Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why Luther is not Quite Protestant

Here's an interesting article sent over to me from Andrew:

Why Luther is not Quite Protestant: The Logic of Faith in a Sacramental Promise


Martin Yee said...

Hi James,

Thanks for highlighting this great article by Phillip Cary. It is also interesting what John Halton wrote on the Confessing Evangelical blog previously about this:

"Cary summarises the usual Protestant approach to the promises of the gospel with what he terms “the Standard Protestant Syllogism”:

The Standard Protestant Syllogism
Major Premise: Whoever believes in Christ is saved.
Minor Premise: I believe in Christ.
Conclusion: I am saved.

What this leads to is a requirement for “reflective faith”. This syllogism requires us not only to believe, but to know we believe. The conditionality of the major premise means that “I am in no position to say the Gospel promise is about me until I can say, ‘I believe’”. Hence for most Protestants, being able to profess conscious belief is “a really big deal”.

Luther’s syllogism, as identified by Cary, is strikingly different:

Luther’s Syllogism
Major premise: Christ told me, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Minor premise: Christ never lies but only tells the truth.
Conclusion: I am baptized (i.e., I have new life in Christ).

The major premise is not only a word of Scripture, but is also “a sacramental word”, spoken to each of us personally by Christ, through the pastor, at our baptism. Hence it is not only a word of Christ in general, but “the word of Christ spoken to me in particular”, as an external word spoken at a particular time and in a particular place.

Crucially, and in stark contrast to the standard Protestant syllogism, the major premise in Luther’s syllogism is unconditional:

The promise applies to me because it says so: Christ says “you” and he means me. So the promise of the Gospel, on Luther’s reckoning, is inherently, unconditionally, for me.

Faith does not make it so but merely recognizes that it is so, a recognition that happens because we dare not call Christ a liar when he tells us, on that one momentous occasion, “I baptize you…” That is why the minor premise is not about my faith but about the truth of Christ.

What faith says, fundamentally, is “God speaks the truth.” Only secondarily, and not fundamentally, faith may also say, “I believe.” But faith may also say, “My faith is weak” or “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” or “I have sinned in my unbelief and denied my Lord, like Peter the apostle.”

Faith may confess its own unbelief. What it cannot do, if it is to remain faith at all, is stop clinging to the truth of God’s Word. For faith does not rely on faith, but on the Word of God."

Pete Holter said...

Have you gotten to hear any of Phillip Cary’s Great Courses lecture series? Thanks to a local library, I’ve gotten to listen to

Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation,

History of Christian Theology
, and

Augustine: Philosopher and Saint

He’s very enjoyable and lively in his lectures. Hopefully you have a library nearby!

With love in Christ,

Andrew said...

James, have you ever read C.F.W. Walther's "The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel"?