Thursday, October 26, 2006
The Gospel, that is.

The usual metho-bapti-costal misunderstanding of Luke 15 always involves a misunderstanding of vs. 17-20:

When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.

Always **ALWAYS** these verses are interpreted as an example of the younger son's repentance. In fact, this passage is one of the crucial examples used in "Decision Theology". The younger son "comes to his senses" and decides to return to his Father. It's a clear example of the decision we all must make when "come to the Lord," right? Here, for example:

“He came to himself.” He was not himself before. He wasn’t thinking clearly. This parable doesn’t tell the whole story. Because we know that he did not come to himself by himself! Whenever we see a sinner “come to himself,” we know that God is at work in their hearts!

Though not the main point of this parable, these verses contain an excellent model of genuine repentance. He recognized the desperate situation in which he was (v. 17). His confession of sin acknowledged both his earthly and heavenly fathers. All sin effects both other people and is ultimately against God! This must be acknowledged!

The heart repentance of the son resulted in action. Repentance is a change of mind that brings about a change in action! His father saw him while he was still a long ways off. That means he was looking for him! Elaborate on the love of the father shown in his watching and running. He still smelt like the pig pen, but he had repented and was received!

This is a perfect example of what Solarblogger calls GLAWSPEL (gospel undercut by the admixture of law): the Good Pastor puts a veneer around repentance by saying that, "Whenever we see a sinner “come to himself,” we know that God is at work in their hearts!" But he then undercuts this by the next two paragraphs, with the implication that everyhing hinges on the son's confession: "This [effect of sin] must be acknowledged!" So, which is it? Who gets the credit, here? I'm sure the Good Pastor Weaver would say, "Well, of course, God gets the credit. But the sinner still had to DO something!"


Who gets the credit, here? "Well, of course, God gets the credit. But the sinner still had to DO something!"


Who gets the credit, here? "Well, of course, God gets the credit. But the sinner still had to DO something!"


Who gets the credit, here? "Well, of course, God gets the credit. But the sinner still had to DO something!"


You get the idea... So God -- what? -- gives the son a little bit of Grace, and then it's up to the son to act on that it?

"Well, yeah, that sounds about right." [NB - that was a fictional conversation; I'm not trying to put words in anyone's mouth!]

Good. Thanks. For the record, that's what the Roman Catholic Church calls "infused grace" and the Methodists call "prevenient grace." And the Protestant Reformers rejected it as semi-Pelagianism. But I digress...

Does the younger son really "repent" in Luke 15? Perhaps some Lutherans know where I am going with this (I know Solarblogger does). But it's worth repeating even if most of you do, since this passage is associated with the very heart of the Gospel: Justification by Grace Alone through Faith Alone.

What does the younger son say?

"Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men."

We forget, sometimes, that Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, knows every word of the Scriptures by heart: he should, he wrote them. When Jesus uses words, he is never careless. Likewise his audience: they are not careless about HOW they listen. When they hear something familiar, they know that it is being used for a purpose. So, for example, when Jesus (in Mark 12) tells the parable of the wicked tenants, his listeners know that he is quoting Isaiah 5 and expanding on it. Likewise in Luke 15.

To whom is Jesus alluding when he puts those precise words into the son's mouth?

Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, "I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you. Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the LORD your God to take this deadly plague away from me." (Ex 10:16-17)

So, Jesus puts something closely approximating Pharoah's words into the son's mouth. Pharoah was hardly being honest when he said those words. He yet had deceitful machinations in his heart, and this is Jesus's clue to the Pharisees who are listening to Him tell this story. The son is not repenting, he is making plans.

The son has not yet realized that his problems aren't about a lack of money or food. His problem is the broken relationship with his father, and he has no plans to go back and fix that. In fact, he has plans to go back and remain outside of the family: "Make me like one of your servants." He still does not want to be his father's son. He's a conniving, deceitful little prick who just wants food in his belly.

No, folks, this is not repentance. It is anti-repentance: he was "in control" when he left his Father's house, and he plans on being "in control" when he returns.

The moment of repentance is the blank space between verse 21 and verse 22: when he stops talking, stops doing, and passively accepts what his Father does for him.

"Ah! SEE! He stopped talking! So he did DO something."
Wrong. Look closely at the text:

The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

Notice that the Father completely ignores the carefully prepared speech. The son is talking, but the Father turns around and starts talking to the servants.

