Josh Strodtbeck recently gave a series of interviews to the iMonk in which he attempted to compare and contrast Lutheranism with Calvinism.1 As a rule I don't target Lutheranism. That's not one of my priorities.
As a Calvinist I obviously have some basic disagreements with Lutheranism. However, the areas of disagreement are roughly paralleled in other theological traditions (i.e. Catholicism, Arminianism), so I find it more useful to target those traditions instead since they reproduce some of the same mistakes (along with many others), minus the many compensatory virtues of the Lutheran tradition.
Since, however, Josh has initiated a comparative critique, using Lutheranism as his standard of comparison (naturally), I'll take the occasion to interact with his critique.
Josh has every right to offer his criticisms of the Reformed tradition. Calvinism must acquit its claims before the bar of Scripture.
Also, since Josh is a very bright, articulate, and well-read disputant, the case for Lutheranism is in good hands. It's not as if I'm picking on a weak opponent. To judge by what I've read on his blog, he's more than able to hold his own with most-all of his critics. Indeed, if he didn't suffer from coprolalia,2 I'd be happy to add his blog to the blogroll over at Triablogue.
I also remember reading that he used to be a Calvinist himself. I'm not quite sure why he swam the Rhine. Maybe with a Teutonic surname like Strodtbeck, it was inevitable that sooner or later he would succumb to the irrepressible urge of the Lutheran Pon farr.3
Perhaps if some enterprising Reformed Baptist had kidnapped him and christened him MacStrodtbeck or van Strodtbeck, he would still be in our camp. However, we can console ourselves in the knowledge that whenever he gets to heaven, Brother Strodtbeck will resume his career as a five-point Calvinist.
If you look at Calvin's Institutes, he begins by defining God philosophically, much like Thomas Aquinas does in his Summa. That is, he defines God in terms of various attributes.How is it "philosophical" to define God in terms of the divine attributes? Doesn't God reveal his attributes in Scripture? Doesn't God define himself by his revealed attributes?
That in itself makes Calvinism more prone to seeing theology as the development of an abstract system of thought. Again, the similarities to Thomas should be obvious. Of course, just listing attributes of God gets kind of dull after a while, so you have to begin discussing his actions at some point. But since the system itself begins with philosophically defined and described attributes, the theologian is naturally going to gravitate toward discussing things in terms of the attributes.i) How is it more philosophical to go from what God is (i.e. attributes) to what God does (i.e. deeds) than vice versa?
ii) Why does Josh focus on Calvin's theological method when, at a later stage in the interviews, he will say that contemporary Calvinism is far more influenced by the Westminster Standards than it is by Calvin?
iii) As Josh will later point out, covenant theology is a central plank of the Westminster Standards. And what God does is hardly incidental to covenant theology.
iv)And while we're on the subject of philosophy, what about Gerhard's introduction of Aristotelian categories into Lutheran theology?
I think the nature of the human mind is such that one, maybe two or three more, of the attributes will become dominant, and for Calvinists, this attribute is divine sovereignty, especially because Calvinism as a theological tradition quickly became defined partly in terms of opposition to synergism and a strong emphasis on the ontological transcendence of God. This is manifested most sharply in the Westminster Standards, which in both the Confession and the Catechisms define God in terms of his attributes and derive the rest of Christian doctrine out of God's decrees.i) It's certainly true that, to a great extent, the emphasis in Reformed theology has been conditioned by its sparring partners (e.g. Catholicism, Arminianism, Amyraldism).
ii) But I would like to see Josh demonstrate the claim that the Westminster Standards derive the rest of Christian doctrine from God's decrees. Is it really that axiomatic?
You see this show up in a number of places. The most obvious one is TULIP and the obsession of some Calvinists with predestination and the ordo salutis.i) This is a charge I run across quite often—especially at the "Reformed Catholic" kennel. I would like to know which Calvinists are obsessed with TULIP. Is he referring to traditional Reformed theologians? Contemporary Reformed theologians? Reformed epologists?
