Part 1: My Own Captivity
This is a tricky subject and one that may seem unimportant, but it is actually critical. I know it is something I feel strongly about, and something that has been central to my own journey of faith. My own story is probably a decent way to get at the issue.
When I came into the Presbyterian Church in America I was nothing more than a Reformed Baptist. I didn’t know much beyond the Five Points of Calvinism and was still emerging from that Calvinistic-jerk-phase. In my first year or so, I was introduced to the Sonship Bible Study program created by World Harvest Mission. It explained grace in a way I had never heard it explained before. I fell in love with it.
Sonship taught me I could not keep the Law and my efforts to do so were coming from my flesh. It taught me that the only true and good use of the Law was to drive me to Christ. It taught me that the correct cycle was this: despair over my inabilities and run to the forgiveness of Jesus. Quit trying. Quit doing. Just believe and be forgiven.
At first this was great. But then it turned dark. Anytime I tried to read my Bible I would feel judged that I could not read enough of it. The same went for prayer. Instead of reading and praying, I found myself just trying to feel the forgiveness of not being able to do either well. I remember feeling judged when I tithed because I couldn’t give with all my heart or with the joy that should be there. In short, this teaching took the disciplines of godly living away from me. In countless psalms, David gushes about being righteous or faithful (Psalm 18:20-24 as one example) - I had no category for the feelings he expressed.
Then I started to notice a pattern and the deep structure of this Sonship theology. There was a cycle of three quotations ALWAYS present in these studies. Luther, Keller, Galatians - that is the cycle. Over and over. If they used another character from church history they usually could only use one sentence (like Calvin’s quote about our hearts being idol factories). Or if they used some other part of Scripture I noticed they usually had to take it out of context or even bend the intended meaning.
More and more this just didn’t seem to jive with much of the Bible or much of the other stuff I was reading at the time - like the puritans. Then I went off to seminary. In seminary I discovered that this wasn’t just some little theology cooked up by the good people at World Harvest, this was the formal teaching of Lutheranism. One of my professors took Lutheran views to task one day and my jaw was hanging open. I had finally heard the true Reformed position. I had finally gotten the necessary vocabulary to navigate the various positions. It was incredibly helpful.The PCA is currently being overrun with Lutherans. I will unpack their theology later, but suffice it to say that the “cool table” in the PCA right now is full of those who teach Lutheran theology rather than Reformed theology. That wouldn’t really matter except that I believe Lutheran theology to be somewhat unbiblical. It also can have very serious consequences as people emerge from it. In short, it is not something that should go unchecked throughout the church. I do not want this to be a place of ranting and finger pointing, but it is a goal of mine to use these posts as a place to work through some of the important differences between a good, biblical view of salvation and the one that is presented in the Lutheran sectors of our denomination.
I hope it will help. Maybe you, like me, are being crushed by grace. Maybe you, like me, are struggling to know what to do with all those passages in the Bible where good works are expected and even relished. God used the Lutheran theology in my life, make no mistake. But it is not just our goal to make people feel forgiven, it is our goal that their lives be conformed to Christ.