Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Luther's (~)Calvinism, a Follow Up

I have a few follow up comments on my recent discussion "Did Martin Luther Believe in the Reformed Tulip?"

I received a kind review over on another blog from Marcus McElhaney, of which I'm grateful. I thank everyone who listened, for listening. I had a few points of clarification for one of the issues Marcus raised, as well as some of the comments left here.

As to my material on Luther's Book, The Bondage of The Will, Marcus states, "I agreed with Swan about how he see the book. The one one thing is that i would not say that Luther was paradoxical in that book I thought he was clear." I haven't listened back to the interview, but I don't recall saying that Luther was paradoxical in this book. I recall raising the issue of paradox during my discussion of the hidden vs revealed God. However paradox will always be at the base of Luther's thought on this, and I think if we were to go slowly through the book, we could uncover Luther's use of paradox. Indeed, Luther was clear as to his view, but in working out how to understand the inner workings of predestination, Luther will use paradox.

Jordan points out, "Swan seemed to think that election could be lost" according to Luther. Actually, I recall in the interview saying Luther held God chooses some to be saved and he rejects the others without an apparent reason within them for either choice. He gives faith to one person through the working of His Spirit; and he refuses to give faith to others so that they remain bound in their unbelief. This means an unconditional, eternal predestination both to salvation and to damnation. However, Luther usually attributes such to speculating about the hidden God, which he strongly urges his readers not to do. Luther himself doesn't spend a lot of time doing such. Here I would disagree with R.C. Sproul, whom (if I recall correctly) has stated that Luther spent more time discussing predestination than Calvin did. This is simply not the case.

On the other hand, Luther says things like, "Ye are fallen from grace," must not be taken lightly. They are important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has merited for us by His death and resurrection."

I admit to not exactly understanding how Luther reconciles this, but then again, I'm thinking in Reformed categories, not Luther's categories. I have a feeling Luther would simply affirm both statements. My studies on these issues concerning Luther were largely influenced by looking into his paradox of the hidden vs. revealed God. As far as I understand his views, they are largely informed and understood via paradox,the rejection of the medieval use of ergo, and embracing the conclusion, nevertheless.

Similarly, as to Luther on irresistible grace, I recall presenting two Luther quotes, and the host Chris Arnzen concluded that Luther denied irresistible grace. I didn't voice my opinion. The problem is, we're sticking Luther in Reformed categories. I think Luther did hold that it’s God’s eternal election and predestination that draw His people to Him. In one of his early Reformation writings he says, "The best and infallible preparation and the only disposition toward grace are the eternal election and predestination of God," and I think I used that quote during the interview. I then followed it up with another quote from Luther, "It is, nevertheless God’s earnest will and purpose, indeed, His command, decreed from eternity, to save all men."

Once again, I think paradox is at work. One of the books that influenced me on understanding Luther's view is Siegbert Becker's The Foolishness of God: The Place of Reason in the Theology of Martin Luther (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1999 (2nd edition). I highly recommend this book for anyone wishing to explore Luther's categories.

"A dispute about predestination should be avoided entirely... I forget everything about Christ and God when I come upon these thoughts and actually get to the point to imagining that God is a rogue. We must stay in the word, in which God is revealed to us and salvation is offered, if we believe him. But in thinking about predestination, we forget God . . However, in Christ are hid all the treasures (Col. 2:3); outside him all are locked up. Therefore, we should simply refuse to argue about election."- Martin Luther

As to disputing these issues, that's the thing Luther did with Erasmus, so he wasn't always consistent about this. I think the bottom line that separates Lutherans and Calvinists on this issue is, are these issues to be avoided entirely, or do they deserve to be looking into with care, fear, and a converted heart? I say yes, because the issues aren't hiding in the Bible. They're right out in the open, more than once, on multiple pages. Indeed, one shouldn't go beyond what the Scriptures say, but one shouldn't avoid what the Scriptures say either.


L P said...


In fact you chose the right word - Luther embraced paradox or what we call mystery as found in the Scripture, and you were right in pointing out the hidden and revealed God as understood by Luther - he preoccupied himself with the God revealed in Scripture.

As to predestinarianism, I do think you were right again in that Luther did not like to speculate further or let it the overall umbrella of theology.

I am no expert in Luther but based on some of the writings I have read of his specially those that go into the Lutheran confessions, you were spot on - Luther was Lutheran not Calvinist as you stated.

I thought you did a fair and honest even scholarly evaluation of Luther.


