The Debate: Part III

Return of the Jedi

Yeah so, you are probably wondering why in the flippity flip flap flew for a post on Law and Gospel am I now featuring images from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi?  My logic and reasoning is as follows.

A.  This is Part III of this post about my paper/thesis for the debate between Law and Gospel distinction.

B.  Return of the Jedi to the original 1983 audience was effectively Star Wars Part III…everyone knew that there were 3 episodes before the “1st” Star Wars (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) that came out in 1977.  So in the spirit of symbolism, with this being Part III of this series I went with what I thought was the greatest Part III of any Trilogy I could think of and logically the first that came to mind was Return of the Jedi.  Yes I even considered Rocky III, Rambo III, Missing in Action III, Robocop III, Alien III, Jurassic Park III, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III and Back to the Future III.  The closest that came to Return of the Jedi was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which was basically Indiana Jones III

C.  But I already had Indy’s image featured as an image for a previous blog and now I have images for Back to the Future, Ghost Busters and now Star Wars so my Childhood nostalgia is at an all time high and I am feeding off of it like a Walker in rural Georgia.


darthCan you imagine the horror if this was the scene that followed….

darth jar

Ok enough of the Tom Foolery and hysterics….onto the meaty finish to THE DEBATE….picking up right from the Debate Part II we find ourselves here:

The other side of the debate we will refer to in this paper as the “distinction side.”  One of the main reasons why this side affirms that there is a distinction of God’s Law and Gospel is in how the Bible has passages that contain portions of it as “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” and “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ” or more applicably “come to me and I will give you rest.”  When affirming that there is a distinction between Law and Gospel, there is no need to weaken or cheapen either.  God’s Law remains at full value, crushing the sinner, pointing to their need for mercy and God’s Gospel remains at full value giving the sinner the mercy that the Law ignites the sinner’s cry for it.  Not only does it maintain both the value of the Law and Gospel but it maintains the credibility of both as well.  There is no need to read into passages, practicing in eisegeses in order to lower the demand of the Law to a level that we might be able to hope to fulfill or lower the level of grace to the level that only devout self-righteous people can claim as being deserved. Bruce Narramore, professor of Psychology at Rosemeade Graduate School of Professional Psychology addresses the reality that many Christians understand and are familiar with the nature of Gods’ Law and Grace.  Yet Narramore writes that,

many Christians fail to understand, however, that the law is much more than “the law of Moses” and that grace extends far beyond salvation.  Law and grace in their pure forms are actually two systems of relating, with their own set of governing principles.  Law, the more evident system in the Old Testament times, was a preparatory system leading to the grace principles revealed through Christ.  Outwardly, law and grace may produce similar results; inwardly, however, they are diametrically opposed.[1]

Another reason for taking this stance is that it points the need to Christ alone.  There is no hope in fulfilling the Law because sinners cannot and will not fulfill the Law.  Making this proper distinction points the sinner to the one who has fulfilled the Law, Jesus Christ.  Paul Ramsey, associate professor of religion in Princeton University, writes that Norman H. Snaith accurately displays an argument that displays what is necessary to understand when distinguishing what is meant by the righteousness that is needed by man and how he obtains it.  Snaith is quoted to have said “it cannot be maintained that a man can offer unto God any true righteousness of his own, so he is regarded as offering a fictional righteousness, or someone else’s righteousness.  The fact which is regarded as fixed is that God must have some sort of righteousness before He saves.[2]

Some of the examples for rejecting the “no distinction” side of the debate is that the “no” side promotes a cheap version of God’s Law.  Because it points to a dependency on the Law in order to be counted righteous, there is a need to not display the Law in its full sinner killing value.  The no side must not suggest that the Law is impossible to be appeased by the sinner, or there is no hope offered at all.  In order to keep the sinner focused on the need to fulfill the Law, a cheaper version must be presented in order to lead the sinner to believe that he or she is potentially and eventually capable of living within some area of approval by God for their law keeping.  Another reason why the “no” side is rejected is because it promotes dependency on self.  This is the idea that the individual is responsible for doing better, trying harder, living righter as a result of working and fighting to keep the Law.  A third reason for rejecting the “no” side is that it is suggesting that sinners in their work, actions, living can somehow merit God’s favor or his grace.  But as stated earlier, if God’s favor or grace could be merited by the response of the sinner, then it is not grace that the sinner is receiving but something that is earned.  This is rejected because it is understood that God’s grace is unmerited favor.  This side sees the “no” side a promoting the doctrine that one can merit God’s favor or cause God to act based on their doing for God and fail to see that everything is riding on what God has done for them.

The “distinction” side also points out that the error in confusing the Law and Gospel is nothing new.  Rev. Dr. Randrianasolo, pastor of the Malagasy Lutheran Church writes that “Eugene F. Kulg reports that Augustine, while ferociously fighting Pelagianism, “by teaching that faith is formed or adorned by charity was confusing Law and Gospel, thus justification and sanctification?”[3]  The similar point of confusion of the understanding of the Law and Gospel is observed in the Enlightenment.  Randrianasolo points to Mark C. Mattes observation of the Enlightenment and accurately displays that its views of human will are another form of the bondage of the will.  Randrianasolo writes that Mattes refers to Forde when he is quoted to say “That we are bound to the goal of self-expression.”  Instead of evaluating secular political or social commitments in the light of Scripture and the chief article, theologians attempt “to reinterpret the law-gospel distinction in the light of the prior, secular commitments.”[4] Randrianasolo provides the observation that Ronald R. Feuerhahan has meticulously studied the confusion of the Law and Gospel.  He identifies that a different Gospel is preached where what is communicated is a “general Christian message, good works in general, love, justice and peace, sanctification….”[5]  In the article written by Randrianasolo he provides a block quote from Feuerhahn that would be beneficial for this paper.  This quote reads to further explain what is meant to be understood by the confusion of Law Gospel as it reads to say:

