Friday, December 09, 2005

Feeding on Christ


With respect to your #1, the Lutheran-RB squabble isn't at all interesting to me. But this is: you said, "Lutherans are the ones who invest so much of their spiritual stock in the efficacy of the sacraments, not me." May I just suppose for a moment that you are an RB? If you were, then this statement makes absolutely perfect sense because you have not only not invested much stock in the efficacy of the sacraments, you've rejected anything whatsoever "sacramental" about baptism and the Lord's Supper. Now, back to the Reformed Steve. If you subscribe to any one of the Reformed standards, do you have the option to divest yourself of the efficacy of the sacraments? I think even the Reformed with the very weakest view of sacramental efficacy (Zwingli?) would say "NO WAY!" More on this at #3...


1.If I were RB, I’d subscribe to the LBCF, which is one of the historic Reformed standards.

2.I’ve not rejected what’s sacramental about baptism and communion. I simply take my theology of the sacraments from my understanding of Scripture.

3.As to whether I have the option of parting company with the Reformed standards on sacramentology, I’d say the following:

i) For reasons that JD and I have already given, I think the position I take is quite consistent with what’s distinctive in the Reformed tradition.

ii) I call myself a Calvinist because that’s what I think I am, and that’s what I think most folks would take me to be. Labels are useful shortcuts.

iii) But to be perfectly frank, I really don’t care. This is the wrong question to ask. The first question I ask myself about what I believe is not: “Is this Reformed?” but, “Is this Biblical”?

When I’m on my deathbed, staring into eternity, it will be quite irrelevant to me and to my Maker whether I have my Reformed passport stamped with all the right names of all the approved luminaries.

As to someone like Alastair, who defines himself by his ecclesiastical party and institutional affiliation and historical identity, this is nothing but the idolatry of tradition.

BTW, “Biblical Sacra,” on the same thread, has had some very sensible things to say.


Assurance of salvation. Again, now that I've moved into the Reformed fold from my earlier years as a tulipy baptist, the examples you offer regarding "I know I'm saved because..." present starkly the difference between what you've written here about unmediated faith (although I thought the subject was grace) and what I understand to be the typical Reformed view of assurance.


Salvation is by grace, assurance is by faith. Of course, faith is also a condition of our justification, while grace is the engine driving our faith.


Of course, this remembered baptism is a remembering that you were baptized, even if it occurred when you were an infant. I suppose you could say again that Calvin isn't the best representative of calvinism or the Reformed faith in general, but it sure gets curiouser and curiouser the more qualifications that have to be added.


1.No one denies that Calvin is a leading representative of Calvinism. But Calvinism is larger than Calvin.

2.However, where uninspired writers are concerned, my acceptance or rejection is based, not on who said it, but the quality of the reasoning.

Calvin’s statement on this particular point is flawed, obviously flawed, for the simple and irrefutable reason that not everyone who is baptized is saved. Baptism is not a ticket to heaven. There are many baptized churchmen in hell.

Hence, to vest one’s assurance of salvation in baptism is a classic and hazardous example of false assurance.


My assurance rests on my unmediated faith in Christ? Yikes, what a responsibility! If this is true, I'm done for because I'm only too aware of the noetic effects of sin. If my faith is not assured by God keeping His faithful covenant promises through whatever means He ordains, then I would never be able to get off the justification hamster wheel. I can't give you an ontology of the sacraments or a metaphysics of the "seals," but it sure seems to me as if Jesus intended to apply His grace to us as His disciples through physical means. That doesn't bother me at all. I don't understand fully how He does that, but that's where the trust comes in. I don't trust the physical means, I trust Him to keep His word because of that cross up on the hill and that empty tomb over there. If He says "Eat my flesh and drink my blood," then after we get our literalism out of the way, I'm going to take His word for it.


1.You are saved by the grace, but you know you are saved by faith. You are not saved by your assurance of salvation, but you can’t have the assurance of salvation apart from faith. That’s how you know you’re a Christian. That’s what makes you a believer.

Of course, faith is a gift of God, so it doesn’t rely on your own fortitude. But there’s no way around faith in Christ. There’s no substitute for faith in Christ.

How do you know God’s faithful covenant promises apply to you? By faith. His promises are promises to believers.

Why do you trust him to keep his word? By faith in his word.

Again, you can take the Presbyterian view that sacraments are means of grace for the elect, but even on the Presbyterian view, the grace of God is not channeled through the sacraments alone. Baptism doesn’t regenerate. At most, the sacraments would be means of sanctifying grace, not regenerating grace.

2.This is not an ontological question of how God does what he does. Rather, this is exegetical question of how to interpret Scripture.


If the sacraments just resemble, represent, signify...something only nominally, then you do indeed seem to embrace the RB position (which is fine with me, just confusing given your earlier profession).


RBs deny infant baptism. I’m non-committal on that. So, in that respect, I differ from the RBs. I think there are plausible arguments on either side.


Am I not Reformed because I do think God grants grace to us mediately through His appointed instruments?


If you want to take the Presbyterian position, that is clearly a Reformed position to take. The point is not that there is only one Reformed position, but more than one.


Am I in epistemic disarray even though I am trusting Christ to keep His promises through those appointed instruments?


The answer turns on the question of what Christ appointed them for. What is their appointed function? That’s an exegetical question. God is always true to his purposes; the question is the true interpretation of his purposes.

Faith alone in Christ alone


So, Steve, when I hear you saying this: "Lutherans like McCain put their faith, not directly in the Savior, but in the sacraments. They are not looking to Jesus, but to the wafer and the font. By contrast, Reformed Baptists do trust in Jesus alone," I just have to scratch my head. RBs are more authentic confessors of solus christus than lutherans (and by implication, anyone else who views the sacraments as a means of grace)? Wha---? If RBs really believe that, more's the pity. But you said you move freely between the different versions of the calvinistic tradition. You seem theologically knowledgeable. Do you believe your confession is closer to the RBs than the Lutherans? If so, I'm just dumbfounded. Jus is probably right: I'm "clueless."


1.First of all, I find it amusing that some folks (not necessarily you) have taken offense at my statement about Lutherans.

To begin with, I rarely discuss Lutheran theology. Critiquing Lutheran theology has never been one of my priorities. Since Lutheran theology is a seaworthy vessel which can get its passengers safely to the heavenly harbor, I prefer to direct my attention at leaky vessels or vessels headed in the wrong direction.

I only waded into this debate because Paul McCain chose to launch a public attack on Calvinism, in a particularly blistering and ill-informed fashion.

BTW, if Lutherans want to criticize Calvinism, that’s fine with me. They’re perfectly entitled to point out whatever they think is wrong with Reformed theology. They would be doing us a great favor if they could prove that Reformed theology is unscriptural in this or that respect, and correct our errors. But by the same token, I reserve the right to reply in kind.

Lutherans believe that they’re closer to the truth than Calvinists. That’s why they’re Lutherans. Calvinists believe that they’re closer to the truth than Lutherans. That’s why they’re Calvinists. One could say the same thing about fundamentalists and Anabaptists.

Lutherans believe that they do greater justice to the grace of God than Calvinists. And this is very much bound up with their sacramentology—which their belief in baptismal regeneration and the real presence.

I’m not the one who’s putting so many of my chips on sacramental realism. It’s McCain and Pieper and Lutheran Orthodoxy.

Lutherans are the ones who invest so much of their spiritual stock in the efficacy of the sacraments, not me. They’re the ones who vest so much of their assurance of salvation, to some extent of salvation itself, in the efficacy of the sacraments.

So the question is a simple one: is their faith well-placed or misplaced? This question is entailed by their own position. The question is unavoidable. Everyone has to answer one way or the other.

If they’re right about sacramental grace, then their faith is well-placed; if they’re wrong, then their faith is misplaced.