Jordan Cooper said...

I apologize if I misheard what you said in regards to losing one's election. I will listen to the interview again to hear what you said to make me think that. I am curious to hear what you thought of the host's comment that many think Lutheranism departed from Luther because of the influence of Melancthon. I have heard James White make this claim before where he said Lutherans should be called "Melancthonians". I of course find this offensive as a Lutheran since much of our confession was written directly against Melancthon.
I wrote a Lutheran evaluation of the five points on my blog a while ago
It is far from thorough but may be of some help.

Marcus McElhaney said...

James, Thanks for your comments! I'm amazed that you read my blog post. I'm honored. I appreciate you clearing up misconception about what you said. You did a great interview and I learned a lot from hearing you and Chris discuss this subject. Thanks!

Darlene said...

"Luther embraced paradox or what we call mystery as found in Scripture"

The Orthodox often stress mystery as part of the Christian experience in trying to understand the hidden things of God. One way to explain mystery is to say that we can know God in His energies, but not in His essence. The Holy Scriptures say, "Truly thou art a God who hidest thyself, O God of Israel the Savior." And God would only permit Moses to see His back.

Yet, paradox does exist for Christ said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." and "If you had known me you would have known my Father also; henceforth, you know Him and have seen Him." and "No one has ever seen God; the only Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known." In some sense we can know God and yet, we can never know Him fully while in this mortal life.

I think paradox within the Christian faith is beautiful in that we are faced with having to submit ourselves in humility, recognizing our limitations. Even those who boast of possessing great depths of knowledge are really only skimming the outskirts of God's ways.

L P said...


Indeed Christians should embrace paradox as found in Scripture. In fact we are even lucky that God condescended to speak to us in Word and the Living Word - Christ.

I am mathematician and logician by training, honestly our language is inadequate and Aristotle's logic fails miserably in other areas of discourse.

Islam proudly says their Quran is consistent within itself, I smile, because you do not need God to come up with a system which is internally consistent, we do that already and all the time.

Luther treats logic like a dog. He says to it sit, in the corner until I call you. You don't tell me what to do when I am handling Scripture. That is my anecdotal version of how he treats ratio, or rationality.


L P said...


I have heard James White make this claim before where he said Lutherans should be called "Melancthonians". I of course find this offensive as a Lutheran since much of our confession was written directly against Melancthon.


I am offended at such a suggestion too. I think this is propaganda to make Calvinists appear that they follow Luther more than the Lutherans.

Melanchtonians? It was Melanchton who communicated with Calvin and was eventually rejected by Lutherans! In fact Calvin never communicated directly with Luther. Melanchton modified the Augsburg Confession to have Calvin sign it. He was afraid to show Calvin's essay on the Supper because he knew Luther will start going amok if he knew what Calvin wrote.

Luther was very Lutheran when it came to the Sacraments.

Some Calvinists do this propaganda, thankfully James gave a fair evaluation of Luther.


Marinus said...

Luther writes the following in his Romans commentary, chapter 8:28: "...he means to show that to the elect who are loved of God and who love God, the Holy Spirit makes all things work for good even though they are evil. He here takes up the doctine of predestination or election. This doctrine is not so incomprehensible as many think, but is rather full of sweet comfort to the elect and for all who have the Holy Spirit. But it is most bitter and hard for the wisdom of the flesh. There is no other reason why the many tribulations and evils cannot separate the saints from the love of God than that they are the called "according to his purpose". HENCE GOD MAKES ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD TO THEM, AND THEM ONLY.[!] If there would not be this divine purpose, but our salvation would rest upon our will or work, it would be based upon chance. How easily in that case could single evil hinder or destroy it! But when Paul says: "Who shall lay anything to charge of God's elect?" "Who is he that comdemneth?" "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (8:33,34,35), he shows that the elct are not saved by chance, but by God's purpose and will. Indeed for this reason, God allows the elect to encounter so many evil things as are here named, namely, to pount out that they are saved not by their merit, BUT BY HIS ELECTION, HIS UNDHANGEABLE AND FIRM PURPOSE. THEY ARE SAVED DESPITE THEIR MANY RAPACIOUS AND FIERCE FOES AND THE VAIN EFFORTS TO LEAD THEM INTO PERDITION".

Wow. The efforts of Satan against the elect are vain efforts. Calvin said nothing about election that Luther doesn't say. Here Luther affirms an unchangeable election and that that election into Grace is the cause of salvation.
Mark Veenman

Jordan Cooper said...

