Lutheran or Reformed? You Make the Call!

This is why so much depends on the benefit of justification, and it is rightly denominated the article on which the church either stands or falls. For the fundamental question that arises in this connection is this: What is the way that leads to communion with God, to true religion, to salvation and eternal life: God’s grace or human merit, his forgiveness or our works, gospel or law, the covenant of grace or the covenant of works?

….It’s Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics 4.204–05. Thanks to Martin for posting this

Correlating the law to the covenant of works and the gospel to the covenant of grace?1  “The article by which the church stands or falls”? That’s Lutheran stuff isn’t it? Well, that’s what we’re told. Hmm. That’s it. Bavinck was a crypto-Lutheran. Yes, that must be it.

1. Only Lutherans talk this way
2.Bavinck talks this way
3. Ergo, Bavinck was a Lutheran.

That’s really too bad. I was all set to read, mark, and inwardly digest Bavinck’s 4 vols but now that I find out that he was a Lutheran, well that just spoils everything! Crums. Now where will we find a truly Reformed theologian to read? 

Or maybe we could query the major premise?

1It’s a trick. Confessional Lutherans typically reject the notion of a prelapsarian covenant of works.

2This phrase originated with a Reformed theologian, J. H. Alsted, in the early 17th century, but lets not let any ugly facts get in the way of a good syllogism.

3“…this volume looks like an exceptional modern exposition of the Lutheran view of justification as applied to intra-American Presbyterian debates.”

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  1. When I grow up, I want to read Bavinck. Having come out of Rome, I am just happy there was a Reformation. I’m reading Lohse’s “Martin Luther’s Theology” right now, and I know there were some kinks, but on balance, the Reformed have FAR more in common with Luther than with Rome.

  2. Dear Prof. Clark;
    I know it is about 1 year since this post, but i have a burning question regarding Lutheranism. I am reformed in my theology, and I am aware of most of the major differences between Calvinists and Lutherans. (consubstantiation, eschatology, etc…) But I have my daughter in school in a WELS Lutheran school. And even with the differences, known and unknown, I am fine with that. Getting into Soteriology, it seems there are some areas that I am trying to understand about Lutherans. They say they are not Calvinists, they do not believe in “decision Salvation”- is this there way of talking about Free Will? But it also seems that they teach that a believer can “Stop believing”
    Are there any comparisons that you have come across that would amply explain the differences between the two?

    John Valnes

    • Hi John,

      As I understand their confession, Lutherans teach that we are totally depraved, that believers are elected unconditionally, that we are justified sola gratia, sola fide. They also confess that it is possible to resist grace. They do not accept the Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace.

      We don’t believe in “decision salvation” (if it means that that one is regenerated by one’s decision for Christ) either but many Lutherans do not distinguish between broad evangelicalism and Reformed theology. Tragically, when they see Jimmy Swaggart, they see a Reformed preacher.

      Here are some charts:

      The booklet (link above) on Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace might help.

      There’s some discussion of differences between Lutheran and Reformed theology in the volume on Olevian (above) too.

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