Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I like my coffee black, without milk, sugar, or Luther.


I find it interesting that so many of the people posting on my blog are not Lutherans. Did you know that?

Most of my fellow postulants at Wycliffe Hall would say, "John Zahl is a Lutheran". But they are wrong. I am an Episcopalian, if anything. It's not cool or impressive.

Tom Becker raised the question: "Why aren't you guys Lutherans?" Well, the answer has to do with the fact that the Gospel is not bound to Luther (at all!). He just got it, and expressed it clearly, which most Christians do not. So we appeal to him as a kind of ally, a pal, a guy who understood the main thrust of Bible's emphasis on Jesus and how that plays out.

Here's the thing: Luther did not discover or invent the Gospel. He just read Paul, and realized that ecclesiology is always trumped by anthropology. If you read Paul's letters as dealing predominantly with ecclesiological issues, then, naturally, you posit ecclesiological solutions to life problems. Those of us who don't do that, but are still "conservative" come out sounding very "Lutheran" by those standards, but don't kid yourselves.

A perfect example of this is found in my friend Art VonLehe's comments in on the earlier post, "Some Thoughts on Action/Consequence". Read them. Art sounds like a Lutheran, but he is not. I asked him point-blank: "How much Luther have you ever read, Art?" His answer: "Well, I read the Introduction to Bondage of the Will -- I don't know if that counts -- and I read about the first 10 pages of that book, ...and that's it." I asked him if he realized how Lutheran he sounded in his post and he said, "I thought what I said was just Paul?" I knew it!

For those of you who don't know, and have been reading my blog comment-threads of recent, please note: only two of the people posting are/were actual Lutherans: Tom Becker, and Mattie. Most of the people you've been reading (including me, JZ) dig heavily on the enabling word of the Gospel as summarized in the teaching of Justification by Faith, in light of their rather dark earthly estimations of human character as tinged thoroughly with sin, but, importantly, would also consider ourselves to have charismatic leanings. Many of my readers actually pray in tongues!

Do keep this in mind.

Best (In Him), JAZ Psalm 34:6


Dylan Potter said...

Well, even if we all do not pray in tongues, at least our solidarity comes from the fact that we are all still faithfully reciting the Jabez prayer every I right or am I right?

P.S. Am I the only one who wonders if the artists who design the word verification drink a glut of cough syrup? Those of you who have seen the South Park episode for "Sexy Action News" might appreciate this.

horse-whispering osteopath said...

Hi John. Interesting to read your recent postings... Wycliffe is a strangely quiet place right now, and very difficult to generate a work ethic. Though I am sleeping better now that I'm not being routinely woken by AP yelling at you to get out of his room... Rob

Jeff Dean said...


I think a fair question, then, is why are we what we are?

I'm sure there's a degree to which you are an Anglican because you were born an Anglican. Maybe you also identify with the culture of Anglicans? That might be a stretch, though.

I was born a Methodist, but the Methodist doctrine and covenant specifically precludes believing the Gospel as I understand it (ie, free will is key). So I can't be a Methodist.

People ask me why I want to be an Anglican rather than a Lutheran. There's certainly no little PZ-projection at work, but also the standard American denominational upward mobility.

Intellectually I think it has to do with maintaining that the Gospel has been tied to the Church in some form since before 1517. That is, to be an Anglican is to be part of the Apostolic Sucession, irrespective of what the Vatican says.

This is a tough question for me, and I'm sensitive to the claim that it might be >completely< PZ-projection.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...


It has been quite interesting to follow the discussion your recents posts have occasioned.

Could you do me a favour and briefly explain what you mean by "ecclesiology is always trumped by anthropology." I think I have a sense of it from the responses to your posts, but what do you mean?

There is a tendency to think and talk as if ecclesiology, anthropology, etc. are distinct spheres of discourse. But it is highly unlikely that either Paul or Luther would be comfortable with the quasi-arbitrary lines we use to define them. To talk ecclesiologically requires also talking anthropologically; and vice versa. We tend to forget that to talk theologically at all involves us in a vision of reality in total; which resists breaking our understanding and reflection down into circumscribed fields of discourse. When we start to think, 'now I am doing anthropology', or, 'now I am doing the ecclesiological bit' we miss the point.

Anyway, what I want to ask is, what do you mean? Would be willing to spell it out is clear terms for those of us who are a little slower on the uptake. What does, "ecclesiology is always trumped by anthropology" mean to you? I assume you have read more than 10 your pages worth.

