Why Calvin and Not Luther?

john_calvin_martin_luther_tshirt-d2353045186492727622cqwl_210[1]Gene Veith has a post over at Cranach entitled “Why Is Calvinism So Influential and Not Lutheranism?” He’s responding to a D.G. Hart post over at Hart’s Old Life blog.

As someone baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, literally a former altar boy/acolyte, who left the church about five minutes after his confirmation, but who returned to the faith in his 20s only to attend Wesleyan churches and, finally, to join Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York (and leave after eight years), let me try and explain the appeal of Calvinism over Lutheranism for many. (I’m speaking more about its contemporary manifestations than its influence in the U.S. over the past three centuries, although the two are not completely unrelated, I don’t think.)

Calvinism, like other evangelical movements, offers new beginnings. Under powerful preaching, even the baptized come to believe they are starting a new life in Christ. Before they may have experienced, or been subjected to, dead religion with its rituals and liturgies, but now they have living faith — a personal relationship with the Risen Christ. They often mark their lives by the day they came to faith (which had nothing to do with water baptism) and how nothing was the same after that. We love the idea of the do-over. The Lutheran teaching of continual repentance does not have the same psychological effect (nor is it intended to).

Calvinism also offers some of the more potent expository preaching you will hear. Where are the Lutheran Spurgeons or Martyn Lloyd-Jones? Or, for that matter, Tim Kellers? The Law-Gospel paradigm in the pulpit does not lend itself easily to the kind of dynamism, for lack of a better word, often found in Reformed pulpits — preaching that often offers specific direction to the person in the pew, over and above repentance. Lutherans can roll their eyes at such preaching, but it is precious in the life of Reformed Christians, as far as sustaining their life of faith goes.

There is also the call to young Christians, especially young men, to (a) discipline themselves and (b) engage the culture. Don’t underestimate the motivational power of these expectations. For example, 2K theology reads too often like defeat in the public square — “Christ is for church on Sundays; at your humdrum job, just keep your head down, do your duty, be obedient, pay your bills, and wait until the Eschaton.” And double predestination, as horrifying as it is, at least makes a kind of logical sense and also has a role to play in motivating the baby believer: “God chooses whom to adopt. And since everyone born deserves to go to hell because of sin, we should be grateful he chooses to save anyone at all.” That’s actually comforting — if you’re convinced you’re one of the Elect. Then you can rest in the fact that you can never fall away, that your faith will never ultimately fail, that God has plucked you out of the garbage bin that is Gehenna* — and for a purpose: not only to grant you eternal life but also to glorify Him.

But how can I know I’m elect? Calvinists have no problem with the subjective element in faith. Romans 8: 16: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Read 2 Peter — it talks of believers making their calling and election sure. (It also talks of  making “every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” Try and preach that in a confessional Lutheran church and you’ll be chastised for confusing law and Gospel.) The Lutheran doctrine of predestination makes little sense to most non-Lutherans: a monergism that also says you can lose your justification. Doesn’t the Scripture say that God will glorify all who are justified? Etc. Etc. That subjective element in Calvinism is then balanced by weighty tomes of systematic theology to exercise your noggin.

Calvinism is also a faith for people on the run. Literally. It was not rooted in one country, dependent on a nation-state or powerful patron. Calvin tried to settle in Geneva, but even there things did not always go well with the locals, who either resented the intrusions in their lives or refused to divvy up power in a specific way. (Calvin and Farel were exiled in 1538.) So whether persecuted by authorities (France, England) or resented by Christians of other temperaments, Calvinism learned to pack light, cut to the chase, emphasize only what’s absolutely necessary. No time to build cathedrals or altars. Even images misdirect. It’s a tabernacle kind of church, not a Temple. In a world of multiple (false) choices and distractions, a faith that does the honing and pruning for you no doubt appeals.

Calvinism is also more Jewish than Greco-Roman. The emphasis on the unseen God, on iconoclasm, on the covenant and its blessings, on the law in the life of the believer makes that seam between testaments less unsightly.

