Saturday, March 24, 2012

Someone (sort of) asked a question of me as to what the third use of the law was. Here is my reply. This question was asked as a consequence of encountering Law Life and the Living God: The Third Use of the Law in Modern American Lutheranism by Scott R. Murray. My reply refers to that book.

The "third" use of the law comes from the notion of three uses of laws in the Lutheran Confessions. These are three functions that law performs. First is the coarse direction of behavior by the Government, such as rules that forbid murder. This has been called a "curb" for it performs a function similar to a curb on a street, it keeps cars on the road in a coarse sense. The second use is to show us our need for Jesus as our Savior by showing us how sinful we are. This is called a "mirror" use, as we see our own reflection in the law, we see our own failures to keep God's rules. The third use is for the Christian only in that a forgiven sinner will want to respond in thankfulness for the give of life and salvation they have received and will want to please God and this function of the law is to guide us in how to please God. This is the "guide" function of the law.

I understand the book tries to combat an idea that God's rules (law) no longer apply to us as Christians, since we are forgiven of all our sins by Christ's death on the cross. That idea has been called, among other names, "Gospel Reductionism". That means that all of Christianity gets reduced to the forgiveness of our sins and law doesn't matter any longer. Such an idea is worthy of being combatted because it is not in agreement with Scripture and is clearly an extreme. It is "gospel" without "law", if you will.

The opposite extreme has law emphasized over the gospel. The gospel is not ever offered as a solution to the law's attack. Instead the law is put forward with a notion that we are able to follow it well enough that our actions will be credited to us. In my experience, this is the extreme that I saw Pastor K-- descend to in his preaching and teaching. This was putting the law before us primarily as something we should do. The gospel was seldom offered as the cure to the problem of the law. We were taught that we could keep the law and do good works, thereby.

I believe that Pastor K-- thought I was proposing the other extreme, that the law is not applied to Christians, and thus that there is no third use of the law. I believe that is why he got me the book. I would agree with the position of the book however. But I do not agree with Pastor K--.

Peace of Christ,
Kevin Buchs