Thanks! This week's blogging has been really thought provoking. Keep it up.


cew said...

I like my coffee black too.

I also like Luther.

I also hate being classified as anything. At the same time, I fear NOT being classified or identified or compartmentalized into one specific area of Faith or group because without it, I don't feel good.

I want to compartmentalize everything!

Hello, my name is Cate West, and I am in bondage to Sin but am saved, simultaneously.

Colton said...

CATE! I can't believe you are CEW?! How did I not figure this out?!

This solves everything.

Tom Becker said...

Another interesting post JZ and good points.

The gospel is the thing for sure! I think the guys at Modern Reformation and the White Horse Inn get this really well from a practical perspective. Specifically, where is a lot of “Lutheran” talk on your blog the White Horse Inn guys would replace ‘Lutheran’ with ‘Reformers’. The Reformers were lined up on the 5 Solas (outlined below), and agreed on the basics of the gospel. Denominations came into play in light of other differences – sanctification, the role of the church, apostolic succession, etc . . . Luther was such a personality that people who are drawn to the truths the Reformers put forth often end up talking about the man. (Though you won’t hear many if any Lutherans quoting Calvin)

I would say however, everyone has some an ecclesiology. Having no ecclesiology is a system of ecclesiology. You know the drill. As Keller says we’re all fundamentalists – the question is what’s your fundamental???

I'm a relatively recent convert to confessional Lutheranism as you well know. As a former PCA member (and deacon no less!), it was the theology of justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone that drove me towards Lutheran theology.

I don’t worship Luther or your dad or Rod Rosenbladt or Tim Keller, but I do think they all have some awesome things to say, but what’s most important is what Scripture has to say. I am always wary of trusting my ‘experience’. The primacy of the 3rd use of the law w/Calvinism never lined up with how I interpret scripture, and prior to going through the Lutheran Catechesis I didn’t have much of an opinion on baptism or the Lord’s supper. However, looking at the Word I think they make a great scriptural case for their views.

The bottom line for me again is authority – if scripture isn’t your final authority then what is? Social Justice? Fellowship? Revelation? Bishops, Popes? Our own experiences? If you say the Gospel – then the question becomes how do you define the gospel? Each group seems to have something different to say on that front – especially about what happens once God’s grace breaks through your darkness. Which ones line up to what the word says? If they confess it; they can be held to it.

My problems with more open theological or (non-confessing denominations) are their lack of Confessions that result in theological schizophrenia. As I said before, even the smallest charismatic congregational churches have a confession even if it only exists inside the pastor’s head.

As the White Horse Guys say – Know what you believe and why you believe it.

Anyway. Love you brother and this blog.



Tom Becker said...

Five Solas of the Reformation:


We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation,which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.

We deny that any creed, council or individual may bind a Christian's conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.


We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.

We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ's substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.


We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God's wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.

We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.


We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ's righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God's perfect justice.

We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ's righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church


We reaffirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God's glory and that we must glorify him always. We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone.

We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law or Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem or self-fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.

John Zahl said...

Immediate thoughts:

salvation is not mediated by the church, suffering tells the story and justification by faith is Cristianity's unique word given to the sufferer, it is the thing that matters, and it matters all the time. church is for man, not man for the church.

I don't mind being labeled as long as the label is accurate. Many of the people who post on this site are "lutheran" in their understanding of the Gospel, but not, say in their understanding of church. Just because leanings are not in the direction of the NPP or Calvin, though they be still traditionally conservative, doesn't a lutheran make. just wanted to draw the lines of distinction out a bit. For a more helpful distinction, (than say the "Lutheran" one) consider that there are Christians who do and don't understand/know the Gospel. I think most Christians don't. And that is the thing that concerns me as one headed into the ministry.

Church is the venue where I will be spinning the same old fly-as-hell tune of the Gospel, not unlike a disco.

cew said...


It seems to me that, in addition to recognizing their constant, dire and never ending need for a substitute in Jesus the Christ, Christians who understand the Gospel also have the best jokes. I could be wrong. But if I am right, wouldn't you say that what you are also worried about in terms of heading into the ministry is being surrounded by things OTHER then jokes? Am I on to something? Or should I just quit while I am ahead...? I have no problem quitting.

One thing is for sure: I wrap the best Christmas presents.

Curious Cate

bonnie said...

I want to go to John's disco.
And Cate is very good at wrapping presents.
And Simeon speaks in tongues.

bonnie said...

