October 29, 2020

God’s Sovereignty in Lutheranism: An Interview With Josh Strodtbeck (4- Election and Salvation)

luther1.jpgGood to know some reader thinks that after 7 years of basically reformed-leaning blogging, 4 Lutheran posts qualify as somehow unfair treatment of Calvinism. And the main complaint: “cheap shots.” If you could die from irony, we could really thin out the population on the blogosphere.

When Josh is teaching, there’s a lot to learn. Enjoy the post and keep it on topic in the comments please.

4. How would a Lutheran answer the question, “How can I know I am saved?” and where would election come into the picture?

I think by this point, people know what I’d say. I’d answer by saying, “Listen to what God says to you in the Word, and believe in what he gives you in the Sacraments.” Obviously, most Christians aren’t taught to believe that the minister has any kind of divinely established mandate to forgive sins, and they mostly look at the sacraments as impositions of obligation, memorials, or divine ordinances you obey in order to testify of your own faith. We believe that God is the one testifying in the sacraments, and he’s testifying to you and to the world that your sins have been nailed to the Cross.

That’s not too far off from Reformed “signs and seals” language, but their language is tempered with limited atonement and/or conditional covenants so that there’s some kind of disconnect between between the sacraments and an objective, divine declaration of absolution and righteousness. So the signs are only “effectual” for the elect, or their promise is contingent upon good covenant standing, or something. I’ve been trying to grasp Reformed theology on this point for several years now, and I’ll just say I can’t articulate the difference well enough to satisfy any Reformed theologian, although it’s real. Their liturgical and pastoral practice makes that clear enough.

The big criticism from all the other traditions–Catholic, Reformed, Wesleyan, you name it–is that if God were to just go around recklessly forgiving sinners, if people were allowed to believe in their salvation just because Jesus got nailed to a cross, that would encourage people to sin more. The answer, of course, is putting a hedge around Jesus. Basically, you tell people they can’t have him unless they shape up. There are volumes and volumes of literature from all sides of Christianity about the conditions placed on forgiveness. Living up to covenants, doing penance, detaching your soul from sin, committing your life fully to obedience, and so on. We absolutely do not believe in that sort of thing. Jesus didn’t put covenant conditions on the paralytic before forgiving him. He didn’t tell the thief on the cross to shape up. He just absolved them. Just don’t call God a liar.

There’s an old legend in Catholicism about “Dismas,” the thief on the cross. I read it in some Catholic newspaper around Christmas time. Anyway, while the Holy Family was fleeing to Egypt, they were waylaid by bandits. The bandits were just going to take their stuff and slaughter them all, but one of them saw the cute little baby, had mercy on them, and persuaded the bandits to let them go. Because of his compassion, the Blessed Virgin prayed for him for the next thirty-plus years, so that by a combination of the nascent virtue of the thief and the intercession of the Virgin, he partly merited, and she partly merited for him the privilege of dying next to Christ and having the ability to repent and ask Jesus to remember him. The moral of the story was that if you try to be nice and ask the Virgin to pray for you, God might give you a break later on. Unlike other myths about the Virgin, this one isn’t dogma, but I think it’s illustrative of the human conscience. God can’t just forgive people without it being earned. That’s too good to be true, so it isn’t. Most people are probably thinking about what a bunch of rubes Catholics are for having made up such a silly myth to explain away forgiveness, but myths do for Catholics what clever theological explanations do for Protestants. They put that necessary hedge around the Cross so that it’s not too offensive.

Right, so where’s election come into assurance? I think you learn to be confident of your election as you learn to be confident that what God says to you in the Gospel and the Sacraments is true, and that he is indeed saying those things to you. God speaks, and you say “Amen.” I believe I’m elect, because God’s called me through the Gospel. When I hear Luke, that paralytic is me. So when Jesus says “Man, your sins are forgiven,” he’s not just saying it to the paralytic in the story, but to me and everyone else who sees himself lying helpless on that mat. So I believe in my own election, and I’m not afraid to say that.

There’s always the big question mark about apostasy. No matter what you believe about election, that one can keep you up at night. Christians who were just as good as you have fallen away, so why shouldn’t you fall away, too? I think the answer lies in the fact that God’s promises don’t come out of the sky; they’re made in the Church, because that’s where his Word is spoken. My answer to that question isn’t to try and find a logical resolution or some quality that differentiates me from them; it’s to go to church. Christians are elect because Christ is elect, and so if I decide I don’t want to be where Christ is because I think church is stupid or I’d rather live a life of flagrant sin, I’m counting myself out by my own unbelief. I know most people want a logical answer, but I just don’t have one. Keep going to church and believe what God says to you there if you want your troubles about apostasy to bother you less. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to go to a church where the Gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution and not let unfaithful pastors stay in power. You’re killing yourself if you just go somewhere where all the pastor does is rappel down from the ceiling after a rockin’ tune by the praise band and then babbles about how to realize God’s purpose in your life.

I suppose I’m going to get accused of Arminianism or irrationality or something. Frankly, I think I can deal with that. God’s accused and absolved me of worse.

Stay tuned for more….


  1. Ah, the absolute freeness of forgiveness. What a difficult concept to embrace by faith. You have nailed us! Thank you for reminding us to not place conditions on what God gives freely. I needed to hear that for the sake of my own soul, and for my preaching to the souls of those in my church. How liberating and magnifying of Christ’s grace!

  2. The links here on the Internet Monk include The White Horse Inn. This radio program has three Reformed guys and a Lutheran, and they find a lot more to agree about than disagree about. Excellent program.

