Ruining The Gospel: Lessons On Preaching And Movie-Making

great-ships-the-titanicSome great advice about preaching and teaching! Orthodoxy has brought me to experiencing the Gospel and not just hearing it! Read and share 🙂

Ruining The Gospel: Lessons On Preaching And Movie-Making

a post by A.J. Swoboda, PhD

I ashamedly confess to ruining a number of films for my friends over the years. A few instances come to mind. On one occasion, I accidentally unveiled to my congregation the ending of M. Night Shamalyan’s The Sixth Sense just following its release. Folks were ticked. I’ll refrain from repeating my sin here. Someone did the same to me at another point: explaining to me what happens in the Titanic just a day before going to the theatre myself. I went and saw it, but it was ruined.

What’s actually taking place when someone “ruins” a movie? What is being “ruined”? What do we mean by that?

For a movie to be “ruined” is not always the same as the outcome being unveiled in advance. I suspect that when Titanic was ruined for me, something much deeper was being stolen from me than the outcome of the movie. I’m a diligent amateur historian. I’m diligent enough to know the outcome of the whole historical Titanic story: the thing sank. Thus, when I ventured into a theatre and paid fifteen bucks to view a movie with an outcome I was already privy to, what was it I looking for? I knew what would happen in the end.

Hollywood isn’t successful because the world is searching for a good story. Good stories abound in book form around us all the time. In my opinion, the best stories humans have come up with are always the cheapest—found in stacks in the used book section at Goodwill—Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the Bible. If people were after good stories, Goodwill would explode with success. Hollywood is successful because we, the audience, endlessly lust for an experience of a good story. We pay top dollar for it. When given the choice between paying $5 for a used, battered copy in book form and paying $100 for the director’s cut version, we’ll always opt for the latter version of Lord of the Rings. The most exceptional achievements in movie making are the one’s that provide the most compelling experience of a story. I didn’t go see Titanic because I was ignorant of the outcome.

It’s Ruined!

Here’s my theory: a movie is “ruined” when someone unveils a film’s outcome without allowing space for that person to experience the film’s outcome on their own terms. A ruined film is outcome minus experience. And once ruined, a film can’t be un-ruined.

We ruin the gospel all the time. We describe the good story by not helping people experience the good story. Preaching the gospel isn’t simply telling people about the gospel. Preaching the gospel must, in some radical sense, entail helping others experience the gospel newly today.

By appealing to this dynamic call of a preacher’s vocation, Alan Lewis, just before his untimely death, wrote that we aren’t invited to simply tell the good news but share it as news. Preachers, as co-explorer, don’t simply present the facts of Scripture but the experience of the Scriptures. And the gospel. His insightful and balanced point must be re-heard today:

“It is consequently the test of good storytellers, writers, and actors whether they are able to preserve, for the sake of the audience, the full drama, suspense, or mystery, and hence the original meaning, or their material, even though they themselves know what is coming and have passed far beyond the unrepeatable experience of first-time hearing.”

CONTINUE READING HERE! 

PREACHING THE MAJESTY OF THE GLORY OF GOD

ALASKA TRIP TO HOMER 13-14 SEPTEMBER 2010Thoughts that speak for themselves on preaching:

I think it would be a wonderful thing if every preacher in America would begin to preach about God and nothing else for one solid year. Just one solid year to preach about God. Who He is, His attributes, His perfections, His being, the kind of God He is, why we dare to trust Him, why we can trust Him, why we should trust Him, why we can love Him, why we should love Him, why we dare not fall short. And keep on preaching on God, the triune God, and keep on until God fills the whole horizon and the whole world. Faith would spring up like grass by the watercourses. Then let a man get up and preach a promise and the whole congregation would say, ‘I can trust that promise; look who made it.” -A.W. Tozer 

The goal of preaching is not instruction or application but the goal of preaching is worship.” -D. Martyn Lloyed Jones

SOURCE 

The Place For Preaching: Part 1

Part One of a Five Part Series by Father John Peck over at Preachers Institute

A Short History of the Liturgical Location for Preaching: The Ambo, the Pulpit and the Lectern

Throughout history, the place occupied by the preacher has changed based on liturgical and theological need.

Primarily of course, the purpose of changing the location was of necessity – to be seen and heard by those listening and looking. Our Lord Himself ascended a mountain for the “Sermon on the Mount” (hence the name) and often spoke where more to could hear and see Him more clearly.

This is a study, a very humble study, of how the Church liturgically and architecturally has provided a location to proclaim the message of salvation in Christ Jesus.

Introduction

In most contemporary Orthodox Churches, the preacher usually delivers his homily from the ambo – the semicircular extension of the area in front of the Royal Doors. Without too much difficulty, it is done here so that most everyone in the Church can see and hear him.

From the earliest days of human history, those who speak publicly stood in a place where they could be both seen and heard better. Proclamation of the Gospel has fared likewise, and architecturally this has been born out in our Churches in different ways throughout history.

We see it even now in the mini-mega-Churches whose sanctuaries are bereft of any Christian imagery or symbolism, yet the pastor or speaker (or drama ministry team or praise band) is on a stage. Where everyone can see and hear them easily.

In Orthodox Christian architecture and liturgy, this has classically followed secular solutions to the problem and adjusted these based on liturgical need.

In all cases, the purpose was not to separate the speaker or preacher from the crowd of listeners, but to unite them, and bring them closer to each other, able to see and hear each other with greater acuity.

Why bother?

“Why bother with places to preach? The principle liturgical action of the Church is the Eucharist.”

The truth is, the liturgy is not all about the Eucharist.

It’s about the Gospel and the Eucharist.

On every Orthodox Christian altar is the Gospel Book and it remains there. The Chalice is only brought forward and placed upon the altar during the Great Entrance, but the Gospel book remains.

The Liturgy of the Word comprises the first part of the liturgy, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Eucharistic Anaphora, the second part. It has been this way from the beginning, and this is because in the Christian service of worship there is one fact which underlies everything else:

The Gospel proclaims the Eucharist, and

the Eucharist proclaims the Gospel.

Either without the other leads to distortion of the Gospel message and vision of the Church. Together, they provide earth with a place where heaven has invaded the earth.

