Gerhard Forde


Gerhard O. Forde (September 10, 1927 – August 9, 2005) was an influential Lutheran theologian. He was a teacher and a lecturer at many colleges and seminaries, including St. Olaf College, Luther Seminary, and Luther College. His magnum opus is On Being A Theologian Of The Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. He is also known as coining the phrase “Radical Lutheran.” Some of his other works include:

– Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life
– Where God Meets Man
– On Being a Theologian of the Cross
– The Captivation of the Will
– …and my personal favorite Theology is for Proclamation

In my opinion, Gerhard Forde is the most influential modern Lutheran theologian I’ve ever read. This page is meant to capture some of the best quotes I and many others have gathered from reading his many works. Enjoy!


“We stand at a crossroads. Either we must become more radical about the gospel, or we would be better off to forget it altogether.” – Gerhard Forde (Radical Lutheranism Essay)

“The law does not end sin, does not make new beings, it only makes matters worse. Where the old continuity is maintained, sin does not end. No matter how much religious pressure is applied, sin only grows. But, Paul has the audacity to say where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. But this is disaster for the old and its thinking. For then, it seems, the floodgates of iniquity are opened! Shall we not sin the more that grace may abound? Here we arrive at the crucial point. Here the pious old Adam can only recoil in horror from the thought of unconditional grace and try to protect the continuity of the old self by making compromises: some fateful mixture of grace and law, a little bit of human cooperation, perhaps the addition of a third use of the law, some heavy breathing about sanctification, and so on. But the radical gospel will have none of that. Shall we sin the more that grace may abound? By no means! Why? For you have died and how can you who have died to sin still live in it? The reason why abounding grace does not lead to sin lies in the fact that in its radicality it puts an end to the old, not in some species of compromise with the old. Furthermore, we miss the radicality of that if we do not see that this death is announced as accomplished fact: you have died. The death is not something yet to be done, one last act of spiritual suicide for “free choice.” If Jesus died for all, then all have died (2 Cor 5:14).” – Gerhard Forde (Radical Lutheranism Essay)

“A radical Lutheranism would be one which regains the courage and the nerve to preach the gospel unconditionally; simply let the bird of the Spirit fly! There is too much timidity, too much worry that the gospel is going to harm someone, too much of a tendency to buffer the message to bring it under control. It is essential to see that everything hangs in the balance here. Faith comes by hearing. Will the old persist? Will we understand ourselves to be continuously existing subjects called upon to exercise our evanescent modicum of free choice to carve out some sort of eternal destiny for ourselves? That depends. It depends on whether someone has the courage to announce to us, “You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God!” – Gerhard Forde (Radical Lutheranism Essay)

“Where can there be more sanctification than where God is revered as the only Holy One? But God can be revered as the Holy One only where the sinner, the real sinner, stands still at the place where God enters the scene. That is the place where the sinner must realize that his or her own way is at an end. Only those who stand still, who know that they are sinners and that Christ is for them, only they give God the glory. Only they are ‘sanctified.'” – Gerhard Forde (Forensic Justification and the Christian Life)

“Theology is the happy science concerned with the task of pointing to him whose yoke is easy, whose burden is light.” – Gerhard Forde

“The ‘progress” of the Christian, therefore, is the progress of one who has constantly to get used to the fact that we are justified totally by faith, constantly has somehow to ‘recover,’ so to speak, from that death blow to pride and presumption – or better, is constantly being raised from tomb of all pious ambition to something quite new. The believer has to be renewed daily in that. The Old Being is to be daily drowned in repentance and raised in faith. The progress of the Christian life is not our movement toward the goal; it is the movement of the goal in upon us.” – Gerhard Forde (Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life)

“Writing a book on Luther’s Bondage of the Will is a foolhardy business – not because the arguments are so hard to understand but rather because they are so difficult for sinners to take.” (The Captivation of the Will)

“We would do well to take our cue for preaching from what we do in the sacraments: We do something. we wash people. We give Christ to them.” – Gerhard Forde (Preaching the Sacraments)

“In the sacraments, we do not just explain Christ or the gospel, or describe faith, or give instructions about how to get salvation, or whatever (though we may well do all of that), we just give it, do it, flat out, unconditionally.” – Gerhard Forde (Preaching the Sacraments)

“When the sola gratia (grace alone) does not seem to work to our satisfaction, the temptation is always to retreat and make it not quite sola. When we get nervous about ‘ cheap grace’ the remedy seems to be to make it at least a little expensive – bargain basement, maybe, but at least not cheap. But then the battle is lost. When confronted by the perpetual crisis of God’s liberality we must simply forge right ahead and become even more radical about the sola. Grace is indeed not cheap. It is free!” – Gerhard Forde (Preaching the Sacraments)

