Leave It To Dever



There is plenty of brouhaha over Mark Dever’s recent 9Marks posting. First a Bird named Mike takes up fish not exactly in the spirit of Icthus. He complains that credo-baptist Dever shouldn’t speak so terribly about paedobaptists like us. Then Dever huddles. In the course of self-defense he rushes to make sure everyone knows that he knows that paedobaptists are smart, useful, handsome, and believing. Well thanks. Then Scott Clark points out that Dever’s hard credo-words about baptism are actually quite welcome to paedo’s the likes of him. Clark wonders what is actually more offensive, Dever’s original message that paedobaptists paedobaptism is sinful or the low sacramentalism which is so ubiquitous.

I am not given much to the so-called “culture of offense.” Everybody is always “offended” about this or that. But the right answer to Clark’s question has got to be that low sacramental views are indeed quite frustrating. They are for me. I’ve never known what to make of the modern creature known as the Baptist who wants to be considered “Reformed,” nor the Reformed penchant for making him feel welcome by lending out the term “Reformed” without so much as any sort of collateral. One answer may be the shared low sacramentalism. After all, western Christianity has known of three major schools: Romanism, Protestantism and Radicalism. The Baptist wants nothing to do with Romanism, a lot of Protestantism but also a healthy helping of Radicalism. Likely, the historical Protestant and Radical wouldn’t really know what to do with this fellow, much the way Gomarus and Arminius wouldn’t know what to do with he who calls himself a “3 or 4 point Calvinist or Calminian.”  But we have made relative peace with him, because we have accepted the notion that there are Romanists and then there is everyone else–if one is not Catholic he must be Protestant. Radical theology and practice should be allowed to be appended to Reformed systematics. The upshot is that the magazine of a confessional Presbyterian denomination (ByFaith, PCA) employs something like Baptist Dever’s “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” over against the conventional three marks laid out by the confessional standards. Yes, low views of the sacraments are indeed very frustrating.

Ironically, the effort to make sure everyone knows the other guy is counted amongst the brethren smacks a bit of nurturing the low views. After all, who said that the other guy wasn’t a valued member of the broader community? All either side of the baptism divide are saying is that one view is wrong and another is right, one comports with Reformed Protestantism and one has much more of a home in Anabaptism. Nobody said anything about the other guy worthy of personal disparagement. And, I can’t be sure, but does the rush to stroke imply that we should all learn to get along and let this quibble over the sacraments go the way of unspoken, albeit staunchly held, differences? One test might be to ask if such warm fraternal words are extended the Roman Catholic even as we tear apart his Romanism. In other words, why is the Roman Catholic a “Roman Catholic” and the Baptist a “brother”?

Nevertheless, while I think Clark makes a good point about not being offended but in fact encouraged by Dever’s high views, I still fidget in my seat a bit when I read Dever’s original post, but not for the same reasons Mike Bird does.

Consider that in his list of taboos he simply cannot endure “racism” immediately precedes paedobaptism. This is odd. One hears this sort of thing in the wider world all the time: “mean people suck.” I agree, but what is a mean person? What is racism? And what exactly does Dever mean that he cannot abide racism? Are there people who actually say that they think racism is a good idea? What a sufficiently vague notion to reject. One might as well say he cannot tolerate rudeness, or bad decision making, or, um, laziness, yeah laziness. And since sinners are such highly compromised creatures perhaps Dever is saying he cannot abide the likes of me? After all, I consider myself racist, can be rude, make at least two bad decisions every day and have always had trouble with what I consider laziness. And what about sexism? If racism can make the list as repugnant does sexism mean that is one he can live with?

Whatever troubles attend heroically listing racism as icky, right on the heels of racism is paedobaptism. That’s curious. Maybe this is at least some of what gets peoples’ goats. Again, I’m not much for whininess and pleading offense. But it might be that ranking paedobaptism with such proximity to racism is not exactly the height of wisdom. I’m as opposed to credo-baptism as he is paedobaptism. But I hope I‘d never make the careless mistake of ever implying that such a misguided theology as credo-baptism was indistinguishable from that culturally induced phantom called “racism.” If nothing else, it tends to really irritate people.

