What is Reformed Theology?

[Some time ago, I asked readers for recommended reading on their branches of Christianity.  Below is my understanding of the Calvinist system, as gathered from R. C. Sproul’s “What is Reformed Theology?”, one of the books recommended to me.  Hopefully, this will be the first in a series as I work my way down my reading list.  Protestant commenters should be considered to have more authority than me on this topic, and I will gratefully take their correction.  The goal of this post, and I hope of the subsequent discussion, will be to accurately describe the Reformed faith, rather than to criticize or defend it (except against definite misunderstandings, of which there are unfortunately many).]

Sproul’s book attempts to explain the distinctive tenets of Reformed theology.  It highlights differences with other Christians while avoiding a polemical tone.  (Sproul tries hard to be fair to Catholicism.  More often, he contrasts his classical Protestant positions with those of the Arminians; only they could say how fairly he characterizes them.)  This is just right for our purposes.

Alien righteousness

The doctrine of forensic justification by faith is, of course, at the heart of the Reformers’ theological project.  Luther called it “the head and the cornerstone.  It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour…”  This might sound excessive, even to those who accept the doctrine.  However, one can’t understand the Reformed view of justification without grasping the basic principle it seeks to preserve, a principle that arguably is both unique and essential to the Gospel.  To quote Luther again

Is not this righteousness an alien righteousness?  It consists completely in the indulgence of another and is a pure gift of God, who shows mercy and favor for Christ’s sake…Therefore a Christian is not formally righteous; he is not righteous according to substance or quality…

Your righteousness is not in you.  It’s in Christ and imputed to you.  In yourself, you have nothing whatsoever to brag about, no claim you could make on God.  Your redemption is entirely His gracious work.  It is ironic that so many neoreactionaries both identify Leftism as a “holier than thou” status composition and blame it on Protestantism.  The basic thrust of Protestantism is to deny any intrinsic claims to holiness, cutting the competition off at the beginning.  Placing each person’s righteousness outside himself is also a profoundly non-individualistic position.

Forensic justification means God declares a sinner just, rather than reforming his soul and then recognizing that He has done so.  Protestants certainly do believe that God reforms souls and dwells within them, but they separate this conceptually from justification, which is a change in one’s status before God, that is in one’s relationship to God, not one’s internal state or a decision of God constrained by this state.  Critics say this reduces justification to a legal fiction, while Protestants would say that nothing else is true to Revelation.

However, the line between the Catholic “analytic” model of justification and the Reformed “synthetic” model is blurred later in the book (if I understand correctly).  Justification is by faith, faith comes (logically, not necessarily temporally) after regeneration (otherwise, fallen man could have saving faith by his own power, making faith a work, and justification by faith a form of Palagianism), and regeneration is the work of grace.

Once one accepts the principle that salvation is entirely God’s work, other Calvinist positions follow necessarily.  Logic compels one to go almost the full TULIP.  Could salvation be a cooperative work of God and man?  No, or else it would really come down to man’s decision to cooperate, allowing him to earn salvation.  Could we allow that God offers saving faith to men, but we have the power to refuse it?  No, that would make faith a work and salvation something merited by it.  One cannot even allow man a purely negative power of thwarting the promptings of grace, since then salvation would again come down to us and our choice not to exert this power.  Therefore, grace must be irresistible.  If grace is irresistible, that means that those who are not saved were not offered it, so the benefits of the Atonement are limited to the elect.

Assurance of salvation

Calvinists believe that salvation is a thing that cannot be lost.  A person who appears to believe and then apostasizes either never really believed or will certainly return to faith before death.  This may be contrasted to the Catholic assumption that a man may be in a state of grace and then lose it by committing a mortal sin.  (Catholics would, of course, agree that the man destined to fall out of grace was never predestined.)  Most people probably find the Catholic position more plausible, so why does Reformed doctrine insist on perseverance?  First of all, it would be a mistake to think that a Protestant bases his assurance of salvation on any confidence in himself and his ability to avoid sin.  It is God Who he trusts to bring the work begun in his soul to fruition.  The Protestant doesn’t imagine that he won’t sin between now and death or that his life is not now in need of serious rectification.  He only trusts that God will win out in the end.

However, if God can with complete justice predestine or reprobate whomever he wants–and Calvinists certainly say He can–why should He not decide to grant a man grace for a time but then withdraw it before death?  I doubt the Calvinists would claim that God is under some obligation not to do this.  What they do say is that He has promised that He won’t do it.  It comes down to a matter of Biblical exegesis.  On matters like limited atonement and perseverance of the saints, one can admittedly find scriptural passages that seem to argue either way.  Sproul makes a respectable case that the clearer passages support Calvinist positions, and the others can be interpreted in the light of the clearer ones without undue violence to the text.

sola Scriptura

Protestants worry that an official interpreter of the text quickly becomes de facto master of the text.  How do they avoid this problem?  They declare the Bible inerrant and the sole ultimate standard of faith.  Inerrancy is not claimed for translations of the scriptures or even the selection of the canon.  Now, knowing which books are in the Bible and that one’s translation is a fair representation of the original are necessary if one is to actually apply scriptural inerrancy.  Thus, the Protestant relies on the fact that, although these were fallible human works (the choice of the canon and the work of translation, that is), the Church in fact did get them right, as can be determined by historical and textual study.

Many Protestants are happy to credit their principle of private interpretation as a blow for freedom.  It might be better seen as a negative principle.  Private interpretation is something forced upon them by the lack of a completely trustworthy official interpreter.  The Reformers do provide some guidelines for the task of interpretation.  They insist that each Bible passage has only one true meaning (although that one meaning may have many ramifications), the “literal” meaning.  The literal meaning is the text’s natural meaning, which, depending on context, could actually be a figurative reading, although such interpretations should only be made when they are forced upon us.

Total depravity

Calvinism is well known for its “pessimistic” view of unredeemed human nature.  Alternatively, one could say it has an expansive view of the effects of grace.  Unredeemed man cannot perform a single virtuous deed.  Of course, fallen men may act according to God’s law in some particular circumstance or another, but they never do it for the right reason, and so it is never ultimately pleasing to Him.  Sproul gives two interpretations of this (without pointing out that they are distinct).  The weaker one is that fallen man cannot act out of love for God, since in the absence of grace, he does not love God.  The stronger one, attributed to Jonathan Edwards, is that all an unredeemed man’s apparently righteous actions are the work of enlightened self-interest (fear of the law, concern for reputation, etc).  It was not clear to me whether other Reformers credit unredeemed man with an ability to unselfishly love other creatures–their mothers, for example.

As the Westminster Confession puts it, fallen man has “wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation:  so as a natural man, being altogether adverse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”  Absent grace, we cannot will salvation because we do not want it; we do not find it at all attractive.  What’s more, our attitude toward God is not just an absence of love, but active antipathy.  Sproul even criticizes evangelical Christians for saying that their unbelieving friends are “searching for God”.  No, Sproul insists, they are fleeing God.  God willing, it will be He Who finds them.  Nor will Sproul allow that the existence of desires that can only be fulfilled in God constitute in themselves an implicit desire for Him.

One must credit the Calvinists with their commitment to honesty and logic.  If the truth as they see it sounds harsh and unappealing, they state it clearly anyway.  I could imagine positive-sounding rephrasings of many core Calvinist points.  “Total depravity” might have been “the presence of God’s grace in all good deeds”.  But the negative statement is clearer, so that’s what they’ve gone with.

I hope Protestant readers will accept that any misunderstandings in the above are unintentional, but I apologize in advance for them nonetheless.

117 thoughts on “What is Reformed Theology?

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  3. “Once one accepts the principle that salvation is entirely God’s work, other Calvinist positions follow necessarily. Logic compels one to go almost the full TULIP”

    As a Calvinist in a Lutheran church(by necessity, it’s that or Independent Fundy where I live), I wish my Lutheran brethren could admit to the truth of the statement above.

    Btw, Calvin is really a lovely read. It’s a shame folks have him painted as a crabbed, wicked, harsh sort of figure. Less bombast than Luther, more warmth and joy than the very ‘reasoned’ Zwingli.

    • I love Calvin. He sticks to the text, and tries to be reasonable: seeing a lot of good in the Patristic writings, and at times even the Thomists. I particularly like his comments on divorce: He’d rather keep the Catholic position because he is afraid of the slippery slope, but his reading of the texts argues against it. He has a sense of horror at cultural degredation.

      And the Institutes blows my mind.

  4. No comments on your presentation of Reformed theology from this adherent of the Lutheran Confessions — I hope that’s not too deflating as a first (?) response to your essay.

    If you decide to write about the Lutheran understanding of the Christian faith, I hope you will consult the Book of Concord (the Tappert or Kolb editions) and the writings of Martin Chemnitz, a second-generation Lutheran theologian — particularly Volume 1 of his four-volume Examination of the Council of Trent, for his discussion of Tradition, etc. His The Two Natures in Christ is a classic of Christology. You might like to look at Augsburg and Constantinople: The Correspondence Between the Tubingen Theologians and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople on the Augsburg Confession — though the correspondence was inconclusive.

    From the 19th century, see Charles Porterfield Krauth’s The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Highly recommended.

