Monday, November 29, 2010

The Apocalypse of Retribution.

My wife and I went to see Faster this weekend (yes, the one with the Rock).  A couple of interesting Christian themes, though I think that the basic theological worldview was a bit confused (I realize that this is shocking in light of the fact that it was a movie staring a former pro-wrestler).  

Anyways, the whole thing was your typical revenge fantasy.  I suspect that in honor-shame cultures without common-law constitutions these stories are less prevalent.  If someone made a movie about revenge in say, Afghanistan, people would probably say "yeah, so what?"  But in America, most of us know the Sermon on the Mount and believe in the Bill of Rights, and so the idea of just abandoning all that and taking people out is just not something we do.  Nevertheless, we secretly wish that it was that way, and so hence the genre.

One aspect of the film which was a little less ambiguous was the idea that forgiveness is necessary since otherwise there is simply an unending cycle of revenge.  This was balanced out with a pagan sense of violence and tragedy.  At certain points the Rock seems resolved to this violent and tragic nature of reality (like a Homeric hero).  When called on the phone by the son of one of his victims (who BTW, cut his brother's throat) he is informed that the young man is going to take revenge on him, much like he has taken revenge.  The Rock informs him "that's fine.  You do what you have to do."  The tragic, pagan drama of reality continues on and all we can do is play the role the Fates have assigned us.  Our end will be tragic whatever happens.  So just take the revenge that you have been assigned and then take your place in line so that revenge can happen to you.  

In other words, in this scenario, retribution never ends.  Also, retribution is never really just in an absolute sense.  By taking revenge and becoming the agent of justice from one perspective, there is yet another perspective within which one becomes a villain- simply to have justice exacted again.  This is an unending cycle.

This brings us to the Bible.  I do not consider it to be an accident that the first sacrifices (Cain and Abel) or the permission to kill animals in sacrifice (Genesis 9) are connected with the first murder and also the permission on God's part to allow judicial retribution.  

If we turn to Leviticus and Numbers, judicial killing stands in correspondence to sacrifice.  An eye is taken for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.  If we willfully sin, says God, we are to be killed, since God as the source of life is being rejected.  As a result, the removal of that life is the necessary consequence.  Unwilling or accidental sin can be met with bloody sacrifice- which is also nevertheless the removal life.  

Nonetheless, as the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, sacrifices could never actually wash away sin.  Neither, I might add, could civil retribution ever really take away sin and make things right again.  Yes, of course the government is a good and approved by God when it kills to maintain order in the civil society.  But this isn't really justice in the ultimate sense and it was never meant to be so by God (otherwise there would be no Hell!).  As we know, civil government can restrain sin, but really can't deal with it.  Although justice may be done in a relative sense coram mundo, coram deo the agent of death and retribution is always a guilty as the victim.  Eventually in his death (however that takes place) he too will be the object of divine retribution because "the wages of sin is death."

In both the cases of sacrifice and political retribution, things are essentially the same.  Both the victim and the executioner/priest are equally unholy, and therefore retribution must continue with futility, on and on and on and on.  It is for this reason that for retribution to properly end, there must be a final and eschatological act of retribution.  Namely, Jesus the holy victim must take all our sins upon himself and simultaneously actualize an existence beyond the law of retribution that we may receive.  Fulfilling all retribution in the cross, he makes it possible also for us to forgive and not take retribution as the parable of the ungrateful servant shows.  This retribution is real and ultimate, because Christ takes all sin upon himself.  At the same time, the agent of that retribution is God himself, who is ultimately holy and therefore acting in an undeniably holy manner.  He can only be absolutely just in relation to his object of justice- unlike human executioners!  

Having taken on all retribution, we no long must play the role within the sad pagan drama of revenge.  In other words, any wrong that has been done to us has been punished in Jesus and therefore we no longer have to demand payment (this of course does not mean that we should not ask the governing authorities to correct injustice, we simply do no wish them to do so out of revenge).  Any punishment that we deserve has been suffered for by Jesus and therefore we are no longer the object of retribution ourselves.  This means that freedom from guilt ultimately translates into freedom to forgive the other, whom we no longer need to settle a score with.  

