So I’m pretty much dealing with Gospel Reductionism and its rippling effects on a daily basis. While I’ve come to accept with a shrug that this is the context in which I must minister, I cannot accept it. In that spirit, I submit OSC’s 9.5 Theses:
1. Sin must not be permitted to endure, for God in His holiness cannot tolerate it.
2. The Law of God is holy and good, showing men what they are to do and not to do, and revealing man’s sin in light of God’s holiness, as St. Paul writes in Romans 7.
3. The Law requires the sinner to perform works, where in the Gospel Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law on the sinner’s behalf.
4. God calls sinners to repentance through His Law so that He might forgive their sins by His Gospel.
5. In this way God in His Law necessarily kills and destroys the sinner, that He might make him anew by means of His Gospel.
6. Without a true proclamation of the Law there can be no true proclamation of the Gospel.
7. Where the proclamation of the Word of God excludes His Law, true proclamation of the Gospel is likewise excluded.
8. Without Law to be fulfilled there is no need for Christ.
9. Without Law and without Christ, any proclamation is of necessity nothing more than a call for moral living and good citizenship.
9.5 Comments/additions/suggested edits are welcome below…
I observed the latest bout between Gospel Reductionism and Law/Gospel theology last night. A local Ash Wednesday service included the imposition of ashes. This was done by two pastors, one at each side of the chancel. On one side the ashes were imposed with the following words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” On the other with the words, “Receive the sign of the cross, and remember that God loves you.”
This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s huge. In the one example the proclamation of the Law was clear–as it should have been. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent, a season of penitence–of repentance and preparation, leading up to that glorious celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Law proclamation is what drives us to that sweet good news of salvation. But in the second example that proclamation was gone. The ashes might as well have been perfumed oil. There was no call for repentance, no focus on the sin that drives us to apply ashes to ourselves; it was almost celebratory. The musical choices for the service didn’t serve, either. It was perhaps the most upbeat Ash Wednesday service I’d ever known.
I can’t say enough about this (even as it simply saps me to keep haranguing on this topic). Gospel Reductionism doesn’t work. You remove the Law, you hamstring the Gospel. Without there’s a death, there’s no resurrection. Unless I’m terrified I won’t receive comfort. Period.
“God just loves you. Now pay your taxes on time and don’t speed.” Well, whoop-dee-freakin’-doo. I’m a hell of a loveable guy–and a good citizen to boot. Why shouldn’t Jesus want me for a sunbeam? This is the stuff of GR. And this is what it leads to. Sunday mornings at the church-turned-ethical-society.
God’s bigger than that, and by His Word He does a whole lot more of that. But it get’s hung up when it’s not proclaimed in its fullness. Lose the Law, lose the Gospel. Lose the Gospel, lose life.