Could he favor us with a few names? This allegation gets thrown around very freely without any documentation. That is how legends evolve.
ii) There is also a circularity to the charge. It's like members of the news media who constantly badmouth the war effort, then appeal to the unpopularity of the war to justify their hostile coverage. But, of course, the unpopularity of the war effort is owing in large part to the hostile coverage.
Likewise, it's only natural for Calvinism to regularly defend those aspects of Calvinism that regularly come under attack. Are we obsessed with TULIP, or is it our critics who are obsessed with TULIP?
The dominating concern in traditional formulations of the ordo is that God be absolutely sovereign in each step so that his desires are in no way frustrated. Less obvious is the Calvinist use of the Law. A sovereign is chiefly in the business of promulgating laws, whether those laws are active, such as the decree of predestination, or passive, such as the prohibition of murder. For some Calvinists, this means an emphasis on self-reflection to see if one's law-keeping sufficiently proves one's regeneration and election. For others, this means rewriting the doctrine of justification in terms of covenant fidelity or downplaying the significance of justification in theology.i) How is the emphasis on God's role as a lawgiver in tension with an emphasis on justification? Isn't justification a forensic category? How can you have doctrine of justification by faith apart from its grounding in a divine lawgiver?
ii) What Calvinists "rewrite the doctrine of justification in terms of covenant fidelity"? Is he talking about traditional Calvinism or the Federal Vision?
It often means rigorous church discipline, and it can even manifest itself by discussing the entirety of one's knowledge of God and pursuit of the Christian life almost wholly in terms of law-keeping.i) I agree with Josh that Presbyterians can get carried away with church discipline. But is the problem with church discipline, per se, or with the imagined infractions that are subject to church discipline?
ii) Is rigorous church discipline a bad thing? Does Josh favor a lax and permissive policy—like the ELCA or PCUSA?
The most obvious place is the doctrine of baptism. Your typical Calvinistic treatment of baptism heavily emphasizes the imposition of covenant obligations on the parents, the child, and the church. Depending on who you read, the "grace" of baptism is little more than being in the community where the covenant stipulations are upheld.This may be true in some Presbyterian circles. It's less obviously applicable to Reformed Baptistery.
Luther shied away from abstractions, and we Lutherans inherited that. Not just sovereignty, but the attributes of God in general are simply not of extreme importance.But if God has revealed his attributes in Scripture, then isn't this neglect unscriptural?
If you look at Luther's catechisms, he actually defines God in terms of Creation, the Cross, and the Church. Compare that to Q7 in the Westminster LC. So for Lutherans, theology is done in terms of God's relation to us. That means theology never gets away from Law and Gospel, from justification, from the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If you look at the discussion of election in the Formula of Concord, its driving concern is not maintaining God's sovereignty, but rather how election is to be preached within the framework of Law and Gospel.Isn't that a rather agenda-driven theological programme? And the danger of a theological agenda is that it tends to be reductionistic. Justification is not the only soteric category in Scripture. What about election, redemption, regeneration, adoption, sanctification, reconciliation, propitiation, and glorification?
Several years ago, Robert Schuller wrote a notorious book4 in which he tried to reorient Christian theology away from Pauline theology because he thought Pauline theology was too negative. It was bad pastoral theology. Too judgmental. Too much guilt-tripping. We need to get back to Jesus.
Obviously Josh wouldn't agree with that way of doing theology. But isn't his own approach just as prejudicial?
That's why Chemnitz is comfortable with basically saying that God declares our election to us in the preaching of the Gospel and admonishes against rational speculation on the inscrutable decrees of God apart from Christ, who is made known to us in the Gospel and the Sacraments.That's a standard caricature of Calvinism, as if our commitment to predestination is due to our unbridled "speculation" over the "inscrutable" decrees of God. Now, some folks think the supra/infra debate is guilty of that, but in the main, Calvinism is committed to predestination because predestination is a revealed truth.
So for Lutherans, divine sovereignty isn't a significant driving force in theology.And why is that supposed to be a good thing?
