- Lex Aeterna: A Defense of the Orthodox Lutheran Doctrine of God's Law and Critique of Gerhard Forde by Jordan Cooper
Jordan Cooper seeks to defend what he regards as the traditional Lutheran doctrine of the law against the teachings of the late Gerhard Forde. As with any theologian, many areas of Forde's theology are vulnerable to criticism. Nevertheless, this study significantly misses the mark of engaging in a meaningful critique of Forde's work. The author appears to lack the necessary background in modern theology, philosophy, and Luther studies to be able to understand Forde's concerns or his doctrinal formulations. As a result, he frequently misinterprets Forde's work, or often draws false conclusions from his statements.
Although space considerations preclude a comprehensive critique, it is important to highlight central methodological flaws in Cooper's volume. Cooper begins his work by suggesting that Forde's theology has essentially two fundamental problems. First, because Forde views the law in primarily existential terms, this eliminates the possibility that the law can serve as an objective basis of moral formation within the church. Second, Forde's teaching on the law does not accord with what Cooper deems "Orthodox" Lutheran teaching, which he finds primarily in the Formula of Concord and in Lutheran [End Page 209] scholastic authors such as John Gerhard and Martin Chemnitz, as well as later repristinating theologians such as Francis Pieper.
Although theologically conservative Lutherans standing in the tradition of old Synodical Conference (including the author of this review) will undoubtedly be sympathetic, Cooper's execution of this argument is highly problematic. While Cooper is correct to note a conflict between the Formula of Concord, Lutheran Scholasticism, and Forde's teachings on the law, he gives no reason why Forde is wrong in rejecting their authority. Indeed, in many of his writings, Forde quite explicitly affirmed that his position on the law differed from the tradition of Scholastic Orthodoxy. Nevertheless, it is likely that he would respond to Cooper's criticisms by saying that these sources betrayed the legacy of Luther and the earlier Lutheran confessional writings. Cooper presents little evidence that might counter such a response. For example, he makes no effort to show continuity between Luther and later traditions of Scholastic Orthodoxy. Indeed, it is interesting to note that none of Luther's works appears in the bibliography.
Regarding Forde's view of the law in primarily existential terms, Cooper generally seems to fail to appreciate Forde's inclusion of specific commandments within the larger reality of God's accusing and threatening activity within the old creation (i.e., Forde's definition of the law). Although Forde might be criticized for overemphasizing the existential nature of the law, one cannot accuse him of holding the belief that the law possesses no instructional aspect or specific content in the manner that Cooper repeatedly does. Moreover, although it indeed may be the case that Forde formulates the role of the church in the moral formation of its members in an inadequate way, Cooper fails to marshal appropriate evidence for this assertion. One possible source of evidence for Cooper's claim might be Forde's essay on the Christian life in Christian Dogmatics (edited by Robert Jenson and Carl Braaten, 1984). Cooper does not engage this essay at any length. Ultimately, Cooper mentions the text only once and decries what he regards as Forde's exaggerated emphasis on the doctrine of justification in the Christian life.
In opposition to Forde's model of sanctification as getting used to the new relationship with God established by justification, Cooper [End Page 210] follows Joel Biermann of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in affirming Aristotelian virtue ethics as an alternative model. For Cooper, virtue ethics are not merely understood as a means of training in civil righteousness (as with Lutheran Reformers), but as an instrument of actualizing sanctification. Although Cooper's language is sometimes confusing, it would seem that he holds that sanctification represents a potency that must be actualized...