    20th century: You would also find Arthur Carl Piepkorn’s Profiles in Belief helpful for topics likely to interest you, including a take on the Roman Catholic Church after the Reformation. Confessional Lutherans prize the writings of Hermann Sasse such as the We Confess books. In them you can read discussions of Apostolic Succession (in We Confess the Church), the theology of the Cross vs. the theology of Glory (in We Confess Jesus Christ), etc. This Is My Body is Sasse’s classic work on the Sacrament. One of the things about which Reformed and Lutherans differ is the importance of the differences between them, which Lutherans think reformed are apt to minimize; see Sasse’s Here We Stand. You might like to examine the 1996 Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary for its liturgies, hymns, and catechetical materials. It is a good resource for conservative, Confessional Lutheran worship.

    Pastor David Jay Webber hosts an online gathering of resources such as Tom Hardt’s little book on the Sacrament of the Altar. The most recent book I will suggest is Pastor Jordan Cooper’s The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul. Its sequel is Christification: A Lutheran Approach to Theosis.

  5. PS: Cooper’s little book would be instructive as regards the doctrine of justification, about which non-Lutherans sometimes misstate what Luther wrote.

  6. PPS (and last) You can get a pretty fair sense of how a Confessional Lutehran thinks by checking the Cranach blog.


    I hope Orthosphereans will understand that there’s much difference between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is a mainline denomination, and the Confessional Lutheranism that I’m referring to — the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Synod, etc.

    I hope your essay about Reformed theology gets plenty of comment — it wasn’t my intention to hijack that by posting some tardy suggestions about the Lutheran Confessional tradition to which I have become an adult convert.

  7. Bonald, thanks for this. I found this part hard to follow:

    Once one accepts the principle that salvation is entirely God’s work, other Calvinist positions follow necessarily . . . Could we allow that God offers saving faith to men, but we have the power to refuse it? No, that would make faith a work and salvation something merited by it.

    If you offer me a million dollars but offer me also the chance to refuse it and I accept the million dollars, then have I merited the million dollars?

    • Suppose you are morally obliged to accept the money. One could then call it meritorious to do so. I think that’s how a Calvinist would answer.

      Before reading this book, I didn’t realize how far they take this idea, and I was puzzled by the way they accuse all sorts of things of being “works”. I think when a Protestant calls something “works righteousness”, a “work” is anything not determined by God, even something wholly passive like the acceptance of a divine offer (if such acceptance is understood nondeterministically rather than as the certain effect of a prompting of grace).

      • This touches on some of the internal debates within the Reformed world, but generally speaking the term merit is used to mean fulfilling a condition to receive a benefit.

        The term “works” is used various senses, but generally when we talk about works righteousness it’s a reference to the idea that some obedience on our part (even if God has eternally decreed for us to do it) adds something to Christ’s righteousness and thus is part of the legal ground for the forgiveness of our sins.

    • To make the analogy more accurate, one would have to stipulate that you hate the million dollars. Absent God giving you the desire for it, you would never take the loot. It’s not a question of merit, but of what you want.

      • So, when we accept God’s grace, this is not a work on our part because God makes us want to accept His grace? Is that right?

      • That’s correct. We would not have accepted God’s grace without God giving us the grace to accept it. But at the same time, it is something that we do, and that we have to do, in order to be saved.

  8. I find the Calvinist ethical views most suitable. Right and wrong do not exist, outside of Revelation. Some are created for glory, and some for dishonor. You are nothing and cannot speak to God apart from his decision to permit you. God may kill you at any time either personally or by proxy using the righteous or his enemies. You are a worm in an absurd cosmic arrangement that only makes sense if God opens your eyes. Nothing is constant or given in life or reason, outside of what God has promised.

    I suppose the only thing worse than such a cosmos is the one we live in without such a God.

    • Inhumanist, what do you mean by “outside of revelation?” Are you implying that before God revealed any truths, anything anyone did was morally indifferent, i.e, neither morally right nor morally wrong?

      • I will hand it to him, though, that Calvinism seems very harsh to the outsider. It does, indeed, provide us with a God who is just harsh and inscrutable enough to explain all the horrible evils that happen in the world. However, we certainly know that He is not arbitrary and unreasonable.

  9. I believe you meant to say Arminians in your introductory paragraph, though I imagine a Calvinist theologian would have problems with the Armenian Apostolic Church 🙂

  10. It is ironic that so many neoreactionaries both identify Leftism as a “holier than thou” status composition and blame it on Protestantism.

    Ironic indeed! But competition for social status is a human universal. So imagine now what happens when you deny sacramental grace, specifically the ontological distinction between clergy and laity. Someone’s still got to lead, right? So who?? That’s right: The one who can out-signal all the rest as to his “spiritual fitness” (holiness, jesusiness). If you’re lucky, you’ll get a good leader anyway, but the vetting process inherent in Catholic/Orthodox tradition has been broken.

    No one who signals “Holier Than Thou” ever articulates, even in his own mind, “I am holier than thou”.

  11. Bonald, how does your tradition explicate Biblical passages that a Reformed tradition understands as clear testimonies to monergism?

    In St. John 1:12-13, those who receive Christ are those who were born not of the will of man (I take it this includes their own will — ?) but of God.

    1 Corinthians 1:20 The world through wisdom did not know God; 2:14 The natural does not, and cannot, receive the things of the Spirit of God.

    Ephesians 2:1ff. You were dead in trespasses… but God raised us up with Christ, etc. (My upbringing was Arminian; this passage was important in changing my mind. I take it St. Paul writes as drastically as possible. The unregenerate person, the person who does not have faith, simply cannot make a decision for Christ. Romans 10:17: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God; see also 1 Peter 1:23.)

    2 Thessalonians 2:13 “God from the beginning chose you for salvation through… belief in the truth.”

    Of course the contexts are important. I’d be interested in how Roman Catholic interpretation exegetes these passages. It’s not my intention to follow up whatever you might write with a bunch of disputation.

    • It would depend on which group of Catholics you ask. See my 6:34 comment. The thing I am personally most certain of is that thinking about justification makes my head hurt.

  12. I don’t know how the Reformed deal with the canonization of the bible issue. I guess they could assume that since scripture is the final authority, it had to be that God willed the early church to make the correct decisions about what to include.

    • Bruce, to answer your question, here is an eight-page PDF called How We Got the Bible, which I found linked at http://www.monergism.com, a Calvinist website that my Reformed Presbyterian pastor recommended to me.

      In short, God is the author of the Bible, and the Holy Spirit moved men to acknowledge the correct books and to transmit and translate His Word accurately.

  13. “(Catholics would, of course, agree that the man destined to fall out of grace was never predestined.)”

    I didn’t understand the difference you were trying to describe. As I understand it, the difference is that Catholic teaching is that predestination includes man’s free response to God’s grace. God was able to forsee this response from the beginning. Despite this “timeless” aspect, the response is an act of human will (and so “works” in the Reformed understanding).
    Is this correct?

    • > As I understand it, the difference is that Catholic teaching is that predestination includes man’s free response to God’s grace. God was able to forsee this response from the beginning.

      That’s how the Molinists understand it. The Thomists have a view much closer to Calvinism–man’s free response is itself caused by a divine “pre-motion”. There’s really a lot of diversity among Catholics on this, limited only by the decrees of Trent and an order from the papacy that neither side is allowed to accuse the other of heresy.

      • I must be confused. Punishment for sin is just, but that sounds to me like the result of “works”. I thought that the idea was that everything I do is worthless to God. Now it sounds like, I do have to cooperate with God’s plan, and you are saying that I was predestined to cooperate (if cooperate I do). Well, that’s all fine and good (frankly, it seems at best a tautology), though it does seem to imply that God must be responsible for sin, and that God creates some people and keeps them in existence who only exist to sin and go to hell.

      • What you put forth seems to be a common misunderstanding of double predestination, which term is also often misunderstood.

        First, all men are sinners; this is not the work of God, but of Adam, who introduced sin to the world. Through Adam—not God—all men are fallen.

        However, God has, in His sovereign grace, chosen some for salvation. This is solely the work of God, who works in those He has chosen to allow them to repent and believe. The sinner brings nothing to this; it is all the work of God, and so to Him alone goes and the credit and glory.

        So the condemnation of sinners is their own fault: they sinned—broke God’s law—and must suffer the consequences. Since God is good, the source of all good, and incapable of sin, it is inconceivable that He should be at fault for the sinner’s sin—and He is not. Any line of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that God is responsible for sin is false to the point of blasphemy.

        So although the term “double” predestination is common, it leads to misunderstanding, because the two sides are not similar: God has nothing to do with the sinner’s fall, but everything to do with his salvation.

        I probably have not done a very good job of explaining this, so I direct the reader to this link: What is the OPC Stance on Double Predestination?. (“OPC” stands for Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the church that continued the tradition of biblical, Confessional Presbyterianism in America when the PCUSA was taken over by liberal in a coup.)

    • The Calvinist answer is, basically, yes. Suppose Jesus died for all, but only some are saved. In what way are the saved different from the not-saved? You see where this is going. If it’s some quality of the saved, then that’s “merit” = works righteousness = Pelagianism.

      • Hi Bonald,

        As the Orthosphere’s resident Calvinist, I’d say you’ve done a good job of summarizing Reformed Christianity in just a few hundred words. R.C. Sproul is one of Protestantism’s best teachers, and I’d say you’ve understood his basic thrust.

