Hearing Lutheran Voices in Reformed Pulpits
Those who try to follow the pulse of American Christianity would be familiar with the name Tullian Tchividjian (even if it takes a little practice to pronounce it correctly!). Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Tchividjian represents a growing trend in evangelicalism to engage a broad spectrum of orthodox Christian writers and theologians. On the one hand, denominational distinctiveness in Evangelicalism is on the rise. “Non-denom” churches that dilute their Christian tradition are less attractive to the younger generation of Christians. Yet within this effort to communicate a clear witness of the faith is a recognition that there are witnesses from other traditions and confessions that are still worth listening to. There is a kind of eclectic Evangelical confessionalism that listens to the polyphony of voices in the Christian tradition, and finds a song worth playing again–in the pulpit, in publishing, and in social media. This means that Lutheran theologians qua Lutheran are actually beginning to play a greater role in shaping the broader Christian witness in America. This also means that we have a similar opportunity to listen and learn from others outside our tradition. At the very least we might learn the patience of empathy and the humility that accompanies an appreciation that theology is larger than any one person or period and that we are indebted to the people of our past and present.
Back to Tchividjian. Tchividjian has been reading Luther and Lutherans for a while now and his writing exhibits this. A little over a year ago, his tweets and blog posts were littered with quotes from our own Bob Kolb and Chuck Arand, as Tchividjian was happily reading their book, The Genius of Luther’s Theology. In a recent interview, Tchividjian said that Genius was probably the best book on Luther’s theology that he had ever read.
Below is a sermon by Tchividjian on the “Two Kinds of Righteousness.” For more information on this theological distinction see our recent FAQs on 2KR (as Chuck Arand affectionally calls it).
John Rasmussen January 20, 2014
Thanks for this post. On the Reformed website “Resurgence” I saw a post by Tchividjian about “The Hammer of God.” I was very surprised.
Peter Woodward January 23, 2014
Let not simul justus et peccator be forgotten in the reflections on both kinds. Romans 7
Rev. Paul T. McCain January 23, 2014
“At the very least we might learn the patience of empathy and the humility that accompanies an appreciation that theology is larger than any one person or period and that we are indebted to the people of our past and present.”
I’d like the author to unpack that assertion. Anyone who subscribes to the Lutheran Confessions is well aware that this is true.
What, precisely, is the author saying here? Straightforward assertions that can be discussed and evaluated would be better than vague statements.
Tell me then what I am supposed to be “in debt” to a Calvinist for who denies the actual presence of our Lord Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine of the Supper?
Perhaps we can start there.
Erik Herrmann January 28, 2014
Paul, Thank you for your question. I agree that the point I am making with this statement is general and rather obvious–I certainly didn’t expect it to be provocative or controversial–so I didn’t think I needed to be more specific than what I had written. But at times it bears repeating and reminding ourselves of it since the virtues of listening to others with a posture of humility and empathy is a part of basic critical thinking if not Christian piety (“Wenn zur Theologie kommt, eine gewiße Bescheidenheit gehört dazu,” said Luther). Moreover, hearing and listening to others is a prerequisite for conversation and witness. And in such conversation we might find that we can learn from others as well. After all, Luther famously wrote that even after ruling with the prophets and apostles for 100 years, we would only have begun to taste Holy Writ. All of us remain beggars in this regard.
So I suppose the purpose of the statement is to remind readers that just as Reformed theologians benefit from Lutheran theology, Lutherans can and do learn from other Christians outside their own tradition. I imagine that is why CPH can publish and promote a book by a Roman Catholic on Luther (_The Real Luther, 2011)_ and why both seminaries will not infrequently feature Catholic, Calvinist, and Baptist presenters at their various symposia. Does it mean we are without significant disagreements? Of course not. We will not find benefit in all our dialogue. It is well known that the Calvinist teaching of the Lord’s Supper is in strong conflict with Lutheran theology. Yet even here, one may benefit from listening to the Calvinist perspective again, if for no other reason than to understand their way of thinking better and so communicate my confession better.
Timothy R. Butler February 1, 2014
As a Reformed pastor doing PhD work at Concordia, I’ve had the opportunity to have some very good conversations on this subject and I think it is a good demonstration of Dr. Herrmann’s assertion. While the Zwinglian side of Reformed theology may deny the Lord’s real presence, I think many of my Lutheran friends have been surprised to hear just how close much of the language Presbyterians like myself will use is to Lutheran theology. There’s a difference, but it is not that large. I think a memorialist view is actually rather incompatible with the Westminster Standards. Notably, even Zwingli — and I’m no Zwinglian — agreed with Luther on most of the key Reformation doctrines and my figure of interest, Martin Bucer, tirelessly tried to demonstrate the consensus between the Evangelical parties. I think it is unfortunate that we often overlook that Calvin was a huge admirer of Luther and Luther, likewise, responded warmly to a number of works written by the early Reformed, including Calvin.
Darren Harbaugh January 28, 2014
Machen on Missouri: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2014/01/j-gresham-machen-on-the-lutheran-church-missouri-synod/
Tim Barone January 30, 2014
It seems that Tchividjian would be an excellent candidate to be invited to a symposium at CSL, or at least Octoberfest for a beer! It would be interesting to hear him discuss his views of sacramental practice.
