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...]

Depression among Christians

Christians struggle with depression–including the bleakest, blackest clinical depression–like everyone else.  On Emily Scrivener’s blog A New  NameEmily has written about her own struggle with anorexia–a guest writer, Glen, posts about evangelicals’ bouts with depression.  He writes about what helps and what hinders in the evangelical tradition.

Just because he cites as problems things Lutherans don’t do and recommends things that Lutherans already have, let’s not us Lutherans discuss this in a triumphalistic or evangelical-bashing way.  Clearly, Lutherans too often battle with depression.  (Certainly, Luther himself did!)

There is a sense in which depression is tied up with psychological and physical factors that ought not be confused with one’s spiritual state.  (Doing so is often part of the problem.)  But what spiritual resources and truths can help a person through this?  (Comments from depression-sufferers are especially welcome.) [Read more...]

“Lutherans Know Something We Don’t Know”

In the appreciation-for-Lutheranism-by-non-Lutherans department, here is a post by Cap Stewart at Happier Far.  It tells about how he has been helped by the Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel and, in particular, by the The Lutheran Study Bible:

Lutherans Know Something We Don’t Know

A Charismatic, a Presbyterian, and a Lutheran walk into a bar. Okay, that probably would never happen, but if those three people were to somehow enter a bar, coalesce, and emerge from the establishment as one man (who realized he wasn’t too fond of beer to begin with), that one man could possibly be me.

Yes, many denominations have made an impact on my spiritual development. And while I could possibly be labeled as something of a Reformed Charismatic (which, I assure you, is not a contradiction in terms), I have also been heavily influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther. One Lutheran doctrine in particular has been especially helpful—the paradigm-shattering distinction between law and gospel. [Read more...]

Cultural engagement requires the Sacrament

Peter Leithhart, a Reformed pastor and theologian, says that what evangelicals need if they are going to respond effectively to our time is to recover Holy Communion:

Evangelicals will be incapable of responding to the specific challenges of our time with any steadiness or effect until the Eucharist becomes the criterion of all Christian cultural thinking and the source from which all genuinely Christian cultural engagement springs.

The church is called to keep our Lord Jesus, his death and resurrection, as the focal point of worship, witness, service, and mission. How do we protect ourselves from darting off after each fresh fad? Jesus didn’t think Christ-centered preaching would be enough. He left his church not only a gospel to preach, but rites of water, bread, and wine to practice. It’s difficult to forget Christ and his cross when we proclaim his death in the breaking of bread at the climax of every week’s worship. When the Sign seals the Word, the church becomes a communion of martyrs ready to bear the cross because they have consumed the cross. . . .

Sharing the Supper forges us into a corporate body that participates in Christ through the Spirit. By the Spirit, we become what we receive: “We are one body because we partake of one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). In practice, Evangelicals don’t partake, and so we aren’t a body. When we do partake, we don’t partake together. We aren’t a body with many members so much as an aggregation of individuals. There’s little point in asking what “message” the “church” needs to proclaim unless we can speak of a church with something resembling a message.

In addition to the ecclesial, the political consequences of our Eucharistic neglect are almost beyond calculation. The great French Catholic Henri de Lubac traced in intricate detail how the sacredness of the table slowly migrated first to consecrate the institutional church and then to sanctify the state. Evangelicals are intensely protective of the “sanctity” of the flag, but many would be puzzled at the classic Eucharistic announcement, “Holy things for holy people.” Lacking a rightly ordered Supper, modern Christians wrap nationalism in a veil of sanctity, with sometimes-horrific results. In the U.S., Christians are frequently urged to give political support to this or that variation of Americanism. There is no genuinely Christian alternative because the church has no defined public shape with the resilience to withstand the political forces that press in on us.

As it is in politics, so is it in economics. Because we don’t take our bearings from the table, the growing debate among Evangelicals about how to constitute a just economy lists awkwardly from hedonism to asceticism and back. The Supper ritualizes a Christian vision of production and distribution as it catches up our economics into the economy of God. By the Spirit, bread and wine, products of human labor, become vehicles for communion with Christ.

