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.

Robert Jenson on sacraments

Robert Jenson on sacraments

The Western catholic tradition has insisted above all on two propositions about sacraments. First, sacraments are signs; they mean something, and that something is the gospel. This proposition has been established above all by the dicta of Augustine. Second, sacraments are events of grace; they accomplish something, and that something is the new reality of which the gospel speaks.

From Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II, (Fortress, 1984), 305.

Robert Jenson on the homiletic implications of justification

Robert Jenson on the homiletic implications of justification


The Reformation doctrine of justification is not a new attempted description of a process of grace—and when it has been taken for such, sometimes also by would-be champions, the difference between the Reformation and the standard tradition has always promptly become obscure. The doctrine is rather an hermeneutical instruction to preachers, teachers, and confessors: so speak of Christ and of the life of your community that the justification for that life which your words open is the kind grasped by faith rather than the kind constituted in works. […]

The instruction is not to induce, or manipulate, conversion by our discourse; the hearer’s conversion is to be accomplished as the act of gospel-speaking itself. Conversion is a change in the communication situation within which every person lives; a proper sermon or baptism liturgy or penance liturgy just is that change. Using penance as the simplest paradigm, when the confessor says, “You have confessed cheating and coveting. Now I forgive all your sins, in Jesus’ name,” these words do not seek to stimulate conversion as an event external to their being said. Rather, this utterance is a conversion of the penitent’s life, from a situation in which the word he or she hears and must live by is “You are a cheat and a coveter,” to one in which the word he or she hears and must live by is “You are Jesus’ beloved.” […]

When someone speaks to me the promises made by Christ’s resurrection, that event is the event of God’s choice about me. […]

It is indeed the human Christ’s temporal address to us that is the event of God’s eternal choosing about us, as the Lutherans and Barth have said. But the eternity of this moment must be established not by the prefix “pre-” but the prefix “post-”: it is in that the man Christ will be the agent and center of the final community, that his will for us is the eternal determination of our lives. The Trinitarian dialectics can be the appropriate conceptual scheme of predestination only if the whole scheme—of Father, Son, and Spirit—is used and only if the Spirit’s metaphysical priority is affirmed. The speaking of the gospel is the event of predestination in that the gospel gives what it speaks about, but this eschatological efficacy of the gospel is the Spirit. We must parody Barth: the Holy Spirit is the choosing God.

From Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II., (Fortress, 1984), 130 134, 137, 138.


A faithful sermon … will not be a sermon about [for example] predestination; it will be a predestining sermon. One may even imagine a pastoral dialogue:

Seeker: Am I among the elect?

Pastor: Yes.

Seeker: How do you know?

Pastor: You are elect because in Jesus’ name I now promise that you are.

Seeker: But it’s plain that I am barren soil!

Pastor: When Christ comes sowing, all things are possible.

Seeker: When will that happen to me?

Pastor: I just told you. This is it.

From Canon and Creed, (WJK, 2010), 61.


Robert Jenson on good works

Robert Jenson on good works

Most ethical theories and all sensible persons have known that a good act cannot appropriately be done for an ulterior egocentric reason. If I feed my hungry neighbor in order that I may acquire stars for my crown, I thereby lose the claim to any stars. But the mere injunction, “Do good to your neighbor for his sake, not for yours,” does not itself make a way out of our egocentric predicament. If, in order that I shall not be egocentric and so lose the value of my deed, I try to act purely for my neighbor, this is only a new egocentricity. The radically proclaimed gospel frees me from moral egocentricity in that it does not merely tell me I ought not try to get anything out of my act for my neighbor, but that I cannot get anything out of it, that I will not in fact be rewarded at all. Only the word, “You have nothing whatever to gain from your efforts on behalf of your neighbor’s belly,” frees me to attend to his belly. To the question, “Why should I do good?” the radical gospel replies, “If you put it that way, no reason.” Just so the radical gospel frees me to do good in the only way in which good can – by the unanimous testimony of human wisdom – be consistently done at all. […]

