I was turned from a Christian to a believer, from a lover of love to an object of grace(somewhere in p. 281ff of Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind)
In faith, one takes the side of God in his claim against one's self, giving God justice. At the same time, one takes hold of God's gift in Christ, whom he has 'put forward' as an atonement and in whom he has taken the side of the sinner. In Christ and in faith, the justification of God the Creator meets the justification of the godless.
(Mark A. Seifrid, p. 18, 'The "New Perspective on Paul" and Its Problems', Themelios, Issue 25-2
Reading Hosea 1 last night I was painfully aware of my whoring after other gods. That I didn't believe Jesus was the source of all good and went looking for it elsewhere. That word of judgment felt so real, and so final, because I could see that the rest of my life I would just not stop repeating. But then God said "I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People 'You are my people'" (2:23). That word would have no comfort if you were not called Lo-ruhama ('No Mercy'). If God has mercy on you before then there is no word of mercy for you now. That is law and Gospel in action.2. The cross drawing threads together
One thing that has always struck me about the OT is the finality of many of the pronouncements of punishment. So often it seems that this is not just discipline, this is judgment. It is not a warning of what may happen, but it is a dark promise of what is going to happen. And yet contradictions to these dark words always surface. This has always caused me a little bit of a problem. The doctrine of law and Gospel has helped sort this out for me. Mark Seifrid tends to put it better than most when he comments that there are different and contridictory words from God in the bible to us, but no resolution of them apart from in the event of Jesus' death and resurrection. For example in commenting on the Sander's characterisation of Second Temple Judaism as Covenantal Nomism he argues that Sanders' has actually reduced Second Temple Judaism to Covenantalism without the Nomism. In contrast in the past scholars have focused on the Nomism without the Covenantalism. "In other words in the rabbinic materials, 'covenantalism' (Sanders' 'covenantal nomism') stands alongside 'nomism' without the overarching synthesis which Sanders has proposed". "Rather than striving to produce a system in which all contradictions were eliminated, the rabbis view salvation from (at least) these two independent perspectives". Only in Jesus is there synthesis when "the election of Israel and the demand of the Law meet in Christ, the crucified and risen. The tension within early Jewish thought between grace and demand was resolved in an event, not a higher idea" (pp. 5-6, 'The "New Perspective on Paul" and Its Problems', Themelios, Issue 25-23. Law and Gospel as uses or effects
Something that has also helped me understand the doctrine of law and Gospel is the realisation that the same words in scripture can function as both. Stephen D. Paulson provides some helpful examples in a great essay (if you can get hold of it):
4. Barth's Gospel-Law
The two classic examples of this in Luther are his use of the first commandment and the proclamation of the cross and resurrection. "I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me" produces both fear and love, and in one word or phrase gives both law and gospel grammatically. Its function will depend upon the receiving of faith or the hearing apart from faith. One hears the "I am" as the basis for the "you shall," and the other vice versa.
By the same token, the proclamation of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, though one sermon or word, has very different effects. When Peter says, "let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36), the hearers "were cut to the heart." A short time later, and in very different circumstances, the same sermon is preached and, "While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word" (Acts 10:44), and the hearers were heard extolling god in tongues.
(p.174, 'Law and Gospel: Two Preaching Offices", Dialog, Vol 39, No.3, Fall 2000)
One thing I have gathered in my limited reasoning is that Barth famously reversed the traditional order of law and Gospel. I have for the first time come across a hint of why, in his brilliant little book Dogmatics in Outline that I am reading:
Gospel and law are not to be separated; they are one, in such a way that the gospel is the primary thing, that the glad tidings are first in the field and, as such, include the law. Because God is for us, we may also be for Him. Because He has given Himself to us, we may also in gratitude give Him the trifle which we have to give. (p.19)
So the reversal comes from one of Barth's primary concerns that God reveals himself to us, and before that we can have nothing to do with him. God is gracious to reveal himself and so obviously before he does that the law doesn't come into it.
I am glad that I have the first inkling of what Barth was trying to get at.
After 4 years of studying law I now have at least 10 months without having to decipher a case report, so have a quite a bit of time on my hands. At the same time I'm feeling unusually unexcited about the books on my waiting-to-be-read list.
The comments box is open. What are your must-read books that I should read this winter? I will buy and read at least one from every comment.
Just in case you were beginning to think that I think Luther is perfect...
If I had to do without one or the other - either the works or the preaching of Christ - I would rather do without the works than without his preaching. For the works do not help me, but his words give life, as he himself says [John 6:63]. Now John writes very little about the works of Christ, but very much about his preaching, while the other evangelists write much about his works and little about his preaching. Therefore John's Gospel is the one, fine, true and chief gospel, and is far, far to be preferred over the other three and placed high above them. So, too, the epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter far surpass the other three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.
("Preface to the New Testament" (1546), in Luther's Works, Vol. 35, p. 357)
Can we blame Luther for two of the problems that have continued today? An emphasis on the didactic rather than narrative parts of the Bible, and a approach that listens only to what it already agrees with.
I think we can but I also recognise that these two issues come out of some of the strengths of Luther's theology. Firstly, the Bible is not a book of examples for us to follow, but God speaking to us. Secondly, the recognition that the Bible points beyond itself to Jesus. However, I think they are still serious problems... I need to think more about this.
