What exactly is the problem with Gerhard O. Forde and the “Radical Lutherans”?

forde

Gerhard O. Forde, the father of “Radical Lutheranism.”

Reposted from the Facebook.

Starting in medias res…

Since it was wisely stated by a friend that “every little skirmish isn’t as important as a few well-crafted contributions,” I have abandoned the skirmishes of the land of Comboxen for a time and undertaken to craft a more substantive contribution. I hope my efforts have not been in vain.

For the record, there is no dispute concerning the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae, the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls — justification sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo. Man has no active role in his justification: he is the passive recipient entirely. He was dead, but now he is alive. He was guilty, but now he is forgiven. He was unrighteous, but now he has been declared righteous:

[B]efore man is enlightened, converted, regenerated, renewed, and drawn by the Holy Ghost, he can of himself and of his own natural powers begin, work, or concur in working in spiritual things and in his own conversion or regeneration just as little as a stone or a block or clay (FC SD II, 24).

For simplicity’s sake, I will say that justification deals with dead people. The spiritually dead cannot choose to obey God. An unregenerate man cannot regenerate himself, and what’s more, he doesn’t even want to: his will is enslaved to sin. He is passive, like a drowning-victim receiving CPR.

But in sanctification, we are not talking about dead people. We are talking about live people, converted people, born-again-through-Water-and-the-Word people. God has done something to us ontologically. He has given us hearts of flesh (cf. Ezek xxxvi, 26). To put it bluntly, we’re “saved.” Period. We cannot add to or augment our justification. To suggest otherwise is to affirm the cardinal heresy of Papism. No one here is doing that.

Because we are alive in sanctification, we are able to co-operate with the Holy Spirit. Because our wills have been freed, we are able to obey God’s commandments, which — to the New Man, at least — are not burdensome.1

However, it seems that many ostensibly confessional Lutherans — including a number of pastors and public theologians who publish quite prolifically on the internet — do not believe that we are the ones obeying in our New Obedience. It at least sounds like these “soft antinomians” (hat-tip to Pr. Mark Surburg) are saying that the willing and acting human person continues to will and to act only evil and commit only sin. If I am not severely mistaken and this is in fact what they are saying, they are quite simply wrong.

When St. Paul says that God works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose, this working is the Holy Spirit enabling us, not dominating or controlling us. The very grammar attests that the Holy Spirit is the necessary cause of all of our good works, but that we still do the works. In all of this our will is mixed, for it is the proving ground in the struggle of flesh vs. spirit. “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh,” the Apostle writes to the Church in Galatia; “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal v, 16-17). We must not overlook the ultimate clause: “the things that you wish.” The regenerate sinner, the Christian, the New Man, wishes to do the will of God, but the Old Adam in him continues to desire what is sinful. But they are one person.2

It is false to say that every act of the Christian is sin. Even if we can say (and we can and must say) that his every act is tainted by sin, the sin is not necessarily essential, i.e., of the substance of the act, but rather it is accidental on account of the lingering sinful nature which burdens us and resists the working of the New Man. And this is no mere quibble, nor is it a hairsplitting Jesuitical distinction: if one says that the Christian is non posse non peccare — that is, not able not to sin — then the reality3 of the Spirit’s work in us is denied. According to this schematic we are merely inhabited by the Spirit but not at all changed by him. Among other things, this verges on the Flacian error, condemned in Article I of the Formula: if Christians are not able not to sin, then sin is essential to human nature. This erroneous (and, I repeat, officially condemned) anthropology makes hay out of the Incarnation and effectively undermines the entire Gospel. This would have Christ born a sinner in re, not merely imputed with the sin of mankind. If one attempts to sidestep this in order to preserve the sinlessness of Christ, then Christ is not true man, human nature being essentially sinful; rather, He must be some tertium quid. If this sounds familiar, it is because it is redolent of both Docetism and Eutychianism — all for the sake of insisting that sin is essential to man’s nature! The problems such a teaching presents for the Atonement are heretical in size. (As an aside, it seems to me that it would be much easier just to stay orthodox, to say nothing of the health-benefits involved!)

I must pause at this point to say that the only place in the greater Lutheran cosmos I have heard such a denial of the posse non peccare is from among the theologians of the “Radical Lutheran” rump of the ELCA. From what I know of this contingent, they are viewed as “conservative” by ELCA-standards and thus have garnered for themselves a bit of bad-boy “rebels-fighting-a-rearguard-action” cachet among some in the LCMS. But enmity with the ELCA doth not necessarily a friend of Missouri make. Indeed, the subtle errors of the “Radical Lutheran” school are in some ways more pernicious than the flagrant apostasies of the ELCA mothership. The devil never likes to come in the front door.

Back to the matter at hand:

Perhaps this is a grave misunderstanding on my part, but what I have read and heard from those espousing the soft-antinomian position is that man does not cooperate with God at all in the process of sanctification. This is simply false. I’ve also heard it said that “sanctification is identical with subjective justification,” which is also false — and quite loony, to boot. (To be blunt, I have heard or read every one of the absurd statements compiled here.) As “edgy” and “radical” as such perspectives are, they are terribly sloppy, paying no mind to the wide and narrow definitions of the term “sanctification” and its derivations as they are used in Scripture, the Confessions, and the Lutheran scholastic tradition.

