Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Unholy Glawspel According to John Frame: Let Us Be Inattentive

The more I read from John Frame, the more I am convinced that John Frame doesn't understand the Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel.

Frame writes:
The distinction between law and a distinction between two messages, one that supposedly consists exclusively of commands, threats, and therefore terrors, the other that consists exclusively of promises and comforts. Although I believe that we are saved entirely by God’s grace and not by works, I do not believe that there are two entirely different messages of God in Scripture, one exclusively of command (“law”) and the other exclusively of promise (“gospel”).
What Frame says here could be taken in a way that accurately represents the Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel but from what follows it appears that Frame thinks that Lutherans believe that the Law and the Gospel are completely unrelated. Rather than saying that there are two messages it might be more precise to say that there is a singular message but two distinct doctrines. If analogy could be drawn in regards to Christology, Frame is basically accusing the Lutherans of having a Nestorian view of Law and Gospel while I would argue that Frame has a Eutychian view of Law and Gospel. (There is a good deal of irony in this for reasons that would take us too far from the subject at hand.)

Frame goes on to say:

In Scripture itself, commands and promises are typically found together. With God’s promises come commands to repent of sin and believe the promise. The commands, typically, are not merely announcements of judgment, but God’s gracious opportunities to repent of sin and believe in him. As the Psalmist says, “be gracious to me through your law,” Psm. 119:29.
The fact that "Repent" and "Believe" are found together does not mean that they are the same thing. "Repent" is Law while "Believe" is Gospel. Since Lutherans believe that both Law and Gospel should be preached, the Scriptural examples provided by Frame do not contradict the Lutheran position. Nor does the quotation of Psalm 119:29. The Psalmist is asking God to be gracious to him by giving him God's "law." Lutherans do not deny the third use of the law. But what the Psalmist is asking for more literally is God's "Torah" which would be instruction in a more general sense.

Frame quotes the Formula of Concord which says:

But when the Law and the Gospel are compared together, as well as Moses himself, the teacher of the Law, and Christ the teacher of the Gospel, we believe, teach, and confess that the Gospel is not a preaching of repentance, convicting of sins, but that it is properly nothing else than a certain most joyful message and preaching full of consolation, not convicting or terrifying, inasmuch as it comforts the conscience against the terrors of the Law, and bids it look at the merit of Christ alone...

Frame says:

I say this is strange, because the Formula gives no biblical support at all for this distinction, and what it says here about the "gospel" flatly contradicts what it conceded earlier in section 5. What it describes as “correct” in section five contradicts what it calls “proper” in section 6. What section 6 does is to suggest something “improper” about what it admits to be the biblical description of the content of gospel, as in Mark 1:15 and Acts 14:15. Mark 1:15 is correct, but not proper.
I think what the Formula means by "proper" is narrow. The Formula doesn't refer to the use of the term "Gospel" in the wider sense as being improper as Frame seems to think the confessions are suggesting but as what belongs specifically to the Gospel. If John Frame had his leg amputated he would still be John Frame. The narrow definition of what it means to be John Frame would still be present while the elements of the broader definition might not be.

The Scriptural examples that John Frame provides are from the Formula of Concord and give examples of what the Formula of Concord believes are examples of the Gospel in the wider sense. But I'm not even entirely convinced that these are examples of the Gospel in it wider sense. In Mark 1:15 the Gospel to be proclaimed is the kingdom/reign of God. Jesus is telling people to repent and believe this Gospel which would suggest that repentance and the Gospel are two things. Jesus is calling them to repent of their sins (law) and to believe the Gospel (Gospel) and is distinguishing between the two. Jesus does not say, "Repent, that's the Gospel." In Acts 14:15 Barnabas and Paul say that they are preaching the Gospel so that men would turn from their idolatry. They do not say that the Gospel is that they turn from their idolatry.

Frame says:

God’s kingdom authority is the reiteration of his commandments. When the kingdom appears in power, it is time for people to repent. They must obey (hupakouo) the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8, compare apeitheo in 1 Pet. 4:17). The gospel itself requires a certain kind of conduct (Acts 14:15, Gal. 2:14, Phil. 1:27; cf. Rom 2:16).

