January 8, 2015

HT: Rev. David Jay Webber


Rev. Dr. Kurt Marquart (1934-2006)
Rev. Dr. Kurt Marquart (1934-2006)

Another matter which has worried me for some time: In your absolutely correct and necessary insistence that Christ is the only Way to Salvation, do formulate more carefully especially as regards hell. It is surely not helpful to be insisting at every turn that such and such shall undoubtedly burn in eternal hell. As with unbaptised babies, so with those who never heard the Gospel, for instance, the Church has been much more reticent than that. We certainly don’t want to give the impression that we share the idea attributed to my hero, Thomas Aquinas, that knowledge of the tortures of the wicked will be part of the joys of Heaven! On the basis, particularly, of I Peter 3 & 4, I have for some years believed that God may yet have more and other ways of mercy in Christ than what He has told us about. Of course, I agree with the Preus statement that we cannot act on the basis of the assumption that there are other ways after death. We are bound to God’s revealed will, and must act accordingly. But He is not bound not to do more, or to be more merciful than He has promised! Of course it is clear that if one takes I Peter 3 & 4 in its most obvious, natural, historical-grammatical sense, as giving a case of salvation of such as died while still impenitent on earth, that too is not an instance of another way, outside of Christ: He is still the only Way, but He offered that Way to those beyond the grave.

To repeat, we cannot base our proclamation or ecclesiastical action on this sort of speculation, but are bound to God’s revealed will. But, as Dr. Koehne once pointed out to me: when Adam sinned, all he knew was ‘the day you eat thereof you shall surely die.’ He knew nothing, because God had not revealed it, about any future Savior or Salvation. Yet God had already provided this. Hence I like the explanation a Russian Orthodox lay-theologian once gave me of the formula ‘anathema maranatha’: it means that the Church’s judgments (anathema) stand until the Lord returns (maranatha). Then the Great Judge will make His own decisions.

In any case, I think John 21:21-22 has some relevancy: To Peter’s question “What about him?: the Lord replies “That’s my business—you just follow me.” I think the whole Bible is like that. It tells me my duty, responsibility, and opportunity—but I’m not to become too theoretically dogmatic about my neighbor’s fate. That’s up to God.


I like the explanation a Russian Orthodox lay-theologian once gave me of the formula ‘anathema maranatha’: it means that the Church’s judgments (anathema) stand until the Lord returns (maranatha). Then the Great Judge will make His own decisions.


I am by no means arguing against the seriousness of the Last Judgment, or the reality of hell – only I believe these things should not be stressed sort of in isolation (poor apologetics!), but must be seen in the total New Testament context. And this means to me at least that the dogmatic ‘defense perimeter’ around the central NT truth that Jesus is the Way, the Life, and the Truth, without Whom no one shall come to the Father, should not be overextended to such doubtfully defensible propositions as: ‘Whoever cannot affirm with dogmatic certainty that all those who have never heard about Christ will undoubtedly burn eternally in hell is not an orthodox theologian.’

I realize that this is a very inadequate treatment of a very serious issue, but I do not pretend to have exhausted it. These are only random thoughts as they have occurred to me over the years. If you can contribute to their further clarification, I’d be very thankful.

(Kurt E. Marquart, Letter to Herman Otten; quoted in Christian News, Vol. 49, No. 21 [June 6, 2011], p. 5. Emphases in original.)



December 5, 2014


This week’s pseudepodcast is a mind-blowingly good lecture by the dearly departed Rev. Dr. Kurt E. Marquart. Originally delivered at the 2005 Symposium at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN, Dr. Marquart’s talk seems especially relevant to current discussions among Lutherans regarding sanctification and the “Third Use of the Law.” You be the judge! A (very) partial transcript of this lecture is available here. We are currently working on a full one and will update this page once we succeed.

Related content:

This episode’s bump music was selected by Trent:

  • “Take A Picture” (Radio Edit), by Filter
  • “My_Dsmbr” (Mickey P. ft. Kelli Ali), by Linkin Park



July 29, 2014

Trawled from the now kaput blog of Rev. Paul McCain.

Rev. McCain writes…

From time to time, I hear that there are still some Lutherans who are very confused about the doctrine of justification, specifically the aspect of it known as objective justification, the teaching that God was in the world reconciling it to Himself through the death of His Son. This was an issue of some moment years ago when a dear friend of my mentor, Kurt Marquart, had a member of his congregation that was unduly influenced by false teachers. He turned to Dr. Marquart for assistance in refuting errors regarding objective justification being spread by this layman. Dr. Marquart prepared this excellent response to errors concerning objective justification, which Pastor Mark Hendersen recently highlighted on his blog.


KurtHaving been asked by Trinity Church, Bridgeport, Missouri, for a theological analysis of certain papers by Mr. Larry Darby on the subject of “objective justification,” I herewith submit my findings first of all with profound regrets for the long delay, and secondly with the humble prayer that anything now said may still be of help to Christian consciences struggling with this issue.

Given the high level of conflict that has ensued in this matter, I have attempted scrupulously to restrict my remarks to matters of fact and theology, and to avoid inflammatory rhetoric or judgments about motives. I am conscious of no ill will or prejudice against anyone involved in this dispute.

By way of a basic frame of reference I shall first sketch out the standard Lutheran perspective on justification, as found above all in the Book of Concord itself, together with its biblical basis, and then evaluate Mr. Darby’s arguments in that context, spelling out specific agreements and disagreements with his theses.1

1. A Digression on Terminology

I agree with Henry Hamann that the terminology “objective/subjective justification” is less than ideal since “subjective justification . . . is every whit as objective as objective justification.”2

On the other hand, when Calvinists use the same terminology, it expresses their meaning very well: “Passive or subjective justification takes place in the heart or conscience of the sinner.”3 The Reformed reject universal grace, hence cannot mean general justification by “objective justification;” and “subjective justification” means for them something experiential—precisely what it does not mean for Lutherans. Biblically, justification is God’s act, which faith receives or believes, but does not feel or “experience.”

To avoid these problems, it would be best to retain the more traditional usage, which spoke of the “general justification” of the world in Christ and of the “personal justification” of individual sinners through faith alone. This corresponds exactly to the biblical distinction between God’s own completed reconciliation of the world to Himself in Christ (II Cor. 5:19) and our reconciliation to him by faith (v. 20).

If the sense is clear, one should not quarrel about words. The “visible/invisible” terminology in respect of the church is a case in point. Our Confessions do not use that language, but speak of the church in the “proper sense” and in the “wide sense.” Moreover, Calvinists mean something quite different and unbiblical when they speak of “visible” and “invisible” churches. Yet standard Lutheran theology since Gerhard has spoken of the church being “visible” and “invisible,” and meant the right, orthodox content by this terminology. Similarly one must assume—other things being equal—that when orthodox Lutheran theologians speak of “objective” and “subjective” justification, they mean to express biblical, confessional truth, and not Calvinist or other deviations.

2. The Standard Lutheran Pattern in Presenting Justification

The best starting point is Formula of Concord (Solid Declaration) III:25:

The only essential and necessary elements of justification are the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and faith which accepts these in the promise of the Gospel (Tappert, p. 543, compare Apology IV:53, p. 114).

We may put these essential ingredients of justification into a list, as follows:

The grace of God

The merit of Christ

The promise of the Gospel


The first three items constitute what was later called “objective justification.” The addition of faith completes the list, which thus defines justification in the full, normal biblical and ecclesiastical sense and usage. This ordinary sense of the word is labeled “subjective” (individual, personal) only in contexts requiring a distinction from the special usage of “objective” (general, universal) justification.

But why did such a distinction arise at all?

By stripping away the surrounding words, we obtain the following sequence in Augsburg Confession IV (German): “we receive forgiveness of sin . . . when we believe. . . that for [Christ’s] sake our sin is forgiven” (Tappert, p. 30).

Apology IV explains, repeatedly, that “when a man believes that his sins are forgiven because of Christ and that God is reconciled and favorably disposed to him because of Christ, this personal faith [fides specialis] obtains the forgiveness of sins and justifies us” (45, compare 48, 56, 62, 82, 103, 178, 195, 279, 299 [garbled in Tappert, p. 153], 345, 379, 381, 382, 386, and XII, 45, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63-65, 74, 76, 88, and XIII, 21).

The pattern is clear and consistent throughout: the Gospel or absolution offers not a conditional, future prospect, but a perfected, past and present reality. God already is gracious, merciful, propitious, reconciled in Christ, and freely offers this ready forgiveness or grace in the Gospel. To believe this Gospel or absolution is to believe oneself forgiven, justified, accepted. Forgiveness exists “objectively” already before faith. Faith does not create forgiveness but only receives, accepts, appropriates it. Absolution is prior to, and creates faith, not vice versa (Augsburg Confession XII, 5; Apology XII, 42). The Gospel “offers forgiveness and justification, which are received by faith” (Apology IV, 62). And: “forgiveness of sins is the same as justification” (IV, 76).

At just this point the Roman adversaries, particularly Cardinal Bellarmine, thought they had found a fatal flaw and self-contradiction in the Lutheran system: You say that you are justified by faith, they argued, yet you also say that faith must believe that one has been forgiven already; so when is one forgiven or justified then, before faith, or in faith? Surely both can’t be true.

This objection compelled the Lutherans to explain in what sense forgiveness exists already prior to faith, as its object, and to distinguish that from the actual reception, possession, and enjoyment of the pre-existing treasure, which happens only in faith. Calov’s classic commentary on the Augsburg Confession (1665) put it like this:

[Justification] is the object of faith in that it is offered by God in the Gospel; it is the effect [of faith], to put it thus, in so far as grace having been apprehended by faith, the forgiveness of sins happens to us by that very act.

John Benedict Carpzov’s Introduction to the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Churches spells this out in greater detail:

The forgiveness of sins is considered in a twofold manner. First, as it has been acquired by Christ and is offered as a benefit promised and intended by God for sinners, to be sought and had in the Word and Sacraments. Afterwards [forgiveness is considered] as it has already been accepted by faith, has been applied, and is possessed. . . In the first manner the forgiveness of sins is the object of faith insofar as it justifies. . .4

It is this necessary and fundamental distinction, without which it is not possible to explain “faith alone” and the proper function of faith in justification, which was always the point of all standard Lutheran talk about “objective” or general, and “subjective” or personal justification. The terms may be recent, but they express and safeguard nothing other than “the catechismal doctrine plain”:

The work is finished and completed, Christ has acquired and won the treasure for us by His sufferings, death, and resurrection, etc. But if the work remained hidden and no one knew of it, it would have been all in vain, all lost. In order that this treasure might not be buried but put to use and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which he has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply to us this treasure of salvation (Large Catechism, Creed, 38).

Although the work was accomplished and forgiveness of sins was acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. . . Now, the whole Gospel and the article of the Creed, “I believe one holy Christian church, the forgiveness of sins,” etc., are by the Word placed into this Sacrament and set before us. . . The treasure is opened and placed at everyone’s door, yes, upon everyone’s table, but what goes with it, is that you also attend to it and with certainty assent to it, as the words give [it] to you (Sacrament of the Altar, 31, 32, 35, slightly correcting Tappert’s text, p. 450).

3. The Biblical Basis of “Objective/Subjective Justification”

Rather than rehash “in-house” exegesis, let us look at the relevant biblical material as displayed by Hans Kueng, a world-class, liberal Roman Catholic New Testament scholar, who stands entirely outside any and all Lutheran debates. The following extended quotations are from chapter 29 of Kueng’s book Justification,5which seeks to reconcile the Council of Trent with Karl Barth! Not the slightest “Missourian” connection here! Although Barth had an enormous, yet not uncritical respect for Luther, the Council of Trent certainly did not. It is difficult to imagine a doctrinal stance more hostile to “objective justification” than that of the Council of Trent. Against this background Kueng’s reading of the biblical text, and his citation of other Roman Catholic exegetes in support, are all the more impressive (all emphases in original):


. . . But when is the sinner declared just? When does God’s gracious saving judgment of the sinner occur? . . . But for Sacred Scripture the real judgment of God is inexorably bound up with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the sinner is declared just: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3.21-26). We are “justified by his blood” (Rom. 5.9); Christ “was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4.25). . . (p. 222).

In reading texts which speak of justification in connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is striking to note that all of them referred emphatically to faith as well (for example, Rom. 4.5, 20-25). Only he who believes is justified. The task consequently is to relate the “objective” act of justification which happened on the cross with its “subjective” realization. On the one hand, the justification accomplished on the cross must not be separated from the process which reaches down to the individual man: this would in one way or another lead to apokatastasis [{universal}restoration, universalism, K.M.]. On the other hand, personal justification must not be separated from the general act of justification on the cross; this would in one way or another lead to predestinationism. Rather both must be seen as the two sides of a single truth: All men are justified in Jesus Christ and only the faithful are justified in Jesus Christ. The generic act of justification on the cross is the “permanently actual presence of salvation, accessible for personal appropriation” (Schrenk, S.V. “dikh” in TWNT [Theologisches Woerterbuch zum Neuen Testament], II, 220f.). The divine character of the declaration of divine justice and grace which took place on the cross once and for all and for all men, makes possible a relation between “objective” and “subjective” justification.

It is the task of this chapter to stress the “objective” aspect of justification. . .

This, therefore, is the event: In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s gracious saving judgment on sinful mankind is promulgated. Here God pronounces the gracious and life-giving judgment which causes the one just man to be sin and in exchange makes all sinners free in Him: “He [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5.21; cf. Gal. 3.13; Rom. 8.3). And in this (“objective”) sense we can say that through Jesus Christ all men are justified, because “one has died for all” (2 Cor. 5.14; cf. 1 Tim. 2.6). “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5.18-19; cf. 5.12-17; 8.32; 11.32). . . . (223-224).

In the Pauline perspective especially, justification never stands in isolation as a purely personal event; it has its place in the total framework of salvation history, of the redemption of all mankind. Those justified on the cross and in the resurrection are “the many,” the “all.” The object of justification, as the prophets proclaimed, is Israel, the people of God, and in the new Israel, all people on earth. In Jesus Christ all men were justified and thereby called to the Church and even germinally integrated into it. . . Through faith, the individual shares the general justification, and so justification, as it occurs in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is essentially ecclesiological in character. . .(224-225).

“The objective fact of justification is accomplished in the redemptive death of Christ, in connection, of course, with the resurrection. And so Rom. 5.9 can insist that we are justified in His blood, and by way of complement, in Rom. 4.25, that Christ was raised up for our justification” (Meinertz, Theologie des NT, II, 116). Catholic theologians do not normally speak of justification in connection with the death and resurrection of Christ. They prefer to the term “justification” (which is ordinarily understood as “subjective”) the terms “redemption,” “atonement,” and so forth. But we saw that the term “justification” is used here in perfect agreement with scripture, revealing a deep and ultimately indispensable meaning. . .(226).

. . . what Barth and with him many Protestants call “justification” largely coincides with what we Catholics call “redemption” and . . . many expressions that sound heretical ought to be understood as completely orthodox (e.g., “all men are justified in Christ,” although it agrees with Scripture may seem to Catholic ears to imply apokatastasis which Barth, however, categorically rejects. In ordinary Catholic usage—and in agreement with scripture—this would mean nothing other than the totally orthodox statement that “All men are ‘redeemed’ in or by Jesus Christ.”). . . Everything does indeed depend on the proper definition of the relationship between “objective” and “subjective” justification. . . (227-228).

Put without polemics then, the justification of the sinner means the declaration of justice by God who at the cross and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ declares all sinners free and just, and thereby makes them just, though this act can, for the Church, have its consequences in the individual only if the individual submits in faith to God’s verdict. . . Only thus is adequate weight given to the theocentricity of justification. It is not primarily a matter of a process of salvation taking place within man. . . Rather the primary issue is the wrath and grace of God, His divine act of gracious and judicial decision, of justification considered as active; it is not primarily “peace to men on earth,” but “glory to God in the highest.” It is not primarily the justification of man, whereby man receives justice, but the self-justification of God, whereby God, willing from eternity salvation and creation, is proven just.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned . . . among them; and the nations will know that I am the LORD, says the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezek. 36.22-23; cf. 36.31-32; Rom. 3.26).

Thus the accent is not on the “subjective” but on the “objective” aspect of justification. It is true that everything depends on this having its effect within individual men, on its realization in the individual, on human participation in it. It is true, too, that only he who believes is actually (subjectively) justified. Yet the decisive element in the sinner’s justification is found not in the individual but in the death and resurrection of Christ. It was there that our situation was actually changed; there the essential thing happened. What afterwards happened in the individual man would be impossible to conceive of in isolation. It is not man in his faith who originally changes the situation, who does the essential thing. It is not a matter of completion of the central salvation event in Jesus Christ, but rather an active acknowledgment, and this solely by the power stemming from the central event . . . In the death and resurrection of Christ, justification is established with final validity. It has happened once and for all and irrevocably [230-231].

When due allowance has been made in some details for Kueng’s captivity to the Council of Trent, one can hardly improve on his deployment of the biblical material to our topic.

Kueng’s reference to God’s self-vindication suggests especially I Tim. 3:15: “He was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit. . .” What can it mean that Our Lord was “justified”? Since He had no sins of His own, but had, as Lamb of God, died a criminal’s death for the sins of the world, He, and therefore that world in Him, was “justified” or “vindicated” by His holy Resurrection. Compare the very similar contrasts in I Peter 3:18: put to death/flesh—made alive/spirit.

While elsewhere the Apology “allegorizes” Col. 2:14, so as to apply it to “subjective” justification (IV, 350; XII, 48), in IV, 103 the text is clearly taken in its original sense, in which it refers to the world-embracing justification-event of the Cross: “when the Lord Jesus came He forgave all men the sin that none could escape and by shedding his blood canceled the bond that stood against us [Col. 2:14]. This is what Paul says, ‘Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’ [Rom. 5:20] through Jesus. For after the whole world was subjected, He took away the sin of the whole world, as John testified when he said [John 1:29], ‘Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world!’” This is quoted from St. Ambrose, with the comment that this one pronouncement [Tappert’s “sentence” is inaccurate] by St. Ambrose does more for the right understanding of St. Paul than all the opinions of illustrious scholastics put together!

Both the “objective” and the “subjective” aspects of the biblical understanding of justification are well captured in this balanced definition of the Formula of Concord, Art. III, 4:

Against both parties it was unanimously preached by the other teachers of the Augsburg Confession that Christ is our Righteousness not only according to the divine nature, and not only according to the human nature, but according to both natures, Who as God and Man has redeemed, justified, and saved us from our sins by His perfect obedience: so that the righteousness of faith is forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and that we are adopted as children of God for the sake of the sole obedience of Christ, which is imputed as righteousness to all who truly believe, only through faith, from pure grace, and they are absolved for the sake of the same from all their unrighteousness [my translation, as literal as I can make it].

True, without faith no one benefits one whit. But in the Bible, as Kueng reminded us, “the accent is not on the ‘subjective’ but on the ‘objective’ aspect of justification. . . . the decisive element in the sinner’s justification is found not in the individual but in the death and resurrection of Christ. . . . there the essential thing happened.” The Smalcald Articles faithfully reflect this:

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). He alone is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “God has laid upon him the iniquities of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Moreover, “all have sinned,” and “they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, by his blood” (Rom. 3:23-25).

Inasmuch as this must be believed and cannot be obtained or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that such faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says in Romans 3, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom. 3:28), and again, “that he [God] himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised, even if heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed. For as St. Peter says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “And with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

On this article rests all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world. Therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubts about it. Otherwise all is lost, and the pope, the devil, and all our adversaries will gain the victory (II/I, Tappert, p. 292).

Defensible Theses of Mr. Larry Darby:

That the “Kokomo” notions about Judas and other inmates of hell being declared “innocent” and granted “the status of saints,” are an absurd and reprehensible travesty of Lutheran doctrine.

It is mind-boggling that any Lutheran could ever have written such stuff, and Mr. Darby is completely right to denounce it as the mischievous nonsense which it is.

Here are the four “Kokomo” theses forced on some hapless Indiana Lutherans (Wisconsin Synod) in 1979, on pain of excommunication:

  1. Objectively speaking, without any reference to an individual sinner’s attitude toward Christ’s sacrifice, purely on the basis of God’s verdict, every sinner, whether he knows it or not, whether he believes it or not, has received the status of a saint.
  2. After Christ’s intervention and through Christ’s intervention, God regards all sinners as guilt-free saints.
  3. When God reconciled the world to Himself through Christ, He individually pronounced forgiveness on each individual sinner whether that sinner ever comes to faith or not.
  4. At the time of the resurrection of Christ, God looked down in hell and declared Judas, the people destroyed in the flood, and all the ungodly, innocent, not guilty, and forgiven of all sin and gave unto them the status of saints.6

Thesis 3 is perhaps the least offensive, although in its context it is thoroughly misleading. Thesis 1 confuses “objective” and “subjective” justification by saying of the former what may only be said of the latter, namely that sinners have “received” forgiveness. Objective justification means that forgiveness has been obtained for and is being offered to all in the Gospel—not that anybody has “received” it. The receiving can happen only through faith, sola fide. Thesis 2, that after Christ’s sacrifice “God regards all sinners as guilt-free saints” is simply false, St. Jn. 3:36; 1 Jn. 5:12. And Thesis 4 about hell’s human denizens being pronounced innocent, given “the status of saints,” etc. is fantasy. An unbiblical logic has driven biblical language senseless: what can it possibly mean to have (or, worse, receive!) “the status of saints” in hell? The grace and forgiveness which Christ obtained for all, had been offered to the dead during their life-time, in the means of grace (St. Lk. 16:29; Heb. 9:27), but are in no way given to the godless in hell, where there is no Gospel, hence no forgiveness (Large Catechism, Creed, 56).

The trouble with these repulsive “Kokomo” statements is that they ignore the pivotal significance of the means of grace and thereby abandon the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. That, too, in essence is what was wrong with Samuel Huber’s proposal, early in the 17th century, of a notion of “universal justification,” which was duly rejected by representative Lutherans at the time. The story is told in detail by Dr. Tom Hardt of Sweden, in the 1985 Festschrift for Robert Preus, A Lively Legacy.7 Hardt is a meticulous scholar who demonstrates in detail the difference between the wrong sort of “objective justification,” as taught by Huber, and the right sort, as found in C.F.W. Walther’s Easter preaching and theology.

