Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Two Kinds of Righteousness with Dr. Joel Biermann

On today's program I was joined by Dr. Joel Biermann, associateprofessor of systematic theology at Concordia Theological Seminary inSt. Louis. We discussed the controversy surrounding "two kinds ofrighteousness" and its place in Lutheran theology.


Anonymous said...

Really interesting discussion. I heard Biermann at the Ohio District convention a couple years ago, and remember being struck by how different this was than the preaching and teaching I'd heard growing up in an LCMS church.

I've read Wingren on vocation and also recommend Forell, Faith Active in Love.

Anonymous said...

Great insight, discussion and edifying to boot. Thanks for the content!

Steve Bricker said...

Great podcast! I plan on listening to it again. I was struck that you two touched on theosis the same week Pr. Weedon mentioned on Issues, Etc. that this doctrine was AWOL in the LCMS though it was taught by the Lutheran fathers.

Steve Martin said...

Dr. George Forell maintained that there were 3 main differences between Lutheranism and all other denominations.

Here's a nifty class (mp3 audio) using a piece that Dr. Forell wrote on the topic:

It is excellent.

Anonymous said...

The main questions I have surround Biermann's discussion on habit and its effects. His claim that the development of habit (horizontal) can be the positive and decisive element in maintaining our vertical righteousness through the "dry times," sounded very problematic to me. Does he mean to say that our vertical righteousness (by faith) is somehow formed and strengthened by our own activity, even if it is the work of the regenerated man? This is unclear to me.

Also, I have not read the text of the Diet of Regensburg, but it is my understanding that there was an agreement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics concerning the existence of two kinds of righteousness.

J. Dean said...

This was an excellent interview, and definitely one I'd recommend for listening to others.

It does, however, raise some good and probing questions, Jordan, and definitely provides room for further expansion (Perhaps something for you to consider in a future podcast or something you could address in writing). For example: how does one balance the two kinds of righteousness view in a way that neither minimizes the third use of the law but simultaneously does not take a step in the direction of pietism or legalism?

Ryan said...

I think there's no settled answer to that question. I think that the proper balance between "God for us" and "God in us" is a constantly shifting one. There are two opposing sins in question here, presumption and despair. The law crushes presumption, and the gospel protects from despair. Which sin is the greater danger at any given moment is a pastoral problem rather than a dogmatic one.

Ryan said...

As an aside, I'm looking forward to the coming podcasts about Orthodoxy. I'm an Orthodox Christian myself, and discussions like this one make me wonder whether there's any real dogmatic difference between our churches on the subject of soteriology. There certainly does tend to be a difference of emphasis, but, as an Orthodox Christian, I think there's an important sense in which justification by faith alone is true, and that's not just a personal opinion either. A prayer that's found in many Orthodox prayer books reads,
And again, O Saviour, save me by thy grace, I pray thee. For if thou shouldst save me for my works, this would not be grace or a gift...If then, faith in thee saveth the desperate, behold, I believe, save me, fir thou art my God and Creator. Let faith instead of works be imputed to me, O my God, for thou wilt find no works which could justify me.
On the other hand, the Formula of Concord reads calls the law
"a mirror in which the will of God and what is pleasing to him is correctly portrayed. It is necessary to hold this constantly before believers' eyes and continually to urge it upon them with diligence."
I think we both agree that good works can never do anything to make people acceptable to God, but, on the other hand, sin can harden our hearts and eventually destroy our faith. I think that, within the boundaries of these two affirmations, there's legitimate room for speaking the same truth in different ways.

Jordan Cooper said...


I must have missed exactly what he said about habits and effects that you reference. I will have to listen to that statement again to get some context. Do you remember where in the program that was?

J. Dean,

Ultimately, this is a very practical pastoral issue. How do we proclaim Law and Gospel, and Two Kinds of Righteousness without becoming antinomians or legalists? I think the best thing we can do is proclaim the free and gracious nature of the Gospel so boldly that when questions of horizontal righteousness arise, the confusion won't even be a question. My own preaching takes the form of Law and Gospel most of the time, but when I deal with texts regarding Christian living, I use the 2KR model, and I have never once had someone accuse me of being legalistic, or assuming I taught salvation by works. I think we can proclaim the Gospel as freely as the most Radical Forde-ite, and then follow it up with admonitions unto horizontal righteousness. This will leave no confusion, but it is a hard balance to strike.


That is an interesting prayer, and I have generally found the Eastern church to be closer to us on justification than the Roman Church is because of prayers like this. However, I don't think any Eastern theologian would accept imputed righteousness in the way we talk about it. There is also the issue of synergism vs. monergism. You will probably be interested in reading my book on theosis which is going to be published later this year.

Anonymous said...

Last part of the show,14:40 - 11:20, is the section I was referencing regarding habit. Not so much the loss of faith by how we live but the impact of positive behavior and habit on the vertical.

Tamara Blickhan said...

This was fantastic! Thanks you so much for it, Pr. Cooper.

He talks so fast, I need to listen a second time.

He mentioned book resources, but I don't know the names and didn't pause. Could you give us the recommendations he mentioned?


Tamara Blickhan

Anonymous said...

