Forde Rejects the Idea that God has Wrath, and Only Speaks of Faith as the End of Human Wrath

Forde is more about the verb (our believing) than he is about the object of our faith. Forde cares more about our experience than anything that may or may not have happened 2000 years ago. Forde begins his atonement essay “Caught in the Act,” (1984) by stating that a proper understanding of the work of Christ must necessarily begin “from below. According to Forde’s reading, Jesus did not come teaching an atonement theology about the nature of God. Rather, Jesus simply traveled around Palestine spontaneously and unilaterally forgiving sinners.

“Why could not God just up and forgive? Let us start there. If we look at the narrative about Jesus, the actual events themselves, the “brute facts” as they have come down to us, the answer is quite simple. He did! Jesus came preaching repentance and forgiveness, declaring the bounty and mercy of his “Father.” The problem however, is that we could not buy that. And so we killed him. And just so we are caught in the act. Every mouth is stopped once and for all. All pious talk about our yearning and desire for reconciliation and forgiveness, etc., all our complaint against God is simply shut up. He came to forgive and we killed him for it; we would not have it.”

For Forde it’s all about the wrath of humanity and not at all about the wrath of God. Forde is more interested in a “low anthropology” than He is about God or God’s agency in redemption. For Forde, humanity under the power of legalism prefers not to be forgiven so that it can maintain its illusory control over God with its good works. Forde writes: “But why did we kill him? It was, I expect we must say, as a matter of “self-defense.” Jesus came not just to teach about forgiveness of God but actually came to do it, to forgive unconditionally . . . this shatters the “order” by which we must run things here.”

Another analogy Forde uses is a man who throws himself in front of a moving truck and is killed while attempting to save a child playing in the road. In this analogy, sinful humanity is driving the truck and the man killed is Christ. Humanity drives the truck insofar as they participate in the legalistic order of the present evil age.

Forde asserts that the goal of Jesus was to be “. . . crucified by the legalistic order itself, so to bring a new order.”By killing Jesus, sinful humanity comes to recognize its bondage. In rejecting Jesus and his mercy, humanity is truly made conscious of its root-sin of opposition to God’s grace. God allows himself to be killed by us, states Forde, in order to “. . .make it plain that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).” Jesus therefore did not die to fulfill the law or suffer the punishment for our sins. Rather, he died in order to reveal a low anthropology— fallen humanity’s sin of self-justification and opposition to God’s grace.

Forde reduces the gospel to our experience of faith. To Forde, this matters way more than what happened at the cross. To Forde, the gospel is only “epistemology”, only about us coming to understand stuff that we did not before. To Forde, the gospel is NOT about what God did in Christ, in terms of God’s justice or God’s nature as holy.

For Forde, the gospel is not ultimately about the death of Christ. For Forde, the “gospel” becomes a teaching law which shows us that we need to die and be re-created as new persons of faith. In that we are made conscious of our sin by the death of Jesus, then we die in our experience.

Forde’s idea of our “inclusion” in Christ’s death is that Christ is NOT a substitute. For Forde, it is not Christ’s death that is ultimately matters because TO HIM IT’S OUR DEATH BY PREACHING WHICH MATTERS. Forde’s idea is that God is “satisfied” not by Jesus’ death, but by our own death –which is an experience of passive trust.

Forde: “When faith is created, when we actually believe God’s unconditional forgiveness; then God can say, “Now I am satisfied!” God’s wrath ends when we believe him, not because Christ’s death is payment to God “one time. for all time. For Forde, God never had any wrath. For Forde, human wrath ends when faith begins..

Many religious songs have those who sing them confess themselves as “maggots” for having put Christ on the cross. But I question this sentimentality. First, if we all put Christ on the cross, then Christ died for all sinners, and that is the false gospel.
Second, nobody but God has the ultimate power to put Christ on the cross. If we all are supposed to feel bad about crucifying Christ, then is God also to apologize? May it never be! Acts 2:23-24, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

Yes, the Bible teaches that God’s sovereignty does not eliminate the accountability of sinners. Certain specific lawless humans killed Christ. But also, God gave Christ up to die for the sins of the elect alone. God the Trinity decided for whom Christ would die. The human experience of faith does not decide if Christ’s death has any practical effect.

We sinners now did not ourselves put Christ on the cross. We are NOT the imputers. We do not get to decide when and if we put our sins on Christ. We do not get the opportunity to contribute our sins so that then Christ contributes His righteousness. Neither election nor non-election is conditioned on our sins or on exercise of faith.

Although believers are commanded to count as true what God has already counted as true, humans can never be the original counters or those whose decision is what ultimately counts.

The cross is not what condemns. Good news for the elect, the gospel is not what condemns the non-elect. Rejecting the cross is not what condemns the non-elect, because we are all already condemned in Adam.

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7 Comments on “Forde Rejects the Idea that God has Wrath, and Only Speaks of Faith as the End of Human Wrath”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    The Cross Against Human Glory, by David Engelsma
    On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Eerdmans, 1997).