In light of Mr. Darby’s citation of the late Dr. Siegbert Becker in support of the “Kokomo” theses (HD, p. 240), I now regret my editorial note (A Lively Legacy, p. 78) which attempted to shield Becker against criticism by Hardt on justification. However technically defensible my cavils may have been, the larger truth signaled by the “Kokomo” affair is that Hardt was right and I was wrong.

That God remains unchangeable, also in the Incarnation and the Redemption.

Pieper insists on this repeatedly, in connection with the Incarnation, for example when he argues that kenoticism, the notion that the Son of God gave up some divine attributes in His Incarnation, falls beneath the level even of the natural knowledge of God (II:223-224)!

When it comes to the Redemption, the simple but sublime words of St. John 3:16 define the irreversible order: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son. . .” The antecedent divine Love motivates the satisfaction of His own justice, not vice versa!

It was Huber’s bad theology which speculated about God’s inner essence, and an alleged change there; for Walther objective justification meant “an external act of God, the Father raising His Son,” thus “turning it toward the world” (Hardt, p. 66).

Pieper wrote that “a change of heart took place, not in men, but in God” (II:346). He meant the right thing, which was to safeguard the objectivity of the Redemption as an action taking place from God’s side, not from man’s, as the various subjective or “moral influence” theories of the atonement hold. Pieper’s sense is clear from the technical term he employs, “in foro divino” [in the divine forum or tribunal]. This is what Pieper meant by God’s “heart” here. But the language is unfortunate—as though there was a change in God’s inmost being.

The great Wisconsin Synod dogmatician, A. Hoenecke used more careful language, expressly rejecting the notion of a change in God. The relevant biblical texts, he wrote, “say nothing of a reversal of the sensibility or state of mind [Umstimmung des Gemuets] of God, but only of certain arrangements, judicial facts and activities.”8 The reconciliation of II Cor. 5:19, he said, means not “a changed position of His heart” but a changed “relation” (Verhaeltnis) between God and the world.

That the wrath of God did not simply cease with the death and resurrection of Christ.

This of course is a corollary of point (b), see HD, pp. 13,115, 248, and passim. God’s reconciliation with the world, the cessation of His wrath, hence “forgiveness, life, and salvation” are an accomplished fact and reality—in Christ (I Jn. 5:11, 12)! Outside of Christ and of the Gospel, God remains a “consuming Fire” (Deut. 4:24, Heb. 12:29). It is a matter of rightly distinguishing Law and Gospel:

“These are the two chief works of God in men, to terrify and to justify and quicken the terrified. One or the other of these works is spoken of throughout Scripture” (Apology, XII, 53). One is Law, which proclaims God’s wrath over sin, and the other is the Gospel, which imparts mercy and forgiveness. “Since the beginning of the world these two proclamations have continually been set forth side by side in the church of God with the proper distinction” (Formula of Concord, SD, V, 23, compare 11-15).

That a deterioration of conventional U.S. Lutheran theology has occurred in this century, such that the pervasive sentimentalism of popular culture blunts and blurs even the clear contours of the Law/Gospel distinction and of the pivotal position of the means of grace.

This formulation is of course my summary, not Mr. Darby’s own language. But I do not think that I have misrepresented him. He writes, for example:

Preaching is much less “Law” oriented.

Preaching against sin is very general when it does exist.

Outward peace and harmony are considered virtues per se. . .

Sermons are focused on living the Christian life, rather than continual instruction in doctrinal truth.

Our publications are focused on public relations and practical problem solving rather than explanation of doctrine.

The Seminary curriculum is far more practical and far less doctrinal. . .

If the central Law-Gospel message of the Church HAS been blurred, the only message which has the power to solve all other problems, then could that explain why sin and error hold no terror for the vast majority of modern Lutherans? Could that explain why modern Lutherans are so apathetic toward the doctrinal aberrations that go on all around them? Could that explain why modern “conservative” Lutherans participate in things that they were taught (as children) were sin and error? Are modern Lutherans overcoming their guilty conscience with some “comforting” justification such as: “Well, all sins are forgiven, so that includes these sins also”? (HD, p. 3).

Consider for example the fast growing Church Growth Movement in the “conservative” Lutheran church bodies. What message do you think they are proclaiming to get all those people in their doors?

Do you think the unchurched baby-boomers are hearing God’s LAW and WRATH above the guitar music?

Do you think the “me generation” keeps packing the meta-churches even though “Pastor Bob” specifically condemns their pet sins, sins like worldliness, coveting, gambling, lust and drunkenness?

Do you think that Church Growth Enthusiasts, focused on meeting the felt needs of their audience, are teaching that any willful, persistent sin expels saving faith?

Whether one likes the change or not, most honest Lutherans will admit that the de facto leading message of modern Lutheranism is “you are already forgiven” (p. 15).

And by breeding carnal security and neglect of the means of grace, the modern version of objective justification weakened the love of doctrine everywhere it spread (p. 178).

The decades following World War I marked a critical transition for the Missouri Synod, as it tried hard to escape its “German” image. By giving up the German language in the church, we effectively jettisoned our tremendous literary heritage, not least of which was Luther’s Bible, which had served orthodox Lutheranism for so long. Exciting dialogs now become possible with other church bodies (p. 178n).

The omission of the means of grace from this teaching shows that Rev. NN, like his mentors, may have drunk deeply from Reformed waters.

The Forgotten Efficacy and Sufficiency of the Means of Grace

The all important question is still this: when did the means of grace lose their efficacy and sufficiency to overcome the doubts that Christians occasionally experience? Are the means of grace the only solution to the problem? And what about the situation where our “weak and faltering faith” results from willful, persistent sin which destroys saving faith? Do we Christians live a life of daily repentance (contrition brought on by the Law and faith renewed/strengthened by the Gospel) or do we anesthetize our consciences by repeating the mantra “God has already forgiven the whole world, and I am certainly included in that”? Rev. NN’s teaching actually diverts people away from what is distinctly Lutheran:

Ongoing confession;

The efficacy and sufficiency of God’s words;

The means of grace (pp. 235-236).

The new generation had a different vision of the Missouri Synod that could be summarized as follows: “We already have the pure doctrine, now let us go out there [and] be EFFECTIVE!” This new generation of churchmen proved again and again their willingness to adjust or downplay doctrine to reach that goal. The modern version of objective justification also met the ecumenical spirit of the age because . . . at least we could agree with other churches that everybody is already forgiven. And after all, was not that enough in order to have church fellowship?. . .

Anyone who has ever tried to speak the words of God to an impenitent sinner knows that “you’re already forgiven” goes over a lot better than “you’re a wretched sinner on the road to hell.” . . .

When sin in our life troubles our conscience, when spiritual doubts arise in our hearts because of “pet” sins, what do we do? No other question has more urgency for the professing Christian. This is where the rubber meets the road in the life of a Christian. Does this weak faith, troubled conscience and spiritual doubt drive us deeper into the words of God, which then drive us to contrition, confession and faith-strengthening absolution? Or do we anesthetize our conscience by repeating the mantra of objective justification: “All sins are already forgiven. . . even Judas’ in hell. . . so that certainly includes this sin of mine that I do not really want to give up”? . . .

I encourage you to test the widespread acceptance of this doctrine for yourself: ask fellow professing Lutherans what they “do” when spiritual doubts arise. See if they talk about the means of grace, word and Sacrament, or the “fact” that all sins are already forgiven. Ask them what they “do” when they find themselves stuck in a particular sin . . . see whether their answer includes contrition, confession and absolution (pp. 251-252).

These are very astute and relevant observations. Given the self-indulgent outlook of the times, the “Kokomo” views are just the twisted sort of version of objective justification one would expect to arise. The undercutting of the means of grace is its chief theological flaw and spiritual peril. That is also why the ex-Calvinist Samuel Huber’s version of “universal justification” was rejected by orthodox Lutherans at the time (see references to Tom Hardt’s essay above). It appears that Mr. Darby’s entire work on the subject is motivated by his strong conviction that the “Kokomo” approach is inimical to faith and spiritual life as understood and confessed by the Lutheran Church. This conviction is not to be gainsaid. All criticism of Mr. Darby’s work, to be fair, ought to start with this basic acknowledgment.

One need not agree with all of Hermann Sasse’s criticisms of Missouri Synod theology and its 17th century Orthodox roots—I for one do not—in order to recognize the deep significance of his trenchant lament: “The Lutheran Confessions no longer play the role in the life and in the theological thinking of the Missouri Synod, in fact, of all of American Lutheranism by far which they played during the 19th century.”9

The reason for this fateful weakening of the Confessional paradigm in Lutheran theological thinking must be sought not in fanciful conspiracies but simply in the process of “acculturation” to the North American environment—which also helps to explain such conspiracies as no doubt did arise! Although Mr. Darby’s work seems to make much of the conspiratorial factor, he adds this sensible explanation: “I do not suggest this was a conspiracy of men stretching over 100 years, but rather a conspiracy of our real enemy, Satan, who is capable of using even small openings to introduce error into the once-orthodox Synodical Conference” (HD, p. 118). Fair enough.

That the sacramental dimension of Lutheran faith and piety is most at risk in this “acculturation” seems fairly obvious. There was not much of that in the English-language literature which filled the void of the lost German staples. Somewhere among my papers there is a little devotional booklet issued in the 1940’s by the Missouri Synod’s Army and Navy Board, as it was then called. The booklet offers various prayers, but not the morning, evening, and mealtime prayers from the Catechism. I do not recall whether there is a form for emergency baptism. There is, however, a model prayer for “receiving the Lord Jesus” into one’s heart!

Not to be discounted in the acculturating distortion of “objective justification” is the pervasive influence of Schleiermacher and his multitude of followers. Hoenecke put it like this:

According to Schleiermacher there is only a universal [allgemeinen] eternal decision [Ratschluss] of justification, which in turn is nothing else than the decision to send Christ, and in the end is nothing else than the decision to create the human race, insofar, that is, as only in Christ is human nature completed. In the decision of the Redemption is implied [liegt, lies] according to Schleiermacher already that mankind [die Menschen] are pleasing to God in His Son; there is no need for an individual temporal act of justification upon each individual [einzelnen] human being. It is necessary only that the individual human being become aware of this, that in God’s decision of the Redemption in Christ he has already been justified and made pleasing to God (III:355, my translation).

Cultural sentimentalism, the anti-sacramental “spirituality” of Reformed sectarianism, and the individualist-experiential bent of “respectable” theology in the wake of Schleiermacher, make up a potent brew, which—as Mr. Darby is quite right to point out—poses a formidable threat in our time and place to the right understanding (Augsburg Confession VII!) of justification and the means of grace.

Indefensible Theses of Mr. Larry Darby:

That there was “no distinct, divine judicial act around A.D. 30” (HD, p. 75).

This is one of the core components of Mr. Darby’s opposition to what he regards as the “new” and unacceptable version of objective justification. The basic logic is that God foreknew everything from eternity, that both His grace and His wrath are unchangeable, and that the eternal election has already determined the outcome. Therefore there can be “no distinct, divine judicial act around A.D. 30.”

When Mr. Darby concedes the terminology “objective reconciliation” or even “objective justification” he means no more by it than “the fact that God has always regarded mankind with grace (in addition to His burning wrath)” (HD, p. 131). The Law had been fulfilling its condemnatory function long before A.D. 30. The Law came along, so to speak, found this Man hanging on the cross on Whom lay the sins of the world, and it automatically subjected Him to the torments of hell, with the full foreknowledge and approval of the Father. No distinct judicial act was required to understand this matter, and since Scripture does not teach such an act, neither should we (p. 195).

The same goes for the Resurrection: It “can be seen quite Scripturally as the natural outcome of the fact that the Law had finished its work upon Him. . . No distinct judicial act was involved” (p. 195). Again: “We equate objective justification with Christ’s procurement of forgiveness for all men. This ‘transaction’ took place in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. We must not assert that there was a distinct, judicial act around A.D. 30 since that cannot be proved from Scripture” (p. 216).

Mr. Darby is grappling with a real conundrum: the eternal, unchangeable God acting in time, in human history. There is no logical, philosophical solution to this “problem.” Both paradoxical aspects must be fully maintained, as Scripture does, and neither may be sacrificed to the other. Yes, God foresaw everything, but this does not mean that He never does anything new: the creation happened in time, not in eternity; the Incarnation happened in time, not in eternity, and so did the Redemption and all other facets of Our Lord’s divine-human, high-priestly work of salvation. If there can be no distinct divine acts (why should only “judicial” ones be forbidden?) in time, then the creation and the Incarnation did not happen either.

Furthermore, if there can be no new “distinct judicial” acts, then what happens in personal justification through faith? When the ungodly person’s “faith is counted for righteousness” to him by God (Rom. 4:5), that is certainly a “distinct, divine judicial act.” There have been millions of such divine judicial acts in history. If God’s eternal foreknowledge does not forbid these millions of judicial acts, why should it forbid the one great world-embracing judicial act in the Cross and Resurrection, which is the real and objective basis for all the millions of individual “applicatory” judicial acts? Justification is by definition a judicial act.

As Hoenecke pointed out (see point 4b above), the specifying phrases in II Cor. 5:18-21, “not imputing trespasses,” “made Him to be sin,” describe not changes within God, but “only. . . certain arrangements, judicial facts and activities,” such that they “alter” the “relationship between God and [the world]” (Dogmatik, III:191)—in other words, “distinct judicial act[s] around A.D. 30.”

It is worth quoting here Pieper’s reply to the modern sentimentalists’ complaint that the notion of God’s reconciliation of the world with Himself through Christ’s substitutionary satisfaction is too “juridical” and not sufficiently “ethical.” To avoid the imprecise and lacklustre prose of the English version, I have translated the following from Pieper’s German Dogmatik (II:420-421, a passage which Mr. Darby unfortunately omits from his detailed treatment of Pieper):

Answer: That can hardly be changed, if we want to abide by Scripture. According to Scripture, as it happens, the process of world-reconciliation is in all its factors juridical. Of a decidedly juridical kind and nature is God’s law, in that it demands from men a perfect obedience, Mat. 22:37 ff. Unadulteratedly juridical is also the curse of the law, which extends over the transgressors of the law, Gal. 3:10. Purely juridical is the placement of Christ under the law given to men, Gal. 4:4, 5, since Christ for His own Person stood above the law, Mat. 12:8. Purely juridical is the divine transfer of human guilt and punishment upon Christ, since God made Him to be sin, Who for His own Person knew of no sin, 2 Cor. 5:21. Purely juridical is the execution of punishment upon Christ, since Christ had for His Person deserved no punishment, but in Him the Righteous suffered for the unrighteous, I Pet. 3:18. Purely juridical or an unadulterated actus forensis is the divine action whereby God then, when He reconciled the world with Himself, did not impute to men their sin . . ., 2 Cor. 5:19, and whereby through the Righteousness of the one Christ it came to justification of life for all men, Rom. 5:18. Of a purely juridical kind therefore is also “the word of reconciliation” (. . . 2 Cor. 5:19), that is of the reconciliation already effected through Christ, which makes known grace or the divine forgiveness of sins among all nations (Lk. 24:47) and awaits only acceptance through faith. In the purely juridical character of the Gospel, which proclaims grace or forgiveness of sins, lies the reason for the fact that the Gospel works faith in man (. . . Rom. 10:17), and that man is subjectively justified before God out of faith (sola fide), without any righteousness of his own (. . . Phil. 3:9). On these purely juridical occurrences—so Scripture instructs us further—rests now also all human ethics, about which the combatants against the juridical notion of world-reconciliation are so concerned (all emphases in original).

This excerpt, incidentally, shows how skillfully Pieper weaves actual biblical language into his argument—and how difficult therefore it is to translate his text without loss of subtle nuance and precision. I hope, too, that we shall not have to quibble about the differing terms “judicial,” “juridical,” and “forensic,” all of which mean the same thing in this context, being equivalent to the German “richterlich.”

The truly cosmic (Col. 1:20) change in our standing before God, though of course seen and willed by Him from eternity, was in fact brought about by the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ, and therefore in history and in time—not “once upon a time,” but “once for all” (e`fa,pax, Rom. 6:10; Heb. 7:27; 9:12; 10:10). Therefore also we have in Him a new, and better, and permanent Testament (II Cor. 3:6-18, and all of Hebrews).

It is a pity that for his treatment of the time/eternity paradox in Pieper, Mr. Darby [HD, pp. 131-134] chose to repair to the first volume of Christliche Dogmatik, and to by-pass the relevant discussion in volume two. I quote from the long footnote # 1041 against Ihmels (pp. 438-439):

So we must maintain on the one hand, on the basis of Scripture, that the decision to reconcile the world [Ratschluss der Weltversoehnung] through Christ belongs to eternity, which is unchangeable; on the other hand Scripture leads us to think of a change of attitude [Umstimmung] of God or a transformation [Umwandlung] of His wrath into grace, which has been effected [bewirkt] through Christ’s doing and suffering in the fullness of time 1900 years ago. Condescending to our human powers of comprehension Scripture presents the matter thus: At that [past] time [damals], when the Righteous One suffered and died for the unrighteous, we were reconciled with God through the death of His Son. At that time, when Christ was put under God’s law given to men and when He fulfilled it in the place of men, justification of life came about for all men through the one Righteousness. At that time, when God through Christ reconciled the world to Himself, He (God) did not impute their sin to the world of men, that means, with Himself [bei sich], “before His tribunal,” He let grace towards the world of men take the place of wrath. Whoever now, like Ihmels, while invoking the immutability of God, calls these thoughts “misleading,” . . . thereby renounces Scriptural [schriftgemaesse] thoughts of the Redemption, which has taken place through Christ in the fullness of time (my translation; all emphases in original).

As for God’s election of grace, it is quite out of place as an argument against universal justification (see HD, pp. 49-54, 209, passim). As Pieper points out, “in Scripture the doctrine of the election of grace is given not a central but an auxiliary position. It serves the presentation of the sola gratia” (Christliche Dogmatik III:535, my translation). Citing the very language from Formula of Concord XI to which Darby appeals in HD, p. 53, Pieper says: “Also the Lutheran Confession defines as purpose of the doctrine of election the confirmation of the sola gratia” (p. 556). And in II:497 Pieper had already pointed out that even in Rom. 9-11 St. Paul treats election “not as a central article, but as an auxiliary article to the doctrine of grace,” and that the Apostle opposes the election of grace “not to gratia universalis [universal grace], but to liberum arbitrium [free will].”

To marshal election against objective justification is really to direct it against universal grace. Although Mr. Darby wishes to maintain universal grace in obedience to I Tim. 2:4 (HD, p. 49), his foreknowledge/election logic relentlessly gets in the way. So at p. 82 he accepts that the Holy Spirit is “willing to work all this in every one who hears the Gospel” but objects to the (1991 Catechism) wording that He “earnestly wants to convert all people and bring them to salvation through the Gospel.” Is the universal grace of the Gospel then not serious grace, or is that Gospel not seriously offered to all mankind? One should read Pieper’s spirited defense of universal and serious grace—and even the English of Christian Dogmatics III:21-34 is quite clear and explicit enough on these crucial matters, to which he returns again and again in the rest of his work.

On p. 50 Mr. Darby makes this remarkable assertion: “Stoeckhardt is also right to reject the error that ‘As a consequence of reconciliation God pursues sinners further, calls them through the Gospel, and seeks to effect their conversion.’ This error clearly contradicts the perfect foreknowledge of God, His election, and His immutability.” Despite the professions of universal redemption and reconciliation that follow, the appeal to foreknowledge, election, and immutability here makes sense only if directed against universal grace, that is, God pursuing sinners with the Gospel, seeking to convert them.

The trouble is that our author has clearly misunderstood Stoeckhardt’s intent.10 Stoeckhardt was refuting the views of “positive” 19th century theologians like Thomasius and Luthardt, who downgraded world-reconciliation to forgiveness (=justification) as a mere possibility rather than an actual fact and reality. What Darby regards as too strong, saying too much, Stoeckhardt rejects as too weak, saying far too little. Stoeckhardt attacks the “positive” crowd of theologians not for saying that God pursues sinners with the Gospel, but for making that Gospel far too iffy and in need of completion by human responses—as though faith had to establish and bring about forgiveness rather than merely receive and accept it.

That the Resurrection of Christ was only one absolution among others, not THE absolution of the world (HD, pp. 101, 105, 113-114, etc.).

The devaluation of the resurrection here becomes downright offensive: “Pieper and Walther were willing to speak about the event of the resurrection as one actual absolution, never suggesting that it was anything more than a reminder of the first one spoken in the Garden of Eden. However, the English version speaks of this event as if it were the only absolution, as if it proves that God had just completed a divine judicial act” (p. 101). Easter only “one actual absolution” among others? Nothing “more than a reminder [!] of the first one spoken in the Garden of Eden”? If this were really Pieper’s original sense, then the English translation must be regarded as a vast improvement! Nor is this a casual slip in HD. We read again on p. 114:

Pieper’s use of “a” reminds us that Christ’s resurrection was not a unique event in time in regard to the way God regards sinful mankind, or a signal of a change in God. Similar absolutions have been spoken since the time of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. The English translators’ change to “the” implies that this event in time proves a change in God and the status of mankind brought about by a distinct, divine judicial act around A.D. 30.

A footnote on the same page adds the final indignity: “As a brief reminder of the proper application of Absolution, we also note that the manifestation of this particular Absolution (i.e. the resurrection) was only to Christ’s disciples, not to the impenitent.” So now the Resurrection becomes if not quite “a” private, then at least “a” semi-secret absolution! HD even criticizes “the teaching of universal, objective justification” for “revolv[ing] around the resurrection as the pivotal point in time in the process of salvation . . .” (p. 101).

