The Logic of Comfort

The folks who like to draw attention to obedience in the Christian life do not seem to consider the source of believer’s comfort. Consider the following:

Since the Bible doesn’t restrict the word “gospel” to a very precise meaning, we shouldn’t either. This is not to say that we can’t use the gospel in its narrow sense and distinguish between the gospel (what Jesus has done) and our response to the gospel (what we need to do). To do so is to distinguish between redemption accomplished and redemption applied, and that is a very helpful and necessary distinction. The point is that we shouldn’t oppose or separate them. The Bible binds them together and includes both under the term “gospel.”

Paul summarized the gospel he preached in terms of the death and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-5). But that is not all there is to the gospel, or even to the work of Christ. A summary of the gospel is just that—a summary—and it shouldn’t be set in direct opposition to its broader definition or fuller explanation.

There are some rather large problems that may arise when people limit the meaning of the gospel to its narrow sense. One potential problem is the unjust accusation of legalism or of mixing law and gospel. It is not necessarily legalistic to use phrases such as “living the gospel,” “obeying the gospel,” or “the conditions of the gospel.” But if you see what we do as only “law” and what Christ has done as only “gospel” then you will likely interpret the broad but biblical use of the term “gospel” as legalistic. Another potential problem is the minimization or outright denial of the conditions of the gospel, which is what the puritans called antinomianism.

If you confessed, however, the Heidelberg Catechism, what would its first answer do to efforts to make the gospel something you obey?

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

It’s not as if that assertion lacks good works. But the Holy Spirit is the one to produce good works. Obedience inevitably springs from a true faith that receives and rests on Christ. To speak of the gospel requiring good works places the burden on believers who thought they had comfort.

That may explain why in Paul’s short summary (too short for some) of the gospel in 1 Cor 15:1-5, he goes on to talk about the comfort that believers take from Christ’s finished work:

14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

So glad Paul did not write, “if Christ has not been raised, your obedience is futile and your good works don’t count for anything.”

Spiritual Discipline

Notice how devoting yourself to fasting and prayer winds up concentrating your mind on what to eat:

Here are some meatless Friday suggestions:

Cheese Quesadillas. In the unforgettable words of Napoleon Dynamite’s grandmother, “Just fix your self a dang QuesaDILLA.” Our family is all about the quesadilla on Friday. Cheap. Easy. Kids love them. Make big ones and use a pizza cutter to cut them up into slices for everybody. Add some sour cream and hot sauce for the parents, maybe some chips and home-made guacamole. You’ve got a great meal.

Nachos. A variation on quesadillas. My wife Joy gets cookie sheets out, covers them with chips and grated cheese and then puts them in the oven. Bring them out and put them in front of the kids and watch them disappear. Super cheap and kids love it. For adults, add sour cream, salsa, chives, guacamole, etc. You can also add refried beans – but make sure you get the kind without animal fat/lard since this would violate the Friday meatless rule.

Pizza. Cheese pizza for the kiddos. Margarita pizza for the parents. Perfect.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup. This is a nice simple meal and surprisingly our kids love it. You dip the grilled cheese in the soup. Comfort food. For parents, add some pesto to your grilled cheese sandwich. Also, adults like mixing up the cheeses – try different kinds.

Pasta and Marina. Fast. Easy. Children love. It costs next to nothing.

Fettuccine Alfredo. Another meatless meal that most people like. Very filling. Lots of energy.

Mac and Cheese. A good option for kids – especially when mom and dad are leaving on a date. Meatless. Inexpensive.

Vegetable Lasagna. This may not be a winner with the kids, but adults like it. It’s a lot of work to prepare, though.

Egg Salad Sandwich. My wife and I really like egg salad sandwiches with tomato and lettuce.

Tuna Salad Sandwich. Honestly, this can get old, but you change it up additions like cucumbers, olives, or even curry powder. You can get tuna sandwiches at Subway on Fridays.

Fish and Chips. My go to Friday meal, especially if at a restaurant.

Salmon. During the year, when we want a nice Friday meal, we go for salmon. Healthy. Lean. Not hard to prepare. I grill it on a cedar plank. Fantastic. This is a nice option if you have friends coming over for dinner on a Friday night, but don’t want to bore them with mac and cheese. You can also mix the grilled salmon with greens, fruits, and nuts for a beautiful salad.

