Saturday, July 15, 2006

Did Luther affirm the "ip" in Tulip?

I recently read through J. Theodore Mueller's translation of Luther's commentary on Romans. It wasn't an "academic" translation, but it had sat on my shelf long enough with me only dipping into a couple of chapters every now and then.

Any way, a passage in Luther's commentary on Romans 9 caught my attention. He was commenting on this passage: "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 (9:17)."

Luther wrote: "These words mean: I desired to show you that the power of deliverance lies alone in me and not in the ability, merit and righteousness of any other. For this reason I hardened you and freed Israel. This power he . . . illustrated before in the case of the two brothers, Esau and Jacob, namely, that is the divine election of grace that saves, and that those surely will be saved who are elected" (p. 140 bolded emphasis added).

While I would be loath to turn a throw-away line into an affirmation of systematic theology, the bolded phrase did sound a bit to me like the "ip" in the Calvinist's "Tulip." For those who do not know, in "Tulip," each letter stands for a distinctive doctrine: T = total depravity, u & l something else, the "ip" refers to "irresistible grace" and the "perseverance of the saints." (At least I think they do.) I think the "ip" means that God will save every person he elects. And that sounds sort of similar to what Luther writes (at least as translated). I'll have to take another look at "predestination" in the confessions. They do affirm a high doctrine of election, but I don't recall that they treat the "ip" question in any detail.

Of course, in popular Lutheran piety, I've heard it affirmed over and over that while God affords people the opportunity to be saved, people can always refuse God's grace. (That would be a denial of "ip.") Of course, that's true as an existential matter (a point even the discerning Calvinist agrees with), but the Calvinist wants to talk about God's power over the soul at this point.

Quite often, at least in my experience, the Calvinist also wants to claim that the "ip" is a source of comfort and assurance for the Christian. But that obviously cannot be. Affirming that God saves those he elects as an abstract matter entails nothing about whether an individual is actually a member of the elect. Our assurance before God comes only from now trusting our trustworthy God to save us through Jesus Christ, it does not come from affirming one or another doctrine of election.


Blogger Mike said...

The assurance, at least in my flower garden, is that I am not so powerfully stubborn that God cannot overcome the total depravity of my will.

I will never, ever, want to come to Christ of my own volition. Yet, when Christ woos me to be his Bride (i.e. effectual calling), I come willingly.

The point of the "I" isn't that God beats a man's will up until he begrudgingly comes. Rather, the beauty and kindness of Christ is so overpowering that the regenerate being cannot, nor would he ever want to, refuse it.

So, like I said before, the assurance is that there is not a "will" in the universe that can stand up and resist the power of the Gospel if that will belongs to one who is among those the Father gave the Son before there was time.

I might even suggest that the doctrine of Total Depravity essentially requires Irresistable Grace. If not, then by what power does man "come to Jesus?" If the grace is resistable, a man could glory in that he resisted it less than his brother, and that he was somehow more fit for salvation from the start.

Instead, I believe that no will, left to itself, will ever choose to come to Christ. Yet, when the Holy Spirit regenerates a man (i.e. born again), he will always and necessarily be saved according to the "golden chain" of Romans 8:28-30...

Foreknew => predestined to conformity to the image of Christ => called => justified => glorified.

The phrase "those whom" runs throughout, holding the links of the chain together. Inclusion in any of these groups necessitates inclusion in all the rest. You can't be justified if weren't also called. You can't be glorified and not also predestined. You can't be foreknown without also being conformed to the image of Christ.

So, to use your words, for a person to have an "opportunity to be saved" he would have to be called. If he is called (in the effectual sense), then he will necessarily also be saved (i.e. justified).

That is not to say that everyone who hears the gospel will respond in faith, but those who are among "the divine election of grace that saves" will always, without exception, be saved.

Now, as you noted, the real trick is figuring out who is among that number!

P.S. I grew up Lutheran, then Baptist, and now Presbyterian, for what it's worth.

August 08, 2006 3:13 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


I have a NU undergrad degree. Go Huskers!

In any event, I agree that irresistable grace gets a bad rap on the "coercion" thing. The new nature that God gives us though baptism into Christ can't help but "choose God," because it is a sane nature rather than an insance nature.

In my opinion, Reformed Christians then push this too far and start fretting about the true nature of the warnings in Hebrews (and elsewhere) and etc. Lutherans are more immanentist in that sort of thing, just saying, "well, if the writer says you can fall from grace, then for all practical purposes you can fall from grace."

But then some Lutherans, in my opinion, push too far in the other direction, ascribing a pivotal, metaphyscial (as opposed to experiential) role to human choice that the Lutheran confessions really don't admit.

So that's what I'm pushing on a bit in the post.

As for who's among the elect, how about this: Those who are the elect are those who receive God's grace through Jesus through the Gospel in Word, baptism, and the Supper, and who persevere in that trust to the end. And the grace we receive through trusting God only reflects the fact that God is trustworthy; our trust in God does not earn or merit that grace.

August 09, 2006 12:07 PM  

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