The Grandaddy of Reformed Anti-Lutheranism

Not that reviews of books at are ever adequate or trustworthy, the one for Ian Hewitson’s book on the Shepherd Controversy is revealing and adds context to the current polemics among militant critiques of Lutheranism from biblical theologians. The initial hostility in Presbyterian circles to Lutheran notions of justification came from Norman Shepherd. The reviewer is correct to note:

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the doctrine of justification by “faith alone” came under scrutiny at Westminster Theological Seminary. One of the reasons that precipitated a long, drawn-out, and painful controversy there is because the Rev. Norman Shepherd sought to do faithful exegesis of the text of Scripture in comparing the so-called contradictory pronouncements on justification between Paul and James. He did so while staying faithful to his Reformed tradition as expressed in the Westminster Standards (Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms). While Shepherd came to question Luther’s statement of “justification by faith alone,” he wondered why exegetical theology could not express itself in terms of the simpler, and more biblical, “justification by faith.” It was, after all, Martin Luther who added the gloss “alone” (glauben allein) into the text of Romans 3:28, which is not in the Greek text.

Ian Hewitson, Ph.D. University of Aberdeen, reveals in his clear, erudite dissertation, that at the crux of the debate over Shepherd’s teachings was the Lutheran-Calvinist distinction in what constitutes justifying faith. For Luther, the faith that justifies is “alone.” That is, faith is an entity that exists all by itself, is “alone,” and is devoid of any and all good works. In this sense “justification by faith alone” uses “alone” as an adjective. What kind of faith is it that justifies? It is an “alone” faith. It is faith in abstraction from all else. That is the adjectival use of the word “alone” in “justification by faith alone.”

Before Shepherd, theologians like John Murray or Louis Berkhof would not have objected to the Lutheran doctrine of justification. But Shepherd did.

Before sympathetic readers here jump on the anti-Shepherd bandwagon, they need to remember that at the time Reformed rigor was on the decline and evangelical breadth was on the rise among conservative Presbyterians in the OPC, PCA, and Westminster Seminary. John Frame’s book, Evangelical Reunion (for starters) would be ironically one example of that New School turn among conservative Presbyterians away from Old School practices and convictions. Shepherd’s desire for a consistently Reformed doctrine of salvation was part of an Old School instinct to preserve a distinctly Reformed voice.

What needs to be noted is that Shepherd was correct to resist the decline of Reformed militancy and singularity at his seminary and within his communion. I wonder if John Frame’s endorsement of Shepherd actually includes some recognition of the distance between him and Shepherd on the Reformed identity and militant character of the OPC, with Shepherd embodying one strand of Machen’s warrior children and Frame exhibiting boredom with fighting period. (Fight liberalism, sure. But that was so yesterday.)

The question is whether Shepherd needed to find a really, really, really Reformed doctrine of justification in order to right the ship. My answer, for what it’s worth, is negative.


62 thoughts on “The Grandaddy of Reformed Anti-Lutheranism

  1. If that Amazon reviewer correctly represents Shepherd, it’s clear that Shepherd misrepresented Luther’s understanding of faith ALONE. Faith alone justifies (i.e., receives the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, which is the actual ground of justification). But that faith is never “alone.” As Luther himself wrote in his preface to his commentary on Romans:

    Faith … is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, … It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

    This seems to comport pretty well with WCF 14.

    Why is it that those who trumpet exegetical fidelity fail to accurately represent historic exegesis?


  2. Ironically, that Frame book was kind of my spring board into confessionalism. It was through that book I got introduced to the OPC. After that my views on the necessary quality and substance involved in any ecumenical movement drastically changed from Frames.


  3. Re: …at the crux of the debate over Shepherd’s teachings was the Lutheran-Calvinist distinction in what constitutes justifying faith. For Luther, the faith that justifies is “alone.”

    I wasn’t aware that the Reformed believed differently than the Lutherans about the sola of faith or about what would constitute justifying faith. May I ask if there is a difference here and what Shepherd proposed in order to make the Reformed “justified by faith” distinctive from Lutheran “justified by faith” – it doesn’t make sense. Does anyone know what he wanted to add or subtract in order to make a distinctive justification by faith? I can’t imagine why anyone would want to change any of the solas…


  4. For what it’s worth:

    Luther may have “added” the word “alone” to the text, but it was an interpretation of the language in front of him.

    That that interpretation is justified can be proven from the words of Rom 4:5

    “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (ESV)

    This person has faith but has NO works. They DO NOT work. They are UNGODLY. Nevertheless, his faith – which in this case is very much alone – is counted as righteousness.

    Does Paul mean to say that if someone has faith, it’s possible that they aren’t being sanctified? Is it possible to have faith apart from works? No, but Paul is abstracting faith from works specifically in the context of justification. In justification, according to Rom 4:5, faith IS alone.

    In the context, he compares two people: one who works, one who doesn’t. There’s no murky grey area in which the justified person produces works that are a mixed bag of righteousness tainted with sin. No, it’s someone who either keeps the law perfectly or who, like all of us, has broken the law. You either work or don’t work, you’ve either kept the law perfectly or you don’t. That’s what we’re talking about in justification.

    Luther’s “alone” is not some monstrous addition to the Word of God that changes its intent.


  5. Lily,

    Many Reformed folk think that Lutherans are antinomian (anti – nomos, Greek for law, meaning they are against any and all law for the Christian, so we don’t have to obey it at all).

    Reformed people don’t want to be antinomians, but want to emphasize that we DO have to obey, as much as we are able anyway. They’re afraid, as Paul long ago predicted, that if we say that we’re justified by faith, our hearers will immediately conclude, “Let’s sin all we want that grace may abound!”

    So these Reformed people CANNOT talk about justification by faith without also IMMEDIATELY qualifying it. “…but don’t forget that we still have to obey!” These are a little bit frightened of grace, a little bit wary that their congregants will depend wholly on Christ and not themselves.