As we see it, God's attributes are in some sense inscrutable.i) That's a cop-out. Calvinism doesn't deny that "God's attributes are in some sense inscrutable." But this doesn't excuse us from ignoring what God has revealed about himself.
ii) Moreover, is that the real issue? Isn't the real issue the point of tension between sacramental grace and sovereign grace? Sacramental grace is indiscriminate and resistible, whereas sovereign grace is discriminating and irresistible. Since Lutheran theology is committed to the objectification of grace in the sacraments, it must fuzz over predestination.
So isn't the professed agnosticism respecting God's "inscrutable" decrees and attributes something of a charade? Far from being agnostic on the subject, Lutheranism has taken a very definite position on the nature of saving grace, according to which the means of grace (i.e. Word and sacrament) channel saving grace—as a result of which it's necessary to demote gratia particularis in order to promote gratia universalis?
Theology begins and lives where God is known, which is in Christ given to us in the Word and the Sacraments, not in abstract formulations of attributes or rigorous, logically consistent assertions about the nature of divine decrees.i) And what about his Word? What does he say about himself in his Word? What about his self-revelation in Isaiah or John or Romans or Ephesians?
ii) Is Lutheran theology really that indifferent to logical consistency? For example, Lutheranism vehemently rejects reprobation as inconsistent with gratia universalis. But if Lutherans don't care about logical rigor, then why not affirm reprobation alongside gratia universalis, just as they affirm election alongside gratia universalis? It's seems to me that Lutheranism is very selective in its harmonistic methodology.
In the more common versions of TULIP, justification is an instantaneous, one-time event done by God alone based solely on his eternal, sovereign will and thus ceases being relevant after your conversion.i) Is Josh saying that, according to Lutheran theology, justification is akin to sanctification? That it's progressive in character?
ii) What makes him think that, in Calvinism, justification is irrelevant after your conversion? Why wouldn't a Calvinist thank God every day for his justification in Christ? Why wouldn't that lay a firm foundation for his subsequent walk of faith? Motivate him to more forward?
In other formulations, justification is a decree made by God after a lifetime of sovereignly directed covenant-keeping.What formulation is he referring to?
So already, the idea that the pastor's actions have anything to do with justification is taken out of the picture.Once again, why is that a bad thing? Why should our justification before God be contingent on what a pastor does or fails to do? Why should a pastor mediate our justification? Why should a pastor be the instrument of our salvation or damnation?
So what is there for the pastor to do? Without justification, things can become extremely Law-driven. For example, there are some Reformed pastors who envision the Church as a home-school cult where even suggesting that there are benefits to the local public school gets you excommunicated. That simply doesn't happen in Lutheranism. I know secondhand of a woman from a Reformed church that got excommunicated for not articulating baptism exactly right, and for the Reformed, excommunication means being driven out of the community.I agree with Josh that this is legalistic. On the other hand, it's a very odd example for him to choose considering a later statement he makes:
First, Lutherans believe that you need to believe in what the Eucharist is in order to receive any benefit from it. We would regard anyone who openly disbelieves in the Eucharist as not ready to receive it (we do not believe that the Real Presence is simply a theological opinion; it is what the Eucharist fundamentally is). This isn't just a fellowship issue; it's a pastoral issue.So isn't Josh admitting—even insisting—that according to Lutheran church discipline and Lutheran pastoral theology, a theologically accurate and articulate understanding of communion is a precondition for being a communicant? Why isn't that directly parallel to the "bad" example of legalism he cited in reference to Calvinism?
As I said before, we Lutherans are huge on justification, and we believe that God justifies man by forgiving his sins in the Word and Sacraments. Preaching, baptizing, and communing are obviously pastoral actions, so the pastor sees himself chiefly in the business of justification.How is the administration of the sacraments "obviously" a pastoral action? Where does the NT actually assign or confine those actions to the pastorate? Isn't it pretty precarious for Lutheran theology to erect such a soaring edifice over an invisible foundation?
Incidentally, I don't object if we delegate that task to the pastor, but from what I can tell, that's a tradition—nothing more. Where does the NT ever say that a pastor must officiate at baptism or communion? It doesn't.
There's a difference between what the Bible permits, and what it prescribes. Since Scripture is silent on this issue, we are free to delegate that task to the pastor. But there's nothing mandatory about that social convention.
God is literally forgiving people's sins through him.Where does the Bible say that?
