The Myth of Law and Gospel Part 3

And there arose in many preachers the idea that the word “predominate” in the sentence “When preaching, the Gospel must predominate.” meant that at least 50% + 1 word must be devoted to the Gospel.   This led to the erroneous conclusion that, if predominate meant more than 50%, then by making the Gospel 60% one would make certain that the Gospel actually predominated – much like the 40 minus 1 lashes of the Old Testament.   In time, it even happened that many pastors, in order to be even more gospel-predominant in their preaching, had 70%, 80%, 90% and finally 100% Gospel in their preaching. For now, with no law at all in the sermon, the Gospel was certain to predominate.  And so, the following parable (which is based on actual events) was told :

Once upon a time at a small Midwestern college there was a basketball tournament.  The home team was not favored to win.  Indeed, as the game went on, they home team was consistently behind – at one point by as many as 15 points.  It didn’t look good for the home team.  But, with a lot of hard work (and a few lucky bounces) they clawed their way back into the game.  The second half was a real barn burner.  They managed to get within 5, and then 2, and eventually pulled even.  With only 12 seconds left, they finally took the lead, which they did not again relinquish.

They won by 2 points, and took home the trophy.

The winning team was only ahead during the game for 12 seconds.  The losing team was in the lead for 47:48 seconds.

Which team, do you think, predominated?

4 Responses to “The Myth of Law and Gospel Part 3”

  1. Rev Mathew Andersen Says:


    except that, if your point is that merely having more Gospel then law is not what “predominate” means (and I agree with that, by the way) then your illustration breaks down in that the winning team did in fact get more +1 more points than the losing team and would have won even more handily had the losing team (presumably the law) scored nothing.

    In actual fact, I have yet to hear a sermon that was all gospel. I hear few these days in which there is more Gospel than law in a quantitative manner and I hear almost none in which the Gospel truly predominates.

    I do, of course, hear many in which the false good news that Jesus is fond of everyone is preached at the expense of either Law or real Gospel.

    • forestboar Says:

      You miss the point of the parable, perhaps I was unclear. The winning team only held the lead for 12 seconds. I have amended the post accordingly.

      • Rev. Mathew Andersen Says:

        lol – no I got the point.

        But in order for those few points at the end to make the difference the two teams had to be closely enough matched quantitatively speaking for those few points to actually win the game.

        Here is the problem I am having – I agree that merely devoting 51% of the sermon to “Gospel” is not the same as dividing Law and Gospel.

        But I seriously believe from 22 years of experience that the far greatest problem in the modern Church, even the LCMS, is that we preachers are honestly really weak on Gospel both quantitatively and qualitatively.

        In your post you said, “In time, it even happened that many pastors, in order to be even more gospel-predominant in their preaching, had 70%, 80%, 90% and finally 100% Gospel in their preaching.” I seldom read or hear 25% or even 10% Gospel, much less the kinds of percentages you are quoting either in time spent on the Gospel or in preponderance given to the Gospel.

  2. I once had a church council president accuse me, in a public meeting, of using 2nd person pronouns (“you, you, you!”) to harangue the congregation with the Law in the previous Sunday’s sermon, while never including myself among the sinners. I went through the ms with a pencil and circled all the personal pronouns & found out that, without any conscious intent, I had used “you” every time I proclaimed a Gospel promise and “we,” or even “I,” every time I preached the Law.

    I reckon this gave the Gospel a bit more of a personalized “nudge in the ribs” for each hearer. Or it would have if they had actually been listening to what I said, rather than what their partisan prejudices led them to imagine I was saying. When I presented the above stats to my council, the chairman sniffed, “I don’t care what your manuscript says. Somehow it came across the way I remember it.”

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