  3. Apocryphal stories of Mary aside, the Catholic church does not teach that a person earns forgiveness or salvation. The Catholic church has done a lousy job catechizing it’s members since Vatican II, and I can’t vouch for what the Catholic in the pew thinks the Church teaches. But I’ve read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (a beautifully written document), and I assure you it doesn’t teach that. Everything begins with God’s grace.

    I have appreciated this series, Josh. I honestly had no idea LCMS was that sacramental. My husband and I were a reformed believers for over 20 years, very much into the theology and “right beliefs.” Right now I attend a Catholic Church with my husband (who joined the RCC this summer), a reformed-leaning evangelical church also with husband where our children are involved, and a small emergent church occasionally. I guess I’m “once burned, twice shy” about commitment to any body of theology right now.

  4. Carrie, this probably isn’t the time to debate Catholicism, but you really need to read about the debates surrounding the Councils of Florence and Trent, and you need to read the Catechism much, much more carefully. I’ll only respond to one thing, and that briefly:

    Everything begins with God’s grace.

    That’s not really saying a lot. In Catholic theology, the inborn knowledge of natural law is a “grace” by which Christ is present, so they’re able to say that ethical heathens are saved by grace. Even in the Council of Trent, one’s ability to merit eternal life is given by grace. In the particular myth I related, in Catholic parlance, it’s grace that God provided the Virgin to pray for this guy, and it’s a grace that God considered his mercy meritorious.

  5. From the LCMS Q & A page, here is a Lutheran answer to a question similar to the one that is the focus of this post:

    “The question you are wrestling with is really the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” Theologians throughout history have referred to this question as the “crux theologorum” (“the cross of the theologians”) because of the difficulty (and from the Lutheran perspective, the impossibility) of giving an answer to this question which is satisfactory to our human reason.

    Some answer this question by pointing to man’s “free will”–only those are saved who “choose” to be saved. Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible even man’s will is “dead” and powerless to “choose” God and his grace in Christ. We are saved not because we “choose” to be saved but because the Holy Spirit works faith in our heart through the Gospel (even faith is a gift!). Others answer this question by pointing to God’s sovereign will: God himself predestines from eternity some to be saved and others to be damned. Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible God sincerely desires all to be saved and has predestined no one to damnation.

    So how do Lutherans answer this question? The answer is that Lutherans do not try to answer it, because (we believe) the Bible itself does not provide an answer to this question that is comprehensible to human reason. Lutherans affirm, with Scripture, that whoever is saved is saved by God’s grace alone, a grace so sure that it excludes all human “action” and “choice” but rather rests on the foundation of God’s action in Christ and his “choice” (predestination) from before the beginning of time. Lutherans also affirm, with Scripture, that those who are damned are damned not by God’s “choice” but on account of their own human sin and rebellion and unbelief. From a human perspective, there is no “rational” or “logical” way to put these two truths together. Lutherans believe and confess them not because they are “rational” and “logical,” but because this is what we find taught in Scripture.”

  6. Josh
    “Listen to what God says to you in the Word, and believe in what he gives you in the Sacraments.”

    I agree with the first part of that statement but the second half just begs the question: what do the Sacraments give you?

    “I suppose I’m going to get accused of Arminianism or irrationality or something.”

    If you are going to say things like: “I know most people want a logical answer, but I just don’t have one.” you should not be surprised when someone points out your irrationality.

    “Good to know some reader thinks that after 7 years of basically reformed-leaning blogging, 4 Lutheran posts qualify as somehow unfair treatment of Calvinism.”

    Michael do you actually bother to read the comments you respond to? I’m sorry to be so picky but you just are not being careful enough to accurately represent my comments

  7. OK Greg. We’ve all got the message that you’ve been mistreated and misrepresented. So now I have to quote you and what you said right out of the gate, and you can tell us all that you really didn’t mean what you said.

    Your first statement:

    >…Axe to grind perhaps?

    That’s called ad hominem. Taking Josh’s theology and saying he’s not sincere, but actually is angry and only saying what he says because he’s pissed.

    Your second statement:

    >I thought you were a Baptist, Michael? If so why are you getting all starry eyed over infant baptism or sacramental-ism of any sort; whether it be Catholic Lutheran or Reformed?

    You are now addressing me, questioning my commitments as if you were my judge, and saying I am starry eyed when I haven’t said a word of agreement or disagreement. YOU ARE CRITICIZING THE FACT THAT THE POST IS ON THE BLOG AT ALL>

    Your third statement:

    >What it looks like, is that you will take any opportunity you can, to stick it to those “TR’s”, even if you have to take a few shots yourself to do it.

    You now take after me as if I have a ven…..whatever.

    Then you take off in a long post saying people who disagree with you are wrong, and actually just not really getting what’s obvious. Almost like calling someone stupid.

    Greg, my patience with you is over. I’ve given you your space and I’ve deleted a podcast for no good reason because some people might think I did something wrong, which I didn’t.

    Now get on topic, drop the insinuation that I can’t post Lutheran theology and be a Baptist and that paedobaptists and real presence communers are stupid. Be constructive or move on.

  8. Greg says “you should not be surprised when someone points out your irrationality.”

    Is rationality the basis for Christian belief?

    If so, what is your rational explanation for the Trinity and Jesus being both God and man?

    If you can accept such irrational ideas as the Trinity, why can’t you trust Scripture?

  9. I agree with the first part of that statement but the second half just begs the question: what do the Sacraments give you?

    One gives you Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, and the other puts you under God’s name, buries you with Christ, and raises you to newness of life.

  10. I’m very sorry to hear that you think the doctrine of the Trinity is irrational Eric.

  11. Greg:

    Ok. Explain the Trinity in a rational way. How can three persons be one?

    I can’t explain it; I believe it because that is what Scripture teaches.