“In preaching, all the questions must be countered relentlessly by the divine yes. Is baptism enough? Yes! It works forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Live in that and hear it again each day. Believe that it is enough and that is certainly enough! Would it have all that significance even if I were only a baby and did not know what was going on? Yes, because it was God who spoke that yes over you. God is God. What about my response? Are you saying that I do not even have to respond? Now that, of course is the trickiest question of all in the old Adam’s arsenal. It too can only be countered ultimately in what is perhaps an equally tricky yes.” – Gerhard Forde (Preaching the Sacraments)

“Actual absolution has, of course, always been considered a dangerous business. When Jesus absolved the paralytic, we are told, the crowds ‘were afraid, and glorified God who had given such power to men.’ It has always seemed presumptuous for humans to claim such power, and dangerous to use it, and certainly to use it too indiscriminately. So it would seem, the church has always found it necessary to bring the danger under control. To use an image from atom physics, they have always tried to put rods in the reactor to get some kind of controlled energy flow, one that they could control, that is, rather than have it blow all at once. If it were to do that, it might just make things new.” – Gerhard Forde (Justification is for Preaching)

“To be a Christian is to live under the sign of him who ‘came from heaven down to earth,’ to live under the sign of his cross and resurrection, and thus to wait hopefully, patiently, on this earth by making it a better place and to challenge the world, through one’s vocation and the church to do the same.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“Christ’s work is an remains always an act in which we are involved and implicated, which cannot be translated into convenient and quiescent ideas. Indeed, the fatal flaw in most thinking about the atoning work of Christ is the tendency to look away from the actual events, translate them into ‘eternal truths,’ and thus to ignore or obscure what actually happened an our part in it. We interpret Christ’s death as though it were an idea, a necessary part of a logical scheme of some sort, as though God were tied to a scheme of honor or justice making him the obstacle to our reconciliation. We exonerate ourselves, so to speak, by blaming the necessity for the cross on God.” – Gerhard Forde (Caught in the Act)

“Why could not God just up and forgive? Let us start there. If we look at the narrative about Jesus, the actual events themselves, the ‘brute facts’ as they have come down to us, the answer is quite simple. He did! Jesus came preaching repentance and forgiveness, declaring the bounty and mercy of his ‘father.’ The problem, however, is that we could not buy that. And so we killed him. And just so we are caught in the act. Every mouth is stopped once and for all. All the pious talk about our yearning and desire for reconciliation and forgiveness, etc, all our complaint against God is simply shut up. He came to forgive and we killed him for it; we would not have it. It is as simple as that.” – (Caught in the Act)

“Certainly if the death of Jesus is to have any point for us at all, we must start from the realization that we – all of us – did it and in countless subtle and not so subtle ways continue to do it. We are united in that, at least! The universal significance of the death of Jesus has its roots first of all in the fact that he is universally rejected and killed by us, not in a theory about how his death is of infinite worth or universally ‘satisfying.'” – Gerhard Forde (Caught in the Act)

“God is not the obstacle to reconciliation, we are. Those who advocated the ‘subjective’ view of the atonement were at least right in that, I expect. God is, indeed, sheer unconditional love. They were wrong, however, in thinking that we would in any way be open to one who actually came to do that among us.” – Gerhard Forde (Caught in the Act)

“God’s ‘problem’ is not that he can’t be merciful until he has been satisfied but rather that we won’t be satisfied until he succeeds in actually having mercy on whom he will have mercy. God, that is, won’t be satisfied until he succeeds in actually giving the concrete, unconditional forgiving he intends. As we can see from Jesus, God’s problem is how actually to have mercy on a world which will not have it. The question for God is whether he can really succeed in getting through to a people which likes the idea of forgiveness but doesn’t want an actual forgiver, a world which turns everything God purposes to do into a theory with which to protect itself from him. God’s problem is just how actually to have mercy, how to get through to us.” – Gerhard Forde (Caught in the Act)

“It is the dirtiest trick in the theological arsenal to be everlastingly explaining that justification, faith, and grace are free gifts, but never getting around to giving them: never, that is, moving from explanation to proclamation, never taking the risk of actually preaching! The gift is explained but never given. Proclamation means finally to stop talking about it, and actually to give it. It means not talking about God, but speaking for God.” – Gerhard Forde (The Preached God)

“Eschatology…is more the story not so much of how we shall fare in the future cataclysmic end, but how the future will come to us in Jesus, how the end and the new beginning breaks in upon us in Jesus’ life and deeds among us, especially in his death and resurrection. Here, the end comes to meet us.” – Gerhard Forde (The Apocalyptic No and the Eschatological Yes)

“It is too much for the old age to take. An unconditional gospel-promise will always be suspected of fostering all sorts of theological and ethical mayhem: quietism, formlessness, antinomianism, cheap grace, social irresponsibility, and moral laxity. The ills of the modern world sooner or later will be blamed on the gospel – or some distorted form of it.” – (The Apocalyptic No and the Eschatological Yes)

