J. Gresham Machen on the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod

J. Gresham Machen was one of the 20th century’s leading Reformed theologians, a Princeton faculty member who battled the rise of liberal theology.  Rod Rosenbladt sent me a copy of an article that Dr. Machen wrote on the “Ordination Pledge” in which he discusses his appreciation for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, including the personal support extended to him by Lutherans during his tumultuous controversies at Princeton.  Among other things, he appreciates how Lutherans cling to their theology as being true for everyone, just as he and his fellow Calvinists do with their theology, as opposed to those who try to make everyone agree through some vague doctrinal synthesis.  He says that he feels that he feels much closer to the LCMS than to the “indifferentists” or “interdenominationalists” of his own tradition. 

He is thus proposing an ecumenism based on acknowledging differences, rather than grasping for similarities; being open to debate rather than forcing agreements; respecting convictions rather than treating them as problems.  Read what he says after the jump. [Read more…]

Lutherans, Catholics, & Orthodox

We may have solved, with the help of James R. Rogers, our perennial question of why evangelicals tend to be more likely to embrace Calvinism than Lutheranism.  But our other perennial question is why evangelicals, when they want something different–particularly, sacraments and liturgy–go the way of Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, rushing right past Lutheranism.  But, applying Prof. Rogers’ approach, I think I am starting to understand.

Again, to follow Prof. Rogers, one could cite external reasons–the difficulty of “finding” Lutheranism, the innate attractiveness of joining the biggest church that extends all over the world, the beauty of Orthodox liturgy, etc.–but, on a deeper level, there is much in Catholicism and Orthodoxy that already resonates with the mindset of many evangelicals. [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]

My take on the Lutheran/Calvinist discussion

Some thoughts on the discussion about Lutherans and Calvinists that was provoked by thoughts from Peter Leithhart and D. G. Hart.  (To get up to date with the latest contributions, see also what Anthony Sacramone had to say about it, as well as Dr. Hart’s rejoinder.)

I am one Lutheran who is not a Calvinist basher.  Having grown up in mainline liberal Protestantism and then hanging out in grad school with collegiate evangelicals, I heard about God’s grace for the first time from a friend who was a Calvinist.  It had never occurred to me and I had never been taught that God accomplishes everything for my salvation.  I found that very liberating.  I read Calvin’s Institutes and was greatly instructed.  I credit Calvin for leading me to Luther, whose theology seemed to me to have everything I appreciated in Calvinism while avoiding some of its problems.   In Lutheranism, I would find  dimensions of grace that I never dreamed of before.  But, frankly, if there had been a Calvinist church in the small Oklahoma town where I got my first teaching job, I might have gone in that direction.  Instead, there was a congregation of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which opened up to me dimensions of grace that I had never dreamed of before, including a deeply sacramental kind of spirituality.  Which brings up my first point:  [Read more…]

Why is Calvinism so influential and not Lutheranism?

There are lots more Lutherans than Calvinists.  And Calvinism has all of those scary doctrines like double predestination and the limited atonement, whereas Lutheranism is, well, happier, with its emphasis on the certainty of grace, Christian freedom, and its affirmation of the secular realm as God’s hidden kingdom.  And yet it’s Calvinism that has been so influential in English and American Christianity and the culture as a whole.  So marvels D. G. Hart, himself a confessional Calvinist and a perceptive scholar of American Christianity.  Read his ruminations after the jump, and then offer your own theories about why this is.

UPDATE:  Anthony Sacramone, former Calvinist who is now a Lutheran, has a very helpful response.

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Calvinist Predestination vs. Lutheran Predestination

James R. Rogers has written a post for First Things entitled “Credit the Calvinists,” in which he asks why Calvinists are thought of in terms of the doctrine of predestination and not Lutherans, who also believe in predestination.  Well, as Mathew Block explains, there is a big difference between the Calvinist view of predestination and the Lutheran view. [Read more…]