Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Rydecki Situation

As many of you probably know, Rev. Paul Rydecki was suspended by the WELS for his rejection of objective justification this last week.  Generally I haven't commented on this because I thought that other people would do that for me.  The fact of the matter is that that hasn't happened and so I feel a need as a theologian within the Church to do this.

Why?  Specifically because I consider Rydecki to be dangerous theologically.  He's dangerous because unlike someone like Gregory Jackson, Rydecki has a lot of ecclesiastical support.  People who I know disagree with him theologically wouldn't say a word against him on Facebook or on other blogs.  Unlike Jackson, who is generally viewed as a dishonest, self-serving, and quasi-comical figure, Rydecki is a serious and honest person, who has earned a lot of capital by opposing Church-growth and contemporary worship in WELS.  Who could argue with that?  Also, unlike Jackson, Rydecki states his theological position in a calm and intelligent manner, rather than by lying about the position of his opponents or by making up falsehoods about them personally.  For this reason, he gives a greater credibility to the rejection OJ than a person who's idea of an argument is to cut-and-paste a million short and uncontextualized quotations from the Book of Concord onto a banner with the head of some synodical official or theologian photo-shopped onto the body of a baby, animal, clown, or character from Star Wars.

In order to respond to what Rydecki is specifically teaching, here is his own response to his suspension:

In response to his response, I have couple of observations:

1. Rydecki seems to be operating with the rather odd perspective that the language set down by the Formula of Concord is authoritative for all time.  He also says something similar in the intro he wrote the the Samuel Huber book.  The first question is: why?  Obviously the Lutheran Confessions themselves show terminological evolution (justification in the Apology can mean either justification proper or sanctification, "sacrament" is defined differently in different documents- so the question of how many sacraments is answer different in different contexts- 4, the Apology; 3 the Catechisms; 2 the FC!).  The Bible is the same way.  Paul thinks of faith primary as something directed to the past (what Jesus did on the cross for us)- Hebrews has that aspect, but then also includes eschatological expectation in this as well- what Paul would probably call this "hope."  Melanchthon and Calvin easily reconciled Paul with James by pointing out that what Paul means by "justification" is appearing righteous before God, whereas James is talking about appearing righteous (i.e. showing evidence of our faith) before other people!  The early Reformers understood what a lot of people (especially in the WELS, it would seem!) don't seem to get: Doctrines are concepts.  Concepts can be expressed in a lot of different ways.  Just because a word isn't present, doesn't mean that a concept isn't present.  Remember that Luther never uses the word "justification" in the Small Catechism.  Nevertheless, he teaches the doctrine on every page.

2. Nevertheless, why should we use different words in different situations?  Why doesn't the Church just decide on certain terms and keep with them forever?  The fact of the matter is that theological terminology develops over time in order to deal with issues at hand. Someone who didn't say homoousia in the 2nd century wasn't a heretic, but after 324 AD they were. The same goes for objective justification. The terminology of OJ and SJ is intended to deal with problems that developed in the mid-17th century and afterwards. Pleads to maintain a certain primitive terminology are problematic, in that language only functions appropriately in a particular context. Once new controversies arise, the Church must generate new language to deal with the problem either 1. To clarify certain points (think "nature" vs. "person" by the Cappadocians after 324). 2. Heretics take over certain language- for example, the Reformed use "this is my body"- hence in order to keep the true meaning, we must say "this is the true body of Christ" etc.  For this reason, what Rydecki fails to see is that innovation of theological terminology is necessary to maintain conceptual orthodoxy.  Old terms in new contexts will not function and therefore promote heresy.  If the Cappadocians had, for example, continued to insist that the anathema at the end of the original Nicene Creed had set down terminology for all time ("Let anyone who says that the Son is of a different hypostasis or ousia than the Father be anathema!") then in the new theological context of post-Nicene Christianity, they might have rightly been accused of Modalism.  Neither would they have been able to make the clear conceptual distinction between "person" and "nature" which ultimately made Nicene orthodoxy conceptually coherent in the minds of many people. 

