Root Cause for Much of the Confusion in Lutheran Circles about Sanctification, Good Works, and Preaching
I picked up these interesting comments from an ELCA pastor who was, and still is, a very admiring student of the theology of Gehard Forde, whose influence, in my opinion, has gained far to great a toehold in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and it may well be that this attitude explains why we see some Lutheran sermons going out of their way to avoid any kind of parenesis. This of course flies directly in the face of Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and the preaching from all confessionally Lutheran orthodox fathers of our faith, from Luther well into the 19th and 20th centuries. This attitude has spread in Lutheran circles to the point that we often see sermons and teaching that ignores, even goes out of its way, to avoid mentioning anything concrete about the life of holy living to which we are called in Christ.
[Forde's] primary weakness can be illustrated by examining how he concludes his sermon “Justification by Faith Alone.” He proclaims, “There is nothing for me to do but just say it: You are just for Jesus’ sake. And there is nothing for you to do but just listen. Believe it, it is for you! It will really reform your life!”There is nothing for me to do? Really? Can’t we say anything, then, about what this reformed life looks like? Forde is adamant that preaching is not about moral instruction, paraenesis, growth, faith practices, or a description of what this new life accomplished through the word might look like. Most of it would amount to a “third” use of the law, an understanding of the law Forde opposed and thought was actually just a return to the first under a new guise. Forde refuses to preach about the Christian life, change, and progress for, as far as I can tell, three reasons. The first reason is anthropological, and is the most damning, for it virtually silences anyone who would even question Forde’s thinking on the matter. The second reason, this one harmatological, offers a view of humanity that does not include things like progress, growth in virtue, holiness, and the like. This second reason, less accusative in nature, is easier to engage. The third reason concerns imputed or passive righteousness, a doctrine that circles back to reason one, for it is a concept only the New Adam can understand by faith.