Marinus, I am just finishing reading Luther's lectures on Romans right now. This cannot be used as evidence of what Luther believed because he wrote it in 1515 two years before he even posted the 95 Theses. He does not yet even have his theology of justification nailed down as he did a few years later. He often describes it as a process.
I agree that Luther believed in an election of grace unto salvation, as do the Lutheran Confessions. However, it is wrong to say that Calvin and Luther said nothing different about the subject. Having read through the Institutes, and 10-15 Volume's of Luther's works, I can assure you that though there are some similarities, they are not the same.

Marinus said...

Hi Jordan,
The preface to Luther's Romans commentaries, written at the end of his life, makes clear that he held to his views stated in 1517. Election is the basis of Sola Gratia: if there is no election then there is no salvation before works. Election is a most beautiful foundation for salvation because we begin to understand that God did not base salvation on works, but on the Grace of Christ Jesus into which the saved are elected. Luther held to this most tenaciously. Calvin, in content, had the identical view of election; he only added some nasty ideas (although greatly truncated and under-emphasized) on the double decree. This is where we see a real departure among the reformers and their followers. The BoC also affirms an unchangeable election.
Recently, Christopher Hitchens, a vocal atheist, posted an article in Canada's National Post in which he mocked "Calvin's Predestination". As a crypto-Lutheran, I was perhaps a little surprised (but not disappointed) that Hitchens chose to single out Calvin for attack. But I dare say I now feel rather confirmed in the view which is held by orthodox Christians everywhere. Atheists and some Christians are offended by the folly of an arbitrary election into the free Grace of Christ apart from, and before, any good deeds, and are scandalized by the weakness of a God who, for all people, died in scorn on a cross. I, for one, am happy to find an utterly fulfilled existence on the basis of that folly and weakness of election into Grace.

L P said...


I just read the preface you refer to specially his statement on Romans 9.

There is no question that the Lutheran Confessions believe in single predestination. However, Luther in that preface warned of pre-occupying one's self with it advising the reader to follow the tack of Romans itself.

41. However, at this point a limit has to be staked off
against presumptuous and arrogant spirits, who lead their
reason to this point first, start from the top, undertake to
explore before everything else the abyss of divine pre-
destination, and worry to no purpose over the question
whether they are predestinated. These people become the
cause of their own downfall; they either despair of their
salvation or abandon themselves to recklessness

Who between Calvin and Luther is associated with the doctrine of predestination? Calvin's reputation on this trumps Luther. It is because Luther was more a Theologian of the Cross.

When one is soaked with the promise or proclamation that Christ has died for him, seems to me, predestination is not an issue.

I think Luther followed his own advice, pre-occupying himself with Christ's Cross and taking his own cross relating the comfort of predestination with suffering. Thus Luther's attitude to it is practical rather than philosophical.

So the question is not if Luther said something about it, the question is how did it function in his theology.

Reading paragraph 44 of the preface, I think he is saying, you do not ask first if you are predestined, you got to ask first if Jesus died for you.


Marinus said...

I agree. I'm only trying to establish the incontrovertible link between election into grace, and salvation before, and apart from, works. I personally like Luther's approach to the topic; he is always very pastoral and never arbitrary. But it must also be said that it is Calvin's enemies who turn him into the "predestination authoritarian". Calvin's statements on predestination were always carefully nuanced and just as pastoral and loving as were Luther's. But, as I said, I greatly appreciate Luther's comments on election, and I believe that modern Lutherans would say that the concept of election is "the final theological test" of the mature Christian. Very similarly, the Canons of Dort state "Therefore, also today this doctrine should be taught... in its proper time and place, provided it be done with a spirit of discretion, in a reverent and holy manner, without inquisitively prying into the ways of the Most High, to the glory of God's most holy Name, and for the living comfort of his people." In other words, it needs to be taught with a keen sense of timing and place and never as a word of condemnation.

Jordan Cooper said...

I disagree with your approach to Calvin. I believe he at times tries to sound pastoral like Luther and focus on election unto salvation. However, when I read the Institutes I was surprised at how much he emphasized the eternal decree and the negative side of predestination. He urges us to avoid idle speculation on the topic, yet he engages in it himself. This view is shared by some Reformed professors I have talked to who agree that Calvin went to far in speculating on double predestination.

L P said...


I agree on Calvin and no offense meant to the Calvin fans here.