“There is nothing to do but to stick to the proclamation in all boldness so that troubled consciences may be rescued from the fire.” – Gerhard Forde (The Apocalyptic No and the Eschatological Yes)

“If people are not complaining about your mistreatment of the law and all that, you probably are not preaching the gospel! The biggest mistake we are likely to make is to think that we are going to remedy things by imposing more law.” – Gerhard Forde (The Apocalyptic No and the Eschatological Yes)

“We must fix our attention on the revealed God. It is what he has actually done that is important because that is the revelation of his will, the opening up of his heart ‘for you’ here on earth.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“After all, it is true that we must all seek to make some kind of progress in the Christian life. The difficulty with the idea of the ladder, however, is that it tends to send us off in the wrong direction. It tends to make us concerned with works of pious sublimation; it involves us in the task of ascending to heaven when we should be seeking like our Lord to come down to earth, to learn what it means to be a Christian here on this earth.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“He [Luther] was attacking a way of thinking which is kind of universal disease of mankind: the very idea that the law is a ladder and that God is one who can be bargained with or obligated to “pay off” according to such schemes.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“We must come down to earth. We must learn to think and speak about the gospel, as far as that is possible, within the limits of what we actually know, within the limits of what actually happens to Jesus here on earth and to us when we are confronted by the story of Jesus.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“Ever since the time of the Reformation, people have been trying to remodel God. Mostly they have done this because they did not like and could not cope with an Almighty God. Pietists reduced God to a mere offerer of salvation, as though he were holding out a piece of cake which one was to make one’s ‘decision’ for or against. Liberals made God over into the kindly old man who was the embodiment of a love which was little more than sentimentality and left man to a ‘freedom’ which was only bondage to bourgeois morality. Today the God-remodelers are a dime a dozen. Everyone, it seems, wants to do God the favor of making him less objectionable. Some say He is not absolute or omnipotent yet, but is perhaps in the process of becoming so. Some say he is not infinite, but finite. Some even say he has obliged us all by dying! …The thing to do if you became worried about God’s almightiness was not to do God over, but to go to the cross, to the Word, and the sacraments to discover what this almightiness has accomplished and will accomplish. His [Luther] theology was built on the recognition that God alone can solve and has solved the problem of his own almightiness. Human attempts to do so are nonsense.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“The point in saying that God is hidden is to lead us to recognize that this is exactly the way God intends it to be. He does not want to be known as he is ‘in heaven,’ in mere ‘amightiness’ or even merely as ‘the God of predestination.’ He wants to be known as the God in the manger or at his mother’s breasts, the God who suffered and died and rose again. His almightiness, his changeability, the threat of predestination – all these things are ‘masks’ which God wears, so to speak, to drive us to look elsewhere, to look away from heaven and down to earth, to the manger and the cross, to preaching and the sacraments. For the point is that God simply does not want to be known and will not be known on any other level. He hides himself behind a mask which is intended to drive man away in fear to a place where he, as revealed God, wants to be known.” – Gerhard Forde  (Where God Meets Man)

“How does the event of the cross and resurrection bring something new? To see this we must first go back to our idea of the law as a voice, the concrete and actual voice which confronts us wherever we turn in this life. The law in this sense is not a ladder to heaven, but a closed circle, an impenetrable wall around our existence. It does not offer us a way out but tells rather the opposite: No Exit. And this is punctuated in the end by the inexorable fact of death. What does the theology of the cross say to this? It says that Christ came into this closed circle of law and death. He was born ‘under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.’ And how does he bring about this redemption? Only by dying and being raised again. He does not come to bring more law. He does not come saying, ‘Come on now people, be nice!’ He does not fit into any of our known schemes of meaning, our ‘laws.’ That is why, in the end, he must die. At any rate, he comes only to die. Luther taught this when he said that God reveals himself in Christ under the form of opposites – exactly the opposite from what we, with our systems, would expect. He comes in lowliness and humility and dies the death of a criminal. He does not buy off God, he simply dies. He is beaten, spit upon, ridiculed, nailed to the cross and killed. He suffers the total and ultimately meaningless destruction that is death. In the end he cries ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ and enters the dark nowhere of death.” – Gerhard Forde  (Where God Meets Man)

“Through the cross and resurrection, God reveals and works his will in us. He does not leave us as spectators: he invades our lives, puts an end to the old, raises up the new. In this event, the voice of the law ends. For when the old Adam is put to death, then we are raised in Christ, and in Christ the voice is stopped. As we are in Christ, the law can have no further hold. It has nothing more to say.” – Gerhard Forde  (Where God Meets Man)