    In the book, Lutheran theologian Gerhard O. Forde gives a brief commentary on the 28 theological theses that Luther presented and defended at the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518. In addition to the commentary, the work is valuable simply in that it makes available Luther’s 28 marvelous doctrinal propositions, in full.

    The Heidelberg Disputation was convened on April 26, 1518, a mere six months after Luther’s posting of the 95 theses. The Disputation was a direct result of the posting of the 95 theses. The pope had instructed the head of Luther’s Augustinian order to silence the monk. vonStaupitz instead asked Luther to acquaint the Augustinians with his new, evangelical theology by means of a disputation on certain theses which Luther was to draw up.

    Luther came to the meeting with 28 theological and 12 philosophical theses, or propositions. Each of the theological theses was followed by a brief explanation and defense. To the theses, Luther appended an “explanation” of the question, “Is the will of man outside the state of grace free or rather in bondage and captive?” This amounted to an important treatment of the fundamental theological issue of the freedom or bondage of the will of the natural man.

    The complete text of the theological and philosophical theses, of Luther’s own explanation of the theological theses, and of the appendix on the bondage of the will is found in Luther’s Works, vol. 31, ed. Harold J. Grimm (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), pp. 39-70. It was at the Heidelberg Disputation that Martin Bucer was won to the cause of the Reformation, and captivated by Luther.

    Gerhard Forde comments on the theological theses. These theses set forth Luther’s beliefs concerning sin, the bondage of the human will, the inability of the unsaved man outside of Christ to perform any good work, and salvation by grace alone in the cross of Christ.

    In these theses, Luther spoke explicitly of the “theology of the cross,” which he explicitly contrasted with the “theology of glory.” Thesis 21 reads: “A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” The theology of the cross is the biblical gospel of God’s salvation of dead sinners out of mere grace only through the suffering and death of the cross of Jesus Christ. The theology of the cross not only rules out, but also curses all human worth, will, and working that would accomplish or account for the salvation of sinners, in whole or in part. Thesis 16 reads: “The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him ADDS SIN TO SIN so that he becomes doubly guilty.”

    the theology of glory is the corruption of the biblical gospel, consisting of attributing to man some “little bit” (to use Forde’s description) of cooperation with God in salvation. The glory that the theology of glory is concerned to preserve and promote is the natural glory of man. The theologians of glory are offended by the cross’ exposure of man as utterly helpless in his own salvation and utterly hostile to the God who saves him. The theology of (man’s) glory is pitted against the theology of (God’s) grace.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Luther opposed the Roman Catholic form of the theology of glory: “Do what is in you, and God will reward you with grace and salvation.” Basic to Rome’s theology of glory was (and is) their doctrine of the freedom of the human will: the sinner has of himself the ability to choose God and salvation. Against the Roman Catholic theology of glory, therefore, Luther (in 1518!) laid down Thesis 13: “Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin.”

    Forde comments on Thesis 13: This thesis was perhaps the most offensive of all to the papal party in Luther’s day. That is indicated by the fact that it was the only one from this Disputation actually attacked in the bull “Exsurge Domine” threatening Luther with excommunication. Luther’s reply to the bull indicates how important he considered this thesis to be. He said it was “the highest and most important issue of our cause” (p. 53).

    Central to Luther’s theology of the cross was justification by faith alone. Luther expressed this doctrine in Thesis 25: “He is not righteous who works much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.”

    Very definitely and prominently “looming in the background,” as Forde puts it, “always is the troublesome question of predestination.” In its repudiation of free will, Forde points out, the theology of the cross unmistakably proclaims that “we are saved by divine election.” “The cross itself is the evidence that we did not choose him but that he, nevertheless, chose us (John 15:16)” (pp. 50, 51). The protest is always raised, “We aren’t puppets, are we? If everything happens by divine will, how can we be held responsible? We just can’t accept such a God! There must be some freedom of choice!” As Forde observes, “This is evidence of theologians of glory at work defending themselves to the end. They actually admit that they cannot and will not will God to be God (p. 51).

    A theologian of the cross, according to Luther in Theses 9 and 10, judges all works done “without Christ” as “dead” and as “mortal sin.” In his own defense of the theology of the cross, Luther condemned as sin, and nothing but sin, every work done by unbelievers:

    “Every one who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). How is it possible that a slave of the devil and a captive of the sin he serves can do anything else but sin? How can he do a work of light who is in darkness? How can he do the work of a wise man who is a fool? How can he do the work of a healthy person who is ill? … Therefore all things which he does are works of the devil, works of sin, works of darkness, works of folly…. Everything that does not proceed from faith is a mortal and damnable sin (Luther’s Works, vol. 31, pp. 65, 67).

    This exposes the “common grace” theologians in Calvinist churches, who approve the works of unbelievers as good and righteous. Outside of Christ, according to the flattering theory of ‘common grace”, is something, even much, that is not accused, judged, and condemned by the law of God, contrary to the confession of Luther in Thesis 23.

    “To defend themselves,” says Forde, ‘theologians of glory are always driven to claim at least some freedom of choice and to play theological games, bargaining for little bits. In one way or another the claim is made that the will must have at least a small part to play (pp. 49, 50).