In Orthodox Churches for some time, preaching the Gospel of Christ has taken a serious backseat to the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist. (this is evident in the lack of homiletics preparation available, let alone mandatory, at contemporary Orthodox theological seminaries).  However, in this context it is easily forgotten that the word is preached in a liturgical setting.

Secondly, some priests have taken it upon themselves to wander around the Church while preaching, or walking to and fro, up and down the aisles. Several blog articles by Roman Catholic authors have addressed this; herehere and here.

Among the comments was this, by “Fr. Z”‘

“I suppose the roving preacher in the Catholic Church comes from the imposition of the man’s own personal quirk on the people of God.  This may be in imitation of Protestants, who almost by the very nature of much Protestant preaching need to impose their own personality on the sermon.

In  my opinion and experience, the preacher who does this is a narcissist.  He is drawing attention to himself.  He imposes himself, overlays himself, for his own needs, on the rite, the Word of God, and the people.  His needs first… every else? Forget it.

Are there exceptions? Of course. But not many.”

I could not agree more.

The reason we chant the Scriptures is to remove our own personality from the reading – to let the words of the Scriptures speak for themselves. Likewise, the imposition of our own personalities – drawing attention to ourselves during preaching – is a disaster, and not the Orthodox theological tradition.

We must return to a vibrant and dynamic liturgical setting for preaching. The Church has always made provision for this in the past, and this is the purpose of this article – to describe how the Church in history has provided, architecturally, for one of the two most important liturgical events in the life of the Christian. It was considered important enough to be a central fixture of any Cathedral, permanently installed, intricately and expensively adorned. It was not to be overlooked, ignored or accidentally ‘missed’ in the flurry of liturgical action.

Form is determined by function architecturally (I will, of course, cede any statements about architecture to architects, but none that I contacted wanted to write an article), and Church space is no exception. In the Orthodox tradition, Church architecture is significant and unique, being formed by Incarnational theology.

“In the beginning was the Word,”

– after all.

Some definitions.

In this series of articles, though these terms are often used interchangeably, for clarity’s sake we will adhere to some specific definitions, and point out that there is a basic difference between an ambo, a pulpit, and a lectern.

An ambo is elevated, freestanding, and rectangular in shape, and is approached from the side or from behind by stairs.*

pulpit is attached to part of the building (such as a pillar), is elevated, and surrounds the preacher except from behind where the stairs connect.

lectern is a freestanding, portable device which is often placed on a freestanding podium.(A common faux-pas: a podium is not synonymous with a lectern, but is simply a portable box designed to elevate a lectern. That is, one stands on a podium but stands at a lectern.)

*The ambo of most Orthodox Churches has been reduced to the hemispheric projection of the bema or soleas which faces west in front of the Royal Doors. In contemporary usage, the bema itself is composed of the altar or sanctuary (the area behind the iconostas), the soleas (the pathway in front of the iconostas), and the ambo (the area in front of the Holy Doors which projects westward into the nave).

By these definitions, what are sometimes called pulpits are actually lecterns, and what are sometimes called pulpits are actually small ambones. These terms are often used interchangeably, and we simply want to set some particular definitions for the purposes of this article.

So, if you have a small ambo and it has always been called a pulpit, that is fine.

If you have a lectern, and it has always been called a pulpit, that is fine, too.

Compiled from various sources

Preaching Gospel as Gospel: How Unconditional Is Unconditional?

jonahFather Aidan Kimel is doing a fantastic little series right now. He has given me permission to repost his series on my blog. I really think this is some delightful stuff he is sharing. Make sure to check out his blog “Eclectic Orthodoxy“! This is the fourth part of his series.

Part I 

Part II 

Part III

Preaching Gospel as Gospel: How Unconditional Is Unconditional?

The gospel is the story of Jesus Christ proclaimed in theperformative mode of unconditional promise. What this means practically for the preacher is this: each week, through prayer, study, and meditation on the appointed biblical text, he must find a way, under the guidance of the Spirit, to proclaim the text as good news, as glad tidings that liberates his hearers for the kingdom rather than as law that accuses, enslaves, and destroys. The preacher is charged not just toinform his hearers about God and instruct them in the moral and ascetical life. First and foremost he is charged to speak a word of grace that changes their lives by relating them—in all of their concrete fears, tragedies, failures, sins, and hopes—to the ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ. The preacher must always promise his hearers the final future. A proper homily is thus simultaneously eschatological and existential address—a living word that liberates from guilt, evokes hope, and opens fresh possibilities for love and life. A proper homily, in other words, bestows the Holy Spirit.

I have insisted in this series that the gospel is unconditional promise. So far my readers have not pushed me too hard on this, yet I detect a measure of anxiety. Exactly how unconditional is unconditional? Surely we must respond to God’s love, must we not? Love must be freely accepted if a free and mutual relationship is to be established, right? For Orthodox, (many) Catholics, and Arminian Protestants, the freedom of the human person to accept or reject God is decisive and ultimate. In the words of Paul Evdokimov: “God can do everything, except constrain us to love him.” It would appear, then, that here we have finally reached a limit, an authentic salvific proviso. How can the risen Jesus promise us that we are destined for his kingdom, when we are free to reject him? Given human freedom, the “gospel” can only, therefore, be a qualified promise.  To each gospel announcement we need to append the clause “… if you believe, repent, and persevere.” Hence it’s not really really good news at all. In the final analysis the “gospel” thus becomes sheer obligation and demand.  God has done his part; now it’s up to us to do ours. The burden of our ultimate salvation rests fully upon our shoulders: if we want to be saved, we must repent of our sins, ask God to forgive us, love him in return, commit ourselves to ascetical discipline, follow the moral precepts, and not be caught dead in mortal sin.

It is descriptively true that together faith, repentance, love, sanctity form the one essential condition for salvific communion with the Holy Trinity. We must be made fit for heaven.  But consider how this will inevitably be heard by our congregations if we preach this condition as the evangel of the resurrection—gospel becomes law! As we have seen, nomistic preaching of this kind only reinforces the power of “the law of sin and death” over our people and ourselves. Yet preachers do it all the time, and then they wonder why their sermons bear so little spiritual fruit.

