Rolf Jacobson asked me to present during our last session of the Law and Gospel class. I am the teacher’s assistant (TA) and Pat Keifert was out of town, so it made sense that I would do so. The only problem is that, after last week’s session, I felt like I have absolutely nothing to say to this class. I am not a systematic theologian like Pat. I am not a Hebrew Bible scholar like Rolf. Nor am I a seasoned Lutheran pastor like both of them. The reason Pat invited me to “TA” this class is because of the obvious Lutheran deficiencies that surfaced during my dissertation defense.
Something Rolf said during the lecture last week gave me a glimpse of courage, however. The argument of the class has been building upon this assertion that God is pure action and the action of God is the continual speaking all things into being. Last week Rolf added this phrase, “The nature of God’s speaking is narrative.” More specifically, humans understand reality through story, therefore all metaphors for God’s action in the world are understood and expressed in narrative form. Furthermore, all metaphors for Law and Gospel (the subject of this class) must be presented in narrative fashion.
That stoked my courage because it reminded me that, ultimately, I only have one thing to offer to anyone: my story. So, I stood up in front of the class and told my story by drawing out the following chart on the whiteboard.
I presented my journey from fundamentalism, through Evangelicalism, through the Emerging Church conversation, into the ELCA in order to set up a question. One day, a couple years after I had moved to Grace Lutheran, someone from Meadow Creek came up to me in a restaurant and asked, “Do they let you preach the Gospel there?” I stopped and asked the class (after they picked their jaws up off the ground), “How would you have responded to this question?”
We had a lively conversation that ranged from gracious inquiry to snarky rebuttals. Something in the conversation prompted me to go back to the whiteboard and draw “The Bridge” illustration. This is the way I was raised to understand and communicate the Gospel for most of my life. It looks like this:
God created us.
We sinned, and thus are eternally separated from God and cannot bridge the gap on our own.
God loves us so much that God paid the penalty for our sin by sending Jesus to die on the cross. His death bridged the gap between us and God.
All we have to do is say, “Yes” to God’s invitation of salvation and walk across the bridge.
I asked the class how many of them had ever seen this illustration or heard the Gospel put in these terms. More than half of them had never heard it this way.
I was astonished.
This experience helped communicate to them the vast disconnect between the Evangelical world and the Lutheran world. I emphasized that this “bridge” understanding of the Gospel is what Pat means when he writes Sin/Grace on one side of the board and Law/Promise on the other side of the board (see here and here for the class notes). He is describing my theological journey.
I asked the class, “Is this bridge picture Law or Gospel?” I was expecting them to say “Law” because it represents the condition that we accept the gift and must walk across the bridge ourself. Almost in unison, however, they said, “Both.” I must admit that I was taken back a little and didn’t know how to respond. I then proceeded to walk them through the short version of the sermon I preached this weekend on the Law and how both Law and Gospel were present in the Ten Commandments (words of Law and Promise).
I’m not exactly sure how my presentation was received, or what I took away from it. One student emailed me later that day and said he told his wife all about it. She was really interested in the “Baptist” picture of the Gospel, and they wondered if I had a Lutheran picture of the Gospel to present. He ended the email, “That’s your challenge.”
I’m not sure if I have a picture that is succinct like “the Bridge,” but I immediately thought of these two videos that I’ve made in the last couple years as I’ve been wrestling through this theological odyssey. I’m still trying to figure out what is Lutheran, what is Missional, and what is my own interpretation of my entire experience of the Gospel when I create these videos.
What do you think? Are these pictures of the Gospel?