“The death and resurrection of Christ leads not merely to a doctrine about atonement, but to an actual accomplishment of atonement.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“Once again, only the God who comes down to earth can really help us. Only the one who dies the death that we must die and yet is not conquered by it can save us. Anything else – however pious or Orthodox it sounds – is useless and vain.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“Sanctification is the art of getting used to justification. There is a kind of growth and progress, it is to be hoped, but it is growth in “grace” a growth in coming to be captivated more and more, if we can so speak, by the totality, the unconditionality of the grace of God. It is a matter of getting used to the fact that if we are to be saved it will have to be by grace alone. We should make no mistake about it: sin is to be conquered and expelled. But if we see that sin is the total state of standing against the unconditional grace and goodness of God, if sin is our very incredulity, unbelief, mistrust, our insistence on falling back on our self and maintaining control, then it is only through the total grace of God that sin comes under attack, and only through faith in that total grace that sin is defeated. To repeat: sin is not defeated by a repair job, but by dying and being raised new.” – Gerhard Forde (Sanctification)

“Pride is the deadliest of sins – especially when it thinks itself to be busy with religious affairs. It is a call which completely disregards the fact that it was man’s moral pride and religious fervor that killed God’s Son.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“He [Luther] was striving for the whole man, for a completely restored man, for an entirely free man; we have bargained only for little bits – a little bit of freedom, a little bit of integrity, a little bit of left-over created goodness. And we get, in such matters, just what we bargained for: a Christianity of ‘little bits’ – a little bit of freedom but mostly bondage to legalistic codes; a little bit of devotion but mostly a despising of life and human achievement; a little bit in the collection plate but mostly nothing for the larger concerns of human justice and social improvement. Our Christianity is an indication of our theology. We insist on a little bit of freedom and integrity that is all we ever get – and it shows!” –  Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“The old and the new are total states. The question for man is whether he is claimed by one or the other – not just a ‘little bit’ but totally. To be sure, in this life the old always clings to us, but the question is whether we allow it to claim us, whether we allow it to control our thinking and indeed our very lives and seduce us to sell out for the ‘little bits.’ Luther believed that faith was the advent of the new and that this new was the movement of God into one’s life bringing total salvation and total freedom. Faith, as he put it, is man’s justification – totally, and the Christian life is understood not in terms of some scheme of progress, but in terms of death and resurrection – being reclaimed by the totally new each day.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“According to the biblical picture the temptation is not for man to lower himself, but rather just the opposite. The temptation is to become like God. Man’s temptation is to reach for something that does not belong to him: that heavenly perfection that beckons him to leave the earth for some spiritual paradise. The temptation is for man to refuse his creaturehood, to refuse his humanity, to refuse to take care of the earth and to become a God. That, as St. Augustine rightly saw, is the essence of sin: pride. Sin is located not primarily in the body, but rather precisely in our spiritual pretensions and ambitions. It is our god-like aspiration that destroy our life and seduce us to make life miserable for our fellow man.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“As a creature man is to live, therefore, solely by faith. He is to trust God for the final outcome of things. He lives day by day, awaiting  each day the new revelation of God’s will, not knowing necessarily how it will all end. He simply trusts God perfectly. That is his righteousness. He lives by faith, without fear, without anxiety.” – Gerhard Forde  (Where God Meets Man)

“The fall of man is therefore a fall from faith. What happens is that man succumbs to the temptation to overreach himself, to mess about in those things which are ‘above’ him. He loses his trust in God and tries to take his fate in his own hands. He denies his creaturehood and his humanity and attempts to take up the mantle of God. Of course it is monstrous. How can he do it? And what sense does it make – parading about as an imposter among those things which are ‘above’ him, those things over which he has absolutely no control to begin with? He succeeds only in unleashing the voices which accuse and enslave him. He betrays creation and creation betrays him. Instead of being at peace, he lives in perpetual fear, anxiety, and dread. He no longer lives in the image of God. Adam becomes ‘the old Adam’ and his end is death.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“The grace of God is a power strong enough to make and keep us human. It does this because it makes us give up our attempts to be gods, our attempts to control our own fate and enables us to wait as creatures of this earth in faith and hope for what God has in mind for the future.” – Gerhard Forde  (Where God Meets Man)

“When by grace man is relieved of the burden of climbing to heaven, he gets this earth back as a gift.” – Gerhard Forde  (Where God Meets Man)

“Luther’s theology is often criticized for two things: on the one hand for too much bondage-for saying that man’s will is absolutely bound -and on the other hand for too much freedom-for saying that the Christian man is absolutely free. The criticism arises, of course, from old Adam theology. Mix together a little bit of bondage and a little bit of freedom and all will be safe and sound.” – Gerhard Forde  (Where God Meets Man)

“God in Jesus Christ is trying to tell us that he simply is not that kind of God. He is not the eternal and unchanging fate at the top of the ladder. He is the incarnate God; his will takes on flesh in Jesus and reaches all the way to you in the Word and in the sacraments.” – Gerhard Forde  (Where God Meets Man)

