He Who Would Help Himself With His Own Works… – Hans Iwand’s Use of Luther’s Romans Lectures as a Critique of Karl Barth and Nineteenth Century Liberal Protestant Theology

images (4)When Hans Joachim Iwand took the podium during his 1941 lectures the dust had yet to settle from Barth’s explosive critique of nineteenth century liberal theology. Friedrich Schleiermacher’s theology in particular. Iwand’s colleagues requested that he address the question Barth and others had raised about Christian faith and its relation to ethics in their attack on liberal Protestant theology. They requested that he address specifically the relation between faith and good works.

Unlike Barth, Iwand scrutinized the church at the outset of the twentieth century using the evangelical nuances which had punctuated Martin Luther’s understanding of the relationship between faith and works, specifically the distinction between Christian faith and the Greek ethos.

From the first Iwand asserted that Luther’s position provided a necessary counter to the materialist ethic of nineteenth century Protestantism. Luther, he argued, understood ethics as personal rather than material. Good and evil are predicated on the person, not the work. The work is indifferent. As Luther writes:

“We confess that good works must follow faith, yes, not only must, but follow voluntarily, just as a good tree not only must produce good fruits, but does so freely.  Just as good fruits do not make the tree good, so good works do not justify the person.  But good works come from a person who has already been justified beforehand by faith, just as  good fruits come from a tree which is already good beforehand by nature.”

The question is not, “How are good works possible?” or, “How does a person become good?”  Instead, the vital question is, “How is the sinner justified?”  The answer clings entirely to faith. That is, again, “the deed does not make the person, but the person does the deed; the law does not create the deed, but informs it.” So, “even if I cannot understand how they may be separated from each other, I still know for a fact and it is most certain that the deed does not make the person, but the person the deed.”

As Iwand explained, Luther’s distinction was that “if a person were free to shape creaturely life by himself then he would also be the creator of his own spiritual personality. But that is an anti-Christian point of view and one that goes against God for those who are under the law.”

Theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher and even Karl Barth had failed to appreciate the deception worked on the old man in Adam by the law. Schleiermacher especially did not recognize that “whoever would help himself with his own works is playing creator to himself – he wants to create himself – he wants to be his own god.”

images (8)Schleiermacher had distanced God from creaturely life. He dislocated the righteousness of faith from Jesus’ cross. In Schleiermacher’s theology, having neglected the historical import of the crucifixion, the law became the final defining character, essence, and nature of the deity even into eternity. Iwand saw this as the deepest loss of modern man. That for all their reason and effort the way to new life for creatures, the “faith alone” asserted by Paul, had been disguised through a confusion of immutable law and irrevocable promise in the synthesis of Greek humanist ethics and Christian faith. So, to clear away some of the murkiness Iwand plunged Luther’s categorical method (of thesis/antithesis) into the synthetic Enlightenment suppositions about faith and works.

For Iwand, following Luther’s lead, the righteousness of faith is located not in creaturely life or work but only extra nos, that is, in Christo. It is not, Luther writes, “through doing what is right are we righteous, but through the fact that we are justified we are able to do what is right.” That is, “one does not become righteous by doing righteous deeds. No, one does righteous deeds after becoming righteous.”

The Gorgon’s knot of Aristotelian philosophy is cut loose from Christianity at exactly this point. Iwand saw in Luther’s attack upon late medieval scholastic theology that at its heart he was encountering the place where,

“the basic teachings of Greek ethics had been taken over by Christianity, namely, with the concept that virtue takes practice and discipline.  For the Greeks, virtue meant ability that was won through steadfast and conscious practice in doing right.  Strength and steadfastness of the soul acquired in this way builds character through a person’s habit – his habitus.  Only through carefully planned undertakings that are supported by a wise education are we able to begin to develop the kind of habits that are characteristic of virtue.”

Iwand understood that the Greek system of virtue had been and continued to be such a convincing ideal that the church simply merged it with the righteousness of faith. What results is that, “since man exercises himself in the practice of the chief Christian virtues, he attains to an inner being or condition of his nature that may be considered righteous.”

The creature can thus regain what he had lost, his right standing before God, his righteousness. Hereafter, it was possible, even necessary, to base the practical pursuit of virtue in the supportive structures of a grace theology that assisted one in carrying out God’s will.

