Review: I Can Do No Other: The Church’s New Here We Stand Moment, by Anna Madsen

[1] Anna Madsen’s new book, I Can Do No Other: The Church’s New Here We Stand Moment, is not explicitly about the relationship between church and state.  It is, rather about discipleship, about taking the promise of the Gospel that though “death is real, life is realer” and the message of the Reformation that justification means that injustice threatens life and we – the church – are called to be ambassadors of that Gospel. (72)  Later, Madsen says we are called to be “gospel in motion.”   And this makes her book exactly about the relationship between church and state and those of us who inhabit both.

[2] Madsen’s book is a clear, concise theological primer on Luther’s understanding of justification, indulgences, and the Two Kingdoms.  She frames her discussion in terms of that which is ultimate and that which is penultimate.  Both the church and the state (borrowing from Luther she speaks of the church and the emperor) are penultimate. (48)  With this framing Madsen argues that in our collective Lutheran focus on justification by faith through grace “perhaps much of Western theology had not so much missed the boat about the implications of the gospel but had missed that there were bigger boats to have been boarded.” (xvi-xvii)  These bigger boats, she suggests, take us not away from personal forgiveness, but far beyond it. “[I] t is about actively participating in personal and communal repentance, rejecting ways and systems that cause or foster inequity or oppression.” (xvii)

[3] In I Can Do No Other, Madsen calls us to shift our collective focus from the sinner (justification) to the sinned against (justice).  It is our Lutheran understanding of justification that sets the stage for this shift in focus.  “Because the righteousness of God inspires us to serve one another, we are by new nature and by faith placed into relationship with others…. All humanity is in need of redemption, and all humanity is, in a sense, contagiously redeemed by God’s justification.”  (51)

[4] Madsen then argues that the Two Kingdoms has often been used in such a way as to suggest that there is a dividing wall between them, and our language of separation of church and state, of course, has furthered this sense.  But, she says, “The goal, of course, is that we are calibrated to the Kingdom on the Right, so that even though we live in the Kingdom of the Left, we can more faithfully live out of the agenda of the kingdom on the Right.” (52)

[5] Madsen suggests that in this regard it was the peasants rather than Luther who best understood the implications of Luther’s teaching (68).  Because we are justified by Christ and placed into a new relationship with one another we are called to seek justice for all. “We are not intended to wait for liberation to come about after we all die.” (171-172) So, Madsen advocates for what she refers to as an “anticipatory church”.  An anticipatory church is a church that lives out its calling in anticipation of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God now.  In other words, we live now knowing that we are simultaneously living in both kingdoms as those who are most fully members of the kingdom of the right and though this is not a political or partisan stance it has clear political implications as the anticipator church seeks to discern “the fulfillment of God’s vision and seeks to inject it into the present.” (177)  Formed and defined by that which is ultimate, the anticipatory church is called to be an agent of social action by “drawing attention to justice, stewardship, compassion, and the pursuit of peace” (179) even, and perhaps especially when, doing so challenges the status quo of the penultimate whether that be church or state.



Mindy Makant

Mindy Makant is an ELCA Deacon, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lenoir-Rhyne University, and Director of the Living Well Center for Vocation and Purpose.