Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mystery and Nonsense (Discussion of Quiz Question)

By nonsense, I am not referring to something with which we disagree and therefore call nonsense. I mean “nonsense” in a narrower way; I mean true non-sense, something incoherent, something that simply has no meaning. A square triangle is nonsense. The question of whether God could create a stone too heavy for Him to lift is meaningless.

What renders these examples and other things meaningless? They are self-contradictory. When you come across a theology that contradicts itself and, worse, makes Holy Scripture contradict itself, this (besides being highly irreverent!), is simply where somebody’s theory has broken down. It isn’t revelation, since what is allegedly revealed is in fact unintelligible. It isn’t Christian teaching, since Christ Himself is God’s intelligible, articulate Reason, the Logos, in the flesh. His religion will never be absurd, never irrational, never meaningless; these are the very antithesis of Who He is. Self-contradiction then, with emphasis on “self”, is the hallmark of nonsense. (It’s perfectly okay if Christian doctrine contradicts secular reasoning. What is NOT okay is if alleged Christian doctrine contradicts *itself*, for Truth does not contradict itself. God is Truth. There is no contradiction in God. God is One.)

There are, as I’ve already noted in a comment, some people who consider it virtuous to accept contradictions of Scripture by Scripture. But in fact, to do so is thoroughly self-defeating. Observe what it does: the moment you begin accepting any, real or apparent, contradiction of Scriptural teaching, even if it is a contradiction of Scripture by Scripture itself, you immediately unravel, indeed repudiate, the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura. You make Sola Scriptura perfectly, 100% meaningless. Far worse (for one who isn’t a Sola Scripturist, as I am not), you also undo Scripture itself as any kind of authority, much less the ultimate one. Why? Because if we suspend the rule that whatever contradicts Scripture is error, then how do you measure error? Scripture then becomes anybody's and everybody's tool. Satan can quote Scripture against Scripture, and does.

Every heretic comes armed to the teeth with Scripture to contradict other Scripture. Sometimes the heretic tells us to accept the contradiction; other times he tells us the contradiction he preaches is only apparent. Whose contradictory interpretation ought we to believe? On what basis shall I accept or reject any given person’s contradiction of Holy Scripture? Why should I even accept my own or my denomination’s contradiction in preference to someone else’s? The basis for the Sola Scripturist’s whole religion is undone!

Mystery, in Christianity, is when something is revealed (not hidden) that goes far beyond anything we can possibly understand conceptually. The Incarnation, for example, is a Mystery. It is not self-contradictory and doesn’t contradict anything else in Christian doctrine, so it is not nonsense. It may seem very strange, highly unlikely, etc., but it is not incoherent. It is Mystery because we can form no idea of how Divine and human natures could be united in one Person, Jesus. We cannot imagine how the Formless One takes form, the Creator of space and time comes and dwells within space and time. We have no clue, and until quite recently no science at all, to help us understand how a virgin can give birth – and to a male child, at that. (Parthenogenesis in frogs produces sterile female offspring.) There is no explanation for how the things what we have heard and seen and known can be. Moreover, the meaning of the event may also be too deep for words fully to express, although our deepest selves (which are also Mystery, by the way) know the meaning.

The Resurrection, likewise, is a Mystery, not because the teaching contradicts itself or anything else in Christian teaching, but because we cannot begin to understand how God has done away with death as we had known it, and has transfigured it into another venue of His own Presence, and a passage into greater Life.

The sacraments are Mysteries, because we do not know how the bread and wine come to be for us the Body and Blood of the Lord, or how the Holy Spirit sanctifies the baptismal waters so that they become for us our second womb, from which we emerge as new persons, grafted into Christ, all our sins, as it were, washed away, the hellfire within us cast out.

Mystery is not darkness, but as someone wrote (Lossky, I think), Mystery is inexhaustible Light. That is, Mystery floods our consciousness with new awareness, but, although our hearts embrace the deep meaning, it is more and deeper meaning than words or thoughts can ever know what to do with. You could write volumes on it and never exhaust its meaning. This, in contrast to nonsense, which by definition cannot give us any meaning, even if the words that couch it sound good on the surface.

("There are some people," I said to one not versed in theology, "who believe that before the world began, God chose who would be saved. He did not, however, choose who would not be saved."

(She thought about that a moment, then wrinkled her nose and asked, "What does that mean?"

("It doesn't; that's the point.")

When neither you nor anyone else can figure out the “how” of things, it’s probably Mystery.

When you know the "what" of something (like who you are or your love for your children), but there aren't words to express it, that, too is probably Mystery.

If you and I don’t understand the “what,” but nevertheless an explanation exists that resolves the matter, that’s only an apparent contradiction, not a real one.

When nobody has ever resolved it (because it is a square triangle), that’s a real contradiction. That's nonsense. Avoid that.


William Weedon said...

Just to be clear: if you were talking about the teaching of the Lutheran Church, I do not recognize it in your characterization here. Our teaching about election is really best summarized in the little Saxon Visitation Articles:

1. Christ has died for all people and, as the Lamb of God, has borne the sins of the whole world.
2. God created no one for condemnation, but wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Therefore, he commands all to hear His Son Christ in the Gospel. By the Gospel He promises the power and working of His Spirit for conversion and salvation.
3. Many people are condemned by their own guilt who are either unwilling to hear the Gospel or fall from grace. This happens either by error against the foundations of grace or by sins against conscience.
4. All sinners who repent are received into grace, and no one is excluded, even though his sins were as scarlet. For God's mercy is much greater than the sins of all the world, and God has compassion on all His works.