When you go to a Lutheran pastor and blurt out all that heinous evil you've been engaged in for the last ten years, the first thing he's going to do is forgive your sins in Christ's name.Where does the Bible mandate auricular confession?
With a typical Calvinistic emphasis on sovereignty as, a Calvinist just plain can't do that.And how is that a bad thing?
After all, you might not be elect. Christ might not have died for your sins, and thus God may not forgive you at all. So any language about forgiveness and justification is so heavily qualified by predestination language as to make it an abstract conditional formulation you can't grab onto and apply to yourself.Actually, the denial of priestly absolution doesn't depend on either election or special redemption. There are other reasons for rejecting priestly absolution. I may not believe that Scripture has vested a fallible clergyman with that kind of authority over another man's eternal fate.
Does Josh really think that heaven must mechanically rubberstamp every priestly absolution—regardless of the circumstances? What if the confessionalist isn't truly contrite, but just wants to wipe the slate clean so that he can continue to sin with impunity?
Suppose I'm a Lutheran serial killer. I commit murder Monday through Friday, but go to confession on Saturday, and take communion on Sunday.5 Does God honor my diligent attempt to game the system? Are his hands tied?
Besides, the Reformed have traditionally viewed absolution as God's sovereign right and thus not really the business of the pastor.Yes, and what's wrong with that, exactly? Sounds good to me!
In less election-obsessed versions of Calvinism, the Law is much more central to pastoral actions than it is in Lutheranism. For example, in Chapter XIV of the Second Helvetic Confession on Sacerdotal Confession & Absolution, the "Gospel" is defined mostly with law terms, being reconciled to God is understood as "faithful obedience," and most importantly, the Office of the Keys is understood as opening "the Kingdom of Heaven to the obedient and shut it to the disobedient." That's not to downplay what it says about absolution and the obvious influences of the Lutheran Reformation there, but this particular Reformed confession hedges its justification language with obedience language in a way that we Lutherans simply don't. I think that's tied up with divine sovereignty–God is a lawgiver who demands to be obeyed.i) To begin with, the more I read Josh's interview, the more he sounds like Zane Hodges. Of course, they arrive at the same conclusion by somewhat different routes, but what's the ultimate difference?
ii) How does Reformed theology "hedge" on justification? Reformed theology doesn't confound justification with obedience. Rather, Reformed theology says that there's a "benefits' package" to which every child of God is party. Every true Christian is, was, or will be elect, regenerate, redeemed, justified, sanctified, glorified. If you have one, you have them all.
Everyone who is justified is sanctified, or vice versa. If you're not justified, you're not sanctified, and vice versa. These invariably go together, but they do not intersect at any point. So Reformed theology preserves justification in complete, self-contained integrity.
If God says I'm baptized in his name, that's his body & blood for the forgiveness of my sins, and that my sins are forgiven, who am I to argue?Does Josh believe that every baptized Lutheran and Lutheran communicant is automatically forgiven? Does Josh draw any distinction between a nominal believer and a true believer, or—for that matter—a closet unbeliever or open unbeliever?
What about all those liberal Lutheran Bible critics of from the 19th and 20th centuries? Are they all entitled to the assurance of absolution as long as they've gone through the motions? Are we saved by pronouncing the right ritual words and performing the right ritual deeds? Is Josh's soteriology ultimately that crass and perfunctory?
So if you look at Westminster, it bases assurance on anything and everything except the proclamation from the pulpit that Jesus died for you…because the pastor isn't allowed to say that. Sure, it mentions "promises," but when a Lutheran says "promise," he means "an unassailable promise God has made to you in Christ." When Westminster says "promise," it means "a promise contingent upon fulfillment of covenant conditions." In that context, the only assurance a Calvinist can have is the kind based on a positive self-assessment.i) Is Josh a universalist?
ii) Josh acts as if the gospel promises are unconditional. Are they?
Isn't forgiveness predicated on faith and repentance? Are you still forgiven even though you're faithless and impenitent?
If Josh answers "no" to either (i) or (ii), then isn't he offering men and women a false assurance of salvation?
