Gerhard Forde on the Christian life

Gerhard Forde on the Christian life

A locus on the Christian life is potentially the most dangerous in dogmatics. It is concerned with giving an account of how the act of God in Christ impinges on, effects, and affects the lives we live. Such an account is potentially dangerous because, as the tradition shows all too patently, the rhetoric has a way of running away with itself and becoming inflated and oppressive. In the anxiety to demonstrate that the Christian life is different, vital, relevant, abundant, and obviously superior to every other kind of life, the encomiums pile up, often fired by enthusiasm and hubris rather than by reality.

from Christian Dogmatics, Vol II, (Fortress, 1984), 395.

(P.S. something of a counterpoint from Adolf Koberle)

there is no place in it [the new life of faith] for self-admiration, nor does it cherish delusions of perfection, but yet, in spite of all its weakness and failures, it is a real deliverance from the bondage and dominion of sin.

from The Quest for Holiness, (1936), vii.

On Law & Atonement

Questioning the forensic character of the Atonement

A. Gustaf Aulen

It is essential that the work of atonement which God accomplishes in Christ reflect a Divine order which is wholly different from a legal order; the Atonement is not accomplished by strict fulfillment of the demands of justice, but in spite of them; God is not … unrighteous, but He transcends the order of justice.

from Christus Victor, (1931), 90-1.

B. Gerhard Forde

The main trouble is that this “ladder theology” inevitably distorts our understanding of the gospel. The gospel is taken captive by the system and turned into a new kind of law.

Let me explain. We begging by assuming the law is a ladder to heaven. Then we go on to say, “Of course, no one can climb the ladder, because we are all weakened by sin. We are all therefore guilty and lost.” And this is where “the gospel” is to enter the picture. What we need is someone to pay our debt to God and to climb the ladder for us. This, supposedly, is what Jesus has done. As our “substitute” he has paid off God and climbed the ladder for us. All we have to do now is “believe” it.

But what have we done when we understand the gospel in this way? We have, in fact, interpreted the gospel merely as something that makes the ladder scheme work. The gospel comes to make up for the deficiencies of the law. The gospel does not come as anything really new. It is not the breaking in of a radically new age with an entirely new outlook. It is simply a “repair job.” It is an attempt to put new wine in old skins, or a new patch on an old garment. When we do this, the gospel always comes off second best. It is trapped in the understanding of law which we have ourselves concocted.

The net result is that the gospel itself simply becomes another kind of law. It becomes a “theory” about how God has been paid and how Jesus has climbed the ladder. If you want to be saved you must now “believe” all that. That is the new law. The gospel is not good news any more. It is merely a kind of information which after a while loses its “punch.” It loses its character as “news,” and it ceases to be “good.” It is a set of truths which one must somehow muster the strength or the will to believe.

from Where God Meets Man, (Augsburg, 1972): 10-11.

See also Gerhard Forde, “Caught in the Act: Reflections on the Work of Christ.” Available in either: Word and World 3 (1984): 22-31, OR A More Radical Gospel, (Eerdmans, 2004): 85-97.

On the progress to be made in the Christian life

On the progress to be made in the Christian life

A. Robert Jenson

After baptism, what do we go on to next? Answers are generally advanced with a bad conscience, since the eschatological nature of the gifts biblically ascribed to baptism, if they are taken seriously, plainly leaves no space for progress or development in faith or holiness themselves. Luther finally said what has to be said: We do not go on to anything at all; rather, Christian life has as its one essential content that we “daily” “return” to baptism.

From Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II, (Fortress, 1984), 331.

B. Gerhard Forde

Sanctification is simply the art of getting used to justification.

From The Preached God, Eds. Mark Mattes & Steven Paulson, (Eerdmans, 2007), 226.

C. Austin Farrer

Progress in the Christian way should mean this, that we learn more and more to experience our life as the saving work of God.

From The Essential Sermons, Ed. Lesslie Houlden, (SPCK, 1991), 152.

D. John Webster

Growth in the Christian life is simply growth in seeing that the gospel is true.

From The Grace of Truth, (Oil Lamp Books, 2011), 33-34.