01 February 2010

An Interesting Post

over on Lutherans Persisting. I am quite convinced that Dr. Root is onto something very important here, and that it directly connects with the current Lutheran aversion to speaking of progress in sanctification; and that it connects intimately with Elert's (and Koeberle's) repudiation of "cooperation" language in the Formula of Concord. The approach that Elert et al. advocate results in the total coming unglued of the objective and perfect righteousness of our Lord, which is His gift to us extra nos, from the subjective inchoate, imperfect righteousness that begins to grow from that gift in our concrete living intra nos in this world so that our lives *even in this world* are in the process of being transformed and made new in Christ (though always in great weakness). Against the whole approach that Elert and Koeberle and their current day disciples advocate, the "healing of human nature" language of the Formula stands as a bulwark.


Tim said...

Hmm... very interesting. What say you on this post, Pastor Weedon?

William Weedon said...

I say that we can learn more of the Lutheran faith from studying the sermons and prayerbooks of our fathers, than from 20th century theologians!!!

Boaz said...

When I read Lutheran theologians talking about how our redeemed self isn't fully regenerated until the next life, I've always assumed it was just the idea that the old Adam in us needs to be drowned and killed by daily contrition and repentance so the new man can come forth.

Is that the idea being criticized? Is that controversial? Is it possible to kill that Old Adam once and for all? I would like to know how. If I'm supposed to look at myself and see a strong, new, regenerate man, somebody tell me what I'm doing wrong, because I keep finding this poor, miserable beggar.

In the meantime, I'll keep trusting in the Holy Spirit to help me drown that Old Adam in repentance and contrition so that I can more closely resemble the transcendental "me" that God loved enough to die for.

Boaz said...

Dr. Root cites the result of this Elert/Forde "gnosticism" that the church becomes divided on ethical questions. I'd like to see that connected up what happened in the ELCA.

I think the ELCA's main problems were rejecting Scripture as authoritative and rejecting the third use of the law.

1) If you view Scripture's clear law as contingent, and not actually God's command for us now, then there is no basis to define what a Christian is, much less how one should act. You cannot have a Christian ethics without authority, and if you remove Scripture as authority, there is nothing except one's own conscience. I don't see what this has to do with viewing regeneration as transcendental.

2) ELCA seems to believe that, even if there is a law, Christians don't need to follow it because they are free from the law. They ignore that living by love, and loving God, includes loving God's law. God saved us from the punishment of the law, but at the same time, when we are saved, we respond by loving God and his perfect law and don't undermine it, even if it is impossible for us to uphold in this life. Again, it's not about whether we are better to uphold the law as redeemed Christians, but whether Christians even should be motivated to do so. I think it would be easier to criticize Forde for being wishy-washy on this point (Or maybe you are and I'm too dense to see it!).

acroamaticus said...

Another excellent post, Pr Weedon.
I couldn't agree more about 20th C. theologians. I often reflect that our problems in the Lutheran Church of Australia largely result from an over-hasty rejection of classical Lutheran theology.

Tapani Simojoki said...

Here's what that old Methodist, Luther, had to say about the matter:

... a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued. For this must be practised without ceasing, that we ever keep purging away whatever is of the old Adam, and that that which belongs to the new man come forth.


Now, when we are come into the kingdom of Christ, these things must daily decrease, that the longer we live we become more gentle, more patient, more meek, and ever withdraw more and more from unbelief, avarice, hatred, envy, haughtiness.

Large Catechism IV (Holy Baptism), 65, 67

Don't you Americans call this a no-brainer?

Put it this way:

While it is true that the Old Adam won't depart till this body of sin dies, is it really possible that Christ should really dwell in me, but without any real effect on my life: my thoughts, my desires, my conduct and my struggle against sin? That the Old Adam will be as much in control of me at the end of a life of sanctification as on the first day? That daily repentance, daily immersion in my baptism, daily feeding by God's Word, won't actually change me? Isn't this just another form of the Zwinglian (i.e. Platonic) heresy?

Stephen said...

Pr Weedon, Many thanks for posting.
Sometime ago I began to seriously investigate Lutheranism (coming from an evangelical background of a Reformed flavour). I discovered, or should I say, rediscovered with fresh wonder, the centrality of justification, God’s gift to us extra nos. I pray I will never again wander from this central truth. But I had a lot of problems regarding certain presentations of sanctification that in my view seemed far from biblical. I have conversed on blog sites with people who seem to think that any concept of growth in inherent righteousness (which will always be imperfect in this life) smacks of pietism. I have been told that the baptised person is completely righteous in the sight of God, so what progress is possible? There seems to be no room left for our (inherent) growth in love for God, the transformation of our nature to be like Christ’s. I am encouraged by your assertion that the Lutheran fathers had a more biblical vision that that of some modern spokespersons.
In a similar vein I read another article by Dr Root in which he analysed the “simul iustus et peccator”. He pointed out that this can falsely be understood to undermine the idea of progress in sanctification.