    Their hearts are basically in the right place. They want their hearers to be dissatisfied with their own sin. They’re afraid that if they say justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, that their people won’t care about their sin anymore, and that will cause them to be hard and unrepentant.

    They have a name for this hard unrepentance that uses grace as an excuse for sin: antinomian Lutheranism. Why? Well, because they’ve been reading too many pietists, like Dietrich Boenhoffer and the like. They’ve been swallowing his writings on “cheap grace” and concluding, “boy, Lutherans must have REALLY been antinomians in Boenhoffer’s day…”

    So they come up with this notion of Lutherans as antinomians, and then they lay the blame at the feet of the Lutheran doctrine of justification. After all, it was Luther who called James an epistle of straw, but we Reformed are above such shameful mistakes. No, we’d rather add works into the very definition of faith, leading the entire Reformed world on the road back to Rome! So much so that every Reformed denomination eventually had to produce a statement of some kind about justification, simply to reaffirm that yes, we’re still Protestants when it comes to justification!

    And then there are those who have over-emphasized the doctrine of union with Christ so that it eclipses everything else, allowing them to mush distinctions long held dear by their forebears. This, in the hands of some (but not all), becomes yet another tool to build works back into justification.

    So Lily, remember that just because someone claims to be Reformed, or Protestant or Lutheran, doesn’t mean that they speak for the entire tradition. No one person has that authority. Reformed people disagree about what it means to be Reformed, just as Lutherans do.


  6. Pardon the length, but just to add to OPC Guy’s point, I think Reformed who come to Lutheran rescue deserve a shout out. In the conclusion to “The Westminster Standards and Confessional Lutheranism on Justification” in the 2007 Confessional Presbyterian (Volume 3, pgs. 22-24), J.V. Fesko does a fairly nice job of helping to put to bed the suggestion of antinomianism among our closest theological relatives:

    In turning to the second half of our investigation, we must explore the question of whether the Lutheran commitment to sola fide is such that they make absolutely no place for the necessity of good works, in some sense, in the broader category of their soteriology. In other words, is Lutheran soteriology antinomian? There have been those in both the distant and recent past who have argued that Luther and Lutheranism only hold to two uses of the law: the political or civil, in retraining evil, and the elenctic or pedagogic, in leading people to knowledge of sin and the need of redemption. Yet, at the same time a perusal of primary sources, including Luther’s writings, Lutheran confessions, and other Lutheran theologians evidences that Luther and Lutheranism hold to the third use of the law in some form, the didactic or normative use, regulating the life of the regenerate. One may begin with Luther’s own writings, as his writings are incorporated in the confessional corpus of the Lutheran church.

    While Luther certainly divided the scriptures into the categories of law and gospel, commands and promise, just because a person became a Christian did not mean that he was now suddenly free from the demands of the law. Luther, for example, writes that

    “…as long as we live in a flesh that is not free of sin, so long as the Law keeps coming back and performing its function, more on one person and less in another, not to harm but to save. This discipline of the Law is the daily mortification of the flesh, the reason, an dour powers and the renewal of our mind (2 Cor 4:16)…There is still need for a custodian to discipline and torment the flesh, that powerful jackass, so that by this discipline sins may be diminished and the way prepared for Christ.”

    So long as the Christian is simil iustus et peccator, there is always a need for the law in the life of the believer. Luther’s use of the law in the life of the believer is further evidenced from his catechisms.

    Luther’s Small Catechism begins with an exposition of the Decalogue. At the close of the exposition of the Decalogue in Luther’s Large catechism, Luther explains the importance of the law in the life of the believer:

    “Thus, we have the Ten Commandments, a compend of divine doctrine, as to what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God, and the true fountain and channel from and in which everything must arise and flow that is to be a good work, so that outside the Ten Commandments, no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, however great or precious it be in the yes of the world.”

    Luther saw a need for good works, but was careful, like the Reformed tradition, to teach about the proper relationship between good works and justification. Luther addresses the proper place of the law as it relates to justification when he writes:

    “The matter of the Law must be considered carefully, both as to what and as how we ought to think about the Law; otherwise we shall either reject it altogether, after the fashion of the fanatical spirits who prompted the peasant’s revolt a decade ago by saying that the freedom of the Gospel absolves men from all laws, or we shall attribute to the law the power to justify. Both groups sin against the Law: those on the right, who want to be justified through the Law, and those on the left, who want to be altogether free of the Law. Therefore we must travel the royal road, so that we neither reject the law altogether not attribute more to it than we should.”

    Luther saw a place for the law in the life of the believer. When he was explaining the doctrine of justification he said that there was no place for works or the law. In relationship, though, to one’s sanctification and the knowledge of what is pleasing to God, the Decalogue served as guide as well as a tool in the hand of God to confront the remaining sin in the believer. This careful fencing of justification from works, yet at the same time connecting justification to sanctification, is especially evident in the Lutheran confessions.

    The Augsburg Confession is the first official Lutheran confession, and was largely written by Luther’s lieutenant, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560). The Augsburg Confession carefully explains that justification is by faith alone: “Our works can not reconcile God, or deserve remission of sins, grace, and justification at his hands, but that these we obtain by faith only, when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ’s sake, who alone is appointed the Mediator and Propitiatory, by whom the Father is reconciled.” Yet, at the same time the confession gives an apology against antinomianism: “Ours are falsely accused of forbidding good works. For their writings extant upon the Ten Commandments, and others of the like argument, do bear witness that they have to good purpose taught concerning every kind of life, and its duties; what kinds of life, and what works in every calling, do please God.”