The soft-antinomian “Radical Lutheran-esque” paradigm suggests that even after conversion man does not have a free will in any sense. (At times, its adherents seem to go far beyond this error to suggest, when pressed, that man does not have a will [arbitrium] at all. In certain instances, this latter error seems to stem from a truncated and idiosyncratic use of theological terminology). To say the very least, I am uncomfortable with the Hegelian overtones of such a position, for it would amount to God merely realizing and recognizing himself — obeying His own Law — through inert automata. This seems more redolent of the thought of Paul Tillich, or Robert Jenson, or Wolfhart Pannenberg than that of any orthodox theologian. To be honest, “Radical Lutheran” soteriology strikes me as being somewhat redolent of Far Eastern religious thought, wherein salvation entails the obliteration of the conscious self through its absorption into the Divine, like unto a drop of water landing in the ocean. It should go without saying that the goal of the Incarnation is not an erasure of personhood, but its restoration and fulfillment. Grace perfects nature; it does not destroy it. I say this because the “Radical Lutheran” heterodoxies, if taken to their logical conclusion, effectively do away with the discrete individual status of the human creature as a separate entity from his Creator. In fine, they are anathema to orthodox Christianity. One can only hope that the adherents of Radical Lutheranism are prevented from such a serious error by what Dr. Francis Pieper called “felicitous inconsistency.”

I’ve also seen it explicitly stated by the soft antinomians that the Christian is not a New Man, not a new creation, but that the New Man is simply Christ in us (though not communicating anything of His divine nature to us, a lá Nestorianism — NB: this is my analogy, not theirs). This flatly contradicts Scripture and our Lutheran Symbols. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” St. Paul writes, “old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Co v, 17). “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,” St. Peter writes, “by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter i, 3-4). I am not sure if any theologian anywhere ever has taken St. Peter to be referring only to a future participation in the divine nature, i.e., one which takes place in the Resurrection only, but not at all right now. While that may be an interesting debate, it wouldn’t be one in which Confessional Lutherans were free to espouse differing positions. The Formula of Concord speaks of the regenerate as having a liberated will and a nature which is being renewed right now, in this life:

Therefore there is a great difference between baptized and unbaptized men. For since, according to the doctrine of St. Paul, (Gal iii, 27), all who have been baptized have put on Christ, and thus are truly regenerate, they have now arbitrium liberatum (a liberated will), that is, as Christ says, they have been made free again, (John viii, 36); whence they are able not only to hear the Word, but also to assent to it and accept it, although in great weakness (FC SD II, 67).

Those of us who have been opposing the soft-antinomian “Radical Lutheran-esque” position via various media are not suggesting that man has any natural power to co-operate in sanctification apart from the Holy Spirit. Yet the Scriptures and the Confessions clearly attest that there are two workers, two operators, in sanctification: the Holy Spirit and the Christian. For this reason St. Paul says to the Church in Corinth (vi, 1): “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (Συνεργοῦντες δὲ καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν μὴ εἰς κενὸν τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ δέξασθαι ὑμᾶς·). This is indeed a holy mystery, and although it may unsettle us or contradict the reductionistic presentation of the Lutheran faith we have grown comfortable with, it is a truth that I do not think can be gainsaid. The reality of the “new powers” with which the Christian co-operates is attested by FC SD II, 65-66, which says:

As soon as the Holy Ghost, through the Word and holy Sacraments, has begun in us this His work of regeneration and renewal, it is certain that through the power of the Holy Ghost we can and should co-operate, although still in great weakness. But this [that we cooperate] does not occur from our carnal natural powers, but from the new powers and gifts which the Holy Ghost has begun in us in conversion, as St. Paul expressly and earnestly exhorts that as workers together with Him we receive not the grace of God in vain (2 Co vi, 1).

Again, those of us who have been opposing the soft-antinomian “Radical Lutheran-esque” position have constantly affirmed that the Holy Spirit is the necessary cause of these works, as the Formula states:

But this is to be understood in no other way than that the converted man does good to such an extent and so long as God by His Holy Spirit rules, guides, and leads him, and that as soon as God would withdraw His gracious hand from him, he could not for a moment persevere in obedience to God. But if this were understood thus…that the converted man cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the manner as when two horses together draw a wagon, this could in no way be conceded without prejudice to the divine truth.

Let the reader understand: we are not suggesting that “converted man cooperates with the Holy Ghost in the manner as when two horses together draw a wagon.” Not at all. However, refusing to attend to the proper definition of “co-operation” is no way to prevent or combat this error. Nor do we get to pick and choose favorite bits of the Concordia — it presents a unity of doctrine which we are to own, not a buffét from which we are free to pick and choose things that strike our fancy. If we neglect to gain a proper understanding of just how it is that we do cooperate with the Holy Spirit and instead huff and puff until we’re blue in the face about how we don’t, we will certainly commit the reductionist error. For example, without an orthodox understanding of the co-operating, passages such as the following (regarding rewards for good works) are incoherent:

Here also we add something concerning rewards and merits. We teach that rewards have been offered and promised to the works of believers. We teach that good works are meritorious, not for the remission of sins, for grace or justification (for these we obtain only by faith), but for other rewards, bodily and spiritual, in this life and after this life, because Paul says, ‘Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor’ (1 Co iii, 8). There will, therefore be different rewards according to different labors. But the remission of sins is alike and equal to all, just as Christ is one, and is offered freely to all who believe that for Christ’s sake their sins are remitted. Therefore the remission of sins and justification are received only by faith, and not on account of any works (Apology V [IV II], 73-74f).

