Tag Archives: Calvinism

Why Calvin and not Luther?

This is required reading. The first paragraph…

Why is Calvinism so influential among American Evangelicals while Lutheranism is not? We might describe the statistically modal convert to Calvinism—that is, the most frequently observed kind of convert—as a person like this: A young adult, usually male. Raised in a broad though indistinct Evangelical (and sometimes nominally Catholic) home. Bright. A reader. Searching for better intellectual answers to questions about God, Jesus and the Bible. Is open to becoming a pastor. Why does this young man so much more often become a Calvinist instead a Lutheran?

This first paragraph is something I bang my head on a daily when I interact with American Evangelicals or read descriptions of American Christianity. It is like Lutherans and Lutheranism is the invisible man. Evangelicals who know “something is missing” will experiment with Episcopal (even though they think they are heretics) or Rome (even though they don’t get the whole Mary thing) but Luther isn’t even on the radar. And even when they do come in the door the place “feels different”. This article gets it exactly right.

I’d emphasize one thing that came up in Bible Class Sunday. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 Paul talks about the various factions of the church at Corinth. I think these factions are highly identifiable to anyone who has spent time in the church. Paul = those who knew the founder, Apollos = those who are more intelligent and learned, Peter = those who are the simple members and wish Paul and Apollos would get off their high horses and “I follow Christ” = those who just want everyone to get along (while recognizing us as being more spiritual for saying so). If you are having fights in a church, those are the camps to this day. The advanced cases of church fights are when those camps have become identities such that you can’t imagine sharing fellowship with a Paulite or a Peterine.

So what does that have to do with Calvin and Luther? Well…Peter = Rome (here comes everybody), “I follow Christ” = Pentecostals, Paul = Luther and Apollos = Calvin. Paul/Apollos, Luther/Calvin, have a natural antipathy. And that antipathy is grounded in the fact the while Luther was first he didn’t change enough and really reform the church. Luther kept the sacraments in what any “learned modern Apollos” would see as medieval superstition.

So, that is my ecumenism is short. I think our “denominations” might be fine if they were like Augustinians and Franciscans and Dominican and Jesuits and so forth. One of the great tests is Gamaliel’s: leave them alone and if it is not from God it will go away (Acts 5:34ff). By this time 500 years later not even Zwingli has gone away, so in some way God is present in all of these. We would be much better off focusing on what unites and get over claiming an identity. And as much as I think Luther gets it right, and wish that American Evangelicals would give him a listen, our baptisms unite us and we are fellow pilgrims under the power of the cross (1 Cor 1:17).