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Where are all the Lutherans?


Are you aware of Mike Reeves' new book on the reformation, The Unquenchable Flame


Mark Dever says about it:


'With the skill of a scholar and the art of a storyteller, Michael Reeves has written what is, quite simply, the best brief introduction to the Reformation I have read.'


How about that?!  You can check out all the wonderful resources surrounding it on Theology Network.


Anyway, in the book Mike makes the point that there were no Lutherans among all the refugee theologians who came to England (something still felt today in the almost total lack of Lutheran flavour to English evangelicalism, which has always been much more Zwinglian and Calvinist). p129

That seems to me to be a very great loss.  Take for instance Luther's advice to a friend, Jerome Weller who suffered great bouts of depression:

Whenever the devil pesters you with these thoughts, at once seek out the company of men, drink more, joke and jest, or engage in some other form of merriment. Sometimes it is necessary to drink a little more, play, jest, or even commit some sin in defiance and contempt of the devil in order not to give him an opportunity to make us scrupulous about trifles. We shall be overcome if we worry too much about falling into some sin.

Accordingly if the devil should say, “Do not drink,” you should reply to him, “On this very account, because you forbid it, I shall drink, and what is more, I shall drink a generous amount.” Thus one must always do the opposite of that which Satan prohibits. What do you think is my reason for drinking wine undiluted, talking freely, and eating more often if it is not to torment and vex the devil who made up his mind to torment and vex me? Would that I could commit some token sin simply for the sake of mocking the devil, so that he might understand that I acknowledge no sin and am conscious of no sin. When the devil attacks and torments us, we must completely set aside the whole Decalogue. When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satis­faction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.”


Compare Luther with Zwingli - here's Mike on p69:

Luther believed that when Adam sinned and was declared guilty, the entire human race became, as it were, ‘clothed’ in his guilt; but when we turn to Christ we are ‘clothed’ in his righteousness. Zwingli, on the other hand, believed more that we each become guilty when we actually sin, but that Christ makes us righteous in ourselves. Luther’s idea that believers are at the same time righteous (in status before God) and sinful (in heart), did not really figure in Zwingli’s mind.


Where can I get me some sweet draughts of Lutheran liberty??


0 thoughts on “Where are all the Lutherans?

  1. Tim V-B

    Seems to me that good Lutheran preaching inevitably ends up with the sweet, justifying grace of God in Christ.

    In other words, they take Titus 2:15 and 3:8 seriously and stress "these things", namely our glorious salvation, returning to this time and time again.

    Also seems to me that a hefty proportion of evangelical preaching ignores Titus, and only mentions the justifying grace of God when it appears explicitly in the particular text being studied.

    (For evidence, witness the unease many conservative evangelicals have with Tim Keller's preaching).

    Do go and buy Mike's book. It's a great read!

  2. Martin Downes

    My first instinct, on reading your question, was to say "probably down the pub." But I now realise that my initial response was not the one you were looking for.

  3. pgjackson

    UK evangelicalism not Lutheran enough? Huh, never really thought about it I guess. Don't know Luther or Lutheranism well enough to really know if that's true (my ignorance maybe demonstrates that it is!).

    I guess I'd always got the impression that certainly when it comes to the law there is plenty of 'Lutheranish' thinking around and not much Calvinism. Though I suspect that's more to do with the influence of Sydney than Wittenberg.

    Your quote from Mike about Zwingli puts him at odds with Calvin as well as Luther though doesn't it? And, as I've experience it, UK evangelicalism too?

  4. Marc Lloyd

    Yeah, I tend to agree with Pete. English Evangelicalism out-Luthers Luther in the worst ways: O how I hate your law etc.

    We need more of Luther's bold sinning retiring to the tavern to allow the Word to do its work Reformed living! A Calvinism with something of Luther's spirit, perhaps?