“Grace saves nature not by adding something to it, not by raising it to a supposedly higher level, but by allowing it to be, once again, what it was intended to be-God’s good creation.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“A sacrament is an action in which the Word of God does something to us through the earthly sign. It is an action in which God gets through to us in a concrete way. In a sense, one can say that the proclamation of the divine promise through the Word is general; it is spoken to everyone in general and no one in particular. But a sacrament is particular. It has your name on it. Your body is washed with water; the hand is placed on your head; the bread is placed on your lips and the wine poured into your mouth. The sacraments are God’s way of saying: “Here, the promise is for you.” It is one of the ways in which God really comes down to earth to get through to you in particular.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“The world to come, the new age, the kingdom of God which comes by God’s power alone is already breaking in through these things. It is a tremendous thought. God’s will is on its way! The promise is being realized! Even though we cannot yet see it, we can hear it coming in the Word, we can feel it, touch it, taste it in the sacraments. That world which is beyond price, beyond our ability to earn by works, which is entirely unnecessary and thus absolutely free comes to you here and now to make you new and set you free.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“If God is coming, a man ought to be found living as God intended him to live: taking care of this earth. That, after all, was his charge to the first Adam.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“When we are really persuaded that God’s kingdom comes by his grace, then and then only do we come down off the ladder and put our feet on the ground – the soil of this earth – once more. Hope in the world to come makes us proper citizens of this world.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“For in the final analysis it is a battle. It is a real and concrete battle that goes on about us and within us to establish the proper kind of attitude towards this world. It is not something that can be taken for granted. We are tempted either to succumb to the world and its enticements or in religious indignation to forsake it. There is a kind of fateful pull in us to do either one or other of these things. In the language of Luther, we are under the sway of the devil, ‘the Prince of this World.’ Note that he is not the king: he is for the time being only the prince who has usurped the rule through sin. It is against him that the battle must be waged. His is a very subtle and crafty rule. It is not merely that he tempts us to the more obvious sins of greed, avarice, tyranny, and injustice, but also to the more subtle kinds of ‘religious’ sin: that of despising the world and neglecting its concerns. For if he can get us to be so ‘religious’ that we leave the world, he can have it all to himself. Either way, he wins.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“The gospel of justification by faith alone is never relevant to this or any age. It is the end of the age, the end of the old, the death of sinners. God is not out merely to change, or event to convert old beings. This is not like a new paint or remodeling job. Faith in Christ is a death. God is out to put the old being out of its misery once and for all. Faith is not like choosing a new coat, or even a set of values. It is being chosen.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“For if it is true that we can stand before God only by faith, only by the forgiveness of sin, then it is only sinners, not saints who shall be saved.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“If one looks at the modern world from the viewpoint of such faith, a dying to the old and a rising to the new, there are many things one would find disappointing and perhaps finally irrelevant.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“Jesus came to die for us, to take away the sting of death from us, so that we could begin to live. And the “big death” is first of all to believe that we are just before God for Jesus’ sake. The “big death,” the hardest death for us to take, is just the sheer gift of grace, the divine election.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“Sin, death, and the devil are not just ‘out there’ somewhere. They are operative through us.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“Jesus did not come to set in motion some new idealism, some new political scheme or inspire some new heroism. Rather, he came to die for us, to die at our hands, and so to save us.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“For where can there be more sanctification than where God is revered as the only Holy One? But God can be revered as the Holy One only where the sinner, the real sinner, stands still at the place where God enters the scene. That is the place where the sinner must realize that his or her own way is at an end. Only those who stand still, who know that they are sinners and that Christ is for them, only they give God the glory. Only they are ‘sanctified.'” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“Good works are not ‘building blocks’ in the ‘progress’ of the Christian, they are fruits of the whole, the ‘good tree.'” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“The ‘new being’ in Christ is not, for Luther, without substance, but is to be incarnated in ‘down to earth’ fashion in the concrete vocation of the Christian. In this battle, the law of God can be seen ultimately not as an enemy or a mere emasculated ‘guide,’ but as a true and loved friend. For once should make no mistake about it. The law of God is to be and will be fulfilled. Not, however, by our powers, not by an immanent natural human moral progress, but by the power of the imputed, yes, the forensic righteousness of God.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“We must attend carefully here because this is the point at which many mistakes are made. The first one would be to conclude that because the kingdom of God comes by grace alone, there is nothing to do. The opposite is true. Since the kingdom of God comes by grace alone, we are turned about into the world. There is a new world, the creation of God, the world of the neighbor, the other, to take care of. But the distinction here must be absolute. The Kingdom comes absolutely by God’s power and grace – alone.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“The Christian is called to serve God in the world God has created, and not self, no devil, not vice, not virtue, but the neighbor…Since one is not called to bring in the kingdom of God, one is called for the time being to serve God in creation, in the various dimensions of daily life – family, church, state.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“People who complain that Luther has no proper doctrine of good works and sanctification or ethics always seem to forget this understanding of the Christian’s calling. Perhaps because it is so utterly realistic and unromantic. But virtually everything Luther wants to say about ethics comes back to his doctrine of vocation. One is to serve God in one’s occupation, in one’s concrete daily life and its duties in the world. When I tell students that this first of all means that they should pay attention to being better students, they are often a little disappointed. They had more romantic things in mind like leading some protest, manning the barricades, joining in some romantic crusade or ‘social action’ commission that sits about to cranks out resolutions on matters such as sex, to send to the synod. It does not occur to them that their first ethical duty is to be good students! Whatever call there might be for more extreme action, it must be remembered that Luther’s idea is that first and foremost one serves God by taking care of his creation.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“So, for Luther, if one is looking for answers to the questions what should we do, for the time being, we will not be directed at our own feelings, or the art of learning how to affirm ourselves or one another in our chosen lifestyle, or whatever it may be. One of the things Luther polemicized against most regularly was the idea of self-chosen works – be they ever so pious. Rather, one must look to the commandments of God. The commandments of God are not given to make us pious, Luther insisted, but to lead us into the world of the neighbor to take care of it as creation for the time being. In this regard, we must realize that the law was made for humanity, not humanity for the law. Even if it happens, as it often does in this twisted world, that one should have to break one commandment for the sake of another, Luther’s counsel would be to sin boldly, but trust in the mercy of God all the more bravely! In other words, go ahead and plant a tree in the garden of hope!” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what is my own?’ That’s the way it is with God’s grace – it’s wild! It is God who has brought us to this, so now there is no way around it – I must say it: “You are God’s own! You were claimed as God’s own in baptism. God did what he wanted, did what he chose – with you. And if you have forgotten that, hear it again. Come and taste it. God claims the right to butt in here-and-now and permits his word of grace to be said to you: I declare unto you the forgiveness of your sins! There it is. Isn’t that preposterous? Something absolutely novel? Not an ideal, not a generality, but a meeting, a new word, God’s choice to do something here and now. You have heard it, there it is.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“You are God’s own. Think on that! Isn’t it wild? Don’t you see? All our schemes and projects are over. And maybe, just maybe, if we catch a glimpse of what that means, all those other arguments about rights would begin to fall into place. So, anyone for the vineyard?” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“Today you have stumbled onto it! Isn’t that wild? The time has come to sell out! Sell all your doubts and reservations. Sell all your attempts to hang onto the way things are. There is a new you on the way, a new kingdom under way: believe it! It will save you. Sell out, turn around. Look at God’s good creation, look at what we have done to it, look into the face of starving humanity. Forget yourself, give yourself to others. They need you. They need that hidden treasure. Give it to them. Jesus entered into the nothingness of death and rose triumphant for you! There it is! He that has ears to hear, let him hear! Sell out!” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“If the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field onto which someone just stumbles, doesn’t that make the whole thing seemed too easy, too cheap? The lucky stiff! He didn’t deserve it! He just stumbled onto it! Why him? Cheap Grace? Perhaps, in a sense, not at all. Because the man in the parable gave up everything for it. In his joy he went and sold everything to get that field. He blew it all for that one thing. Everything that he had been up to now was over. He was a different man. And note well, it was his joy that he went and did that. Cheap? Not cheap; but free! It set him free – free to sell out everything he had.” – Gerhard Forde (A More Radical Gospel)

