More on Lutherans, Calvinists, & Evangelicals

James R. Rogers (a Lutheran) advances our perennial topic of why evangelicals tend to prefer Calvinism to Lutheranism in a post for First Things.  He begins with some practical issues–the difficulty of “finding” Lutheranism, the relative inaccessibility of Lutheran confessional documents (the Augsburg Confession being too difficult; the Small Catechism being too simple) as compared with the Calvinist equivalents.

But then he plunges into the deeper issues–evangelicals see salvation as coming from within, whereas Lutherans see salvation as coming from without–including an illuminating discussion of faith and baptism.  And the Lutheran emphasis will seem utterly alien to an evangelical sensibility, whereas Calvinism will fit it well.

Please, read the whole post.  I quote this from the end of the piece to show you how good it is.  From James R. Rogers, Lutheran Evangelicals | Web Exclusives | First Things.

The crucial shift is that, for the Lutherans, justification derives from Christ’s faithfulness—his trustworthiness—rather than from an act of mental will. This affects Lutheran preaching and Lutheran piety.

Consider the differing appeals made to a person weak in faith. The admonition derived from the standard Protestant view of sola fide is that the person weak in faith must try to believe harder. The admonition directs the person to look within to remedy his or her failure. In Lutheranism, the admonition comes from Jesus himself to me in particular, not to look inward to myself or my belief, but to look outward, away from myself, to Christ on the Cross. Trust in Christ comes not from an act of will, but rather simply reflects the fact that Jesus is trustworthy. Trust, or faith, comes not from within, but from the nature of God’s character revealed in Jesus on the Cross. As Paul puts it in the well-known passage in Romans, given that God “did not spare his own son, but delivered him over for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things?”

If our young Evangelical would happen to visit a Lutheran church, long before he hears about theological differences, he will “feel” that the experience of church and spirituality is different in the Lutheran church. With a nod to Cary’s argument, if the Lutheran church, as it were, “does” it right, it will feel alien relative to the average American church—it will “feel” frankly medieval. And it will feel that way irrespective of whether the Lutheran church sings praise songs instead of hymns, or whether it uses traditional or modern architecture in its building. Word and sacrament is what it’s all about. Christians are actually united in baptism with Christ on the Cross, and we actually receive Christ’s forgiveness by receiving his body and blood respectively broken and poured out for that forgiveness.

The rationalism and nominalism inherent in Zwinglian sacramental theology is the very air that American Evangelicalism inhales. The shift from an Evangelical church to a Lutheran church is therefore not simply one of amending a few abstract theological affirmations, it represents a cultural shift for the person as well as a shift in how one conceives of and expresses one’s piety and spirituality, both individually and as part of an ecclesiastical community.


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