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Posts tagged "Gerhard Forde"


On Naked Trust: Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, Revisited

This weekend our friends in San Diego, at the Here We Still Stand conference, are commemorating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s landmark disputation wherein he drew a distinction between a “theology of glory” and a “theology of the cross.” With this in mind, we’ve selected the following excerpts (doozies, really!) from one of Mockingbird’s favorite and most frequently referenced texts—Gerhard Forde’s On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518. (Note the language may at first blush seem lofty or abstract, but the gist, when you get to it, yields major implications for everyday life.) This, on our relationship to God:

It is a sheer gift to be received only by faith, by being called into relationship as an entirely passive receiver. God, that is, insists on being related to us as the giver of the gift. What God “demands” is, as Luther will put it a bit later, “naked trust,” pure receivers. To be a receiver, to believe that the gift is complete, is to be “right with God.”

This means there are two ways we can miss the mark of righteousness before God, two ways the relationship can be destroyed. One is more or less obvious: outright sinfulness, unrighteousness, lawlessness, self-indulgence, what the Bible would call “worldliness” or, perhaps in more modern dress, carelessness or heedlessness. In other words, we can just say to God, “No thanks, I don’t want it, I’ll take my own chances.” The other is much less obvious and more subtle, one that morally earnest people have much more trouble with: turning our back on the gift and saying in effect, “I do agree with what you demand, but I don’t want charity. That’s too demeaning. So I prefer to do it myself. What you are offering is ‘too cheap.’ I prefer the law, thank you very much. That seems safer to me.” What this means, of course, is that secretly we find doing it ourselves more flattering to our self-esteem — the current circumlocution for pride. The law, that is, even the law of God, ‘the most salutary doctrine of life,’ is used as a defense against the gift. Thus, the more we “succeed,” the worse off we are. The relationship to the giver of the gift is broken. To borrow the language of addiction again, it is the addiction that destroys the relationship. The alcoholic can be either a drunk or a “dry drunk.” While the latter is socially preferable, there is little to choose between them in a broader religious view. One can be addicted to what is base or to what is high, either to lawlessness or to lawfulness. Theologically there is not any difference since both break the relationship to God, the giver. (26-27)

…preaching against our own ability…does not give cause for despair because it seeks to prevent the ultimate despair that will inevitably result if we rely on those abilities. At the same time it is true that such preaching brings about the final surrender of faith in self, the “utter despair of our own ability” that is inspired by and prepares to receive the grace of Christ. Ultimate despair is due to the temptation to believe that there is no hope beyond our own abilities. Despair itself then becomes ultimate and so leads to death. Utter despair of our own ability, however, looks to the grace of Christ and so leads to life. (66-67)

The Trouble with Ladder Theology

From Gerhard Forde’s Where God Meets Man, pp 7-11, ht MF:

…what is wrong with our usual understanding of the Christian faith[?] We tend to think it has to do primarily with “going up” somewhere — either to heaven or to some kind of “religious perfection.” The Christian faith is often likened to climbing a ladder or, if you will, a staircase. Take, for example, the symbol of “Jacob’s ladder.” In the middle ages it was popular, especially among mystics, as a symbol of the struggle the Christian must undertake to reach perfection…

The difficulty with the idea of the ladder, however, is that it tends to send us off into the wrong direction. It tends to make us concerned with works of pious sublimation; it involves us in the task of ascending to heaven when we should be seeking like our Lord to come down to earth, to learn what it means to be a Christian here on this earth…

The troublesome question of the nature of law and gospel and the relationship between them…it is here, in the question of the law and the gospel, that our incurable tendency to go “up the down staircase” is most apparent… The main trouble is that this “ladder theology” inevitably distorts our understanding of the gospel. The gospel is taken captive by the system and turned into a new kind of law… The gospel comes to make up for the deficiencies of the law. The gospel does not come as anything really new. It is not the breaking in of a radically new age with an entirely new outlook. It is simply “a repair job.” …The net result is that the gospel itself simply becomes another kind of law. (pp. 7-11)

Lex Semper Accusat

Lex Semper Accusat

The following is excerpted from Mockingbird’s Law & Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints).  If the law were simply a matter of doing or not doing, commission or omission, we might reasonably imagine we have a shot at keeping it. And sometimes the echoes of law we hear in society are strictly behavioral. Not […]

Hopelessly Devoted: Mark Chapter Eight Verses Twenty Eight Through Thirty Nine

Hopelessly Devoted: Mark Chapter Eight Verses Twenty Eight Through Thirty Nine

This morning’s devotion comes to us from Laurel Marr. O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee; I lay in dust life’s glory dead, And from the ground there blossoms red Life that shall endless be. O Love That Will Not Let Me Go, George Matheson, 1882 Paul, […]

The Magnetism of the Exiled Soul to <i>Stranger Things</i>

The Magnetism of the Exiled Soul to Stranger Things

The most succinct way to describe Stranger Things is to say that it’s Steven Spielberg meets Stephen King–meets Netflix. It’s eight episodes and totally watchable in one week, or one night, depending on how willing you are to sacrifice your REMs. (Be warned: You’ll find it hard to finish one episode and resist at least watching […]

A SuperBetter You, A SuperBetter Me: Gaming the New Self-Help

A SuperBetter You, A SuperBetter Me: Gaming the New Self-Help

In certain sectors the news couldn’t have been bigger. Yet I’m afraid it missed the mocking-orbit completely. I’m referring to the announcement back in March that Steven Spielberg would be directing the film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 book Ready Player One. After the author showed up in the Atari documentary driving a restored Dolorean, […]

