Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Explanation of the Luther Chapter in my Book

Since the recent discussion has erupted over my book, some have attempted to see my Luther chapter as somehow an attempt to give an extensive treatment of Luther's doctrine of justification. This relies on a misunderstanding of the purpose of the book. I will explain the reasons why this chapter was written, and exactly what argument is being made.

The book is on the New Perspective on Paul's claims regarding historical theology. The two areas I am addressing are 1. The NPP view of Luther as a purely forensic theologian whose sole concern is the distinction between law and gospel, and 2. The claim that Augustine changed the church's reading on Paul as if the pre-Augustinian church was not concerned about individual salvation.

The first chapter in this volume is not intended to be an extensive treatment of Luther's theology, nor of his doctrine of justification. Rather, it is an attempt to argue that Luther held to a more multifaceted soteriology than he is often given credit for. Yes, Luther held to forensic justification, the imputation of righteousness, etc. However, that is not central to the argument of this chapter because that is a given. I am not asking if Luther's view is forensic, but if Luther's view is only forensic. I use Mannermaa to argue that there is an element of union with Christ inherent in Luther's theology of justification as expounded upon in his Galatians commentary. I do not consider myself as part of the New Finnish School of Luther interpretation, because I think they downplay the forensicism inherent in Luther's theology, and they tend not to make a careful enough distinction between the early and late Luther. I make the point in this chapter that the early Luther can often speak of justification as a process, and that he sometimes conflates justification and sanctification; the later Luther is more careful, as forensic language becomes more predominant in his thought. However, whatever issues the Finnish school has, they have brought an element of Luther's thought to the forefront which has often been neglected: union with Christ. For Luther, Christ is present in faith itself, and Christ is in a vital personal union with one who believes. Though this union is not identical to justification for Luther, they are intimately related concepts which should not be severed from one another. 

There has been a long debate in Pauline studies over whether the apostle's soteriology is forensic or participationist. Is it based on imputation of Christ's righteousness, or mystical participation in Christ? I am trying to show that in both Luther, and the fathers, this is a false dichotomy. For Luther, salvation includes legal terminology, imputed righteousness, etc. It also includes participation in Christ, and union with God. The legal aspects of Paul's soteriology are then shown to have been prominent in both Clement of Rome and the Epistle to Diognetus. The participationist motifs are prominent in both Ignatius, and Justin Martyr. 

The whole argument is that the manner in which the NPP has interpreted Paul is not in line with the earliest interpreters; the way in which Luther has interpreted Paul, however,  is consistent with Patristic exegesis. Though one would be wrong to label the fathers consistent Lutherans, the reading Luther has of Paul is more thoroughly grounded in Patristic exegesis and theology than is the NPP.


mahlon said...

Dear Bro. Jordon: I would like to know whether your book is available on Kindle or not. I would like to put it on my "must-read" list for next year.

I've noticed or heard of more books being put out in Reformed circles lately on the doctrine of Union with Christ. I try to listen to the Reformed Forum Program and have heard them talk about the subject as well. Most of the Reformed discussions I've heard on union with Christ center on the believer's adoption.

Your discussions seem to take seriously the doctrines of justification & theosis as the standard orbit marking out the conversation about union with our Savior.

I know in our Baptist circles the only thing that is mentioned in the application of the atonement is imputation or forensic side. I know for many of our people there is no connection made between who I am positionally vs how I am to live the Christian life practically. The participationist category (and what it sounds to me like you're trying to bring out in your book) could be a helpful corrective to the body of Christ.

I sat under a Baptist pastor for a while whom I believe came as close as I've heard in modern times someone preaching a consistent message of justification,participationist,sanctification message.

I learned under Him for instance that supernatural Jesus stepped into natural me, and natural me at salvation stepped into supernatural Jesus - thus making me supernatural. I believe we are not just human, but moreso. I'm not certain I could ever go as far as the Eastern orthodox version of theosis, but I do like how you've articulated it in your blogs.

Could we say that as Christians in our union with Christ that there is a "Christ-osis"?

Anonymous said...

Great post.

As an Anglican, over the years I've come to the same conclusion: that there is no contradiction between the forensic and the ontologic (union w/Christ). The two go together in the New Testament, especially Paul's writings. I've read more than one commentary on the THIRTY NINE ARTICLES that stress the believer's union with Christ and the connection of justication to this

Doubting Thomas

Jordan Cooper said...


Yes, my book is available on kindle. I listen to the Reformed Forum very regularly, as they do have some interesting topics. They do talk about union with Christ, but that's a little different than the way we talk about it, as the Reformed tend to fear any notion of theosis.

I haven't seen many baptists using participationist language, though I know that there was a baptist minister that did his dissertation on theosis in Athanasius and Irenaeus, so obviously there are some who would argue that way.

Christosis is the name of a book which I have not actually read (due to the high price), and I have heard some use that term. My next book is titled "Christification" which is along the same lines.