Christ's own sacrifice therefore mean true justice and true forgiveness.  It is the eschatological end of all retribution and dawning of true freedom.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Krauth on Sacrament and Sacrifice.

Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology: As Represented in the Augsburg Confession and in the History and the Literature of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007), 591.

"The idea of sacrifice under the Old Dispensation sheds light upon the nature of the Lord's Supper. . . . Sacrifice through the portion burnt, is received of God by the element of fire; the portion reserved is partaken of by men, is communicated to them, and received by them.  The eating of the portion of the sacrifice, by the offerer, is as real a part of the whole sacred act as the burning of the other part is.  Man offers to God; this is sacrifice.  God gives back to man; this is sacrament.  The oblation, or the thing offered, supplies both sacrifice and sacrament, but with the difference, that under the Old Dispensation God received part and man received part; but under the New, God receives all and gives back all: Jesus Christ, in His own divine person, makes that complete which was narrowed under the Old Covenant by the necessary limitations of mere matter."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

McSoreley's Argument About "Facere quod in se est"

In his book Luther: Right or Wrong? Harry McSoreley argues that Facre quod in se est was a principle held by the majority of the medieval Scholastics.  The phrase means that God gives grace to those who do what is within them.  McSoreley's claim is that for the Occamists this meant doing what is within you could be accomplished without divine grace (this is the generally accepted interpretation), whereas for the young Thomas (who posits such a principle in the Sentences commentary, but abandoned it in the Summa), this preparation occurred as a result of divine grace. 

For my part, I am a bit skeptical about McSoreley's absolution of the young Thomas on this point.  My reading of Thomas (as well as others) would suggest that he became more Augustinian as he grew older and that his immature theology is in fact Semi-Pelagian.  Some scholars even claim that he discovered a copy of the Council of Orange I and II mid-career, and therefore he changed his mind.  I don't think this is true either, I think he just read more Augustine's anti-Pelagian writings.

In any case, the principle of Facre quod in se est would indeed make sense as being a common Scholastic principle, even if one posited that it occurred via the assistance of divine grace.  In other words, if one accepts the premise of Aristotelian metaphysics that matter must be disposed to the form (in this case, the habits of created grace), then one would have to posit some sort of preparation for justification.  Hence, although Trent rejects the idea that Facere quod in se est works on the basis of humanity's natural powers alone, it never the less insists on a lengthy and extremely complicated series of stages wherein one is prepared for justification by divine grace through "prevenient," "healing," and "elevating" grace.  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

David Chrytraeus on the Rationale for the Incarnation

From David Chrytraeus, A Summary of the Christian Faith, trans. Richard Dinda (Malone, Tx: Repristination Press, 2000), 37-8.  

Echoing Luther's theologic, (and also Athanasius and Anselm's), Chrytraeus writes: 

"Why was it necessary that there be a unity between the two natures, divine and human, in Christ our Mediator? . . . First, it was necessary that He be a man because man had sinned and the course of justice would demand that he pay the penalty.  He had to be a man to be able to suffer and die on behalf of man.  Again that was necessary in order for Him to show His love for people to people with the assumption of human nature, and to glorify that love for people (which the devil had terribly torn apart and crushed) by His being taken up and placed at the right hand of God the Father.  Second, he had to be God to provide a ransom or payment for sins and to be a merit sufficient for new righteousness and life.  He had to be God to be able to sustain the burden of the wrath of God and its punishments, to overcome death and the devil, and to restore righteousness and life.  Again, He had to be God in order to enter into the Holy of Holies, to look into the heart of the Father, to be present to the hearts of those who call upon Him and everywhere in the Church, to listen to those who call upon Him and defend and preserve them, and to give the wisdom of God and His Holy Spirit to those who ask for such gifts.  Because at the first creation the Logos, the Son of God, had given to people the life and light which was the image of God; it was fitting for divine wisdom that the image of God which had been corrupted be restored in us with the same Word with which it had been created."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kenosis in the Old Testament

More from chapter five.