The logic of the Lutheran claim is reversible. If you take the logic of the Lutheran position seriously, then the conclusion is only as good as the premise, and if the premise is false, then that falsifies the conclusion. This consequence is as important or unimportant as Lutheran theology chooses to make it.

2.Irrespective of Lutheran theology, there is a perennial danger of shifting the assurance of salvation from faith in Christ to faith in some proxy, some external rite or ritual. Almost every theological tradition is prey to this, whether it’s: I know I’m saved because I was baptized, I know I’m saved because I’m a covenant child, I know I’m saved because I went to the altar, I know I’m saved because I speak in tongues, I know I’m saved because I observed the Sabbath on the seventh day, I know I’m saved because I observe the Regulative Principle, and so on and so forth.

All we’ve done at this point is to replace the mediation of priestcraft with another set of man-made intermediaries. Once again, Christ ceases to be the only mediator. Anything but faith in Christ alone as the immediate object of faith.

There’s a logical relationship between unmediated faith in Christ, and Christ as the only mediator of the faithful. I oppose all attempts to shortcut the assurance of salvation by bypassing faith alone in Christ alone.

3. I regard the sacraments are parables in action. Object lessons of faith. They remind us of what Christ has done for us—like types and shadows.

4.I have nothing to say in response to Alastair (if that’s who you were alluding to) since JD and I have already anticipated most of his objections.

Sign or seal?


I was asking what was distinctive about RBs and why they don't expend more apologetical effort against calvinists. Your paragraph about "infant baptism" makes my point. There's nothing distinctive about the RB, RC, lutheran and calvinist views on the nature of Christ the God-man and the Trinity. When it comes to baptism, however, I would find it interesting to hear an RB argument against the calvinist view. There's a reason we call it covenant baptism. It's because we believe that God faithfully keeps His covenant word to act savingly by means of (instrumentally through) the sacrament. According to Calvin, God acts effectively in applying grace through the mediating means He has determined to use: the Supper and Baptism.


1.Throughout your comment, you oppose the RB view to the “Calvinist” or “Reformed view.” No doubt that reflects your own perspective, but from an RB viewpoint, it begs the question.

2.You are now redefining your original query. You are welcome to do that. But my reply, as well as JD’s, was framed in response to the way in which you framed your original query.

As JD pointed out, infant baptism is a carryover from Roman Catholicism. That doesn’t make it true or false. But it does mean that infant baptism per se is not a defining feature of Calvinism. It is not what makes one a Calvinist in contradistinction to a non-Calvinist.

3.You are now shifting the debate from the observance of infant baptism to the grounds for infant baptism. Again, that’s a valid move, but a different move. We did answer you at the level at which you posed your original query.

4.As a parenthetical, there is a significant difference between Lutheran Christology and Reformed Christology. Lutheran Christology is oriented in such a way as to underwrite the real presence.

5.If you want to read a succinct argument against the Presbyterian case for infant baptism, I’d recommend Greg Welty’s online pamphlet which you can access at:

6. For the record, Presbyterian/Dutch-Reformed theologians like Bavinck, Dabney, and Cunningham have been quite critical of Calvin’s mediating position on the Lord’s Supper.


"baptism is...a true and effectual sealing of the promise, a pledge of sacred union with Christ, it is justly said to be the entrance and reception into the Church. And as the instruments of the Holy Spirit are not dead, God truly performs and effects by baptism what He figures."

The key word in this quote and in the WCF is "seal." According to the Reformed, the sacraments are not only signs, they are seals. WCF 27 says that there is a sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified. The Holy Spirit actually confers grace through the sacraments rightly used. So I agree with you about this: baptizing infants is not the sole provenance of the Reformed. The Reformed have their own theological take on it, but the outward form is not distinctive. But that wasn't the point. The point was that the Reformed view of baptism is decidedly distinct from the RB view. Was your point that it is the RBs that have the proper Reformed understanding of baptism, church government, etc? If so, then you have your finger on just the issue that has been driving this dispute.


1.It’s true that “seal” is a key word in these debates. However, that word is often left undefined, as if it’s meaning were self-explanatory.

2.Within historical Reformed theology there is no uniform position on what grounds infant baptism. The Catholic rationale was baptismal regeneration. This is taken over by the Lutherans.

The Dutch-Reformed tend to assign some presumptive status to the infant, a la presumptive election, presumptive regeneration, whereas English-speaking Calvinism generally grounds infant baptism in the candidate’s status as a covenant child.

Since Reformed paedobaptists disagree over the grounds for infant baptism, the grounds for infant baptism is not a Reformed distinctive.

3.There is also a question as to whether the category of “covenant children” isn’t a theological innovation. See William Young’s articles on “Historical Calvinism & Neo-Calvinism” (originally published in the WTJ) at:

4.Speaking for myself, I regard the issue of church gov’t as a matter of comparative indifference.


Steve, the quotation from Ch 7 of the LBCF really highlights the difference between the RB understanding of the covenant and the Reformed (cf. WCF 7.5 and 7.6).


i) True, there’s a difference between Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist covenant theology.

You could claim that the only authentic version of covenant theology is a version which underwrites infant baptism, but that would be a circular argument.

ii) There are internal tensions in the way the Westminster Standards formulate covenant theology. The WLC says “the covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam and in him with al the elect as his seed” (Q/A 31).

But it also says that “infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized” (Q/A 166).

This looks like a makeshift position:
i) Why do the parents have to be believers? Were all Jewish parents true believers?
ii) Why is the child only in the covenant of grace for purposes of baptism? Is this a principled restriction or exception? Can we partly be in the covenant of grace? Half in, half out? Are they elect, or aren’t they?
iii) Can one be a temporary member of the covenant of grace? If someone who was once in the covenant of grace can fall away, what distinguishes a covenant of grace from a covenant of works?


As to your point #10, I think that's (part of) the rub. You claimed that the RBs are reformational because they uphold the 5 soli. Let's pick sola gratia. Given the Reformed view of actual applied grace through the means of the sacraments (WCF 27), how can we and the RBs be talking about the same sola? From the Reformed covenantal perspective, sovereign grace and mediated grace are of a piece. The denial of this by RBs is precisely what appears to me to be (one of) their distinctives and what would have endangered their lives had they lived in Geneva or Zurich.


1.This fails to distinguish between Reformed and Reformational. “Reformed” is Calvinist; “Reformational” is Protestant. All Calvinists are Protestant, but not all Protestants are Calvinists.

To the extent that they’re true to their roots, Lutherans, Anglicans, Anabaptists, and Presbyterians are all Reformational, but they are not all Reformed. (Whether Anglicans are Protestant is a sticky question.)

2.It’s true that if you get micro about it, differences emerge. For example, Lutherans believe in both gratia particularis and gratia universalism, whereas Calvinists only believe in gratia particularis. So Lutherans and Calvinism don’t define sola gratia the same way. And the difference on this point is quite significant.

Yet no one would deny that Lutheran theology is Reformational. It can be Reformational without being Reformed. It is Reformational for the simple reason that Martin Luther was one of the leading Protestant Reformers, and Lutheran Orthodoxy codifies his theology.

Likewise, Anabaptism is Reformational even though it doesn’t uphold the five soli.

3.There’s a difference between saying that the sacraments are a means of grace, and saying that the sacraments are a necessary means of grace, or the sole means of grace, as if all saving grace were channeled through the sacraments.

Sovereign grace and mediated grace are not of a piece. Even Calvin limited sacramental grace to the elect.

In addition, by its denial of baptismal regeneration, Calvinism is committed to immediate regeneration.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Truly Lutheran


For instance, the fundamentalist theory is that God dictated the Bible word-for-word (they hate the word "dictate" and prefer "verbal and plenary inspiration," but their difference is semantical) and that in some mysterious, transcendent way, human authors left their stamp. But while it's not much of a stretch to grant that this is true of the prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi or even the Torah, is it the best description of II Chronicles, Esther, or Luke? None of those books have the kind of "thus saith YHWH" tone that the Prophets do. Some will read that as a denial of inspiration, because, like I said, they've got a propositional metatheory of inspiration which serves as the sine qua non of Scripture. This has, of course, echoes of the insistence that if planets were formed by the coagulation of galactic dust due to gravitational forces, then God didn't create them, which likewise requires strict adherence to a propositional framework of what it means for God to create that is thoroughly embedded in rather modern assumptions.


