Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in

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I have been persuaded today by concerned parties to enter the lists on the issue of how Luther has been co-opted for the cause of a kind of neo-antinomianism/Sonship theology by some figures in the YRR movement who are using his idioms of law/gospel dialectic and theology of the cross for their own theological ends.  The issue is complex, despite the fact that those using Luther in this way have generally confined themselves to the genres of blog posts and potboilers -- not media known for their susceptibility to the complex and subtle.  Thus, the response, when it appears, will not appear here first and is months away.  Suffice it to say at this point, those who build their foundations on select quotations from Luther's pre-1525 writings, or who use such as the dominant interpretative matrix for statements from later works, present conclusions based upon highly flawed methodological premisses as I hope to make clear at some point.

In the meantime, I have just finished Walter Sundberg's Worship as Repentance: Lutheran Liturgical Traditions and Catholic Consensus (Eerdmans).  The book is a fascinating study of Lutheran theology in liturgical context from the Reformation to the late twentieth-century liturgical renewal movement as it impacted North American Lutheranism.  In many ways, the book offers an account of Lutheranism similar to that provided by D.G. Hart relative to Presbyterianism. It is a fascinating and informative read.

Given the way Luther is being used in come circles, I was struck by this paragraph which occurs near the very end of the work:

The war cry of our age, says psychologist Bernie Zilbergeld (1939-2002), is, "I DESERVE....I deserve love. I deserve to be trusted.  I deserve freedom.  I deserve friendship.  I deserve respect.  I deserve sexual pleasure. I deserve happiness."  This war cry is the motive force of much of what is taught in the mainline church about personal ethics, pastoral care, and even the gospel itself.  Many would like to make Luther the precursor of the modern liberator who teaches a gospel of self-fulfillment in which the "law" becomes that which restricts us and the "gospel" that which releases us from any encumbrance, who binds the conscience not to Scripture but to oneself, who endorses, as it were, a new type of "happy exchange"....: not that between the sins of believers and the innocence of Christ, as Luther describes it in The Freedom of the Christian (1520) but rather that between the ego and the id. (p. 169)

That would seem a rather brilliant analysis of the gospel of modern Western society.  Let's hope it is not also an unexpectedly brilliant analysis of the gospel of the modern evangelical church.

Posted October 3, 2012 @ 7:47 PM by Carl Trueman

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