At some point in the future I hope to write a couple of articles addressing the question of human freedom. I am not satisfied with the way the God-human relationship is commonly formulated. There is more to be said. Synergism is far more mysterious than popularly conceived. But for the moment I simply register my disagreement with conditionalist construals of the Christian message. The gospel is good news—good, wonderful, exhilarating, transformative, deifying news. It is good news because it is unconditional promise declaimed by the One who is risen from the dead. As Robert Jenson writes:

The final promise is and has to be … absolute, unconditional, entirely and utterly free of “if’s” or “maybe’s” of any sort. The point is again tautologous: an Eschaton can be promised only unconditionally—whatever problems that may raise about the hearer’s acceptance, etc. I have not got things going until I [the preacher] hear from the text and can say to my hearers, “You will be …, in spite of all considerations to the contrary.” This is the distinction of gospel from law; for the law is any address with an “if.” (“The Preacher, the Text, and Certain Dogmas,”dialog (Spring 1982): 112)

If the Church never speaks unconditional promise in the name of Christ, then the gospel is simply never spoken. Some other language game is being played.

The gospel is a wholly unconditional promise of the human fulfillment of its hearers, made by the narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The gospel, rightly spoken, involves no ifs, ands, buts, or maybes of any sort. It does not say, “If you do your best to live a good life, God will fulfill that life,” or, “If you fight on the right side of the great issues of your time …,” or, “If you repent …,” or, “If you believe …” It does not even say, “If you want to do good/repent/believe …,” or, “If you are sorry for not wanting to do good/repent/believe …” The gospel says, “Because the Crucified lives as Lord, your destiny is good.” The Reformation’s first and last assertion was that any talk of Jesus and God and human life that does not transcend all conditions is a perversion of the gospel and will be at best irrelevant in the lives of hearers and at worst destructive. (Robert W. Jenson, Lutheranism, p. 42)

But didn’t the Reformers tell us that we are justified by faith? In the history of Protestantism, faith has often been presented as the one condition that needs to be fulfilled for salvation. This conviction lies behind revivalist decisionism, for example. Yet when faith is given its full biblical significance as trust and dependence, it can only be construed but disastrously as a condition for salvation. “If I really think I can win ultimate fulfillment by chastity, or civil honesty, or even monastic asceticism,” observes Jenson, “there is no insuperable problem in performing such things, given so overwhelming a motivation. But how do I set out to believe? And how would I ever know I had achieved it?” (p. 37).

What then does “faith” mean? Try thinking about it this way: if I speak to you a conditional promise, what is your response going to be? Quite likely you will either ignore it, or you will start fulfilling the stated conditions. Conditional promises, in other words, educe and demand what the Reformers called “works.” It doesn’t matter whether the works are moral or ascetical. The only response to the law is “doing” or “not doing.”

But if I speak to you an unconditional promise, what might your response be? Does it even make sense to speak of a “response”? Thus Jenson: “‘Faith’ is not the label of an ideological or attitudinal state. Like ‘justification,’ the word evokes a communication-situation: the situation of finding oneself addressed with an unconditional affirmation, and having now to deal with life in these terms. Faith is a mode of life” (p. 41). Because the gospel is performative declaration—i.e., it changes the linguistic world its hearers inhabit and thus changes the hearer himself—it generates the kind of response we cannot easily describe: faith is just breathing and thinking and sensing and feeling and trusting and doing—all on the basis of the gospel. Faith is living in the liturgy of the kingdom. “The faith by which one is justified,” explains Gerhard Forde, “is not an active verb of which the Old Adam or Eve is the subject, it is a state-of-being verb. Faith is the state of being grasped by the unconditional claim and promise of the God who calls into being that which is from that which is not. Faith means now having to deal with life in those terms. It is a death and resurrection” (Justification by Faith—A Matter of Death and Life, p. 22).

There is nothing to do with the word of grace but to either believe it or disbelieve it. There is also another possible response, which I suppose is but a form of disbelief—namely, offense and outrage. How dare you infringe on my freedom to reject you eternally!  How dare you invade my personal space! (Recall Jenson’s formulation of the metalinguistic rule.)  An unconditional promise intrudes into my life in a way that a mere truth claim or nomistic demand does not.  An unconditional promise brings with it the presence of the promisor.

“But what if,” the preacher asks, “I proclaim the gospel as unconditional promise, and no one is converted or liberated from bondage or filled with the Spirit?” That is not your concern, dear friend. Your job is to preach the gospel and leave the results to God. Remember: the only hope for the salvation and renewal of your congregation is proclamation of the kergyma, not the legalistic exhortation to “try harder.” Your people have heard that message all their lives! But the law never converts; it only generates grudging obedience, self-righteousness, rebellion, and despair.

“But what if my congregation exploits the promise to live a life of sin?” This is a danger, of course; but remember that St Paul had to face the same problem. “Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase?” The Apostle doesn’t backtrack or qualify himself: “Absolutely not!” he answers. “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:1-3). Translation: the baptized are no longer the kind of people who seek to gratify the desires of the flesh. Through the gospel we have been crucified with Christ and are now a new creation.  This is eschatological speech. This is the way we must think and talk if we really believe that the kingdom has been inaugurated in the Church.  The only cure for sin is more gospel-preaching!  Just know that if no one ever accuses you of promoting antinomianism, then you probably aren’t preaching the gospel.

As long as we preachers understand our task as talking about Jesus or about doctrine or aboutmorality or about anything else, it will always seem to be a secondary, perhaps even minor, part of our ministry.  But once we see that the proclamation of the gospel is an eschatological-sacramental event, that it is the risen Christ himself who is the herald and that through our words he slays our parishioners in their sin and rebirths them into the new life of the kingdom, then preaching takes on fresh and compelling urgency. It is the very unconditionality of the gospel, Forde explains, “that puts to death and raises up—at one and the same time” (p. 93).

“But surely you are not telling us never to summon our congregation to repentance?” Of course not. But there is a proper order to the gospel message. James B. Torrance makes a helpful distinction between legal repentance and evangelical repentance. Legal repentance follows upon the conditionalist promise: Repent, and if you do, you will be forgiven. The forgiveness of God is made contingent upon our repentance and conversion. Evangelical repentance, on the other hand, flows from the unconditional proclamation of the love and mercy of Christ: Because Christ has died for your sins, you are forgiven and reconciled; therefore, repent and walk in the way of Christ. “Forgiveness is logically prior to repentance …,” explains Torrance. “Repentance is the work of the Spirit in bringing home to us the meaning of Calvary—a response to grace, not a condition of grace.”