If this is all true, why do so many people leave, in some cases flee, Calvinism/Reformed churches?

1. They come to believe that limited atonement is simply not biblical. It may be the logical consequence of double predestination, but if the Faith were reasonable in that sense, where do you begin and end? What is “reasonable” about the Incarnation or the Cross?

2. The lack of ecumenicity (or even simple courtesy). Lutherans are often slammed for teaching closed Communion, but it does not deny the name “Christian” to Arminians, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or, for that matter, the Reformed. Many Reformed do not believe Catholics and Orthodox are Christians at all, because these communions embrace a false gospel. But that means the overwhelming majority of all Christians who have ever lived got it so wrong that they are almost certainly lost. Which leaves an Elect pool of about 11 people, relatively speaking. Then what constituted the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, for all those centuries before Calvin, Zwingli, Beza, Vermigli, et al.? For a tradition that prizes logic, this doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense, when the Church was promised the Holy Spirit and Christ’s abiding presence.

3. Endless debates and factions — including the paedo-/credo-baptism controversy. Now, Lutherans have seen their splits, too. Pietist vs. confessionalist, mainline (ELCA) vs. “conservative” (LCMS, WELS, and others), confessionalists who don’t ordain women (LCMS, WELS) vs. confessionalists who do (NALC), and the variety of independent bodies. But when you start debating whether God hated the reprobate before the Fall or only after the Fall, it’s time to go do something else with your life.

4. The sacraments, as they’ve been understood, again, by the overwhelming majority of all Christians throughout time: baptismal regeneration and the real bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist**. (I would add auricular confession to an ordained minister/priest and absolution.) Calvinism has this gaping hole in its center — a hole that the Federal Vision folk have tried to address by “thickening” their concept of covenant baptism and the Real Presence, which has raised the ire of those who believe FV types have rejected key points of the historic Reformed confessions. (Google all of R. Scott Clark’s blog posts contra Doug Wilson, and also the Peter Leithart heresy trial.)

Lutheranism is never going to be as “appealing” as Calvinism. It’s going to have to settle for being a church that former/burned-out Reformed repair to.

UPDATE (11/30/13): I see RealClearReligion (and First Thoughts—thanks, guys) has linked to this piece. In light of the vastly increased traffic, I thought I’d add some thoughts regarding From Heaven He Came and Sought Her (Kindle edition), which I’m almost finished reading. It’s as effective a contemporary defense of definite (limited) atonement as you are going to find. It takes seriously all objections, confronts the tough counter Bible verses, and swats away earlier defenses of the doctrine that the authors feel are inadequate or forms of special pleading.

Certainly the Reformed construal of the atonement is more coherent than the Lutheran. Most confessional Lutherans believe in something commonly referred to as Universal Objective Justification. In short, when Jesus said “It is finished,” he meant that the entire world had been reconciled to God by virtue of his sacrifice. (“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”) Lutherans believe and teach that, on this basis, God loves everyone, that Christ died to atone for the sins of everyone, and that no one has been reprobated. In other words, no one need go to hell for God’s justice to be satisfied or his glory to be increased. It is all taken care of at the Cross.

Sounds lovely. And yet: confessional Lutherans also believe in monergism. We do not choose Christ; Christ chooses us. The number of the Elect is fixed. We are justified at the Cross. We are justified in baptism. We are justified by faith. Yet we can lose this very real reconciliation to the Father by a very real act of apostasy. We can say No to God. We can choose to reject the Good News. We can wallow in unbelief. How this is possible if God is solely responsible for our salvation, how this is possible given the “golden chain” drawn by Paul in Romans 8 (“and whom he justified, them he also glorified”), is chalked up to “mystery.” If the human contribution to the economy of salvation is purely a negative one, then isn’t darkness finally stronger than the Light in some souls? Isn’t the power of Death greater than the power of the revivifying Spirit? Doesn’t this smack of a certain Manichaeism, where Evil dukes it out with Good — and let the stronger impulse win?

