Reviewing Forde – Forde’s 1975 “Loser Takes All: The Victory of Christ”

Editor’s Note: The following comes from Pastor Joseph Abrahamson of the ELS.  He is the well-known author our Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies series.  He has been assigned a paper that will require him to research Gerhard Forde’s works.  He is providing these as his notes from which he will assemble his final paper.  These are a work in progress.


Gerhard Forde’s 1975 “Loser Takes All: The Victory of Christ”

I’ve been assigned a paper topic for which I need to do some extensive reading of Gerhard Forde. I’ll be posting some of my thoughts on his writings every now and anon. Forde (pronounced FIR’-dee) is popular among some in what might be called Confessional Lutheran denominations. But it is hard to find a Forde advocate who is familiar with what he actually taught. And for those Confessional Lutheran advocates who may understand Forde, there is a disturbing tendency to excuse him because of his eloquence or hide what he was actually teaching.

My goal is to read through all his stuff and take notes before going deeply into the evaluations made by others.

Today we’ll look at an article from 1975

“Loser Takes All: The Victory of Christ”

Published in Lutheran Standard September 2, 1975: 3-5. Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (98-101, quotations from this printing)

This is an article written to teach the laity. In this article, Forde explicitly rejects the Scripture’s teaching on Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement. In this popular article, he takes two pot-shots at this doctrine. Forde has already stated that the preaching of the Law for repentance has no part in his theology. (1970 “Lex Semper Accusat” –which I’ll post notes on soon, hopefully) If the law does not condemn with respect to God, then what purpose does Christ serve?

There are several ideas about Christ which Forde deems false. But a particular focus of his ridicule is the Vicarious Atonement. He states:

“Jesus is portrayed for all the world like a pro football player emerging radiant and glistening from the shower after the big win. He can even be our substitute winner so we can relax and equate piety with sloppiness.” (p. 98)

“Or he [Jesus] is the one who somehow transacts business with God behind the scenes and pays the debt we owe (as though heaven were some big credit union in the sky!) And since we think of him in this fashion, we do not seriously entertain the thought that he could actually be a loser….So we tend to miss the real nature of the victory.”(p. 99)

But without redemption from condemnation under the Law what is the meaning of the Atonement for Forde? He states:

Jesus “decides to be a human being. He sticks to it to the end. ‘He … became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil. 2:8). This is his victory. The resurrection alone is not simply the victory. If so, it would mean he was our type of winner after all — that he ‘snatched victory from defeat’ at the last minute like some of our championship teams in spite of playing a bad game. No, it was precisely by losing in a world of winners that victory becomes possible. For God shocks everyone by raising this loser from the dead. God vindicates his cause by making this Jesus to be Lord and Christ.” (p. 100)

And that, in this article is pretty much it. For Forde, Christ did not need to die to pay for sin. According to him the Father was already forgiving. In this short article Forde claims that Christ is merely the validation of what it means to be truly human before God the Father.

I Came across an Example of a Weird Use of Forde’s Article

Bob Hiller, Dec. 12, 2014 “Loser Takes All” The Jagged Word : a 1517 Legacy Project Blog

Hiller quotes the first sentence from p. 98 quoted above and some text after the second sentence. But he omits the point Forde was making with the second sentence! Hiller endorses Forde’s portrayal of Jesus as Loser, but neglects to follow through on what Forde actually means by this. Hiller goes on to affirm vicarious substitution. But Hiller did this by quoting from Forde who, with this particular example, was denying the vicarious substitution. So the question is “Why use this quotation?”

Hiller misrepresents Forde’s intent. By eliminating Forde’s heresy in that sentence Hiller demonstrates at least that he was uncomfortable with Forde’s intent or that he knew this quotation would be unacceptable to his readership if it were included. So, why endorse Forde with this particular quotation and with no explicit disclaimer about Forde’s intent with this article? Which is more charitable to assume, incompetence, negligence, or deliberate misleading? Perhaps there is an overriding social pressure for acceptance among some groups to include Forde quotations regardless of what they actually mean in context.
You can read and follow Pastor Abrahamson’s blog Diatheke here.

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