One of the lessons of Seminex – and for that matter any false teaching – is that the peddlers of new theologies will couch their new theology in old language. So, the Seminex crowd tried to pass off historical criticism as “the freedom of the Gospel.” After all, what Lutheran could be opposed to “The Gospel.” Extant in the archives of my congregation is an attempt by the pastor to “Stand firm for the Gospel” against the legalism of the Preus brothers. Five resolutions were brought to the voters assembly that, had they passed, would have decimated the authority of scripture in the congregation. All five failed, the dissenters walked out, and the next week the pastor himself was removed. It was ugly. The scars remain.
Another lesson is that Satan does not give up. After Seminex, and even as recently as the previous synod president, many said, “Well, we won the battle of the bible, so no heresy can be found in our synod. Mission Accomplished as of January 19, 1974.” We let our guard down for about twenty years. That’s not good. While we were exultant about the victory over those who would deny the authority of the Word of God, we ignored the growing danger from those who were denying the power of God’s Word. Our seminaries and universities, now cleansed from false teaching, needed no further doctrinal oversight. We could just repeatedly commend their faithfulness in convention, without ever asking if such faithfulness actually existed. After all, we beat back heresy that one time, so there can not be a problem now.
This triumphalism has had serious, long term, and harmful consequences. Evolution is being taught at some, most or perhaps even all of our Concordias. Those who dare to point out that the emperor may not have clothes are not praised for their honesty, they are taken to the royal dungeon for “re-education.”
Meanwhile at one of our seminaries, there are now professors claiming that Law and Gospel is not the best paradigm for explaining Luther’s theology. They say this as if Law and Gospel is merely one paradigm among many, instead of the way in which God communicates through His Holy Scripture. This demotes the clear doctrine of God’s word to being mere paradigm, and then claims that it is attempting to fix a “Law Gospel reductionism.”
Hey! Isn’t that what the Seminex people were teaching? Yes it was. The term was coined by confessional uber-genius John Warkwick Montgomery. (Who writes a new book as often as I write a new sermon.) It was later shortened to “Gospel reductionism” and was a useful shorthand to describe the practice of reducing the entirely of scripture to an amorphous “Gospel” that could be molded according to the whims of the speaker. The Gospel was no longer authoritative. “The Gospel” was whatever I said it was: The important thing is not that God’s Word says that the resurrection happened, the important thing is the Gospel message. But a Gospel with no resurrection is no Gospel. It was a Gospel devoid of content.
Now this concept is being used to describe, not the heretics of 1974, but the confessional preaching of the entire twentieth century. The solution to this “Law Gospel reductionism”, by which they do not mean “Gospel reductionism”, is two kinds of righteousness. As they explain it, when we reduce Law and Gospel to polar opposites, then we can not see how the Gospel leads us to new obedience.
All of the terms are long-loved terms by confessional Lutherans. But they are terms that are being used to supplant Law and Gospel. This we can not do, if we wish to remain Lutheran. Indeed, the main proponent of this admitted in a recent interview that 2KR leads to preaching that is Law-Gospel-Law. This is condemned in thesis after thesis by CFW Walther. Of course, they would respond that Walther lived before the re-discovery of this important paradigm. Which I would say is all to the good.
We can not reduce doctrine to mere paradigm. We can not give up the precious distinction of Law and Gospel to try and fix what is really nothing more than a neglect of the third use of the Law. If we are neglecting the third use of the Law, then we need to rediscover that treasure, not invent new teachings that will only lead us astray from it. Indeed, I have heard that Law and Gospel have nothing to say about Christian living, so we need 2KR to cover that. Wait! Isn’t that precisely what the third use of the Law is for. Acting as a Rule. I remember hearing that somewhere. I think it was the Book of Concord.
I’ve written about this before, and I’ll be recording an interview with Issues Etc. tomorrow on this topic. (If they air it, I’ll warn you so you know when not to listen.) 2KR is nothing more than an academic pietism trying to sneak our works into the church, and cover Christ’s works. They would object to that. “We are teaching nothing more than Luther taught” they would say. Which is what the great minds of our seminary said, even as they walked out. It was never the same teaching, and they knew it. The question today is not whether this is historic Lutheran doctrine. The question is, do the purveyors of it know that it is a new and alien doctrine, or are they merely misguided? Time will tell.