R. Scott Clark, professor of church history at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, California, told Campus Reform that “Dr. Thompson calls Lutherans to repent for ‘systemic racism’ and takes for granted that we should all accept this new, rather radical redefinition of racism which, in her account, entails a new, decided un-Lutheran definition of repentance.”
“Where Luther would have us repent for sins of the heart, head, mouth, and hands, of omission and commission, individual and corporate, Thompson would have us repent of systems and immutable characteristics,” he said. “This is ironic since Martin Luther himself came to public attention by complaining about Rome’s abuse of the doctrine and practice of forgiveness.”
Clark explained that “Rome had turned the grace of forgiveness into an opportunity for social control and economic advantage,” putting her definition of repentance on the “wrong side of the Reformation.”
Furthermore, “under the doctrine of systemic racism, some are doomed to a seemingly endless and graceless purgatory of self-flagellation for sins committed by no one in particular that call no one in particular to look at his heart, his neighbor, or his Savior for personal forgiveness for personal sins. Others are apparently righteous merely for being victims of a system. Is this not the very works-righteousness to which Luther objected?” Clark said.
“The Reformed Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 captures well the classic Protestant doctrine of repentance: the putting to death of the old man and the making alive of the new,” he added. “Reformation Christians seek to live their lives not under the law of condemnation (e.g., systemic racism) but the gospel of God’s gracious forgiveness of sinners. In light of that grace, in union with Christ, we seek to put to death the racism in our hearts and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, whatever our immutable characteristics or theirs.” Read more»
Benjamin Zeisloft, “St Olaf Prof Echoes Call For School To ‘Repent’ Of Systemic Racism,” Campus Reform (December 22, 2020).
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I think there is a need for representative authority to acknowledge and recognize wrongs, confessing or repenting. Parents apologize on behalf of their children, and CEOs issue statements of repentance on behalf of companies.
But the papers our church has written to defend the teaching that during Sabbath worship the entire congregation should repent for things we are not morally culpable for (such as slavery) and for abstract things we do not understand (such as abusing the earth) give me a particular desire to zoom in on this connection between repentance and forgiveness.
Hamartiology determines soteriology. Putting the old man to death is tied to the making alive of the new man. If we modify our understanding of sin, then what it will look like to turn from sin will change as well. If the doctor changes the diagnosis then he must also prescribe a different medicine. A different understanding of death calls for a different understanding of the resurrection.
So I want to draw attention to — and voice my appreciation for — your point that Luther’s complaint included Rome’s abuse of the practice of forgiveness. It is not enough to say that this is an issue of an abstract or obscure or historical definition of “repentance. ” It also meddles with our teaching on forgiveness.
If you distort the Confession of Sin, you distort the Assurance of Pardon. If we begin to use the law differently, we will also use the Gospel differently.