Friday, February 28, 2014

Two Kinds of Righteousness: the bosom buddy of Law and Gospel

It seems that once again the world has conspired against me to drag me out of retirement.  Alas, it was so nice and peaceful.  OK, who am I kidding.  I was pretty dog-gone busy.  But, here I am back again - maybe for good? Who knows...

So it seems that the hot topic du jour is the theological concept of the Two Kinds of Righteousness (2KR).  At the heart of the controversy is the title of a presentation on 2KR: "Two Kinds of Righteousness: Better than Law and Gospel".

(On that note,  I am not writing to defend said statement, made by another person - though I may offer clarification later, as I am contacting Dr. Biermann to see if I can get a hold of his notes and/or paper that he used for the presentation.  I think, but I am not 100% sure, that the title of the presentation is simply a means of generating interest and doesn't reflect his actual conclusion.  I will post an update as soon as I can.)

Anyhow, I am not here to defend what another person may or may not have claimed concerning which is more awesome; rather, I am here to defend the idea of the Two Kinds of Righteousness and hopefully show how 2KR and Law & Gospel are inseparable bosom buddies.


So, what is this 2KR?


Simply put, there exists two kinds of righteousnesses - the righteousness of man before God and the righteousness of man before his neighbor.  They have fancy Latin names (coram deo - before God, coram hominibus - before man), but for simplicity's sake we will refer to them as vertical (before God) and horizontal (before man).

2KR - The Basics
According to the teaching of 2KR, man's vertical righteousness is completely passive.  We do absolutely nothing.  In fact we don't even have the ability to do anything - we are deader than the road kill I passed on the way home from church.  The righteousness of the vertical realm is purely a gift of God.  It is only by the grace of God in Christ Jesus that we can be counted as righteous.  So, the vertical or first kind of righteousness is a passive righteousness.  God is active - while we lay squished on the road of life, like the dead road kill we are - and He gives us new life.  In the vertical realm the only action going on is on God's part: God crucifying us, God burying us, and God raising us to new life in Christ Jesus.  God makes us completely perfect in the righteousness of Jesus. This vertical righteousness is actively maintained by God, through His word spoken in the Gospel and through the Body and Blood of our precious savior.  The only role we play in this is as recipient.  God gives and we receive in the faith He so lovingly creates in water and word.

Note: in the picture I drew (I am a great artist, right?) the vertical righteousness is marked by the down arrow.  This signifies the truth that it is God's gift alone.  We do nothing to rise up to God.  We aren't Catholics ascending their ladder.  We are Lutherans and we revel in the giftedness of God.

Now this vertical righteousness has an affect beyond our justification.  It restores us to the creation God intended us to be.  And part of the original creation was our position as stewards of creation.  It is here that the second righteousness comes into play.  The vertical righteousness (Article IV of the Augsburg Confession) creates the horizontal righteousness (A.C. Article VI).  This second righteousness is before man alone.  While doing good is something God wants, we will never earn brownie points before God with our horizontal righteousness.  As one Lutheran pastor put it "our neighbor needs us to suck less," and the horizontal righteousness is the result of the vertical relationship making us suck less.  It is this reality that Paul points us to when He tells us that we have no excuse to continue in sin, and that we should live our lives as slaves to righteousness.  See, the horizontal righteousness is about serving our neighbor, it's about being a good citizen, it's about...well, it's about vocation.  We no longer walk in the flesh, but instead in the Spirit, so we avoid adultery, stealing, killing, lying, coveting - everything contrary to the righteousness of God.  Or, at least, that's what we are supposed to do (but we will discuss our failure to do so later).  The horizontal righteousness is what James is encouraging in his letter as he writes, "You're saved? Great, show it to the poor guy who is freezing by giving him a cloak."

Now as the vertical righteousness is passive on our part, the horizontal righteousness is active.  We are doing stuff in the horizontal realm.  Our activeness here is a direct result of the gift coming to us through God's vertical activity, but it is nevertheless our activity - or, more accurately, the activity that comes from the Holy Spirit working in and through us.  HOWEVER, we should never see this active righteousness as either righteousness before God or as affecting the vertical righteousness.  The vertical affects the horizontal, but not the other way around.  And it is good that the vertical is not dependent on the horizontal - because we are going to mess up the horizontal something fierce.
 

Law & Gospel and 2KR: Bosom Buddies

First, I want to make it clear that I do not think 2KR is better than Law and Gospel.  Instead, I want to make it clear that you can't have one without the other.  They are too interrelated to separate.  To be perfectly frank, I suspect many of my brothers who reject 2KR have in fact been teaching 2KR
without even realizing it.

Here is why: 2KR is article IV and VI of the Augsburg Confession played out.  Those two articles are all about Law and Gospel, but they cannot be explained without talking about 2KR.

Let's start with the vertical:  In my discussion of the vertical righteousness, I mentioned that it was passive.  Why is it passive?  Because we were dead and God actively makes us alive.  We did - and we do - nothing.  We know this because the Law shot us dead before we breathed our first breath.  The Law prevents us from ascending the vertical by showing us our sin and the fact we are stone cold
dead.  Law is a part of the vertical righteousness, killing us and stripping us of all pretense.  It is God's word of Law that makes it very clear the good person we try to be for our neighbors does absolutely nothing to establish our righteousness before God. 