  5. Glen

    Ok why don't we try a quid pro quo labels scheme for this discussion. Anyone's allowed to call anyone else 'antinomian' if they own the label 'legalist' for themselves. And anyone can characterize an opposing view as 'Oh how I hate your law' as long as they call their own: 'The law is the end of Christ.'


  6. Marc Lloyd

    Glen, perfectly happy with that as long as we are able to say "in what sense"! We are after all saved for good works according to the Royal Law of Christ and so on.

  7. Dave K

    Hmm... I think you could be underestimating the Lutheran influences. It has always gone under the radar as there haven't been many self-identified lutherans around, and the Reformed tend to have a greater sophistication and depth to their theologies which adds to their attraction.

    Early in the English Reformation I think Lutheran writing had some degree of influence and you see that in things like the BCP and 39 articles. While the Reformed then made all the running for a while, I think there were a lot of Lutheran influences (particularly Lutheran pietism) in the 18th century Evangelical Revival.

    And via the (worldly) strength of German theology in 19th and early 20th century Lutheran ways of thinking continued. The New Perspective could be seen in some ways as a English Reformed rebellion against this and could also mirror the shift in power from German to English-speaking theologians we have seen recently (mainly due to money and numbers).

    So while the Reformed influences are dominant, I wouldn't say there is a 'almost total lack' of Lutheran influences.

    As for where to go... I would recommend Luther above the rest. To mess with Alfred North Whitehead's famous phrase: 'Lutheranism consists of a series of footnotes to Luther' in a way few other traditions do to their leading theologians. Not that I know but the place to go for contemporary Lutheran theology is probably the Lutheran Quarterly: You soon see the same names crop up in there and they have a series of books many of which of the sample I have read seem quite good ( I am loving Oswald Bayer's book 'Martin Luther's Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation' and would recommend that to anyone who has done a fair degree of Lutheran reading already. More introductory would be 'The Genius of Luther's Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church' by Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, or 'The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals' by Gene Edward Veith. Or if you want biblical studies try 'Christ Our Righteousness' by Mark Seifrid (a Reformed-Lutheran-Baptist! - trained in Germany significantly).

    Still I would tend to say that most contemporary Lutheranism isn't as good as the original vintage. I don't know whether Dave made a slip on purpose or not, but I would join Mike Reeves in his charge for Lutherism more than I would a charge for Lutheranism.

    Anyway, at least celebrate that of the Reformed people read Calvin over Zwingli. Calvin loved Luther a lot more than Zwingli, and so even mediated through him there is a fair amount of influence.

    Sorry for a probably overly serious and opinionated comment!

  8. Glen

    Opinionated is the air we breathe here Dave. More, we cry. More. I was waiting for you comment and you didn't disappoint. Thanks for the tips!

  9. Marc Lloyd

    Yes, it is good to hear from someone who at least sounds like they know what they're talking about, isn't it!?

    I just blogged on "why I am a legalist"! Huh!

  10. pgjackson

    Thanks Dave K.

    I'm not going to call anyone antinomian or legalist, if that's alright with everyone? Am I still allowed to comment here?

  11. Dave K

    I felt a bit guilty last night as I was going to sleep. My housemate glories in generalisations and sweeping statements and I probably did the same in my comment. Half of what I said may be totally untrue! I certainly don't know enough about the English Reformation or 18th century Evangelical Revival to make such comments even if I think they may just be right.

  12. Michael

    Sorry to resurrect an old thread but it caught my attention!

    Doesn't this risk falling into asking, "are we to continue in sin that grace may abound"? In Paul's words (rom 6), "By no means! How we who died to sin still live in it?"
    This is the quote that is bugging me, "Would that I could commit some token sin simply for the sake of mocking the devil, so that he might understand that I acknowledge no sin and am conscious of no sin."
    I get the fact that we are completely liberated from the law and from religion, but that doesn't mean that we should sin more that grace may abound, or that we should sin as if this somehow mocks the devil.
    Yes, we should mock the devil by showing our freedom from the law, but that doesn't mean actually going out of our way to sin, surely?