This flies in the face of the whole New Testament economy of salvation, which culminates precisely in the Resurrection of our divine-human Redeemer. See the wealth of material in section 3 above. Given the centrality of the Resurrection as the founding fact of Christianity (Acts 17:30, 31; I Cor. 15!), which is celebrated therefore not just once a year but every week, on the “First” or “Lord’s” Day (St. John 20:19-29; Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10), it cannot possibly be just one of many items in any list! In 1893 Pieper put it like this, on behalf of the entire Synodical Conference:

With our sins upon him Christ entered into the prison-house of death; absolved from our sins he was set free in his resurrection. Hence it is seen that the resurrection of Christ actually involves an absolution of the whole world, and the absolution we pronounce is nothing but a repetition or echo of what God has long since pronounced.11

If there is any “echoing” to be done, then by other things “echoing” the resurrection—never the other way round! This also explains what is meant elsewhere by saying that the Resurrection was a “factual” [tatsaechliche] absolution. The implied contrast is not “fictitious” or anything like that, but simply “verbal.” Unlike all the absolutions in words, from Genesis to Revelation, and in the church from Pentecost till the end of days, the resurrection is absolution in the form of FACT or DEED, that unique culminating fact, fount, and source, out of which all verbal absolutions flow. Like Caiaphas before him (St. John 11:49-52), little did Rudolf Bultmann realize the true sense of his famous phrase that “Jesus is risen into the Gospel”! And of that, Holy Absolution is the concentrate.

It follows that the argument from the difference between the indefinite article in Pieper’s original German [“a factual absolution”] and the definite article in the English translation [“the actual absolution”] (HD, pp. 113-114) is an illusion. Although both English and German have definite and indefinite articles, the usage is not identical. Often, for instance, the definite article is natural in a German phrase, but unnatural in English (e.g., “Eindruck der Wirklichkeit” [Pieper II:436] must go into English without the article, as “impression of reality.” It cannot possibly be “impression of the reality” unless there were a further specification of the term, such as “impression of the reality of the transaction”). Although I am not a German language expert, I would venture to say that sometimes the indefinite article is used in preference to the definite for the purpose of stressing the qualitative content of the assertion. Such usage would parallel the omission of the definite article in Greek constructions like St. John 1:1, kai. qeo.j hv/n o` lo,goj. Here the lack of the definite article before “God” means not that “the Word was a god,” as Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain fraudulently, but precisely the opposite, that the very attribute of divinity is being stressed: “It was nothing short of God that the Word was.”

No inference may be drawn therefore from the presence or absence of articles, against the uniqueness of the Resurrection as the factual absolution (=justification) of the world. The semantic content of the assertions, regardless of articles, dictates the meaning. For instance: “Not a few regard the resurrection of Jesus Christ as no more than a beautiful addition, a brilliant decoration of the real salvatory acts of the Redeemer of the world, as a precious pearl in the crown of redemption, but not as that very crown itself. They do not know what to do with it. . .” Nor is there any hesitation to use the definite article when it fits: “That the resurrection of Christ is the [die] fully valid justification of all men” (Both examples are from C. F. W. Walther, quoted by Hardt, pp. 62 and 73, note 56, and 61 and 73, note 51, respectively. My emphases).

That only actual biblical words and expressions carry full divine, spiritual power.

Warnings against human theological reconstructions of Holy Scripture (“The Efficacy and Sufficiency of God’s Words,” HD, pp. 7-10) are certainly in order, especially nowadays when the sacred text is so often made to fit fashionable conceits like “gender-neutral language.” Yet the term “God’s Words” seems to be restricted unduly to verbatim biblical citations—everything else being “human” words and explanations. This point is driven to the extreme in the correspondence with Pastor Rolf Preus:

The real issue is whether there is something fundamentally unfaithful about trying to convey spiritual truth with our words instead of God’s explicit words. Man’s words have often confused or deceived . . . But God’s words have never deceived.

-I believe that God’s very words, preserved in Holy Scripture, say what they mean and mean what they say (what theologians like to call perspicuity). . .

-I believe that these very words alone have the power to convey truth—not just convey it to heads (knowledge and assent) but also to the heart and soul. This is what theologians like to call efficacy (OJ, p. 17).

By way of a first approach one should note that the biblicist anxiety about exact inspired wordings is not a normal or natural part of Lutheran piety. The Catechism, for instance—except in the Decalogue and the Lord’s Prayer—accustoms us to saying first a brief “human” summary of what the thing is, or means, or gives, and then, if necessary, asking, “Where is this written?” The devil tried to seduce the Lord with the ipsissima verba, the very words of God (St. Mt. 4:6)—so these can obviously be used deceitfully. Luther, on the other hand, habitually drove off Satan not with biblical citations—nothing wrong with those of course—but with sacramental defiance: “I am baptised!” Whereas Southern Baptists would presumably direct troubled souls to specific Scripture-texts, Lutherans direct them above all to the Absolution, and so to ecclesiastical, “human” wordings: “Upon this your confession I as a called and ordained servant [Slavonic: ‘His unworthy servant’] . . . forgive you all your sins . . .” Also, the meaning of the Third Commandment bids us attend to “preaching and His Word.” These are not two different things; the “and” is basically “epexegetical”—see the Latin version and the Large Catechism.

The underlying truth here is that of the “unity” of the Word of God (see Robert Preus, The Inspiration of Scripture, pp. 17 ff.). The divine efficacy attaches not to the “materia” (the [divinely chosen] letters and words in the human languages [Hebrew, Greek]) as such, but to the “forma,” the divine meaning or sense, which can be re-stated—also translated!—in different words without loss of truth or power. Preus:

The efficacy of the Word of God does not inhere in the letters and syllables and words as they are written. These are merely symbols, the vehicle (vehiculum) of the divine content, the forma, of the Word which alone is the Word of God, properly speaking. . . It is extremely important to bear in mind that the dogmaticians are never speaking of the Bible as a book, of the materia of Scripture, or of the materia of the Word of God in general, when they say that the Word of God is efficacious (p. 174).

The basic units of faith and theology are not so many biblical books as such [unlike the

Roman and Reformed confessions, the Lutheran Book of Concord does not specify exactly how many books make up the canon], but the divinely revealed “articles” that make up the Christian “doctrine” (in the New Testament true Christian “doctrine” occurs only in the singular—as opposed to the plural “doctrines” of men and of demons):

The first part of the Articles treats the sublime articles of the divine majesty. . .

The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord “was put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification,” Rom. 4.

The Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel (Smalcald Articles I; II/I/1; II/II/15).

These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth (Large Catechism, Creed, 66).

. . . agreed in the doctrine and in all its articles. . . (Formula of Concord, S.D., X, 31).

Exact biblical wording is crucial of course in determining the right content or doctrine—but it is that content or doctrine which for Luther is always the essential thing.

“Could you please show me,” writes Mr. Darby, “where the Bible describes itself as a ‘body of Christian doctrine’ or ‘living organism’?”

Well, there is first of all the “one faith” (Eph. 4:5, compare Jude 3). Then there is the one “doctrine” or even “pattern of doctrine” of Christ and the Apostles (St. John 7:16; Acts 2:42; Rom. 6:17; 16:17; I Tim. 4:16; Tit. 1:9; II John 9, etc.). Thirdly, there is the liberating truth, Word of truth, etc. (St. John 8:32; 17:17; Eph. 1:13; 4:21; II Tim. 2:15). Fourthly, there is the one living and life-giving Word or Gospel (St. Mk. 1:1; Acts 15:7; Rom. 1:16; I Cor. 15:1; Gal. 1:6-9; Phil. 1:7; II Tim. 1:10; Heb. 4:12; I Pet. 1:23-25). All these expressions imply not disjointed [articulus means “joint” or “member” of an organism, in Latin] bits and pieces, but one grand revealed unity, the “mystery” of salvation (Col. 1:26-27; 2:2-3; 4:3; I Tim. 3:16), its unifying, ordering Centre being the God-Man Himself (St. John 5:39; I Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20). The mysteries [plural, as in I Cor. 4:1] are the various particular aspects [“articles”] of the one saving truth—including the “sacraments” [=Latin for “mysteries;” see Apology XXIV, 80]. Here is a case where later ecclesiastical usage [“sacrament”] is much narrower than the biblical [“mystery”]. But, properly explained, this does not change the doctrine.

It is difficult to know what to make of Mr. Darby’s argument from, among other things, “Exegesis, rather than doctrine, is the main topic of discussion among pastors and teachers” to the conclusion: “In short, we have lost our zeal for God’s very words” (HD, p. 3). It would seem that “zeal for God’s very words” would impel one precisely towards exegesis, which occupies itself with “God’s very words” in the original languages. Yet Mr. Darby is right, I think, in sensing that something has gone awry in the turn from doctrine (content!) to “exegesis” (method). Ideally sound content and sound method go together.

Mr. Darby’s underlying claim here is that “objective justification” is a human theological construct which lacks support in the “pattern of healthy words” (II Tim. 1:13), that is, in express biblical texts. The major premise is of course sound: whatever cannot be proved from explicit biblical texts, may not be given out as Christian doctrine or teaching. Quod non est biblicum non est theologicum. Whatever is not biblical is not theological either. That is axiomatic. What is not sound is the minor premise, that “objective justification” in fact lacks the proper basis in express biblical texts. In addition to all the material already presented above, I urge close attention here to just a few concrete biblical specifics:

(1) The world’s Redeemer is said to have been “justified” (I Tim. 3:16)—obviously in the Resurrection. Since as Lamb of God He had no sins of His own, but only the world’s, it is clear that somehow the world was “justified” in Him when He was “justified.”

(2) In Eph. 1:7 and Col. 1:14 “redemption” and “forgiveness” are identified. But of course forgiveness=justification (Rom. 4:4-8).

(3) II Cor. 5:19 literally says that “God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing to them their trespasses.” The object of this non-imputation (=forgiveness=justification) was “the world,” not any subset of it.

(4) Although ND, p. 29, tries to contrast three different translations of Rom. 5:18, the differences prove to be purely verbal. In content all three say exactly the same thing. Since the verse contains no verb, one has to be supplied. Luther’s translation [which ND labels that of “Prof. Schmidt”] adds fewer words than the Authorized Version, and is thus more literal: “As now through the sin of one condemnation has come upon all men, so also through the righteousness of one justification of life has come upon all men.” Verbatim, “justification” [which lead to life] is connected here with “all men.” Of all verbs that might be supplied, “come upon” seems to be the most neutral or minimal, or the least intrusive. But what does the text mean? Much useless quarreling can be avoided by paying heed to the wise and modest explanation printed by Walther in 1871: “Both acts [Adam’s and Christ’s] have an equally general signification and validity. But as not all men are personally condemned, although the ‘judgment came upon all men to condemnation,’ so not all men are really and personally justified, although the justification has through Christ’s act ‘come upon all men’” (quoted in Hardt, pp. 65 and 75, note 67). As condemnation is objectively “there” for all in Adam, yet not everyone ends up actually condemned, so justification leading to life is “there” for all in Christ, even though not everyone ends up actually justified. And that is just what the distinction between “objective” and “subjective” justification is meant to express. Anything further (e.g. “Kokomo”) is of evil.

At the very least all this shows that there is a proper basis in actual biblical language for the “objective/subjective,” or better “universal/individual,” distinction with reference to justification. It is not true, therefore, that the “justification” terminology is used in Scripture so narrowly and exclusively of the personal imputation of righteousness through faith that no other, broader use of the terms is permissible. In normal usage, both biblical and ecclesiastical, “justification” includes the personal appropriation through faith. There is biblical warrant, however, for using that language also in the special sense of forgiveness as it has been acquired by Christ once and for all, and is offered to all in the Gospel.

Even if “objective justification” could be rightly understood, asks Larry Darby, “what good is it?” (HD, pp. 36-39). He argues that the various errors against which “objective justification” has been asserted can be met better and more directly from Scripture without this artificial “theological construction.” The fact is, however, that far from being some abstract “construction,” the real point and thrust of the term and teaching is none other than to safeguard the fullness of salvation as it has been given to the world in Christ. Roman Catholicism denies the intensive perfection of Christ’s reconciling work. According to the scheme of the Council of Trent, He earned for us not forgiveness and salvation as an outright gift, but only the opportunity to earn them with the aid of divine “grace”! Calvinism, on the other hand, denies the extensive perfection of His saving work. Yes, says Geneva, Christ has done everything for our salvation, but not for everyone, only for the elect. The Wittenberg Reformation alone remains faithful to Scripture by teaching both the intensive and the extensive perfection of the Saviour’s accomplished work—and that is what “objective, universal justification” is meant to express.

Mr. Darby is quite right, as we have seen, to denounce a simplistic, “Kokomo”-style “comfort” that “since all people are forgiven, even Judas in hell, I am certainly included” (p. 37). Given Judas’ actual fate it is difficult to detect any comfort in this sentiment. But that only by the way. Mr. Darby rightly argues that Christians should be pointed to the means of grace, not to the alleged sainthood of Judas. It is just here, however, that “universal justification” is so indispensable: without it, there can be no objective, reliable means of grace at all! The logic is not, “I am forgiven because all are forgiven,” but: “I can rely on forgiveness in the Gospel and Sacraments, because it is there for all.” If forgiveness did not exist in Christ and His Gospel objectively for all mankind, how could I possibly presume to think that I receive it in the means of grace? I would then, as in Calvinism, need prior information about my election, by “experiencing” the Holy Spirit in my heart (!), before I could know whether the Gospel applied to me! That way lies a tragic return to the pre-Reformation “monstrum incertitudinis” (monster of uncertainty). A few samples will show the real means-of-grace rationale of “objective justification”:

HOENECKE: “The underscoring of the universal justification is necessary in order to preserve the real content of the Gospel” (Dogmatik III:355; my translation).

C. F. W. WALTHER: “What now is actually the doctrine on which—to put it that way—absolution rests? We Lutherans teach about this briefly the following:

That Christ, the Son of God, took all sins of all sinners upon Himself and let them be imputed to Himself as if they were His own. Hence John the Baptist, pointing to Christ with his finger, says: ‘Behold, this is God’s Lamb, which bears the world’s sin.’ We teach:

That Christ by His poor, wretched life, by His suffering, by His crucifixion, by His dying has wiped out all people’s sin and won [erworben] forgiveness of the same. No human being in the world is excepted, from Adam on down to the last [person] to be born into this world. For St. Paul writes 2 Cor. 5, 21. . . And already Isaiah says, Is. 53, 5. . . We teach:

That God the Father has . . . by the Raising of Christ publicly attested before heaven and earth, before angels and men: ‘This my beloved Son cried out from the Cross: “It is finished!”—and I declare hereby: Yes, it is finished [vollbracht, accomplished]! You sinners are redeemed! Here is forgiveness of sins for every one! It is already there! . . .’ We teach:

That Christ, in commanding that the Gospel be preached to every creature, has thereby simultaneously commanded to preach forgiveness of sins to all men . . . ‘Oh, everything has already happened! Nothing more is to be done. You have only to believe what has happened, then you are helped.’ We teach:

That Christ did not only in general command His apostles and those who were to succeed them in office to preach the Gospel, thus the forgiveness of sins, but also to speak the consolation to every single [one] who asks it of them: ‘You are reconciled with God!’ For if the forgiveness of sins has been won for all, then it has been won also for everyone individually. . . We teach:

That because now the forgiveness of sins, as already noted, has been won, not only the preacher in a special commission can proclaim it, but also every Christian man, also every Christian woman, yes, every child. . . . the issue is not: ‘what can the person [do]?’ but: ‘what has happened through Christ?’” (Die rechte Unterscheidung von Gesetz und Evangelium [1901], pp. 158-159. For the sake of precision I have given as literal a translation as I could. The English version of Law and Gospel [1929] is not exact enough for our purposes. It also gratuitously introduces that bloodless word “plan,” beloved of Calvinists [see Pieper, Dogmatics III:247-248], in point 2 above. And in point 6 Walther’s original sense regarding the “special commission” is not correctly reproduced).

F. PIEPER: “In the presentation of the doctrine of the means of grace one must start with the universal objective reconciliation or justification. So we find it in the Scripture. . . With the denial of the gratia universalis there disappear, consistently, also the means of grace” (Dogmatik III:123, 141; my translation).

“It should be borne in mind that God has already absolved the whole world in laying the sins of the whole world on Christ and in raising up Christ from the dead. With our sins upon him Christ entered into the prison-house of death; absolved from our sins he was set free in his resurrection. Hence it is seen that the resurrection of Christ actually involves an absolution of the whole world, and the absolution we pronounce is nothing but a repetition or echo of what God has long since pronounced. . . Faith, indeed, is necessary on the part of man; not, however, to render God fully propitious, . . . but to accept of [sic] the forgiveness already earned by Christ and now offered in the Gospel. . . It is of great importance to maintain this true conception of the Gospel, viz., that forgiveness of sins exists for every sinner before his conversion and faith. For, how could man obtain forgiveness of sin by faith, i.e., by laying hold on it by faith, if this forgiveness did not actually exist for him in Christ and were not offered to him in the Gospel?. . . Absolution is founded on two facts, first, that God is perfectly reconciled through Christ to every sinner; secondly, that God has commanded this Gospel to be preached in the world. . . . Christ has already perfectly acquired forgiveness of sins for all men, and . . . this forgiveness is offered and exhibited to men through the means of grace, to wit, the Gospel and the Sacraments. . .” (Distinctive Doctrines, pp. 147-148, 150, 151).

(h) That the objective/subjective justification distinction is an unnecessary and

misleading novelty, which Pieper’s German Christliche Dogmatik tolerated [“condone(d),”HD, p. 100)] and explained in an orthodox sense, but which the English translation [Christian Dogmatics] and the Missouri Synod’s Catechism of 1991 materially falsified in the direction of the “Kokomo” excesses.

The 1872 Synodical Conference Essay and “Prof. Schmidt”

In my translation of this essay, which I entitled Justification—Objective and Subjective (Ft. Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1982), I offered the conjecture that Prof. F. A. Schmidt was the author. I did this on the basis of consultation with “informed sources.” The result, however, was no more than an “informed guess.” Some have even suggested to me that Walther himself was the author.

Pieper commended the essay’s treatment of objective justification without reservations (Dogmatik II:611, note 1420; Dogmatics II:508, note 12). If this essay really had been a devious attempt on the part of “Prof. Schmidt” to introduce “error” by means of “subterfuge” (HD 20 ff.), would not some prominent Missouri Synod theologian have noticed it and offered some hint of criticism or reservation somewhere? On the contrary, the essay stands as a monument of soundness and sagacity in doctrinal discourse.

Mr. Darby is quite right to note that my translation and publication of the essay occurred at a time when this very matter was being debated again in our circles (HD, pp. 19-20). My aim, to mix metaphors, was not to fan the flames but to calm the troubled waters by offering what I regarded as a truly balanced, moderate (in the good sense!), and responsible treatment of the subject. Hence my choice of title. It seemed to me that in our own discussions at the time, the topic was being distorted (as that of the ministry is to-day) by over-statements and over-reactions. The judicious, painstaking treatment in that first Synodical Conference Convention essay seemed—and still seems—to me to supply an ideal antidote and a sound, traditional model or modus docendi (mode of teaching).

Roots in Lutheran Orthodoxy, Not “Made in America”

Mr. Darby himself recognizes that objective justification “has deeper roots than 1872” (OJ, p. 49). Only he is quite wrong in stating that “Adolph Hoenecke traced it to Schleiermacher.” What Hoenecke traced to Schleiermacher was not the truth of objective justification—which he vigorously defended throughout—but a sentimental caricature and conceit which eliminates the need for any actual, historical act(s) of justification (see p. 13 above). Pieper too complains of the “weakening of ‘the historical work of Christ’” which “permeates the whole presentation of the modern ‘positive’ theologians” (Dogmatik II:475, note 1096). Ironically therefore Mr. Darby’s sustained polemic against a “judicial act around A.D. 30” sides with the Schleiermacher/”positive” camp, not with its orthodox Lutheran critics!

Our Synodical founding fathers consciously eschewed innovation. They were anxious to preserve dogmatic continuity with the orthodox church of earlier times. If they charitably corrected some weaknesses in the approaches of their illustrious predecessors, then not from newer, but from older, more genuine sources. Pieper quotes Walther as follows:

Highly as we value the immense work done by the great Lutheran dogmaticians of [the 17th century], still they are not in reality the ones to whom we returned; we have returned, above all, to our precious Concordia and to Luther. . . The dogmatic works of the 17th century, though storehouses of incalculably rich treasures of knowledge and experience, so that with joy and pleasure we profit from the day and night, are nevertheless neither our Bible nor our confession; rather, do we observe in them already a pollution of the stream that gushed forth in crystal purity in the sixteenth century (Dogmatics I:166).

The 1872 essay itself documented its continuity with standard-bearers like Quistorp, Gerhard, “Rohrberg” (which Hardt, p. 77, corrects to “Norborg”) and others (my translation, pp. 21 ff.). Hoenecke was right: “Of universal justification our dogmaticians do not treat separately [besonders], but they do [treat of it] occasionally” (Dogmatik III:354).12

It is impossible to dispose of universal justification as a recent innovation.

Luther and Universal Justification

Darby (HD, pp. 29, 59, 61-63) is right in arguing that Luther’s usual interpretation of Rom. 5:18 is not that of Stoeckhardt, for instance. Tom Hardt’s scholarship supports this conclusion (Hardt, pp. 68-69, note 11). To say only this, however, would be misleading in our context. Several qualifications must be spelt out:

First, Luther’s actual translation (used but not invented by “Prof. Schmidt,” HD, p. 29) of Rom. 5:18 is that “justification of life has come upon [ueber] all men.”

Secondly, in his treatment of the references to Rom. 5:18 in the German St. Louis edition of Luther’s works, even Dr. Hardt seems to have overlooked the following from a sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (St. Louis edition, vol. XII, c. 850):

So also St. Paul speak in Rom. 5, 17. 18, where he contrasts Adam and Christ. Adam, he says, was also a wellspring, who by his disobedience in paradise filled the world with sins and death, so that through the sin of this one [man] condemnation has come upon all men. Yet again Christ with His obedience and righteousness has also become for us a Spring and Fullness, so that we also become righteous and obedient out of it. And this Fullness is of such a nature that it runs much more richly and lavishly than the other one. For although by one sin of one man sin and death came [gegangen, went] upon all men, and the Law came in addition, through which sin became much mightier and stronger; but against that the grace and gift in Christ is so surpassingly rich and mighty, that it overflows and wipes out not only one sin of the one Adam (which had previously immersed all men into death), but all sin, so that now much rather those who receive the fullness of grace and gift (says he) to righteousness, reign in life through the one Jesus Christ, etc.

Although the decisive importance of actual reception (by faith) is rightly stressed here, the surpassingly rich, objectively accomplished and fully existing Adam-antidote in Christ clearly covers “all sin,” and is no less universal than Adam’s poison—exactly the point of universal justification.