How unconditional is the gospel? Utterly! So preach it!

Preaching Gospel as Gospel: Distinguishing Law and Promise

mestzaje_c-pantocratorFather Aidan Kimel is doing a fantastic little series right now. He has given me permission to repost his series on my blog. I really think this is some delightful stuff he is sharing. Make sure to check out his blog “Eclectic Orthodoxy“! This is the third part of his series.

Part I 

Part II 

Preaching Gospel as Gospel: Distinguishing Law and Promise 

If the gospel is unconditional promise, then that means … well … no conditions! The language of unconditionality has become so commonplace when speaking of the love of God that it is very easy to miss the radicality of the gospel itself. In itself, to say that God loves unconditionally is simply to describe God, either in his trinitarian relations or in his relationship to creatures. It’s good to know this about God, yet it is not yet gospel. The descriptive statement “God is love” is not a promissory utterance that directly and personally interprets, challenges, and reconfigures my hopes, fears, and sins. One might just as easily have said “The Rocky Mountains are huge.” Both are true statements, but both leave me untouched in my present situation. I can well imagine hearers responding, “Oh really. That’s nice to know. Would someone please pass the salt.” In order to move the statement into gospel-speech, one needs to translate it into something like “Because God is unconditional love, therefore _____.” The preacher needs to fill in the blank with something that he knows will address the hearer in his need and sin. Possible candidates to fill in the blank might include:

Because God is unconditional love, therefore all of your sins are completely and forever forgiven. You may therefore let go all of your guilt and self-condemnation.

Because God is unconditional love, therefore you can stop trying to earn your way into God’s good graces. You are already accepted by him.

Because God is unconditional love, therefore you are assured a place in the kingdom. His love will triumph over your disbelief and sin.

So forth and so on. Personally I believe that it would be better to express the unconditionality of the divine love more explicitly through the story of Jesus Christ. By itself “God is love” is too general and abstract to really do the job as gospel utterance. But the critical homiletical point is the move from description to unconditional promise.

To clarify the power of an unconditional promise, let’s reflect a bit on conditional promises. Conditional promises are typically formulated as “If … then …” statements:

If you get straight A’s on your report card, I’ll take you to the amusement park.

If you avoid a speeding ticket for five years, your insurance rates will go down.

If you meet your sales quota, you will get that job promotion you have coveted for so long.

For each the outcome is dependent upon the performance of the one to whom the promise is made. If the promise is spoken to me, I am the one who bears the responsibility, and burden, of fulfilling the prescribed work. The conditional promise puts before me a task to be performed. If the task is within my abilities and powers, I will eagerly work to obtain the reward and afterward will celebrate and take pride in my accomplishment. But if the task is beyond my abilities and power, then I’ll probably just give up on it.

But think what happens if the promised result is a penalty of some kind.

If you go faster than the speed limit, you will be fined $85.

Okay, that’s not too bad. I just have to stay disciplined and watch what I am doing.

If you do not meet your job quota, you will be fired.

Uh oh. Things are not looking so good now. The economy is depressed. I’m already working 70 hours a week. How am I going to meet this demand. And if I lose my job, my wife and children will suffer terribly. I guess I’ll just have to start working 90 hours a week and hope I get lucky, before I collapse from exhaustion.

If you do not pull the trigger and kill that man, your son will die.

Precisely this situation occurred in the latest episode of “The Bridge.” The Mexican police officer was placed in an impossible situation. What was he to do? All outcomes were bad.

Now consider the following conditional promises that are regularly spoken by preachers of the gospel:

If you believe on Jesus Christ and repent of your sins, you will be saved and will enjoy eternal life.

The promised outcome is wonderful—what could be more wonderful than eternal blessedness?—but how difficult will it be for me to believe on Jesus and repent of my sins? It might be fairly easy (or seem easy) if I am already largely persuaded by the arguments presented to me that Jesus truly is the Son of God, and if I’m not too addicted to my patterns of sinfulness and I don’t really have to give up too much. But as the level of existential difficulty increases, so will my sense of discouragement. I may even find myself lost in despair. And if “faith” is understood in its full biblical significance, then it becomes an impossible condition to fulfill.

If you sell all that you own, give the money to the poor, and become a missionary in Africa, you will be rewarded with the riches of heaven.

Uh oh. The stakes have been raised. I live in a lovely home right on the coast in Malibu. I’m the successful president of a technology firm. I love all the perks of my job. I’m in relationship with the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow. I fly around the world in this incredible iron suit. I’m not sure if I’m willing or able to give all of that up and live in poverty in Africa. Isn’t there another way?

If you do not obey the moral law perfectly, Almighty God will condemn you to everlasting perdition.

Oh my. This is the worst news I have ever heard. I covet the wife of my neighbor two doors down. I regularly lie on my tax returns. I gossip about my boss behind his back. I hate wasting my time in prayer. I spend too much money on entertainment and don’t give enough to charity (what is enough?). I dislike like my parents and would prefer never to speak to them again. I cannot forgive my wife for divorcing me for another man. I drink and smoke too much. I am a prisoner of my passions. How the hell can I ever avoid hell?! It’s all too much! I am lost!

As the stakes get higher and the attainment of the promised reward, or the avoidance of the promised penalty, becomes increasingly difficult, the conditional promise becomes more and more destructive in my life. It binds me to the past and closes the future. In essence a conditional promise is just a form of law, sheer demand and obligation. Robert Jenson elaborates:

The “law” is the totality of all human communication, insofar as what we say to each other functions in our lives as demand, or, what is the same, poses the future conditionally. Literal laws say, “If you do such-and-such, such-and-such will happen.” They open a desired or feared future and make that future depend on what the person addressed does or is in advance thereof. The way the Reformers used “law” supposes that explicitly lawlike utterances make up a good deal of the human conversation, and that a strong law-factor pervades the whole. (Lutheranism, pp. 43-44)

How does a particular utterance pose a future to its hearer? Clearly a promise poses a future in a very particular way: as gift. All the rest of our communication, various as it is, shares one common character: it poses a future not as gift but as obligation. The whole network of our discourse and community, except insofar as it is promise, functions for each of us individually as demand. We share life in the demands which each of us, in his self-communication, is for all the rest of us. … The theological tradition has used the label “law” for the web of our communication insofar as it has this character; for civil and criminal laws are a clear paradigm of the way in which non-promise words pose a future. “If you do such-and-such,” says the law, “then such-and-such will happen.” Such an utterance poses a possible future, but also binds it to a prior condition, binds it, that is, to a past. Whether the possibility offered by the “then …” part is realized depends on the “if …” part, on what I do or do not do beforehand. And on this that I do or fail to do therefore falls the weight of the utterance; it is a demand on my performance. (Story and Promise, p. 7)

A conditional promise throws the promisee back upon his own efforts and resources to obtain the reward and blessing of the promise. The promisor has done his job—he has tendered his offer, presented the contract. Now it is up to the promisee to fulfill the stated conditions and complete the transaction.

