The Radical Gospel

BY GERHARD FORDE

The radical gospel of justification by faith alone simply does not fit, cannot be accepted by, and will not work with an anthropology which sees the human being as a continuously existing subject possessing ‘‘free choice of will’’ over against God and/or other religious goals. The radical gospel is the end of that being and the beginning of a new being in faith and hope. This is readily apparent in virtually all of Paul’s writings (especially in Romans and Galatians) when he pursues the logic of justification by faith alone to its end. The law does not end sin, does not make new beings, it only makes matters worse. Where the old continuity is maintained, sin does not end. No matter how much religious pressure is applied, sin only grows. But, Paul has the audacity to say where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.

But this is disaster for the old and its thinking. For then, it seems, the floodgates of iniquity are opened! Shall we not sin the more then, that grace may abound?

Here we arrive at the crucial point. Here the pious old Adam can only recoil in horror from the thought of unconditional grace and try to protect the continuity of the old self by making compromises: some fateful mixture of grace and law, a little bit of human cooperation, perhaps the addition of a third use of the law, some heavy breathing about sanctification, and so on. But the radical gospel will have none of that. Shall we sin the more that grace may abound? By no means! Why? For you have died and how can you who have died to sin still live in it? The reason why abounding grace does not lead to sin lies in the fact that in its radicality it puts an end to the old, not in some species of compromise with the old.

Furthermore, we miss the radicality of that if we do not see that this death is announced as accomplished fact: you have died. The death is not something yet to be done, one last act of spiritual suicide for ‘‘free choice.’’ If Jesus died for all, then all have died (2 Cor. 5:14). The being of the hearer is simply stamped with the theologia crucis, the death and resurrection of Jesus is done to us by the proclamation of the accomplished fact.

There is no justification except by faith alone. The radical forgiveness itself puts the old to death and calls forth the new. It is simply not possible to work with an anthropology which assumes a continuity that survives the cross, and turns it into an object for free choice to dally with. The continuing crisis for anyone who is grasped by that radical gospel comes both from the fact that the world and its church cannot do other than resist and attack that gospel (as a matter of self-defense), and from the fact that they cannot escape the constant temptation to make compromises which disguise or blunt the sharp edges of its radicality.

(This is an excerpt from the longer paper "Radical Lutheranism")

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