Friday, March 14, 2008

A response to "Christology - Differences Between Calvinists and Lutherans"

A reply to Paleolutheran's Youtube video: Differences between Calvinism & Lutheranism

You start your video stating that "they [Calvinists] start with [God's sovereignty] where as we would start with Christ". I believe this is a false dichotomy common among Lutherans, firstly Christ IS God, always has been God. Christ therefore is sovereign. When Calvinists speak of God, we speak of the Triune God of Scripture. Yes, the three persons of the Trinity have differing roles in the plan and purpose of God, but that plan is a primary focus of Scripture, "namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" and "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself". Since Paul saw fit to make these points foundational to understanding the mission of Christ, we believe this is important too.

You ask how Scripture can get us "logically from God's Sovereignty to the Cross" and it is apparent thusly: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him" (Eph 1:4) The Triune Sovereign God's plan was, from before the foundation of the world to save and sanctify a people to reign with His Son through the shedding of His Son's blood and His resurrection from the dead. Without God's Sovereignty, the cross is meaningless, and vice versa. No matter where you "start", you end up at the other.

When you say that the Gospels aren't about God's Sovereignty, you seemingly gut vast sections of the Gospels because of a preconcieved notion. God is love, but God is ALSO just etc. One cannot propose that God is love apart from the fact that God is just (and sovereign.) Let me explain, John 3:16, the most often quoted passage about God's love is surrounded by verses in the immediate context that describe God's justice and sovereignty as well. While it is true that "God so loved the world" it is equally true that "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God". Also, consider the intensity with which Christ expresses God's complete sovereignty over salvation in John 6:

John 6:37-40 "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

The climax of this is found soon thereafter:

... John 6:44 "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
Here is the exhaustive sovereignty of God (and thus Christ) expressed in THE GOSPEL. The Calvinist contends that apart from God's sovereignty, God's love is not rightly understood and vice versa.

You then say "We freely confess that Mary is the mother of God" - Great so do we, do not confuse greater fuzzy-evangelicalism with Reformed theology and/or Calvinism. Just because modern Purpose-Drivel evangelicals shudder when the concept of theotokos is presented, does not mean that Calvinists deny it.

As far as "body and blood", Robert Letham says the following:
Christ does not come down to us in his body and blood. Instead, we are lifted up to him by the Holy Spirit. Christ, being the eternal Son of God, is of course, everywhere. Moreover, he has permanently united himself to the human nature assumed in the incarnation. In that sense, the person of Christ is present with us as we eat and drink. Yet, on earth, the Son of God was not restricted or confined to the humanity he assumed, but was simultaneously filling all things, directing the universe even as (according to the flesh) he walked the dusty roads of Palestine. So, at the right hand of God, the Son fills and directs the universe (Col. 1:15-20), now unbreakably united to his assumed humanity, while in terms of that same humanity he is limited and in one place. Yet that humanity is never separate or apart from the divinity, the eternal Son of God with whom and in whom it is one undivided person. Thus, in the sacrament the Holy Spirit unites the faithful to the person of Christ as they eat and drink the signs, the physical elements of bread and wine. There is an inseparable conjunction of sign and reality. As truly as we eat the bread and drink the wine, so we feed on Christ by faith." (Robert Letham, The Lord's Supper, 28-29).

You state that Calvin (and thus Calvinists) believed that "physical flesh could not contain the divine" and that the "divine nature cannot communicate divine attributes to the physical nature", I ask that you provide a specific citation and context for this claim. If I know the quote you're referring to, Calvin is speaking of our capacity to contain the divine in a sense of understanding, grasping, not that Christ could not be God and man nor that humans could not be indwelt by the Spirit of God. Otherwise, not being an expert on the words of Calvin, I can only suggest that you interact with more scholarly Calvinists on this specific subject before claiming what you have.

But on another note, you state "God can do whatever he wants" in relation to the Eucharistic meal being Christ's physical body and blood. The question is not "what can God do", for as you noted, Calvinists are believers in the sovereignty of God (to an extreme!) and thus willingly accept that God "can" do anything, rather the question is: What DID and DOES God do? Does Scripture support the view that the elements of the Eucharist are transformed into Christ's body and blood, or that Christ's body and blood are in, with and under the elements? Both camps stake their claim on the very same verses wherein Christ says "this is my body" etc. But this language is strikingly similar to where Christ states that "I am the vine" and the like. If you disagree with this, you must explain why, not simply rest upon an ipse dixit.

