Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obama and McCain at Saddleback

I am sure many of you saw this program, as I did. Aside from the politicizing from both candidates, I have some problems with this type of forum. The question I have is, "should a pastor be taking this role in America's politics?" It seems to me that Rick Warren thinks a little more of his importance than he should. His job should be shepharding God's sheep. From what I have seen from Rick Warren lately, he has been much more focused on the world's problems than the word of God. Should a church building be such a place for political ventures? I don't think so. The church is for the preaching of God's word and the administration of the Sacraments, not for politics.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Lutheran evaluation of the five points of Calvinism

Often in evangelicalism, the question is asked "are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?" No other alternatives are given. How should a good Lutheran answer this question? Some would day that they agree with only the first two points of the acronym TULIP but rejects the rest. A more nuanced view, which I would take, is that there is truth to be affirmed in four of the five points.

Now to go through each point:

1. Total Depravity- The Lutheran language on this point differs, as "the bondage of the will" is spoken of rather than total depravity; this is due to a possible misunderstanding that mankind is as evil as possible (utter depravity). However, the theological point remains the same. Humans are unable to approach God apart from grace, because the sinner's will is fallen; they are in bondage to sin.

2. Unconditional Election- Lutheran theology affirms, along with Calvinism, that God's election unto life is unconditional. God does not elect based on foreseen faith or merit, but out of pure grace with no regard to the behavior of the elect sinner. Thus, on this point here is also agreement, though it is to be noted that Lutherans reject the negative side of this teaching, that God predestines people unto death. In Lutheranism, predestination is single rather than double.

3. Limited Atonement- This is the major area of disagreement with Reformed Theology. Lutherans affirm a universal saving will in God, as well as a universal atonement. The atonement was objectively given for all, but its benefits must be subjectively received by faith. For more on this point, see my article here, or listen to this podcast on the subject.

4. Irresistable Grace- On this point, there are both areas of agreement and disagreement. Along with Calvinism, Lutherans affirm that when one is saved, it is the result of sovereign grace overcoming the sinner's fallen will, and not in any way the result of a free decision on the part of man. Lutherans also affirm that God's election will always result in final salvation; in other words, election is immutable. However, we don't limit saving grace to the elect, but teach that grace is universal in scope and intent. For more on that point, listen to this program.

5. Perseverence of the Saints- On this point, as with the fourth, there is both agreement and disagreement. It is unfortunate Lutherans too often confuse this doctrine with the idea of "once saved always saved", and thus reject the entirety of the Reformed doctrine. This idea is that if one "accepts Christ" at some point in their life, they may then live as they please and still gain eternal life. This is not and never was the Calvinistic doctrine. The Calvinist's doctrine of perseverence is the outcome of the doctrine of election. Those whom God elected, He will preserve until the end. All of God's elect will be finally saved. It emphasizes the reality that it is God who preserves the elect in faith. Regarding monergism, there is agreement here. Lutherans too argue that perseverance is the sole work of God, not of man. However, we confess that some do depart from the faith, and lose their salvation. You can read my article on that subject here.

The difference between Lutheran and Reformed theology on these points is that the Lutheran system allows seeming tensions to stand side by side, as both are affirmed in Scripture. God's grace is universal, yet those who are saved are so by grace alone. One who is saved is elected unto salvation unconditionally, and the glory goes to God; one who is damned is lost only because they purposefully rejected God's grace, all the blame goes to the human person.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Fundamental Theological Issues which resulted in my "conversion"

Why I became a Lutheran

1. The starting point of Lutheran theology is the starting point of the New Testament Writers
Calvinism starts with the doctrine of God and from there developes it's theological system. This is the fundamental difference between the two great branches of the reformation. In Calvinism, the begining of theology is the glory of God. God glorifies Himself in all He does. He is in control of all that happens. He has decreed all things from all eternity for His own pleasure. This includes the saving of some and damning of others. Christ then comes in the picture to execute God's justice for those whom He has chosen.
Lutheranism begins with Christ. God cannot be known apart from Christ. God does of course do all things for His pleasure and is in control of all, however, we cannot seek Him there. God in His glory is unknown to us. We must not try and study His secret counsel. God must only be sought as He has perfectly revealed Himself in Christ, as testified by the Holy Scriptures. I believe this because this is where the Bible itself leads us. The gospels begin not with God in His glory, but God coming down and revealing Himself to us as a man in the person of Jesus. That is the only way He may be known, as Paul testifies, "He (Christ) is the image of the invisible God." (Colossians 1:15) If He is the image of the invisible God, why search for God apart from Him?