The Danger of Rolling Suffering Into Evil (According to Gerhard Forde)

A helpful and ever-timely distinction from pages 84-85 of On Being a Theologian of the Cross:

luther-preaching

“Contemporary theologians talk much about the problem of evil. Some think it is the most difficult problem for theology today and one of the most persistent causes of unbelief. … Since suffering is itself classified as evil, it is of course simply lumped together with disaster, crime, misfortune of every sort, abuse, holocaust, and all manner of notorious wrong as one and the same problem. So it is almost universally the case that theologians and philosophers include suffering without further qualification among those things they call evil. … Evil does cause suffering — but not always. Indeed, the usual complaint is that the evil don’t seem to suffer. However, the causes of suffering may not always be evil — perhaps not even most of the time. Love can cause suffering. Beauty can be the occasion for suffering. Children with their demands and impetuous cries can cause suffering. Just the toil and trouble of daily life can cause suffering, and so on. Yet these are surely not to be termed evil. The problem of suffering should not just be rolled up with the problem of evil…”

“Identification of suffering with evil has the further result that God must be absolved from all blame. Thus, the theologian of glory adds to the perfidy of false speech by trying to assure us that God, of course, has nothing to do with suffering and evil. God is “good,” the rewarder of all our “good” works, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of merit. …Meanwhile, suffering goes on unabated. If God has nothing to do with suffering, what is he involved with? Whoever does not know God hidden in suffering, Luther asserts in his proof, does not know God at all.”

And speaking of God hidden in suffering, today’s bonus track would have to be JAZ’s new mix, “For the Heads and the Heart”, which was selected as Dream Chimney’s current mix of the week:

Gerhard Forde on the Language of Grace

Another gem from theologian Gerhard Forde, via one of his responses in Five Views of Sanctification, pg 192:

The language of grace must be a language that comes totally from without. It does not call on the old self, not even the inner life of the old self, to somehow traverse a new way. It announces him who is the Way. It is thus a use of language which does not call on the old self to “surrender”; rather it is a use of language which through its very givenness slays the old by the absolute unconditionality of the gift itself… the Word does not call on our old being to die. It simply announces that we have died, and sanctification occurs to the degree that we get used to that fact…

Love is the source and goal of sanctification, but the only way to bring that about is to simply announce, “I love you.” The word of grace must bring the old unlovely and unloving existence to an end by the sheer strength of the promise, the gift, which breaks into our dreary lives and just announces flat-out that the old has passed away and the new is here.

What Shall We Be? (According to Gerhard Forde)

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.”

Gerhard Forde Doesn’t Shore Up the Old Adam, But Kills Him

Here is a drastic parting of the ways with a theology of glory. The Christ of the Cross takes away the possibility of doing something. The theologian of glory might be able to follow to the point of accepting the truth that Christ has fulfilled all things, but then that will have to be used as a motivational tool to make sure the law gets its due. The point is precisely that the power to do good comes only out of this wild claim that everything has already been done. The language has to break out into preaching. Never mind that when we look to ourselves we find no sign of good works. Never mind our fears and our anxieties. We are looking in the wrong place. Look to Christ! He has done it all. Nothing will be gained by trying to shore up the Old Adam. Christ leaves nothing for the Old Adam and Eve to do. The old can only be killed by the law, not given artificial respiration by recourse to it… To the theologian of the cross the language of grace and faith must be pushed absolutely to this length – until it kills the old and raises the new.

-Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross

The Logic of Grace and the Exclusivity of Meaning

The Logic of Grace and the Exclusivity of Meaning

I was a bit surprised, reading Bulfinch’s Mythology yesterday, to discover an interesting ‘allegorizing’ move in the Greek myth of a river-god, Achelous, losing his horn. Hercules and Achelous, the story goes, were wrestling for the right to wed Dejanira, a beautiful woman. Achelous transforms into various creatures, including a snake, in his attempt to best […]

Gerhard Forde on What Matters

From the brilliant Gerhard Forde’s sermon on Galatians 6, found in his work on the Captivation of the Will:

For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.

-Galatians 6:15-16

Captivation-of-the-Will-Forde-Gerhard-O-9780802829061“The God of all grace and mercy whose intention it is to relate to us through faith and trust has (you might say) two big problems with us – both of which destroy the relationship God purposes.

One is quite obvious. It is the problem designated by ‘uncircumcision,’ or the problem of our lawlessness, our existence among the lesser breeds without the law, our immorality and waywardness and heedlessness, even our temptation to boast in it. We are all aware enough of such things to acknowledge the problem and to recognize that it destroys faith and trust.

But the other problem is more subtle, and mostly hidden from us, especially at this place. It is really the main one that Paul wrestles with in his letters. It is the problem of the ‘circumcision,’ the problem of our lawfulness, our morality, our holiness, our so-called sanctification, our do-it-yourself religions, and all of that. What we don’t see is that the ‘circumcision’ destroys the relationship of faith and trust as surely as the ‘uncircumcision.’

So now God has acted finally in this very proclamation by his apostles to have his way with us. God has taken the whole business out of our hands. Neither your lawlessness nor your lawfulness, you immorality nor your morality, your unholiness nor your holiness – none of it matters a bit now, but a new creation. Indeed, in most radical fashion, Paul announces not only that it no longer matters but that it is now exposed as sin! ‘The scripture consigned all things – good and bad! – to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.’ ‘Whatever is not of faith is sin’ (Gal 3:22; Rom 14:23). All escape routes shut down. There is nothing to be done now but just listen. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision count for anything, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule.”