Why MUST these verses be interpreted as Lutherans do? What grammatical or contextual evidence supports your claim? And what Biblical reason can you present to show that Lutheran view is the correct one whereas the Roman Catholic view is not?

You stated that: "It also comes to pass that many Calvinists... denied that Mary was Theotokos." Can you please tell us which Calvinists specifically? It is evident that Calvin accepted the historical title and what it identified, namely who Christ was, more so than who His mother was. Your usage of this in a video defining the differences between "Calvinists and Lutherans" suggests that you don't know Calvinists nor Calvin very well.

You suggest that Calvinists believe that the "divine aspect of Christ [is] running around... disembodied on Earth", what is your basis for this claim? What Calvinist writings have you read that state such? Calvinists do not believe that the divine nature of Christ is separated from the human nature of Christ, yet is it the Lutheran who believes that Christ's divinity is in heaven and his true flesh and blood here on Earth? Why is the charge not reversible?

You state that "in their [Calvinist] doctrine they have explicitly stated Nestorianism, roughly". Firstly, please provide citations wherein Calvinists state a belief in Nestorianism, secondly please explain how something can be "explicitly stated, roughly".

You then make the claim that Calvinists attempt to rationalize (the supper?) and figure out God's ways. Yet it is not Calvinists who want to say that Christ's body and blood must be "in, with and under" the elements, rather we recognize the Spiritual mystery that is the supper and admit that Christians do feed on Christ really and spiritually, taking true nourishment from the Son of God. Who is rationalizing? Who is really letting the Scripture speak
and rightly dividing the Word of Truth? Herein lies the rub, if one cannot discern a clear difference between the Roman Catholic reasoning for transubstantiation and Lutheran reasoning for their view what difference is there but semantics?

Now, don't get me wrong here, I realize that Lutherans are NOT Roman Catholics on this matter, but it seems odd to me that this video starts out by claiming that Calvinists "start with God's sovereignty" and yet it seems that the video is more about calling Calvinists Nestorian without any actual citations or evidence to that claim only the attempted figuring by supposed Calvinist statements. Paleolutheran doesn't spend much time actually explaining what is wrong with accepting God's Sovereignty simultaneously with God's love and Christ's sacrifice.

(One note here, for Paleolutheran's benefit: One will often hear Calvinists defending God's sovereignty more often than other aspects of God's nature not because that is their primary doctrine, as is often the claim, rather it is because throughout history the opposition to Reformed doctrine has taken a decidedly semi-Pelagian or Pelagian view of the fall and the nature of man. Calvinists are therefore having to defend the sovereignty of God over the supposed "free will" of man from those of a more Arminian and/or Pelagian persuasion.)

Again, you seemingly quote: "the divine nature cannot communicate divine attributes to the physical nature", I again ask for a specific citation and context by which to understand this claim. If, as I suspect, this 'quote' is taken out of context, and in partial, most of the basis for your video falls apart.

Finally, here is what Calvinists actually believe about the supper:

The Lord's supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace... (WCF, Larger Catechism, Q.168)

...they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord's supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death. (WCF, Larger Catechism, Q.171)

In like manner God hath given us, for the support of the bodily and earthly life, earthly and common bread, which is subservient thereto and is common to all men, even as life itself. But for the support of the spiritual and heavenly life which believers have, He hath sent a living bread, which descended from heaven, namely, Jesus Christ, who nourishes and strengthens the spiritual life of believers when they eat Him, that is to say, when they apply and receive Him by faith in the spirit... n the meantime we err not when we say that what is eaten and drunk by us is the proper and natural body and the proper blood of Christ. But the manner of our partaking of the same is not by the mouth, but by the spirit through faith. Thus, then, though Christ always sits at the right hand of His Father in the heavens, yet doth He not therefore cease to make us partakers of Himself by faith. This feast is a spiritual table, at which Christ communicates Himself with all His benefits to us, and gives us there to enjoy both Himself and the merits of His sufferings and death, nourishing, strengthening, and comforting our poor comfortless souls by the eating of His flesh, quickening and refreshing them by the drinking of His blood. (Article 35 — The Holy Supper of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Belgic Confession)
One final word, I am excited to see Lutherans willing to deal with these issues openly. As I've stated previously, it seems that Lutherans are content to do hit-and-run apologetics, whereby they accuse Calvinists of all sorts of errors and yet neither backup their claims nor respond to their critics. I hope this is not the case here.


  1. Reply to Micah Burke ( – Friday March 14th, 2008):

    Greetings in the name of Christ Jesus!