By giving his Word of law and gospel to our first parents God begins to speak forth the new narrative of creation.  The new narrative is constituted by the kenosis of the Son and his recapitulation of Adam.  Since God is present and active in his Word, the new narrative of creation is played out in the history of the Old Testament by the giving of the divine Word, within which the Son is present.  Being present in his Word of promise he subjects himself to Israel and humanity, and thereby enters into his kenotic existence.[1]  Similarly, the Son (as our exegetical findings have clearly shown) was the Angel of YHWH and the kavod, who dwelt with Israel in the cult.  In this, he was always present in both Word and sacrament (i.e. the cult).  This self-donating act was a true kenosis, in that in his presence with Israel, the Son subjected himself to the creation through his presence and promise.  As the sin of humanity increased, his grace also increased (Rom 5:20). Ezekiel tells us that in sending Israel into exile, the kavod (the pre-incarnate Son) entered into exile with them (Ezek 10-11- this is also assumed by the kavod's return, predicted in Isa 40).  In other words, as God’s judgment against sin in Israel’s history increased, so too did the depth of the Son’s kenosis.  The final act of divine judgment coincides then with the final and overwhelming act of grace, as the prophets predicted and Christ confirmed (Mal 3:2, Is 61:2, 63, Mt 3, Mk 1, Lk 3).  The Son must finally enter into humanity and thereby also its existence under the law and the condemnation of sin (Gal 4:4).  As von Balthasar again observes:

It is that wrath [the wrath divine retribution against sin] which the Son must face in his Passion.  The fearful, divinely grounded wrath which blazes up throughout the Old Testament and finally consumes faithless Jerusalem in the fire of divine glory (Ezekiel 10, 2), Jesus must bring to its eschatological end.[2] 

Hence, theologians like I. A. Dorner[3] and Wolfhart Pannenberg[4] are in a sense correct to see the Incarnation is the culmination of the process of the two natures coming together into a single theandric subject.  What they are mistaken about is that this does not happen in the life of Christ, who was always a single theandric subject, with no increase or decrease in this reality.  Rather, the history of Israel is the arena for the process of the Word becoming flesh.  The Old Testament is the story of God binding himself to Israel and humanity by his promise of redemption (Gen. 3:15, 15, 17, 22, etc.).  This bond manifests itself in greater and greater degrees, until it culminates in the total identification of the two in the Incarnation.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Freud and Luther

In Freud's early writings he discusses the two impulses of the human creature- the ID and the Super-Ego.  The ID is desire.  In fact, it is an infinite and unending desire.  It contains the sensual impulses (this is often wrongly understood as something purely sexual).  Our appetites for Freud first find their fulfillment in our parent of the opposite sex.  As we mature, we break away and find a marital partner who fulfills these needs and also other channels (such as work) to sublimate our unfulfilled desire.  The bottom line is that desire as the need for mastery of an object for our fulfillment is in fact infinite.  It is never satisfied and goes on forever.

One can say something similar regarding the Super-ego.  The Super-ego is the moral law implanted in us by society and thereby also represents something infinite.  The law of our culture constantly demands we obey our society's norms.  It never leaves us.  A healthy person can negotiate between these two impulses- but ultimately the task is never finished.

The infinite nature of this task probably is one of the reasons why Freud began to describe a third category of desire after the First World War.  He wanted to understand why irrational violence existed.  He concluded that it was the result of something called "death impulses."  The desires of the libido are of course life impulses, whereas the unconscious desire for the death is the opposite.  Since law and desire are infinite tasks, the human subject acts in such a way to be rid of them by willing their own death.  This partially is fulfilled in the routine fulfillment of desire.  For example, the Freud noted that the French refer to orgasms as the "little death."  Nevertheless, much like salmon swimming up river to die, human have an impulse to eventually end themselves and ride themselves of these infinite impulses.

Though of course Freud was atheistic in his outlook, its interesting implications for the study of religion and theology.  My mentor in high school once commented that Freud is Augustine minus God.  How many of the world's theologies deals with the problem of the infinity of desire is an important and should be explored.  As a result, I think we can clarify some points in Luther's theology.

Two of the most honest non-Christian religions in dealing with the problem of the infinity of desire and law are Hinduism and Buddhism.  Both share a doctrine of karma, making the task of the law continue through several lives and in fact forever.  In the same manner, the Buddhist claim is that desire is the origin of all suffering.  Since desire never has permanent fulfillment and therefore lead necessarily to attachment and privation.  