    That said, I do completely agree with what Luther said about righteousness and Adam and all that. Reading some of Wright's writings definitely gives me the impression that he's been reading too much Zwingli and not enough Luther on that count.

  13. Michael

    Also it seems to prove too much.
    I may just be taking a piece of rhetoric too seriously or something, I dunno.
    But still, by that logic if the devil says 'don't lust', should I lust after a woman in order to mock the devil? Of course not!
    I'm not going to decide how I live and act in reaction to what the devil is doing and saying, but to what God is doing and saying.
    Also when it comes to even seemingly trivial things as drinking and eating, Jerry Bridges really challenged me in his book, "Pursuit of Holiness" to think about that in a completely different light. Not in a law way, but in a grace-filled-pursuit-of-holiness way. Not sure if you've read it (I absolutely loved it) but he basically says that it is nigh on impossible deny the flesh's desires when it comes to, say, lust, if we are giving in to the body's carnal desires on all other 'trivial' matters. If we make a habit of just falling to our body's lusts and wants, then it will be almost impossible to break out of that habit in one particular area such as lust. He gave the example of ice cream. There is nothing wrong with ice cream, in fact it's a wonderful thing which we can enjoy because of God's grace. But if every time my body craves ice cream, I just get up and satistfy that craving without any fight, then that habit will seep into lust as well. Getting the spirit of grace-fuelled-righteousness, whilst ice cream is a great thing, it can be a harmful thing for some of us if we make a habit of giving into the body's desires in a way that makes it harder for us to resist lustful temptations.

    So clearly we're not saying, "don't eat ice cream". What we are saying is, "don't give into the flesh's desires without self-examination/reference to God's grace".
    We're not building up a law morality by saying that it is wrong to eat ice cream, but reminding ourselves that in the battle against sin we have to be careful about how we might end up using good things for bad ends, ie giving into lustful desires.

    I've found that a much more helpful way of seeing things such as food and drink compared to what Luther says about token sins, but I might be taking myself too seriously at this point ;P

  14. Glen

    Hi Michael,

    Yes, take into account 1) there is rhetoric at play, 2) this is a letter to a scrupulous worrier and 3) Luther's sentence beginning "Would that I could commit some token sin..." seems to capture Romans 6 beautifully. Remember Paul doesn't say "You really ought not to sin" he says "you can't". Luther takes that very seriously in this sentence.

    Moralism completely misses the point of Romans 6 - we have been baptized into Christ and the old man *has* died. Not "should" die, but die.

    If Luther was alive, I don't think he'd race to recommend "Pursuit of Holiness" ;-)

    Your sentence about "self-examination/reference to God’s grace” is the heart of the problem. In what sense do we refer to God's grace? Does God's grace means God's grace or does it mean a candy coated cattle prod?

    I think if Luther came across someone spending their time scrupulously avoiding ice cream he'd write exactly this kind of letter to them again. And I think he'd be right to. :)

  15. Michael Baldwin

    Hey Glenn, thanks a lot for your reply!

    And lol! Maybe he wouldn't race to recommend but John Piper, J I Packer, Charles Colson, R.C. Sproul and John Macarthur probably couldn't have given the book more praise than they have!
    Have you read it?
    Btw please keep in mind that I am not at all knowledgable on any of this and I am genuinely raising the things that led me to that conclusion in my comments above. Would be really useful for me if you could point out which steps in that were misguided, but if you don't have time I understand!
    Bridges rejects the notion that Christians are incapable of doing anything towards holiness. Of course we rely on the Holy Spirit and the power of God, but we also study the Word, pray, avoid sin, and think carefully about what we’re doing. Isn't it the case that every time we are tempted with sin, God gives us the means with which to resist the temptation (1 Cor 10:13). Therefore in each instance of temptation, by God's grace we can and ought (in a moral sense) to obey him. Have I gone wrong so far?