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47 Responses to Leave It To Dever

  1. Very well said bro!

  2. Zrim says:

    Cool outfit, Vic. Is that a real sombraro? Just today my daughter and I were in the Dollar Store and I kept pushing her to get one. She didn’t.

  3. D G Hart says:

    The funny thing about tolerating the low views is that many of the Reformed types who are close to Dever have no time for Lutherans. So the default is Baptist, not magisterial Reformation. What’s up with that?

  4. Zrim says:

    Bada bing, Darryl, bada bing. Insert dumb-founded shrug on my part here.

  5. GAS says:

    It is a strange article. He mixes a couple of important doctrinal issues with things like drums and organs.

    That’s what you get with a decentralized structure without a strong archetypal foundation.

    It’s a creational thing and whether this defect appears in the Church or Government it always leads to the tryanny of the masses.

  6. Zrim says:


    He mixes a couple of important doctrinal issues with things like drums and organs.

    Yes, that was another oddity to me as well. The more I look at the list the more it seems like a potpourri of things going on. It begins to look like the controlling principle is, “Stuff I don’t like,” which seems like it easily moves into, “Stuff you can’t do because you’re you.”

  7. Vic says:


    The more I look at the list the more it seems like a potpourri of things going on. It begins to look like the controlling principle is, “Stuff I don’t like,” which seems like it easily moves into, “Stuff you can’t do because you’re you.”

    Sounds like menopausal symptoms to me: Spontaneous bursts of irrationality intermingled with emotionality.

  8. Vic says:


    By the way, it is a sombrero along with bullet casings across the chest. 🙂

  9. Zrim says:


    What a difference a vowel makes.

  10. John Yeazel says:


    Now that was really funny. I especially like the lines: “And since sinners are such highly compromised creatures perhaps Dever is saying he cannot abide the likes of me? After all, I consider myself racist, can be rude, make at least two bad decisions every day and have always had trouble with what I consider laziness. And what about sexism? If racism can make the list as repugnant does sexism mean that is one he can live with?” If only more of us really understood how fallen we are- perhaps we could laugh at ourselves more often and our inherent narcissism could become annihilated in our lives. I find it popping up over and over again. It may help us to develop a more accurate theology too.

    Getting back to this Carlin issue and culture wars I was thinking a bit about that this weekend and came to the following conclusion. It has to do with how we define the word culture. I think there was an article in the last Modern Reformation which revealed how difficult it was to define that word. The major culture war takes place when we try to bring our biblical view of reality into the public square where a closed view of reality prevails and dominates ie., the metaphysical is unknowable or a fig newton of our imaginations (I stole that line from R.C. Sproul and look for situations I can use it). However, minor culture wars take place in such things as what we wear, how we cut our hair and how we wear our baseball caps. This all occurs within the context of culture and culture wars. So, there- that is my answer to your inquiry on the Riddleblog – “what do baseball caps and pony tails have to do with culture wars?” Anyways, we should avoid culture wars at all costs and look for ways to work the dialog around more significant matters.

  11. Zrim says:


    Talk of “culture war” can get pretty dicey. But sometimes it isn’t culture war but a clash of ideas, which really isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a hippie teasing a Republican or vice versa, which can be pretty funny when you appreciate stereotypes, don’t take yourself too seriously and actually understand what it means to be full of foibles.

    The bad thing is when the church thinks it has any stake in any earthly contest. Heads nod and faces smile when something like this is said (a lot like when the phrase the “separation of church and state” is uttered), but it is actually much harder to pull off when our default setting doesn’t really believe this. Here’s one quick test to see who is actually listening: Roe v. Wade is just another political problem that has various solutions, the pro-life movement is as subject to Calvinist scrutiny as any of its opponents and we should generally be minding our own business. Say that in a crowded narthex, or certain blogs, and any questions about the default setting will be cleared up pretty quick.

    Whoa, that’s sufficiently off topic.

  12. RubeRad says:

    fig newton of our imaginations (I stole that line from R.C. Sproul and look for situations I can use it)

    R.C. must have stolen it from me (or I guess he could have independently invented it)! I love that line!