But wait, there's more.  Because in comes the Gospel!  Yay!  God makes us alive by giving us His awesome gifts of Word and Sacrament.  The Gospel is pure gift, always to be gifted giftedly.  (Thank you, Dr. Nagel - you're the best!)  Righteousness flows from God to us through the Gospel, enfleshing these old dry bones, breathing life into rock hard lungs, jump starting the ticker, creating faith and delivering us from death in one fell swoop.  Woo-hoo!  See how this all plays together?  Our vertical righteousness is established through the Law making us dead and the Gospel giving us life.  Notice that God's two words are completely entwined with the vertical?  It is inseparable - if you have one you will have the other.

I realize that some may respond: But isn't that just Law and Gospel???  Well, this is why I posited that people were already teaching Two Kinds of Righteousness without realizing it.

And now on to the horizontal:  The horizontal righteousness begins with the Gospel.  Without the Gospel we wouldn't even be alive to do the good works our neighbor needs.  The Gospel makes us alive, and as we confess in Article VI, "faith is bound to bring forth good fruits."  It's the Gospel that brings forth the good works of our horizontal righteousness.  So, in a sense, we can see our good works as a gift from God - just as our faith and redemption are gifts (but don't look to them as proof of having faith and redemption).  The Gospel gives birth to our horizontal righteousness, and this horizontal righteousness is then informed by the Holy Spirit, via the Third Use of the Law.  (There is a most excellent treatise here.)  The short of it is that, this side of Jesus coming again, we are still dealing with our old nature.   Or as Paul says it, "for now we see as in a mirror dimly..." (1 Cor 13:12).  

Anyhow, the Law informs us and trains our flesh on how to behave as God wishes us to behave.  So our horizontal righteousness is us living our lives honoring our authorities, striving to remain chaste, helping our neighbor in all his needs, speaking well of our neighbor - and not thinking how I'd love to have my neighbor's Alienware gaming rig with twin 30 inch monitors. Our active horizontal righteousness is all about serving our neighbor.


Earlier, I mentioned that we should not see our active righteousness as an indication of how we are before God.  I should clarify a bit.  We do not look to our active righteousness for hope, because hope comes solely from the vertical righteousness.  Our horizontal righteousness is hopelessly flawed.  The Law tells us this fact.  If you are doing as you should, examining yourself prior to the Divine Service, you should see in your life how the vertical truth of the Law plays out in the horizontal. (These were written for a reason.)  We see how we have jumped over the gutter bumpers and knocked over our neighbor's pins; we see how dead we are in our sin.  This is, in fact, the only role our horizontal righteousness plays in the vertical righteousness:  it proves that we are dead.  If anything, our horizontal righteousness viewed through the Law should drive us back to vertical - seeking those gifted gifts of Word and Sacrament, where God feeds us good wholesome food.

Hopefully, you can see now how the Law and the Gospel are linked in our horizontal righteousness.
The horizontal relationship is the Christian living out his vocations guided by the Law.  The second use is also involved, as it acts like the bumpers in the gutters when I bowl, bouncing my ball back and forth.  Remember, even as we are dead in sin the Law is still imprinted upon our hearts, and it will effect how we behave in our horizontal righteousness.

I really think it isn't a case of which is better.  Rather, it is a case of, "you can't have one without the other".  They are like peanut butter and chocolate: meant to be together forever.

I do not blame guys for freaking out about the title "Two Kinds of Righteousness: Better than Law and Gospel."  Law and Gospel is near and dear to us Missouri Synod types.  We think that Walther's "The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel" is an incredibly valuable work.  So for us to hear someone claim that something is better than Law and Gospel, well, that is going to hit hard enough to be reminiscent of the fight for the Word of God in the mid 20th century.

As such, I will say I think the title is an overstatement.   I took all but one of my required systematics classes from Drs. Arand and Biermann, and that's where I learned the above. I also attended a pastor's conference where Biermann presented on the Two Kinds of Righteousness, and I am reasonably sure he said it was not that 2KR is better, full stop, but it helps us to better understand Law and Gospel.  Hence my point that the two concepts are inseparable.

It is also largely the point of Dr Arand's article, "Two Kinds of Righteousness as a Framework for Law and Gospel in the Apology"  Arand contends that it isn't that Law and Gospel are inadequate in themselves but that we use them inadequately in our understanding.  As he writes,
Part of the reason that this distinction of law and gospel does not characterize the entire Apology is because the way in which the law and gospel are often construed turns the distinction into an antithesis. At that point, the distinction between law and gospel turns into an opposition in which the gospel triumphs over the law itself, and not only the wrath of God. Any talk about good works is automatically understood to be talk about works righteousness. (see link above for source document)
Arand's point is quite valid.  If you have had discussions with some of our conservative ELCA brethren you may have encountered this phenomenon.  They deny the Third Use of the Law and effectively strip any meaning from the Horizontal Righteousness, thus seeing any talks of exhorting to good works as preaching works righteousness.

So, what I believe is that the teaching of 2KR helps gives Law and Gospel its full reign.  It allows us to speak it fully.  In the end, I believe that a true understanding of 2KR is infinitely better than a false understanding of Law and Gospel.  And hopefully it will help prevent us from falling into the reductionism that led to things such as the rejection of the Third Use of the Law.

Law & Gospel and 2KR: bosom buddies to the end!

1 comment:

Todd Wilken said...

So, L&G is deficient. Nice to know. TW