Friday, March 29, 2013

Book Published: The Self-Donation of God

Many of you have been waiting for my book for a while.  You can now order it here:

To answer a FAQ: No, this is not my dissertation (though it has a similar title).  It is systematic Lutheran Christology which I have been working on for the last 3 years.  Many thanks to Rev. John T. Pless and Dr. Mark Mattes for endorsing it.  Also, many thanks to Rev. Dr. David Scaer for writing the preface!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eternal Law, Natural Law, and Erlangen: A Brief Response to Robert C. Baker.

It has been brought to my attention that my name has come up in a discussion between Rev. Robert C. Baker and a number of other individuals.  This discussion can be found here:

Go to "Is legalism antinomianism."

Rev. Baker made a series of unusual claims that I would like to address here.  Baker has made a number of inaccurate claims about me and my position in the past, and I have largely ignored them, but I think it's finally important to address him directly.

1. A discussion arose regarding my interpretation of Gerhard Forde and my criticisms of him.  One contributor said that he couldn't spend the money to read my dissertation.  Here is an article of mine on the subject that you can read online (in fact, I refine much of the argument in the dissertation in them) and also my public presentation on the subject which is now a CTQ article (which you will soon be able to read online):

2. Rev. Baker asserts: "Of course, Dr. Kilcrease has never demonstrated that I do not understand Gerhard Forde, his context, or how or in what way I imputed false ideas to him, or even what those false ideas were."

Well, but I believe I have.

A. Forde, according to Baker, is very heavily influenced by the Erlangen school of theology.  This is false.  He is influenced by a particular member of the Erlangen school through the filter of Gustav Aulen- namely Johannes von Hofmann.  Also, this is largely limited to his view of atonement.  Forde's view of the law (which Baker is interested in) has nothing to do with the Erlangen school and largely has other sources in Swedish and Finnish Lutheran thinkers.  This is all in my articles and dissertation. 

B. According to Baker Forde rejects natural law.  This is his main assertion in his contribution to Lutherans and Natural Law (which incidentally he consulted with me about).  Since Baker was trained by Roman Catholics at Creighton University (where he receive an MA in Healthcare Ethics), he has become extremely enthusiastic for the notion of natural law as a sort of cure-all for our present cultural nihilism (as indeed many RCs are!). 

The claim that Forde rejects natural law is also false.  In fact, when I mentioned to a number of Fordites last Fall that Baker interprets Forde this way they laughed out loud.  Forde strongly upholds the idea of natural law and its corollary the doctrine of the orders of creation.  As I point out in my critique of Forde (this is in the last section of the Law article, on third use of the law) that's the problem.  Because Forde came of age in the 1950s, where American society was formed by Judeo-Christian ethics, he assumed that people in using their reason would logically come to the conclusions of Judeo-Christian ethics.  This proved to be incorrect, and so, Forde by upholding the natural law alone as the guide to Christian activities in the world allows too much to fallen human reason.  Revelation needs to clarify God's law and what actions humans should take.

Since the human mind is distorted by sin, it will only come partially to the right conclusions regarding the natural law.  Humans have a conscience and they can also look at the structures of nature to see God's will, but both of these things have been corrupted by sin.  Hence, God needs to reveal his will to humans and clarify what his law actually is.  Recognizing this, Luther made a shift in his thinking over the 1520s.  When he wrote "How Christians Should Regard Moses" he put all of his eggs in the basket of natural law which human being could simply rationally read off nature.  Later, in the Antinomian Disputations, he states that God revealed the law to Moses, and if he did, then it shows that human beings need the law to be clarified to them via divine revelation.

Lastly, Baker claims elsewhere that the Erlangen school rejected natural law.  Again, this is quite false.  Exactly the opposite was true.  In fact, this is part of the reason they were criticized by Barth.  Against Erlangen, Barth extended his attack first made against Brunner and natural theology in Nein!  As Barth observes in CD 3.4, that the that the claim that the Christian can know God's will on the basis of the orders of creation and the natural (something taught by Erlangen and Lutheran social ethics in general) could lead to (and he believed it had!) the understanding that these orders were independent of God and therefore autonomous.  For Barth, the Lutheran doctrine of natural law and orders of creation meant that creatures could go about there business without the revelation of God and his law.  This would ultimately lead to Nazism and other deifications of the state. 

