Friday, October 25, 2013

A Critique of Cascione's Critique of Rydecki

This morning I awoke to see that a friend had forwarded a piece to me from Jack Cascione ("Rydecki and the Sacerdotalists attack Objective Justification" in which he responds to Paul Rydecki's "Forensic Appeal to the Throne of Grace."  I'm not certain where it came from (probably from his list-serve), but it looks like something that will probably make an appearance in the Christian News at some point.  I think that there are many strengths to the piece, but I also think that Cascione has misread Rydecki on several levels and so it might undermine the credibility of his critique.  Below I want to examine the strengths and weaknesses of his points.

1. "Sacerdotalism": Wrongly, I think, Cascione has read his own crusades against what he perceives to be a creeping "sacerdotalism" into Rydecki's position.  This is something that he has oddly accused William Cwirla and myself of (among others in the LCMS).  As I see it, there has been an increase in people emphasizing the importance of the office of ministry in the LCMS, particularly among the Gottesdienst group (including my old pastor, Karl Fabrizius).  This is largely a reaction against low-Church American Protestantism, which tends to denigrate the office of ministry.  I don't see this as an attempt at rejecting Walther, but restoring his original insights (at least in the case of the Gottesdienst group).  That being said, I do see James Heiser as unfortunately going an extra step by seeing the entire Waltherian project as fundamentally flawed from the beginning.  I would of course view certain interpretations of Walther to be problematic- not least the Otten/Cascione theory of hyper-congregationalism (something prevalevant in the LCMS in the mid-20th century).  Nevertheless, in terms of the available options, Walther's position is probably the best in its fundamental principle that the Church is to be found in Word and sacrament ministry, which means that all churchly authority must be rooted in the individual congregation (i.e., those gathered around Word and Sacrament).  I find Kurt Marquardt's treatment of Church and Ministry particularly helpful in this book:

In any case, then, what is going on, even in the ELDoNA, is not really a sacerdotalism, at least as Lutheranism would historically reject such a doctrinal stance.  Historically, the sort of sacerdotalism that would be problematic for Lutherans would be one in which ordination gives a special character to the person (this is rooted in the Augustinian and Latin North African theory of the sacraments), so that person becomes a sacrament themselves.  Though Lutherans in the 19th century certainly did flirt with something close to this (think Stephan, among the others referred to as belonging to the "German Puseyism"), but it would be hard to find many that went all the way.  Stephan probably came the closest in his belief that the validity of the means of grace depended on him.  Loehe came close to this, but didn't go all the way.

Whereas Cascione may think that this is what motivates Rydecki, I very seriously doubt it.  People always read their own theological concerns into others.  For example, when Cascione read my book, he tended to interpret it in terms of the interests and theological debates which the readership of the Christian News were engaged in.  And frankly, in writing my work, I was little interested or engaged in any of these discussions.  So, this tended to lead to something of a misinterpretation of my book on a number of points.

In Rydecki's case, there seems to be a number of thing going on.  First, there is the unique weirdness of the WELS history, particularly with its relationship to the doctrine of Objective Justification- something unparalleled in the LCMS or ELS.  As originally an outgrowth of a Pietist mission society, there is a stronger strain of Pietism leftover in that denomination than in the LCMS or the ELS.  Moving towards an orthodox understanding of election and justification with the theology of Hoenecke, there were always periodic Pietistic revolts against Objective Justification.  In reading the literature that was intended to crush these revolts, one notices that the more the Pietist side rejected the claims about OJ, the more the orthodox party would up the ante by hardening the language of objectivity and universality.  Again, they did so in language unparalleled in LCMS or ELS literature, as far as I can tell.  The nadir of this is probably the Kokomo statement, which was even rejected by Kurt Marquardt for its rather poor wording.  In fact, the whole thing sounded like a kind of Barthian universalism- even if this was quite obviously never the intention.  Hence, for the Pietist sorts who rejected OJ, it was very easy to use such poor language to confuse laypeople into believing that the WELS was teaching universalism (which is absurd).  Such revolts against the WELS leadership and its supposed "universalism" serve as a kind of master explanation and symbol for everything going wrong with the synod.  Despite Rydecki's association with the Gottesdienst crowd because of his advocacy of liturgical worship (among other things), I think one can hardly understand his motivation as having to do with an imaginary sacerdotalism.  It probably has more to do with his anger with the WELS leadership over things like Church-growthism and his use of the the issue of OJ (with which they have been forced to so strongly identify themselves because of the weird history of the WELS) as a symbol of everything else he thinks is wrong with the denomination.

