Saturday, July 9, 2011

The foolishness of God, the place of reason in the theology of Martin Luther

The Foolishness of God: The Place of Reason in the Theology of Martin Luther

"The foolishness of God"  by Siegbert Becker came in the mail a couple of days ago, a used book from Amazon.  It came highly recommended by Larry Hughes and I think James Swan also liked it.  So far it is an easy, well-organized read.  I've read the first two chapters and the last chapter.

I will quote a bit from page 11, which received the most high-lighting so far.

Neo-orthodoxy's distinction between faith in Christ and faith in statements, or 'faith in a book,'  is artificial and contrary to reason.  By rejecting "propositional revelation" and making the Bible only a "record of" and "witness to" revelation, the neo-orthodox theologians drain faith of its intellectual content.  They make it little more than an emotional response to a "divine self-disclosure"  which takes place not through the words of Scripture, though possibly in conjunction with them.
Emil Brunner, for example, says that:  "faith means to be gripped by the Word of God [by this he does not mean the words of Scripture];  it means that a person submits in the very center of his being, in his heart, to Him to whom he belongs, because He has created him for Himself....  But this does not mean an intellectual understanding, but a personal encounter." [emphasis added]
The false antithesis which Brunner sets up here is one against which we must always be on our guard.  In positing such a sharp distinction between "intellectual understanding" and "personal encounter" (as some call it "total commitment"), neo-orthodoxy betrays its Calvinistic and Zwinglian roots.
The Formula of Concord teaches that the assurance of our faith is to be based on the fact that God's grace and the promise of the gospel are universal and that this promise is made in all earnestness by God.  Since Calvinism rejects the universality of the gospel promise, a consistent Calvinist can never find assurance in that promise.  Instead, he seeks it within the experience of his conversion, or, in neo-orthodox terms, in his "personal encoutner" with God, who speaks directly to the heart.   
Luther, on the other hand, always exalted the Word.  The Holy Spirit, according to Luther, does not wish to deal with us other than through the spoken Word and the sacraments.  The faculties of human reason are therefore necessary to grasp and to understand what the Word proclaims." 

The questions in my mind are:  who are the neo-orthodox?  What was and happened with their teaching?  How does the paradox about the use of reason in understanding God parallel this question of relating faith in Christ vs. word, and the false dichotomies which have been set up by some.  Have these false dichotomies risen from liberalism or Calvinism, or are those two somehow related?  Does the theology around a "living word" clash with the revealed word in scripture?

So much.  

From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
Publishing House ( All rights reserved. Reprinted with


Steve Martin said...

I don't think that the Living Word clashes with Itself, but rather sometimes with the not-so living words of the sinful and self-obsessed leanings of a creature bound to sin.

This is why Luther could say that quote about using Christ against the Scriptures where the Scriptures are used against Christ.

James Swan said...

Yes, great book. Insightful. Great stuff on "reason".

Brigitte said...

Thanks for endorsement, James. What did you think overall was the most insightful about it?