Thursday, February 4, 2010

Garrison Keillor Says That We Are A Quiet People


It is not easy to be a Lutheran. For one thing, Garrison Keillor makes fun of us all the time. For another Lutherans stand slightly outside the mainstream of American Christianity, which is tinged with Calvinism and Evangelicalism. Most importantly, it is not easy to be Lutheran because the doctrine of justification by grace is absolutely central to Lutheranism and this doctrine brings dangers with it.

In a recent post, I wrote about the temptation to works righteousness that confronts Lutherans. It is much easier to proclaim the sort of legalism that makes justification a matter of our own doing than to maintain a strict doctrine of justification by grace. Nevertheless Lutheran theology recognizes both human sinfulness and God’s sovereignty in such a way that we reject all forms of works righteousness. God alone can save us.

There are two other dangers that come from believing that we are justified by grace alone. The first, and it is common among Lutherans, is quiescence. If we can do nothing to save ourselves, then it is tempting just to do nothing. Our motivation for missions and good works has to be found in gratitude not guilt. We share our goods and God’s good news not from a sense of obligation, nor out of a desire to win God’s approval, nor to justify ourselves, but only out of thankfulness to God for the gift of grace.

The next danger facing Lutherans is antinomianism. From the Greek anti (“against”) and nomos (“law”), antinomianism is the idea that, if we can do nothing to justify ourselves, then we can do whatever we please without regard for the law. I suspect that historically Lutherans have been accused of antinomianism more than they have engaged in it. From Martin Luther on, Lutherans have held the law in high regard and recognized its proper uses.

First, the Law gives order to our life in community. Second, the Law convicts us of our sinful nature and drives us to seek God’s grace. There is a third use of the Law mentioned in the Lutheran Confessions. For those who believe, the Law provides a guideline for a life of sanctification. Since the Law’s demands are always beyond human ability, I observe that this third use of the Law shades into the second, and drives us to seek God’s grace again and again.

What the Law does not do is save us.

As one who advocates for same-sex unions and for full inclusion of homosexuals in the life of the Church, I am sensitive to the charge of antinomianism. While I do not believe that the Bible’s condemnations of homosexual behavior still apply in the light of our contemporary understanding, it does not mean that I reject the Law. Far from it. I advocate for homosexuals to be upright and responsible in their relationships by the same standard applied to heterosexuals.

The illustration for this post is the cover of Garrison Keillor's book Life Among the Lutherans.

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