Anonymous said...

Check out Ed Schroeder's excellent precis, part by part, of Elert's 'Christian Ethos' in his 21 & 28 January postings under Thursday Theology on the crossings.org site.
It's a productive way to understanding both Dr Root and Elert in their contexts.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I am not quite sure about his point -- what it seems that Elert et al are doing are just making a firm, mental distinction between Justification and Sanctification -- and pointing out that my actions or works have no place in earning or meriting salvation (and should I start talking about "I" in justification, where I am the doer - as opposed to the reciever. . . then bad things happen).

I don't think that Elert or Forde or Koeberle end up denying a real impact in terms of sanctification -- it's just that logically they keep works apart from the discussion on salvation. I don't think any of them come anywhere near approaching the idea that a living faith does not produce works and grow. I can see where one might push Elert's quote to where he says faith has no impact on sanctification. . . but that seems to be pushing Elert out of context. . . especially when you have a German trying to narrowly discuss one topic.

Be that as it may, we do see a way in which people might jump from this distinction between Justification and Sanctification on to denying the existence or need of real Sanctification. (This is the real error, I would contend) On the other hand, we also need to reject a response where our focus shifts to our own works and purity of living as the only way to know who the real Christians are.

These are the two poles that have been present in Lutheranism, and indeed, in Christianity, indeed, in all the history of the world. The indifference of Cain and the lousy Kings versus Pharisaical attitudes. Antinomianism versus rigorists and legalists. And on to whatever labels you wish to add today.

We must remain balanced - saying both that we are saved by faith apart from works, and also saying that faith without works is dead; saying both that we are saved by grace without works so that we may not boast, yet also boldly claiming that we are God's workmanship created specifically for good works which we walk in.

There is tension there - and there must always be tension there as long as we dwell in this sinful place.

William Weedon said...

Just time for a quick post this a.m.: Tapani expressed my concerns exactly! It is not a matter of maintaining a tension so much as maintaining a very clear doctrine and confession of our Symbols (in both LC and in SA and in FC). Later, God willing!

Past Elder said...

Judas H Priest, we keep this up and pretty soon it will be clear that there must be some provision for taking care of the lack of sanctification that remains at death, purging that -- Purgatory!

Works are no more a badge for who is really a Christian than speaking in tongues, though both have their advocates as such. Both a flat wrong.

You don't get into heaven by being holy but by being forgiven. Being forgiven does not mean go out and do some more stuff for which to be forgiven.

That is why the Law remains, not as Law, but as curb, mirror and guide -- all three. I think we get confused on that -- really, it isn't rocket science to understand that we do good works not to be saved but because we are saved -- because we selfishly want to see ourselves as God sees us, forgiven for Christ's sake, which is God's business, not ours.

Time is better spent seeing others as God sees them and to follow St Paul "In fact, I do not even judge myself". To the extent that we either do no works to focus on being justified apart from works, or do works then wonder how sanctified we are, we show ourselves neither Pietists nor Legalists but Egoists.

Paul McCain said...

This "aversion to sanctification" continues to yield its evil, poisonous fruit.

It is time to simply say "no" to it and do what Pastors Weedon and Simojoki have said here.

It is time also to set Elert and Forde aside and move on. They were wrong.

The Seminex mess is due in large part to inculcating the doctrine of Elert, or, if we must say it this way: misreading the doctrine of Elert.

When we still have so-called "confessional Lutherans" running around encouraging people to think that wearing a T-shirt that says "Weak on Sanctification" is good, we have big problems.

We might just as well wear "I don't really care about Jesus" and then we can come up with all the blabbering explaining how this is really just a confession of my own sinfulness.

Yea, right.

Jennifer and Adam said...

I'm not sure that Dr. Root's Thomism is the answer, either. The conversions to Rome among ELCA pastors aren't coming from Forde's disciples, who form in Word Alone whatever remnant of Lutheranism remains in the ELCA. Pr. Weedon, I would like for you to read Forde before going after him or abandoning Elert to the Seminex crowd. Please read Forde's essays on sanctification in The Preached God, A More Radical Gospel, and Christian Dogmatics before saying that he's given up on it. He just didn't place ethics over justification.