We specifically reject the following:

1. Christ died, not for all people, but only for the elect.
2. God created most people for eternal condemnation and is unwilling that they be converted and saved.
3. The elect and regenerate cannot lose faith and the Holy Spirit and be condemned, even though they commit great sins and crimes of every kind.
4. Those who are not elect must be condemned, and cannot attain salvation, even though they are baptized a thousand times, daily go to the Lord's Supper, and also live as holy and blameless as ever possible.

What is particularly missing in your formulation is the vital: "in Christ." FWIW.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

If Lutheranism teaches that
God desires to save all, and alone has the power to save all, yet He does not save all, how is that not a square triange? If He chooses who will be saved, but not who will be damned, how is that not a contradiction?

There are plenty of Lutherans who say it is, and even glory in that contradiction, including these:

William Weedon said...

The reason the triangle isn't round or square or whatever, is because of God's eternal choice not to use coercion in the salvation of mankind. He offers a gift, and with the gift, the fullness of salvation, and the gift is for all and is in Christ for all, and the power to receive and believe the gift is offered to all. Those who resist and reject the gift are rejecting their election in Christ.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...


So salvation depends on the decision to accept Grace? How does this differ from "decision theology" which so many Lutherans vociferously condemn?

How does it square with the doctrine that we cannot contribute anything to our own salvation?

When you say some people reject their election, that implies they were originally among the elect. Is that what you mean to say?

s-p said...

Hi Anastasia and Fr. William, I guess I took Anastasia's "challenge" in a more general sense rather than the specifics of Christian theology.
In one sense one man's "Mystery" is another man's "nonsense", but somewhere down the line a mystery and nonsense are an attempt at an explanation of something far deeper like in the case of creation: it is a mysterious fact to both the atheist and the Christian, but whose "mystery" explains the fact most elegantly and satisfactorily without becoming nonsense is the question, really. (My recent podcast on "Fairy Tales" on Steve the Builder" addresses this). Beyond this it is a competition of mythology and religions of whose "mystery" is nonsense and whose might be Truth. Within Christian theology, we've all accepted the "mystery of God and the Gospel" in general, but when we come down to the specifics of dogma, as Anastasia points out, everyone comes to the table armed to the teeth with Scripture and explanations of how to reconcile all the ones that seem like nonsense or contradictory or are "mysterious", even the Orthodox. However it is not the scriptures themselves that we're often arguing about, but hermeneutical principles with assumptions that may or may not be able to be "proven" with Scripture, but are asserted as Truth, then crowbarred into the system or framework that is supposed to elegantly make it all hang together into a coherent and comprehensible picture. But most often that fails and its only those who accept the assumptions of their system that can make sense out of the picture they are presenting. So discussions like these often get tangled up in the sticky and tangled web of systems, assupmtions and scriptures which fold back in on themselves over and over again and become more and more opaque and we're at the same place we were when we started: MY system looks mysterious to me and it Truth, YOUR system looks like nonsense. At some level it becomes a matter of faith, not syllogism, and Mystery opens into the life in Christ and personal transformation and "Fruit of the Spirit".

William Weedon said...


Notice, you changed the passive into active and therein lies the diff between my Church and the decision theology folks. It is an exact parallel to birth, which is why our Lord evoked the parallel, I believe. I CANNOT decide on my own to be born; to be given life; but I can receive the life I was given and rejoice in it and live it out. Alternatively, I can reject the life and throw it away.

The election is IN CHRIST. He is the Book of Life and ALL are written in Him; for salvation is ample both in its achievement and in its bestowal to redeem every child of Adam. Ken Korby once said: "You know, it's kind of hard of get into hell. The only way in is to trample on the blood of God's Only Son." The refusal of God's gifts in Christ is what damns and the only thing that does so; and it does so not because God is then REALLY ticked off at you, but because the only LIFE there is is in Christ Himself.


I couldn't agree more.

Pax Christi!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Wait a sec, william, hold on!

You wrote: "...the power to receive and believe the gift is offered to all. Those who resist and reject the gift are rejecting their election in Christ."

Are you now telling me that not resisting and rejecting the gift is *different* from accepting it?

If so, how?

And again, how is this different from Decision Theology?

And how does not resisting or rejecting (= accepting!) the gift differ from contributing something to our own salvation?

And again, did you mean some of those ultimately damned were originally elect?

Hi, s-p! Yup, I did mean to be writing in more generality, but the doctrine of Single Predestination did spark the post. I think it's not the only contradiction I've seen people embrace, however. It's just, right now, I can't remember the others.

William Weedon said...

I am saying that the accepting of the gift comes not from any native human powers, but from the gift itself. When our Lord awoke Lazarus, Lazarus did not "decide to accept" the new life, but nonetheless he DID receive it. It came to him as gift.

Those who reject the gift put themselves OUTSIDE of Christ - in whom alone we are elected.

If you look at election outside of Christ as a thing unto itself, you will never understand what we teach about it. We don't see it apart from Christ. We see it IN Christ. "He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love."

Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Weedon wrote:
Our teaching about election is really best summarized in the little Saxon Visitation Articles:

I'm surprised to read this from you, since Election is thoroughly treated in the Book of Concord.