Thirdly, Luther teaches this universality explicitly:

He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: “Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them.” . . . By this deed the whole world is purged and expiated form all sins, and thus it is set free from death and from every evil. . .

If the sins of the entire world are on that one man, Jesus Christ, then they are not on the world. But if they are not on Him, then they are still on the world. . . Not only my sins and yours, but the sins of the entire world, past, present, and future, attack Him, try to damn Him, and do in fact damn Him. . . Thus in Christ all sin is conquered, killed, and buried; and righteousness remains the victor and the ruler eternally (Luther’s Works, vol. 26, pp. 280-281).

Fourthly, Luther expressly distinguishes forgiveness (which always equals justification) as won in Christ then and there, and as offered and given to our faith here and now in the Gospel:

We treat of the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, how it is achieved and won. Second, how it is distributed and given to us. Christ has achieved it on the cross, it is true. But he has not distributed or given it on the cross. He has not won it in the supper or sacrament. There he has distributed and given it through the Word, as also in the gospel, where it is preached. He has won it once and for all on the cross. But the distribution takes place continuously, before and after, from the beginning to the end of the world (Luther’s Works, vol. 40, pp. 213-214).

St. Ambrose and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession

HD (pp. 25-28) makes much of the alleged “subterfuge” of the 1872 Synodical Conference essay in the way the citation from St. Ambrose in Apology IV:103 is handled. The citation is said to have been taken out of context, and wrongly to have attributed to the Apology as such what was only St. Ambrose’s opinion. In addition, the translator is faulted for using the Tappert version rather than the Triglotta.

To start with the last point, Tappert was used simply because it is the most readable and accessible English version today. The original 1872 text followed the German of Mueller’s edition. Tappert follows the Latin text of the Apology, which is the original for that document. Interestingly enough, the Latin original is even stronger than the German version used in 1872: According to the Latin, the Lord Jesus forgave “sin to all,” whereas in German He forgave “sin to us.”

The main complaint is that by ending the citation before the references to Baptism and faith, the false impression is created that Ambrose and the Apology were arguing for universal justification when in fact they were arguing for personal justification by faith, against works. But this is a total misunderstanding, as though to argue for the one were to argue against the other! On the contrary, every proper argument for justification by faith is an argument for the objective justification which it necessarily presupposes, and every argument for objective justification is an argument for justification by faith as its proper goal and conclusion. If justification indeed consists of the four constitutive elements the Formula of Concord (S.D. III:25) names, God’s grace, Christ’s merit, the Gospel, and faith, then an argument for point four can never be an argument against the first three! To argue for the one is to argue for the others. So our entire Lutheran dogmatical tradition has understood the matter—against Rome and Geneva, which take out or weaken this or that constituent element.

Further, it is fallacious to argue that the citation in question is being given only as an example of a Church Father’s personal opinion. Clearly the Apology wholeheartedly endorses the Ambrosian citation, since the latter is taken to do more for the correct understanding of St. Paul than all the scholastics with their vainglorious titles (par. 105).

Finally, Mr. Darby does not seem to notice that his own citation (p. 27) from the Triglotta (“He took away the sin of the whole world”) as “the real thing,” does precisely what elsewhere he regards as forbidden: “you do not have the liberty to change Bible to past tense: (‘Jesus has taken away the sin of the world.’)” (OJ, p. 24).

C. F. W. Walther and Universal Justification

It is quite impossible to relegate Walther’s consistent teaching of objective, universal justification to “[o]ne excerpt from an Easter Sermon—which was not even published until years later!” (OJ, p. 48). See Hardt’s scholarly work (cited earlier and appended to the present paper) for evidence of Walther’s uniform and strongly expressed Easter theology of universal justification/absolution. Walther’s enlarged edition of Baier’s textbook, Compendium Theologiae Positivae, for instance, deliberately adds many orthodox testimonies to the universal justification in Christ (III:271-273). Also see the extended excerpts in Hardt (appended) from the 1860 Missouri Synod Convention essay on the relation between absolution and justification, and the 1871 Lehre und Wehre article on the dispute about objective justification. Walther was at the height of his powers and leadership then, and it is inconceivable that these essays would have appeared had they deviated from his theology.

It is fitting to cite in conclusion, from the earlier (1878), shorter (only 13 theses) version of Gesetz und Evangelium (St. Louis, 1893), Walther’s confession of objective justification, which at the same time warns against the very pitfalls which Mr. Darby’s work is rightly intended to oppose. It is clear, however, that Walther’s warning is not some sort of “qualification” to make a dubious “construction” seem plausible and acceptable! It is rather a case of rightly dividing Law and Gospel in presenting a central and indispensable truth, and demonstrates the real, proper, and intended meaning of “objective justification”:

So also it is with the doctrine of the objective justification, of the objective reconciliation and redemption. That is after all a surpassingly precious, delightful doctrine. It is a world full of comfort that lies in it. But this doctrine wants to be taught in such a way that the poor people don’t get the idea: Christ has reconciled me, now all is well [nun hat es gute Wege]. If you rightly underscore what an inexpressible comfort lies in this, that the redemption and reconciliation of the whole human race is an accomplished fact, that by the Raising of Christ all mankind was justified, then you must always add, that this has happened on the part of God, but that in man something must first happen before it becomes his property. For if someone gives [schenkt] me something, that is still no proof that I have it. If I do not accept it, then it doesn’t help me that it has been given to me. So it is also here. The dear God has gifted us all with what Christ has won for us, but only he who has come to faith has it, because only he has accepted it.—Take heed to yourselves then, that you do not comfort falsely (pp. 83-84; my translation, emphases in original).

Pieper in German and English

At the outset let me grant that the English version sometimes takes unwarranted liberties with the original German. In twenty years of teaching dogmatics from Pieper’s volumes, I have noticed that students’ misunderstandings and misgivings most often occur at points where the translators have improvised something that is not in Pieper’s original German. For example, here is a point that arose in class only last week: Dogmatics II:432 asserts: “Justifying faith is in every instance fides actualis, that is, the apprehension of the divine promises of the Gospel by an act of the intellect and will.” But this directly contradicts p. 444: “It is a grave error to define faith as the conscious acceptance of the grace of God.” It turns out that Pieper’s original says nothing about “intellect and will,” which imply something “conscious.” It says rather: “Because faith, insofar as it puts [one] into possession of forgiveness, has for its object the promise of the Gospel, it is always fides actualis, that means, [an] act of grasping [Ergreifens, taking hold of], and that not only in the case of adults but also in that of children” (Dogmatik II:517; my translation).

The trouble is that Pieper’s German original, though delightfully precise and expressive, abounds in the convoluted sentences typical of scholarly German syntax. English translations therefore must always break this prose up into shorter sentences, in order to achieve a readable English style. Clearly also Pieper’s translators worked at a lower level of theological precision and comprehension than did the master. They “cut corners” and made the text more popular. Something was inevitably lost in the process. But that is all. There are no material—certainly no intentional—doctrinal changes or perversions evident in the translation, only clumsy infelicities of expression here and there. That applies also to the treatment of objective and subjective justification.

The wedge that HD attempts to drive between Pieper and Stoeckhardt, for instance, is entirely imaginary. Regarding the “universal or so-called objective justification” Pieper appeals without any reservations to Stoeckhardt’s commentary on Romans, and precisely to the pages (Roemerbrief, pp. 213 ff. and 262 ff.) which expound objective justification most strongly, on the basis of Rom. 4:25 and 5:18, 19 (Pieper, Dogmatik II:612, note 1421).

The claim that Pieper only reluctantly “condoned” the term “objective justification” (HD, pp. 100, 128), is without merit or basis in fact, as even Mr. Darby’s own citations show. We have already seen that the alternate uses of definite (“the”) or indefinite (“a”) articles here make no difference whatever. Incidentally, all references to objective justification in the original German index volume, under “Rechtfertigung,” include the definite article, i.e. “die objektive Rechtfertigung.” And under “Auferstehung Christi” [Resurrection of Christ] the German index says: “Therefore the Resurrection THE factual [actual] absolution of the whole world of sinners, 2, 380. 412” (my translation and emphases). And there is nothing hesitant or concessive about statements like these:

The [reconciling] designates not a relation but a doing, and the immediately following [not imputing to them their trespasses] likewise designates a doing: God did not impute to men their sin, that means, He justified men [die Menschen], forgave them their sins (Rom. 4:6-8) = objective justification of the whole world of sinners (Dogmatik II:437, note 1040; my translation; emphases in original).

Ca,rij designates of course the gracious disposition of God for Christ’s sake, favorem Dei, the forgiveness of sins, justification, absolution [die Rechtfertigung, die Absolution]. Just so the proclaimed eivrh,nh designates the objective peace which God has made with the world through Christ and [which He] makes known to the world as completed fact through the Gospel (II:475-476, note 1098).

It is futile to try to make anything else of this than the standard, traditional understanding of objective justification. The effort to demonstrate doctrinal variance on the subject between Pieper’s original and the translation, fails at all decisive points, when examined dispassionately. Some of the particulars (articles, resurrection, judicial act in time) have already been treated. The others also turn out to rest on misunderstanding or even self-contradiction:

It is claimed that in German, though not in English, the term “so-called” has a “negative connotation” (HD, p. 104). No, it need not, but it can, and that in both English and German. For instance, when Hoenecke quotes Burk saying that “the relation of the universal justification to the otherwise so-called [sogenannten] justification can be expressed to the effect that it is just in the latter that the appropriation of the former occurs” (III:354-355; my translation), no one can possibly hold that a “negative connotation” is being suggested here for the term “justification”! The same holds true for the Pieper-quotation in question: “Dikai,wsij designates here the act of the divine justification, which took place through the act of the Raising of Christ from the dead, hence the so-called objective justification of the whole world of sinners” (Dogmatik II:380, my translation—note all the definite articles, as in original). Pieper continues at once: “This is the truth, of which especially Walther again emphatically reminded [people] in this country. . .” Pieper could not possibly have intended to put a “negative connotation” on a term designating a “truth” stressed by Walther!

On the same Pieper-page the translators are said to have smuggled in the term “now,” thus “falsely introduc[ing] the element of time and change” (HD, p. 102). No, the error is in HD’s version (p. 99), which skips the “now [nun]” which is in the original German, p. 380.

On HD’s pp. 102-103 the translators are blamed for the phrase “‘reconciliation and justification,’ as if these two terms were synonymous;” yet on p. 130 they are accused of “deliberate efforts . . . to obscure” the fact that Pieper “equated objective reconciliation . . . with objective justification”!

HD, p. 156, claims that Pieper used “the term ‘objective justification’ guardedly” but “did not use subjective justification to describe what the Bible simply calls ‘justification.’” Yet on p. 134 just that use of “subjective justification” by Pieper (in the original German) is documented and noted.

According to HD, p. 126, there is for Pieper “no meaningful sense in which everyone is ‘justified.’” According to p. 128, Pieper “acknowledged that in this sense, there was ‘a’ justification before faith.”

On p. 136, HD rightly states that “both Pieper and [the 1872 essay] taught: ‘ God regards the world as righteous.’” But on pp. 32, 35, 168-175 it is argued: “’In Christ’ clearly means those who believe in Christ!” (p. 169). The “ambiguous half-sentence of the 1932 Brief Statement” [“Scripture teaches that God has already declared the whole world to be righteous in Christ, Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Rom. 4:25”] is then re-interpreted accordingly (p. 175). Indeed: “A more precise definition (of those who are ‘in Christ’) is God’s elect, since God already knows who the believers are. . . He also knows which current ‘believers’ will fall permanently away . . .” (p. 169, note 359). All this is quite impossible, as has been amply shown above. In the context of objective justification “in Christ” means exactly what it means in II Cor. 5:19: “God was IN CHRIST reconciling the world to Himself.” It was done for the whole world, not only for believers, or even only the elect—although only believers actually receive the benefit. It can easily be shown that by God regarding the world “in Christ” or “outside of Christ” the 1872 Synodical Conference essay meant not the difference between believers and unbelievers, as HD, p. 169, fancies, but the difference between Law and Gospel, both of them being addressed to all mankind! “The law always accuses us and thus always shows us an angry God,” says the Apology (IV, 295). In the Law we all, believers and unbelievers, confront the wrath of God—and the Gospel of His grace and mercy is intended for and offered to all, but only believers accept and receive it.

The 1991 Missouri Synod Catechism

As a member of the task force charged with revising the 1943 explanation of the Small Catechism I can honestly say that apart from the specific Synodical directions to take notice of current issues (evolution, abortion, historical criticism), our one intention was to be faithful to Luther’s original, also to its popularity and simplicity. The Large Catechism was allowed to interpret the Small Catechism, and citations from the Book of Concord were deliberately added where appropriate. There was never any question of changing the theology. This is not to say that the wording chosen was always the best or is beyond criticism. The criticism in HD, pp. 75-94, however is neither fair nor factual:

Much is made (pp. 76-79) of the change from “redeemed” to “rescued” in respect of death and the devil (Q. 136 and 137). Now, in the original German Catechism the same word [erloeset] is used both in the meaning of the Second Article, and in the answer to the question, What does Baptism give or profit? In the latter case we are quite used to the English version, “delivers from death and the devil.” The word “rescue” is simply the best contemporary and vivid equivalent of “deliver.” It also reflects the Latin verb liberare, liberate, used in both places indicated. Far from “push[ing]” the “work of the Holy Ghost and the means of grace . . . into the background” (p. 77), the new Catechism has considerably strengthened the stress on the means of grace (see for instance the new Questions 164, 236, 237, 238, 252).

The new Catechism is criticized (p. 78) for suggesting “a benefit to us solely from the Redemption,” by its Q. 139: “How does this work of redemption benefit you?” Neither the question nor the answer, however, in any way suggests that the Holy Spirit, the means of grace, and faith may be dispensed with. In its “central” (9th) thesis, on the means of grace, Walther’s Gesetz und Evangelium (1897) cites Luther: “So this then is the benefit [Nutz] of the suffering and Resurrection of Christ, that He has done this not for Himself, but for the whole world, that he has trodden underfoot the devil and my sin, which hung upon Him on Good Friday, so that the devil also flees before the Name of Christ. If now you want to make use of these great benefits [Gueter]: very well, He has already made a gift of them to you” (p. 164).

The change from “willing to work all this in every one who hears the Gospel” to “want to do this in the lives of all people” (Q. 167, HD, p. 82) merely simplifies the language and incorporates the truth that the Gospel is intended for all humanity. HD wrongly uses the doctrine of election to limit the universality of the Gospel.

I concede (HD, pp. 83 ff.) that the new Questions 180 and 182 on forgiveness are formulated somewhat unguardedly. In retrospect, I prefer the 1943 wordings. However, the following questions make it quite clear that forgiveness is given only in the Gospel, and received only through faith. HD, p. 87, appeals to “the key word promise” in an earlier Catechism, but the new Q. 185 stresses the same “key word.” Unlike a misconstrued (“Kokomo”) version of objective justification, which indeed “undermines the concept of promise” (p. 87), the 1991 Catechism, by its stress on the Gospel and Sacraments, uplifts and celebrates the divine promises in Christ.


If it is granted, on the one hand, that “No orthodox Lutheran disputes the fact that Christ’s vicarious satisfaction reconciled God toward all men, since that is the clear language of Scripture itself,” that “the forgiveness of sins is ‘universal,’ as long as that is understood to mean only that Christ’s vicarious satisfaction procured this forgiveness for all mankind” (HD, pp. 123, 234), and that objective justification may rightly be understood as the assertion of grace alone against Rome, of universal grace against Geneva, and of the means of grace against both (p. 39); and if, on the other hand, it is granted that the “Kokomo” version of objective justification is an aberration, and that the proper distinction of Law and Gospel requires the teaching both of the wrath of God and of the pivotal, indispensable role of the means of grace, then a great deal of common ground exists for pursuing a genuine meeting of the minds.

In these interests I have attempted, to the best of my ability, to sort out the issues without rancour. It is difficult for us humans to put aside pain and bitterness, but the Lord never ceases to invite us to this grace of “following in His steps” (I Pet. 2:21). May He bless all who love His saving truth, with mutual forbearance, humility, and charity. That is my earnest plea and prayer. “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133)!

Epiphany II, 1998 ++++++++++++ Respectfully submitted, K. Marquart, C.T.S., Ft. Wayne, IN

1 I shall be referring to two works by Mr. Darby: The Historical Development of “Objective Justification” (published by the author, no date); and Objective Justification, correspondence with the Rev. Rolf Preus, published in late 1997. I shall abbreviate the first as HD and the second as OJ.

2 Henry P. Hamann, Justification by Faith in Modern Theology, Graduate Study No. 2 (St. Louis: School for Graduate Studies, Concordia Seminary, 1957), p. 60.

3 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 517.

4 I have covered this ground in “The Reformation Roots of ‘Objective Justification,’” in K. Marquart, J. Stephenson, B. Teigen, eds., A Lively Legacy: Essays in Honor of Robert Preus [Ft. Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary, 1985], pp. 117-130. The quotations are, respectively, from Abraham Calov, Exegema Augustanae Confessionis (Wittenberg, 1665), p. 4, and from John Benedict Carpzov, Isagoge in Libros Ecclesiarum Lutheranarum Symbolicos (Leipzig, 1675), pp. 208 ff., cited in Walther-Baier, Compendium Theologiae Positivae (St. Louis: Concordia, 1879), vol. III, p. 285.

5 Hans Kueng, Justification. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981. The original German work appeared in 1957.

6 HD, p. 226.

7 “Justification and Easter: A Study in Subjective and Objective Justification in Lutheran Theology,” pp. 52-78.

8 A. Hoenecke, Evangelisch-Lutherische Dogmatik (Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1912), vol. III, p. 191.

9 Jeffrey J. Kloha and Ronald R. Feuerhahn, eds., Scripture and the Church: Selected Essays of Hermann Sasse. Concordia Seminary Monograph Series No. 2 (St. Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1995), p. 205.

10 The quote appears on the first page of George Stoeckhardt, “General Justification,” translated by Otto F. Stahlke, Concordia Theological Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 2 (April 1978), pp. 139-144.

11 F. Pieper, “The Synodical Conference,” in The Distinctive Doctrines and Usages of the General Bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society, 1893 and 1902), p. 148.

12 The words quoted immediately follow upon these crisp definitions: “Justification is an action of God, which occurs in time and with every single sinner individually. But there is also a universal justification, which happened [ergangen] in time upon all men, namely in Christ’s passion and Resurrection” (my translation).



March 5, 2019

If a pastor says to kings and princes…. ‘Consider and fear God and keep his commandments’ he is not meddling in the affairs of secular authorities… — Luther (picture of the Apostle Paul before Agrippa)


Post by Nathan Rinne


Did any kind of “separation of Church and State” exist for 16th-century Lutherans?

Is there anything that we can or even should learn from them today? This post seeks to intelligently start the conversation…

Undoubtedly, more and more these days, issues of church and state are on the minds of Christians.

Fellow Patheos blogger D.G. Hart has an interesting column about the dust-up surrounding Jerry Falwell Jr.’s fairly recent comments, and writing in The Week, Damon Linker talks about Christian cultural commentator Rod Dreher’s proposed book project exploring what an impending socialism might mean for Christianity:

Dreher is proposing to adapt and apply [the argument of Polish writer and former anti-Communist dissident Ryszard Legutko] to the United States, describing a country confronting what he calls the “Woke Menace” of a newly radicalized and emboldened left that aims to centralize power and stamp out all dissent. Those who believe in the sanctity of traditional marriage, who think that the free exercise of religion goes beyond worshipping in church and private homes, who therefore believe that devout Christians (and Jews and Muslims) should be free (in some instances) to discriminate against homosexuals and the transgendered, who consider abortion to be murder and abortion in the third trimester to be infanticide — Americans who hold these and similar views find themselves confronting the prospect of a party gaining power that considers every one of these positions not just erroneous but fundamentally illegitimate, beyond the moral pale, rooted in irrational animus and bigotry, and worthy of being excommunicated from public life.

And many will think (even if they don’t say it out loud quite yet): “Why not? Separation of church and state, right?”

“The modern world drove the church out of the state and into the soul.” — Scot McKnight (215, Kingdom Conspiracy)

Let’s explore all of this a bit more… look at the history.

Unlike the religions of Islam and Judaism–and basically every religion in world history for that matter–Christianity is unique in the big distinction it makes between God’s government and man’s government. Certainly, one of Jesus’ most well-known sayings – besides “love your enemies”! – is “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s”.

A little less known saying: “Then the children [of God] are exempt [from taxes]. But so that you do not cause offense… ” (see Matthew 17:24-27)
And just what, following up on St. Augustine’s distinction between the “City of God” and the “City of man,” is the nature and character of Martin Luther’s Reformation “doctrine of the two kingdoms”? Let’s now both introduce and seek to “problematize” the question.

Different answers have been given at different times, so it makes sense to revisit what the 1530 Augsburg Confession, the earliest Lutheran Confessional document and a document specifically responding to the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, has to say about the issue:

“[E]cclesiastical and civil power are not to be confused. The power of the church has its own commission to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. Let it not invade the other’s function, nor transfer the kingdoms of the world, nor abrogate the laws of civil rules, nor abolish lawful obedience, nor interfere with judgements concerning any civil ordinances or contracts, nor prescribe to civil rulers laws about the forms of government that should be established. Christ says, “My kingdom is not of this world” [Jn. 18:36] and again, “Who made me a judge or divider over you?” [Lk. 12:14]. Paul also wrote in Phil. 3:20, “Our commonwealth is in heaven,” and in II Cor. 10:4,5, “The weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy arguments,” etc.

In this way our teachers distinguish the functions of the two powers, and they command that both be held in honor and acknowledged as gifts and blessings of God (see Tappert, p. 83, The Book of Concord, bold mine).

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” — Matthew 22:21

In many ways, this description of the two kingdoms sounds a lot like the modern American concept of “separation of church and state,” does it not?[i]

At the same time, how did persons look at this kind of thing in the past, particularly those whose nations had adopted Christianity, like the nations in the Middle East (before Muhammad begin to change that around the 7th c. A.D.) Rome, and many European nations as well?[ii] Particularly interesting here are the views of the Christian theologian Martin Chemnitz, who, many years after the rise of Christianity in general and Lutheranism in particular in his native Germany, wrote the following in his Loci Theologici (late 16th century) regarding the fourth commandment, “honor your father and your mother”.