Yes, in fact — Scripture and the Confessions speak of degrees of glory and rewards in the Resurrection for good works done here and now this side of the grave. Yet the foregoing portion of the Apology is so neglected, it seems, that it likely strikes our ears as un-Lutheran. I know that it did mine not too many years ago.

Some may wonder what the “cash value” of all of this is. A pragmatist question, but one worth entertaining. For this I can think of no better place to look than the confessional. When the rubber met the road, “soft antinomianism” can be catastrophic in the effect it has on the consciences of those “smoldering wicks” and “bruised reeds” who come to confess their sins to the pastor as to God himself. (I do speak from experience as a penitent here, which evidence I hope is admissible.)

If a Christian is struggling with habitual sin and feeling rather walked-upon by world, flesh, and devil, he of course needs to hear the “already-having-happenedness” of Christ’s work of justification proclaimed powerfully to him by his confessor. He needs to be told that Christ has made atonement for his sins — yes, even those sins on which the paint has not yet even dried! He needs to be told that he is reconciled. It hurts to hear this, but it’s the hurt of a salve being applied to a wound, a hurt which turns to comfort. Finally, he needs to be told, “I forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

However, in the same confessional, the penitent also needs to hear the reassurance that he no longer possesses an enslaved will. He needs to be reminded that Christ has not only fought and conquered world, flesh, and devil for him, but that the Holy Spirit will help him, himself, to fight the unholy trinity and resist temptation in the hour of sin. The good fight which the Christian is called to take up is not meritorious for salvation, no, but it is still necessary. (Yes, something can be necessary without being necessary for salvation; however, to draw out this distinction would take a separate essay.) The penitent Christian needs to be encouraged to shoulder his cross and mortify his flesh — encouraged as the son of the free woman, not ordered as the offspring of the slave. Exhortation is needed. For lack of it a struggling Christian can easily despair.

Yes, the pastoral consequences of “soft antinomianism” are very worrisome, to put it mildly. Pastors who espouse this heterodox perspective (intentionally or by default — both are common) run the risk of implying not just to their parishioners but to whomever their teaching might reach that it does not really matter if they resist outward sin or not. The reasoning goes something like this:

Regardless of how successfully you’ve warred against the lusts of the flesh that particular week, or whether you’ve curtailed sinful acts, you’re still a poor miserable sinner, so, really, you shouldn’t expend too too much effort at leading a holy life or abstaining from near occasions of sin. (Slash away, Ockham’s Razor.) In fact, you might even be worse off if you’ve successfully curtailed outward sins (it is implied), because such successes will only make you proud. Better it is to “sin boldly” than be a “pietist” (this term, “pietist”, for anyone unfamiliar with Lutheran inside-baseball, is just about the worst thing anyone can call you). Just be sure to come back next Sunday, admit that you’ve been bad, and tank up on some grace.4

While the foregoing is a caricature of precepts and examples which I have personally seen presented as the cream of the Lutheran crop over the last decade or so, it is only slightly hyperbolic. More often these errors are not explicitly stated in this manner; no, they are just not preached against. However, sometimes they are indeed presented in the foregoing manner (as though world, flesh, and devil needed help). As for me, if I had not at some point mercifully learned that this was a severe misrepresentation of historic orthodox Lutheranism, I surely would not be Lutheran today. No, I would not be some other denomination: to be perfectly blunt, I would probably be dead.

“Don’t preach exhortation to good works — that’s un-Lutheran,” the soft antinomians say. But the words of Melanchthon in the Apology would rebuke them, if only they would allow themselves to be taught:

[I]n our churches all the sermons are occupied with such topics as these: of repentance; of the fear of God; of faith in Christ, of the righteousness of faith, of the consolation of consciences by faith, of the exercises of faith; of prayer, what its nature should be, and that we should be fully confident that it is efficacious, that it is heard; of the cross; of the authority of magistrates and all civil ordinances [likewise, how each one in his station should live in a Christian manner, and, out of obedience to the command of the Lord God, should conduct himself in reference to every worldly ordinance and law]; of the distinction between the kingdom of Christ, or the spiritual kingdom, and political affairs; of marriage; of the education and instruction of children; of chastity; of all the offices of love. From this condition of the churches it may be judged that we diligently maintain church discipline and godly ceremonies and good church-customs (Apology, Article XV [VIII], 43-44).

So, too, the words of the Formula of Concord:

For the old Adam, as an intractable, refractory ass, is still a part of them, which must be coerced to the obedience of Christ, not only by the teaching, admonition, force and threatening of the Law, but also oftentimes by the club of punishments and troubles, until the body of sin is entirely put off, and man is perfectly renewed in the resurrection, when he will need neither the preaching of the Law nor its threatenings and punishments, as also the Gospel any longer; these belong to this [mortal and] imperfect life. But as they will behold God face to face, so they will, through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God, do the will of God [the heavenly Father] with unmingled joy, voluntarily, unconstrained, without any hindrance, with entire purity and perfection, and will rejoice in it eternally.

