I’ve been reading a very good little book on the theology of Martin Luther, Luther for Armchair Theologians, by Steven Paulson, and am being struck afresh with the power of Luther’s thought and emotion. Luther has been as close to a role model as I’ve had; I was raised Lutheran, something for which I count myself as extremely fortunate. In spite of the many different theological rabbit-trails that I have followed over the last 30 years, I am always brought back by the logic, symmetry and spirit of basic Lutheran theology. However, other than what I learned in my Confirmation classes (which were quite good), I’ve not really studied the ins and outs of Lutheran theology, especially as contrasted with other reformationist strains. So, I figure there’s no time like the present to reconnect with and deepen my understanding of Luther’s theology.
Paulson does a great job of dealing not only with Luther’s main theological insights, but also the context in which he arrived at those insights; amazing, really, in that the book is only about 200 pages long. Luther’s reformation was due primarily with his own personal struggle to understand how he could be saved. His was not a reformation based in rebellion, for he was, like Paul, very good at being a legalist. However, he couldn’t reconcile Roman Catholic doctrine with what he was reading from Paul in his letter to the Romans (and he’d have the same issues with much of evangelical theology today).
Luther’s soteriology (doctrine of how we are saved) resulted in a rather unique anthropology (view of man), which I believe would clarify a lot of confusion among the “undoctrinated” Christians today (those who have no real understanding of what they believe or why). His view is of the simul, the double-life, based on his 2-prong message of The Law and The Gospel. The Law declares us to be a sinner, and through Christ’s death and our baptism, we are dead. As Paulson says, we are “dead, helpless, passive, unable to do anything, and already divinely judged as having no future.” At the same time, through baptism and Christ’s resurrection, “a whole saint is there as well, newly raised from the dead.” One of Satan’s lies is for us to think we are 1/2 sinner, 1/2 saint, in a process of being sanctified through our participation with grace. Why is this a lie? Because then, we do not have Christ as sole mediator, and as Paul says in Galatians, then we have no gospel at all.
The Bourne Theology
Warning: “spoiler” ahead…
This way of looking at the old man – new man duality makes sense, considering what Paul says in Romans, and as I have also been reading through Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy, I began to grasp the concept a bit better. Now, the Bourne books differ considerably from the movies, so if you’ve only watched those, you possibly won’t see what I mean. In the books, the main character, David Webb, was “programmed” by a government agency to play the role of Jason Bourne, the world’s most deadly assassin. Due to a head injury, he “lost” his identity and memory as Webb, and in between the 1st and 2nd books, he recovers his original identity through intensive therapy. In the 2nd and 3rd books, he constantly struggles to maintain his original identity as David Webb, while circumstances force him to assume the hated Bourne identity.
This scenario is remarkably similar to Luther’s anthropology. The Bourne Identity is dead (literally), is hated by David Webb (and others) and has no future. The identity with a life and a future is David Webb; however, Jason Bourne is never far from David Webb, and his only hope of sanity is to keep the identities distinct and in proper perspective. To focus on rehabilitating “Bourne” would be useless, and David Webb would be lost in the process. Bourne must be allowed to remain dead, to allow David Web to live.
The books, by the way, are not great literature, and I’m not a big Ludlum fan. They are, however, much more complex (sometimes needlessly so) than the movies which – like some evangelical anthropologies – tend to ignore the distinction between the identities, instead trying to merge them to simplify the plot. They are great action flicks, though.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4
The Good News is that while all carry around our “Bourne Identities,” we know we have been given new lives along with the righteousness of God. While we still have a memory of these old identities, they are dead and powerless, and the sins of these identities died along with them. We are truly saved and truly free, solely by grace through faith.
The Reformation continues …