    Why can’t you believe what Scripture teaches about Salvation and Election (see my longer post above)? Why can’t you believe what Scripture teaches about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

    You claim that what Josh is teaching about Salvation and Election is irrational. Yet, this is what Scripture teaches.

    I trust that you believe that Scripture is the Word of God. What stops you from believing what it says? Why are you ignoring what it teaches and relying on your “rationality” and “logic”?

    I hope you have not put your “rationality” and “logic” above God’s Word.

  12. What is the rationale of the God of the universe becoming one of His creatures and allowing Himself to suffer and die at their hands, all in order to save them from a punishment they justly deserve?

    His ways are not are ways. And I’m glad.


  13. I meant *our ways. It’s late and I should be in bed!


  14. Three Persons, one Being. Duh!

  15. What can I translate your use of “Duh” into, Greg? Contempt for the other person or mocking their stupidity?

  16. Greg:

    That is your rational explanation? I waited two hours for you to rationally explain the Trinity and all you can say is “Three Persons, one Being. Duh!”

    Just admit that you base your belief in the Trinity on faith. That faith is in the Word of God. You trust it, even when you can’t really explain how three persons can be one being.

    I assume you believe that Jesus was both man and God. You believe it because the Word of God teaches that. You can’t explain, in a rational way, how it is possible to be both God and man at the same time, but you still believe it anyway.

    I assume you believe that Jesus performed miracles. These can’t be explained in rational/logical ways, but you believe them because you have faith.

    There are not rational and logical explanations for the Resurrection, the virgin birth, the miracles and other core beliefs in Christianity. However, I assume you believe in these core teachings of Christianity.

    If only you could have that kind of faith when it comes to issues like Salvation, Election, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

    The bottom line is that you already believe a lot of things that are not rational and logical. The big question is why do you require rationality and logic only when it comes to the specific issues you disagree with in these blog posts (i.e. Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, Salvation and Election)?

  17. Josh,

    I really appreciate your series. It has been very informative. Confessional Lutheranism has so much to offer on so levels, and I think it is dead on predestination. Much better than either Arminianism or Calvinism. But, hey that’s just one of the reasons I fled Evangelicalism for the LCMS. O.k., so I’m biased on all this:)
    What I don’t get is why it is the Lutheran position on pretty much any theological issue is basically unknown in the world of Evangelicalism. It’s like the Lutherans are absent at the table when big theological issues are being discussed. This in part is why your series is so refreshing because when Evangelicals take about predestination it is as if the Calvinist vs. Arminian show is the only one in town. But that simply isn’t the case, and for whatever reason the Reformed are overrepresented.
    Just to remind everyone of the membership numbers of major conservative Lutheran and Reformed bodies in this country, they are as follows:

    Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) 2.5 million
    Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) 400,000

    Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) 331,000
    Christian Reformed Church in America (CRC) 300,000
    Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) 70,000
    Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) 30,000

    Now, I’m leaving out very small Lutheran and Reformed bodies, but when it comes down to it there are a heck of a lot more conservative Lutherans than there are Reformed. Same goes for liberal Lutherans and Reformed denominations too I believe. And while some Baptists and Anglicans are Reformed, they are in the minority. So why does it seem like the Reformed are so important? Why is there voice heard so loudly among Evangelicals?
    Finally, while the sacraments are at the heart of Lutheran soteriology in a way that they aren’t for Reformed soteriology, could there ever be something somewhat like a “Lutheran Baptist”? If some Baptists like the TULIP, couldn’t others adopt the Lutheran position on predestination? Unfortunately, I don’t see Baptists and other Evangelicals coming over to the Lutheran position on the sacraments anytime soon. But it would be nice to see Lutheranism instead of Calvinism rub off on them.


  18. How weird are we evangelicals? Most of us wouldn’t even blink at the idea of God speaking “to our heart” about forgiveness in some extraordinary experience. But talk about the ordinary words of a minister speaking the forgiveness of Christ or receiving that forgiveness as God’s word to you in Baptism or the Supper and you get all kinds of protests.

    We are strange.

  19. greg wrote:

    “Three Persons, one Being. Duh!”

    So, in other words, the “one Being” contains the “three persons.”

    How can “being” that cannot be divided up with one part being distinguished from another, support the idea that within it are three distinct, distinguished “persons?”

    This is not an easy road for pure rationality to travel on, and I think that is what Eric is challenging you on. If Trinitarianism is to be accepted, at some point ordinary logic has to be let go of, unless you are convinced by such simplistic analogies like fire-water-ice (which is more of a modalistic argument, anyway.)


  20. I meant “steam-water-ice”

  21. Yeah, especially since all that “heart” language isn’t in the Bible, while the notion of the Gospel delivered to us, through ordinary means, *is.* :o)

    In our very experience-driven culture, “spiritual” has been taken to mean “esoteric,” “individualistic,” and “not relating to anything in the physical realm.” Never mind the Incarnation! The great thing about Lutheran theology is how earthy and real it is, giving us heaven on earth through Christ. Good series, Josh.

  22. rr,

    I pretty much am a Lutheran Baptist already. Wanna start a denomination?

  23. Patrick Kyle says


    Wouldn’t it be nice for Lutheranism to rub off on Evangelicals? I think that we have alot to offer. Not only a focus on Christ and His forgiveness, but the distinction of the Law and the Gospel, the doctrine of the two Kingdoms and the doctrine of vocation. As a convert to Lutheranism, I am often appalled at the lack of Lutheran imput to the discussions going on in Evangelical Christianity at large. When I first read the Book of Concord my immediate reaction was to ask “Why isn’t this doctrine being shouted from the house tops?”

    You wrote:

    How weird are we evangelicals? Most of us wouldn’t even blink at the idea of God speaking “to our heart” about forgiveness in some extraordinary experience. But talk about the ordinary words of a minister speaking the forgiveness of Christ or receiving that forgiveness as God’s word to you in Baptism or the Supper and you get all kinds of protests.