Cheese Enchiladas and Chips and Salsa. This is the number one Marshall Friday meal. Joy makes it and everybody loves it. Very filling. Not very expensive. The hard part is heating all the corn tortillas in oil. It takes a little more time, but it’s worth it. My nine year old twin daughters made this meal one Friday night while my wife was away from start the finish (but I had to wash the dishes!).

Need to eat out on a Friday? My favorite option is a Bento Box lunch at a Sushi restaurant.

My least favorite Friday option? Well, the McFish Sandwich and frozen fish-sticks are my least favorite. The children like fish-sticks, but when I discover that they are for dinner, I inwardly groan. Nothing says “penance” like fish-sticks.

Imagine if you believed that conversion was a life-long process, not just 40 days a year:

Q 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist?
A: Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.

Q 89. What is the mortification of the old man?
A: It is a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.

Q 90. What is the quickening of the new man?
A: It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.

When Tim Ignores Tim

Tim Challies needed support for his opposition to portrayals of God in film (think The Shack, I guess). So where did he go? He went to the Westminster and Heidelberg Catechisms, not to Tim Keller’s New City Catechism.

Notice the repudiation of images of God in Westminster and Heidelberg (from Tim):

Q. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbids the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.
Q. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God’s sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he has for his own worship.

Q. What does God require in the second commandment?
A. We are not to make an image of God in any way, nor to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.
Q. May we then not make any image at all?
A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Creatures may be portrayed, but God forbids us to make or have any images of them in order to worship them or to serve God through them.
Q. But may images not be tolerated in the churches as “books for the laity?”
A. No, for we should not be wiser than God. He wants his people to be taught not by means of dumb images but by the living preaching of his Word.

Tim concludes:

On the basis of the information I’ve collected, I can make this determination: According to the Reformed tradition, the Bible forbids portraying God in any form, whether for worship or as a teaching aid.

But I shouldn’t stop there. The catechisms include Scripture references for each statement they make, so I should follow those references back to the Bible to ensure the writers of the catechisms properly interpreted the passages. Having done that, I can conclude I am on firm ground and consistent with Reformed theology when I say it is wrong for human actors to portray God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To reach a different conclusion would put me at odds with the established Reformed tradition.

That got me thinking. When Tim Keller wrote the New City Catechism, how did he parse the Second Commandment?

What does God require in the first, second, and third commandments?
First, that we know and trust God as the only true and living God. Second, that we avoid all idolatry and do not worship God improperly. Third, that we treat God’s name with fear and reverence, honoring also his Word and works.

Aside from raising questions about pedagogical strategy or showing proper regard for the moral law by covering three commandments in one question (that’s not Trinitarian), where does the New City Catechism put Keller and his Gospel Allies in relation to the established Reformed tradition? Do any of Keller’s fans or allies care?

Gratitude and Motivation

The good (loaded term?) folks over at Gospel Reformation Network state the following:

We deny that gratitude for justification is the only valid motivation for holiness, making all other motivations illegitimate or legalistic.

I am not sure how many critics of neonomianism or flattening insist that gratitude is the exclusive motivation for good works. But if you think about better and worse ways to seek holiness, why do you have to warn about gratitude?

For instance, if you sought to follow a program of good works according to the Confession of Faith (16.2), would you be in danger of becoming self-righteous?

These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.

If I set out to prove (we are in the realm of evidence here — is this a courtroom, a science lab?) that my faith is alive by doing good works, don’t I wind up drawing attention to me, myself, and I? I am not saying that this is what the Confession is teaching. This paragraph is not necessarily prescribing motives for godly living. It is describing the reality of good works and how to understand them in relation to affirmations about justification by faith alone. But if you were to look at this paragraph for a motivation for sanctification, it could certainly lead to the kind of Protestant work ethic that Max Weber made famous: Protestants do good works to prove that they are elect, as if Protestants don’t already have assurance of salvation from resting in the righteousness of Christ.

What then is the problem with describing the Christian life, as Heidelberg (86) does, as one of thankfulness?

Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.

It seems to (all about) me that whenever I say thank you for a gift, a serving of a meal, a gesture of kindness, or a routine act of service (even one for which I am paying), I take on a spirit of humility. By saying thanks, I am recognizing that someone has helped me, that I am in debt to someone, and that I need assistance. That sounds like a pretty good way to pursue holiness. Conversely, if I am trying to prove my goodness, do I say thank you to the waiter, Comcast serviceman, or bank teller? If I am trying to show evidence of righteousness, don’t I have less of a reason to say “thanks”?