The scary thing about TULIP is that uncertainty about predestination means uncertainty about the atonement. For the Calvinist, as long as his predestination is up in the air, so is his atonement. So the only recourse Westminster gives him is a subjective experience, which obviously is subject to uncertainty.i) Josh doesn't believe that universal atonement entails universal salvation, does he? So universal atonement cannot ground the assurance of salvation.
ii) Doesn't Josh think that you at least need to be a believer to be saved? That you must believe in Jesus? Believe the promises?
Isn't faith a subjective state of mind? Can we really eliminate the subjective dimension altogether? If we eliminate subjective experience, don't we thereby eliminate faith and repentance?
iii) Are we entitled to unconditional assurance? Assurance irrespective of one's faith or fidelity?
I knew a guy who went to a large PCA church here in Kentucky. We got to talking, and I straight-out asked him, "Did Jesus die for your sins?" His answer: "I know that if God wants me to, I'll be saved." It was just depressing. To him, all the passages in the Gospels where Jesus is forgiving people left and right aren't talking to him.Well, I'll grant you that the guy Josh spoke to gave the wrong answer. So what's the right answer? Is the right answer that all the gospel promises are made to believers and unbelievers alike?
Why didn't Josh ask him a question like, "Do you believe that if you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus to save you from your sins, Jesus will save you?"
They're merely historical narratives of Jesus forgiving some other person's sins. The Gospels are a dead letter to him. And I think that's how most Calvinists look at the Bible, and it's reflected in their sermons. The Bible is largely a compilation of historical information, data for systematic theology, and conditions to fulfill.Whose sermons? Calvin? Spurgeon? Whitefield? John Owen? Jonathan Edwards? Richard Sibbes? Martyn Lloyd-Jones? John Piper? What about the inspirational writing of Bunyan, Kuyper, and Samuel Rutherford?
For Calvinists, the Supper is just like the atonement. If you're not elect, then you're not regenerate, then you don't have true faith, so Jesus isn't even there to begin with, and he sure as heck isn't telling you your sins are forgiven.Does Josh think the sacraments are like redeemable tin cans, where if you round up enough sacraments, like discarded tin cans in a shopping cart, and turn them in on your deathbed, you will collect your heavenly dues?
Does he think that a communicant who has no faith is still forgiven? Is Jesus absolving the faithless and impenitent among us?
Westminster's doctrine of communion is actually nearly identical to Trent's (remember that the Sacrifice of the Mass and Holy communion are practically two different sacraments in Trent)–it's all about making you a better person and strengthening your soul with nary a word about forgiveness. The reason Luther was so insistent on the objective, identifiable real presence is that he knew that if you make the reality of the sacrament dependent on your own faith, you lost the whole thing and would be stuck obsessing on whether or not you really had faith rather than believing what Jesus said about "for the forgiveness of sins."So if Hitler consumes a communion wafer, his sins are remitted? No questions asked? Signed, sealed, and delivered to heaven by certified mail?
The same goes for baptism. Mostly what baptism does is place a bunch of conditions on you and your parents. Anything it promises is either conditional or not a promise of forgiveness of resurrection. I've even heard some Calvinists say that if you're not elect, you didn't get a real baptism; you just got wet. We Lutherans always look to baptism as establishing us in Christ and as God declaring us his forgiven children. We take "therefore reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ" very seriously when it comes to baptism, so all this vague stuff about "inauguration into the covenant community" isn't anything we have time for.And what if a baptized Lutheran doesn't take the Pauline dictum very seriously? Does it make any difference to his "objective" state of grace whether or not he takes it seriously?
I think by this point, people know what I'd say. I'd answer by saying, "Listen to what God says to you in the Word, and believe in what he gives you in the Sacraments."What if no one in the audience is listening to Josh's exhortation? Do they need to listen? Or would that reduce the objectivity of grace to a conditional promise? Isn't listening a "subjective experience."
Obviously, most Christians aren't taught to believe that the minister has any kind of divinely established mandate to forgive sins, and they mostly look at the sacraments as impositions of obligation, memorials, or divine ordinances you obey in order to testify of your own faith. We believe that God is the one testifying in the sacraments, and he's testifying to you and to the world that your sins have been nailed to the Cross.What if you don't confess to the minister? Is that a condition of salvation? If God has already testified to the world in Word and sacrament that our sins have been nailed to the cross, then why is salvation contingent on priestly absolution?