    Those are very profound words and you would be wise to meditate upon them and consider them deeply.

  24. ….

    First I didn’t claim Josh’s entire position was irrational. I just pointed out that when he explicitly said “I know most people want a logical answer, but I just don’t have one.” (Are you guys taking notes on how to accurately quote some one?????) Then he said: “I suppose I’m going to get accused of Arminianism or irrationality or something.” I’m like thinking to myself: Huh? what do you expect?

    Then Eric throws out the “such irrational ideas as the Trinity” comment. Wow! I am used to hearing that type of rhetoric from JW’s but not from other Christians. Here is a comment from one of the greatest Lutheran theologians today: Dr. John Warwick Montgomery. “The doctrine of the Trinity is not ‘irrational’; what is irrational is to suppress the biblical evidence for trinity in favor of unity. Three persons and one essence (or being) belong to different categories. They are not in contradiction with one another. I don’t know who Eric is or what level of theological sophistication he has. Perhaps he can be excused for not knowing such a basic fact but to have Micheal jump aboard as well is frankly; shocking.

    This is from STR:
    “If one means that the Trinity is irrational, that it violates some law of reason, then the challenge is simply false. There is no violation of the laws of reason in the Trinity. Anyone who thinks I’m mistaken on this point must identify the specific law being breached in light of the orthodox teaching on the Trinity (as opposed to some misrepresentation; we don’t believe in three gods, for example).” http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5212


  25. I’d like to state, for the record, that when I said a commenter didn’t want the Lutheran view to appear on my blog, I had misunderstood Greg’s intentions with his comments taunting and questioning me for being a Baptist who was “starry eyed” over Lutheranism. They sounded to me like a protest over the series of posts. Apparently not. My error. Greg seems to have been mistaken about Josh’s motives and I apparently was about his. He’s all for Lutheran theology being discussed at IM.

    I apologize for whatever was mistakenly said subsequent to that interpretation that perpetuated the misunderstanding.

    Anything further on this disagreement with Greg comes to me via email or it won’t be posted. Any further comments about me and not on the topic of the thread will be deleted.

    Montgomery and STR are ultimately wrong that the Trinity can be deduced from reason. Follow back the chain of reasoning, and you will arrive at presuppositions. Both of them know this perfectly well.

    Now Greg can apologize for saying “duh” to another commenter.

  26. From rr
    “So why does it seem like the Reformed are so important? Why is there voice heard so loudly among Evangelicals?”

    From Michael
    “How weird are we evangelicals? Most of us wouldn’t even blink at the idea of God speaking “to our heart” about forgiveness in some extraordinary experience. But talk about the ordinary words of a minister speaking the forgiveness of Christ or receiving that forgiveness as God’s word to you in Baptism or the Supper and you get all kinds of protests.

    We are strange.”

    Michael, those are two discussions I would love to have after you give it some thought and grace us with your insight in a couple of posts. No pressure!

  27. Patrick:

    >Those are very profound words and you would be wise to meditate upon them and consider them deeply.

    Could you please elaborate on what you mean by the above statement?


  28. Greg says, “Then Eric throws out the “such irrational ideas as the Trinity” comment. Wow! I am used to hearing that type of rhetoric from JW’s but not from other Christians.”

    The difference is that you don’t then hear JWs follow up with the rest of what I said in my post. I believe in the Trinity.

    Actually, I am very familiar with Montgomery. Michael beat me to a response, but he summed up what I was going to say:

    “Montgomery and STR are ultimately wrong that the Trinity can be deduced from reason. Follow back the chain of reasoning, and you will arrive at presuppositions. Both of them know this perfectly well.”

    I am a Christian debating with you (another Christian, I assume) about something we both already believe in. This is the context of the debate. Within that context, I am trying to get you to admit (which you for some reason are unable or unwilling to do) that we all believe many things that are not logical/rational and are based on presuppositions.

    Greg, I am interested in your answers to the questions I have asked you in this post:

    1.) Is rationality the basis for Christian belief? (i.e. What role, if any, does it play?)

    2.) What is your rational explanation for the Trinity? (simply quoting Montgomery won’t do, I am waiting for your rational/logical explanation.)

    3.) Why can’t you believe what Scripture teaches about Salvation, Election, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper? (What stops you?)

    4.) Why do you require rationality and logic only when it comes to the specific issues you disagree with in these blog posts (i.e. Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, Salvation and Election)?

  29. Josh wrote:
    “You’re killing yourself if you just go somewhere where all the pastor does is rappel down from the ceiling after a rockin’ tune by the praise band and then babbles about how to realize God’s purpose in your life.”

    I disagree. I was raised Presbyterian and Lutheran, I spent most of my adult life trying to figure out the “right” beliefs. I went to dynamic, Bible-believing reformed churches, attended Bible studies, and hear thousands of great sermons. I wanted to believe the right things. It seemed like the most important thing I could do. And I watched as all these intellectuals debated and talked and studied…all inside their very proper churches with their very proper music.

    Then due to circumstances too involved for this discussion, my family ended up at one of the “rockin’ churches” you allude to here, complete with band and “relevant” sermons. Sometimes I did despair at the lightweight teaching. But then I noticed something I’d never seen before– the church was full of joy and community, college kids with blue hair could come join in without any raised eyebrows. Poor and middle class mingled and worshiped together. And the church gives a full 40% of its income for missions and outreach. Every year we turn our church into “GraceMart” filled with donation and serve over a thousand poor in our area with clothing, food, medicines, furniture, and appliances…all free. The members of the church actually leave the building and Bible studies and walk the walk, getting among the lost and needy. This rockin’ church has the most active outreach I’ve ever seen, and it only has about 500 members.

