Lutheranism and Calvinism: What and That v. How and Why
I grant that generalizations can be unhelpful; namely, they tend to over-simplify what obviously are matters of great nuance and deserving of long and careful study and explanation. It does strike me as I consider much of the conversations I’ve read between Lutherans and Calvinists boils down to a critical distinction between our respective theological points of view, our Weltaunschaung, as it were. And, again, at the considerable risk of over-simplification, it seems to me that it comes down to this: Lutheranism tends to focus on the “what” and “that” of the God’s Word, whereas Calvinism tends to move more toward answers to “how?” and “why?” In a certain sense, Lutheranism is more about declaration and proclamation of what has been revealed by God’s Word, but Calvinism wants always to move into an explanation of the “how?” and “why?” of Scripture, from a metaphysical or philosophical point of view. It strikes me that often Calvinism appears to be more concerned with answering questions posed by finite human understanding, than in asserting the “what” and “that” of Scripture. Add to this a disturbing and disquieting focus more on the “sovereignty of God” and less on the man Christ Jesus, His grace and mercy and you have in place a “system” that appears to me to be more about resolving logical conundra than in asserting the Gospel of Christ. Many former Calvinists have mentioned this to me and all tell a very common story around these points.
Let me illustrate my point and provide some examples.
The doctrine of Election: Lutheranism holds in tension the Bible’s teaching that all who are saved are saved only by grace, alone, apart from any works of the law: no “decisions for Christ” no “acts of will” no “choosing to beleive.” We are saved only and completely by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. We are saved entirely as an act of the merciful God and only through the blood of Jesus which cleanses us from all sin. Calvinism wants to answer the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” And, historic/classic “five point” Calvinists answer that the “solution” to this “riddle” is that God, from all eternity, as a sovereign act, chooses some to go to hell and others to be saved and be in heaven. Arminianism, a reaction to Calvinism, went to the other extreme and teaches that God foresaw those who would choose to believe, and so those are they whom God saves. Lutheranism refused to solve the “riddle” and answer the question “Why some, not others.” It holds in tension God’s grace alone and also salvation by means of faith alone.
The doctrine of the Real Presence: Lutheranism asserts that the Word of Christ that “this [bread] is [is] my body [Christ's body]” is a statement of what and that. It is His Body, it is given for us to eat and to drink. Calvinism rejects this believe and predicates its position on trying to answer “how” and “why” type questions about the Lord’s Supper. It anchors its position finally in a philosophical/logical premise that the body of Christ can not be present under bread and wine, and therefore, Christ is not talking about an actual real, physical presence of His resurrection body in the Eucharist, under the elements of bread and wine.
I wonder what you think of this? Here is an older blog post I put up several years ago that speaks to these issues a bit further.
I found the quote that follows these remarks to be a helpful insight into Calvinist thinking on the Lord’s Supper. My quick response to their “how” question about our Lord’s human nature is simply this…how was it possible for the Risen Lord to suddenly “appear in the midst of them” among His disciples on Easter? What was His human nature doing after the Resurrection? Was it omnipresent with Him? Or was Jesus hiding out until the Ascension? How did His human nature ascend? Or what about the Transfiguration? It seems that was a pretty amazing event for His human nature, a foretaste of what was to come during His glorification? How is God able to create everything out of nothing? How is a Virgin able to conceive? How is that some are saved, and not others? So man “how” questions! Finally, how is it that Christ fills all things, and yet, not, apparently, according to the Calvinists with also His human nature, which is forever joined to the divine nature, see Eph. 4.
A desire to provide a “logical” explanation to these “how” questions is really Calvinism’s downfall. Again, you notice how the “system” is all important for Calvinism. Whatever doesn’t square with it is out. There is a reason old John Calvin said, “The finite is incapable of the infinite” and by saying that he thereby effectively, if they are going to be consistent, excludes the Incarnation to begin with!
My “exegetical warrant” for the Lutheran confession of the Supper, is, and remains the words that ever stand sure. The words of our dear Lord Christ, “This is my body.”
Link: Triablogue. Here is the quote. By the way, I let them know I’m not a “Dr.” but it is a nice thought. I informed them that I’m waiting for a honorary doctorate, the only really Christian one, received by grace alone, apart from any works:
Can Dr. McCain construct an explanation regarding how exactly the human nature of Christ is present “with, under the bread and wine” of the Lord’s Supper and still be His human nature and fully human? After the Resurrection Christ is depicted as being glorified, able to appear and reappear mysteriously, have an incorruptible body, etc., but there is still continuity with the original body. “Illocality” is not depicted of Him in Scripture. When He is present in the room in His incarnate, resurrected body, He is truly bodily present. Nobody orthodox has ever disputed the notion He is always present in His divinity anyway.
One would have to divinize the human nature in order for his assertion about the elements to be valid. Glorfication is not “divinization.” That is classic Apollinarianism and Monophysitism and Greek piety, not Scripture speaking.
Where does Scripture affirm that Christ’s human nature is present in such a manner? To say that Christ’s humanity is present in the elements divinizes His human nature and further restricts it to the elements at the Lord’s Table, so His humanity shares ubiquity with His divinity with respect to the elements at the Table, yet omnipresence (ubiquity) means God (in all 3 Persons) is present everywhere. Think about that for a moment. How can His human nature be in two places at once, specifically in the elements injested at the Lord’s Table, and Christ be fully human? Approaching this from the other direction, how can His human nature share in the divine ubiquity, which means God is everywhere, and be localized only in the bread and wine? You have to create a special category of ubiquity for Christ’s humanity and the communication of attributes in order to accomodate such a view. I’m sorry Dr. McCain, but you need an exegetical warrant for that.
Lutheran theology tries to get around this by saying His human nature is “illocal” in the Eucharist. The problem is this: It’s not really illocal in this view, it is clearly localized in the elements and in heaven; that’s two specific places at a single time, a fly trapped in amber across two levels of existence. Thus, not only is Christ with respect to His human nature in heaven, He is present on earth in the elements in time when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. That makes his human nature subject to time as well as spatial constraints on earth as well as heaven. That’s one reason why Calvin rejected the notion of ubiquity of Christ’s body in the elements; it involves too many equivocations on the nature of time and space and what and does and does not constitute localization that necessitate extra-biblical ideas and doesn’t appear to be supportable from Scripture. Calvin stakes out a position between that of Luther and Zwingli.