William Weedon said...

Just for the record, I'm not in a position to pass judgment of Forde. I've not read him at all. I know that he is highly spoken of by many. My concern was more directly with Elert and Elert's influence. Lots of good in Elert, but this is one point where I think he is just flat out wrong. Put it this way: how could Elert's view accommodate the data brought to light by the Finnish research? It can't.

Tapani Simojoki said...

Ah, the Finns. Beware the Finns. The stuff that exists in English only scratches the surface of their research. The fruits of that research in their (and my) home country have not been a blessing for the church.

The original Mannermaa essay (Christ Present in Faith) is good stuff if used with care and caution. But over time, they first drove a wedge between Luther and the Formula, and eventually between Luther and the Augsburg Confession. It's just another example of a one-sided diet. And no better than the one they reacted against.

Trust me. I'm a Finn.

William Weedon said...

On that, Tapani, you'll not get an argument with me. It struck me that they were not actually understanding the argument that the Formula put forward anyway. So many folks leave out that vital "Christ Himself - true God and true man" and affix attention only to "in his most perfect obedience." Again, a driving apart of what belongs most intimately together. What is HIGHLY significant is the Formula refers for a fuller treatment of the topic to great Galatians, from which the language of theosis still rings loud and clear (but not so much in the English!).

Stephen said...

What would be people's basic take on the Finnish research? From what I've been able to see, their emphasis on theosis or transformation is a needed corrective to presentations that betray an aversion to speaking about sanctification. But on the other hand, their big mistake is to bring this under the heading of justification itself and thus to mix what should be carefully distinguished; Is that about right?

Jack Kilcrease said...

Pr. Weedon- I have a couple of thought on the subject.

1. Beware of Michael Root. Root and Yeago believe the solution to all of Lutheranism's problems is to submit to the Pope as a universal symbol of Christian unity. This also goes with the view that the Church is primarily constituted by the law and not the gospel. That is, the law of Papal authority which will have enough power to "enforce" the gospel. Whatever that means.

2. Having written a dissertation on Forde, I can assure you that being weak on sanctification is not Forde's many, many problem. Forde's problem is that he basically doesn't believe in forensic justification and conflates justification with sanctification. He claims that because God forgives us, it inspires faith in us and that faith fulfills the law. Then God looks at us and says "You're righteous."

Neither would I say that Elert is particularly weak on sanctification either. All that talk of the "transcendental I" that Root decries is really just a post-Kantian way of Elert re-stating Luther's claim that passive righteous has to do with the inner rather than external person.

3. Forde and Elert may be criticized (as I will be doing with the former in a soon to be published article) regarding the Law. This is actually a quite valid criticism that both Root and Yeago have made of Forde and Elert. Both seem to think of the law as contentless. Both described it as an unthematized generalized existential threat. So, hence, the law is part of the old, bad creation, and the gospel is part of the new good creation. Good gospel relieves scary, bad law.

Of course, Yeago and Root then go too far in the opposite direction and claim that the law is a "ordering principle" that positively moves us towards the good and our final end of life with God. This is Aquinas' claim and comes out of the Aristotlian tradition's belief that human beings are defined as "doers" opposed to Lutheran tradition's claim that human beings are defined as "receivers"- "We are beggers all."

4. We should be careful regarding the language of "cooperation" and "healing of nature." Being a confessional Lutheran, I do not believe that we should disavow them, neither do I consider them to be inappropriate if understood correctly. Obvious the Holy Spirit does work within us and moves us in a new moral direction. Being moved thus, our will is determined in such a way that we cooperate with this action.

The difficulty comes if we understand these phrases in a Thomistic manner. For example, "healing of nature" means in Thomism that the negative effects of original sin on our nature are reversed in this life- rather than, as the Formula means, that God begins in this to work within us to achieve goodness, not that we in and of ourselves are ontologically changed in such a way to be able to choose the good. That awaits the next life.

If we were to agree with Thomas on this point, we would no longer be considered "totus pecator" but rather "partim peccator." This destroys faith and sanctification as well. Faith looks out side ourselves to God's redemption. We are sanctified in understanding more and more our sinfulness and God's grace. The more we recognize God's grace and our sin, the more sanctified we become. Saying the opposite, that we are more and more ontologically renovated in this life means we need grace and faith less and less. The more "healed" I become, the less I need God's grace and favor. Of course, in the next life we will no longer need faith because we will see God face to face-so total ontological change will not in anyway cause us to look back to ourselves and away from God.