        I’m not sure what you mean by the Catholic “analytic” model of justification versus the Reformed “synthetic” model. Do you mean these in the Kantian sense, in which a synthetic proposition has something in its predicate not contained in its subject?

        Near the end, you said

        One must credit the Calvinists with their commitment to honesty and logic. If the truth as they see it sounds harsh and unappealing, they state it clearly anyway.

        I would say that the truth sounds harsh to unbelievers, but it is a comfort to believers: God does not just give us an opportunity to be saved and then wish us luck. He acts to save us.

        All Christians acknowledge that not all are saved. But the Reformed attribute this to God, not to man or to bad luck. Soli Deo Gloria!

        Regarding the question, Did Jesus die for Pharaoh? If Jesus died for all, then all would be saved. But Pharaoh was not saved, so Jesus did not die for Pharaoh. And Scripture (e.g., Ephesians 1) says that God chose us believers, in Christ, before the foundation of the world. Given that, Jesus did not need to die for any but the elect. Of course, we don’t know who the elect are, so knowing that there exists a class of persons who were chosen by God for salvation has zero practical effect. But it is a comfort for Christians to know that God won’t let one of His children slip through His fingers.

      • > I’m not sure what you mean by the Catholic “analytic” model of justification versus the Reformed “synthetic” model.

        I got these from Sproul’s book, where he introduces them with “it’s been said…” and doesn’t provide a reference, as if the phrasings are well-known in certain circles. It’s probably inspired by the Kantian distinctions, but of course in those terms “the elect are saved” is analytic while “Alan Roebuck is saved” is synthetic as a matter of basic reasoning regardless of one’s views on justification. As used in Catholic/Protestant controversies, it refers to whether God’s declaring a man just adds something new to him. In the “analytic” view, God’s grace makes a man just, and His declaration that he is just is just a recognition of this fact, not something new. The forensic view is called “synthetic” because God’s declaring a man just itself accomplishes something.

      • Then, to the Protestant, in what way does it make sense to say that Jesus died for all, unless one were to take the Universalist position that every one is saved.

      • It doesn’t make sense to say “Jesus died for all” because that’s not what the Bible teaches. Consider this verse: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Salvation is to all who receive Him, and we know that not everyone receives Him.

        Consider also John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That whoever believes in him refers to that group of people called believers, not everyone. That is reinforced a few verses later, in John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

        The Bible is clear on this: unbelievers are not saved.

        Now, there is argument over what it means when John also says that Jesus was sent into the world to save the world (John 3:17), but it cannot mean “all humanity,” because other verses make it clear that unrepentant and unregenerate sinners are condemned.

      • Kevin, if I may respond, it doesn’t. Christ didn’t die for everyone as an individual, but Calvinists interpret these passages collectively. Christ died for all races/nations of people, which interpretation is helped by the references to the nations in many of these passages. Of course, modern American Calvinists are utterly terrible at explaining this because of their absolute commitment to individualism. Old school Calvinists from the old world had a lot easier time of it.

      • It seems to me that the question is not whether unbelievers are saved or not (Catholics agree they are not); but, whether, every person has the choice open to them to be a believer or not, or whether each person receives the grace needed to start believing and then it is up to them to cooperate with that grace, or not. If everyone receives necessary but not sufficient grace then it does make sense to say that Jesus died for every one and those passages quoted above do not contradict that.

        If God’s grants the elect grace that is invincible then those who are believers had no choice in the matter. God chose them to be believers and that is it. Those who don’t believe deserve no blame for not believing; they can’t help it. They were born utterly, entirely corrupt, incapable of doing good and they weren’t one of the chosen people to receive invincible grace so they are just plum out of luck.

        This is not justice and it leaves no room for free will. The oldest book in the bible tells us that “Surely, God will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice”. The ninth psalm tells us “He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness”. How would it be fair for some to be granted invincible grace that they can’t help but follow into Heaven through no merit of their own and others to receive nothing but eternal punishment for no other reason than they weren’t chosen before they were born? If God granted invincible grace how did Adam ever sin in the first place? If God doesn’t care about free will why didn’t he just make us all perfect people to start out with?

        How is this passage from Revelation explained by Reformed theologians “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me”? This passage implies a call from God and demands a response from the man. It does not say that some will hear him at the door and they will have no choice but to open, it implies a choice, and an action that the man must take first.

        Or what about this passage from 1 Timothy 2, “This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”. If God desires everyone to be saved and all it takes is for him to give them invincible grace then why isn’t every one saved? If God desires it, which this passage clearly, unequivocally states he does, and if God is omnipotent, which we all believe he is, then he has infinite grace to give out if he so chooses. Then if salvation only requires invincible grace given to man, then it makes absolutely zero sense that it is not true that everyone is saved. Of course we know from Scripture that not everyone is saved, so we have a contradiction. It cannot be that God does not desire it because this passage states clear as day that he does. So then does the the Reformed theologian say that God has a finite amount of Grace that he can give out, that God is not infinite? It is either that or say that salvation requires man’s cooperation with Grace.

      • Those who don’t believe deserve no blame for not believing; they can’t help it. They were born utterly, entirely corrupt, incapable of doing good and they weren’t one of the chosen people to receive invincible grace so they are just plum out of luck.

        You’re never going to get any Calvinists to change their minds with this line. The very question itself is raised by Paul in Romans 9, the cornerstone text of Calvinism.

        What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

        God is Just, yet it was Just to raise up Pharaoh for the express purpose of being a “vessel of dishonor”:

        Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

        Or what about this passage from 1 Timothy 2, “This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”. If God desires everyone to be saved and all it takes is for him to give them invincible grace then why isn’t every one saved?

        We could either, one, say Paul contradicted himself when he argued this, because clearly God did not desire Pharaoh to get saved, or we could resolve the alleged contradiction. The resolution is that Paul is simply not saying that God wants every individual, exhaustively, to be saved. Even if we lose all Biblical evidence, a skeptic would easily raise an objection to such a God: How can He be omnipotent if He can’t exercise irresistible grace? Clearly that does not involve a contradiction (it is logically possible for God to do it), so why would he not?

      • So is Calvinist would tell me that Jesus might have died for my sins. I should repent and be baptized, but I might endure eternal torture because I wasn’t preselected. Jesus, in fact, may not love me, but does love others who are also sinful, for reasons of his own that we can’t understand and I needn’t trouble myself about.

        Our God is, of course, also terrifying, but we believe He gave us reason so that we may know Him better. Your God is terrifying and inscrutable. From our perspective, almost just another force of indifferent nature like a hurricane, but much more terrible. I don’t want to blaspheme, but what you are saying fills me with terror.

      • Is YHWH not terrible and inscrutiable? Doesn’t he not judge from within the hurricane? Did his chosen people know their eternal fate before Christ had arrived?

      • I should repent and be baptized, but I might endure eternal torture because I wasn’t preselected.

        If you repent and are baptized, then you will be saved. There is nothing in Calvinism that changes that. The question it answers is why do I choose to repent and get baptized while Billy Bob does not, and the answer has nothing to do with how more in tune with spiritual things I am than Billy Bob. The answer has to do with the Will of God, who is indeed inscrutable. Who should understand His ways?

      • One of the hardest things for me to wrap my brain around is the idea that on the one hand, God foreordained my salvation, yet at the same time, I had to choose to repent and have faith. I don’t think there is a logical solution to that, yet it is true. Just because something is revealed (e.g., the Trinity), it doesn’t mean that we can understand it fully—and how shallow would a deity be that we could fathom in all things! As Mr. Jevans writes, God is inscrutable; Scripture supports this: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) I would add, however, that while He is inscrutable, he is not unknowable.

        Consider that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10). We should both love and fear God; I didn’t understand this until after I became a father, and saw how my children both love and fear me (having a family has made many biblical concepts easier to understand).

        I disagree entirely with the notion that the “Calvinist God” (more properly, God) is indifferent. God is just, but God is also love. God’s justice demands punishment for sin; God’s love had him send His only Son to pay the price for our sin. All of us deserve God’s just punishment; it is only because He, in His sovereign grace, deigned to elect some to salvation that anyone is saved at all. It is precisely because he cares enough about us to have sent Jesus as the payment for sin in our stead that we can never say He is indifferent.

      • Molinism does not resolve the issue.

        “Molinism is not the best way to think about God’s sovereignty and human free will. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all things (Proverbs 16:33; Matthew 10:29; Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:11) – even human decisions (Proverbs 20:24; 21:1). Although God does not stir men to sin (James 1:13), He is still working everything, from individuals to nations, to the end that He has willed (Isaiah 46:10-11). God’s purposes do not depend upon man (Acts 17:24-26). Nor does God discover or learn (1 John 3:20; Job 34:21-22; Psalm 50:11; Proverbs 15:3). All things are decreed by God’s infinitely wise counsel (Romans 11:33-36). The biblical descriptions of God’s sovereignty appear to be more robust than the account given by the Molinist.”

        From here.

  14. This is the fairest explanation of Calvinist theology I’ve ever read from a non-Calvinist, so I give you much respect for this. A couple things is that there is much debate within Calvinism about some of these issues, which doesn’t get fair play within Calvinist circles, so I hardly expect an outsider to understand them. Half of the time, I don’t understand them as a Calvinist.

    For many of the reasons you might hint at in the piece, I’ve gone with a High Church mixture with Calvinism, which has actually had proponents in the past and these days is called the “Federal Vision” by its detractors.