    The confession even goes so far as to say that Lutherans “teach that it is necessary to do good works,” but it specifies that “not that we may trust that we deserve grace by them, but because it is the will of God that we should do them. By faith alone is apprehended remission of sins and grace. And because the Holy Spirit is received by faith, our hearts are now renewed, and so put on new affections, so that they are able to bring forth good works” (Augsburg Conf., ¶ 20, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.24-25). So, here, in this Lutheran confession we see the emphasis upon justification by faith alone but also the need for good works, informed by the law. While this is not precisely the same nomenclature that one finds in the Westminster Standards [it] is nonetheless parallel to the Standards’ emphasis on the third use of the law (WLC qq. 95-97; WCF 19.6; cf. Belgic Conf., ¶ 25; Heidelberg Cat., q. 93). What we find in inchoate forms in the Augsburg Confessions, however, emerges quite clearly in the formula of Concord.

    …It is in the Formula of Concord that the Lutherans, legendary for their insistence upon justification by faith alone, also state that “good works must certainly and without all doubt follow a true faith (provided only it be not a dead faith but a living faith), as fruits of a good tree” (Formula of Concord, ¶ 4, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.122.). It is in article six, “Of the third use of the law,” where the document makes its most pronounced statement about the importance of the law and good works: “We believe, teach, and confess that although they who truly believe in Christ, and are sincerely converted to God, are through Christ set free from the curse and constraint of the Law, they are not, nevertheless, on that account without the Law (Formula of Concord, ¶6, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.131.). The document goes on to state that “the preaching of the Law should be urged not only upon those who have not faith in Christ, and do not yet repent, but also upon those who truly believe in Christ, are truly converted to God, and regenerated and are justified by faith” (Formula of Concord, ¶6, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.132.). So, then, it appears from primary sources such as Luther, the Augsburg Confession, and the Formula [of] Concord that Luther and Lutheranism places a heavy emphasis upon justification by faith alone but not to the exclusion of the importance and necessity of good works or the third use of the law. This is not a unique conclusion.


  7. The qualification to “faith alone” often becomes simply a contradiction–faith alone is never alone. But I would add a different qualification to faith alone. The object of faith is not faith.

    1. The object of faith is not just any gospel, as if we could say “we have faith alone in the mormon gospel”
    2. In the context of Genesis 15, Romans 4, and Galatians 3, “faith is imputed” means that the object of faith is imputed. In other words, justification is by Christ’s righteousness, the work Christ did outside the sinner. Faith is not the basis of justification; the indwelling of Christ is not the basis of justification.

    To begin to understand Genesis 15:6, we need to know that “as righteousness” should be translated “unto righteousness”. (See Robert Haldane’s commentary, Banner of Truth). That’s important to see, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t explain the imputation.

    Whether we see imputation as the transfer of something, or if we see imputation as the declaration of something (without a transfer, or after a transfer), what is the “it” which is being imputed? No matter if we have gone to great lengths to say that it is not credited as righteousness but only unto righteousness, what is “it” and why is God imputing “it”?

    NT Wright tell us that justification only means God declaring that certain folks are in “the church”.
    In that paradigm, it’s difficult to see the connection between Christ’s atonement and justification.

    “It” has an antecedent, but the antecedent is not faith alone. God imputes the righteousness revealed in the gospel to a person hearing and believing the gospel. The righteousness (the atonement!) is the object of faith revealed in the gospel.

    The “it” which was imputed by God to Abraham was the obedient bloody death of Abraham’s seed Jesus Christ for the elect alone.

    In his commentary on Romans, John Murray taught that Christ died only for the elect and also taught that faith alone for nine reasons could not be the righteousness imputed.

    Romans 4:24-25 “IT will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised up for our justification.”

    1. Christ and His death are the IT. Faith is not the IT. Christ and His death are the object of faith. Christ and His death are the IT credited by God.

    2. We can distinguish but never separate His person and work, Christ and His death. Also we can distinguish but never separate his death and his resurrection.

    3. God counts according to truth. God counts righteousness as righteousness! a. The righteousness counted as righteousness is not our righteousness (not our works of faith) but legally “transferred” to us when Christ marries us, so that what is still His is now also ours. b. Justification is not only the righteousness obtained by Christ, but this righteousness imputed by God to the elect.


  8. Like the Galatian false teachers, those like Norman Shepherd who say sanctification is by instrumental faith THAT WORKS are not saying that sin causes people to lose their justification. They are not necessarily denying imputation. They are simply saying that other things play a factor in the final judgment..

    They are merely saying that you need to be sanctified also, and also that sanctification IS by instrumental works. Since both justification and sanctification are the results of “union” with Christ, they remind us, to be saved we need also a “righteousness of Christ” which is now located in us, for whom the law-grace antithesis has been eliminated

    This of course means that even justification is NOT YET..You can’t be justified at once, because you need to be sanctified to be justified, not of course that sanctification is the basis for justification, but “union with Christ” means that you have both, and for both you need time.

    btw, I don’t agree with the Galatian false teachers, or with Shepherd’s doctrine of justification. It’s not Reformed. And it’s not good news.


  9. Many thanks, Zrim. As always, I appreciate your help. That was a sad read.

    As for shout outs (see my comment to OPC Guy), well… sometimes we deserve the accusations. Not because we’re antinomians, but because some of us like to drive some of ya’ll crazy. What can I say? Some of us are unmercifully ornery when it comes to pietism and the law/gospel/law sermons. 😉


  10. OPC Guy – it’s tremendously gratifying to listen to someone who plays all the keys and hits all the notes so effortlessly – poetry in motion!

    While I very much agree with you about none of us (myself especially) being able to truly speak for our tradition, I do believe that some do it much better than others whether past or present in both of our traditions. I am very thankful for them and in your camp I would especially applaud the WTS West gang and my favorite Reformed historian DGH.

