By Paul Koch –
Every time I hear the song “All of Me” by John Legend (check out the video above) I can’t help but think of Dr. Norman Nagel from my days at the Seminary. Okay, I know that sounds a bit disturbing. In fact even as I write these words they appear to be some sort of typo that I’m hoping isn’t interpreted as a Freudian slip; but it is nonetheless true. When I hear that passionate love song, I can’t help but recall the time spent learning from Dr. Nagel.
Yeah – that sounds just plain wrong.
Perhaps this will help; it’s not the whole song that reminds me of my dear professor but the refrain, which goes like this:“Cause all of me Loves all of you Love your curves and all your edges All your perfect imperfections Give your all to me I’ll give my all to you You’re my end and my beginning Even when I lose I’m winning”
You see, Nagel would often remind us that in this life our actions, words and assumptions either go in the way of the Law or the way of the Gospel. When making a passionate point in class, his objections weren’t always because you were wrong, but rather that you were doing things in the way of the Law. To that, he had a profound objection. Not that the Law didn’t have its place, but the Law is not the Gospel; it is categorically different. So, he was trying to get us to make the move to the Gospel for the Gospel alone is the way, the truth and the life.
As Luther has taught us:
“Moreover, since Christ is said to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and that categorically, so that whatever is not Christ is not the way, but error, not truth, but untruth, not life, but death, it follows of necessity that “free–will” inasmuch as it neither is Christ, nor is in Christ, is fast bound in error, and untruth, and death.” (The Bondage of the Will, 307)
Along these lines, Dr. Nagel would often say that fractions are in the way of the Law. That is, fractions are categorically not the Gospel, not Christ. Jesus’ words and actions, his sacrifice and love cannot be described by fractions. He didn’t become most of your sin; he didn’t die for a portion of humanity’s guilt. He was all in! He forgave you more sins than you’ve got!
Sure we may like to play around with fractions. There are whole sermon series’ on fractions. In fact there are whole churches that thrive on the measuring out and calculating of fractions. We love to focus on the pieces and parts of our lives of faith that we try to amend and correct along the way. But the fractions will always leave us with doubt, with uncertainties regarding salvation. The Gospel is about totality, about being complete. The Gospel is the proclamation from the cross, “It is finished.” No remainder, nothing left over.
This is what I love about that song. John Legend’s attempt to sing about true love ends up painting a picture of love that doesn’t know factions. Plus it allows me to interrupt my teenage daughters, as they sing along in the car, to talk about the Gospel and how our Lord doesn’t tolerate fractions.