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.

18 comments:

orthodoxy hunter said...

Some links you might like:
http://www.orlutheran.com/html/calvinisttheology.html
http://fivepintlutheran.blogspot.com/

Enjoy!

X said...

Another blog you might like:
http://jackkilcrease.blogspot.com/2010/03/election-what-calvinists-dont-get.html

jrb said...

I appreciate your insights on Calvin's 5 points. I grew up in the Lutheran church, and while I now attend John MacArthur's church, which is pretty much Calvinistic in most respects, I am now becoming interested again in my Lutheran roots and in Lutheran theology. I do take issue with some points you make, however. Or at least I have some questions about them. This of course may only be due to my lack of a full
understanding of the Lutheran position, so perhaps you could enlighten me.

1) With regard to so-called "double predestination", I really don't see any other alternative. All men are born into sin. Apart from Christ, all men would be lost. Damnation, you could say, is man's "default setting". Therefore, if the doctrine of Election is true, and if this means that ALL the elect and ONLY the elect are ultimately saved, then the un-elect are, in effect, elected unto damnation. The only way I can see around this would be if it's possible for some of the elect to be ultimately lost, and/or some of the un-elect to be ultimately saved, but I don't think the doctrine of Election allows for that.

2) Regarding limited atonement. I really don't understand how someone who's sins have truly been atoned for can end up in hell. I have been told that Christ died for ALL sins, but that the benefits of the cross must be RECEIVED through faith. For the lost, however, this would mean that their sins are really paid for twice. Once by Christ on the cross, and again by them in hell. Do Lutherans have an answer for this dilemma?

Actually I can think of one way around this: Suppose all sins ever committed by everyone were imputed to Christ on the cross. Well, there's another aspect to salvation, which is the imputation of Christ's life of righteous obedience to the believer. Could it simply be that, since the un-elect have not received Christ's righteousness, and so still have a sinful nature when they die, in hell they are therefore punished forever only for the sins which they will commit forever in hell, and NOT for their sins committed on earth? I know this is highly speculative and probably not true, but it's the only alternative that makes sense to me.

Well, since I went on longer than I intended I'll stop with these two questions for now. Thanks for your help.

John Borden
johnborden1@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

JRB,

I had to post this in two posts because it was too long for one (blogger would not accept it).

I realize it has been a while since you left your comment, but I will try to answer your questions for you. First, let me add, I am in no way affiliated with this blog. I am a WELS Lutheran studying for Staff Ministry who happened upon this posting and read your comment as well. On to your questions.

First, in regard to double predestination. I get what you are saying about man's "default setting," but I would encourage you not to confuse your use of computers with God's plan of salvation.

Here's what I mean. Terminology like "default setting" comes from the computer world. In the world of computers, everything is based on programming. Nothing works without it. Therefore, programmers may allow the end user various "options" to change their "settings," but there must be "defaults" built-in, in order for the program to function.

Now let's step back from the world of computers to God's world and his plan of salvation. While it may be true that man (in his current state), by "default," is damned; this was not God's doing, but ours through Adam. God did not "program" (if you will) it into His creation from the beginning. God's "default setting" for mankind was perfection and everlasting life. Adam and Eve rejected this "default" and passed it on to their descendants for all generations. This being the case, we constantly and continually reject (reject is a key word here) God's offer to restore (another key word) us back to the original "default setting" of being made perfect (spiritually and one day physically) and having everlasting life.

So, to clarify – when God elects some to salvation, it is done with determination and purpose (not to mention mercy and grace among other things on God's part) to carry out his will. When the rest, who (in their current state – which is not God's original “default”) are damned “by default” (so to speak), reject God; the determination and purposefulness is on the part of man, not God. Election involves purpose and determination. God is not electing anyone to hell. If anything (and I wouldn't normally put it this way), men are electing themselves for hell.

Look at Romans 9:22 & 23 for example. In the NIV it reads:

Ro 9:22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.

Note the use of the word “prepared” in both verses. The NIV is not the best translation of these two verses as the original Greek uses two different words which have both been translated as “prepared.” Even still, you can get somewhat of a sense of the distinction. Notice in verse 22 the text simply says “prepared.” In verse 23 though, it says, “whom he prepared.” This “he” makes all the difference in the world. What Paul is really saying is that the objects of God's wrath have prepared themselves for destruction, while the objects of his mercy have been prepared by God. This is (as I understand it) a passage frequently used by Calvinist's to support double predestination, but it, in fact, rejects it when understood correctly. The Holman Christian Standard Bible brings out the sense of this passage more clearly. Notice the first “prepared” has been rendered “ready.”


Continued in next post...

Anonymous said...

JRB,

I had to post this in two posts because it was too long for one (blogger would not accept it).

I realize it has been a while since you left your comment, but I will try to answer your questions for you. First, let me add, I am in no way affiliated with this blog. I am a WELS Lutheran studying for Staff Ministry who happened upon this posting and read your comment as well. On to your questions.

