Christ possessed the Holy Spirit from the moment of his conception, which occurred by power of the Spirit (Mt 1:18, Lk 1:35).  Hence the Holy Spirit anointed Christ from his conception because he is the agent and mediator of the Incarnation.  He united Christ’s divinity to his humanity and breathed divine life and enlightenment into Christ’s humanity (Isa 11:2, 61:1, Lk 4:16-21). 

Christ's second coronation in which the content of his anointing is revealed is the transfiguration (Mt 17:1-9, Mk 9:2-8, Lk 9:28-36). God repeats the sonship language of the coronation Psalm in transfiguration.  In the same event, Jesus manifests in his flesh his glory as the Son of God.  He is after all, accompanied by the two figures (Elijah and Moses) who had theophanies on mountains in the Old Testament. Moses saw the divine kavod, Elijah hears the divine Word.  Both God's Word and glory are, as we have seen, hypostatized by the Old Testament authors and identified with Jesus by the New Testament authors.  There is no suggestion, Simon Gathercole notes,[9] that Jesus' glory with which he is illuminated is in some sense borrowed.  It is fully communicated to his flesh.  The admonition "listen to him" identifies the word of Jesus with the Word of God that Elijah heard.  This is then a revelation of Christ's anointing with the fullness of divine glory in that the presence of Jesus' humanity is God's own presence.  His human word is Gods' own Word. 

In that he is anointed with the "oil of gladness," he is an embodiment of the gospel itself.  The gospel is the unilateral self-donation of God.  It is the good news that God in Christ has totally and completely donated himself to sinful humanity.  He holds nothing of himself back, but gives himself fully to humanity in act of total self-communication.  In this he is also the image of redeemed humanity.  Humanity was made to receive God's own eternal rest (Heb 2-3).  Humanity is made to in the end receive God's own glory (Rom 8:30) and partakers in the divine nature (1 Pt 1:4).

For this reason, the name of “Jesus Christ” used throughout the New Testament properly summarizes the person and work of Christ. Christ is “Jesus,” that is, God come in the flesh to be our savior.  He is “Christ” the “anointed one” who is because of the unity of his person is anointed with the Holy Spirit and fullness of divine glory, in order that he might fulfill the offices of all the anointed ones of the Old Testament as the true prophet, priest and king. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Breaking News: Michael Root Became Roman Catholic

Completely shocking news: Michael Root has become Catholic as of this weekend:

I know, I know- it's way shocking.

When some one goes around saying things like "the law is a way to actualize our relationship with God" or "the theology of the cross isn't really central to Luther's theology" or "there's no difference between Luther and Aquinas on justification" or "Wow, things are bad in the ELCA- you know what would fix it? Having the Pope arbitrate everything"- it's incredibly hard to see why they would become Roman Catholic.

I'm actually quite pleased about the news. Not because I want Dr. Root to start believing in false doctrine (he's already believed in false doctrine for years and this doesn't really change that)-but rather Root has been Roman Catholic in his theology for some time and it's rather unfortunate that he went around saying that he was a loyal Lutheran and running a Lutheran seminary when he really believed in Thomism. It's also unfortunate that he was one of the architects of them getting involved with JDDJ and with the CCM (their ill-thought out adventure with pulpit fellowship with the Episcopalians). In any case, they'd probably have done all that stuff without him.

I might also add, that perhaps some fellow Missourian (who will go unnamed) who thought that he and his colleague David Yeago, were a sign of some progress in the ELCA just because they said positive things about the law, might want to rethink their positions. In fact, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, these gentlemen do not merely think that the law has a positive place in the Christian life, (as I and every other red-blooded confessional Lutheran also believes) but that it actually is the basis of the divine-human relationship. The gospel is good for them essentially because it makes the law work as a way of relating to God. The gospel for them is not the last word (as it must be!).

We can see the end results. If the center of the Christian faith is the law, who has the most and best defined law? Bingo. I need say no more.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Emergent Church: Boring Heresy.

I was listening to Issues, etc. this morning.  There was an older piece with Chris Rosebrough.  Apparently they had some interview with Brian Mclaren and they were looking for Rosebrough's critique.  I'll have to listen to the McLaren interview.

Even though I'm going to listen to the interview, I'm already certain it might be a bit boring.  The reason why I suspect this is that the Emergent Church is a boring heresy.  