    However, if God can with complete justice predestine or reprobate whomever he wants–and Calvinists certainly say He can–why should He not decide to grant a man grace for a time but then withdraw it before death?

    This is at the root of the problem the Federal Visionists are trying to get rid of, especially with the allusions to apostasy in Hebrews there that trip up so many Perseverance folks. The solution they (and I) would espouse is that Sacramental grace is very real. Baptism and Holy Communion really give grace to the recipient, whether they are Elect or not. This kind of transforms the non-elect into an almost third state if you will, called “Covenantally elect” where such persons have entered into a kind of grace that isn’t saving but isn’t exactly common* either.

    Naturally, more “traditional” Calvinists are ready to burn the Federal Visionists at the stake for their “Romanizing” tendencies. I must also admit that some of the Federal Visionists take up the worst aspects of Roman Catholicism, but that’s common to Prots in general these days (e.g., Peter Leithart rants about “Protestant Nationalism” on occasion). However, I do think a High Church Calvinism makes sense of much of the difficulties of Calvinism without totally abandoning the system in general, which I find to be extremely well-justified in the Scriptures, with the only defeaters pointing in the direction of Sacramentalism and not the Evangelical Arminian opposition.

    *Common grace is the grace that God gives everyone to prevent total anarchy.

  15. Alan, here is one of the places where Lutherans and Reformed differ, with the Reformed being more logical but (I would say) the Lutherans more Scriptural. We are told by St. John that Christ is the “propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Here, if St. John were a Reformed theologian, he should say that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the elect (exclusively), but this is said nowhere in Scripture, and not, so far as I know, in the early Fathers either. Our Lord tasted death for everyone (Hebrew 2:9).

    Lutherans, then, will say that if anyone is saved, it is wholly by the work of God — and if anyone is lost, it is his own fault.

    Yes, Jesus did die for the sins of Pharaoh too. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes awaythe sins of the world. The lost are those who abide in their sins even though those sins have been atoned for. This includes people who were Christians but apostasized (Hebrews 6:5ff) — a category which, under Reformed logic, cannot exist, I suppose.

    I’m not looking to turn this place into the scene of a protracted Reformed-Lutheran debate; better minds than mine have already had that discussion, anyway; but thought I would insert this testimony for whatever interest it might have for Orthosphereans.

    A Lutheran can often figure he’s doing reasonably well if he seems too Catholic to the Protestants and too Protestant to the Roman Catholics. : )

    • Here, if St. John were a Reformed theologian, he should say that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the elect (exclusively), but this is said nowhere in Scripture, and not, so far as I know, in the early Fathers either.

      This is an hypothesis contrary to fact, and so not a very good argument. In any case, Reformed Theologians say this is because John was writing about the propitiation for sins extending beyond the Jews to all the nations, even us dirty gentiles.

  16. Bonald, I earlier recommended a small bookshelf-worth of sources for Confessional Lutheranism. Of the books I mentioned, if you have time for only one, let it be Krauth’s Conservative Reformation. It has been reprinted recently.

    The present discussion of Reformed doctrine hasn’t so far grappled with another notable Reformed figure, Zwingli. Krauth’s book contains information relating to Zwingli’s notion of the Lord’s Supper that I haven’t seen elsewhere, so here, if so long an extract be permissible, it is:

    Zwingli’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper needs the “is” in “This is my Body… Blood” to mean “signifies.”

    This is from C. P. Krauth’s The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, originally published in 1871:

    When Zwingli supposed that “is” means “signifies, is a symbol of,” a formidable difficulty still stood in the way. He could not find a passage in the Old or New Testaments in which it had that sense, when, as he expresses it, “it was not conjoined with a parable.” [Zwingli wrote:] “We began, therefore, to think over the whole, revolve the whole; still the examples which occurred were the same I had used in the Commentary (on True and False Religion), or of the same kind. I am about to narrate a fact – – a fact of such a kind that I would wish to conceal it, but conscience compels me to put forth what the Lord has imparted, though I know to what reproach and ridicule I am about to expose myself. On the thirteenth of April I seemed to myself, in a dream, to contend with an adversary, a writer, and to have lost my power of speech, so that what I knew to be true my tongue failed me in the effort to speak… Though, as concerns ourselves, it be no more than a dream we are telling, yet it is no light thing that we were taught by a dream, thanks be to God, to whose glory also we are telling these things. We seemed to be greatly disturbed. At this point, from a machine,” [the theatrical apparatus by which supernatural persons were made to appear in the air,] “an adviser was present (whether he was black or white I do not remember; for it is a dream I am telling), who said: You weakling! answer him that in Exod. xii.11, it is written, ‘It is the Phase – – that is, the Passing over of the Lord.’ On the instant that this apparition showed itself I sprung from my couch. I first examined the passage thoroughly in the Septuagint, and preached upon it before the whole congregation with all my strength. This sermon dispelled the doubts of the students, who had hesitated because of the obstacle of the parable” [that ‘is’ meant ‘signify’ only when a Parable was explained]. “Such a Passover of Christ was celebrated on those three days as I never saw, and the number of those, it is thought, who look back to the garlic and flesh-pots of Egypt is going to be far less.” [Krauth continues:] This narrative speaks for itself. Zwingli confesses that he came to the Scripture to find argument for opinions already formed – – opinions held, while the search in which he was engaged for something to sustain them was still fruitless. He claims, evidently, the character of a supernatural revelation for his dream; and there is something inimitable in the simple egotism of his expectation that his discovery is going to damage the cause of the hankerers after the flesh-pots of Egypt, by which he gracefully designates Luther and the Conservative Church of the Reformation. And yet the passage which to Zwingli seemed so decisive does not help him in the least. In the words, Exod. xii.11, “it (is) the Lord’s Passover,” Zwingli assumes that “it” means “the lamb,” and that the sentence consequently results: “The lamb is the Passover,” that is, the lamb signifies, or is the sign or symbol of the Passover. But 1: The word “is” is not there. This was at once objected to Zwingli’s view by those whom he styles “the brawlers” (vitilitigatores). He meets it by maintaining that “no one, unless he be ignorant of Hebrew, is unaware that Hua and Hayo, Hamah and Hanah, are constantly taken for ‘he is,’ ‘it is,’ ‘they are,’ where they are not conjoined with the verb.” But the answer was not to the point. Zwingli was to furnish a passage from the Word of God in which “is” means “a symbol of.” The passage on which he relies does not have the word “is” at all. … 2: The “it” does not refer to the lamb- – but to the whole transaction which takes place with girded loins, and the eating of the lamb. … 3: In no sense in which the word “Passover” could hold, whether in the act of angelic transition, or the feast instituted to commemorate it, could the lamb signify, or be a symbol of it. The lamb was that whose body was literally slain, and whose blood was literally shed, in making the Passover Covenant. It was not a symbol of the passing over of the angel, for there is no analogy between a slain lamb and a passing over. It was not a symbol of the Feast of the Passover, but the chief material of the feast. Nor was the lamb a memorial of the original passing over. [.. etc.]

    Present writer’s comment:

    This passage (pp. 615-617) is offered for several reasons. First, because of its intrinsic interest for theology. If nothing else, if one holds to Zwingli’s symbolic interpretation, then it must be interesting to know about the role, according to his testimony, that a dream played in his becoming confident and able to present it, as a Bible teacher. Second, I think the dream bears earmarks of a false vision. Didn’t Zwingli think it was kind of interesting that the teacher-spirit appeared by means of an apparatus used in plays in which pagan gods appear? Shouldn’t that make one think that this “dream-vision” might not be from the Lord of Heaven and Earth?

    • In addition to the volume you reference above regarding Zwingli (which I have not read), I would recommend “Historical Introductions to the Book of Concord,” by F. Bente for a real taste of what Lutherans contended with during the 16th Century in their opposition to both Rome and the Reformed, including of course, Zwingli.

      And yes, Chemnitz and Sasse, though centuries apart, reflect the theology of Confessional Lutheranism; these I have read. Perhaps, Wurmbrand, you have also come across Robert D. Prues’ two-volume work, “the Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism,” another fine study for the student of Lutheranism.

      A paper I mentioned on this forum many months ago, by Pastor Jon Bucholz, is an exceptionally thorough study of Justification by faith wherein we examine the Biblical truth that Jesus died for all but that not all believe and so are themselves to blame for their rejection of God’s forgiveness in Christ: “Jesus Canceled Your Debt.” Here is the link: http://azcadistrict.com/sites/default/files/papers/Buchholz_2012-10.pdf

      I can’t recommend it highly enough — to everyone here.

      • Thank you for your comments and link. I know of Robert Preus’s book. (Btw, one of his sons was my pastor recently till he accepted a call to two churches in Montana.) I met Dr. Preus not long before his death and sat next to him at dinner at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Fargo.

  17. Nathan, I don’t find your assertion to be a convincing argument. There’s no reason to think that the Jew-Gentile issue you mention is on St. John’s mind; and if it were, one supposes he would have said so.

    “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” There is mystery as regards the Gospel answer to this catastrophe, but we differ about where it is. With regard to justification, for the Reformed Christian, the puzzle for reason must be: Why did the Father choose that Christ should die to justify some, but not all? For Lutherans the mystery is: Given that Christ died for all and all are justified, why are only some recipients unto salvation of that sacrifice?