Trackback: Lutheran Love
Rev. Paul T. McCain February 14, 2014
Thank you for the responses. That a Calvinist is able to speak in such a way that sounds close to the Biblical Lutheran confession has been the case since the 16th century and for that very reason the Lutheran Confessions, specifically, the Formula of Concord, Epitome and Solid Declaration, took such pains to carefully expose Calvinist understandings of the Supper for what they actually are: false doctrine.
I recall years ago when a Calvinist theologian was on the campus of one of our seminaries giving a presentation. It was clear many were surprised by how “close” he sounded to Lutheranism. But then the great Lutheran theologian, Dr. Robert Preus, brought everything back to reality when he asked the man, “What does the pastor hold in his hand and give to the communicant?” The poor man at that point was quite entirely flustered and realized just how capably his denial of the actual presence of Christ in the Supper was being so capably exposed.
He hemmed, and hawed, quite a bit but finally said, “Well, of course, i is just bread.”
David Hoffelmeyer May 21, 2014
Dear Rev. McCain,
I met you at the Concordia Publishing House seminary sale last fall. It was nice meeting you and hearing a bit about your work while snarfing down tasty brats and enjoying a beer. I am responding to your comments because I am a Calvinist seminary student, and I celebrate with Calvin’s understanding of the Lord’s Real Presence at the Table with my church.
I am not ashamed that ordinary elements are offered each Sunday. God in Christ took on an ordinary body, bled ordinary blood… it seems fitting that he would do so at the Table as well. So yes, the minister hands out an ordinary piece of bread, an ordinary cup of wine or juice. But the Risen Christ is really present when the church celebrates the Supper together in faith. How is this? Well, how did the Logos become flesh? We call it a mystery– a sacrament, part of God’s incredible incarnational and redemptive pattern of interacting with his Creation and his Church in particular.
Does this understanding contradict Scripture? If so I would love to know how, specifically. And I would also like to know if you are 100% certain of the Lutheran position, and have no regard whatsoever for other interpretive traditions who uphold the authority of the Scriptures in accord with the principles of the Reformation. If so, this seems to elevate your personal reason pretty high. Post-modernism is not a pill to be swallowed whole-sale, but at least the movement has taught us to recognize the limits of our reason and the context of our perspectives.
I guess I am just disturbed by the allegation that the Calvinist understanding of the Real Presence to you is “false doctrine.” I reserve that kind of language for heresy– are you calling Calvinists heretics? If so, that’s a serious charge– you’d effectively be damning a lot of folks like myself to hell, or denying the catholicity of the Church. Either way, I’m uncomfortable with your words.
All this said, I gladly claim you as a brother, a dear blood-bought lamb. I’m thankful for your work. I’m ok with the fact that we have differing views of the Lord’s presence in the Supper. That’s one reason why you’re a Lutheran and I’m a Presbyterian. But we’re both Christians– same as Pastor Tullian, and I do think a bit of charity in disagreements goes a long way, particularly among us who call ourselves Christian.
I apologize if I’m misunderstanding you or misrepresenting your ideas.
Your little brother in Christ,
Jonathan Lange October 29, 2014
I appreciate Rev. McCain’s pointed comments. The word of the Lord is a sharp sword.
Does “is” mean is?
“This is my body. This is my blood.”
Jesus also said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” And again, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”(John 6:53, 55-56 ESV).
Many turned away from Jesus at this point saying, “This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?”
The twelve were asked if they would also leave. Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69).
“Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and distributed to those who eat the Lord’s Supper (I Corinthians 10:16). They reject those who teach otherwise” (Augsburg Confession, Article X).
Luiz R. Lange November 3, 2016
I sympathize with your concern. It is indeed not an easy thing to hear. But stating that a teaching is false doctrine does not equal to saying that the other person is not a Christian. The apostle Paul wrote very long letters in which he mostly and intensely fought against wrong teachings that were being taught (that is, false doctrine) among the addressees, and it is important to notice that the addressees of his letters WERE CHRISTIANS (“… to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…” 1 Corinthians 1:2). The old Testament prophets carried harsh words given by God, like Nathan to David in 2 Sm 12: “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel… Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?”
Jesus himself gave His brutal speeches against the false self-justifying hypocrisy of the Pharisees because He loved them (including Paul and Nicodemus, but not limited to them), trying to shake them off their false comfort zone, to rip off their false robes of self-justice, and pulling them closer to Himself, to His salvation by naked faith alone. Not for the sake of His own glory, but for Love, in order to cover them with His own robe of perfect Justice. God is Love, above all things, and brothers who love their fellow members of the body of Christ point out to the lies and deceiving counterfeits of doctrine introduced by our common Enemy, not because they think they are superior, but because they trust in God’s Word and understand the risks involved in denying it.
It is not a matter of having to choose between two or three equally valid alternative answers to a shady question, but of taking the Word of God for what it is. Because each concession made in that sense becomes later a chain of compromises, with great risk to the faith.
Your as little brother in Jesus,