Yes, despite the nuance, Lutherans never really traveled far from Luther himself, whose views on election were formed by Augustine’s and Peter Lombard’s (see David Hogg’s chapter, ““Sufficient for All, Efficient for Some” Definite Atonement in the Medieval Church,” for an enlightening analysis of the great “Sentences” writer’s theology of atonement). In short, the Elect will persevere. God’s will will be done. The non-Elect, even though believed to have been really, truly justified, will finally fall away. It is as certain in Lutheranism as it is in Reformed theology. Lutherans have simply confronted the pastoral issue of assurance by preaching a “universal” love directed toward all sinners, even though God still has an Elect he will certainly preserve. Why posit a universal atonement in light of this is what makes Reformed heads spin. Mine too. I get a similar form of vertigo when Reformed apologists say God truly loves all people because even the reprobate enjoy rain in due season.

OK — so Bob gets eternal live, peace, and joy. And I get rain on a spring day. Yay me!

I understand that Reason is a whore. But even whores have rights. Including the right to appeal to the law of noncontradiction.

Daniel Strange’s chapter in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her confronts how the very idea of universal atonement implies a universal accessibility to the Gospel. Although he is addressing the Arminian use of the doctrine, not the Lutheran, one does take his point: What is the point of a universal atonement when we all know that the majority of people who have ever lived to date have never even heard the Gospel? Isn’t the atonement thereby “limited”? It seems that Christ’s purpose in dying for all is frustrated by geography, technology, and evil political regimes.

Thomas Schreiner’s chapter, ” ‘Problematic’ Texts for Definite Atonement in the Pastoral and General Epistles,” may be where a lot of Lutherans and other non-Reformed want to start. Schreiner does yeoman’s work in tacking 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. He makes a compelling case for a Reformed reading of 1 Timothy 4:10: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” Here Schreiner (and others) interprets Savior to mean something other than bringer of spiritual salvation, more like “preserver,” given that the referent is “the living God,” namely, the Father, and not, say, “the Lord,” or Christ.

But Schreiner meets his match at 2 Peter 2:1: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” Schreiner:

Is there a reading that treats this text plausibly, and consistently interprets what Peter says about the false teachers in both verse 1 and verses 20–22? I   suggest there is: Peter’s language is phenomenological. In other words, it appeared as if the Lord had purchased the false teachers with his blood (v. 1), though they actually did not truly belong to the Lord. Similarly, the false teachers gave every appearance of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (v. 20) and appeared to have known the righteous saving way (v. 21).

Is that an honest reading of the passage?

I would love to see a full-throated Lutheran (or Arminian) response to this book. The idea of “fairness” isn’t going to go very far with Reformed theologians and apologists. If you believe everyone deserves to suffer an eternal, conscious torment because they inherited a sin nature than ensures they cannot not sin, well, I guess we could all go to hell and God would still be just. I think many could, and do, argue that this is a game rigged against sentient beings with nerve endings brought into existence simply for the purpose of torturing them. And that this would make God the cosmic sadist atheists accuse him of being. If the Fall is the true basis for this righteous judgment, then why not bring the curtain down on history before any more men, women, and (presumably) non-Elect children are subjected to that kind of endless horror? Well, we’re back to the Elect. The world, and the reprobate, are preserved for the sake of the Elect. Which I think those critics would have preferred limited to six or seven — again, given the amount of agony this whole enterprise entails. Makes it hard to make the argument for the preciousness of every human life, no, when so many human lives are little more than Gehenna fodder?

Which is a way of asking the question I think a lot of even Christian foik ask in the deep, dark recesses of their fallen minds when considering the implications of definite atonement or the fate of the unevangelized: “Lord God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, is this really the best you could do?”

Which is why we must always keep in mind that God, if worthy of the name, can only do right. Even when it seems like so much has gone so terribly wrong.

