Friday, May 14, 2010

A Final Note on the Irresistible Grace Controversy

Some of you know I had a debate with an LCMS pastor over the issue of irresistible grace. I made the claim that as Lutherans we must believe in the doctrine in some sense, though without denying the universalis gratia. See my post on immutable election to see what point I was trying to argue. I emailed Dr. Robert Kolb amidst this controversy on this issue with this specific question:

Dr. Kolb,
I have been having a conversation with an LCMS pastor on the subject of election. I made the point that Lutherans agree with some of what Calvinists are saying when using the term irresistible grace. What I mean by this is that God's election will always result in the salvation of that individual. One who is elect cannot become non-elect, thus in that sense election is "irresistible", though I realize it is not the best term to use. I also made the point that election is particular and does not extend to everyone as does the universalis gratia. Not everyone is elect.
This pastor seemed to think that I was espousing Calvinistic doctrines when saying this. However, when I read through Pieper, Walther, and Hoenecke on the topic, they all seem to be saying the same thing that I am. Am I being faithful to Lutheran theology by making the points that: 1. election will always necessarily result in final salvation and 2. not all men are elect?

This was Dr. Kolb's response:

Your reading of Pieper, Walther, and Hoenecke is correct, I believe. Under the proclamation of the law, Lutherans clearly believe with Luther in the Smalcald Articles III,4,43-45, that believers can lose the faith and fall from grace. Otherwise, as the Formula of Concord strives to make clear, the distinction of law and gospel disappears, and we fall into either an antinomian arrogance and false security, or despair. But under the teaching of the gospel Lutherans teach that God’s gospel promise in the means of grace is sure because it is God’s promise. What, I think, John Calvin did not grasp, much less his followers, is how Luther understood the doctrine of election only in the context of distinguishing law and gospel in delivering God’s Word to his people, and how God actually is present and working with his saving power in the means of grace. The Calvinists who have become Lutherans – the ones I know, at least – point especially to the second point and the insecurity they had when there was no certain place to look, only to one’s own life, for assurance that God loved them in Christ.
I have gone into this in some detail in my book Bound Choice, Election, and Wittenberg Theological Method (Eerdmans, 2005, I think). That may help some.

This should settle the issue as Dr. Kolb is a competent scholar and has written on the subject.

1 comment:

C. Randal said...

Having traveled the Wittenberg Trail in a similar manner to you, I've found your blog interesting. I'm curious - how have you personally reconciled the idea that one can lose his salvation with the lutheran doctrine of election? It seems to me that in order to do so that God has to grant the elect not only the gift of salvation but also the gift of perseverance (so to speak). Please continue your blog.