    The Lutheran doctrine of objective justification makes possible the Gospel as assuredly good news *for me*: if Christ died for all, He died for me; so, my soul: believe the Gospel! For the Reformed Christian, one is stuck with a partial Gospel. You cannot take yourself to a public forum and preach that Christ assuredly died for all who hear this good news. Hence (e.g.) Cowper’s anguish in his poem “The Castaway”….



    For the Reformed, predestination belongs to the Gospel and to the articie of faith regarding wrath of God. For Lutherans (illogically, if you like; but Scripturally), it is part of the Gospel only. Go here


    and read items 35-40.

    • Nathan, I don’t find your assertion to be a convincing argument.

      It wasn’t intended to be much of an argument, merely saying that it can be interpreted in a way so as to not say “Christ died for everyone, including the Amalekites.” If we are compelled through other Scripture to say Christ died only for the Elect, I’m not going to let some random off hand phrase overturn didactic teaching. The Reformed always put the didactic teaching above anything else theologically. This is why Calvinists focus on Romans and parsing Paul’s argument in Romans 9 and anti-Calvinists of virtually all stripes pull up random texts that are supposed to defeat the Calvinist interpretation of rather clear and convincing arguments.

      For the Reformed Christian, one is stuck with a partial Gospel. You cannot take yourself to a public forum and preach that Christ assuredly died for all who hear this good news.

      But that isn’t the Gospel. The Gospel is that Christ died for sinners and that all who believe will, by faith, be saved from eternal damnation. and their own sins This is true regardless about what you believe about the atonement. You can tell that to the most reprobate individual whoever lived, and it’s still true. The Calvinist isn’t forced to lie in his Evangelism.

      We know that God elected Israel over the other nations. Why wouldn’t He have elected individuals? We both acknowledge that He did, as far as I’m aware, since you’re a Lutheran. Are you really willing to say that Christ did not accomplish all He intended to for some line in your Evangelist soapbox message? I’m just not willing to do that, especially considering that type of Evangelism has led to the weak state of the Church today.

  18. I lived in Montana for 18 years, 1981-1999, in Helena, a town nearly devoid of orthodoxy except for the one WELS congregation I found (God led me to) during a summer looking for nourishment (although my search was not exhaustive — certainly the reformed churches were liberal to the bone). And where is your former pastor now?

  19. Bonald,
    You write
    “(Catholics would, of course, agree that the man destined to fall out of grace was never predestined.) ”
    There is no “of course” here and the sentance is, moreover, ungrammatical–the verb “predestined” requires an object.
    Could you cite the Catholic dogma that states or implies your statement?
    Per my understanding, man is predestined to heaven (since heaven is made for him) and he can lose it my misusing his freedom. Man is fundamentally free to accept or reject the divine offer. There is no “destined”–no man is “destined” to fall out of grace.
    So, you begin by accepting the reformed idea and you errornously impute this reformed idea of unfreedom of man as Catholic!!

    • There is a discussion at the Catholic Encyclopedia. See the para immediately before the section “Theological Controversies” for citations to Denzinger. In Ott, it is discussed in Book 4, Part 1, Section 12, “The Mystery of Predestination.” Both St Augustine ad St Thomas Aquinas taught it.

      If you are looking for a Council or Pope saying “If any man says that God does not know who will be in Heaven, let him be anathema,” then I think you won’t find it. I didn’t find it in Ott or at the Catholic Encyclopedia. This doesn’t mean much, though. The Church doesn’t condemn heresies willy nilly. Nobody much seems to have denied predestination.

      St John Paul II’s Catechism says, paragraph 600:

      To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of “predestination,” he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace: “In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”395 For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness

      Predestination follows from God’s timelessness and omniscience. You seem to be making the familiar error “DrBill knows that, given the choice of chocolate or vanilla ice cream, his son will order vanilla; therefore, DrBill’s son is not free.”

      • Question is not what God knows but we can say. Statements like
        ““(Catholics would, of course, agree that the man destined to fall out of grace was never predestined.) ”
        are profoundly anti-Christian and reflect a fatalist Hindu world view of no-freedom.
        Point to me a single authoritative statement that says that “a man is destined” to anything.
        The term “destiny” and “destined” does not belong to Christian world view but to Hindu pagan world view.

      • vishmehr24

        Not the Catholic understanding. God is in the eternal present. He makes eternal plans (predestination) taking in account man’s free response to His grace.

    • That’s something a Catholic can’t know. In fact, the Council of Trent teaches me that a special revelation from God is the only way I can know for sure that I’ll go to Heaven. I’m grateful for the uncertainty because if I thought I was eternally secure, I probably would be be complacent about the way I lived.

      A televangelist troubled me deeply a few weeks a go when someone called her show to say that symptom’s of a loved one’s mental illness got him to kill himself. “I’m sorry,” the evangelist replied. “But he’s still going to hell.” To me, that kind of thinking sounds theologically simplistic and tactless.

    • How do you know that?

      It’s not possible to know with 100 percent certainty, but we can be very nearly certain.

      How can I know this? Well, I can’t, unless God has given me the information.

      For us to know anything about salvation, God needs to tell us about it, and we need to believe what he says.

      As a Christian, I know what the Bible says about salvation, and I believe it. Salvation is only through faith in Christ, either explicitly or, as in Old Testament times, implicitly trusting in the Savior whom God would send. We see no evidence that Pharaoh had this trust, and as the head of perhaps the ultimate pagan system of ancient times he would have had every incentive not to believe. Therefore most likely he was not saved.

      Are you a Christian, Vishmehr?

  20. What do Calvinists think Our Lord implies about faith and good works in the passage where the young wealthy man asks Him what he needs to do to go to Heaven? Does Christ say, “Accept me as your Lord and Savior, and you’ll get there when you die?” No, he tells him, “Sell what you own and give the money to the poor.” So in that passage, the young man’s salvation seems to depend on a good work that he refused to do then.

    Good works hardly detract from what Christ did on the Cross when He helps us do them and chooses to attach merit to them. Say you volunteer to paint my home. Since you’re volunteering, you don’t expect me to pay you, and no contract obligates me to do that. But since I’m very grateful for your fine work, I still give you $500 for it.

    The money represents what St. Thomas Aquinas calls “condign merit.” Good things we do in friendship with God a meritorious, but the merit is a gift from Him. He has no obligation to give it to us, or if He has one, only He can obligate Himself.

    • The rich young man in that passage (Mark 10:7-22) lacked one thing, but what he lacked was not a work he needed to do. No, what he lacked was the ability to put Jesus first and foremost, to make his devotion to God more important than anything else in his life.

      The reason that it’s harder for a rich man to enter heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle is that many (most?) of the rich have made money their idol, their master, their god. Serving that god, they cannot serve the true God (“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24).

      Works are an effect of faith, a sign of having been regenerated: “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).

      • I was reading Ephesians last weekend. End of chapter 4 and beginning of chapter 5. Paul counsels them against committing specific, varied sins. In the verses immediately following this counsel, he warns them of these various sinners have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. This pattern is repeated in other epistles. How is this compatible with the Reformed view of Christianity? If the Reformed are correct, why would he even bother with these counsels & warnings?

      • Indeed, why should God, through the Bible, tell us what to do at all?

        If we are His people, then we are to obey Him and His commands. What more explanation do you need?

        I’m sure there’s more to it than this, but that’s all I have right now. Perhaps Prof. Roebuck or Mr. Jevans will provide fuller answers.

      • This really goes back to the Three Uses of the Law. Paul is using both the First and Third Uses here, it seems to me. The First being the use of the law to convict the sinner’s heart, and the Third being as a moral guide for Christians. Paul uses this to pierce the heart of professed Christians that they need to repent of such wicked deeds and warn other Christians of their danger. Even the elect will wander off into sin if not properly warned of its dangers. The non-elect will simply not heed these warnings and apostatize anyway. However, it will prick the heart softened by the Holy Spirit.

      • Just to amplify nathanjevans’s comment: When God, in the pages of Scripture, tells us to do certain things and not to other things, the natural assumption is that if we obey then we will have God’s approval. But this natural assumption needs to be tested against what Scripture actually says about the role of God’s law. Obeying God’s law, as important as it is, is not something that gets you salvation. In John 6:28–29, people ask Jesus “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” That’s salvation by faith.

        So in the account of the wealthy young man to which Bill McEnaney referred, Jesus is either forgetting his own doctrine, or else seeking to make another point. We Calvinists presume that he isn’t forgetting his own doctrine.

      • Mr. Lewis wrote:
        “If we are His people, then we are to obey Him and His commands. What more explanation do you need?”
        Specifically, what I’m looking for is why Paul’s counsel & warning to Ephesian Christians is compatible with the Reformed Christians’ ideas about election? The verses that counsel us against specific and varied sin are immediately followed by what seem to be warnings of disinheritance for these sins.

        Mr. Evans wrote:
        “Paul uses this to pierce the heart of professed Christians that they need to repent of such wicked deeds and warn other Christians of their danger. Even the elect will wander off into sin if not properly warned of its dangers.”
        What danger are you referring to? The danger Paul warns about is non-inheritance resulting from sin. If the Reformed are correct, this isn’t a danger for the elect. If the Holy Spirit is the author of scripture, why would God allow such confusing passages that can so easily confuse and teach heretical “works salvation.”