To "obey" the Gospel in the context of 2 Thessalonians and 1 Peter means to believe the Gospel. Those who did not obey the Gospel did not believe the Gospel. It is very odd indeed that John Frame would refer to Galatians 2:14. If "God's kingdom authority is a reiteration of his commandments" as John Frame says it is, why would Paul be rebuking Peter for not eating with uncircumcised Gentiles? Paul is arguing against people who are actually quite a bit like John Frame. They want to return to the law after being converted to the Gospel.

Frame says:

Even the demand for repentance is good news, because in context it implies that God, though coming in power to claim his rights, is willing to forgive for Christ's sake.
The command to repentance is not Good News in itself. The need for repentance shows that we are guilty of great sin. The command to repent does not in any way by itself give anyone forgiveness.

Frame says:

Even on the view of those most committed to the law/gospel distinction, the gospel includes a command to believe. We tend to think of that command as in a different class from the commands of the Decalogue. But that too is a command, after all. Generically it is law. And, like the Decalogue, that law can be terrifying to someone who wants to trust only on his own resources, rather than resting on the mercy of another. And the demand of faith includes other requirements: the conduct becoming the gospel that I mentioned earlier.

Most of the time imperatives are law but the command to believe is different. If I say to a starving man, "Eat this sandwich" it can hardly be considered Law. It is what the theologians would call a Gospel Imperative. In some sense the Gospel could be regarded as Law when it is rejected but in and of itself it is not Law. If I'm starving and somebody offers me some food and I eat it, nobody would think that by eating the food I'm a law abiding citizen. Faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8).

Frame says:

Is the decalogue “law” or “gospel?” Surely it is both. Israel was terrified upon hearing it, to be sure (Ex. 20:18-21). But in fact it offers blessing (note verse 6) and promise (verse 12). Moses and the Prophets are sufficient to keep sinners from perishing in Hell (Matt. 16:31).

The decalogue promises a conditional blessing but nobody but Jesus fulfills the condition. It's only Gospel if you are Jesus. For the rest of us, we receive the blessing because of Jesus' obedience. Moses and the prophets contain both Law and Gospel and therefore are sufficient to keep sinners from perishing in Hell. Frame seems to be operating under a false presumption that Lutherans believe that the Old Testament is Law and the New Testament is Gospel.

The law often brings terror, to be sure. Israel was frightened by the Sinai display of God’s wrath against sin (Ex. 20:18-21). But it also brings delight to the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2; compare 119:34-36, 47, 92, 93, 97, 130, 131, Rom. 7:22).

As I mentioned earlier, the word Torah has reference to instruction in the Old Testament that includes both Law and Gospel. In Romans 7:22 Paul says that the New Man delights in God's law but the Old Man hates it. This is no moral improvement program. The Old Man does nothing but sin and the New Man never sins. The New Man certainly does delight in God's Law but that doesn't make the Law the Gospel.

Frame says:

In discussions of law and gospel, one commonly hears that it is important, not only to preach both law and gospel, but also to preach the law first and the gospel second. We are told that people must be frightened by the law before they can be driven to seek salvation in Christ.

I would argue that it would it depend upon the situation. I could think of several ways in which somebody could very appropriately preach the Gospel first and the law second. If someone were to come to a pastor already crushed by his sin, I think it would be very appropriate to just go straight to the Gospel. During a sermon, the pastor could certainly begin with a proclamation of the Gospel and then show how we have violated God's law and then return to the Gospel. In modern preaching, the problem is that the Gospel will sometimes get mentioned quickly at the beginning and then the pastor will bring the law to you as something that is very doable since after all you are a Christian.

Frame says:

Some have cited Luke 18:18—30 as an example of the contrary order: Jesus expounds the commandments, and only afterward tells the rich ruler to follow him. But in this passage Jesus does not use the law alone to terrorize the man or to plunge him into despair. The man does go sadly away only after Jesus has called him to discipleship, which, though itself a command, is the gospel of this passage.

Telling the man to sell all his possessions and give it to the poor most certainly is not Gospel. Jesus recognized that the man had not been driven to despair by the Law. Jesus knew that this man had not kept the Law but the man thought he had. The man did not understand the Law. So Jesus pointed the man to something very tangible--his wealth. Jesus showed the man that he loved money more than God. There's nothing Gospel about that.

The traditional law/gospel distinction is not itself antinomian, but those who hold it tend to be more sensitive to the dangers of legalism than to the dangers of antinomianism.