Aside from the fact that Josh doesn’t know the difference between inspiration and revelation—all revelation is inspired, but not all inspiration is directly revelatory—it’s amusing to see an exponent of the Truly Lutheran who attributes to “fundamentalism” a “theory” of inspiration which just so happens to be the traditional Lutheran “theory” of inspiration. Cf. R. Preus, The Inspiration of Scripture: a study of the theology of the seventeenth century Lutheran dogmaticians (Edinburgh 1957).

Paul McCain’s time would be better spent giving his own unlettered flock a course in remedial theological education.

Whose covenant theology?


Steve, I think that somewhere in the back-and-forth castigations a worthwhile question has been dropped. In the quote from Michael, it's hidden in the "this" in reference to "the heart of Josh's argument." I wonder if you'd care to respond to the "this"; namely, the divergent views of the sacraments held by the Reformed and the RBs. It is my understanding that RBs do not have them. In my experience in mixed company, when the various Reformed confessions speak of the sacraments as "means of grace," the RBs in the room clear their throats through clenched teeth. Why do RBs reject the sacraments as means of grace and yet think of themselves as Reformed in the tradition of Calvin, the Westminster divines, et al?

Furthermore, as others have pointed out, covenant theology decisively frames Reformed doctrine and practice. Reducing Reformed doctrine down to tulip is like reducing Eastern Orthodox theosis down to the Eucharist. They're certainly related to one another, but the specific sense of tulip (and the Orthodox eucharist) is given by the overarching theological framework. It sounds really strange to hear or read expositions on tulip as if it can be dehistoricized from its theological context; or put another way, RB theology seems both eclectic and anachronistic. It seems odd to someone confessionally Reformed like me (as well as certain truculent Lutherans) that RBs think of themselves as Reformed since RBs explicitly reject the framing theology and the accompanying sacramentology and ecclesiology that follow from it.

What is the point of doing apologetics as an RB if there's nary a trickle of refutations of Calvinism, presbyterians, Heidelberg confessors, etc? It seems that the very things that make RBs distinctive are the very things that they don't talk about. Why is that? The only blogger I've read that makes the effort to earnestly defend these distinctives is ct. She does a fine job of making it quite clear that the Reformed and Lutherans and ... corrupt biblical doctrine and practice with their theology of the sacraments and the church. Do not RBs share this view, generally speaking?

I don't know if you are RB, Steve, but would you care to explicate what exactly is Reformed about RBs? Further (so as not to leave Josh out), what is reformational about RBs? I think it would make an enlightening discussion to address the substance of Josh's original broadside.

# posted by notsoelder : 12/08/2005 2:08 AM


This is a perfectly reasonable request.

1.For the record, I’m not an RB. I regard the French, Dutch-Reformed, Presbyterian, Welsh Calvinist Methodist, and Anglican confessional traditions as equally valid expressions of the Reformed tradition, and I move between these very freely myself.

(When I refer to the Anglican tradition as Reformed, I have reference to the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Lambeth Articles. In practice, the Anglican tradition has not been consistently Reformed, to put it mildly.)

2.Every theological tradition is, to some extent, a historical accident. As with any historical phenomenon in the history of ideas, the Reformed tradition is rather fluid, with somewhat fuzzy boundaries in time, space, and content. The doctrinal package is, in some measure, eclectic.

3.There are different ways of identifying the Reformed tradition.

a) You might take certain representative credal statements as your point of reference (e.g. the Westminster Confession; Three Forms of Unity). Creeds are consensus documents, so they express mainstream opinion.

b) You might take certain representative theologians as your point of reference (e.g. Bavinck, Calvin, Cunningham, Edwards, Gill, Hodge, Murray, Owen, Turretin, Warfield).

c) You might take the inner logic of certain doctrinal matrices as your point of reference (e.g. TULIP).

d) You might take any or all of these as your proximate point of reference, but test them against Scripture as your ultimate point of reference.

4.As with any faith-community, the question of who’s in and who’s out is a consensus question. You cannot have community without a certain measure of unity. If enough people can’t agree on enough things, they can’t function at a communal level. But there’s no abstract, uniform answer for where to draw the line.

5.There is no one version of covenant theology. Stephen Strehle has documented the diversity of federal formulations in historical Reformed theology. Cf. Calvinism, federalism, and scholasticism: a study of the reformed doctrine of covenant (Peter Lang 1988).

6.In the 20C there have been a number of competing versions of covenant theology put forward by the likes of Beckwith, Hoeksema, Kline, McComiskey, Murray, Robertson, and Rushdoony.

Of these, O. Palmer Robertson’s may be the most mainstream or widely accepted.

The current contention over the Federal Vision is another case in point.

7.Traditionally, Reformed Baptists do affirm covenant theology. Here’s a representative statement from the 1689 edition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith:

I. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.
(Luke 17:10; Job 35:7,8)

II. Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.
(Genesis 2:17; Galatians 3:10; Romans 3:20, 21; Romans 8:3; Mark 16:15, 16; John 3:16; Ezekiel 36:26, 27; John 6:44, 45; Psalms 110:3 )

III. This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.
(Genesis 3:15; Hebrews 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 11;6, 13; Romans 4:1, 2, &c.; Acts 4:12; John 8:56 )

8.While we’re on the subject, if you want a representative statement of what Reformed Baptists believe, it would be one or another editions of the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1644; 1677; 1689).

9.Just as you have intramural battles going on within Presbyterian circles over covenant theology, the same is occurring within Reformed Baptist circles. See Welty on NCT:

10.RBs are Reformational because they uphold the five Reformation soli.

For that matter, the Anabaptists are Reformational without being Reformed.

11.With regard to the efficacy of the sacraments as a means of grace, or the denial thereof, RBs take the same position as Zwingli and Bullinger. In terms of historical theology, that qualifies both as Reformed and Reformational.

For a representative statement of RB ecclesiology and sacramentology, consult the LBCF, to which I’ve already referred.

12. Historically, adherence to the Westminster Standards included adherence to the Westminster Directory of Worship. This is a Puritan document which prohibits hymns, organs, choirs, crosses, holidays, stained glass, &c.

Is this an essential mark of Reformed identity? The OPC and PCA say no. But there are Calvinists who regard these denominations as apostate because they reject the Westminster Directory of Worship.

Incidentally, this would also commit one to the terms of the Solemn League & Covenant.

Because the Westminster Confession identifies the papacy with the Antichrist, this would logically commit an adherent to the historicist school of prophetic fulfillment.

The OPC and PCA have dropped this article from their edition of the Westminster Confession. Again, there are some Calvinists who regard that deletion as another evidence of their apostate status.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Why Johnny can't read


The Articles of Smalcald were originally proposed to be presented at Augsburg, but obviously Melanchthon's Augsburg Confession was instead. The Formula of Concord is a commentary and explanation regarding certain articles of the AC. In this, the confessions of the Book of Concord are unlike the diversity of Reformed confessions, which are often at loggerheads with each other over issues such as baptism, election, faith, images, and church government.

# posted by Josh S : 12/07/2005 5:41 PM


For the most part, Josh is simply reiterating distinctions I already drew between the Presbyterian, Dutch-Reformed, and Reformed Baptist confessions.

More to the point, all that’s relevant in a response to McCain is responding to what McCain chose to single out as objectionable in Calvinism. He did not, for example, focus on church government.


