Over at Steadfast Lutheran site they done it again with an new controversial emphasis on how cultivating a “relationship” with Jesus is actually detrimental to saving faith. This doctrine, that Lutheranism is incompatible with having a “relationship” with Christ, appears to not be unique to the Steadfast crowd, as it actually was promoted for a time by Norman Nagel at the St. Louis Seminary. Some important excerpts from the Steadfast Lutheran site run as follows:
...One of the favorite new words of the pseudo-Lutherans is “relationship,” and I am here to hold my placard saying “Hey, relationship is not in the Bible,..
...The phrase “relationship with Jesus” is harmful...there is no such thing as a relationship. I owe this insight to my theological mentor Dr. Norman Nagel. It is a creation of the late twentieth century romantic emphasis on psychology and feeling. There is no third thing between you and me called a relationship. There is only you and me and how we treat each other.
...Dr, Nagel was fond of promoting Luther’s notion of standing naked before God. It renders the invented notion of a relationship useless and meaningless. In spiritual matters there is no buffering third thing standing between you and God called a relationship that needs working on. There is just you, standing naked before God in all your sin and He in all His holiness. That kind of puts things into immediate, intuitive perspective. There is no imaginary thing called a relationship. There is just you and God and it is not a pretty picture. - http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=33708
This raises an interesting question: Did Norman Nagel ever wrestle with deeper theological motifs related to sanctification such as the Logos relationship to the new nature of believers, koinonia, theosis and the unio mystica? If so, how did he perceive the theological construct of having a spiritual “relationship” in terms of those doctrines? It reminds me of the question that Professor Kirke once asked in the Narnia series: What do they teach in schools these days?
At any rate, it looks to me like this new emphasis of the Steadfast Lutheran crowd seems to come dangerously close to the teaching of Nicholas von Amsdorf in the 16th century. Amsdorf rejected George Major’s teaching, which was similar to modern Lordship salvation theology (that I believe the Steadfast crowd is trying to address), but inadvertently introduced a new error on the opposite side.
I understand the concern about Lordship Salvation, it is Reformed heresy that is even finding its way into some Lutheran circles. But if we “cooperate” with the Holy Spirit in sanctification with “great weakness” (as the Formula of Concord teaches) than how could there not be a positive “relationship” that exists between a regenerated Christian and his or her God?
I took every course that Dr. Nagel offered at the SL seminary when I was a student there ('84-88) and I never heard him teach what the BJS folks are attributing to him. He may have taught later on something along the lines of what they are reporting, but I never heard such ideas in my day. I'd have to see the larger context of the quotes they attribute to him.
I cannot imagine Dr. Nagel teaching contrary to what the Apostle Paul teaches regarding "Koinonia" with God's Son (1 Cor. 1:9) or "Koinonia" with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:13). According to Danker, this "Koinonia" is a "close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, CLOSE RELATIONSHIP (hence a favorite expression for the marital relationship as the most intimate between human beings)" (DBAD 552). See all the references to Koinonia in the NT.
And of course in the Eucharist there is a "third thing" between you and God, namely, the body and blood of Christ "in, with, and under" the bread and wine. Through the Eucharist we "participate" or "share" (cognates of Koinonia) in the body and blood of Christ.
If there were only two, God and individuals, then the NT would only speak of God and Koinonoi (companions, partners, sharers). But the NT speaks of the abstract noun, Koinonia, and thus makes reference to the relationship, the fellowship, the communion that God creates between God and forgiven sinners, inclusive of all who participate in the body and blood of Christ.