Accordingly, we reject and condemn as an error pernicious and detrimental to Christian discipline, as also to true godliness, the teaching that the Law, in the above-mentioned way and degree, should not be urged upon Christians and the true believers, but only upon the unbelieving, unchristians, and impenitent (FC SD VI, 24-26).

It is fitting that the Formula should have the penultimate word here, as the architect of “Radical Lutheranism”, the late Gerhard O. Forde, accused its authors and subscribers of heresy in his essay “Fake Theology: Reflections on Antinomianism Past and Present” (in The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament, eds. Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007], 214, 217, 223, 224). This leads me to my final point.

I would urge us all as Confessional Lutherans to consider seriously the nature of the influence had by the late Gerhard Forde and his ELCA coreligionists, such as the aforementioned Steven D. Paulson, on our inheritance of historic Lutheran orthodoxy. In addition to regarding the Formula of Concord as heretical, Forde denied the Fall and the substitutionary nature of the Atonement and supported the “ordination” of women to the Office of the Ministry (NB: I have heard that he was also a universalist, though I myself have seen no evidence of this). To treat of Paulson’s heinous and heretical errors would take a separate essay. For now, see Appendix B.

I mention all of this not to speak ill of the dead but to be forthright about just what kind of theologians we’re dealing with in the school of “Radical Lutheranism.” And if I may beat anyone who’s thinking it to the punch, it is most certainly not the genetic fallacy or “poisoning the well” to bring this up, for all of theology is interconnected, and we cannot expect errors of such magnitude to be of nil effect on other doctrines that we deem “more important. (To be frank, though, I don’t think that the doctrines I mentioned above are of particularly junior-status.) One may as well try to remove manure that has been blended into brownie-mix and baked in order that one may “just eat the good parts.” Yes, Forde understood very well that the Law and the Gospel are to be preached, not merely preached about, and that they are living and active words. That’s great. He was hardly the first person to say such a thing. Why so many in the LCMS are ready to trade in their patristic, confessional, and historic Lutheran birthright for the stew of a vaunted “Radical Lutheranism” I do not know, and I cannot fathom why. I pray that we see a resurgence of Lutheran orthodoxy, and soon.

 

Appendix A:
A note on terminology

It would be more accurate to refer to the so-called “Radical Lutherans” by a different name — perhaps “Lutherites” or “Lutherists” — but even this would be too charitable (to them, not to Luther), as they don’t even take into account the whole of Luther’s personal theological writings, but only a certain few of his early works (many of which are good and orthodox, yes); however because they do not take into account the greater arc of his theology, they give primacy of place to a few writings in which the Blessed Doctor (who was not infallible) went overboard and said some things that were not entirely orthodox, such as in his De Servio Arbitrio. And this is not simply my opinion, as though I am seeking to gainsay the great Martin Luther: the good doctor himself corrects some of these earlier erroneous opinions later on in his life!

All of this is somewhat beside the point, though, for the name “Lutheran” is a misnomer — one which has stuck, and one which prudence would have us simply accept, but a misnomer all the same. What “Lutheran” really means is “Church/Christian of the Augsburg Confession”, not “follower of Martin Luther.” With that said, it must be honestly stated that men such as Gerhard O. Forde and Steven Paulson are not, in fact, Lutheran at all. From the standpoint of the historic Church of the Augsburg Confession, they are heterodox sectarian theologians. The norm that is normed by the Scriptures and which we Lutherans subscribe to is the Concordia, not Luther’s Works, as brilliant and salutary as his writings may be.

 

Appendix B:
Steven Paulson

From a comment on this site:

[T]here are some in Lutheran circles who are making a career out of finding the places where Luther went too far rhetorically, and pushing them even further, so that they are no longer rhetorical. I have in mind especially Steven Paulson, who in his book Lutheran Theology, explicitly says that Christ sinned in the Cry of Dereliction. He also equates sin and human nature in a distinctly Flacian fashion, so that the Incarnation becomes no longer about Christ assuming humanity, but about Christ assuming sinful humanity (the only kind there is for Paulson, who like Forde denies the posse non peccare).

The text in question (from Paulson’s book):

Then finally in the words on the cross, “My God, my God…” he made the public confession of a sinner…. Confessing made it so, and thus Christ committed his own, personal sin—not only an actual sin, but the original sin. He felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him (105).

(For a more thorough critique of the Steven D. Paulson’s work Lutheran Theology, see this piece by Rev. Dr. Eric Phillips.)