    Right beliefs are a good thing, understanding the Bible, justification, and forgiveness are all wonderful. But too often we are too intent on making sure we are “right” that we forget to do anything we’ve been commissioned to do by Jesus.

    Sometimes arguing over nuances in justification seems more like justifying inactivity and puffing up egos than worrying about obedience to God’s call for servanthood. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for the pastors and members of this “rockin” church.

  30. Todd Wilken recently wrote a great article that addresses the very important issues raised by Carrie.

    Here is a link:

  31. Greg:

    From Concordia’s (LCMS) Christian Cyclopedia, here is a quote about the Trinity. Just like the issues of Election and Salvation, Lutherans believe what the Scriptures teach – even when such concepts our “beyond our powers of comprehension”.

    “All similes, comparisons, images, or illustrations by which men have tried to represent the doctrine of three Persons in one Godhead fail to illustrate; much less do they explain. The Trinity has been compared to fire, which is said to possess the 3 “attributes” of flame, light, and heat; but this division is highly artificial, and the comparison is altogether faulty, because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not so many attributes of God, but are, each of them, God Himself. The Trinity has been compared to the division of a human being into body, soul, and mind; but each of these constituents is not separately a human being, whereas each of the divine Persons, separately considered, is truly God.

    The doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our powers of comprehension. The difficulty does not lie in the numeral terms but in the relation of the 3 Persons to each other and the way they are united in one Godhead without being only parts of it. AC I 4: “The word is to be understood as the Fathers employed the term in this connection, not as a part or a property of another but as that which exists of itself.”

  32. I consider the matter closed. I have a great appreciation for Luther and Lutheran theology. I have read Luther’s Bondage of the Will and in fact just lent it to someone else to read. I have also read some of his commentaries as well as Bainton’s “Here I Stand” I am a regular listener of Issues ETC and the White Horse INN. I simply disagree on Scriptural grounds with the Lutheran view of the Sacraments, as would all Credo Baptists.

    RE Irrationality:
    Both Eric and Micheal are equivocating on the term irrational, and trying to twist its meaning to say that I am claiming that: “the Trinity can be deduced from reason”. STR is not saying that, Montgomery is not saying that, and I am not saying that. Here are the first four of eight dictionary definitions of the word “irrational” the other four deal with mathematics.

    1. without the faculty of reason; deprived of reason.
    2. without or deprived of normal mental clarity or sound judgment.
    3. not in accordance with reason; utterly illogical: irrational arguments.
    4. not endowed with the faculty of reason: irrational animals.

    Notice there is nothing that says a doctrine, idea, or assertion of fact must be derived solely from reason. (It might be helpful to dig out a copy of Schaeffer’s “Escape from Reason” and see how he differentiates between reason and rationalism.) What the above definition does say, is that if such ideas are devoid of reason then they can be considered Irrational. Eric you have made the positive assertion that the very idea of the Trinity is irrational. It is not my fault if you are using improper and misleading language to try to score points. There is no logical contradiction contained the doctrine of the Trinity. Three whos, one what. Simple. Those are the facts. We get those facts based on revelation and they are perfectly reasonable. The Trinity can be apprehended without being fully comprehended.

    Let me take this opportunity to apologize for using the word Duh in my response to Eric. I will be more respectful in the future.

  33. Nicholas Anton says

    A liturgical and doctrinal report from an “other” Baptist church.

    This Sunday morning was one of those days in which I could have fled the church as if it were the sinking Titanic. It contained most everything that never should exist in the assembly in the form presented; A potpourri of a running commentary of bad theology in the introduction, followed by a string of equally worthless bad theology choruses, the continual diatribe by inference or spoken word by the pastor that genuine Christians should always be happy, as well as that after these choruses, his message would be redundant-not necessary; A “buttering up” of the pastor by the “King James only” crowd by “Amening” everything he said, a corresponding “buttering up” of the “King James Bible” by the pastor, three unsolicited duets by an elderly couple from a fundamentalist Baptist church 35 miles West, three congregational gospel songs followed by a shortened message on the closing verses of Titus 2.
    One of the attendees was a lady, probably in her late sixties, who was/is struggling with very severe depression to the point of being suicidal. She had sought relief from her depression by calling the elders of the church to pray over her the previous Sunday. It was obvious from her appearance, that she had experienced no relief. I tried to encourage her by assuring her that God was as near in these times of trial as when everything was going well, and that her depression need not be indicative of her standing with God. I also told her that I personally had struggled with depression, at times very severe, for close to 55 years. Though I do not understand why, I have, though sometimes not very successfully, learned to trust God in and through it. It nevertheless seemed that she was looking for a quick fix; a formula cure, rather than “My Grace is sufficient for thee”.
    That was followed by dinner, only, thereafter to be buttonholed by the Baptist man who had sung, as to why he did not believe that immersion was the only legitimate form of baptism, followed by his assertion that the King James Bible was the only inspired Bible, as proven by Gail Riplinger. He seemed shocked when I informed him that I WAS NOT from the “King James only” crowd.
    Why am I reporting this? Because it is indicative of how evangelicals have sidestepped the weighty things of the Faith, which include preaching doctrine, The Historic Christ, and dealing with “real” problems people encounter. Instead we revel in and banter about all the fluff that is floating about in evangelicalism, and in that process give people false truth, false faith, false aspirations and false hope. When these expectations do not materialize, we automatically assume that a lack of faith or some other sin must be the cause. Hmm… I wonder, which sins did Jesus commit to be called “…a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”? By now the evangelicals, including Baptists need as much reformation as the Catholic church did in Luther’s day. May God have mercy on us!

