Wednesday, October 28, 2009


The root for "distinction" is the latin prefix dis which means "apart" or "off, away".* This is significant for our discussion on the nature of law and gospel, for if a distinction between the two is warranted, it will always be rooted in keeping the two "apart, off, away." To distinguish between law and gospel is to keep them away from each other. This act of itself is neutral and can be either good or bad depending on what is intended in the separating. At hand right now is whether the law and the gospel should be distinguished for the salvation of the individual. Can a person enter into covenant with Christ without making this distinction? Is this distinction to be made by us or has it been made by God for us, or both? Does the distinction require a seperation of the two entities "as far as the east is from the west" (Luther) or is some manner of proximity kept?

What is at stake in this matter is the never-ending life or damnation of both me and the hearers, so those who consider this a philosophic abstraction ought to remember that God dwells in the abstract and the unreachable, and it is from the abstract that the Word of forgiveness comes to us (John 1). With this in mind we must suffer the abstracts and pay careful attention.

I want to finish this post with another scripture to chew on: "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." (Gal 3:10)

* Taken from

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Current trends on Law and Gospel.

Recently a number of provocative conversations, essays and articles have prompted me to consider the distinction of Law and Gospel in the scriptural text, and whether such a distinction can be made. I guess this started when I read Scot Mcknight's commentary on Galatians, noticing that the bibliography of consulted works omitted any mention of Luther's historic work on this epistle. It seemed almost a statement in and of itself, especially in lieu of the fact that the only commentary written prior to the 20th century that he mentioned using was Thomas Aquinas'. When I had the opportunity to ask him about this in person, he sneered and said very sharply," I don't buy into the whole "Law and Gospel" distinction that Luther made in the scriptures."

Since the distinction of "Law and Gospel" had until now been meat and potatoes for me-one of the most freeing distinctions I have ever learned- I too was sneering (but for different reasons). To be sure, I had heard a fellow once say rather blithely that the Jewish consciousness had no knowledge of such categorizations, and that they were eisegetically imposed onto the text with Enlightenment presuppositions (a historical falsity, given that philosophic "distinctions" were used obsessively in Medieval interpretations of scripture). But nothing like this from a theologian and scholar in the Protestant quarter!

Later I read an interview* given for Ben Witherington III's first volume in "The Indelible Image" series where he mentions that," in some cases the Reformer did Paul no service by setting up contrasts between law and grace..." and in my Sermon on the Mount Class my professor began to excitedly talk about Christ bringing out a "new Law" with requirements that must be fulfilled. Verse by verse we were inculcated with the "reality" that the beatitudes were moral expectations (I never knew it was commendable to have an impoverished spirit!), that every jot and tittle of the old law must be understood and re-applied to today. The passages on anger, lust and divorce are covenantal expectations that (if not fulfilled) bring eternal damnation on the believer. At one point I asked my professor," So, this is the gospel that Christ came to bring?" to which I received an affirming nod. I gulped some air before saying rather snidely," Gee, that sure is good news." He thought so. I had never met someone who thought the "new law of the Sermon on the Mount", the law that expects much more of us than Moses did, was the gospel of our salvation! Such is where we have arrived now that the distinction between law and grace has been done away with... right back where Luther was in the 1500's, wrestling with Satans great effort to turn Christ into a "new Moses". I wouldn't be surprised if John 1:17 were re-worked to say," The law was given through Moses, and it came down much harder through Jesus Christ." Of course, not even those who think like this obey the covenant demands of Christ (numbering in the hundreds), and the ones in history who tried (most notably Tolstoy) spent their life in cyclical misery and despair. They would not be quite so quick to call this type of thinking "good news".

At any rate, this is alot of rhetoric and not enough research. In the up-coming posts this month I hope (God willing) to begin investigating the scriptural judgment of law from divers portions of the canon to test this new type of thinking. In the meantime, I leave this little chestnut for any passing reader to chew on:

"Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!" (2 Cor 3:7-9).

Distinctive or unitive? Would anyone say with a straight face that the gospel and the "ministry that brought death" are inseperable?

*Taken from "The Indelible Image---The Interview", Ben Witherington III

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A few words..

The first portion of the Westminster Catechism has been applied wrongly. Somewhere along the line, we took "the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever" to mean "the chief end of man is to glorify Karl Barth and enjoy him forever." If I have children, I hope they will not make the same catachetical error.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Question about the Rich Ruler.

"When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth."

This is a crucial sentence in my ongoing struggle to come to terms with the dilemma of the rich young ruler (see blog below). The man in question heard the Word of God proclaimed to him-commandment and promise- from the Word of God enfleshed and walked away without eternal life. Jesus declares elsewhere that "...whoever comes to me I will never drive away (Jn 6:36)." Could it thus be available for the rich ruler to turn around at any given moment, perhaps months later and find the welcome of Christ?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Twenty Ambivalent Suggestions About Prayer

1. Prayer is something we rarely want to do.
2. Prayer is made possible only by the commandment of God (Luther).
3. Prayer does not put us in a position to receive God's grace.
4. God's grace has already been given in totality through Jesus Christ.
5. Prayer is the obedience that comes by God's initiative.
6. Faith justifies, and those who put their faith in Christ will pray.
7. And yet in a certain sense it can be said that prayer merits grace.*
8. For just as my earthly father would have never given me the Church Dogmatics for Christmas unless I had asked, so my Heavenly Father will only give me certain graces if I ask.
9. Prayer is thus something done most fruitfully on the plane of reality that has God as our Dad and we as His Children.
10. Prayer is an evidence of justifying faith, for only a justifying faith would dare to enter a milieu where the judge of all the earth is addressed as "Abba".
11. Prayer is a grave risk and a danger. When a teacher hurt my feelings in elementary school, I told my father and watched him grow incensed to the point of calling this teacher to account. So too we have the power to convince our Abba to wreak havoc on those who do us wrong (Psalter).
12. Prayer renews the mind to synthesize the passages of servanthood and sonship. They no longer contradict.
13. Prayer is to call God to task on the promises His own lips freely uttered (Luther).
14. Prayer moved God to forgive all of the sins of Manasseh and dredge him up from the dungeons of a distant land into renewed Kingship.
15. Prayer opened the mouth of the great fish to vomit Jonah out; alive and safe.
16. Prayer persuaded God to split open the Red Sea and provide safe passage for those who prayed.
17. Prayer gave Hezekiah fifteen extra years of life.
18. The prayer of Jesus brought Peter back from apostasy to faith.
19. Prayer is a clue to the mystery of Christ's being. "He always lives to intercede.."
20. Since the Lord of life "lives to intercede", the greatest task of our life is to pray.

*I mean grace in no.7 in a loosely catholic sense. The grace which provides justification cannot be merited at all.