        Mr. Roebuck wrote:
        “In John 6:28–29, people ask Jesus “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” That’s salvation by faith.”
        It’s much easier for me to believe that obedience is implicit in the verses that tell us to “believe” than it is for me to believe that a plain reading of what Paul wrote doesn’t mean what it seems to.

      • Bruce, I’ll attempt to answer your question. You wrote:

        [In Ephesians 4 and 5] Paul counsels them against committing specific, varied sins. In the verses immediately following this counsel, he warns them of these various sinners have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. …. How is this compatible with the Reformed view of Christianity? If the Reformed are correct, why would he even bother with these counsels & warnings?

        I presume you’re claiming that this is incompatible with justification by faith. For example, Romans 3:28 reads “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” but part of Ephesians 4 and 5 seems to say that salvation is determined by avoiding immorality.

        The question is this: When Scripture says “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5), which of the following does it mean:

        A) If you are sexually immoral or etc, then you have no inheritance in Christ.
        B) If you have no inheritance in Christ, then you are sexually immoral or etc?

        The sentence, by itself it ambiguous. Just one verse later, Paul writes “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Paul’s main point seems to be that because his Ephesian readers are Christians, they should avoid immorality, not that they should avoid immorality because it causes damnation.

        We should judge Scripture by Scripture, and unclear passages by clear ones. In this connection, the concept of the Three Uses of the Law is useful. When God, in the pages of Scripture says “do this and don’t do that,” a natural question is, What’s the penalty for disobedience? Is it eternal damnation, or is it something else? Fortunately, Scripture itself speaks to this issue. The First use of the law is indicated by, among other passages, Romans 3:20: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Law’s purpose is not to determine salvation, but to make it clear to us that we are lawbreakers who therefore need a savior. The penalty of the law, therefore, is not necessarily damnation. The unsaved have to pay for their sins, but the saved have the penalty paid by Christ.

        (For the other two uses of the law, see my post “Law and Gospel.”]

        And why is all this compatible with the Reformed ideas about election? Simply because election is God choosing who will have his sins forgiven through repentance and faith in Christ. Election is not a matter of God ignoring his stated penalty for sin when it is committed by believers but applying to unbelievers. Election is God punishing Jesus in place of some people, but letting others pay for their own sins.

        And why would God warn the elect? Because even Christians sin, and even though sins committed by Christians do not damn them, they still dishonor God. Furthermore, some who hear these words are not yet Christians, and they need to be confronted by their sins so that they can properly be comforted by the gospel.

      • P.s. & FWIW, I would love to be a Reformed Baptist. Lots of conservative churches right near my home, large families, children’s programs, etc. You can find them most everywhere, especially here in the South.
        But I don’t believe the theology and I can’t lie to myself for the benefits and ease of access.

      • The danger Paul warns about is non-inheritance resulting from sin.

        You neglect the following verses, which are absolutely in keeping with how the Calvinist interprets them.

        Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light…

        Furthermore, the Calvinist has always maintained that “good works” are part-and-parcel of the life of faith. As it is written,

        For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

        This is most curious. Salvation isn’t of works, but we were created in Christ Jesus unto good works. It’s very simple: Good works are a sure result of faith, but not the ground of our righteousness. God grants us righteousness, and from this flows good works. While the Christian, for times and seasons, may fall into even gratuitous sin, ultimately what characterizes them is their life as a Christian. We are created as Christians for good works, not to be licentious whoremongers.

      • I think I’m struggling with the Reformed view of election.

        Nathan, you wrote:

        “While the Christian, for times and seasons, may fall into even gratuitous sin, ultimately what characterizes them is their life as a Christian.”

        Not to put words in your mouth, but I assume you mean ONLY for times and seasons for the elect. If this is so, why the warning where the consequence seem to be disinheritance & loss of salvation?

      • “And why would God warn the elect? Because even Christians sin, and even though sins committed by Christians do not damn them, they still dishonor God.”

        It’s not just that God (through Paul) is warning the elect. The consequence of not heeding the warning seems to be described as disinheritance not the shame of dishonoring God.

      • Alan, et. al., 1 John 1:7 says “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
        This seems to be a conditional statement where “walk in the light” is the condition we need to fulfill. “Walk in the light” is symbolic language but it sounds more like “abstain from sin” than “believe” or “have faith” to me. “Blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” sounds like justification/salvation not sanctification. How do the Reformed understand this verse?

      • Let’s look at the context of that quote. Here is I John 1:5—10:

        5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

        Verse 6 says that those who claim to be Christians but who “walk in darkness” do not have fellowship with God. “Walking” is a biblical term for one’s daily conduct, and so “walking in darkness” means having a sinful lifestyle. Those who have this style of life have no fellowship with God.

        That’s different from saying that avoidance of sin makes one a Christian. Indeed, verses 8 and 10 refers to Christians who sin, and verse 9 identifies confession as a requirement for forgiveness of those sins.

        More generally, one cannot base a doctrine on a single verse, and the more clear verses govern the less clear. There are many verses, indeed entire chapters, which make clear that obeying the moral law can never save us, and that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

  21. I had squirreled away this quote by Aquinas that I found somewhere:
    ”To believe is an act of the understanding adhering to divine truth by command of the will, which is moved by the grace of God.”

    I assume the Thomist view is that the will to believe is moved by grace but man is also free to impede that movement.

    Right or wrong someone somewhere told me that the Lutheran view is the following: we cannot choose salvation but we can reject it. Contrasted with the Calvinist view that we cannot choose to accept or reject salvation.

    • Bruce, your last paragraph sounds reasonable as a simplified statement of Lutheran vs. Reformed understanding.

      I realize that many are offended by the Lutheran belief expressed thus in the Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith. In the same way, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church day after day the Holy Spirit fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

      Objectors suppose that this belief makes saving faith “robotic”: God has to flick a switch making the person’s belief come on. To object thus is to miss a vital truth because one’s become tangled in machine metaphors from modern history. The Biblical analogy is, rather, that, just as only God can raise the dead, so only God can effect our rising from spiritual death to life in Christ.

      • Perfect. And dead men don’t/can’t cooperate either; their sinful bent is to reject life, life in Christ; that any are saved is wholly a result of God’s mercy and grace. But as we continue to feed our bodies, so too our new life in Christ requires nurturing with the bread of life — the Word of God and the Sacraments — to neglect them is to whither our new life in Christ and permit it to die on the vine. Our sinful nature continues in rebellion and must be drowned daily in sorrow and repentance and the full assurance of Christ’s forgiveness; cling to your Savior; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Our new man desires nothing more than to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ — this is true freedom, from the slavery of sin.

        Objective justification, knowing that Christ’s blood pays the debt of all mankind, is perhaps the biggest difference (and there are many others) between the Reformed and Lutherans — and I used to be among the Reformed, heavily steeped in Calvinism, before 1992.

        And I did, Wurmbrand, last night, link to one of Pr. Preus’s sermons, the one on the Canaanite woman whom Jesus encounters in Matt. 5, densely packed with law and Gospel — a real spiritual treat. Thank you so much! I will be a regular listener from here on.

      • Christ says, “Without me, you can do nothing.” That suggests that we need Him to help us believe in him. But we still do that with our intellects and use our wills to choose to do it. It’s one thing to say that there’s no way for me to do something or other. It’s another thing to say that with Christ’s help, I can do it.

  22. Debra, I’m glad that you visited Pastor Preus’s site Christ for Us. Another pastor personally known to me — actually the man I think of as my pre-eminent mentor in authentic Lutheran teaching — is the learned and likeable Pr. David Jay Webber, formerly rector of the St. Sophia Lutheran Seminary in Ternopil’, Ukraine, and now pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Prescott, Arizona. I suppose he is the person who put me on to C. P. Krauth’s book The Conservative Reformation.

    Here is his rich site of Confessional Lutheran links:


    Here is Pr. Webber on Krauth — beware, this may make you want to buy Krauth’s book, Debra:

    Click to access krauthchemnitz.pdf

    And here you may read Pr. Webber’s sermons:


    Pr. Webber and I have had some great conversations by email and in person.

    • Oh dear. This is just getting way too strange. In reading about Krauth, I discover that he was born in Martinsburg, VA (now WV), which is less than 20 miles from the town of Hedgesville, which is named after my great-grandmother’s family, the patriarch of which is Decatur Hedges.

    • You didn’t tell me Redeemer was in Scottsdale and that it was ELS!

      More strangeness. One of our former members was telling me when we bumped into each other at the grocery store (last fall before he moved back to Boston) that he had had the opportunity of riding in the car up to Redeemer with its Pastor — for some occasion, I can’t remember what it was. I only recognize it being the same church as you cite because after our conversation I checked it out online — and I remember now seeing it before, visiting the website and checking it out. Peter is very high church and came as I did from a Reformed background; in fact, when he first visited our church with his family, I think my telling him of my experiences leaving the Reformed for confessional Lutheranism helped a little. BTW, his son, now ten years later, is at Bethany on the pastor track!!!
      At any rate, said friend was very impressed with the spiritual calibre of the congregation and with Redeemer’s Pastor — and felt deeply humbled that he’d had the opportunity to get to know him.

      I’d better stop now before I’m banned from the thread!

      • You’re right — I said Prescott, but it’s Scottsdale, Debra.

