Friday, May 09, 2008

Law and Gospel

Stumbled across this helpful, sensible, simple introduction to the law-gospel issue:

Law and Gospel by John Frame

A particularly good paragraph says

So gospel includes law in an important sense: God’s kingdom authority, his demand to repent. Even on the view of those most committed to the law/gospel distinction, the gospel includes a command to believe. We tend to think of that command as in a different class from the commands of the decalogue. But that too is a command, after all. Generically it is law. And, like the decalogue, that law can be terrifying to someone who wants to trust only on his own resources, rather than resting on the mercy of another. And the demand of faith includes other requirements: the conduct becoming the gospel that I mentioned earlier. Faith itself works through love (Gal. 5:6) and is dead without good works (James 2:17).

I also particularly liked his statement that 'law itself in Scripture comes to us wrapped in grace.' [emphasis mine]

It's amazing where you find the law-gospel antithesis crop up, even among those who should really know better . Frame is writing in disagreement with some US Reformed theologians who think unless you buy their sharp distinction between the law and the gospel you've lost the gospel.

I blogged on the law a while ago here.


heraldsandperegrines said...

I absolutely agree. I posted on this myself, quoting Dumbrell, here:

Pete said...

Enjoyed glancing through your blog.
Christians take various views on the Law/Gospel issue - I have worked towards holding a fairly Lutheran view of it.
It is worth noting that Frame is making a common mistake of confusing 'command in general' with 'Mosaic Law specifically.' If that is done, then one will fail to grasp the nature and implications of the view people like myself hold. I dont at all expect all people to agree with me - but it is good to seek to understand what the different sides in the debate think. If you want some more detailed writing on it, you can read a paper I wrote a few years back on it:

Pete said...

Thanks Pete, welcome to my blog, glad you've been enjoying it.

I had a read of your article at bwm. Very interesting, thorough in parts, excellent in parts. You won't be surprised to know that I disagree with the position you end up with. I'd love to have the time to explain why more fully. Maybe sometime later. At the risk of seeming rude for the sake of brevity, my disagreement is shaped a little like this:

a. At points you seem to be suggesting that the Mosaic Law is ethically irrelevant for the christian. This is a little odd to say the least, given Jesus and Paul's practice in using it, interpreting it, repeating it, in ethical instruction. Perhaps I have misunderstood you.

b. Your depiction of the Mosaic Law is incomplete and doesn't really match the evidence in the texts. The Mosaic code does address the heart and the personality. You yourself admit this when you note that the law commands love. The idea that the law commanded something which exceeds the concept of law is a little bizarre. Infact, it is to suggest that one is using the wrong concept of law. To say that love is personal and relational doesn't solve this problem, I think the bible teaches us that law is relational personal too. These comments might make sense in a context where some were suggesting an approach to the Mosaic Law that was inflexible, un-nuanced, shallow, 'flat' from a biblico-theological perspective etc., but I don't know anyone doing that (perhaps I move in the wrong circles!).

Or, to put a. and b. another way, I think both OT and NT material on the Mosaic Law don't fit with aspects of your thesis.

I'd love to add in scripture references etc. with more time. For the moment I'd suggest taking a closer look at Paul's own ethical instructions and the use of the Mosaic code there, but also at other aspects of the OT saint's experience of life under the law (Psalm 119, 19 for e.g.) which suggest that Galatians 3 isn't meant to be the whole picture.

I have a post somewhere here called '10 on the law' that might help you understand where I'm coming from a little bit. I think the ongoing use of the law for ethical instruction is entirely compatible with a salvation-historical reading of the law not a million miles from the one you outline in part in the earlier sections of your paper (e.g. viewing the law as fulfilled in Christ, acknowledging its temporary and historical-covenantal nature).

Good to chat. :)