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 4 “The Subversion of Our Human Identity” pp. 77-100.
Kolb and Arand see Luther’s distinction between passive and active righteousness as essential to the reformational restoration of the human identity (Kolb & Arand 2008, 78). In effect, we must do active righteous deeds on earth but remember that they have no merit for our standing before God. The fall into sin makes us want our works to justify us (Kolb & Arand 2008, 79). This desire extends to our view of all that is good. We want to be the movers of our security (Kolb & Arand 2008, 80). This is called by Luther a “theology of glory.” Kolb and Arand identify a number of ways these theologies deny God’s nature and relationships with humans (Kolb & Arand 2008, 81-82). In the end we make God answerable to us rather than submitting ourselves to God. In effect, we create an alternate god (Kolb & Arand 2008, 83). A postmodern Western view of God makes him very “nice” rather than demanding (Kolb & Arand 2008, 85). Kolb and Arand relate this also to a neo-Gnostic belief that we all tap into the cosmic power we think of as God (Kolb & Arand 2008, 86). All these tendencies lead to our ability to do what we find pleasing, a route which Luther sees as leading to destruction (Kolb & Arand 2008, 89). Either God’s law will judge us for our failure or we will set up some other standard (Kolb & Arand 2008, 90). This other standard is intrinsically created and evaluated. We look only to ourselves, rather than God (Kolb & Arand 2008, 91).
Luther’s solution to all these problems was not mere reform, but it was rebirth. Without divine regeneration we are left only to try harder and fail again (Kolb & Arand 2008, 94). Luther here captured the idea that sin had completely destroyed us, not merely hampered us (Kolb & Arand 2008, 95). It is not through our behavior, but through our daily repentance and belief that we are the recipients of God’s mercy (Kolb & Arand 2008, 98).