    If I may ask, what is your understanding of why there is such a current fascination with union and making justification merely another doctrine among many? It doesn’t make sense. It does, as you said, open the door to smuggle works in the door (and universalism) which seems like more than enough reason to guard the reformation justification priority. What keeps bugging me about it, and I can’t quite put my finger on it, is how union seems to appeal to pietistic bents and the culture transformation missionals. The three things seem intertwined and almost seem allergic to the sola emphases. It is troubling. I don’t know if I’m being goofy thinking they are like the three musketeers or not, but it sure seems like something is amiss.


  11. Jack, I said I didn’t agree with Shepherd. I think I am reporting what he has taught.

    Mark, apologies. I was reading too quickly. Phew!
    best regards – Jack


  12. Did anyone else find it ironic that the title of the book about Shepherd is: Trust and Obey? One of Pietism’s finest hymns?

    Hymn Lyrics: Trust And Obey

    When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
    What a glory He sheds on our way!
    While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
    And with all who will trust and obey.


    Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
    To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

    Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
    But His smile quickly drives it away;
    Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
    Can abide while we trust and obey.


    Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
    But our toil He doth richly repay;
    Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
    But is blessed if we trust and obey.


    But we never can prove the delights of His love
    Until all on the altar we lay;
    For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
    Are for them who will trust and obey.


    Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
    Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
    What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
    Never fear, only trust and obey.

    Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
    To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

    Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
    But His smile quickly drives it away;
    Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
    Can abide while we trust and obey.


  13. if you trust him, you will obey him
    and if you sin, that means you don’t trust him

    so trust him means do what he says
    not merely resting in what he has already done

    thus gospel is law
    and law becomes gospel

    if you sin, you don’t break the law
    sin is not believing the gospel

    Lily, that “and” between trust and obey
    gets read in different ways


  14. OT,
    Darryl, has the OPC commissioned any studies on why it is so bad at retaining its covenant children in successive generations? I was doing some demographic approximations in my head and concluded that the OPC really ought to be much larger than it is given the family sizes I normally see on Sunday morning.


  15. OPC Guy, what I find remarkable is that the critics of antinomianism never seem to consider that they may be giving needles and heroine to the addict. Human beings are wired to justify themselves — to think that we are good enough to gain God’s acceptance. Telling people that no matter what they do they cannot please God is a lot harder to make plausible. And ironically, the anti-Lutheran impulse turns Reformed Protestants into Wesleyans (which may account for so many Wesleyan hymns in our hymnals).


  16. Walt S., no studies on OPC covenant children. When you’re as small as we are, you don’t have money to hire sociologists. If only we had kept our kids, but then the study wouldn’t be necessary.

    This is not a problem that the OPC alone suffers. Most denominations these days have revolving doors. Part of the problem for the OPC is that we live in a mobile society and if children relocate they may likely move somewhere where no OPC congregation exists. (Do we have the nerve to tell them to move only to places where Reformed churches exist?) But another problem is that if we aren’t insistent on the differences between Reformed and other forms of Protestantism, especially evangelicalism, we will generally be satisfied if a child joins a Baptist church, Bible Fellowship, or Evangelical Free.

    So there are social and catechetical dimensions to this problem.


  17. Mark,

    If you would indulge me, I would like to present something you may not yet see in the Trust and Obey hymn.

    Trust/Obey = Law/Law = there is no gospel

    The law always gives us something to do and it is never done. Our trust and obedience are always colored by sin since none of us ever trusts or obeys perfectly. To understand that I cannot do these things and Christ had to fulfill them perfectly for me cuts me off from ever trusting in my faith, obedience, or works. It strips me naked to see my sinfulness and how completely reliant we are on the mercy of God for us in Christ alone. It helps us understand the salvation is pure gift from A to Z. The law should drive us to Christ for mercy and the gospel is what gives us the only assurance of salvation in Christ. If we think we can keep the law (trust and obey for it’s the only way) then I would hazard to say we haven’t come to the end of our rope yet and recognized our complete dependence upon Christ.

    IMO, the most offensive aspect of the Trust and Obey hymn is the way Christ is merely an utilitarian accessory for my happiness, perfect emotions, and victorious Christian living. Big ugh!

    Compare Trust and Obey to this Ascension Day hymn:

    Alleluia! Sing to Jesus

    Alleluia! Sing to Jesus;
    His the scepter, His the throne;
    Alleluia! His the triumph,
    His the victory alone.
    Hark! The songs of peaceful Zion
    Thunder like a mighty flood:
    “Jesus out of every nation
    Has redeemed us by His blood.”

    Alleluia! Not as orphans
    Are we left in sorrow now;
    Alleluia! He is near us:
    Faith believes, nor questions how.
    Though the cloud from sight received Him
    When the forty days were over,
    Shall our hearts forget His promise:
    “I am with you ever-more”?

    Alleluia! Bread of heaven,
    Here on earth our food, our stay;
    Alleluia! Here the sinful
    Flee to You from day to day.
    Intercessor, Friend of sinners,
    Earth’s Redeemer, hear our plea
    Where the songs of all the sinless
    Sweep across the crystal sea.

    Alleluia! King eternal,
    Lord omnipotent we own;
    Alleluia! Born of Mary,
    Earth Your foot-stool, heaven Your throne.
    As within the veil You entered,
    Robed in flesh, our great high priest,
    Here on earth both priest and victim
    In the eucharistic feast.

    Alleluia! Sing to Jesus;
    His the scepter, His the throne;
    Alleluia! His the triumph,
    His the victory alone.
    Hark! The songs of peaceful Zion
    Thunder like a mighty flood:
    “Jesus out of every nation
    Has redeemed us by His blood.”


  18. DGH,

    I think we should be telling people to move only to where other NAPARC churches exist and being frank about the fact that these other options aren’t Biblical options. I don’t see how our “revolving door” model will leave us with any Reformed churches AT ALL in the Western hemisphere in a generation or two. People tell me not to worry about these issues and that God will sort it out. To me, I see us ignoring clear distinctives and biblical mandates, so it’s no wonder to me that God is not honoring our endeavors.

