Monday, April 18, 2005

A brief thought on Law-Gospel Preaching

It seems to me that the question of whether the "Gospel predominates" in a sermon has been somewhat of a bugaboo for seminarians (myself included) and pastors ever since Walther said it. As I was musing about how one might know when the Gospel is predominating, rather than the Law, I came up with this criteria: In a sermon you know that the Gospel is predominating WHEN ALL THE LAW HAS BEEN RESOLVED, specifically IN CHRIST. If the Law that is preached remains unresolved, the law has predominated. If the Law has been brought to its resolution (or 'end'; cf Rom. 10:4) in Christ Jesus, then the Gospel predominates. Thus it does not become a question of percentages or ratios; whether 4 pages were law and one was Gospel, or whether you spent twice as long talking about the Gospel. But instead the question is whether the accusation of the Law has adequately been answered by the Gospel of Christ. So there's my thought. I don't claim its original; it may be a concoction of what I have learned previously coming subconsciously to the surface :) I have to go back now and review Walther's thesis to see how that criteria compares.

8 comments:

Jason said...

of course, we don't subscribe to CFW Walther like we do to the Book of Concord and the Holy Scriptures...

Stuart Floyd said...

Walther just echoes the F.C. which speaks of Law / Gospel preaching.

http://www.bookofconcord.org/fc-ep.html#V.%20Law%20and%20Gospel

I don't recall off hand if it uses terms like "predominates", but it does call the Law God's alien work and the Gospel God's proper work.

Unfortunately, I often feel my defacto technique is Lawspel, blurring the content so that nobody can make head or tales of my sermon. I do echo your concerns, Josh.

Josh Schneider said...

Ok Jason, time to 'step off' Walther. ;) Just kidding. Stuart is right on about Walther echoing FC. So you guys agree to my tentative criteria for when a sermon has the Gospel predominating?

wildboar said...

Josh,

I'd agree with you and I think Walther's sermons verify your understanding. When you read his postils (Old Standard Gospels and Old Standard Epistles) his sermons are sometimes 80% law (numerically speaking) but I’ve never finished one of them without feeling like the Gospel predominated in a substantive way. Sometimes just a paragraph turns it all around: “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). I think the point is this: the law is preparatory. As Stuart said, it’s God’s opus alienum so He can get to His opus proprium, in which He delights.

Mutti said...

I'm intrigued by this topic. I'm particularly interested in the effects of improper distinction between Law and Gospel on believers and congregations.

Stuart Floyd said...

"So you guys agree to my tentative criteria for when a sermon has the Gospel predominating?"

Sure. I like your thoughts on the subject.

The remaining issue I have is a practical matter, the subjectivity of the hearer. One becomes accutely aware of this when one has kids. While listening to the sermon is the chief goal, keeping the kids from screaming bloody murder is also always on the back of the mind. Sometimes these two objectives switch in priority based upon the current happenings in the pew. Thus, the hearer may be distracted during the 30 second Gospel wrap-up and only get the 14:30 of Law preaching.

It is, of course, impossible to control such aspects unless you become a Baptist and institute "children's church", at which point, I will have to retroactively excommunicate you (in 2 years).

Stuart Floyd said...
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Josh Schneider said...

Mutti Beck, there's no short answer to your question, but ultimately if the message of the Gospel is contaminated with the Law, then it begins to lose its comfort (since it introduces a dependence on us) and it can therefore lead to despair. On the other hand, a legalistic Gospel can lead to hypocrisy or Pharisaism. John Pless wrote an excellent recent book titled "Handling the Word of Truth, Law and Gospel in the Church today". I think you'd find it helpful. We are going through it in my adult bible class, and they've really taken to it, even though they find some of it somewhat startling.

Stuart, I totally see you point w/ the practical concern, and I think you are right that the Gospel should never become a postscript. I find that my sermons vary significantly (timewise) according to the time spent on Law presentation compared to Gospel presentation. I find the relationship to be heavily driven by the text itself. (Whether I do so faithfully to the text, let the Berean reader be the judge :)