It is fascinating reading from a day gone by….

At this point…we shall make only a brief explanation regarding the duties of government officials. The Decalog prescribes that they are to be the fathers of those who are subject to them, cf. 1 Peter 2:14; Rom. 13:3-4. These are general principles. The specifics can be very easily determined from the list which has been drawn up, as they are categorized in 1 Tim. 2:2;

[1.] The first duty of a ruler is to care for those who are subject to him, so that they may “live in godliness,” that is, this first concern must be for their religion, that they true doctrine may be taught to the people and they may be instructed in the true worship, kept from outward blasphemies and godless forms of worship and whatever else is a detriment to piety. In Judg. 17:5-6 the account of the idolatry of Micah is described when there was no king in Israel and “every man did what was right in his own eyes,” cf. Is. 49:23. For this reason it is the duty of government officials to be supportive of churches and schools, to provide for them and protect them, cf. Ps. 2:11-12; 47:9. Therefore the ruler must by his own confession be a good example to others. Here, note the examples of David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and others.

[2.] The duty of the ruler is to see that the people “live in honesty,” that is, they are to establish and defend external order and not tolerate anything in conflict with it. The ruler must establish discipline, as it is written in Deut. 17:18, “Let the king receive a copy of this book (Deuteronomy) and let him write a copy of it and read it all the days of his life,” that is, let him rule according to the Decalog. And I Peter 2:13, “Let him rule according to the ordinance of men,” that is, in keeping with laws which are favorable and which are keeping with the law of nature.

[3.] It is the duty of the ruler to see that the people “live a quiet life,” that is, he must be concerned about the physical welfare of his subjects, as Joseph was, and not burden them down, disturb them, or jeopardize their property but rather nurture them, love them, and shower them with all good things, I Peter 2:14; Rom. 13:3. They must not be a terror for those who are good.

[4.] It is the duty of rulers to see that the people lead “a peaceable life.” This refers to the fact that rulers are to defend the bodies and properties of their subjects against the violence and injustice and thus protect the peace.

[5.] The ruler is to “execute wrath upon evildoers,” Rom. 13:4, that is, he is to compel them with force and physical punishments to obey the laws and he is to chastise the stubborn by court judgments, legal penalties, or wars. For “he does not bear the sword in vain,” Rom. 13:4.

[6.] He is to execute judgement. There is a description of a good judge in Deut. 1:16-17; Exodus 23; and 2 Chronicles 19. (v. 2, 400-401, bold mine).

“A Church isn’t proclaiming the full biblical gospel unless it calls kings and nations to acknowledge and serve the king of kings.” — Peter Leithart, author of Defending Constantine.


Later on, Chemnitz writes about the civil use of the law, or its first use.

Again, this is a different world. Since Chemnitz’s thoughts are so foreign even for devout Lutherans today, I am opting not to summarize, but quote in full:

“Properly the question is not whether the magistrate has the power to establish laws to which we must give obedience. But regarding the Decalog or the divine law the question is whether its teaching is to be set forth to those who are not truly repentant or whether it is useful to compel the unregenerate to obey or be forced under the doctrine of the divine law, so that they do not commit outward sins. The teaching of the civil law must be dealt with primarily to give an explanation to the very difficult argument which has arisen over the use of the Law over the unregenerate. This has caused a serious disturbance. For Scripture simply affirms, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” Rom. 14:23; again, “An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit,” Matt. 7:7. But because God does not will iniquity, therefore they seem to be doing wrong who do not want or force the unregenerate not to commit outward sins, for no person should be encouraged to sin and it is a sin to ignore discipline in the unregenerate. At this point voices are raised that it is more advisable that the unregenerate wallow around in every kind of crime rather than to some degree control their habits by any kind of morality, for “it is easier for the harlots and the publicans to enter into grace than for the Pharisees,” Matt. 21:31. It is correct to say this if we attach the concept of works righteousness to this discipline under the article on the remission of sins; but, on the other hand, it is certain that God earnestly demands obedience or discipline even from the unregenerate, so that even in this life He punishes the violation of His law with terrifying penalties and gives external rewards to those who live under His discipline, even the unregenerate.

In opposition to this the scholastics say that it is a cruel idea found in the Master of the Sentences [Lombard] when he says, “The whole life of the unbeliever is sin.” They say that to the man who does the best that is in him, God always gives His grace. This argument greatly disturbed Erasmus, for he says: “Is it all the same whether Socrates lives an honorable life or gives his mother poison or dishonors his sister?” Again, “If discipline does not merit the remission of sins, at least it renders the mind more open to grace. Socrates will be better prepared and more suited to receive grace than Phalaris will.” There is no doubt that this is a difficult argument. It cannot be settled more simply, more correctly, and more easily than on the basis of the doctrine of the civil use of the Law. We must be careful that we do not apply the pedagogical use of the Law to this point, as if there is in the unregenerate a certain preparation of for grace; but the matter must remain within the boundaries of the civil use because in this way men can be taught about the Gospel, through which later on the Holy Spirit is efficacious. For the doctrine of the Word of God cannot be taught when crime rules. Likewise, because in those who try to govern their morals by honorable discipline, there are many shameful lapses and their hearts remain impure. Therefore outward discipline instructs us to find out where righteousness comes from. This can most correctly be discovered in I Timothy 1 and Romans 1 and 2. (v. 2; 439, 440, bold mine)


“Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?” “If we endure, we will also reign with him.” – the Lord’s Apostle, Paul

Is this a massive confusion of spiritual and political powers on Chemnitz’s part? This was a different time, to be sure, even as one notes key phrases from Chemnitz that indicate the questions many in his own time had: “this has caused a serious disturbance”, “they seem to be doing wrong…” (we note the less than full-throated condemnation!).

In any case, one can see that Chemnitz’s own understanding of the role of Christianity in the “Kingdom of the left,” i.e. civil government, is worlds apart from that of most modern Lutherans, even conservative 20th century champions like Francis Pieper (see first footnote below), Kurt Marquart[iii], and Herman Sasse[iv] (see “The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession” in The Lonely Way, v. 1). The duties of Christian clergy and secular rulers were certainly very distinct (note that secular here means “of the world” or “of the earth,” not “opposed to God”). Nevertheless, one is taken aback with how much religious duties – nay particularly Christian responsibilities – fall on the shoulders of the secular ruler.

“God intends the secular Regiment to be a model of… the kingdom of heaven” — Luther

Another relevant comment here, even though I doubt it will do much good for those determined to be upset at “Christians who seek dominance”: Please note that, strictly speaking, none of what Chemnitz says really fits the specific criteria for what we today call theonomy[v] or theocracy[vi] (see Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, v. 2, 347 ; also, people who want to bring up things like shellfish really need to read Acts 10-15, and, if they really want to dig deep, can read pp. 235-301 in John Gerhard’s early 17th c. work On the Law)

And…as I have argued, if the Western world is going to remain itself, if it is going to persist, it must regain wisdom (see series from five years ago here).

This means it is going to need to find ways to honestly come to grips with its Christian heritage in some way, shape, or form,[vii] and to give thanks to God–to Jesus Christ–for its true blessings (no, “Judeo-Christian values” will not cut it). Obviously, this is going to be more difficult to do–and yes, perhaps it is impossible to do–when Christian influence and true faith has waned as much as it has (see footnote 7 below).

“Aristotle… requires that a legislator pay careful attention to the situation and the people, because there is a remarkable dissimilarity among peoples and different temperaments for different places.” — John Gerhard, On the Law, 296) (pictured: Aristotle)

One more important note here: in my last post, I pointed out that Scot McKnight, insists that Christians attempting to influence government in a Christian direction (in order to back up the Christian voices, for example) necessarily means that Christians are giving final authority to the state (216-217, Kingdom Conspiracy). What really, does this mean (I did email McKnight and he replied but not with an answer to that question)?

On the contrary, God does expect today’s rulers to “Kiss the Son,” lest He be angry…

Even if a country like America had a government which explicitly acknowledged its Christian heritage… Even if it defended it and perhaps embraced it… Acts 5:29 would *still* apply to each individual believer.

Finally, for those who really want to dig deeply into this topic–in both a highly intelligent and very culturally aware way–I recommend the following no-nonsense lecture from Dr. Eric Phillips, The Responsibilities of the Christian Prince According to Augustine, Luther, and America, below:




[i] Francis Pieper, the highly respected America Lutheran theologian writing in the early 20th century, certainly seems to have thought so:

“The principles of Christ’s rule over His Church are subverted by those who intermingle the secular realm with the Kingdom of Grace, that is, who intermingle Church and State. This includes (1) those who turn the Church into a worldly kingdom by attempting to build the Church with earthly, or worldly, means (external power, natural morality, culture, etc.). Instead of employing solely the Word of God, thus eo ipso destroying the distinctive character of the Church; (2) those who would make of the State a spiritual Kingdom by attempting to rule the State not by reason, but by the Word of God, by “Christian principles” (Christian Dogmatics II: 392-393).

[ii] Yes, we all know that the sword was used in this or that case by Christians, or those claiming Christ at least,g to “convert”. Let’s look at the less controversial situations though and take it from there: Once large groups of people begin moving from darkness to light, is assistance also not necessary to help cultures take active steps to transform themselves politically to accommodate the Christian way of life – whether we are talking more or less radical changes? After all, while not becoming radical Protestants who would consider rebellion against rulers not sufficiently Christian or friendly to Christianity, surely we can at least imagine saying that we must obey God rather than men in circumstances beyond simply the freedom to preach the simple message of Christ crucified and risen – and taking stands as we are called by our circumstances to do so.

[iii] Marquart writes in his essay “The Two Realms (Kingdoms) in the Lutheran Confessions“:

“When addressing non-Christians the church’s preachment of the law is bounded by her missionary commitment (Mt. 28:19-20), hence limited to the second (“theological”) use. While the Table of Duties (second and third uses) must be proclaimed to all Christians (including rules), governments and states as such are accountable to God not through the church but through all who have standing under Rom. 13:1-7 (ultimately even the general citizenry), and by way of natural reason and law (first use). (God and Caesar Revisited, Lutheran Academy Conference Papers, no. 1, 1995, p. 46).

[iv] Sasse, in his essay “The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession” in The Lonely Way, v. 1:

“There is as little possibility of a Christian state as there is of Christian agriculture and Christian technology…. There is no Christian order for society, for that would be an attempt to make sin disappear in the world, that love would take the place of law, in other words, that the kingdom of God would have come in glory…. (93) The task of the church over against the governing authorities is an especially difficult responsibility. It must guard itself against any illusion of a “Christian state” and must limit itself” (99).

[v] From Wikipedia: “Theonomy, from theos (god) and nomos (law), is a hypothetical Christian form of government in which society is ruled by divine law.[1] Theonomists hold that divine law, including the judicial laws of the Old Testament, should be observed by modern societies” (italics mine).

[vi] One popular definition: “a system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god.”

[vii] Relevant quote from Luther to ponder. Luther’s talk about “rul[ing] it in [an] evangelical manner” being impossible means that people will not be effectively governed by the Gospel alone, without the use of force and coercion… (“To rule the world with the gospel would be like a shepherd putting wolves, lions, eagles and sheep all together in the same fold…. The sheep will indeed follow the way of peace, but not for long,” he said elsewhere).

“Certainly it is true that Christians, so far as they themselves are concerned, are subject neither to law nor sword, have need of either. But take heed and first fill the world with real Christians before you attempt to rule it in a Christian or evangelical manner.

This you will never accomplish; for the world and the masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name. Christians are few and far between (as they say is). Therefore, it is out of the question that there should be a common Christian government over the whole world, or indeed over a single country or any considerable body of the people, for the wicked always outnumber the good.” (Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed)


Images: Scot McKnight CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

January 24, 2019

Communism and Christianity together?


Post by Nathan Rinne

Have you seen the video below or heard about it? Is it an overreaction? Grossly unfair? Or, maybe, just maybe, is there something important to it? (O’Sullivan’s First Law?)

This post is nothing other than a reflection not on that video per se, but rather on the title of this post, primarily with the help of a couple acquaintances from a Facebook group.

It, I think, is very meaty but also very digestible (understandable). I hope you find my report of this debate helpful.

Let us begin with the following statement. What should Christians think of it?:

“Power (and the status that goes with it) is nothing if not the ability to secure yourself, your possessions, and your posterity. Fine by itself, but it comes with many abuses.”

This seems like it could be in some real tension with what fellow Patheos blogger Scott McKnight, concerned about the idolatry of “Constantinianism,” has said: “The kingdom story [of the Bible] counters the culture of politics as the solution to our problems… We are summoned… to challenge all idolatrous stories that seek to diminish the kingship of King Jesus” (Kingdom Conspiracy, 62,63).

To rule the world with the gospel would be like a shepherd putting wolves, lions, eagles and sheep all together in the same fold…. The sheep will indeed follow the way of peace, but not for long. — Martin Luther

As a Lutheran, I had always thought that Luther’s teaching of the “Two Kingdoms” told us that the “Kingdom of the Left,” that is civil government, really did provide a temporary yet not insignificant solution to some of the problems all human beings face on earth: the sword of justice.

So while you are wrestling with those thoughts in your Spirit-led mind, get a load of this punchy comment, made by Thomas Lemke in response to a tweet I had made:

I responded to this by saying “If this is the case, it appears that the Left as a whole is simply becoming more Marxist. And, as best I can tell, conservatism in American is still moving further left,” prompting a series of tweets from Thomas I took to be exceptionally thought-provoking. You can read them in his very short and accessible blog post titled “How Adopting Marxist Categories Leads to the Devil Made Me Do it Theology”.

And communists are “closet Christians”. — Pope Francis

Thomas’ main point is right there in the title of his article, but here are a few of his other points leading up to it:

  • Where all moral questions boil down to [an axis of] Power <–> oppression then it becomes tantamount to blasphemy to speak of God in terms of his power (as it puts him dangerously close to the “immoral” side of the continuum).
  • With a Marxist paradigm, “sinner=oppressed=’morally good’”. “His enemies can’t be his footstool — that would be oppression!”
  • With the real victimizer being sin and not the one who sins, Jesus is identified with the oppressed to the exclusion of His veiled power: “’Glory’ is something a conqueror has. But only one who is oppressed bears a cross.”
  • Jesus’ death was not to atone for unrighteousness, writ large, but only to show that God is on the side of Moral Good, in that he is oppressed too”
“Christ shares in our misery, but does not take our place under God’s wrath… Christ shares in our sin, not by imputation but by becoming one with us.” – David Scaer, on the Radical Lutheran heresy, p. 12

Being a serious Lutheran, I naturally thought of a particular group in our midst who call themselves “Radical Lutherans”[i] (my last post took on their biggest straw man) and posted Thomas’ short piece on a small Facebook group of thoughtful Lutheran acquaintances, asking if anyone had a good critique of the article. One of those participants, a man we’ll call Georgios Siopilos, shared what I thought were some very wise words in response. You can read all of them in the post that I named, as provocatively as I could, “Radical Lutheranism is Bad, but its Not Necessarily Communism”.

Related: “Postmodern, deconstructionism are the waters in which we swim in this day and time.” — “Radiolayman” Matthew Garnett, in his article “Deconstructing Law and Gospel: How Postmodern Deconstructionism has Taken the Central Doctrine of Lutheranism Unawares” (and this continues…).

In sum, Georgios is quite familiar with the effects of communist ideology, and so calling himself “an unhelpful purist,” wanted to make sure Thomas knew what real communist philosophy was/is: “Strictly speaking, capitalists, in Marxism, are not evil, or even oppressive, they too are ‘victims’ of the system, which itself is a necessary step to the next economic step in human civilization.”[ii]

Capitalism: necessary for destroying the traditional family, but overall, to be transcended. — Marx

Georgios then says that he thinks what Thomas is actually doing is “getting at the Adorno/Marcuse reworking of Marxism into, effectively, a political theology of power” (if you are getting lost at this point, Georgios is talking here about what some have called “cultural Marxism”. I came across a very helpful article about this topic a week ago called “Cultural Marxism is Real” here).

“Feminism, gender studies, critical race theory, post-colonialism, disability studies [are] guided by Marxism or adopt Marxist terms and concepts…” – Allen Mendenhall
“The Bible, as all of humanity before the US,” he says “has assumed that to possess power is good if good people possess it.” Americans, though, are taken in by this “Neo-Marxism” because “suspicion of power and hatred of those who concentrate it is deep in the American character.”[iii]

Thomas’ response to this post, another one of his own, was appreciative but at the same time basically came down to K.I.S.S. (“keep it simple stupid”): “I’m merely noting that certain (“Marxist”) presuppositions lead in certain directions; just as starting with a sugar base means you’re cooking something that will rot your teeth out”. In other words, most people don’t care about these subtle distinctions over things that have similar practical implications for real life, so there is no need for this kind of level of technical detail. Nor is this a bad thing: loss of precision, after all, also happens when the academic disciplines try to understand each other as well. Not only this, but such “[p]recision comes at the cost of time and attention; the latter two are in short supply, so sometimes ‘close enough’ has to be good enough.”

“Precision comes at the cost of time and attention; the latter two are in short supply, so sometimes ‘close enough’ has to be good enough” — Thomas Lemke

Some of the memorable zingers in his response are that “Before Marx, Radical Egalitarianism was an ideology. Since Marx, it’s become a religion,”[iv] “of course I’m not saying that the ‘Radical Lutherans’ all hide hammer-and-sickle necklaces under their collars,” and, the title of his blog post: “Ideas are Like GMO Corn”. What does that mean? Ideas are no more containable than genetically modified DNA is… they will spread, be adapted, interbreed, etc:[v]

So, sure, in the abstract world of ivory-tower thought, Marxism has nothing to do with power-oppression as an axis of morality. But as it seeped into the public it necessarily changed to adapt to the public’s categories, which caused the way it is articulated (and even subconsciously understood) to shift. Look at the Marxists of our day, such as Bernie Sanders and AOC, who are unmistakable moralists when it comes to the power-oppression axis.[vi]

“I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” — AOC

 Georgios’s response to this was fascinating, and immediately won Thomas’ heartfelt approval. Noting his relative poverty, he said that his tower is not ivory but made of fibreboard painted “eggshell”. Noting his own purposes in writing, he stated that his definition of “technical Marxism” was indeed pointless to Thomas’ purposes, but not his own! His own powerful point is worth repeating:

[I]t was Marxism, the actual technical thing, that caused nearly everyone not born in the Western hemisphere to have at least one relative either put to death or consigned to life in the gulag or re-education camps, and not the modern American metaphor on Marxism, which really is nothing but envy given the title of Marxism to create the illusion that a vice has become a philosophy.[vii]

Are the ideas of “post-modernism” and “Marxism” really a lot closer to home for all of us than we might imagine?

Georgios aims at our hearts and strikes:

There are indeed actual Marxists, as there are actual post-modernists, and I dislike them both intensely. But if the question is ‘what is the average American that expresses the ideas that we associate with post modernism and Marxism actually thinking?’ The answer is, in my opinion, surprisingly non-radical (this is, of course, excluding college students, and other uneducated people). Why are you post-modernist? ‘Well its not good to judge people.’ Why are you Marxist? ‘Its not fair that a bunch of powerful jackasses should have all this power and money when I work hard and have barely enough to pay rent.’

I hate to say it, but both of those ‘values’ are things you can find in Capra’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and the Andy Griffith Show. They are American values: minding your own business, and despising the haughty. They are values I approve of. But, like all values, they can be exploited (bold mine).

Andy Griffith… American Marxist?

With that, he lays down the final boom. Our nation, he says, has indeed changed:

I would just say that the problem is not that people have converted to some distant and wicked ideology, but rather that, apart from any conversion, a distant and wicked ideology has found a way to twist normal, decent, American and Christian convictions in such a way that in the end they look almost nothing like how they did in the beginning.

“Communism is not simply another form of government. It is very much like the cosa nostra, the society of gangsters.” — Kurt Marquart

Is this true? If so, what does this mean for theology? Our teaching of God’s law and his gospel?

I will let Georgios, channeling C.S. Lewis’ description of Aslan, give us the final word.

Not safe.

God is powerful. God is also not safe. He makes rivers of blood and breaks nations with the rod of his mouth. The Hebrew word of a god, ‘el’ literally just means ‘a power’, hence why older translators rendered the term ‘elohim’ as ‘the Almighty’, that is, he who has all mights, all powers.

If power is to be condemned, it is difficult to understand why our hymns demand we ascribe to the Lord ‘All glory, honor and dominion’, and why nearly every Christmas carol declares the greatness of the coming of ‘the king’, and why God ‘holds the nations in derision’.

Rightly does it say we should ‘rejoice with trembling’, for God is terrifying. Only when one understands the terror of God can one understand the pathos of the phrase ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’, and why children and adults both sing ‘I love thee Lord Jesus, look down from the sky.’ It is the very reality of the dread power of God taking the form of the dear mercy of Christ that makes fear and love unite, and causes ‘justice and mercy to kiss one another.’

If one denies either the power of God, or the love of God, one has denied the God we worship.

“It is the very reality of the dread power of God taking the form of the dear mercy of Christ that makes fear and love unite, and causes ‘justice and mercy to kiss one another.” – Georgios Siopilos.




Mendenall pic: https://allenmendenhall.com/photo-gallery/ ; Andy Griffith: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Griffith ; Aslan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aslan


[i] In sum like “Radical Lutheranism,” overlaps a bit theologically with the hyper/radical grace movement among evangelical Christians, which, as best as I can tell, was more prominent in online discussions and elsewhere a few years ago.

[ii] Note: this was also very briefly touched on in the latest post at my blog: “The Hi-Jacking of Tucker Carlson’s Concerns: Is There a “Gynocentric” Agenda?”: “If the father of a mother’s children does not look to provide for, treasure, and protect for his own, they must look to man. And yes, I literally mean man. Men. Usually “the man” though, meaning those with political power… Basically everyone knows this, but all either suppress it or don’t talk about it, or talk around it endlessly. Marx certainly understood this. He saw capitalism destroying all the traditional bonds of society, particularly the natural family. There were definitely things about captialism that upset him, but this, to be sure, wasn’t one of them.”

[iii] I’d note that many Marxists also, while suspicious of power, also believe that it is good when good people possess it. We should note here that most all Marxists believe that human nature is intrinsically good, and not sinful.

