Luther and Calvin on Predestination (Church History) 4

iruo March 27, 20234 Comments

Hello everyone! How are y’all doing? Still on Church History with the theme, Luther and Calvin on Predestination. Let’s pick it up where we left off.

PS: If you haven’t read the prequels, please do.

Let’s get right to it!

Calvin and Luther on Predestination

In other words, for Luther, he is actually going to significantly pump the brakes on any discussion on the topic of Predestination. He thinks that any discussion of this kind is unbiblical because he feels like it doesn’t follow the pattern of Scripture. For Luther, as we’ve seen, Justification is foremost with respect to the procedure/progression of the Christian life; hearing the preached word, hearing the condemnation of the law and believing, then partaking in the sacraments, then resting fully in the finished work of Christ. Luther elsewhere will say Predestination is something you talk about only after you have thoroughly rested on Justification. Now, he doesn’t mean that once you’ve had a conversion experience, (what he means is) Predestination in Luther’s pastoral approach to this subject is what you do to make sure that people don’t forget that their Justification is not based upon their own will or their own work.

Furthermore, the flow of the Lutheran service is; the law’s preached, one feels guilty and judged, then they hear the good grace of the Gospel, and then they partake of the sacraments. It is only at this point that a Lutheran will say, now realize that you have been rescued, you did not rescue yourself, your faith is not a work that you have accomplished, it’s not some sort of back door way of becoming Pelagian, rather, God rescued you and the only way you know that is because you felt condemned, you experienced justification; the grace/breakthrough of that, and you have partaken in the sacraments. In other words, what Luther is most concerned about is the way some are describing Predestination apart from the sacraments in the normal flow of the worship of the church, making the sacraments of the church irrelevant to the issue of Justification, and therefore, making it irrelevant to the subject of Predestination.

Again, Luther says this makes the person neutered or irrelevant, they just simply sit around and wait until the end of this life of theirs to determine if they are predestined. Viz, for Luther, the question of concern is that if someone gets overly zealous about the doctrine of Predestination, then they will believe that there is nothing they do, know, or experience in this Christian life that has anything to do with their salvation or Justification, then he goes on to say this is how I have taught it in my book, “On Bondage of the Will”.

“Namely, that the distinctions must be made when one deals with the knowledge or rather the subject of God. For one must debate about the hidden God or the revealed God. With regard to God insofar as He has not been revealed, there is no faith, no knowledge, no understanding, and with them, nothing more is achieved but that we plunge ourselves into destruction”.


Now, where does Calvin come down on the subject of Predestination you might ask. Well, we can affirm in general that Calvin does not differ in general with Luther in this doctrine. He affirmed it in many of the same ways that Luther did. He believes that God’s choice is the most important factor in our salvation. He rejects the concepts of merits or works, or any kind of reciprocity on the part of humans to achieve their own salvation. However, there is a divergence. Calvin does not share Luther’s concern for discussing the doctrine of Predestination openly or objectively, or frankly for discussing the doctrine only within the context of having already discussed the doctrine of Justification.

Actually, Calvin has a robust desire to talk about the doctrine of Predestination in an objective sense, like, what is the doctrine, how are we to understand it, etcetera. It is not simply looked upon as a safeguard against Pelagianism, Although for Calvin, it certainly serves as that doctrine as well. Calvin, you might say, is more willing to talk about the doctrine of Predestination in a way that is based upon the advantage of a systematic theologian. Calvin does not have a pastoral or homiletic concern with discussing the doctrine of Predestination on its own merit. Rather, Calvin, as seen in his institutes and other of his writings, would discuss the doctrine of Predestination as a locus (location) onto itself.

Calvin gets to this point because he believes that because the Scriptures talk about it openly, there is no need to exert law caution on that doctrine and how it is discussed in the context of the Christian life, this leads Calvin to other conclusions as well. Calvin is willing to take on the question of God’s role in what we call the reprobate, i.e, those who do not believe and therefore, receive damnation. Calvin says it’s perfectly legitimate because the Bible talked about it, particularly in the book of Romans to discuss Biblically and pastorally the reality that God has on some level chosen to pass over those who are not going to receive faith.

Moving on, Calvinism is too often associated with the doctrine of Predestination. It is believed at times that Calvin, and therefore, Calvnists or those in the reformed faith dwell overly long on the subject of the reprobates or who are the elect, etcetera. For Calvin, that is really not the case. He shares the doctrine with Luther and with others. Where Calvin differs with those in the reformation era though, is in his willingness to go to what he believes are the conclusions on God’s role, not only with the elect (those whom he has chosen, called, and redeemed) but also with those who are the reprobate (the non-elect). Calvin stands tall on the verse in Romans, Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.

We’ll stop here today to pick it up where we left off in the next article. Do let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Credit: Ryan Reeves.

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Comments (04)

  1. Debby
    March 29, 2023

    Well, the fact that they agreed on the doctrine of Predestination is enough for me. Lol

  2. Paul
    March 29, 2023

    Although, they may have slight differences in their theology, I still love both.

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