Pastor Weedon wrote:
The election is IN CHRIST. He is the Book of Life and ALL are written in Him; for salvation is ample both in its achievement and in its bestowal to redeem every child of Adam.

I think you mistakenly left a part out. The Book of Concord, Epitome XI reads:

"4. The predestination or eternal election of God, however, extends only over the godly, beloved children of God, being a cause of their salvation, which He also provides, as well as disposes what belongs thereto. Upon this [predestination of God] our salvation is founded so firmly that the gates of hell cannot overcome it. John 10:28; Matt. 16:18. "


"6. But the Word of God leads us to Christ, who is the Book of Life, in whom all are written and elected that are to be saved in eternity, as it is written Eph. 1:4: He hath chosen us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world. "

So it is not that all are written in Him, according to Lutheran theology, but only those who are to be saved in eternity. It sounds like you are confusing God's general counsel with His election. Who are the elect? According to the Book of Concord it is only those who are "godly, beloved children of God."

To regurgitate what I was taught by the professors at the Fort Wayne Seminary, only those are saved that are chosen for salvation by God before the foundation of the world. This choice lies in the secret counsel of God, where man's questioning has no access. The security of man's election is to be sought in the Word of God. Those who are not saved have only themselves to blame. The eternal election of the saved is determined before the foundation of the world, but it is enacted in time through the Word and Sacraments. The point of this doctrine, for Lutherans, is to bring comfort: your faith in Christ rests upon what God accomplishes for you and in you, not upon your worthiness, and it cannot be overthrown by the world.

Or to quote J.T. Mueller, LCMS dogmatician, "The doctrine of election may be summarized in the [sic] words: Election is the eternal act of God with respect to all who are saved, by which, out of pure grace and for Christ's sake (Praedestinatio gratuita et libera est), He purposed to endow them in time with the spiritual blessings of conversion, justification, sanctification, and preservation unto life eternal. This definition embraces all divine truths which Scripture presents in connection with the doctrine of eternal election" [Christian Dogmatics, p.585].

He's quite thorough about what is and what is not the LCMS teaching on election. I could go on for a while.

Pastor Weedon, is your view of election another reshaping of Lutheran theology, like that General Council stuff from Pastor Hall's blog?

William Weedon said...

Dear Ben,

I don't know if it's a reshaping or not - I hope not. Yes, the Formula treats in detail the election, but always as "in Christ" who is the "Book of Life" and those who are elect are those who are found in Him and there is room in Him for all - this is clearly Lutheran teaching, no?

Piepkorn writes: "The controversy which rages among Lutherans in North America between 1872 and 1925 was particularly virulent and served mainly to underscore but one facet of divine election, namely, that it is solely God's gracious action, without consideration of anything meritorious in the chosen person. In fact, that controversy was more about synergism, human cooperation in the work of salvation, than directly about divine election. As a result, the literature of some strains of American Lutheranism seems to content itself with the affirmation of this one point, omitting the evangelical, Christo-centric thrust of the Formula of Concord and underplaying both the comfort which the doctrine intends to offer and the impulse it gives toward faithful and effective use of the Gospel and sacraments within the context of the church. Similarly, some catechetical literature which makes use of the biblical image of the 'Book of Life' in this connection, fails to make the identification of that Book of Life with Christ and his Gospel, in whom and from which people learn of God's gracious election." (Profiles, p. 75)

He earlier had summed up the Lutheran Symbol's teaching under these points:

1) God's counsel and purpose to redeem humankind and to reconcile all human beings with God through Christ's innocent obedience, suffering, and death;
2) To communicate these merits and benefits of Christ through his Word and the Sacraments;
3) To be present with His Holy Spirit through the Word preached, heard, and meditated upon, and to be active in us to convert us to true repentance and to enlighten our hearts with genuine faith;
4) To justify all those who accept Christ in true repentance through genuine faith, to receive them into grace as sons and daughters and heirs of eternal life;
5) To hallow in love those whom he thus justifies;
6) To protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and their own flesh, direct them in his ways, raise them up when they stumble, and comfort them in cross and afflictions;
7) To confirm and increase the good work that he began in them and preserve it in them until their life's end, provided that they adhere to God's Word, pray diligently, remain in God's goodness, and make faithful use of the gifts they have received; and
8) to make those whom he has chosen, called, and justified eternally blessed and glorified in the life everlasting. (Profiles, p. 73)

He draws special attention to the proviso in #7 and ties it back to the earlier article (II) in which it is confessed that the baptized have a freed will and are to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. "We are in effect elected to a faithful and effective use of the means of grace."

Don't know if that clarifies or not, Benjamin, but that's where I am coming from on the topic. When I was at Seminary, Dr. Piepkorn's works were still held in highest esteem and we were regularly referred to them.

William Weedon said...

P.S. I mentioned in the previous discussion Acts 13. This is quite instructive. St. Paul tells the people of Pisdian Antioch that "through this man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins." When this word is contracted, St. Paul says: "It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you [the Jews], but seeing you put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we turn to the gentiles." And them we are told: "And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed."

St. Luke saw their believing on the Savior for the forgiveness of sins as a result of their election, and yet St. Paul is clear that it is not God, but the Jews who rejected the message, who judged THEMSELVES unworthy of eternal life.

Mystery? Indeed. But in Christ there are none who are not welcomed, loved, wanted, called and chosen; it is just that outside of Christ there can be no election.

Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Weedon,

Thank you for your reply. The material you quoted is very nice, and it begins to draw out what seemed glossed over in your previous comments: that Lutheran teaching on election includes that only those are to be called the elect whom God has chosen to save from the foundation of the world, and thus has effected their salvation from conversion to blessed eternity.

As you have said, all election is in Christ. And, as Lutheran theology in the Book of Concord and within the LCMS has taught, God has not elected all men to salvation from the foundation of the world, but only those who are actually saved in the end. Even though God desires all to be saved, even though He offers salvation to elect and non-elect through Word and Sacrament, two simultaneous realities exist in Lutheran theology concerning those not saved in the end:

1. They end up that way by willfully rejecting salvation;

2. God has not elected them.

Coupled with this article is the Lutheran teaching on the bondage of the will, which states that man is without the power to will that which is spiritually good, and that he cannot prepare himself for or cooperate in his own conversion. Thus conversion is considered a sole act of God. Of course, as Pastor Weedon aptly indicated, the baptized (i.e. converted) have a freed will and are able to cooperate with the Holy Spirit.


I'm trying out a new profile picture. I hope I didn't scare anyone :-) Rarrr.

William Weedon said...


I think Jacob's summary is nicely done:

All that is of God in the application of Redemption, is the fruit of God's election. But God's purpose has nothing to do with the unbelief and resistance, the sin and condemnation of men. God's Eternal Plan of Redemption has to do with salvation, and not with the destruction of men. It has to do only with the arrest of the processes of corruption that belong to spiritual death. Eternal death is the issue of man's election of sin, and his self-determination to sin. If no soul is saved except through God's purpose and work, according to this purpose, no soul is lost except by man's own preference for sin. Every resistance of offered grace, every inability to respond to God's call, all apathy in respect to spiritual things, comes from man's own powers, and not from God's purpose. Predestination is not a generic term with two species, one Predestination to Life, known as Election, and the other Predestination to Death, known as Reprobation. All Predestination is Election. Men are said to be reprobate, only as they are foreseen from eternity adhering to the Order of Sin and Death, and claiming for themselves the ability - which every man has - to exclude the saving grace of God. Thus, the Scriptural doctrine of Predestination, while claiming for God the sole glory for, and making Him the sole cause of, man's salvation, is most carefully guarded against all Fatalism, since every elect and regenerate man could, by his own will, be otherwise than he is, while it is alone by God's will that he is as he is. If the resistance of God's will, at all times possible in this life, had occurred or would occur, the Divine Omniscience would have recorded it from Eternity and he would not have been numbered among the elect, i.e., those who believe to the end.

Elements, p. 70, 71

Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Weedon, quoting Jacobs, wrote:
"If the resistance of God's will, at all times possible in this life, had occurred or would occur, the Divine Omniscience would have recorded it from Eternity and he would not have been numbered among the elect, i.e., those who believe to the end."

So something in man - i.e. his choice to not use his ability to refuse - helps determines his election.

Formula of Concord, Epitome XI, par. 20 rejects the following as an error:
"4. Also, that not only the mercy of God and the most holy merit of Christ, but also in us there is a cause of God's election, on account of which God has elected us to everlasting life."

William Weedon said...

No, you are making the same mistake that Anastasia was making. It is not a mathematical equation. Jacobs flat out denies ANY case in many for election. Do you believe that God sees something in you that causes Him to decide you are worth saving that another person lacks?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

William, I think your "in Christ" gloss only begs the question, as well as muddies the issue. The issue isn't what happens to those in Christ, it's how they and not others come to be in Him in the first place.

Once you're already in Christ, there is no longer any predestination, because Christ already is your destination. You've arrived. Christ is your heaven. You're in Paradise (although of course it's an infinite Garden, so you have only just arrived inside the gate, and have infinite depths yet to discover, depending upon how far in you come).

The issue is whether some people and not others come to be "in Christ" in the first place because God brought some there, but did not bring others.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Every resistance of offered grace, every inability to respond to God's call, all apathy in respect to spiritual things, comes from man's own powers, and not from God's purpose.

-- Jacob (is he authoritative for Lutherans?)

Isn't it so that in Lutheran doctrine, every person starts out this way, i.e., resisting? Yet God overcomes the resistance of some, because He is all-powerful to do this, and although He ardently desires that all should be saved, He nevertheless does not do this for others?

P.S.) An inability (to respond) is not a power. It's a lack of power.

William Weedon said...

Yes, all start out resisting. But our Symbols are very clear: "God does not force a person to become godly." FC SD II:60 "This moving by the Holy Spirit is not coercion." FC SD II:64

Salvation in Christ is offered to all as gift; but the gift can be refused and rejected. The gift has in itself the power to overcome that rejection, but it is and remains GIFT - and so is always rejectable.

What I think we've been dancing around here is what we call the crux theologorum: "why some and not others?" To this question the Scriptures do not provide a single answer. They provide on the one side the answer that those who are finally saved declare that it was entirely by God's mercy and grace and by no means on account of their own deeds or accomplishments. On the other hand, the Scriptures also teach that those who are lost are lost - NOT because God didn't wish to work in them repentance and faith - but because they persisted in rejecting His Holy Spirit's work.

William Weedon said...

I don't think the "in Christ" at all muddies the question. At least it seems to me to clarify it enormously. In Christ there is election - "He chose us in Christ from the foundation of the world." Take the "in Christ" out of the equation and you have something approximating Calvinism. Leave it in, and you have Lutheran teaching.

