#ICYMI – Luther v. Calvin

wittenI’m pretty sure Luther could take Calvin.  The former was a pudgy monk and the latter was a skinny and frail sickly lad.

What are the differences between Lutherans and Calvinists, and do they really matter? In Wittenberg vs. Geneva, Brian Thomas provides a biblical defense of the key doctrines that have divided the Lutheran and Reformed traditions for nearly five centuries. It is especially written to help those who may have an interest in the Lutheran church, but are concerned that her stance on doctrines like predestination or the sacraments may not have biblical support. To get to the heart of the matter, Pastor Thomas focuses solely upon those crucial scriptural texts that have led Lutheran and Reformed scholars down different paths to disparate conclusions as he spars with popular Calvinist theologians from the past and the present.

I’ve been sent a review copy and have spent the last couple of days reading it (though to be fair it can easily be read in a day).  Thomas handles the material he does handle well enough but he makes the same mistake that too many make when they talk about something they call ‘Reformed Theology’ – they only mean ‘Calvinism’.

Indeed, there seems to be some absurd notion out there that Reformed theology equals Calvinism and Calvinism equals Reformed Theology.  And that is historically totally inaccurate.

To be sure, the title of the book leads readers to believe that Luther and Calvin’s views will be the core of the work but then Thomas insists, pathologically, on talking about ‘Reformed Theology’ without so much as referencing Zwingli or Oecolampadius even though he does mention Leithart and Melanchthon.  Melanchthon, of course, is worthy of mention but Leithart?  While excluding Oecolampadius and Zwingli?  Ridiculous.

Even the sources which Thomas utilizes for his explication of Calvinism (I shan’t call his explication an explication of Reformed Theology because it isn’t) are quite narrow.  Horton and Sproul are, by and large, good scholars.  But no one believes, do they, that they are the standard bearers of Reformed thought.  And if they do, they shouldn’t.

Thomas’s problem is that he left Calvinism (Presbyterian type) and adopted Lutheranism.  He has an ax to grind and grind it he does.  Regularly throughout we are informed that the Lutheran viewpoint is the more scriptural viewpoint.  And, naturally, Thomas is free to believe that if he wishes.  He is not, however, justified in saying that the Lutheran viewpoint is more scripturally oriented when he ignores Zwingli and other founding Reformed thinkers with the aplomb of a blonde cheerleader ignoring the hapless chess club geek at the school prom.

I would very much like to recommend this book, but I cannot.  Unless the potential reader is a Lutheran apologist.  Then, and only then, will it be found useful.  Otherwise, it has been placed in the scales of theological enquiry and found wanting.