I think the problem with most churches is that they don't clearly define the Gospel in a language that makes sense to everyone (i.e. what does the gospelm mean in our everyday lives. So we talk about "Justification by faith" in every church, but what that means is unclear.

I think the whole identity crisis of the gospel boils down to the justification vs. sanctification debate. I think that the inherent paradox in Christianity is that there are seemingly contradictory instructions to "be saved" (by faith) and "be holy" (by works, or by faith, or by what??)

I'm a bit of a ecclesiological schiziophrenic myself, having been brought up in a traditional protestant mission church with charismatic roots (C&MA), was converted in an openly charismatic non-denominational youth group (Vineyard), did missions with the most inter-denominational missions organization in the world (YWAM), attended a charismatic college church that didn't really have too many folks speaking in tongues during service. Now I go to a "charismatic" Anglican church in England. And in each of those churches, we talk about how we only need to _believe_ in order to be saved, but then we also hear about how God wants us to pray more, read scripture more, do more to glorify Him, etc. etc. None of the churches would say that you weren't saved by grace, but all would have slightly different takes on how to "be holy". The question is whether being sanctified is part and parcel of justification, or whether it's a post-justification-self-improvement program.

Dave said...

Well, I'm not Lutheran, but I'm learning a lot about Lutheranism and Anglicanism by reading the comments here...and I confess that I have been neglecting the Jabez prayer.

I take issue with the statement, "If you read Paul's letters as dealing predominantly with ecclesiological issues, then, naturally, you posit ecclesiological solutions to life problems."

This is not necessarily true. Just because Paul dealt primarily with ecclesiological problems doesn't mean that those are the only important problems. Paul is not all there is to the NT. Why do people have so much trouble with the fact that Paul was dealing with certain situations when he wrote letters?

Secondly, I would also like to know what you mean by anthropology. It seems to me that much of the disconnect between those who focus on ecclesiology and those who focus on justification is because the former are talking about communities and the latter can't see past the individual.

Just thinking. Peace-

John Zahl said...

Anthropology: view of human nature, specifically "total depravity" for Christian as well as non-Christian apart from intervening Grace. Also touches on the ineffective natural of the will to deal with problems of the human heart (i.e., as any kind of solution to total depravity). Articles 9 and 10 of the 39 articles summarize the points excellently:

9. Original or Birth-sin 
Original sin is not found merely in the following of Adam's example (as the Pelagians foolishly say). It is rather to be seen in the fault and corruption which is found in the nature of every person who is naturally descended from Adam. The consequence of this is that man is far gone from his original state of righteousness. In his own nature he is predisposed to evil, the sinful nature in man always desiring to behave in a manner contrary to the Spirit. In every person born into this world there is found this predisposition which rightly deserves God's anger and condemnation. This infection within man's nature persists even within those who are regenerate (!).

10. Free Will 
The condition of man since the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works for faith and for calling upon the name of the Lord. Hence we have no power to do good works which are pleasing and acceptable to God…

This is a low, low anthropology, one which leads to a proportionally high Christology.

"Repent and Believe".

mattie said...

The Roman Catholic Church does assert that the sins of humanity, “following on original sin, are punishable by death.” This “disobedience” is present and universal throughout the history of humankind. However, the Church is quick to point out, while original sin constitutes “a deprivation of original holiness and justice,” it has not completely altered the natural integrity of human identity. In fact, the church absolutely states that “human nature has not been totally corrupted.” (All words in quotation marks are from the 1994 Catechism approved by then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger).

This is completely consistent with what the Church has taught since its institution. According to the Second Council of Orange (524 CE), the first time the Church formally repudiated Pelagianism: "The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God's sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him... And we know and also believe that even after the coming of our Lord this grace is not to be found in the free will of all who desire to be baptized, but is bestowed by the kindness of Christ, as has already been frequently stated and as the Apostle Paul declares."

Calvin jumped on this thinking that it points to total depravity, but he must have stopped reading there. The council continues: "After grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul.”

"Christian" anthropology has not always been, nor is it consistently thought today, to mean "total depravity."

Just had to get that out there.

As far as Article 9, the Roman Church has a fascinating response that I find persuasive. Baptism removes original sin, but "concupiescence" persists. I'm still processing exactly what that means practically, but philosophically, it illustrates the power of Christ's grace over sin with respect to our onological identity, and that is compelling.

Jeff Dean said...


Your point is very important and well-taken. In many ways, the New Testament does seem to suggest (demand?) that Christians be "new creations"--ie, somehow ontologically different from non-Christians.