Today there is a tendency to separate, not merely distinguish, this “one” faith.  In this way emphasis is given to a common or one faith with reference to the fides qua, that is, the “faith in the heart”, but with no reference to the fides quae, its content. In fact, the latter is not only deemed to be unnecessary but even disruptive.  This is evidence of a type of pietism, which is still present, that is, an emphasis on faith as something in us.  This idea can be chronicled in the modern ecumenical movement as a way to overcome the confessional barriers.  Thus, for instance, very early in the history of the movement, the expression “unity in diversity” came to be used.[6]

Randrianasolo closes out this section in his article by emphatically stating that

there is no church doctrine at all in the confusion of the Law and Gospel.  Everything is relative.  The Holy Scripture itself has neither solid authority nor a bound unity.  It is no longer a foundational text for life and for the context.  Here the context itself contests the text.  Either confusion in Law and Gospel or a clear distinction between Law and Gospel reflects the way one approaches and interprets the Holy Scripture.  That is a hermeneutical challenge.[7]

Randrianasolo writes that according to J A O Preus, the proper distinction between Law and Gospel is a doctrine that was formulated and developed within Lutheran understanding.   Randrianasolo presents the observation that “Luther as early as 1532 already gave two sermons on the proper distinction of Law and Gospel.”[8]

In as sermon given by Luther he states that “Man, driven into fear and anxiety by the preaching of the Law, hears this Gospel message, which, instead of reminding him of God’s demands, tells him what God has done for him.”[9]  Jane Strohl, Associate Professor of Reformation History and Theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley writes that Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 displayed the distinction between a theologian of the cross and a theologian of glory by stating

He deserves to be called a theologian…who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.  A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil.  A theologian of the cross calls the thing which actually is.[10]

The history of the doctrine of the proper distinction of Law and Gospel is seen above.   It is not something “new” in a sense for the individual today, but for one who has grown up in a church and has never heard this proper distinction being revealed it will surely feel like a new concept altogether.


After reviewing both sides of the debate, in order to make sense of the command passages of the Bible that are linked with punishment and or threat along with other passages that reference the good grace of God that is unmerited by anything that the sinner does it is determined that there must be a distinction between God’s Law and Gospel and both need to be preached in their full weight and full value.  For this assignment, it is important that it is also the side that says “yes” to a distinction between God’s Law and Gospel also maintains the integrity of God’s character.  God’s holiness stays intact; unblemished by recipients of His grace.  God’s grace stays intact, unblemished by the call for recipients of His grace to fulfill the full weight of the Law.  We are reminded again of what Luther identified in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 as what the Law say and what Grace says.  Kathryn A. Kleinhans, professor of religion at Wartburg College, identifies what Luther writes and then further extrapolates what is to be understood by Luther’s confession.  Kleinhans writes that in thesis 26 of the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 Martin Luther states that “the law says, “do this”, and it is never done.  Grace says, “believe in this”, and everything is already done.”[11] Kleinhans responds to this affirmation presented by Luther with the following

This passage emphasizes several key differences between the law and the gospel.  First, the law takes the form of an imperative (“do this”), instructing our behavior, while the gospel invites us to trust, evoking our faith.  Second, and perhaps most important, the law shows us our inability to keep it (“it is never done”), while the gospel is received as a gift (“everything is already done”).  The law shows us God’s will, but it does not give us the ability to keep it.[12]

The need to make the distinction between the Law and Gospel is crucial in accurately discerning the full character of God.  This concept assists in revealing that God is not confused or two-faced but is full of righteousness, holiness, love and grace.  It is therefore the belief that the thesis has been proven in that when not accurately identifying Law and Gospel, God’s character is not accurately identified either.


                [1] Bruce Narramore, “Discipline by Grace,” Journal of Psychology & Theology 7 no. 4 (Winter 1979): 264, accessed March 28, 2015,

                [2] Paul Ramsey, “God’s Grace and Man’s Guilt,” The Journal of Religion 31, no. 1 (Jan. 1951): 21, accessed March 28, 2015,

                [3] Joseph Randrianasolo, “A Hermeneutical Challenge: The Context Contesting the Text,” Lutheran Theological Journal 46, no. 1 (May 2012): 65, accessed March 28, 2015.

                [4] Ibid., 65.

                [5] Ibid., 65.

                [6] Ibid., 65.

                [7] Ibid., 65.

                [8] Ibid., 66.

                [9] “Assorted Sermons By Martin Luther,” PDF page 36, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, last modified March 3, 2015, accessed May 8, 2015,

                [10] Jane Strohl, “Law and Gospel in Preaching,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 39, no. 3 (Fall 2000): 164, accessed March 28, 2015,

                [11] Kathyrn A. Kleinhans, “Law and Gospel in Context-Response to ‘A Hermeneutical Challenge: The Context Contesting the Text’.” Lutheran Theological Journal 46, no. 1 (May 2012): 73, accessed March 28, 2015,

                [12] Ibid., 74.

Published by

Zachary James Cole

Born in Atlanta, Georgia. Living in Atlanta, GA. Well kinda, in a city NE of Atlanta in Metro Atlanta called Sugar Hill, but everyone close to ITP just says they are from Atlanta. Marine Veteran. Simul Iustus et Peccator. The verse that could best sum my life...Galatians 2:20...I am blown away by the Grace of God. What Jesus did for me just leaves me in awe and in thanksgiving...It was all Him...and the peace that comes with that is I am free to lose everything because I have everything in Christ.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s