    Maybe one day I’ll be in a position to bring this issue to the proper church authorities. By then, it’ll probably be too late.


  19. Tony, you are very welcome and actually it’s not specific to Lutheran hymnals, it’s also in Presby hymnals and something called a gray psalter hymnal.


  20. Sadly, Lily, unless I missed it, this one didn’t make the cut for the newer Trinity Hymnal (OPC / PCA). And, alas, the Psalter Hymnal omits the eucharistic references.


  21. Lily,

    People sometimes get fascinated with an idea. Ideas can sometimes be like lovers. They say love is blind. Unfortunately, some become so infatuated with an idea that they become blind to the dangers involved in over-emphasizing one thing to the exclusion of others. Even when people bring these dangers to their attention, they can’t believe that this beautiful idea, which they love, could POSSIBLY have any negatives to it.

    There was a reformed person, who shall go nameless, who once upon a time fell in love with the idea of union with Christ. This became the lens through which everything else was read. It seemed like a beautiful idea, and many others also fell in love with this idea, and couldn’t wait to hear more about it. And so in love with this idea were they, that they even somehow managed to discover that Calvin was just as in love with this idea as they were, even if he didn’t come right out and say it.

    But for my part, I don’t wish to be too hard on them. It’s easy to fall in love with ideas. I’ve been guilty of it many times.

    I suppose at the end of the day, my point is this: it’s possible to turn a theological idea into an idol, and this is perhaps one of the most difficult to see for what it truly is, because its disguise is SO convincing.

    DGH – and you wonder why I like to post anonymously!


  22. Tony, that is sad. I can’t imagine why it was cut. It was written by William Chatterton Dix, who as best I can tell was an Anglican layman. He also wrote, What Child is This? and a number of other beautiful hymns.


  23. OPC Guy – I think I understand that there are dangers in over or under emphasizing doctrines (definitely not smart enough or knowledgeable enough to fully understand these things), and I am not familiar enough with Reformed theologians to understand or guess who might do this in your tradition. Your charity is appreciated as we all do seem to fall in love with ideas as well as other things and thank goodness for God’s mercy, he faithfully rescues us from our errors again and again.

    I am curious and my best guesses as to what these kinds of ideas could lead to in our current times would be: CGM, FV, Missionalism, and so forth? I feel overwhelmed much of the time by what all is out there, but as far as I can tell, the errors seem to go in groupings. They also seem to be the same familiar characters with cleverer disguises or new twists in each era. Is this a fair or valid observation or are there completely new tricks afoot?


  24. OPC guy said this: “They have a name for this hard unrepentance that uses grace as an excuse for sin: antinomian Lutheranism. Why? Well, because they’ve been reading too many pietists, like Dietrich Boenhoffer and the like. They’ve been swallowing his writings on “cheap grace” and concluding, “boy, Lutherans must have REALLY been antinomians in Boenhoffer’s day…”

    My YRR friend used Bonhoeffer in his exhortation of me to stay away from the constant theological arguing that goes on at Old life. I find it interesting that you have found Boenhoffer writings used by many Reformed people to confuse the historical reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone. I have read some Bonhoeffer but it was when I was an evangelical (The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together). I also read a biography of him by Bethpage. He was a courageous and admirable man who came under the influence of Barth and some other contemporary theologians. If you know more about how Bonhoeffer slipped away from confessional Lutheran beliefs (or, if he was ever there) could you expand on it more. I have forgotten a lot of what he wrote about in The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together and I was reading it through a evangelical theological lens when I did.

    I would also appreciate anyone else’s comments about Boenhoffers theological beliefs.


  25. Hi John,

    I do not know if my understanding is correct, but it is my understanding that Bonhoeffer was quasi-Lutheran because he was a mixture of Reformed and Lutheran. Herman Sasse’s book, Here We Stand, gives a very good contrast between Confessional Lutheranism and Barthian Reformed thought during that era. Sasse was one of the earliest theologians to write against Nazism. He worked with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller on writing the Bethel Confession. If my understanding is correct, Sasse began to work with these same men on the Barmen Declaration, but left the group and did not sign the Barmen Declaration because he believed Karl Barth and others were leading the Confessing Church Movement (Reformed and Lutheran leaders) to wrongly appropriate church authority for itself. The LCMS confessional pastors I know do not recommend any of Bonhoeffer’s books except Life Together. I hope that is helpful.


  26. Lily, that’s a pretty good assessment of 1930s German Protestantism. Amazing to me how people today can raise the banners of Bonhoffer or Barth without understanding how complicated the church scene was (going all the way back to the origins of the Prussian Union).


  27. Re: Amazing to me how people today can raise the banners of Bonhoeffer or Barth without understanding how complicated the church scene was (going all the way back to the origins of the Prussian Union).

    Darryl, for the life of me, I don’t understand why or how people can give short shrift to the value of good historians. For me, reading good historians is like opening the curtains or turning on the lights in a room. I find history invaluable in helping me better understand theology, heresy, controversies, and so forth – I wish I could read more and read more widely. And, just for fun, I would like to raise the ante from the Prussian Union to the Marburg Colloquy! But if I do that, then I want to keeping raising the ante to another point in history before the last one named!

    FWIW – what I have found about 1930’s Germany is that it is not only necessary to learn what came before, but what followed in post-war Germany. The more I have learned about the different theologians and the church, the more Bonhoeffer becomes less interesting and relegated to a footnote. The overarching story seems to be the church and the men God used to fight for and preserve sound doctrine throughout church history – at least that’s they way it seems to me. And, it often seems to be the lesser known theologians who are the most important and most interesting ones. But, as the saying goes: the more I learn, the less I know, so… I may be all wet in my observations.