In both cases the ultimate release is the disillusion of personal identity.  In the case of mainstream Hinduism, the recognition that "atman (the self) is Brahman (God/ultimate reality)."  Buddhism prefers the opposite.  The self is in fact illusion or nothingness, and the sooner we realize it the better.  In realizing this or becoming "enlightened," we thereby free ourselves both from karma and from desire.  That is to say, we free ourselves from being subjected to these impulses by becoming non-subjects.

On the other hand, Catholicism is a bit more problematic in its outlook.  The claim of Aquinas is that the infinity of desire will one day be fulfilled by the infinitely desirable thing, namely, the vision of God.  What about the infinity of the moral task?  No problem.  It will continue on in purgatory, and somehow be finished at some point- somehow.  The point is that the infinite human impulse for mastery and self-justification is something that can be realistically fulfilled- rather than ended snuffed out.

How does this relate to Luther?  As I read Luther, I see the New Testament's solution to this problem.  Luther's solution is not fulfillment of desire and self-justification, but rather death and resurrection- first Christ's and then ours.  

For Luther our infinite desire is in fact expression of our desire to master God.  We try to master God through our good works and to justify ourselves.  Desire is itself the impulse to master the other and therefore a will to be God.  In the same manner, so is our will to fulfill the infinite task of law and to justify ourselves.  So, both ID and Super-ego are in fact simply two aspect of what Luther called the "divine ambition."

Conventional means of resolving this don't work.  Our desire goes on forever.  In the same manner, we will never be able to justify ourselves.  We cannot erase the bad things we do, even if we go on doing good works forever.  Time ensures that they are never erased.  Even if we are good people (which is impossible!), we might not be at some point in the future.  So we must be ever vigilant.  There is never an end to it.

Jesus as the true God-man ends all this.  He gives us himself and therefore ends our desire to master him.  He offers up his person as an infinite payment for sins and thereby ends our infinite moral task.  Having surrendered himself to us and extinguished our need to master God, he re-creates us.  

His death is our death, just as his resurrection is our resurrection.  He kills us in the waters of baptism and incorporates the corpse of our old being into the new creation.  In our new creation, our old desires and moral tasks are shrunk down to their proper size.  They are shrunk to the size of the dimensions of our earthly life, and thereby are freed to use these impulses for our vocation in the created realm.  This is the end of our divine ambition.  This because now, the infinite law of God no longer hangs over us.  It has been paid for by his infinite righteousness. 

 In this, we become happy creatures and not unhappy gods.    

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Historical Proofs of Christ's Intentions Regarding His Death

More from the book.

The second category of sacrifice that Christ fulfills is that of atoning sacrifice.  As our exegetical findings in chapter two make clear, the New Testament writings clearly and consistently teach that Jesus' death was a sacrifice for sin, in according with the types of the Levitical cult and the prophecies of the Old Testament (particularly Isaiah 53, etc.).  Nevertheless, in modern theology, this aspect of Jesus' work has been frequently rejected.  It has suffered this rejection for two main reasons.  First, it is often doubted by many New Testament scholars (and others) that Jesus actually regarded his death as the final sacrifice for sin.[1]  Even if we did not possess an infallible witness in the New Testament writings (as we do, Lk 10:16, Jn 16:12-6), there are in fact very good reasons within the historical documents themselves to believe that Jesus held his death to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

To begin with, the earliest traditions regarding the death of Jesus that we possess come to us from writings of St. Paul, dating from the 50s of the first century.[2]  Paul delivers to his congregation the tradition that Jesus' death was a sacrifice for sins which he has clearly received from the earliest disciples.  He states explicitly: "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3-4, Emphasis added).  In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul begins by referring to the tradition that he has received that Christ died as a sacrifice for sin, and then proceeds to speak of it within a body of traditions that refer to Jesus’ resurrection appearances to the apostles.  Paul ends by affirming the unity of his proclamation with that of the original disciples of Jesus by stating: “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Cor. 15:11).  Hence Paul himself both testifies of this understanding of the death of Jesus as being the earliest tradition and one he received directly from the other apostles.