Grace will not even allow deceit to finish its sentence. Repentance is not active; it is passive.

Some readers may recognize the exposition here as coming from Kenneth E. Bailey's various works on Luke 15. See here, here, here and here.
posted by Kepler at 14:46 |


At 10/26/2006 07:57:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Weaver

Kudos on your desire that God get all of the glory in salvation! That should be everyone's desire.

However, I'm afraid you confuse God's initial monergistic work of regeneration and the synergistic response of man to God.

If you happened to have read any more of my Pastor's blog, you would recognize that he is completely monergistic in his view of God's work of regeneration and justification. But at the moment of regeneration, salvation becomes synergistic. Man responds to God in faith and repentance, not by his own power, but by the ability given him by God the Holy Spirit.

This is not infused grace as in Roman Catholic theology, as you intimated.

The difference in the Catholic and Reformed views of justification and sanctification, very simply put, is this,
1. Roman Catholics see their justification as resultant of their sanctification.
2. Reformed churches see their justification as a declarative work of God based upon faith in Christ. One of your own poets is often quoted as having said, "Justification is by faith alone." :-)

It is also not prevenient grace as in Arminian, and to a little lesser extent, semi-pelagian theology. The differences in these theologies and the Reformed view is this,
1. According to 'Arminians' everyone has the ability to believe. This ability is given freely by the grace of God to all without exception.
2. The Reformed view is that God has in eternity past chosen all those whom He would call to faith and repentance in Christ. Though the outward Gospel call goes out to all men (at least in theory), only the special inward call of the Spirit goes to the elect. "Many are called, but few are chosen."

Now to say that repentance is passive, as you did, is to say that man is not required to actively turn from sin and trust in Christ. The Apostle Paul tells us differently.
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."(Act 17:30-31)

Does this then mean that Pelagius was right? That God would never command of His creatures what they were not capable of? Augustine's prayer that sparked the debate was this, "Oh Lord, give what you command, and command whatever you will." Augustine was not saying that God works alone through man, but that God grants to whoever He wills the ability to keep His commands. Otherwise, Augustine would contradict himself when he speaks of the four states of man, specifically, the state of the reborn man, whom he says is both 'able to sin' and 'able not to sin'.
So when we come to the command to repent we understand that all are commanded to repent, and yet only such as are reborn by the Spirit of God actually have the ability to obey that command.

Your points, however, on the timing of repentance in this passage are well taken. I'm not saying I agree or disagree, but see room for disagreement in that particular area.

Jeremy Weaver


At 10/27/2006 10:08:00 AM, Blogger Kepler

Thanks for responding. If I may be so bold, however, I suggest that your response doesn’t actually deal with the issue. By and large, you responded to my last line: “Repentance is not active; it is passive.” But you didn’t deal with the exegesis that got me to that conclusion. You dismissed it as something about which there is “room for disagreement.” To my mind, you have unwittingly just said, “We can disagree about the nature of the Gospel.”

I respectfully disagree that we can disagree. I would also reiterate what I said at the very end of the post, to wit, this exposition comes from the work of Kenneth Bailey. Bailey (although trained at a Lutheran seminary) is a Presbyterian minister. So you (who, if I gather correctly from your comment, are Reformed) are disagreeing with another Reformed minister.

So, going back to the text, let me ask you this: what does the text say that the younger son contributed to the restoration of the relationship?




At 10/27/2006 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Weaver


How do you get, “We can disagree about the nature of the Gospel.”, from this, "Your points, however, on the timing of repentance in this passage are well taken. I'm not saying I agree or disagree, but see room for disagreement in that particular area."

Please don't put words in my mouth.

I am saying that whether the son repented in the pigpen or in the embrace of his father cannot support your conclusiion that, "Repentance is not active; it is passive."

Take the context not only of this parable, not only of the book of Luke, but of the whole testimony of Scripture. Where is repentance ever described as being passive? Rather, it is described as a command to obey.

I am sure that we agree that it is God who grants repentance by His grace as with all Christian graces, but does this mean that our Christian live is to be lived passively? Certainly not. Active faith and active obedience are the fruit of God's active grace in our lives.
Repentance is the active response of the regenerated heart. To suggest otherwise is to deny any human responsiblity of obedience to God.