  28. Lily, it’s always seemed to me that Bonhoeffer gets on the radar less for his spiritual reflection and much more for his political engagement. But what I always find strange is how plotting a magistrate’s death (yes, I know he repented) never seems to throw more skepticism on his hero-hood. I like to think that says more about his fans than him.


  29. Good stuff Darryl and Lily- and btw, I have no intention of leaving the important discussions that go on at Old life- I wish I could be of more benefit to all that goes on here.


  30. Zrim,

    I would tend to be a bit more sympathetic towards those who plotted to kill Hitler (or bloody Mary for that matter- like John Know and Samuel Rutherford) since there is a tradition of civil disobedience in rare justified cases. And I have heard your argument from scripture- Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers never even mentioned civil disobedience. However, from a cultural and creational perspective can we not make arguments without appealing to scripture? That is what makes the issue a bit more complex. I am not sure if I had some Jewish friends and collegues shoved off to concentration camps and ruthlessly murdered that I would not go the route of civil disobedience.


  31. John, I’m sure those arguments exist. But what I find ironic is how sympathy for tyrannicide so often coincides with sympathy for biblicist worldview (to greater or lesser degrees). But if the Bible is a handbook for all of life, and if it doesn’t make any room for even modest civil disobedience then what gives with winking at plots to assassination? It seems one must turn to non-scriptural appeals; yet the 2ker is a radical for contending that general revelation, not special, is ordained to govern common life. And doubly dubious when he tries playing by biblicist rules and suggests that the Bible nowhere even comes close to approving tyrannicide.


  32. Zrim,

    I do not follow the flow of your argument. Why does tyrannicide (as you call it) have to follow (with a sympathy) from a biblicist world view. I am not coming from a biblicist worldview- I am saying you can argue from creation and the light of nature that on certain rare occasions you may have to resort to civil disobedience out of love for your neighbor. Do you disagree with some in Germany who hid the Jews from the Nazi’s (Schindlers List) or helped them get out of the country? They were performing acts of civil disobedience too. I don’t think it is a simple argument.


  33. A little 2 k from Bonhoeffer: “The claim of the congregation to build the world on Christian
    principles ends only with the total capitulation of the Church to the world, as can be seen clearly enough by a glance at the New York church registers. If this does not involve a radical hostility to the Church that is only because no real distinction has ever been drawn here (America) between the offices of Church and state. Godlessness remains more covert. And indeed in this way it deprives the Church even of the blessing of suffering and of the possible rebirth which suffering may engender.” Ethics, edited by Bethge (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1962), p41


  34. Zrim, I don’t think the recent biography written on Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas helped temper the American evangelical imagination either. I’ve heard it’s a bit of a hero-worship.

    Like John I am sympathetic to the human story of Bonhoeffer’s struggles with his conscience and sense of responsibility to do something to stop a madman. He didn’t have the option of being a William Wilberforce spending several decades working in parliament and writing for the public to change people’s minds and thus the laws on slavery.

    It’s too bad people cannot read more stories about the confessional pastors and theologians who did try to resist Hitler through their writings and preaching against the idolatry of a totalitarian state and the targeting of the Jews. I”m not sure people grasp how difficult those times were for people to speak up and do anything. They risked jail almost daily and were often searched and taken in for questioning. It was dreadful.

    There was also the complication of the vast majority of churches being state churches. From what I’ve read, a fairly large number of those who did speak up ended up in concentration camps, or had their passports revoked and if they were lucky knew someone in high places who could protect/hide them in a country parish or a university. I think what Americans may miss about the story in Germany is how many Christian men and women were martyrs under the Nazis or were forced to flee – nameless, faceless, common people few remember.


  35. John, loved the sugar plum fairies. I think you are very right about it being a very sticky situation. It seems to me that the slaughter of our nation’s children under legal abortions should pose similar dilemmas for us. It’s some horrifyingly high number of children murdered each day and how many of us give it much of a thought? What will the generations after us say about us? Will they say how we failed shamefully just as the Germans failed shamefully against Hitler? They should IMO. I don’t see much difference between the holocaust in Germany and the one happening here except we don’t live in fear of being arrested, jailed, and killed for speaking or writing against abortion.


  36. John, I have a personal rule against answering questions about Jews in attics (they feel like those “did you stop beating your wife” type questions). But I didn’t say tyrannicide necessarily follows from a biblicist world view. I said that it seems to me that the two seem to very often coincide. And my point was more about how Biblicists who want our ethics informed by the Bible alone can tend to be so sympathetic to a man whose ethics cannot be found in the Bible.


  37. Like John I am sympathetic to the human story of Bonhoeffer’s struggles with his conscience and sense of responsibility to do something to stop a madman. He didn’t have the option of being a William Wilberforce spending several decades working in parliament and writing for the public to change people’s minds and thus the laws on slavery.

    Lily, point well taken. Like I suggested up above, I think Bonheoffer’s hero-hood in this regard says more about his fans than him. It just seems to me they often wink at his plotting and don’t very well consider what sort of reasoning leads up to it. Plots to kill magistrates don’t fall from the clear blue, they have steps to follow. Can a basic sense of good (biblical, ahem?) citizenship really be at the root of such things? I’m as anti-Nazi as they next 2012 American, but it also seems to me something went horribly wrong along the way that someone thought assassination was pious. And I think his fandom relies on a basic privileging of civil disobedience over obedience, which simply isn’t biblical. And if our ethics are to be finally informed by the Bible then how does Bonheoffer (o before e except after Bon) end up more a hero and less an embarrassment?

    It’s too bad people cannot read more stories about the confessional pastors and theologians who did try to resist Hitler through their writings and preaching against the idolatry of a totalitarian state and the targeting of the Jews. I”m not sure people grasp how difficult those times were for people to speak up and do anything. They risked jail almost daily and were often searched and taken in for questioning. It was dreadful.