“It is not the task of theology to construct a theory of God that is supposed to win us over by attractiveness. It is the business of theology to foster the preaching of the Word of God.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“No one is forced. It is something more like an addiction. We all do what we want to do! That is precisely our bondage. We are not jerked around by a transcendent puppeteer.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“Faith is grasped, captivated by the revealed God. In baptism, for instance, God has promised! It has happened! It is revealed! And God does not lie. His promises are immutable. Faith is created and sustained by the promises of God, not by the efforts of free choice.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“We must know that God is the immutable one who elects and rejects. We are not running the show. But we cannot know why one and not the other is among the elect. If we knew that we would turn it into a legal system and it would destroy us! Faith in the word of proclamation is the only way.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“True humility comes only when one knows that salvation is utterly beyond one’s own powers, devices, endeavors, will, and works. It depends entirely on the choice, will, and work of another, namely, of God alone.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“That which is hidden cannot be hidden more deeply than under the form of its opposite. Thus when God makes alive he does so by killing, when he justifies he does so by making us guilty, when he exalts to heaven he does so by bringing down to hell.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“The fact is that we simply cannot accept an almighty God. We cannot handle the idea of someone ‘above us’ who we fear is controlling our destiny. When we come up against Almighty God we are bound, bound to say no. Be it much or be it little, we must claim at least some freedom to control our destiny.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“If grace is unconditional and free, and if one attempts to claim even the tiniest bit of merit, then everything will depend on that little bit. Grace is free. Not even a bad priest can disqualify it.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“The work of theology is not for making inferences from the law, but for a proclamation that is all about Christ. It is not about human possibilities and limitations, but what the Father is doing in his Son to reconcile the world to himself.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“There is simply nothing to do now but listen to the creative Word spoken into our darkness: You are just for Jesus’ sake! It matters not whether you think you need it. It is the Word of God.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“So today, when we think about reformation again, about something new, a new heart, a new being, a new you, I can’t come to you with grand schemes and plans, or even a new set of laws, an outline for growth, a program to increase your spirituality, or – goodness knows what all. When God undertook to start over with us he didn’t do anything like that. He had tried all that. Instead he sent Jesus. He decided to do something really wild, really new. He decided simply to forgive, to remember sin no more. He sent a preacher. So if these words are to come to an appropriate conclusion, there is nothing for me to do but just say it: You are just for Jesus sake. And there is nothing for you to do but just listen. Believe it, it is for you! It will really reform your life.” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“You, who presume to do business with God, can you see it? Can you see that this death of self is not, in the final analysis, something you can do? For the point is that God has once and for all reserved for himself the business of your salvation. There is nothing you can do now but, as the words of the old hymn have it, “climb Calvary’s mournful mountain” and stand with your helpless arms at your side and tremble before “that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete! It is finished; hear him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die!” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“If you can see it, perhaps then you can see, or perhaps at least begin to see, what is the power of God’s grace and rejoice. For that is the other side of the coin once you have gotten out of your self-enclosed system. Then perhaps you can turn away from yourself, maybe really for the first time, and look upon your neighbors. Maybe for the first time you can begin to receive creation as a gift, a sheer gift from God’s hands. And who knows what might happen in the power of this grace? All possibilities are open. You might sell your car, or even give it away – for someone else. You might find even that you could swallow your pride and stage a protest march – for your neighbor – or begin to seek to influence the power structures! For in the power of his cross the way is open! The way is open to begin, at least, perhaps in faltering ways, in countless little ways, to realize what it means to die to self. For that, in the final analysis, is his gift to you, the free gift of the new man, the new woman, the one who can live in faith and hope, for whom all possibilities are open!” – Gerhard Forde (The Captivation of the Will)