Many heresies are pretty interesting for the same reason that Lord of the Rings is.  They create entire worlds out of thin air.  Mormonism has a whole fake history of pre-Columbian America.  David Koresh had a whole weird interpretation of the Bible which he got from rabbis he met at the temple mount.  The Nation of Islam has some bizarre theory about the origin of the earth that can be traced back to a Swedish science-fiction novel from the 20s. 

I've been hearing people talk about the Emergent Church since the early 2000s and I did read McLaren's book last year.  Frankly I find the whole thing dull.  
I mean, here's the deal.  As best as I can figure out, they basically want to have evangelical style church-polity and worship with mainline Protestant content.  

Yeah, that's right.  That's all it is.

Most of what McLaren talks about is law-based pleads about inclusiveness and the need for environmental sensitivity and for "peace and justice."  It's all just a lot of recycled stuff that I've heard in a million ELCA sermons down through the years.  Also, from what I know, they also have praise bands and stuff, and their polity tends to be independent churches.  

Also in the mainline column, McLaren kind of wants to be ecumenical in his book.  He tries to get a little bit of every denomination in there as if they could really all be reconciled.  He can't really think of anything he likes about Calvinists, so he says they have a lot self-confidence and a good work ethic.  (As a side note, he also has an appallingly bad understanding of Church history and biblical exegesis.  He says nothing about Lutherans (interestingly enough).  He doesn't understand Catholicism, Anglicanism or Eastern Orthodoxy very well either.)

He reminds me of a mainline pastors in other ways.  For one thing, McLaren likes to talks in poetic, vague generalizations.  This is something I've noticed about mainline Protestant theologians and pastors as well.  They do this, I think, to mask how banal what their talking about is.
For example, in an average mainline Protestant sermon, you'll hear the pastor say or even yell things (for dramatic effect) like "we're crying out Lord, we're crying out for peace and justice." What does "peace and justice" really mean in the concrete?  Well, they want more and more generous federal entitlements.  When we get more and more generous federal entitlements, then the kingdom will come.  That's about it.  
This isn't much of a substitute for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead and the renewal of all creation.  So, they have to make it sound more beautiful and poetic than it is.

So, McLaren does the same thing.  His message of mainline theology with evangelical style is kind of boring.  It works for essentially sociological reasons.  It appeals to people who grew up in mega churches, but don't buy creedal orthodoxy anymore or think that there has to be more left-leaning stuff in the church's message to make it "relevant."  So because he's just fulfilling a sociological need for a particular demographic that needs something to do Sunday mornings, he has to make all sound really profound and deep by being vague.  

But at the end of the day, it's actually pretty dull.  

Update: My wife points out to me that many of them also mix in various other liturgical practices such as burning incense and doing liturgical dance.  So it's not all praise music.  I stand corrected.  I think my basic point stands.  

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why There Will Never be a So-Called "Moderate" Lutheran Denomination.

Good discussion here by Dr. Martin Noland here about the fate of the "Moderate" Lutherans:

Luthercore and LCMC want to create a "moderate" Lutheran denomination. By "moderate" we mean that they want to buy into enough of the modernist metanarrative so that upper-middle class whites from either coast wouldn't laugh at them at dinner parties, while at the same time being able to say the Creed with a straight face.

It's not going to work and I'll tell you why.

Moderate Church-bodies are like religiously mixed marriages. Eventually one person is going to convert to the other person's religion- probably the woman's (this is my wife's theory). The problem is that their theology is too unstable. I know this having previously been one. So, if your one sort of a conservative leaning moderates, you'll probably eventually feel you're being inconsistent or have a underling sense of it in the first place, and you'll want to join a Church-body that is more consistently confessional (or at least gives lip-service to it). You'll also eventually get annoyed with having to endure social justice sermon sunday after sunday. I know a number of people who I went to seminary with who are trying t get into the LCMS or convince their congregations to join. I told one female pastor that I went to seminary with that I joined the LCMS. She said that she wished that she could also join, but didn't want to lose her job. These people were always generally pretty conservative. It's just a matter of consistency. Or, on the other hand, you'll eventually buy the far-left arguments and start being consistent in that way. If you don't believe in an inerrant Bible, then why believe the strictures against homosexuality are valid but not the ones about the different roles assigned to men and women? Moderate friends of mine who were against homosexuality in the late 90s are now for it. If you don't start being consistently liberal about these things then probably your children will. It's only too easy in this culture after all. That's why LCMC or Luthercore will never work.