  34. Patrick Kyle says


    I posted an answer to your question this morning but don’t see it in the comments. Did my computer mess up, or did my answer fail to make ” the cut”?


  35. Patrick: Never saw it. Repost AND send a copy to my email michaelATinternetmonkDOTcom.

  36. Carrie, with all due respect, Christ commissioned the ministry to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. Everything else flows from that. In fact, the apostles appointed the first deacons so that they could devote themselves to preaching.

  37. Eric-

    You lost me with Todd Wilken. I am theologically conservative, as is the church I was referring to. We believe in the virgin birth, Christ as fully human and fully God, Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of sin, bodily resurrection, etc. I don’t know why my post prompted you to post the article. I am just saying those who believe the Bible ought to spend more time doing what it says than *arguing* over who is “in” and who is “out.”

  38. “I’ve been trying to grasp Reformed theology on this point for several years now, and I’ll just say I can’t articulate the difference well enough to satisfy any Reformed theologian, although it’s real.”

    Yup, from the discussions I’ve had with you and John, I kind of know what you mean (being at a Baptist church heightens my own awareness of this problem). And I know, because I read it recently, that the Book of Concord teaches the necessity of faith in the proper use of the sacraments (I assume that means faith is the way we appropriate their benefits). So the difference really is quite tricky to pin down–the most obvious place is that we’d list receiving Christ as a benefit of the sacraments (and so faith is needed to take hold of Christ in the sacrament), but if that were all, our disagreements probably wouldn’t be quite so vociferous.

  39. Eric Phillips says

    “Suprarational” is probably a better word than “irrational” to use when describing the Trinity, but the difference is just in the connotations. Both words mean, “This does not make sense.” But the word “irrational” seems to imply that it’s therefore _wrong_, while the word “suprarational” explains, “It doesn’t make sense because it is a truth that is higher than Reason.”

    Oh, and good work with these answers, Josh.

  40. I read though the article that Eric linked to about the notion of many so-called ‘conservative Christians’ are actually compromising theologically. I agree with some of the article’s criticisms, but it leaves questions in my mind regarding Lutheran attitudes about the ‘finer points’ of doctrine — questions I think Josh S. might be able to answer well.

    [As a premise to my brief questions, the article heavily criticized the well-quoted maxim, “In things essential, unity; in doubtful, liberty; in all things, charity.” I kinda think that this notion would be something that fits in well with iMonk’s ‘generous catholicity’ and how it would apply to communion table fellowship–so I wonder what the Lutheran position would be…Michael can feel free to agree or disagree with my thoughts on that.]

    1) What are Lutheran attitudes toward Communion table fellowship with non-Lutheran Christians–i.e., does one have to believe in the Lutheran view of the sacraments, etc to participate in communion?

    2) How essential are the ‘finer points of theology’ (such as Lutheran understanding of the sacraments) in ecumenical endeavors–and how important is it for Lutherans to persuade non-Lutheran Christians to their point of view in such matters?

  41. Ironies of ironies a Baptist friend and pastor of mine were just discussing this today. He has been accused more than once of being “Lutheran”, particularly in the Gospel he preaches and gives. I mean this as a serious conversation and since my own history doesn’t include other denominations I cannot speak experientially and honestly to that, only what I’ve and others similar have seen within SB and like evangelical circles. And for sake of conversation I would categorize “modern evangelical” of a broader class to which the SBC belongs, to which the problem is the same.

    One of the issues he and I have experienced, separately in our previous individual SB Christian walks (he’s now independent Baptist and I’m PCA), in a nutshell was this: In the SB community broadly speaking, and many in SB circles know this themselves and honestly admit it, it’s not a knock or put down but a reality; the SB church(es) began to see a degradation over time (this varies church to church as to degree but it is organically so as a whole). But the problem was and continues to mostly be seen in terms of “moralisms” of various variety. That’s the way the problem is formulated and mostly seen. It only takes about five seconds of searching this out in general SB conversation to find this out and if you happen to even so much as ‘hint’ at it being that the Gospel is lost and being lost among it, you will get your head handed to you, even if your just trying to help honestly. However, this goes back to the entire fundamental idea of having and attempting to have a “regenerate church only”, that was his, my friend’s, assessment without my prompting it. Because the problem seen a few years ago in SB circles was that “we are baptizing too many non-believers in believers baptism” who never darken the doors of the church again and/or don’t live up to the local church laws or SB broader house rules. And this was/is measured in terms of various moralisms defined by the local church cult. So, the solution instead of being clear up and preach the real Law and real Gospel, became “how can we weed out these false professors to baptize them.” That is, more laws to detect the real Christians (the paradigm here is that Christianity slowly becomes defined as “the real Christian is truly so if he/she lives up to ______”. Rather than the narrow path, BAM, the car was steered away from the rock wall and off over on the cliff side. Calvinism, not really John Calvin, via the TULIP, has become the vehicle for this (there are the “TULIP” lovers, then there are those who seriously read John Calvin). Because the TULIP can be a kind of strong law to move people and way to “weed out” the false professors. But it is used in this way devoid of Gospel and just becomes a BIGGER moral hammer than the standard Arminian fare, neither of which are the real Holy Law that “crushes the rock into pieces, breaking both false saints and open sinners”, so that the Gospel is sweet.

    This has manifest itself in SB churches, some which I belonged, in such things as elder’s being installed (or deacons and the pastor called to the same task), whose task among others is to “weed out the potential false professors”, so as to purify the church and baptism once again. I’ve seen elders that set up this task as if they can really read a heart. My friend, again a Baptist pastor himself, just told me today, “I guess it has something to do with insisting on “believers/regenerate church only” in the here and now. And there’s no way around that reality.