        Bonald in particular, if you are still there, let me recommend yet one more book, which I haven’t finished reading, E. W. Zeeden’s Faith and Act: The Survival of Medieval Ceremonies in the Lutheran Reformation. It will help to explain why, today, as Confessional Lutherans are returning ad fontes, some of the most “Catholic” worship you can see in America occurs in our churches. Even the Lutheran congregations that go for a more “contemporary” feel will generally adhere to the Church Year, etc. Zeeden notes (and this is pertinent to the present thread), “how close Lutheranism remained to the Catholic Church in taking over festivals becomes perfectly clear when drawing in Calvinism for comparison: The Reformed not only rejected the feasts of the church year, but also ignored them ostentatiously and provocatively, for example, when they diligently preached about the Holy Spirit at Christmas, or about the wedding in Cana during Passiontide. The also abrogated the pericopes, whereas the Lutherans took over the Catholic order of pericopes with minor alterations” (p. 58).

        It is true that, in later centuries, Lutheran congregations were influenced by Protestant manners, particularly in the United States. The most important defection of formerly Lutheran state churches occurred, I suppose, in the “Prussian Union” interference of states that wanted all their non-Romanists to worship in the same way for the sake of national unity. Hence you can find statements from these “Lutheran” bodies that are more in line with Reformed doctrine or practice. But this is not an outworking of Lutheran doctrine at all. It is interesting to see how, in the period when the great Confessions were composed, there’s a transition from dealing with what Lutherans saw (and see) as papal abuses, to rejections of Reformed doctrine and practice — see, in The Book of Concord, the lengthy Formula of Concord for example. In the US Lutherans have sometimes (I suspect) wanted to seem “American” rather than “German” or “Scandinavian” with deleterious effects upon church life, but my impression over the years is that it’s the younger guys especially who are all for the old Lutheran ways (e.g. in liturgy, vestments, gestures, etc.), which are very High Church compared to what’s the norm probably even in some Roman congregations.

        Anyway, here’s an interview that might interest you:


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  24. By the way, lest all this talk of theology give a false impression of the Lutheran ethos — Bonald, if you want a sense of the heart of Confessional Lutheranism, it is a good idea to read or listen to recordings of some sermons (such as Pastor Webber makes available) and to investigate our music, whether the hymns of Paul Gerhard or the cantatas of Bach (for example as recorded by John Eliot Gardiner). I have sometimes thought (grain of salt, now) that the characteristic product of Reformed Calvinism might be a systematic theology, something like Calvin’s Institutes., but of Lutheranism the cantatas and Passions, etc. of J. S. Bach. I see this Lutheran ethos as very much concerned with the lives of Christians who need the preaching of Law and Gospel — not very many “ordinary” Lutherans, it seems, are terribly intellectual people, but theirs is life under the Cross, and Bach’s music wonderfully expresses that life.

    As long as Reformed Christianity is being discussed here, what would be notable examples of that ethos in music? Alan?

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  26. What do Lutheran theologians mean by “regeneration?” I’ve read that Luther compares human nature to a snow-covered manure pile because Christ’s blood hides the Christian’s depravity from God.

    • SInce Bonald expressed his interest in other “branches” of Christianity, I imagine that he will make a series of posts, and that one of them will be on Lutheranism (please correct me if I am wrong, Bonald). If so, perhaps we can hold off on a full discussion of Lutheranism until then—a discussion I look forward to reading, as I, too, would like to understand better their point of view.

      • Further to whet your appetite for that discussion (and to sneak one more book suggestion in), herewith a remark one of my Lutheran pastor acquaintances made to me a few months ago. He acknowledges lamentable effects of modernity on the way some professing Lutherans think today, but notes that that sort of thinking is foreign to Luther (and the Confessions).

        —The Enlightenment changed all of us in the west. It took away our recognition of the extraordinary. And on top of that, Pentecostalism’s transformation of the extraordinary into the new ordinary has been met by an overcorrection, so that for Lutherans the extraordinary is now the never. Luther would not be able to understand the way we think. And we are no longer capable of understanding him. The Enlightenment of the 18th century wanted to claim Luther, of course. So he became to them the forerunner and nascent founder of the modern era. He supposedly set in motion the liberation of western man from the shackles of the medieval worldview and put us on the path to reason and science and all the rest. Nonsense. The Enlightenment rationalists basically turned Luther into Erasmus. What Luther really was, was the person who guided the west to preserve its medieval worldview for a couple hundred more years, at a time when the Humanists were already working to introduce an Enlightenment type of worldview. Luther opposed this and pushed it back, and his influence was so enduringly great that it held it off for two more centuries. One of the best summaries of all this is Heiko Oberman’s book “Luther: Man Between God and the Devil.” The Lutheran Reformation did not break with the general medieval way of looking at the world, but it reformed and cleansed and reinvigorated that worldview so that it could survive. Luther, and his whole way of thinking, was much more like Bernard of Clairvaux than like Voltaire. But we are much more like Voltaire. Shame on us.—

    • I don’t know about the distinctive Lutheran take on regeneration, but to Protestants generally it means God making a man spiritually alive so that he is able to hear and respond positively to the gospel. Without regeneration, the Christian life cannot even get started. With it, a man can come to faith in Christ, be saved, and begin the life-long process of sanctification (becoming more holy.)

      • When and if Bonald reports to the Orthosphere about his research into Lutheran doctrine, he will probably want to explain how he perceives Lutherans to understand regeneration. I’ve posted a lot here although this is a thread on Reformed theology, because I wanted to offer sources that I (as an adult convert to the Lutheran Confessions) have found helpful. But I haven’t, and won’t, take up actual theological topics relating to the Lutheran Confessions under the heading of this thread. At least, I don’t intend to. They are better saved for a thread dedicated to Lutheran practice and doctrine. I’ll say again that those interested in Lutheran doctrine etc. would do well to pick up C. P. Krauth’s The Conservative Reformation. I hope more than one good book can be read by those who want to educate themselves on this topic, but this is a good one if you mean to read just one.

      • I said I intended to wait to get into Lutheran theology of regeneration, till Bonald writes about Lutheran Confessions. But maybe that won’t happen.

        So, briefly, here’s Luther from his catechisms:

        What gifts or benefits does Baptism bestow? … It effects forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare. What is this Word and promise of God? … As recorded in Mark 16:16, our Lord Christ said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” How can water produce such great effects? … It is not the water that produces these effects, but the Word of God connected with the water, and our faith which relies on the Word of God connected with the water. For without the Word of God the water is merely water and no Baptism. But when connected with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul wrote to Titus (3:5-8), “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.”

        …..In Baptism we are given the grace, Spirit, and power to suppress the old man so that the new may come forth and grow strong. Therefore Baptism remains forever. Even though we fall from it and sin, nevertheless we always have access to it so that we may again subdue the old man.

        …..Thus we see what a great and excellent thing Baptism is, which snatches us from the jaws of the devil and makes God our own, overcomes and takes away sin and daily strengthens the new man, always remains until we pass from this present misery to eternal glory. Therefore let everybody regard his Baptism as the daily garment which he is to wear all the time. Every day he should be found in faith and amid its fruits, every day he should be suppressing the old man and growing up in the new. If we wish to be Christians, we must practice the work that makes us Christians. But if anybody falls away from his Baptism let him return to it. As Christ, the mercy-seat, does not recede from us or forbid us to return to him even though we sin, so all his treasures and gifts remain.

  27. I’ve been posting suggestions for reading -towards- a discussion of Lutheranism. These sources will be of much help especially to anyone whose notions of the Conservative Reformation have been shaped by, say, Belloc’s remarks about Luther.

    I mentioned Johann Sebastian Bach, who really is a good guide into the Lutheran ethos, and I would like to urge anyone interested in him to get hold of James R. Gaines’s Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment. Bach stands for, embodies, the older world. One quotation from the book: “A work that may be read as a kind of last will and testament, Bach’s Musical offering leaves us, among other things, a compelling case for the following proposition: that a world without a sense of the transcendent and mysterious, a universe ultimately discoverable through reason alone, can only be a barren place; and that the music sounding for from such a world might be very pretty, but it can never be beautiful…. [Bach’s] Musical Offering to Frederick [the Enlightened monarch] represents as stark a rebuke of his beliefs and worldview as an absolute monarch has ever received.”

    Cf. our own Thomas Bertonneau:


  28. Before this discussion ends, does anyone want to discuss Zwingli as compared to Calvin? For that matter, I’ve had the impression that sometimes “Reformed” has also included Arminian doctrine, though it’s not Calvinist. So far the discussion seems to equate “Reformed” and “Calvinist,” which leaves the question as to whether Bonald might want to undertake a future review of Arminian-Wesleyan theology…. Probably that would be appropriate… But should Zwingli be discussed under the current heading?

    • Arminian is like a bastardization of Reformed, yes, but I wouldn’t classify it as “Reformed” save in an historical sense. It has developed a life of its own, especially with the advent of Methodism. Furthermore, it was historically excommunicated from Reformed Communions.

      Zwingli is Reformed, I would say, but it seems to me that the Confessions of the Reformed Churches all lean in a heavily Calvinistic direction on the sacraments, save for the Baptists, if you want to classify them as Reformed. Zwinglianism is tolerated to some extent, but I can’t think of any great advocates for it amongst Reformed Theologians (unless you count the Reformed Baptists) of late. Zwingli himself seems to have gone back and forth on the issue, often moving into higher views of the sacraments. That’s the typical Reformed defense of Zwingli, actually: He really wasn’t as Memorialist as was previously thought.

