Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lutherans vs Calvinists

Somebody asked in a comment thread where I stand in the current Lutheran vs Calvinist melee. Rightly or wrongly, I'm assuming that this refers to Steve's dealings with various Lutherans at Triablogue. I'll also add that I've only briefly read Steve's blog on this point, so I hardly have anything resembling enough information to make well-informed comments on that matter.

Since I don't have any well-informed comments to make on that matter, I'll attempt to give a general answer indicating where I presently stand.

(1) I used to be a card-carrying orthodox Lutheran, being in the WELS. I like the liturgical style of worship in WELS, and I appreciate the fact that WELS holds its own with all of the modernizing and relativizing forces today. I also have a very high regard for the ministers in WELS.

But I don't think WELS would consider me a true orthodox Lutheran anymore. The reasons would probably fall on the following lines:

(a) I don't think it is clear or obvious that scripture presents the doctrine of the real presence. [I'm not saying that I think the doctrine is false; but I am saying that it isn't obvious from a plain historical-grammatical reading of scripture.]
(b) I don't think it is clear or obvious that scripture presents as rigorous of fellowship requirements as does WELS.

With (a) and (b), I couldn't [by WELS standards] commune at a WELS parish. That's their right to make the rules as such. I can see from where they come on these issues, but I disagree with the certainty with which the conclusions are adduced.

(2) With (1) in mind, I still am sympathetic to orthodox Lutheran theology. My formal background was the three-volume Pieper dogmatics Christian Dogmatics put out by Concordia Publishing House as well as John Schaller's Biblical Christology put out by Northwestern Publishing House. There is still a strong sympathy towards it. If you take Pieper and Schaller as authoritative, the Reformed/Calvinist case doesn't have too many legs on which to stand.

But over the years, I've reached the conviction that the Calvinist case [as I understand it] is a very viable contender as well. More precisely:

(a) It seems that Lutheran theology seems to deal with philosophical constructs from scripture at times, even though this is a charge hurled by Lutherans against Calvinists.
(b) Calvinists seem to have the better philosophical arguments. [But a Lutheran would, as I have done, accuse Calvinists of rationalizing scripture.]

So while there is still some small degree of aversion to saying "I'm Reformed" or "I'm Calvinist" or whatever, I do see from where they come on their points.

(3) If you put (1) and (2) together, you'll come to the conclusion that I'm sorting things out on my own, and you'll be right. Over the years, I've grown less and less interested in systematics and more interested in Biblical theology [though systematics and Biblical theology of course overlap]. So, the idea of universal vs limited atonement just doesn't have any theological sex appeal to me --- all I want to know is whether my sins have been atoned for. The question of the real presence vs memorialism [say] just doesn't grab me, since we are still commanded to partake of the bread and the wine, and, even though I'm not sure of what is going on, I will still attempt to take the elements thankfully and humbly and allowing whatever process or mechanism takes place to reach its goal.

What grabs me are those issues that relate personally and explicitly to me. Thus, justification and sanctification are the sorts of things that catch my eye. The roles of both faith and works catch my eyes. The trustworthiness of scripture holds my attention. I'll freely admit that my theology is very self-centered in the sense that I want to know how it relates to me. When you realize (i) what God's standards are and (ii) just how short you've fallen, despite having all of the advantages and help offered by Him, the conscience rather drives you to not think about non-central matters of doctrine but to the big things just mentioned. At least, that's my opinion.

So, I suppose that, in the end, I'm as of the present a run-of-the-mill conservative Evangelical who likes liturgical worship. But I maintain a very pronounced streak of Protestant pedantry as well!

(4) To be clear, I have nothing against anybody who does worry about the things being debated at Steve's blog and elsewhere. It is just that, for me, my interests have changed over the years, as has the energy level for pursuing such things. I have also indicated that, looking at the last decade, I spent more time on theology than on scripture, which I retroactively view as a mistake in terms of time spent!

After typing all of this, I realize that I really never answered the poster's question of where I stand in the Lutheran vs Calvinist melee. So, I suppose the most charitable way of taking this post is to just put out a "where I stand as of the present" sort of statement for the few readers of this blog.


Blogger The Christian Library said...

This very much is an interesting contribution to the recent posts on the various blogs regarding all the Lutheran vs. Calvinist issues that have arisen.

Friday, December 09, 2005 3:11:00 AM  
Blogger johnMark said...

Very interesting.


Friday, December 09, 2005 3:52:00 AM  

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