Tag Archives: Luther

"Grace" is Paul's way of putting words in God's mouth. Literally.

Any theology professor worth their salt (hats off to you, Maxie Burch, David Gouwens) will tell you that you can’t really understand the theology of a person unless you understand their history. Biography=theology, or at least somewhere close. With that in mind, I wondered aloud the other day if that applied to the apostle Paul. For example, did the fact that Paul having killed a bunch of Christians in God’s name have anything to do with the conclusions he came to later? So I looked into it. It turns out, from my perspective, yes.

The New Testament uses this word “grace” (χαρις), 155 times, in 147 verses. Paul’s writings contribute 107 of them. Jesus uses this word only 4 times. And guess what? It isn’t God’s χαρις, but a human’s χαρις that is in view. Even if we stop right there, that is enough for me to rethink how “grace vs. law” might not be the best framing of our faith. If Jesus did indeed come to offer God’ grace, why the heck didn’t he talk about it? EVER?

But that isn’t it. The times in Acts the word is used is 17. 11 of those are about God’s grace. In the Gospels, the word is used a total of 12 times. 6 relate to God. 5 of 8 in Hebrews is about God. James uses it 2 times, about God. 7/12 uses of “grace” the Petrine letters are about God. 1,2,3 John and Revelation use it 4 times, 3 times in greeting. Jude uses it once, about God. Of the non-Pauline New Testament corpus, only 26 uses are about God. Paul’s “Grace of God” VS. other NT writers “Grace of God” VS. Jesus’ “Grace of God”. 107/26/0. 5 Times in the Old Testament (LXX) is this word used to describe what God has toward an individual. 5 times. Paul/other NT writers/Jesus/Old Testamant. 107/26/0/5.

Is it possible, that just perhaps, we have inherited a fixation on “grace”, specifically, “Grace vs. Law” from a guy who was so hung up on the fact that he ruthlessly killed a bunch of good people and needed forgiveness, or “grace”, that he like so many after him, simply assumed that everyone else needed to hear what he needed to hear?

The Old Testament speaks primarily of faithfulness. Specifically faithfulness to a covenant. Jesus speaks primarily of God’s Kingdom, forgiveness of others, loving others . Paul speaks A LOT about Grace from God. Is it telling that so many of us put ourselves down as “wretches like me”, hopelessly lost without the Grace of God? Whose cues are we taking when we give priority to our Bible reading? Do we think og Jesus as being a wonderful savior who is so mysterious and scary that we need super-smart Paul to understand what he really meant? I think that is absolutely how most protestant churches treat the Bible.

Paul is not Jesus. He wasn’t as smart as Jesus. He wasn’t as loving as Jesus. He wasn’t as good of a pastor, a prophet, a scholar, a rabbi, or a speaker than… Jesus. So why do we keep running to Paul for our lessons about Grace, when instead we should be immersing ourselves anew all the time in the Kingdom message of Rabbi Jesus, and using Paul as someone who testifies to the way HE lived out the message faithfully in his time? Instead, we have taken Paul’s faithful outworking and instead made IT the message. God is not all about “grace”. But perhaps God was that for Paul (and Augustine, and Luther). For the rest of us, perhaps those of us who don’t make a habit of self-flagellation, God is about forgiving others, revolting against evil, justice, and God’s love. Don’t make Paul or Grace an idol.

Blogger Responds to the Terrible Two Party series

Damon Eris of Poli-Tea Blog brought up my four-part series on the Terrible Two Party system in American Politics.

See:
part 1 ; part 2 ; part 3 ; and the conclusion.

Although he commended my stance against the two-part system, as we call it, the duopoly, he has some questions concerning my use of Martin Luther’s Priesthood of all believers, and the contradictions within Luther’s theology.

d.Eris says,

“It would be interesting to see how Rod squares the central contradiction of Luther’s theology with the call for consensus democracy and proportional representation. In On Christian Liberty, for instance, Luther employs a dualistic metaphysics of body and soul to allow for the possibility of spiritual freedom despite the reality of human bondage:

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.