      • @Wm. Lewis.

        I agree generally, just saying than in a broad historical sense, Baptists and Arminians emerged out of the Reformed Churches. The Baptists being a radical form of English Puritanism and Arminianism being the old demons of semi-pelagianism reasserting themselves in 17th Century Holland.

  29. This discussion seems to be quieting down, so I will suggest an addition to the bibliography of Confessional Lutheran sources towards a possible essay by Bonald — this time, a novel: Bo Giertz’s The Hammer of God. This deserves being read even by readers who are sure they are content with their present theological persuasion, because it really is good reading — particularly the first of the three novellas that make up the novel. But supposing that you, Bonald, or others here want one and one only book to be recommended, I would again suggest Krauth’s Conservative Reformation as that book. Confessional Lutheranism celebrates the Lutheran Confessions, such as the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s catechisms, which you will find discussed here in a classic and readable text.

  30. Bonald wrote
    ““(Catholics would, of course, agree that the man destined to fall out of grace was never predestined.) ”

    Does Bonald believe that God predestines some people to hell? Does he believe in “double predestination” and is he casually imputing this belief to all Catholics?
    Is double predestination a Catholic dogma?
    Or is Bonald merely a careless writer?

    • Yeah, that threw me off too.
      Catholics have to believe in predestination. However, I believe the Church teaches that man’s will/agency still plays a role in predestination. Something like “you have to consent to your election.”
      Do I have this correct Bonald?

    • > Does Bonald believe that God predestines some people to hell?
      The term is “reprobation”, the logical corollary of predestination, which Catholics are (following Saint Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, and the Council of Trent) required to believe. Predestination and reprobation are not symmetrical things, though. (Nor are they according to most Calvinists.) God’s predestination is active: it includes His decree to the elect and His provision of the graces needed for salvation. Reprobation is passive: the allowing of someone to damn himself.

      Saint Thomas on reprobation (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1023.htm#article3):

      Question: Whether God reprobates any man?

      Objection 1. It seems that God reprobates no man. For nobody reprobates what he loves. But God loves every man, according to (Wisdom 11:25): “Thou lovest all things that are, and Thou hatest none of the things Thou hast made.” Therefore God reprobates no man.

      Objection 2. Further, if God reprobates any man, it would be necessary for reprobation to have the same relation to the reprobates as predestination has to the predestined. But predestination is the cause of the salvation of the predestined. Therefore reprobation will likewise be the cause of the loss of the reprobate. But this false. For it is said (Hosea 13:9): “Destruction is thy own, O Israel; Thy help is only in Me.” God does not, then, reprobate any man.

      Objection 3. Further, to no one ought anything be imputed which he cannot avoid. But if God reprobates anyone, that one must perish. For it is said (Ecclesiastes 7:14): “Consider the works of God, that no man can correct whom He hath despised.” Therefore it could not be imputed to any man, were he to perish. But this is false. Therefore God does not reprobate anyone.

      On the contrary, It is said (Malachi 1:2-3): “I have loved Jacob, but have hated Esau.”

      I answer that, God does reprobate some. For it was said above (Article 1) that predestination is a part of providence. To providence, however, it belongs to permit certain defects in those things which are subject to providence, as was said above (Question 22, Article 2). Thus, as men are ordained to eternal life through the providence of God, it likewise is part of that providence to permit some to fall away from that end; this is called reprobation. Thus, as predestination is a part of providence, in regard to those ordained to eternal salvation, so reprobation is a part of providence in regard to those who turn aside from that end. Hence reprobation implies not only foreknowledge, but also something more, as does providence, as was said above (Question 22, Article 1). Therefore, as predestination includes the will to confer grace and glory; so also reprobation includes the will to permit a person to fall into sin, and to impose the punishment of damnation on account of that sin.

      Reply to Objection 1. God loves all men and all creatures, inasmuch as He wishes them all some good; but He does not wish every good to them all. So far, therefore, as He does not wish this particular good–namely, eternal life–He is said to hate or reprobated them.

      Reply to Objection 2. Reprobation differs in its causality from predestination. This latter is the cause both of what is expected in the future life by the predestined–namely, glory–and of what is received in this life–namely, grace. Reprobation, however, is not the cause of what is in the present–namely, sin; but it is the cause of abandonment by God. It is the cause, however, of what is assigned in the future–namely, eternal punishment. But guilt proceeds from the free-will of the person who is reprobated and deserted by grace. In this way, the word of the prophet is true–namely, “Destruction is thy own, O Israel.”

      Reply to Objection 3. Reprobation by God does not take anything away from the power of the person reprobated. Hence, when it is said that the reprobated cannot obtain grace, this must not be understood as implying absolute impossibility: but only conditional impossibility: as was said above (Question 19, Article 3), that the predestined must necessarily be saved; yet a conditional necessity, which does not do away with the liberty of choice. Whence, although anyone reprobated by God cannot acquire grace, nevertheless that he falls into this or that particular sin comes from the use of his free-will. Hence it is rightly imputed to him as guilt.

      • Since this is a post on the Reformed faith, please allow me to repeat what I said above: in the Reformed view, God does not reprobate anyone; we do that to ourselves. When we refuse to obey God, He allows, but does not cause, us to do so; see Romans 1:21-32. That God does not work evil in us can also be seen in James 1:13:

        Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

        I again urge the reader to read this short, succinct explanation of predestination.

      • I assume that active and passive as you use it here is synonymous with God’s positive will and permissive will.

      • No, vishmer, because I am a Reformed Protestant, and have little interest in Roman dogma. Please follow the link in my post of March 25, at 4:55.

    • vishmere24, can you explain where you have gotten this belief that Catholics don’t believe in predestination? Is it something you came up with yourself, or did someone tell it to you?

      • DrBill,
        I am arguing, not against predestination but against “double predestination” and what is called the semi-Calvanism.
        From http://www.catechism.cc/articles/predestination-salvation.htm
        The predestination of God seeks the salvation of all. But the predestination of God also humbly respects our free will.

        “The claim of the semi-Calvinists is that some persons are passively omitted from predestination to Heaven, and that therefore they cannot possibly end up anywhere but Hell. They further claim that this passive omission from predestination to Heaven is not a choice by God to condemn the person to Hell”

        Is this not Bonald’s view? Even if Aquinas supports his interpretation, the Church does not.

        “The claim of the semi-Calvinists, that God passively omits some persons from predestination to Heaven, implies that He predestines some persons to Hell. But this claim is contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium.

        Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.” (CCC, n. 1037).

      • I don’t speak for Bonald, and I don’t know what Ronald L Conte Jr means by what he says. I, personally, believe that unbaptized babies go to Hell, specifically to that part of Hell known as Limbo. I don’t really know what “some persons are passively omitted from predestination to Heaven” means, but I’m guessing that unbaptized babies going to Hell would qualify as being passively omitted from predestination. In your view, am I a heretic?

        You cite as authoritative the views of Ronald L Conte Jr. In case you are interested, Ronald L Conte Jr, seems to be a bit of a nutcase. Well, more than a bit. Kind of William Miller style. And more here.

        On the pro side of my view that Limbo exists, there is a nice sermon on audio sancto. Notice that the priests who give these sermons are all in a regular canonical state. (i.e. none of them SSPXers or further right)

        On the anti side, there is the International Theological Commission report commissioned by Benedict XVI you can find here. What I like about this report is, first, that we have every reason to believe that this is the best argument the other side has, and, second, it’s unconvincing.

        Along similar lines, there is an anti argument on EWTN here. The argument is specifically contra Fr Feeney, but what really gets the author going is Feeney’s view that unbaptized babies go to Hell. In that article, notice how there are no “broad” Magisterial texts at all prior to the 19th C. Notice how the one “broad” 19th C text only condemns that unbaptized babies are punished In Hell (not that they are in Hell). The “broad” documents of Pius XII are pretty unimpressive as well on this score. It’s only during and after Vatican II that you get these seeming flirtations with the salvation of unbaptized babies. But even St John Paul II’s teachings can be given limiting interpretations to preserve Limbo. He often seems, for example, to be pre-supposing that we are talking about mentally normal people above the age of reason.

        So, God does not humbly respect the free will of unbaptized babies because they don’t have any. Furthermore, the Church does not teach against what is sometimes called (not by Catholics) “irresistible grace.”

        The relevant Catholic category is efficacious grace and it is a matter of dispute whether efficacious grace saves you because of something in the grace itself (i.e. it fails to humbly respect our free will and is thus awfully similar to irresistible grace) or whether it is efficacious because God chooses to send it at a time and place in which He knows you will choose to accept it. I find the distinction between these two things pretty uninteresting. Whether I get you to do something by physically forcing you to do it or by waiting until you don’t have the mental resources to say no, I haven’t humbly respected your free will. Of course, I don’t particularly think humbly respecting you free will is all that laudable to begin with.

      • The sentance to which I objected as expressing a radical denial of free will was
        “(Catholics would, of course, agree that the man destined to fall out of grace was never predestined.)”

        Do you hold that a man is “destined” to do something or be something?
        Is this language orthodox? Does it express something of a truism to Cathoics?

  31. Best greetings of this Annunciation Day to y’all, by the way; and thanks for the hospitality to my Lutheran postings and for the civility of the discussion.

  32. Pingback: A three Tassimo Good Friday Post. | Dark Brightness


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