Christ as Donum (Gift) or Exemplum (Example)? A meditation on Oswald Bayer’s "Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation"

Preaching Jesus Christ is no easy task. There will always be serious opposition to anything […]

MM / 3.30.09

Preaching Jesus Christ is no easy task. There will always be serious opposition to anything which points to Jesus Christ as the unconditional gift, the ultimate atonement and the only true Savior for the sinner.

Both liberal and conservative theologians have a tendency to present Jesus Christ as an example, or a means to an end. When in fact Jesus Christ is the end! He is not a way to wisdom; He is wisdom (1Cor. 1:30). He is the Savior! It is true that Jesus Christ lived in perfect obedience, but when He is belittled to example, the gift of forgiveness and salvation is hidden from the hearer.

Turning Grace into Demand, Gospel into Law

Jesus Christ, in preaching, wants to be given as a gift, not as an example. Even when we speak about being gracious or forgiving, we run the risk of simply creating a new law. And this new law is not one of the Spirit, but of the Kantian method, which seeks to send us back into Aristotelian bondage. Once again you have something to do, so do the ultimate good for the neighbor! Grace is turned into law when response is demanded of the audience, or behavior is preached.

Where is the Absolution? The Promise is for you.

So I don’t need more preaching on better behavior. I need someone to absolve me with no strings attached! I need to know that Christ forgives me in the present. I need to hear that Christ’s promises are for me; REAL forgiveness in REAL Time. It is Christ’s perpetual absolution that creates faith (Rom. 10:17). I need belief, faith, i.e. trust bestowed to me as a gift. So this is the job of the preacher, to do the word to the hearer (John 20:23).

So I need a preacher to give me Christ; the Forgiving and Active Word (John 1; Is. 55:11). Where is the absolution? Are we preaching discipline? (Christ as Example) Are we preaching a philosophy of grace? (Christ as Example) Or are we speaking Christ into the sinner’s life: His unconditional action for the paralyzed, in a conditional world, yet in real time? (Christ as Gift)

The great Dr. James Nestingen once said on the topic of absolution that listening is good and important, but in the end, it is really social work. Listening followed by the Gospel proclaimed (absolution) distinguishes Christians from social workers. “For goodness sake I have heard your exhortation, and it does me no good, but do you have any good news?” (Horton, Christless Christianity DVD)

For Further Reading:
Luther For Armchair Theologians by Steven D. Paulson
The Preached God by Gerhard O. Forde
Handling the Word of Truth by John T. Pless
Martin Luther: His Life and Teachings by James Arnes Nestingen

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14 responses to “Christ as Donum (Gift) or Exemplum (Example)? A meditation on Oswald Bayer’s "Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation"”

  1. krtomlin says:

    Very well said, my friend!

  2. Anonymous says:

    What does this have to do with the Watchmen?

  3. John Stamper says:

    Matt McC is da bomb.

    This was GREAT.

    PS. Also, when Matt laughs, his face lights up all of Manhattan. There were serious electrical surges all weekend — which the MTA is still baffled by.

  4. dpotter says:

    “For goodness sake I have heard your exhortation, and it does me no good, but do you have any good news?” Exactly…you’re not far from the kingdom Matt.

  5. Matt McCormick says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    The Watchmen are the example of the failure to be true super heros. In his work, Oswald Bayer mentions that when you make Christ an example it gives your good works a work out. However, the working out has limits in what it can produce. Which is why the “full passivity” in the Christian life looks to the true hero to be the true hero and the worker of the work out to work it out, that is Jesus Christ. I suppose sinners are like the Watchmen, trying to handle and control the things which are out of their power…even Dr. Manhattan has his limits.

  6. Michael Cooper says:

    This sounds a bit like an “exhortation” to preach the gospel and avoid the “exemplar” method. Sorry, my sense of irony is a curse.

  7. Matt McCormick says:

    That is a very good interpretation Michael Cooper…It just might be that 🙂

  8. Michael Cooper says:

    And, by the way Matt, I agree with everything you have said!!!

  9. Matt McCormick says:

    And I love you too michael cooper…in a virtual agape sense 🙂
    Wish you were at the conference…Hope you make it next year. In your stead, Stampdog rocked the casba, while Steve Paulson raised the roof.

  10. John Stamper says:

    Stampdog… wow… I have got a NAME now. Not just a name but one that sounds hip. (Isn’t it DAWG though?)

    At some point I will have to write about the experience (which until just now I never knew) of Imputed Hipness — confering upon the utterly uncool and out of touch a kind of strutting street cred. It’s awesome.

  11. Matt says:

    I’m sort of curious about which conservative theologians present Christ as a means to an end. John Stott? J.I. Packer? John Piper? Wayne Grudem? Pelikan? The Pope? (well…)

    Just curious…John Howard Yoder, I’ll grant you.

  12. Matt McCormick says:

    Dear Matt,

    I suppose I would say any conservative or liberal preacher who preaches Christ as a way “to become better” or “more loving” or “more peaceful”or “richer” or “more grace filled” places Christ not as the last word in preaching, but a means to the goal of “love”, “purity”, or “success.” Is that not what is syntacticly happening?

  13. Matt says:

    Matt: Yes, but I do think it’s unfair to label prosperity gospel preachers as conservative theologiains, as none of the folks I mentioned would have anything to do with that sort of nonsense. Now you may be on to something in terms of evangelical acceptance of nonsense like Facing the Giants, but I do think it’s dangerous to label the TBN crowd as representative of any sort of conservative Christianity. In one sense, they are, but in another sense, they are not at all.

    Now there are problems with conservative theologians being too ham-fisted (John McArthur-esque writings can lean in this direction), but I don’t know that there was where you were heading.

  14. Matt McCormick says:

    Dear Matt,

    Just to be clear, I did not say anything about TBN crowds or John McArthur in the post or comments. I am criticizing all liberal and conservative camps that preach behavior as the last word, which could include preachers we love & admire. That is where Bayer is going in his work… and that is where the post is going. Three snaps & a twist 🙂

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