Inquiring minds want the Obedience Boys to think this one through.

My (All about Me) Only Comfort

Any real Reformed Protestant would know that 2013 marks the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Conference on Reformed Theology, sponsored in part by the Selbständige Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirche Heidelberg, will be held in Heidelberg from July 18 to July 20, with a worship service on the following Lord’s Day. The speakers include a variety of international scholars and pastors.

In addition to the conference, the conference organizers, Jon D. Payne and Sebastian Heck, have edited a volume of essays on the Catechism, A Faith Worth Teaching: The Heidelberg Catechism’s Enduring Heritage. Here is an excerpt from my chapter:

Ever since English colonial powers took control of the North American region to the north of Chesapeake Bay and turned New Netherland into New York, the Heidelberg Catechism has taken a back seat to the Westminster Assembly=s Shorter Catechism. As members of the Church of England, the eventual governors of New York were not particularly zealous about a catechism that had originated during the tumultuous war of the 1640s and that had failed to unify the English churches or Parliament. But once the English gained the upper hand over the Dutch in North American colonial developments, that victory sealed the fortunes for the catechism that was the primary teaching device and doctrinal standard for German- and Dutch-speaking Protestants. From the late seventeenth century on, the most influential and numerous churches in North America would be of English descent. This meant that in the New World and, later, the United States, Westminster=s Shorter Catechism would enjoy greater popularity than Heidelberg, and that the latter would be restricted to immigrants and settlers of Dutch and German descent.

This implicit ethno-confessional rivalry between Heidelberg and Westminster was not intentional but it was inevitable thanks to the United States’ debt — despite political independence — to the people, language, and churches of the United Kingdom. Estimates of each catechism from respected leaders in the United States= Reformed and Presbyterian churches illustrate that Heidelberg has always took a back seat to the Shorter Catechism among Reformed Protestants in the United States.

I won’t be speaking, but I wish I could go. It’s a wonderful city, a great cause, and an impressive line-up.

The Sin Paradigm

Jason Stellman and the crew continue to debate the merits of an agape or list paradigm, as Bryan Cross described them way back when. What I find hard to fathom is the plausibility of the so-called agape paradigm if human sinfulness really is as profound as Christianity and Judaism have taught. If human beings really are dead in trespasses and sins, as Paul describes them in Ephesians 2, the agape paradigm doesn’t make a lot of sense. We might cooperate with grace all we want, we might do works that show a genuine faith, but what if we still have a sinful nature? This was part of the doubt that haunted Luther.

Rome’s own teaching on the fall would suggest the implausibility of the agape paradigm. The Baltimore Catechism, for instance, is none too cheery about the prospects of human goodness:

45. Q. What evil befell us on account of the disobedience of our first parents?
A. On account of the disobedience of our first parents, we all share in their sin and punishment, as we should have shared in their happiness if they had remained faithful.

46. Q. What other effects followed from the sin of our first parents?
A. Our nature was corrupted by the sin of our first parents, which darkened our understanding, weakened our will, and left in us a strong inclination to evil.

This is not as strong as Heidelberg:

Question 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?
Answer: Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.

But it is not that far off. Both talk about corruption of human nature and an inclination to evil.

The Baltimore Catechism also teaches the need for a perfect savior who can satisfy God’s wrath for sin:

84. Q. What lessons do we learn from the sufferings and death of Christ?
A. From the sufferings and death of Christ we learn the great evil of sin, the hatred God bears to it, and the necessity of satisfying for it.

Again, this resembles the logic of Heidelberg:

Question 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favour?
Answer: God will have his justice satisfied: and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.

Where Rome and Protestants differ, then, is whether Christ fully satisfies for all of a sinner’s sin. According to the Baltimore Catechism:

Q. 801. Why should we have to satisfy for our sins if Christ has fully satisfied for them?
A. Christ has fully satisfied for our sins and after our baptism we were free from all guilt and had no satisfaction to make. But when we willfully sinned after baptism, it is but just that we should be obliged to make some satisfaction.