    PARAGRAPH 1: The false dichotomy between God’s sovereignty and God’s love was not my intention, nor do I believe it to be most honest Lutherans’. In reality, we believe in God’s sovereignty as well, and I know Calvinists believe in God’s love. The issue is which we START with. Lutherans start with God’s love (agape) as revealed to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ, while Calvinists start with God’s sovereignty. This can be seen in Calvin’s Institutes starting in Chapter I, which begins by looking at God and the knowledge of God from the creation rather than the Scriptures. God’s power in creation is shown first (though Christ and the reconciliation offered through Him is indeed present in Chapter I). Contrary to this, in the “Augsburg Confession,” Melancthon begins Article I with the Triune God as defined by the Ecumenical Council of Nicea I (325 AD) and in the Book of Concord the “Augsburg Confession” takes secondary authority to the three Western Ecumenical Creeds (Nicene-Constantinopolitan, Apostles, Athanasian). The Lutheran’s dogmatic and even apologetic works (contained in the dogmatic works) treat Christian doctrine not as Calvin does. Calvin starts his Institutes as if he were speaking to persons who did not accept the Scriptures. Lutherans start by talking to Christians.

    We summarily do not deny the words of St. Paul, but we would say the operation of the Holy Trinity in salvation the ONLY real point of Scripture…all else follows from there.

    PARAGRAPH 2: Actually I had asked how one can use logic to get from the sovereignty of God to the cross WITHOUT Scripture. The reason I bring this up is that logic and reason take precedence in Calvin’s theology, and as we move along this will become more apparent. While I won’t really argue right now with your statement that God’s plan involved sanctifying “a” people as opposed to “all” people, I will simply say that Lutheranism’s view of predestination is strikingly different from Calvin’s and it was not until recently when I figured out why…it becomes difficult because we use similar terms, but we use them differently. However, the issue of the Eucharist can be the springboard for that talk, as it will begin to move us into that talk.

    Yes, no matter where you start, you get to the same thing, but based on what you start with you pick up different things along the way. This is not to say that each method is not without its own merit, simply that just because you can get to the ending point, that doesn’t mean you don’t pick up other points that you will miss if you don’t go the other way as well.

    PARAGRAPH 3: Lutherans hold that God’s sovereignty and therefore glory are intimately tied to God’s mercy and loving-kindness as beautifully said by St. Gabriel to the shepherds at the Nativity of Our Lord, “Glory to God in the highest, AND on earth; peace, good will towards men” (Luke 2:14). Yes, John 3:16 is surrounded by passages about sovereignty and justice…yet it is John 3:16 that gets at the heart of the way God works which is contrary to our logic. God had all right to destroy mankind after Adam and Eve sinned…yet He shows grace and mercy, at that time even referencing the death of Christ (after the prophecy of the woman’s offspring in Genesis 3, God says, “behold, man has become like ONE of US, knowing good and evil.” – Lutherans would argue that the language is pointing to the self-same prophecy in the same chapter).

    John 6 (which you quote) does indeed speak of God’s sovereignty in the role of the Father giving those to Christ….Lutherans would say that all mankind is given to Christ, but this gets into our separation of calling and being chosen…and the interplay of God’s grace and sole role in effecting salvation and the will of regenerate mankind. But we do not deny that it is God’s sovereignty that draws men to Christ…we would however caution those who would say that God only chose a few to save who had no will whatsoever to leave such grace, thus making, in our mind, God random in His choice and thus capricious and not a God of order and justice. It is perhaps this reason as well as Sacramentarianism (which will come up in the next few paragraphs) that led Calvin to accept a limited atonement of Christ (if I am understanding limited atonement as meaning that Christ’s death only paid for the elect of God).

    PARAGRAPH 4: I had a feeling that Calvin confessed that the Virgin was Theotokos…it is those who call themselves “Reformed” and yet do not confess it or have a problem even bringing her up that sometimes confuses those of us who are not Reformed (though I’m sure non-Lutherans would also look at the various “schools” of thought in our denomination and say the same thing about certain area of doctrine ;-)).