Belief in total depravity is not necessarily "Christian" but is necessarily "Protestant". It is not creedal, nor has it ever been confirmed by a Church Council.

The problem, as I see it, is that the Roman Catholic Church has always acknowledge the proclivity toward sin even after baptism. Thus, the early church baptised on the deathbed, and the medieval church invented sacramental confession and penance.

My problem, as was the Reformers', is that concupiescence is not a Biblical concept. Each of them wrestles with this idea, though I've been reading mostly Cranmer lately.

Their central question is this: Why does baptism remove the sinful nature, but allow the non-biblical concept of concupiescence to remain? Isn't it simpler to maintain that human beings remain sinful even after Baptism? They maintained that Catholic theology invented unnecessary and unbiblical concepts for the sake of perpetuating a theology that could not stand otherwise.

Now I might feel that such a critique is too drastic, but it's still an interesting point.

What do you think?

mattie said...

"Concupiescence is not a Biblical concept." My intital response would be: so what? The trinity isn't a "biblical concept." Jesus' dual nature as fully human and fully God isn't a "biblical concept."

That's the vocation of the theologian: to work with the historical record, the holy scriptures, and human experience to clarify the mystery of Jesus Christ.

As you yourself note, there is much scriptural evidence that SOMETHING fundamentally changes when one is saved through Christ - not in some world to come, but here and now, in the very nature of that person.

I don't know enough about the development of the doctrine to comment on whether or not concupiesence is the "right" way to think about things, but like I implied, I find it a promising way to explain Romans 7.

[I think we also need to talk at some point about the baptism question. Isn't it perplexing that so-called "works-based" Catholics think baptism is a passive sacrament of grace and so called "faith-based" Protestants (not all, I acknowledge) think it is an active declaration of faith? Seems odd.]

Tim Galebach said...

Mattie, please don't take this personally, since I'm going to have to use the word 'your'. But do you realize that as it's quoted in your posts, the Catholic Gospel has NOTHING to say to someone who was baptized Catholic?

This is one of the few issues in life that I actually care about.

simeon said...

Just a quick clarificatory note: the doctrine of "total depravity" does not mean and has never meant that we are totally sinful at every level in everything we think, do, and are. It does not mean we are the Devil. As Pete Emmet once explained so helpfully, the "total" in total depravity refers to _extent_, not _degree_. In other words, total depravity means not that everything we do is completely sinful, but that everything we do is at least touched/ tinged/ corrupted/ perverted by sinful. Saying that nothing we can do is free of sin is very different from saying that everything we do is _only_ sin. Not sure if anyone has actually made this misunderstanding here, but I find that most people have a mistaken conception of what "total depravity" actually means, so wanted to clarify.

cew said...

Raise your hand if you have John's blog as a bookmark!

(note to reader: my hand is raised)

John Zahl said...

On a side note:

My girlfriend (baptized less than two years ago) helpfully pointed out that, in her experiece, baptism (and her's was full immersion) does not cure a hang-over. For what it's worth, that had always been my hunch.

mattie said...


i can emphathize. when i hear people trumpeting luther and his virtue at a theologian, i often want to scream: why then, why then, were my years as a lutheran completely miserable and lacking in genuine christian fellowship? why, as a lutheran, did i never know Jesus? why, as a lutheran, did i never know i was saved?

i can't answer those questions. i also am not here to tell everyone to rush down to their local parish and sign up as a catechumen. what i do know is that since i have become catholic i personally am more engaged, loving, and faithful than i was as a lutheran. this does not, for me at least, come from some misplaced guilt or need to "save myself" but out of a liberation and commission that i feel i have been given by Christ. that will not be true for all.

i can't explain this... what i can explain is that we are saved by grace, we all have different gifts and we are all part of the body of Christ. "getting the gospel" means getting those things, and beyond that, we'll have to keep discussing. i want to talk to you more about your frustrations with your catholic upbringing and i'm more than willing to share my concerns about luther and his thought.

your sister,

Tim Galebach said...

Mattie, you said:

"As you yourself note, there is much scriptural evidence that SOMETHING fundamentally changes when one is saved through Christ - not in some world to come, but here and now, in the very nature of that person. "

I COMPELETELY agree with that, theologically, scripturally, experientially. But I also find that the person who goes around a) saying that that's happened to them or b) telling others exactly what they should do now that that's happened, is probably the farthest of all from the mark.

