It’s been a while since we posted one of Gerhard Forde’s inspired rants. This one comes from his essay “Radical Lutheranism”, which you can read here. The identity crisis to which he refers is that of confessional Lutherans in the late 1980s America, but the insights apply more widely:

radical“What shall we be? Let us be radicals: not conservatives or liberals, fundagelicals or charismatics (or whatever other brand of something-less-than gospel entices), but radicals: radical preachers and practitioners of the gospel by justification by faith without the deeds of the law. We should pursue it to the radical depths already plumbed by St. Paul, especially in Romans and Galatians, when he saw that justification by faith without the deeds of the law really involves and announces the death of the old being and the calling forth of the new in hope. We stand at a crossroads. Either we must become more radical about the gospel, or we would be better off to forget it altogether.

We should realize first of all that what is at stake on the current scene is certainly not Lutheranism as such. Lutheranism has no particular claim or right to existence. Rather, what is at stake is the radical gospel, radical grace, the eschatological nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen as put in its most uncompromising and unconditional form by St. Paul. We need to take stock of the fact that while such radical Paulinism is in itself open to both church and world (because it announces a Christ who is the end of the law, the end of all earthly particularities and hegemonies), it is, no doubt for that very reason, always homeless in this age, always suspect, always under attack, always pressured to compromise and sell its birthright for a mess of worldly pottage…

We must realize there is not just external reason for our identity crisis but deep theological and, for want of a better word, existential reason. It lies simply in Lutheranism’s fateful attachment to the Pauline gospel in a world whose entire reason for being is opposed to it. All who adopt such a stance will find themselves constantly on the defensive not only before the world but especially before the religious enterprises, not to say the churches, of the world…

If we are to probe to the root, the radix, of our identity crisis, however, we must dig beneath even the world’s general disapproval. Theological anthropology, the understanding of human existence itself before God, is perhaps the place where the crisis becomes most apparent. The fact is that the radical Pauline gospel of justification by faith without the deeds of the law calls for a fundamentally different anthropology and with it a different theological ‘‘system’’ (if there be such!) from that to which the world is necessarily committed. The radical gospel of justification by faith alone simply does not fit, cannot be accepted by, and will not work with an anthropology which sees the human being as a continuously existing subject possessing ‘‘free choice of will’’ over against God and/or other religious goals. The radical gospel is the end of that being and the beginning of a new being in faith and hope.”