Either their members will drift towards LCMS (or maybe a mega church or something) or their children will allow for gay marriage and ordination, and wear rainbow vestments and have signs saying "Everyone Welcome" [i.e. everyone but orthodox Christians] outside their churches, which they'll put up before going to the pro-abortion, pro-gay, anti-[insert current war started by a Republican administration] parade on earth day and/or national evolution awareness day.

It's just too unstable a theological mix.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Totus Iustus- Totus Peccator: It's Not just about Justification

When Luther talks about justification (that is, forensic justification) he is famous for describing us as "totus iustus" (totally just) and "totus peccator" (total sinner). Even though most Roman Catholics I talk to find this completely mind-blowing (for some reason), the majority of Lutheran I talk to seem to think this make sense and it's pretty simple. Empirically, as I live my life, I can't really obey the law completely. My being and nature are utterly corrupted by sin. They're not so corrupted by sin that I'm not human anymore. But they are so corrupted that I can't have a righteous status before God by my own efforts. Because of this, Jesus imputes his righteousness to me and I receive it by faith. So, I'm just because of Jesus' righteousness, and I'm sinful, because in and of myself I never really get better until temporal death.

Now, this doesn't mean that according to how I experience myself or how other experience me I don't get better. As Luther notes in the Galatians commentary (1531), because the Holy Spirit moves me towards better behaviors, people will and I myself will notice that I give into sin less easily, and am more virtuous, even if not perfect. At one point he gives the example of a man who prone to anger. He will not stop getting angry, but the Holy Spirit will change his heart so that he is simply less prone to it. On this level, one could describe the human person with faith as being partim-partim. Part sinner- part saint. This is of course not before God (coram deo), but before the eyes of the world (coram mundo). Before God, my status is always the same this sin of temporal death- all my good works are but dirty rages.

This last point brings up how sanctification works for Luther coram dei. Sin, as Luther notes (in the same commentary) is not something you remove like paint from a wall. Consequently, faith both sanctifies us, and yet at the same time, by definition, makes us unsanctified.

Let me explain what I mean on this point.

Faith trusts in God's Word and therefore sanctifies us. As Paul says, that which is not faith is sin (Rom 14:23). The paradox for Luther is that to believe and trust in God's Word is to believe and trust that I am a sinner. In that sense, I am made righteous in believing I am unrighteous. The more I believe that I am unrighteous, the more I become righteous. The more I believe I am unrighteous, the more I will trust in the gospel as a remedy for unrighteousness.

Luther argues this way to a certain extent in the Romans commentary (1516- though this is in my estimation pre-Reformation it still has many good insights), and makes statement in this regard in Galatians as well (1531).

Again, this doesn't mean that sanctification doesn't have a partim-partim dimension to it coram mundo. Coram deo, though, we must insist with Luther, that sanctification is always a paradox. As our righteousness increases, our sinful status does as well.

In temporal death, our sinful status and nature comes to its omega point. God completely destroys us in judgment, while re-creating us and thereby sanctifying us wholly. This the final goal of our simul status.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Osiander Revisited.

In light of Olli-Pekka Vainio's book on justification, I've been rethinking the Osianderian controversy. I do think that Osiander was misunderstood-this does not mean that he was not a heretic. He most certainly was. The issue is what sort of heretic he was. I think I have a handle on his position better from Vainio's book.  

Here's how I interpret Osiander:

1. In Realism, like that of Augustine and Aquinas, being possesses an inherent status before God. God is a desiring subject (hence their doctrine of the Trinity!) and therefore he must recognize being as good, since he is good. Being is goodness and vice versa.  

2. Hence the claim of Augustine, Anselm, Lombard and Aquinas regarding the mediatorship of Christ-namely (contra the Formula of Concord) that he is mediator according to his humanity alone. Christ, as a human being, is given the ability through his union with the Logos to make a claim on God (so to speak). The hypostatic union is essentially construed as a way of giving the humanity the ability to merit something from God. Humanity and therefore created being can really do this, because, possessing inherent being and goodness, it can really exist in a way that is desirable to the divine desiring subject. This is conceptualized via Aquinas' description of Christ with a superabundance of created grace.  

3. Nominalism disrupts concept of the divine-human relationship. God is an absolute will, he is not a desiring subject. Creaturely being lays no claim of status before him. It is only capable of doing so to the extent that he chooses to allow it to do so- hence the concept of the "pactum" whereby God agrees to value created beings who do "what is within them."  