Legalism seems to be far more prevalent than antinomianism is. If you left people alone to construct their own religious system on their own it would almost always be legalistic. It is far more likely for pastors to slip into legalism than into antinomianism. Even in churches that ordain women and homosexual clergy, legalism seems to reign. They just reject some of the Biblical laws and replace them with others. If you turn on any Christian radio station you are bound to hear legalism. It's almost refreshing to read a real antinomian like Robert Capon just because we are bombarded with legalism everywhere we go.

Frame says:

The Formula’s distinction between law and gospel has unfortunate consequences for the Christian life. The document does warrant preaching of the law to the regenerate, but only as threat and terror, to drive them to Christ Epitome, VI, 4. There is nothing here about the law as the delight of the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2; compare 119:34-36, 47, 92, 93, 97, 130, 131, Rom. 7:22).

This simply is not true. Article six of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord says:

2] 1. We believe, teach, and confess that, although men truly believing [in Christ] and truly converted to God have been freed and exempted from the curse and coercion of the Law, they nevertheless are not on this account without Law, but have been redeemed by the Son of God in order that they should exercise themselves in it day and night [that they should meditate upon God's Law day and night, and constantly exercise themselves in its observance, Ps. 1:2 ], Ps. 119. For even our first parents before the Fall did not live without Law, who had the Law of God written also into their hearts, because they were created in the image of God, Gen. 1:26f.; 2:16ff; 3:3.

3] 2. We believe, teach, and confess that the preaching of the Law is to be urged with diligence, not only upon the unbelieving and impenitent, but also upon true believers, who are truly converted, regenerate, and justified by faith.

4] 3. For although they are regenerate and renewed in the spirit of their mind, yet in the present life this regeneration and renewal is not complete, but only begun, and believers are, by the spirit of their mind, in a constant struggle against the flesh, that is, against the corrupt nature and disposition which cleaves to us unto death. On account of this old Adam, which still inheres in the understanding, the will, and all the powers of man, it is needful that the Law of the Lord always shine before them, in order that they may not from human devotion institute wanton and self-elected cults [that they may frame nothing in a matter of religion from the desire of private devotion, and may not choose divine services not instituted by God's Word]; likewise, that the old Adam also may not employ his own will, but may be subdued against his will, not only by the admonition and threatening of the Law, but also by punishments and blows, so that he may follow and surrender himself captive to the Spirit, 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 6:12, Gal. 6:14; Ps. 119:1ff ; Heb. 13:21 (Heb. 12:1).

5] 4. Now, as regards the distinction between the works of the Law and the fruits of the Spirit, we believe, teach, and confess that the works which are done according to the Law are and are called works of the Law as long as they are only extorted from man by urging the punishment and threatening of God's wrath.

6] 5. Fruits of the Spirit, however, are the works which the Spirit of God who dwells in believers works through the regenerate, and which are done by believers so far as they are regenerate [spontaneously and freely], as though they knew of no command, threat, or reward; for in this manner the children of God live in the Law and walk according to the Law of God, which [mode of living] St. Paul in his epistles calls the Law of Christ and the Law of the mind, Rom. 7:25; 8:7; Rom. 8:2; Gal. 6:2.

7] 6. Thus the Law is and remains both to the penitent and impenitent, both to regenerate and unregenerate men, one [and the same] Law, namely, the immutable will of God; and the difference, so far as concerns obedience, is alone in man, inasmuch as one who is not yet regenerate does for the Law out of constraint and unwillingly what it requires of him (as also the regenerate do according to the flesh); but the believer, so far as he is regenerate, does without constraint and with a willing spirit that which no threatenings [however severe] of the Law could ever extort from him.

Negative Theses.
False Contrary Doctrine.

8] Accordingly, we reject as a dogma and error injurious to, and conflicting with, Christian discipline and true godliness the teaching that the Law in the above-mentioned way and degree is not to be urged upon Christians and true believers, but only upon unbelievers, non-Christians, and the impenitent.

Frame says:

And what, then, does motivate good works, if not the commands, threats, and promises of reward in Scripture? The Formula doesn’t say. What it suggests is that the Spirit simply brings about obedience from within us. I believe the Spirit does exactly that. But the Formula seems to assume that the Spirit works that way without any decision on our part to act according to the commands of God. That I think is wrong. “Quietism” is the view that Christians should be entirely passive, waiting for the Spirit of God to act in them. This view of the Christian life is unbiblical. The Christian life is a battle, a race. It requires decision and effort. I am not saying that the Formula is quietist (Lutheranism rejected quietism after some controversy in its ranks), but as we read the position of the Formula, it does seem that quietism lies around the corner from it.