In contrast, Heidelberg teaches:

Question 60. How are thou righteous before God?
Answer: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

This may seem fairly elementary to anyone who knows the differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants. But the extent and depth of sin seems to be a category not sufficiently considered in the ongoing debates about how we become right with God, whether by faith alone or by a faith that has within it charity of love which will produce good works and will unite us with God. Those wonder-working aspects of the agape paradigm do not address the real problem of sinfulness and God’s just demand for a perfect righteousness. We may love till we’re blue in the face, but given our sinfulness and the ongoing sin in believers’ lives, how do we know if we have really loved enough?

Maybe the agape paradigm is right. If it is, we’re all toast.

Glenn Beck, the Kingdom, and Me (per usual)

Criticisms of 2k theology keep coming and a major source of opposition is the distinction between Christ’s rule as redeemer in distinction from his rule as creator. For some, this kind of division within Christ could wind up in the error of Nestorianism. And yet, I wonder how you avoid Rob Bell’s error of universalism without this distinction.

This is what I have in mind. Most Reformed Protestants would likely admit that Glenn Beck and I have different relationships with Jesus Christ as savior and lord (assuming these Protestants accept that I am a believer but you know what happens when you assume). As a citizen of the United States, Beck gets my respect and civil affection even if his conservatism is several steps removed from the genuine article. But as a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Beck and I are at odds; he is even my enemy because he is not part of the kingdom of grace.

In other words, when I pray the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come,” I am praying with regard to Beck that he become part of the kingdom, not that Christ would defend Beck and the rest of the church as part of the kingdom of grace’s battle with the kingdom of Satan.

Here a little confessional political theology may be instructive. If we read the catechisms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the explanation of the second petition involves not not civil or political realities but spiritual ones.

Here is Calvin’s catechism:

Master. – What understand you by the kingdom of God in the second petition?
Scholar. – It consists chiefly of two branches-that he would govern the elect by his Spirit-that he would prostrate and destroy the reprobate who refuse to give themselves up to his service, thus making it manifest that nothing is able to resist his might.
Master. – In what sense do you pray that this kingdom may come?
Scholar. – That the Lord would daily increase the numbers of the faithful-that he would ever and anon load them with new gifts of his Spirit, until he fill them completely: moreover, that he would render his truth more clear and conspicuous by dispelling the darkness of Satan, that he would abolish all iniquity, by advancing his own righteousness.

Here is Heidelberg:

Question 123. Which is the second petition?
Answer: “Thy kingdom come”; that is, rule us so by thy word and Spirit, that we may submit ourselves more and more to thee; preserve and increase thy church; destroy the works of the devil, and all violence which would exalt itself against thee; and also all wicked counsels devised against thy holy word; till the full perfection of thy kingdom take place, wherein thou shalt be all in all.

And here is the Shorter Catechism:

Q. 102. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

As I read these accounts of the second petition, I do not think much about nations, politics, or rulers (why should I, the Psalms warn me about princes). I also don’t see much about the rule of law (even if it is God’s) but I read much more about the power and authority of God’s word and Spirit. And I also don’t understand anything here that would lead me to think that Glenn Beck and I are both members of God’s kingdom. Instead, these answers presume a marked division between saints and unbelievers.

In other words, these answers point in the direction of Louis Berkhof’s account of the kingdom of God:

The Kingdom of God is primarily an eschatological concept. The fundamental idea of the Kingdom in scripture is not that of a restored theocratic kingdom of God in Christ – which is essentially a kingdom of Israel –, as the Premillenarians claim; neither is it a new social condition pervaded by the Spirit of Christ, and realized by man through such external means as good laws, civilization, education, social reforms, and so on, as the Modernists would have us believe. The primary idea of the Kingdom of God in Scripture is that of the rule of God established and acknowledged in the hearts of sinners by the powerful regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, insuring them of the inestimable blessings of salvation, – a rule that is realized in principle on earth, but will not reach its culmination until the visible and glorious return of Jesus Christ. The present realization of it is spiritual and invisible. Jesus took hold of this eschatological concept and made it prominent in His teachings. He clearly taught the present spiritual realization and the universal character of the Kingdom. Moreover, He Himself effected that realization in a measure formerly unknown and greatly increased the present blessings of the Kingdom. At the same time He held out the blessed hope of the future appearance of that Kingdom in external glory and with the perfect blessings of salvation. (Systematic Theology, 568)

This quotation from Berkhof is congenial – duh! – to 2kers and before the Kuyperians and theocrats start to quote from him a couple of pages later where Berkhof speaks of the kingdom as bigger and broader than the visible church, that is, aiming at “nothing less than the complete control of all manifestations of life,” I understand that Berkhof is a mixed bag on this issue.