[iv] Cue Adam Proctor and other socialists ; note this fascinating, God-haunted conversation by these young and restless red souls.

[v] More:

“Philosophers like to pretend that their ideas can be held and perpetually maintained in a just-so way, but this is no more true than genetically modified DNA can, once sown in a field of crops, be contained in its own little plot. It will spread, and it will be adapted in an endless chain of interbreeding.”

[vi] He goes on: “You can ascribe another name to it (such as “the Adorno/Marcuse reworking of Marxism”), and that may be a useful distinction in an academic sense. But at some point these names get out of hand and, for our purposes in the public, it’s a distinction without a difference….”

[vii] More complete quote: “When Mussolini gave speeches pitching Fascism, he didn’t just say ‘We’ll be racist, and then I’ll be authoritarian.’ It was a system thought out to the specifics, and ultimately, it is that system, with all its specifics, and not our cartoon metaphor of it, that plunged the earth into the most violent war in history. Similarly, it was Marxism, the actual technical thing, that caused nearly everyone not born in the Western hemisphere to have at least one relative either put to death or consigned to life in the gulag or re-education camps, and not the modern American metaphor on Marxism, which really is nothing but envy given the title of Marxism to create the illusion that a vice has become a philosophy.”

January 19, 2018

Paul, on matters of life and death: “…if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?


Post by Nathan Rinne

I don’t know which preacher — George Whitefield, John Wesley, or Charles Spurgeon — really said it, but I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the quotation: “set yourself on fire and people will come to watch you burn.” (go ahead, call me a pietist!).

The image of a preacher set on fire by the Holy Ghost, faithfully and vigorously proclaiming the word of God, is the opposite of an image of “institutionalization.”

Even so, as much as Christians know that vital faith is a desirable quality, we always have need for the “slow burn” a fireplace makes possible. Great harvests of souls due to the Spirit’s outpouring are highly desirable, but we also need structure and stability for the people of God.

And even though the churches the Reformation tend not to think this way (invisible church all the way!), the truth is that Christ says His church is a material body — we are a very “grounded” reality. Going right along with this, on this side of heaven the church will always be known as an earthly institution – even as its origins and true life derive from heaven above.

I know this kind of thinking might sound foreign for many Christians, but think about how people talk about something very organic – marriage – as an institution. As a ground of stability given for our good. I think the way that some of the Eastern Orthodox talk about the nature of the church can also be helpful: “not an organization with mystery but a mystery with organization.”

Therefore – we are not to shun the visible nature of the church (more) — nor any of the individuals associated with it! (even as yes, we realize that there are both wheat and tares among us) We should desire the health of the institution – for each individual member of the body of Christ!

The church militant (below) and the church triumphant (above)

All this said, as we all know, the wrong kind of “concern” for the institution and its members can creep in. In other words, the dreaded “institutionalization” often occurs – with good institutions losing touch with their true identity; their true reason for being.

This has happened with the congregations coming out of the 16th century Reformation in spades. In these latter days, the world has, at large, overwhelmed the church.

  • Right concerns for matters of social justice have pushed out the more pressing matters of perpetual Gospel proclamation and repentance — as well as loyalty to the family of believers first and foremost.
  • For many, churches which once admired or at least took seriously stirring Law and Gospel sermons — “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” anyone? — have been reduced to places to find community where “good people” who believe in a general God can “do good.”
  • Concerns to nurture and pass on a spirit of passion and vitality have led many to trust the “the Feeling” that can be reliably produced, week by week, in a Big Box Megachurch – while serious proclamation and study of God’s word takes a back seat.
  • The assertions of “but Science says…” and “but consider the assured results of higher criticism….” perpetually reintroduce us to the Serpent in the Garden: “Did God really say?”
  • A concern to communicate the love and mercy of God have resulted in churches without any real discipline, where grace is cheap and lessons of the past are all but forgotten.
  • Serious and passionate books of theology that helped to drive the Reformation – like Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will – are not deeply studied and/or are totally ignored.

And even very serious believers, seeking to push back against the world, have ended up trying to fight with the world’s weapons.

With church bodies around them dropping on the left and the right – many who do seem to be having some success do their utmost to simply “keep things going.” Hence, their institutions have become a hollow shell of what they once were – and of what they should be. Focused on externals, their mini- and mega-bureaucracies, and ever more worldly concerns (often in the guise of outreach and relevance) their heart, their core, and their true spiritual vitality are being carved out.

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock…”

Have the letters of Paul – or those written by the Apostle John, to the churches in the book of Revelation — stopped being as relevant as they originally were?  But we rarely meditate on this, if we see it… sense it… at all. And do I hear my Facebook and Twitter feed calling me?…

As the hymn says, due to life’s “riches, cares, and pleasures,” we have not taken up (tolle lege!), but rather put down the Scriptures. For the idea that these are the actual Word of God – words more important than anything we could utter today – has been lost. Take, for example, this recent quotation from a pastor reflecting on Reformation:

This year we commemorate half a millennium since this Augustinian friar and Bible professor nailed (or so the story goes) his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The event certainly changed the landscape of Christendom. Its unintended aftershocks, some argue, are still felt in Western culture. Still, the passage of time alone makes it perfectly reasonable to ask: Does Luther have anything to say to us?

Contrary to the assumptions of this pastor, it is by no means perfectly reasonable for us to ask this question. It is only reasonable if you think the “social imaginary” of the postmodern world, a la Charles Taylor — where people fixated on this or that idea of “progress” tell themselves they are on “the right side of history” — is justified at all in its view. But, per Romans 1, that is not a view which can ever be justified: many of the things our wider world says are right it, deep down, knows are wrong. The “social imaginary” (call it a “worldview” if it, being as irrational as it is, can even earn that designation) is just this or that “social illusionary”.

“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’” — St. Anthony the Great

So, again, is it ever reasonable for a pastor to ask the question this pastor asks? Perhaps. It could be if he is simply voicing the common prejudices of the age – ultimately intending to reveal the truth and bring the message of salvation to his hearers… In other words, one is willing to address one’s audience using the kinds of questions that they might be asking, but ideally, they would not be asking.

But even then, here, it seems, there is room to fudge.

For example, the same pastor quoted above gave a talk at an Episcopal Church titled “Justified for Good:What Luther Can Teach Us Today”. Much of the talk I deeply appreciate — the content has true value, highlighting God’s graciousness, and is thought-provoking in its manner of conviction. And yet, around 31:00-33:30 (listening to the whole talk is a good idea) he says:

“I, you, all of us, each and every person, is and remains God’s work… And that means that each and every one of us comes before our own works. Before I have done anything, before I have made anything of myself, before I have done anything with myself, I am already God’s workmanship… Before any accomplishment, or any sins are even taken into account – any accomplishments or any sins – anything that I want to live up to or anything that I want to live down, the sinner, the sinner who stands before God, is already a beloved creature of God. The sinner is, you might say… is already irrevocably recognized by God Himself, and it is God who declares the sinner good, and in good standing… He gives us an identity. He declares that what I am is above all a person that He loves. A child that He loves before I undertake anything, before I make a mess of myself, I already am who I am by God’s justification.”

One might well think: what happens to the very real effect of original sin? Even if there are times that I can or should say that these things are true of those baptized into Christ — and I submit there are — should I say this of the whole world — or, risk giving the impression that this is what I am doing? After all, God’s wrath abides on the world because of sin and unbelief, save the faith connection we have in Christ. The world’s sins have been paid for and all is redeemed in Him. But salvation? That’s why II Corinthians 5:20 follows 5:19 and he urges his hearers to “be reconciled to God!” And note that Paul is even talking to those in the church here!

“…that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way…” — The Prophet Ezekiel

When I asked this pastor about this, he simply said to me: “No quibble here. It’s an argument from silence.”

But of course my point was not to make an argument – trying to show, I guess, that this pastor did not believe in original sin or something like this. Rather, I am simply pointing out that without clarity about sin, its effects, and its consequences, this kind of message is liable to be completely misunderstood, or even hijacked by those who are ever more eager to see a more “progressive” stance from Christians. Hence my reply:

“My point is that we dare not remain silent — nor give the world a misleading comfort — when there is such a great wrath! There’s a reason we talk about law prior to Gospel and repentance prior to forgiveness, even if this is often abused by many an evangelist (i.e. “There is no need to treat that person kindly prior to them coming to faith”). Maybe I miss your point.”

Another person weighed in, saying simply “UOJ,” suggesting that the doctrine of universal objective justification, explained here, justifies the kind of message this pastor proclaimed.

Oh. So all is well then. Everybody just carry on.



Pastor Marquart, on fire: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

As I put it not long ago, we should offer the world no quarter when it comes to our public confidence about what it is we are doing. Our default attitude should be more akin to the following:

“The Bible is the Word of God. Whoever you are, Jesus Christ is your Creator, your God, your King. This is what Christians have always believed and taught. It is only for the sake of conversation and common ground with the world – all of whom we are to love with Christ’s love – that we might start by talking about how the Bible “contains God’s Word”, “contains the Gospel”, how Jesus is “our God,” or how we consider the Bible to be authoritative.”

Do I always act that way? Do I always believe that way? No, of course not. Shame on me. That is a sign for me to repent.

Or, in an effort to appeal to the business mentality of my early 21 century American brethren, an opportunity to repent.

Act now! This may indeed be a limited one time offer!

Come to the feast, brothers! Let’s dig in together, reflect together, pray together…

I’ll see you there.



P.S.: More in the next post about why we have these problems, and featuring a hard look at the author’s own church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The post will be called The Bondage of Confessional Lutheran Scholarship.

September 28, 2017

Pastor Wilken in the studio of Issues ETC. with a couple guests.


Post by Nathan Rinne. Please note: Pastor Wilken’s comments are in blue alone. The rest is my voice.

First of all, if you need a primer on Radical Lutheranism – the term first coined by the late Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde – you can see this piece that I wrote, explaining why every Christian should be tempted by it!

Nevertheless, don’t be too tempted! — it has its problems. For instance, you can get a taste of them in this interview that Pastor Todd Wilken, of the theological talk show Issues ETC., did with Jack Kilcrease (found on this page – Kilcrease’s is a more sympathetic critique) about Gerhard Forde.

The return of John Warwick Montgomery’s “Gospel Reductionism”?


One of the Radical Lutherans’ big claims is that later Lutherans domesticated Luther and put him in a straightjacket of sorts. It is they who go back to the vintage, authentic Luther. My guess is that most if not all of the authors of the book The Necessary Distinction: a Continuing Conversation of Law and Gospel would say the same thing (in addition to Martin Luther getting it right where every other person in church history had been wrong!).

I would contend however, that Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations, unpacked in my recent series Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies, should cause anyone to doubt this claim. And Pastor Wilken has also been critical of Radical Lutheranism himself. See, e.g. the talk referenced here by Pastor Cooper and looked at more closely on the Steadfast Lutherans blog.

Wilken, reviewing Pastor Cooper’s book: “As a Lutheran pastor and 20-year Forde disciple, I spent the better part of my parish ministry and subsequent time as a radio host promoting the Radical Lutheranism of Forde…”


In this post, I am going to look in more detail at the points that Pastor Wilken made in his talk critiquing Radical Lutheranism in light of my recent study of Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. Since I think Pastor Wilken’s first ten points are his strongest ones, I focus on providing longer comments on those, usually with more sound bite-length comments for the last nine. The immediate text below and numbered comments in blue below are Pastor Wilken’s. My commentary is interspersed between these.

The teachings of Radical Lutheranism can be recognized by any combination of the following ideas:

  1. Sin is reduced to self-justification. The only thing sinful about any thought, word or deed is that it is an attempt to justify oneself before God.

The antinomians in Luther’s day evidently believed that because of Christ’s work, no sin actually remained in the Christian. Therefore, the law was no longer needed. In Radical Lutheranism, sin does remain in the Christian and the law is still needed, but almost always only to convict persons of the sin of trying to earn their salvation before God by being overly concerned about avoiding specific sins and the like. Even though the antinomians of Luther’s day talked about following Christ’s example, they also mocked those overly concerned about particular sins. For the Radical Lutheran, in the end, one often gets the impression that the people who think that they should both be concerned about actual sins and that God’s law should be proclaimed vs. actual specific sins are the only persons who God is really angry at. In other words, since non Radical-Lutherans do not realize that God is not really angry at the world (in Forde’s account, Jesus’ death was not even to atone for their sins!), and so also not angry at them, He is now, in some sense, angry at them for rejecting his goodness (unless the Radical Lutheran is also a universalist, which, yes, we also should be tempted by).

  1. The Christian’s struggle against sin is replaced with a struggle against feelings of guilt.

The antinomians of Luther’s day simply wanted to avoid being condemned and convicted by God’s law (preferring more subtle ethical instruction from Christ’s example – being both less direct and not merely propositional).

What Wilken says directly above though does indeed seem to be what happens in Radical Lutheranism – if a specific sin is talked about, it tends to be the sin of “self-justification,” deriving from original sin, mentioned above. Along with this comes the idea that it makes sense for the Christian to be humble about what he believes about God and particularly God’s law. In Luther’s day, no one questioned that guilt was incurred for actual sins but the guilt of original sin was, for many, in doubt (possibly with the antinomians of Luther’s day as well, though they would have protested this). Again, today’s Radical Lutherans have the opposite problem, with, it seems, many an actual sin being all that is thrown into doubt (or simply being regarded as irrelevant).

While surely not all identifying with Radical Lutheran theology want to toss out God’s law, those who do have a friend in its theology, with its more “hijack-able” system. Focusing on guilt instead of sins allows “old sins,” like traditional sexual immorality, to be replaced by “new sins” like “homophobia,” and all in the name of spiritual humility. More progressive Christians do not even have to say, with the postmodernists, that there is no truth or that truth is evolving, because instead of focusing on the Bible as God’s word they can appeal to something like Platonic ideas. In other words, they can appeal to something like “unchanging Forms in the heavenly realms (or in the mind of God)” that we, as we progress in sanctification (their definition), are coming to better realize and understand with the help of one another (in a “Hegelian dialectic” fashion). Christian thought, in their view, has evolved regarding things like polygamy (well, we’ll see), slavery, and now, marriage and gender.


  1. The Christian’s struggle against sin is described as, at best futile, or merely an attempt at self-justification.

Against the antinomians of his day, Luther spoke gravely against their security – how they ridiculed sin, smiling and smirking, treating “innumerable evil desires to be a joke and a game” (SDEA 253). On the contrary, “it certainly is the duty of a preacher to say that lusts, wantonness, greed, and cheating someone else is sin and that God will punish it, even with eternal death” (SDEA 289). But with Radical Lutheran theology at the helm – where no sin is serious enough to demand atonement – things like cohabitation, lustful thoughts, drunkenness, what one watches or views, and the use of the profanity are, to say the least, far more likely to be seen as far less serious than previous generations of the faithful have judged.

Of course, self-justification and the other sins deriving from it – various legalisms – should be avoided by all means. Again, it is far more likely that Radical Lutherans or those sympathetic to them will even find doctrines like the Real Presence and corresponding practices like those of closed communion – meant to protect safeguard the richness of the simple and humble message of the Gospel (Christ’s real body and blood given and shed for you!) and those partaking of Christ’s body and blood – as evincing this legalism.

Very interestingly, Luther suggests that it is not so much what Christians believe – in this case about God’s law – that the world finds problematic, but rather its willingness to act on its beliefs, which we all know tends to, uncomfortably, reveal divisions and distinctions among persons. To the idea that Eph. 2:14 suggests the wall destroyed by Christ is his law, Luther responds as follows:

“And here Paul speaks about the law of Moses proper, not about the Decalogue, since the latter pertained to all nations. For the nations did not hate the Jews because of the Decalogue, but because they separated themselves from the remaining nations by way of unique worship and cer­emonies, and called themselves alone the people of God, all the others they called atheists and unbelievers. The quarrel was about the temple and the ceremonies. Yet finally Christ came and destroyed this obstruction and Jews and Gentiles were made one. But if the Decalogue is referred to, it is well, and it is here removed, and destroyed insofar as it is damnation, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” (ODE, 123)

  1. The Holy Spirit’s uses of the Law are usually abandoned one by one (usually in the order of 3, 1, 2)

3 = law as a guide (to guide the Christian who remains a sinner), 2 = law as a mirror (“bringing down to hell,” to condemn), and 1 = law as a curb (for civil society). In Luther’s day, the antinomians focused on the second, or condemning use of the law. They denied that the Holy Spirit had anything to do with this process, which Christ came to alleviate with his first coming. Perhaps today Satan attempts a less direct route, focusing on third use of the law. Here, conta everything we see in Paul’s letters, the idea is that it is wrong to exhort a Christian to behave in a certain way after they have been told that God puts away their sins (the only message, which when embraced by faith, grants and preserves us in eternal life). For the Radical Lutheran it is this which would not be the work of the Holy Spirit, but the devil himself. If you disagree, you are like Luther’s opponent Erasmus!

Ultimately, of course, Satan would like to eliminate the second use of the law, and so perhaps now he is content to play a longer game. In Luther’s day, perhaps he conceived he could be successful because of the growing popularity of Pelagian and semi-Pelagian theologies (salvation by works). Pelagians and semi-Pelagians have a weakened doctrine of original sin, and the Lutherans emphasized how the law accused us not only of sinning and particular sins, but of being sinners who failed at a very deep level: we are all rebels, enemies of God, etc. Without this doctrine, Christ is no longer needed.

  1. Contrition over sin is assumed, even in unbelievers. People are generally assumed to have a knowledge of, and guilty conscience over their sin.

This claim, which does indeed seem to be assumed by many Radical Lutherans, is simply not credible. In Luther’s Antinomian Disputations he admits that even in his day few are terrified by God’s law and that even when there is a little fear unbelievers in fact need more fear: “the law is also not so great that it could cast love—if it is genuine and not fake—out of your heart. But the more you fear, the more the law is to be urged, until you see that you do not love wholeheartedly as the law requires” (SDEA 167). Just because Luther insists that all persons have a natural knowledge of God, this should not be given too much weight. Luther reminds us that Paul knew much about God’s law and yet was not convicted of His persecution of God’s people. Furthermore, God had to republish the law through Moses in order to help people remember His will. Finally, Luther even makes the comment that a people can get to the point where they are “unnatural” – where the revealed and even seemingly natural knowledge of God seems far from them. There is always a sense in which they know and are still culpable, and yet, that knowledge is being suppressed to an unbelievable degree.

Even granted that some do experience a guilty conscience over sins they really are guilty for –and that God will bring to repentance and faith those who He has predestined for faith in good time – whatever different types of strategies they might choose, Christians nevertheless have an obligation to create an environment where the full counsel of God can be heard by the people of God and the world is welcome to hear it as well.

  1. The Law is confused with the pain and trouble of living in a fallen world. The Law may be described as any bad situation or evil occurrence in life.

It is important to note that when Luther says in the Antinomian Disputations “whatever shows sin, wrath and death exercises the office of the law,” and that “reveal[ing] sin is nothing else – nor can it be anything else – than to be the law of the effect and power of the law in the most proper sense,” what he does not say is just as important, namely, for example: “whatever produces sorrow” exercises the office of the law. Indeed, the matter of a good conscience and bad consciences, seared ones and hardened ones – intextricably related to the written law which correlates with the law written on man’s heart –should certainly be foremost in our mind here. We should not be giving the impression that books like this one by Tim Wengert — which purport to give an accurate view of what Luther taught regarding Law and Gospel — are actually helpful in any sense.

All this talk about 3rd use of the law is a form of omphaloskepsis? What? : ) Well, we didn’t start the fire, as one said. This is a recent, careful evaluation of the roots of liberal theology – by a liberal theologian. The book explains a lot. And so does the paper described (and linked to!) here by my pastor.


  1. The distinction between Justification and Sanctification is blurred in statements like “Sanctification is simply the art of getting used to justification.”

The main figure in Radical Lutheranism, Gerhard Forde, rightly pointed out how those who are justified and have peace with God are also those who are sanctified. It is most certainly true that those who are justified by faith have a faith that is alive – for they have also experienced the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit (passive sanctification). This said, what, ultimately does it mean to say that “sanctification is simply the art of getting used to justification?” Does it mean that we can say that in this and because of this new relationship with Christ by faith, we begin to act according to the law by loving God and neighbor — and that this flows with and not against the 10 commandments? If not, why not? If the answer is “no” is it because, as regards the proper standard of conduct for the reborn, it can only be said to be their relatedness to Christ, which is not compatible with the unchanging will of God, the Ten Commandments? (“relatedness” vs. “law”).

My guess is that they are not going to like this “old school sanctification” definition provided by Robert Baker:

Sanctification (Greek, hagiasmos : (1) Consecration, purification ; (2) the effect of consecration, sanctification of heart and life. Thayer), in its theological use, denotes the progressive development of the regenerate life in the attainment of conformity to the divine law. It is described in the New Testament as being “conformed to the image of his Son,” the end of predestination (Rom. 8 : 29 ; 2 Cor. 3:18); being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12 : 2) ; “putting on the new man” (Eph. 4 : 23, 24, etc.), besides the usual terms, “holy,” and “sanctify.” Sanctification admits of degrees, unlike justification and regeneration. It is distinguished from justification, also, by bringing an actualized righteousness, while justification brings an imputed righteousness; from regeneration, as this is the impartation of the new life in its beginning, while sanctification is the increase and consummation of the new life. The standard of sanctification is the law of God, particularly as that law is embodied In the life of Christ. Its essence is love (Rom. 13 : 10 ; Col. 3 : 14). It involves the subordination and crucifixion of the “old Adam,” but not, in this life, the eradication of original sin. The error of those who teach otherwise, whether Rome, or an extreme and fanatical Protestantism, is based on a false definition of sin, and a confusion of sanctification with justification. The work of sanctification is effected by the Holy Ghost, the renewed spirit of the believer yielding to his guidance, and co-operating with him. The means of grace are here, as elsewhere in the kingdom of grace, the channel of the efficiency of the Spirit of God. C. A. M.

Source: The Lutheran Cyclopedia, Henry Eyster Jacobs and John A.W. Haas, eds., (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899), 420-1.

  1. Christian cooperation in Sanctification, clearly and carefully taught in the Lutheran Confessions, is equated with cooperation in Justification.