But consider what a difference an unconditional promise makes. Unconditional promises are typically formulated in the form of “Because … therefore.”

Because you have done so well in school this past year, I’m giving you a week-long holiday in Cancun. Surprise!

Because I love you, I am going to take you out to dinner tonight.

Because you are finding it so hard to learn French, I’m going to spend two hours an evening with you this week and help you with your lessons.

We immediately observe that the burden for fulfilling the “contract” has shifted from the promisee to the promisor. In fact, there is no contract. There is only the gift. The promisee does not have to do anything—no ifs, ands, or buts, no hidden clauses. The unconditional promise liberates one from the past and opens up a new future. When I irrevocably pledge myself to you, I personally enter into your life in a creative and life-giving way. You are no longer enslaved to the discourse of law and contract, with all of its threats. You are no longer alone with the demand to perform in order to succeed in the task of life.

A promise goes: “Because I will do such-and-such, you may await such-and-such. The pattern is “because …, therefore …,” the exact reverse of “if …, then …” Here a future is opened independent of any prior condition, independent of what the addressee of the promise may do or be beforehand. Indeed, we may say that whereas other communication makes the future depend on the past, a promise makes the past depend on the future, for it grants a future free from the past, and so allows us to appropriate also the past in a new way. This is the point of all the biblical and churchly talk about “forgiveness”; if we are accepted in spite of what we have been, we are thereby permitted to appropriate what we have been afresh, as the occasion and object of that acceptance. (Story, p. 8)

But there is a hitch. Despite our best intentions, the unconditional promises we make to each other must ultimately fail. Two lovers stand before each other and pledge their undying affection and fidelity, yet at any moment death can step in and steal one from the other—and then the survivor is left alone once again. In unconditional promise I commit my future to you, yet my future is not ultimately mine to commit. Death implicitly renders all our promises conditional.

In the early 16th century Martin Luther and others began to experience the preaching and teaching of the Latin Church precisely as law, as unfulfillable demand and thus as condemnation. We need not rehearse the rights and wrongs of the Reformation. All that needs to be noted is the existential crisis that provoked it:

There are times in history when precisely the best people of the age suddenly find their own lives a question too terrible to be borne. At the end of the Middle Ages, some of the most devoted children of medieval Christianity found themselves thus threatened with spiritual destruction, by their very Christianity. … Those most decisively caught by Christianity sought to rebuild their lives by renewed attention to Christianity’s constituting message, the “gospel.” But under the weight of this unprecedented concern, the fundamental medieval understanding and proclamation of the gospel proved unable to sustain itself as gospel, “good news.” Luther and others encountered in it not good news, but news so bad that it destroyed their grasp on the value of life. …

The Reformers’ fundamental insight was that the radical question about ourselves can accept as answer only an unconditional affirmation of the value of our life. (Lutheranism, pp. 38, 41)

If I am experiencing the kind of existential crisis suffered by Luther and others in the 16th century, and no doubt suffered by many both before and since, then no conditional pledge can deliver me from it; for the problem lies precisely in the conditionality of the discourse that shapes, informs, constrains, and determines my life. I am trapped in the law, oppressed and enslaved by the law, destroyed by the law. The Apostle rightly speaks of “the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2). Only an unconditional word of life and hope, spoken personally to me by one who lives beyond death, can break through the walls of my nomistic prison and liberate me from my despair and darkness. Yet no mortal human being can genuinely speak such a word to me; our inevitable quietus voids all such commitments.

And yet the gospel declares that there is One who can and does speak true promise. In Jesus Christ, writes Jenson, “a sheerly unconditional promise was said and became sayable in the world” (Story, p. 50). To continue speaking this Word of renewal and life is the mission of the Church.

Preaching Gospel as Gospel: The Good News of the Resurrection

ImageFather Aidan Kimel is doing a fantastic little series right now. He has given me permission to repost his series on my blog. I really think this is some delightful stuff he is sharing. Make sure to check out his blog “Eclectic Orthodoxy“! This is the second part of his series:

Preaching Gospel as Gospel: The Good News of the Resurrection 

Since my first encounter with Robert Jenson’s construal of justification as metalinguistic ruleback in the 1980s, I have sought to proclaim the gospel in the mode of unconditional promise. I have often not been successful nor consistent—it’s harder to do than one might imagine—but this at least has been my goal. My conviction that all properly Christian preaching should conform to the metalinguistic rule did not change when I became Orthodox. How could it? Precisely at this point we are touching on something that goes to the core of the faith or at least to the core of my faith.

But the metalinguistic rule is controversial. So many passages in Scripture and the Church Fathers seem to argue against it, and so many contemporary sermons do argue against it. Surely, we say, there are conditions for salvation—faith, repentance, love, virtue, good works, prayer, self-denial immediately come to mind. Given these conditions (all of which may be descriptively true), how can we faithfully proclaim Christ in the performative mode of promise? How do I dare to speak to someone and say, “Because God has raised Jesus from the dead, you are destined for eternal life in his kingdom”?