  13. GAS says:

    Roe v. Wade is just another political problem


    that has various solutions,


    the pro-life movement is as subject to Calvinist scrutiny as any of its opponents


    and we should generally be minding our own business.


  14. John Yeazel says:

    “The bad thing is when the church thinks it has any stake in any earthly contest”- you are going to have to expand on that one. If I am understanding you correctly I think you are wrong and we do have some stake in some earthly contests. Like when the government intervenes and tells us we cannot meet together on Sundays to take communion or hear the Word of God spoken into our lives collectively. They did this in Germany after Luther died and Melanchthon gave in to pressure from Charles V (I think that was the Catholic politician who overthrew Frederick) to recant from some of his beliefs. So, to make a point blank statement like that to be all inclusive can be dangerous. We do have some stake in some earthly contests.

    In regards to abortion and gay marriage I am still not sure how necessary it is to fight for these things in the public square but I think I am coming around to your position on those issues. But yeah, I know what you mean- alot of people are more passionate about those issues then justification by faith alone and critical theological issues like that.

  15. John Yeazel says:

    See Zrim, you just opened a can of worms- oh, but that is not like you is it?

    RubeRad- I know, I always got a chuckle out of that- I hope you were kidding that he (Sproul) stole that from you. He probably stole it from somewhere though. I will have to ask him where he got that if I ever go hear him speak again somewhere. Or, perhaps you know him and can ask him?

    By the way, I love the bio’s of all the guys who write on the confessional outhouse- I can relate to how all of you finally came to reformational Christianity. It was a bizarre ride was it not? It was Horton’s Putting Amazing Back into Grace that finally convinced me. Also, I was going through a very difficult period in my life back in 1993-1995.

  16. John Yeazel says:

    It was Horton’s book that prevented me from giving up altogether on Christianity because I could not do what the Arminians were telling me I had to do. I had attended a non-denom Arminian. charismatic, revivalist type church that was very close knit for about 10 years.

  17. Zrim says:


    I didn’t open any cans, you did. I just went fishing for men.

    As to my shorthand, let’s wait until the government actually nails our doors shut, etc. For now, let’s consider things actually happening.

  18. Chris Sherman says:

    FYI- Fig Newtons of the imagination were popular at least as far back as the 70’s.

  19. John Yeazel says:


    Ok fair enough- your a goof as my brother often says to me.

    Chris- Now I will not get any rest until I find the origin of those fig newtons of our imaginations. Its not like I have other more important things to do which I keep putting off.

  20. John Yeazel says:

    Hey, I just ran across something you all who pop in at the outhouse might be interested in. At the White Horse Inn site R.C. Sproul did a book review of Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity. When you click on the Ligonier site to read the rest of the review to the right is a video interview that R.C. did with John Gerstner many years ago. I cannot believe how influential those two have been in my life. It is worth listening to- it reminded me of the recent interview Horton did with Sproul but Sproul is in Horton’s seat. It was fascinating.

  21. John Yeazel says:

    Maybe Sproul stole the fig newtons of our imaginations from Gerstner. Talk about a mutual admiration society but oh how much fruit has that relationship bore?

  22. Zrim says:

    Mmmmm, fig newtons.

  23. John Yeazel says:

    Okay Zrim what did you mean by that? Are we going to get into a dialog about Gerstner and Edwards? I do realize some of the difficulties with Edwards revivalism so do not go there. Scott Clark wrote thoroughly on the matter in his recent book. If I remember correctly I think D.G. Hart has also spoken of some of the problems with Edwards. Gerstner is a very powerful and intimidating personality. So, before I go on please reveal the mystery of Mmmmm, fig newtons.

    Sproul looks so dashing in that interview- he is an old and gray curmudgeon nowadays. I love this stuff. Is not that the way Gerstner looked? Like an old and gray curmudgeon? Did this not all start with Dever and Beaver and how handsome Dever is and how irrelevant that all is. The main point is that Christianity is rational and the primacy of order on the intellect. That idea will put you at odds with all those from the radical school of Christianity. Gerstner even talks about religious experience in the interview. I still think it was great stuff. Hey, he has influenced all you turkey’s who pipe in at the outhouse.