For Iwand, as Luther, this is nothing other than the works of the law driving the historical event of the cross and resurrection of Christ Jesus underground. The relationship of sinner to Christ Jesus is made over into an abstract theme wherein active creatures speak equitably with a passive God. This is the wellspring of the Greek ethos. In the Christian faith the God’s effective promise of the forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ pro nobis terminated different forms of righteousness.

images (7)Iwand then concluded his lecture by allowing Luther to assert his own theological conclusion for the necessary distinction between Christian faith and Greek ethos, justifying faith and heavenly virtue, when he states that this is our theology,

“by which we teach to distinguish both forms of righteousness – the active and the passive – so that morality and faith; works and grace; be kept within their appropriate boundaries.  Christian righteousness concerns the new person – the righteousness of the Law applies to the old person who is born out of flesh and blood.  One has to put the feedbag on him like on an ass so that he is forced to eat and cannot take in the freedom of the Spirit and of Grace… I say this so that no one thinks that we would want to do away with good works or hinder them.  We set up, so to speak, two worlds – a heavenly one and an earthly one – and in both of these we situate both forms of righteousness, but keep them strictly apart and distant from each other.” 

The legal righteousness – the righteousness of the “you should” – says Iwand, summarizing Luther’s teaching about faith and works in the Romans lectures,

“belongs to the earth and has to do with earthly things, and through it we do accomplish good works.  But just as the earth brings forth nothing unless it is fed by sunlight and water from heaven, so we also are not able to do anything – even if we do a lot according to the legal righteousness and fulfill the letter of the law by our actions – if we are not already righteous beforehand – without works and actions – which is the power of Christian righteousness that has nothing to do with the law of an active, earthly righteousness.  For it is the heavenly, the passive (righteousness), that we don’t have and that we must receive from heaven.  It is not what we do, but what we grasp in faith, whereby we rise above all law and works.  For, as Paul says, just as we carried the likeness of the old Adam, so also will we have the likeness of a heavenly creation – a new creation in the new world of God where there is no law, no sin, no conscience, no death, but full joy, justice, grace, freedom, life healing, and glory.”

By separating the two forms of righteousness Iwand intended to re-assert the previous Reformation doctrine that separated the confession of the imposters and anti-Christians from the Church for, “every church must know what kind of righteousness it teaches and proclaims.”    

Free from the needs of the conscience – the judgment of “my works” – the Christian is also free to serve the needs of the neighbor. Then “this law, this cycle of ‘I’ and works and conscience would indeed be broken and I could confront the works that wait for me, knowing God’s judgment supports me, with the confidence of a master who commands his slaves.” The freedom “of the children of God who do work simply that it may be done, but who do not need to do any work at all in order to know that they live by God’s grace,” are freed by the power of the resurrection promise, to continue the attack on their own errant conscience, wherein my works and my accomplishments and my sin struggle against the fetters of the new creation in Christ. Only then, concluded Iwand, will life not be measured by the extent to which it is pacified or threatened by my conviction of righteousness.

“Grace, compassion, love, and mercy are words we like to hear. They are ‘evangelical’ words.” But, Iwand explains,

“if righteousness is the essence of the new revelation in Christ Jesus, then are not all other things contained in it; love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion?  Haven’t we already understood what the Gospel is or what righteousness is?  After all, they are the two pillars upon which the righteousness of men before God rests. 

images (9)However, not until both the Gospel and God’s righteousness come together – not until we seek them both in the Gospel – and not until God’s righteousness is for us the content of the Good News that calls us to faith will we have understood the whole Gospel.”

Until the life ending, life-renewing word of the righteous One is heard the Church will continue in the murky grays of practice and progress. Confusing heavenly virtue for the righteousness of faith. Living from the necessities of the conscience rather than for the needs of the neighbor. Never distinguishing between faith and works in such a way that ethics can be crucified in Christ Jesus, put to death, terminated, overturned, and get its due. Simultaneously, in the breadth of the resurrection promise the work is affirmed through one’s vocation, set in its proper place within creation keeping sinners awake and alert in the currents of life, so that by faith, Jesus’ public sacrifice, not virtue, becomes our defining center in all matters pertaining to faith in God and work for our neighbors.