NOTES:

1. A clarification about what is meant by the term “will” is in order, as this is one of the central areas of contention in the present debate:

There are two Latin words in our Lutheran confessions which are translated into English as “will” — arbitrium and voluntas. The problem with this translation, however, is that is belies the significant disparity in meaning which exists in the Latin. Arbitrium would be better defined as “choice” or “ability to choose” (in the East they would call this the “deliberative” will); voluntas, on the other hand, defines better straight across as “will”, though it also carries the sense of “desire”, “intention”, or “inclination”. With this in mind, it strikes this author as somewhat unfortunate that Dr. Luther’s majestic work De Servo Arbitrio is almost universally rendered into English under the title, The Bondage of the Will. While this is unquestionably more euphonious a title than The Bound Ability to Choose, there is a way in which it lends itself to erroneous thinking from the outset. The reason unregenerate man’s choice is bound is because his will is evil; he can choose, but he can only choose among various things that he wants to do, all of which are evil. In short, he can do what he wants to do, but what he wants to do is sin. If the only options at Baskin Robbins are chocolate and vanilla, you can’t order hazelnut ripple — and what’s more (if we are to be true to the frame of reference), you don’t want hazelnut ripple; your desire is for chocolate or vanilla, and you’re going to choose one of them. Like all analogies, this gets ridiculous pretty quickly, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

 

2. G.K. Chesterton’s gloss of this dual aspect of the Christian condition, found in his essay on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is most apposite:

Though the fable may seem mad, the moral is very sane; indeed, the moral is strictly orthodox. The trouble is that most of those who mention it do not know the moral, possibly because they have never read the fable. From time to time those anonymous authorities in the newspapers, who dismiss Stevenson with such languid grace, will say that there is something quite cheap and obvious about the idea that one man is really two men and can be divided into the evil and the good. Unfortunately for them, that does not happen to be the idea. The real stab of the story is not in the discovery that the one man is two men; but in the discovery that the two men are one man. After all the diverse wandering and warring of those two incompatible beings, there was still one man born and only one man buried.

 

3. Lest anyone accuse my coreligionists and me of siding with Tuomo Mannermaa and the “Finnish Interpretation of Luther,” let me distinguish between the soteriological realism of Osiander and Osiander’s actual error:

The reason why Tuomo Mannermaa’s article is controversial is less theological than political and cultural, though there may be a theological component to it. Part of Mannermaa’s thesis is that Luther’s very realistic understanding of the atonement was forgotten and therefore not present in the Formula of Concord, and that therefore there exists a chasm between Luther and the Formula, as well as Luther and Chemnitz, on the nature of deification. He finds this chasm to be spelled out particularly in the Formula’s condemnation of Osiandrianism.

What Mannermaa fails to see, according to my opinion, is that the Formula does not condemn Osiander’s soteriological realism, but rather it condemns Osiander on two points: firstly, that Osiander taught that Christ’s presence in us is only according to the divine nature, and not according to both, as Lutheran Christology would demand (this topic would be dealt with at length in Chemnitz’s “The Two Natures In Christ”), and secondly, that Osiander found that logical “reason” for our justification to be found not in the judgment upon Christ as mankind on the cross, but upon our inner renewal through the indwelling of Christ. The problem of Osiandrianism is that of “who is God looking at when he declares ‘not guilty’”? Is he looking at you with the divine nature renewing you from within (an idea which seems almost a Lutheranized form of Catholicism’s “infused grace”) or is he looking at Christ as the first and fullness of a new humanity?

The second reason for the controversy over Mannermaa is that since his entire theology was developed in the crucible of the dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox, there is suspicion that when Mannermaa speaks of Luther’s doctrine of deification, he is actively trying to make it sound just a little more Orthodox so as to make it appealing to them, as opposed to allowing it to sit in its full Lutheran glory. The main way he does this is in (seemingly) repeating Osiander’s mistake (and the mistake of the Orthodox) and finding the locus of justification in the presently-living Christian who has Christ within him by faith, and not in Christ on the cross, who has Mankind in Him.

The primary question of the Lutheran doctrine of the Forensic Atonement is this: where does God find you righteous?

If the answer is, “On the cross, where Christ was declared both guilty and righteous, Him becoming one with our guilt, us becoming one with His righteousness,” then you are a Lutheran.

If the answer is, “Within the sinner who possess Christ by faith and is renewed by Christ’s divinity,” then you are an Osiandrian.

If the answer is, “Within the sinner who has Christ within him, both as a renewal, and as a pledge of God’s good will,” then you are a follower of the Finnish Interpretation.

[…]

I argue, of course, the first, and so you can see how it differs from the others.

The question would again be put: by what merits are you declared to be righteous?

If the answer is: “By the merits of Christ depicted in His Incarnation, obedience, passion, death and resurrection, in which we all participate through baptism in faith, and which are truly made ours,” then you are a Lutheran.

If the answer is: “By new merits gained by Christ through and in us by his indwelling,” then you are some sort of Osiandrian-Finn.

(“Quiet George”. “The Errors of the Christian East: Justification.” Pseudepigrapha: Deniable Plausibility, 23 January 2014. Web. 14 March 2014.)

 

4. The sad irony is that this serves to confirm the perverse misquotation of Luther’s words “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong” as “Be a sinner and sin boldly” which is so frequently tossed at us by Roman Catholics.

+VDMA

svenstclaire

26 Comments

  1. I enjoyed the post and cannot deny the honesty behind what is said as I experienced it first hand after I returned to Lutheranism. The pangs of conscience became great because I felt as repeat transgressions were not indicative of a living Christian faith.The only solution was to read the Bible with the Confessions and find that Good Works are the Fruit of a Living Faith and that we should avoid temptation as we know from experience we can sin our way out of faith.

    The people who are preaching this way are shipwrecking people’s faiths and encouraging them to sin their way out of God’s grace and provided salvation through Christ. The Church Growther’s are bad enough the presence of such pastors threatens orthodoxy and the LCMS.