Not only does Paul attest that the earliest disciples understood Jesus' death as a sacrifice for sins (which is strongly suggests that Jesus himself did as well), but he also more directly affirms that this was Jesus' own self-understanding by recounting the words of institution at the last supper.  As we observed in chapter two, the words of institution clearly attest Jesus' understanding of his death as a sacrifice for sins in that it presents his flesh and blood as something separated.[3]  The act of atoning sacrifice for the Jews was in fact the act of separating body from blood (Lev 17:11).  Therefore, in the words of institution Jesus presented his physical substance as something sacrificed for sins: "this is my body" "this is my blood" etc.

The veracity Paul's own witness to these words and the narrative of institution in 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26 cannot be doubted. According to the passages in 1 Corinthians mentioned above, Galatians 1-2, and Acts, the Apostle clearly knew Jesus' original followers and therefore those who had been in Jesus' own presence when he spoken the words of institution.  Unless we are to believe that they intentionally lied about what Jesus had said, the words must be understood as historical and therefore Jesus without a doubt understood his death to be a sacrifice for sins. 

Beyond Paul's own witness to the words of institution, there is the attestation of them by the Synoptic tradition.  The Synoptic Gospels record the words in a very nearly identical form.  There is some variation, but this is not surprising.  Such variation is doubtless due to how the words were translated from Aramaic and there was also probably some stylization of them due to liturgical usage.  What is important though is that this dual witness to the words gives us multiple attestation of their veracity.  Multiple attestation is generally one of the criterion used by liberal scholars use for the verification of the authentic words of Jesus in Gospel research.[4]  For this reason, the data shows that the words of institution must be considered historical and therefore Jesus must have considered his death a priestly act of sacrifice for sin.[5]

The Gospels give further historical evidence that Jesus intended his death to be a sacrifice for sin.  For example, as N. T. Wright has pointed out, it cannot credibly be believed that the early Church invented Jesus' prayer in the garden of Gethsemane that his vocation of dying might be changed (Mk 14:32-42, Mt 26:36-46, Lk 22:39-46.).[6]  In fact, there is fairly good evidence that such a portrayal of Jesus stands in rather stark contradiction to the portrayals of heroic martyrdom found elsewhere in the immediate environment.  For example, Josephus’ portrayal of the binding of Isaac[7] and much later, Eusebius’ source for the martyrdom of St. Polycarp.[8]  In both of these histories, the hero goes unflinchingly to his death and does not attempt to ask God for a reprieve.  Josephus tells us that it “pleased” Isaac to hear of his impending death.  Raymond Brown has made a similar comparison of Jesus to the brave and stoic martyrs of 2 Maccabees.[9]  If one connects the fact of the words of institution with such a plea, then one cannot escape the conclusion that Jesus believed that the Father willed his death as a sacrifice for sins.   

Beyond the veracity of the earliest tradition, it should be noted that although Jesus' conception of his death as a sacrifice for sins was unique, it possesses some close parallels within the Judaism of his time.  Not only is the idea of the necessity of the Israel’s eschatological suffering for sin as prelude to the eschaton a staple of apocalyptic Jewish thought (as Wright has shown),[10] but the idea of vicarious and representative suffering has also been found among variety of Jewish apocalyptic literature, as well as at Qumran.[11]  Both Ben Whitherington III[12] and more recently Brant Pitre,[13] have demonstrated that Jesus’ claim to be the bringer and embodiment of the kingdom necessitated within the Jewish apocalyptic worldview his suffering of what have been typically referred to as “the Messianic woes.”[14]  Pitre in particular makes this judgment after surveying a large number of Second Temple Jewish eschatological literature which refers to representative and atoning suffering.[15]  This makes Jesus' belief that he was to be the final sacrifice for sins perfectly coherent with his message of the coming of God's kingdom.  This also shows that the frequent assertion that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom whereas later Christianity proclaimed his death and atonement is utterly false.[16]  In fact, since Jesus' death is the only thing that can bring the kingdom, the two are mutually dependent on one another and therefore represent the same proclamation simply stated two different ways.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jesus' Sacrifice of Praise

More from the book. 

