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"Why Luther is not quite Protestant" by Phillip Cary

"Why Luther is not quite Protestant" by Phillip Cary

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Published by akimel
In this article Dr Cary compares Luther and Calvin on the nature of saving faith.
In this article Dr Cary compares Luther and Calvin on the nature of saving faith.

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Published by: akimel on Mar 04, 2008
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01/30/2014

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Phillip Cary, Ph.D.
 Pro Ecclesia
14/4 (Fall 2005) 447-486
Why Luther is Not Quite Protestant:The Logic of Faith in a Sacramental Promise
John Calvin honored Martin Luther as a pioneer of the Reformation, whose work wascompleted by those following after him who were not so entangled in the old ways of themedieval church.
1
Ever afterwards many Protestants have regarded Luther as not fullyProtestant, certainly not as consistently Protestant as Calvin. This is a reasonable judgment.There are a number of points, most prominently in his sacramental theology, where Luther iscloser to Catholicism than the Reformed tradition ever gets.
2
This of course makes Luther ecumenically very interesting, a possible bridge between sundered territories of the Christianchurch. For one who is not fully Protestant may by the same token be less one-sidedlyProtestant.Against a background of extensive agreement Calvin diverges from Luther in ways thatcan be described as narrow but deep, like a small crack that goes a long way down. The crack widens in later versions of the Reformed tradition as well as its offshoots, such as the Baptist andrevivalist traditions. A useful mark by which to locate this widening crack is the doctrine of  baptismal regeneration. If an American revivalist could ask Luther whether he was a born again
1
See Brian Gerrish, "The Pathfinder: Calvin's Image of Martin Luther" in his
The Old Protestantism and the New
 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).
2
See David Yeago, "The Catholic Luther" in
The Catholicity of the Reformation
, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W.Jenson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996). The precise extent to which Luther can and cannot be called "Catholic" isclearest in comparison with medieval Catholicism, but this of course decisively affects any comparison withcontemporary Roman Catholicism.
 
2(i.e., regenerate) Christian, his answer would surely be: "Of course I'm a born again Christian. Iam baptized."
3
Someone who gives such an answer does not think a decision for Christ or aconversion experience is necessary in order to be a Christian. It is enough to be baptized as aninfant and then believe what you are taught, for instance, in a catechism. Hence it is notsurprising that there is no revivalist tradition native to Lutheranism, much less to RomanCatholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, all of which teach baptismal regeneration and practice infant baptism. There are particular complexities in the story of the Reformed tradition, whichtypically practices infant baptism but does not teach baptismal regeneration. But beginning withthe Reformed tradition Protestantism has been characterized by a soteriology in which thedecisive moment of passing from death in sin to life in Christ is not baptism but a conversion tofaith that happens once in a lifetime. This is a departure from Luther, based on a fundamental but seldom-noticed divergence on the doctrine of justification. Whereas all agree that one is born again only once in a lifetime (either in baptism or in conversion) for Luther 
 justification
is adifferent matter: it is not tied to any single event but occurs as often as a Christian repents andreturns to the power of baptism.
4
For as we shall see, Luther's doctrine of justification by faithalone takes shape in the context of the Catholic sacrament of penance, where justification occurswhenever true penance does.
5
In this regard Luther is not quite Protestant enough to believe that justification happens only once in life.
3
It is a regular part of Luther's pastoral advice to urge people who doubt whether they are Christians to remember their baptism and appeal to it. See Luther's
 Large Catechism,
in
The Book of Concord 
, ed. T. G. Tappert,(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), p. 442 (henceforth Tappert);
 Luther's Works
(St. Louis: Concordia andPhiladelphia: Fortress Press, 1955-1976) 12:371, 35:36 and 36:60 (henceforth LW); and Luther,
 Letters of Spiritual Counsel 
(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), p. 122 and 133f (henceforth
Spiritual Counsel 
).
4
The alien righteousness by which we are justified before God "is given to men in baptism and whenever they aretruly repentant," according to the 1519 sermon "On Two Kinds of Righteousness," LW 31:297.
5
See, e.g., Thomas Aquinas,
Summa Theologica
III 85.6 ad 3 (henceforth ST). For Thomas the justification of theungodly is an brought about by the remission of sins, which occurs in penance (ST I-II 113.1).
 
3Except when theologians fail to pay attention, there is always a tight fit between theology,church practice and the shape of Christian experience. Practice and experience fit together, for example, in that the practice of teaching children what to believe results in a very different formof Christian experience from the practice of teaching them that they are not believers until theychoose to be. Of course the latter also involves teaching children what to believe (e.g., they aretaught what it means to choose to believe) and the former does not eliminate the possibility of choice (for one can refuse to believe what one is taught). Nonetheless the two forms of Christianexperience are quite different, both for the children and for the adults they become. Thedifference in experience and practice cannot be understood, however, without clarifying thedifference in theology—and in particular, the underlying difference in what I shall call the logicof faith. Hence in what follows I will begin by correlating Christian experience and church practice with syllogisms representing the logic of faith—as I am convinced that logic, emotionand life are intimately bound up with one another, especially in Christian faith. My aim inconnecting experience and practice to logic is not to reduce one to the other but to show as precisely as possible why Luther is not fully Protestant—and in two senses: first to clarify thelogical difference between Luther and more consistent Protestants such as Calvin, and then toindicate what pastoral motives led to this difference.My argument is that Luther's understanding of the power of the Gospel depends on aCatholic notion of sacramental efficacy, which places salvific power in external things. Withoutsuch a notion Protestantism cannot sustain Luther's insistence on putting faith in the externalword alone, but must rely also on faith itself (i.e., on the fact that I believe) as a ground of assurance, especially in the face of anxieties about predestination. There is a conceptual trade-

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