As the Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann pointed out long ago, the Supper discloses the purpose and destiny of all creation. Not only this bread, but all bread, all products of human work, can be means of fellowship with God and one another. Further, we receive these products of human labor, with thanks; as a gift of God. Thus the table discloses the mystery of the creature’s participation in the Creator’s creativity, and this participation produces goods that are ours only as gifts received, goods to be shared and enjoyed in communion.

The Supper closes the gap between joy in creation and pious devotion to God. At the table, delight in the taste of bread and the tang of wine is delight in God, though this double delight is not unique to this meal. Every meal and every moment, every encounter and every project burst with the promise of communion with God. This world, Schmemann said, is the matter of God’s kingdom.

Evangelicals move away to Constantinople or Rome at an alarming rate, often because they lose hope of finding even a glimmer of liturgical piety in Evangelical churches. They’re hungry, and they believe they have found where the banquet is happening. Luther and Calvin would be aghast, for in their eyes the Reformation was an effort to restore priestly food to all of God’s priests as well as an effort to recover the gospel of grace.

All the cultural and political challenges that Evangelicals face come back to the Supper. It’s important to do it right, but it’s more important to do it and to do it together. Until we do, most of our cultural chatter will continue to glance harmlessly off our targets. Until we do, Evangelicals will flop and flounder with every cultural wind and wave.

via Do This | First Things.

As a Lutheran, I appreciate this call to recover a spirituality centered in the Sacrament.  (And, I would add, evangelicals looking for this in Rome or Constantinople would do well to first see it closer to home in Wittenberg, where they would find that they wouldn’t have to cease being evangelicals in order to be sacramental.)  I know some Calvinists are being accused in their circle of crypto-Lutheranism.  But is this particular view of the Sacrament, however “high” it seems and for all of its presence talk, all that Lutheran?  Amidst all of the talk of identifying the church and engaging the culture and reforming the economy, where is the “given for you for the remission of all of your sins”?  Or could these other benefits become ancillary effects?

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

I’ve blogged about Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham and the successor to D. James Kennedy as pastor of the influential Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  In the course of some struggles over his ministry, he came to a deeper understanding of the Gospel with the help of some Lutheran writers (e.g., C. F. W. Walther, Bo Giertz, Gerhard Forde, Hal Senkbeil, Rod Rosenbladt).  He has written a book about his experience and his new liberating realization that he does not have to add anything to what Christ has done for him.  The book is entitled Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

No, he doesn’t become a Lutheran.  He remains a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. That’s not the point.  But he demonstrates what I have been contending, that we Lutherans in our theology have some great treasures that other Christians are searching for and yearning for.  We tend to keep to ourselves, though, and mainly just talk to each other, which means that our theological and spiritual heritage is little known in American Christianity, which is split between evangelicals and catholics, Calvinists and Arminians, fundamentalists and mainliners, and other dichotomies which Lutheranism reconciles.  Anyway, Lutherans would do well to see the excitement with which Rev. Tchividjian discovers and seizes upon Biblical insights that are commonplaces among Lutherans, to the point that they sometimes take them for granted.  (The book is resonating with other evangelicals.  Christianity Today named it one of the top books of 2012.)

He approached me–he liked my book Spirituality of the Cross:  The Way of the First Evangelicals–to write a blurb about his book, which I was glad to do.  Here is what I said about it.   I’ll add some other blurbs that capture the book’s flavor and how it’s being received:

“Many Christians today assume that the gospel just has to do with conversion, for way back when they first came to faith. They have lost the sense, well known to Christians of the past, that the gospel is for every moment of their lives. As a result, they often fall into a moralism that can be, as this book shows, just as idolatrous, self-focused, and godless as immorality. This book shows how the good news of free forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ is the driving energy that makes the Christian life possible. Pastor Tchividjian tells about how he himself discovered the full magnitude of God’s grace in the midst of difficult times in his own ministry. He does so in a way that will bring relief, exhilaration, and freedom to struggling Christians.”
—Gene Edward Veith Jr., provost, professor of Literature, Patrick Henry College; director, Cranach Institute, Concordia Theological Seminary; columnist; author