  24. Chris Sherman says:


    The origin of the fig newtons of imagination was in the garden of Eden, at the fall.

  25. Zrim says:


    I just like fig newtons.

    OK, if you want it to mean more than that, I suppose it was a passive/aggressive way to suggest how this post has gone off the rails.

  26. John Yeazel says:


    I was making an attempt to bring it all together- however, I am back and forth with other responsibilities so it was a haphazard effort. I certainly am not preventing others from bringing it back on course.

  27. John Yeazel says:


    I apologize for not keeping the dialog relevent to the post at hand. I enjoy reading what you have to say and the topics brought up on this site so I will try to be cognizant of that in the future.

  28. Zrim says:

    No worries, John. I don’t take blogs, myself or others too seriously. It’s just an outhouse.

  29. Chris Donato says:

    An experiential support of Dr. Hart’s comment up there:

    I once asked a young, respected Reformed pastor if he thought we (as in, we Reformed) were closer to Lutherans or Baptists.

    He responded without hesitation: “Baptists.” I about fell out of my chair, thinking this confessional compadre of mine would’ve stated the obvious. Very disheartening for an exiled Anglo-Lutheran like myself. And virtually unintelligible.

  30. Zrim says:


    Thanks for getting us back on topic. I admire your forearms.

    One of the things that gives me subtle but resonating pleasure is the triad in Hart’s histories. The confessionalists are always Presbyterians, Lutherans and Anglicans. Contrast that to contemporary dualities, “Reformed and evangelicals,” as those two have as much to do with each other as the previous three. Odd.

    Experience for experience: the first quarter of my first year at a Baptist seminary was spent confirming I was not a Baptist. The second two quarters were spent trying to figure out if I was Reformed or Lutheran (which is not too unlike deciding between cheesecake and cheesecake with cherries). The last quarter was spent getting my transfer in order to a Reformed seminary.

  31. Zrim says:


    Speaking of dessert and Reformed/Lutherans, I was just recently invited to join Horton Friday night for sundaes up the street. Given your suggestion to me over at OldLife about substance use and it having special qualities condusive to warmer Reformed conversations in ways other substances may not, what do you suppose gives with his suggestion? Do you think he might be light in his loafers?

    Kidding, I love being passive/aggressive. It’s the best thing in the whole wide world. Even better than sundaes.

  32. John Yeazel says:

    “The second two quarters were spent trying to figure out if I was Reformed or Lutheran (which is not too unlike deciding between cheesecake and cheesecake with cherries).”

    The more I try to find differences between confessional Lutherans and confessional Reformed the more I see that the differences are very minor. I think the Lutherans err more in how they represent some of the Reformed views then vice versa. Since there are a wide variety of Refomed views however- it can get confusing. If you stick closely to each others confessions though you do not find critical differences. They are mostly just semantic differences and looking at doctrines from different semantic angles. The wording may be different but the ideas behind them are pretty much the same. They both adhere to the exact same doctrine of justification by faith alone. They may have some differences in how they look at the two natures of Christ which may be significant but I have not looked into that issue that deeply yet but plan to do so one day.

  33. RubeRad says:

    Well then, I offer you a pain-free way to examine the Reformed/Lutheran Hoagies & Stogies debate on Real Spiritual vs. Physical Presence in communion. Or if you prefer reading instead of .mp3, OHS Mike Brown has blogged his basic argument.

  34. Zrim says:


    Like I suggested to St. Brown at his house, it isn’t as if there aren’t differences, even those that rise to the level of stark and give one pause for consideration.

    But my point is that, taken as a whole (I’m such a a big-picture guy), the Baptist reminds me of that old Sesame Street bit, “One of these kids is doing his own thing, one of these kids just isn’t the same.” I appreciate his sacramental theology to the point of actually naming himself after it (Presbies might be said to do the same with their eccleisal theology), however misguided it is. But “Reformed, Lutheran and Anglican” are terms that suggest a systematic or organic program. That alone suggests more similarity to me.

