Friday, August 12, 2005

Lutheranism Between Calvinism and Arminianism

Theresa Kiihn asked about this article which proposes that the deepest issue of God, His Eternal Foreknowledge and Election to salvation, may not be reducible to a consistent system, or even fully explainable. This has long been the position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Hoping it might be of interest I reproduce here some notes I wrote for an adult Bible study I did last spring on Article 11 of the Formula of Concord:

Calvinism and Arminianism, two logically consistent, but un-Biblical systems, and Lutheranism, the logically inconsistent yet Biblical system.

In the Reformed churches and their numerous revivalist descendants, a great conflict continues between the Calvinists and Arminians over the question: why are some saved and not others. The two consistent positions are named after French theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) and the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and some Episcopalians and many Baptists hold to the Calvinist position, while Methodists, Holiness churches (Nazarene, etc.), Assemblies of God, many Episcopalians and many Baptists hold to the Arminian position. Both positions take certain Biblical passages to be clear in meaning, but seek to interpret away others. The Formula of Concord set out a position that accepts the explicit Biblical passages on the topic at face value, while accepting that they do not add up to a logical system. Why some are saved and others not is thus not a question whose answer God has opened up to us.

Calvinism has summarized its position in the famous acronym TULIP, and this serves as a useful way to approach the issue (being logical Calvinism is, if nothing else, easy to follow):

T: "total depravity"
Calvinism: Man after the Fall has no ability to cooperate with God's grace in conversion
Arminianism: Man after the Fall can cooperate with God’s grace in conversion
Lutheranism: Agrees with Calvinism on total depravity
Relevant Bible passages: Romans 3:9-20; Gal. 3:22

U: "unconditional election"
Calvinism: Before the world was created, God unconditionally elected some (the elect) for salvation and the others (reprobates) for damnation.
Arminianism: Before the world was created, God foresaw those who would choose Him of their own free will and elected them to salvation
Lutheranism: Before the world was created, God unconditionally elected some (the elect) for salvation but did not reprobate (chose for damnation) any.
Relevant Bible passages: Romans 9:11-13; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Mat. 25:34, 41.

L: "limited atonement"
Calvinism: Jesus only died for the elect, objectively atoning for their sin, but he did not die for the sins of the reprobates.
Arminianism: Christ died to give all the possibility to be saved.
Lutheranism: Christ’s death objectively atoned for all the sin of the world; by believing we receive this objective atonement and its benefits.
Relevant Bible passages: John 1:29; 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:14-15, 19.

I: "irresistable grace"
Calvinism: In all of God's outward actions (preaching, baptism, etc.) there is an outward call which all receive, yet there is also a secret effectual calling which God gives to the elect alone. This effectual calling alone saves and is irresistable.
Arminianism: God gives in His outward actions the same grace to all; this grace can be resisted by all.
Lutheranism: The question is not answerable; for the elect, grace will irresistably triumph, yet those who reject Christ have rejected that Grace; yet the grace is the same.
Relevant Bible passages: Eph. 2:1-10; Acts 13:48; James 1:13-15

P: "perseverance of the saints" (sort of like "once saved, always saved.")
Calvinism: Salvation cannot be lost. Those who have truly put their faith in Christ may temporarily lose the evidence of their faith and even live for a time in grave and unrepentant sin, without losing their salvation.
Arminianism: Salvation can be lost through unrepentant sin and unbelief.
Lutheranism: Salvation can be lost through mortal sin and unbelief, but this legal warning does not cancel the Gospel promise of election
Relevant Bible passages: 1 Cor. 10:12. 2 Peter 2:1, 20-22.

Originally posted at Here We Stand