    Again, well taken. But consider that another way to resist a tyrant is not to give him support either. It seems to me that tyrants are the sort who want overt affirmation and when it’s not given they crack skulls. Sometimes staying silent is just as bold as speaking up, and those who stay silent for principled reasons risk not only being bashed by tyrants for it but also by the ones to speak up against tyrants for principled reasons.


  38. Zrim, you make good points. I think Bonhoeffer (never seen it spelled Bonheoffer) appeals to the American ethos of rugged individualistic heros which are regaled in movies, books, TV, and American history. We love seeing the good guys defeat the bad guys and laud the martyrs who lay down their lives for their friends and nation, don’t we?

    Perhaps what would be good to remember is how Bonhoeffer wasn’t an independent rebel, but a man who worked under the direction of a well organized resistance group and the slow, plodding, unglamorous work they did trying to warn the allies over and over again about what was going on inside Germany? If I remember correctly, Bonhoeffer was looking for the allies to be the sword of the left hand kingdom to stop Hitler? It’s also interesting to me that Bonhoeffer was working in the resistance as citizen not a pastor and thus firmly in the left-hand kingdom. In that sense, he did not confuse the two kingdoms.

    That Hitler and the Nazis were overtly and grossly evil is recognized by all. The complexity of issues in how to deal with that kind of evil while living under it is beyond me. With my passport revoked and unable to flee, my instincts say that I could probably find a way to justify killing Hitler in my vocation as citizen. In ordinary life, I wouldn’t hesitate to join with the other citizens in my town to hunt down and kill a rabid predator (eg: wolf, crocodile, or lion) that was terrorizing and killing our citizenry. I wouldn’t consider it an act of piety, but an act of necessity and one of self-defense against an aggressor. I am not arguing for insurrection against civil government. How to deal with the daily murderous activities of Hitler’s regime while waiting for the allies working as God’s sword to defeat him is beyond me.

    Re: …consider that another way to resist a tyrant is not to give him support either. It seems to me that tyrants are the sort who want overt affirmation and when it’s not given they crack skulls. Sometimes staying silent is just as bold as speaking up, and those who stay silent for principled reasons risk not only being bashed by tyrants for it but also by the ones to speak up against tyrants for principled reasons.

    It’s a bit of a no win situation isn’t it? North Korea being a prime example? And there are so many other nations where different degrees of this is true, too. We are so spoiled in America, but the tide seems to be changing here – especially now that the government has taken the power unto itself to detain citizens indefinitely.


  39. P.S. Your argument for principled silence reminds me of the wisdom from Proverbs. There is a time to rebuke a fool and a time to remain silent with a fool. Kyrie eleison!


  40. Zrim, if you would indulge me, I would like to add this to the complex mess:

    One of the problems in Nazi Germany was what was happening in the churches. If I remember correctly, the Nazi flags were being installed next to the altars and a primary allegiance to Hitler and nationalism was being promoted from the state run pulpits. There was great pressure on the churches to embrace a Nazism that sought to usurp Christ and the gospel.

    The confessional pastors who protested or refused to participate in these kinds of things paid the price for their defense of orthodoxy by being jailed and/or executed. In that sense, there was legitimate civil resistance, for we must obey God and not men – to preach Christ and him crucified. I would guess that Bonhoeffer was torn by both this right-hand kingdom issue and the left hand kingdom issues. I wish there were good biographies on men like Hermann Sasse and Helmut Thielicke, who were also pastor theologians, who survived the war and tried to help pick up the pieces in post-war Germany. It seems good to me to try to look at all of the pieces in the puzzle of this horrific era so that the picture is not limited to being painted by Bonhoeffer’s life alone.


  41. I will jump in again here. In the latest post at Old life Clowney had this to say:

    We may not wish to condemn Christians who in persecution that seemed beyond endurance turned upon their persecutors, but Christ does not call his church to Camisard rebellion. Rather, he gives that grace that enabled the Huguenot galley-slave to call his chains the chains of Christ’s love.

    We probably should think about and play scenario’s in our heads more often to try to figure out what we would do if persection came our way. It is often difficult, since we still struggle with our sin, to figure out if we are truly being persecuted or just suffering because of the still inherent sin in our lives. That is very difficult to deal with in anyone’s life.


  42. And Christ assures us that his righteousness is our righteousness even with our inherent sin, struggles with sin and failures in regards to our succumbing to our sin. It seems a bit unsympathetic and kind of a unrealistic judgment to think that you would do differently than someone else (or even to question someone else) when under the severe persecution of someone who can do great harm and damage to you or those whom you are close to and love.


  43. Lily, bingo on the complexities of the human condition. All I’m suggesting is that there is something to be said for pushing back without actually shoving or resisting without being disobedient. To wit, what you say in your last comment about being pressed to give the state ecclesial affirmation (the flip side of intermeddling against it, by the way). My guess is that telling Adolf his flag will never fly in our sanctuary would earn a quick crack on the proverbial cranium. But by the same principles neither should an American flag, which often earns rapped knuckles by some worldviewers. I wonder if GAS, who seems to think obedience is only due “good” magistrates, would have us fly “good” flags instead of “bad” ones.


  44. Zrim, I agree with your principled silence, passive resistance, and keeping our sanctuaries free from anyone’s flag. It doesn’t seem as difficult a situation for me if the subject is limited to the marks of the church (Word and Sacrament) – there it seems crystal clear that we would want to suffer incarceration or execution rather than deny Christ whether passively or actively. I’m just not convinced that it is good to be completely silent or passive in the face of my neighbor being incarcerated or executed at the whim of a manifestly evil autocrat. And I’d like to hedge that thought with a whole bunch of limits and boundaries so I’m not a peasant with a pitchfork – if that makes sense? I have no desire to rebel against civil authority even though I often have exceeded the speed limit by 20 mph on empty open highways in the middle of nowhere West Texas. 🙂


  45. Lily, if it helps my foot tends to be leaden as well. And don’t get me started on local leash laws. But also don’t mistake my passivity point for neglecting our neighbors. Like Mr. Han said, being still and doing nothing are two very different things. Selah.