    Here’s a question that’s been on my mind but nobody takes up. If the modern age can produce the creature known as the (credo) Baptist who can claim Reformed orthodoxy without much protest, why not a (paedo) Communionist who does the same? Or is that what CREC is all about?

  35. John Yeazel says:


    I have and I do not see that as a critical difference- although many Lutherans do. This may be related to the two natures of Christ and how Lutherans and Reformed view this issue. I am looking into that as we speak but it will probably take me awhile to come to any conclusions on the matter.

    Maybe you can explain to me what difference it makes for the forgiveness of sins (or more accurately sin)- the spiritual or physical presence? Is not that the reason we go to the communion alter each week? To get our sins or sin forgiven? It is a matter of semantics to me but I certainly may be wrong. Maybe the spirtual presence just gets our sins where the physical presence goes to the root of the matter and gets our sin too. That is why Lutherans are in a better place than you Reformed types. I am just kidding and trying to put some humor into the debate. It may not be a humorous matter but that is the way I am lookin at it now. And again- I may be wrong.

  36. GAS says:


    Lutherans are synergists. Chew on this quote from Van Til.

    How and for what reason does the individual Christian feel himself to be in genuine contact with the Christ, and therefore with God? Whence does the individual Christian have the assurance that he is in possession of the Truth? The Ritschlian doctrine of a subjective satisfaction on these points without an objective foundation has never entered the minds of the Reformers. If they think they have eternal life, it is based upon the presupposition that an absolute God exists and has revealed himself in Christ and in the Scriptures.

    Lutheranism did not as fully as Calvinism rid itself of the remnants of Scholasticism. Herzog calls attention to this when he says that Luther’s attack was not directed squarely against the paganism that was found in the church of Rome, but against the legalism that was its fruit.
    The truth of this may be seen from the Lutheran conception of the image of God in man. In opposition to Rome, all the Reformers held that the image of God was no mere donum superadditum, but was inherent in the nature of man and therefore of pivotal significance for knowledge. But Luther, in distinction from Calvin, thought of the image of God in man as existing exclusively in the moral attributes of knowledge, righteousness and holiness. He ignored the conception of the image of God in the wider sense, i.e., as consisting of man’s intellect and will. It should be carefully noted that this conception of the image of God in man as entertained by Luther is a remnant of Scholasticism. We saw that the reason for the Scholastic doctrine of the image of God as a donum superadditum, was that the Scholastics had not fully cast out the pagan leaven of an originally existing sense world. Man was in part formed out of this pre-existing material which was refractory. Accordingly, not the whole of man’s relationship as a self-conscious being was with the personality of God. In other words, man’s relationship to the world about him was not completely mediated through the personality of God. There was a remnant of impersonalism about it all. Similarly, we find that there is a remnant of impersonalism in Lutheran thinking. Luther thinks it possible that God’s dealings with man can at some points be below the level of personal dealings. This appears clearly from the fact that according to Luther, the fall of man resulted in his being impotent, in the sense that he was to be treated by God as a stone or a block. In his argument with Erasmus on the bondage of the will, Luther not only argues for man’s ethical inability as such, but virtually implies that man’s relationship to God after the entrance of sin into his heart has made it necessary for God to deal with man mechanically. Luther’s early teaching on predestination verges on the borderline of philosophical determinism. Then too, this same impersonalism appears from the fact that according to Luther, the means of grace, i.e., the Word and the sacraments, work, to some extent, mechanically. This impersonalism that is found in Luther’s position call be traced, we believe, to a remainder of the Scholastic notion that there are some vague impersonal principles that have an influence on man’s being. A completely Christian theistic epistemology can allow for no impersonalism anywhere along the line of the transactions between God and man.