P.S. Jacobs is a respected theologian; it's equivalent, I would think, to an Orthodox citing Schmemann or Lossky. He's also author of a most beloved Communion Hymn that has found its way into all major Lutheran hymnals in English: "Lord Jesus Christ, We Humbly Pray"

Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Weedon wrote:
It is not a mathematical equation. Jacobs flat out denies ANY case in many for election.

That's great that he says he denies it. Yet he still says that in view of a choice people didn't make, God chooses to elect them. Lutheran election is not supposed to be in view of anything about man, except his need for salvation. The issue I'm raising with your presentation is not one of mathmatics. God chooses, and the 'why' is a matter that belongs to the secret counsel of God. To propose that election is determined in view of what man doesn't choose is to investigate the secret counsel of God. It's not a secret counsel if you know about it. So either your Jacobs quote errs by saying that election depends on something in man other than his need for salvation, or it errs by investigating the secret counsel of God.

Pastor Weedon wrote:
"This moving by the Holy Spirit is not coercion." FC SD II:64

This quote seems out of context the way you are using it. The paragraph you cited speaks of those who are already converted willing what is good, not the unconverted becoming converted.

Conversion in Lutheran theology is primarily a conversion of the will from enmity towards God to saving faith in Christ. This converted will simultaneously accepts grace and begins to will the good. So as Pastor Weedon aptly points out, Lutherans don't believe that God forces salvation on the unwilling. It's just that God converts the will of those He has decreed to convert from the foundation of the world.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

But again, "salvation in Christ is offered to all as gift" is an ambiguous statement the way you've used it. That's why it muddies the waters. It isn't the question at hand.

The issue I've raised has to do with those *not* in Christ (since none of us starts out "in Christ"). How about those who are still in what Lutherans think of as our natural, rebellious state? Does God or does He not offer *those* people, as a gift, the chance to come to Christ (be converted), as well as the ability to say yes or no to that chance? He must, or noboby would be saved, but what I mean is, does He offer these things to ALL of them? Or only to some?

I think that's what you mean by the crux theologorum, and I do not wish to dance around it. Let's confront it head-on: with regard to man in his allegedly natural state, does Lutheranism say God at least attempts to convert every rebellious one of them? or only some?

Benjamin Harju said...


Lutheran theology explicitly states that God offers all the redemption that is in Christ, by reaching out to all through the Word.

William Weedon said...


Jacobs explicitly rules out that election is caused BY our not choosing to reject; rather, we do not reject because of election in Christ.

That God does not coerce the will holds from the very instant of the will's being set free or being enlivened, no?


As Ben has said, Lutherans emphatically teach the universal will of God for salvation. There is no one whom He is not actively seeking to convert, justify and glorify through the operation of His Spirit via the Word.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

From the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod website, emphases mine:

So how do Lutherans answer this question? The answer is that Lutherans do not try to answer it, because (we believe) the Bible itself does not provide an answer to this question that is comprehensible to human reason. Lutherans affirm, with Scripture, that whoever is saved is saved by God's grace alone, a grace so sure that it excludes all human "action" and "choice" but rather rests on the foundation of God's action in Christ and his "choice" (predestination) from before the beginning of time. Lutherans also affirm, with Scripture, that those who are damned are damned not by God's "choice" but on account of their own human sin and rebellion and unbelief. From a human perspective, there is no "rational" or "logical" way to put these two truths together. Lutherans believe and confess them not because they are "rational" and "logical," but because this is what we find taught in Scripture.

38. To be sure, it is necessary to observe the Scriptural distinction between the election of grace and the universal will of grace. This universal gracious will of God embraces all men; the election of grace, however, does not embrace all, but only a definite number, whom "God hath from the beginning chosen to salvation," 2 Thess. 2:13, the "remnant," the "seed" which "the Lord left," Rom. 9:27- 29, the "election," Rom. 11:7; and while the universal will of grace is frustrated in the case of most men, Matt. 22:14; Luke 7:30, the election of grace attains its end with all whom it embraces, Rom. 8:28-30. Scripture, however, while distinguishing between the universal will of grace and the election of grace, does not place the two in opposition to each other. On the contrary, it teaches that the grace dealing with those who are lost is altogether earnest and fully efficacious for conversion. Blind reason indeed declares these two truths to be contradictory; but we impose silence on our reason. The seeming disharmony will disappear in the light of heaven, 1 Cor. 13:12.

I think these passages pretty well vindicate what I wrote in my post.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

And so do the comments here.

William Weedon said...

You say so, dear. You see, I recognize the teaching of my church in what you cited from the Synod's website. It declined to provide a single answer to the crux theologorum. It shares the weakness, though, that comes out of Predestinarian controversies here in the US of speaking of predestination apart from Christ as the Book of Life. That's what Piepkorn sought to keep the matter grounded in, and to point out the very pastoral implications of this which are not at all hard to understand: comfort to the sinner in the knowledge that God keeps us in grace through the Word and desires to give us perseverance in the faith until the end; warning to the sinner not to presume upon election for God preserves in faith to the end only those who continue in faithful use of His Word and Sacraments. That's something that's not nonsensical in the least.

William Weedon said...