That's not too far off from Reformed "signs and seals" language, but their language is tempered with limited atonement and/or conditional covenants so that there's some kind of disconnect between between the sacraments and an objective, divine declaration of absolution and righteousness. So the signs are only "effectual" for the elect, or their promise is contingent upon good covenant standing, or something.Is Josh claiming that the sacraments are "effectual" for everyone who was ever baptized or took communion? In what sense are they effectual for everyone? Is a wafer your nonrefundable ticket to heaven? Instant salvation—just add saliva?
I keep hoping that Josh's position isn't as bad as it sounds, but he's so insistent and persistent that I begin to wonder.
The big criticism from all the other traditions–Catholic, Reformed, Wesleyan, you name it–is that if God were to just go around recklessly forgiving sinners, if people were allowed to believe in their salvation just because Jesus got nailed to a cross, that would encourage people to sin more. The answer, of course, is putting a hedge around Jesus. Basically, you tell people they can't have him unless they shape up. There are volumes and volumes of literature from all sides of Christianity about the conditions placed on forgiveness. Living up to covenants, doing penance, detaching your soul from sin, committing your life fully to obedience, and so on. We absolutely do not believe in that sort of thing. Jesus didn't put covenant conditions on the paralytic before forgiving him. He didn't tell the thief on the cross to shape up. He just absolved them. Just don't call God a liar.But there are Biblical conditions placed on forgiveness. Forgiveness is conditioned on faith and repentance. And isn't obedience a necessary element in Christian discipleship? Josh would do well to scale back on the invective ("Just don't call God a liar") lest the admonition recoil on his own head.
No, we don't have to "shape" up before we come to Christ. But sanctification is not an optional accessory in the Christian life—like Mag wheels or leather upholstery.
Right, so where's election come into assurance? I think you learn to be confident of your election as you learn to be confident that what God says to you in the Gospel and the Sacraments is true, and that he is indeed saying those things to you.True for whom? True for John Spong?
God speaks, and you say "Amen."What if you don't say "Amen"? Is Josh placing a "condition on forgiveness"? Does that introduce a note of uncertainty into the transaction?
I believe I'm elect, because God's called me through the Gospel.Wouldn't it be better to say I believe I'm elect because I'm answering God's Gospel call? That my response is the mark of election?
When I hear Luke, that paralytic is me. So when Jesus says "Man, your sins are forgiven," he's not just saying it to the paralytic in the story, but to me and everyone else who sees himself lying helpless on that mat. So I believe in my own election, and I'm not afraid to say that.I don't have any particular problem with that application, but it's a conditional application all the same.
There's always the big question mark about apostasy. No matter what you believe about election, that one can keep you up at night. Christians who were just as good as you have fallen away, so why shouldn't you fall away, too? I think the answer lies in the fact that God's promises don't come out of the sky; they're made in the Church, because that's where his Word is spoken. My answer to that question isn't to try and find a logical resolution or some quality that differentiates me from them; it's to go to church.Go to which church? Josh talks about certainty, yet he has staked his certainty in the sacraments. Yet that raises its own set of uncertainties. How does he determine a valid sacrament? How does he determine a valid ordination?
Christians are elect because Christ is elect, and so if I decide I don't want to be where Christ is because I think church is stupid or I'd rather live a life of flagrant sin, I'm counting myself out by my own unbelief.Is he saying that "flagrant sin" is damnatory? But he keeps telling us that we have these objective, unconditional promises in the Word and sacraments.
Incidentally, where does Scripture say that Christ is elect?
I know most people want a logical answer, but I just don't have one. Keep going to church and believe what God says to you there if you want your troubles about apostasy to bother you less. That's why it's absolutely essential to go to a church where the Gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered according to Christ's institution and not let unfaithful pastors stay in power.Well, that's fairly good advice, but he's stipulating that certain conditions must be met to avoid apostasy, and he's introducing an element of uncertainty in his appeal to the valid administration of the sacraments.