    The same element of impersonalism comes to the fore still more clearly in the fact that historically the semi-determinism of Luther developed into the synergism of Melanchthon. This is a very controversial point. The point is not controversial in the sense that it may be doubted whether synergism actually was taught by Melanchthon. This point is conceded by all. The point of controversy is whether or not this synergism of Melanchthon is to be understood as an advance toward a greater emphasis on a personal relationship between God and man. Speaking of this, Benson says that Melanchthon made a great advance toward personalism because he clearly distinguished between God’s work in relation to the physical creation and God’s work in relation to his rational creatures. This judgment of Benson has a plausibility, but no more than a plausibility. There was, to be sure, in the synergism of Melanchthon an emphasis upon the fact that man’s intellect and will must be taken into consideration when the relation of God to man is discussed. Luther had almost forgotten this. Yet, when taken in its ultimate effect, synergism does not work in the direction of a greater personalization of the relation between God and man. Synergism takes for granted that there can be no truly personal relation between God and man unless the absoluteness of God be deified in proportion that the freedom of man is maintained. Synergism assumed that an act of man cannot be truly personal unless such an act be unipersonal. By that we mean that according to synergism, a personal act of man cannot at the same time, but in a different sense, be a personal act of God. Synergism assumes that either man or God acts personally at a certain time, and at a certain place, but that they cannot act personally simultaneously at the same point of contact. In other words, synergism holds that personal activity on the part of man must always be at the expense of the personal character of that which surrounds him. This might seem to be an innocent matter as far as the universe around us is concerned. Yet the danger is very great, since the depersonalization involved does not limit itself to the material universe. It extends itself logically to God. And even if it does not at once and clearly oppose the personal activity of God, it remains a fact that there is always a tendency in synergism to hold on to some of the remnants of the Greek idea of a universe, in some sense of the term, independent of God. If nowhere else, the synergist at least extracts his own activity from the personal activity of God at some point of time. And just to that extent he has depersonalized God.

    Van Til, Cornelius, The Works of Cornelius Van Til, (New York: Labels Army Co.) 1997.

  37. John Yeazel says:


    I will have to chew on that for awhile. My first reaction was this- this is a bunch of conjecture hashed from secondary sources. VanTilism bred Christian Reconstruction- are not Reconstrunctionist views of sanctification synergistic to the core? Perhaps I am misunderstanding what Van Til means by synergism. Synergism in respect with justification by faith alone or synergism in regards to something else? Or, just how God relates to man and the universe in general? This is not a real clear puote and anyone could interpret it a thousand different ways.

    I will go back and reread this as some of it went over my head. I am not a seminary trained theologian. Some of the terms I was not sure of- like donum superadditum. The theology I have developed has come mostly from the confessions and reading well-respected Reformed and Lutheran theologians (both contemporary and from the past). As Scott Clark posted to me the other day it is always best to develop your theology from primary sources.

  38. GAS says:


    Van Til is difficult because he writes with such dense theological and philosophical terminology.

    In essence, the Lutherans still hang onto a final thread of autonomous human action in their relation to God.

    Some have described Lutherans as single predestinarians.

    It is also for this reason that the Sacraments are “mechanical” in their view.

  39. John Yeazel says:


    I would tend to disagree with your notion that Lutherans hang onto a “final thread of autonomous human action (single predestinarians).” If I am not mistaken the Van Tilians also accused Gerstner and Sproul of this very thing in their apologetics by attacking their primacy of order on the intellect saying that our reason is never autonomous and you have to presuppose God (which Gerster and Sproul showed to be a circular argument in their book Classical Apologetics)

    Lutherans claim that the scriptures do not give any hint of double predestination and that the Reformed assume this because it is logically tenable. Lutherans say it may be logically tenable but we really do not know from what scriptures teach that God condemns some to eternal separation from Him. So, how do you arrive at the conclusion that single predestination leads to a final thread of autonomous human action? Lutherans would claim it is a mystery and a paradox which is part of God’s hidden will which we should not conjecture about.

    As far as the Sacraments go I still am unclear on this issue. I think it has more to do with the two natures of Christ rather than a mechanical view of the sacraments. I think this is conjecturing more from philosophy than theology. But again, I am not a trained theologian and I may be wrong here.

    The question I always ask is this doctrine really critical for how I come into a relationship with God and how it is maintained? Do you see a critical difference? I would say the sacramental differences may be critical but I am unclear on that at this point in my life.