2. "Limited Atonement":  Beyond wrongly accusing Rydecki of sacerdotalism, Cascione misfires a bit on the issue of limited vs. unlimited atonement.  Cascione seems to suggest that Rydecki doesn't really believe in an unlimited atonement, since he does not believe that forgiveness is prior to and therefore creates faith: "Rydecki should have titled his paper, “Why Christ Did Not Die for the Sins of the World.”

There is some truth to this and much untruth.  First, just to clear up a mistake that Cascione makes through the piece: Objective Atonement and Objective Justification are actually two separate things.  Objective Atonement means that Jesus has died for all sins, Objective Justification means that God the Father has received this atonement and responded to it by pronouncing a universal word of forgiveness and thereby sending the Holy Spirit to channel this message through the resurrection of Christ and the means of grace.  Cascione unfortunately misinterprets the doctrine at times (though not always) as mere universal atonement, which would not be correct.  Moreover, as Cascione also notes, Rydecki repeatedly states that he believes in Objective Atonement- and I see no reason to doubt this.

The truth in what Cascione says would be that a rejection of an Objective Justification paired with the orthodox doctrine of election would logically imply a limited atonement.  In other words, for Rydecki, much as in Calvinism, one has an atonement that is sufficient for the sins of the world.  Nevertheless, since there is no universal declaration of forgiveness (which the elect subsequently respond to with faith), logically, the promise can only be good for the elect and not for everyone else as well.  The negative effect of this is that since the universal promise isn't actually sincere except for the elect, one is driven back to the quality of one's faith to discern their election.  The only difference between Calvin and Rydecki then would be that for Calvinism election happens logically prior to atonement in God's order of decrees, whereas for Rydecki it happens afterwards.  

Part of the answer to this dilemma is that this rejection of Objective Justification wasn't meant to be coordinated with the doctrine of election.  Those who rejected OJ in the Norwegian, Ohio, and Iowa Synods also rejected election.  In their understanding, God gave a universal decree that he would absolve sin "if" people would believe.  Therefore, those who chose "not-to-not" resist divine grace would gain the judgment of justification and election subsequent to their belief.  Hence, as is easy to observe, without the pairing of election and Objective Justification, one is left either with a Calvinistic limited atonement or the intuitu fidei heresy.  In both cases, one cannot speak the gospel as an unconditional promise, but must ultimately drive people back to the quality of their faith as either a condition of salvation, or as a sign of a secret election. 

To be perfectly clear: Rydecki intends neither position- but not because this isn't the logical implication.  One of the difficulties with his particular style of doing theology is that he tends not to think very deeply through the implications of his own claims.  Case-in-point: As I have pointed out in the past, (and will touch on again below), his rhetoric of conditions placed on justification implies a belief in free will.  Why complain (as he rather frequently does) that people are not being forced to apply Christ's saving work to themselves, unless you actually think they can by their own free choice?  In pointing this out though, Rydecki asserts that I have falsely attributed to him a position which he does not hold.  Nevertheless, I never said that he held such a position.  What I said is that his way of formulating the doctrine of justification implied such a position, even if he did not hold such a position explicitly.  There is a difference.  In writing on theology, Rydecki largely lists off Bible quotations and theologians from the period of High Orthodoxy with little sense that there is a kind of internal coherence to the articles of the faith, or that, perhaps, theological terminology is not always univocal, but changes over time.  It never seems to occur to him that he must think through the implications of what he is teaching, rather than asserting such-and-such a doctrine because he can make a series of quotations say what he wants them to say.

