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FAQ #2 on Luther’s Two Kinds of Righteousness

Submitted by on October 31, 2013 – 3:19 pm6 Comments

Martin Luther wearing his favorite hatFor a general overview of this video series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), click here for an introduction to Luther’s concept of the two kinds of righteousness and its biblical basis. For a deeper discussion of how Luther’s two kinds of righteousness plays out in the Lutheran Confessions, see Charles Arand’s article from Lutheran Quarterly (vol. xv, 2001) here.

Where did Luther get the Distinction of Two Kinds of Righteousness?

6 Comments »

  • Don says:

    When Luther talked about being a theologian of the cross he had no mercy for civil righteousness he would even say “it hinders us.” To me this seems to follow on the 95 thesis that buying indulgences was not merely a matter of civil righteousness but in fact damaging toward salvation. Would you agree? Yet if we broaden his attack to all civil righteousness (which is logical) I would concede that it could be good apart from our hope for heaven. My recent presentation “The Theology of the Cross in the Marijuana State” suggested that we point people who are looking for salvation in the green cross of marijuana that they need to look to a Christ and his cross instead. One older pastor said that he had a member who could not take communion without marijuana to settle her stomach. While I did not want to argue the civic righteousness of marijuana I felt undermined. Are there some forms of civic righteousness that are good and some that are bad? Or is that even a question the theologian of the cross would ask?

  • Matt says:

    Don, the green cross of marijuana? While I’m no proponent of its usage, if marijuana is legal, who are we to tell someone they cannot enjoy a little toke much like someone would enjoy a cigar or a glass of scotch after a day of work? For many, that is all marijuana is (to say nothing about the very real medicinal benefits of it).

    The tie in w Luther’s Two Kinds of Righteousness is we point anyone and everyone to the real cross: scotch drinkers, cigar smokers, and marijuana users alike. Then, on the basis of being right in your relationship with God, we point to your relationship with your neighbor (more so than any changing wind of civil doctrine), and ask questions and encourage engagement within our communities as a true mark of vocation. How does someone enjoying a toke of marijuana at the end of the day necessarily hinder their relationship with their neighbor?

    • Don says:

      While I do believe individuals suffer impairment at different rates that fact is that marijuana remains in an individuals system for 30 days. That plus the fact that the damage done to teens brains is too often irreversible I believe the Federal Standards for marijuana’s class 1 controlled substance are right. Use here in Colorado is still against federal law but the state is saying they will ignore federal law. I do believe there is harm done to the neighbor: 1 impaired drivers, 2 increased teen exposure, 3 rebellion against federal law, 4 cross state and other jurisdictional conflicts. Theologically I believe that those who use marijuana to escape reality endanger their faith in God whose promises are real presence rather than a fake escape.

      To the original topic 2 kinds of righteousness, I wonder how we deal with the real problem believers in marijuana are facing and enable them to take them to the Cross of Christ for true righteousness. While I will grant that some may have a different opinion about the civic efficacy of marijuana I hope we all will observe the opportunity to repent of our self indulgent escapes which deaden us the mission Christ has called us to. “we rejoice in our sufferings, … because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5)

  • Erik Herrmann says:

    Don and Matt,
    Thank you for your comments. I think you illustrate well the distinction at hand. First, regarding the theology of the cross: the problem is not civil righteousness as such, which, though it is not mentioned in the H.D., would suffer the same fate as “wisdom” and the “law of God” which is dealt with. Luther here notes that the law of God is the “most salutary doctrine of life” yet cannot make one righteous. Likewise, wisdom. But the reason is not because they are bad in themselves. Rather they are good–indeed very good (Luther clarifies that when he calls such works “mortal sins” he does mean that they are “crimes” i.e. evil works before men–they are only mortal sin with respect to justification/salvation). In fact, it is in their inherent goodness that their danger lies–one is more prone to ascribe divinity to them (much more so than to evil works). Thus the irony is when divine works happen–the cross, suffering, etc.–they appear evil to man. So Luther will say: “wisdom is not of itself evil, nor is the law to be evaded; but without the theology of the cross man misuses the best in the worst manner.”

    Now to the marijuana question (of which I have no reasoned opinion at this time). The debate that you are having is a valid expression of the second kind of righteousness, i.e. active righteousness in the world. One can use reason, statistics, consider social, personal, and health implications, and make a case for what works best. For the Christian such arguments, laws, practices should promote the love of neighbor, but how that is achieved is variable and debatable. This is to deal with these questions of active righteousness according to the first article. Such civil righteousness is good and God pleasing as long as it guides one to love the neighbor AND (here comes Luther’s concern again in the H.D.) that one does not try to solve too much with such policies, i.e. salvation, sin, death, etc.

    There are other ways to deal with active righteousness questions–e.g. from the perspective of the second or third article (rather than just the first) and this has a different outcome and appeal. I try to explore this a bit in the summer Concordia Journal article, “Rhetorical Frameworks for Justice.” (http://concordiatheology.org/2013/10/concordia-journal-summer-2013/)

  • Matt says:

    Thanks, Dr. Herrmann. My question to Don, and subsequent concern, was by giving a presentation called, “The Theology of the Cross in the Marijuana State,” it seemed to tie the use of marijuana into a specifically salvific framework. While there would be times where abuse could prove detrimental to salvation, as it would for alcohol or even tobacco, I do not see how marijuana is necessarily tied up with the theology of the cross.

    In an active righteousness sense, yes. And as you say, there are variables to consider and a healthy debate to be had, with our eye always on the love of neighbor.

    • Don says:

      When I was assigned to address the concern of marijuana use in our state I did not want to get stuck in the civil arguments of how healthy/unhealthy, or how dangerous/safe. But I had hoped to try to think about some possible theological insights that might help us as we deal with our situations here. Since the places that sell marijuana all have a large green cross outside them I thought that we ought to try to reclaim the cross for Christ. Why is it that people want to use marijuana, they feel bored (they need purpose in life) they want to fit in (they need to know their value in Christ) or they want to escape from their troubles either mentally or physically (they need to understand suffering from a HD perspective)

      There are many today that say doctrine has nothing to do with life. Luther suggests it takes 3 things to make a theologian, study, prayer, and trials.(oratio,meditatio, tentatio) If a theologian does not deal with the trials of this life his theology becomes divorced from reality. While I may not have satisfied all my goals for this presentation I do believe the struggle is not in vain.

      In a similar way I do not hope to convince the world that my civil righteousness is better than theirs. I would rather that they understand that my civil righteousness flows from Christ’s righteousness given to sinners because of His cross.

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