The Gospel and its discontents

That sinners are accounted just before a righteous God solely on account of Christ’s perfect obedience in life, in suffering, and in death, and liberated from sin and death by His resurrection is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing to believe. But it is the Gospel, which only poor, miserable sinners righteously exposed, crushed and broken by the Law and regenerated by the Holy Spirit can and will believe, those who have despaired in their own works, and by faith trust in the works of Another.

Roman Catholics love to say that this is a “cheap and easy Gospel” which lets man off the hook and foments spiritual laziness and antinomianism.

Really? Not so, I say.

Clinging to this promise in faith over and against the ridicule of the world and walking in good works that cannot merit anything for us is probably the most difficult thing imaginable. It is a small gate; few find it. It is the “one thing needful,” the faith which makes one well, makes one rise, and walk.

It is not in the pomp of Rome (though it is not my place to judge individuals), nor is it in the enthusiasm of an unmitigated, perpetually-Protestantizing Protestantism. This narrow gate is the Gospel. And it is the Gospel which, I believe, the churches of the Augsburg Confession have faithfully, albeit imperfectly, preserved since the Lutheran fathers reformed the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. Rome owns the historical narrative still, as well as the term “Catholic,” but what Rome teaches is not the catholic faith once passed down to the saints. Rather, it is an amalgam of Aristotelian moral philosophy and Christian pietism. Much has been retained by Rome which is good, but more has been dispensed with, lamentably. It comes as no surprise, then, that evangelicals whose churches have never preached Justification or Christology correctly and who have always felt the need to work strenuously for their salvation take the surprisingly easy, increasingly predictable sideways step to Rome: same treadmill, but with sacraments and (an aura of vaunted) authority, gravitas, etc. Kids at my alma mater often made what I like to call the “Lord of the Rings” conversion: they fell in love with Rome because the impression they got of it while in college was that it was traditional (whatever that means), reverent, and mythopoeic: you can feel like you’re part of something big, mystical, and exciting — the adventure of your salvation! Then they end up at some Novus Ordo parish with a clown-celebrant, a rock-a-billy banjo-liturgy, and a square dance procession of the gifts. Poetic justice, says I.

Yes, the risk of the pure Gospel is antinomianism. But there is a clear difference between the worth of something and the risks of something. The risk of walking the Narrow Path is falling off of it (think of Scylla and Charybdis in the Odyssey); the risk of walking through the door to the sheep-pen is missing it and running into the fence (which is electric, and barbed-wire — it’s called the Law); the risk of getting married is getting divorced, etc. There is also a significantly higher risk to Roman theology — that of never hearing the Gospel. Put another way, the risk of the partial/obscured/perverted Gospel is, well, nomianism. Thankfully, even in the Roman church much of the liturgy still preaches the Gospel, even if the homily (catechism, etc.) does not.

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I posted the foregoing in a comment-feed of a piece over at Internet Monk, the main author/webmaster of which site has decided to become Lutheran. I haven’t been writing much on my own site, so I thought I would paste a slightly touched-up version of my comment for the perusal of anyone who…reads this blog and cares.

Do you read this blog and care? Thank you.

+VDMA

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