3. What then was the situation that promoted the Church to use the terms OJ and SJ?  The terms seem to develop somewhat later.  Nevertheless, the sainted Kurt Marquart pointed out that the clear conceptual delineation of the terms came for the first time from Abraham Calov in response to the Catholic apologist Robert Bellarmine.  Bellarmine pointed out that justification by faith was contradictory because the person was supposed to believe that they were justified when they in fact weren't actually justified until they had faith. Abraham Calov responded to this in his commentary on the Augsburg Confession by pointing out that the word of God's grace is objectively true and pre-exists our faith. Actually, since it causes it, logically it must be objectively prior to our subjective appropriation of it. Moreover, if one did not accept that it was objectively true in this way, faith wouldn't be a receptive organ , but a condition that somehow makes justification real. Hence, as Bellarmine pointed out, we wouldn't preach "your sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus" but rather "if" you believe, then they will be. The gospel becomes a law! 

4. Part of Rydecki's problem is that he does not understand that the word "justification" is being used differently when applied to OJ and SJ.  When applied to OJ, the word merely means for God to pronounce a particular verdict on the human race.  It does not mean for them to receive it.  In the context of SJ, "justification" means to have receive that verdict.  That is, to appropriate it.  Because a check is written (OJ) does not mean that it is necessarily cashed (SJ).  Because I have beer in my basement, doesn't make me drunk.  His argument that having two justification doesn't make any sense because if the world was already justified at the cross and empty tomb why does it need to be justified again by faith (an old Jackson favorite as well!) is incoherent because it assumes that the word is being used the same way in both contexts.  When one realizes that this argument rest on a very flat understanding of language (words mean the same things in every context) then the argument completely falls apart.

5. Lastly: Part of Rydecki's problem is that he tends to think about these issues in overly abstract terms.  In other words, he thinks of OJ as an abstract and general relationship that God somehow has with all human beings, rather than a description of what God does under his various masks within creation and through the means of grace.  For this reason, he finds it odd and incoherent to say that God in general and in some abstract sense is reconciled with the world when there's still wrath.   Much of this I suspect could be remedied by a good reading of 20th century Luther scholarship, which I don't believe many of the anti-OJ advocate have done (Jackson once admitted that he hadn't even read standard works like Paul Althaus' The Theology of Martin Luther- quite shocking!).  God doesn't interact with the world uniformly, but takes on different masks (larva Dei). In his mask of law and political order, he isn't a forgiving presence. When he wears the mask of the police officer and throws me against the hood of the car and hand cuffs me, that's not absolution. The point though is that when I come to the means of grace, God is a presence and a word that is already real and actual as forgiveness. God as he is present in the word of absolution that he gave the Church has already forgiven me objectively.  When I leave the sphere of the law and enter into the sphere of the gospel (i.e. the means of grace) then I merely enter into that sphere where God is already real as grace.  My faith doesn't actualize God as forgiving.  If it did, then it would be a requirement and not a gift.  Nevertheless, if I don't look for him in the means of grace, then I won't find his already forgiving presence.  Rather, I will find him as wrath, law, and hiddenness outside of them.  When it comes to grace and wrath, God in general, above the spheres of his dual activities (law and grace), cannot really be known.  Hence God is "hidden" above his masks, as Luther repeatedly states. 


  1. Very well written and argued. I'll forever remember "Because I have beer in my basement, doesn't make me drunk" when having discussions with anti UOJ people!

  2. Just to let you know, Greg Jackson posted your article on his blog. He doesn't even try to refute it. He just throws in a couple of infantile graphics and points out your spelling and grammatical errors.

  3. Thanks Joel. I must admit, without my wife to help me, I am overlook that stuff more often than not. Jackson was very nice to help me clean some of that stuff up. In a few cases, I think he misunderstood the sentence.

    I still find him odd. Why doesn't he respond to the actual argument? Why use the weakest form of argument possible as a counterpoint? He kind of proves my point about him. It never seems to occur to him that if he can't refute me, then he's wrong. He's the least self-reflective person I know.

  4. What has dawned on me through all of this is Jackson just may be a dyed in the wool Calvinist. After all, his lineage lies in the remnants of the other side of election controversy arguments. It would help to explain certain behavior.

    The Bible/BoC paradigm is we are saved by grace for the sake of Christ through faith. Even the Augsburg Confessions follow in this ecclesiastical order: Grace, Redemption, Faith...

    However, in his consistent holding to Lenski on so many issues, I offer that Jackson has adopted the paradigm of Lenski in that man is saved by faith for the sake of Christ through grace. Grace is no longer objective but particular. Man's salvation begins in man by having faith and not in the Trinity. Carrying particular grace to its logical conclusion and you have double predestination whereas; a man can not lose his faith and he can carry on all kinds of behaviors.