  40. John Yeazel says:

    I should say- how God instructs us in His Word to maintain the relationship. God Himself being the maintainer of it (the perseverance of the saints). The perseverance doctrine may be another critical difference between the Lutherans and Calvinists. But like I said on the blog between the Hoagies and Stogies I put this into the Barthian category of an impossible possibility ie., the possibility that one who has come to true faith may fall away. My thinking may be a bit unclear on this matter also. However, from what I have read of the Lutheran and Reformed positions it seems like more semantics than anything else. As Rod Rosenbladt says you have to work on falling away quite hard for it to actually take place. Whether that is proper theological thinking is a mystery to me. I have never asked Rod or heard him give a detailed explanation of what he means by that or what he basis that on.

  41. John Yeazel says:

    There has been an ongoing debate on the steadfast lutheran site regarding the differences between Calvinists and Lutherans- I just saw this post today; it is relevant to our discussion:

    Here is my fiance (Luther scholar and Ph.D. Marquette in systematic theology) on the Luther as Calvinist question:
    The person he disagrees with in point one is me! 🙂
    “Calvin and Luther on Predestination.

    A. I would not agree with you that it was not an issue yet and therefore as a discussion it was anachronistic. There had been a debate in the West about double predestination going back to Augustine and Prosper of Aquataine. Also, the debate heated up during the Carolingian Renaissance between a number of figures.

    B. Calvinists who think that Luther taught double predestination on the basis of Bondage of the Will do not understand how the dialectic of Law and Gospel- and the dialectic of Hidden and Revealed function in Luther thought. A couple of distinction should be made to show how this work.

    Calvin and Zwingli were both trained in the Via Antiqua and therefore had the Scotus “Univocity of Being” and the Thomistic “Analogy of Being” in the background of their thought. For Thomas there is dialectical similitude between temporal rationality and divine. For Scotus, words when applied to God mean exactly what they mean when applied to creatures. Therefore the divine being can be picked apart using human categories (hence his very complicated divine psychology and explanation of the order of divine decrees which makes its way into Reformed debates regarding infra and supralapsarianism of the 17th century!). Therefore revelation gives us a foothold into the divine being which we can pick apart with reason. Furthermore, the creature can “ascend” into the divine being and know it because it is echoed in it’s temporal manifestations.

    For Luther, a student of Biel and Ockham, the primary distinction is between God’s absolute and ordered power. The absolute power of God is what God can do, the order power of God is what he has done. What God could do is inherently uninteresting to Luther, what he has done and is doing in the concrete is what is interesting.

    Hence the dialectic of “Hidden” and “Revealed.” What God has done is actualized his relationship to the world according to two temporal orders- Law and Gospel. In the Law, God works all things in his wrath. He does so through mediums of the created order- parents, teachers, police, governments, terrorist, earthquakes, fires, Devil, Hell, etc. If I look for God there, then I will find a God who eternally wills my death. This is reality, not an illusion. God doesn’t just appear to will my damnation in these things, he really does. The God I find in the revelation also judges, but he does so for the sake of my salvation. As he reveals himself and offers himself in Word and sacrament, he wishes all to be saved. This is not an illusion either. He really, really does will all to be saved as he is present in Word and sacrament. Furthermore, Luther states in many many places (including several hymns) that this is God’s true heart- that is, what is most fundamentally true about God.

    This is why the divine being is fundamentally “Hidden.” “Above” the God who wants to save us and the God who doesn’t there is the unity of God’s eternal reality. We cannot know this reality, as Luther says at the end of Bondage of the Will, except in “light of glory.”

    Here we see the difference between Luther and Calvin on the issue. When Calvinist read Luther’s statements that the “Hidden God wills the death of sinners” they are reading Calvin willingness to ascend into the divine being through reason into Luther. Luther allows God the revealed God offered in the Gospel to be completely sincere without resolving God’s action elsewhere in the “mask of creation” with it. In other words, that God elsewhere damns, while offering grace in the gospel in a completely sincere manner is totally inexplicable for Luther- much as the existence of evil is!