Jack Kilcrease said...

BTW, on the Finns. The issue is not that they believe in theosis or on the in dwelling of Christ sanctifying us. All the Lutheran orthodox and Luther agree on this. I was reading the new Gerhard volume on Christology lately and he says that the reason for the incarnation was our deification.

The issue is that the Finns deny that justification is logically prior to mystical union. God looks at us filled with the indwelling of Christ and sees us as ontologically righteous because of Christ in us and then says "you're justified." The FC would identify this as more less being Osiander's heresy. Christ must for us before he is in us. Furthermore, this also means that there's something of a disconnect between the crucifixion and justification. Apparently our ontological similarity to God through the indwelling of Christ is what does the trick and not Christ's blood and merit.

William Weedon said...


Thanks for updates. I know nothing about Root other than this essay. He really believes that the answer is return to momma Rome? Kyrie, eleison!

On total sinner, do you find such language in our Symbols? It seems to me that the Symbols operate instead with partim language in SA III,III,40 and LC IV:67. We still remain poor, miserable sinners, contending against the impulses of our flesh, to the grave - no question there. But the new self is REAL, not a theological construct. And as we live more and more from that new self, there is an increase in the mortification of the flesh. Because it is imperfect, it remains under forgiveness till death.

On the Finns, I agree. They make a move that Luther does NOT make. But they have done invaluable work in bringing the matter of theosis back into the theological consciousness of Lutherans.

As I said, about Forde I wasn't really commenting, and I don't know his writings at all. But Elert, I would still argue, IS weak on this particular point and it is this weakness that leads him to deplore the Formula's intentional use of "cooperation" and "healing." His approach, it seems to me, does not merely distinguish justification from sanctification (as, of course, every Lutheran must), but rather divides justification from its natural fruit in sanctification. This is based on my reading of his Morphe; I don't know if he does the same in his Ethics or not.

Jack Kilcrease said...

You are correct that Elert is overstating on these points. That is a rather unfortunate tendency of him as a theologian. Nevertheless, I think if he understood the confessions properly he would not actually have a disagreement with them on this point. Part of Elert's problem is that he accepts this entirely strange narrative of Lutheran history invented by Holl and the Luther renaissance that the original Lutheranism of Luther was corrupted by Melanchthon and his enshrined in the FC. So, the FC is not an authentic expression of Luther's thought, but rather a mixed bag, filled with too much Melanchthonism.

In any case, you are correct that there is much partim-partim language in the Lutheran symbols and in Luther's writings as well.

What they are talking about is the extent to which we become empirical doers of the law. Obviously we empirically improve our behavior when Holy Spirit is at work in us. This is, I think, righteousness coram mundo. That is, a righteousness that is evident by performance. Nevertheless, we must distinguish this from a kind of righteousness that some how ontologically adheres in our nature in the form of a "healed" nature or in the form of something like "created grace" in Catholicism.

The difficulty with these, is again, that they presuppose that the divine-human relationship is predicated on a verisimilitude between God and humanity. The more human being are like God ontologically, the more God loves them and favors them.

Therefore, when it comes to our ontological make up, considered apart from the Holy Spirit and the indwelling Christ, our status coram dei, can be nothing but that of a totus peccator. In other words, the way that God looks at us, that is, our status before God is that of total sinners. That does not, of course mean that we are totally fallen or that we are incapable of any good in terms of civil righteousness. If that were the case, then we would not exist in that evil is merely privation of original righteousness. Total sinfulness would be total privation, and therefore non-existence. Furthermore, it does not mean that we do not improve empirically in our moral behavior because of sanctification. Nevertheless, it does mean that we lack any righteousness in our nature that avails before God or can lay a claim on God. God cannot accept us as we are and therefore we possess a status coram dei of total sinners. That's what I mean, and I think this is consistent with the Bible, Luther and the symbolic writings.

William Weedon said...

And to that I say a hearty: Amen!

Stephen said...

Pr Weedon, If I may, here is the Root article I referred to, presented at the Ft Wayne symposium, 2008:


It touches on similar material re sanctification, including 'total' understandings of the simul. Very interesting, I think. That said, his conclusion is that engagement with other traditions and not confessionalism is the way ahead...

William Weedon said...

