Triumphalism is always bad but I never knew it was possible from Lutherans who generally keep the rest of us Christians honest with a tenacious theology of the cross. Anthony Sacramone picks up on Gene Veith’s post to argue for Lutheranism’s superiority to Reformed Protestantism. Since Anthony spent time at Redeemer NYC, he may not understand the difference between Reformed Protestantism and Calvinism, which explains his account of
Reformed Calvinist strengths:
Calvinism, like other evangelical movements, offers new beginnings. Under powerful preaching, even the baptized come to believe they are starting a new life in Christ. Before they may have experienced, or been subjected to, dead religion with its rituals and liturgies, but now they have living faith — a personal relationship with the Risen Christ. They often mark their lives by the day they came to faith (which had nothing to do with water baptism) and how nothing was the same after that. We love the idea of the do-over. The Lutheran teaching of continual repentance does not have the same psychological effect (nor is it intended to).
Calvinism also offers some of the more potent expository preaching you will hear. Where are the Lutheran Spurgeons or Martyn Lloyd-Jones? Or, for that matter, Tim Kellers? The Law-Gospel paradigm in the pulpit does not lend itself easily to the kind of dynamism, for lack of a better word, often found in Reformed pulpits — preaching that often offers specific direction to the person in the pew, over and above repentance. Lutherans can roll their eyes at such preaching, but it is precious in the life of Reformed Christians, as far as sustaining their life of faith goes.
There is also the call to young men to (a) discipline themselves and (b) engage the culture. This can be very invigorating to young Christians. 2K theology reads too often like defeat in the public square — “Christ is for church on Sundays; at your humdrum job, just keep your head down, do your duty, be obedient, pay your bills, and wait until the Eschaton.” And double predestination, as horrifying as it is, at least makes a kind of logical sense and also has a role to play in motivating the baby believer: “God chooses whom to adopt. And since everyone born deserves to go to hell because of sin, we should be grateful he chooses to save anyone at all.” That’s actually comforting — if you’re convinced you’re one of the Elect. Then you can rest in the fact that you can never fall away, that your faith will never ultimately fail, that God has plucked you out of the garbage bin that is Gehenna* — and for a purpose: not only to grant you eternal life but also to glorify Him.
But how can I know I’m elect? Calvinists have no problem with the subjective element in faith. Romans 8: 16: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Read 2 Peter — it talks of believers making their calling and election sure. (It also talks of making “every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” Try and preach that in a confessional Lutheran church and you’ll be slammed for confusing law and Gospel.) The Lutheran doctrine of predestination makes little sense to most non-Lutherans: a monergism that also says you can lose your justification. Doesn’t the Scripture say that God will glorify all who are justified? Etc. Etc. That subjective element in Calvinism is then balanced by weighty tomes of systematic theology to exercise your noggin.
Odd, but almost none of this is Calvin. It may be Puritan and experimental Calvinist, or Tim Keller and New Life Presbyterian. But it is not the conviction or practice of the original Reformed churches.
Sacramone goes on to explain why folks burn out on
Reformed Protestantism Calvinism and turn (like all about him) to Lutheranism:
1. They come to believe that limited atonement is simply not biblical. It may be the logical consequence of double predestination, but if the Faith were reasonable in that sense, where do you begin and end? What is “reasonable” about the Incarnation or the Cross?
2. The lack of ecumenicity (or even simple courtesy). Lutherans are often slammed for teaching closed communion, but it does not deny the name “Christian” to Arminians, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or, for that matter, the Reformed. Many Reformed do not believe Catholics and Orthodox are Christians, because these communions embrace a false gospel. But that means the overwhelming majority of all Christians who have ever lived got it so wrong that they are almost certainly lost. Which leaves an Elect pool of about 11 people, relatively speaking. Then what constituted the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, for all those centuries before Calvin, Zwingli, Beza, Vermigli, et al.? For a communion that prizes logic, this doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense.
3. Endless debates and factions — including the paedo-/credo-baptism controversy. Now, Lutherans have seen their splits, too. Pietist vs. confessionalist. Mainline (ELCA) vs. “conservative” (LCMS, WELS, and others). But when you start debating whether God hated the reprobate before the Fall or only after the Fall, it’s time to go do something else with your life.
4. The sacraments, as they’ve been understood, again, by the overwhelming majority of all Christians throughout time: baptismal regeneration and the real bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist**. (I would add auricular confession to an ordained minister/priest and absolution.) Calvinism has this gaping hole in its center — a hole that the Federal Vision folk have tried to address by “thickening” their concept of covenant baptism and the Real Presence, which has raised the ire of those who believe FV types have rejected key points of the historic Reformed confessions. (Google all of R. Scott Clark’s blog posts contra Doug Wilson, and also the Peter Leithart heresy trial.)
Well, if Jesus died for everyone, how about Esau, the Cannanites, the Perizites, the Hittites, and all the other tribes Joshua conquered?
Complaining about whether one Christian regards another as a genuine believer is not an index to ecumenicity, though it is common for experimental Calvinists to assess someone else’s profession as illegitimate (think Gilbert Tennent). Ecumenicity has to do with churches (even if the word has “city” in it and makes Redeemerites go knock kneed). For one example of Lutheran ecumenicity I suggest Sacramone check here.
The point about factionalism is a point that others who have come through Redeemer NYC have also made, though some of those wound up in the place where “real” unity exists, fellowship with the Bishop of Rome. But does Sacramone actually think Reformed Protestants have split over infra supralapsarian debates? If he meant to be funny, then hilarity it up.
And one more time he needs to read the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms on the sacraments and get back to us on gaping holes.
The consolation is that this may not be the reflection of a real Lutheran since it exudes so much triumphalism. Makes me think Sacramone has not gotten Keller out of his system.