In other words, Luther’s notion of Christian freedom is consistent with human slavery. Luther himself denounced peasants who were at least partly inspired by his teachings to rise up against their feudal overlords. During the Peasants’ War, the protestant reformer admonished the “murderous thieving hordes of peasants” first and foremost for breaking an implicit oath of “submission and obedience” to their social and political masters.”  “

I am glad Damon mentioned Luther’s dualism. It is something that I addressed in a presentation (and blog post last week).

First, we have to remember that no one’s theology can be applied universally, and we must take into context a person’s historical context.  When Luther was writing Against the Murderous Hordes of Peasants, he was reacting to criticism that he himself was the blame for the Peasant wars and rebellions leveled at him by the Catholics in Germany in the early 16th century.  Luther had to reject those arguments and he also had to persuade the princes to save the lives of women, who were being shared through wife swapping in the heretical anabaptist New Jerusalem.  His call was an act of mercy, not terror.

Second, Damon made a great point about Luther dividing spiritual freedom from all other freedoms, and the need for self-giving (submission) among Christians when it comes to political authorities, especially in his On Christian Freedom. It is this very dualism that is at the heart of Luther’s Two-kingdom theory, in which God had created two orders, one that is under the law (politics and society) and one under the edicts of the Gospel (the church).  The community of believers belongs to the second kingdom.  Civil authorities have no reign in the kingdom of the Gospel.  Christians owe no allegiance to the state, but because Christians are at the same time both made righteous and remain yet still sinners, we have to obey the law.[1]

What this means in the future of German history, after Martin Luther, is the German church’s submission to Adolph Hitler in the name of law and order.  However, if one want to continue in the tradition of Martin Luther, I would suggest to look to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer, like most of the orthodox (non-violent revolutionary) Anabaptists in Germany, practiced Christian nonviolence, but he also opposed Hitler in his regime.  Bonhoeffer had to reject Luther’s Two Kingdom theory because Bonhoeffer re-examined Luther’s doctrine of grace, and what it meant for the church; the church was in the world, as Stanley Hauerwas noted, for all to see and not invisible while the state/government remained visible.[2]

Therefore, dualism is unnecessary.  Those who have been set free by the power of the Gospel are free in the world, to engage the world.  What this might mean for proportional representation and consensus democracy in the US? It means that rather than Christians fighting for power, being bought off by politicians through horrendous programs such as the Faith Based Initiative, Christians would have the liberty to created their own parties, that are openly Christian, like the Christian Social Democrats in Germany and the Netherlands. That would be a practical implication. a proportional representation system would benefit the church, third parties, the poor, and every American.

I hope that helps.

Truth and Peace,

Rod

[1] The Story of Christianity: Volume II by Justo Gonzalez , Page 36-37.

[2] Stanley Hauerwas. Performing the Faith: Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence. Page 43

Decolonizing the Justification Debate #1: James Cone and Divine Righteousness in Postcolonial Perspective

*update, this is a repost, since I want to restart this series*

During the summer, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight of JESUS CREED has been working on a series dealing with, N T Wright, Justification and the New Perspective on Paul . At the center of the debate is the discussion whether or not the Reformers (especially Martin Luther) were correct in understanding the apostle Paul’s doctrine of justification by grace through faith as a response to the early Judaisms’ work righteousness. Tradition tells us that Paul was making a case against the Jews who viewed themselves as following the law and somehow earning their salvation to the next world; but is this view of history accurate? The scholars of the New Perspective on Paul would disagree. It is hard for me to totally concur with the traditional Reformation understanding of justification as well since one cannot say that there was just ONE Judaism in the first and second centuries. I personally think that N T Wright (as a first-rate biblical scholar) wasted his time in addressing John Piper and the hyper-Calvinists’criticism of him and the NPP school. The debate over whether or not this or that Judaism taught salvation as earned or not is completely irrelevant to the pressing issues of today. The point of Paul’s Gospel concerning God’s righteousness is to describe for us God’s action in the continual story in the life of Israel and Jesus the Messiah.

When one looks at history, while there are some objective facts to be retrieved, one cannot help but see history as a mirror reflection of one’s very own story. Martin Luther, for instance, viewed his condemnation of some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church as part of a tradition of the apostle Paul’s struggle against the Jews’ works righteousness. With this narrative understanding of history, let us take as our example, James Cone, to some known as the father of Black Theology. Cone sees himself (although a Methodist) as sharing a similar plight to Martin Luther and St. Paul; the difference being the historical context, social location, and type of heresy/works righteousness that needed to be confronted. In his work, BLACK THEOLOGY & BLACK POWER, Cone provides a theological doctrine of divine righteousness which seeks to destroy white supremacy both in the white American church and white American society.