From talking to people who have said things like John Frame over the years, I think I have a good idea of what their concerns are. They are used to hearing a sermon where maybe there's a little bit of law at the beginning showing that we are all sinners and a brief statement about how Jesus died for God's elect and so you better start acting like you are one of God's elect or else. In a confessional Lutheran sermon Frame would hear something different. The law would be applied in such a way that everybody stands guilty and you stand guilty personally. The law would be spoken of very specifically according to the real sins of the congregation. And then we would be told how Jesus died for all these damnable sins that we have committed personally. There could also be exhortations to good works. But Frame probably wants the pastor to continue and say, "Hey, you better stop doing all those bad things now, or else..." Instead the Pastor trusts in the power of the Gospel. The congregation already knows what God would have them do from the previous part of the sermon. If the pastor said they are guilty of stealing because they download music illegally they don't need the pastor to circle around again at the end and tell them they better stop doing that. The Law does not make people act more lawfully according to St. Paul. Only the Gospel can do that. It's counter intuitive but so is God dying on the cross for your sins. Sheep do sheepy things naturally because the Shepherd is working in them. In Matthew 25, the people standing on judgment day weren't even aware that they were doing good works.

Frame says:

Part of the motivation for this view of the Christian life, I believe, is the thought that one’s life should be based on something objective, rather than something subjective. On this view, our life is built on what Christ has done for us, objectively in history, not on anything arising from our own subjectivity or inwardness. So in this view, gospel is a recitation of what God has done for us, not a command to provoke our subjective response.

This understanding focuses on justification: God regards us as objectively righteous for Christ’s sake, apart from anything in us. But it tends to neglect regeneration and sanctification: that God does work real subjective changes in the justified.

Scripturally regeneration is not tied to a feeling but the objective act of being baptized. Through baptism we are also sanctified. Sanctification is something that can be spoken of as on-going but it is Christ's work in us, so it is better to direct the person to Christ than to his own sanctification and have him constantly wondering if he's improving enough. If he's looking to his sanctification for assurance and he's honest he'll be convinced that he's damned. If he fools himself he'll become a good Pharisee who looks down on those around him.

But in Scripture, though justification is based on the work of Christ external to us, it is embraced by faith, which is subjective. And faith, in turn, is the result of the Spirit’s subjective work of regeneration (John 3:3). So nobody is objectively justified who has not been subjectively changed by God’s grace.

In John 3:5 Jesus explains what He means by being born again in verse 3. According to Jesus, to be "born again" means to be born of the water and the spirit which is a reference to the objective reception of baptism. According to Romans 4 all have been objectively justified on the cross. The Holy Spirit works faith in us and we lay hold of that justification. We experience that justification subjectively.

Frame ends with some statements about the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms:

It is true that we should not try to force unregenerate people to become Christians through civil power. The church does not have the power of the sword. Nevertheless, there are not two sets of divine norms for civil society, only one. And those norms are in the Bible. Morality is most emphatically a matter of religion. The unregenerate have some knowledge of God’s law through natural revelation (Rom. 1:32), but believers see that law more clearly through the spectacles of Scripture. The biblical view of civil government does not require us to force unbelievers to behave as Christians in every way, but it does call upon us to restrain their (and our!) sin in certain areas. We should be active in society to promote those godly standards.

America is not a theocracy and I don't recall Paul spending his time trying to change civil laws. Christians should support laws that promote natural law but you just can't enforce a law against coveting.

From Frame's article, it's clear that he doesn't understand the Lutheran position at all and is promoting the Glawspel that can be found everywhere. Frame's position softens the law so that it is doable and if taken to its logical conclusion Christ is completely unnecessary. A Lutheran whose name I can't remember once said that you should preach the law as if there is no Gospel and preach the Gospel as if there is no law. I think he is right. That seems to be what Jesus and Paul did. Jesus was asked a question about divorce and adultery and he showed everyone there that they were all guilty of adultery. The way to a man's heart may be his stomach but his stomach is not his heart.

1 comment:

Louis said...

Thank you so much for this post Chuck. You've given me a lot to think about. I appreciate all the effort you put into it. Well thought out.