    What begins to slowly continue to be lost in all this is the Gospel. I mean it really disappears from the preaching of the Word no matter how much exegesis occurs (because law alone is exegeted from nearly every passage) and the Gospel is completely emptied from the sacraments (ordinances). While I was teaching youth back then, it always confounded me as to how we would on one hand teach the youth to “do missions” and have “youth mission trips”, ostensibly to give the Gospel, but yet not have them as baptized members. That was a real head scratcher for me and I worried what we were communicating to them, “the Gospel is for those you are ‘witnessing to’ but not you, until you DO something to in essence purchase it”. An odd thing indeed.

    However, I’ve even had conversations, and so has he, with many outside of Christianity and they always speak particularly and explicitly to evangelicals and SB in terms of “pushing their morals on everybody”. Now that’s a very sad reality, because that’s the very real measurable witness explicitly spoken BACK to the church by the outside hearers as to what they are REALLY hearing from the church that apparently is being picked up on loud and clear, not reconciliation, not Christ crucified and risen FOR YOU, not the Gospel, but morals. They are not rejecting the Gospel but the “morals” of those denominations. But I’ve seen deluded pastor after deluded pastor, and I mean deluded, think they got thrown out of a church for preaching the Gospel, when all they got tossed out for, in the end, was that “their law” didn’t agree with the churches established law.

    The reason I think there are no “Lutheran Baptist” is that generally speaking the Lutheran church is outwardly liturgical and it “looks Roman Catholic”. But the irony of ironies is that “inwardly”, what is preached and taught especially THROUGH the liturgies is as far from Rome as heaven is from hell. AND the GREATEST irony is that in evangelical circles, they are inwardly just like Roman Catholicism even though outwardly, no formal liturgy and such, they are different. Rome and Evangelicals (modern usage of the term) are functionally the exact same thing, and secular society is increasingly seeing this better than the church itself cares or dares to admit.

    Second, at length its hard to sustain adult only baptism with the Gospel, in fact its impossible, because it looses its Gospel import since I have “to look to myself as to possessing real saving faith first, and this I can only do by some contrived list of works that are tactile enough to show this faith so that I get the timing of baptism right for it to be baptism.” Suddenly baptism is ‘me looking inwardly’ rather than me beholding the Cross to which it is witnessing, not to me. There’s a reality to what Luther said that if we fail to baptize infants it will loose its Gospel witness for us. Ultimately, there’s no escaping it, this is why there are no “Lutheran Baptist”. Some reformed theology, post Calvin himself, tends to smudge this line a bit and in those circles you get some inconsistent cross overs of “reformed” and “Baptist”. E.g. I’ve had reformed folk more friendly to “memorial” view of the Lord’s Supper, and hostile to Luther’s real presence. But in reality Calvin was MUCH closer to Luther in principle than he would have ever been to the memorial view.

    However, I have heard of at least one Baptist church applying to become Lutheran, the entire congregation.


  42. Patrick Kyle says


    I thought your comment was very insightful and touched on some things that are important in Lutheranism,;namely the “ordinariness” of Christ’s forgiveness proclaimed through the words of a minister and His promises delivered in Baptism and the Lord’s supper. Many Christians place so much emphasis on the ‘subjective’ ‘in my heart’ communication with God that the means by which He has promised to speak to us all (preached word baptism,lord’s supper) is largely ignored or subtly relegated to a back shelf. This insight touches virtually all aspects of theology and deserves further meditation

  43. Eric Phillips says

    Josh T.,

    I’ll take a stab at those two questions.

    This concerns your second question, but I think I should state first, that the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood is not a “finer point” of theology for Lutherans. It’s quite basic. When God incarnate comes to you and allows you to put His body and blood into your mouth on a weekly basis, to convey forgiveness of sins and strength for the Christian life, that’s a BIG DEAL.

    That’s why, to answer your first question, Lutheran churches that are taking their own theology seriously do not offer communion to people who don’t believe in the Real Presence. When Christ says through the pastor, “this is my body,” the pastor doesn’t have the right to give that body to someone he knows is thinking, “It’s not REALLY Christ’s body.” Especially not in light of I Cor. 11:29.

  44. Josh T:

    First, Lutherans believe that you need to believe in what the Eucharist is in order to receive any benefit from it. We would regard anyone who openly disbelieves in the Eucharist as not ready to receive it (we do not believe that the Real Presence is simply a theological opinion; it is what the Eucharist fundamentally is). This isn’t just a fellowship issue; it’s a pastoral issue.

    Second, we do not believe the sacraments are finer points of theology. We believe the church lives through the means of grace, so the sacraments are fundamental. In ecumenical endeavors, they will always occupy a central role. As far as convincing other Christians of them, we see it as pretty important. The sacraments are where the Gospel is found, so we would see denial of the Gospel efficacy of the sacraments as quite detrimental to church health and Christian faith.

  45. Josh said: “Carrie, with all due respect, Christ commissioned the ministry to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.”

    Acts 6: 1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.

    I don’t see where such a heavy emphasis on administering the Sacraments as the primary role of the Shepherd comes from in Scripture. It Seems odd that Paul could only remember baptizing a few people; if that were his primary focus and function. In fact; although Paul is obviously not saying that Baptism is not important, even obligatory for confessing believers; however as a matter of Apostolic priority, he seems to downplay it a bit don’t you think? The great commission in Matt 28: may be the exception but baptism there seems to be a consequent on discipleship not the other way around.

    “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.”

  46. Matthew 28 is not some kind of trivial exception. It’s the summary of the whole book. As the Gospels are more comprehensive than the Epistles, the baptismal language and imagery should hardly be ignored. Further, Matthew’s gospel was regarded by the early church as the chief book of the New Testament, not Romans or Galatians. Luke gives even more attention to baptism than Matthew does, describing Christ’s death baptismally and of course giving it prominence in Acts.