____________________________________________

All quotes in this article are taken from The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther, by Hans Joachim Iwand.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Righteousness-Faith-According-Luther/dp/155635911X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357062735&sr=8-1&keywords=Hans+Iwand


Comments

He Who Would Help Himself With His Own Works… – Hans Iwand’s Use of Luther’s Romans Lectures as a Critique of Karl Barth and Nineteenth Century Liberal Protestant Theology — 31 Comments

  1. Pastor Riley,
    I am an ELCA pastor and occassional lurker on BJS. I want to say a word of thanks for pointing to one of Iwand’s great contributions to the on going Lutheran dialogue between scripture’s promise of new life in Christ and this fallen world that God loves so much.

    We struggle as sinners to appreciate both the calling, out of our sins to faith, and the freedom that faith give us to live. Our trouble starts when we look for proof–for evidence–not of what God has done for us in Christ but of what we are doing for God. And this is where simple faith always stands strong and works always fail. We sinners by our very nature need a redeemer–and no matter how hard we try to be pious or righteous we are still sinners in need of a savior.

    Gerhard Forde pointed to Iwand in what I believe was Forde’s finest work, “Justification and Sanctification” in the section Christian Life of Braaten and Jenson’s Christian Dogmatics

    Forde wrote of Iwand–
    Such a view is preposterous to the world and the old Adam, but this is exactly what it means to die to the old and be born again to the new. One must simply be still and listen where God enters the scene–and believe, for only such faith will save.

    Iwand was a true theologian of the Cross who saw Christ as the one who always makes us righteous–it was never the other way around for him.

    thanks for such a thoughtful post–Christmas and Epiphany Blessings to you.
    John

  2. Excellent article.

    “Only then will life not be measured by the extent to which it is pacified or threatened by my conviction of righteousness.” – incredibly true…

    “Simultaneously, in the breadth of the resurrection promise the work is affirmed through one’s vocation, set in its proper place within creation keeping sinners awake and alert in the currents of life, so that by faith, Jesus’ public sacrifice, not virtue, becomes our defining center in all matters pertaining to faith in God and work for our neighbors.” – completely the opposite of those who claim “Jesus as our moral example.”

    This conclusion is also the complete opposite of Arminians and decision theologians who claim people must first choose Christ. This is also in contrast with the Calvinists who teach to continually check for “good fruit” as evidence of a “good tree.”

  3. “Basic teachings of Greek ethics had been taken over by Christianity, namely, with the concept that virtue takes practice and discipline.”

    This is a good description of almost every Modern/Post Modern “Evangelical” devotional writing that I have been threatened with! Almost all of them inherently command “Practice and Discipline” as some sort of “Christian Law” of health, wealth, and Good Times! These never truly bring the “Good News” or Gospel that comes from the “Passive” or “Alien Righteousness” that comes by being married to Christ.

    “Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils, and supplying her with all his good things.” (Luther, Martin, “Concerning Christian Liberty”)

    It is so refreshing to see someone (i.e., Iwand) did stand up to Barth’s Universalism!

    In the Lamb

  4. Please tell me who you are quoting here?

    “whoever would help himself with his own works is playing creator to himself – he wants to create himself – he wants to be his own god.”

    Thank you

  5. More proof that Steadfast has gone off the deep end by promoting post-Kantian “confessional” Lutheran drivel.

    Not the theology of Lutheran Orthodoxy. The LCMS has been invaded by fauxLutheran aliens.

  6. @Robert #9

    Robert (Baker):

    Why not charge Pr. Riley with false doctrine? I’m sure he would be glad to defend what he believes and show what he teaches and preaches agrees with Holy Scripture and the Symbolic Books.

    Don’t make comments on Internet fora. File charges.

  7. It strikes me as fairly obvious that this piece is an explication of Hans Iwand’s presentation of Luther’s ideas. Agree with Iwand, or don’t. Agree with Luther or don’t. Disagree with Pastor Riley’s explication of both, but understand that this is not a confession of faith, but rather a coherent examination of another thoughtful Lutheran’s conclusions.

