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Living by Faith (Lutheran Quarterly Books) Paperback – January 1, 2017
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About the Author
Oswald Bayer is professor emeritus of systematic theology at the University of Tubingen, Germany, and director of the Luther Academy Sondershausen-Ratzeburg. He is also an ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church of Wurttemberg and was the editor of Neue Zeitschrift fur Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie from 1986 to 2006. His research focuses especially on Luther and Hamann.
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The world poses various questions to humanity, which are inescapable. We are put on trial for our very existence. These questions penetrate down into the depths of human existence. Who are you? Why have you done this? What were you thinking about? These questions and many others haunt fallen humanity and cry out for the necessity of justification. Bayer writes, "To be recognized and justified; to cause ourselves to be justified or to justify ourselves in attitude, thought, word, and action; to need to justify our being; or simply to be allowed to exist without needing to justify our being - all this makes for our happiness or unhappiness and is an essential part of our humanity" (2). With this thinking there also arises the necessity of justifying God. Why is God who he is? Why has he allowed this condition, which oppresses humanity? How can God be justified in light of evil and suffering? For Bayer all these questions find their answer in the doctrine of justification.
Justification is not just one theme but it embraces the totality of all of reality (9). The questions of our lives are questions about justification and while humanity has removed God from the equation he is the one who is capable of providing that justification which is necessary. Until we are justified by Christ, the pursuit of self-justification is our law. There is no ultimate justification through this pursuit but nonetheless we struggle endlessly under it. We then become pilgrims kicked out of paradise and lacking a home.
Bayer argues that the answer to this needed justification is found in God's justification of sinners through the person and work of Christ. More specifically, "This justification and righteousness which cannot be attained and won by us is the righteousness of faith. It is neither a justifying thinking nor justifying acting, neither contemplative nor active righteousness. It is a passive righteousness" (19). It is when we allow God alone to work in us and therefore there is nothing accomplished through our own powers or achievements. Our justification then becomes solely a work of God. Our faith is God's work, our justification is God's work and indeed our very salvation is the work of God to his glory.
Bayer's thesis offers humanity a profound hope in God, which no other vain pursuit can offer. Fallen humanity does struggle in seeking to attain self-justification and it is only through the actual justification of God through Christ whereby one may be redeemed from this vain worldly pursuit and then may have their worldview changed toward being God-ward focused. This is the ever present need of humanity and the answer to that need in God's gracious gift.
The problem of justifications while primarily philosophical in nature actually flows out of the radical fallenness of humanity. This does prove that the only adequate and sufficient answer to this problem is to be found in the reconciling work of Christ. Bayer correctly argues that the doctrine of justification touches much more then individual sinners but effects the entirety of creation. Since all of creation is fallen all of creation groans for its recreation by God in the eschaton. This groaning of creation is seen in humanity's pursuit of self-fulfillment and self-justification. The only answer is the biblical doctrine of justification.
If this is true then it follows that preaching and proclamation of the Word of God must be central to the task of believers and the church. For it is only through preaching whereby one will be set free from the law of self-justification and become a slave to Christ through the passive righteousness of faith. This preaching must be distinctly law and gospel preaching. The preaching of the law will point to the continual human pursuit of self-justification, which is bound to failure while the preaching of the gospel will declare the remedy to that problem in the justifying work of Christ.
Bayer's Living by Faith offers a helpful and needed antidote to the failed human attempt of self-justification. This way is only the law, which offers no hope of salvation but only further damnation. It is then only through the passive righteousness of faith obtained as a gift from God through the hearing of his Word whereby one will be saved. It is the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone that serves as the remedy to human attempts at self-justification. The passive righteousness of faith frees us to live captive to Christ.
'"We do not escape testing and temptation because of our faith. Faith is rather the courage to endure the old world and call upon God, certain that God will hear and answer even though he may at times seem not to."
The Author really seems to grasp what Luther argued for - not only in his debate with Erasmus - but in the whole concept of Passive Righteousness.
Strongly recommended for fellow Lutherans, and those who want to come to grips with the Lutheran views in these areas.
This is an excellent book, and one that I will read again!