Home > Christian Life > Dangerous to the World: Good! Dangerous to the Word: Bad! Or…Getting Luther Only Half-Right

Dangerous to the World: Good! Dangerous to the Word: Bad! Or…Getting Luther Only Half-Right

April 30th, 2012
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I’m passing along this terrific blog post by Mr. Nathan Rinne, an ELCA layman:

On Gene Veith’s blog, I recently came across this great quote from ELCA Lutheran theologian Steven D. Paulson:

`I forgive you’… Luther taught and demonstrated that these simple words give absolute, indubitable certainty, and no one is more dangerous than a person who is certain. The certainty was not based on human self-certainty; it was the opposite of that. It was the certainty of forgiveness because of what the Son of God did by taking the sins of the world upon himself and defeating them at the cross… (p. 7)

Amen to that!  But he then goes on to say:

“…The decisive cosmic battle of God against sin, death, and devil was already waged and won when Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish. They were simply–free.” (7)

Now, I believe that we as God’s children are free indeed – to play and otherwise, but does this strike you as somehow a bit off?  As I have said before,

“Although God’s Law is the only consistent moral framework that exists which enables us to grow in our relationships with God and one another – albeit only when empowered by and freed by the Gospel of grace – have we not come to doubt just this?” and “From what, ultimately, have we been saved? Sin, or the Law of God? We have been freed from the Law, and are no longer under the Law.  But we have not been saved from the Law, for this we uphold and fulfill in Christ (Romans [3:31 and] 8:4).”

Is this just me refusing to embrace the radical Gospel as God has revealed it? (as Paul does in Romans 6:1).  I don’t think so.  In the conversation that resulted from the same blog post mentioned above, I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who has visited this blog before.

This gentleman said: “God expects nothing of His children. That is the fundamental principle of the Gospel, probably best expressed in what Martin Luther wrote on his deathbed (cart?), ‘This is true, we are beggars all.’”

I responded: “Insofar as we are sinners, we need to be told that God expects us to follow His commandments. No? Not just that we ‘get to’, but that He expects us to, in His words, ‘make duty a pleasure.’”

He said: “… The relationship we have with our Father is not that we need to know what ‘He expects us to do’, but we need to know what His will is…. As soon as we think that ‘God expects something’, we have left the province of the Gospel. But as our Lord taught, even that will be forgiven.” (see the whole context here)

I said: “Not sure I really get the distinction. His will is that He expects love, no?”, and he replied: “No. HE IS LOVE. He expects nothing. Perfect love does not expect anything from anyone; perfect love only serves, as He Who took upon Himself the form of a Servant.”

To which I said: “…because God is love, He expects love from His children. He delights in making them into the kind of people who do love, and know the joy that comes through love. Insofar as we are sinners, we hate this and run from it. Insofar as we are saints, we delight and rejoice in it, for we desire to imitate our loving Father, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who revealed true love to us and made us the recipients of it. What a person needs to hear depends on the attitude we discern they have.”

I took notice when he quoted Luke 6: 35 (“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”) and said “’Expect nothing in return’? That is how God loves.” (see the whole contexthere)

But then I thought a bit and replied:

“The problem with this here is that sinful man’s kind of expectations – i.e. “tit for tat” – are being contrasted with God’s way of doing things. God’s love – and hence His expectations – are more like that of a parent in their most selfless of moments, who desires the best for their child in life. To really love God and neighbor is to live in freedom, and God would have His trusting children to grow in this wonderful love. It should be good news to us that He expects us to grown in His love, loving His will (which He has indeed given us and we are always trying to catch up to, grow into) – the fact that it does not sound like good news to us – even after He has redeemed us – simply once again illustrates the extent to which sin inheres in us. I John 4:17 is a wonderful verse, but it is the ideal that we won’t reach until the other side of heaven.

I can’t imagine a parent not having some expectations – hopes – for their child. To not have expectations of a child does not sound like love to me, but disinterest, lack of concern, lack of love.”

The conversation is not over yet, but I’m not sure how long it can go on…  Augustine encouraged Christians with the radical words, “love God and do what you will.”  Dare we go any further than that?  We know that God ultimately takes the sinner out for the sake of the little ones. And we want to be on the side of the little ones!  We want to keep the faith.

The first part of Paulson’s quote makes us dangerous to the world.  The second part makes us dangerous to the Word.  This kind of conversation has been going on a long time.  Read this. 

Also see my series on antinomianism here.