E. Twist said...


Your "anthropology" comes across as a cheap knock-off. It's like I'm in some back room in China Town and the person is assuring me that what I'm holding isn't made with Western Individualist wool, but something tells me I'm not getting the whole story.

Just then the black market dealer, noticing my suspicion, quickly offers me a great deal on a plastic Jesus, complete with a name tag, and Depeche Mode's Violator album.

As I'm about to turn away a sophisticated white man in a Brooks Brothers' suit comes out of the bathroom holding a sign reading "heretic."

So I buy the plastic Jesus, go home, put on track three of Violator, and ask forgiveness for ever thinking that anthropology might have an ecclesiological loom.

Colton said...

Please let the record show that earlier today, I was finishing up a marathon blog comment (we're talking 5-9 paragraphs here), when the power went out and I lost everything. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I didn't really have much choice, did I?

I will try and post again sometime before the end of the year. Just know that I had really insightful things to say about the seocnd use of the law.


bonnie said...

PCH, it's okay. Next time write your comments on Word and copy and paste?

(I'll bet your thoughts are in progress of turning into a collection of short essays...) :)

Ethanasius said...


Hi. I'm new to the site...quite impressed thus far. Firstly, I'd really like to apologize to e. twist about his unfortunate situation in that Chinese dark room. What can I say? We live in dangerous times where Asian abductors can lead us into stifling that leads us away from our "climb every mountain-esque" paradigms and away from self-actualizing (with scented candles of course; peach/berry is my favorite). I pine for you and for all who are held hostage by the Red Regime.

Anyway, I have a Luther/Law/Gospel question that I am wrestling with. I seem to get no answers for this one--perhaps there are none. No clear ones anyway. But JZ may have thunk this through. Anyway, here goes:

If the Law always accuses (which I think it does, at least in some fashion), is that the only thing it does? I mean, the Law is clearly God's pattern for holy life (and therefore by its very nature is condemnatory of sinful people), but can it therefore not also (in conjunction with being the condemning agent) be a means for instruction? I do not mean the Law tells us HOW to accomplish it, but it does tell us that the thing needs accomplishing (like "Do not murder" is instructive in that it tells us not to murder, not that it tells sinful beings how NOT to murder.)

I am wrestling with these issues, and with the whole notion of a "third use". Depending of who is defining the third use I must either accept or reject it utterly.

I would love your thoughts. Thanks!

Ethanasius of Zelienopelius

Tom Becker said...

I’ll weigh in on the 3rd use of the law question. I’ve been wrestling with this for the last year myself. I’ll pre-empt this by saying that I’m a former Presbyterian that is now a Confessional Lutheran.

There are 3 basic uses of the law:
1) To restrain (or curb) evil
2) To convict of us our sin
3) To instruct the believer

There is some controversy as to whether Luther espoused a 3rd use, but the Lutherans do confess a 3rd use in their confessions and make a good case Luther belived it - - though it does not work the same way or mean the same thing to the Calvinists (Reformed) camp. I think here in lines the confusion on this stuff.

What’s the difference? The issues relate to primacy and it makes ALL the difference. Calvinists or people who espouse Reformed theology (Reformed theology = Calvin not the reformation) believe that the Primary use of the law is 3rd use. Lutherans however (and others – prob. Anglicans though I don’t know) believe the 2nd use is the primary use of the law. What happens in Lutheranism is that 3rd use ends up looking like 2nd use version 2.1, and you’ll rarely (or should rarely) hear a pastor with such a position actually preaching a 3rd use sermon.

In Calvinist circles, because of the PRIMACY of the 3rd use, you’ll hear it in the preaching, the teaching and the attitude. What does that look like? It looks like preaching holiness above our own sinfulness. You’ll hear a lot of exhortation to be more Christ like and to product more fruit. In practice you end up with Law – Gospel – Law whereas in groups that don’t believe in the primacy of the 3rd use you get Law – Gospel.

Here’s a link to an article that explains it better than I can if you’re interested:

Here’s a note below from a Lutheran scholar who’ve I’ve been talking with about this issue:

Contrary to Calvin, however, Lutherans have always affirmed that the second use is the primary use of the law. Even in the third use, the law still stands as judge and accuser when we fall short of what God has commanded. Thus, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession maintains that “the Law always accuses and terrifies consciences” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV.38, as found in Triglotta, 131), even in the third use (that’s probably why the 3rd use in the Formula of Concord looks like a 2.1 use to you). For a good comparison of the Lutheran vs. popular Reformed understanding of the third use of the law, see August Pieper, “The Difference Between the Reformed and the Lutheran Interpretation of the So-Called Third Use of the Law.” Don’t let the fact that Calvinist also use this terminology scare you off from the concept…our theologians had a saying: “Abusus non tollit, sed confirmat substantiam,” which roughly means that abuses don’t destroy the proper use of a doctrine, but actually establish them (since you can only abuse something that has a proper use). In short, don’t throw out the Lutheran baby with the Calvinistic bathwater.