    PARAGRAPH 5: Lethman brings up an interesting point regarding Calvin’s view of the Eucharist…that only those who have faith feed off of Christ in Heaven. The problem though is that those who do not have faith only seemingly eat bread and drink wine. As St. Paul clearly says in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 that those who do not examine the “body” eat and drink condemnation onto themselves. Thus eating and drinking bread without some divine action through the act seemingly condemns them according to St. Paul. In the Lutheran view, both those with faith and those without faith eat and drink Christ’s body and blood….for as the apostle says, “for anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

    Thus in Calvin’s doctrine of the Eucharist he brings in Neo-Platonic philosophy in that he separates the flesh of those Christians on earth and their spirits which are drawn up to Heaven. Thus there is the ideal forms of Heaven and the other forms of earth and what is on it. The separation of the flesh and the spirit is also fundamentally associated with death, not sacraments! The divine aspect of Christ who is in the midst of the Christians worshipping also is not with His human nature…for we are arguing that it is not just that Christ’s physical body is in Heaven…His human nature is with the divine nature at ALL TIMES.

    PARAGRAPH 6: The quote is not from Calvin’s Institutes as far as I can find, but it is inherent within his Christology. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology on p. 113 states under the heading “communication idiomatum,” that the Reformed tradition differs from Luther in that they hold that the “finite cannot contain the infinite.” They hold that it is valid as a turn of speech but not describing a real transfer of qualities (from the divine nature of Christ to the human nature).

    This is at the heart of several things in Calvinism that set it apart from historical Christianity. For starters, God can no longer operate clearly through means. The Eucharist rather than being a means of grace to ALL mankind (even though it is meant for Christians) is only a means of grace to the faithful. Also, Holy Baptism is moved from a truly means of grace action where God works grace through a physical means, into a covenantal view (alone rather than with the idea of “means of grace”) where only the children of adult believers are to be baptized. Thus 1 Peter 3:21 severely becomes limited with regard to how baptism can save us.

    Secondly in this regard: This is a fundamental problem in that this makes certain functions of Jesus Christ impossible or at least massively inexplicable. If we as humans cannot receive divine attributes, then how can we receive life? How did Jesus rise from the dead? How did Jesus walk on water? How was Jesus transfigured?

    The “Westminster Confession of Faith” makes this problem quite clear, and really shows why Calvinists are charged with crypto-Nestorianism. Most of the confessional document is orthodox in its Christology…confessing Jesus as one person with two natures, the one being the eternal divine nature which is the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity and the created matter of human nature. In Chapter VIII, Article VII, it says thusly: “Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the PERSON denominated by the OTHER NATURE” (emphasis mine). It is fine until the semi-colon. But it seems as though quite explicitly that at times in the understanding of Calvin’s Christology, the nature fundamentally working at certain times is another person…but of course, that makes no sense…for there is only ONE person in the person of Jesus Christ.

    It is inherent to the historical understanding of the incarnation that God the Son joined Himself in hypostatic union with created flesh in Christ Jesus as one person…but divine attributes can and indeed MUST BE ABLE to be transferred to the human nature. While Calvin believed this to be Eutychian, it is not such, because the human nature does not alter the divine nature. Calvin, by starting with his philosophical assumption that the “finite cannot contain the infinite,” has robbed the incarnation of power with regard to anything more than forgiveness of sin….death must also be destroyed by the divine nature, not just the death and resurrection of the flesh of Christ, for people were raised before Him. It was the Cappadocian Fathers (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory Nazianzen) at the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople I 381AD) whose famous mantra was “what is not assumed (human nature of Jesus Christ) is not redeemed.” Thus the rest of the councils followed up till the 7th (Nicea II 787AD– Iconoclastic controversy) built off of this understanding which is inherent in Western Christology but nearly forgotten in her soteriology because we focus so much on forgiveness of sins that we separate it from the destruction of death and treat death as solely consequent of sin rather than both sin and death as two sides of the same coin. The 5th and 6th councils decided that Christ was both divine and human in one person with two natures. And in His human nature Christ had a true human body, soul, and will. Thus, through the person of Christ, our body, soul, and will are redeemed. Thus, to the Lutheran and those who accept the historic view of man and the will…unregenerate people do not have a free will to come to God (or act in spiritual matters), but regenerate Christians do have free will to stay with God or to leave Him of their own accord.

    PARAGRAPH 7: I was perhaps skipping a few steps in my comments about “God can do whatever He wants.” I should have said that “the finite cannot contain the infinite” limited God…thus the flesh and blood of Christ not being able to be ubiquitous (which is necessary for Lutheranism’s view of the Eucharist) was based upon such a non-limitation…thus Calvin’s rejection of the communication idiomatum destroys this possibility.