In my own readings, I do find him to be skillful in speaking from both sides of his mouth, not only in some topics in the Institutes, but also in his commentaries.

Hence, you will find two Calvinists with one saying baptism regenerates (at least for Calvin the elect gets it) and the other saying it does not (of course following Calvin the elect does not).

Since you can not be sure if one is elect or not, we are not privy to that, baptism effectively does nothing.

Hence there are two voices.

Contrast that to the Lutheran who says yes you got regenerated when you got baptized, and the fact you reject your baptism finding no need for it and the fact that you are now an un believer says you have become an apostate and on your way to hell.


Marinus said...

“For inasmuch as [baptism] is given for the arousing, nourishing, and confirming of our faith, it is to be received as from the hand of the Author himself. We ought to deem it certain and proved that it is he who speaks to us through the sign; that it is he who purifies and washes away sins, and wipes out the remembrance of them; that it is he who make us sharers in his death, who deprives Satan of his rule, who weakens the power of our lust; indeed, that it is he who comes into a unity with us so that, having put on Christ, we may be acknowledged God’s children. These things, I say, he performs for our soul within as truly and surely as we see our body outwardly cleansed, submerged, and surrounded with water [5]…And he does not feed our eyes with a mere appearance only, but leads us to the present reality and effectively performs what he symbolizes”(Calvin: ICR)
Can there be any question that Calvin believed in baptismal regeneration? That the modern reformed have fubarred baptism is manifestly evident. Some even claim that the child is saved because of the parents' faith - as if the grace is somehow predicated on and only validated by their faith and as if the parents' faith makes the baptism efficacious in the child. But since we were talking about Calvin's view, I thought I'd give it to you straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Whether or not he spoke differently at other times is possible, but in fairness to the man, we can't doubt that the above is what he considered finally to be a cohesive, scriptural view of baptism - just as his "Institutes" of 1559 was considered by him, at least, to be a comprehensive manual for theology. Many theologians, including Luther, have changed their minds and the field of theology in the last 2000 years is festooned with retractions.
Mark Veenman

L P said...


Tell me what you think of this from the horse's mouth as well.

“Wherefore, with regard to the increase and confirmation of faith, I would remind the reader (though I think I have already expressed it in unambiguous terms), that in assigning this office to the sacraments, it is not as if I thought that there is a kind of secret efficacy perpetually inherent in them, by which they can of themselves promote or strengthen faith, but because our Lord has instituted them for the express purpose of helping to establish and increase our faith. The sacraments duly perform their office only when accompanied by the Spirit, the internal Master, whose energy alone penetrates the heart, stirs up the affections, and procures access for the sacraments into our souls. If He is wanting, the sacraments can avail us no more than the sun shining on the eyeballs of the blind, or sounds uttered in the ears of the deaf. Wherefore, in distributing between the Spirit and the sacraments, I ascribe the whole energy to Him, and leave only a ministry to them; this ministry, without the agency of the Spirit, is empty and frivolous, but when He acts within, and exerts His power, it is replete with energy. ..then, it follows, both that the sacraments do not avail one iota without the energy of the Holy Spirit; and that yet in hearts previously taught by that preceptor, there is nothing to prevent the sacraments from strengthening and increasing faith.”
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 volumes

I take this as the left hand taking away what the right hand gave.


L P said...

What I meant by that quote is that Calvin seems to separate the HS from the Sacraments - baptism included.

The Lutheran view of baptism is that no, the HS is always with the Sacraments in fact if you want to find the HS, you will find him there in the Word, Baptism and the Supper for sure, whether you believe it or not.


Marinus said...

Fair enough. Calvin is saying nothing more than the BoC which says that the benefits of the LS and baptism are received in faith. So, while we receive the Holy Spirit in the sacraments and the attendant Grace, as well as real unity with Christ, we go to the table (or altar) in faith, if we, as the BoC so clearly states, are to eat worthily. So, I assume, the Lutheran who eats worthily also, before the Supper, has the Holy Spirit. Without the HS there is no faith, so without Him she eats condemnation on herself. Thus, we could agree with Calvin when he says that it is the HS who makes the Lord's Supper efficacious in us. It's not as if Christ's body and blood can benefit us without faith and the Holy Spirit; indeed, without these, we damn ourselves at the table/altar. I don't see how the quote presented above by me is in conflict with your quotation. Calvin only states that the HS must be present in the baptized/communicant to make the sacrament EFFICACIOUS, NOT that the validity of the sacraments is predicated on the worthiness of the recipient. Why is this so crazy?