* It is unclear whether the wrath of God abides on the Elect, too, until they come to faith, or whether God loves the Elect even in their unconverted state because of their Elect status. But that would mean that the Elect are also justified from conception on, as opposed to being justified by faith. Discuss. Write me if there’s a fire.
** Here’s a provocative idea: how many churches demand that you kneel at an altar to receive Communion/the Lord’s Supper? Most RC churches have people stand in line to receive. Eastern Orthodox stand. Evangelicals receive sitting, as you would in an ordinary meal. As far as American Christianity goes, on any given Sunday, only Lutherans and High Church Anglicans still kneel at an altar. I do wonder if that posture is off-putting to many, who deem it humiliating, even when told they are kneeling before Christ and not men. I have no data to back this up — I’m just throwing it out there.

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23 thoughts on “Why Calvin and Not Luther?

  1. Anthony,

    Thanks for the great post.

    “There is also the call to young men to (a) discipline themselves and (b) engage the culture. This can be very invigorating to young Christians. 2K theology reads too often like defeat in the public square — “Christ is for church on Sundays; at your humdrum job, just keep your head down, do your duty, be obedient, pay your bills, and wait until the Eschaton.” And double predestination, as horrifying as it is, at least makes a kind of logical sense and also has a role to play in motivating the baby believer: “God chooses whom to adopt. And since everyone born deserves to go to hell because of sin, we should be grateful he chooses to save anyone at all.” That’s actually comforting — if you’re convinced you’re one of the Elect. Then you can rest in the fact that you can never fall away, that your faith will never ultimately fail, that God has plucked you out of the garbage bin that is Gehenna* — and for a purpose: not only to grant you eternal life but also to glorify Him.”

    Yep. And it should be invigorating to us as well. What could be more exciting than growing in our knowledge of the Lord (Jeremiah 9) and becoming more useful to Him – so that you are “his man” in this or that situation when needed? This takes training, engagement and action one would think.

    +Nathan

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  3. Post like this make me wonder if I attend one of the best Reformed churches in America. My church leaders have always been very Presbyterian and welcoming or ecumenical.We had Archbishop Orombi of Uganda at a joint service a few years ago, and my pastor has often noted that while we strive to teach biblical doctrine, our choices are not only right choices, despite their importance.

    Regarding election, we are chosen or adopted into God’s family before the beginning of the world, so yes, you could say God loves his own before the point in time of their conversion (Ephesians 1), but the larger point is that God calls everyone to love him and follow him before anyone or anything else. The elect and non-elect are called to worship God, but the non-elect never will. Double predestination strikes me as a poor description of what’s going on, because God doesn’t choose us for hell. We choose. He chooses us for life.

  4. Your analysis is persuasive. I think that Lutheranism is identified heavily, perhaps still, as an “ethnic” religion: German or Scandinavian.

    Of course, the fact that now the largest Lutheran churches in the world are found in places like Ethiopia and Madagascar kind of blows the German and Scandinavia thing out of the water, but here in the USA, I think this may play a factor.

    Also, much to my personal vexation, Lutherans, particular cradle Lutherans are quietists suffering from extreme inferiority complex.

    “We” are too silly to realize that we have a very unique and invigorating grasp of the full Gospel but we would rather either just clam up or go running after other church bodies, trying to imitate them: non-denominational big-box Evangelical churches have been the favorite model among Lutheran trying to “grow the church.”

    I admire how ardent Calvinist are vigorously engaging the culture and acting as if, well, as if the Christian faith is actually a matter of eternal life and eternal death. Can’t help but admire their zeal.

    Many confessional Lutherans are more content to argue amongst themselves incessantly, find fault in EVERYONE else, even in all the other Lutherans who do not quite measure up to their standard of doctrinal purity and leave things pretty much there.

    Now, Tony, we have got to get you back into an actual congregation….my preference would be you get back into a Lutheran congregation. But that’s another conversation.

    Thanks for a great post.

  5. Pingback: Now Lutherans Are Tightening My Jaws | Old Life Theological Society

  6. There’s another factor that needs to be remembered too when it comes to people leaving Calvinism for Lutheranism.

    One of the things that post-Puritan Calvinism did was emphasize the need for personal holiness and purity. Now, in and of itself that’s not a bad thing. But when combined with the doctrine of election, it set up a terrible cycle for the believer that in some ways is not too different from the Arminian emphasis on works. What came about was the practice of constant introspection and self-examination that unintentionally turns the Christian’s focus upon themselves and their own status, rather than looking to Christ and the cross for salvation.