These are clearly not the same, as one can clearly tell from Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. Whereas the unbeliever is in bondage, desiring to not submit to God’s will, the believer has a new heart, and therefore begins to desire good. The Romans 7 and Galatians 5 and I Cor. 9 battle that Paul describes can now actually take place. All thoughout his career, the reformer talked about the two natures of the Christian. For example, at the end of chapter 1 of his book, “On Christian freedom”, Luther says this:

“The reason why seemingly contradictory statements are often made in the Bible about Christians is due to the Christians two-fold nature. The simple fact is that within each Christian two natures constantly oppose each other. “The flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit wars against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17, “On Christian Freedom”).

Should we be talking about seeing this matter analogously to the issue of Jesus Christ and Christology? Should we be talking about the two natures of the Christian? Luther did not hesitate to do so, and few would accuse him of focusing on the Christian per se instead of Christ!

“Progressive sanctification? The horror!” — Kurt Marquart, sarcastically.


  1. Christian cooperation in Sanctification is depicted as resisting, rather than cooperating with the Holy Spirit.

If someone asks what a Christian contributes to their salvation, a good answer is “sin”. That however, is not a good answer when it comes to matters involving sanctification. I’m guessing that what Matthew Garnet talks about here is in the ballpark of what Pastor Wilken has in mind with his ninth point. Garnet asks the question “Does the pastor show you your sin through his preaching?” and goes on to reply:

“Problems to look out for here include the obfuscation of original sin as well as abstracting actual sin. One very famous Lutheran pastor, speaking on original sin in one of his podcasts asserted that anytime Christians try to be good people in accord with the commands of Scripture, they are re-enacting Adam’s fall. Because only God is good, he reasoned, to try and be good is trying to be like God. Thus, for this man, trying to be good is the essence of original sin. I’ve observed variations on this theme as well from other preachers and obviously, it is wrong.”

  1. Encouragement or instruction in Good Works is considered de facto legalism.

In their essay “The Hated God,” Steve Paulson and Nicholas Hopman say:

“The fundamental concern of a legal myth is to motivate hearers to take a journey that corresponds or collaborates with God (along with the various ‘co’s’ like covenant, contract, or ‘the Great Com-mision’ that all assume cooperation between divine and human for salvation). In this way, law is taken as God’s gift to provide direction in life (reciprocation). Grace is empowerment to fulfill law’s movement, which is what sinners want most from the story: what can we do to help?” (11)

Still, Luther, a guy who knew more than anyone about the “legal myths” and “ladder theologies” by which men seek to secure salvation before God, said this:

“Yet Christ,” [these antinomians] say, “has removed your sin. Why are you sad?” This is why they continue to do what they do in an utterly secure manner. They translate the merit of the passion of Christ and of the remission of sins into luxuriousness….

Christ fulfilled the law, but it needs to be added: “Later see to it that you lead a holy, pious, and irreproachable life, as it is fit­ting for a Christian. This is what you have heard so far: Be forgiven. But lest you complain that you are utterly forsaken, I will give you my Holy Spirit, who makes you a soldier; he will even produce mighty and unspeakable cries against sin in your heart, so that you thus finally do what you wish.” But am I not unable? “Pray that I may hear you, and I will make you able…” (SDEA 303, 305, italics mine)[i]

  1. The Law itself is viewed as the source of legalism, rather than man’s sinful misuse of it.

In short, the law doesn’t make people hate God. It reveals that sinful man, familiar with God’s qualities apart from the Gospel, can’t not hate God. Detail.

  1. Scripture’s warnings against falling away from the faith are minimized or ignored.

Luther: “Our Antinomians are so blind that they cannot recognize the doctrine of the law in Paul, e.g., in these obvious words (Phil. 4:8): “Whatever things are chaste, just, etc., these pursue.” Yet they do all things for that reason that they might render us secure and that the window might be opened for the devil in order to overthrow us unexpectedly” (ODE 156, SDEA 287, italics mine)

Again: “[I]t is necessary to admonish, to stir up, and to call as if to battle, so that they may remember in what danger they live. Don’t sleep, don’t sleep and don’t snore! Awake!” (SDEA, 263)”

It’s almost like we walk in danger all the way or something.

  1. Scripture is often searched to find the sinner, rather than the Savior.

As I once wrote: “… they also, seemingly unawares, often give the impression they think they are the ones who are mature.

They are not like, for example, legalistic, cowardly and insipid pastors stuck in the rut of seeking security! At the very least, these deserve to be ignored, not engaged with seriously, not sympathized with, etc.  No, the more radical Lutherans are the true holy ones who will boldly embrace the mission of the church!  It is they who are the brave and righteous heroes – not only willing to embrace but seek out the multitude of sinners… addicts, ex-cons, prostitutes, the LGBT community, etc…  They are unlike the legalistic Pharisee-types concerned only with their own security and the minutiae of the law… simply unwilling to really “get dirty with” and speak the radical gospel to ‘real’ sinners.”

The “I’m not like other Christians you’ve met” pick-up line is getting old. — Todd Wilken


  1. The sins of Biblical figures are exaggerated or sensationalized.

Those sins are bad enough — no sensationalism necessary!

  1. Teaching is often guided by a reaction to the errors of moralistic evangelicalism, rather than God’s Word or the Lutheran Confessions.

It is more than understandable why many an evangelical Christian stuck in moralism might find someone like Forde to be “cool waters”. Still, my point is always this: we can see what is good about Forde’s emphasis on the Gospel message and the incredible power it has — unadulterated gospel preaching should be appreciated by all Christians. Radical Lutherans, however, often give the impression that they see nothing redeeming about things we find valuable, and often even seem hostile towards them: evangelical converts who, while delighted by the Gospel they find here, nevertheless see something lacking in contemporary Lutheran preaching on the law (where is the delight in the law we see in Psalm 1 and Romans 7?), the Lutheran scholastics, the Synodical Conference, etc.

  1. Man’s sinful condition is described as though a person’s sin qualifies him to receive Grace, rather than Grace being without qualification or condition in man.

Crassly put: The Gospel is for real sinners who know they need Christ, not those who show they don’t need him anymore by talking about a third use of the law!

  1. The effects of the Law are attributed to the Gospel.

For Luther, the passion of the Christ, for example, may “hit” someone as law or gospel. That said, if it is exclusively preached as law, the gospel is “all used up” so to speak.

  1. The Law may be avoided to such an extent that the Gospel is pressed into service to do the Law’s work (produce repentance, instruction in good works through “Gospel imperatives”).

This would be classical antinomianism. The Antinomians also wanted to get around the third use of the law by saying: We don’t need the law to teach us what to do. We just use Christ’s example! Luther, recognizing that they didn’t live like pigs, laughs at them, because what’s Christ’s example if not a restatement of the law?

  1. The Gospel is sometimes replaced with “We’re all sinners, who am I to judge?”

In Tom Christenson’s The Gift and Task of Lutheran Higher Education (2004) he goes in a direction that I have heard university-level LC-MS theologians tempted to go… :

“We may say about an unmarried couple living together that they are ‘living in sin’.  A reflective Lutheran should not talk that way because, from a Lutheran point of view, we are all living in sin, whether we are married, single, sexually active, or celibate.  Our sexual situation or orientation or practices do not make us more or less sinful.  Any relationship may be self-serving, harmful, abusive, careless, and hateful.  We are certainly not rid of all that simply because we have enjoyed a church wedding” (44).

Whatever truth might be in Christenson’s statement is made null and void by what is wrong with the statement. Later on, he says “Our own efforts to secure our own sinlessness themselves spring out of pride and are marred by sin” (43) which sounds good on one level, but may cause one to wonder whether there is any genuine “pursuit of holiness”…. I wonder if what he states here goes hand in hand with his anthropology, which, among other places, he addresses on p. 74 of his book:

“But what if Luther was right, that we are simul justus et peccator, not only both saint and sinner but both at the same time and in the same respect? What if, for example, human accomplishments and human destructiveness are not expressions of opposite parts of the human, but expressions of the same thing? What if it is the best part of us that goes wrong? Is Is that the meaning of the story about Adam and even in the garden who ate the fruit from one tree that was the tree of knowledge of both good and evil?” (p. 74)

To say the least, whatever Christenson means by “a) “in the same respect;” b) “expressions of the same thing;” and c) “the best part of us,” this is not Luther’s view of either the significance of the fall or Christian anthropology.

And don’t forget to check out the more complete summary breaking down Luther’s Antinomian Disputations!




[i] Sometimes Radical Lutherans go in the opposite direction, giving the impression that we really ought to shy away from talking about the Christian’s active faith at all. Nicholas Hopman states in his 2016 Lutheran Quarterly article on the Lex Aeterna in the Antinomian Disputations, things like “[t]he law (First Commandment) demands faith, which is the presence of the living God, who is not the dead Decalogue (law) written on stone tablets (2 Cor. 3:7)” (167, italics mine)

Here’s the video:

September 7, 2017

Concordia Publishing House recently released a two volume systematic theology titled Confessing the Gospel: A Lutheran Approach to Systematic Theology. This is a much needed set, as there has been a severe lack of Lutheran systematic theological texts in recent years, aside from the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series from Luther Academy. I recently received both volumes in the mail, and I have decided to do a series of reviews on these books as I read them section by section. In this first entry, I will examine the overall structure of the text, as well as the Prolegomena.

The volumes themselves are of high quality, hardback texts which are clearly meant to last. It is the intention of these books to be a staple in Lutheran theological education, and I will be curious to see whether these will replace Pieper’s volumes at the Concordia seminaries. I, myself, will have to make such a decision in my Doctrine courses at ALTS, where we currently use Pieper as our dogmatics text, though supplemented by the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics volumes. Apparently, a new dogmatics series was something that the LCMS had decided to do in 1983, and this work has been in process since that time (before I was even born!). There were around seventy contributors to the project, but each locus has one or two primary authors. One of the most surprising things about the list of authors is the absence of David Scaer, Kurt Marquart, Joel Biermann, Roland Zeigler, and John Stephenson, who are all highly influential Lutheran thinkers that I would have assumed to be some of the primary contributors to a project like this. Many of the major contributors are relatively unknown for other publications. This has simply left me unsure of what to expect as I begin reading.

The setup of the series is unique. Each topic is divided into five sections: Scriptural foundation, confessional witness, systematic formulation, historical and contemporary developments, and implications for life and ministry. The positive element of this structure is that there is a strong emphasis on Biblical theological teaching. In the Scriptural sections, the topic is engaged in relation to the entire Scripture, often citing passages in the Torah, the prophets, the psalms, the Gospels, and epistolary literature. It is refreshing to see that the discussion is not drawn solely from Pauline writings as is the temptation is some Reformation theology, but that it extends throughout Scripture, with a heavy emphasis on the Old Testament. The negative, however, is that because the Biblical and systematic elements are not interspersed, there are some systematic theological elements and debates surrounding various doctrines that simply are not given enough attention due to the prominence of the exegetical element.



The section on theological prolegomena was written primarily by David A Lumpp who I had not previously been acquainted with. Lumpp is Professor of Theology and Ministry at Concordia University in St. Paul, MN. He is the author of several published articles and a book titled First Things First. [1]

The primary emphasis in the Prolegomena section is the centrality of the gospel for Lutheran theological discourse. Lumpp outlines some essential distinctives of Lutheran thought such as law/gospel, the theology of the cross, and the hidden and revealed God. Lumpp helpfully outlines the relationship of theology to Scripture, the church, and tradition. Scripture is the norm of all theological discourse, but that is not to be divorced from the theologian working within the context of the church. Lumpp emphasizes the importance of Confessional documents within the theological task, as well as listening to the voices of the past when formulating doctrine.

Though a more lengthy discussion may have been of benefit, one of the best aspects of this section is his exposition of the relationship between faith and reason. Lumpp draws on the work of Brian Gerrish who defends Luther from the charges of irrationalism. He argues that what Luther fought against was the “domination of theology by philosophy” rather than reason as such (31). Reason is to be used in the earthly kingdom to discern what is useful and right in the world. He also mentions that there is “regenerate reason,” which is to be used in service of theology (31). This is a reason which serves in humility, submitting itself to the Word of God. It is arrogant reason which Luther opposes, wherein clear teachings of Scripture are overthrown based upon logical assertion. This is identified as the classical distinction between the magisterial and ministerial uses of reason.

While Lumpp’s writing is helpful as far as it goes, there are some notable differences between his approach and that of Pieper and other early twentieth century dogmaticians. This text lacks a discussion of many of the classic ideas explored in Prolegomena in Protestant scholasticism, which I think are extremely important foundational points. He does not explore the archetypal/ectypal theology distinction, nor does he discuss analogical predication in discourse about God. There is no extensive treatment of true and false theology, or natural and revealed theology. Traditional questions about theology as a science are also notably absent here. I also would have preferred to have seen some interaction with various philosophies which guide one’s approach to theology. Lumpp relies primarily on twentieth century Luther scholarship to determine his topics, rather than Gerhard, Quenstedt, and other scholastic thinkers. The writing would benefit from a more consistent use of older authors, rather than simply dealing with twentieth century thinkers.[2]

The second major concern I have with this Prolegomena is the use of the phrase “law/gospel polarity” throughout the text (3). It is certainly an odd choice of words, and one which I hardly ever see used in a positive light. Joel Biermann has used the phrase “law/gospel polarity” to refer to a mistaken notion of the Lutheran distinctive which approaches them as contradictory words of God. The law and the gospel are distinct, but they are not to be polarized against one another. Such a contention has immense theological problems. It may perhaps simply be the case of unfortunate wording on Lumpp’s part rather than an actual theological issue at this point. However, due to so many common misconceptions surrounding Lutheran thought on the law-gospel distinction, wording in this area should be as precise as possible.



Thus far, I have found both positive and negative elements to this treatment in its introductory section. The Biblical and exegetical element is to be appreciated, as it thoroughly grounds doctrine upon the entirety of Scriptural revelation, rather than solely through the Pauline writings. The Prolegomena helpfully emphasizes the centrality of the gospel in Lutheran theology, as well as its churchly character. Lumpp also helpfully defines the connection between faith and reason, and interacts with contemporary scholarship on a number of points. However, the doctrinal precision of the older scholastic texts is missing here, which is an unfortunate departure from other dogmatic treatments.



[1] I corrected my original post which said that he had not authored any books. I was mistaken.

[2] As I’ve read these volumes, I have seen many more references to Gerhard Ebeling and Helmut Thielecke, than I have to figures like Abraham Calov and David Hollaz. While I certainly think its important to deal with developments in Lutheran theology from outside of the strict confines of Confessionalism, I find it unfortunate that seventeenth century thinkers are not given more attention, especially as they were so important for Pieper and other early LCMS thinkers.

August 4, 2017

Chapter 1 of 5: Natural Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations


Post by Nathan Rinne


Welcome to the LADFD series: Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies. Regarding the title of this series — and the photo above, which I had a lot fun generating — I hope you interpret it as I intend: me trying to bring a little humor to a serious issue.

I hope you find the following post — admittedly a lot of work to read all the way through! — informative, worthwhile, and done in good faith – and that you will consider checking out other parts of the series.

First, some preliminaries:

  • This is chapter 1, with proceeding chapterss coming every two days (three days over weekends). I will be posting chapters 2-4 on my own blog, and chapter 5 here as well.
  • Note that all quotations in this series are not taken from the version of the Antinomian Disputations shown at the end of this post (Only the Decalogue is Eternal, or ODE), but from the version that contains the original Latin as well (Latin learners take note!), Solus Decalogus est Aeternus, (or SDEA).


In recent years, there has been an increased interest in the topic of natural law/religion/theology in the writings of Martin Luther. The following three books pictured below are just a sampling of some of the more recent work that deals, either indirectly or more directly, with these issues:



To my knowledge, however, not much if any work has been done addressing the issue of natural law and theology in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. These disputations occurred during the years 1537-1540, six years before Martin Luther’s death, and in them much is said about the topic. Luther’s thoughts on this topic are somewhat complicated, but here I will attempt to systematically provide as clear a snapshot as possible of what he thinks — given the parameters of a reasonably short blog post.

For those of you already familiar with this content in the Antinomian Disputations, I invite you to scroll right to the bottom of this post to read my short concluding thoughts. Here, I try and sum up the big picture, and to relate it to contemporary theological challenges (i.e., things like the “Hypergrace” movement, and “Radical Lutheranism”).


20th c. theologian Karl Barth to natural law: Nein! (No!) 16th c. theologian Martin Luther: Ja! (Yes!) (and with appropriate nuance!…)


There is one section of the Disputations where I believe Luther brings several of his most developed thoughts together in a short two paragraphs. He responds to this argument:

It is redundant to teach the things that are known by nature. The law is known by nature. Therefore it is redundant to teach the law.

Luther’s response:

Each proposition is false, since we teach and learn the things we know. Since memory is instable even in the masterminds trained best, it is necessary that the most learned have recourse to the books themselves and learn. Indeed, they learn more than everybody else and they do so constantly, as can be seen in the greatest talents who never rest. Furthermore, the law is not known in such a way that it is not necessary to teach or admonish with it, otherwise it would not have been necessary to give the law and send Mo­ses; and we also do not know as much about the law as God wills. For who is there who ever knew how great and what an enormous evil sin itself is? Likewise, disobedience, hatred, wrath, greed, fornication, let alone the sins of the First Table? For we are so corrupted by original sin that we cannot see the magnitude of sin.

For there is our flesh, the devil, and the world who suggest differently and who obscure the law of God written in our heart. This is why it is always nec­essary here to be admonished lest we forget the mandate of God, especially since the law of God is the highest wisdom and the infinite fountain and source and spring of all virtues and disciplines towards God and men, because sin is infinite. So far no theologian or jurist has been found who could say or fully express, what great an evil lust and greed is. If there are those who truly feel sin, as David, those are truly in hell and dwell by the gates of death, as the Psalm says (18:5): “The terrors of hell found me.” (SDEA 333, italics mine)

In what follows, I offer short summary points from the two paragraphs above (note the italicized portions) and also supplement them with content from other parts of the Antinomian Disputations:

  1. Luther fully identifies the natural law, or the law that we find in the creation, with the law given in the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, to Moses.
  • God shared the Ten Commandments, given in history specifically to the Israelites, because they help us remember, “who we were before and who we will be in the future” (SDEA 321).
  • On the other hand, knowledge from the ceremonial practices and civil laws[i] given to the Israelites was not universal, but particular (SDEA 321).[ii]
  • In spite of his not having the law given at Sinai, Luther says that Abraham practiced the “love of righteousness[, which] is the highest degree of the law.” (SDEA 405)
  • “The Decalogue… is greater and better [than circumcision] because it is written in the hearts and minds of all and will remain with us even in the coming life.” (SDEA 127, 129, see also 49, italics mine)
  • Jeremiah’s “new covenant” (see Jer. 31:31,34) does not apply to the Decalogue passing away but to circumcision and other “ceremonial and judicial laws” (SDEA 215, 217).[iii]
  • “Natural law” or the “law of nature” is intrinsic to us and is objectively good, even as it may be more or less strong (see below)


“The law shows that we are not such either as the law requires or as we were before the fall.” – Luther (SDEA, 293)


  1. The law of God is written in the hearts of all, even as it is obscured by our flesh (or sinful nature), the devil, and the world.
  • We can know God’s law and not do it. In fact, we do know God’s law but don’t do it. We can also know God’s law but suppress that knowledge. Knowledge of the law is stronger in some than others.
  • In the Antinomian Disputations, Luther indicates that even though the law of God is “natural”, the suppression of this knowledge (no doubt accompanied by a real searing of the conscience), can be rather brutal, even resulting in a kind of knowledge that is often not perceived or experienced as knowledge (SDEA 115).
  • Luther even appears to suggest that human beings having the natural law is not necessarily true like “all men are mortal” is true. He mentions, for example, some men being “utterly unnatural” (SDEA 321).
  • In sum, what these first two points show is that the actual existential situation for any particular person or people are bounded by [fallen] human nature.
  • On the other hand, it is also influenced to a very large degree by the particular human activities a person or people have experienced on the ground. This leads us into our next three points.
  1. Luther does not pit the law in nature vs. our need/charge to teach, preach, and learn it.
  • Again, the written law “only was given to [the Israelites] and the law of Moses pertains to that people only.” The rest, however, have the same law written on their hearts (SDEA 217).[iv]
  • Because of original sin introduced in the Fall however, we live in sin and our corrupt and blind nature neither “sees not feels the magnitude of sin”. Man’s knowledge of the law is “very weak and obscured” and hence we need teaching.[v]
  • In fact, prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments, the law “was almost totally fallen into oblivion and obscured,” which is why it “was renewed and indeed written and handed over to a certain people insofar as it is written, but not insofar as it is spoken, since this knowledge was common to all nations, as experience itself proves” (SDEA 321).[vi]
  • Again, “[t]he law is common to all, but not all feel its force and effect. Nonetheless, whether people are converted or not, the law is still to be taught” (SDEA 111, italics mine, see SDEA 225 also).
  • He says that when the law is taught to us in words, it is rendered “better known, more conspicuous, and clearer, so that it, even by its appearance, might lash and agitate the mind” (SDEA 343).
  • The Holy Spirit is – and therefore the Church should be – relentless in using the Law in an “evangelical way,” to continue to make persons more and more fearful with the goal of them seeing their need and receiving Jesus Christ (SDEA 169-173)


“I distinguish the law. Grammatically and in a civil sense it certainly pertains to all, but understood theologically and spiritually it does not pertain to all because it terrifies very few.” – Luther (SDEA 225) (quote not from pictured book)


  1. Believers also have knowledge of the law of God that we suppress and are therefore culpable of, even as, without the preached law, the seriousness of human sin – especially as this regards our own sin – escapes us.
  • Paul’s (Saul’s!) pre-Christian conversion knowledge of the law was evidently a “surface knowledge” of sorts: he “did not know anything concerning the law, even though he was wholly in the law, taught he law, but did not know it, as it says in Romans 2 (7:9)….”
  • As a Pharisee, he was “teaching the law and yet did not know it,” in the sense of not “feel[ing] the force of the law” (SDEA 113). He thought “the law can be satisfied by works” (SDEA 355).
  • On the road to Damascus however, he is “first touched by the law and perceives the force and power of the law…” (SDEA 115, 117)
  • In like fashion, Luther asserted in his day that the church in Rome “imagined that sin is that which is against [unbiblical] human traditions, only rarely that which is against the moral law” (SDEA 355).[vii]
  • Again, “the law certainly belongs to all,” he states, “but not all have the perception of the law” (SDEA 115).
  • By preaching God’s law, “[the] veil is removed and I am shown that I sin”. We all are convicted, “not because the Decalogue was handed down and written for us, but so that we know even the laws which we brought with us into this world” (SDEA 321, italics mine).
  • To some degree, this kind of disability characterizes even pious believers in God: “It is impossible that there is a man who ever saw how great a sin it is not to fear God, not to believe in God, not to love God, to scorn the word, and not to call on God” (SDEA 343)
  • When Luther goes so far to say that “the law is neither useful or necessary for any good works” (SDEA 239), one must keep in mind that for him, it is only always the free Gospel of promise, not the coercive law, which creates the good intentions — and power — for a fear, love, and trust in God that begins to be truly righteous and holy (not one which, having a false god, is only tainted and selfish).
  • More: “Through [the law] God is efficacious and acts powerfully wherever and whenever he wills. And what is that to you, if he is efficacious?” (SDEA 115)
  1. The commands of the first table of the Decalogue are also to some degree contained in natural law.
  • Showing that empirical evidence from historical circumstances played into his thought, Luther, for example, states that “no nation was ever so cruel or barbarian or inhuman that they did not understand that God is to be worshipped… even if they erred in the way and means of worshipping God…”[viii]
  • Again, in spite of its capability of becoming greatly obscured in man, “natural law” or the “law of nature” is objectively in all “by nature” and is objectively good. All at some level know the good but do not do it (see SDEA 33 for “the good”).
  • Sin – which inevitably works itself out in everyone’s concrete thoughts, words, and deeds – is now objectively in all “by nature” due to particular historical circumstances involving our first parents.[ix] (SDEA 277)
  • Luther says that both the law and gospel, “belong to all” (SDEA 115).
  • That said, not all have the “perception” of these. Both must be continually taught (SDEA 115).
  • The Gospel must be taught or “traditioned,” i.e. “passed down”: “[E]ver since the beginning of the world has been [culpable] unbelief and ignorance of Christ, since the promise concerning the Seed of the woman was given right after the fall of Adam” (SDEA 111).[x]
  • The same holds true for the law, even as, it also remains in human beings by nature such that they are culpable of sin due to whatever knowledge they have.
  • Again, for Luther, “Divine revelation” – such as the Gen. 3:15 promise concerning the Seed of the woman who defeats the serpent and his work – is given in particular circumstances but is for all and hence should be in all through the activity of believers in history.