As I've said before, the pastor is an ambassador, given specific duties to perform. This is established when Jesus told his disciples in Matthew, "Whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." John's version is even more transparent: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." We take these words of Jesus very seriously in the Lutheran church.Do they take these words of Jesus very seriously? Where did Jesus make this promise to the pastorate?
But I am left thinking: Why is election defined as God choosing some for salvation and some for damnation.i) This assumes that OT election was indeterministic.
In the OT, God elects/chooses a nation to fulfill the Abrahamic promise to bless the nations. Israel is chosen not in spite of the other nations but in order to bless the nations (with the only hope for humanity, knowlege of the one true God). Election then has a missional sense. Why do we then go to the NT and give it the sense of divine determinism.
ii) It also assumes that "election" in the OT is identical with "election" in the NT. But Paul distinguishes between different levels of "election."
Was Paul's theology formed in a vacuum? Paul spent years with the Christian communities in Antioch and Jerusalem. Doesn't it make sense that the synoptic tradition along with Paul's Damascus road experience would have provided the core of his theology?Why? Paul was an OT scholar in his own right. And he received his knowledge of the gospel by direct revelation.
Doesn't it seem logical that the parable of the seeds and the soil, which appears in ALL FOUR gospels, would have informed his belief about God's initiative in salvation (the sower) and man's response (the nature of the soil)?Why does Josh think the parable of the sower is inconsistent with Reformed theology?
Paul knew Jesus as Lord and God and had to know of Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem's refusal to find rest and refuge in him. Did he think Jesus was faking it or something?Is Lk 19:41 Josh's best argument against the Reformed interpretation of Isa 40-48, or the predestinarian passages in the Gospel of John, or the predestinarian passages in Acts, or Rom 9-11, or Eph 1-2, &c?
Since Jesus is the God-man, he has human emotions. We already know that. How does that negate Biblical predestination?
One of the main problems that I have with hardcore Calvanism (and another other kind of systematic theology that does the same thing) is that pictures God sitting on a throne emotionlessly picking and choosing, saving and damning, killing and delivering. That is not the God of the OT that constantly bears his heart through his prophets.i) Is Josh a neotheist? I don't think so. How would Josh debate a neotheist? He seems to share the same hermeneutical assumptions as open theism.
That is not the God revealed in Jesus' parables. That God runs to prodigal sons in great fits of emotion.Does Josh really think that God is subject to "great fits of emotion"? Is God manic-depressive? Is God on Prozac? What happens if you have the ill-fortune to catch God on a bad day?
Is it better for God to be "killing and delivering" as long as he's emotional about it? A passionate executioner?
This is not to deny that God may have something selectively analogous to human emotions. But unless you turn Yahweh into Zeus, it is necessary to make allowance for poetry and hyperbole. A parable is fictitious. And it's often hyperbolic by design. Didn't they teach him that at seminary?
ii) Josh's complaint reveals another problem. His attack on Reformed theology is almost entirely pragmatic. He disapproves of certain consequences which follow from Calvinism. But how is that any way to judge if Calvinism is true to Scripture?
For example, Josh is a critic of the ELCA. But liberal Lutherans revile the consequences of Josh's confessional Lutheranism, do they not? They think it's antiquated, bigoted, judgmental, patriarchal, narrow-minded, sexist, intolerant, unscientific, homophobic, heteronormative, &c. Is Josh measuring Reformed theology by the same yardstick he's using on Lutheranism?
Josh generally strikes me as a pretty thoughtful guy, but in reading through his interview, he doesn't seem to have thought through his theological position as thoroughly as I'd expect.
2 Coprolalia is a medical condition which is disproportionately represented in Catholic, Lutheran and emergent church populations. Although it may have a genetic point of origin, it appears to be contagious.
3 As one can see from my Scottish surname, I was ultimately unable to resist the Reformed Pon farr.
4 Self-Esteem: The New Reformation.
5 As Lutheran serial killers go, I happen to be a fine lay theologian, with a well-marked copy of the Book of Concord. I'm also a regular lurker at weblogs like Cyberbrethren and Metalutheran.