This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In the spirit of the event I will be offering a series of excerpts from Dr. Gerhard Forde. I believe there has never been a more profound expositor of Martin Luther's theology than he. Forde was one of my favorite professors at Luther Seminary and had a profound influence on my theology and preaching. I hope that you enjoy this passage. I'd like to thank Will McDavid for posting this quote online.
From Gerhard Forde’s Where God Meets Man, one of the most grace-packed bits of Lutheran theology out there:
“It is in this theology of old versus new that we can see, finally, the reason for Luther’s formulation of the problem of bondage and freedom. The old Adam is totally bound. No compromise is possible with him. To allow him a ‘little bit’ of freedom is to open the doors to the whole sticky attempt to combine grace with his fraudulent spiritual ambitions. It is to bind man to his self-imposed legalisms and reduce God to his helper. It is to reintroduce the insipid piety of the ‘little bit.’ There is absolutely no way to cure this old Adam, no way to allow him into the picture. He is ‘totally depraved.’ He must die. And that is just what the Gospel means. The cross and resurrection sounds his death knell. Almighty God moves onto the scene to reclaim his own.
And so the gospel is the announcement and realization of total freedom. It is not a matter of little bits. God moves in Christ to raise up a new man – a completely free man – not just to do a partial repair job. When the old Adam is put to death one is set free from bondage to spiritual ambition, legalism, and tyranny. And Luther, for one, meant this quite literally. One is absolutely free. It is a total state.”
Here is a drastic parting of the ways with a theology of glory. The Christ of the Cross takes away the possibility of doing something. The theologian of glory might be able to follow to the point of accepting the truth that Christ has fulfilled all things, but then that will have to be used as a motivational tool to make sure the law gets its due. The point is precisely that the power to do good comes only out of this wild claim that everything has already been done. The language has to break out into preaching. Never mind that when we look to ourselves we find no sign of good works. Never mind our fears and our anxieties. We are looking in the wrong place. Look to Christ! He has done it all. Nothing will be gained by trying to shore up the Old Adam. Christ leaves nothing for the Old Adam and Eve to do. The old can only be killed by the law, not given artificial respiration by recourse to it… To the theologian of the cross the language of grace and faith must be pushed absolutely to this length – until it kills the old and raises the new.
-Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross
Grace and peace,