Another example: At present the Intrepid Lutherans have an article up about how Huber sounds like statements made by certain Syncon theologians (   Well, so what?  If they were using the words in exactly the same manner, that might be a meaningful criticism.  But of course they aren't (and no serious theologian or historian thinks they are!), and, in fact, the Syncon theologians (Walther among them) taught a doctrine of election directly opposed to that of Huber.  So what's the argument again?- they sound the same so that's sort of damning or something?  Similarly, Walther discusses Huber's position in the Baier Compendium and rejects it in favor of Luther's in Bondage of the Will.  All of this then falls apart and indeed reveals itself to be a deeply superficial way of dealing with not only the doctrine of justification, but a deeply weird and flawed theological and historical method.  To put it very bluntly: If I wrote a journal article that used such logic, it would not be accepted for publication.  If I had a written a graduate paper in my doctoral program that used such logic, it would have received a non-passing grade.  But on the Internet, people can say whatever they want, I suppose.

3. Justification as an Analytic or Synthetic Judgment: For all his faults as a theologian, Albrecht Ritschl came up with an extremely useful way of grouping different doctrines of justification in his classic work Die christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versohnung.  He did so on the basis of the Kantian distinction between the analytical (a judgment that one gains by analyzing a thing "it is raining") or something that can be known a priori (categorically, it must either raining or not raining-one knows this prior to experience).  Properly speaking, Rome holds a analytic view, because God declares people righteous insofar as they have appropriated infused grace.  Pietism did as well, which is one of the reason that Karl Holl (a Swabian Pietist and student of Ritschl) wanted to make Luther's view into something analytical rather than synthetic.  By contrast, the Reformation assumed that God declared people righteous before examining them.  The declaration itself actually gave them the righteousness they needed (Christ's) and created the faith to appropriate it. 

If we are to use Ritschl's terminology, Cascione quite clearly places Rydecki into the analytic category.  In doing this, I think he's onto something here.  One of the more odd aspects of how Rydecki conceptualizes justification is that he pictures the sinner somehow actively appealing in the heavenly courtroom to the "the throne of grace."  Cascione writes (quoting Rydecki):

Here is another quote where Rydecki again has justification dependent on the action of the sinner. “Second, that justification occurs in the divine courtroom, not without the accused fleeing in faith to the Throne of Grace, not before the accused flees in faith to the Throne of Grace, but simultaneously with this ‘fleeing’ or this ‘forensic appeal.’ This present-tense (that is, concurrent with faith) absolution and justification is perfectly in keeping with the language of the Augsburg Confession:”
As Cascione rightly observes, this reverses the proper relationship between the proclamation of grace and the action of the sinner.  Grace comes and the sinner believes in the promise.  If there's nothing to believe in already, then there can't be any faith.  End of story.  As Kurt Marquardt has pointed out, the language of Objective and Subjective Justification developed during the Silver Age of Orthodoxy precisely to deal with a kind of confusion that could arise from the doctrine of justification by faith (a confusion which Rydecki has unfortunately reproduced!). In other words, to be justified one must believe that they are justified. But if one is only justified by faith, then one would asking someone to believe something that wasn't already true. To solve the problem, Calov observes in his commentary on the Augustana that prior to our faith, God announces his unilateral forgiveness (Objective Justification), which we subsequently appropriate by faith (Subjective Justification). 

Rydecki seems to have solved the problem in a different way than Calov, by creating an in-between state wherein the sinner believes in God's grace, but somehow doesn't have it yet.   Cascione also rightly points out that it is also a very bizarre way of thinking about faith in relationship to the knowledge of grace.  That is to say, somehow the sinner knows of and therefore logically trusts that God's grace exists, but this doesn't count as faith until he makes some kind of "appeal."  Beyond the logical problem of calling something that is faith not-faith, this theory also makes the mistake of conceptualizing the sinner as having an active part in his own justification.  That is, the sinner actively chooses to appeal to the gospel ("the throne of grace") and then God subsequently makes his judgment about the sinner based on the sinner's action.  This is utterly contrary to how Scripture, Luther, and the Lutheran Confessions think about faith.  For Orthodox Lutheran theology, faith is not an active choosing of the possibility of divine grace, but a passive receiving of it as a present reality.  This is why Luther refers to the life of faith as the vita passiva.  It is also no good to claim (as Rydecki doubtless would) that one can only make this active appeal because the grace of God has worked this capacity in us.  Even if this work is produced by God, it drives the sinner back to themselves in looking for assurance in an internal quality of faith in themselves- not in the unilateral word of grace proclaimed over them.  In fact, this is really more like the Augustinian/Thomistic position that God crowns his own works within us.  As a result, the distinction between law and gospel becomes the distinction between doing the Ten Commandments and doing the work of faith. 
Therefore, Rydecki's "appeal to the throne of grace" theory fails because: A. It logically implies either limited atonement or intuitu fidei.  B. Conceptualizes the sinner as active, rather than passive coram Deo.  C. Places the sinner in a extremely odd position of somehow being in a state of believing the gospel, but not having appropriated divine grace.  D. It turns justification from a synthetic judgment into an analytic judgment by insisting that God only justifies subsequent to the sinner's active appeal to the gospel, rather than conceptualizing God's forensic act as something which prompts the sinner to have faith.  Again, we observe  that Rydecki, unfortunately, may not have really thought through the implications of his own ideas.
4. Failure to understand the sacramentality of the Word:  Again, one of the major difficulties with Rydecki's position is a failure to understand the effective nature of the means of grace, or to understand the Word as something sacramental.  Cascione brings up a quotation from Luther (during his battle with Osiander over absolution) which deals with Objective Justification:

