Adolf Schlatter’s Reflections on Sin, Grace, and our Active Christian Vocation

 

Swiss theologian Adolf Schlatter (1852–1938) claims that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough. The Reformers, he argues, offered only a limited definition of sin and grace that neglected our creatureliness and left the believer in a state of lethargic passivity. Grace worked merely calming and quieting, but not invigorating and activating. Schlatter therefore seeks to correct what he considers misrepresentations of the New Testament teaching on sin and grace in (post-)Reformation theology. Based on his reading of the New Testament, Schlatter suggests a view of sin and grace that takes our humanity seriously. Jesus Christ’s salvific grace is actively realised in the believer’s personal life in such a way that it leads to an organic transformation of her volition that leaves her God-given creatureliness intact (schöpfungsgemäße Lebensordnung). Schlatter’s view of sin and activating grace has concrete implications for ethics. United with Christ, the believer experiences a communion of will with God and a new orientation and organisation of her individual life-acts (Lebensakte) which in turn triggers concrete ethical action in her given context. In times of fake news and alternative facts we would do well to return to Schlatter’s active-volitional understanding of divine creative grace as we rediscover our responsibilities as God’s active agents in a fallen world.

 

Rev Dr. Michael Bräutigam
Lecturer in Theology and Psychology,
Melbourne School of Theology