25.11. Lex et evangelium in interpenetratione Olav Valen-Sendstad's view of the relationship between law and gospel

Public examination of a doctoral dissertation in the field of practical theology
Doctoral candidate: MTheol Raimo Mäkelä
Date and venue: 25.11.2011 at 12 noon, AT100, Agora, Joensuu Campus
Language of the public examination: Finnish


The relationship between law and gospel was one of the main themes in the thinking of Olav Valen-Sendstad (1904-63). He was a Norwegian philosopher, theologian and Lutheran parish pastor, and a prolific writer. He based his theology on the classical early church doctrine of Christ and the Holy Triunity, and on the doctrine of law and gospel and the relationship between them as expounded by Martin Luther and Lutheran orthodoxy. He does not, however, merely repeat repristinitatively what is old but develops it in a creative way by anchoring law and gospel in new ways, in particular from the viewpoint of interpenetration, that is, perichoresis, and analogy.

Valen-Sendstad conceived the human person as an analogy of the Persons of the Holy Triunity. Thus man is existentially “I and thou” in relation to God and to human persons. Law and gospel are primarily personal concepts and only secondarily “matter” concepts, as in the Bible. For human persons law and gos¬pel are objective reality, which they also experience subjectively.

Law and gospel as personal concepts are connected above all with Je¬sus Christ. He is an example and substitute for men and women so that the relationship between example and substitute is proportionally, not attributively analogous to the relationship between his divinity and humanity. In this analo¬gy the twin analogates God and man, on the one hand, and example and substi¬tute, on the other hand, do not correspond to each other but their relationships do. Thus example and vicariousness are inseparably related without being con¬fused, while there is a distinction between them. Christ’s example and law are identified. Similarly, Christ’s vicariousness and the gospel are identified. Thus the relationship between law and gospel is analogous to the relationship bet¬ween the humanity and divinity of Christ.

Law-gospel is thus essentially a personal and christological matter, but also a matter of all three Persons of the Holy Triunity. The centre of law and gospel is indeed the second Person of the Godhead, but correspondingly there also exist the gospel of the Father and his work of creation, the law of the Creator, that is, the “first”, secular and social “use” of the law of God, and the gospel of the Holy Spirit and His work of sanctification, and the “third” use of the law of God, which applies to those who are justified by faith through the gospel of redemption and to the spiritual community. The law is, however, one in all three areas and in all three uses. The gospel is also one in its three aspects and three uses. The relationship between the uses of the law is interpenetrative, and so it is with the aspects of the gospel. The relationship between law and gospel is interpenetrative in each Person of the Holy Triunity.

The order of law and gospel is, however, different in different areas. In creation and sanctification what comes first is the gospel on which they are based. It is the gospel that motivates the law. Thus the law follows the gospel. In re¬demption the law comes first because of human sin, and it always precedes the gospel, which is its fulfilment.

Law and gospel are obscured and threatened by legalism and antinomian¬ism, that is, abrogation of the law, because they distort their relationship. Dis¬tortions attempt to destroy the relationship between law and gospel, i. e. and the connection and difference between them. Law and gospel, for their part, reject distortions.

From Christ and the Triunity the relationship between law and gospel ex¬pands to comprehend the whole of reality in time and eternity. In the paradoxi¬cal relationship between law and gospel are manifest, in Valen-Sendstad’s view, the uniqueness, absolute nature and universality of Christianity. This is also the main principle of biblical interpretation.

The doctoral dissertation of MTheol Raimo Mäkelä entitled “Lex et evangelium in interpenetratione Olav Valen-Sendstad’s view of the relationship between law and gospel” will be examined at the Faculty of Philosophy, the University of Eastern Finland. The opponents in the public examination are Docent Timo Pokki of the University of Helsinki and the custos is Professor Antti Raunio, Faculty of Philosophy, the University of Eastern Finland.

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Publishing year: 2011

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