FWIW, here's a critique that Piepkorn offered the faculty on the topic of election (especially with reference to the way it was presented in the Brief Statement):

By way of preface, my interest in God’s eternal prescience and election is practical (FC XI, Ep, 16; SD 12), not speculative (SD XI:13,91).
My concern is the accurate reproduction of the position of the Lutheran Symbols, in particular Article XI of the Formula of Concord, and the Biblical basis that the Symbols are interpreting.

Article XI does not propose to answer all our questions about this article (SD XI:53, 64, 93).

It warns us repeatedly against prying into God’s hidden counsel (Ep XI:6; SD XI:13, 26, 33, 52-53, 63-64, 70)

We can discuss the issues of this article legitimately only “in Christ, who is the Book of Life” in which we are to seek our eternal election (Ep XI:7, 13; SD XI:13, 65-66, 70, 89), and in terms of the revealed will of God as we have it in His Word and in His actual operation in our own lives (SD XI:26-27, 37-38, 52, 55-56)

We can discuss election legitimately only as a comprehensive unitary concept (SD XI:13-14) and only in connection with God’s total plan for our salvation.

The elect are the sheep who hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, whom He knows and who follow Him and to whom He gives eternal life; the members of our Lord’s Body who have been destined according to the purpose of the One that accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will, and who hear the Gospel and believe in Christ; the Christians who hunger and thirst after righteousness; the believers whose election has been revealed from heaven by the Father’s word, “This is my Beloved Son,” and has been proclaimed in Christ’s injunction, “Repent and believe the Gospel,” as well as in His assurance, “God so loved the world, etc.”; and the reborn who in the Word and the Sacraments have the witness of the Spirit of God that they are His children (SD XI:30, 31, 65-66, 73).

God’s vocation through the Word and the Sacraments is always serious (SD XI:29) and is not intended only for a few (SD XI:34). We can conclude what His will toward us from the fact that He called us by the Word and the Sacraments (SD XI:39-42).

It is legitimate for a believing member of the Church to talk about “my” eternal election and “our” eternal election (Ep XI:9, 13; SD XI:5, 28, 43, 45, 65, 67, 75, 88). This reflects the Biblical usage in passages like 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph 1:4,5; Col. 3:12; 2 Thes 2:13,14; 2 Tim. 1:9; and 1 Pet. 1:2.

There is no efficient cause in us either of our election or of our salvation (Ep XI:15,20; SD XI:43, 61, 75, 87). Those who are lost, whether they once believed in Christ or never believed in Him are lost through their own fault (SD XI:40, 42, 78, 81, 83).

God has foreseen and knows who of those that are called will believe and who will not believe; who of those who are converted will persevere and who will not persevere; who of those that lapse will return to Him and who will perish in obduracy; who at last will be saved and who will be damned (SD XI:54).

Any systematization of the Symbolical and Biblical data must take seriously such passages as St. Matthew 22:2-14 (cf. SD XI:24, 27); St. Luke 8:18; 13:24; 1 Cor. 10:27; 2 Peter 1:10, as well as the conditional clauses in SD XI:21 and 32.

William Weedon said...

Oops, should be 1 Cor. 1:27 in last post.

William Weedon said...

Piepkorn points to this, and it is stated more than once in these articles, but I want to make it explicit:

If anyone presents the teaching about God's gracious election in such a way that troubled Christians cannot get comfort out of it, but are pushed to despair; or if anyone teaches it so that the impenitent are confirmed in their sinfulness, then it is undoubtedly sure and true that such a doctrine is not taught according to God's Word and will.

Rather than use the criterion of "reasonable", they use the criterion of comfort for troubled sinners and repentance for those who are not troubled by their sins.

Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Weedon,

You are doing a fine job of discussing the election of grace in the way the Book of Concord says one must discuss it, namely, in such a way that troubled Christians can find consolation and the impenitent are called to repent. I'm not going to quibble with you about Jacobs, because I haven't had the opportunity to read all of him as you have. I can only rely on what you quoted here.

You wrote:
That God does not coerce the will holds from the very instant of the will's being set free or being enlivened, no?

True. However, the setting free of the will from unwillingness to willingness is itself called conversion, FC Ep par. 17.

Coercion is to force someone though they be unwilling, i.e. against the existence of their opposing will. The FC Ep XI states that this will itself is changed in its spiritual relation to God, from unwilling to willing. The FC Ep II states that God alone can accomplish such a change in will; man is unable to do it himself.

I'm sorry to keep belaboring the point. You stated early on that you didn't recognize the teaching of the Lutheran Church in Anastasia's post. The information you posted is nice, but I was concerned that some vital aspects were not surfacing.

So the issue is whether Anastasia has accurately represented Lutheran theology of election or not. What she has said is not untrue, but it was not presented in such a way as to bring comfort to consciences. Of course, since she rejects the whole theology (being Orthodox), it would be odd to expect her to speak of Lutheran election in a comforting light. So all that is left for her to point out is the fact that Lutherans believe God determines from before the foundation of the world who will be saved in Christ, and who will not be saved. And in this matter her grasp on Lutheran theology is sound.

William Weedon said...

Ben, that was most helpful. May I assume, then, it's the same as the argument the Orthodox have at times used contra me: "taken out of context."

Something I've presented from the Fathers is true, but to the Orthodox mind, removing it from its context (as they define that context) results in that truth being compromised - being heard in the wrong way.

I DO think my reaction to Anastasia's way of defining the issue is along similar lines in reverse: the Lutheran concern was and is pastoral, especially in the doctrine of election. If that setting is removed, then what is described can be "accurate" without actually being recognizable as the same thing.

