DSSHS and Antinomianism
Classically, ‘antinomianism’ applies to any theological position that downgrades the authority or integrity of the law. If one were to say, like Luther’s contemporary Johann Agricola, that the law needs not to be proclaimed among Christians, then one clearly is flirting with antinomianism. The question is this: Is DSSHS antinomian?
To answer this question clearly, one must first get an operating definition of law. I like the following: x is a law if and only if x is promulgated by an authority, is binding upon a class, and is in principle enforceable. Lutheran thinking has classically started with the promulgation or giving of God’s law to creation. God is an authority that has a clear intent with respect to His creation, and this intent is accordingly binding upon it. Furthermore, this law is enforceable by God: violators - - all of us - - are worthy of ultimate punishment. For Luther and the classical Lutheran tradition, the ‘oughtness’ of things is grounded upon a transcendent ought-intentionality. Oughtness is built into the very nature of things because God loads ought into creation. Not only does is creation bound by the ought, God has a capacity to enforce this oughtness He loads into creation.
The classical Lutheran story does not derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. The classical tradition realizes that the ‘ought’ of law can only be grounded in the transcendent ‘ought-intentionality’ of God. Sin, of course, interferes, and what ought to be is not. The Fall is profoundly understood as the nonconformity of ‘is’ to ‘ought’. All of creation is wayward. The natural law upon creation given by God is not followed. Human beings have turned away from God and what ought to be. While the being of Creation was designed to be in conformity with the divine ought, it is not now in conformity. All have fallen short of the glory of God.
The whole idea of redemption in classical Christian theology is that God arrives in His incarnation to justify, e.g., to make right, the nonconformity of creation’s ‘is’ to the divine ‘ought’. Justification, on the basis of Christ, occurs when God judges His wayward creation that is not what it ought to be to be, nonetheless, acceptable to Him, to the One who can only judge it as unacceptable. For Lutherans, there is a “happy exchange” between Christ and the sinner. Christ’s gifts of conformity to the ought are given to human beings, and human deficiency in the face of the ought is given to Christ. The result is that human beings live and Christ dies in accordance with God’s justice that can only properly judge nonconformity with the ought as worthy of death.
The fundamental problem with DSSHS is that a statement of what ought to be cannot be derived from a description of what is. To try to derive a prescription of how to behave sexually from a description of what God has done for us is a category mistake.
The profound problem with DSSHS turns out to be the ancient problem of “what has God said?” The notion of an external law claiming that human beings ought to behave in such and such a way seems fundamentally out of touch with our times. While human beings have never liked oughts, it seems that our time has a special disdain for them. In vast portions of western popular culture, normative ethics simply does not play. People can make no sense out of “absolute” claims that humans ought to be different than they are. The very notion of an objective reality that human beings must somehow conform to is today anathema. It is, of course, the triumph of Nietzsche. The medieval transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty have been unmasked and seen to be mere projections of the human will-to-power.
Lutheran theology in the last 125 years has strongly been influenced by Nietzsche’s critique. Accordingly, there is little hope that an ELCA committee on sexuality could move beyond the dominance of the subject and return to the object, to a way of thinking that allows again for the possibility of a real ought. To return to the ought, to an honest appraisal of how God intends things to be, means that human action will likely be curbed in particular ways. If man and woman ought to remain celibate outside of marriage, then that is what they ought to do, no matter how difficult that may be. That they won’t so remain is addressed by incarnation and justification. This is how it works; this is how it has always worked. But, as evidenced by DSSHS, this is no longer how it works.