Yes, you will be called an antinomian by many Calvinists because you insist that obedience proceeds from the gospel and not from the law.

John Zahl said...

Dear Ethanasius,

thanks for the question about the role of the Law. It's a tough one to wrestle with. I've posted really helpful stuff about this exact issue (known as "3rd Use of the Law") earlier on this blog. Look for the quotes by Elert, and the book review of Mike Horton for more.

Tom B covered the topic pretty well I think. To state my own position (as it exists currently): the bible brings an amazing insight into the nature of Law, which is that it convicts, that it widens rather than shortens the gulf. I'm totally convinced that this is true for believers and non-believers alike. Furthermore, I think it's an insight unique to Christianity, which is interesting. People know they hate being told what to do, and this is why. All that said, I can't read the bible in total and then completely reject an "instructive" purpose of the Law as well, like you said. It just seems to be there at points, and I do think that Paul believed in it (to some extent). That said, I totally reject its primacy (like Luther and unlike Calvin), which looks almost identical in practice to not believing in it at all. You see, either the Gospel changes hearts or it doesn't. If it does -- and I'm positive it does--, I believe the ethical pay-off is huge, that being forgiven really changes the way a person lives life to such an extent that ethics never really need to be brought into the equation at any point. Rather the cycle of Gospel-for-sinner holds all the power needed for Christian and non-Christian alike at any point in any life, no matter how "mature". Luther said: "To progress is to begin again." Which echos my sentiment exactly.

So, I can't dismiss it, but I don't place much (if any) weight upon it. Hope that helps.

bpz said...

Hi Ethanasius,

From a psychological point of view, I would say it is undeniable that, in our state as sinners, fulfillment of the law (be it the first, second, or third use) does bring a sense of cohesion, a sense of comradery with God, and certainly a sense of personal value, self efficacy, and so on. Being able to "fulfill" the third use of the law, so to speak, is a wonderful experience - because you feel like you're doing what God has purposed you to do, to follow Him closely, love Him more dearly, etc. etc. in your being (thoughts, feelings, actions.) And it happens! I would argue that all of us have, at some point, felt like we're right smack in the middle of God's will in what that we think, do, feel. BUT none of us would say that we've stayed there for long enough. As in, every single person would say, at some point, that they have again fallen short of God in a big way. Therefore any fulfillment of the law is temporary, not lasting. But it _is_ true that fulfilling what God requires of us as Christians can be an exhilarating experience. It's how we were made to function, so it always feels good when it is done in the right spirit. (I'm not talking about the legalistic folks right now.)

However, the more pertinant question is whether that is _required_ of us, and if so, what happens if we (inevitably) fail. Maybe the question is whether or not we should fail at all, if we have the spirit of God inside of us.

I'm a psychologist, so I'll use psychological terms here. We have these aspects of ourselves: our real self, our ideal self, and an ought self. Our ought self and our ideal self, what we ought to or want to be, are loaded with evaluation . We're always judging ourselves by how far we are from the ideal or ought selves (they are different, by the way.)

I find that Christianity has a confused resolution of the three that is inherent in the Bible. On the one hand, we know that our "real" self is fallen, sinful. On the other hand, our "ideal" self (into which we will one day be transformed) is a concept that is for the coming ages. Then we have the "ought" self, which is this half-way point between the two. "Until Jesus comes, I ought to..." is what we say. We talk so much about spiritual transformation, about how we're transformed and changed by Christ, an implicated in that is the "ought" self - we "ought" to be transformed, and if we are not, we are not saved, or we are taking God's grace for granted, or we are in denial, etc. etc.

My problem with the third use of the law is not from a doctrinal standpoint, but a psychological one. It presents a normative "ought" self that is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. We ought to "be holy" as Jesus is holy; how many can say, with a clean conscience, that they are, or can become so?

