The Real reason there are no “Lutheran Baptists”: Martin Luther’s 500 year battle vs. Protestant liberalism? (part I of III)

14 Aug
Russel Moore, Lutheran Baptist?!

Russel Moore, Lutheran Baptist?!

Yes, I am picking up on this conversation a little late.  We’ll see if I totally missed the bus.

A couple things to start with.  First, I am sorry if the image above disturbed you.

Second, if seeing Christians disagreeing with or even criticizing other Christians over matters of doctrine only makes you angry – even if it is done in a kind and congenial manner – I urge you not to read this series.  I don’t like it either, but sometimes, as we well know, these things must be done.

As I have stated before: “our orientation should be to furiously emphasize our commonalities and to furiously emphasize our honest differences, because the truth not spoken – or rarely spoken – in love is not the fullness of love at all.  Even some in the unbelieving world know as much!  Do you, like me, think of the pagans’ words recorded by Tertullian: “See how they love one another!”?  I say yes!   Let us aim to love one another in truth as we patiently work through the tragic reality that there must be differences among us – to reveal who has God’s approval!” (quote from this post about the “coming vindication of Martin Luther”)

Onward then.

Some months ago, a couple of First Things writers, David Koyzis and Collin Garbarino, asked why there were “Calvinist Baptists” (guys like John McArhur, John Piper, Al Mohler, and Russel Moore come to mind), but no “Lutheran Baptists”.  According to the Lutheran writer Gene Veith’s summary (see here), Garbarino essentially said that “when it comes to soteriology… Calvinism and Lutheranism are pretty much the same anyway” and “Calvinism is the same as Lutheranism except without the sacraments”.

Gene Veith astutely commented:

“To understand Lutheranism, it is necessary to recognize that the Lutheran understanding of  salvation by grace and justification by faith cannot be separated from the Lutheran teachings of baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.”

After the conversation got rolling in the wider Christian blogosphere, Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition blog ranked Veith’s answer as the most helpful (see here).

It certainly was.  But the question now is “Why is what Dr. Veith says true?”  The answer may surprise you.

And we will definitely get to that, but first, enter Christopher Jackson, a Lutheran attending grad school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, home of the great Albert Mohler and Russel Moore (men, incidently, who I have come to respect and have much affection for – their timely and fearless voices have informed and inspired me).  Building on the “Why no Lutheran Calvinists” question, Jackson wrote an article that was also published on the First Things blog called A Lutheran Among Calvinists (Dr. Veith talked about it here), where he said that “Lutherans themselves are why there is not a ‘Lutheran’ movement in Baptist or other evangelical circles”, blaming the Lutheran tendency/obsession to constantly “articulate something distinctively Lutheran” vis a vis other church bodies, “self-marginaliz[ing] and render[ing] our theology unintelligible to other Christians”.

Yes, I can understand how persons might think that – especially in the historically non-Lutheran-dominated United States of America.  On the other hand, I think the White Horse Inn’s Rod Rosenbladt, for example, is not someone who is overly eager to get to “the Lutheran difference”.  Nor is Gene Veith for that matter.  If anything, I tend to think these men often remain silent when they could, in a firm, impassioned and yet sensitive way, point out “the Lutheran difference” when they are discussing theology publically with others.  To be sure, this does happen from time to time – particularly with Dr. Veith – but there have been times I have wanted to pull my hair out a bit, so much do they seem to be walking on eggshells.  And of course, when we are talking about wider Lutheranism, it is not uncommon to find many in that communion who either veer towards more Reformed views of the sacraments, or alternatively, to more Eastern Orthodox and Catholic views of soteriological and ecclesiastical matters.  It is hard to stay on the Lutheran horse without falling off on one side or the other (I’m Lutheran but…”)

Here is a thought: in spite of our commonalities – and in spite of the fact that we often subjectively recognize persons of a common Christian faith outside of our circles – could it be that Lutheran theology really is quite distinct from other bodies?   It is a question that Jackson, for one, does not seem to consider seriously:  “[Lutherans] are often more preoccupied with discussing what makes Lutheranism distinct from evangelicalism (for example, the sacraments) than with discussing points of commonality like Christology or Trinitarian theology”. 

Still, that sounds like a pretty reasonable critique doesn’t it?  Well, there are questions we need to address here, but first let give you a little bit more context to Jackson’s remarks.

In his article, he notes the interesting fact that “some faculty at SBTS have struck me as having profoundly Lutheran theological influences, most notably Russell Moore” and quotes him preaching on baptism and communion:


Here is Moore preaching on baptism:

The waters of baptism are announcing that we are not just found in Jesus’ death and burial, we are found in his Resurrection. . . . [Baptism] is an announcing and a proclamation that the life that you have doesn’t belong to you. It belongs in Christ. . . . It’s an announcement that God makes in those waters of baptism not just to the church, not just to you, not just to the neighborhood and the community, but to the demonic powers that accuse you. This is mine. I am showing you, he is mine. I am showing you, she is mine. It’s the voice of Christ, through a drama in water, challenging anybody to take that on.

And communion:

[In communion] Jesus is speaking to you, “My body was broken. When you swallow this juice, Jesus is speaking to you, my blood was shed for you, my veins were opened for you. There is no condemnation for you. Rest in the truth of the gospel. We don’t just hear that, we swallow it, as Jesus reminds us through physical stuff, that we need to hear and to remember and to think and to know, he announces that gospel. . . . There are some in this room who are filled with guilt and filled with accusation. You know Christ, but Satan is speaking to you, “You’re guilty.” Hear the Word of Christ, when he says this is my body given for you. My blood, it is poured out for you.

Jackson says that these sermons sound like they could have come from a Lutheran pulpit – Moore comes off “sounding like a Lutheran”.  In addition, he says that while “Moore’s sermon [on the Lord’s Supper] can be understood within a Calvinist view, absent are any of Calvin’s almost endless qualifications on the words, ‘This is my body. . . . This is my blood.’”  Jackson says he is familiar with several SBTS students who have actually become Lutherans, which he attributes in part to Moore and other “Lutheran influences”.

Montage of art from the Lutheran youth organization "Higher Things".

Montage of art from the Lutheran youth organization “Higher Things”.

Hmmm.  If that’s the case do I really want to keep writing this article – if Moore is serving as a recruiter for Lutheran pastors?

Yes.  Let’s get the cards out on the table and do so while simultaneously searching the Scriptures – no, clinging to them like our lives depend on them.  We’ll do that tomorrow.

Part II

Part III


Moore pic used with Luther:

Moore preaching:

Higher Things montage: from various sites online

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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized


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