    Calvin believes that there is a continuity between temporal manifestations of God’s will and the creature’s ability to read them off the state of the world. God may be incomprehensible to Calvin, but not “hidden” in the sense of Luther.

    Therefore, Calvin can “see” that because some are saved and some not, that God does divide the human race between the saved and the damned in his eternal decree. Since some who hear the Word are damned and because God wills some to be damned, it must mean that God as he is “offered” in the Word is not entirely sincere. Therefore “God so loved the World…..” or “God wishes all men to be saved….” cannot mean what they say- whereas for Luther these statements are absolutely sincere since they are part of the Word whereby God offers himself to sinners.

    For this reason, instead of focusing and distinguish between different temporal actualizations of the divine being (law vs. gospel, hidden vs. revealed), Calvin draws the creature into the divine being in itself, away from the Word and offer of God’s self in the gospel. Now, my own certainty about salvation is based on the eternal divine decree and whether or not I manifest signs of election (faith, participation in the sacraments, good works) and not the external actualization of the promise in the Word and the sacraments. This leads to what is typically called Calvinism’s “practical synergism.” One looks into the divine being and tries to justify one’s self through seeing whether one’s own works are signs of election. One ends up trust in those “signs” and not the divine promise of God. Even faith is a kind of work, in that it is something that I look to within myself as a sign of election, and not as something which receives the absolutely sincere promise of God as it is actualized in the Word and sacraments.”

    Comment by Bethany — March 24, 2009 @ 8:43 am

  42. GAS says:


    Bethany is a good nominalist but we see the fruits of nominalism in the post-modern world and it’s not very realistic. I’ll stick with realism.

    The crux for Bethany, as it was for Luther, was an assurance of a mechanical working through the sacraments. False arguments are brought out about Calvinists needing to find assurance in their works but this is just a misinterpretation of the Calvinist doctrine of gratitude something which is wrought out of the assurance of salvation.

  43. John Yeazel says:

    Okay, this is all about as clear as mud. How you came to those conclusions from what was said above is beyond me. I do not think we are truly hearing each other at all. We are supposing things a priori and then putting words in each others mouth. Something is very eschew here and I am not sure what it is yet. But I am more confused now then I was before I started trying to understand the differences between Calvinists and Lutherans. Perhaps the differences are much more severe than I thought. That Van Til quote was bizarre- I have always been suspect about Van Til since the Reconstructionist movement came and went. There was enormous amounts of confusion in that movement. I am out of my realm of understanding now and am treading on waters that I am not familiar with or trained properly for.

    I am also unclear what you mean by a mechanical view of the sacraments. Does that mean impersonal or what? Just because the Calvinists insert the working of the Holy Spirit in the Super it is personal and not mechanical? In my experience of taking communion each Sunday at the LCMS Church I go to it is anything but mechanical- it is the most personal and intimate part of the liturgy. It is God coming down and nourishing us spiritually in forgiving us of our still inherent sin. To call it mechanical is offensive to me. And I do not think what you say has any merit in the truth of the matter.

  44. GAS says:


    I wasn’t striving to be offensive. I could deconstruct Van Til’s analysis but I’m not sure we should be clogging up these guys blog with an off topic subject.

    I also think you should be careful with your assigning to Van Til the whole of the Reconstructionist project. They took Van Tils strong reliance on the Word as the norm for all knowledge but left out Common grace. It would be similar to me saying that Lutheran theology is the cause of Kant or Scheillmacher(sp) or Kierkegaard or Barth or Hitler.

  45. John Yeazel says:


    I did not mean to be combative- I realize we are trying to understand each others positions and you are right we are probably taking up too much space here. Perhaps we can take the debate to another site or continue at another time. Taking offense was the wrong word- it is clarity which I am seeking and I am getting more confused. And it is probably my fault not yours- not that we are trying to find fault in each other. I am trying to arrive at a more clear truth that’s all. Best regards, John Y

  46. igasx says:

    Hey John,

    If you are still out there I started a blog and began deconstructing Van Til.


  47. John Yeazel says:


    I’m there- let’s continue this argument until we reach a conclusion. As I always say, someone is always more right than someone else in an argument. Both may be wrong but never are both right.

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