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Categories: Christian Life
  1. Sven Wagschal
    April 30th, 2012 at 06:57 | #1

    A theologia Lutheri in nuce are always his forewords to the biblical books, they help to debunk certain myths about Luther’s teaching in almost every case. In this case quite helpful are the Foreword to the New Testament (the part about the nature of faith nearly ath the end), the Foreword the Letter to the Romans (fulfilling the law versus doing the law, defintion of faith, his summary of chapter 6 and 12) and especially the Foreword to 2 Peter (!).

  2. April 30th, 2012 at 07:42 | #3

    “Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish. They were simply–free.”

    This strikes me as a kind of Lutheran nihilism. Nothings in your life matters. Just sit around waiting to die because God’s only interest in you is your postmortem destination. And our suffering here? Doesn’t matter, because your sufferings don’t mean anything more than anything else you do. There isn’t anything for which to suffer.

    So what, we just do whatever we want? Why are my wants any better than anything else? Do we do what we think is best? If God doesn’t bother having an opinion on what’s best, why should mine matter? Shall I serve my neighbor? God is no more interested in him than He is in me. One can’t serve our neighbor for his good when there’s no such thing as “good” anymore. He calls this freedom, but there’s nothing left to make freedom any better than slavery. It sounds more like Sartre’s view that man is condemned to be free than it does like anything Luther taught.

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Any loving parent has hopes for their children, and a for an omniscient and sovereign Father who disciplines us, what else do we call hopes but “expectations?”

    • April 30th, 2012 at 08:00 | #4

      Matt, thanks for your comment, really thoughtful, “Lutheran nihilism” … certainly, I’m sure, NOT what anyone would want to suggest, but … the comment surely can lead to that kind of attitude, in fact, I might refine it even further and say it is a form of Lutheran Gnosticism, and not the “let us be hard on our bodies” but the “eat, drink, be merry” kind, a libertine Gnosticism, where we “sin boldly” so “grace may abound.”

  3. Rev. Roderick Schultz
    April 30th, 2012 at 10:44 | #5

    In extolling the virtues of being free by God’s grace through faith, I think we ignore or dismiss St. Paul exhortation in Ephesians 2:10; that “we are His workmanship, created for good works…that we should walk in them.” Certainly the gift of salvation is a gift free of any merit or worthiness on our part, but to imply then that the Lord has no expectation for those whom he has redeemed, seems to miss the point of the Gospel.

  4. SorenK
    April 30th, 2012 at 10:48 | #6

    There are some very serious issues with Forde’s theology, particularly as to Christ’s work of atonement. However, I believe most of this discussion revolved around nuances no one involved in the discussion has taken the time to understand. To descend to the thought this is Lutheran nihilism is too much. Don’t try to understand Forde with a couple of paragraphs taken out of context by people who have not read the material. Pastor Mccain as much as I greatly respect you, I believe you are approaching this all wrong, and should let cooler heads discuss Forde.

    • April 30th, 2012 at 13:08 | #7

      “SorenK” … do note that the most recent post on Forde was written by one of his former, devoted, students. I believe the critique is extremely value and very valid. I’ve read nothing yet to convince me that Forde offers any particularly brilliant insights that should elevate his status among us to the point that LCMS first year seminarians are being directed to read Forde before they are being directed to confessional, orthodox Lutheran fathers, including, of course, Martin Luther himself.

  5. Dave Likeness
    April 30th, 2012 at 13:54 | #8

    the Lutheran Confessions are clear about Faith and Good
    Works, Third Use of the Law,etc. FC IV “Those who have
    been reborn and renewed through the Holy Spirit are
    obligated to do good works.” AC XX “Good works should
    and must done for God’s sake and to God’s praise.”

    The Confessions also distinguish between works of the law
    and fruits of the Spirit. FC VI “Works performed according to
    the law remain works of the law. Fruits of the Spirit are done
    by reborn believers as if they knew no command, threat or reward.”

  6. Sven Wagschal
    May 1st, 2012 at 02:44 | #9

    The secret of freedom is that there are two kinds: freedom from something and freedom for something. As christians we are freed from sin and free for god and his gracious will for us. By denying good works we pervert this relationship to: we are freed from all works and free for sin (because God will forgive no matter what – Ro 6:1). This is justifying the sin, not the sinner.

  7. May 1st, 2012 at 09:14 | #10

    The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
    (Genesis 2:15 ESV)

  8. May 1st, 2012 at 09:19 | #11

    Pastor McCain,

    Thanks for re-posting my blog post. I have a part 2 up now: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/dangerous-children-to-the-world-or-to-the-word-part-2/

    Also, I am an LC-MS laymen (but I have relatives in the ELCA : ) ).

    +Nathan

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