“Tullian Tchividjian knows, by biblical study and personal experience, that the greatest dangers to the church exist inside the church not outside and the greatest of these dangers is the subtle, deceptive, and seductive self-reliance and self-sufficiency of legalism. Perhaps the greatest contribution of this book is its page after page plea to the church not to be afraid of the glorious provisions and freedoms of the grace of Jesus.”
—Paul David Tripp, President, Paul Tripp Ministries; author, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

“In a powerful, concise, and popular style, Tchividjian announces, explicates, defends, and contrasts the gratuitous gospel of Christ’s person and work with the oft-misheld conviction of us sinners that, if we are somehow to be justified, it will have to be a matter of ‘making up for’ our offenses and of inward improvement. Chapter-by-chapter he argues that God’s saving plan is one of grace and not one of improvement. Filled with illustrations from his life as a pastor, this is no unapproachable, academic tome. But neither, thank God, is it today’s ‘Evangelical silly!’ Tchividjian wrestles openly with demons and their central lie in order that we truly ‘get’ what the Bible is really about. From every point on the compass, he contrasts ‘moral renovation’ with a free, one-sided rescue drenched in the blood of Jesus. Good news for everyone—but especially for Christians who are worn out by trying the other way, believing the lie, somehow knowing renovation isn’t working but knowing nowhere else to turn. Tchividjian is out to convince his reader that justification before God really is pure gift, is free, is by grace and through faith in Christ. . . sola!”
—Rod Rosenbladt, professor of theology, Concordia University

“Brace yourself for a gospel tornado! Tullian speaks from the heart to the heart, reclaiming the ‘good’ part of the good news in a bold and liberating fashion. To those suffering under the gravitational pull of internal as well as external legalism (a/k/a everyone), Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything represents the only lifeline there is—the mind-blowing, present-tense freedom of God’s justifying grace. No ‘if’s, ‘and’s or ‘but’s here, just the enlivening and relieving Word in all its profundity, with powerful illustrations to spare. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll read it over and over and over again (of course, you don’t have to)!”
—David Zahl, Director, Mockingbird Ministries; editor of The Mockingbird Blog www.mbird.com

Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk becomes a Lutheran

Michael Spencer ran the blog Internet Monk, which became an important forum for Christians struggling with a whole range of issues in the evangelical world.  Spencer, a Baptist, found lots of help in Lutheran theology, especially in its understanding of the Gospel.  Spencer died of cancer not too long ago.  His blog, though, continues under his successor who goes by the handle “Chaplain Mike.”

Chaplain Mike has just announced that he has taken the step of becoming a Lutheran.

He has started a series of posts explaining how he sees Lutheranism as uniquely addressing the concerns of “post-evangelical” Christians.  Here is the conclusion of his long post, which surveys aspects of contemporary  evangelicalism that he has been struggling with:

 Let me say, by way of concluding this overview, that I have been thrilled with what I have learned and experienced in the Lutheran tradition with regard to these three areas.

The Word and Table liturgy of the Lutheran church, rooted in the historic tradition of the church rather than the revivalist movement, restores the priority of worship in the local congregation.

Pastors are not CEO’s or program directors in the Lutheran church as they have become in much of evangelicalism. Rather, they represent Christ in distributing the means of grace through Word and Sacrament. Preaching is embedded in the liturgy so that worship does not revolve around the charisma of the preacher, but the Word Himself who meets us in the gathering of his people. Pastoral care and catechizing the congregation are essential components of his or her work.

The doctrine of vocation is one of the gifts the Lutheran tradition has given to the larger Church. Luther, himself a monk, came to appreciate the priesthood of all believers and the integrity of every calling, “sacred” or “secular,” as a means of showing Christ’s love to the world.

This is just a start in showing how the Lutheran tradition has answered some of my concerns with the system of evangelicalism dominant in America today.

More to come.

via How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (1) | internetmonk.com#comment-613544.

HT:  Rod Rosenbladt


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