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20 October 2006
  Law, Life, and the Living God

Originally posted at Necessary Roughness. Comments will be fielded there.

I bought Law, Life, and the Living God: The Third Use of the Law in Modern American Lutheranism by Pastor Scott Murray in part to thank him and Memorial Lutheran Church in Houston for allowing me to join them for Christian Education Nights, worship, and private confession.

I got a book that in the beginning seems intimidating to most laymen with its extensive use of Latin religious and logical constructs as well as some Greek and German thrown in for good measure. As the book moves on and more people in this history book speak English, it becomes more readable, and the reader gets a good sense of the nature of some of the rift between the ELCA and the LCMS. It explains why the "Winking Luther" material I evaluated last year neglected to mention the third use of the Law.

Law, Life, and the Living God was written as Pastor Murray's Ph. D. dissertation in 1998. He begins with an introduction to the third use of the Law, and why it's worth study. The Law in classical Reformation theology has three purposes: first, to civilly restrain and prevent gross evil, such as people murdering or stealing from each other; second, to show us that we are sinful and in need of Christ's atoning death and resurrection; and third, to instruct us in the good deeds to be done when Christians desire to do good. The third use isn't taught in some schools of thought and has been debated since the 1940s.

The author divides the nearly 50 years between World War II and the then-present into three periods: 1940-1960, 1961-1976, and 1977-1998. The first period covers then-contemporary Luther studies that suggested that Martin Luther never specified a third use and that it only showed up in the Formula of Concord. The second period is a time of extreme disagreement, and the most recent period is a search for balance. Murray studies the effect of this on three groups: theologians at Valparaiso University, theologians of the old ALC and LCA groups that merge into the ELCA, and theologians of the Missouri Synod.

After reading this book I am thankful for the theological heritage bequeathed me, and I have hope for those in the ELCA who are rediscovering the role of scriptural prescription in the life of everyday Christians. I have additional respect for those who defend the faith against both legalism and antinomianism.

Pastor Murray's paper was written for theologians and academics, and I restrain my recommendation of this work to that crowd and to the occasional student of church and history. It is a well researched and well annotated book that serves its audience well.

The book is superb. It clearly differentiates between the Third Use confessed by the Formula of Concord and the one confessed by Calvin and the Protestants. THe Third Use it elucidates is evangelical, in the best sense of the word.

One word of caution, though: some who use a Two Use model of the Law do indeed teach something equivalent to the Third Use. They merely describe it as the dynamic of the first two Uses, rather than a Use in its own right.
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