  46. Re: being still and doing nothing are two very different things. Selah.

    Good one, Zrim. You deserve an award for that one. More canned peaches or would you prefer sliced bread? 😉


  47. The question is one as to order, not of time, but of cause and effect. All agree (1) That the satisfaction and merit of Christ are the necessary precondition of regeneration and faith as directly
    as of justification; (2) That regeneration and justification are both gracious acts of God; (3) That they take place at the same moment of time. The only question is, What is the true order of causation?

    Is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us that we may believe, or is it imputed to us because we believe? Is justification an analytic judgment, to the effect that this man, though a sinner, yet being a
    believer, is justified? Or is it a synthetic judgment, to the effect that this sinner is justified for Christ’s sake. Our catechism suggests the latter by the order of its phrases.

    God justifies us, ‘only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, and received by faith alone.’ The same seems to be included in the very act of justifying faith itself, which is the trustful recognition and embrace of Christ, who had previously ‘loved me, and given himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20).”

    “By consequence, the imputation of Christ’s righteous to us is the necessary precondition of the restoration to us of the influences of the Holy Spirit, and that restoration leads by necessary consequence to our regeneration and sanctification.

    “The notion that the necessary precondition of the imputation to us of Christ’s righteousness is our own faith, of which the necessary precondition is regeneration, is analogous to the rejected theory that the inherent personal moral corruption of each of Adam’s descendants is the necessary precondition of the imputation of his guilt to them.

    “On the contrary, if the imputation of guilt is the causal antecedent of inherent depravity, in like manner the imputation of righteousness must be the causal antecedent of regeneration and faith.”

    From The Princeton Review —A. A. Hodge, “The Ordo Salutis”


  48. What’s wrong with Reformed and Lutheran theologians agreeing on something? I will grant that perhaps Luther placed more of a stress on _Sola Fide_ which Zwingli stressed more the _Solo Christo_ aspects of salvation, but the major reformers in both camps stressed justification as a forensic act of God grasped by faith.

    Further, while I have identified with the Reformed camp for decades, I’m not so sure that a little more irenicism between those who are biblically-oriented and stress that salvation comes via the Gospel rather than the ministration of the institutional church isn’t in order. I’ve been in a group that loudly proclaimed itself “more Reformed than thou”, and before I knew it, I was being told by my pastor that refusal to sign a petition against an elder he was having a tiff was constituted “rebellion against divinely-appointed authority”, that a sermon stating that the call of the Gospel was not efficacious unless given by a duly ordained minister was “biblical”, and that my refusal to lose my head over the turn of the millennium constituted irresponsibility. Yes, I love the Westminster Standards and Three Forms of Unity, but I think I’m also allowed to be reasonably accommodating to brethren who accept many of their important points.

    Which brings me back to an earlier matter: salvation is through Christ; not through the group with which I associate.


  49. Engelsma’s new book on Federal Theology has an excellent appendix criticizing Hewitson’s book.

    I want to think more about why “unionists” tend to be anti-2k. I know there’s a spectrum of positions. Some 2 k folks seem way more into triumphalism than others. If there are “pietist” versions of 2 k, are there also “unionist” versions of 2K. I only know what I read, because I don’t know these people.



    Of course there are always folks who don’t like the question, who don’t take sides, who take “the third side”. But does calling yourself “irenic” mean that you are less sectarian than the next fellow?

    I quote from those who think of themselves as not only irenic but also as heroic: “We need to return to Reformed irenicism in the sense of Calvin’s evangelical ecumenism, seeing the whole Christian people as the visible church and seat of the faith, not primarily the ministerium, let alone ministerial collegia. We must be Reformed in the sense of a Bible-driven emphasis on God’s sovereignty and grace, as well as the actual doctrine and tradition of the Protestant Reformation.

    “We must begin, as Old Princeton did, with the proper role of reason. Far from being a latent threat to vibrant faith, reason is the common light of all mankind, given to us in our creation as imago dei. Though not autonomous, reason is still authoritative, leading us away from confusion and incoherence. As such, it is itself a necessary precondition to all dialectic, even the logical and consistent reading of the Holy Scriptures. It is reason illumined by faith, ultimately, that convinces our consciences to accept a belief as certain. No external mechanism, no Pope, no presbytery… can ever take its God-ordained place. Abandoning one’s personal reason in a move to allow someone else’s reason to work vicariously on your behalf is a moral failure and a grave sin. The answer to such a vice is the virtue of courage. Evangelical reason only speaks to brave men.”

    “The evangelical doctrine of the universal priesthood has become merely nominal in many Reformed churches, which is why a number of Reformed people are predisposed to admiration of Rome. We need to reaffirm this fundamental doctrine, and its corollary of the representative character of the ministry. We must become more truly Calvinian on this score, by becoming more “Lutheran” and less clericalist…”

    “Where all of this practically takes us is what many political scientists and historians have described as the culture of persuasion. We do not look to a political institution or other coercive power to artificially provide unity and certainty. ”

    mcmark: Sounds reasonable to me, but still I gotta ask–who are these people? Are they brave enough to be unifying celebrities? Do they have enough “charisma” to search together (even with the less reasonable) until they get to Yes, No, and Antithesis? When does the gift of patience become unreasonable?


  51. mcmark, the Wedgeworth-Escalante couple do not seem reasonable to me. Their reading of the tradition is strained at best. Just look at how they butcher Calvin by turning him into Hooker.


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