An "ought" self is adaptive insofar as it is a structured goal towards which we try to strive (humanly speaking), but attached to that is a condition of "what if" -- what if you don't? What if you can't? In cases where the "ought" self is so far from the real self, it is entirely maladpative, and can lead to feelings of despair and dejection. Implicit in the word "ought" is the idea that we should, but for some reason we are not. The idea of "falling short" is already in the language. To me, insofar as the third use of the law maps onto the "ought" self, it will only highlight our falling short, and will not actually help us get better.

BUT I am not denying that those who _are_ able to actualize their "ought" self (i.e. are living really wonderfully spiritual lives of righteousness) are delusional or just kidding themselves. I do believe that salvation _changes_ us. But it's _salvation_, not our aspiration to become better people or any instruction to do so, that changes us. If that were the case, then the third use of the law would be equivalent to a self-help program for self-actualization.

On a side note, Paul reminds us that it is not the _law_ that is the problem; it is _us_. In a sense Paul reduces it to a matter of anthropology, which is sort of what we've been talking about. It's not the _law_, per se; it's when the law meets with us that it kills.

bpz said...

p.s. the entire self-help section in barnes and nobles makes its money from therapies and methods to make your ideal and/or ought self into your real self. i suspect the bible is still in the "religion" section, not in the self-help section, though i may be wrong.

Dylan Potter said...

Colton, the same thing happened to me yesterday...although I thought my work had posted--anyway, take solace in the fact that God knows what profound theologians we (think we) are. (grin) I wonder if JAZ's dad would give me seminary credits for these posts...I'll have to ask him about that.

Ethanasius...welcome! I must tell you that I like your haircut and your ability to use the word "Jabez" successfully under the most trying of circumstances. You've taught me sooo much.

Anyway, I agree with JAZ (et al)about Elert. Jady has some crazy, 50 page, backwards-copied, (you have to see it to understand!) section from Elert that he hands out on street corners to passers by, you might want to procure that bad boy (yes, my babies, Elert does qualify as a "bad boy") will make your brain hurt a tad, but after you become one of the gnosticoi, you will be able to efficiently disparage 93.6% of what most pastors say, which is pretty useful when you want to justify watching episodes of South Park instead of Charles Stanley.

Anyway, on the idea of the law, I like Paul's description in both 2 Cor 3:7,9 where he calls it a "ministry of death" and a "ministry of condemnation."

Author's note: I think either title would be a wonderfully cool mission statement to put in bold, italicized, centered, 24 font type at the top of your resume' as you search for a parish to serve--along with the Jabez prayer, of course.

Jeff Dean said...


Your post was very interesting/helpful to me.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I agree. One of the best posts (by a girl) yet.

tim said...

JZ,I cant even begin to tell you how much I dont care right now about Luther this and that, and who does what and when in tongues. Im here in J Bay, SA watching the supertubes being surfed and Wycl is a million miles away! Glad to know that like the waves the theology keeps rolling in my absence. Have a good holiday! tmg

Jacob Smith said...

Hey John,
Long time reader, first time poster!
I appreciate your statement that the Gospel is not bound to just Lutherans. PTL. Anglicans have had some bright Gospel lights. Many of the collects and prayers of Thomas Cramner articulate the Gospel. The 1662 Prayer Book theoloy is one of the reasons why I am still Anglican.

Another great light, who I wish Anglicans would embrace more than Hooker, is John Davenant Bishop Salisbury.

Dylan Potter said...

For those of you who are more visually oriented, here is a short (none too serious) 5 min video which explains the highlights of Luther's life...well worth your time!

Jacob said...

Hey John,
Long time reader, first time poster. I agree with "the Gospel is not bound to Luther (at all!)" Actually the Gospel is found in the reformational aspects of Anglicanism.

One of the reasons I am still an Anglican is because of the theology of the 1662 Prayer Book. Cranmer was on to something with those powerful prayers.

Another Anglican bright light was the Bishop of Salisbury, John Davenant. I think he should be reagarded, more so than Hooker, as Anglicanisms central theologian.

Chris Bullivant said...

I prefer a Hazelnut latte

Thomas Aquinas Pray for Us said...

John, I have two questions regarding Luther’s understanding, or rather the understanding you elaborated, of human anthropology.