L P said...


Calvin only states that the HS must be present in the baptized/communicant to make the sacrament EFFICACIOUS, NOT that the validity of the sacraments is predicated on the worthiness of the recipient. Why is this so crazy?

That is precisely the point, for Calvin, the HS has to be present, vs the HS IS present are two different things.

When you are being baptized, you have no reason to doubt if the HS is there, HE IS. Hence, Calvin separated the HS from the means of grace.

If one says the HS may or may not be in Baptism or Supper, then you have taken away the promise that Scripture says, he is there. It is not - may be or may be not - it IS, He is there.

I can give you more quotes if you like.


L P said...

Oh btw Marinus.

Go to the FC and SD of the BoC. If Calvin's view is the same as the Lutheran I doubt why the crypto-Calvinist and the Philippists would have to be driven away from Lutheranism.


Marinus said...

Quote away. I have many precious books in my library; many from Luther and from later Lutheran theologians and apologists such as Chemnitz, Gerhard, CFW Walther and Senkbeil among others. One great book is the Book of Concord. It denounces "ex opere operato" and insists that faith must be present in the baptized before baptism: "In the third place, having learned the great benefit and power of Baptism, let us observe further who receives these gifts and benefits of Baptism. This again is most beautifully and clearly expressed in these same words, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved," that is, faith alone makes the person worthy to receive the salutary, divine water profitably. Since these blessings are offered and promised in the words which accompany the water, they cannot be received unless we believe them whole-heartedly. Without faith BAPTISM IS OF NO USE...." (Luther's Large Catechism, part IV).

Do you imagine that one can have faith without the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is certainly granted in baptism, but he also is present there where the word is proclaimed, when prayers are said, when the Psalms are chanted in the great liturgies of the ancient western church and in the singing of biblical hymns and canticles.
With Christian charity,

Marinus said...

You wrote
"If Calvin's view is the same as the Lutheran I doubt why the crypto-Calvinist and the Philippists would have to be driven away from Lutheranism."
I did not know that the crypto-Calvinists were driven from Lutheranism on account of baptism. And easy on poor Philip. Luther himself considered Philip to be the best exegete ever, above even all of the church fathers (that from a book I have sitting in my car containing Luther's sermons on John 17-20). Besides, Philip wrote a glorious retraction before he died and reaffirmed the substantive presence of Christ in the Supper. I respect that very much.

L P said...


I doubt if one can successfully make Calvin a Lutheran although he signed a version of Augsburg Confession.

I cannot imagine one having faith in the Gospel with out the Word and Sacrament, because the HS is there were the Word is preached and the Sacrament administered-OBJECTIVELY.

So I will find it weird if some one says the HS caused him to look at a beautiful sunset and found himself believing in the Gospel.

The category of ex opera operato is separate from the assertion the HS is with the Sacraments.

Put it this way, God gave you the forgiveness of sins uniting you to Christ whether you believe it or not - this objective. You do not enjoy the benefit of that subjectively if you do not believe in what it proclaims - for the Sacraments are that way- it is proclamation of the Atonement as the Word is - Law/Gospel.

So yes, your baptism profits you nothing if you do not accept the benefit it brings, but the HS is preaching that Word to you when you are being reminded of your Baptism. Baptism is of no use if you donot believe not because nothing was given but precisely the unbeliever is rejecting the gift delivered by the baptism.

I point your quote from the LC again, it distinguishes the gift from the enjoyment of the gift.

“We must not suppose that there is some latent virtue inherent in the sacraments by which they, in themselves, confer the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon us, in the same way in which wine is drunk out of a cup, since the only office divinely assigned them is to attest and ratify the benevolence of the Lord towards us; and they avail no farther than accompanied by the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts, and make us capable of receiving this testimony, in which various distinguished graces are clearly manifested…They [the sacraments] do not of themselves bestow any grace, but they announce and manifest it, and, like earnests and badges, give a ratification of the gifts which the divine liberality has bestowed upon us.”
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2

The above was Calvin's attitude towards the Sacraments.

When Luther was assailed by doubts hurled at him by the devil wondering if he was still saved- he did not say - "but I believe", rather he said -"but I am baptized". Of course it meant he believed but he was pointing outside of himself, to something objective - his baptism.

I now refer you to the last half of Christian Visitation Articles of 1592.