    Yes, Scripture uses both the terms body and blood and bread and wine…yet if you pay attention in 1 Corinthians 11, they are treated as tied together in reality. To deny that they are tied together is to accept St. Augustine’s (the much later view of his) view or distinction (it is unclear if it is his view or his playing around with Neo-Platonism) of the “signs” and the “things signified” (in On Christian Teaching). However, such a view is not that of ancient Jews in the first century. For Orthodox Jews, the idea of anamnesis (Gr.), for example, of the Passover meal they do today, is that they are tied IN REALITY to the original Passover (p. 24 of A Holy and Living Sacrifice: The Eucharist in Christian Perspective by Ernest Falardeau).

    The reason Lutherans believe Christ is not speaking as He speaks when He says, “I am the vine…” are several: 1) “I am the Vine” is a statement in John’s Gospel which eliminates the Words of Institution…such symbolic language of Christ Himself does not necessarily appear in the other Gospels. 2)The reason John was written was to point to the deeper meaning of what was seen as empty ritualism in the late 1st century by St. John (hypothesized by Lutherans). 3)Christ is giving a last will and testament as well as speaking similarly to a Jewish wedding (the cup of the New Covenant was a marriage practice) and also giving an act that His church is to do until He returns…thus symbolic language would be quite out of place. Christ is being deadly serious and literal in what He is leaving His church…for He promises to not leave us, particularly when “two or three are gathered” (thus some Lutheran liturgies begin, “Christ is in our midst.”).

    PARAGRAPH 8: See comments on Paragraph 7. There is also the historical argument not from the church fathers, but from the ancient liturgy, which involved the adoration (worship) of the Host after consecration. If you ask an Eastern Orthodox and a Roman Catholic (who theologically split several hundred years before 1054AD, both will affirm this….within the liturgy, the consecrated Host was worshipped because Christ’s body and blood are present…and because His body and blood are present, they receive the divine attributes and are tied to His divine nature.

    PARAGRAPH 9: I retract my statement. The confusion arises because those who call themselves “Reformed” tend to either deny it (which you are arguing are not true Calvinists which I’ll concede) or not want to bring it up too often.

    PARAGRAPH 10: My basis is that Calvinists incorrectly view Christ as physically seated in Heaven (again, treating a “spiritual” place as just that…a physical place), and thus ruling physically while connected to His divinity yet His divinity fills all. This is problematic for us because you have His divinity apart from His glorified flesh in certain locations of creation. Either you separate Heaven by some distance or you are indeed separating the fullness of Christ’s divinity from the fullness of Christ’s glorified humanity….thus historic orthodoxy disagrees with that view. Lutherans believe that Christ “fills all things” in His fullness (Eph. 4:10)…that is in both His natures. This is a mystical reality that logic cannot figure out. Thus to use a Neo-Platonic philosophy runs the risk of separating the two natures (as shown in the Westminster Confession) and thus running the risk of destroying salvation (the very reason Nestorius was declared a heretic at the Council of Ephesus 431AD).

    PARAGRAPH 11: See paragraph dealing with the Westminster Confession. Something can be “explicitly stated, roughly,” when the orthodox position is clearly affirmed, yet when it comes to that one troubling passage, the term OTHER PERSON is used in reference to the two natures…thus it is explicit, but it is rough in how it fits into the orthodox view present in the rest of the confession.

    PARAGRAPH 12: The Calvin view, I believe I have shown to be in error already (though I know you will probably disagree ;-)). The Lutheran view is said, “in, with, and under” in realizing that the bread and wine appear to remain, yet Christ’s words are taken clearly as “this is my body…this is my blood.” The difference between Lutheran and Roman Catholicism is that they put forth a doctrine that cannot be verified by Scripture and makes use of a philosophical construct (Aristotelianism)…namely that the substantial reality of the bread and wine are destroyed and replaced with the body and blood of Christ (they also believe the body and blood are in both elements of bread and wine in their fullness, which is called “commingling”). The Lutheran view is more properly called “sacramental union” of the bread and wine with the body and blood. We view the relationship as similar to the union of the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. NOTE: Those who say we believe in Consubstantiation do not understand either the term nor Lutheran theology! Consubstantiation would claim that the bread and wine are united to the body and blood and are mixed into a third substance…there is no union where both are distinct from one another yet both are there.

    PARAGRAPH 13: I have already claimed earlier that it APPEARS that Calvinists are Nestorian in that the operation of the different natures of Christ are often talked about (and indeed, in the W.C.F.) as separate persons. I don’t take much time explaining it because you can’t fit much time on one video and as you might notice form my response…I have trouble shutting up.

