was privileged to do my theological studies at the Jesuit School of Theology
at Berkeley, California in the late 1970's. Among the many fine professors
I studied under, one who stood out was Dr. Robert Goeser. He died not
long ago and I'm delighted to bring forward this memory of such a fine teacher.
Dr. Goeser was on the faculty of the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary
at that time. As I recall, the word was that he was ordained to teach,
not to pastor. He was one of those rare exceptions in the ministry
of the Lutheran church. I studied with Dr. Goeser for two quarters of historical
theology. He was most brilliant on teaching Aquinas and Luther.
One of the things he tried to do was to translate theological terms into
concepts that might connect with our experience. So, it's his notions
on justification by faith that stood out to me then. They seemed new
and exciting and helpful.
What is the Law? He began, not with the ten commandments, but with
that very human construct that says you have to behave or think a certain
way in order to feel approval, security, belonging, or the like. That's
a profound law that many of us can identify in our experience.
Obedience to this law enslaves a person.
Justification by faith means, then, that experience in which the reality
dawns on us that we don't have to "win" approval, security, or belonging
by doing "the right things." In other words, it's the grace of God
that approves, secures, and connects us to the divine life as a gift, not
as a drudge or duty.
Receiving this faith, and living by it, points to the end of the barriers
we have constructed that tells us who is approved, who is secure, and who
is part of us. Christ is all in all. Christ is the One who makes
There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free person,
there is not male and female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Now, it seems to me that this notion, which seemed so revolutionary in the
mid-70's, is fairly commonplace now. At least, it's almost like a doctrine.
But, I still struggle to let in that faith, that gift, that precious light
from Christ to let his word and love show me my true identity beyond merely
obeying the law of approval, security, and belonging.
How about you?
PS: Thanks, God, for Dr. Robert Goeser. May he rest in peace.