Gustaf Wingren wrote a good academic book giving context for Luther's approach to vocation which explains the two kinds of righteousness very well.

Wingren explains the two kinds of righteousness in light of Luther using a vertical/horizontal description. For Luther, the passive righteousness before God is only vertical on account of Christ. In contrast, the active righteousness is purely horizontal and lived out before men by vocation. This horizontal/vertical dynamic is a helpful defense against both antinomianism and legalism.

This discussion reminded me of the lessons that I first learned from Wingren in his book... but it is not light reading.

-Mike Baker

J. Dean said...

BTW, Jordan, this was brought up on Issues, etc. and my initial reaction is that both sides are missing each other in the debate.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jordan, thanks for having Dr. Biermann on your show. Your comments at the end about "using 2KR" or "using L-G" are not mutually exclusive. 2KR includes everything the L-G paradigm stands for in its vertical dimension. Biermann says it's better (and I would agree), but Gibbs likes to joke and say it's not "better," just "bigger." In a way he's correct. Having the vertical dimension only to work with leaves us only with a gospel reductionist method to speak about sanctification. 2KR enlarges our vocabulary and how we practice theology by making room for the horizontal dimension as well. So you can "use 2KR" for everything and still be doing L-G full blast.

Anonymous said...


I prefer to let Forell speak for himself.

"Although Luther had excluded all human merit in his explanation of the motivating principle of Christian ethics, he did not want to imply that this was to exlude good works from the Christian life. Christians were to be free from good works only if these works were understood as producing 'works-righteousness.' On the other hand, Luther insisted that a living faith express itself in works of love. These good works, however, follow spontaneously and not under compulsion of the law. And although the law itself does not change, the Christian's attitude towards the law is so utterly changed by faith that he becomes a lover of the law instead of being merely its slave."

Faith active in Love; p. 86-87

Mike Baker said...

Practically speaking, no one can really deny at least two kinds of righteousness as a real-world concept. The debate is really reduced to whether or not we are allowed to account for its actual existence and address it in our theology. I have yet to find anyone who denies it in actual daily application and even attributes different standards of what is righteous before God vs. Men. The complete denial of this understanding is really only sustainable in intellectual debate... which rarely helps anyone.

Here are just some example ideas that I have been chewing on since the podcast. The more I think about this topic the less black and white it seems and the more these things must be held in tension and context. I’m not so much trying to prove the concept (because I think the podcast did this already) as I am trying to demonstrate that this is not actually a controversial idea in the real world. Work with me…

Example 1: No court judge would consider a man guilty of murder simply because he admitted that he only hated the victim (which is a coram deo violation of the commandment). He did not violate the lesser sense of law before men and is “innocent” of the charge. Applying a theological sense of this commandment to civil law would be viewed by everyone as exceedingly harsh… because the civil kingdom does not wield the gospel but the sword. One could argue that Christ’s elevation of the severity of this Commandment was as much moving the context of justification from its incorrect context (coram mundo) to the proper context (coram deo) as it was just dialing up the Law to 11.

Example 2: No news reporter would refuse to use the popular phrase "innocent civilians" in war correspondence on the basis that all the civilians are actually guilty coram deo. Clearly there are degrees of guilt and innocence coram mundo that we accept in daily conversation and we vary their application depending on the authority to which we are speaking and the scope of what determines guilt. By the same extension, a Christian can refer to an unborn baby as an “innocent human life” without denying the doctrine of original sin… clearly this sense is coram mundo. A Roman Catholic priest is not going to start engaging in credobaptism just because he celebrated “Feast of the Holy Innocents”.

Example 3: You consider cheating on your taxes... but resist. Coram deo you are guilty in your heart before God and must repent. You are a tax cheat. If the IRS accuses you of being a tax cheat, what is your reply in this situation? Guilty? Innocent? ...Let me get back to you on that, sir?

Example 4: Since there are actually Lutheran pastors currently in the office, I would assume that they have not disqualified themselves under a coram deo reading of 1 Tim 3:2 even though they are not actually above reproach in all things and none of the would claim to be (...cause then they'd be Wesleyans). That’s okay, because everyone understands that this passage is mercifully coram mundo.

Example 6: Your daughter calls your son-in-law “a good and faithful man" you interrupt her to correct the theological error in that statement or do you understand that she means implied coram mundo in an imperfect sense without respect to his eternal disposition under the Law? You smiled and poured her some more tea? Congratulations, you are very wise and ascribe to the Two Kinds of Righteousness and the imperfect application of the Third Use of the Law.

While these crude examples are not a good outline of the Two Kinds of Righteousness distinction per se, it does at least illustrate that all Christians actually relate to the human condition with a corum deo/mundo distinction if they are willing to admit it or not. They all adjust their perceptions and reactions according to this implied paradigm that is woven into the fallen world that we inhabit... even if they formally deny it or call it something else. Lutheran theology should identify this pre-existing distinction and address it.

Mike Baker said...

I can't imagine anyone claiming that antinomianism isn't a real thing and is purely theoretical. I have never heard of that ever being put forward until this podcast.

If that were true, then what was being addressed in 2 Thess 3:6-15 if not antinomianism?