Friday, January 27, 2012

Why should Christians Perform Good Works? A Reply to Tulian Tchividjian

In Tullian Tchividjian's new book "Jesus+Nothing=Everything", one of the central claims made is that the only motivation for doing good works is thankfulness for the gospel. According to Tchividjian, having any other motivation for good works is equivalent to Pharisaism. I hear these kinds of statements a lot from the supposed "Lutheran leaning" Reformed crowd. However, much like the two kingdom theology of this group, I find that this approach to good works is far from the Lutheran tradition. Martin Chemnitz, in his Loci Theologici, outlines several reasons why the Christian should perform good works. They are as follows:

I. Good Works as they apply to God Himself
1. It is the command of God
2. It is the will of God
3. If God is our father, we should be obedient sons
4. Christ redeemed us that he might purify us
5. Good works are the fruit of the Spirit
6. We glorify God through our works
7. That we might become imitators of God
8. That we might walk worthily of God

II. Causes which apply to the Renegerate
1. Because they have been born again, and are new creatures
2. Because they are sons of light
3. That they might witness to the genuineness of faith
4. That they may be assured that they don't have dead faith
5. So that faith might not be lost
6. So that we may avoid the punishments of God in this life
7. We should have zeal for doing good

III. The impelling and final causes of Good Works as over against our neighbors
1. That our neighbor might be helped and served
2. That others may be invited to godliness by our example
3. That we give no one a cause for offense
4. That by blessing we may shut the mouths of our adversaries

All of these can be found in greater detail with scriptural proofs in Loci Theologici Vol. III, 1183-1184.

All of our good works should be performed with the gospel of Christ in view, and never without the recognition of our utter dependence on the grace of God. However, the language that is often used that thankfulness for the gospel is the sole motivation for good works is unhelpful. It does not exhaust the Biblical testimony or the teaching of the Lutheran tradition.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Is the gospel purely forensic?

In the continuing discussions in the Reformed camp over the issue of union with Christ and its relation to justification, one of the questions that has consistently risen is that of the definition of the gospel. Is the gospel the forensic doctrine of justification? Is it solely defined as imputation of righteousness and forgiveness on the personal ordo salutis?

It is often the assumption that the Lutheran approach to the gospel consists purely of subjective justification of the sinner without ontological or transformational categories. It is pure legal declaration. But is this portrayal of the Lutheran position accurate?

The Smalcald Articles make it apparent that for Luther, the center of the gospel is the objective work of Christ in history for us. This is how Luther defines the "chief article" of the Christian faith:

"That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4:25.

2] And He alone is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1:29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all, Is. 53:6.

3] Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit [freely, and without their own works or merits] by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3:23f

4] Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us as St. Paul says, Rom. 3:28: For we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law. Likewise 3:26: That He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Christ." (Part II: Article 1)

Both objective and subjective justification constitute the gospel. Luther is also not willing to dismiss the effective change in the believer's heart as something foreign to the gospel. He states later in the Smalcald Articles of the doctrine of justification,

"I do not know how to change in the least what I have previously and constantly taught about justification. Namely, that through faith, as St. Peter says, we have a new and clean heart, and God will and does account us entirely righteous and holy for the sake of Christ our Mediator. Although sin in the flesh has not yet been completely removed or become dead, yet He will not punish or remember it." (Part III Article 13:1)

Not only is regeneration an aspect of the gospel for the Lutheran church, but also the Christian's adoption as God's child. As Melancthon writes in the Apology, “Since we receive forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit through faith alone, faith justifies. For those reconciled are counted as righteous and as God’s children.” (Apology IV:II:86)

Chemnitz also defines the gospel as something broader than simply imputation and forgiveness in his Loci Theologici, “For the Gospel contains the promise of the Spirit of renewal, who writes the Law into the heart of believers, Jer. 31:33. It also teaches how the beginnings of obedience, although imperfect and contaminated in many ways, are pleasing to God in those who are righteous for the sake of Christ." (Loci Theologici II-III, 826)

The gospel is the message of Christ for us and his accomplished salvation in his life, death, and resurrection. This brings imputation, forgiveness, adoption, eschatological vindication, and the Spirit who renews hearts. Hopefully this helps clarify some of these issues in the ongoing dialogue.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Puritan Confusion of Law and Gospel

For those in the so-called "new Calvinism" camp, the puritans are often considered the apex of Reformed Christianity. I personally, even while I was a Reformed Christian, never liked the puritans all that much. I never really even appreciated the writings of Jonathan Edwards (despite the fact that I live right near the church he preached at), as he was far too introspective. Though I do appreciate his philosophical acumen. A recent review of Tullian Tchividjian's book "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" on the podcast Reformed Media Review highlights some of the reasons which I do not have an affinity with the Puritans. Puritan scholar Mark Jones at one point stated the issue rather clearly,

"The Protestant Scholastics and Puritans viewed the gospel not simply as Christ for us... but the gospel for them actually commanded as well as promised. And Samuel Rutherford actually says that the gospel commands with an even stronger force than the law because of the great indicative behind the commands."