  8. It was only a matter of time…and, to be honest, it took longer than I thought it would.

  9. Robert: Surely not all modern Lutheran theologians are automatically bad. In your many diatribes against the evils of modern theology, I’ve often heard you list Iwand as one of your stock villains. I’m not certain what you find particularly Kantian about his account of bondage in Luther’s theology. Moreover, something is not bad or good specifically because it is Kantian (anymore than Lutheran orthodoxy was either good or bad because it largely relied (for better or worse!) on Aristotle and Ockham). The difficulty with post-Kantian Protestant dogmatics is that it tends to reduce all dogmatic statements to categories of experiences since the individual cannot actually know the ding-an-sich and therefore cannot make realistic propositional statements. Iwand obviously thinks realistic propositional statements are possible (he makes plenty of them about God, human nature, and the bondage of the will). So, I find it difficult to understand what your objection is here. Perhaps that Iwand was not a member of the LCMS? I admit that is indeed damning, but you have the make your overall rationale a bit more clear.

  10. Robert B.,

    I am also confused. I don’t see any error in the quotes from Iwand.

    I will say this. If you take Luther (and thus Paul) seriously you will forever be frustrated trying to establish a Christian Ethics. I do not believe there is such a thing. The new life created by the Gospel does not lend itself to be scientifically captured in something like an ethic.

    That does not mean that we are left without moral (I prefer to speak of morals rather than an ethic) truth. The Scripture is full of revealed moral truth.

    It also does not mean that Christians should avoid developing good habits. We just should not see our good habits as some sort of Gospel thing.

    Modern liberal Lutherans often violate both of those last two things I mentioned. Both of them are a form of Gospel reductionism.

  11. Pastor Tim Rossow :
    I will say this. If you take Luther (and thus Paul) seriously you will forever be frustrated trying to establish a Christian Ethics. I do not believe there is such a thing. The new life created by the Gospel does not lend itself to be scientifically captured in something like an ethic.

    Pr. Rossow – now I am confused. I agree with you that there is not such thing as Christian ethics. I suspect that we also would agree that, to the extent that there is an “exception”, it would be the Third Use of the Law which guides our new life in the Gospel.

    That said, I am critical of the confessional movement because it sure has the look and feel of an effort to establish a Christian/Lutheran/LCMS ethic. Thus, it appears to me to a Gordian knot of internal inconsistency.

  12. @Dr. Jack Kilcrease #14

    Jack, when a non-LCMS Lutheran joins the LCMS, he or she should embrace LCMS Lutheranism, yes?

    Or is it permissible to import one’s own brand of theology (read ALC) into the LCMS, then claim that it is Orthodox?

    Isn’t that what some are doing with Iwand and Forde? Then claiming that it is “confessional”?

  13. Robert,

    I do agree that we need to be careful with Forde and I have told professors at Ft. Wayne the same.

    I do not know Iwand so well but if he is of the same school as Forde he needs to be handled carefully.

    Having said that, I see no problem in the quotes in this post.

  14. @Pastor Tim Rossow #15

    Tim,

    I’m confused. Ethics is moral philosophy. Both are Law.

    The problem is that post-Kantian continental Lutheranism is being promoted by your Web site. This brand of Lutheranism, beginning with J.C.K. von Hoffman and filtered especially through Karl Holl, turned ethics on its head. For his part, Reinhard Hutter suggests that Iwand, a student of Rudolf Hermann, was “tacitly but deeply indebted to Kant’s philosophy” (“The Twofold Center of Lutheran Ethics,” in The Promise of Lutheran Ethics, Fortress, 1998).

    Essentially, the claim is made that Luther made a radical break with the past and brought forward a new ethic, one that focuses on “love” apart from obedience to any other commandment. This “love” expresses itself either in situationalism or in the “orders of creation,” which by themselves are sufficiently abstract to allow for all sorts of monkey business. Thus autonomy, so precious to Kant, is preserved. (See Adams’ and Bense’s introduction to Karl Holl’s “The Reconstruction of Morality,” Augsburg, 1979.)

    In my opinion, we are in the midst of a massive crisis in Lutheran theology. People are not being up front about the philosophical influences of the secondary, and even tertiary, sources they are using, all concealed under a thin veneer of “confessional” Lutheranism. When people like me call them on it, then they get nasty.