But this brings me back to Glenn Beck. If in a broader understanding of the kingdom, the complete control of Beck involves implementing laws and policies that he and his family will follow to the glory of God, then the rule of the Spirit and the eschatological concept of the kingdom as a spiritual and invisible enterprise located in man’s (and woman’s) heart, is lost. Or if the kingdom is so broadened to include unbelievers and believers in it, then you seem to enter the ballpark of universalism where all God’s children are God’s children – you know, the fatherhood of God and the siblinghood of all people.

We do have, however, an easy way around the problem. It is to distinguish between Christ’s rule over Glenn Beck as creator, and his rule over me as creator and redeemer. I don’t know of any other way to avoid the problems of Anabaptism or Constantinianism than by affirming this distinction. Without it, Glenn Beck is not my worldly foe, but my brother in Christ. (If only.)

Look At All the Detail (and Beware the Adverbs)

When teaching on the historical development of Reformed Protestantism I have been struck lately by the greater and greater amounts of detail into which the Reformed churches went in descriptions of the Holy Spirit’s work. If you look (see below) at the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) you don’t see much beyond affirmations of faith, regeneration, and the work of the Holy Spirit. (I don’t think I have been overly selective.) And if you look at the nature of conversion, as sixteenth-century Protestants understood it, you see a notion much closer to Nevin’s idea of organic and life-long development than to the First Pretty Good Awakening’s standard of a moment of crisis of existential proportions.

When it comes to the Shorter Catechism (1647), you see much more detail (see below) about the layers and stages of the work of the Holy Spirit, not to mention the ordo salutis. You still don’t see any modern conception of conversion. The Divines were still thinking in terms of mortification and vivification over the course of a saint’s life. But effectual calling receives attention in a detailed way, and faith and repentance have descriptions that go beyond what the sixteenth-creeds or catechisms. (I suspect the influence here of Puritan practical or experimental divinity.)

Which then brings us to the American Presbyterian Church’s Plan of Union from 1758, a document that brought the Old Side (anti-revival) and New Side (pro-revival) back together in a hodge-podge of objective and subjective formula. What you see is even more detail regarding the inner workings of the Spirit than in the Shorter Catechism. Which is a puzzle to me. These Presbyterians already affirmed the Shorter Catechism. If they had only subscribed Heidelberg, they might have wanted a fuller statement of the Spirit’s work. But they had one. And they felt compelled to add girth to the Shorter Catechism’s already full figure. I suspect the influence of pietism and revivalism where the quest for spiritual authenticity requires ever greater levels of specifying the Spirit’s work.

Heidelberg Catechism
Q.21. What is true faith?
A: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

Question 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed?
Answer: From the Holy Ghost, (a) who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments. (b)

Q 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist?
A: Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.

Q 89. What is the mortification of the old man?
A: It is a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.

Q 90. What is the quickening of the new man?
A: It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.

Shorter Catechism
Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.

Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Q. 85. What doth God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?
A. To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

Plan of Union (1758)
. . . all mankind are naturally dead in trespasses and sins, an entire change of heart and life is necessary to make them meet for the service and enjoyment of God; that such a change can be only effected by the powerful operations of the Divine Spirit; that when sinners are made sensible of their lost condition and absolute inability to recover themselves, are enlightened in the knowledge of Christ and convinced of his ability and willingness to save, and upon gospel encouragements do choose him for the Saviour, and renouncing their own righteousness in point of merit, depend upon his imputed righteousness for their justification before God, and on his wisdom and strength for guidance and support; when upon these apprehensions and exercises their souls are comforted, notwithstanding all their past guilt, and rejoice in God through Jesus Christ; when they hate and bewail their sins of heart and life, delight in the laws of God without exception, reverentially and diligently attend his ordinances, become humble and self denied, and make it the business of their lives to please and glorify God and to do good to their fellow-men, – this is to be acknowledge as a gracious work of God, even though it should be attended with unusual bodily commotions or some more exceptionable circumstances, by means of infirmity, temptations or remaining corruptions; and wherever religious appearances are attended with the good effects above mentioned, we desire to rejoice in and thank God for them.