Too bad Hays forgot that the doctrine of the Trinity in the form we have today emerged out of controversy over the person of Christ. Whoops.
Posted by Josh Strodtbeck at 07:35 PM


Too Bad Josh forget that the doctrine of the Trinity in the form we have it in the NT was what I referred to in my reply to McCain. Whoops.


I'd like to point out that this is the heart of Josh's original outburst. A segment of the independent Reformed Baptists have claimed the mantle of the "truly reformed," and if you can read Hays and come to any other conclusion, I'll eat my hat on bread. Hays and company believe they are the true reformation. They, rather than Lutherans, embrace sola fide, sola Christus.

I don't see why that fact is even discussable. It's patently obvious.

Posted by Michael Spencer at 07:18 PM


Spencer can’t read any better than Josh can. The debate with McCain is not a debate over who is truly Reformed. Rather, this is a comparison and contrast between Calvinism and Lutheranism. That is how McCain chose to frame the debate, and that’s the framework within which his theological opponents have responded.

Spencer is intruding himself to settle old scores—and some new ones. Spencer has a father-fixation where James White is concerned. So instead of reading what is actually said, he superimposes his father-fixation on anything involving Reformed Baptists.

I said nothing to indicate that I regard Reformed Baptists as the only true exponents of Calvinism—much less the true Reformation. Rather, I brought them into the discussion at this point because they have been the target of Paul McCain’s attack. He has chosen them as his foil, so I’ve responding to him on his own grounds. But that obvious point goes right over Spencer’s head because he is using this debate as a pretext to get a few more licks in with Frank Turk and Dr. White.

And he chooses the oblique approach lest he provoke a response from his true quarry.

I have news for you, Michael. You’re not the center of the universe. This particular debate is not about you and your bad karma.

BTW, notice that he doesn’t have any problem with a Lutheran like Josh as the self-appointed arbiter of who’s truly Reformed.

Then, to finish it all off, Spencer pretends to take offense on behalf of the Lutherans for my contrast between Lutherans and Reformed Baptists. This is yet another double standard.

Again, I’m merely answering McCain on his own terms. McCain chose to cast the issue in terms of which tradition is more Christocentric—the Lutheran or the Reformed.

Notice, once again, that Spencer doesn’t have any problem with McCain framing the debate in those terms, or answering the question in his own favor.

But if I respond in kind, Spencer then pretends that this is somehow improper.

No room at the inn

The news that a number of megachurches are closing their doors for Christmas, even though it’s Christmas, and falls on a Sunday this year, has drawn a lot of merited criticism.

The putative reason for the closing is that people are terribly busy during the Christmas season.

The reason is stupid on the face of it since holding a Christmas service doesn’t force anyone to attend.

However, I think there’s a better response than censure. Any church which would close its doors on Christmas isn’t worth attending in the first place. Rather than attack them, we should encourage them to close their doors more often. Preferably board them over.

In the meantime, faithful churches can take up the slack. Think of this as a heaven-sent opportunity.

Where's Jesus?

Paul McCain has tried to collect his thoughts about Calvinism. This article is a great improvement over his hit-pieces.


In the process of trying to get to the bottom of Calvinism, I've learned that Calvinism is somewhat hard to define, but there does seem to be fairly universal consensus that the Canons of Dordt are the most commonly held principles of Calvinism...but....then you talk to other Calvinists who point you more toward the Westminster Confession. And then you have the Belgic Confession, and various other attending documents that go along with Westminster Confession which are apparently of some authority in various Calvinist churches. Of course, one could try to fathom a rather complex chart explaining Calvinism's view of how a person is saved.

I just feel sometimes that I'm trying to pick up jello with my hands, or herd cats when I try to pin down precisely what is the Calvinist confession of faith. I wish Calvinists could, like we Lutherans, point to a single book and say, "Here is our definitive and authoritative and normative confession of faith." I appreciate the fact that Lutheranism, though jello-like in its own unique ways, at least brings to the table a single book, called The Book of Concord.


This is all rather odd on several grounds.

i) Dr. McCain seems to have very definite views of what Calvinism stands for when it comes to criticizing Calvinism.

ii) To compare the variety of Reformed confessions with a single Lutheran book is deeply misleading, for the Book of Concord is, itself, an anthology of several different Lutheran credal statements, viz., Luther’s Catechisms, the Augsburg Confession, the Articles of Schmalkalden, and the Formula of Concord.

iii) The reason for the relative diversity of Reformed confessions has a lot less to do with doctrinal diversity than with national and linguistic diversity, reflecting the French, Dutch, and British wings of Calvinism.

The only doctrinal diversity of note is between the Reformed Baptist expression of Calvinism, represented in the London Baptist Confession of Faith, and the more Presbyterian types of Calvinism.

There is also some difference between Dordt and Westminster over the assurance of salvation. Westminster is basically a Puritan document, and reflects Puritan concerns and emphases.

As to Calvinism’s view of how a person is saved, the question is ambiguous. Is the question: “How does God save a person?” Or is the question, “What must a person do to be saved?”

The short answer to the first question is that those whom the Father chose, the Son redeemed, and those whom the Son redeemed, the Spirit renews and preserves.

For an answer to the second question, the Westminster Confession defines saving faith thusly:

“By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein…yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace” (WCF 14:2).


In my opinion, based on my observation and reading of Calvinist materials now for many years, and most recently of course my exchanges with several ardent Calvinists, I am all the more firmly convinced that Calvinism simply does not put Jesus at the absolute center of their "system."


One of the problems with framing the debate in terms of what is “central” to Calvinism or Lutheranism is that this is not a quantifiable criterion. For “centrality” is just a picturesque metaphor. So when Dr. McCain judges Calvinism by this figurative imagery, what is the literal frame of reference? Otherwise, McCain is the one imposing a Jell-O-like standard of his own.


For Calvinists it is my opinion that what "centers" them is not the Gospel, so much as God's eternal sovereign decrees.


Once again, we’re left with a metaphor.

And as far as metaphors go, the atonement is not “centered” in the decree; rather, the atonement is “grounded” in the decree. This is the “basis” or “foundation” of the atonement.


The concern I have with Calvinism is that the fuel driving is train is not the dynamite of the Gospel of Jesus, the love of God, the kindness shown by God to us in Christ, God's essence and glory, which Calvinists see most clearly in His "sovereignty" but not actually in His grace, love and mercy in Christ.


i) Since Jesus is divine, it’s a false dichotomy to drive a wedge between the glory of God, on the one hand, and faith in Christ, on the other.

ii) It is also a false dichotomy to drive a wedge between God’s sovereignty and God’s grace, love, and mercy in Christ.

In Reformed theology, God’s grace is sovereign grace, his love is sovereign love, and his mercy is sovereign mercy.

iii) Calvinism doesn’t come to the Bible with either a Christocentric or a theocentric agenda. If the emphasis falls on one more than the other, that’s simply an exegetical result of trying to do justice to the entire witness of Scripture.


Well, I say, "Then let's hear more about Jesus and the Gospel and God's life-giving love and kindness and mercy in Christ."


“More.” This is another vague predicate. In Hesychasm, you have the “Jesus prayer.” At a linguistic level, that’s very Christocentric. But is it the essence of Christian piety?


I believe that the New Testament clearly indicates that we can not, and must not, look any farther than Jesus Christ when we talk about God. All talk of God that drifts free of Christ and Him crucified leads in a wrong direction.


i) Here we are getting to a key difference between Calvinism and Lutheranism.

ii) Ironically, it’s McCain who is coming to the table with a preconceived agenda. This is the canon within a canon that you find in Lutheran theology, where everything should be artificially shoehorned into a Christocentric or really Christomonistic direction.

Calvinism, by contrast, doesn’t feel the need to massage and manipulate and redistribute the data to that degree. Calvinism has no inner canon. The entire canon is the functional canon in Calvinism. So Lutheranism is far more system-bound that Calvinism.

iii) Calvinism sees an opposing danger. And that is when the work of Christ drift free of the Trinity. When the work of Christ becomes some impersonal, free-floating thing which is not coordinated with the work of the Father in election or the work of the Spirit in renewal and preservation. An autonomous sufficiency insufficient to save anyone in particular.


