During the past two years I have taken part in an ongoing discussion about new obedience, “sanctification,” the third use of the law, and biblical exhortation. I have learned much in this discussion by returning to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.
It is easy in this discussion to get lost in arguments that go into great detail about Law and Gospel, new man vs. old man, “the Simul,” second use of the law and third use of the law. But in the midst of extended and detailed discussions it is easy to lose sight of the real issues and what is at stake.
Jordan Cooper has helpfully identified the basic problem as one of Law-Gospel Reductionism. I think he is correct.
The same issue can be identified in another and related way that may be even more direct. Many who deny a robust presence of exhortation in preaching operate on the basis of this fundamental presupposition:
The Scriptures are the content of preaching not the pattern.
That is to say, the Lord Jesus and the apostolic writers such as Paul, John and Peter give us the theological content that is to be preached – a message of Law and Gospel – but in the way they actually speak they do not provide a model or pattern that we can or should follow. One regularly hears that Paul’s letters are “not sermons” and therefore cannot be used as a model of exhortation that is grounded in Gospel (see my discussion of Titus chapters 2 and 3 in Would Paul want pastors to preach and teach about good works?).
I believe that for those who are observing this discussion, the clear presentation of this presupposition is very helpful. It raises important questions that we need to ask ourselves:
1. Do we really believe that the inspired revelation – the only word that God has given to us – does not provide the pattern we are to follow in preaching to Christians?2. If they don’t provide the pattern, then what serves as the source for the pattern we are to use?3. Why are these other sources superior to the Lord Jesus and his inspired apostles?
When stripped away of its theological window dressing and boiled down to this basic and fundamental point that guides preaching, it becomes clear that the position simply is untenable and must be rejected.
It also soon becomes clear that historically this has not been true of Lutheran preaching since the days of Luther. Lutheran preaching has followed the dominical and apostolic pattern of exhortation grounded in the Gospel as the source of our life in Christ. Instead this new approach is a creation of mid-twentieth Lutheran theologians (a point very helpfully set forth in Scott Murray’s book Law, Life and the Living God: The Third Use of the Law in Modern American Lutheranism). It does not follow Christ and the apostles, and so it should not guide us.