3. Baker quotes me:

"In the same place, Dr. Kilcrease further says, "God has set human nature up so that men and women naturally interact with one another according to set drives and when one works against these drives stuff goes haywire and much evil results. Hence, even secular people when they want to get along in the world must obey God to a certain degree. Similarly, those who want to reject God's order entirely have to protect themselves against that order through artificial means (such as the reliance on others to clean up the messes created by their behavior!)."

So, according to Dr. Kilcrease, God's eternal will is God's order and natural human interaction or drives.

Of course, this is an impossibility. God's eternal will is neither God's creational orders, or human "drives," whatever those are."

As usual, Rev. Baker does not say outright what he's trying to insinuate.  But the gist of this is that he is accusing me of rejecting lex aeterna or the eternal law. 

There are a couple of things that are rather ironic here.  First, is that he later (on the same page) insinuates that I reject the natural after having quoted this passage in which I am arguing in favor of the natural law.  My point here in this passage is that the law of God is written so deeply into nature that even when human beings sinfully distort nature, they can never actually fully escape the law.  In terms of civil righteousness, they must actually obey God's law somewhat just to get along with life.

Secondly, affirming that created things even after sin partially reflect God's eternal legal will does not negate that God has an eternal legal will.  Why would it?  Again, I fully affirm the eternity of the law as God's will and, in fact, I argue for it at some length in the CTQ article.  Baker has publicly claimed to have read the CTQ article and seen my presentation at Ft. Wayne.  So the question is: Was he being dishonest when he said that he read my article, or, was he intentionally being dishonest about my position on the natural and eternal law?  It must be one or the other!

Thirdly, part of Baker's difficulty is that he assumes that non-exclusive statement are somehow exclusive.  Case-in-point is the quotation from him above.  For Baker, it would seem that if I affirm that God's law is reflected and worked through the created order of things, then I must somehow reject that God has his eternal legal will.  Obviously that doesn't make any sense and is false (if he considers this false, how is it that he buys into natural law theory?).  One actually presupposes the other: If God has an eternal will, creation obvious reflects it!  Similarly, when I stated in an earlier e-mail exchange between us that the essence of the law was God's eternal will, but that he "office of the law" (Luther's term) was anything in creation that threatened or accused, he objected on similar grounds.  I pointed out that this claim was based on a statement of Luther's in the Antinomian Disputations, but it was confessionally binding on us since it was quoted in the Formula of Concord!  The conversation ended there.  Nevertheless, the statement is perfectly coherent.  Because we are sinners, we subject to wrath in this life through the medium of the created order.  Why?  Because we are out of accordance with the eternal will of God that the cosmos is ruled on the basis of! 

4.   Lastly, Baker writes:

"Franz, you've presented, pretty much, the traditional understanding of the atonement post Anselm.  Which was rejected by theologians of the Erlangen School.  And Gerhard Forde.  Because they didn't like this Jewish God stuff, appeasing God's anger through human blood thingy."

A couple of misunderstanding and distortions here.  First, Franz states "Jesus offered up his life to the penal justice of God to propitiate his wrath."  This was the position of Luther and Protestant orthodoxy, but it was not the position of Anselm.  Anselm taught that Christ's death wasn't punishment, but meritorious.  Merit counteracts the human debt of sin, it doesn't satisfy wrath.  So, Jesus did not take upon himself the sins of the world, but offered himself up in a supreme act of merit.  To use Lutheran terminology (first proposed by Flacius) here: for Anselm there is an active righteousness in the cross, but no passive righteousness.  Also, Anselm didn't believe that substitution was necessary to satisfy the wrath of God, but rather because God's infinite honor was violated.  Big difference.  For Anselm, God doesn't have wrath, it's just a metaphor for when God does things which seem wrathful to humans.