We are not to try to peer past, or around, or above Jesus and try to look into the hidden counsels of God.


This is another malicious misrepresentation of Reformed theology. Where does Calvinism get the idea of predestination in the first place? From the Bible. This has nothing to do the prying into the hidden counsels of God. Rather, it has everything to do with the revelation of the decree. Predestination is a divine disclosure—not some speculative inference.


It is this "system" that has me worried for my Calvinist brethren, for it seems to me that this "system" is quite a bit more concerned first with an articulation of the eternal decrees and hidden counsels of God than with putting Christ Jesus at the heart and center. Please let me explain.

Calvinism concerns itself first with God's glory and making sure God gets what God deserves: glory. A noble goal! But, is this truly the New Testament presentation of what is at the heart of Christianity? It would, to me, seem to be working things from the wrong direction. We are not given, first, to know and contemplate God in Himself, but rather as He has chosen finally to reveal Himself to us, and that He has done through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is not a "system" this is a Person, the God-Man, Christ Jesus our Lord. Beginning with God's glory is stepping off on the wrong foot.


This is more of the same. McCain is censoring the word of God. Muzzling the word of God. Redirecting and reorienting the word of God.

Any systematic theology is going to reorganize the contents of Scripture. That’s what’s involved in systematizing the teaching of Scripture. As such, there’s no one “scriptural” place to begin. There are many possible starting points. You can use the covenant, or the kingdom of God, or the Trinity, or, Christ as your structuring principle.

Calvinism doesn’t concern itself first and foremost with anything except doing justice to the whole counsel of God. Calvinism doesn’t feel the need to be more Christian than scripture itself, for you can’t be more Christian than Scripture itself.

Now, due to its battles with Arminianism and Catholic synergism, there has been a polemic emphasis on the sovereignty of God since that is what the opposing positions oppose—just as, in Lutheranism, you have a polemical emphasis on sola fide and the law/gospel antithesis.

There’s a Barthian and functionally Unitarian quality to insisting that we cannot know anything about God apart from the revelation of God in Christ. The NT is not all about Jesus. Salvation is Trinitarian.

It does not honor Christ to peel Jesus away from his Father, or sever him from the Spirit of Christ. It does not honor Christ to make him die in vain. To die for the damned.


Compare what our Calvinist friend Alan has to say to how St. Paul talks in Gal. 2:20.


Notice the reductionistic nature of this appeal. There’s more to the Gospel, more to St. Paul’s theology, more to NT theology, more to Biblical theology, than Gal 2:20. Not less, certainly, but certainly more.


I trust you will notice a striking difference. I'm not saying we have to mention Jesus with every other word, but....please let me hear about Jesus, not just about the sovereign will of God. The lofty grandeur of the God high in the heavens is a wonder indeed. But that does me no good. No, talk to me of God who lies in the manger, for me, as a baby. Let me hear more about God who lived perfectly in my place, who walked this earth, in the same flesh and blood I have. Speak to me of God who fed the crowds, healed the sick, raised the dead and calmed the storms. Put my eyes on Jesus, God in the flesh, who took my sins on his shoulders, who suffered and bled for me, as the all-sufficient atoning sacrifice for my sins, and the sins of the whole world. That's the God I want to hear about more.


i) This goes back to McCain’s initial failure to distinguish between two distinct questions: (a) “How does God save a person?” And (b) “What must a person do to be saved?”

The Bible answers both questions, and it’s the sacred duty of a pastor or theologian to preach or teach both answers—not one to the exclusion of another. We just say whatever the Bible says. Repeat the teaching of Scripture.

ii) And there are times when it’s necessary to get into the mechanics of how God saves a person. For you have heresies and heretics like Pelagius and Valentinus and Roman Catholicism which give the wrong answer.


You see, God has come down in the flesh and now to all eternity, He is the only way I know the Father, no other way.


This is pious nonsense. There is no saving knowledge of God apart from faith in Christ. But Biblical revelation is a revelation of the Trinity. Christ is not a mask, obscuring or concealing the Father.


Put my eyes on Jesus, God in the flesh, who took my sins on his shoulders, who suffered and bled for me, as the all-sufficient atoning sacrifice for my sins, and the sins of the whole world.


i) All-sufficient for whom and for what? Sufficient, all by itself, to actually save everyone? McCain doesn’t believe that.

ii) I’d add, at the risk of kicking over a hornet’s nest, that as a practical matter, Lutherans like McCain put their faith, not directly in the Savior, but in the sacraments. They are not looking to Jesus, but to the wafer and the font. By contrast, Reformed Baptists do trust in Jesus alone.

Dr. White replies



As distressing as it is to recognize this, there are people who engage in theological diatribes who are not honest. In fact, though you and I can’t imagine why anyone would bother, there are people with foul mouths and minds who care nothing about truth and who spend a great deal of time sowing discord amongst the brethren. Every generation has had to face these people, and one never becomes accustomed to their presence, for one can never understand their motivations.

Note something Josh S. said over on Steve Hays’ site, “Face it, White listed his theological priorities, and Jesus really wasn’t one of them.” Now, what motivates a young man, barely into his twenties, who has as far as I can see is not ordained, has never taught a single theology or Greek class in his life, written a book, or preached a sermon, and yet he is willing to bear blatant false witness against someone who has, in fact, done all of those things? He knows he is lying. I know he is lying. So what does he gain from lying? Given his cowardice (bravado behind a keyboard, but plainly incapable of holding his own in any other context), we may never know, since he will simply hide behind that keyboard and continue sniping as long as anyone is paying attention. Hopefully, eventually, he will be distracted and we can all get back to meaningful things. Till then, he remains a dishonest disturber of the brethren, and should be restrained by anyone who has ecclesiastical authority over him so as to stop bringing shame and disrepute on other Lutherans who actually value truth and have integrity.

So, how about that Ahmed Deedat? He makes Shabir Ally look downright scholarly…!


James White


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bad boy Baptists: wacha gonna do when dey come fo you?


All the hostility comes from the constant bullying, whining, and grandstanding of James White, Phil Johnson, a handful of others, and their fanboys as the paragons of True Reformed Orthodoxy. And frankly, I don't consider Baptists legitimate members of the "Reformed" discussion. If I want to argue about Baptistry, I'll call a Baptist. I don't have any interest in the theology, so I'm not going to.


Assuming, for the sake of argument, that James White and Phil Johnson are illegitimate spokesmen for Reformed theology (which I deny), what’s that to you? Why would a Lutheran have a dog in that fight?

That would be an intramural debate between Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians, or other suchlike.

From a Lutheran point of view, true Calvinism is just as false as a false version of Calvinism.

So, once again, where is all this animosity hailing from? Why do you care?


I'm not parroting Kobra. I don't even like Kobra.


I’m gratified to learn that Josh is an equal-opportunity misanthropist.

Since Kobra doesn’t get no respect from his fellow Lutherans, he’s welcome to come over to our side.


Steve, what part of election being the last major theological heading in the Formula of Concord did you not understand? Did you notice that the FC doesn't even have a "Doctrine of God" section? What penultimate chapter in Pieper's Christliche Dogmatik flew by you? Predestination in Lutheran theology isn't part of the doctrine of God; it's the cap on the doctrine of the Gospel. But you would know that if you had actually read Pieper's Dogmatics or the Formula of Concord instead of just noticing that both talked about election sometime, somewhere. I don't even need special pleading here. All I need is for you to raise your own personal theological literary awareness.


Once again, Josh is trying to change the subject. It doesn’t matter what comes before Christology or after Christology. McCain’s allegation was that Christology is just as afterthought in Reformed theology. That it takes the Calvinist a long time to get around to Jesus.