As the true heavenly high priest promised by Psalm 110, Christ fulfills all sacrifice.  This is major theme in the New Testament.  Jesus is the true Temple (Jn 2:18) and all rituals and sacrifices of the Levitical cult are typological of his grace (Col 2:17, Heb 10:1).  For this reason, the early Lutheran scholastic theologian David Chytraeus observed that “God instituted so many different kinds of sacrifice in order that . . . .the variety of Christ’s benefits and of spiritual sacrifices . . . . [would be] foreshadowed by this diversity of sacrificial types.”[1] Among these various sorts of sacrifice, we noted in chapter one that there are three main categories: sacrifices of praise, sacrifices of atonement, and sacrifices meant to ratify and enact covenants or testaments.  Christ fulfills all of these forms of sacrifice.  His life and death served as a sacrifice of praise, because possessing the fullness of divine glory he was not subject to the law.  His obedience and death served as an atoning sacrifice, in that by it he rendered both infinite obedience and suffered infinite retribution in his theandric person on our behalf to the Father.  Finally, his death confirmed the testament of the gospel and thereby became a source of our true knowledge and true worship of God.  For this reason, much as his kingly office is ordered to his priestly office, Christ's priestly office is ordered to his prophetic office.

We begin first with Christ's fulfillment of the sacrifice of praise.  As the possessor of the fullness of divine glory, Christ was utterly free from the law and therefore the archetype of Christian freedom.  For this reason, any obedience that he rendered to the Father is not a legal obligation,[2] but rather a sacrifice of praise for having already received all from the Father from eternity: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (Jn 17:4).  Indeed, Jesus’ own “glorification” (his death on the cross) is a glorification of the Father since in dying under God’s wrath and the most extreme opposition from sinful humanity, he still confesses God’s goodness and grace and thereby glorifies him by his confession: “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (Jn 17:1). 

Even Jesus’ lamentation on the cross (Mk 15:34) is itself a confession of faith in the goodness and grace of God that is hiding.  Jesus' dying words in Mark, it must be remembered, are a quotation from the prophecy of Psalm 22 and therefore cannot be separated from the liturgical function of lamentation.  Psalms were utilized as the liturgy of the Temple[3] and therefore are in a sense all concerned with the praise of God for his goodness.  Psalms of lamentation also assume the existence of and trust in divine goodness.  One does not lament if they do not consider God to be gracious and good.  Lamentation is faith’s response to appearances that contradict its trust in God’s goodness and graciousness.  Those who do not believe God is good and gracious do not lament because the world is precisely as a non-existent or malevolent deity would have it.  Therefore, Jesus in his lamentation maintains his faith in God’s Word to him, in spite of divine hiddenness and condemnation.[4] 

As the true human being, Jesus Christ displays perfect faith in God's goodness.  Knowing himself to share all things in common with the Father and having this reconfirmed throughout his whole life by God's external Word (in the Scriptures, spoken to his parents, at his baptism and at Tabor, etc.), he trusted in God's goodness and his own vindication with a victorious faith (Heb 12:1-2).  Whereas Adam and Eve, standing at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil doubted God's beneficence, being surrounded by all good things, Jesus on the tree of the cross, stood in the most extreme opposition, abandonment, and condemnation in his death.  Nevertheless, unlike our first parents, he praised God and did not doubt his word of grace: "you are my Son with whom I am well pleased."  It is for this reason that both Luther and Thomasius (whom we cited earlier) are correct, that Jesus could only redeem if he experienced the total abandonment and wrath of God. Jesus active righteousness is rooted in his perfect faith in the face of total abandonment.

Monday, November 8, 2010

1 Clement on Justification by Faith.

I'm somewhat surprised that the Reformers or modern Lutheran apologists don't use this quote from the Apostolic Father, St. Clement, more often:

1 Clement 32:4 "And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hinlicky on Law/Gospel

I mentioned earlier that I found Hinlicky on law/gospel unpleasant. I did for a number of reasons. I think the reason why the discussion came off as so confused is because he didn't define his terms very clearly and he relied on stereotypes. Also, I think the subject doesn't interest him that much and he hasn't put as much thought into it as he has other things (like how to help the Lutheran Church reunite with the Catholic Church or how to have gay marriage without calling it that- I digress). But that's just speculation on my part.

I would make the following points regarding the discussion.