Does that make any sense?

Benjamin Harju said...

Pastor Weedon,

Yes, that makes sense. As to whether or not this applies to Orthodox arguments contra you, I don't think I could say. I think it depends on the argument.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

William and Ben,

It's hard to see how anything irrational can give comfort! The rational version seems much more likely to. I have, though, had several people tell me, and I can't remember if they were Lutheran or Calvinists, that they nearly went crazy over Predestination, being unable to know for sure whether they were among the elect, and fearing they might not be.


Okay, God sincerely offers salvation to all, but in LUtheranism, so far as I can grasp it, He doesn't convert all! If everybody needs God to convert his will from being opposed to God to desiring salvation in Christ, then what good is it to offer salvation to people whom He has no intention of converting? (That distinction between "the will to grace" and "election to grace"?) How can God desire to save everyone yet not elect everyone, not convert everyone?

If God desires all to be saved, and He alone can accomplish it upon
each individual, because no individual can do it or even come close to it, but God only allows some to be saved, then God's desire to save and His offer to save is either disingenuous or blocked by something else. If that something else, though, is man's will, then no one would be saved, for in Lutheran thinking, the wills of *all* men are at enmity with God. Yet some are saved, specifically because God
decided they would be.

If it is true that the damned are such because they willfully
oppose the Holy Spirit, how this is any different from other people before their conversion? If
there is no difference between people before conversion and people who are never converted when it comes to willful opposition to God, then that is not the deciding factor.

s-p said...

Hi All,
In my years of pastoral counseling, I concur with Anastasia's observation about the "pastoral comfort" of predestination of any kind: no matter how "sure" it tries to make the love of God for the sinner and how secure it seems to be, the predetermining factor always comes back to "my salvation is dependent of the capricious 'will of God'/sovereignty of God' and I can never know if *I* am 'elect' or not no matter how I feel or believe, good or bad". The bottom line is the love of God is certain for certain people whose identities are a mystery to everyone but God, ergo, there is no real comfort in predestination in any form, only uncertainty. I think innately we know it is presumption to believe *I* am elect when I know others are not.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...


And if God's decision is not based upon anything concerning anybody, then capricious is the right word for it, too. In that case, God's counsel is *not* merely "unknown yet rational, reasonable, and wise could we but know it". No; it is simply, by definition, capricious.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

More on those snippets I quoted yesterday from the LC-MS website:

From a human perspective, there is no "rational" or "logical" way to put these two truths together. Lutherans believe and confess them not because they are "rational" and "logical," but because this is what we find taught in Scripture.

This is exactly what I was talking about in my post. So much for Sola Scriptura, because if I can accept this illogical interpretation, why not anybody else's? So much for Scripture, period, if it is indeed irrational and illogical.

Blind reason indeed declares these two truths to be contradictory; but we impose silence on our reason.

This is fatal. Reason is a gift from God; more than that, it is part of being created in the Image of God.

Moreover, this silence is imposed upon reason very, very selectively. Reason is readily employed when arguing against non-Lutheran positions because "X would mean Y."

The seeming disharmony will disappear in the light of heaven,

It's not merely a disharmony; it's a flat-out self-contradiction, a logical absurdity, and that's how it will appear in the light of heaven as it already does here on earth. Hoping otherwise is as futile as expecting heaven to show us how God can, after all, create a square triangle, or a rock too heavy for Him to lift.

William Weedon said...

If God promised to create square triangles we could be sure he would. You head down a dangerous path when you do not recognize the limitations of fallen reason and toss what strikes you as irrational. The two natures in Christ, the bread that becomes His body, the doctrine of the Trinity, and so much more cannot be comprehended by our fallen reason and yet recognizing the limitations of our current state we can yet credit God with being a truth speaker and bow before the truth declared by Him in His holy Word.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Mystery and contradiction are both outside of reason, but the difference is that Mystery goes beyond where human reason can reach, while logical contradiction fails to measure up to human reason. This is so whether that reason is fallen or (to varying degrees in each person) enlightened in Christ.

"The two natures in Christ, the bread that becomes His body, the doctrine of the Trinity," etc., are Mystery. One way to tell is that they are not logical contradictions of themselves or of other Christian doctrine.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

What I'm pointing out is the dangerous and the self-defeating path of accepting contradictions of Scripture, even when that contradiction comes from Scripture itself, or rather, ones interpretation of it, for the HOly Spirit does not contradict Himself. If an interpretation makes Scripture contradict Scripture, then anybody's proposed contradiction is potentially acceptable, which plays total havoc with the authority of Scripture. Further, if there are two competing theologies, each containing a contradiction of Scripture by Scripture, you won't be able to use Scripture to resolve the dispute, a situaion which renders Sola Scriptura meaningless.

Of course God is the truth teller. That's why He doesn't promise to create square triangles. It's not what God has said I question; it's what Lutheranism has made of it.

William Weedon said...

What God has said is:

"God our Savior who desires all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth." 1 Tim 2:3,4

"The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." 2 Pet 3:9

"But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are his' and 'Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity." 2 Tim 2:19

"He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love." Eph 1:4

"For it is by grace you are saved through faith, and this is NOT YOUR OWN DOING; it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Eph 2:8-10

"Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared FOR YOU from the foundation of the world...Depart me from, you wicked, into the eternal fire prepared FOR THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS." Matt 25

"Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called he also justified; and those whom He justified He also glorified." Romans 8

God reveals in His Word that He predestines in Christ; God reveals in His Word that faith is not "of ourselves, but His gift"; God reveals in His Word that He wills all to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth. The Lutheran doctrine says only what God says in His Word; and God's Word NOWHERE says that He has predestined any son of Adam or daughter of Eve to hell (note: the fire prepared for the devil and his angels!).

orrologion said...

