Marshall on Grace


If one wants to see an important element missing in contemporary Lutheran theololgy (or in Lutheran theology simpliciter), see the reflections of Bruce Marshall in the most recent issue of First Things, especially the final paragraphs. You can find the essay here. There is not a direct conceptual connection between his reflections and the present plight of Lutheranism, but the indirect connection is of profound significance.
[Addition in response to comment. I think the ‘profound significance’ relates most closely to whether and how we understand the gospel as a call into a specific form of life. If the gospel is a call into a specific form of life, then some agreement on the shape of that life is inherent to the gospel. And, in that case, the assertion of the Sexuality Social Statement that agreement in the doctrine of justification is all that the church needs must be wrong.
More distantly, but more importantly, there is the question of how we are called and graced to participate in Christ and Christ’s saving action. That we are called to participate is clear: our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection is our salvation. But do we participate in the way Marshall describes? I increasingly think that Marshall (and behind him, Aquinas) is correct.]
Michael Root

5 Responses to “Marshall on Grace”

  1. Rob Saler Says:

    Dr. Root,
    Would you expand on your sense of the “profound significance” of Dr. Marshall’s reflections for our thinking about Lutheranism’s present situation(s)? I have an idea of what you mean, but I would appreciate clarification from your own pen.

  2. P. Bergsagel Says:

    Dr. Root,

    Is not the “debt” that Dr. Marshal speaks of in his article defined traditionally in Lutheranism as “our response” to the saving grace through Christ’s death on the cross? In other words can the “debts” as defined in Dr. Marshal’s article be seen as the “good works” which is our response to God’s gift of salvation (by Christ’s death on the cross)? Giving alms (a debt owed to God) can be understood as a good work.

    If we render our debts to God with good works, then it becomes clear that “the assertion of the Sexuality Social Statement that agreement in the doctrine of justification is all that the church needs must be wrong.”
    Good works as defined by Luther are “those which God has commanded”.

    We ought first to know that there are no good works
    except those which God has commanded, even as there is no
    sin except that which God has forbidden. Therefore
    whoever wishes to know and to do good works needs nothing
    else than to know God’s commandments. Thus Christ says,
    Matthew xix, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the
    commandments.” And when the young man asks Him, Matthew
    xix, what he shall do that he may inherit eternal life,
    Christ sets before him naught else but the Ten
    Commandments. Accordingly, we must learn how to
    distinguish among good works from the Commandments of
    God, and not from the appearance, the magnitude, or the
    number of the works themselves, nor from the judgment of
    men or of human law or custom, as we see has been done
    and still is done, because we are blind and despise the
    divine Commandments.

    –A treatise on Good Works together with the Letter of Dedication by Dr. Martin Luther, 1520
    ( )

    Now if our good works are our response to justification then the Sexuality Social Statement must be seen as contrary to the doctrine of Justification and thus not a good work.

  3. Pr. Keith A. Hunsinger Says:

    One way for ecumenical relations to move forward is to go past times of argument back to a time of agreement and find a common ground that “pre-addresses” the issues which came into conflict. Could that be the case here?

    The arguments regarding works vs. grace got pushed in the Reformation to a point where agreement would seem like surrender for one “side”and likely would not answer the question any way.

    I am going to have to read this article a few more thimes but its direction is intriguing as are the implications for our recent concerns.

  4. Michael Peterson Says:

    I’ve read Dr. Marshall’s piece several times and am still digesting its content. I find the article especially interesting in light of the work of the “New Perspective on Paul” group (



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