4. Luther as a Nominalist comes to this insight in the so-called Reformation breakthrough: Created being cannot lay a claim on God (self-justification). Hence the only thing that could lay a claim on God would be God himself. Therefore, the "righteousness of God" present in Christ is the only thing that can avail as righteousness before God. Furthermore, since redemption happens because of what Jesus the man does, the Cyrilian Christology comes back in Luther in a big way. Luther says this again and again against Zwingli: only God's death could save us. Only infinite divine being and righteousness present in the human Jesus could counter-balance infinite divine wrath. The divine righteousness of God avails for believers because it is active in, under, and with the activity of the man Jesus. This is the logical consequence of Nominalism's rejection that created being can lay a claim on God.  

5. Osiander makes sense in light of his relationship to the previous tradition. He holds to the old Leonine Christology (which divides the person of Chirst), while buying into the Luther's claim that only divine righteousness could avail before God. Therefore he makes the claim that Jesus the man died and released (so to speak) the possibility that infinite divine righteousness would dwell in us and thereby justify us. 

6. For Osiander, Christ the man died and that forgave us. That creates the possibility that we will gain through faith, the infinite divine righteousness, which is Christ's only according to his divine nature. He accepts the premise that Christ's humanity does one thing and his divinity another thing. He does not accept the communication of attributes. Therefore he distorts Luther's position because it does not take into account that the cross is the place where the uncreated divine righteousness actualizes itself as a redemptive reality in, under, and with the humanity of Jesus.  

7. Therefore, Osiander's actual heresy was to deny the communication of attributes. He did not claim that unio mystica resulting in works was our righteousness before God. He claimed that the divine righteousness present in unio mystica made us pleasing to God- but our own human, created works could not make us pleasing to God. Melanchthon and Chemnitz misconstrued this to mean that sanctification was the basis of justification. Hence by the time of the Formula of Concord, Osiander was remembered as making justification dependent on sanctification. But this wasn't his position. It was the the divine righteousness dwelling in us, rather than the cross made us righteous before God. The man Jesus certainly made justification possible by rendering satisfaction for sins, but it was God dwelling in us that God himself recognized as righteousness. "Righteousness" is a predicate of God's being alone. Therefore he denied the genus apotelesmaticum and the genus maiestaticum. Of course, he also did falsely conflate unio mystica and justification, but that is something of a side issue.  

8. This makes him no less a heretic and no less guilty for corrupting the faith. Nonetheless, in a different manner than historically remembered.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Luther on Faith and Reason: A Primer

Those who regularly read this blog might remember back to the acrimonious debate over objective justification, I was at that time accused by my opponents of rationalism.  Specifically, I was accused on this for 1) Figuring out the meaning of Hebrew and Greek words in context and drawing out theological implications from them.  2) Insisting that one can discern doctrines (such as the Trinity) from inference (Remember I pointed to Gerhard remarks in the Confessio Catholica- I'd also point to Chemnitz's 5th kind of tradition in Pt. 1 of Examination of the Council of Trent.  Chemnitz states that the fifth valid form of tradition are truths derived from Scripture by inference.  It's as plain as day.  That's the first sentence).

Needless to say, I don't consider my position to be rationalistic.  Nevertheless, I've also noticed a tendency among people who consider themselves to be Confessional Lutherans to merely be anti-intellectual and then claim to be following Luther by "placing faith above reason."  For that reason, I think it's important to have a discussion about what faith and reason are, and how they relate to one another.  

To do this, we have to pay attention to several important distinctions that Luther makes: 1) The distinction of that which is above us and that which is below us.  2) The proper distinction between law and gospel, and their function in the Christian's life.  3) The distinction between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross.

1. Contradictory statements in Luther about reason: As Oswald Bayer points out, Luther states two contradictory things about about reason.  First he calls reason a "whore" or the "Devil's whore."  Secondly he calls it "something divine."  These statements, I will argue are not actually contradictory, what they do is to describe two different horizon within which human reason operates.

2. What is reason?  In the 16th century, as you will recall, the intellectual tradition that Luther operated in was heavily influenced by Platonism and also (especially) Aristotlianism.  To make a long story short, both traditions essentially thought of the human subject as a microcosm of the macrocosm.  In other words, there was a certain structure of being presented in created order which the human mind reflected.  This is what made the world knowable.  Since the human subject participated in these structures intellectually, the structure of the world was discernible by its similitude to the human subject's intellect.