My point, which you are unable to refute, but only deflect by hoping that we’ll forget what McCain actually said, is that if you compare representative expositions of Reformed and Lutheran theology, one is no more or less Christocentric than another.

And since, unlike Pieper, the Formula of Concord is online, readers can judge for themselves.


Of course, reading whoknowswhat into the ordering of the chapters of one's systematic theology is a lot different than straight-up listing what your priorities are, especially when your only mention of Jesus is to mention him as a modifier on irresistable grace. Face it, White listed his theological priorities, and Jesus really wasn't one of them.


When you say that in Reformed theology, Jesus is only a modifier on irresistible grace, you simply advertise your theological illiteracy to the world. Why don’t you acquaint yourself with the primary sources instead of regurgitating these thirdhand urban legends about Reformed theology? Are you afraid of the truth?


By the way, the conventional ordering of systematic theologies doesn't come from Calvinism. The structure is based around the articles of the Creed and in Protestantism was first seen in Melanchthon's Loci Communes.

# posted by Josh S : 12/06/2005 4:41 PM


I never said it came from Calvinism. I said it came from Aquinas.

Wright or wrong?

This afternoon I breezed through Wright’s breezy new book entitled The Last Word (HarperSanFrancisco 2005). It comes with glowing blubs from John Franke, Timothy George, Brian McLaren, J. I. Packer, and Ben Witherington.

This immediately raises reservations. If a book is equally appealing to such a theologically diverse readership, then it must be one of those painfully even-handed treatments (“on the one hand, on the other hand”) in which every side can find something to agree with without agreeing with the other side.

Wright does have some good things to say along the way, such as:
“If we are taking the Bible itself as seriously as we should, that we need to think carefully what it might mean to think that the authority of Jesus is somehow exercised through the Bible” (xi).

This is useful against liberals like Barth and Brunner who try to pit allegiance to Christ against allegiance to Scripture.

At the same time, this is hardly original advice. Bible-believing Christians have always understood that God’s word is the instrument through which he governs his church.

Speaking of Barth, Wright takes a nice swipe at him:
“Perhaps theologians have been warned off by the example of Karl Barth, who provided a great deal of exegesis within his Church Dogmatics, not much of which has stood up to sustained examination” (15).

Then there’s his take on the priority of the church over the canon:
People sometimes suggest, indeed, that the process of canonization is the sign that the church itself was the final authority. This proposal is sometimes made by Catholic traditionalists asserting the supremacy of the church over the Bible…This makes a rather obvious logical mistake analogous to that of a soldier who, receiving orders through the mail, concludes that the letter carrier is his commanding officer. Those who transmit, collect and distribute the message are not in the same league as those who rite it in the first place.

“Such proposals have, in fact, little to recommend them historically…They represent, among other things, a serious de-Judaizing of the Christian tradition…canonization was never simply a matter of a choice of particular books on a ‘who’s in, who’s out’ basis. It was a matter of setting out the larger story, the narrative framework, which makes sense of and brings order to God’s world and God’s people” (63).

1.But along with occasional highpoints are a number of low points. To begin on a somewhat trivial point, Wright has a nasty habit of taking potshots at the US. For example:

“The greatest of the Enlightenment-based nations, the United States of America, has been left running a de facto world empire which gets richer by the minute as much of the world remains poor and gets poorer” (13).

“The extraordinary and sometimes horrible excesses of behavior on both sides in the localized social and cultural politics of North American must of course be borne in mind during debate. So, too, must the oddity (as it seems to an outsider observer) that those who are most keen on ‘conservative’ Christianity on some issues often choose to ignore what the Bible says about loving one’s enemies and about economic justice, and choose to forget that many of the earliest and finest exponents of Christian scripture—the early church fathers—were firmly opposed to the death penalty” (93).

This type of literary drive-by-shooting is quite unscrupulous. It’s deliberately vague enough to elude specific rebuttal, but with just enough calculated innuendo to smear the target while conveniently evading the need to document the charge.

The insinuation of the first quote is that America enriches herself by impoverishing the rest of the world. And that’s just warmed over Marxist class warfare rhetoric. The assumption is that there’s only so much wealth to go around, so if some countries are wealthier than others, that must mean they are grabbing more than their fair share.

Yet is arguable that the American economic engine, through trade, education, and technology, has done a good deal to enrich the rest of the world. Let us also remember that America started from scratch. We got to where we are through industry and ingenuity.

Conversely, if a country is poor, that is often due to internal factors, such as a corrupt government, a dysfunctional culture, or a lack of natural resources.

To the extent that we have a “de facto world empire,” it’s because other countries have chosen to emulate our success.

Of what “horrible” excesses are conservative Christian Americans guilty? Is this an allusion to slavery? No doubt that was horrible, but hardly distinctive to North America, being something of a cultural universal—sad to say.

He insinuates that Christians who support the death penalty are hypocritical, but no exegetical argument is forthcoming to support this charge. So this is just another scurrilous calumny.

And what does the statement about failing to love our enemies have reference to? Is this a veiled allusion to the war against global jihad? Does he think it would be more loving to all concerned if the jihadis were to win?

2. Then you have this assertion:
“So-called conservatives…highlight…’personal salvation’ which owes its real shape to a blend of Reformation, Enlightenment, romantic and existentialist influences” (21-22).

One would like to see the historical evidence by which he is able to abstract an “influence” from each period and “blend” them together into “personal salvation.”

3.Or what about this assertion:
“Nor, for that matter, do the pragmatic, rule-of-thumb conclusions of some other writers of the 16-17C, who saw the ‘civil’ and ‘ceremonial’ laws being abolished while the ‘moral’ ones remained, ignoring the fact that most ancient Jews would not have recognized such a distinction” (57).

But one wouldn’t expect Jews living under the Old Covenant to give this much consideration since they were duty-bound to keep the totality of the law. In the nature of the case, this is a comparative and retrospective concern in light of its historical fulfillment and subsequent reflection upon the final character of that fulfillment.

4.Wright’s primary agenda is a reductive redefinition of Biblical authority. This is how he tries to pull it off:

“All this alerts us to the fact that scripture is more than simply ‘revelation’ in the sense of ‘conveying information’; more even that ‘divine self-communication;’ more, certainly, than simply a ‘record of revelation.’ Those categories come to us today primarily from an older framework of thought, in which the key question was conceived to be about a mostly absent God choosing to send the world certain messages about himself and his purposes” (30-31).

“God does indeed speak through scripture. But we cannot either reduce God’s speech to scripture alone…And we must not confuse the idea of God speaking, in this or any other way, with the notion of authority…[Authority] is the sovereign rule of God sweeping through creation to judge and to heal” (33).

“We find the elusive but powerful idea of God’s ‘word,’ not as synonymous for the written scriptures, but as a strange personal presence, creating, judging, healing, recreating” (38).

“First, scripture came to be regarded as a ‘court of appeal,’ the source-book or rule-book from which doctrine and ethics might be deduced and against which innovations were judged” (65).

i) The fundamental error here is to confound the literal word of God with the figurative word of God as a personification of the Lord’s creative and providential power. So Wright’s whole thesis teeters and totters upon an elementary equivocation of terms.

ii) That, in turn, invalidates his suggestion that the traditional categories are deistic. It is only deistic if you confound revelation with providence.

iii) Even if authority were a broader concept than Scripture, that doesn’t lessen the authority of Scripture. Not all quadrupeds are dogs, but all dogs are quadrupeds. The fact that there are more quadrupeds than dogs doesn’t make dogs any less quadupedal.

Conversely, by confounding revelation with providence, Wright does dilute the authority of Scripture by diffusing authority in “the rich dynamic life of his creation” (31).

iv) To date the status of Scripture as a court of appeal or rule of faith to Augustine (64-65) is grossly anachronistic. The Mosaic Law was certainly a rule of faith. Just reread Exodus through Deuteronomy. And the Prophets constantly cited the Mosaic law as a final court of appeal. Throughout the Gospels and Acts and Epistles, Jesus and the Apostles cite Scripture as a rule of faith and court of appeal.