    Let’s put this in context. You hear “only the elect are saved” and respond with “Well, how do I know that I am numbered among the elect?” The response is having faith, but then you hear that a person may have a false faith. So how do you know? Then they say “look to your fruit for assurance.” So what happens when you happen to look and you see sin, or see good works tainted with wrong motives? You then (whether intentionally or not) start looking, not to Christ and His finished work on the cross, but to “doing more” and “trying harder.” And if you’re not careful, you begin to obsess over whether or not you are “showing enough fruit” as assurance of your salvation.

    Now, in fairness, there are good Calvinists like Tullian Tchvidijan who have avoided this and do indeed emphasize grace. But the doctrine of election can be so elevated as to overshadow the gospel and preoccupy the Christian’s life in such a way as to obscure Christ, because the Christian is constantly looking at himself and his performance rather than resting on Christ’s work on the cross–again, this really isn’t that different from Arminianism. Talk to former Reformed Christians, and I’m willing to bet you’ll hear elements of this in their experience (such as Jordan Cooper: http://issuesetc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/JOURNAL_MASTER_4.pdf )

  7. “Many Reformed do not believe Catholics and Orthodox are Christians, because these communions embrace a false gospel.”

    This is intriguing to me, because one of the “prooftexts” (not a bible text, mind you) for the reformed belief that Roman Catholics by and large can’t be christian is Luther’s ‘dictum’ that Justification by faith alone is the doctrine of a standing or falling church.

    This functions as a claim that since RC churches deny JBFA, you MUST as a protestant, have to accept that the RC church is no true church at all, and those who follow her in denyin JBFA are no true Christians.

    I’d love to know if Lutherans actually don’t unchurch the RCs for JBFA, since it was always my impression they did.

    Reformed people often handle “what about pre-reformation people without JBFA” with some kind of development of doctrine idea.

    • Lutherans believe that Catholics and Orthodox (i.e. people) are Christians even when the church body they belong to (the RC Church, the Orthodox Church) errs mightily in some way or other in its official doctrinal stance. Or, to put it another way, it is precisely because of Justification by Faith that we know there are Christians in all churches, because faith in Jesus Christ, not outward association with this or that denomination, makes one a Christian. We believe the Holy Spirit makes believers “when and where He wills” as the Gospel is proclaimed, even if the human understanding or presentation of the doctrine of justification by faith (or any other doctrinal formulation) isn’t as clear or precise as Lutherans would prefer.Of course making our human presentation of the Gospel (or justification by faith) as clear and precise as humanly possible is to be sought after due to the benefit it gives to the care of souls.There may not be as much light coming through a dirty window as through a clean one. The clean is to be preferred but that does not take away from the fact that light through a dirty window is still light and one can see much more in a room with dirty windows than in a room with no light at all.

  8. Anthony,

    Here is your Lutheran Spurgeon/Lloyd-Jones: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_A._Maier

    At least as far as prominence and ability to draw even a non-Lutheran crowd through strong and intelligent preaching: “Men such as Dr. Billy Graham credit Maier’s work as inspirational for their own ministries”.

    +Nathan

  9. While some elements of the Reformed tradition indeed don’t recognize R.C.s or E.O.s as Christians, others do, same as many Lutherans (though doubtless not all; no doubt you have your hardliners, too); you tar with a rather wide brush.

    I’d love to hear from you why. given that in spite of all the weaknesses you proclaim (real or otherwise), Calvinism remains so attractive and dynamic, over and against your primarily ethnic German / Scandinavian Lutheran tradition. I suppose you did address the reasons here as you see them, but why the sourgrapesfest afterwards. I don’t know.