We can observe this sort of thinking in Melanchthon and Gerhard.  Gerhard and Melanchthon agree that the human mind possesses in inner light that is something of a remnant of the imago dei.  Luther agrees in his Disputation Concerning Man (1536).  Human rationality, he states, was confirmed after the Fall, not destroyed.  This inner light of reason is still good for discerning earthly goods in two forms.  First, being able to figure out the structure of creation in the form of science and technology.  And two, making ethical decisions and knowing the law.  Of course both of these is weakened by sin, but nevertheless, as earthly things go, reason is a pretty good guide.

3. Reason= Law: As a result, Luther identifies reason with law.  This can be observed in a number of writings, not least the Heidelberg Disputation and How Christians Should Regard Moses.  Reason is properly identified with law because it's about discerning and conforming to the structure of the world as God has made it.  Of course, one needs God's clarification in the form of the revelation of things like the Ten Commandment after the Fall- but nonetheless, the Ten Commandments are nothing but a condensation of what everybody knows in their heart-of-hearts.  

4. Where reason goes wrong: As Luther states in Bondage of the Will, the human person exists with two horizons: things below us and things above us.  As we have seen, reason is good when it is applied to things below us.  It's part of the human vocation in creation from Genesis 1 onwards, that is, to wisely govern the earth.  Reason runs into problems though when it is applied to things above us, where God is sovereign and we are not.  This happens in two ways.

A. Reason can lead to self-justification: In the Heidelberg Disputation, Luther distinguishes between two sorts of theologians: of the cross and of glory.  The theologian of glory uses his or her reason to discern God through is power, wisdom and goodness in the world.  Luther states that this is perfectly possible- he isn't Karl Barth- and cites Romans 1 here.  The problem with this is that God as he is reflected in the world is inherently law.  In other words, God is good and is operative in the structures of creation as law.  If one then tries to interact with him through these structures as a sinner, it will only lead to self-justification.  God will seem holy and distant.  You small and unholy.  Hence, in order to bridge this gap, one will enter into a project of self-justification in order to become like God in order to force God to recognize you as being just.  This ignores that God has hidden himself in suffering and the cross and therefore demands faith in that hidden, gracious presence made manifest in the flesh of Jesus.  Hence, because reason is law, it is bad when applied to things above us because made us self-justify and ignore God's grace and promises.

B. Reason can misfire when it limits God:  The second difficulty with reason when it is applied to things above us is that it can misfire.  This was the problem with Zwingli and the rest of the Reformed tradition.  In other words, reason is meant to operate within the limited structures of creation.  Reason is capable of discerning the probability of something being true or untrue because it is able to certain extent discern the limited possibilities of created entities.  Thereby it is able to ascertain with a certain probability true and possible outcomes or whether proposition X is probable or not.  

With God, this can't work because as an infinite being he has no limitations.  Here Luther is true to his training in Nominalism.  Nominalism held that because God is infinite and sovereign, you can't limit God to any set of possibilities a prior.  The only reliable guide to discovering what God would or wouldn't do is to look at what God promised to do.  If God promised to make Jesus flesh present the Eucharist, then it would be.  If he said that he was going to make a man born of a Virgin, then he sure as heck was going to do it.  There was no limitations that one could put on God and thereby predict what he would or wouldn't do.  Hence Zwingli's insistence that God wouldn't make Jesus present in the Eucharist was silly.  It was applying this worldly, limiting structure of reason to the wrong horizon, that is, the horizon of divine-human interaction.  

Therefore, in both cases, reason is problematic when applied to the faith not because we shouldn't think about the articles of the faith, but because it destroys or limits God's promises.  It does this by 1. Insisting on interacting with God on the basis of law.  2. By discounting God's promises by inappropriately placing limitations on what God can or can't do.  

5. The Reason of Faith: As we have seen, temporal reason cannot be applied to God's promises.  Nevertheless, it does not mean that faith itself does not have a kind of rationality unto itself.  Luther, with the early Christian tradition, called this the "analogy of faith."  That is, it is claimed (based on a rather poor interpretation of Romans 12:6- though there are other texts we can point to) that the articles of the faith represent a kind of inner, coherent system of truth.  This system of truth cannot be worked out so that there are no antinomies left over (i.e. predestination vs. the universal will of salvation), but there is a particular rationality to them.  Much as in the world the structure of the human mind and its similitude to the structures of creation provides basic principles of this worldly reason, so the clear statements of Scripture centered on the gospel (Sedes Doctrinae) provide the basic axiomatic structure of the reason of faith.