In the end, what Wright offers the reader is a typical piece of Anglican fudge, a via media from nowhere to nowhere. Like half-measures generally, it is neither principled nor practical.

Wright reminds the reader that he was one of the drafters of the Windsor Report. This, remember, was that brilliant ecclesiastical compromise which attempted to split the difference over the ordination of homosexuals in the Anglican Communion. We all see what a smashing success that was, don’t we?

Spitting Kobra

The chat rooms are still ablaze after Paul McCain turned his flamethrower on Calvinism.

You have to wonder where all this seething resentment is coming from. Who would have known that all this anger was just under the surface, waiting to well up and explode at the slightest perceived provocation?

If Reformed bloggers had been churning out a steady stream of fiery broadsides against Lutheran theology, you could understand this volcanic reaction. But Lutheran theology is not a regular target of Reformed bloggers, is it?

With all due respect, I’m tempting to suspect that this reflects a festering inferiority complex. Gene Veith recently blogged on the “invisibility” of Lutherans on the cultural horizon. Is it that some Lutherans envy and resent the visibility of the Calvinist contingent?

But Lutherans are free to be as visible as they please. Has anyone of note in the Reformed arena tried to muzzle Lutheran freedom of expression?


Calvinist theology rests on the abstract principle of Sovereignty, and the rest of the system is constructed on top of it. On the contrary, Lutherans construct their system on the incarnate Christ. Afterall, he is the very explanation of God. To place the former before the latter is to place the cart before the horse.


So Reformed theology is constructed from the abstract principle of Sovereignty? And where do you suppose that “Kobra” got that idea? Was it from reading a number of Reformed theologians?

No, he simply lifted this form of words from Paul McCain. Is there some reason that Kobra can’t go back to the primary sources and think for himself?

BTW, there is more than one way to systematize the theology of Scripture. Morton Smith runs through the “Trinitarian” method, “analytical” method, “covenantal” method, “Christological” method, “synthetic” method, and “kingdom” idea. To this one could also add the redemptive-historical method.

Since, by definition, any systematic theology will reorganize the contents of Scripture, no method is more scriptural than another. It’s just a matter of emphasis.


I'm not skipping class to argue with some Baptist about predestination. Some things aren't worth my time.


In other words, Lutherans and Reformed Baptist shouldn’t even be on speaking terms. Once again, where is all this hostility coming from, Josh?


Gadfly, Pieper didn't put sovereignty before incarnation. You are apparently unaware that Volume II (which treated the Gospel and the doctrine of Christ) was written and published before Volume I (which treated the doctrines of Scripture, Creation, and God), which says loads more about which was more prominent in his thought. In fact, in nearly every chapter of Christliche Dogmatik, Christ and the Gospel are emphasized.


Isn’t this a lovely piece of special pleading? If Pieper had intended the order of publication to reflect his theological priorities, then why didn’t he just renumber his systematic theology so that Volume II became Volume I and vice versa?

There is a reason, isn’t there, that he distributed the content of his systematic theology in the sequence he did, isn’t there? Doesn’t that reflect his authorial intent and overall design for the final product? When you buy the set, it’s in a numerical order.

The reason he followed this format is because he was following a fairly stereotypical format which, with minor variations, goes back to Aquinas. The order of presentation is not fundamentally different from a Reformed theology.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s not as if the average Reformed theology has nothing to say about Christ and the Gospel until it arrives at those particular loci. It its doctrine of God, it talks about the Trinity, which involves the person of Christ. In its doctrine of the decree, it talks about the covenant of redemption and/or the covenant of grace, which involves the work of Christ.


And I don't know which Formula of Concord you're reading, but my copy isn't a systematic theology constructed on the abstract principle of divine sovereignty.


So Reformed theology is constructed from the abstract principle of Sovereignty? And where do you suppose that Josh got that idea? Was it from reading a number of Reformed theologians?

No, Josh is parroting “Kobra,” who is parroting McCain. “Poly want a cracker?”

Unfortunately, these guys have put their brains in “sleep” mode. Like a tape-recorder on playback, they simply repeat what they’ve heard.

If this represents the quality of their educational experience, then they’d do well to skip class and spend more time in the library instead of coasting through school on autopilot.


It's responses to a few specific controversies of the time. The bulk of it, of course, is spent on the Incarnation, the Sacraments, and the Gospel. The section on predestination uses the Gospel as a controlling hermeneutic and sets the tone for the next four centuries of orthodox Lutheran theology.


Now Josh is trying to change the subject. The reason I originally brought up Pieper and the Formula of Concord was to answer McCain on his own terms. He was the one who made such a big deal about the order of presentation, about how long it supposedly takes for Reformed theology to get around to Jesus.

Why is it that he and Dr. McCain lack the common honesty to admit that McCain spoke a little too precipitously on this issue, ignoring some rather glaring counter-examples within his own tradition?

Theologians like Chemnitz, Quenstedt, and Calovius knew how to reason. Is this a dying art in McCain’s generation?

Thru the maze

“John-Mark” has a dandy little flow-chart on the Roman Catholic salvation scheme. Check it out at:


A question has arisen over my use of this term. To my knowledge, this is a traditional Lutheran term to distinguish the Lutheran position from the Catholic.

A more complete statement of the Lutheran position would be explicate the real presence in terms of a sacramental union (unio sacramentalis) between the communion elements and the true body and blood of Christ, which has its conceptual parallel and metaphysical embedment in the finer points of Lutheran Christology (the unio personalis or hypostatic union).

My immediate point is that you cannot derive this interpretation from a "plain" reading of the words of institution. This is, rather, a theological construct with quite a lot feeding into it. That doesn't make it wrong, but it does invalidate simplistic prooftexting.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Satanic Christology

Paul McCain has his defenders, of whom the most colorful may be Charles Lehman who, according to his own blog, is both a Lutheran vicar and a Lutheran theologian.


This whole debate is centering around Calvinism's false, un-Scriptural, semi-Nestorian, and satanic Christology.

Strong words? Tough.

I am sick and tired of Calvinism getting upset when we call them on their false teaching. If you're not going to take Jesus at His Word, there are going to be consequences.

Do not try to set up your system and fit the biblical data into it. Sometimes the biblical data flies in the face of human reason. Deal with it. Deal with it by confessing it, not explaining it away.

John 3 and Roman 3 flatly contradict the false and satanic doctrine of double predestination. God justifies precisely the same pantes that have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

The Scriptures are clear. Calvinism obscures the teaching of Scripture with its own arrogance, and one should not expect Lutherans to just let that slide.

It is out of your false Christology that all your other heresies fly including iconoclasm, denial of the bodily presence in the Lord's Supper, and the absence of Christ's physical body in all the world right now.

I realize I'm being harsh, but I don't think I have any choice. The arrogance I've been reading among Calvinists lately demands condemnation.

You are all demonstrating why I sometimes struggle with whether or not you are even Christians. You deny the hypostatic union as confessed at Chalcedon. This makes it a tough call, to say the least.

I get the definite sense as I read Calvin's Institutes that he starts with his definitions and then goes to the Scriptures with them in hand. He forces the Scriptures into his sytem and thereby destroys their meaning.

Romans 3 says that "all men" pantes, fall short of the glory of God. That means all people, right? In the next verse, the participle "being justified" is in the nominative masculine plural. It MUST modify pantes, there is no other option.

The very same people that fall short of the glory of God (all men) are the ones that are justified. Universal atonement.

The only way around it is to say pantes doesn't mean pantes. Just like when Jesus says "This is my body" he doesn't mean "This is my body." The Calvinist approach is consistent.

Agree with the plain meaning of the text only if it fits into your system. Ignore it otherwise.


The Lutheran tradition is a noble tradition. What a pity to see it so poorly represented.

