Friday, August 12, 2005

TULIP and God's Universal Salvific Will - - Again

In this new series, the LCMS seminary student Joshua Victor is comparing Luther and Calvin’s reading of 1 Timothy 2:4, treated today by Lutherans as a proof-text that God desires all to be saved, yet treated by Calvinists as . . . a problem. (Hat tip to Theresa K.) What is striking is that Luther does not read this passage in the currently approved confessional way as a proof text of God's universal salvific will. Joshua Victor's study makes something clear that Lutherans should perhaps be a bit more explicit about: while neither Luther nor the Formula of Concord advances "five point Calvinism," their exact "solution" (i.e. explanation of exactly how no solution is possible) of the "why are some saved and not others" question is not the same. (The Formula's dogmatic formulation is compared with Five-Point Calvinism here). Joshua Victor's series underlines what Sasse noted on p. 148 of Here We Stand:

Appealing to Luther, we could safely concede that a solution [to the question of why are some saved and others not] like that given in the Formula of Concord, according to which Predestination applies only to "the pious and God-pleasing children of God" while the wicked are merely an object of divine foreknowledge, is not adequate.

This reminded me of an old thread Thomas and I had about Luther and Calvinism on the will of God, which I think is relevant and still quite interesting. The original can be found on the comment’s to Dave H’s post. I have eliminated the cuts necessitated by the late (unlamented) 1,000 character limit and color coded my comments and Thomas’s.

Luther was not a five point Calvinist. Go to the Smalcald articles where he ridicules savagely the P of TULIP. That's the idea of the perseverance of the saints, that is, that once one has believed in the faith one cannot lose one's salvation even despite living in mortal sin, or that conversely if you have lost your faith, it means you never had faith to begin with. Not only that, right when in the Bondage of the Will he skirts most closely to double predestination, he directs the sinner unconditionally to the atonement of Jesus Christ. With the unconditionality (no "if you believe then Christ died for you" but just "Christ did die for you") in context it is clear that Luther not only never doubted the universal atonement, but considered it so obvious as to not need defense. In the 1510s Luther perhaps did go fully into Augustine, but by the 1530s that was not his position.

Since Luther did in fact believe strongly in the universal atonement, his position on double predestination cannot in fact be the same as the Calvinist one.The ultimate issue here is God's will toward the sinner who dies in his sins. Did God ever will and do anything for that person to be saved? The Calvinist has to say no, He did not, because negating any mystery in salvation, he believes what God wills simply comes to pass, and if the person is damned, God must have willed it from eternity. The Calvinist thus has the Father willing from eternity to damn, and the Son limiting his atonement to the saved.

For Luther, however, the issue can't be that simple. God in Christ wills the salvation of all. His sacraments and preaching are offered sincerely to all with equal efficacy. (If you can find a single syllable in Luther suggesting that the Holy Spirit is efficacious only in the baptism of the elect, I'll eat my keyboard!) As he would phrase it in Bondage of the Will Luther sees that God, considered outside Christ, seems to arbitrarily will the salvation of a few and the damnation of the rest. But if you know Luther, you know that considering God outside of Christ is always a bad idea. In Christ, God is not arbitrary and reprobates no one.

So yes, Luther does scrutinize the secret counsels of God more deeply than the Formula of Concord. But he is no Calvinist.

Chris A, you make a good point that Luther's views on predestination are not Calvin's, nor was he a Calvinist before his time. Still, to say that 'In Christ, God is not arbitrary and reprobates no one' seems to skirt the issue:

It is God incarnate, moreover, who is speaking here: "I would, you would not" - God incarnate, I say, who has been sent into the world for the very purpose of willing, speaking, doing, suffering, and offering to all men everything necessary for salvation. Yet he offends very many, who being either abandoned or hardened by the secret will of the Divine Majesty do not receive him as he wills, speaks, suffers, and offers . . . . It is likewise the part of this incarnate God to weep, wail, groan over the perdition of the ungodly, when the will of the Divine Majesty purposely abandons and reprobates some to perish. And it is not for us to ask why he does so, but to stand in awe of God who both can do and wills to do such things.