1. Hinlicky expresses admiration for Barth against Althaus and Elert on the question of law/gospel. Now, I'm not one to defend Erlangen on some of their sillier moves, but its all a matter of degrees. Paul Althaus and Werner Elert in my theological universe beat Karl Barth any day of the week simply by being closer to Martin Luther.

A couple false historical points that Hinlicky makes need to be exposed. First, neither Elert or Althaus taught "autonomous orders of creation." That's simply untrue. At best, they both (in particular Elert) made the point that the orders of creation are a given or are in a sense "fated." That is to say, I have a certain situated-ness which God has assigned me within creation. I am part of a particular nation, family, etc. Elert was very, very clear that this situated-ness does not make the divine will transparent and that therefore one needs the law of God to regulate this situated-ness.

Neither did this lead to either of them supporting the Nazis. At best, people can point to the fact that Althaus in 1933, after the Nazis had won a majority, wrote a pamphlet saying he hoped they would take the nation in a better direction (Althaus was a Monarchist and feared the Communists). He greatly regretted this in later life and actively opposed the Nazis from the mid-30s onward. In any case, saying that the they both were Nazi supporters is pure fabrication, invented by their theological opponents aimed at demonizing their resistance to the cause of forcing the Lutherans into one big Church with the Reformed (this has been well documented). In fact, it is now been shown that Elert helped several Jewish students at Erlangen and that he used his position to undermine the Nazis. So, slandering Erlangen in this way is absurd.

2. Elert and Althaus were right, that the orders of creation and the natural law are where one finds one's finds a basis for law and social ethics. Obvious the Bible is able to clarify the natural law, but the point is that the gospel isn't a new form of law. The gospel ends the law coram deo. It isn't a new better law. Hence the law comes before the gospel and not after.

Hinlicky agrees that the order of law is first and then gospel correctly expresses the situation of the fallen and redeemed creation insofar as the law is universally valid prior to the gospel coming on the scene. This, claims Hinlicky, is not adequate though, because the gospel can also function as law if preached in a particular way (true enough). Furthermore, Hinlicky agrees with Karl Barth that the fact that God speaks to us is automatically gracious, so the revelation of the law is grace. But was it grace when Moses condemned Pharaoh? Not so much.

Hinlicky then makes a very odd remark. Barth is right that the gospel comes first and then law, because the gospel provides what is necessary to fulfill the law. Yes and no. Here's where its confusing. As I said in the last post, this could be considered true or false either coram deo or coram mundo. Coram mundo, yes, the gospel does free for service in the world. Coram deo, the answer is no, the gospel is the last word and the law is over.

But this why it's confusing. Because for Barth, as a Reformed theologian, law functions in such a way as to regulate our existence coram deo after conversion. For Calvin, as for Barth, the gospel contains within it a command, that is, the command to repent and the third use is the main use of the law. As Sasse put it, the gospel is good because it makes the law work. Our relationship with God, for Barth, is constituted by our echoing the event of grace in Jesus Christ in our actions. As Barth puts it (in a line that could have been written by Aquinas or Aristotle) "I am,' means 'I do."

Now perhaps Hinlicky doesn't mean to say this. But when he endorses Barth, it sounds like he means to endorse all that.

3. Hinlicky refuses to call this new code we obey after we are under grace "law." Huh? It gets better. He goes on to write that "the first two uses of the law are enough law" and therefore we shouldn't posit a third. But law is commandment, and you're talking about commandments, right? I don't even know how to respond to that. So, you're saying: "We've had enough law, so lets relabel these commandments, so that we don't go over our law-limit"? Very puzzling.

There are two main issues with this: First, he's mixing law and gospel here. He calls these new grace inspired commandments "the second use of the gospel." So, apparently there's such a thing as "fun, happy" law that has ceased this side of eternity to threaten and accuse. This is of course in direct contradiction of the Apology's semper lex accusat. Also, apparently, there's gospel that demands we do things.

Secondly (and here's the big irony) for all his bluster about what bad guys Althaus and Elert are, he's more or less adopting their line (no doubt learned while he was at Seminex!). For Elert, although we always stay within "ethos under law" until we die, we also participate in "ethos under gospel" and therefore engage in "evangelical imperatives." Evangelical imperatives are fun, happy law, which has apparently ceased to be law. Also, with Althaus you get the even more arbitrary distinction between "law" and "command" which is more or less the same thing. Law is mean, nasty, oppressive law- command is fun, happy law, which isn't apparently law. Althaus has the added bonus of trying to ground it in a fairly weak exegetical argument.