First, in regard to double predestination. I get what you are saying about man's "default setting," but I would encourage you not to confuse your use of computers with God's plan of salvation.

Here's what I mean. Terminology like "default setting" comes from the computer world. In the world of computers, everything is based on programming. Nothing works without it. Therefore, programmers may allow the end user various "options" to change their "settings," but there must be "defaults" built-in, in order for the program to function.

Now let's step back from the world of computers to God's world and his plan of salvation. While it may be true that man (in his current state), by "default," is damned; this was not God's doing, but ours through Adam. God did not "program" (if you will) it into His creation from the beginning. God's "default setting" for mankind was perfection and everlasting life. Adam and Eve rejected this "default" and passed it on to their descendants for all generations. This being the case, we constantly and continually reject (reject is a key word here) God's offer to restore (another key word) us back to the original "default setting" of being made perfect (spiritually and one day physically) and having everlasting life.

So, to clarify – when God elects some to salvation, it is done with determination and purpose (not to mention mercy and grace among other things on God's part) to carry out his will. When the rest, who (in their current state – which is not God's original “default”) are damned “by default” (so to speak), reject God; the determination and purposefulness is on the part of man, not God. Election involves purpose and determination. God is not electing anyone to hell. If anything (and I wouldn't normally put it this way), men are electing themselves for hell.

Look at Romans 9:22 & 23 for example. In the NIV it reads:

Ro 9:22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.

Note the use of the word “prepared” in both verses. The NIV is not the best translation of these two verses as the original Greek uses two different words which have both been translated as “prepared.” Even still, you can get somewhat of a sense of the distinction. Notice in verse 22 the text simply says “prepared.” In verse 23 though, it says, “whom he prepared.” This “he” makes all the difference in the world. What Paul is really saying is that the objects of God's wrath have prepared themselves for destruction, while the objects of his mercy have been prepared by God. This is (as I understand it) a passage frequently used by Calvinist's to support double predestination, but it, in fact, rejects it when understood correctly. The Holman Christian Standard Bible brings out the sense of this passage more clearly. Notice the first “prepared” has been rendered “ready.”


Continued in next post...

Anonymous said...

JRB,

I had to post this in two posts because it was too long for one (blogger would not accept it).

I realize it has been a while since you left your comment, but I will try to answer your questions for you. First, let me add, I am in no way affiliated with this blog. I am a WELS Lutheran studying for Staff Ministry who happened upon this posting and read your comment as well. On to your questions.

First, in regard to double predestination. I get what you are saying about man's "default setting," but I would encourage you not to confuse your use of computers with God's plan of salvation.

Here's what I mean. Terminology like "default setting" comes from the computer world. In the world of computers, everything is based on programming. Nothing works without it. Therefore, programmers may allow the end user various "options" to change their "settings," but there must be "defaults" built-in, in order for the program to function.

Now let's step back from the world of computers to God's world and his plan of salvation. While it may be true that man (in his current state), by "default," is damned; this was not God's doing, but ours through Adam. God did not "program" (if you will) it into His creation from the beginning. God's "default setting" for mankind was perfection and everlasting life. Adam and Eve rejected this "default" and passed it on to their descendants for all generations. This being the case, we constantly and continually reject (reject is a key word here) God's offer to restore (another key word) us back to the original "default setting" of being made perfect (spiritually and one day physically) and having everlasting life.

So, to clarify – when God elects some to salvation, it is done with determination and purpose (not to mention mercy and grace among other things on God's part) to carry out his will. When the rest, who (in their current state – which is not God's original “default”) are damned “by default” (so to speak), reject God; the determination and purposefulness is on the part of man, not God. Election involves purpose and determination. God is not electing anyone to hell. If anything (and I wouldn't normally put it this way), men are electing themselves for hell.

Look at Romans 9:22 & 23 for example. In the NIV it reads:

Ro 9:22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.

Note the use of the word “prepared” in both verses. The NIV is not the best translation of these two verses as the original Greek uses two different words which have both been translated as “prepared.” Even still, you can get somewhat of a sense of the distinction. Notice in verse 22 the text simply says “prepared.” In verse 23 though, it says, “whom he prepared.” This “he” makes all the difference in the world. What Paul is really saying is that the objects of God's wrath have prepared themselves for destruction, while the objects of his mercy have been prepared by God. This is (as I understand it) a passage frequently used by Calvinist's to support double predestination, but it, in fact, rejects it when understood correctly. The Holman Christian Standard Bible brings out the sense of this passage more clearly. Notice the first “prepared” has been rendered “ready.”


Continued in next post...

Anonymous said...

Lutheranism is NOT Christian. Only Calvinism and Arminianism are in Christian camps. Lutheranism is too focused on sacraments for salvation.

Jordan Cooper said...

