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Life Together founded on our alien righteousness

Lest you think I've taken a disastrous turn towards the self, here's Bonhoeffer on the only basis for Christian community - the alien righteousness of Christ.  There is here a whole theology of salvation, of church, of pastoral care and of preaching:

The death and the life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God's Word to him.  The Reformers expressed it this way: Our righteousness is an 'alien righteousness' a righteousness that comes outside of us (extra nos).  They were saying that the Christian is dependent on the Word of God spoken to him.  He is pointed outward, to the Word that comes to him.  The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God's Word in Jesus Christ.  If someone asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself.  He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness.  He is as alert as possible to this Word.  Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word.  And it can come only from the outside.  In himself he is destitute and dead.  Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

But God has put this Word in the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother, his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure

And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.  As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community.  Their fellowship is founded solely upon Jesus Christ and this 'alien righteousness'.  All we can say therefore is: the community of Christians springs solely from the biblical and Reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another.  (Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, SCM Press, 1954, p11-12)

 

0 thoughts on “Life Together founded on our alien righteousness

  1. David Murdoch

    Without God's grace we could never please Him, but in order to keep that grace we need to be obedient to Him and His Word who was made flesh. As St Augustine said, we can only do good by God's power, but we can always by our own power do bad (thus losing that grace)... like a man who lacks the power to make himself never die, but who has the power to end his own life.

    I think this is an appropriate scripture with regard to christian community, and perhaps even more potent than what Bonhoeffer wrote:

    Matthew 20:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

  2. glenscriv

    Hi David,
    I think Bonhoeffer would greatly appreciate Matt 20:20 being quoted here. Christ is present in our Christian community - and Bonhoeffer fleshes this out by saying He is present pre-eminently in the Word spoken to one another. And this Word always comes as a surprising unmerited Word of grace.

    You rightly say that we can't please God without grace. Of course from this it follows that grace must be unmerited. But then, if it's unmerited then I think we need to watch the kind of conditional talk that throws us back on ourselves. Personally I believe that the grace is unloseable if it's true grace. Grace - that is Christ and His work for us - is given to us apart from any merit and remains with us apart from any demerit - that is if we've received this grace at all.

    Glen

  3. Perry Robinson

    I am not clear on why one can't maintain that the ground of our good pleasing works in Christ is grace that it condign but also maintain that the good works in Christ under the influence of grace do in fact please God. Would would the latter cancel out the former?

    Second, a righteousness that doesn't include me seems to undermine any ground gained on the objective front. Why think it is applicable to me or me in relation to anyone else?

    Further, why think that we need a created or merited righteousness in the first place as a kind of created intermediary? Why not God's actual righteousness given to us freely?

    It also seems problematic, especially in light of Christology to have grace coming to humanity from the outside, as something not appropriate to human nature.

  4. bobby grow

    Perry said:

    It also seems problematic, especially in light of Christology to have grace coming to humanity from the outside, as something not appropriate to human nature.

    What if 'our human nature' was assumed by Christ (assumptio carnis)? So that the objective side (from the 'outside') becomes the subjective lived out vicariously 'for us' in the life of Christ. In this frame, grace does not "complete" or "perfect" nature; instead it apocalyptically recreates and thus reorientates through the life of Christ by the Spirit.

    Perry said:

    Further, why think that we need a created or merited righteousness in the first place as a kind of created intermediary? Why not God’s actual righteousness given to us freely?

    That's what some, non-scholastic, Protestant's hold. There should be no "created grace" in the equation at all. Protestants should hold to the idea that grace is immediately mediated by the life of Christ through the Spirit. In other words, grace is personified by Christ in the Spirit.

    Perry said:

    Second, a righteousness that doesn’t include me seems to undermine any ground gained on the objective front. Why think it is applicable to me or me in relation to anyone else?

    This is assuming that the juridical or forensic framing of righteousness, alone. Indeed, some Protestants, in the 'Reformed' scholastic tradition frame all things salvific this way; but not all, and in fact Luther did not. A contemporary or modern theologian who recognized the ontological framing of things salvific (T. F. Torrance) emphasized the centrality of the incarnation itself as encompassing the whole of salvation. In other words, there is appeal made to Gregory of Nanzianzus (and II Cor. 5:21) "the unassumed is the unhealed," so in other words the forensic (while there in Romans) does not go deep enough; it only deals with the external and not the internal problem of sin. So the objective side does include us, but it includes us as our sinful humanity has been assumed by Christ; and thus we participate through union with Him as He vicariously 're-lives' our life unto the Father (culminating in the cross) in perfect communion with Him.

    So it is 'objectively' applicable to you because you have been objectively included in the life of God by the logic of the incarnation.

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