  2. Well, I still like “On being a theologian of the Cross.” Unfortunately, G. Forde wrote it, so, as an old saying goes, “even a broke clock is right twice a day.”

    • Fair enough. But there are 86,400 seconds in a day. Being right for one or even two of those seconds is…unimpressive. Please do note the comment by Eric Phillips.

  3. The posse non peccare denied by Forde and Paulson isn’t just the version restored by the work of the Holy Spirit in the regenerate, but the original kind too. They don’t believe in the Fall. Adam and Eve’s sin was the first, but in a trivial way, because it was inevitable. Forde calls the Augustinian and Lutheran understanding of the Fall — you guessed it — “theology of glory”:

    Indeed, so seductive has the exiled soul myth been throughout history that the biblical story itself has been taken into captivity by it. The biblical story of the fall has tended to become a variation on the theme of the exiled soul. The unbiblical notion of a fall is already a clue to that. Adam, originally pure in soul, either by nature or by the added gift of grace was tempted by baser lusts and ‘fell,’ losing grace and drawing all his progeny with him into a “mass of perdition.”

    That’s from the latest edition of On Being a Theologian of the Cross, p. 6. So this stopped clock is right only once per day. It must display military time.

  4. Hi, Sven, thanks for your post.

    I think the distinction my brother David makes between old man/new man and sinner/saint is one worthy of consideration. “”Old man vs. new man” does not equal “sinner vs. saint.” The former refers to the Christian considered as an agent (Rom. 7). The latter refers to the Christian considered as a person (Rom. 8).”

    What you need is hard and fast evidence that the things you say are true. Can you find real evidence, citations, where people assert that Christians are not agents in good works? On the other hand, you cannot mean to assert that a Christian should say anything but “I am an unprofitable servant” about his good works.

    So we need to clarify Luke 17:10 with 1 John 3:9/5:8. I think David’s distinction helps immensely with this.

    Also, I agree that we should be warning people about the false doctrines of Forde and Paulson in other areas, but, as much as I understand why you criticize Paulson, your citation of him doesn’t make him a heretic. He is simply saying that he assented to being made a sinner. Saying that Jesus “sinned” is a rhetorical way of showing the reality of what happened. This is why he sinned the “original sin.” It is as if he did it. Luther speaks the same way when he calls Christ the greatest idolater. Jesus never committed idolatry, but God made him to be sin for us. So also, Luther speaks of Christ in Psalm 40 saying, “My sin are more than the hairs of my head.”

    Frankly, I find it a wonderful thing to see Paulson confessing the propitiation when Forde denied it.

    So, I guess my advice is that, if you smell a rat, then take a step back, and look at exactly what is being said, and what is lacking. And for every bold claim, make sure you have the evidence to back it up. Otherwise, the argument disintegrates as it did on my wall, and nothing productive happens.

    Pr. Mark Preus

    • Mark, I agree with you wholeheartedly here. Christ became sin itself as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Christ became sin itself and his cry was the cry of sin, original sin, which is a lack of faith in God. I also found the selective quoting of Paulson to be quite misleading. The full quote: “Then finally in the words on the cross, “My God, my God…” he made the public confession of a sinner, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:35 NRS) Confessing made it so, and thus Christ committed his own personal sin – not only an actual sin, but the original sin. He felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him (“This is My Son, with whom I am well pleased”). He looked upon himself on the cross and believed in his own belief!”

      • It’s an interesting kind of “selective quoting,” where the full version is more damning than the bit that was excerpted to show the error.

    • Pr. Mark Preus,

      Paulson is going beyond Luther here. It is not just a manner of speaking for him. As you say, Luther “calls Christ the greatest idolater,” but never makes the insane claim that Christ actually worshiped idols. Paulson takes exactly this second step. He says that Christ on the cross “came to believe that his Father was not pleased with him, thus multiplying sin in himself just like any other original sinner who does not trust a promise from God.” In the cry of dereliction, Jesus “felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him…. He looked upon himself on the cross and believed in his own belief!” (105). On p. 107 he tries to extricate himself from this blasphemy by distinguishing between personal obedience and legal obedience: “obedience to his Father is not the same thing as obedience to the Law.” He ends up saying that Christ could break the Law of God out of obedience to God.

      You say that Paulson is better than Forde in that he “confesses the propitiation,” but that’s not propitiation. Whom or what did Christ propitiate? Paulson again:

      Even Christ’s own sacrifice is revealed as non-cultic, since from the beginning the precise receiver of the sacrifice on the cross has been unclear: did the Father need to receive Christ’s sacrifice in order to cease his wrath? Did the law–or perhaps Satan–require payment? Was it done instead of our failed sacrifices? … Forde suggested we think of Christ’s crucifixion as an accident like those stories of someone stepping in and taking the blow of an oncoming truck while throwing an endangered child to safety. That is a ‘sacrifice’ of life, even as our common language says, but not in the form of a temple sacrifice. So Christ could rightly be said to have died for our sakes, without attempting to explain the cross as something the law required, or even something that God needed for his own purity’s sake (233).

      Paulson’s atonement works not through propitiation, but through the exhaustion (“[Christ] became the total preoccupation of the Law, until its accusation was used up in the cross”) and destruction (“the future is without any Law”) of the Law (pp. 224-5).