    I think he 'sees Epicureanism' or rather imagines it in OJ and loathes it. But we know that what we hate in others is only what we know is in ourselves. He pacifies himself with 'piety' all the while ignoring the bound will.

    Pr. Rydecki does not reject OJ and I have it in writing. Like others, (me included) he got derailed by one who works as a wolf in sheep's clothing.

    Dr. Kilcrease, you do a fine job in breaking it down in regards to context and use of language.

  5. Joe, thanks for the comment. Rydecki does not believe in OJ in the sense that I do. Remember, he says that he believes in it if you mean universal atonement by it. But OJ is not universal atonement, but God the Father's reaction to the Son's universal atonement in the form of a universal word of grace.

  6. Dear Dr Kilcrease,

    Just a word of thanks for this excellent post. I was quite confused by this OJ vs SJ debate. You really cleared things up.


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  8. Dr. Jackson,

    First of all Ron Smith- Ronald McGovern. You couldn't come up with a different first name in your impersonations for the day?

    Secondly, again, I direct you to my earlier answers. If you want to have a debate, please use your real name.

  9. The similar names was a hint.

    I can't believe that you have the audacity to sit and argue theology while promoting horrific sexually explicit derogatory movies. You are not qualified to set yourself, as you have done, as a teacher, theologian, or authority of any kind on Christianity. The people you work for have a right to know what sort of person they are trusting, and since you are not qualified, by your lack of Christian discernment, to be teacher of Christian theology I hope they do the right thing and let you go.

    And no, I don't want to debate you. I want to expose for the fraud that you are, in your antinomianism and you warped view of Justification.

    1. Right on! You've done a fine job of exposing a false teacher!

      Kilcrease: I hope you take Ron's words to heart. He's right, you know. As it stands you should be slow to teach, and quick to listen

    2. Dr. Jackson (as both Guerilla Lutheran and Ron Smith),

      If you want to contact my department head at Aquinas, I highly encourage you to do that. I'm certain he will take you very seriously. My wife definitely wants you to do it. She would find his reaction especially amusing. So knock yourself out!

      Of course, Dr. Jackson, we all know that seriously theologians lie about their identity and try to get people who they disagree with fired. That's what Jesus would do, right?

    3. A last two things Dr. Jackson:

      1. I enjoy how you accuse everyone of Pietism, but you are a Pietist yourself. You tell me that I cannot communicate Christian theology because I "lack Christian discernment." That's a Pietist position. There was a debate about this in the period of late orthodoxy. The Pietists claimed that God had to regenerate a person for them to be able to properly teach and do theology. The orthodox said that theological aptitude was a gift of God, but it could be exercised without true faith. Otherwise we would be Donatists.

      2. You accuse me of antinomianism. Interesting. OK, where in the Bible does it say that a person can't watch rated R movies or the equivalent in the ancient world? I can think of no verses about the theater. I can't even think of any verses that a person could infer this from. Of course, I also know that you reject the idea that you can draw inferences from biblical verses regarding various doctrines, so I suppose even if there were any, that wouldn't be an option for you.

      Are there verses about lying, backstabbing, gossiping and defaming people? Yes, there are a lot of them! So who, I ask you, is the antinomian? Seriously. You say that I'm in violation of a make-believe law and therefore a moral degenerate, but you're OK, even though you violated God's real commandments? That's very amusing.

      This is precisely what Luther says about human nature. People under sin don't want to obey God's real laws and so they ignore them. But then they turn around and make up their own laws which they think are going to be easy to obey.

      Case-in-point: It's easy not to watch rated R movies- of course, God never says we can't do that! It's hard though to not hate someone and be angry with them when you lose a theological debate with them. It's also hard not to want to get vengeance on them and take steps to do that.

      Perhaps a few things to think about!

  10. Dr. Kilcrease,

    Once again, your clarity is astounding. I cannot wait for your book to hit the market, any date yet?

  11. Larry, thanks for the comment. I'm thinking it will probably be some time in the late Spring or early Summer. I will keep readers of this blog posted on when it comes out. Again, I appreciate that you enjoyed the post.

  12. Dr. Kilcrease,
    Thank you for your clear and helpful explanation of these important theological distinctions. Thank you also for your willingness to serve others by publicly teaching and through your openness to debate and discussion. Thank you!

  13. You're welcome Pastor Fleming. Many blessings.