Though many in the Reformed camp try to highlight similarities between the Lutheran and Reformed perspectives on law and gospel, this demonstrates where we often have parted ways. Yes, there are some who hold to a more strict distinction between law and gospel (though limited atonement really negates Luther's distinction), but there is no consensus in Reformed theology on the issue either historically, or in modern discussions.

These kinds of statements simply don't hold water Biblically.

Look how the Mosaic law is described by Peter at the council of Jerusalem,
"Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10)

Look at how the gospel is described by Jesus,
"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:30)

Does the gospel command with a stronger force than the law? I think the texts speak for themselves.

Monday, January 9, 2012

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 and Baptismal Regeneration

I once heard a Reformed seminary professor confess that several texts in scripture sound like baptismal regeneration, but because of one specific text, he denied the possibility. That text comes from 1 Corinthians,

"I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power."

The argument goes something like this: Paul went to Corinth to save those who were lost. Paul preached the gospel but did not baptize. Therefore, Paul viewed the preaching of the gospel as saving but not the act of baptism.

My initial reaction to this argument is simple that the text has nothing to say directly about the effect of baptism, so that to infer from this that baptism serves a symbolic purpose (or something slightly above that) is stretching the text beyond what is exegetically tenable.

But if we are to infer anything from this text about the efficacy of baptism, I would argue that it necessitates something beyond a purely symbolic approach. Paul is assuming that those who baptized the individual in the congregation would be so identified with the one receiving the sacrament that those receiving baptism would attribute their Christian life to the hands of the baptizer.

Paul assumes a saving efficacy in the baptismal act, because he shows that those who were baptized by Paul would look at Paul in the role that Christ himself has in our salvation. As Paul rhetorically asks, "was Paul crucified for you?" I cannot imagine a situation in a church wherein a purely symbolic act would so divide a church that those receiving such an "ordinance" would divide themselves over who performed this ordinance for them.

This belief of the Corinthians is further seen as Paul references the fact that the Corinthians were baptizing for the dead. Would one go to such extremes for an act which has no spiritual significance other than an act of profession among men or entrance into an external covenant with no real soteric benefits? It doesn't seem plausible.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lutheran Two Kingdom Theology is not Escondido Theology

The blogosphere is full of discussions of two-kingdom theology and neo-Calvinism. Especially with the publication of David VanDrunen's Living in God's Two Kingdoms, and John Frame's recent publication against so-called "Escondido Theology", the Reformed seem to all be talking about views of church and state.

What bothers me, is that once again, the Reformed are talking about "Lutheran" views without actually looking at Lutheran sources. The theologians at Westminster Seminary and California are seen as "Lutheran" (or most often caricatures of these theologians), and thus Lutheran theology is judged on that basis. But are these theologians really Lutheran in regard to this issue of two kingdom theology? It is my contention that they are not.

In modern discussions of two kingdom theology, with such writers as Michael Horton, David VanDrunen, Daryl Hart, and Jason Stellman, there seems to be a conglomeration of Luther's two kingdom approach and American church/state relations. This strict separation between the Christians involvement in the two realms is far from the Lutheran traditions definition of two kingdom theology. Often in the VanDrunen approach, the church and state are separate to such an extent that there is no interaction between the two kingdoms. The public square becomes something of a secular no man's land, wherein one's Christian presuppositions and convictions are not to be discussed. So what is the actual Lutheran approach to the subject?

For Luther, God rules the church, and the world in two different ways. God rules the church through the gospel. This gospel is accepted through the free response of faith (through the work of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace), and brings the forgiveness of sins and spiritual life. The church is not a place of compulsion. However, the state contains both believer and non-believer; those who have accepted the gospel and those who reject it. Since faith is a free response, and only comes through the work of the Spirit, it cannot be forced by the sword. Therefore, the gospel cannot be enforced by the state.

The state began after the fall. When Cain killed his brother, God did not choose to kill Cain but protected him, so that no one would be allowed to murder Cain. Thus began the state wherein the rights of both believer and non-believer are defended. Genesis 9 repeats this principle, as God makes a covenant with all of creation and promising punishment to all who commit murder.