“…even if you were to remove these letters: L-A-W, which can be very easily deleted, the handwriting etched into our hearts, which condemns and drives us, nonetheless remains.” — Luther (SDEA 193).


That message of the Seed of the woman, by the way, is the Gospel which answers the law’s accusations against us (read Rom. 1-4, see Rom. 16:20 as well).

Finally, we are ready to sum up matters, with even more additional content from the Antinomian Disputations, in light of contemporary concerns:

Prior to the fall, man obeyed God’s commandment perfectly (SDEA 49) as he was without sin in the garden (SDEA 83) and the law was “not only….possible, but even something enjoyable” (SDEA 47). However, with the fall of Adam and Eve everything changed.

Luther argues that now, in its present state, the order in the creation is that death and sin come before life and righteousness (SDEA 37).[xi] “[I]nfected by the venom of Satan” (SDEA 277) man by his own powers – i.e. without the Gospel by which his conscience “may intend the good” – “cannot intend good” (SDEA 33).

Hence, after the fall and before the new heavens and earth, the law, sin, and death are inextricably connected (SDEA 137, 241). Therefore a “law that does not condemn is a fake and counterfeit law, like a chimera or a goat stag” (SDEA 375). Hence, it also makes sense that on earth Luther somewhat conflates the law’s “essence” with it condemning “office” (see SDEA 137).

And yet, Luther writes that “the Decalogue…is greater and better [than things like circumcision and even baptism] because it is written in the heart and minds of all and will remain with us even in the coming life….only the Decalogue is eternal – as such, that is, not as law – because in the coming life things will be like what the Decalogue has been demanding here.” (SDEA 127, 129). Later he notes that it is really Christians, who, “’do by their nature what the law requires’ (cf. Rom. 2:14)” (SDEA, 163). In this life imperfectly, and in the life to come, perfectly.[xii]

Both thoughts are connected in thesis 24 of the second set of theses, where Luther writes that “it is impossible that there be sin or that sin be understood without the law, be it written or inscribed (cf.. Rom. 2:14-15).” (SDEA 137, italics mine)

There seems to be only one logical way to read this: insofar as this inscribed law accuses the conscience in either the nonbeliever or the believer, it does so precisely because the content of the law written on our hearts can also be articulated into language that we can comprehend. In other words, it condemns because specific “shoulds” and “should nots” can be recognized and described by human beings.

Of course, as Luther said, “[To them]…who serve the law in order to be justified…it also becomes a poison and plague concerning justification” (SDEA 135). And while justification by grace through faith has always been at the heart of Lutheran theology, there are those in the church today who have built systematic theologies that give the impression of being even more so!

The problem however, is that this only appears to be the case. This is because systematic theologies like those offered by men like Gerhard Forde, for example, may give the impression that God’s law – since it is only temporalis not written into human nature such that it continues in the life to come – or even today (is this perhaps what is happening when even a very socially and theologically liberal Lutheran pastor can read someone like the Forde disciple Steve Paulson, for example, and tell me that he really likes him?).[xiii]


What does this mean?


Therefore, certain persons attracted to such theologies may be tempted by a reductionistic view of the topic of Law and Gospel (like the one Forde puts forth) to justify the proposition that understandings of God’s law should evolve. This leads, of course, to the idea that we must respect the “bound consciences” of those who both claim allegiance to Jesus Christ while simultaneously putting forward novel understandings of morality.[xiv]

And then, without sin being rightly identified, is the doctrine of justification still the doctrine of justification?

With an eye towards current debates – those in the confessional Lutheran church and beyond –  I will, over the next several days be doing four more posts unpacking content from Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations. The next one, God willing, will be at my blog theology like a child on Monday.

I hope you have found this worthwhile and will join me again!


The law does not want you to despair of God…it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” — Luther (ODE, 195)



Images in public domain ; Dummies picture by generator here.


[update: I discovered a point in this post where I believe I was insufficiently charitable, and hence have changed what I had in the original post somewhat]

[i] Luther says that when Paul calls the law a shadow, he “chiefly talks about the ceremonial and judicial laws” (SDEA 117).

[ii] Otherwise, we would readily talk about the offerings of bulls, circumcision, and the Sabbath as we do “sins and iniquities…like disobedience, contempt of God, thefts, adulteries, impurities” (see Rom. 2:15) (SDEA 321).

[iii] Luther argues that Jeremiah’s prophetic promise of a new covenant, or agreement (Jer. 31:31,34) “is properly understood as speaking about the ceremonial and judicial law of Moses, similarly about circumcision….” The Decalogue is not included here because “The Decalogue does not belong to the law of Moses….but pertains to the entire world, [as] it is written in etched in the minds of all people from the beginning of the world” (SDEA 217).

He, very interestingly, goes on to say the following:

“Besides, if you understand it as simply referring to the Decalogue, I respond here that it is again rightly said that the law is not to be preached to the righteous, that is, the law as something to be fulfilled or not fulfilled already. For one ought not to impose or preach the law to the righteous as to be fulfilled but as fulfilled, for the righteous already have that which the law requires, namely, in Christ; this is how Paul solves this argument: “The law is not given the righteous” (1 Tim. 1:9). Likewise: “Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Rom. 8:1); likewise: “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4). Thus the demand and the accusation of the law, because of what it demands, ends among the pious when Christ is present who says: “Look at me who do for them what you demand—so stop it!”

Yet this is much more serious, that it says that there will be no further ministry in the Church. What do we say to this? I answer: Christ solves this in John (6:45), when he says: “And they will all be taught by God.” The Jews had many laws, in addition to the customs of all men, which were countless already in Shiloh (1 Sam. 1:3ff.), Jerusalem and Gibeon (cf. 2 Chron. 1:3). Thus, one was sent here, the other there, running up and down, all crying, “Know the Lord! Know the Lord!” This was no different than the way it was done under the pope: the one taught that salvation was to be sought with this saint; the other taught that it was to be sought with that saint, as you know. Now Christ says: “It shall not be thus in the future, but all will know me from the smallest to the greatest.” That is to say: “I will give you such a doctrine, the one which, forsaking all other doctrines, my people follows and, however many believers there will be in the whole world, they will teach one and the same thing. For they will all be taught by God; that should work; I myself will make disciples and give the Holy Spirit, but through the Word.“

In this way he wills to be and to be established as teacher, and indeed as the only teacher in his Church. Through the Holy Spirit in the Word we will all have one and the same Christ whom we will teach one another. And there will be no more “Know the Lord, know the Lord,” because from the smallest to the greatest all will know him. However, when Christ is absent, then everybody says that the Lord is to be known differently, and so one is sent to St. James, another to Rome, another to St. Anne; everyone has his one path (cf. Is. 56:11).” (SDEA 217, 218)

[iv] “Moses was merely something like an interpreter or illustrator of the laws written in the mind of all men wherever they might be under the sun in the world.” (189 SDEA)

[v] “…for humankind, because we are not only conceived and born in sin and live in it, but the corruption and blindness of human nature is also so great that it neither sees nor feels the magnitude of sin. To be sure, all men by nature have some knowledge of the law, yet it is very weak and obscured. Therefore it was, and always is, necessary to teach men this knowledge of the law, that they might recognize the greatness of their sin, of God’s wrath, etc.” (SDEA 43)

[vi] He goes on to say:

“…For if this were not the case, we would now disregard it, if the law said: “You do not believe in God; you do not fear God; you abuse his name,” just as we already disregard it, if it is said sometimes: “You are not circumcised, you do no bring a bull, a calf, sheep.” For when I hear these, I am not moved and am not horrified and consider them to be a play and joke. But when it says: “You disbelieve God, you do not believe God, you do not fear God, you are a fornicator, adulterer, disobedi­ent,” and whatever is such, here I am at once horrified and fear and feel in the heart that I certainly owe this to God; not because the Decalogue was handed down and written for us, but so that we know even the laws which we brought with us into this world. And by this preaching at once the veil is removed and I am shown that I sin.

For even though the Decalogue was given in a unique way and place and with ostentation, all nations confess impiety, disobedience, contempt of God, thefts, adulteries, impurities to be sins and iniquities, as Paul writes in Romans 2(:15): “Excusing and accusing one another.” They are therefore natural laws, not political or Mosaic ones, otherwise we would immediately talk about these like those about offering of bulls, circumcision, and Sabbath. But God does not want us to do this. But when the precept, “You shall not steal,” is heard, we right away become silent, and we might be much more silent than fish.”

Importantly, he says elsewhere:

“These most destructive beasts, security and presumption, are so great that they cannot be sufficiently upset and crushed; whatever you do against them, you nonetheless accomplish hardly anything. To such a degree our entire nature is corrupted and immersed in original sin, just as if a good and faithful doctor should have a harsh and violent patient who, even though he lies in a grave illness, nonetheless despises and ridicules every medicine, and even throws it at the doctor’s head. Here I ask: What else should the good doctor do than to debilitate him with medicines, so that finally not even his hands or feet are able to do anything? So God the Father—when he saw that we are held captive by the devil in this way—so that we would not later forget also those laws which he had before written in our hearts by his finger, was forced to give a certain Moses, who also by written laws would shake up our mind and senses, so that we, touched by the feeling and power of the law, finally might learn to beg for help and aid” (151).


“But later, since men finally arrived at a point where they cared neither for God nor for men, God was forced to renew those laws through Moses and, written by his own finger on tablets, to place them before our eyes so that we might be reminded of what we were before Adam’s fall and of what we shall be in Christ one day. Thus, Moses was merely something like an interpreter or illustrator of the laws written in the mind of all men wherever they might be under the sun in the world.” (SDEA 189)

[vii] More: “the hypocrites look upon the veiled face of Moses, since they do not see that the law is spiritual and think that the law can be satisfied by works, as Paul also held before his conversion, as did the people of Gomorrah who killed prophets and never had a sense of the law or a true no­tion thereof” (SDEA 355).

[viii] Fuller quote:

“For no nation under the sun was ever so cruel or barbarian and inhuman that they did not understand that God is to be worshiped, loved, and that praises should be give to his name—even if they erred in the way and means of worshiping God. The same is true concerning the honor and obedience toward parents and superiors. Likewise, vices have been shunned, as it can be seen in the first chapter to the Romans.” (SDEA 187, 189)

Elsewhere, he even goes so far to say: “For if God had never given the law by Moses, the human mind nonetheless by nature would have had the idea that God is to be worshiped and the neighbor is to be loved” (SDEA 61).

The 20th century, of course, at least suggests otherwise. Luther may have underestimated the degree to which sinful men can suppress their knowledge of the law, not being able to recognize their sin (Psalm 36:2), calling good evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20), having no fear of God (Psalm 36:1), asserting there is no God (Psalm 11).

[ix] “To be sure, the law had not been given or written down at [the time of Abraham]. He nonetheless had the law of nature written in his heart, as all men have (Rom. 2:15). It is therefore not to be doubted concerning the patriarchs that they taught that which is contained in the Decalogue, before the law was revealed from heaven on Sinai, and that that teaching flowed to their posterity. They diligently impressed on their families the impiety and malice of those who existed before the Flood and later became extinct because of them, and dissuaded them from idolatry and other sins lest they too might perish. This is why they were not without teaching, even if it was only put in their hearts by nature. Later, after the law had been given, the public ministry was instituted to teach it” (109, italics mine).

[x] He also states on the same page: “this sin of unbelief and ignorance of Christ has been made known throughout the entire world by the public ministry, which during the earlier times of the fathers hid itself in small corners and among their posterity….ever since the beginning of the world has been unbelief and ignorance of Christ, since the promise concerning the Seed of the woman was given right after the fall of Adam” (SDEA 111).

[xi] “…sin, death, and God’s wrath, is inborn and known to us on account of our first parents. The other, namely, grace, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and life, to be sure, is begun in us through the good work of Christ, but it is not completed. Yet it will be completed manifestly when we will be raised on that day, when the body will be utterly cleansed from all sins and will be like the glorious body of Christ our Head” (SDEA 43, italics mine).

[xii] In the forward of these disputations translated by Pastor Holger Sonntag, Pastor Paul Strawn (my pastor) notes that the phrase “only the Decalogue is eternal” “casts light on the eschatological validity of the moral law frequently emphasized by Luther in the disputations at hand” (SDEA 7)

[xiii] Please note that this is not an argument or an accusation, but a statement made, like my last post, to prompt reflection and introspection. Should we not ask why charismatic and rhetorically gifted theologians are often able to win praise from more liberal and more conservative quarters while wonderful, brilliant, and godly men like Kurt Marquart, for example, might only be read by an ELCA theologian after the LC-MS theocracy has been established (just kidding!)? For his part, Paulson — who, to the best of my knowledge, does not talk about many of the points in this post — spoke at the LC-MS theological seminary in Fort Wayne and received a standing ovation for a speech talking about some of the themes from his book about Lutheranism. As a friend put it “For a guy with such heterodox understandings, he’s really got Confessional Lutherans’ number.” See here for a piercing theological critique of Steve Paulson’s book from Dr. Eric Phillips.

[xiv] Note that never in these disputations (or anywhere else) does Luther give any indication that this moral law or our understanding of it should change, adapt, or evolve, on earth or in heaven. There is no indication whatsoever that we should alter “the good” man knows.


May 31, 2017

Pastor Jordan Cooper’s new book, just patiently chipping away at a small part of the larger problem.


Post by Nathan Rinne

What is an “antinomian,” a term which appears to have been invented by the 16th century church reformer Martin Luther? According to Merriam-Webster, an antinomian is someone “who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation.”

Modern Christianity is full of such antinomians. These days, for example, it is not difficult to find people who identify as evangelical or non-denominational Christians but also think that:

  • Differences between men and woman are basically insignificant — perhaps not universal and stable at all — and there are no significant issues, for example, with woman being pastors.
  • Divorce can and perhaps should take place when one of the participants in a marriage does not feel happy or fulfilled.
  • Christians should not tell members of other religions that, when it comes to the significance of Jesus Christ, “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
  • Homosexual behavior is acceptable so long as it takes place within “committed” relationships (even as “committed” is getting re-defined…)
  • All nations that want to identify with Christianity in some way must allow within their own borders all who claim refugee status because “Jesus was a refugee.”
  • Being sexually involved with another prior to marriage, previously derided as “living in sin,” and “shacking up,” is to be expected.
  • “’You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian,’… a fancy way of saying ‘I follow Christ except for where He goes.’” – Hans Fiene

Yeah, yeah, I know. Some of you think I am a total jerk (to say the least – that is being nice!). Being as civil as you can be, you want to respond with something like the following, which was said in a tweet by a couple pastors considered by many to be quite conservative:

“You may use your conscience to guide your behavior. You may not use your conscience to guide my behavior.”*

Huh. I guess some pastors need continuing education credits, but to whom shall they go?

Let’s be clear: by rejecting God’s law, today’s antinomians do not want to embrace the God, who, through the work of Christ, would once again recreate man in His image. And how did we get to this point? In one sense, the answer is quite simple: we have flat-out rejected God and his Word given to us, the Bible. In short, we really do not find Him—at least as we find Him in that book!—all that impressive or attractive anymore.

Evidently much more attractive to evangelicals of the “thoughtful” variety!

If that answer seems overly simplistic to you—or, yes, just something that an asshat like me would say–I urge you to read the paper on the issue that my pastor, Paul Strawn, recently presented at a theological conference.

According to him, it is completely understandable that antinomianism is running wild today. After all, among our elites, not only is the Christian faith unreasonable, but the notion that history itself can be known is unreasonable! He writes that because of “the best of reason accepted today, history cannot truly be known, and the texts of history can only be a record of what was understood to have happened within history…” As such “God working in history through Jesus Christ, and the record of that working, i.e. the Bible, cease to be sources for our knowledge of God”. This means that modern Christian antinomians:

  • Have a god whose “existence certainly can be deduced from the human experience in one form or another, but he simply can never be known.”
  • Must exclude “the God who takes on definitive shape and form in nature, in history, in Jesus Christ.”
  • Ultimately reject the “law understood to be given by God within any context, and thus, of God defining human life and existence.”
  • Must reject “Christ fulfilling the law, and the crucifixion of Christ satisfying the demands of the law for mankind.”

So, unbelief in the Word of God—taking along with it the possibility of knowing human history!—is to blame, with figures like Caspar Schwenkfeld (16th c.), Immanuel Kant (18th c.), Friedrich Schleiermacher (19th c.) and Karl Barth (20th c.) all helping things along.

“…you don’t necessarily have the Word of God itself, but the fallible “witness” of man to God’s word” – Paul Strawn, on Karl Barth’s (pictured) view of the Bible

Some of you who know your church history might be thinking: “This is pure Gnosticism!” Indeed. As the Apostle John warned us years ago:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. – I John 4:1-3

Today’s Gnostic Antinomians do not need to insist that Jesus has “not come in the flesh” – they simply say it doesn’t really matter whether he did or not. As I pointed out in a recent post on my own blog, even contemporary figures who speak well of the Bible and are largely embraced by “conservatives” in the West are clearly flirting with such Gnosticism.

But again, the roots of this monster, born from a Christian cradle, are ultimately to be found in a lack of faith in God’s word, pure and simple.  

“The law and gospel cannot coexist. They are mutually exclusive.” — Paul Strawn (pictured with a Nigerian theology student) on the view of contemporary Lutheran gnostic antimomianism

A few more quick words about my pastor and this paper of his. As a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, his paper (here is the link again) gives a very short historical account of how this modern antinomian spirit, present in less overt forms since the days of the Reformation (no Roman Catholics – Luther himself is not to blame here!), has been embraced by many today who claim the Lutheran mantel. You will learn more about:

  • Martin Luther’s and the early Lutherans’ battles vs. their antinomian opponents.
  • How Werner Elert’s work was strategically used in the LC-MS by men like Ed Schroeder, Richard Baepler, and Robert Schultz to counter the doctrine of the Bible’s verbal inspiration (Jaroslav Pelikan recommended it be used for this reason!) and the third use of the law.
  • How C.F.W. Walther’s brilliant book on Law and Gospel was also hijacked and used as a relatively Barth-friendly wedge to counter Francis Peiper’s Christian Dogmatics and Walther’s own work on pastoral theology!
  • David Yeago’s 1993 paper in the journal Pro Ecclesia: Gnosticism, Antinomianism, and Reformation Theology: Reflections on the Costs of a Construal,” where he, among other things, says some teach that “The law oppresses because of the kind of word it is, not because of the situation in which we encounter it.”
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) rejection of Yeago’s warning and full embrace of antinomianism at their 2009 convention via Timothy Wengert’s completely novel “bound conscience” doctrine (echoing the conscience quote from the Lutheran pastors quoted above).
  • interesting facts about the battle in the LC-MS from the last 15 or so years (including the burying of Kurt Marquart’s paper on the 3rd use of the law by Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne).

In short, Strawn speaks of a “gradual, almost imperceptible, adaptation of the usage of the law/gospel distinction” as a “foundational dialectic epistemology” in the LC-MS where there is a “rejection of the law — of God working through creation, even shaping and molding creation[,… this being] a fundamental epistemological assumption”. He even notes that more conservative ELCA folks located the origins of some of their own problems as coming from the LC-MS (i.e. Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis and “Seminex” in the 1970s)! Don’t let terminology like “foundational dialectic epistemology” frighten you away. My pastor takes the time to unpack it more in the paper.

Thankfully, a lot of LC-MS Lutherans have not embraced this “hard antinomianism.” At the same time, I have heard another relatively conservative Lutheran pastor tell me that he taught his young children to cover their ears and scream whenever they heard a pastor try to tell them what they should be doing after hearing the message that Jesus had put away their sins.

In that case folks, I guess you might as well close your Bibles as well. Do you think that kind of thinking might just possibly be related to the problems described above?

A popularized summation of Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses, from Lutheran Press



*For a more nuanced critique of that quote, see here.


Karl Barth: Bundesarchiv, Bild 194-1283-23A / Lachmann, Hans / CC-BY-SA 3.0

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