1. If our nature was essentially altered following the fall and we even following rebirth in Christ are, in a crude sense, nothing more than a pile of shit covered with a white cloth; I ask how then did our Incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ, share in our humanity, that is to say how did he “pitch his tent in us” as an unblemished lamb of God when he too would have necessarily been shit as well. (Now this is not the reason expounded by the Roman Catholic Church but your anthropology certainly begs the question)…How could the Blessed Virgin Mary not have been conceived without sin and preserved from sin so as to bestow human nature upon her son. She, being the Theotokos, gave unto Him his human nature, now again, had she been shit, would not Jesus too have been shit. Further, if man’s essence is really distinct from the human nature within Jesus then how are we redeemed? I had thought one of the points of the Incarnation was that Jesus humbled himself to become man thereby redeeming and restoring the dignity of the human person.

2. If there is no element of sanctification in the Christian life, then what on earth was Jesus talking about in John 10:10, “I come to give and give it abundantly.” Two problems emerge from an insistence on a depraved. First, if “being saved” is all its about, then what is the point of life, or for that matter creation. Why not after having been saved, don’t we all kill ourselves? Now if you say, well, we need to preach the Gospel, that smacks of works to me. Why does God go through the whole human creation process instead of saying right at the beginning, do you have “faith” in me or not? See, a depraved humanity and creation means we can see NO God in creation. Now as Simeon noted and referencing Pete Emmett, there are extents it seems of cooperation. Now this smacks of way too much pre-destination. Where did free-will go?

BVM ora pro nobis.

Zadok said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Zadok said...

Firstly, Mary and Saint Thomas Aquinas’s prayers are not going to help you. I just watched the Martin Luther movie. I’m not Lutheran, but there is conclusive proof in that movie that Mary and the saints don’t help.
However, never fear, help IS at hand. Yes, Jesus is the answer.

Right, I realise that no one will take this post seriously if I continue in this fashion, people probably still won’t take any notice, after all, man’s words don’t change hearts, only God’s spirit has that power.

So in answer.

No 1: This is a horrible question, which the early church wrestled and fought over and split. All these nonsensical questions about whether Jesus had human essence or divine. This is the divine mystery! We don’t really know! We can’t empirically prove either way without starting from varying points of presupposition. Suffice to say that by Chalcedon they were saying that Jesus had to be fully man to pay the price for our sins, and yet fully God to overcome death. As for restoring human nature, me thinks that has to do with the resurrection body and the spirit. Seeing as the spirit can have influence on the body, to an extent, so our earthly lives can be transformed. Of course the purpose of the incarnation was that Jesus humbled himself and redeems humans, but the incarnation is not to be considered apart from his death and resurrection, after all it is through his death that in the wonderful gospel of John, which you quoted, that Christ is shown to be glorified, and so it is likely that the full ‘restoring the dignity’ of humans will also only fully happen when we die. To steal a metaphor, new wine – new wine skins.

As for the shittiness of humanity. I’m hoping that you are not claiming that Mary too had a virgin birth, if not, good. If so, then it obviously doesn’t work logically, because Mary’s mother would also have had to been born of a virgin and so on – leaving Jesus’ virgin birth as commonplace in that family, and their family would have been evidence for evolution from sexually reproducing organisms to asexually. There are some that say Jesus was born of a virgin in order that the hereditary evil of concupiscence was not passed on to him. Interesting, and possibly plausible, but relevant to our lives?

The lump of shit with a white cloth over it is a shallow understanding of spiritual rebirth in Christ.

No 2: This is the whole sanctification, works, free will issue. See the blog entry a couple below this one (the one with over 77 comments on), read that and let us know if your questions are either a.) answered, or b.) already been asked.

A few comments nonetheless. Do you honestly think that 'life to the full' is limited the earthly life. The very gate that Jesus is talking about in the preceding verses (John 10:7-10) quite obviously refers to eternal life. Now you say, eternal is in both the sense of time and fullness. Well fine, when we die we will have a very FINE and LONG eternal life. As for this one, it will still be marred. So you well ask, why don’t you kill yourself after you’re saved? Again, a very shallow understanding of salvation would lead to that kind of remark. Yes it IS worth staying alive to preach the gospel. Works? What kind of works. Loving service, yes. A means of salvation – of course not, you already are saved by faith. Good works can ONLY follow salvation, not precede. Like I said on the other blog post, if our works have to do with our salvation, then they are selfish, therefore not ‘good’. Thus only when one is saved by grace through faith, can one do truly unselfish good works, because they are for others benefit, not our own.

with love

Zadok (Righteous)

anhomily said...

I hate coffee, but I love this blog, (I am among those who have it bookmarked, even) and I am finally getting around to commenting a bit... the 42 comments jumped out at me, though I don't really have that much to say about Luther, except that I have always suspected that his middle name was Zahl...