Did Warfield Make the World Safe for Piper?

Are Lutherans different from Reformed Protestants? Duh! The odd aspect of the arguments that distinguish Lutheranism from Reformed Protestantism is that the arguers don’t seem to be so conscientious when it comes to Baptists. Are Baptists Calvinistic? Some are. Lots aren’t. So when it comes to drawing distinctions among Protestants why the urge to draw lines between Reformed and Lutherans and not between Reformed and the uncles of Baptists, the Puritans?

Of course, contemporary discomfort with Lutherans among Reformed Protestants and Calvinistic Baptists is not new. Benjamin Warfield, who rarely strayed in his judgments, was also inclined to draw a distinction between Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism. He did so by observing the tendency of Lutherans to stress justification by faith in contrast to the Reformed impulse to push beyond faith and its benefits to the underlying circumstances of justification. Here is how Warfield put it (thanks to Scott Clark via Timothy):

Just as little can the doctrine of justification by faith be represented as specifically Lutheran. It is as central to the Reformed as to the Lutheran system. Nay, it is only in the Reformed system that it retains the purity of its conception and resists the tendency to make it a doctrine of justification on account of; instead of by, faith. It is true that Lutheranism is prone to rest in faith as a kind of ultimate fact, while Calvinism penetrates to its causes, and places faith in its due relation to the other products of God’s activity looking to the salvation of man. And this difference may, on due consideration, conduct us back to the formative principle of each type of thought. But it, too, is rather an outgrowth of the divergent formative principles than the embodiment of them. Lutheranism, sprung from the throes of a guilt-burdened soul seeking peace with God, finds peace in faith, and stops right there. It is so absorbed in rejoicing in the blessings which flow from faith that it refuses or neglects to inquire whence faith itself flows. It thus loses itself in a sort of divine euthumia, and knows, and will know nothing beyond the peace of the justified soul. Calvinism asks with the same eagerness as Lutheranism the great question, “What shall I do to be saved?” and answers it precisely as Lutheranism answers it. But it cannot stop there. The deeper question presses upon it, “Whence this faith by which I am justified?” And the deeper response suffuses all the chambers of the soul with praise, “From the free gift of God alone, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Thus Calvinism withdraws the eye from the soul and its destiny and fixes it on God and His glory. It has zeal, no doubt, for salvation but its highest zeal is for the honour of God, and it is this that quickens its emotions and vitalizes its efforts. It begins, it centres and it ends with the vision of God in His glory and it sets itself; before all things, to render to God His rights in every sphere of life-activity.

Several items are worth noting in this quotation. First is Warfield’s notion that Reformed Protestantism is not content with faith alone but embarks upon a deeper quest to find the origins of this faith. He does not explain here what this quest looks like, but his could be an argument in favor of the kind of introspection that experimental Calvinists like Edwards and Piper favor.

A second curious feature of Warfield’s contrast is the idea that Lutheranism emphasizes justification while Reformed Protestantism stresses the glory of God. This suggests common view in some union with Christ circles that Lutheranism manifests an anthropocentric view of Christianity (e.g., man’s salvation) that contrasts with Reformed Protestantism’s theocentric outlook (e.g., God’s glory). After all, an oft-made contrast between Heidelberg (which is considered a catechism that made concessions to Lutheranism) and Westminster is that the former catechism begins with man’s “only comfort” while the Shorter Catechism begins with “God’s glory” as man’s chief end.

The danger in this contrast so far – man’s salvation vs. God’s glory – is that Lutherans had good reasons for not becoming absorbed with God’s glory. Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation was a forceful warning to theologians who were tempted to identify God’s glory with outward and external signs or forms. In other words, writ large in Luther’s theology is the idea that God’s ways are not man’s, and so God may not actually glorify himself the way that man expects. The cross is folly. Preaching is weak. Christians are poor and humble. In which case, God saves an unlikely people through surprising means. And that may also mean that God’s glory is not always as glorious as human beings expect it.