      Eric Phillips

    • Dear Pr. Preus,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You write:

      I think the distinction my brother David makes between old man/new man and sinner/saint is one worthy of consideration. “‘Old man vs. new man’ does not equal ‘sinner vs. saint.’ The former refers to the Christian considered as an agent (Rom. 7). The latter refers to the Christian considered as a person (Rom. 8).”

      Yes, I must consider this more. Honestly, I think I need you to elucidate it for me a bit. How are you and your brother distinguishing between “agent” and “person”?

      What you need is hard and fast evidence that the things you say are true. Can you find real evidence, citations, where people assert that Christians are not agents in good works?

      Given the operative definition of agent you’ve set forth above (which I’m not sure I disagree with, but am not sure I agree with/understand), I’d have to wait on this. But I certainly do have evidence for the sort of thing I’ve described in the essay itself, for whatever that’s worth. Please provide clarification on the distinction you and your brother and working with. Once we’ve sussed that out, we can talk about what I’d consider evidence.

      On the other hand, you cannot mean to assert that a Christian should say anything but “I am an unprofitable servant” about his good works.

      Perish the thought! No, never ever. The Christian can never say anything of his good works other than that. Thank you for this reminder.

  5. Oh my word, this is a confession:

    Yes, the pastoral consequences of “soft antinomianism” are very worrisome, to put it mildly. Pastors who espouse this heterodox perspective run the risk of implying — not just to their parishioners, but to whomever their teaching might reach — that it does not really matter if they resist outward sin or not. You’re a poor miserable sinner any which way you dice it, regardless of how successfully you’ve warred against the lusts of the flesh that particular week or whether you’ve curtailed sinful acts, so don’t try too hard to lead a holy life or abstain from near occasions of sin. You might even be worse off if you’ve successfully curtailed outward sins (it is implied), because this will just make you proud. Better to “sin boldly”* than be a “pietist” (which latter term, “pietist”, for anyone unfamiliar with Lutheran inside-baseball, is just about the worst thing anyone can call you). Just be sure to come back on Sunday, admit that you’ve been bad, and tank up on some grace. (*The sad irony is that this serves to confirm the perverse misquotation of Luther’s words which is tossed at us by Roman Catholics.)

    This entire blog post is a confession that the author does not trust the Word to be an efficacious Word. The author does not know what happens when the Holy Spirit is given and goes to work. When the Holy Spirit is given through the absolution, I need not be told what to do. I just do the next thing, through the work of the Holy Spirit. I need no exhortation, because the Word is working. The Word begins working and bearing fruit, organically and spontaneously. This blog fills me with anger, though I imagine that I should feel pity that the author does not know true Christian freedom nor how it operates. The author seems not to trust in the Word. This entire post is a confession of unfaith. May the Holy Spirit send the author a true preacher and open his ears to hear the Gospel, the true Gospel which requires no co-operation, as it is irresistible.

    • Perhaps he thinks the pastor shouldn’t just trust the Word, but should also preach what it says, including the parts that urge believers to lead a holy life.

      • Exactly.

        From the LCMS ordination vow:

        P: Will you…admonish and encourage the people to a lively confidence in Christ and in holy living?”

        R: Yes, I will, with the help of God.

        From Ms. Girl’s comment: “I need no exhortation, because the Word is working.”

        Hmmm. It doesn’t really matter what we penitents think we need. The pastor has vowed to admonish and encourage us in faith and holy living. Then again, I’m still waiting on Ms. Girl to indicate whether she is Lutheran, although I guess I should also ask her if she is LCMS. Perhaps the pastors of her church’s ministerium make no such vow.

    • Dear Ms. Girl,

      Apparently my earlier reply didn’t post. That’s OK, as it wasn’t very long. In any event, I have more time now, so I’d like to ask you a few questions about your curious assessment of my work.

      This entire blog post is a confession that the author does not trust the Word to be an efficacious Word. The author does not know what happens when the Holy Spirit is given and goes to work.

      Irony! According to your logic, I have to know “what happens when the Holy Spirit is given and goes to work,” because the Gospel is irresistible. I am baptized; therefore God has “addressed” me with his super-efficacious Word. According to your taxonomy, I can’t not know. So, which one of your statements would you like to renege on? That I “do not trust the Word to be an efficacious Word,” or that “the true Gospel…is irresistible”? You cannot maintain both positions, dear, per the law of the excluded middle.

      You say:

      When the Holy Spirit is given through the absolution, I need not be told what to do. I just do the next thing, through the work of the Holy Spirit. I need no exhortation, because the Word is working. The Word begins working and bearing fruit, organically and spontaneously.

      But the Formula of Concord says:

      For the old Adam, as an intractable, refractory ass, is still a part of them, which must be coerced to the obedience of Christ, not only by the teaching, admonition, force and threatening of the Law, but also oftentimes by the club of punishments and troubles, until the body of sin is entirely put off, and man is perfectly renewed in the resurrection, when he will need neither the preaching of the Law nor its threatenings and punishments, as also the Gospel any longer; these belong to this [mortal and] imperfect life.

      I’m going to go with the Formula.