Doctrine therefore can be derived via inference from clear statements of Scripture and discerning the implications of those statement in light of the total shape of the faith (the Lutheran scholastics called this the "type of the faith").  Inference works when it simply draws out the implications of certain statements of the Bible.  If it works in such a way that contradicts other clear statements of Scripture (for example, when, as later Lutherans would point out, the Reformed ignore all the statement regarding universal desire of God for salvation on the basis of the Bible's statement about predestination) then it is invalid.  We can observe this in Bondage of the Will when Luther distinguishes between the preached God, who does not desire the death of the sinner and the God of law, hiddenness and wrath who certainly does.  Both exist based on the implication of statements made in Scripture- the Bible says God hates sinner, the Bible say God loves them.  Both statements are within God's own reason coherent, but how they are cannot be know by humans this side of eternity.

One can similarly point to the doctrine of the Trinity.  Although the words "one substance, three persons" never appears in the Bible (neither does the word "Trinity") the doctrine can be inferred from the fact that 1) God repeatedly states that he is one 2) Jesus says God the Father is God 3) Jesus says that he himself is God  and that he is one with the Father 3) Paul says that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Son  5) Jesus and the whole Bible say that the Holy Spirit is God.  Put these clear statements together and you infer "one substance, three persons"-as well as the subsisting relations between the person- even though Bible technically never uses the Nicene formula. 

Luther's own exegetical practice suggests this.  In The Last Words of David, he infers that certain texts are Trinitarian that do not on their surface appear to be Trinitarian.  He can do this because he has other clear propositional statements elsewhere in the Bible that distinguish between persons within the one God on his side.  Since God is the author of Scripture, his statements, which are self-consistent, can be used according to the analogy of faith infer the presence of the Trinity in other texts that do not immediately appear to be Trinitarian.  Hence the Old Testament is to be read as a fully Trinitarian text, although the doctrine is technically never directly spelled out there.

In Luther's later life he wrote several interesting pieces about this- namely, the Disputation Concerning the Word made Flesh (1535) and the Disputation Concerning Man (1536).

In both of these pieces, he argues that faith and temporal reason possess their own separate and perfectly valid sets of rationality and language.  For example, as temporal reason and relations go, humans are properly defined  "Rational Animals" as Aristotle had said.  As they relate to God, humans are defined by their receptivity to God self-giving.  Hence the proper theological definition of humans is "Justified by faith."

In the same way, regarding the kingdom of the world, that is, that which is below us, "Man" means something that is "not God"- just as God means something that is "Not Man."  In the language of faith, they mean something else.  Though the words obvious have an analogical similitude to how they are used outside the language of faith (Jesus is not some other species of human), they are nevertheless redefined when they are placed in a new relationship to one another in Christ.  So, now, in Christ, "Man" means something which "is God" and vice versa.  

In a sense, we can again observe the problem with the Reformed position.  The Reformed assume that human reason can be projected onto God.  It also assumes that the signification of what words mean in ordinary temporal language are what they mean in relation to Christ.  Hence they run into all sorts of problems.  They define humanity a prior according to human reason and word usage.  Then they define God in the same way.  Then the proceed to try to put them together.   This is a disaster.  It's for this reason that they come up with an concept of Incarnation that does really involve, well, Incarnation.

Hence, in order to summarize: For Luther reason is problematic when applied to faith not because we cannot use our minds or discern the meanings of words.  He often draws out implications from doctrinal statements of the Bible.  He and the rest of the earthly Lutheran tradition hold that we can discern doctrine from inference on the basis of the analogy of faith.  His difficulty with reason is 1) it leads to self-justification.  2.) It limits God in fulfilling his promises.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why non-Liturgical Worship Cannot be Lutheran.

In the last post, Boaz says that he can't see how contemporary worship contradicts Scripture and the Confessions. He also wonders if my insistence that it does isn't just a way of baptizing my own musical preferences.

First, I'll concede a point of Boaz's. I'm very biased against contemporary worship simply because it's in bad taste. It's irritating, loud, and the music sounds bad to me. When I was a teenager I never listened to rock. My first CD was Wagner. I actually watch the entire Ring cycle on public television with my father when I was in the 4th grade. I did get into rock music when I was in college, but less popular stuff. So you've got me. Part of the reason I don't like contemporary worship is that aesthetically it's kind of a turn off.

After conceding that point, I want to expand on some things I said earlier and make a larger case. Just because I admit that I'm naturally biased against it doesn't make it by default theologically correct. This is a logical fallacy known as "poisoning the well" (actually this fallacy is basis of most modern biblical scholarship, but that's another post- so I digress.)