    The theological game that many play today, exactly as in Luther’s day, is to concede that “without grace the will (can) do nothing to merit eternal salvation” and to acknowledge that we are saved by grace. But immediately they add that “the will must at least desire and prepare for grace” (p. 50).

    In his appendix to the theses that he brought to Heidelberg in 1518, Luther himself passed a devastating judgment upon the theology of the preachers who make the grace of God depend on anything at all in the sinner. “Such teachers attribute nothing to the grace of God except a certain embellishment of our works.’ (Luther’s Works, vol. 31, pp. 67).

    Those who believe and confess the theology of the cross are a mere remnant, a little flock. As soon as a a denomination of churches show that they take divine predestination seriously as the source and foundation of all salvation, the churches are surrounded in protests and judgments— “You make us puppets! You make God the author of sin! You deny human responsibility

  3. Alien Pebble Says:

    Luther says: disbelieving that Christ has forgiven all of your sins is a mortal sin.

    But I say, so what? If Christ has truly forgiven all of my sins, then that sin of disbelief is also forgiven. If not, then the statement is a lie, and the disbelief is not a sin at all.

    “Unconditional forgiveness” either leads to universalism or a double-minded conditionalism on belief (in a lie). Forgiveness is conditional on Christ alone.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    This guy explains “imputation” as done by the clergy without regard to any other objective event or any explanation or doctrine about any other event (except the clergy imputing)

    Jason Loh
    Posted October 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Be that as it may, justification by faith alone was not a theological formulae in its original setting. Justification by *faith* alone refers to an event. Since faith in its Reformation setting as re-appropriated by Luther was never defined as a mental assent but situated in relation to the proclamation of the gospel in word and sacraments, justification by faith was not defined as faith in theological propositions including imputation.

    Instead of being a theological formulae that was part and parcel of the wider theological system, imputation was a reference to the concrete act of pronouncing the forgiveness of sins as embodied in for example, the absolution. That is to say, imputation simply meant that the word does what it says and says what it does.

    Good news is rooted in the concrete and tangible (and tactual) act of the proclamation of the gospel in word and sacraments in a specific context in time and space which is the living present of “I-to-you.” In other words, the Reformation was not about the true meaning of the external word of the gospel refashioned according to doctrine but the other way round.

    Once this is understood then we can proceed to say that the continuity between the Reformation and the medieval and patristic Church was grounded precisely in what the word and sacraments *actually* do to us. If Papists are to be saved or can be saved within the Romish Church it is because of the underlying or latent layer of the hidden gospel beneath the encrustation in the proclamation of word and sacraments.

    A non-confessional Protestant is saved despite jis non-Reformational confession because of “blood of Jesus Christ” as applied in baptism — one baptism for the remission of sins.
    Faith therefore is in the external word and sacraments — such is the simplicity and down-to-earth nature of the gospel. Faith is not in a theological system..

    This is why the Reformation can maintain continuity with the pre-Reformation churches. This is why the pre-Reformation Christians are justified even though the theological formulae of justification by faith alone and the corollary of penal substitution were alien to them.

    I realize this comes as a shock to the Reformed & Presbyterian but this is what the Reformation was about. This is why Calvin held to a high view of baptism (and not only the Lord’s Supper). This is why the Reformers could claim that there were true believers in the Roman Whore Church. This is why the Book of Common Prayer crafted by the Protestant Archbishop Cranmer maintained a realist language of baptism whilst exhibiting ambiguity in relation to the Lord’s Supper.

    Baptismal regeneration is not in conflict with justification by faith alone but is the concrete expression thereof. The issue is whether all baptised are regenerated or not. The language of baptism which is the language of proclamation is to be held in existential tension with the doctrine of election.

    One particularises the doctrine of election by the use of personal pronouns of “I-to-you” in the concrete setting of proclamation of the gospel. That is instead of being held back by the doctrine of election, proclamation is the doing of the electing of the ungodly itself.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    What incentive would there be to give an effort to obey God if every blessing was by grace? Even after conversion, we can’t stop sinning, so why bother trying if one more or less sin is not going to change anything. Since God satisfied God’s own life by His death, why should I bother about me paying attention to what God’s law says? If I really loved grace, I would do away my conscious self and simply feel the flow of God present in me, as I now partake of the divine nature, with me not working at all. The best thing would be if we could die right away, and before that, ti would be good if any thought of ourselves acting or working or doing anything was simply erased from our monkey brain. God does the sacrament to us, but we do nothing. Trying to do anything is the problem.

    Trying to avoid or abstain from sin is really stupid. You are really better off it you do sin, since then you will know that you need grace. Failure will keep you humble and looking to Jesus instead of yourself. We are always still sinners, and we are always sinning, and almost all exhortation and application is just more legalism. You might have troubles in life yes, but nobody can read providence, so nobody can prove that your troubles were because you got drunk before you got in the car. There is no condemnation means God is not bluffing about stuff… sarcasm alert

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