    It’s funny; whenever I encounter my fellow Reformed online discussing Lutheranism, notwithstanding doctrinal differences, I tend to find general goodwill towards Lutherans, emphasis of commonalities, and the like. Whereas whenever Lutherans talk about Calvinism online, mostly one gets bitterness and resentment coming clearly through. I don’t know why that is, but I find it sad. Aren’t we both Reformational, confessional Protestants, distinct from both the liberal mainline Protestants and born again, evangelical types we find ourselves amongst, as rather a small, embattled minority? Wouldn’t we be better served by, I don’t know, charity and emphasis on brotherhood?

    Just a thought.

    Oh, and by the way, even if you were to, say, get upset with me for pointing out these things, ban me from commenting, or whatever, because you don’t like me saying all this, I’ll still link you, and enjoy your blog regardless, just as I do now, because I like it, and generally like what you have to say, even if and when I don’t always agree. That’s just how I am, bad bad Calvinist though I may be. :)

    Cheers.

    • Will S,

      I understand why you might feel that way. I used to think that way to.

      That said, here is my philosophy now:

      “…our orientation should be to furiously emphasize our commonalities and to furiously emphasize our honest differences, because the truth not spoken – or rarely spoken – in love is not the fullness of love at all. Even some in the unbelieving world know as much! Do you, like me, think of the pagans’ words recorded by Tertullian: “See how they love one another!”? I say yes! Let us aim to love one another in truth as we patiently work through the tragic reality that there must be differences among us – to reveal who has God’s approval!”

      No reason things need to get violent. : )

      +Nathan

      • Nathan, I do agree, in general with that, but shouldn’t we divide that into two spheres? i.e. in public, generally emphasize our commonalities, while amongst ourselves, emphasize our distinctives?

        Just a thought.

        BTW, I’m not the only one to notice Reformed being more appreciative of Lutherans than Lutherans are of Reformed; see this recent comment here.

        And consider that the White Horse Inn radio program has two Reformed hosts (Kim Riddlebarger, Michael Horton), a Reformed Baptist (Ken Jones), AND a Lutheran (Rod Rosenbladt).

        Can you imagine a radio program that was half- or more Lutheran having a Reformed guy on it?

        I thought not.

        Y’all be far more sectarian and far less generous of spirit than we Reformed be, in not only my observation, but that of others, even yourselves if you were honest enough to admit it. I even see that one of your most well-known ardent anti-Reformed Lutheran pitbulls is a commenter on this particular thread, going by other things ‘ve seen him say at his blog and elsewhere, including here.

        Just sayin’.

        • Will S.

          I have to start by saying that I don’t encounter a lot of Reformed theology online, as I don’t read a lot of reformed blogs. And I don’t read that much Reformed theology in books anymore. So, my experience on which this observation is based is somewhat limited. But what seems to you to be general good will and an emphasis on commonalities has often seemed to me to be kind of patronizing.

          The general American Calvinist assessment of Lutheran theology seems to be that it was a good start, but that Lutheran theology just never fully shed the errors of the past and never fully took its biblical scholarship to the next logical step which is Calvinism. What you describe as good will and commonality has sometimes seemed to be the kind that a Major League Baseball player would extend to a former High School teammate who got as far as AAA ball, but never made it out of the minor leagues.

          Sacraments, for example, are (to the Reformed) just traditions to which Lutherans have a rather primitive attachment, not really anything about which the Reformed are concerned and which the Reformed have, as the more advanced Christians, shed long ago. And, since so many Reformed don’t understand why (or even know that) sacraments are such a fundamental part of Lutheran theology, they don’t understand why Lutherans get so excited when the Reformed trivialize them.

          I’m not saying that this impression I have is universal among the Reformed I interact with, or that it is explicit, or even intentional. But I still sense it sometimes.

          On the other hand, when I have had the opportunity to really discuss in depth a comparrison between Lutheran theology and Reformed theology, I think that my Reformed friends and I have both seen how distinct the two systems are. One of my Reformed friends has frequently been frustrated, when he asks me what he thought was a simple “yes or no” question: “Do Lutherans believe in (Fill in Reformed term)”, because I frequently have to back up several steps of logic and redefine the term to explain what Lutherans believe about that subject.