The only thing resembling an argument here is his appeal to Rom 3. But his position is hardly consistent with Pauline theology. For one thing, there’s just a thing as justification by faith, is there not? Doesn’t Paul teach that justification is contingent on faith? And doesn’t Lutheran theology agree with Paul on that score?

But all men are not believers, are they? This is the problem with isolated prooftexting. Before we can confess the biblical data, we must exegete the biblical data.

Then you have his appeal to the plain meaning of “This is my body.” But Lehman doesn’t believe that the communion elements simply “are” the body and blood of Christ. Rather, Lehman believes in consubstantiation. On his view, the body and blood of Christ are “in, with, and under” the bread and wine.

But that is not the “plain” meaning of the text. That, rather, is a harmonistic gloss.

Then you have his remarkable claim that iconoclasm is nothing short of “heretical”? This is a guy who supposedly believes in sola Scriptura.

Iconoclasm would only be heretical if the Bible commanded Christians to make sacred images.

Then you have his appeal to the creed of Chalcedon to prove that Reformed Christology is Nestorian and downright “Satanic.”

This, of course, is an old charge. And the old countercharge is that Lutheran Christology is monophysitic. So each side can brand the opposing side as heretical by quoting different clauses of the creed. So this is victory by mutually assured destruction.

Perhaps, after Pastor Lehman has a chance to take his blood pressure medication, he will be better positioned to enter into a rational dialogue. Certainly the Lutheran tradition deserves better. And I’m sure the Reformed tradition does.

Paul Owen: Schismatic

Paul Owen is mad at me.

Why exactly he’s in such a stew is unclear.

I originally said he had joined the same church as the John Spong, Joseph Fletcher, and Vicky Gene Robinson. That apparently got his dander up.

Actually, I was just giving him the benefit of the doubt. That was the most charitable interpretation I could offer.

You see, Owen and his cohorts over at Communio Coffee stains are big on catholicity and ecclesiastical authority and the chain-of-command and all that good stuff. They never tire of attacking “radical” Baptists for their divisive, antisocial ways.

So I was rendering the judgment of charity when I did not immediately assume that Dr. Owen would be so libertarian as to up and join a pitiful little breakaway sect. This from a guy who still thinks we’re under the Pope.

Paul Owen’s problem is that he says one thing with his lips, but his feet tell another story. And right now, his feet are louder than his lips.

Witherington replies


Hi Steve:

This is an interesting diatribe, but you have missed so many points, including the main ones, that it is hard to know what to say.

I have read most all of those sources you have mentioned but this is quite beside the point. I said quite clearly at the outset that I was dealing with these different Evangelical theologies as they are found at the popular and most widely disseminated level. This means unlike most of my work I deliberately avoided spending much time debating other scholars. The issues was the ideas, not who said what.

What is especially disturbing about your critique is its inability to be self-critical. This is unfortunate and it reduces your remarks to pure polemics, which is sad.

Try again to recognize that all these theological systems, including Arminianism have their weaknesses particularly when they try to say something distinctive.

And as for not knowing the difference between Reformed and Lutheran theology, shame on you--- how would you know whether I do or not? In fact, I not only attended a Reformed seminary and read almost all of Calvin's major works, and Jonathan Edwards and various later exponents like the Hodges and Warfield, I also read most of Luther-- who is even more Augustinian than Calvin, especially on the issues of secondary causes!

So I would suggest you take a good look at your critique again, and rethink this. If you are unable to be self-critical, then you need to learn to listen to others who will help you with that.

Ben Witherington


First of all, I’d like to thank Dr. Witherington for bothering to read what I write and respond.

He says that I need to be a better listener, that I need to be more self-critical.

He also says I’ve missed so many points, including the main ones, that it’s hard to know what to say.

Of course, absent specifics, there’s nothing for me to listen to or be self-critical about.

I don’t deny that Witherington may be conversant with the relevant literature. What I originally said was “that, to judge by Witherington’s discussion and bibliography, he is almost completely ignorant of the exegetical literature in favor of Calvinism.“

It doesn’t matter what Witherington has read unless that translates into what he has written. I’m judging his book by the personal knowledge he chose to put on display.

This brings us to the next point: “I [Witherington] said quite clearly at the outset that I was dealing with these different Evangelical theologies as they are found at the popular and most widely disseminated level. This means unlike most of my work I deliberately avoided spending much time debating other scholars. The issues was the ideas, not who said what.”

This is a non sequitur. You can write at a popular level and still be accurate. He doesn’t have to name names or quote from the primary sources. It’s perfectly okay to summarize the opposing position. But it needs to be an accurate summary of the opposing position. What I find in Witherington’s treatment is a systematic misstatement of the opposing position.

I agree with him that this is about ideas, not individuals. But in that case, it is necessary to accurately state the main ideas.

Time and time again, Witherington misrepresents Reformed theology. Time and again, he raises objections that have already been answered over and over again. He also ignores traditional objections to his own position.

It isn’t enough to have read the opposing position. You must demonstrate an understanding of what you read. You must truly interact with the opposing position. This preliminary mastery and critical engagement of the opposing position is not in evidence in Witherington’s new book—at least where Calvinism is concerned.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Vaccination or quarantine?


-If Rick Warren was to have a Romanist speak at his church on a Sunday evening talking about cultural issues and politics, he would be criticized immediately by those in my theological circles for embracing an ecumenical paradigm (unity without theology) that is destroying the church today. But let one of "our guys" have a Romanist in the their church on a Sunday night to share the platform on political and cultural issues, then you better not say anything publicly against them because you’d be attacking the motives and ministry of a fellow servant of Christ. They are immune and above such scrutiny.

-If Rick Warren were to host a leading Roman Catholic writer and teacher to explain to his church the mysteries, metaphors, and allegory of “Lord of the Rings”, he would be challenged immediately for compromising the faith, partnering with those who deny the gospel and dumbing down doctrine for wider acceptance in religious circles about a fictional movie that is not Christian to begin with. But let one of "our guys" invite a Romanist as a guest lecturer to one of "our" seminaries to speak on the “Lord of the Rings” we must give them a pass and mustn’t say anything publicly about it for it would be unloving to characterize those in "our camp" who would do such things as “a turkey.” They are immune and above such satire and scrutiny.


I haven’t frequented Camp’s blog since last summer. But a friend drew my attention to his latest post.

The first statement is demonstrably false. As far as Jus Divinum and I were concerned, the objection was never to attacking the ministry of a fellow believer, per se. Rather, the objection was to the quality of Camp’s argumentation. No one is immune to scrutiny, and that includes Steve Camp.

This is old stuff. But his second paragraph strikes a new chord.

1.I agree with Camp that LOTR is not a Christian movie, although it does depict a chivalric honor code which has its roots in Christian theology and ethics.

2.But is Camp saying that there’s something inherently wrong with making a movie on a fictitious subject?

3.And what, exactly, is wrong with having a Roman Catholic giving a guest lecture at a Reformed seminary on LOTR? Tolkien was a Roman Catholic. And that does color the book in many subtle and subliminal ways.

Is Camp saying that Reformed seminarians should never be exposed to a real live Roman Catholic? That they need to be hermetically sealed off from direct contact—as if every Roman Catholic were Typhoid Mary?

Do Reformed seminarians have such a deficient doctrinal immune system that any degree of exposure to Catholic theology will cause them to contract a fatal infection?

If some Reformed seminarians are really so sickly that mere exposure has that effect, then by all means let us expose them as a screening process; better they succumb to the Catholic contagion before they get licensed and ordained than afterwards, leaving broken churches behind and taking parishioners along with them to Rome.

Instead of shielding them from every airborne illness, it would be better for Reformed seminaries to stage debates between, say, James White and Karl Keating, or Eric Svendsen and Scott Hahn, or David Wells and Fr. Pacwa.

Speaking for myself, I prefer vaccination to quarantine. Inoculate them with a strong dose of the truth, then send them out into the world.