    PARAGRAPH 14: Thank you for the note. I am aware of why the sovereignty of God is defended, though I would ask what you mean by “free will” and what indeed it affects. How did sin affect it and our human nature? I am never quite clear on the Calvinist answer for this, and indeed when I brought up double-predestination in a myspace discussion, several Calvinists corrected me and said there was a difference between “double-predestination” and “double-election.”

    PARAGRAPH 15: Again…the quote is not out of context. It is in reference to the starting point of the Reformed when dealing with the relationship of the two natures of Jesus Christ.

    PARAGRAPH 16: I appreciate the information about the Supper…but again, what about those who partake with no faith? Why does St. Paul declare them to be judged (and in time rather than in eternity apparently…for those “fell asleep” who took it unworthily).

    PARAGRAPH 17: Yeah…if you watch “Christian Doctrine” on i-tunes U, Pastor Biermann takes swipes at Calvinists in fun several times. Lutherans are known for what you have said :-D.

    God’s blessings in your celebration of Our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection!
    Soli Deo Gloria,

    Chris Heren

  2. Chris,

    Thanks for your reply, I’ll try to respond as best I can.

    You state: “Calvin starts his Institutes as if he were speaking to persons who did not accept the Scriptures. Lutherans start by talking to Christians.”

    This could be a central issue in how Lutherans and Calvinists view each other’s position. It is apparent even within Calvinistic circles that an ‘overemphasis’ (I would say this is fatalism) on sovereignty leads to ‘hyper-calvinism’ whereas an overemphasis on God’s love (as opposed to the other attributes of God) tends to lead to universalism and/or sloppy evangelicalism. Perhaps this is why Calvinism is often at the forefront of dealing with pagans and atheists in apologetics.

    It has been said that modern “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”, and it could be argued that this is a correct viewpoint if one “starts from God’s love”, however the rest of Scripture proves that this is a gross oversimplification and downright dangerous error when the light of God’s sovereignty is shed upon it.

    I believe another issue relating to this has to do with how Calvinists and Lutherans view the text of Scripture. Calvinists view Scripture as something that can be understood, though only rightly by the indwelling Spirit, through studying the text, its grammatical construction and the like. Thus perhaps this is why Calvinists seemingly “start” at the beginning (Genesis) and God’s sovereignty over all things. I believe that Lutherans start with “God’s love” and then having serious difficulty dealing with the just, holy and righteously angry God of Scripture. It would be the Calvinist position that one cannot truly understand the depth and breadth of God’s love apart from their condemnation under the Law.

    My central concern here, however, is that Lutherans often use this claim “Calvinists start with God’s sovereignty” as if there is something wrong with that as a starting point. Simply pointing it out, and suggesting that you start with God’s love does not an apologetic make, unless you show why this is a problem. We would start, evangelically, as Paul does in Romans with the universal condemnation of mankind by the Law of God. As Paul argues for a God of sovereign power and decree from Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament, he then shows from those very same Scriptures that God is loving and saves His people by grace through faith.


    It is true that Lutherans and Calvinists approach predestination differently, and it is perhaps because of that “starting point”. When one views “God’s love” apart from or overriding God’s sovereignty one might have difficulty with the passages of Scripture that truly state that God is intentionally savingly gracious to some rebellious sinners over others. This is perhaps why, when countered with the supposedly “more difficult” passages of Scripture (ie Rom 9), wherein God’s sovereignty in election is clearly displayed, Lutherans throw up their hands and declare “we cannot know! It’s a mystery.” I really think this is paramount, Lutherans seem willing to mold the text of Scripture to fit their presupposition, and when confronted by passages that clearly demonstrate an error in their categories they cannot deal with them and choose to (in my opinion) avoid them.


    You write that “Lutherans would say that all mankind is given to Christ”, and this is where I would argue that Calvinism takes Scripture seriously. Christ is quite clear in John 6 that not everyone is given to Him by the Father, but of those who are given to Him by the Father He will lose none:

    Joh 6:39 "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

    Thus, “all of mankind” is not given to Christ unto salvation, and of those who are given, Christ will save them, will raise them up on the last day, they will have eternal life through the Son, these are not possibilities, but sure realities for those who are given to Christ by the Father.

    You write: “…we would however caution those who would say that God only chose a few to save who had no will whatsoever to leave such grace, thus making, in our mind, God random in His choice and thus capricious and not a God of order and justice…”

    It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of God’s choice, Romans 9 clearly teaches that God does choose not on the basis of foreseen works or faith, but rather through His eternal council of His will:

    Rom 9:11-16 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

    Paul does not shy away from the terrible, wonderful, truths of God’s sovereignty but declares them boldly for us to observe, understand and tremble. We are saved, not by our choice, but by God’s desire. This is in complete harmony with the rest of Scripture where we learn:

    Isa 46:9-10 "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';"

    God is ultimately sovereign, and perhaps it is because of arguments such as yours that Calvinists seem to be pounding this point time and again. Folks simply hate God’s sovereignty especially when it comes to salvation:

    Joh 6:65-66 And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.