Martin Luther writes:
This article, "I believe in the holy Christian Church," is as much an article of faith as the rest. This is why natural reason cannot recognize it, even if it puts on all its glasses. The devil can cover it over with offences and divisions, so that you have to take offence at it. God too can conceal it behind faults and shortcomings of all kinds so that you necessarily become a fool and pass false judgment on it. Christendom will not be known by sight, but by faith. And faith has to do with things not seen
("Preface to the Revelation of St. John [II]" (1546), in Luther's Works, Vol. 35, p. 410)
This connects with the Magisterial Reformers understanding of the marks of the church. Calvin writes:
Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard, wherever we see the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there we cannot have any doubt that the Church of God has some existence, since his promise cannot fail, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20)
We have said that the symbols by which the Church is discerned are the preaching of the word and the observance of the sacraments, for these cannot anywhere exist without producing fruit and prospering by the blessing of God.
The reason that the preaching of the word and administration of the sacraments were identified as marks of the church was because of faith that these would not be without effect. God had promised that his word would not go forth without achieving his aim, so that must be the case. We may see evidence to contradict this but we have faith in God and his promises.
I need to do some thinking on how this relates to the renewed interest in the church as community. We are rediscovering that we are not independent souls that do not need each other but were saved as a body. However, this seems to be happening while we at the same time we judge that the Church is something we can define, see and touch. Today we rarely hear about the Reformers' marks of the Church, although we often hear about the mark being love.
I see both viewpoints as true to the Bible and experience, but I am concerned that I don't know how to relate them to each other. I suspect it has to do with eschatology.
The wise author of nature hath planted in the human mind a propensity to rely upon human testimony before we can give a reason for doing so. This, indeed, puts our judgment almost entirely in the power of those who are about us in the first period of life; but this is necessary both to our preservation and to our improvement. If children were so framed as to pay no regard to testimony or authority, they must, in the literal sense, perish for lack of knowledge. I believed by instinct whatever they [my 'parents and tutors'] told me, long before I had the idea of a lie, or a thought of the possibility of their deceiving me. Afterwards, upon reflection, I found they had acted like fair and honest people, who wished me well. I found that, if I had not believed what they told me, before I could give a reason for my belief, I had to this day been little better than a changeling. And although this natural credulity hath sometimes occasioned my being imposed upon by deceivers, yet it hath been of infinite advantage to me upon the whole; therefore, I consider it as another good gift of Nature.
(Thomas Reid, "Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man", in R. Beanblossom and K. Lehrer (eds.), Thomas Reid's Inquiry and Essays (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), pp. 281-82, cited in "Pyrrhon, Pyrrhus and the Possibility of the Past: A Response to David Henige" by Iain Provan, JSOT 27.4 (2003) 413-438)
Having quoted that because I think it is quite wise, I hasten to add that my faith is not that of my father's, in a great many different ways.
Random law fact from my 2 weeks of law overload:
From a great post from Glen Scrivener summing up the philosophy behind some of his recent posts on the parables
New Testament does not mean 'gospel'. It doesn’t mean 'gospel' any more than Old Testament means 'gospel'. Rather, both are witnesses to Christ.
You see it’s not the New Testament that fulfils the Old
No. Jesus fulfils the OT, not the NT. There’s a difference. It’s He that stands above both Scriptures.
The Old is in need of fulfilment in Christ yes. But so is the New. To understand Old or New demands that we read them as witness to Jesus.
It reminds me a little of The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord:
the term Gospel is not always employed and understood in one and the same sense, but in two ways, in the Holy Scriptures, as also by ancient and modern church teachers. For sometimes it is employed so that there is understood by it the entire doctrine of Christ, our Lord, which He proclaimed in His ministry upon earth, and commanded to be proclaimed in the New Testament, and hence comprised in it the explanation of the Law and the proclamation of the favor and grace of God, His heavenly Father, as it is written, Mark 1, 1: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And shortly afterwards the chief heads are stated: Repentance and forgiveness of sins [...] So Paul, too, calls his entire doctrine the Gospel, Acts 20, 21; but he embraces the sum of this doctrine under the two heads: Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. [...] Furthermore the term Gospel is employed in another, namely, in its proper sense, by which it comprises not the preaching of repentance, but only the preaching of the grace of God, as follows directly afterwards, Mark 1, 15, where Christ says: Repent, and believe the Gospel. (source)
Although I'm also thankful to Glen for reminding me to make what I think the Gospel is fit Christ, and not Christ fit what I think the Gospel is (see his excellent post "Jesus, not some Christ-principle").
Most modern Christian apologetics is a response to the Enlightenment and its apparent rejection of Christian revelation in favour of rationalism.
[...]This reading of the history of Western thought has been challenged by Stephen Williams in his book, Revelation and Reconciliation. Williams argues that modern atheism has its roots elsewhere. The rejection of revelation is only a symptom of an underlying problem. The real problem is the rejection of the idea or reconciliation and all that is implicit in that idea: moral accountability to the Creator, human helplessness, and reconciliation with God through a substitutionary sacrifice. The underlying issue was not a rejection of the possibility of revelation, but a rejection of the actuality of revelation.
(pp.159-161, Tim Chester & Steve Timmis, Total Church: A radical reshaping around gospel and community, IVP)
I think it is right that the Enlightenment was not firstly a rejection of supernaturalism and so revelation. I think it had more to do with rejection of authority (rather than reconciliation). Having said that, God's saving action is where his authority is most clearly demonstrated (that was what the OT writers thought, e.g. Exodus 7:5, and NT writers followed when they said that 'Jesus is Lord').
You will be pleased to know my revision is going well, but I'm allowing myself an evening of Internet after 5 days without it. The Desiring God Conference has been going off and lots of people are linking to the talks. I think I may skip them this year and listen to Still Deeper Conference talks which has some interesting titles and interesting people speaking.
Interestingly Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis is one of the Desiring God Conference recommended books. I've recently finished it and may even get round to a proper review at some point (probably another empty promise!) but I'm really pleased DG have recommended it. It deserves a wide readership.