          Finally, I do appreciate that the White Horse Inn has included a Rod Rosenbladt, and I have to concede that no similar confessional Lutheran program that I know of does so. Although there is a move at Milwaukee Lutheran High School to allow minority representation of Reformed Christians on its governing board, because there are a minority of Reformed Christian students enrolled there. But in true Lutheran fashion, I wonder whether I should be alarmed by this.

          The thing is, I think that insular Lutheran attitude is very much a result of our history of German Lutherans fleeing Prussia to avoid having their Lutheran Churches absorbed into a State Reformed/Lutheran church, which was followed by the same Germans finding themselves in America surrounded by an American Reformed culture that they feared would assimilate them. So I see the reasoning behind the stand-offishness, even as I regret that it gives some offense to some Reformed Christians such as yourself.

          • Will S,

            “Nathan, I do agree, in general with that, but shouldn’t we divide that into two spheres? i.e. in public, generally emphasize our commonalities, while amongst ourselves, emphasize our distinctives?”

            I’m not sure this is a good idea. For one, we never learn how to learn how to be civil in public for the benefit of all. Second, it seems to me that there are more Lutherans who can accurately represent Reformed theology at its deepest levels than the opposite. Maybe that impression is wrong, but think it is correct and that Kerner offers valuable insight here as well.

            +Nathan

          • kerner: I see. Certainly, it is true we do tend to view ourselves in that manner, and Lutherans likewise, as per your analogy, though hope we’re not always or even often quite so condescending as you describe. Certainly, I try not to act thus, for my part.

            And I can appreciate the Lutheran defensiveness vis-à-vis Reformed, given church and political history in Europe and the New World.

            But can we move beyond that, today?

            I’d like to think we could. I think, despite the very different views of the sacraments, we have far more in common with each other than either of us do with born-again evangelicals, and if you think your ancestors found themselves in a Reformed sea previously, we both find ourselves in an evangelical one, today.

            And we have also have in common opposition to the secular, progressive zeitgeist, and also resurgent Islam, too, for that matter.

            I am in favour of what Serbian Orthodox writer Srdja Trifkovic has called ‘anti-ecumenical unity’; holding strongly to our respective distinctives particularly within our churches, but especially in the public square, emphasizing what we have in common, and working together as much as possible.

            And Reformed and Lutherans both hold to the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds; yes, we have our respective different confessions and catechisms, but we do have some things in common, despite our many differences.

            I wish we could have some level of greater unity between ourselves, in this world, and less squabbling.

            Ah well.

            • Will S:

              While I understand Nathan’s hesitancy, I think your idea deserves more consideration than many Lutherans give it. When Christianity itself is under widespread attack, Chrstians of all denominations need to find a way to unify on some basic level to defend our common faith. That we also need to maintain the integrity of our more complex doctrine is equally important. But I agree with you that we really need to do both.

              It would even be nice to be able to oppose errors like Arminianism together, but here I have to agree with Nathan that that is going to be really hard as long as Calvinists mistakenly believe that Lutherans are merely prospective Calvinists who just never graduated. We aren’t you know. While we reach common conclusions, Lutheran theology and Reformed theology are different constructs and our arguments would clash even as we tried to agree in debating the common opponent.

              Still, I appreciate the thought and I hope we can try have more common forums like the White Horse Inn where we discuss theology with mutual respect, and I hope Lutherans learn to initiate some of these.

              • Thank you, Kerner.

                Yes, we can’t easily engage Arminianism if we relate to it differently, certainly. But I suppose we could still attempt to, by emphasizing whatever ways in which we both view it as deficient, from whatever common ground we do have between our perspectives, on where Arminianism errs. Surely, there is some!

                I do recognize that Lutheranism is its own fully developed system, even if it does seem that we Reformed do indeed tend to view it as ‘insufficiently far enough along the way to Real Protestantism Like Us!’. We have our biases; you have yours; as you say, different constructs, so that can’t be helped.

                Nevertheless, I do hope we can somehow, in spite of all that, find ways towards mutual respect, and positive interaction between our different traditions. Let us pray it may be so.

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