This was, in fact, one of the very first questions I posed to Robert Jenson when I sat down in his office at the Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg. How can we speak of the gospel as unconditional promise, when so many salvific conditions are stipulated in the Scriptures? He smiled and bade me, “Go back and read the Bible again.” At the time I didn’t think this was a very good answer. After all, I was an Episcopalian, and Episcopalians don’t read the Bible—they hear it read to them on Sunday mornings. But over the years I have come to see the wisdom of his response. The unconditionality of the gospel is not something that one picks up from a mere surface reading of the biblical text. It’s more akin to how a scientist discerns the proper paradigm through which to interpret the data before him. A creative act of imagination is needed. Similarly, I suggest that coming to an understanding of the unconditional love of God is a paradigmatic truth that only God himself can teach us through his Spirit. This knowledge is acquired, if it is in fact acquired, through prayer and meditation upon the Scriptures in the sacramental-ascetical life of the Church; ultimately it is only acquired through the experience of the love and mercy of the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. And once one has learned this truth—which is to say, once one has been so loved by God—one begins to read the Scriptures in new and liberating ways. And if you are a preacher, you will begin to preach the Gospel in new and liberating ways—you will begin to preach in the Spirit.

The preaching of the gospel in the performative mode of promise all begins with the resurrection. In its most succinct and compact form, the gospel is the announcement of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is risen! This is the unbelievable good news that the Apostles proclaimed throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Jesus is risen! If nothing else be said by the Church, this must be said. Jesus is risen! The gospel is not teaching about theories of atonement and hypostatic union. The gospel is not descriptive reflection on the process of salvation. The gospel is not exhortation to love one’s neighbor, do good works, and pray more often. Theological teaching about the doctrines of the Church may be important, and exhortation to virtue and prayer are certainly necessary for the spiritual health of believers—but they are not the gospel. The gospel is proclamation of the resurrection: Jesus is risen!

We begin with the subject of the gospel announcement. The one who is risen is Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, prophet from Nazareth, Messiah of Israel, friend of publicans and whores, healer of the sick, proclaimer and inaugurator of the kingdom of his Father. Here is why we have been given the four gospels of the New Testament—to identify this Jesus whom God has raised from the dead. The gospel is good news precisely because it is Jesus—this Jesus named and identified in the gospels—who now lives. If it were instead Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, or Al Kimel, it would not be good news at all. It would in fact be the most terrible news conceivable, as it would mean that evil had eternally triumphed over love and goodness. The gospel is good news because it is this specific man, Jesus of Nazareth, who has destroyed death and will return in glory to judge the quick and the dead.

Now let’s turn to the predicate. What does it mean to say that the one who was crucified by Pontius Pilate is now alive? Well, one characteristic of a living person is that he can surprise us:

If Jesus is risen, he must now be alive; i.e., whatever is the minimum differentium of a live human from a dead one must now be predicable of him. I suggest: the minimum difference between a live person and a dead one is that the live one can surprise us. Your life is one life, it makes a personal unity, in that after the fact the rest of us are able to grasp each new act of yours as dramatically coherent with what we already know of you, are able to say, “That’s Jones, alright.” But your act is that of a living person in that before the fact it is in some way unpredictable. If you are alive, then just when we have you all figured out you may undo all our reckonings. When you become too predictable, we say, “What ails Jones? All the life is gone out of him.” And when you die, we begin writing biographies, i.e., descriptions of an object that will hold still for analysis. It is this liveliness of life that the Bible and the biblically influenced parts of western intellect tradition name “spirit.” Guided by the word’s uses, I may venture a last formulation of the present point: you are alive if and only if you come to us from the future. (Robert W. Jenson, “Toward an Understanding of ‘… is Risen,’” dialog 19 [1990]: 31-32)

A dead person no longer surprises. His self-definition has been completed and finalized at death. He is now a corpse that inhabits the past. When the Church proclaims the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, she declares that he is now alive in all the surprising ways that living persons are alive. In the community of faith Jesus is present to love and bless, to instruct and judge, to heal and save. That he is so present is the surprise of the resurrection.

The risen Christ continues to address humanity from the future, but not just from any future—from the final future. He communicates himself audibly and visibly, in Word and Sacrament, in the panoply of communication events that constitute the churches of God. In this blog series, I am thinking principally of preaching, but I am well aware that Christ’s self-communication is not restricted to the verbal Word. I focus on preaching because I suspect that most preachers, particularly in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, really do not understand its importance. The Second Helvetic Confession declared: “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” Similarly, Martin Luther said: “Tis a right excellent thing, that every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ’s word and forgiveness.” Just as the faithful partake of Christ by their mouths, so the faithful partake of Christ through their ears. Preaching is a sacramental event. When the gospel is proclaimed rightly, the living Jesus is present. He is the speaker, content, and gift of the homily.

Now I realize that believing in the sacramentality of the homily may be infinitely more difficult than, say, believing in the existence of a transcendent Creator. I too have heard plenty of bad homilies in which nary an inkling of the voice of Christ could be heard. Unlike the holy mysteries, there is no ex opere operato guarantee that the risen Lord will speak when the preacher opens his mouth. Yet as the Apostle Paul declares, the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom 1:16). Every pastor must believe this when he steps before his congregation, and every congregation must pray that Christ himself will speak through their pastor by the power of the Spirit. Authentic preaching is nothing less than a miracle of the resurrection. But the preacher can assist the Spirit if, at the right time and in the right way, he gathers up his courage and boldly bestows upon his hearers the unconditional gift of salvation.

Note that I am speaking as if the homiletical and sacramental experience of the Church is a mystical experience of the Trinitarian God. That is exactly what I am claiming. By faith the disciples of Christ indeed hear the voice of their risen Savior. By faith the disciples of Christ indeed partake of their Lord’s Body and Blood. By faith the disciples of Christ indeed experience the Spirit of the Christ. Some Orthodox tend to think of mystical experience as something only the hesychasts of the desert experience, but hesychastic experience is grounded upon the simple life of the parish church, as prosaic and commonplace as it might seem (see John Zizioulas, “The Church as the ‘Mystical’ Body of Christ,” Communion & Otherness, pp. 286-307). This in no way depreciates the witness and power of the mystical experience of the saints and holy elders—quite the contrary! They are living sacraments of the risen Christ and are thus essential to the witness, mission, and spiritual vitality of the body of Christ. But their experience of theosis occurs within the ecclesia, which has been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ and reborn in the Holy Spirit. All the baptized have been incorporated by faith into Christ; all the baptized are on the journey of theosis; all the baptized live within the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The risen Jesus addresses us from his future. Death belongs to his past; he now lives beyond death. Having accepted and destroyed the death the belongs to fallen humanity, he now exists as unconditional promise of our salvation. Unlike the promises that we make to each other—all of which are bounded by death and are thus doomed to fail—the risen Lord speaks unconditional promises that cannot disappoint and will be gloriously fulfilled. Again Jenson:

