Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Jesus is quite clear

A recent interchange between an admittedly revisionist Lutheran pastor, Brian Stofregen and a biblical scholar, Robert Gagnon. Please note the link Gagnon provides on his rejoinder to Wink.

On Jun 3rd, 2005, 10:15pm, Brian Stoffregen wrote:

"One of the ways that these verses are interpreted, and perhaps only by Lutherans, is that Jesus intensifies the law to make it impossible for us to keep. Those who thought they were doing pretty well in regards to obeying the law, find themselves coming up short. Lutherans believe in the theological use of the law -- it is a mirror to show us our sinfulness, to kill our own abilities, to pound us to our knees before Christ."


"All Christians who are faithful accept one function of the law as making us aware of our sinfulness and driving us to Christ. This is the point of Rom 3:20 ("through the law comes a knowledge of sin") and Gal 2:19 ("I through the law died to the law"; compare the "through the law" phrases in Rom 3:20 and 7:7-23). But you seem to be going further than that and saying that moral transformation is an insignificant feature of the Christian life.

That returns us to our earlier exchange in which I cited Luther, the Augsburg Confession, and Melanchthon's Apology, as well as St. Paul; and then David Yeago weighed in with more material on Luther. I think the point was made that you have sold short the New Testament's (including Jesus') repeated call for the transformed life, not merely as a means to drive us to Christ, but in driving us to Christ also creating an effect of dying to self so that Christ actually begins living in us--a message picked up by Luther and early Lutherans. As Paul says in 1 Cor 6:10, "these things some of you used to be, but you were washed, justified, and sanctified by the Spirit in the name of Christ."

Brian Stoffregen wrote:

"I have yet to find anyone who has mastered the ability to refrain from lusting after another person; or to constantly love their enemies. I realize that some interpret these as a short, interim ethic when they believed Jesus would return very soon. Over the long haul, they are rules that we fail to obey. They reveal our sinfulness. The righteousness and holiness that people believed they achieved through obedience to the OT law is not nearly righteous or holy enough."


"I know that some scholars in the past, including Lutherans, have interpreted Jesus' message in Matt 5 in the way you appear to be interpreting it. But I don't know any major NT commentator who now interprets these texts in this light.

It certainly doesn't make sense of Jesus' repeated emphasis of the consequences of failing to live a transformed life. Is he only pretending about such things as well? Look at the triad of warnings closing the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 7: The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and few find it. Many will say to me in that day "Lord, Lord" and I will say that I never knew you because you did not bear fruit consonant with your confession of me as Lord. Those who merely hear my words but don't do them are likened to those who build their house on sand; when the storm comes, great is the fall. So what is Jesus doing here? Is he lying to us? Is he misleading us? The gate really isn't narrow? Those who say "Lord, Lord" but don't lead a transformed life that actually lives in obedience to their confessed Lord are not really in danger?

It's hard to fathom this as a mere pretend scare tactic that has no basis in reality. Jesus is quite clear: who are my mother and brothers? Those who do the will of God (Mark 3). And in the midst of talking about sex in the antitheses in Matt 5 appears the following saying: If your hand or eye threatens your downfall, cut it off; it is better to go into heaven maimed than to go into hell full-bodied. What does that mean? According to your interpretation, apparently, it doesn't mean anything; or, worse, it is pure deception on Jesus' part since there is no apparent danger in leading sexually immoral lives. Jesus is quite clear, in a saying that is attested repeatedly in the Gospels: If anyone wants to follow me, he must take up his cross and deny himself. The one who wants to save his life in this world will lose it; but the one who loses his life for my sake will save it.

Go to my website and read my response on pp. 6-14 to Wink's claims that the theme of judgment for failure to live the transformed life was not even "an" important component of Jesus' overall message. You will see a truckload of Jesus sayings on the subject; and here I confined myself only to material in Mark, the double tradition (Q), and special Lukan material (I left out special Matthean material, unless also attested in the Gospel of Thomas, since Wink falsely claimed that the theme of judgment in Matthew was due to Matthew's "unresolved anger"!).

Of course, we don't attain to Jesus' standards perfectly. And Jesus in Luke 17 (cf. Matt 18) stated that if a follower sins, he/she is to be rebuked, and if he repents he is forgiven, even if he sins the same sin seven times a day. But the failure even to repent, that is what cannot be tolerated by the church. The person who truly believes that Christ is Lord will be empowered by the Spirit to a transformed life; not perfection, but nonetheless transformed. You seem to be rejecting one of the most basic Christian teachings."


Anonymous said...

Gagnon is perhaps the best reason the ELCA went into full communion with the PCUSA. I believe if the ELCA leadership knew about him ahead of time, they would have post-poned full communion, given his weight among many of us with regards to biblical matters. Thank God for him and his faithfulness.

Rob Buechler

Lost_in_Chicago said...

Don't know about the rest of you, but, these ELCA trained theologians never fail to amaze me. However, considering their seminary curriculum consists of “Feminist Theology in the Christian Tradition”, “Black Theology/Womanist Theology”, and, my favorite, “Women, Men and Sexuality in the Bible”, rather than good old fashion Bible Study… I guess I shouldn’t be too amazed.

Regarding Rev. Stofregen, what doesn’t he get about the following:

1. God promised via Jeremiah (Ch 31) that the New Covenent would put the Laws in our minds and hearts. (I also read that I don’t need the likes of Rev. Stofregen to interpret this for me).
2. Jesus states in Matthew (Ch 5) that he does not abolish the Law.
3. Jesus states in Luke (Ch 16) that not one stroke of a pen will drop out of the Law.
4. Lastly, Jesus says in Mark (Ch 7) that:
a. A man should be put to death for cursing his Mother or Father (Mk 7:10)
i. Hmmm, sounds a lot like God’s Law given to us via Moses in Lev. 20:9.
b. A man is unclean if he commits adultery. (Mk 7:20)
i. Hmmm, sounds a lot like God’s Law given to us via Moses in Lev. 20:10
c. A man is unclean if he is sexual immoral (NIV, Mk 7:21)
i. Hmmm, sounds a lot like God’s Law given to us via Moses in Lev. 20:11-21

Ohhh, would you look at that, upon further review, God tells us via Moses that it is detestable for a man to lie with another man (Lev 20:13). However, what do I know? I have yet to learn Womanist Theology. ;-) St. Paul must have missed this course too.

Shrimp said...

Isn't it funny that true "God is doing a new thing" people like Moses and Paul didn't do Womanist Theology?

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...