  15. This is a good article. Kudos to the BJS guys for posting it. Good theology is a CONFESSION, not a CONFESSOR. I wish folks like Robert would figure that out.
    Thanks for the post, Pr. Riley!

  16. Robert,

    Just because our website quotes from a theologian does not mean that we are endorsing a school of theology.

    I will take your word for it that Iwand is indebted to Kant for his ethics. I do not see the post above to be about ethics. It is a post about justification and sanctification.

    BJS does not endorse Kantian ethics. We actually don’t endorse any ethics. As I said above, ethics is a philosophical discipline, not a theological one. Christian morality is derived from revealed truths in Scripture.

    Speaking in terms of ethics, if I were to endorse a philosophical ethic, I would encourage people to look at the new ethics of virtue and habituated good behavior and choices.

    Good discussion. I look forward to future interchanges.

  17. @Robert #19

    Robert, Basically you’re doing your guilt by association thing again. This isn’t a very strong argument. There are of course objectionable things about Forde-I’ve written about them and Pr. Riley accepts most of my critique. I have yet to find anything I find particularly objectionable about Iwand. We have to of course deal with these things in a nuanced manner and pick out the good from the bad. Making blanket statements about people is generally not a very helpful way of critiquing their theology any more than guilt by association.

    But I’ve explained this to you in detail before and it hasn’t had much impact.

    I agree with Pr. Juhl: Look, if you find things that Pr. Riley says objectionable or unorthodox, just come out and say it. This is something I’ve grown extremely tired of you doing. Implying or insinuating things without actually saying them. Your goal in doing this seems to be to defame people without having to owning up to defaming them. So, if you consider Pr. Riley’s theology to be infected with the heresy of the ALC, then let’s hear some specific examples.

    I mean, that’s what you’re saying. Basically you’re saying that because Pr. Riley went to Luther Seminary then he can’t be orthodox and he’s poisoning the LCMS. Seriously: If you think that, just say that. It’s a bad argument- without much support from what he actually says and uses all sorts of Herman Otten/Greg Jackson guilt by association reasoning. But if you believe it, just say it.

  18. @Robert #21

    Robert, BTW, if we want to play the guilt by association game- Hutter in this essay and his other writings of this period is basically trying to adapt a Thomistic virtue ethic to Lutheranism. End result: He became Catholic.

  19. I, a non-Lutheran and layman, am unsure of the Lutheran branding mentioned (ALC/LCMS/CLC…) I know I’ve landed in a Lutheran think-tank [since there are “No Pietist Allowed” and Brew Recipes are wonderfully exchanged :)].

    I am really interested in anyone who has taken on Barth directly (Kantian I suspect?).

    I believe too many have NOT analyzed their theology against Sola Scriptura enough and it is wise for us to call each other to account when we stray (directly so we can repent). 🙂

    I honestly hope to be rid of all modern (and medieval) worldly principles in myself so I can “Preach Christ, and Him crucified” and seem foolish (1 Corinthians 1:23 “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles) and not “Seeking Wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22).

    In the Lamb,

  20. @Robert #9

    What is incorrect in the posted article? Why is it drivel?

    What qualifies a person as being a true Lutheran, and why do current members of the LCMS not qualify?

    How has BJS gone off the deep end? What in this article is in disagreement with previous statements or articles?

    Why do articles posted on BJS have any implications to the LCMS? Members of many different Lutheran groups comment here.

    Perhaps I’m jumping to conclusions, but your previous posts give me the impression that you’re just picking a fight. Such actions are just going to force the administrators of the site to restrict access – which will be a loss… in some cases. Are you actually trying to correct anyone, or just stirring up hornets?

  21. @Dr. Jack Kilcrease #25
    Basically you’re saying that because Pr. Riley went to Luther Seminary then he can’t be orthodox and he’s poisoning the LCMS.

    When did Pr. Riley go to Luther Seminary?

    [It matters… just like “when” did [X] go to CSL?]

    Gerhard Forde learned Lutheran doctrine from excellent teachers as an undergraduate.
    What he did after that, I cannot vouch for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.