    From this, it clearly does matter when we disobey God. There is no radical disconnect between who we are and what we do. Whilst how God sees us (ie as his children) is not at all dependent on what we do but on Christ, we still have a responsibility to act in accordance with who we are. It's not as if, because Christ has covered our sins, therefore our sins in the body don't matter. Of course they matter, and so we should be looking to see how we can grow in sanctification and obedience to God.

    Haha I never said that anyone should spend their time, "scrupulously avoiding ice cream"! I said ice cream is a great thing which we can enjoy. I did say that it might not always be a good idea to be greedy and follow the flesh's desires and lusts every time it strikes, with no account of self-control at all. Self control is, after all, part of the fruit of the spirit. We should enjoy ice cream whilst not allowing our sinful desires to control us, right?
    And if we make a habit of resisting the body's desires and lusts, whilst still being able to enjoy those things, how much easier will it be to submit in obedience to God and still enjoy the blessings he gives us? Not eating ice cream because I'm controlled by my body's desires and I literally cannot resist, but because I am free to enjoy God's blessings.

    I may have gone wrong along the way somewhere but hopefully you can see a bit better how I got there!

  16. Glen

    Hey Michael,

    Some of my thoughts on this issue are in my recent post here:

    I have read Bridges (though it was 10 years ago) and I don't have it to hand at the moment.

    In these kinds of discussions Bridges and the people who have endorsed his book use the language of "by God's grace" and "by the Spirit" and "not by the law" and "in response to Christ's work" and they make many protestations that they're "not being legalistic." But a person can use all of that language without the radical nature of this gospel actually shaping their pastoral theology. It's always good to stop and ask yourself "What actual difference does 'by God's grace' make to this theology of sanctification?" And "Is this concept of God's grace the Catholic one of infusion (the Spirit in us), or the Protestant one of imputation (Christ for us)." Perhaps you've heard Mike Reeves speak of the Catholic understanding of grace as like an adrenaline shot that helps you go and live the godly life. I like to put it in terms of David and Goliath:

    The bread that David brings does help the Israelites when it comes to plundering. But he may as well bring poison if he doesn't actually bring the victory. Grace is not fundamentally about David's provision of sustenance *to* the troops, it's His aingle-handed victory *for* the troops. And to encourage the troops you don't say

    "Ok people - David has done his bit. Now it's down to our bit. But don't worry, I'm not being legalistic, because look he's given us some bread and we'll do it through his sustenance. Anyway, back to the real focus - YOU and YOUR combat techniques..."

    Instead, if you want to encourage joyous, zealous plundering Israelites it's not about their abilities to overcome the Philistines, it's not about their combat techniques, it's not about them "doing it like David" - it's about David having done it for them. The more we placard his finished work, the more the people will shout for joy and go over the top.

    Change that happens "by the Spirit" is fruit - that is, it's the organic outflow of our union with Jesus. The Spirit communicates Christ-for-us in the gospel and as that gospel bears fruit in our lives holiness bubbles out.

    There can be all sorts of preaching for holiness that only produces works of the flesh. We can see it in Catholic theology and we anathematize it. But it can easily show up in "protestant" preaching too. And it shows up everywhere the preacher says "Yes we're saved by grace but also we have work to do." The Catholic uses the language of grace and gospel and 'by the Spirit' too. And they aim to get a balance between God's efforts and ours. The protestant trumpets the great alone statements of the reformation knowing that on the other side of a radical dependence on Christ alone comes the *fruit* of His Spirit. And more joyful, Christlikeness lies on the other side of those "alones" than any "balancing act" could ever produce.

    So pursue holiness. But what is Christian about our holiness? What is protestant about our holiness? Lots of people want to be better. Lots of people want to be better Christians. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. *We* must pursue the holiness that comes from going deeper *into* the gospel of Christ - and avoid those theologies that see the gospel as the "launching pad" for holiness or the "adrenaline shot".

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