Adherence to the Reformation doctrine “Justification by grace through faith” has political implications in the minds of Black Theologians. To accept God’s grace for Cone, means that “that because God has acted for all, all men are free—free to respond creatively to that act. It thus becomes the act of Christian love to proclaim the Good News of freedom by actively fighting against all those powers which hold men captive” (Cone, 52). God does not move out of necessity; God has the free will to choose to act because God is sovereign, and God has done so in a particular way in history. The drama of the biblical narrative reveals God’s just actions. Therefore, Christian doctrine of justification should first begin in the very praxis of Yahweh and his Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Cone explains:

“It is important to note that God’s righteousness refers not so much to an abstract quality related to his Being in the realm of thought—as commonly found in Greek philosophy—but to his activity in human history, in the historical events of the time and effecting his purpose despite those who oppose it. This is the biblical tradition. Israel as a people initially came to know God through the exodus. It was Yahweh who emancipated her from Egyptian bondage and subsequently established a covenant with her at Sinai, promising: [Exodus 19:4-6]” [….] Divine righteousness means that God will be faithful to his promise, that his purposes for Israel will not be thwarted. Israel, therefore, need not worry about her weakness and powerlessness in a world of mighty military powers, ‘for all of the earth is mine’ (Exodus 19:5). The righteousness of God means that he will protect her from the ungodly menacing of other nations. Righteousness means God is doing justice, that he is putting right what men have made wrong.” (Cone, 44)

In other words, divine righteousness that is disclosed in the story of the Exodus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to protect the defenseless and weak Hebrew children over and against the evil Egyptian empire. Our faithful obedience to God requires our recognition that security and salvation lie with God alone. Cone adds:

“God will unquestionably vindicate the poor. […] If God is to be true to himself, his righteousness must be directed to the helpless and the poor, those who can expect no security from this world. The rich, the secure, the suburbanite can have no part of God’s righteousness because of their trust and dependence on the things of this world. ‘God’s righteousness triumphs when man has no means of triumphing.’ [Barth, Dogmatics] His righteousness is reserved for those who come empty-handed, without any economic, political, or social power. That is why the prophets and Jesus were so critical of the economically secure. Their security gets in the way of absolute faith in God.” (page 45)

While Cone does not explicitly discuss the Resurrection at length, the implication of his doctrine of justification is that the Resurrection vindicates God’s Elect Savior whose life and ministry is forever justified (1st Timothy 3:16 ). The emancipatory mission of Jesus of Nazareth has been approved by the One True God, the God of Israel for all eternity. The Son of Man came to judge the Roman Empire by taking the side of the oppressed, healing the lame and the blind, and opposing the religious and political authorities of his day. Not one human being is able to accuse Jesus the Messiah of any wrongdoing. As the apostle Paul asks, “Who will bring any charge against God’s Elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us” (Romans 8:33-34). We as sinful human beings are unable to bring any charges against God’s Son because he lives a perfect and blames life; and it is only by Jesus’s death and resurrection that God “makes a way out of no way” in which the Church can participate in his holy life.
I will let Cone have the last word:

“Radical obedience to Christ means that reward cannot be the motive for action. It is a denial of faith to insist on the relevance of reward. Is this not what St. Paul had in mind when he spoke of justification? When Paul uses the term ‘justification’ in reference to Christ he mean that sinful man, through complete trust alone, is accepted by God and is declared an treated as a righteous man. He is emphasizing man’s inability to make himself righteous. All human strivings are nil; man cannot earn God’s acceptance (Romans 3:20; Gal. 3:22). Salvation is by the free grace of God. There is no place for the conceit that men can save themselves by their own efforts, if they try hard enough.” (Cone, 125)

THIS IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF POSTS EXAMINING JUSTIFICATION FROM THE VIEWPOINT OF THEOLOGIES FROM THE “MARGINS”.

Works Cited
Cone, James H. Black Theology and Black Power An Original Seabury Paperback, Sp 59. New York,: Seabury Press, 1969.

Truth and Peace,

Rod