Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Is Lex Aeterna back in Town?

More from Paulson.

Couple of nice features of Paulson contra Forde.  Paulson is know for being a Forde disciple par excellence and therefore I think it's important to recognize that he is his own man theologically.  Mostly the structure of Forde's interpretation of the dialectic of hidden and revealed in Luther remains, though Forde was right about all that.  There are some interesting deviations from Forde later.

First, Paulson definitely does accept substitutionary atonement.  Much like Elert, he is able to coordinate Christ's death for sinners with their own death with Christ very well.  Forde reduced everything to existential change in the sinner through the existential gesture of the cross which leads to death-and-resurrection in faith.  One could argue, I think, that someone like Melanchthon and other Reformed folks basically reduce things to Christ dying for us, and then make our death in Baptism with Christ a metaphor for moral improvement.  

Secondly, Paulson accept lex aeterna or eternal law.  Forde rejected this because he said that Luther stated (as he does) that the law ceases to accuse and demand once we are in heaven and the law is fulfilled.  This is true, but it doesn't mean that the law isn't the eternal content of God's will.  Again, Forde existentializes law to mean something that really corresponds to an experience which will at some point cease.  Hence law cannot be eternal because the experience which law corresponds to is not eternal.

Paulson follows Luther and puts it well: "Of course the law is eternal.  It is either eternally before the sinner [i.e., in hell] or it is eternally behind the redeemed in Christ, for whom the law has been fulfilled."  

In other words, Paulson is able to accept the law is a real thing within God's eternal will, while at the same time recognizing that the law ceases as a threat and demand when it has been fulfilled.  Hence, the Fordian over-existentializing tendency is overcome beautifully, while accepting the better aspects of the insight.


  1. Would this mean that Paulson also accepts third use of the Law? Paul writes in Romans 8:4 that" the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." In otherwords those who have faith fulfill the Law. This is on my mind because it is the year A epistle this coming Sunday. If the law is eternal it guides those freed from its condemnation.

  2. Let's make some distinctions. Coram Deo, the Law is fulfilled first through justification and then in the inner person by sanctification. Justification causes sanctification because faith fulfills the law- i.e. since it is a fulfillment of the first commandment.

    So, Luther in the Antinomian Disputations (quoted btw in the FC) would say that in terms of our relationship with God (Coram Deo) the fulfillment of the law that Paul is talking about is not an on-going process. It's already happen. In the inner person, the law as commandment is over insofar as it can't actually demand anything any more. This is what Paulson means when he says that the law is eternally behind us.

    Coram mundo, the law is of course before us in our earthly lives. The external person remains under sin and they also need guidance to steer them away from self-chosen works toward God pleasing ones. Paulson has too much baggage from 20th century theology and therefore I don't think he likes the term "third use of the law." What he, Forde, Elert, and Wingren did though was expand the first use of the law so as not to just apply to "wild and unruly men" but to everyone as they live out their vocation in creation. So, he would basically accept the third use under the heading of an expanded 1st use.

    Interestingly enough, failure to understand this expansion of the first use was a major failing in my view of the Scott Murry book. He works from the assumption that the three uses of the law are defined the same way by everyone. Then when people don't like the term "third use of the law" he's complete beside himself wondering how they work out the question of moral guidance.

    In my experience, the only people who really didn't think that Christian don't need the law in 20th century Lutheran theology were the Seminex folks. Ed Schroeder in particular. I also had some Seminex grads as profs. in seminary who said "Well, we're free from the law, so just make it up as you go along." Paulson and Nestingen were decidedly against this!

  3. A couple of thoughts as I mull over your reply. 1. The fulfillment of the law involves more then faith because it involves inner renewal and faith works by love.2. The new man grows, I believe this may relate to relative growth of our faith, but still there is growth.3. Since there is growth you can speak of process in this growth or process and progress in sanctification.

  4. @Jack, Interesting observation on Murray's book. I have thought the same thing for years that for Forde at least the third use of the law is apart of the first use.

  5. 1. Faith and Love differ as because works and persons differ. Faith is a passive state of being (person). That passive state of being makes one righteous before God. Derivatively, that passive state of being coram Deo gives rise to love (i.e. the derivative activity of faith). Love doesn't add-on to faith's fulfillment of the law. Faith makes the tree good, love is the good fruit. This is important so that we do not come to view faith as a kind of "potency" that love fulfills as "act" (Aquinas).

    2. The growth of faith is related to the growth of sin and suffering. As we grow in faith, the course of our life causes of sinful self to get worse. 1. The older we get, the more sins we commit. Hence, I have more to regret now and am less righteous than I was at age 20. 2. My external person under the power of sin breaks down and therefore seems less and less credible as a source of power and glory (I'm going to the Dentist for a cavity on Monday!). This drives me more and more into a relationship with Christ through faith. The growth of faith then means a growth of sin and death. As Luther puts it: "Where Aristotle puts practice, Paul puts suffering."

    3. Yes, in two ways. First, in coram Deo, one can speak of the growth of sanctification in the form of the growth of faith. Faith though trust more and more in God's Word, which says we are sinful. Faith also seeks relief from the ever present, and ever growing power of sin. Faith believes more and more that the Word of God "you are a sinner" is true. Secondly, one can speak of the increase of empirical righteousness in the external person. That is to say, one does more and more good works. One's tendency towards sin more more mortified by a growth of love for God, but also probably bad memories of the effects of sin. Nevertheless, works are always tainted by sin before God, since they are never done perfectly in this life. Coram Deo, my works don't really ever get much better, even if coram Mundo they might.