Re: The Problem of Liberal Theology

From: george murphy (
Date: Thu May 09 2002 - 08:09:53 EDT

  • Next message: Jim Eisele: "Days of Genesis"

    Graham Morbey wrote:

    > George,
    > You have referred to a sharp distinction between "law" and "gospel". This
    > two-realm theory seems to be a sort of criterion for answering some
    > important issues in theology and life. I would find it helpful if you
    > would give us some biblical exegesis supporting such a thesis.
    > Some questions:
    > 1. How is the two-realm theory related to christology/creation?
    > 2. Is law (as used in the theory) neutral?
    > 3. The biblical story of creation, fall and redemption seems to me
    > to suggest that sin and salvation holds for the whole cosmos in
    > its relation to the Trinitarian God. It may be that on this view
    > gospel needs to redeem law which might break the Lutheran
    > dualism?
    > I am agreeing with you, George, in wanting to call Christians to a fuller
    > faithful understanding of "science" and I think the sacraments are
    > integral and primary to moving forward on this understanding.

             The Lutheran idea of "two realms" (Zweireichenlehre) is not the same as
    the distinction between law and gospel, though there are close
    relations between
    the them
             The law-gospel distinction does not rest so much on
    individual texts as on
    the fact that there are two basically different types of statements
    in scripture -
    and more generally two types of theological statements - about the
    relationship of
    God and humans. "Gospel" in the narrow sense is the message of God's free and
    totally unmerited grace, mercy, blessing &c. It is, as far as the
    human subject
    is concerned, totally unconditions - no "ifs". "Law" on the other hand is
    conditional: If you do this you get such and such reward - &
    conversely, if you
    don't do this you won't get it. It is promise of reward if you obey
    & threat of
    punishment if you don't.
             The distinction is essential in order to maintain the
    fundamental doctrine
    that God freely accepts humans for Christ sake. That is gospel. Law
    is necessary
    - primarily in order to bring sinners to an awareness of the need for
    salvation &
    also to maintain order in society. But it is not to be mixed with or confused
    with gospel. If that happens then there is, in subtle or crass ways,
    some type of
    partial or total works righteousness.
             The classic work on this is C.F.W. Walther's The Proper Distinction
    between Law and Gospel. It's well worth reading, though it assumes a
    rather rigid
    biblical & confessional literalism.
             Concerning your questions -
             1a) Christ as teacher proclaimed both law and gospel. His
    primary role,
    however, is not that of a new lawgiver (for the law he proclaims is
    explication of
    that of the OT) but as the basis for the gospel - Jn.3:16.
             1b) The law-gospel distinction is intended to deal with the
    situation of
    people in the world today - i.e., sinners for whom God has made
    available the gift
    of salvation. When we speak about creation & talk about "laws of
    nature" we are
    really using "law" in a different sense. Creation itself is gift -
    that is what
    creatio ex nihilo means - & therefore could be called "gospel". OTOH, care for
    creation, including both the natural world and human society,
    requires law. But I
    don't know if it's helpful to push the distinction too far.
             2) I'm not sure what you mean by the law being "neutral".
    Law itself is
    good and points toward God's will for the world. But the primary
    function of the
    law, revealing human sinfulness, is negative - "the law always accuses".
             3) Consequently gospel doesn't "redeem" law. As long as sin exists -
    which it always will until the eschaton - then law has its proper
    function. But
    that function is to preserve & prepare for the work of the gospel. To
    oversimplify considerably, law is John the Baptist and gospel is Christ.
    (OTOH law/gospel isn't OT/NT. There is both law & gospel in both OT & NT.)



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu May 09 2002 - 12:20:11 EDT