Friday, 4 February 2011

An Evangelical "Gets It"

I love it when someone "gets it", because not only do they get "it", but they switch others on to "it", and help to focus the attention of those who've already "gotten it" back on "it", because there's a part of us all that wants to wander away from "it", chasing our own versions of "it" down various dead end roads, from which futile quest some, tragically, never return. "It" is the Gospel, of course, the message of the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake through faith, which also leads us on to an understanding of the Gospel in the wider sense, with all its doctrinal content revealing how what God has done in Christ applies to life. Specifically, in this case, the "it" is the primarily eschatological nature of "the Christian life", and how we are to live in the meantime...
"The other thing is the whole business of “transformation.” I notice how often that word comes up—our lives can be transformed, our churches can be transformed, our culture can be transformed. We imagine if we do everything right according to what the New Testament teaches us, that things will be completely changed. And if they aren’t completely changed, I’ve either bet my life on something that’s not true, or the Gospel itself is not true. I just keep on coming back to Luther’s truth that we are simultaneously justified and sinners. I keep on looking at my own life, and at church history, and I realize that when the Gospel talks about transformation, it can’t possibly mean an actual, literal change in this life of a dramatic nature, except in a few instances. It must be primarily eschatological; it must be referring to the fact that we will in fact be changed. The essential thing to make change possible has occurred—Christ died and rose again. (And in this life we will see flashes of that, just like in Jesus’ ministry there were moments when the Kingdom broke in and we see a miracle. And these moments tell us there is something better awaiting for us and God is gracious enough at times to allow a person or a church or a community to experience transformation at some level.) But we can’t get into the habit of thinking that this dramatic change is normal, this side of the Kingdom. What’s normal this side of the Kingdom is falling into sin (in big or small ways), and then appropriating the grace of God and looking forward to the transformation to come."
Mark Galli, Senior Editor, Christianity Today magazine [italics mine].

Click on post title to read the full interview at the Mockingbird blog.
HT New Reformation Press blog (link in blogroll, right-hand column)


The obsession with personal and societal transformation in Evangelicalism seems to stem from two disparate sources: the Pietistic tradition of retreat from the evils of the world to cultivate holiness on the one hand, and from the opposite end of the spectrum the Theonomistic "let's take this world for Christ" world-view. Combine them, as in my experience Baptists especially tend to do, and you've got a mighty force which also hits the ground with an equally mighty thump when it inevitably runs into the cold, hard reality of this recalcitrant world.

Curiously, both approaches have their counter-parts in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, in both of which the desires to either retreat from or take-over the world have had a formative role, shaping the ethos of each communion. The common denominator behind these tendencies in both Evangelicalism on the one hand, and Eastern and Western Catholicism on the other is, I think, an underestimation of the radical nature of sin, along with a confusion of Law & Gospel and a consequent misunderstanding of how God works in this world.

So, praise the Lord for Mark Galli, who through his writing is hopefully helping at least some Evangelicals to "get it". After all, if we can't realistically hope to turn all Evangelicals into "Evangelical Lutherans", we can at least hope that some become "Lutheran Evangelicals".

Further reading:
John Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace, Spirituality For Today (Concordia,2008)
Carter Lindberg, Modern Fanatici and the Lutheran Confessions, CTQ July 1995
Harold Senkbeil, Sanctification (Northwestern, 1989)
CFW Walther, Law & Gospel, A Reader's Edition (Concordia, 2010)
Francis Pieper, 'Man After the Fall' in Christian Dogmatics I: 526ff (Concordia)


Kevin Davis said...

I've been happy with the direction that Christianity Today has taken under Mark Galli. There have been a few poorly done articles, especially the ad-hominen-laden piece on Al Mohler (not a fan of Mohler myself but he deserved better). But even the Mohler piece demonstrates that there is a renewed focus at CT on matters of doctrine and the health of the church. This reflects the conversations that are happening at Wheaton, Trinity, Beeson, and other schools.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Very interesting, Kevin.
I might have to go back to reading CT. The local Evangelical bookshop stocks it.

Lvka said...

Romans 6.

Matthew 3:10; 7:21-27; 6:10. Luke 11:2. John 15:10, 14.
1 John 3:9-10; 5:18. James 2:14-26.
Galatians 5:22-26. Ephesians 4:17-5:21.

"I BELIEVE in One God, the Father ALMIGHTY". We're saved by FAITH: so have FAITH. (Please!)

Lvka said...

1) Works are of the Law.

2) Good deeds are (the fruits) of the Holy Spirit: Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 5:9.

3) The Spirit is opposed (by Saint Paul) with the Letter of the Law: Romans 2:29; 7:6; 2 Corinthians 3:6

4) Works of Law are opposed (by Saint Paul) to good deeds: First Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:6; Titus 1:13-16; 3:8-9.

ERGO, the Law and its works are carnal [Galatians 3:2-3], while good deeds are spiritual, being the fruits of the Holy Ghost [Gal 5:22-25], through faith in Christ Jesus [Galatians 5:6].

Lvka said...

an underestimation of the radical nature of sin

An under-estimation of the radical power of Christ. [Philippians 4:13]

You're only telling people half the story: [John 15:5].

Lucian said...