If we think of mystery vs. nonsense in terms of travel then there is a difference between Herodotus and modern travel writers. The difference? Repeatability, verfication.

When we go to the places Herodtus wrote about and search physical and and textual artifacts, we sometimes find no proof of the fantastical animals or peoples he described.

When I read a travelogue about the Cinque Terra in Italy, I found what they wrote about when I visited there. Same when someone reads about NYC before visiting. Some of the tone or subjective color of a place may be lost - what one person loves another may hate, but the facts are verifiable.

I would submit that we must rely on those that have 'been there'. 'Been there' means that they have not only understood, but truly seen. Paul saw Christ, this made him an Apostle rather than just a convert. If one's father in the faith has not seen Christ - really, literally - or his father or grandfather in the faith has not, then I submit these are people that have not 'been there'.

We must also rely on those in whom we see fruit, not just strong theories of 'tree-ness'.

Of course, this all begs the point a little. Do we rely on Scripture alone as our testimony of those we know for a fact had 'been there'? Do we believe that others since then have also 'been there'? What about when competing claims are made? What is 'fruit' to one is proof of quite the opposite to another. What to one person is a pillar of salt or one who has chosen family/career/etc/ over God is to another person an example of temptation overcome and the voice of personal and pastoral experience. Such things are in the eye of the beholder.

Discernment is key. To a man born blind, he is not blind, he is who he is. Chinese food in China is simply 'food'. We all know what pornography is when we see it.

This is the art of it all, and a dangerous art it is, and necessary. May the Lord grant that our beholding eyes be healthy - most are not.

William Weedon said...

Where is the wise? Where is the Scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks, foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men.


But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.


For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, the Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

s-p said...

But Fr. William, Isn't this what we are discussing: the nature of the Gospel and what it means to "preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified"? Are you implying by these quotes that your interpretations of Scripture IS what is being referred to here? I think we ALL agree with St. Paul, who we disagree with is Luther, Calvin, Augustine, (fill in the blank from whichever side you land on).

Orr: Good point. A "god bearing elder" might be Shirley McLane to some. There has to be a common definition of "Fruitfullness" for a communion to discern its "elders".

William Weedon said...

My point was simply that St. Paul teaches us that there is disjunction between what the world calls wisdom and what God calls wisdom, and that in the eyes of the world (and the natural man), the wisdom of God appears as foolishness - square triangles, for instance.

What I think that Anastasia is overlooking in her attempt to make Lutherans appear foolish on this point is that inside of Lutheranism the accent has ever and always been - and Ben can attest to this - on the universality of grace. If there is one thing the Lutheran is utterly clear on it is this: Christ's death upon the cross has secured forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all. Granted, it benefits only those who believe, who trust and so are put "in Christ" but the gift is secured and won for all. I think it's why Lutherans tend NOT to obsess about predestination, but take it as a divine "aha": "What God has done for me in Christ in time He has purposed to do for me from all eternity! He has loved me in Christ from the foundation of the world!"

But for us Lutherans the mystery of how Election and universal grace relate is precisely the same sort of mystery of how God can be three persons in one essence or how our Lord can exist as one person in two natures or how He causes the bread to be His Body and the wine His blood or how the death of one can be the life of all. To all of these mysteries, we simply bow before God and confess: We leave the how to You; it is enough for us to know that You reveal them in Your Word and You do not lie.

Although dealing with the Lord's Supper, this communion hymn captures our approach to every mystery of the faith:

Though reason cannot understand,
Yet faith this truth embraces:
Your body, Lord, is even now
At once in many places.
I leave to You how this can be;
Your Word alone suffices me;
I trust its truth unfailing. LSB 622:5

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I feel another post coming on, titled, "Faith and Reason"...

Andrea said...

Hi all,

I've been lurking on this one and not commenting, largely because I know my own understanding of this topic is limited at best. So saying goes.

I know I'll probably not make any difference to this debate, but I think we may have crossed the line from Mystery to nonsense.

The Mystery is that God somehow knows (and has known from the start) what will happen to each and every human being who has lived, is living, and will ever live, both in our lives and after we die. And we, as mere human beings, can't wrap our minds around such knowledge.

Exactly how each denomination deals with this Mystery....can become no more than nonsense when we so defiantly state that WE are right and YOU are wrong...when it is really not something our human minds can truly fully understand.

After all, this is something the best minds from every single Christian denomination past and present have tried and continue to try to understand, explain and make sense of. And yet, we still have no definative answer.

The older I get, the more I see, the more I believe what my Baptist Mamma (grandma) said when she found out I was becoming Catholic "You believe in God? In Jesus' perfect life and death on the cross for us? That He rose again and will come and take us home to heaven to be with him? Then we believe all the important things the same."

Amen Mamma, Amen.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Forgive me, William, I have no intention nor any interest in making Lutherans look foolish. Merely trying to point out a theological mistake.

Agreeing with Andrea, I'm going to end this discussion now, turning off further comments on this post.