In a word, I thought whole discussion was massively confused and could have been helped with a clear delineations regarding how he's using certain terms. Also, a distinction between how we view the law functioning coram deo and coram mundo, as well as in the state of integrity, the fallen state and in heaven- might also have helped things along.
UPDATE: Steve makes the good point that the term "second use of the gospel" frequently refers to the fact that the gospel regeneates as it also justifies. I agree that for Hinlicky is part of it. He describes it as the "God giving what he commands." (sounds like sanctificatio, right?).
Nevertheless, he then refers to Galatians 6:2: "Carry each others burdens and that way you will fulfill the law of Christ." He views this as the new life-forming commandment of the gospel- which also contains grace to fulfill it.
By my reconing, this is a commandment. Law+ grace does not =gospel- even a "second use of the gospel." It's still law and it still threatens and accuses.
Now, I admit that I am not infallible, so I could be misreading his intention (as I note above), but I think that basically all we're dealing with here is a kind of relabeling. Fun, happy law now=gospel.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Two Kinds of Righteousness.

I made something of an off hand remark about "two kinds of righteousness" in the last post and a number of people e-mailed me about it. I must have been out of it, but I had no idea that this was controversial in the Lutheran blogsphere. In fact, I think (as we shall see below) that it doesn't really contradict the law-gospel approach (as some have charged), but clarify some of the misleading rhetoric connected with it.

First, what am I referring to when I talk about "two kinds of righteousness?" Luther used to the phrase to entitle a sermon he wrote in 1518 (possibly reformatioal, or close to being as such). He also mentions this in the preface of the Galatians commentary of 1531-35.

"Two kinds of righteousness" describes the two sorts of righteousness the human subject is capable of having. This goes hand-in-hand with the dialectical anthropology that Luther operates within. The first sort of righteousness is active righteousness and it is the sort of righteousness that the external person has. In other words, since the external person is ruled by reason and can weigh external goods, one against another- they are capable of actualizing a external, activity based, righteousness in the kingdom of the world.

This means that we do good things using our freedom and reason, and therefore people "see" us doing good things. In this realm therefore, the human person can be instructed by the law and when asked to do good things external by the law, most certain can do so.

There is a second sort of righteousness, the righteousness of faith which is passive before God. Again, as we saw, for Luther the will is primary in our relationship to God. It also rules the human person. The will is ruled by affections that are inculcated in us relationally. We either love and believe in the Word of the Devil or in God. As he say in Bondage of the Will, the two master take turns riding us and we can do nothing to resist them.

Luther says that the righteousness we have in this realm is from faith and not activity. God gives us Jesus Christ, whom we passively receive in faith and therefore become righteous through him. Our activity cannot affect this realm, because our actions do not change our unfree will to be different than it is. God must act on us. We are always passive in this relationship to him.

Now, I think that this is helpful for understanding law/gospel because it clears up a lot of confusion.

When, for example, certain 20th century Lutheran thinkers complain about a "third use" intervening after the gospel, they are effectively making a mistake of realms that could be cleared up by this distinction. In other words, when we are dealing with our righteousness in the direction of God via our bound wills- yes, that's absolutely right. The gospel is the last Word. There is no law intervening in our relationship to God after the gospel comes. The gospel is the last word.

But, when we are talking about the kingdom of the world, things are different. In the kingdom of the world, we are free and we are capable of "using" the law as a guide to actualize a right relationship with creation. Hence, although as passive righteousness (things that are above us, in the terms of the Bondage of the Will) the law is worthless, it is good and necessary in the instruction of the external person in the kingdom of the world.

In that sense, gospel could be said to come before law- just as the promise of the first commandment comes at the beginning of the Decalogue and then frees one to obey the rest of the commandments. Nevertheless, if we are looking from the perspective of the passive righteousness, then law precedes gospel and ends with the pronouncement of justification.

For this reason, the distinction does not destroy law/gospel, but clarifies how we are talking about law/gospel- that is, as it relates to "passive" righteousness or "active" righteousness.