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Luther and Types of Righteousness

Luther and Types of Righteousness

Having finally recovered my copy of Jordan Cooper's Hands of Faith, I'd like to dive back where I left off. Acknowledging the failure of focusing solely on law-gospel dichotomies (and ultimately justification-onlyism), Copper introduces historical insights to "two kinds of righteousness."

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More pertinent to this post—and Cooper's thesis—is the concept of two kinds of righteousness in Martin Luther. Far from evaluating it, I'd like to simply take the time to reflect on the language that is used and how I find it couple be valuable in Reformed circles. Cooper introduces us to this language in chapter three:

"Luther sets up the two kinds of righteousness within the context of two kinds of sin: original and actual." (38)

These two kinds of righteousness in Luther's language are "passive" and "active" righteousness. Passive righteousness derives from our union with Christ:

"Passive righteousness is thus received solely by faith, and this passive righteousness consists in both Christ's person and work." (39)

What's important is that this passive (or "alien") righteousness "is not, for Luther, purely synonymous with forensic justification" (39). This alien righteousness contains what Reformed systematics have referred to as Christ's imputed "active and passive obedience." But as Cooper highlights it shows "Luther does not differentiate between imputed righteousness and the righteousness of Christ within the believer" (39-40). This encompasses both traditional justification and sanctification language.

The benefits of this language are obvious as it permits Luther to speak of "the actual obedient actions of the Christian" in terms of "active righteousness." This type of righteousness goes beyond mere works oriented towards our neighbor. Of this Cooper summarizes:

"Thus the whole life of sanctified living, including love toward neighbor, devotion to God, and the killing of sin, are aspects of active righteousness.
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The vertical/horiziontal axis utilized by contempory proponents of the two kinds of righteousness, as helpful as it may be, is not exhaustive of Luther's teaching here." (40)

One of the major benefits of this language is how succinctly Luther ties the full scope of Christ's righteousness to union with Christ. Both the imputation of Christ and Christ's living in the believer is entirely passive to the believer. And yet, there remains a wealth of "active righteousness" for the Christian to pursue.

I'd like to spend next time talking about how this "active righteousness" corresponds to "civil righteousness" in Cooper's presentation of Luther.

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