2. Lutheranism rightly emphasizes Universal Grace and Sola Gratia
In Calvinism, election is seen in the hidden decrees of God. This is how the infralapsarian/supralapsarian controversies are possible. Double predestination is nothing more than God's glorifying Himself by saving and damning. The starting point is the doctrine of God.
In Lutheranism, the starting point is the sinfulness of man, and the free grace of God in Christ. God has saved us apart from anything that we can do on our own. We are lost and hopeless children of Adam. This culminates in the doctrine of justification. Election is nothing else than a further explanation of this fact. For example, in Romans we are first told through chapters 3-8, that we are justified by faith alone apart from works. From that starting point, Paul goes even further in defending this doctrine by saying that even our faith was a gift from God. Not even that was contributed! Election further explains and defends the gratuity of grace, and the sinfulness of man. The Bible never describes election in such a systematic and rigid way as Calvinism does. It is always used in a soteriological context. This does not mean that Lutheranism falls into the same errors as Arminianism. Predestination is not based upon mere foreseen faith or good deeds. It is not merely the predestination of a plan. God has predestined specific people unto salvation unconditionally, and will preserve them unto the end.
Calvinism restricts grace to the elect. Christ died only for the elect, and God desires only the salvation of the elect. Passages such as I Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9 are explaned to be about the elect alone.
Lutheranism teaches that God truly offers grace to all men. Thus, if a man is damned it is completely his own doing and cannot be attributed to the fact that God never offered him grace. I Timothy 2:4 is clear that God wishes "all men to be saved." In the context of this passage, Paul is urging that we pray for all men, including those in authority. The thought continues through verse 4. If verse four does not literally mean "all men" but only "all kinds of men" then Paul must also mean that we do not pray for all men, but only all kinds of men. This clearly distorts his point. Jesus also weeps over Jerusalem because he desired to gather them to Himself but they refused. Calvinists have often have trouble with this passage, assuming that Christ is talking only of the elect in Jerusalem. Explanations offered by Calvinists, such as James White in The Potter's Freedom are unconvincing. It is obvious that scripture teaches God wills the salvation of all men, and that He has predestined unconditionally a specific group of people unto salvation. If God offers salvation to all, why does He only give the gift of faith and preserve some? We must not answer this question, but accept in humble faith that what God's word says is true. Calvinists have tried to answer this question by either attributing two wills to God or by trying to explain away universalistic passages. Scripture says nothing of contradictions in God, and we must not assume that to be the case.

3. Lutheranism accepts what God says in His word about the Eucharist
The doctrine of Calvin in regards to the Lord's Supper is that Christ is spiritually present when recieving for the believer upon the condition of faith. Christ according to His human nature is only at one place, and that is at the right hand of God. Thus only His divine nature is present. However, through faith, the Spirit causes the believer to ascend to heaven to commune with the whole Christ, divine and human.
Lutheranism teaches that Christ, at the institution of the meal, means, "this IS my body", which Calvinists have taken to mean "this represents my body." Lutherans take Jesus at His word. It IS His body. Fortunately, the apostle Paul also touched on this subject, giving us assurance that the Lutheran interpretation is correct. "Is not the coup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:15) Notice that there is nothing here about the soul ascending to heaven, or about the Spirit, or about Christ according to His divine nature, or about a "symbol" of the blood and body of Christ. These things are mere inventions of men, escaping the obvious meaning of the text. The Bible says not a word about these things which the reformed add to these passages. We actually participate in His actual body and blood. Body and blood are attributes of the human nature, not the divine. What about the claim that Christ is only present on the condition of faith? Paul here gives us a clear answer, "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 11:27) Those who recieve the Supper without faith still recieve His actual body and blood. Notice that it does not say, "sinning against a symbold of the body and blood."
If this is true, then how can Christ be at so many places at one time according to His human nature? The answer is, "I don't know but the Bible teaches it." Christ being seated at God's right hand means that Christ is seated in a position of authority with the father, not that he is seated on an actual throne next to an actual throne of God the father. This would suggest that God the father Himself has a human body. It is clear in scripture that Christ can do things which a normal man cannot. He at times dissapears in the gospels, and even walks through walls. This does not mean that Christ is a mere phantom or that He is not truly fully human. Rather, due to the union of the person of Christ who is both God and man, He is not limited in the same ways we are. Paul gives a clear expression in his epistle to the Ephesians that Christ's human nature is omnipresent with His divine. "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens in order that He might fill the whole universe." (Ephesians 4:10) If this means, as Calvinists take it, that Christ at His ascension filled the whole universe only according to His divine nature, this means that before this Christ's divine nature did not fill the universe. If omnipresense is a necessary attribute of deity, this means that Christ was not truly divine! Christ, as God, always filled the universe. It was only after His ascension that the Godman filled all things.

