n HTS : Theological Studies - Wet en evangelie - original research

Volume 74 Number 4
  • ISSN : 0259-9422
  • E-ISSN: 2072-8050



The gospel is not a new law. A clear distinction must be made between law and gospel, so that the gospel is not mistakenly understood as a new law, but as the gospel (the good news). The relationship between law and gospel must be considered carefully. Two prominent theologians, Martin Luther and Karl Barth, did just that, but in opposition to one another. This article describes and compares their respective views. Barth defends a political use of the gospel. The gospel provides believers with action instructions for the civilian life. Barth argues in terms of analogical thinking and, according to him, believers’ understanding of reality is determined by their understanding of Christ. Luther, on the other hand, believes that the preaching of Christ and the life experience are in contrast. Faith and life are not identical. He understands the believer as the hearer of the gospel – as passive recipient of the grace of God. The passivity here, however, is a highly creative one. The relevance for us of the theological position defended regarding law and gospel is evident from the document ‘Association of the World Communion of Reformed Churches with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’. The spirit of the document is clearly Barthian. Fundamental theological differences are on the table with the Lutheran position and there is no question of real consensus. Intensive study and frank ecumenical conversation is required to seek real consensus for the sake of a clear Christian testimony in the world.

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