Luther and Calvin on Predestination (Church History) 5 [Finale]
Hi everyone! What’s good‽ 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
Calvin stands tall on the verse in Romans, Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated. He says this opens up the question that we have to ask: why did God not choose everyone to salvation? Again, like so many in the reformation era, Calvin’s conclusion is that God in is infinite wisdom and mercy is not to be held to our standard as to why he has not saved everyone. He points out elsewhere that, of course, the only alternative to the idea that God was not somehow choosing or passing over those whom he chose to save is to either embrace a universal salvation that God is somehow saving everyone or tp embrace the idea that somehow God is unable to save everyone and He lost a few along the way.
So, unlike Luther, Calvin is willing to stare that in the face and is willing to deal with the authority problem of what is called theodicy or the problem of evil; why is there evil in this world, why has God not put it all to rights immediately, and why those God allow those who are evil people to continue even to their own damnation. His conclusion is more pastoral than it might seem. Calvin’s concern primarily with this doctrine of Predestination is not so much determining who is the elect. Calvin never goes there. He does not believe it is within our jurisdiction to do so, he does not affirm that it is within our capabilities to determine such, rather he says only God alone knows.
However, for Calvin, it is more about confidence in the pristine word and in the Gospel. He affirmed that if a pastor preaches and, let’s say hypothetically, half come to the Gospel and half do not, the question has to be asked, “what happened, why did the half that did not come to salvation fail to respond positively to the Gospel?” And Calvin’s answer, resting entirely on Romas 9, although there are other scriptures as well, is that God has chosen at this point not to save. Now, one of the things people miss here, of course, is that some allege that for Calvin, this makes you entirely incapable of sharing the Gospel; the old frozen /chosen mythology.
The idea that some of those who embrace some level of understanding of the doctrine of Predestination somehow sit back and say, well, I am elect, God will save whom He saves, it doesn’t matter. Calvin doesn’t see it that way, he argues from start to the end of his life that the doctrine of Predestination can be discussed as a locus of the discussion of the Christian life. we have to say if I have faith, if I exhibit this, I can rest confidently on the fact that God has saved me. I am not about my own salvation here. The Christian life is hard, sanctification is piecemeal. So, we can all sit back and say if I am not seeing sanctification with the speed, with the quality that I expect it to be in my life, God is about me, long before I was about Him.
God has chosen me, therefore, I can rest assured in that reality. My conscience is not terrified, trying to determine if I am one of the elect, but rather, if I see the exhibition of faith at all in my life, I can know that it wasn’t put there by a figment of my own imagination. When it comes to evangelism, when it comes to the preached word, when it comes to missionary work, we might say in the modern world, Calvin actually will argue that the doctrine of Predestination under guards that call to ministry. In a strange twist, Calvin in many ways is the farthest from the frozen/chosen school of thought than you can ever imagine. For him, it’s not up to the preacher, it’s not up to my faithfulness for the Gospel to go forth, rather he says, I can preach, I can teach, I can tell anyone, no matter how seemingly far off the might be, about the Gospel because God is the one who saves. and he is hopeful and optimistic that God works through the ordinary means of the preached word in the ministry of the Church.
Conclusively, Luther and Calvin in a strange way share many of the same principles on the doctrine of Predestination. Where they differ though is in their application of it. The former is ever really hesitant to ever really talk about this doctrine in any capacity, other than to say, you did not save yourself, instead, he will argue on justification, on the terror of the law and on the Promise of the Gospel. So established, Luther never really liked to talk about the doctrine of Predestination. Calvin on the other hand, is open to talk about the doctrine of Predestination. He did talk about it. He loved for it to be a part of our ongoing conversations about the Biblical witness. This has created a trajectory in different directions.
We see this worked out in the legacy of Lutheranism on the one hand and the legacy of the Reformed faith on the other. Lutherans until this day are entirely hesitant to talk about the doctrine of Predestination and in some cases, they all deny vociferously that they share much if the same doctrine that Calvin does. The Reformed Faith, by and large though, those who rest in large part of the teachings of Calvin, as well as others are not frightened away from the discussion, In some ways, they’ll even talk about it just as often as they want. It is for this reason, frankly, that the doctrine of Predestination has, perhaps, become, in some ways, wrapped up entirely as part of the Reformed tradition. Although so many of the reformers taught this doctrine and believed it, it’s in the application of this doctrine that we see a split, a change of direction, and that change is in many ways still in effect.today.