Secondly, although von Hofmann rejected penal substitution, his colleagues at Erlangen did not and in fact attacked him for it (BTW, although von Hofmann did think that substitution made God into a cosmic jerk, it didn't have anything to do (at least overtly) with anti-Semitism- as Baker insinuates).  As problematic as Thomasius' teaching about kenosis was, he was correct that von Hofmann's view of atonement distorted justification.  Theodosius Harnack and Thomasius actually wrote a short piece against von Hofmann for this very reason.  In the 20th century, both Elert and Althaus upheld penal substitution.  Althaus has a long section in his Theology of Martin Luther book where he attacks Aulen for his view of Luther's atonement theology (which closely mirrored von Hofmann's!).  Elert states repeatedly in his Law and Gospel, The Christian Ethos, and The Christian Faith books that he believes in penal substitition.  In my dissertation, I summarize Elert's teaching on this point in the third chapter. 

One more thing concerning the former point: Baker is clearly aware of this, because I pointed this all out to him about a year and a half ago on a FB thread.  In order to prove to me that Elert rejected penal substitution, he quoted me a passage in which Elert explicitly stated that Christ died as a substitute under God's wrath.  So, much like he insinuated that I did not believe in the natural law, by quoting a passage from my writing where I affirm my belief in natural law, he claimed that Elert rejects substitution by quoting him upholding it.  So, that he would repeat this false claim again after I demonstrated to him that it was false (in fact, self-evidently false from a quotation he himself was using!) is deeply odd.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Grace is not Affirmation: A Plea for the Justification of Sinners, rather than the Justification of Sin

Among many in contemporary Christianity (particularly those in the so-called "Emergent Church") it has been fashionable as of late to preach a doctrine of what is often called "radical grace."  One finds this in Brian McLaren and of course, our old friend Rob Bell.  If you want the "Lutheran" version of this (and yes, the scare quotes are intentional), check out the website of the now trendy (at least for another 5 years or so) "Rev." Nadia Bolz-Weber:

Very trendy indeed! 

Anyways, as less than pleasing as I find the trendiness of this whole thing (doubtless this will come off as weird and dated in 10 or 20 years.  To see what I mean, check out some of the bizarre stuff that CPH published in the late 60s and early 70s- that's what its going to be like!) my real trouble with "Rev." Nadia is that she (and the whole Emergent Church movement) has a false understanding of grace.

If you read her sermons (available there and all over the web- also on Youtube) the concept of grace that emerges is one of "affirmation."  By "affirmation" I mean that she tends to see the gospel as the good news that God is loving and has unilaterally accepted human beings as they are.  Implicit in this understanding and her entire program, is the notion that this acceptance is not being fully realized in the contemporary Church.  Hence the need for someone with tattoos and Gen X/Y sensibilities to go out and tell all the unchurched hipsters that God accepts them as they are.  The mainstream of the Church is being too judgmental and so these unchurched folks are being driven away.  This theology is particularly pronounced when it treats the contemporary issue of gay marriage, ordination, and the like in the ELCA.  For "Rev." Nadia, it is axiomatic that homosexuality should be accepted by the Church.  Why?  Because failure to do so cuts against how she understands the essence of Lutheranism's radical grace.  To tell homosexuals that their behavior is not acceptable is to reject radical grace in favor of an un-Lutheran legalism and judgmentalism.  She has made this argument quite explicitly on a number of occasions.  I recall her making it in a sermon at the ordination of a homosexual in the Denver area a few months after the August 2009 ELCA convention.