4. Lutherans accept what God teaches about Baptism.
According to basically all protestants, begining with the reformed, Baptism was seen as a sign that did not actually impart grace to the recipient. The Bible talks sometimes of "spirit baptism" and sometimes of "water baptism." Baptism is often seen as something we do in order to show our faith to the world. In Presbyterianism, baptism is a covenant sign, given to all the members of a believing household. It does not impart grace to the infant, but incorporates them into the Church and the family covenant, offering them forgiveness of sins.
As a Lutheran, I can say with the apostle Paul, "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." Baptism actually gives what the Bible says it gives. It is not a mere symbol. As Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 6, man must be born of water and of the Spirit. The water in baptism is not seperated from the Spirit in baptism. Some will object that John baptized with water but Jesus baptized with fire. Does this not mean that John's was water baptism, and Jesus meant an inward change of the heart, without regards to water? No, the difference was redemptive historical. John's baptism did not impart the Spirit as later baptism did because the Spirit was not yet sent as Christ's vicar. This happened at Pentecost. After this point, baptism with water also gave the Spirit. Regeneration and baptism are not seperated in the New Testament as some would believe. In Titus 3, regeneration is said to be a washing, clearly refering to water. The book of 1 Peter has a lengthy discussion of regeneration. He explains in chapter 3 how this regeneration occurs. "...baptism now saves you, not by the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21) baptism saves, because through it God imparts the Spirit and forgives sin. This being said, can may be saved without baptism? Yes, man is justified by faith alone, however, God gives and sustains faith through means. Those means are word and sacrament.
This being understood, I can baptize my infant with the assurance that he has died and been raised with Christ. Through baptism, my child is given the gift of faith. But can an infant actually believe? That does not seem possible? Well, it may not seem possible, and I certainly do not understand it, however the Bible teaches it. John the baptist leapt in his mother's womb. David also teaches it. "From birth I have relied on you" (Psalm 71:6)

5. Lutherans reject human reason as a means to find God's truth.
These errors in reformed theology come from vain attempts of man to use his own reason to create doctrine. It does not make sense how God could give grace universally and save by grace alone. For this reason, universal grace is rejected. It does not make sense how Christ as a man can be omnipresent. Thus, the clear words of our Lord are rejected. It does not make sense how God could use such a thing as water to give so great a gift! Thus, baptism is made into a mere symbol. It does not make sense how an infant can have faith. Thus, infant baptism is rejected. Some of the most popular attempts at defending reformed theology are philosophical discussions, rather than straight exegesis, for example: John Owen's the Death of Death, and John Edwards' the Freedom of the Will. A fundamental error of the Calvinist side of the reformation is that though they accept the principle of Sola Scriptura, they too often use their reason to make sense of things which do not make sense to mortal man. God's truth is much larger than our brains. This is why Calvinist's begin with rational discussions of the essense and decrees of God, while Lutherans begin with the foolishness of the cross.

I am going to begin using this thing again

I have decided to continue my blogging, after a very long time of posting nothing. Since the last time I posted here, my theological views have changed. Thus, this blog will now be primarilly a defense of confessional Lutheranism as the correct interpretation of Holy Scripture. My main theological positions in many ways have not changed. I am still a very strong monergist. The five solas of the reformation are at the heart of my belief system. I still believe that God selected individual people unto salvation and will preserve His elect until the end. While the Reformed Confessions speak much truth, I believe them to be in error in a few points, primarilly in dealing with the sacraments.