I would put forth the following reasons why contemporary worship is inconsistent with Scripture and Confessions:

1. It promotes a false view of evangelism: Let's start by asking the question, why does anyone adopt contemporary worship? I would bet you 9 times out of 10 it's not because the 80 year German grandmas in your congregation can't bear to go to church one more Sunday without hearing an Boston or Eagles concert instead of the liturgy. It's always for the sake of evangelism (at least in the LCMS). The argument goes that the young folks (and I remember this argument, because I was one of them not very long ago) can't relate to the liturgy and in order to keep them we've got to relate to them through rock music. Usually this is accompanied with some sort of threat by the part of someone in the congregation that if we don't adopt this, then people will end up in Hell.

The first problem is that it actually never works. Often times congregations will literally lose people when they do this or their decline will persist. My parents' old church in Des Moines was an example. They made the 11:00 service the rock concert service in order to draw in the young families from the school or to keep them. When they started they had 120 kids going to the school. After 5 years of contemporary worship, they had 80.

In a sense, just on the basis of marketing, Lutheran shouldn't try to adopt these practices because they don't work for us. The Baptists will always do them better than us and if we send the message that we're no different than the Baptists, then why choose us over them? Secondly, you basically end up alienating people who are already loyal Lutherans- like my parents. Although faith is not a choice, where I go to church is a decision "below me" as Luther would put it.

The second point is that all this ultimately assumes an anthropology that we don't possess. Namely, that people are rational and autonomous beings who can "make their decision for Jesus." This was the whole premise of Revivalism, which comes out of Pietism. Since the Spirit doesn't effectively work faith through the mere proclamation of Word and sacrament, then you've got to somehow supplement it with a dog-and-pony show. Ultimately, it's about marketing. How can we influence people to make this decision? That's one of the reasons why all the televangelists end up getting in trouble. If the premise is that you have to manipulate people to get them to do the right thing (believe in Jesus), then you'll be tempted to manipulate them to do other things as well once you have that power over them.

Ultimately then, the move to contemporary worship is based on a desire for evangelism that contradicts the Confessional Lutheran concept of grace and free will. God predestines the elect and causes them to have faith through the Word and the sacraments. There is a set number of the elect. If we adopt contemporary worship, there will be the same number of people in heaven as there would be if we didn't. Hence, we should simply proclaim the Word and not worry about manipulating people into "making their decision for Jesus"

2. It promotes a false anthropology: Let's expand on the point I made earlier about the false concept of human powers after the Fall. Contemporary worship also promotes an idea that is common in the Mainline right now as well. The idea that practice makes perfect. In other words, by doing exciting, emotional worship, it will form us into a Christian community and make us better Christians. This is one of the reasons why Pastors in these congregations are thought of as "leaders" and not as "Ministers of the Word," that is, pastoral healers. "Leaders" direct us somewhere and therefore get us to do something. "Minister of the Word" gives us the goods of Christ's benefits which we receive passively.

In this contemporary scheme, the Pastor brings in the new worship program. It forms peoples emotions to be "on fire for God." Then he gives a kind of moralizing message so that they'll "effect real change in their community" or something. In other words, specific practices create faith and promote morals. By doing them, we become something.

Part of this is a bad doctrine of creation. The idea here is that we create ourselves by our actions. This makes us God and is in fact what the serpent promised in the garden of Eden- "eat this and become God." Also, bear in mind, this is precisely the idea that Luther rejected in Aristotle and the via moderna when he started the Reformation. We are God's objects through proclamation. He speaks us into existence as justified sinners via Word and Sacrament. We do not create ourselves by our actions.

3. It moves in the wrong direction!: Contemporary worship is praise worship. Praise worship moves the wrong direction. It moves from us to God. We read the silly and repetitive verses off the projector. We ascend by our praises to God. We move to God, God does not move to us.

The structure of liturgical worship is to opposite. It moves from God to us and back again. In Genesis 1, God speaks forth creation and therefore creation glorifies God in return. God's initiative prompts the return of praise. In liturgical worship, the Pastor speaks the words of grace and therefore frees the congregation to praise God. This back and forth is part of the structure of creation and new creation, as Revelation 4-5 suggest.

4. Non-liturgical worship is a break with the biblical and ecumenical heritage of the Lutheran Church: The Old Testament Church had liturgical worship. All churches had liturgical worship until the 17th century the "Holy Fairs" began to emerge in Northern Ireland and Scotland. These evolved into the American camp meetings and the modern church-growth style worship settings of modern Evangelicals.