About this theology of grace, allow me to make three points:

1. As radical, avant-garde, and edgy as she (and the others in the Emergent Church movement) seem to think this theology is, in point of fact, it is little more than a repackaging of the standard operating theology of the ELCA and other mainline Protestant denominations.  The deeper question is: Why is this the standard theology?  My suggestion would be a sociological and cultural explanation.  Americans are a middle class capitalist society that works from a myth of self-affirmation.  We believe in what Charles Taylor famously called the "punctuated self" or what Thomas Sowell calls the "unlimited self."  The self is most authentic when it is seen as unlimited and can autonomously work out its will.  The sky is the limit.  Capitalism in particular encourages people to affirm their own desires and think about their own interests.  Of course the problem with this view of the self is that it doesn't correspond to reality and it leads almost inexorably to massive levels of selfishness (hence high abortion and divorce rates in America post-1970!- We can look forward to the entitle crisis for the same reason!).  Since reality will eventually kick in and the self will have to recognize its limitations, this leads to a sense of being a godling trapped within structures out of the godling's control.  This is why every new American religion is ultimately a form of Gnosticism (Scientology, Mormonism, Nation of Islam, etc.)- the Gnostic myth is that we are sad gods trapped in the limitations of matter!  To meet the need of the disappointed gods, the mainline Protestant churches have constructed a theology of affirmation.  Although the world may not be affirming of you as the little god you are, God is constructed theologically as the ultimately affirming one.  Jesus is portrayed in most mainline Protestant sermons preached since 1965, as having a mission of simply walking around Palestine and affirming everyone he sees (BTW, see the hilarious scholarly version of this thesis, see John Dominic Crossan's The Historical Jesus- i.e., the concept of the "brokerless kingdom"!).  Jesus died because people didn't like his affirmation and the Father raised him to show how affirming he is after all.  And so, basically, the Emergent Church and Nadia Bolz-Weber, as edgy and contemptuous of middle class values that they claim to be, is basically a mirror image of them.  After all, they appeal not to the real poor and downtrodden, but to upper middle class white hipsters! 

2. As far as historic Biblical and Confessional Lutheran theology goes, grace as affirmation is a big failure and a total misunderstanding of Lutheranism.  As I stated in my previous post: Grace and law must be preached side-by-side in their most real and unconditional forms.  As Luther puts it in the Smalcald Articles, Law is an absolute: We are absolutely guilty coram Deo.  When we wake up in the morning, we are already sinning.  Conversely, the gospel is an absolute as well.  We are absolutely free from all guilt through the gospel because of what Christ has done.  Again though, this can only be understood in light of God's first word of law.  Grace isn't really grace if God isn't relenting from something, namely wrath and judgment.  Moreover, God's relenting from wrath and judgment is, as Bonhoeffer was fond of saying, "costly."  The cost of grace is one that God himself pays, namely, that of judgment.  God in Christ suffers the infinite judgment of the law against sin.  When we recognize this, we also die, through repentance and faith.  God judges our old being and we are "crucified with Christ" (as Paul puts it).  Anything less than the judgment and grace of justification and sanctification is affirmation and not grace.  Since in the theology of affirmation bypasses judgment, it becomes (as Bonhoeffer again says) the "justification of sin, rather than the justification of the sinner."

3. This brings us to our third point: Why not affirmation rather than grace?  Why not just have a God who loves us as we are?  Because a God who affirms, rather than judges (and only then gives grace) means a God who makes the law the last word.  As I observed in the last post, antinomianism is in  a sense the impossible heresy.  If the law and its total judgment are bypassed, then human being still find themselves under a demand.  In the case of postmodern culture, this is the demand to do everything one can to reject the law in order to be free.  One continues to acknowledge the reality of the standards of God's law by being forced to live up to the new standard of not obeying it!  Likewise, if, in our theology, we establish a God who is in all times and all places affirming and loving, then this way of thinking about God becomes an ideal which we conform to.  The main message of the Church will become: "God is nice, so you should be nice as well."  Telling me that "God is nice" is not a promise, it is a law which I must live by to gain life from it.  Grace is only grace because it is a reaching out to someone who has been judged.  It must by its very nature have an "in spite of" quality to it to be real.  If no real judgment has taken place and only an ideal is affirmed, then no matter how friendly the ideal is, it is still a kind of law which I must conform to.  We are informed by the Emergents about how things are (God is affirming) and then we are told to conform to it (be affirming also!).  Hence the great irony of "radical grace" is that it is not grace at all!  In trying to magnify God's grace, these folks ultimately destroy it.  They simply give a new law of affirmation which they then bid people to conform to.