If God’s glory can be a complicated affair, then perhaps Warfield is wrong to draw the contrast between Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism the way he does. If Lutherans actually believe in God’s glory but are also aware that it comes in surprising ways, then maybe Reformed Protestants need to learn a thing or two about how to be truly theocentric. The Lutheran theology of the cross could teach Reformed Protestants a measure of humility in their self-ascribed ability to locate God’s glory in every nook and cranny of the created order. Reformed might also consider that Lutherans understand better than Reformed triumphalists and experimental Calvinists that God’s glory is nowhere more on display, at least in this world, in the justification of sinners. After all, if man is the crown jewel of the created order and if Christ took on human form to save fallen sinners, then contra Warfield, we may not need to go much beyond justification and man’s salvation in seeing the glory of God.

If this is so, then Reformed Protestants may need to be content with the glory that is revealed in the cross and the salvation it yields instead of yielding to the temptation to find God’s glory in human powers of discernment. If Reformed Protestants followed the lead of Lutherans more, we might be spared many of those neo-Calvinist efforts to show the “Christian” meaning of calculus, Shakespeare, or Dutch history.

So while the game of saying that Reformed highlight God’s glory and Lutherans stop with justification sounds theocentric, it may turn out to be an unintended example of anthropocentricity in which believers try to prove their own godliness by discovering God’s glory through forced interpretations of general and special revelation. Perhaps Lutherans are the truly biblical ones who rest content with the glory that God has revealed in the salvation accomplished by Christ for weak and poor sinners. What could be more glorious than that!

Catechetical Preaching Solves the Church Calendar Problem

I continue to scratch my head that low-church Protestants are as attached as they are to the calendar of the Roman Catholic church. They don’t think of Christmas or Easter as part of Roman Catholic liturgical practices. But assigning Christ’s birth to December 25th and Christ’s resurrection to the fortunes of the lunar calender and the ides of March is not a project that leaps immediately from the pages of the New Testament as a must. That is why Christmas and Easter greatly expanded their appeal when businessmen like the Presbyterian, John Wanamaker, recognized the big holiday’s of Christ’s life as good for big business. Wanamaker’s department store in center city Philadelphia featured a main hall complete with a grand pipe organ and various forms of musical and holiday festivities (the store’s current owner, Macy’s, continues some of the rituals holiday commerce). The best book on the commercialization of Christian holidays and the high-churchification of low-church Protestants (implicitly) is Leigh Schmidt’s, Consumer Rights: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays.

Some Reformed Protestants will be quick to point out that various churches, such as the Netherlands State Church, included in their church order instructions to observe five days from the Roman calendar – Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost. Reformed church historians will shoot back that the Dutch authorities were not the most reliable magistrates ever to oversee a Reformed church – they let Descartes live among the Dutch observers of Christmas and Epiphany, after all. These historians will also argue that the retention of these five holy days was a concession to keep the former Roman Catholic – now Protestant – population happy.

Historical and commercial reflections aside, the one argument for retaining Christmas and Easter that makes the most sense is the difficulty in answering simply the question, “what’s wrong with once a year calling attention to the birth and resurrection of Christ?” That question invites other questions: what’s wrong with observing once a year the announcement to the virgin Mary of her conception? And by what criteria do we decide which once-a-year observances are wrong?

To these questions the good Heidelberg Catechism has the answer. Divided into 52 Lord’s Days, most print versions break down the 129 questions and answers into units that Reformed pastors were expected to preach in the second Sunday service. Those were the same expectations that brought Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost into the Reformed church. For a second service with a catechetical sermon every Sunday in every Reformed church that observed Christmas and Easter, I might be prepared to swallow the Roman Catholic origins of the Christian “holidays.”

But I’m still holding out hope that catechetical preaching will make Christmas and Easter unnecessary. The reason is that every fourteenth Lord’s Day of the year the Heidelberg Catechism explains the significance of Christ’s birth. And every seventeenth Lord’s Day Heidelberg teaches the meaning of Christ’s resurrection. That means that Christians would have the opportunity to see that nothing is wrong with reflecting once a year on Christ’s birth and resurrection.

The question for those who want to retain the annual festivities is whether they would be comfortable celebrating Christ’s birth in mid-April (14th Sunday), and Christ’s resurrection in early May (17th). (They don’t seem to realize that they already celebrate Christ’s resurrection fifty-two days a year.) That would make for a rushed holiday season among low-church Protestants. But if Jews can squeeze Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur into two weeks of Indian Summer, surely Reformed Protestants can gear up for three weeks of celebrations. And just imagine how merchants will benefit from a Spring-time boost in sales.