    In the end, why God ultimately chooses one over another is not known to us, apart from His eternal plan and purpose.

    You state: “It is perhaps this reason as well as Sacramentarianism (which will come up in the next few paragraphs) that led Calvin to accept a limited atonement of Christ (if I am understanding limited atonement as meaning that Christ’s death only paid for the elect of God).”

    The reason Calvin (and others who followed him, for it is apparent in Calvin’s works that he perhaps wavered on this point) accept limited atonement is because, we believe, the text of Scripture demands it, and not because of a preexisting commitment to a philosophical view. As I stated elsewhere, ( :
    “… Biblical atonement has never applied to each and every person who ever lived, even though the plan of salvation, what the Reformed call the Covenant of Grace, included from the beginning "men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation." Abraham was not a Jew... Rahab was not a Jew (and so on). Yet when it came to the blood of the paschal lamb, it was intended to save only the people of whose doors it was applied. The sacrifices of the Day of atonement were not universal in scope, applying to the Egyptians as well as the Jews, they were made for the people of Israel alone.”

    God’s intention, as HE declares it, for the atonement is found in the Old Testament:

    Deuteronomy 32:43
    " Rejoice, O nations, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people.”

    God’s intention in atonement was to atone for His people, and that people is defined in Romans quite clearly: “…those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”

    Finally, in regards to this issue, is the fact that the very term atonement and one relating to it, propitiation imply that sins were actually forgiven, wrath was turned away. I realize that Lutheran categories demand an “objective” justification here, but I would argue and believe that it is true to Scripture, that if God has forgiven the sin (even the sin of unbelief?!) and placed those sins upon Christ, God will not punish the individual for those sins. Yet in the Lutheran (and the Arminian) understanding of atonement, atonement is only potential, Christ’s death only makes men save-able and yet God punishes Christ and unbelievers for the very same sins.


    You write:“…it is those who call themselves “Reformed” and yet do not confess it or have a problem even bringing her up…”

    Not everyone who calls themselves “Reformed” has a right to do so, just as the folks at have no right to call themselves Lutheran. ;) It is true that in an extreme reaction to the errors of Rome, many go overboard in attempting to jettison Romish language and views. It was a difficult concept for me to understand as a young evangelical with a fundamentalist charismatic theological background. But the historic teaching of Reformation is steeped in the language, knowledge and views of the Creeds of the faith as well as the teaching of the early church.


    You say: “Lethman brings up an interesting point regarding Calvin’s view of the Eucharist…that only those who have faith feed off of Christ in Heaven. The problem though is that those who do not have faith only seemingly eat bread and drink wine. As St. Paul clearly says in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 that those who do not examine the “body” eat and drink condemnation onto themselves. Thus eating and drinking bread without some divine action through the act seemingly condemns them according to St. Paul. In the Lutheran view, both those with faith and those without faith eat and drink Christ’s body and blood….for as the apostle says..."

    I would agree that this would be a difficulty for Calvinists if somehow one had to believe in or touch God to blaspheme Him. But since one can blaspheme God apart from faith, one can likewise bring condemnation onto themselves by wrongly eating and drink the bread and wine. Also, Calvinism does not deny that there can be apostates, people who know the truth and believe yet are not considered in faith, such who partake of the meal do so likewise to their condemnation. Just as the name of God does not contain God, the meal needn’t contain the physical body and blood of Christ for it to carry the very significance that He carry. One who misuses the name of God, declaring something to be “from God” without jurisdiction to do so, is under condemnation because of it. Likewise one partaking of the body and blood needn’t have to have some real physical contact with Christ to blaspheme Him.

    You write: “Thus in Calvin’s doctrine of the Eucharist he brings in Neo-Platonic philosophy in that he separates the flesh of those Christians on earth and their spirits which are drawn up to Heaven.”

    While I cannot argue this point, as I have limited knowledge of philosophical categories, it would seem that you’re arguing against a view, not on the basis that it is not Scriptural but that it seems similar to, or incorporates, the view of a pagan philosopher on the nature of mankind. I’m not sure why this is somehow an argument against Calvin’s view, unless it can be shown from Scripture to be wrong. But we know from Scripture that, according to the book of Revelation, there are “dead” worshiping God in heaven while their bodies are still in the earth.

