The Law and the Gospel in Lutheran Theology -- By: David P. Scaer

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 12:2 (Fall 1991)
Article: The Law and the Gospel in Lutheran Theology
Author: David P. Scaer


The Law and the Gospel in Lutheran Theology

David P. Scaer

A non-Lutheran friend of mine sent me the account of an interdenominational meeting in which a fire broke out. The reactions of each denomination were predictable. The Presbyterian elected a chairperson, whose task was to appoint a committee to report to the Session. The Methodists pondered the implications of the fire for the blessed assurance of salvation. The Roman Catholics took a collection for rebuilding. Baptists were heard asking loudly where was the water. The Congregationalists cried out: “Every man for himself.” The Lutherans decided that the fire was against either a) the law or b) the gospel, and was in any event unlawful. That indelicate introduction may have been on the mind of your planning committee in having a Lutheran lead off on the topic of the law and the gospel.

Simply through over use I have developed a dislike for theological cliches. My unfavored ones include ‘word and sacrament’ and ‘means of grace’, but my most favorite unfavored remains ‘law and gospel’. Reciting cliches provides no guarantee that the sublime realities which they intend to represent are presented. I am sure that we agree that the law and the gospel should be preached, but I am not so certain that the use of a cliche, including this one, accomplishes the task. Somehow even more experienced preachers can ascend the high pulpit and use the law and gospel cliche and by doing only this have preached neither the law nor the gospel. The real challenge is to preach the law and the gospel without ever using these terms. By themselves each of these terms is open to misinterpretation. Such phrases as ‘gospel ministry’, ‘gospel preaching’, ‘evangelist’, which is only the Greek derivative for ‘a gospel preacher’, can in common parlance refer to revivals and revivalist preaching, which can be strongly law orientated. On the other hand the invitation to live by the gospel can be no more than an enticement to moral license without any imperatives whatsoever.1

I would like to address the following subtopics under the heading of the law and the gospel: (1) The law and the gospel as a characteristic of Lutheran theology. (2) How does the law and gospel relate to our understanding about God? (3) Overcoming the contradiction between the law and the gospel. (4) The traditional three uses of law with special attention to the third use. (5) The law and the gospel as a hermeneutical instrument. (6) The law and the gospel as a homiletical device.

1. The Law and the Gospel as a Characteristic of Lutheran Theology2

The law and ...

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