Does Our Theology Have a Future?

Dr. John Nunes has an article in the Summer 2013 Concordia Journal entitled “Does Contributive Justine Have a Future” (pp. 208-216).  After reading it, I wonder; does theology have a future among us?

First, I defy anyone to tell me this is not postmodernism in full bloom.  I will allow for the possibility that my lack of intellect, theology, sophistication make me incapable of grasping the full scope of his article.  But the few things I know I did understand left me dazed.

The tenor of the article is that of the old Roman Catholic ad campaign circa 1970s: “If you want peace work for justice.”  I was never sure in their crusade whether they meant earthly peace or peace on earth good will toward men Gospel peace.  I’m fairly certain that Nunes thinks that we, coming from a country that is privileged, will get nowhere with the Gospel of peace unless we work for justice.

However, this in itself did not leave be stupefied.  This did: “The Old Testament Scriptures contain ‘more legal and prophetic material about the poor and the powerless than any other social problem.’ This not only pertains to the Old Testament, but also extends to more than ‘half of Jesus’ parables (seventeen out of twenty-nine in the Synoptic Gospels)’ which concern money and issues of economic justice” (209).  He is quoting by the way the 2009 The Lutheran Study Bible and gives due acknowledgement.

This to me runs afoul of our Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, III, The Righteousness of Faith Before God, 62.  Here we “reject and condemn” that “In the passages from the prophets and apostles, when the righteousness of faith is spoken of, the words justify and to be justified do not mean to declare free from sins and to receive the forgiveness of sins. But they mean actual and real righteousness because of love infused by the Holy Spirit, virtues, and the works following from it.”

The peace which we have through faith in Christ’s innocent life and guilty death in our place moves us to be just, but we don’t reach the peace of the forgiveness of sins in trying to get justice for the poor and powerless.  And neither do we bring them the peace of Christ by bringing about justice for them.

The reference to the parables of Jesus is even more telling.  Parables use symbols.  Symbols stand for something else. When we take the money as money we are missing the symbol.  The parable of the unmerciful servant doesn’t teach us about forgiving monetary debts but sins anymore than the parable of the wheat and the tares teaches us about farming.

The Social Gospel as substitute for the real deal shows up in cycles.  It surfaces when the foolishness of the real Gospel, its “uselessness” in the real world, becomes just too embarrassing.  The contemporary church crowd tries to deal with the shame of the Gospel by embracing evangelical Christianity and their many books and programs that make a practical application of it:  Jesus as CEO; Jesus giving purpose to your life, meaning to your marriage, and structure to your family.  Mainline Christianity attempts to “save” the Gospel by sallying forth to save the poor from poverty and give justice to the disenfranchised.

The garbled medium of postmodernism makes it unclear what is really being advanced or advocated in this article.  But what is clear is that the simple, foolish theology of our Confessions doesn’t have a future because as Luther says in Bondage of the Will, “Take away assertions and you take away Christianity” (21).  Even if I am wrong about what I think Nunes is saying, he isn’t clearly asserting anything.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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