Now, this was obviously NOT taken into the Confessions, but any honest assessment of Luther's work as a whole must take it into account. There is, moreover, no evidence that he 'mellowed' as he got older. In fact, this view lies behind the discussion of Noah and the flood in Luther's lectures on Genesis. It could be argued that here we see, from the pen of a major theologian of great historical influence, that sense of a bifucation in God, so that the Cross becomes a struggle of 'God against God', and so forth, that spawned a peculiarly dialectical way of thinking that would reach its idiotic culmination in Hegel and his epigones (like Moltmann, for instance, in his The Crucified God).

Your quote illustrates perfectly what I meant: God incarnate wishes to save all, the secret will of the Divine Majesty does not, which is why Luther said he does not wish to deal with any god but the babe in Bethlehem. Bring in limited atonement and suddenly the babe in Bethlehem is preaching the same secret will as the Divine Majesty. That changes Luther's theology entirely.

I agree, the later Luther is the very one of this bifurcation. What I meant by the age thing was that some say Luther actually held Augustianian/Calvinist views in the 1510s. If he did, he dropped them by the 1530s. So this quote is the "mellowed" Luther, if mellow he did. (If he was never an Augustinian, or if Augustinianism in fact does not speak of reprobation/double predestination, as Josh has contended, it would not influence my point.)

It is, of course, INSANE to posit a distinction between the 'Incarnate God' and the 'Divine Majesty' as though God himself is divided and has two wills. The will of the Incarnate Son IS the will of the Father is the will of the Spirit, is, in short, the will of God Himself. The Son wills what the Father wills. 'Whoever has seen me has seen the Father' - Luther loved this, but his vision of a rather striking dialect within God Himself weakens its force. And, again, this is not found in the Confessions. Still, it's both quite different from Calvin's conception (God is not divided against himself in Calvin's theology - election to salvation or damnation is a decision of the Triune will), and disturbingly like modern theologies and philosophies (strangely enough, mostly from Germans) that construe the Triune life of God as a sort of family tragedy. It's not an accident that Hegel was a lapsed Lutheran. This has a bearing on this post, by the way, in that it's part of the Lutheran legacy that we'd prefer to ignore, especially in controversy with others.

I'd agree with your saying that Luther's teaching in Bondage of the Will raises the problematic possibility of God having two wills and even of God the Father having one will, and God the Son another, which is exactly why the Concordianists quietly emended that part, teaching that God does will the salvation of all. That said, Luther's teaching here resembles his Law/Gospel dynamic (run for the hills, Josh!) in that God (seems to/is seen by us to) condemn us and hate us (in the Law) yet at other times (seems to/is seen by us to) forgive and love us (in the Gospel). We see the same "dialectic" in his teaching on predestination. I'm not sure it is usable in a dogmatic context (i.e. Concordianists were probably right), but in my heart I cherish this a true and powerful and right expression of the mystery of God's will.

Here is Sasse's final comments on the issue:

We would say, in reply to Calvin, that it is not our task to reconcile these Scripture passages in such a way as to resolve the contradiction between the God of wrath and the God of mercy, between the Judge and the Savior of the world, into a logical and consistent idea of God. We must rather acknowledge that the reality of God has two sides. We dare not gloss over the words of judgment and wrath, nor may we take the greatness and the glory away from the words of grace and mercy. Moreover, "with especial care, the distinction must be observed between that which is especially revealed concerning this in God's Word and what is not revealed. For, in addition to that hitherto mentioned which has been revealed in Christ concerning this, God has still kept secret and concealed much knowledge concerning this mystery, and reserved it alone for His wisdom and knowledge. Concerning this we should not investigate, nor indulge our thoughts, nor reach conclusions, nor inquire curiously, but should adhere to the revealed Word of God" (from the Formula of Concord).

Originally posted at Here We Stand