11 May 2010

Forde: Sail into the Storm of Free Grace

Helpful medicine when you're feeling defeated: find a Lutheran talking about justification. Here's Gerhard Forde on the shocking freeness of justification by faith alone:

[S]tick with it and sail into the storm with all guns blazing. 'We have to do something, don't we?' NO! In fact that is no longer the question. Now the question becomes, 'What are you going to do now that you don't have to do anything?' Theology based on the [Augsburg Confession] is not interested in 'something'; it is after everything.

A pastor friend related an interesting reaction from a teenager to [this notion]. . . . [I]t seemed to tell him he could do anything he wanted to do! Now what is one supposed to say to that? The most immediate reaction, I suppose, would be to jump in on the defensive and thunder, 'No! No! No!--of course not, you can't do whatever you want to do!'

But think for a moment. Perhaps then the whole battle would be lost. One must sail into the storm. Should one not rather say 'Son, you are right. You got the message. The Holy Spirit is starting to get to you.'

But is that not dangerous? . . . Is it not 'cheap grace'? No, it's not cheap, it's free! 'Cheap grace,' you see, is not improved by making it expensive. . . . It's free. Now free grace is dangerous, no doubt about it. . . . We might not survive such free grace. It might ruin us. But Jesus told us that long ago: 'To him who has, more will be given, but from him who has not, even that will be taken away.'

There is indeed a danger.

--G. Forde, Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life (Fortress 1982), 33-34; italics original


Derek Lehr said...

So the grace is free...but that freedom might lead you to condemnation if used the wrong way...Is that what he is saying? I'm honestly asking.

Anonymous said...

What leads to condemnation is works. So for Forde, the law of God puts the sinner to death. The Gospel of Christ raises one to new life. This new life is in Christ. We are free to love God and neighbour. Good Works flow freely from the redeemed sinner in Christ. Therefore, there is no place in Forde for "decisions for Christ" or "sinners prayers." The Word of God is done to us. There is where the Holy Spirit is present. The only solution to the problem of sin is Absolution. "You are forgiven in the name of Christ!" Repent and believe this. Forde and Confessional Lutheran theology is biblical and true to Sola Gratia, Sola fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus

Dane Ortlund said...

Hey man. Thanks for the comment and I hope you're well. I think he's saying that there is something risky, discombobulating, disorienting, about real grace, because real grace severs all the ropes of 'law' that make life and morality feel safe and controllable (Luther often uses 'law' to speak of what is intuitive and 'gospel' to speak of what is counterintuitive). To really say that yes, you are free to do anything at all and your status with God remains absolutely stable and secure since it's 100% unconditional, since Jesus did it all, undoes all our intuitive pre-understandings of how life works, how God works, how the universe works.

I think it's wise of Forde to quote Jesus here, where Jesus says essentially the same thing. We think: God works to level the playing field, even the teams, play fairly. We think God is a big Robin Hood, taking from the rich to give to the poor. In the world of grace, though, all this is flipped inside out. Just before Jesus' statement is the parable of the sower--there it is again!--God doesn't take from the one who reaps 30, 60, 100x, to give to the seeds bearing nothing. Nope. Grace is grace. It's not apportioned. It's not leveled out. It's not 'fair'! It's free for the taking, as much as you want. Just take it. It's won for us. That's extremely threatening, de-stabilizing, undressing of us, dangerous, risky, and paradoxically, it almost feels safer to say no to grace and go on in our law-structured, intuitive, moral universe.

And, I would say (and I think Forde too), real grace is our only safe haven, our only true security.