Thus the doctrine of justification by faith effects a particular secularization of morality. On my side, the chain of reasons cannot reach past the temporal consequences of the act into eternity or the eschaton. If I feed my neighbor in order to gain a vote for my party, there is nothing the matter with that, if it is legal. And I can go on: in order to bring my party to power, in order to enact my party’s social-welfare program, and so on – but if the gospel is true, the chain can never legitimately reach to any supernatural or eschatological reasons. On the neighbor’s side, there is no restriction. My reasons may well extend into the eschaton: “Whyshould I feed my neighbor?” “In order that his belly may be filled.” “Why should his belly be filled?” “To make a sound body for god’s resurrection!” […]

A believer, we may say, is someone who knows he does not need to care for himself, since God will do that, and so has all that time and energy left to care for other people.

from Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings, (Fortress, 1976), 146, 147, 152.

On the peccability of the Church

On the peccability of the Church

A. Lesslie Newbigin

The Catholic is right in insisting that the continuity of the Church is God’s will. He is wrong when he suggests that the doing of that will is the condition of our standing in His grace. As for the individual, so also for the Church, there is only one way to be justified, and it is to say, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’

from The Household of God, (SCM, 1957), 86.

B. Bruce Marshall

The unity of the church is a unity among sinners; the continuing reality of sin in the lives of all the church’s members has no bearing on the church’s unity. The currently much-debated question whether the church itself, like all the individuals in it, can be regarded as simul iustus et peccator should also, I think, be answered in the negative. That is, the church as a whole, as a community, cannot be conceived of as a sinful individual (or perhaps several such individuals) over against Christ. What makes the church to be, and so to be one (that is, to be an individual) is the very unity of being, knowledge, and love by which the triune God is one, into which human beings are drawn by the missions of the Son and the Spirit, so creating the church. Apart from the missions of Christ and the Spirit and the divine unity that is their gift to the church, the church is not an individual at all, and a fortiori not an individual “over against” Christ and the Spirit. Thus, it seems that while everyone in the church is an individual “over against” Christ, the church itself is not. Apart from or over against the missions of Christ and the Spirit, the church lacks that unity specific to it and constitutive of its reality as church; it is simply a collection of individuals and not the community for which Jesus prays in John 17. So if the church turns out, visibly and empirically, to be divided, this does not show (according to the stringent logic of John 17) that the church is a sinful individual over against Christ—it shows rather that the bond uniting Christ to the Father is broken, and thus that the triune God does not exist.

from “The Disunity of the Church and the Credibility of the Gospel,” Theology Today, vol. 50, (1993): 85-6.

C. Robert Jenson

Can simul iustus et peccator apply to the church? Luther called the church magna peccatrix, the “greatest sinner” and some Lutherans have taken this as a cue to apply the simul not only to the believers who make up the church, individually or all together, but to the church as she is a singular agent. The ecumenical protest this generates is surely justified. The church as the mother of all believers is not personally sinful nor has she ever been, however many sins may have been committed by her members in her name. Ecclesia iusta et peccatrix just does not fit the situation. The peccator I still am after baptism is precisely my “old man,” my pre-baptismal self, reaching from that past needing to be thrust back again and again. There was a time, however brief, between my birth and my new birth at baptism, and this fact remains as the base of the old man’s excursions. But the church had no such time antecedent to her birth as the body of Christ. There never was an “old church” which might emerge and need to be killed again. What then of Luther’s magna peccatrix? Whatever Luther may have had in mind, the phrase can serve if taken as a christological slogan. The church is the great communal sinner in that she is the body of that Christ who “was made to be sin for us.” Christ is the magnus peccator, not because he was once a sinner but because precisely as one “without sin” he could take all history’s sin as his burden. Just so his church as his body, his available presence in the world, is the world’s great sinner not because she has any sins of her personal own but because Christ’s body of course is laden with his burden.

from Lutheran Slogans: Use and Abuse, (ALPB, 2011): 73-4.