    Paul’s words should not be taken as trivializing baptism, certainly not in the context of Eph 5:26, Romans 6, the later chapters of Acts, etc.

  47. Eric Phillips says


    > Seems odd that Paul could only remember baptizing
    > a few people

    I assume you’re thinking of the following passage from I Corinthians chapter 1:

    14) I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; 15) lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. 16) And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. 17) For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

    You’re reading this wrong if you think it means that Paul can’t remember who he’s baptized. He _is_ remembering. He’s naming names. “I know not whether I baptized any other” means, “I don’t think I did, but I might be forgetting someone.” Unless you have a list of another dozen folks he did baptize in Corinth, you can’t assume this shows a lapse in memory. And remember how many churches he started, and how many people he must have baptized along the way. If they started to blur together after a while, that would be only natural.

    And when Paul says, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel,” you COULD assume from this that what he means is, “Preaching saves people; baptism doesn’t, so it’s not as important.” Or you could read the same Apostle testifying that baptism washed his sins away (Acts 22:16) and teaching us that we rise with Christ because we’ve been baptized into His death (Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 2:12). Then you might conclude instead that Paul took this approach because 1) anybody can do a baptism, but it takes someone with rare gifts and a special calling to explain the Gospel so well and so prolifically that people will be using your explanations as sacred writ 2000 years later, and 2) as he says in this passage, he’s worried about people putting too much significance on the MINISTER who baptized them, and dividing into sects instead of standing united in the one CHRIST they’ve all been baptized into. And that makes perfect sense. Having the local guys–the future pastors and elders–get involved administering the sacraments right from the start is a very wise plan if you’re a traveling evangelist who wants your church plants to survive and thrive in unity under local leadership after you’ve moved on.

  48. Here I think lie some of the reasons for the real-life difficulties with ecumenical efforts (including Michael Spencer’s hopes for a ‘Generous Catholicity’ and table fellowship)… both Eric and Josh S. say that the sacraments are NOT a ‘finer point of theology’. I somehow don’t think that there are many people in audience here that think either Baptism or Communion is a ‘finer point’ in the least. I would bet most of us find them quite important. The ‘finer point’ in my mind is the question of differences in our understanding of how the sacraments are to be implemented in the Church, and how the sacraments work (do they have inherent “power”? or are they “merely” symbolic and yet can still be powerful instruments for our faith in Jesus Christ?, etc.)

    I realize that Christianity is both wonderfully simple on some levels and yet complicated in others. But sometimes it seems that an understanding of how spiritual things work in a precise and perfect way (that is–beyond the immediate biblical witness) becomes elevated near to (or equated with) alliegance to Christ himself. It seems that emphasis on perfection in some areas can end up being a hinderance–perhaps directing our focus not to Jesus and the cross and the kingdom of God, but inwardly to our own hearts, testing not our faith in the Person, but the perfection of our understanding of how salvation works and how sacraments fit into the scheme in order to make certain that I’m (at best) able to benefit from them properly or (at worst) that I’m not putting my soul in jeopardy.

    I hate to say it,(and it’s no offense intended to you Lutherans) but I’m afraid that every theological system seems to have a way of becoming legalistic in its own fasion.

    Calvinists might examine themselves, their works, to see if they’re elect.
    Baptists might wonder if they prayed that sinner’s prayer just right–did I really mean it? Do I really know I’m ‘saved’?
    Some extreme Arminians might be afraid of committing that one sin and then dying before repenting.
    And perhaps some Lutherans–like some Roman Catholics?– might (because of a slight lack of understanding, or a lapse in judgment) be trusting in the bread and the wine in a ‘magical’ fashion rather than discerning Christ and miss out on the grace of God. (I hope I’m not mischaracterizing here).

    [rhetorical] Is there such thing as legalism in understanding grace perfectly? Is there no grace for our inevitable misunderstandings of grace?

    And I know am guilty myself. Lord, have mercy.

  49. Josh T, I’m not sure how believing that baptism actually gives the forgiveness of sins is any more obtuse or dependent on immense theological sophistication than is saying that Jesus is both God and man. The problem is that these really aren’t finer points of theological sophistication. All you need to do is look at Luther’s Small Catechism, a teaching guide written for children, and you’ll immediately see huge differences between what Lutherans and Baptists believe. I think a handy rule of thumb is that if a child under the age of 12 can understand it, it’s not a “finer point.”

  50. Eric Phillips says

    Josh T.,

    I don’t see how you can agree that the sacraments aren’t “finer points,” and then turn right around and say that what they ARE _is_ a “finer point.” That’s completely contradictory. It’s like saying that Christology isn’t a “finer point,” but the question, “Who was Jesus?” _is_.

    > an understanding of how spiritual things work in
    > a precise and perfect way

    I certainly don’t claim to be able to tell you in any precise or complete fashion _how_ Baptism washes me of sin and plants me into Christ, or _how_ the bread and wine can be at the same time God’s own body and blood. I just know, on the authority of God’s own Word (where am I going “beyond the immediate biblical witness”?), that it does, and they are.

    As for your speculation about Lutherans, any Lutheran who is “trusting in the bread and wine…rather than discerning Christ” is simply not listening. The ONLY reason we trust in the bread and wine is because they ARE the Body and Blood of Christ. The trust is based entirely on this discernment.

    > Is there such thing as legalism in understanding
    > grace perfectly?

    Yes, I think there is. And I would say that non-sacramental churches fall into this danger much more easily than sacramental churches do, because sacraments are simple. You just do them. Or better yet, they are done _to_ you. Like salvation. Like with your car or your computer, you don’t have to understand _how_ it works in order for it to work. You just have to believe the promises God has made in Christ.