“Most of the time, the old Sinner in us is a lot more subtle. Instead of hitting the promise head on, the old sinner feints and ducks, moving and weaving to avoid getting caught. ‘God’s decision is a great thing,’ it says, ‘but God helps those who helps themselves.’ There must be something we can do here. We’re not just puppets, after all. Before too long, the old Adam and Eve has turned God’s decision into your decision – a commitment, a promise, something you have to do before God can do anything with you.” – Gerhard Forde and Jim Nestingen (Free to Be)

“God has made a decision about you. God hasn’t waited to find out how sincere you are, how devout or religious you might be, or how well you understand the Bible and the catechism. God hasn’t even waited to find out if you are interested or willing to take this decision seriously. God has simply decided.

God made this decision knowing full well the kind of person you are. God knows you better than anyone else could – inside out, upside down, and backwards. God knows where you are strong and where you are weak, what you are most proud of and what you would most like to hide. Be that as it may, God’s decision is made.

God comes straight out with it: ‘I am the Lord your God.’ This is the decision: God has decided to be your God. For God wants to be as close to you as your next breath, to be the one who gives you confidence and value, to open a future to you and the freedom of the word, God wants to be the one to whom you turn for whatever you need.” – Gerhard Forde

“Systematic theology, whether good or bad, gets substituted for and displaces proclamation. I contend here that systematic theology, while not itself to be confused with proclamation, should be the kind of thinking that advocates, fosters, and drives to proper proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ; it should be a systematic reflection that promotes the speaking of the promise. Such a systematic theology should be for proclamation in a double sense: it insists on proclamation; and it recognizes such insistence to be its ultimate purpose. That is, if systematic theology is done properly it will leave its practitioners in a position where they can, in order to complete their own task, do no other than proclaim.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“God does not come hat in hand begging, “Won’t somebody please believe in me?” God does not come in ways that pander to our so-called freedom of choice. God comes to invade the house of the “strong man armed” who aims to keep his goods in peace. God comes to challenge the adversary to battle for the life of the captive.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“The cross itself is the evidence that we did not choose him but that he, nevertheless, chose us (John 15:16).” – Gerhard Forde (On Being a Theologian of the Cross)