And least someone accuses me of being and idealist or theorist, here'a a testimony of God's power healing a man from his life-long sinful addiction.

Lvka said...

The official Orthodox position on the subject of FAITH and WORKS.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

You're starting to sound more like a Lutheran day by day! I interacting with this blog is making you think? But, you don't quite "get it" yet...the point of the post is that the victory over sin, death and the Devil that Christ's power has won for us is primarily eschatological - yet to be revealed in all its fulness. No-one, neither Luther, Galli nor myself, is denying that Christ's power can break into this world in extraordinary ways, but such instances are just that, extraordinary. In the meantime, we walk by faith and daily put to death the old sinful nature, yes?

Lvka said...

Well, Father,

if all the Orthodox Fathers sound Lutheran to you, and Orthodoxy is virtually unchanging, then why does it surprise you that I, a 21st century Orthodox, also "sound Lutheran" ? :-)

This tongue-talking Charismatic Pentecostal also sounds suspiciously patristic and Orthodox, notwithstanding the fact that he's probably never even seen or touched a single patristic, Orthodox, or theology book in his entire life! And the reason for this is that Orthodoxy has no distinctives whatsoever.

In the meantime, we walk by faith and daily put to death the old sinful nature, yes?


such instances are just that, extraordinary

No. (Well, yes, but they shouldn't be: it's the broad path that leads to perdition, so we shouldn't be deceived into thinking that "it's OK with God" if we don't bear fruit just because "everybody's [not] doing it [either]").

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Well, I certainly rejoice over what we have in common, Lucian.

Lucian said...

Same here, Father!

Southern Cross said...

@Pastor Mark: Would you mind elaborating on the topic of the distinction between Law and Gospel?

Pr Mark Henderson said...


Put simply, the Law basically means the Ten Commandments, the Gospel is the saving message that we have forgiveness of sins through Christ.

When law and Gospel are confused or mingled together, you end up with a legalistic religion which does not bring forth obedience from the heart. But when the Law is neglected, you end up with antinomianism. Anyway, I've just pasted the following from Wiki and edited it a bit, it's a fairly good summary. Let me know if the following is helpful or not.

"In Christianity the relationship between God's Law and the Gospel is a major topic in Lutheran and Reformed theology. In these traditions, the distinction between the doctrines of Law, which demands obedience to God's ethical will, and Gospel, which promises the forgiveness of sins in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ, is critical. It is used as a hermeneutical principle of biblical interpretation and a guiding principle in homiletics (sermon composition) and pastoral care.Sometimes the issue is discussed under the headings of "Law and Grace," "Sin and Grace," "Spirit and Letter," and "ministry (διακονíα) of death/condemnation" and "ministry of the Spirit/righteousness". Sometimes it is considered in the contrast between Moses and Jesus Christ....A specific formulation of the distinction of Law and Gospel was first brought to the attention of the Christian Church by Martin Luther (1483–1546), and laid down as the foundation of evangelical Lutheran biblical exegesis and exposition in Article of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531): "All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins justification, and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal."

Pr Mark Henderson said...

The Formula of Concord likewise affirmed this distinction in Article V, where it states: "We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be maintained in the Church with great diligence..."
The Formula of Concord distinguished three uses, or purposes, in the Law in Article VI. It states: " The Law was given to men for three reasons. . .
1.that "thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]"
2.that "men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins"
3.that "after they are regenerate. . .they might. . .have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life"[7]

The primary concern was to maintain that the Law should continue to be used by Christians after they had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel to counter the doctrine of Johannes Agricola, who taught that the Law was no longer needed by regenerate Christians.

Briefly summarized the three uses of the Law are:

1.a curb on sin (threat of punishment)
2.mirror (to reveal our sins (for the Christian)

Certain recurring grammatical patterns in the Old Testament[17] and in the New[18] involving the sequencing of imperative and indicative predicates are taken by theologians as central to the relationship between Law and Gospel. Daniel Defoe discusses three pairs of these predicates in his second and final sequel to Robinson Crusoe, Serious Reflections (1720): "forbear and live", "do and live", "believe and live". According to Defoe, the first was established with Adam in paradise, the second as the Law with the children of Israel, and the third as the Gospel of Jesus Christ." (Wikipedia entry)

Briefly summarised, the Law Shows us our Sins; the Gospel shows us our Saviour.

Lucian said...

An article on the subject, contrasting the Lutheran and Orthodox views.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Thanks Lucian. Looks interesting - I may comment further when I've finished reading it.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Well, Lucian, I can only say it's a pity Benjamin didn't listen to his instructors at seminary when they were trying to teach and preach holiness to him. I would describe him as a hyper-Lutheran at that stage, now he has swung 180degrees the other way.

Anonymous said...

In the meantime, we walk by faith and daily put to death the old sinful nature, yes?

Amen, Pastor Henderson! One of the glories of our Lutheran theology is our high view of Holy Baptism, to which we return daily to drown the old man and rise up as the new creation we are in Christ. I never had that comfort as an RC nor, in my view, does Orthodoxy offer it either.

Lutherans take the reality of sin (which Orthodox and Roman Catholics often refer to as a "weakness") seriously but just as seriously the amazing Good News of the Gospel of a Savior who invites us to come to Him and lay down our burdens through His gifts of Word and Sacrament.