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.


  1. When I have heard the term "second use of the gospel", it was used to refer to regeneration. The first use of the gospel then is justification.

  2. Correct.

    "Second use of the gospel" is a way of having a third use of the law without calling it "law."

    The whole problem is that it distorts our understanding of law and of what gospel is.

    Also, for the authors of the Formula of Concord and Luther, law for the believer is still something that threatens and accuses. So, such a distinction, it plays this game of pretending that the law some how has ceased to function this way in the Christian's life this side of eternity.

  3. You are probably correct when the way that people like Hinlickly use it in denying the third use of the law.

    What I was thinking of was more the gift of regeneration that allows us to begin to fulfill the Law.

  4. Steve- Sorry I read your comment when I was sleepy.

    Yes, my point was that I think that is part of it. Nevertheless, Hinlicky specifically makes reference to Gal 6:2:

    "Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

    This is still law and commandment, but the fulfillment occurs because of regeneration. The point though that this is still law. Relabeling is no good.

  5. Right, I agree with you about Hinlickly