“We forget or ignore the fact that Jesus was one with whom no one identified in the end. Even his disciples forsook him and fled. The women who wept in sympathy with him were told to weep for themselves and their children (Luke 23:28). We forget that though we did not choose him, he nevertheless chose us.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“In administering the sacraments we do not merely say something, we do not merely impart information, we do something, we wash in water, we give bread and wine, to those who come. We do not, that is, explain Christ or the gospel or describe faith or give instructions on how to get salvation. We give it, flat out.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“What are we to do about God not preached? Nothing. We are to leave the not-preached God alone and pay attention to the God clothed and displayed in the Word.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“God not preached devours sinners without regret, but the preached God battles to snatch us away from sin and death.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“Theology, no matter how sweetly done, does not cure tribulation. Theological opinion may provide momentary relief, but rarely does it survive the heat and evil of the day.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“The proclamation itself is the mighty act of God in the living present. Everything that God has done in Jesus Christ has been poured into this moment. The incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God in Jesus is the authorization for the proclamation of the will of God in the living present. The preacher needs the ‘nerve’ – the Spirit to act on that.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“If we are to proclaim and not merely explain God, what are we to say? In speaking of God it is important to start with the very first principle: What is to be proclaimed is what God has decided, in fact, to do. The word for what God has decided to do is election. The God of the scriptures is an electing God. The God of the Scriptures is ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,’ the God who chooses Israel and disposes over its entire history, the God who comes in Jesus to break down the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile so that election shall know no bounds.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“What is to be done about an electing God? Our only recourse is to make the move to proclamation. We are not, of course, to proclaim that God is an electing God; everybody knows that already and is scared to death by it. Rather, we must do the electing ourselves. One must have the nerve – or better, the Spirit – to do the unheard of thing and say to those listening ‘You are the elect!’ or ‘You are the one. Just as surely as I am here and you are there, this is the moment the almighty, eternal, electing God has planned on, the mystery hidden for ages and now revealed through the church, the actual revelation of the will of the hidden God!'” – Gerhard Forde – (Theology is for Proclamation)

“The element of truth in the universalist position is that the gospel demands to be proclaimed universally, that it knows no bounds, imposes no conditions. The preached God comes to do battle against sin and death precisely through such limitless proclamation. The preacher is authorized to say it – to do the election – to everyone within earshot.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“The concrete moment of the proclamation is the doing of the mighty act of God in the living present. It is not a recital of past acts, but the doing of the act itself now.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“The moment of proclamation is the revealed will of God ‘for you.’ When you are there, when you are within earshot, you are the target. The almighty, immutable, God breaks through the hiddeness to speak the concrete word of election to you.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“Faith comes by hearing! One must be still and listen. Faith alone hears and trusts that the unchangeable God of election stands behind the proclamation. That is the mystery hidden in God, now revealed in the church.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“Perhaps it was just by social custom or parental whim that we were hauled before the congregation and doused with water, or only an accident that we happened to hear the gospel word. We cannot be certain we were intended to hear it. Where one allows God to be God – whatever that may cost or entail in subsequent theological consequences – the moment of proclamation is the doing of what God has in mind for us. God makes no mistakes. Were this not the case, all would be lost in the arbitrariness of opinion and the black hole of the self.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“Because there is no freedom, we can do nothing other than proclaim in order that the blind may see, the lame may walk, the deaf may hear, and captives may be set free. Proclamation is the invasion of the house of the ‘strong man armed’ who hopes to keep control of things, not the appeal to a freedom already at hand.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“The question is really not whether we ‘have’ free wills, but rather what we will do – what we are ‘bound to’ do – when we come up against God.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“The phrase ‘bondage of the will’ does not mean, first of all, that the will is forced, determined, or frustrated, perhaps by some higher power or fate or god in its attempt to do what it really wants to do. No, the bondage of the will refers to what we will not do, what we are bound not to do in a given instance. The bondage of the will means that we find ourselves in a situation where we simply cannot do what is asked of us, and we cannot do it because we will not. What is being claimed is that there is something we actually cannot do because we do not want to.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“If our problem is that we aspire to be gods, we must consider the fall and sin differently from the traditional scheme adduced above. The fall is really not what the word implies at all. It is not a downward plunge to some lower level in the great chain of being, some lower rung on the ladder of morality and freedom. Rather, it is an upward rebellion, an invasion of the realm of things ‘above,’ the usurping of divine prerogative.” – Gerhard Forde (Theology is for Proclamation)

“The temptation is for man to refuse his creaturehood, to refuse his humanity, to refuse to take care of the earth and to become a God. That, as St. Augustine rightly saw, is the essence of sin: pride. Sin is located not primarily in the body, but rather precisely in our spiritual pretensions and ambitions. It is our god-like aspirations that destroy our life and seduce us to make life miserable for our fellow men.” – Gerhard Forde (Where God Meets Man)

“For who has heard of such a thing—that one is made right with God just by stopping all activity, being still and listening? What the words say to us, really, is that for once in your life you must just shut up and listen to God, listen to the announcement: You are just before God for Jesus sake!” – Gerhard Forde (Justification by Faith Alone)


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