    Rev 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

    Here the “souls” of those who were beheaded are sitting on thrones, are you suggesting that these “souls” had to have physical bodies simultaneously or that there is a heresy occurring?

    Paul proclaims in 2 Corinthians that he “knew a man” who visited heaven, and states:
    2Co 12:3 And I know how such a man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows

    Now, surely Paul isn’t incorporating “Neo-Platonic philosophy in that he separates the flesh of those Christians on earth and their spirits which are drawn up to Heaven”… but this seems to be what he is optioning here.

    You write: “The divine aspect of Christ who is in the midst of the Christians worshipping also is not with His human nature…for we are arguing that it is not just that Christ’s physical body is in Heaven…His human nature is with the divine nature at ALL TIMES.”

    Ah, this clarifies… so is it your position that Christ comes down out of heaven to be in, under, with the bread every time it is offered? Or… is there somehow a spiritual thing going on whereby Christ is yet in heaven while those who partake are on earth?


    Given this, I’ll digress on commenting further in regards to the communication idiomatum and hope someone else chimes in to respond to your monophysite heresy. *(KIDDING!!!) ;) I’ll also do some further study on the issue myself, but cannot promise I’ll be able to wrap my head around the distinctions. I would note that folks like Rod Rosenblatt, Todd Wilken and others have no difficulty interacting with, presenting the gospel with, and working with Reformed believers of different stripes. (Even while critiquing their systems.) I therefore wonder how far the claims of heresy go when it comes to this specific issue… it seems that the accusation of both groups is based on an extrapolation rather than a specifically declared belief.

    In fact, it seems a lot of your critiques are based not so much upon Scripture itself and the Calvinist understanding therein, but rather, an extrapolation of Calvinist views and how those views interact with Lutheran theology. As I stated before, it seems that many Lutherans I’ve read and spoken to take offense at the Reformed doctrine of predestination and election, not because Scripture doesn’t teach it (directly) but rather because it affronts the Lutheran view of God’s universal love for mankind.


    Since you ask, “I would ask what you mean by “free will” and what indeed it affects. How did sin affect it and our human nature?” , I reply that, from Scripture, we are told that of unregenerate mankind “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE” (Romans 3:10-11) and also that “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom 8:7-8)

    By “free will” then we are to understand several things, firstly, God is ultimately sovereign and man can do nothing to thwart the plan and purpose of God. Secondly, since the fall man does not have libertarian free will, he cannot chose to do that which is contrary to his nature, and since man’s nature is sinful he cannot chose to do that which is not inherently sinful, as Scripture states “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” Finally, as Romans 8 explains, sinful man is hostile toward God, does not subject himself to the law of God and is even unable to do so, sinful man cannot please God.

    This means that God is not “forcing” people to sin, as some mischaracterizations of Reformed theology claim, rather unregenerate people will always make choices on the basis of their unregenerate nature.

    This means that we’re all in the same boat, prior to coming under the hearing the Gospel the preaching of which the Spirit of God uses to bring us to life anew, we’re all “dead in our trespasses” and unwilling to do anything about it. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ…” Salvation then is by grace alone. God uses the means of the preaching of the Word to bring us to life anew whereby we are able to believe and be saved. Salvation is then by grace through faith.

    You state: “…several Calvinists corrected me and said there was a difference between “double-predestination” and “double-election.”…”

    How this relates to predestination and election is explain in Romans 9, Eph 1 and elsewhere. God has, before the foundation of the world, graciously chosen to save some of the undeserving sinners and pass over others. God does not nor does he need to forcibly reprobate (that is, cause folks to act sinfully so as to damn them) anyone. In this sense, predestination is by default “double”, that is, by electing to save some, God necessarily condemns the others. The whole point being, God does not need to specially elect to send anyone to hell, all men are, by default, on their way there.

    We do know from Scripture, however, that God chose Judas as the “son of perdition”, we also know that God did foreordain “both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” (Acts 4:27-28) So in this since God did use the sinful actions of men to accomplish the greater good, namely the salvation of His people.

    I sincerely appreciate your time and effort in your response. I enjoy discussing such matters with fellow believers in Christ, and hope that these conversations will foster better relations between our two perspectives.

    Micah Burke

  3. Hey Micah,

    I haven't forgotten about you :-). I've just had my hands quite full recently. Hopefully before the end of the week I'll have a chance to thoughtfully respond to the above post.

    Hope you had a blessed Easter.