The Formula of Concord states that we should not abandon any of the traditions of the Church unless they contradict the Scriptures. This is partially because they help maintain continuity with the Church-catholic (which is important if we don't want to be a sect), but also because they teach the faith even when we have faithless teachers.

A good example of this is during the Arian controversy. In spite of the fact that Arius and some other Bishops were teaching the faith incorrectly, a great many of the laity were still saved by the fact that the liturgy contained true expositions of the faith. Liturgy saves us from unskilled or heretical pastors and teachers. It promotes and preserves the faith.

Free-form worship can't do this because it is subject to the whim of any given church-leader that comes along. Instead of teaching the faith, it seeks to promote a sub-cognitive faith based on meaningless formulas that are repeated over and over again. It seeks to promote emotions that will manipulate people into doing things, not create real faith, which always integrates the total person, intellect and emotions. This is one of the reasons why when they do surveys in churches that have non-liturgical worship and church-growth techniques they without fail can't even correctly explain the Apostles Creed.

Boaz, I hope this answers your question. I invite comments of concern and clarification.

UPDATE: Boaz, I forgot about your question regarding why if contemporary worship has evangelical and Arminian implications, why liturgical worship wouldn't have Roman Catholic ones. Historically, Lutherans have purified the liturgy from Roman aspects. Namely, Luther got rid of the Eucharistic prayer and Flacius fought the Augsburg Interim which attempted to impose it again. The Eucharistic prayer assumes that humans take the initiative in coming to God in holy Communion and not the other way around. Hence the present ELCA adoption of it again is not acceptable, as historians like Oliver K. Olson have pointed out.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Interesting Video from Steadfast Lutherans.

Check this out:

1. I am deeply worry about the youth of our Church. I teach college age students and their lack of seriousness about theology (and also how little they know about it!) is disturbing. I think this is true of youth in our own denomination as well. I have no idea how to fix things so that they will take things seriously and know Christian doctrine. I'm frankly baffled.

2. On a side note, I like the graphic apparently taken from a "Law and Order" DVD collection. Luther, Sasse, and Walther I get. Rod Rosenbladt, I don't get. I've heard good things about the guy, but I've never read him. Nonetheless, I suspect that he doesn't rise to the level of the greatest Lutheran theologian of the 16th century (Luther), the greatest Lutheran theologian of the 19th century (Walther) and the greatest Lutheran theologian of the 20th century (Sasse). Just another side note, I'd say that Gerhard was the greatest of the 17th century, to the extent that I've read around that period, so they might have cut and pasted his face. I think a lot of people would agree with me on that. Chemnitz might also have been a good candidate- actually a better one than Gerhard! In any case, I can't think of anyone for the 18th century. It wasn't a really good century for us.

3. You might have chosen a better picture of Walther. The one they choose makes him look like one of the ghost from the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. Just saying.

Appreciating Walther and Pieper as Theologians.

When I was younger I didn't appreciate Walther and Pieper as theologians.  This was I think for two reasons.  The first was that for a time in high school, college, and graduate school, I held heretical beliefs.  When I became orthodox, I didn't appreciate them as much because I thought "well, yeah, that's right. But that's obvious.  It's like saying that we need air to breathe or water to drink, right?"  

The more I read around in the history of Lutheranism though, the more I appreciate the fact that I only think their particular interpretation of the tradition and the Scripture is obvious is due to their efforts at forcing out other alternatives.  Interacting with other Lutherans on the internet, even ones who are relatively conservative and claim to be confessional, it must also be born in mind that their are still many hostile to their theology.  These types tend to hail from the WELS or micro-synods, and are not greatly influential.  Nevertheless, it's important to recognize that either theologian is still unchallenged in conservative American Lutheran.

Hence, I would proudly call myself a Waltherian-Pieperian Lutheran.

Their three greatest contributions I would argue are in three areas:

1. Election- against the "in view of faith" position.  This still pretty much rules among lay people I've noticed.  Ironically, although they have fallen into other heresies, no one in the ELCA teaches this anymore as far as I can tell.  At least no major theologians.

2. Universal objective justification- Against the Iowa and Ohio Synods.  Later, Lenski and Reu, among others.

3. Church and Ministry- Against Loehe quasi-Roman Catholic position and the functionalism of the various Pietisms, Hofling and later the WELS.