Jesus lives, i.e., there are addresses made in our world, identifying themselves as his addresses to us, that are spirited, that gladden and amaze, that “open the future.” These addresses are the telling of that very message we called “the gospel”; Jesus is risen in that the claim that he is risen does in fact interpret our antecedent hopes and fears in ways that liberate and transform us. Jesus lives in that he is present in spirit, in that he comes as from the future; but this spirit is the spirit of the word of the gospel. … If Jesus is risen, he must have been dead. If nevertheless he now lives, he lives with death in the past tense. The resurrection was not a resuscitation; it is not as if Jesus merely resumed life as before, to die again afterward. The very point of the resurrection-claim about Jesus is that death is not in his future. … That for Jesus death is past and not future, means that the future from which he comes is the last future, that the spirit in which he is present is the Breath of the Kingdom, that the gospel-word that is his address is an eschatological judgment. For whereas all the promises we make one another are rendered conditional by the future of death, Jesus’ resurrection makes his intention for us unconditional. All my commitments are iffy, for I commit a future I do not surely have. Jesus’ commitment to us is rescued from conditionality and cannot but triumph utterly; such a triumph, vice verse, must be the conclusion of the entire human enterprise. (p. 32)

In the name and authority of her risen Lord, the Church dares to promise and celebrate the eschatological future of every believer. This promise cannot fail, for Christ himself is the promisor. “Jesus the Son now has death behind him,” declares Jenson; “therefore nothing can hinder the unconditionality or fulfillment of his loving promises to us” (A Large Catechism, p. 27).

But perhaps we might ask, Why should we believe that the risen Christ actually intends the fulfillment of our future in his kingdom? The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that it was precisely for this purpose that Jesus accepted death instead of compromise, in faithfulness to his mission. “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). By his free embrace of Calvary the divine Son irrevocably bound himself in love to humanity:

If Jesus died and lives, the fulfillment of his life opens unconditionally to him. But his life was speaking the promise of Israel’s Kingdom to other men, acting it out with them, and doing both in a way that removed all conditions and refused all social and religious distinctions. Therefore the fulfillment now promised to Jesus, is exactly that the promises of Israel will be fulfilled for his fellows, and that his fellowship will reach to all men. “The Word of God” is first of all the word by which the man Jesus now lives; and what that word says to him is: “All men will be your brothers, despite their alienation and unconditionally, in the new order that will fulfill Israel’s hope.” Just so this word is equally addressed to us, without distinction; it is the word that each of us may speak to the other in Jesus’ name, and in this form it says: “Israel’s hope will be fulfilled for Jesus’ sake, and for you; despite all past or future failed conditions, despite all alienation, and despite the death that rules in both.”

Therefore we cannot speak of Jesus’ aliveness without speaking also of ourselves. If it is clear who Jesus was, then to say that he lives is, with no additions needed, to speak to and about each other. It is not too much to say that “Jesus’ lives” is equivalent to “The prophets’ promises are unconditionally proclaimed among men, and to all sorts and conditions of men–and are factually true.” This equivalence in no way limits his freedom or reality; for what his life willed was not to exist apart from his fellows, and it is this will that now succeeds and defies death. (Story and Promise, pp. 49-50)

Jesus is risen! Every bishop, every priest, every parish pastor needs to re-learn the good news of the resurrection. Only thus will they be able to speak that liberating word that heals the broken and restores life to the dead.

Preaching Gospel as Gospel, or Why the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Churches Need the Reformation

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Father Aidan Kimel is doing a fantastic little series right now. He has given me permission to repost his series on my blog. I really think this is some delightful stuff he is sharing. Make sure to check out his blog “Eclectic Orthodoxy“!

Preaching Gospel as Gospel, or Why the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Churches Need the Reformation

We are all acquainted with the saying attributed to Martin Luther: “Justification by faith alone is the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls.” Although this saying does not appear in Luther’s extant writings, it accurately states his understanding of the matter. As Luther wrote to Johannes Brenz: “For this article is the head and cornerstone that alone begets, nurtures, builds, preserves, and defends the Church of God. Without it, the Church cannot remain standing for a single hour.” It’s an odd assertion on the face of it, because the Reformation formulation of justification is difficult, if not impossible, to find in the writings of the Church Fathers. St Augustine employed the language of justification, but he clearly understood it in transformative terms: grace is imparted, not imputed. And at the Council of Trent the Latin Church basically reaffirmed the Augustinian position. As Alistair McGrath writes: “In brief, then, Trent maintained the medieval tradition, stretching back to Augustine, which saw justification as comprising both an event and a process—the event of being declared to be righteous through the work of Christ and the process of being made righteous through the internal work of the Holy Spirit” (Reformation Thought, p. 115). The key notes of alien righteousness and imputation are absent in the Latin tradition. McGrath was finally forced to conclude that the Reformation doctrine represents something new in the history of Western theology:

The medieval theological tradition was unanimous in its understanding of justification as both an act and a process, by which both the status of humanscoram Deo and their essential nature underwent alteration. Although Luther regarded justification as an essentially unitary process, he nevertheless introduced a decisive break with the western theological tradition as a whole by insisting that, through their justification, humans are intrinsically sinful yet extrinsicallyrighteous. … The significance of the Protestant distinction between iustificatioand regeneratio is that a fundamental intellectual discontinuity has been introduced into the western theological tradition through the recognition of a difference, where none had previously been acknowledged to exist. There is no doubt that a small number of medieval writers, such as Duns Scotus, explored the conceptual possibilities of separating these notions; yet despite such notional analysis, justification was not conceptually detached from the process of regeneration. Despite the astonishing theological diversity of the late medieval period, a consensus relating to the nature of justification was maintained throughout. The Protestant understanding of the nature of justification thus represents a theological novum, whereas its understanding of its mode does not. (Iustita Dei, 3rd ed., pp. 213, 215)