So if the state contains both believer and unbeliever, and God desires to protect even the unrepentant sinner, how does he rule? It can't be through the gospel, because that only applies to Christians. This is why God operates through the law in the state. In Romans thirteen, Paul writes that even a pagan emperor is an instrument of justice. He is placed in power to reward civil obedience, and punish disobedience. This maintains good order, and external righteousness (while never judging the heart.)

For Luther, it can be said even that the state exists primarily for the unbeliever. Believers do not need compulsion to obey laws, because through faith they freely love and serve their neighbors.

So does this mean that Christians should be quietists, and ignore what happens in the state since it only applies to unbelievers? Not at all! God is the king of both the church and the state, and calls Christians to be involved in the civil realm. It is imperative in the command to love one's neighbor that we are involved in the state to such an extent that we promote what benefits others. For example, Christians have a duty to fight abortion, not to bring about the kingdom of God on earth (this is confusing the two realms, mixing law and gospel) but because we love those among us who are unborn. I have heard some Reformed "two kingdom" proponents argue that this issue shouldn't be discussed because it's an issue of the state rather than the church. One couldn't be any farther from Luther's meaning of two kingdom theology!

After all, Luther was greatly concerned about the political issues of his day. He wrote about usury, just war, treatment of the poor, and several other important political issues. He even urged the state to establish Christian schools in Germany.

Lutherans are also not negligent when it comes to Christian interaction with culture. Lutheran theology is thoroughly incarnational, professing that the finite is capable of the infinite. God comes to us in real material, concrete ways through bread, wine, water, and human speech. Thus we relish the material gifts that God gives us. We love art, liturgy, vestments, and music. The Lutheran church has sometimes been called the "church of the musicians." The Reformed church does not have this same artistic tradition due to Calvin's abhorrence of images and instrumentation.

So, having explained the Lutheran interpretation in contrast to the Escondido two kingdom approach, what is different about a Lutheran approach to culture and many of the Reformed transformationalist approaches out there? Well, it seems to come down to one issue: eschatology. For the Lutheran, the kingdom of God will only be established upon the return of Christ. It exists now only in proclamation and in the sacraments. Our work in the culture does not establish God's kingdom on earth, but is motivated by a love for our neighbors because we are already in God's kingdom through faith. This is why I can work with both Christian and non-Christian for the establishment of peace and justice in the world.

For the Reformed transformationalists and neo-Calvinists, God's kingdom comes gradually through a redemption of culture, through the work of the church. The problem I have with this approach is not that it engages Christians in culture and the state, but that it simply isn't consistent with the nature of the Church in this age. 1 Peter describes us as foreigners, and exiles in the world. The fact is Christians will always be in the minority until Christ returns. We will never be able to transform culture and take hold of the majority of the earth. The second problem I have is its inherent synergism. Kingdom building is the work of God alone, as he comes to us in word and sacrament and will consummate upon Christ's return. All we can do is tell of this coming kingdom, and proclaim the forgiveness of sins which it brings.

I hope this brings some greater understanding of what we believe and how the so called "Escondido Theology" is not representative of our tradition. A Lutheran two kingdom approach is a centrist position avoiding both the extreme of political quietism or keeping one's Christian proclamation in the church alone, and using the church as a vehicle to transform culture.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Chemnitz approved of double predestination?

I was reading through Chemnitz' Loci Theologici, and came across a discussion of Fulgentius of Ruspe's book to Monimus. Fulgentius likely isn't a familiar name, as he is not an oft cited writer. He was a north African bishop in the sixth century who is known primarily for his defense of the Augustinian view of grace against the semi-Pelagians. You can find a one volume translation of some of his works in the Fathers of the Church series by CUA press. I highly recommend it.

On page 328, Chemnitz cites Augustine's affirmation of double predestination and approves of Fulgentius' formulation of the concept. Fulgentius argues that predestination is twofold. First God predestined the elect unconditionally unto salvation. Second God predestines not individuals unto death but the punishment to be given to those who reject the gospel. As Chemnitz writes, "God foreknows the evil intentions and actions of the godless, but he does not predestine them. But he has predestined that the punishment for these sins shall take place with righteous judgment." It is interesting to me that there is precedence in the Lutheran tradition for double predestination. This formulation of double predestination is actually more consistent with the Augustinian tradition than the Reformed are.

The predestinarian tradition does not leave room for a double predestination in the Calvinistic sense of the term. In the late Patristic and medieval period, no one argued for an unconditional predestination unto death. It's easy to read a source which says "double predestination" and assume a later definition of the phrase, but as Chemnitz shows, it is actually consistent with the Lutheran formulation of the concept. The Lutheran tradition is much more Augustinian and catholic than the reformed tradition.