Saturday, November 30, 2013

Clashing Political Views and "Your Use" of the Law

I think I have found a way to illustrate what tends to bug me about a lot of the focus on "law as advice" or "principals for religious living" that comes up around the pike.

Consider this article by Rachel Held Evans about Dave Ramsey.  In the article, Held Evans critiques Ramsey's assumptions and use of Scripture.  Indeed, she posits rather different ideas and even makes her own Scriptural citations.

We could almost call it Dueling Third Use.

Except, that's my point.  How much of what we preachers want to "exhort" or the advice that we are tempted to preach upon isn't simply the Word of God and letting the Word speak for itself?  We want to use the Word as a lever to move and manipulate people to act as we would have them act.

That's not the third use of the Law... the Holy Spirit does such that.  No, when you use the Law to manipulate someone else, that's "your use" of the Law.

I'm not overly interested in that.  It tends to annoy me, frankly.  And it misses the point.

So, when you sit down to write your sermon, and you are going to fix people... why?  How?  What are you going to make them do... and how?  With what promises?

Are you going to tell them that if they live right God will give them more stuff?  Are you going to tell them that if they want to do what God wants them to do they will vote Democrat - the party of compassion that will correct systematic abuses?  Are you going to reduce the Word of God into just another weapon in your arsenal designed to manipulate people to be... just like you?

No thank you... I'll just preach the Law, that simple, accusatory Law, and then preach Christ and Him Crucified.  The Spirit gives life through the Gospel... I'll let Him handle you living the life He grants.


scott said...

I'm not sure I've followed all sides of this discussion, but I have some. I think some clarification is needed, examples given, when there is talk about exhorting believers with the Law.

You are right that it can go wrong, and become "your use" of the Law. But I'm not sure that Rev Curtis or others are talking about voting Democrat, or what percentage of your paycheck needs to go in your savings account. And, contra your uncharacteristically snarky comment on GO, I haven't seen Curtis or others claiming to be superior humans. (Maybe they have done these things, but I'd need to see proof.)

Rather, I have seen them pointing out that earlier fathers in the faith have preaching styles that differ from much of what we hear and preach today. That may give us pause. If we claim preachers like Luther, Walther, Gerhard, etc to be guiding lights, yet also note that our sermons don't look like theirs, we may want to ask why. I think that is what is being asked.

The quote brought up from the Antinomian Disputations has this to say about exhortation to believers:

The law then is to be attenuated for them and is to be taught them by way of exhortation: Once you were gentiles; now, however, you are sprinkled and washed by the blood of Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11, 13; 1 Cor. 6:11). Therefore now offer your bodies to obey righteousness, putting away the desires of the flesh, lest you become like this world (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; 6:13; Eph. 4:22). Be imitators of the righteousness of good works (cf. Tit. 2:14) and do not be unrighteous, condemned like Cain etc.; you have Christ.

I certainly don't think you disagree with that. It is broader in scope than voting Dem or micro-managing one's finances. But what did it mean to the guys who claimed this, and then went on to preach in church? What did that exhortation look like?

I think the question is a good one: how can we faithfully preach the Law -- including exhorting hearers to good works? I don't think this is a gotcha game between factions in confessional Lutheranism -- the GO guys have claimed to have fallen short in this regard in their own preaching.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Well, I haven't been following discussions elsewhere (I did see a quote on facebook, and then I did look at one... but I've been running around), so I really am not responding here to anyone.


(Oh, I just looked... I'm not "L Brown")

The point is this. Thinking of previous rounds of discussions on exhortation and the like, the movement had been to bring up specific "examples" of something that is terrible, like how Christians can't watch slasher films and the like. That I find to be wrong.

However, the other parallel that I will make is that when we use a rhetoric of self-service to promote the Law. The Law is what... God says. Period. It's not how I think someone else can lead a better life.

I will copy here what I wrote in a facebook conversation, as I think this sums up my thoughts:

"Yes... but are those self focused physical concerns (i.e. how will *I* be happy, how will *I* have a good life) or the concerns and needs of my neighbor?

"Is the 6th commandment about how I am happy, or how I serve my neighbor? Is the 4th about how I can long possess the Holy Lands, or is it about how I am to serve my parents?

"Vocation is always focused on the neighbor, not self-fulfillment or happiness. Indeed, we are told in the NT that we will suffer, that we will take up our crosses and follow Christ... not receive happiness. There will be joy, even in the midst of our suffering, for we know that Christ our Redeemer will return to rescue us from this fallen place, to give us life in the New Heavens and the New Earth."

If you want my opinion, my thoughts on how the Law ought to be preached -- there it is.

Love your neighbor.

I think that's the thing that gets to the heart of it - Jesus sums up the Law as Love God, Love your Neighbor... and yet so often our approach to the law will be self focused - on fulfillment, on blessing, on reward.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Of course part of the problem I have with this whole discussion is... well... the "lack of exhortation" that I hear about.

I'd imagine there is some sort of "exhortation" in every sermon I preach.

Let's see.

Thanksgiving: But rather this – we, you and I, need to be thankful for our own benefit.

Last Sunday: The time for the wedding is coming, you need to be ready. You can’t assume that there’s more time… because let’s face it, if you aren’t getting ready now, are you really going to be getting ready later?

Trinity 25: You wait on the Lord – you don’t go running off after every fly-by-night scam artist with the latest and greatest heresy or false teaching designed to give you everything your heart desires. You don’t go running after the cult in Jonestown or Waco, you don’t buy into what the quacks are shouting. You simply pray “Thy Kingdom come,” and wait – because when Christ delivers us, it’s going to be obvious that He is here to deliver us.


Do you see?

I'm wondering if some of this wouldn't be regained if we just returned to preaching 2nd person (that is... preaching "you")?

scott said...

Whoops -- I guess I see why that comment was uncharacteristic of you: it wasn't you. My apologies for my confusion.

Anyway, hey, I agree there are lots of ways people can go wrong preaching the Law, soon ending up at a place where traditions of man are put in the place of the commands of God. But I also think that there has been growing concern over the past decade or so in regard to how we current LCMS pastors have been preaching. It's not just the GO guys -- President Harrison has flagged bad preaching as a problem, and we also have faculty and alums of both of our seminaries starting to point out specific features of Lutheran theology that we may have neglected. On one side, there is a revival of the two kinds of righteousness, on the other there has been worry about being "weak" on sanctification.

Certainly being mindful of what we are preaching, and striving to be better at it, is worth our time.

Sorry for the mixup in regard to the comment.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Just as a note here Scott - its interesting the note about "weak on sanctification" and the last decade or so.

When I was at the Sem in 2001, the "weak on sanctification" was the label pinned upon conservatives by the libs. Just an observation.

scott said...

Yeah, clearly some of the labels and customs change over time -- for example the seminexers being the high church liturgical guys. Our idea of what a "liberal" is in the LCMS has changed since the 70s too.