So I don't think that we actually disagree as to the nature of the Gospel. Justification is by grace alone through faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone. It carries with it repentance and good works. Justifiaction is not based upon those, but rather, they flow from the spring of justification.


At 10/27/2006 01:53:00 PM, Blogger Kepler

Pastor Weaver,

I was not trying to put words in your mouth. The sequence of events in the parable is not unimportant. Putting the son's repentence in the far-off land undermines what Jesus is saying about who is in control of the relationship between Father and son. You say that "God is at work in [his] heart", but where is your textual evidence that this happens in the far-off land? Yes, God is at work in the son's heart, but not until the son sees his Father running out to him.

(And, lest anyone think otherwise, it's not a matter of location. In other words, we don't get to think, "Well God is at work in his heart because first the son came close to the Father." Wrong. The earlier episodes of the parable put that to rest. In episode 1, the Shepherd finds the sheep while it is wandering away; in episode 2, the woman finds the coin where it sitting still, and in episode 3, the Father finds the son while he is coming towards. Grace can find us in any location or direction.)

Repentence comprises two things: (a) the recognition of one's sins, and (b) the reception by faith of God's forgiveness. (For the Lutherans reading this, see Article XII of the Apology). In our fallen state, we are incapable of doing either of these. By Grace and through faith both can be done. (Note my shift from the active verb to the passive.)

Jesus himself puts the kibosh on anyone thinking that the son repents in the far-off land by putting Pharoah's words into his mouth. We all know Pharoah wasn't repenting, and this is Jesus's clue that the son is not either. Pharoah got crafty and got killed. The son deserves the same.

The repentence concludes in the son's realization that the Father is not even listening to his excuses. The Father has -- at that moment -- the absolute and unmitigated right to kill his son right there on the spot. The son had insulted the father by wishing him dead and then squandered his share of the family fortune. No one in the village would have faulted the father for killing the son...indeed, they most likely expected it. The moment the Father interrupts, the Pharisees listeing to Jesus know they're in for it. According to Moses (who they've been throwing in Jesus's face throughout His ministry) such a rebellious son ought to be stoned. But the Pharisees see where Jesus is going: just as the Shepherd found the sheep, just as the woman found the coin, the Father is going to find the son.

The son knows it, too. He sees his Father running (which is theologically significant) from a long way away, and probably thinks to himself, "Uh-Oh!" The son thinks judgement is approaching, but it's not. It is Grace. He gets the hug, he gets the kiss. And then he says the first words which he had planned to say. Somewhere in between the point when his Father starts running towards him and when his Father kisses him, he experiences the terror of what his actions have wrought.

He did not, however, work that terror up himself. His approaching Father -- whose face he could not yet see -- was what wrought the terror in him. When we see a bloody body on a cross, it excites horror and revulsion in us. The knoweldge that that brutality belonged to us is overwhelming. But it's not until we approach the Cross - trembling - that we here His voice say, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." Those words can't be heard from a distance, just like the son can't see the Father's face of joy from a distance.

The son receives the forgiveness his Father offers quietly and meekly: he never says another word. He passively sees the approaching judgement, and passively receives the forgiveness.

Fruits are not an ingredient of repentance. Fruits follow.


At 10/27/2006 06:38:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Weaver

I'm sorry for the confusion, but I'm not Pastor Weaver. Pastor Steve Weaver is my brother and my Pastor and should be held in no way responsible for my comments here.

But I think we're talking past each other here and neither of us is gaining any ground so I think it's best we call it quits, besides, I've got a busy weekend and if I don't get everything done that needs to be done by next Friday, I can't take my long overdue vacation.:-)

May God bless you and cause His glory to shine upon in you in the face of Christ.

Jeremy Weaver


At 10/27/2006 10:01:00 PM, Blogger Kepler

Well, look at that. That'll teach me to just look at the last name!

Pax Christi tibi,



At 11/02/2006 05:41:00 PM, Blogger The Orthodox Lutheran

You are correct, and think what many miss in this story, is that, like you said, the son had made plans about his return, but it is the "father" that sees his son afar off and runs after him and embraces him and kisses him. The son did not do that, the father did. And notice that Jesus has the father outside waiting and looking for his son.



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