And the Eastern tradition fares no better for the 16th century Reformers. One can search far and wide in the writings of the Eastern Fathers for discussion of justification by faith, and the few times one finds it discussed (as in the homilies of St John Chrysostom) it is clear that the divine justifying act is understood as effective and transformative. What one does not find in the Eastern Fathers is a forensic imputation of righteousness. The Orthodox Church is consumed by theosis. Ask an Orthodox priest about justification by faith alone, and you will most likely receive a quizzical look, if not a shake of the head. When one reads the correspondence between Patriarch Jeremiah II and the Lutheran theologians of Tübingen, for example, it’s clear that the Patriarch could only hear the Lutheran formulations as asserting the non-necessity of repentance and good works. “The Church demands a living faith, which is made evident by good works,” he pointedly writes; “for as Paul says, faith without works is dead [Jas 2:17]. … If then, we have sinned in some thing, let us approach the Sinless One through sincere repentance and confession, and let us demonstrate complete abstinence from evil things. Let us openly come to repentance in order to receive mercy and anything else we ask. There is no sin which has overcome God’s love for mankind” (Augsburg and Constantinople, p. 37). Everything Jeremiah writes is true, yet he misses the point of the Reformation doctrine … yet if he misses the point, it must be said that a lot of people have missed the point over the past five hundred years, including a lot of Protestants.

If the forensic imputation of the righteousness of Christ is the article on which the Church stands or falls, why is it absent in the tradition of the Church?

N. T. Wright argues that the doctrine of justification as historically elaborated in the Western Church has little to do with the doctrine of justification as taught by the Apostle Paul. Since Augustine, Western theologians, with the intent of warding off the self-help heresy of Pelagius, have employed the language of justification to address the question of what the sinner must do to enter into a living relationship with Jesus Christ and thus appropriate the salvation of God. But this, says Wright, was not what Paul was up to. “Paul does indeed discuss the subject-matter which the church has referred to as ‘justification,’” he writes, “but he does not use ‘justification’ language for it. … Paul may or may not agree with Augustine, Luther or anyone else about how people come to a personal knowledge of God in Christ; buthe does not use the language of ‘justification’ to denote this event or process” (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 117). Wright’s own covenantal interpretation of justification has not met with universal approbation; but he is probably correct in his diagnosis: the questions Paul is asking and answering are not identical to the questions posed and answered by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and all the others (see “The Wrights and Wrongs of Justification“). So what were the questions?

In his book Unbaptized God Robert W. Jenson identifies three loci of reflection that have gone under the label “justification.”

First, there is the teaching of St Paul himself: How is God’s righteousness established amongst us? We’ll leave this question for the biblical exegetes and commentators.

Second, there is the effort of Western theology, beginning with St Augustine and continued in the work of Latin and Protestant scholasticism, “to describe the process of individual salvation, to lay out the factors and steps of the soul’s movement from the state of sin to the state of justice” (p. 22). How do sinners become righteous? How do divine and human agency interact in the process of salvation? Theologians who attempt to describe the process inevitably produce schemas of the ordo salutis. If one studies the Protestant/Catholic and Protestant/Protestant debates on justification, one will be excused for thinking that theologians have believed and continue to believe that if only we could get the ordo right, all would be well with the Church. They love to identify and debate the precise steps in the process of salvation. No doubt such reflection is important; but it’s hard to accept the claim that the Church stands or falls upon it. When did the the kingdom become an ordo?

Finally, there is the reforming doctrine of justification. In modern Lutheran theology this reforming doctrine goes under the names hermeneutic (Ebeling), metatheological (Lindbeck), and metalinguistic (Jenson). How does one proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ so that it will be heard as gospel? “This doctrine,” explains Jenson, “describes nothing at all, neither God’s justice nor the process of our becoming just. It is instead an instruction to those who would audibly or visibly speak the gospel, a rule for preachers, teachers, liturgists, and confessors. This instruction may be formulated: So speak of Christ and of hearers’ actual and promised righteousness, whether in audible or visible words, whether by discourse or practice, that what you say solicits no lesser response than faith—or offense” (pp. 22-23). What the Reformers were struggling to formulate was a hermeneutical norm: preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that it produces faith in the hearer, rather than works directed toward self-justification.

George Lindbeck describes the reforming doctrine as a grammatical rule. Justification is not a matter of formulating a superior description of the process of salvation. It is akin to a rule of grammar: it tutors the Church on how to properly speak gospel.

It is the rule that all church teachings and practices should function to promote reliance or trust in the God of Jesus Christ alone for salvation. This rule, taken by itself, does not contain any theories or affirmation about justification. It does not even assert that justification is sola fide, but rather ‘for Christ’s sake alone (propter Christum solum‘, although it may be hard to see how any theology which adhered to the rule could deny the sola fide. As is characteristic of statements in the imperative mood, it does not make affirmations about what is true or false, but simply prescribes: and what it prescribes is a certain form of human behaviour (which includes attitudes and ways of thinking). We should not trust anything for justification except God’s unconditional promises in Jesus Christ, not even the faith, virtues and merits, if there be any, which God works in us sola gratia. (“Article IV and Lutheran/Roman Catholic Dialogue,” The Church in a Postliberal Age, p. 42)

If the reforming doctrine of justification is appropriately described as the article upon which the Church stands or falls, it is not because it is a doctrine superior, say, to the Nicene dogma of the divinity of Jesus Christ or the Chalcedonian dogma of the two natures of Christ. As metalinguistic rule it “does not stipulate subject matters or propositions about subject matters; it stipulates how the church must speak, about whatever. Just, and only, so its critical work is unique. The reforming doctrine of justification does not stipulate ‘say such-and-such about justification.’ It stipulates, ‘If your subject is, for example, oppression, so speak of Christ and of your hearers’ oppression that the only response opened is faith in Christ, or offense’” (Jenson, p. 24). But what kind of discourse provokes faith or offense? Unconditional promise! The gospel is proclamation of the story of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen, inthe performative mode of promise. “The whole point of the Reformation,” declares Jenson, “was that the gospel promise is unconditional; ‘faith’ did not specify a special condition of human fulfillment, it meant the possibility of a life freed from all conditionality of fulfillment” (Lutheranism, p. 37).

Thus understood, the 16th century debates on justification by faith are of profound relevance to every ecclesial community—be it Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant—that seeks to preach, enact, celebrate, and live the gospel of Christ Jesus. Only when proclaimed as unconditional promise does the gospel become good, transformative, redeeming news.

Articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae.