Douglas Moo

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The Lutheran View of Law and Gospel is not an Old-New Testament dividing line

pdlw-waltherI’m going to admit a huge pet peeve of mine here: non-Lutherans misunderstanding the Lutheran view of Law and Gospel. I have found this demonstrated more than once in the Zondervan Counterpoints series. Now, I don’t want to take anything away from that series. My wife can attest that I love it. I have over 15 volumes of the series. But I have to wonder why it seems they rarely get Lutherans involved and, frankly, why they would have a non-Lutheran like Douglas Moo write the “Modified Lutheran” view in the Five Views of Law and Gospel book (an essay which I argued elsewhere is not the Lutheran view at all and should not be called even “modified” Lutheran).

Anyway, I was reading through another book in the series, Understanding Four Views on Baptism, and came upon the response to the Lutheran view written by the Reformed believer, Richard Pratt, Jr. He wrote, “Broadly speaking, Lutheranism has stressed discontinuity between the OT and NT under the rubrics of law and gospel” (Pratt, 117, cited below). He contrasted this with the Reformed understanding of the unity of Scriptures. Douglas Moo also made a similar statement in the Five Views of Law and Gospel book: “Basic… to biblical revelation is the contrast between ‘before’ and ‘after’ Christ, a contrast between two ‘ages’ or ‘eras’… the New Testament writers… relegate [the Mosaic Law] basically to the period of time before the coming of Christ” (322). Moo’s view is allegedly the “Modified Lutheran View” in this book.

What is astonishing to me about these statements, particularly the critical one made by Pratt, is that it seems to me neither of them has interacted with Lutheranism in a meaningful fashion. You see, Lutheranism has a very simple way to see what it does or does not teach: The Book of Concord. These contain the Lutheran Confessions which, from the earliest period of Lutheranism, are the means by which one may distinguish between teaching which is Lutheran or which is not Lutheran. Surely, anyone who seeks to critique the Lutheran view (Pratt) or “modify” it (Moo) should first go to see what Lutherans believe!

The Lutheran Confessions make it clear that both of these authors–and those who follow their interpretation of the Lutheran view–are mistaken. I’ll highlight a few statements below:

All Scripture should be divided into these two main topics: the law and the promises [Gospel]. In some places it communicates the law. In other places it communicates the promise concerning Christ… (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV.5)

…Scripture is full of such testimonies. In some places it commends the law, in other places it commends the promises… (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV.102)

These, and many other citations, make it clear that the entirety of Scripture contains both Law and Gospel. Moreover, the entire Article V of the Formula of Concord teaches that these two doctrines are found both in the Old and New Testament. In fact, the confessors noted that Jesus’ ministry demonstrated both aspects. Because Jesus’ ministry is in the New Testament, and yet Jesus utilized the law, it is clear that the Lutheran view is not a discontinuity between the Old and New Testament. For Pratt, this means that his allegation that his Reformed position preserves unity of Scripture as opposed to the Lutheran view which divides it is far off the mark. Lutherans hold that both law and gospel are found throughout the Bible, and the discontinuity is resolved by properly distinguishing these teachings. For Moo, this basically means his “modified Lutheran” view simply isn’t Lutheran.

Long story short: the Lutheran view of Law and Gospel is not a temporal dividing line between the Old and New Testament.

Links

The Law Always Condemns, The Gospel Always Saves. Or, why I’m a Lutheran.– I outline the Lutheran view of Law and Gospel with references. If you’re interest at all in this discussion, I recommend you read this post to be sure you’re not messing up the distinctions Lutherans make.

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Sources

Douglas Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan 1999).

Richard Pratt, Jr. “A Reformed Response” in Understanding Four Views on Baptism edited by Paul Engle and John Armstrong (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).

The Book of Concord edited by Kolb et al. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Law Always Condemns, The Gospel Always Saves. Or, why I’m a Lutheran.

Gebhard_Fugel_Moses_erhält_die_TafelnComparing Holy Scripture with other writings, we observe that no book is apparently so full of contradictions as the Bible, and that, not only in minor points, but in the principal matter, in the doctrine how we may come to God and be saved… This riddle is solved when we reflect that there are in Scriptures two entirely different doctrines, the doctrine of the Law and the doctrine of the Gospel. C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, 6 (cited fully below)

How are Christians to view the relationship between Law and Gospel? The issue has generated countless views and debates. One recent work which illustrates the breadth of views on this topic is Five Views on Law and Gospel, which outlines the major views on the issue.

C.F.W. Walther’s work, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, is what I would consider the definitive work on Law and Gospel. Here, I will outline what I believe is the correct understanding of Law and Gospel, while drawing heavily from Walther’s work.

Law and Gospel

The most central point of all–that is, the point that I hope readers remember if nothing else–is this: The Law always condemns, the Gospel always saves. This point is emphasized throughout Lutheran theology. What does it mean? Simply put: it means that these two doctrines, found throughout Scripture, have entirely distinct meanings and usages. One cannot intermingle law and gospel while remaining true to either doctrine. Wherever the Gospel is presented as if it had requirements attached to it, there the Gospel is not rightly preached. Whenever the Law is preached as if it offered some kind of free gift, it is not rightly preached. 

Law only has power to condemn. It cannot save. That is because none can keep God’s Law. All sin, and all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Law shows what God requires of us. It “issues only commands and demands” (Walther, Proper Distinction…, 9).

In contrast, the Gospel only gives offers without requirements attached (ibid). The Gospel shows us God’s promises and offer of grace.

At first face, one examines the whole of the Bible and finds these teachings throughout. The teachings seem so at odds with one another that one might suspect a contradiction throughout the Biblical teaching. However, the fact is that both doctrines are “equally necessary. Without the Law the Gospel is not understood; without the Gospel the Law benefits us nothing” (Ibid, 8). The reason this is so important is because Law and Gospel are not opposites working against each other. Instead, both “have their final aim [human] salvation” (Ibid, 7). They work together to present a full picture of how salvation comes unto men.

The Law, as we have noted, cannot bring salvation because none but God can fulfill it. That is, it gives the requirements for salvation but no one can meet these requirements! We would all be lost if this were the whole of Biblical teaching. Yet there is more to the story, for the Gospel offers only its promises. God has promised to save. He is mighty to save. God has accomplished our salvation. And this salvation does not come with requirements attached. Such is our hope.

Most simply put then, the purpose of the Law is to show our need for the Gospel because we cannot meet the requirements of the Law. The purpose of the Gospel is to show that God has already met these requirements for us in Jesus Christ and to offer us that fulfillment through Christ’s atoning work. So the Gospel, without the Law, would be empty promises. What need have we for Gospel if we are not sinners? Yet without the Gospel, the Law is only a terror which tells us that all are condemned.

sketch-for-the-crucifixion-thomas-eakinsSome Distortions

A number of objections have been raised against this understanding of Law and Gospel. For example: “[The notion t]hat the law must be viewed as a single entity is one of the most common of all objections made against the Christian use of the Law” (Walter Kaiser, Jr., “The Law as God’s Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness,” 188, cited below). Kaiser then argues against viewing the Law as a single entity. He makes distinctions between Civil, Ceremonial, and Moral laws. I agree that we can make these distinctions, but they do not somehow mean it is impossible to refer to the “Law” as a whole entity with all of the commands God has issued.

Another common objection is that of dispensational thought. It is often charged that because we live in a new dispensation, the teachings of the Mosaic Law, for example, no longer apply to us. Without commenting on the plausibility of dispensationalism, I would simply answer that it seems extremely hard to reconcile the notion that the Mosaic Law has no applicability in our own context with Jesus’ words about the Law: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Note that this verse also shows Christ using the “Law” as a single, coherent entity.

Yet does this mean that everything recorded in the Mosaic Law has applicability exactly as written? No. A further discussion along this line of thought would take me too far afield, but I think that the Bible does clearly teach there is some discontinuity between the application of Mosaic Law to the Jew and the New Covenant with Christians (for example, the dietary laws do not apply to Christians). This hints back at the divisions Kaiser was keen to make within the Law, and I think the application to the Christian life can be viewed within the categories he discusses.

Conclusion

There is so much more worth saying about Law and Gospel, but in the interest of keeping this post at a readable length, I have had to set some aside. Interested readers should see the annotated sources below.

We have seen that the Law and Gospel must be properly divided in order to properly understand the whole of the Bible’s teaching. Why do I say that this is why I’m a Lutheran? I hope, at least, that other branches of Christianity teach these distinctions between Law and Gospel. But I have to admit that I have not seen it so consistently done as it is within the Lutheran perspective. Martin Luther was right to focus directly upon this teaching, and I believe it is central to the Reformation[s]. It touches upon soteriology, sanctification, the atonement, and more. Thus, I think it is vitally important to get this doctrine correct. In my studies, I have found no teaching so close to the Biblical truth as the Lutheran teaching on Law and Gospel. I’m not saying that everyone should go and become Lutherans. Instead, I think that everyone should benefit from learning the proper distinction between Law and Gospel and apply it to their lives.

The Law always condemns, the Gospel always saves.

Appendix: The Modified Lutheran View?

I think it is important to note that the view put forth as “The Modified Lutheran View” in Five Views on Law and Gospel is not, so far as I can tell, the Lutheran view at all. I want to make this clear because we need to avoid this misunderstanding. Douglas Moo’s view essentially seems to be  temporally-based. He writes, “Basic… to biblical revelation is the contrast between ‘before’ and ‘after’ Christ, a contrast between two ‘ages’ or ‘eras’… the New Testament writers… relegate [the Mosaic Law] basically to the period of time before the coming of Christ” (322).

Those who have stuck with me this long should be able to immediately see how this is utterly different from the Lutheran view I proposed above. The distinction between law and gospel is not a temporal distinction whatsoever. The Law is still with us. Walther himself makes this explicit: “[W]e find both teachings in the Old as well as in the New Testament” (Proper Distinction… 62). There is no temporal dividing line between Old and New such that some new reality has dawned on Law and Gospel. Instead, the Law continues to condemn, while the Gospel continues to save.

Yet Moo goes so far as to say this is a point which needs to be “corrected” within the Lutheran view (ibid). He seems to think that Lutherans would deny that Jesus was able to speak law, while also mistakenly painting the Sermon on the Mount as being a preaching entirely of the Law. Indeed, Moo’s view seems to affirm many of the basic tenants the Lutheran view explicitly denies, such as mixing the uses of Law and Gospel.

I thus would say that Moo’s position is not at all the Lutheran view. It is not a modified Lutheran view at all. Instead, it seems to violate a number of the primary distortions noted above. That said, Moo does admirably to defend the notion of the Law as a coherent, cohesive whole. There is much to commend Moo’s essay, but it ultimately fails, I think, to provide a properly Lutheran view of Law and Gospel.

Links

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Annotated Sources

C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1986). This is Walther’s magisterial work on Law and Gospel. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I personally think this book should be required reading for every single seminarian. He goes through and lists numerous distinctions to be made in learning, teaching, and applying Law and Gospel. Every Christian should read this book and apply it to their lives.

For a more succinct summary of what Walther argues in the above, see God’s No and God’s Yes: The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. This latter work is essentially the same in content as Walther’s text, but 1/4 the length. It is out of print, it seems, which is very unfortunate. I do recommend it highly. But if you cannot get

Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan 1999) – I specifically used the following essays: Walter Kaiser, Jr., “The Law as God’s Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry, 177-199, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999); Douglas Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry, 319-376, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999). I found this book to be very helpful in outlining various views, but was disappointed with the “modified Lutheran view” (see my appendix here).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Evangelical Philosophical Society annual meeting (check out my thoughts on the whole thing). The theme of the meeting was “Caring for Creation” and although I generally went to other talks with topics that interested me more, I did get the chance to listen to a talk by Douglas Moo, “Biblical Theology and Creation Care” followed by a panel discussion on caring for creation. The talk by Moo was one of the best papers I attended, and the panel discussion afterwards was both informative and contentious. Readers, I hope you’ll look through the whole thing and engage in some dialogue here. This is an extremely interesting topic and I’d love to read your thoughts on it. I’ll start here by summarizing the highlights of Moo’s paper. Then I’ll look at the panel discussion.

Douglas Moo- “Biblical Theology and Creation Care”

The thrust of Moo’s argument was twofold: first, to outline a “Biblical Theology” and apply that to the notion of stewardship; second, to hint at a strategy going forward for evangelicals interacting with creation care.

There are three ways to look at the texts in regards to creation care: resistance (a pattern which allows one specific interpretation or approach to trump all others and therefore forces all texts into a certain paradigm); recovery (look at different texts and incorporate a broad view that supports an ecological interpretation); and revisionism (adopt a constructive and creative approach that makes meaning from the text while recognizing broad continuity with the text). Moo noted difficulties with all three of these and endorsed a kind of recovery/revisionist approach which “sees the ‘Green'” in the texts while also not forcing texts to be about environmentalism in every case. Furthermore, a sparseness of texts does not necessarily entail that no theology can be drawn from a topic. Instead, there are enough verses which can address creation care to paint in broad strokes.

From this approach, Moo argued that there is a pattern of fulfillment in the New Testament which does not abrogate the Old Testament teachings on creation care but rather incorporates them into the whole world. We are called, Moo argued, to see our authority over the earth as not our own but as Christ’s as Creator.
Moo argued that we must not ignore God’s broad interpretation of “neighbor.” God’s view of neighbor includes not just your friends and your enemies but also those yet unborn. Our culture can be a positive influence in some ways by informing how we can prioritize our work in caring for creation. Furthermore, the concerns of our surrounding culture can inform the directions theology must take. For example, he noted that it was no accident that theologians turned to investigating texts in light of personhood debates in the 1970s with the abortion movement: culture can inform the direction that theology needs to explore, thus giving a more robust theology for coming generations. “When faced with challenges or large scale movements, the church rightly turns to the Bible to see what it may say on that issue.”

Moo then turned to the created world. We are able to learn truths about the world through scientific research. Moo argued that “truth discovered by scientists in the natural world” can inform our worldview because they are viewing the  evidence left behind from Creation. It is not scientific theory vs. scientific fact or science vs. the Bible. Instead, Christians must see truth as both interpretations of the science as well as interpretations of the Bible. “We cannot dictate Scripture by science but… current scientific data should not be dismissed unless there is an extremely solid Biblical ground that contradicts this data.” Yes, science changes, but so do interpretations. Sometimes science can inform us of a faulty interpretation of the text. It can cause us to turn to the text to look for a better understanding of both special and natural revelation.

Moo argued that there is a broad scientific consensus regarding climate change. It is happening and it is at least partially caused by humans. Not all scientists are saying the exact same thing in regards to climate change, but the broad consensus is that it is at least partially anthropogenic.–caused by humans.

Thus, Moo argued, “Biblical theologians have no basis as laity in science to reject what science is telling us on this topic [global warming].” The Bible informs us of the disastrous effects humans can have on the earth, from the fall to Israel’s continued rebellions, which brought harm to the earth itself. Similarly, our own modern rebellions can lead to horrifying effects on the earth.

Moo concluded with a call to Christian philosophers and theologians–and more generally, to Christians at large. “We should be at the forefront of confronting” climate change. We must be concerned with caring for creation.

Panel Discussion

The panel discussion after Moo’s talk quickly became contentious. E. Calvin Beisner began by arguing that we must not lose the distinction between scientific models and reality. He noted that a scientific consensus does not necessarily mean reality, and that dissenting scientists were often those whose careers couldn’t be threatened by loss of livelihood. He generally expressed skepticism over the extent of humanity’s causing climate change.

After Beisner’s general response, the moderator began a Q+A session in which all the panelists- Moo, Beisner, Russell Moore, and Richard Bauckham would be allowed to respond to each question. The first question asked about the political nature of the discussion. All the panelists generally agreed that the discussion goes beyond politics and into interdisciplinary studies of geology, climatology, philosophy, theology, and beyond.

Next, “What can churches do to enhance creation care?” Moo argued that it needs to become an agenda item that churches regularly touch upon. He also said there are a number of easy ways to reduce one’s climate impact that can be incorporated in one’s daily routines. Bauckham expressed a desire for every church to have a ‘care of creation’ group which would inform their church on issues involved in creation care. Beisner also advocated easy things that can be incorporated into one’s life to take care of creation. Moore was concerned with a tangible connection to creation–he advocated getting people out into nature for walks and camping and a fuller understanding of God’s creation.

The next question related to the facts that each would say are agreed upon by all panelists despite their some contradictory opinions. It seemed that across the board they agreed that some climate change is happening. Moo noted that it is easy to find someone to disagree with any fact, but that doesn’t undermine truth.

Another question that came up was where the panelists thought creation care should rank in regards to a priority for Christians. The general view expressed across the board was that there is no easy way to say this should be a number one concern or where it fell in line with other major concerns like abortion, evangelism, and the like. Instead, all the scholars seemed to say that it is people’s duty to be informed on this topic and to do what they can.

Interestingly, the question: “What are areas of agreement with the other panelists?” was the one that generated the most controversy. It started off well enough with the panelists noting actual areas of agreement. However, once the moderator (whose name I didn’t catch) noted the problem of the West’s excessive consumption, the discussion became heated. Beisner followed this comment with a rather lengthy argument that we need to move past the current scenario of reducing CO2 as a brute cure to the problem. He argued that this could be disastrous to the developing world. The developing world often is still using wood for fuel and to try to prevent them from using coal and other carbon-dioxide producing fuels would not only slow their development but also possibly cause deaths now due to inadequate heating, poor quality water, and the like. He made note of a few studies to this effect and argued that we can’t reduce climate change at the cost of humans who are here now struggling to get enough food and water to survive. He noted one study which showed that the more money spent on reducing climate change, the less the per capita income in the developing world becomes. Thus, he expressed concern for the people on earth now who might suffer from these measures.

Moo then noted truth in what Beisner was saying–we need to be aware of the harm we can cause and see if certain methods of prevention have a cost too high–but dissented from Beisner in arguing that we must also take into account sustainability and future generations, even if that may not make for the ideal “now” for everyone.

Bauckham really turned up the heat when he started his response by saying “Remember Galileo.” He noted that Galileo was initally condemned due to Scripture, but his example shows how trying to “predict from Scripture what science must observe is extremely dangerous.” He said that we need to stop playing “silly games with pseudoscience” [clearly aimed at Beisner’s use of arguments against the consensus Moo and the others argued was in place] and step outside of the Amero-centric view of the world. Regarding the developing world, he responded to Beisner by saying that whole nations are afraid of being consumed by the oceans, which is of course of utmost concern. He expressed worry that Christians in other countries saw Christians in the U.S. as disregarding the ecological crises of our time. Finally, he made a jab at Beisner saying that denying anthropogenic climate change is to the scientific community like denying the existence of Jesus would be to the panel.

Beisner immediately responded, saying that Bauckham had been disingenuous and that he felt the language used was troubling. He argued that the supposed consensus is not a true consensus and that there is debate among experts related to the extent of anthropogenic climate change.

Moore closed this part of the discussion by noting that it is easy to attack each other but that there is a general agreement: things need to change. He advocated change on a local level, with everyone trying to carry a bit of the load for a “full reform of culture.”

Conclusion

There were a number of themes I took away from this discussion. First, I think Moo is spot on when he notes that Biblical theologians have no right to tell scientists what their data is. Moo’s presentation has reverberations for other issues, such as the age of the earth. Not only that, but his general notion of culture driving theology and vice versa was a very interesting concept of which people should take note. Finally, his call to Christians to be at the forefront of confronting climate change and being good stewards of Creation must be taken to heart.

Despite the generally contentious nature of the panel discussion, it remains the case that all the panelists advocated a need to care for creation. The debate was over how that must take place. Clearly, the notion of anthropogenic global warming was a hot topic, but again all the panelists agreed that we need to be doing better than we are now.

What do you think of all these discussions? What can we do? What should we do? Let’s hear it!

Image

The third image is credited to: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Forest_in_Yakushima_30.jpg.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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