Thanks, Stephen. Will check it out. Engagement with other traditions is not a problem in itself; but is one engaging FROM the perspective of the Lutheran Symbols or not? It seems to me that without that rootedness in our Symbols, the engagement is actually rather futile.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Weedon,,, best to check out Elert's 'Christian Ethos',,, published by CPH by the way. Schroeders precis is helpful, but plowing through it,,, Ethos not Ethics, is worth the while.

While Root finds Aquinas important,,, hey he saved the real presence in the Eucharistic Controversy after all,,, he is in no way a Roman luster afterer. I know the guy and family members have studied under him

William Tighe said...

How can Root be a "Roman luster" if he is, as he has long been, a stout advocate and defender of women's "ordination?"

I suppose such a position might be conceivable, as it was enunciated by Frank Senn in *Lutheran forum* around 1994, when he advocated "a Lutheran rite" within the Roman Catholic Church while simpltaneousli insisting that Rome would have to "accept the validity" of "our" ordinations of women pastors, and our intention to keep on ordaining them. I think, though, that his article may have appeared before the papal document *Ordinatio Sacerdotalis* which declared WO to be beyond the capacity of the Church to undertake, and hence an impossibility or a nullity.

Jack Kilcrease said...

That's the unusual thing about Yeago, Root, Jenson, Braaten. They all advocate reunion with Rome and Rome as a symbol of universal Christian unity (they do not believe in Papal infallibility mind you- they think that Catholics have to give this up, good luck!). Nevertheless, they make this impossible by continuing to advocate women's ordination.

I would definitely describe Root is definitely a quasi- Thomist. This does not mean he is a Roman Catholic since there are thinkers who are not committed to Rome who like Aquinas. I know plenty of people who've had him in class as well as Yeago.

He apparently tells his students that Luther and Thomas Aquinas have the same view of justification. Yeago does also.

Past Elder said...

I don't know the exact date of the Lutheran Forum piece, but Ordinatio sacerdotalis was 22 May 1994.

Apparently I will have to continue in 2010 with that most shocking development of 2009, agreeing with Dr Tighe, as the two positions are flatly incompatible.

However, the barrier is more official than real, as is pretty much everything in Roman Catholicism. If he's have been born Catholic he could hold his positions with no problem, as many Catholics do, including those with collars and crosiers and other Halloween garb.

The argument goes on about the significance of the fact that the document was not issued ex cathedra, as opposed to the fact that teachings of the ordinary magisterium are infallible too so gotcha.

Except not really. There are two levels of magisterium, the first (extraordinary) with two sublevels (ex cathedra having the trump card, then definition by the bishops in union with the Pope at a General Council), and the second (ordinary) with three sublevels (bishops in union with the Pope but not in Council, the pope, and bishops). But wait, there's more! There are two levels of assent too, full assent of faith, and submission of intellect and will (obsequium religiosum).

Now, the first three levels of magisterium (both sublevels of ordinary and the first of ordinary) require full assent of faith, but the last two sublevels do not and require only obsequium religiosum, nor are they really infallible, think a churchy Don't Ask Don't Tell and you're about there.

So, while Ordinatio sacerdotalis is not ex cathedra, it is the highest of the three sublevels of ordinary so it requires full assent of faith, not just shut up about it and go along.

Your only way out is to say no it ain't, it's just a papal decision, ordinary but not universal, so it's fallible and we'll just shut up and go along knowing that one of these days it will change.

Except the document itself says hancque sententiam ab omnibus Ecclesiae fidelibus esse definitive tenendam, this thought is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful. Except if it really is just that pope, that could change. Except if maybe even though it was just that pope he was expressing a universal thought so it's ordinary and universal as a thought. Except .. oh forget it.

So you can go on believing pretty much what you want as long as you're willing to endure don't ask don't tell if it's not what is currently on the books. Or an outsider looking to get in.

Yeah, episcopal polity will solve all our problems in LCMS. Right.

Augustinian Successor said...

"How could Elert's view accommodate the data brought to light by the Finnish research?"

People should read "Who Do I Say That You Are?: Anthropology and the Theology of Theosis in the Finnish School of Tuoma Mannermaa by fellow Missourian William W. Schumacher of Concordia Seminary.

Matthias Flacius said...

Jack Kilcrease...thank you for the excellent comments. I wish you were teaching theology at a Mo Synod university.

I'd take Forde over Yeago any day, because I think Forde grasps Luther's theology much better. But honestly, I don't read much theology written after the sixteenth century.

Rev. McCain...man, you really hate that shirt. I'm sending you one for Christmas next year...not really. I get your point (even if I think it's overstated.) No I don't own it and wouldn't wear it.