Kolb, Robert & Charles P. Arand. The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.
Chapter 6 “The Functions of the Word” pp. 131-159.
Kolb and Arand note the central role of God’s Word in Luther’s theology. His discussion of God’s Word is informed by “his education, his engagement with the biblical text, and his personal experience” (Kolb & Arand 2008, 131). While Luther rejected the idea of God’s Word as an almost magical formula, he also admitted that God uses the material world in his work of redemption (Kolb & Arand 2008, 133). Jesus, God’s Word in flesh, was the final revelation of God’s mercy and was described definitively in the Scripture, God’s own Word (Kolb & Arand 2008, 135).
When God speaks, He accomplishes his will. Luther saw evidence of this in the creative work of God (Kolb & Arand 2008, 135). Luther also saw redemption and an opening of communication with humans accomplished through God’s Word (Kolb & Arand 2008, 137). Kolb and Arand contrast this idea with concepts of an impersonal God revealed only through creation. The breaking of communication with God is at the heart of our problems with sin, as in that denial of God’s Word we finally create another god (Kolb & Arand 2008, 139). Counter to this idea, Luther asserted that one role of God’s Word is to create faith (Kolb & Arand 2008, 140). This is a relationship in which trust can thrive and grow, as we recognize God’s work at the center of our life (Kolb & Arand 2008, 142). As God’s Word invades our lives, we also see that God is revealed, even as we are sometimes protected from too clear a sight of the Almighty (Kolb & Arand 2008, 144). Luther would speak not only of the God who is hidden in his incomprehensible power, but also of God revealed in Jesus (Kolb & Arand 2008, 144). Kolb and Arand do acknowledge that the idea of our need for a revealed God is offensive to us, but, regardless, it is the biblical picture (Kolb & Arand 2008, 146).
Kolb and Arand continue by identifying three questions which we ask in life. The problem of the existence of evil, of requiring people to turn to God when unable in themselves, and the way we can rightly identify God’s righteousness all must be dealt with, and are dealt with in the incarnation of Christ (Kolb & Arand 2008, 147). This revelation of Jesus, God’s Word, is what kills sin and brings sinners to life (Kolb & Arand 2008, 148). Through his Law God shows his values and desires, drawing boundaries for life (Kolb & Arand 2008, 149). The good of God’s law points out the troubles we find through disobedience (Kolb & Arand 2008, 150). The law, according to Luther, does this in two basic ways. First, it can govern us in our social and political relationships with our neighbors (Kolb & Arand 2008, 151). Second, it can show us what our sinful actions and attitudes are (Kolb & Arand 2008, 152).
Counter to the Law, or more likely, working as a complement, the Gospel delivers life to sinners, making them a new creation in Christ (Kolb & Arand 2008, 153). This is the only function of the Gospel, though it does have side effects on our relationships with others in our world (Kolb & Arand 2008, 154). The heart of the Gospel is a restoration of a positive relationship between God and man, regardless of the struggle with sin continuing in human lives (Kolb & Arand 2008, 155). Kolb and Arand thus return to the idea of God’s Law as a revelation of the way to live out our relationship with God (Kolb & Arand 2008, 157). In the end, it is still God’s Word at work, convicting of sin, rescuing from death, and guiding the new life.