I hope you do realize that you just damned the entire church from the first through the 16th century. Find me one church father, or medievalist, who did not hold to the idea that sacraments give grace to the recipient.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was more of a non-denominational Christian but I am slowly becoming a Lutheran. I have listened a lot to RC Sproul which is why I am familiar with TULIP. I am confused by how we believe in single predestination rather than double predestination. A previous poster compared it to a default position. I find myself thinking of a similar thing. I imagine that there are people in a room and God gives the gift of faith to some of them and not to others. Since not believing in God is itself a sin, then the ones who didn't receive the gift of faith will not be ABLE to believe. We can't seek God without him first seeking us. What happens to those that don't receive this gift?
"'Who will believe (you say) that he is loved of God?'--I answer, no man will believe it! No man can! But the elect shall believe it; the rest shall perish without believing it, filled with indignation and blashpheming, as you here describe them." Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will. (I don't know how to underline with this.)
I have other questions but this is the most important one on this doctrine.
rainbowheartlove.wordpress.com

Jordan Cooper said...

We believe in single predestination as opposed to double because we believe it is God's earnest will that all are saved. How can God desire all to be saved if only some are elect? I don't know, and don't have to. Scripture affirms both truths.

paul the apostle sandhu said...

Where those paragraphs were saying about jesus died for sum elect or WHITE jesus died for the elect. That is the biggest crap I ever heard. He died for all men. God has created so many different tribes. It is man that brought the differences into arguments and sight. God sees us all as one. Don't pay any attention to that and do not believe it. Its the enemies plan for us 2 dwell in confusion. Don't let it happen

letssharedebates said...

I am a Calvinist and I was happy to see that you didn't go out of your way to build a strawman of what Calvinists believe but still, you were wrong when it comes to limited atonment. The God of reform theology is SOVEREIGN LORD over all things. In other words, God fails in nothing but accomplishes His purposes in all things. He knows the end from the beginning and will not be sitting around mopping, eternally bummed because He wanted to save someone and wasn't able to do it because He was defeated by a man who rejected Him and was able to accomplish his Human will in defiance to God's Divine will. No, the God of Calvinism is SOVEREIGN LORD and cowtows to the will of no man but instead He created man and accomplishes His purposes through man "for who can resist His will" as it is taught in Romans 9. If Christ died for someone as a payment for that person's sins then that persons sins are payed for and that person is clean and acceptable in the eyes of God. You might want to check out an apologist named james white. His website is www.aomin.org Check him out, hes not full of wishy washy bad theology that teaches a God who trips over Himself.

Jordan Cooper said...

I would recommend looking at my posts on the subject of limited atonement where I interact with Dr. White's arguments.

tony said...

Perhaps taking a closer look at the Fall of Man we will better understand election. We are all born "in sin." As a result we all deserve Judgement/God's wrath and hell. God's is showing his attributes-- either perfect Grace, or perfect Judgement. He shows both. How can he show his Perfect Judgement/Justice if he offers "universal saving grace" to all? I say, He does not universally save all. This is NOT double predestination. We are responsible for sin through Adam, and are only getting Justice. This clearly shows how thankful--the elect--should be when saved through faith we do not deserve. I was raised catholic, once saved I found a conservative lutheran church-- but, the more I learn the more reformed I become. Calvanism is misunderstood on many levels.

tony said...

Perhaps taking a closer look at the Fall of Man we will better understand election. We are all born "in sin." As a result we all deserve Judgement/God's wrath and hell. God's is showing his attributes-- either perfect Grace, or perfect Judgement. He shows both. How can he show his Perfect Judgement/Justice if he offers "universal saving grace" to all? I say, He does not universally save all. This is NOT double predestination. We are responsible for sin through Adam, and are only getting Justice. This clearly shows how thankful--the elect--should be when saved through faith we do not deserve. I was raised catholic, once saved I found a conservative lutheran church-- but, the more I learn the more reformed I become. Calvinism is misunderstood on many levels.

Jordan Cooper said...

Tony, thanks for responding. This is a very old post, and I would recommend reading some of my more recent work. You can go to my website JustandSinner.com where I have an article on the subject of limited atonement. My thoughts on universal grace there may help.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was interested to see this, I've been investigating different churches/theologies. AFter reading this, I had a couple questions. Just to make sure I'm clear on the discussion, I thought I'd first summarize very briefly what I read in some of the points that informed my questions.
Point 1, Man is totally enslaved; Point 4, grace is offered to all, and is accepted by some; Point 5 That some of these who accept and had faith later fall away.
This raised two questions in my mind: It seems to me that this is internally contradictory. The idea in point 4 that Faith is offered to all and accepted by some would contradict point 1 that all men are enslaved. If all men are enslaved, then either none can accept the gift of grace as an act of will, or all who are offered the gift of grace must accept it as it overcomes their will. If all are offered and some accept, that would seem to necessarily imply free will, and thus partial depravity. Is there an explanation for this in Lutheran thought?
My second question is, If some fall away after having faith, what mechanism is responsible?

Jordan Cooper said...

These are some good questions. Please go to JustandSinner.com and listen to my first podcast on the audio page, which is a lengthy explanation of this subject. I hope you will find it helpful, as it should answer your questions.