Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Review of a Calvinist/Lutheran Debate

For a while now I have been trying to organize a Calvinist vs. Lutheran backyard debate and barbecue. I have not been successful. However, just recently someone made me aware of a Calvinist/Lutheran debate that took place a few years ago and can be listened to on-line. John Kent takes the Lutheran position and Mike Brown takes the Calvinist position. Given the time constraints I thought the debate went pretty well and is well worth the listen. I think it could have been better if it were about twice as long. I do have some criticisms but it's easy to sit back and critique a debate that you didn't have to participate in. It was certainly better than any of the political debates I've seen.

John Kent did a great job of explaining the Lutheran position. He did not do as good of a job critiquing the Calvinist position. I got the impression from what he said that he did understand the Calvinist position but he did not adequately explain why the Calvinist claims to believe in the "real presence" is really a denial of  the "real presence" in the same way that the liberal theologians claims to believe in the resurrection is a denial of the resurrection. I really think he could have demonstrated this if he had more time but the way he framed it was unconvincing. It made it sound as if he just didn't understand the Calvinist position and Brown jumped all over him for this. Brown successfully made it appear that Kent really didn't understand the Calvinist position.

Brown provided us with a machine gun fire of theological terms and accusations about the Lutheran position not being Trinitarian enough. The machine gun fire of theological terms reminded me of certain pastors I've heard who try to impress people by throwing out terms that they themselves do not understand. I'm guessing Brown probably does understand these terms but it would have been more helpful to provide a thorough explanation of the Biblical passages. Brown provided very little in the way of exegesis. He relied pretty heavily on Hebrews 12 and a few other passages that don't specifically talk about the Lord's Supper. The Calvinist position is that the Holy Spirit lifts us up to heaven to spiritually partake of Christ's body and blood. I find it impossible to get this out of the words of institution and Hebrews doesn't seem to be talking about this either. If I were Kent, I would have demanded more Scriptural proof for the Calvinist position.

In one part of the debate Kent made the claim that Calvin's doctrine of the Lord's Supper is a new doctrine that was not taught prior to Calvin. Brown pointed to the quotations in Calvin's Institutes of the church fathers. Unfortunately this is as far as it went. There really wasn't time for either party to prove his position. In a future post I plan to examine Calvin's use of the church father's in support of the his doctrine of the Eucharist. Along with a bunch of other things, reading the church fathers is one of the things that led me away from Calvinism to Lutheranism.

Brown lamented a few times that Calvin didn't make it to Marburg to debate with Luther. Brown was convinced that if this had happened there would be only one Protestant doctrine of the Lord's Supper. I don't think this is true. When you look at Calvin's arguments against the Lutheran position they do not differ substantially from Zwingli's. There was a period of time when Calvin was serving as a Lutheran minister under the unaltered Augsburg Confession but I suspect he was interpreting it in a different way than was originally intended. From what I understand, Calvin regarded himself for a time as being a defender of Luther's doctrine of the Lord's Supper but Calvin could not read German. Bullinger sent Calvin letters with translations of Luther's works and after that Calvin seemed to have a more negative view of Luther's position while still trying to distinguish himself from Zwingli. Eventually Calvin would write the the Consensus Tigurinus. This was intended to be a common confession between the Church of Zurich and the Church of Geneva. Even if some language could have been agreed upon by Calvin and Luther, Luther never would have approved of the Consensus Tigurinus. After the Marburg Colloquy, Zwingli published his own edition of the results. In that edition he included marginal notes that denied the plain teaching of the articles that were being agreed upon. Zwingli regarded the document as a political document while Luther regarded it as a theological document. Zwingli was looking for the lowest common denominator. Luther was looking for a firm confession of the faith. This distinction between the various ways of viewing confessions continue in Lutheran and Calvinist churches to this day. The Lutheran confessions have not been changed and remain the same regardless of region. Historically people subscribe to them because they believe the confessions are in agreement with the Scriptures. The Calvinist confessions vary by region and were revised when people had to deal with the different political realities found in the United States. They are subscribed to insofar as they agree with Scripture.

I appreciate the effort made by both parties in the debate. I just don't think there was enough time. I doubt that anyone changed teams as a result of the debate. The Zondervan Counterpoints book on the Lord's Supper is probably a better choice for those who want to be able to seriously evaluate the different positions. But the Calvinist guy in that book doesn't do a great job of defending his position. He spends most of the time trying to convince us he's just like the Lutherans. The Lutheran does a great job.

What we probably need is a Calvinist/Lutheran debate over how we know what we know about God and the use of logic in doing theology.

1 comment:

Daniel Casey said...

Thank you for finding these. As an ex-reformed, now lutheran, I'm always interested in reading and hearing these sorts of discussions.

Still making my way through the first mp3. I think Kent makes his strongest point when explaining that for the Calvinist to be consistent, there is no difference in measure of Christ's presence in the supper or outside the supper, hence making it a memorial view of the supper.

Also, something I never understood, the receptionist's not what the Scriptures and the Pastor says it ( Christ body and blood ) is unless you believe it is...but they don't believe it is to begin with, so you have to believe it's just a symbol...ugh.

Also, seems to me, Kent uses way more Scripture and leans on Scripture more than Brown.