      This blog fills me with anger, though I imagine that I should feel pity that the author does not know true Christian freedom nor how it operates. The author seems not to trust in the Word. This entire post is a confession of unfaith. May the Holy Spirit send the author a true preacher and open his ears to hear the Gospel, the true Gospel which requires no co-operation, as it is irresistible.

      Again, this is self-contradictory, for you claim that the Gospel — which I objectively received when it was addressed to me in God’s speech-act of Baptism — is irresistible, so I cannot be without faith.

      So, I’m curious: why exactly do you think that the Gospel is irresistible? What do you even mean by that? Do you consider yourself a Lutheran? These are honest questions.

      Dear sister in Christ, I would urge to you consider what it is that you’re saying. It doesn’t make any sense, even according to your own stated logic. At the same time, I cannot help but appreciate your concern and pity. I guess I would rather be lied to than look for liars. Please pray for me, a sinner; I will pray for you, too.

      • Another excerpt from our Confessions, this time from the Apology, offered for your consideration:

        And of the mortification of the flesh and discipline of the body we thus teach, just as the Confession states, that a true and not a feigned mortification occurs through the cross and afflictions by which God exercises us when God breaks our will, inflicts the cross and trouble. In these we must obey God’s will, as St. Paul says (Rom xxii, 1): “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” And these are the spiritual exercises of fear and faith.

        But in addition to this mortification which occurs through the cross (which does not depend upon our will) there is also a voluntary kind of exercise necessary, of which Christ says (St. Luke xxi,34): “Take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting.” And St. Paul (1 Co ix, 27): “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection,” etc. And these exercises are to be undertaken not because they are services that justify, but in order to curb the flesh, lest satiety may overpower us, and render us secure and indifferent, the result of which is that men indulge and obey the dispositions of the flesh. This diligence ought to be perpetual, because it has the perpetual command of God (Apology XV [VIII], 45-48f).

        So, again, whatever position it is that you have been articulating here, it is surely not Lutheran.

      • I am sorry that what I am saying is not clear to you. When you have heard the true Word, a sermon which preaches the law [both showing you what you are restrained from doing and what you are commanded to do (first use) and causing you to examine yourself to see how far you fall short and need Jesus Christ (second use), and you are put to death] and the gospel [that you are set free from your sin through the precious blood of Jesus Christ through the forgiveness of sins and know that you will not surely die, but that you have been promised eternal life (which raises you from the dead)], what do you want to do next?

        • Dear Minn,

          I’m not going to answer your question. Or, rather, I’m going to table it for the time being, as such questions are red herrings. If you’re not going to respond to or interact with the citations from the Confessions and are instead going to trot out these trite little abstract formulations, then I’m not going to waste my time and yours. In fact, I will regrettably have no choice but to prohibit further comments from you, as you’re practicing very bad manners. I will, however, keep the comments that you have posted thus far, as they epitomize precisely the sort of errant thinking that I have been observing and which I have detailed in the foregoing article — namely, a caricature of Lutheran soteriology in which a popular low-test variety of “speech act” relational ontology has laid its eggs, which eggs have now hatched, etc. I fear that the the larvae are now attacking the organs of vision in the host body, making self-conscious recognition of the malady more difficult with each passing day.

          With that said, here are two question which you must answer if you’d like to continue as a participant in this discussion:

        • Are you a Lutheran? If so, to what synod does your church belong?
        • Do you agree or disagree with the citations from the Confessions which I have posted? Why or why not?
        • Thank you. I hope that you will engage the topic with the rest of us.

  6. Let me make it easy for you. I choose not to continue as a participant in the discussion. My parents warned me when I was young not to interact with rabid animals. I forgot that warning yesterday. Spear away, Sven.

    • Very well. I’m sorry that you won’t be participating. You are wrong, though; I hope that you come to see your error in time.

  7. As a convert to Lutheranism from American evangelicalism, “Radical Lutheranism” was really attractive to me for several years. The past year or so God has been pulling me out of it and leading me to see that the Scriptural, confessional, and patristic position on sanctification is so much richer. The fact that God has vindicated me and imputed to me the very righteousness of Christ in justification, so that He loves and treats me as His own Son and promises me an inheritance with Christ, is the most precious article of the Christian faith. But it is also precious to hear that, because of His great love for me, the Holy Spirit causes me to increase in faith and love, so that my deeds as well as my status before God are conformed to the image of Christ (even if in great weakness). Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God restores me to a full participation in the kind of self-giving life which He, the Holy Trinity, has possessed from eternity.
    Sorry for the rant, but now I understand why Chemnitz can speak of sanctification as a gift and a blessing in his Examination. Thank you for fighting the good fight against radical Lutheranism, and I pray that God would bring our Synod’s teachers and laymen back to the orthodox position so that we bring Him glory in our doctrine and lives.

  8. Your argument would be greatly aided by quoting those with whom you are disagreeing, analyzing their statements in the context in which they were written, and only then interacting with the view with which you disagree. Without doing this, your argument lacks evidence and leaves too much to the reader to infer.

    My $.02.

    • Dr. Yakimow,

      The article was limited in scope, hence its publication on a blog. Also, as you well know, the “eighth-commandment juke” is waiting in the wings. So I kept it general, sort of in an “anyone else notice this?” sort of way. It turns out that many, many people have noticed the same thing.

      With that said, I am working on more material that is more in line with what you’re suggesting.

      TDD

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