“Even he who does not believe that he is free and his sins forgiven shall also learn, in due time, how assuredly his sins were forgiven, even though he did not believe it. …A king gives you a castle. If you do not accept it, then it is not the king’s fault, nor is he guilty of a lie. But you have deceived yourself and the fault is yours. The king certainly gave it.”
In his paper, Rydecki's answer to the use of this quotation is quite revealing.  He states that this is about the Office of the Keys, and not about Objective Justification.  Cascione states that it, of course, is about Objective Justification- and he's correct.  Nevertheless, I think one can do better than Cascione's mere assertion that Rydecki is wrong.  What Rydecki fails to see is that because the Word is sacramental, the Office of the Keys is identical with God's own eternal act of justifying the world "in Christ."  Being in contact with the Word of absolution, means also being in contact with God's action of the justification of the world "in Christ."  Of course, apart from Christ, God is still active in his Word of law and wrath- but being in contact with the Word of absolution is identical with being in contact with God as the justifer of the world.  Failure to recognize or appreciate this is basically a failure to understand the coherence of Lutheran sacramental theory with the communication of attributes within the hypostatic union.  Just as Christ's divinity is present in and through his humanity, so too are God's own eternal decrees present in and through the means of grace.  Claiming that they are not is to repeat a mistake present in the Medieval tradition (after the manner of Peter Lombard) and in later Calvinism of distinguishing between the "will of the sign" and "will of good pleasure."
Ironically then, Cascione does not see that the "sacerdotalism" which he so abhors is actually the key to defeating Rydecki's theory of justification.  He tends to apply the term to those who hold that the word of the pastor is identical with the Word of God in absolution- or, at least, the in the case of William Cwirla and myself, that is how he has applied the term.  Nonetheless, if there is an Objective Justification that does not degenerate into a hazy universalism (as it is in the imagaination of Rydecki and his followers), it must be channeled through the means of grace, administered by those called to ministry.  Conversely, if ministers of the Word are authorized to proclaim the gospel as the very presence of God's salvation, then it must be grounded in the prior reality God's own universal and objective justification.  Indeed, if this were not the case, how is it that Jesus could announce unilateral forgiveness to sinners?  How could Paul indiscriminately tell the Romans whom he had never met that they were God's justified and elect?  It is because God has justified the whole world and authorized a sacramental Word through which he channels this justification.  Indeed, as Oswald Bayer has pointed out, the real "Reformation breakthrough" was not Luther's discovery of justification by faith alone, but rather the sacramentality of the Word.  That is to say, the Reformer came to recognize that the words "I absolve you" by the minister were in fact identical with God's own judgment.  Justification by faith was merely a consequence of this. 

In keeping with this, Luther makes this observation in his letter to the Nuremberg city council regarding the question of the general absolution.  As he states, the proclamation of the gospel is the proclamation of a universal absolution:

"We cannot censure of reject general absolution for this reason: the preaching of the holy gospel itself is a general absolution in which the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to many people in the congregation publicly or to a single person alone, either publicly or privately. For this reason, although not all believe the absolution, it is not to be rejected. For every absolution, whether it takes place in a communal or individual setting must still be understood to demand faith and to help those who accept it..."
He goes on:" the gospel proclaims forgiveness to everyone in the whole world and excepts no one from the universal [proclamation]." WA Br 6: 454, 5-17.