David Koyzis: Baptist and Calvinist? Why not Lutheran?

Ever sharp David Koyzis:

As a Reformed Christian who is in some fashion heir to Calvin’s legacy, I find myself puzzled when I see a title such as this: “Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention.” What does it mean to be a Calvinist in a Baptist denomination? It cannot imply an acceptance of Calvin’s view of the sacraments, which take up considerable space in his Institutes of the Christian Religion and are more than incidental to his theology as a whole. It does not seem to imply recognition of a real spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, or of baptism as a sign and seal of God’s grace. Nor does it seem to imply an acceptance of Calvin’s ecclesiology, which takes up volume IV of the Institutes and is generally followed by those churches calling themselves Presbyterian or Reformed….

On the other hand, when Reformed Christians established their churches in the New World, they usually brought their polity with them to this side of the Atlantic. Thus if Lutheranism has been historically more flexible than Calvinism with respect to ecclesiology, it is not immediately evident to some of us why becoming a Calvinist is usually thought to be a soteriological statement while becoming a Lutheran is an ecclesiastical one. But it may be that I’m missing something that others have picked up on.

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  • Annie

    I totally agree! Don’t get it. I suspect it has something to do with boiling Calvinism down to TULIP…

  • There are lots of interesting contemporary answers to that question, I think. But Koyzis rightly touches on the history.

    I suspect part of it has to do with the hardening of the party lines during the more scholastic 17th century. The Lutheran dogmaticians found less to agree upon with the Calvinists than the Calvinists did with the non-conformist Baptists (in England at least). Despite the possibility that many Baptists today might find more agreement with Lutheran doctrine on, e.g., the atonement and soteriological issues (which can only be skin-deep, given the sacramental/soteriological interconnectedness of Lutheran theology), the historical fact is that the Baptist tradition taking root in colonial America is clearly an outgrowth of the Calvinist non-conformity of Britain.

    I realize this simply relocates the question into another era, but it grounds it (hopefully) in helpful ways. I think the way forward, then, is to look more deeply into how Scripture and tradition play off of each other in the Reformed vs. Lutheran traditions. Therein we might find the answer . . .

  • scotmcknight

    Chris, I’ve observed an almost Lutheran law-gospel dynamic at work in much of the rise of the NeoPuritan/NeoReformed crowd. And at least one prof at Southern has more than a strong interest in Lutheran theology.

  • To be sure. I have as well. But the law/gospel dynamic also has deep roots within the Reformed tradition (think: Marrow Controversy), and thus in many ways the current milieu is a rehashing of an old tension.

    Whoever that Southern Baptist prof is, for my part I’d not be able to give him much room if he thinks his “more than strong interest” is deeper than passionate curiosity. For Lutherans, as for Calvinians (particularly those who see themselves as heirs not of Princeton but of Mercersburg), the sacraments are inextricably bound to soteriology, as Koyzis implies above. Which brings us, again (I think), to the whole Scripture and Tradition question.

  • Camassia

    I would think that since the soteriology debate has been going on since the division between the Particular Baptists and the General Baptists, Calvin is more ‘useful’ than Luther in Baptist circles. Also surely a lot of American Baptists are descended from Calvinists, due to all the 19th-century conversions.